Halloween 1973: The Devil Made Me Do It

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

I recently attended a reunion of high school friends and classmates.  Everyone seemed happy to see me. Everyone, that is, except Helen Stockman.

Thirty-nine years after our last date, Helen was still waiting for Congress to legalize physical violence against people who pull stupid, juvenile Halloween pranks.

“I see no reason,” she told a CNN interviewer, “why such persons shouldn’t be beaten senseless with a baseball bat.”

Thinking back, Helen Stockman was a poor choice for the Halloween prank of 1973. She was a frail, pale 16-year-old who freaked out during school fire drills. I was madly in love with her.

The blockbuster movie that autumn was The Exorcist, which featured the most horrifying images ever broadcast, unless you count recent concert footage of Keith Richards’ face.

I still have nightmares about the scene where Regan, the possessed girl, spins her head around as the demon insider her hisses, “REEEAAAGAN, REEEAAGAAN!  I WANT YOUUU!”  The nightmares return every time I think about my first, and last, date with Helen Stockman.

By October that year, I’d seen the movie twice. Art, my brother, had seen it three times. One day after school Helen told me she hadn’t seen the movie. To your average irresponsible adolescent, what happened next could not be stopped.

I invited Helen to see The Exorcist with me — on Halloween night. I told her the film had been a victim of bad reviews. I told her it wasn’t as scary as people claimed and that, in fact, it was actually, well, very funny.

Helen agreed. She was even more gullible than she was frail.

So was I. On Halloween morning, my brother, Art, who is now a corporate attorney, convinced me to add a few extra touches to my date with Helen.

Art explained: “You pick Helen up in mom’s car. Okay? While you guys are inside at the movie I smear ketchup all over the windshield and windows. Okay?  I’ve got it all worked out.  Just get her inside and I’ll take it from there. Okay?”

Looking back, I had no way of knowing that, under centuries-old common law, anyone who tells you “I’ll take it from there” is not to be trusted and is probably an actual devil, or vampire, or both. Occasionally, I noticed that my brother’s reflection does not appear in mirrors. Art’s plan struck me as irresponsible, reckless, dangerous and monumentally stupid. So we moved forward.

Inside the theater that night, Helen squirmed, screamed and dug her fingernails into my wrists. That was during the opening credits. Outside, Art busily smeared “blood” on the windshield as well the interior dashboard. The statute of limitations have long since expired, my brother now acknowledges that the dashboard part was added without my consent. So were the sound effects.

Our dad owned a battery-operated tape cassette player. Sometime prior to my departure, Art locked himself in an upstairs closet, put the cassette deck microphone close to his mouth and hit the Record button.


My sister Lucy told me later than she heard the horrid racket from the backyard but thought nothing of it. She assumed it was simply Art locked in a closet recording scary Halloween noises. She and my brother are very close; Lucy, too, has no mirror reflection.

Art added reverberated howls, belly laughs and disgusting throat noises belched from hell.  “HELLLL-EN! HELLLL-ENNN ….”  He then rewound the tape and snuck out to mom’s car ahead of me. He slid the cassette player under the passenger seat.

An hour later I left for Helen’s house. Two hours after that Helen and I were watching the closing minutes of “The Exorcist.”  I watched them upright. Helen watched with her head between her knees, where it had been since the scene in which that unfortunate girl began floating above the bed. As the movie wound down Art was winding up — darting around the parking lot searching for mom’s car. If Lucy was there, too, she has never confessed.

My brother, indeed, had taken care of everything. He inserted 15 minutes of silence on the cassette prior to recording his banshee screams. This, he calculated, would trigger the sound effects just shortly after Helen and I returned to the car. Art found the car, slid my dad’s cassette player under the passenger seat and hit the PLAY button. He then transformed himself into a brown recluse spider and crawled off into the darkness.

Looking back, I was too young and too stupid to understand that you should never deliberately make a redheaded 16-year-old girl’s heart stop beating. As Helen and I reached mom’s car, she spotted the words “HELEN!!” and “YOU MUST DIE!!” on the windshield. Written in ketchup. Cursive ketchup.

Instantly, Helen’s throat made a deep gurgling noise. She clutched her head and screamed — A wordless, incomprehensible scream.  Over her shoulder I could see parents dragging small children into large station wagons.

Helen’s senses were now especially acute. All of them were screaming.

“Get me in the car!!! David!!  What the — !  Let me in! Get me out of here RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!”

Her shrieking was hideous and eerie. She sounded just like that girl in the movie.

I floored it out of the parking lot. Within seconds we were racing down one of the darkest roads in north Leawood, a spider web of one-way streets and dead ends. Helen pounded the dashboard, bruised fists now covered with Art’s dashboard ketchup. Helen studied her hands as if she’d never seen them before. She studied the windshield ketchup the same way.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!!!” she howled. Her left hand grabbed the windshield wiper bar and throttled it upward.

The wipers removed the death threats; they did not remove the ketchup. I was now driving like a drunken sailor, swerving left and right down Tomahawk Lane peering through a canvas of smeared ketchup that instantly became a magnet for falling leaves and blown dust. A passerby said later that it appeared a dozen cats had mistaken my windshield for a litter box.

My heart thumped as the right front wheel smacked something that felt like a curb. I hit the brake. The car came to rest in something that felt like someone’s front yard, unless it only looked that way through my windshield litter box.

Helen and I gasped. For a second I considered that things could be worse. At least no one was injured — yet — and I would not be memorialized in the school yearbook for having caused Helen Stockman to die in the front seat of my mom’s car. Neither of us spoke, probably because Helen had swallowed her tongue. My face was numb. It felt like all the air had been sucked from the car.

The silence lasted three or four seconds. The next sound I heard did not come from Helen’s lips or the wipers.  It came from underneath the passenger seat.


Art, always the practical one, had throttled the tape deck up to full volume.


Helen lurched forward, smacking her head on the dashboard. She turned toward me, drool foaming at the corners of her mouth, and  “WHAT WAS THAT …..?  SOMETHING’S IN THE CAR!!!”

My stomach tightened. Helen’s Adam’s apple nearly burst through her neck.

I cannot be certain what happened next, although I’m pretty sure Helen’s head spun completely around.  Witnesses recalled watching her grab my ears with both fists, stared into my eyes, jaw set, and screamed, “Oh, God!  Oh, God!  “Let me out of this car right NOWWWWWW…I’m going to throw up!!”

The police said later I was lucky to be  alive. Helen apparently hadn’t noticed my brother’s baseball bats in the rear seat.

The rest was Halloween history. Helen bolted the car and vanished into the darkness, never to be seen again, at least not by me. Later that evening, a neighbor called my mom and told her that all trick-or-treaters within a 10-mile radius of the movie theater were being pulled off the streets. Police were searching for a screaming, drooling girl running from house to house begging for baseball bats.

I returned home to find Brother Art on the front lawn, laughing so hard that the Tootsie Roll chocolate squirted out his nostrils, just like those pictures of Satan you see in some Bibles.

“That was awesome!” he chortled. “I told you I’d take care of everything!”

I went inside, kissed mom goodnight and then snuck out through a patio door. I used a garden hose to remove the windshield ketchup. I considered using it to soak my brother’s bedroom but then figured I wouldn’t be able to locate a professional car upholstery cleaner working late on Halloween.

Helen never returned my calls and never went out with me again.

The episode taught me a valuable lesson: No matter what your brother tells you, it is impossible to remove ketchup stains from the dashboard of a 1969 station wagon.

Naturally, everyone at our recent class reunion had already heard the story about Halloween 1973 — my version or Helen’s. Everyone thought it was very funny. Everyone, that is, except Helen Stockman, who attended the reception without approaching me.

Every now and then, however, I’d glance into a mirror and see her reflection; then it would disappear. This went on all evening.


David Chartrand writes humor and commentary from his home in Olathe. • • Twitter@DavidVChartrand

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