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A ghost was caught on a barbwire fence, his sheet billowing. At his feet lay the scattered contents of his trick-or-treat bag. He was thrashing about, grunting like a pig in mud. We flew past him, hurdling the fence without looking back, each of us driven on by the instinctive first rule of the chase: save your own hide.
As we bolted through the stickers and blackberry bushes and past the suddenly looming maple and oak trees, our ranks began to dwindle. A motorcycle gang member flying the colors of the "Be-Bop Nation" went down with a sprained ankle. Wolfman dived under a bush and began sobbing to the full moon. Another ghost simply quit running, offering his spirit to the mercy of our invisible pursuer. A 10-year-old transvestite skidded to a halt behind a tree, smoothing his dress and straightening his dime-store wig, prepared to plead feminine noninvolvement if it came to that. The rest of us continued our wild dash across the lumpy, pitch-black terrain, yipping like beagles.
For some reason the man chasing us did not fall for the hobgoblin bait left strewn behind in the field. We heard an occasional screech as he dealt out perfunctory thrashings, but almost immediately there was the sound of crashing footsteps on our trail again.
We split up. Everybody ditched added luggage—taffy apples, candy bars, masks—and then rocketed off, Greggie Dewey, myself and the cowboy to the right, everyone else to the left. Our group headed down the length of the brush-covered field at an angle away from the road while the others plunged into the dark recesses of the surrounding forest. From the sound of our cursing pursuer we knew he had elected to follow us, the guilty triumvirate—firecracker owner, lighter and thrower.
We were a swift trio, the best runners in the bunch, but together we were losing ground to the faceless man. As we darted, dodged, piled up and stumbled, he plowed straight ahead, ignoring our detours and mistakes.
We split up again, fanning out like a tree branch. Once more I broke to the right, running parallel to the road, panting, my Dracula outfit in shambles. With a new burst of terror and adrenaline I realized the man was after me and me alone; he had also veered to the right, perhaps because my route was nearer the road, perhaps because he somehow recognized me as the perpetrator, the one responsible for the perfect timing of that tiny bomb.
I picked up speed, my sneakered feet barely touching the rutted ground. Suddenly I came to a dirt lane that intersected the road at right angles. Ahead was a hedge of trimmed bushes that obscured the area in back of it. Behind I heard the man approaching rapidly. I had no choice. I gathered all my strength and shot across the lane. Coiling my legs and stretching my arms like a high-board diver, I flew up and over the four-foot barrier in a soaring wave of ecstasy, landing gently as a flying squirrel in a brier patch.
From my bed of thorns I could hear my pursuer emerge into the clearing. Bleeding tiny drops from 1,000 needle pricks, I turned painfully to look through a narrow gap in the hedge. The man was confused, defeated. He was in a cul-de-sac. He roared into the night as if to frighten his vanished prey into submission: "I'll catch you! I'll catch you, you little bugger, and I'll wring your neck!"
On my sofa of nails I began to feel merry, almost joyous. "No you won't, you'll never catch me in a million years," I laughed to myself. The man looked right and left, and then stared at the hedge. I lay still as a plant, a silent Brer Rabbit.
The man turned in directionless rage and trudged off toward his car. When he was gone I lay still for another moment listening to the silence of the night, and then let fly with a tremendous, echoing guffaw.