There was an old Victorian house alone on a hill, deserted. In those days, no one restored Victorian houses. No one painted them pretty colors like the Painted Ladies of San Francisco in the Seventies. If the house was not kept up properly—and most weren’t, since that kind of house requires an army of servants for its upkeep—then it was simply old, an eyesore to be shunned by respectable people.
So there was this dilapidated old house by itself on a hillside. Its windows were broken, boarded up, or both. It had been owned by people of an older generation, but no one lived there now. It squatted on its lot, weeds growing tall in the yard, the iron grating fence rusting quietly. It made the perfect target for the more sophisticated set—namely those fifteen–year–olds who’d already read some Poe and figured they knew how to scare us younger kids with tales of murders, decapitations, telltale hearts, and people being walled up alive in hidden chambers.
So there we were on Halloween night, the three of us—Bobby Maguire, Sally Luff, and me. We’d gotten all the candy our neighborhood had to offer, and were ranging a little further afield when we passed the hill with the Haunted House. (I never did know the name of the family that owned it, though years later, after hearing the Firesign Theater talk about “the old Same place,” this was what I thought of.)
We’d been grossing one another out all evening, so when we passed the hill and saw the house—we all seemed to look up at the exact same moment—it hit us like divine inspiration. Three Sauls on the same road to Damascus. We’d check out the Haunted House and see if any of those stories were real.
(Of course, we didn’t do it straightaway. There was the usual preliminary daring and doubledaring and calling of cowardly nicknames. But we all knew we were going to do it, and eventually we did.)
The rusting gate squeaked appropriately as we pushed it open. The weeds and tall grass swayed in the cool breeze that came in from the ocean. Clouds scudded across the face of the not–quite–full moon. Hitchcock couldn’t have asked for better.
We walked up the steps of the front porch, the floorboards creaking ominously beneath our feet. Bobby, making a great show at being the bravest of us, marched up to the front door and knocked. “Trick or treat,” he said, though it came out more as a mew than a threat.