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Fright Night
by Russell Bittner

     “You’ve got a pretty face, kid,” you tell your boy.  “A million-dollar face.  Don’t muck with it.”  It’s an easy thing to say when that face isn’t yours.  When your own face ain’t worth anything even close to a million—you know it, he knows it—and so he has to wonder:  on what authority?

Problem is, you’ve also told him—no, instructed him—to forget his face and defend the helpless, the weak, women and children certainly, but also weaker bucks—when they can’t defend themselves.  Sadly, that’s an authority he doesn’t question—because it sounds right.

There are nights when females, kidlets, weaker males of all species just wanna have fun.  Halloween is such a night for humans.  Halloween used to be a night when pretty much anyone could have fun.  Problem is, Halloween isn’t much fun anymore.  Halloween now calls out the primitive and primes for punishment.
And first in line for punishment is 'pretty.'

Your boy’s now out walking the sidewalk with his girl.  They’re at least a year past trick or treating, so just walkin'.  They’re big kids now, quite content to walk, to talk, to pass the little kids by.  She comments from time to time “Oh, how cute!”  He snickers, remembers just a year or two earlier when he also came out in costume. 

But he’s a tough guy now—and yet, not so tough.  He stops the next little kid he comes across; asks to look into his bag of trick or treat; notices how the bag shakes a bit as the kid holds it out; notices how the kid’s cat whiskers also tremble as the kid looks up.

You boy’s a tough guy—yet not so tough.  He crouches down to eye-level with the cat-kid, looks at him and snarls.  The cat-kid tries to snarl back, but it comes out all wrong, comes out as a sniffle.  And then the cat-kid looks down at his silly furry cat-feet and chokes.

“Oh, stop it!” your boy’s girl says.  She’s an old-time Brooklyn girl, after all.  She’s a tough girl—not from these parts, not from this newer Brooklyn.  She’s from a former time, a different ‘hood, another world view.  And so really a tough girl—and not just pretend-tough.

Now, he has to choose—and your time to counsel is past.  He’s at least a year out of costume—too old to dress up, too old to have a parent-guardian, yet still not old enough to kick the nest.  Problem is—right now, this girl, this young kid in costume, these streets, this night, this moment—he has to choose.

He hesitates for a moment, but the cat-kid doesn’t look up.  The cat-kid fidgets with his trick or treat bag, then drops it to the sidewalk.  He raises his cat-kid paws to his eyes, squats down and begins to bawl.

Your big, tough Brooklyn kid hesitates no longer.  He reaches down, scoops the kid-kid into his arms, raises him up into the air.  The kid-kid stops crying and looks down at this big, tough bruiser kid, who’s now smiling.  The kid-kid smiles back through sniffles.  The big, tough Brooklyn kid grunts.  The kid-kid squnts back.

Your big, tough Brooklyn bruiser puts the kid-kid back down on the sidewalk, gives him another snarl, then a meow.  The kid-kid returns a small snarl, couples it with his own small meow, picks up his bag.  The kid-kid wipes his nose, shakes his body one time and growls.

The kid-kid, now once again a pretend cat-kid, wanders off in search of more trick or treat.

Your big Brooklyn bruiser and his girl also wander off, and she pokes him once in the ribs.  “Toughie,” she says.

Your bruiser and his girl walk off into Prospect Park; walk exactly one hundred steps up to the summit of Lookout Hill; catch a clear, cold, crystalline view of Manhattan’s skylights tickling the ether; say nothing as he puts an arm around her waist, she puts one around his.  They’ll shortly be moving on to their own bit of trick or treat, and they can already taste the candy.  Problem is, their Halloweens are well behind them—and they know it.  There, off to the northwest, just across a river called the “East” and a bridge called “Brooklyn,” are bigger, tougher, smarter, and richer kids who'll shortly test your boy’s and his girl’s stuff—and no doubt find it wanting.  That’s the real fright of this night—and the spirits of these two gently-tethered bruisers can no longer pretend otherwise.

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