Episode 7: Hal’s Halloween

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Every rat in New York City loves Halloween. Every rat except for little Hal Harrison that is. But this year is going to be different. The Harrison’s are about to have a Halloween they’ll never forget. (Duration: 17:26) Theme music by Kevin Macleod – Incompetech.com. Want to listen offline? Click the download icon on the player above to download this episode to your device.

Episode 7: Hal’s Halloween

Hal was a homebody. Which is a rare for a rat, especially in New York City, ‘cause most New York rats scurry about the busy streets, hanging out around restaurant dumpsters or hiding out in alleyways. While humans ran back and forth between the subway and giant skyscrapers, the rats secretly ruled the city. See most people will tell you that hot shot humans run New York, the bankers, the brokers, but that’s far from the truth. In New York City, rats are king. People are just wind up toys that march back and forth working, working, working. But rats, they do all the living. Humans, for the most part, don’t like rats. They always scream or freak out when they see them. But what’s funny is that rats are actually not scary at all. It’s people glued to their phones with their big fat feet stomping around not paying attention that are scary.   

That being said, it is kind of ironic that rats in real life aren’t scary animals because their favorite holiday is Halloween. For them, it’s like Christmas. And while they share many of the traditions you humans enjoy, like trick or treating, dressing up, decorating the house, they have a whole lot more. For example, one of their favorite Halloween traditions that’s especially big in New York, is called the Big Stink. It’s where all the rats in the city bring their stinkiest cheese to Central Park, moosh it together somewhere the humans can’t find it, leave it for several months, and then come back on Halloween Night to enjoy a feast of the biggest, stinkiest, block of cheese you’ve ever seen. I’m talking the Empire State Building of stink. It’s beautiful.

Almost every rat in the Big Apple counts down the days til Halloween night when they  get their piece of the Big Stink. I say almost everyone, because there is one little rat who doesn’t look forward to it. Little Hal Harrison from The Bronx. He is the youngest of 32 siblings. His mom had  4 litters in a year and he was the last pup to come along. Raising 32 ain’t easy. As you can imagine, she stayed home with the wet little furballs while Hal’s dad worked all day. He was a plumber, mostly working in residential buildings, but sometimes, when he was real lucky, he got to work on the pipes of the big fancy shmancy hotels.

For years, Hal and his family lived in a big spilled trash can in an alleyway between Union Square and Park Avenue, right next to Union Square Park, a great place for a picnic or a game of grab the tail football. It was a good life, simple and comfortable. That is until the garbage man finally found their tipped over trash can and emptied it. Since then they’d been without a real home. For the time being, all of them crammed into a wet little Amazon delivery box behind the deli. It was hard. Hal wasn’t excited to come home any more. The only thing to brighten the family’s spirits was the upcoming Halloween Holiday.

Hal just wanted it to be over and done with. He wished he could escape the constant chatter about trick or treating, the candy, and the Big Stink. But that’s all the city could talk about.

Well, Halloween eventually came as it always does. And Hal, too disinterested in finding a new costume, just borrowed a hand-me-down from his older brother Jack. It was a Splinter costume, you know, the sense rat from the Ninja Turtles? Except nobody knew what he was supposed to be. They just saw the ragged robes and the walking stick and assumed he was a beggar.

“People’d get it if you just do a couple karate moves,” Jack said, trying to encourage him. “Here, try something like this.” Jack threw a couple punches and a kick, which was nearly impossible to do in his petticoat grandma costume.

Hal shook his head. “Can we just get this over with?”

“Ah come on, Hal. Stop being such a wet rat,” said his other brother Max. He was dressed as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Which was perfect since one of his eyes bulged more than the other and he already walked with a slight hobble. He’d stuffed a pillow in the back of his shirt for the hunchback hump, but every time he walked it would droop to one side. “I know you get spooked and you don’t like Halloween, yadda yadda yadda, but don’t go loosin’ ya cheese alright? Mom and dad are making us take you along with us and we don’t want you slowin’ us down. We gotta lotta candy to score. This year’s bounty’s gonna be  huge.”

“We’re not stoppin’ by Mr. Tailey’s house this year are we?” Hal asked. Mr. Tailey was a teacher at their school who always served homemade donuts and hot chocolate in front of his house. If he left it at that Hal wouldn’t have a problem. But he also wore these over-the-top costumes. Most of which were too scary looking for Hal. And Hal didn’t like scary. Which is one of the many reasons he wanted to avoid the house. Mr. Tailey was famous for taking the holiday waaaaay too seriously. Some rats said that he lived in a Haunted House year round just to stay in character. A true method actor. The Daniel Day Lewis of rats.

Hal’s brothers grinned, their crooked teeth showing beneath their pink noses. “We’ll see,” they said.

Hal and his two older brothers set out with their plastic ziplock bags they’d found in the trash, and went door to door trick or treating. They made their way through the alleyways between the tall glittering skyscrapers, the full moon’s reflection glowing in the building windows. Max and Jack led the way as they bounced between the houses made of shoes, boxes, trash cans, and abandoned shopping carts, asking for treats and wishing everyone a Happy Halloween.

The only thing Hal wished was to go home. He didn’t like seeing everyone dressed up as ghosts, weird goblin things or wearing spooky plastic masks. For him it was all too creepy to be fun. Not even his bag of candy could make him feel better. Most of the time he spent looking down at his feet so he wouldn’t have to see anybody. The only time he looked up was when they stopped by the Jacobson’s who had decorated their whole house in vanilla flavored cotton candy. They’d stretched it out all over to make it look like spider webs and  trick-or-treaters got to pull it down by the fist full and stuff it into their bags.

“Check out the Russo’s!” Jack said, cotton candy hanging off his furry chin and making him look like a grandma with a goatee. “They’re really gettin’ into it this year!”  

They looked and saw a little stage erected in front of The Russo’s Ikea box house. On it the whole family danced in sync to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” They shimmied and stepped in perfect harmony as if they’d practiced all year for the performance. At the end of the dance they tossed candy to their street audience.

A couple blocks later they were in Mr. Tailey’s neighborhood. He lived under a bridge in a series of cereal boxes that had been cut, stacked, and taped together. Sitting in front of his Reece’s Puffs box porch was a little table with a plate of donuts. They were piping hot, fresh off the fryer, and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Next to it was a pitcher of hot chocolate. The only thing missing was Mr. Tailey. The gray haired stubby rat was nowhere to be seen.

Max and Jack ran up to the table and wasted no time helping themselves to the sugary feast. Hal, however, stood back. Something didn’t feel right. It was unlike Mr. Tailey to not be manning his table.

It wouldn’t surprise him if he was hiding in the nearby bushes, waiting for just the right moment to jump out in a scary costume and scare their little tails off. Hal looked around the neighborhood. It was unusually quiet for this side of the bridge. Usually neighbors were out, enjoying the cool night and laughing over a cup of cocoa. Not tonight. Everything was as still as a graveyard.

“Toss me a donut? Please?” Hal asked his brothers from a distance. They looked back at him and chuckled.

“Gotta come and get it,” Jack grinned.

Hal took a few careful steps towards the table and then stopped. Had he heard something? Eh, it was probably just a bird. He stepped closer and again he heard it. There was no question this time. It was coming from the bushes. No bird would be hanging around the bushes like that, unless it was injured. The bush shook again, but this time something emerged with the sound. A tall shadow loomed over the table.

“A snake!” Hal shouted.

His brothers jumped back at the warning. When they turned they came face to face with a huge coiled python.

Max caught his breath and then laughed. “Wow! You got us good, Mr. Tailey! Best costume yet!”

“Yeah, you ‘bout gave me a heart attack!” Jack added.

The snake didn’t respond. It just stared down at them with its menacing slit eyes, a thin slippery tongue flicking out of its mouth every few seconds.

Max swallowed. “Ummm, Mr. Tailey? Jokes over.”

The snake slid closer.

Jack tugged on Max’s back hump which had dropped all the way to his side. “I-I don’t think that’s Mr. Tailey. Let’s get outta here!”

The snake bared its very real fangs and hissed. Max and Jack booked it down the street, running past Hal in a blur. “Come on, Hal, run!” Jack shouted. He turned and saw that his little brother was too stunned to move, paralyzed with fear. So he ran back and pulled Hal out of the bridge just before the snake could get him.

The brothers ran and ran as fast as they could, out from under the bridge, through the streets all the way home. When they reached where they thought their house was they found a big tall pumpkin instead. Jack and Max had to double check their surroundings to make sure they were in the right place. But when they saw the beige dumpster, red brick building and the pizza parlor they knew they were in the right spot.

“Back so soon?” came their mother’s voice.

“Momma!” shouted Hal. He ran over and gave her a big hug. He’d never been so happy to see her.

“What happened boys?” their dad asked, stepping out from behind the pumpkin.

Jack and Max told their parents the truth, about the snake and how they’d barely escaped.

Their parents told them there would be no future trick-or-treating unless they stayed in bigger groups and in busier neighborhoods. The boys apologized for not being more careful and said they would spend the rest of the night at home.

“What’s with the pumpkin?” Hal asked. He looked over the beautiful orange and white pumpkin with its wide sides and thick stem.

Mom and dad looked at each other. “Welcome home,” they said.

“We’re going to sleep under a pumpkin?” Jack asked, scrunching his furry face.

“No, we’re going to sleep in the pumpkin,” dad answered. He handed them each a saw. “You’re brothers and sisters should be home in a couple hours. Whatta ya boys say we try an’ get this thing done before they get here?”

Max looked down at his saw. “But what about the Big Stink? If we work on the house we’ll miss it and all the stinkiest cheese’ll be taken.”

“Yea, I put a real good hunka blue cheese in there this year,” Jack added.

“How about we start our own tradition,” mom replied. “This year, the Harrison family’s tryin’ something new.”

The boys agreed and then following their parents lead, started cutting away at the pumpkin. Max, Jack, and dad cut out windows and doors while little Hal and his mom emptied the pumpkin’s insides. Stringy goo and wet  seeds clung to his fur as they worked. But it didn’t bother Hal none. He’d much rather be doing this than be out on the streets.

Once the windows and doors were cut, pencils were stuck into the pumpkin’s floor and propped up a second story loft made of cardboard. Curtains were hung from the windows and porch steps were made from bottle caps. When the home was finished, they lit a small fire in the middle of the main hollowed-out room. Warm light shone through the carved windows and doors. Smoke danced up through the room and out the stem chimney. Hal stepped back with his parents and brothers and took it all in. It was the most beautiful home he’d ever seen – a place he’d be excited to come home to.

Not long after they finished, all of Hal’s brothers and sisters came home from trick-or-treating. They marveled and cheered at the amazing pumpkin home. It looked like a mansion compared to their old wet box. They stepped through the orange fleshy door and sat at a long Hershey Bar table.

As they took their seats they shared each other’s candy and talked about the night’s events. All were amazed with the story of little Hal and the great Halloween snake. “If it weren’t for Hal’s warning, we woulda been toast!” Max announced.

Hal blushed.

Jack took off his grandma wig and looked at his brother Jeff who had a mouse trap clamped over him. “Nice one, Jeff!” he laughed. “That’s the best costume I’ve seen all night!”

Jeff didn’t look amused. “It ain’t a costume.”

Jack laughed even harder. “You’re killing me!”

“No, seriously. Get this thing off me.”

Hal’s mom pulled out a batch of roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Dad stood from the table to make an announcement. The room hushed. “Let me first just say how glad I am you all made it home safely,” he said, eyeing Hal, Jack, and Max. “I wanted to remind all of you that in this family, when it comes to any holiday, what’s most important is that we spend time together. Not everyone celebrates Halloween. And that’s perfectly all right.” Hal nodded dramatically. “For others, it’s an excuse to dress silly, eat treats, and have fun. Every family is different and we need to respect that. For us, The Harrisons, Halloween or not, we should find every excuse imaginable to grow closer to one another.” He looked over the pumpkin room. “I must say, this here is one great excuse! Happy Halloween!”

“Happy Halloween!” they all shouted.

Warm and cozy inside their new pumpkin home, the Harrison’s talked, and laughed, and ate, and shared, and played card games around the table until the fire had burnt down to glowing embers. Hal was the last one to fall asleep. He looked out at the full moon that peeked out between two tall buildings and sighed. If this is what Halloween was going to be about, he was all for it.

Rocket Review! Hey Rocketeers, it’s your host Greg Webb. I hope you all enjoyed the story of Hal’s Halloween. For those of you who celebrate Halloween, I hope it got you in the mood for the holiday. For those who don’t, I hope it inspired you to start some new family traditions.

My favorite Halloween tradition growing up was getting together with my family and carving pumpkins. We usually did it at my Aunt and Uncle’s house and I can’t say I remember very many of the Jack-O-Lanterns I carved. I was artistically challenged, but I do remember the bowl of peanut M&M’s that were always sitting on the counter. I also remember trick or treating on roller blades. That’s how you maximized your candy. I remember coming home and emptying my pillow case on the floor and the Mt. Everest of candy came pouring out. I’m pretty sure I could do snow angels in all the candy I’d gotten. What are some of your Halloween traditions? Are you carving a pumpkin this year? If so, send me a picture of your Jack-O-Lantern. You can send it to purplerocketpodcast@gmail.com. If you’re one of the many families that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, let me know how you celebrate the fall season. What fun things do you like doing with your family during this time of year?

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