In the particular year this story took place, All Soul’s Day – also known in some cultures as the Day of the Dead – arrived on a Monday. But this is the story about the day before All Soul’s Day, but perhaps I should tell you something about myself first.
My name is Belen; I am an exchange student from Columbia, living in a dormitory on a college campus in the United States. Which particular college is not important; what is important is to understand the setting I am living in. It is a quiet college campus in the Philadelphia suburbs. Although many of the students live in dormitories, a rather large percentage of the students live close enough to go back home on weekends. Most of the dorms are rather quiet during the weekend.
One exception is the “foreigner’s dorm”. I am one of about eighty foreign exchange students. In an effort to help the foreign exchange students feel more “at home”, the college designated one particular dorm to put the foreign exchange students in. Considering that many of us came to study in the United States and to experience the culture, it seems rather silly to enforce segregation upon us. In a rare fluke, the college accepted one more exchange student than they meant to, meaning that one foreign exchange student would need to live outside of the foreigner’s dorm.
For better or worse, I was selected. So I am living in a regular American dormitory, and have a roommate to share the space with. Unfortunately, my roommate Ellen does not speak a word of Spanish, so communication between us at times is not always perfect. Still, she’s a nice girl, quiet and often pre-occupied with getting her schoolwork done, and the other times, she is off talking with her boyfriend, Mike. Although some of the young men look at me with interest – while I would not call myself beautiful, many consider me at least pretty – once they realize I am a foreign exchange student, they generally lose interest. Still, I have dark hair, with soft curls, and a petite body, in good proportion.
As I mentioned, today is Sunday. It is my habit to do laundry on Sunday afternoons, and this day was no different; I was busy folding my laundry in the room. I had seen Ellen leave the room a while ago, along with Mike, presumably for an early dinner out, although she hadn’t taken her purse. I thought that perhaps she would come back for the purse, but after a bit of time had passed; I figured she was not worried about it.
And so it was, lost deep in thought about how much I missed my family at home and our traditions for All Souls Day, I was startled to hear a loud knocking at the door. I thought perhaps it might have been Emil, one of my fellow Columbians on the campus. Putting down the towel I was folding, I walked over the door and as I opened it, my breath momentarily caught in my throat and my heart skipped a beat.
Then I screamed in terror.
Before me stood a terrifying apparition! In the briefest of moments, my mind registered the most frightening sight of my life. In a black hooded robe, holding a knife with blood on it, this creature lifted the arm holding the knife towards me. The face – if one could call it that – was a chalky white. The mouth was horrible, with blood dripping down the face near the corner of the mouth, reminding me of childhood tales of vampires and men that vampires can turn into vicious psychotics.
I screamed again and my body finally listened to my mind – shut the door! So I slammed the door shut, and with trembling hands, I checked to make sure it was locked.
I was in a panic. There was no phone in the room, and with the campus so quiet, no one was around to hear my screams of terror. The horrible creature pounded on the door again, and I screamed, certain it was going to get in. Then I heard the door knob rattle, and I desperately looked for something I could throw at the monster in case it got in.
There was nothing of any use. The clothes that I had been folding wouldn’t hurt such a creature. Sobbing, I began to pray aloud, trying to avoid becoming completely hysterical by seeking solace in prayer.
After a moment, I realized that there was no more noise at my door. Shakily, I thanked God. I am, like many of those in my country, deeply religious. Still, I was in awe at the power of prayer, yet still afraid that the creature still awaited me outside the door, silently, as a trick.
Then I heard a key slipping into the knob, and a felt a brief flicker of terror return. How could the creature have gotten the key? But then the door opened, and Ellen walked in, leaving the door ajar. I flew past her to slam the door shut, afraid that the creature might yet be lurking somewhere nearby.
Ellen took one look at my tear-streaked face and immediately asked what was wrong. I began telling her all about the creature, and her hand flew to her mouth. I thought she was as shocked as I was, but then she started to laugh and apologize. At first, I could not understand what she meant; then it became clear. The creature I had seen was her boyfriend, dressed up in a horrible disguise. Ellen explained to me about the American holiday of Halloween and the custom of dressing up in costumes, knocking on doors and getting candy – or playing tricks. I was very angry when I realized it had been a big joke! But I was also very relieved to learn that there was no horrible creature lurking in the hallway, waiting to kill me. After I calmed down, it was my turn to explain to Ellen that we had no such custom in Columbia. I could see that Ellen was sorry that I had been so scared, but she had not realized I had not known about Halloween.
It was about that time that Michael knocked on the door; Ellen let him in and explained everything I had related to him. Michael also apologized for scaring me half to death, and said he’d go take off the makeup and costume.
He was about to leave the room to go wash it off when a very mischievous idea hit me. I had many friends in the foreigner’s dormitory, and I was certain most, if not all, of those students also had not heard of Halloween. I stopped Michael, and in my not-quite-fluent English, explained that I had a few friends I’d like him to visit in costume.
Ellen, Michael and I quietly sneaked from our dormitory over to the foreigner’s dormitory. It wasn’t hard; most of the rooms had very loud music being played. Opening the first hallway door, I peeked in to see if the hallway was clear, and then signaled for Ellen and Michael to follow. I pointed to the door of the room for Michael to knock on. Ellen and I slipped back further down the hallway so that we would not easily be seen when my friend opened the door.
And then Michael pounded on the door of my friend. A moment later, the door opened, and my friend had the same reaction I had had – he screamed! And then he slammed the door shut. Two seconds later, he opened the door again – not having believed his eyes – and saw the apparition that was really Michael still there – yelled a prayer and slammed the door shut again. When the door did not open again, we had Michael step back into hiding, and Ellen and I knocked on my door of my friend. When he did not open the door, I called out in my native Spanish to him. He opened the door and tried to pull me in, babbling about monsters. He was just as scared as I had been! Ellen and I both started giggling, and then we explained about Halloween and had Michael come out of hiding. He looked at Michael’s costume in wonder… and then said he had someone he’d like to have scared. He was ready to join the Halloween adventure trail with us.
And so it went; knocking on one door after another, hearing one friend cry out and scream after another. One friend answered the door with a towel around his waist; he had just come back from the shower room. When he saw Michael, he panicked and bolted past Michael into the hallway, crying out for help. By then, we had quite a few people following along, laughing as each person got scared by Michael.
One of my friends tackled my towel-wearing friend in the hallway, and then calmed him down, explaining Halloween to him. He got a smile on his face and said that another friend was still in the shower room, taking a tub bath…and he wanted him to have the fun of being scared too. Since the shower room was for men only, Ellen and I regretfully had to wait outside. One by one, all of our male friends who had already been scared quietly sneaked into the men’s restroom; apparently the tub was tucked off behind a side wall, so our friend in the tub did not know all these people were filing in.
Then Michael went in. Ellen and I waited with baited breath… and we waited… and then, we heard our friend in the tub scream and yell. A great round of laughter and hooting ensued, as all of our male friends laughingly told the friend in tub about Halloween. Apparently he was not quite so amused, as we heard from our friends and Michael as they came back out, the water in the tub had suddenly turned yellow!
And so it went, with many of us having our first Halloween adventure ever. It was an exhilarating experience – great fun that we knew we would have again the following year.