“The Lights of Halloween” by Mary Ann Naso

   Since it was Halloween, Jan decided that the mall, not home, was her destination after work. She was not into trick or treating. Arriving at the mall, she was surprised by the number of vehicles parked in the lot near her usual entrance. When she saw people in costumes she remembered that the mall was hosting a costume contest. She saw a space opening on the far side of the lot against the tree line and pulled in. Exiting her car, she could hear the flowing Hudson River on the other side of the trees.

   After a stop at the food court, she headed to one of her favorite department stores where a shoe sale was in progress. Her first “prize” of the evening was a great pair of flats. As she strolled through the mall she saw that both kids and adults were in costumes. Most of the stores were offering treats to them. In a variety of stores she found other bargains—clothes, a kitchen gadget, a new novel and, finally, a great buy on a comforter for her guest bedroom.

   Loaded down with the rewards of her shopping venture; she could not carry one more bag. It was time to go home. It would have been amusing to watch the costume contest but then she’d have to fight the traffic getting out of the parking lots.

   Outside in the cool night air, Jan observed the big orange moon. Perfect, she thought, for Halloween. She noticed how dark it was where she was parked because of the overhanging tree branches. Her purchases were weighing her down as she trekked through the big lot toward her car. She wished she had been able to park in a more convenient spot. Reaching her car, she put down the big bag with the comforter, pulled her key out of her pocket and opened the trunk. Hurriedly, she tossed her purchases into the trunk and closed it. As she was getting into her car, she heard a car horn blasting away and thought the sound was annoying. She turned on the radio before she closed the door.

   Jan pulled out of her parking space and headed toward the exit. Immediately, a large vehicle came right up on her bumper with its bright lights shining directly through her car. Annoyed, she turned her rearview mirror upward to avoid being blinded and continued toward the exit. The vehicle stuck with her. While waiting for the traffic light at the exit, she hoped that the annoying driver behind her would be headed in the opposite direction. When the traffic signal turned green she made a left turn toward home and the vehicle behind her did the same, still following her closely. She decided to move to the other lane, hoping that the annoying vehicle would pass her but it stayed on her tail, too close and bright lights glaring. Jan was annoyed. Was this someone who thought that their behavior was a Halloween trick?

   Block after block, the bright lights continued to follow her and penetrate through the car. When she would speed up, the big vehicle would speed up. When she would slow down, it would slow down, its bright lights piercing through the darkness of her car. Since she had turned the rearview mirror upward, she could not see how many people were in the vehicle that was following her. She knew she would not be able to see anything back there anyway because of the blinding bright lights. She continued the speed-it-up, slow-it-down driving pattern in the hope that whoever was following her would tire of the game.  No such luck, the vehicle stayed on her tail.

   Jan tried to remain calm but was becoming more unglued with every mile. She decided that she could not go to her apartment complex where she lived alone since whoever was back there was not quitting. Three of her friends shared a house in a neighborhood close to her complex; she drove there. The big vehicle stayed directly behind hers with its penetrating bright lights illuminating the inside of her car.

   Pulling up in front of her friend’s house, she was glad that “trick-or-treaters” were still out accompanied by their parents. At the very least, their presence might deter the person who was following her. She grabbed her purse and ran to the front door where she rang  the doorbell and pounded on the door until it opened and she tumbled inside. Her friend, Emily, asked her what was wrong. Running to the front window, she told Emily to lock the door. She pointed toward her car and the big vehicle parked directly behind hers with its bright lights still on. Shaking, she told Emily that this vehicle had been glued to hers since the mall parking lot and she was afraid to go home.  Her other two friends rushed into the room as Jan was telling the story.

   Emily grabbed the phone and dialed 9-1-1. She explained all that had happened to her friend and that the vehicle was still parked in front of their house behind Jan’s car, bright lights still on. Thanks to the street light, they could see that there was just one man inside the big vehicle. Finishing her conversation with the 9-1-1 operator, she relayed to the others that they were instructed to stay inside and wait for the police.

   In what seemed an eternity, a police car arrived. Two officers exited their car and headed toward the large vehicle where they could be seen talking to the driver who was gesturing with his hands, pointing to Jan’s car. Inside the house, the women were surprised when both of the policemen turned away from the big vehicle and approached Jan’s car, one on either side, looking into the back seat. The officer on the driver’s side wrenched opened the rear door and reached in. The other policeman ran around the car to assist him. Jan and her friends gasped as they saw them pull a man out of the back seat. Across the street, parents and their costumed children had gathered to watch.

   The officers handcuffed the man. They removed an object from the waistband of his pants as they frisked him. As he was loaded into the backseat of the police car, the costumed crowd across the street cheered for the police. One officer motioned for the driver of the other vehicle to come with him. He was shaking the driver’s hand as they approached the house. The door was opened to let them inside.

   The driver of the other vehicle told his story. He was seated in his vehicle when he noticed a figure furtively walking under the trees by the river. He saw that it was a man who was attempting to open the doors of the parked cars. The man opened the rear door of a car, climbed inside and ducked down out of sight. Shortly, he saw a woman open the trunk of that car and toss her packages inside. When he saw that she was getting into the car, he blasted his horn because he did not have time to yell to stop her. He did what he considered was the next best thing, follow her closely with his bright lights on allowing him to see what might be happening inside her car.

   The police officer told them that they had removed a knife from the man who was hiding in Jan’s backseat.  He praised the other driver for his strategy. He told Jan that she was very lucky; she had been saved by the quick thinking of this man and the bright lights of his vehicle.

   Jan thanked him for what he did for her. She announced to everyone that she would be buying lots of Halloween candy next year because she would definitely be staying home that night.

   This is a true story. It happened to a friend of mine several years ago. To this day, I always look in the back seat, especially at night, before I get in a car.

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