notes on childhood etched on a church bulletin

By Vino Li on Unsplash

The old, stone church
(or was it brick?)
stood illuminated
in front of a waning moon.
Small glimmers of light shot out of the basement
through small windows in the foundation
along with an occasional shout of excitement.
I won! No you didn’t! Yes I did!
I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
No devils tonight-
except your little brother.

A sign on the main door read:

Carnival Tonight!
Candy! Contests! Fellowship!
Wear your best costume!
Be creative! And please no devils!

(accept your little brother)

The werewolf held a makeshift fishing rod
(with a clothespin on the end of the string)
and pulled candy over a carefully constructed curtained wall.
The vampire bobbed down into the metal tub filled with water
and came back up with a gasp-
fangs snagged on an apple.
The clowns adjusted their suspenders and took aim with beanbags
at a repurposed Spiderman game
used during the summer for Bible School.
A duck and a Raggedy Ann doll and a robot all joined in-
No Wait! That was the Christmas play the year before.
while the parents watched.

The dimly lit room through the door in the back corner usually reserved for
youth groups and Scouts
smelled of antici…pation
(and a damp basement)
with new purpose.
Ok. Take the ticket, blindfold them, and carefully lead them from station to station.
The teenagers who were too old for such foolishness led the smaller children around.
Right this way
to a bowl of hardboiled eggs-
Remember to tell the kids they’re eyeballs!
and a pot of spaghetti
Feel the intestines ooze through your fingers.
until finally from behind a bookcase…
and the zombies ran screaming.

Hours spent earlier in the day-
mom wrapping foliage around and around for Swamp Thing
or stuffing hay in sleeves and pantlegs for the Scarecrow
or painting little brother’s face red and making his horns
because mom and pop always created them by hand
Take pride in your work and love what you do!
even if sometimes a two dollar Captain Kirk mask
(slightly discolored and eyebrows removed)
might work just as well.

The pastor said
Time for judging the Costume Contest!
Carefully they lined up-
savagery abated for a moment
as water and sweat streaked the paint down their faces.

Pop always said
Be proud of your costumes.
Pop always said
Be proud of the role you play.
Pop always said
Be proud of you.

And the winner is-

Phillip Gillis is a teacher, writer, wanderer, semi-retired professional wrestler, and father of two beautiful children. He is also a proud native of Allensville, N.C. and grew up in a hardware store, C&G Supply Center.