CURSE OF THE JOLLY ROGER: A Cautionary Tale
Based on a True Story
by Mike Hays
In the days when Haddenfield was still a sleepy Midwestern town, when Camp Crystal Lake was a fine, upstanding youth summer camp and when nothing but sweet dreams dominated life on Elm Street, a curse cast itself upon an unwitting (an undeserving, may I add) young boy and his three older siblings. A curse so horrible, so horrendous it still terrifies to the bone; still cuts a deep chasm into the soul some forty-plus years after that fateful stormy, chilled Halloween night on Cernech Road in Kansas City, Kansas.
It was a great day for the Boy #3. The special day each fall when the leaves first began to show yellow, red and brown. That natural changeover which seemed to trigger the opening of a secret vault in the hall closet of the family home. Then out of the apparent thin air on the upper shelf of the hall closet, the orange plastic jack-o-lanterns would appear along with one of the most wonderful sights in the world, THE HALLOWEEN BOX. The Mom would remove the box and the plastic jack-o-lanterns from the shelf, totally and completely of her own volition without any prodding by the youngsters of the household. Boy #3 was hypnotized by the box as The Mom placed it on the coffin in the living room (Yes, the family had a coffin in the living room, under the picture window and it was the most valuable TV watching spot in the room. A hand carved/hand-built coffin on loan from crazy Priest/Uncle who was traveling abroad studying different religions).
The children, Boy #1, Boy #2, Girl, Boy #3 and the very young Boys #4 and #5, would watch with bated breathe as The Mom would open the top of the large, white, JC Penney’s coat box. The glow, as if she opened a treasure chest of gold doubloons, reflected on the faces of the kids. Joyful expressions not surpassed by any other occasion other than Christmas morning spread from child to child. A real Rockwell moment that soon crashed back into reality as the little hands tore for the decorations. Out came the cardboard decorations; the fold-up, jointed skeletons, the black cat, the witch, the pumpkins. All were grabbed and gone in six different directions. Boy #3 was able to grab his favorite, the skull decoration, without losing an appendage in the scrum. The skull decoration was old and worn, but a classic. One could tell its exact age by counting the layers of yellowed Scotch tape, like rings in a tree trunk, placed at strategic locations on the top of the skull and the chin. Boy #3 received his allotment of two pieces of new Scotch tape from
The Mom and she pointed him in the direction of where the skull was to be taped onto the picture window. Amidst the scramble for space on the coffin pad, Boy #3 pressed the skull to the window, crawled off the coffin and admired his work for a brief second before scrambling back to THE HALLOWEEN BOX to dig out the one thing he’d anticipated for months, the store-bought, hand-me-down Jolly Roger Pirate costume.
The Jolly Roger pirate costume, with its one-piece suit and plastic mask, was a thing of beauty. This was Boy #3’s first go-round with the Jolly Roger and he had been looking forward to it for years. The yellow pants, the blue sleeves, the pirate ship across the chest with the words Jolly Roger scripted across the top. And the mask! Never had a more fearsome visage been molded into plastic than this fellow. With an actual, real felt 5 o’clock shadow beard, wry smile, furrowed eyebrows, this was no pirate to be dealt with lightly. This was a man of the high seas, a man whom men feared and women swooned over. Boy #3 admired the mask, then slipped the rubber band over his head. It fit his large head very tightly, but it didn’t matter to him as he drifted off to his pirate ship. He could feel the wind as it bellowed the mainsail, he could taste the salt water on his plastic lips as they chased the Queen’s merchant ships off the coast of Spain. This was going to be a great Halloween!
But, alas! As Boy #3 squeezed himself into the body of the costume, reality set in. Boy #3 was not good at hand-me-downs. It was by a turn of genetics that Boy #3 was a lineman in a family of running backs and receivers. His lineman build, even in early primary grade years, did not mesh with the things being lent down from Boys #1 and #2. And for that matter, he probably could not even wear anything the older boys were currently sporting. But, Boy #3 was not going to allow a small detail such as a two sizes too small costume ruin this chance. This Halloween would be memorable, one way or the other.
Halloween came, finally. The weather turned cold, damp and drizzly over the course of the afternoon. The family sat around the dinner table, eating the traditional beef stew Halloween feast. Occasionally one of them answered the front door to give candy to a small child trick or treating. The family’s Halloween plan was set. Boys #4 and #5 and The Dad were in charge of candy distribution at home base. The Mom would take Boys #1-3 and Girl out for trick or treating. Boy #3 could hardly wait any longer.
He had survived school with all the grace and patience of one attempting to cross the Sahara desert in the midst of a sandstorm. This after-school day was like pulling teeth with pliers…long, drawn out and painful. To make the day worse, The Mom would not allow Boy #3 to sport the Jolly Roger at school for fear of the seams busting out during the course of the classroom festivities. Instead, she fell back on the requisite mummy costume of gray sweats with gauze bandages wrapped around his head. Boy #3 did not care. School Halloween was minor league, the Big Show was trick or treats on Halloween night. Never in a hundred years would the shy Boy #3 walk up to a stranger’s or neighbor’s, house, knock on the door and actually speak to people. But, the pirate in the Jolly Roger costume would be able to charm his way into a bagful of candy by night’s end.
The wind howled as they moved from house to house. This Halloween evening was bursting with excitement along the neighborhood streets. The weather had taken a turn for the worse as the temperature plummeted, but, fortunately, the rain had died to an occasional mist. The family was prepared, The Mom with her flashlight, each of the kids dressed properly for the conditions, carrying their full-size brown paper shopping bags. Much to Boy #3’s dismay, the sudden drop in temperature forced him to wear his gray sweats as an additional layer of clothing for warmth. The Mom insisted Boy #3 reconsider the mummy in place of the Jolly Roger, especially since he was barely able to squeeze his stocky frame into the suit even without two added layers of clothes. Logic, bribery, intimidation, all well-honed tools in The Mom’s arsenal, failed her that night. So, under much duress and verbal abuse, Boy #3 trudged in constant catch-up mode behind the rest of the family with a Frankensteinian monster gait from the constrictive grip of the costume.
Besides the difference in the body build with the other siblings, Boy #3 also uniquely prescribed to Poor Richard’s “Early to bed, early to rise” credo. Many an ire did he draw from his night owl siblings for asking The Mom if he could go to bed at the un-Godly hour of 8:30 PM because they knew they would soon have to follow. Circadian rhythms know no holidays, so around the witching hour of 8:00 PM, as the leaves flew in their path and the tree branches bent in a menacing fashion, Boy #3 began to tire. And as he got more tired, the further behind he lagged and the more upset the rest of the crew became with him.
Finally, The Mom had enough and made the announcement “This is the last block. We are turning around for home at the end of this street.”
Three sets of demon eyes shot daggers immediately at Boy #3. He felt their anger burn through his pirate mask. He tried to smile back at them. He tried to charm them with the power of the Jolly Roger, the power that had turned men’s souls to jelly for hundreds of years on the seas. But it did not work. Boys #1&2, along with Girl, turned on their heels and stomped away to the second to the last house on the block. Boy #3 was toast. Or at least he thought he was toast. Little did he know he had just stepped into the frying pan and had yet to feel the wrath of the fire.
They thanked the owners of the second to the last house on the block for the candy gift. They were an elderly couple Boy #3 had often seen walking their dog in front of his house.
“Watch out for that step, little pirate! It’s a little tricky in the dark.” the man said.
Boy #3 grabbed the chin of the mask and lifted slightly up to see the step. SNAP! The rubber band on the pirate mask snapped! Oh, no! What was he going to do? He couldn’t just walk up to stranger’s houses and talk to them like this without the mask! But, he also couldn’t say anything to The Mom or siblings without drawing more anger his way. Boy #3 quickly formulated a plan. He discovered he could hold the mask on his face by sticking his tongue through the mouth hole and hooking the end around the plastic. It would take great concentration and will, but he could do it if it meant avoiding any more sibling venom.
“Twhwicko tweet.” He said at the next house before the turn around to home.
Sister elbowed him in the ribs. “Don’t be rude!”
“Ayem nwot.” He answered.
So began the long walk home. They had hit both sides of the street and planned on making a U-turn on the next street over on the way back home, but that was all nixed by The Mom. “Straight home, now” was her decision. Boy #3, tired, wet, walking like a re-animated corpse, holding a pirate mask on with his tongue while using both hands to carry a giant sack of candy, struggled to keep up.
The Halloween euphoria of the precious few hours had worn down and dwindled along with the number of trick or treaters on the road. Now, it was time to switch to the second phase of Halloween; Candy Inventory and Testing. Along the walk back to the house, Boy #3’s mood brightened. Everyone would forget their anger with him when the candy was spread out in each of their divided sections on the dining room table. With the candy properly separated, counted and sampled, everyone’s mood will brighten. The weather seemed to warm a bit, the drizzle stopped and there were even a few stars shining through the clouds. The costume seemed to loosen a bit, the mask almost stayed on by itself and his candy bag seemed lighter than a feather. Things were looking up.
“Everyone, drop their bags in the kitchen and change out of those damp costumes, immediately!” came the orders from The Mom as they walked through the back door.
The kids rushed to their bedrooms to changed clothes while The Dad poured cups of warm apple cider for each of them. Boy #4 was asleep on the sofa, still in his Winnie The Pooh costume, and Boy #5 was fast asleep in his crib. Boy #2 fought past Boy #1 in a dead sprint for their candy bags, wrestling and jockeying for first position. Girl calmly walked over, grabbed her neatly folded sack and went to her spot at the table. Boy #3 walked out with his pajamas on, the Jolly Roger pirate mask still being held on his face by his tongue. He picked up his candy sack. Something did not feel right! Something was dreadfully wrong! His sack had no weight! Panic struck! He slowly lifted the sack up off the ground and looked inside. Empty! Empty, save for a huge hole in the bottom of his paper sack! Candy lost! Oh God in heaven, say it ain’t so! The horror! THE HORROR!
Tears began to streak down his face, the sobs grew until he was crying. Boy #3 doesn’t remember much after that except for consolations promises of candy replacement from The Mom and The Dad,. Nobody would let him go searching for his lost candy…all hope was lost. Boys #1 and #2 and Girl paid no attention to him, they avoided eye contact at all cost. He was like a leper nobody wanted anything to do with. Sorry, you are on your own, sucker! None of them wanted to imagine the unimaginable, a candy-less Halloween.
But, at that moment, when Boy #3 thought things could get no worse, they did. The Curse of the Jolly Roger, as it became to be known to future generations, kicked in its full force and power. The Curse tossed the boy from the frying pan and into the fire.
The Dad made an executive decision and announced. “You three older kids need to split off a third of your candy and give it to your little brother.”
The groans were deafening! Disaster had struck! Boy #3 sat there at the table and felt the glare from each previous owner of each piece of candy as it was being forced to change ownership. Each glare stung Boy #3 like a dart.
The implications of the Curse of the Jolly Roger has festered for decades. The losses incurred have yet to be forgiven. What should have been a dream Halloween has become a forty plus year nightmare. Lord, have mercy on our souls.