When I was a very little girl Freddy Giles was a big boy, practically grown up.
I met him when I was out at night Trick or Treating all by myself. Mom had sent me with my older brother Bill, but he ditched me, as he always did, at the park, at the school, and at the movies.
We lived in a small town with the first wave of Baby Boomers prowling the streets looking for handouts. It was friendly childhood extortion: you pay or we play, Pal!
I had just turned four a few days earlier and went from door to door with my pillow case, sometimes meeting up with other kids. My pillow case was getting heavy, so I sat down to rest on a curb. Suddenly a big boy appeared out of the darkness and sat down next to me.
“You got any apples or walnuts, Squirt?” He smiled down at me as I passed my pillow case for him to search. He was a really big boy with dark hair and bright brown eyes and a smile that made me think of the picture of the Cheshire Cat, gleaming white in the night.
He sat next to me on the curb and munched on an apple. “So how old are you, anyway?”
He glanced around the dark street with a trio of old fashioned globes posted at each corner.
“You are kind of little to be out at night on your own, aren’t you?”
“I am not little! And my brother will be back.”
I didn’t like it when people said I was little. Little meant that I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted.
“Hmm, maybe you’re right.” He munched on the apple and observed me.
“What’s your name, Squirt?”
“My name is Mellie. It’s short for Melanie.”
“Nice name! When will your brother be coming to get you?” His eyes scanned the dark street with pods of children going from door to door. I shrugged. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t.
“Well, I’m Freddy Giles. And I think I’d like to stick around until he comes for you. If he’s too late I’ll run you home you home, OK?”
I had just taken a big bite out of a candied popcorn ball and my lips were not quite reaching each other.
“Okthay” I sputtered feeling sticky syrup drip from the corners of my mouth and half chewed popcorn fell into my lap. I wiped my face with my arm. Mom was going to be mad over this one. I’ll need a good bath.
But this was beginning to be fun, resting in the warm evening air, listening to kids laughing and the occasional beer swilling neighbor swearing about what was wrong with all these goddam kids running the streets these days.
“Say, Squirt, how bout I give you a ride on my shoulders and we’ll play King of the World?”
I took a smaller bite out of my popcorn ball and glanced at him sideways.
“How do we do that?”
He hoisted me up on top of his shoulders and stood up so quickly that my popcorn ball fell into his hair as he started running, holding me safe by my feet.
“Okay, Squirt! Holler I’m King of the World!”
And when I shouted “I’m Queen of the World!” he stopped running.
“No, not a Queen, Squirt. Being a King of Anything is much better than being a Queen of Nothing. Remember that, ‘k? Promise?”
Of course I promised, and, my brother never came for me, so Freddie brought me home, piggyback. He climbed to the upper floor of Nana Graff’s old Victorian, to our apartment, and rapped on the door. My mother answered it and blinked a little when she saw me sitting on his back.
“Why, Freddy! Where did you find Mellie? Billy was supposed to be watching her.” My mom frowned and her eyes narrowed. A little flash of the devil told me my brother was going to get into trouble. For once.
“Well, thank you very much, Freddy. I’m glad to have her home safe.” She walked him to the door and reminded him to tell his mother that it was just too kind of him to bring me safely home.
After he left my mother inspected me.
“You’re a royal mess, young lady. It’s bath time then bed. You have kindergarten in the morning.”
Mom drew the bath and held my braids up and washed my back while I got all the sticky goo off my lips. I began to get sleepy in the warm water.
“At least you didn’t get anything into your hair, thank God!” I’ll dry you off and you run to your room, put your jams on and I’ll come tuck you into bed.
Halloween for me meant hunting down Freddy Giles. He no longer called me Squirt; he called me Shadow because I followed him everywhere the rest of the year. And when I was a few years older, he jumped out of bushes or from behind a tree yelling “Boo!” Then raided my pillowcase as always for “his” fruits and nuts. I became a stalker or maybe just a puppy looking for a home. I was in love and he called me “Shadow”! It was a fun little interaction for a little girl and a big boy.
Then one Halloween there was no Freddy Giles to be found, no big boy to put me on his shoulders and run with me shouting “I’m King of the World and Never the Queen!”
Crushed, I came home crying, without one bit of candy or fruit or nuts.
Freddy Giles was no longer a boy, Mom said. He’d become a man, and he had left to strike out on his own. She called it my short-lived romance: I met him at four and lost him at seven.
A decade passed, and it was Halloween again, just after my birthday. I was now seventeen, in Junior College and dressed as a modest Genie from the TV program that had all the men drooling. My ex-boyfriend, now best friend Pat (and his date!) picked me up and we all danced and had a great time – me on my own, Pat with his girlfriend. When the event ended, the drummer in the band gave me his drumsticks as a souvenir. Then Pat and his date drove me home to our little cottage off of HWY 128. My mother would be babysitting at Lola’s house, wouldn’t be home till dawn. I was used to that. I waved good night to Pat and his girlfriend then he U-turned and went back to Napa
As I walked down the path to our front porch I noticed that our screen door was wide open and the front door was part open. We never left the house like that. The porch light was on but the lamp in the living room was not lit. I stepped up to the porch, pushed the front door open and crossed the room to flip the switch. When light flooded the room I realized our kitchen/dining room door was firmly closed. We never closed that door! I could see light beneath the door: the lights were on in the kitchen/dining room. These were the last cognizant thoughts running through my brain and adrenaline clicked in.
I threw the kitchen door inward and it hit a man in black leathers with Hells Angels colors, pushed him onto the stove over the gas oven which was wide open. I jumped on his back, wrapping my legs around his waist, an arm around his neck and hit him repeatedly about the head with my drum sticks. And I screamed Holy Hell! A shrieking banshee sound that terrified me.
He pushed himself off the stove and whirled quickly around, and my grip slipped. I fell on the floor, in a corner and he stood over me, a horrible man, with long greasy strands of black hair, a long beard and bloodshot eyes, and yes he was a Hells Angel!
He stepped back, waving his hands and begged me to stop screaming.
“I’m not here to hurt you! I won’t hurt you! I don’t even remember coming into your house! Please, please stop screaming and let me go, I won’t hurt you, I promise!”
He took another few steps back until he was backed up against the door to the living room. I scrambled upright, shaking. I saw I was cornered. The door between kitchen and living room was a barrier, trapping me in the house.
He must have seen my face, for he stepped back a few paces, then said “Here, I’ll go into the living room and just go on out the front door. I’m so sorry, ah; I’m really not here to hurt you.” His dark brown eyes, bloodshot with both booze and fear assured me I was going to be safe. Relief flooded through me. And I now could see his features in the light.
“You are Freddy Giles.”
The man’s mouth dropped open and he teetered backward as if I’d shoved him.
“What the hell? How do you know?” He sputtered and looked like he might pass out.
“I’m Shadow, the King of the World, because there is no use in being a Queen! Go on into the living room and I’ll see if I can’t find some food. You need to sober up.”
“You? You are Shadow? Dressed like out of Arabian Nights? I don’t understand..” Those blood-shot eyes rolled and he shook his head.
He sunk into the sofa, and I scrounged up the heel of a loaf of white bread, a hard boiled egg and a 7-Up. I sat across the room in the worn out armchair.
And we talked. He begged me not to call the police. I told him the phone service was shut off.
He told me what he recalled of his visit to our hometown. He and his wife piggybacked on their Harley Hog from Central California to visit his mother. Then they decided to go to Susie’s Bar before they hit the road. They drank too much, got into a fight, she flew out the door and onto the bike and he had no recollection of anything until he found himself with a Genie on his back and wanted to throw up.
I told him he could nap up a bit if he wanted. There wasn’t much in the house as it was the end of the month, the lean time. He shook his head and gave me twenty dollars.
“Here, Shadow. See if this will help till the check comes in.” And in unison we both said “Don’t tell anyone about this, ok?” And again, “Promise?” So we made a pact. And he slipped out the front door.
The following fall I moved out of our house to live near the Junior College in Napa. Within a few weeks Mom died. I had to go back to my hometown, do the funeral and burial arrangements. And while I was greeting everyone, Freddy’s mother came through the line. She wanted to thank me for being kind to her son, and she wanted me to know that she’d told my mother and my mother had cried.
She said Freddy was killed in a bar-room brawl the year before. She had his leathers and helmet. She said he had a heart patch on the left shoulder of his jacket with the a full moon and the word Shadow embroidered on it, just like the tattoo that was on his left shoulder.
I’m a grandmother now, of teenagers. There is a part of me that still looks for Freddy, the little girl part that shouts “I’m King of the World, Not the Queen!” and adores him still.