by P. S. Ehrlich
Skeeter Kitefly had no intention of ever growing up, of
course, or old, or fat (yuggh), but adults were always asking
what she wanted to “be” when (not if) she did the first of
Yeah—right. Like she was ever going to be 5 full feet
tall, or would ever want to be. Grownups couldn’t
be buttoncute, or have any authentic fun, or even take a
proper bathtub wallow. Forget it.
But the adults kept on asking, and for a long time in
pubescence, Skeeter would tell these buttinskies she was going
to “be” a nurse. For quite a long time she believed it
herself. Gramma Otto had been an RN and a good one,
leaving no doubt that being a nurse was where it was at.
Smoothing fevered brows seemed a decent enough way to make
money, and candy stripers got to wear peppermint-stick
But then Skeeter entered high school, and learned that to
become a Health Care Provider you had to chop up worms and
frogs and—get this!—fetal pigs, which was so completely
gross a notion you knew they must’ve made it up as a joke,
right? Pukey the Fee-tal Pig, tra la lolly:
th-th-th-that’s all, folks.
Where could such a road lead in the end but to morgues and
corpses? Skeeter had no problem dealing with the
diseased or infirm, but getting involved with The Dead—to the
point of slicing them open and groping inside—was just too
utterly spookacious. Like being forced to assist your
mother in disemboweling a raw Thanksgiving turkey:
GROHsss. Skeeter preferred ham anyhow; it came decently
outfitted in tin and was such a yummy shade of pink to
So in her very first month of high school she managed to
divest herself of all professional ambition; and when the
kibitz crowd persisted in asking what she wanted to “be,”
Skeeter would say a gameshow contestant. Meanwhile there
were far more pressing questions to answer, like what to wear
to the Halloween dance.
After much biting of knuckle and creasing of brow, she
decided to go as a vampire. Kelly Rebecca Kitefly was
probably the least vampirish-looking creature ever born, but
how better to beguile guys than in chalk-white fright makeup
and a long black wig, plus a ghoul-gown that by dint of
pinning here and unpinning there could be made lowcuttier and
skintightier once she was out of parental eyeshot.
This took rather longer than anticipated. Living only
seven blocks away from school, Skeeter was ready to walk there
and/or back and maybe score some extracurricular
trick-or-treat goodies en route; but ARnold would not
hear of it. He was aghast at the idea of a young girl
out alone after dark in that neighborhood of wizening
grotesqueries, sure to be laced with razor blades on October
So good old ARnold agreed to drive Skeeter to the
dance, together with three of her eighth-grade gang retained
on holding-pattern option till they got settled and could
strike up high school friendships. ARnold
approved of this arrangement and called it carpooling; aghast
or not, he’d sighed at the idea of driving one girl a mere
seven blocks. There was a war going on in the Middle
East or somewhere, with a lot of talk about embargoes and
shortages, and ARnold—normally the sweetest-hearted of
stepfathers—was always sending Skeeter back upstairs to make
sure she’d turned off her lights or radio or hairdryer.
“Don’t you know there’s an energy crisis?”
“Maybe we should take more than One-a-Day vitamins,”
Skeeter would say.
She blew him a Theda Bara kiss as he dropped them off with
repeated reminders that he’d be waiting at this same corner no
later than the compromised-on 10 PM. Tomorrow, after
all, was another school day. Making this a school night,
and oh! what a night she’d make it!
Here in the gym—no, not a gym; a fabulous palace
ballroom!—well, hardly fabulous; more like an orange-and-black
pandemonium. Well anyway: here at the Halloween Monster
Masque, where Red Death might be a no-show but there’s freaks
aplenty vying with goblins and skeletons and witches and
ghosts and Legends of Boggy Creek and Richard Nixon fresh from
his Saturday Night Massacre.
Skeeter wondered who everybody was. Some were
unmistakable, like that little dribble Droan Webster: a
straitjacketed lunatic with hands left free to squeeze and
pinch. Must’ve thought it was a come-as-you-are
dance. And over there, costumed as a Fifties chick (ha!
a Fifties tease) in cotton-candy angora and a poodle
skirt short enough to qualify as a poodle tutu: Pamela
Pillsbury, Skeeter’s archest rival. Talk about your
Dainty Baby Bitch-Queen Junes—
All through junior high, they’d bristled and bridled and
dismissed each other as “funny-looking.” In fact they
were assembled from the same compact snookums kit, being
equally blue of eye and yellow of hair, damask of cheek (when
not whited-out) and short in the leg department. The
significant difference was that Pam, though a tad prettier by
Lydia Languish standards, made a peevish Fifties chick; while
the more comical-faced Skeeter was a cross-your-heart kissable
“‘Scuse me. Oh Kelly, hi-ee, I didn’t notice
you standing there.”
“Why Pam-e-la, same here.”
“Ooh, I like you as a brunette. Is that a wig?
Looks so much naturaller.”
Ms. Pillsbury (“The Dough Girl”) had a syrupy singsong
voice that Skeeter (“Mosquito Mouth”) could imitate to unkind
perfection. She did so now, asking if poor Pammy’d lost
her skirt again.
“Why don’t you go suck on something, DracuLETTE?”
And Pam stamped her little saddle shoe before turning on
its heel and traipsing away. (She was the sort of girl
who traipsed.) Thus, the dance got off to a satisfying
big bang start and promised to get even better.
One of the truly aw-reet features of high school life was
the presence of men aged 16 and upwards, who had their own
cars and part-time jobs and income above and beyond
allowances; all of which were good and improving things and
made your average ninth-grader look really premature.
Pamela Pillsbury was dancing with Malcolm Twist, an average
ninth-grader (dressed as a burglar? no, a terrorist) who 6
short months ago had been an acknowledged catch but tonight
was reduced to a dancin’ stand-in while Pam jockeyed for a
licensed if not licentious junior if not senior.
What a bamboozle. Skeeter took a dim view of
trifling with and stringing along and malicious delusion—as
opposed to dalliance, which was almost entirely
good-natured. Playful. Recreational. A fun
way to spend an evening or an hour or a few minutes between
classes or while waiting for the bus or riding on the
bus or skipping the bus altogether and getting a lift from
some guy with his own car.
Skeeter was an accomplished flirt and no shrinking violet
in any sense but sizewise. She stalked around the gym
acting gaunt and broody over her undead status and burst out
laughing; attempted then to gad about like one famished for a
strapping young man’s blood, and again was overcome with a
case of the cackles. Finally she stuck to one spot and
struck a few poses, conscious of being checked out by several
—at least two of which belonged to a guy (definitely not a
preemie) who’d come as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, having
transformed half of himself into each. So COOwull was
this combo that Skeeter went right up and asked him/them if
he/they wanted to shake it.
They did; and they did.
“Rattle and roll,” said Jekyll & Hyde.
Skeeter wasn’t absolutely sure but had a hunch J & H
were/was junior Lonnie Fesso, who could shake it without a
doubt or pause and seemed to have a thing for
Morticias-in-miniature with startle-you-blue eyes.
Wicked wicked! At any rate, she was reclaimed for dance
after dance, for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Bad Bad Leroy
Brown” and “Frankenstein” à la Edgar Winter and extracts from
Goats Head Soup.
Sometimes Jekyll led, and sometimes Hyde.
They were semi-through the American Graffiti
double-album soundtrack, with J & H singing “The Stroll”
in Skeeter’s ears and making it sound like “This Troll,” when
the Masque’s Monster Mash was announced.
No Midwestern high school Halloween dance could be
complete, of course, without the breaking of a Jack-o’-lantern
piñata; and one was hung from the gym ceiling awfully close to
the more customary glitterball. A space beneath this was
now cleared, and lucky contestants’ masquerade names were
drawn from a fishbowl disguised as a black cat.
Me me me Skeeter pleaded, pick me pick me pick
me she demanded of Fate, aching to the roots of her
chalk-white teeth for a chance to be the center of ALL eyes,
not merely several! A chance that Fate indirectly gave
her, as Jekyll & Hyde’s names were called, and Skeeter was
entitled to squeal and clutch and carry on as though they’d
been going together from way the hell back.
Which she did, boy howdy! with open relish, putting Pamela
Pillsbury’s nose so out of snubby joint that she quarreled
with her terrorist stand-in Malcolm Twist, and to such an
extent that Malcolm laid the foundation for years of future
psychotherapy by bursting into tears before everyone and
running out of the gym.
“Exit smiling,” said the alleged Lonnie Fesso, submitting
to the blindfold with half a fiendish grin.
J & H at the piñata plate, taking a couple of leisurely
warm-up swings; then a single open-and-shut CLOUT that broke
the Jack-o’-lantern’s crown wide open and sent a jillion
cheapsweets tumbling down.
No shortages, no embargoes; just an unplanned rush en masse
to plunder the Hershey’s kisses and candy corn and saltwater
taffy tidbits. And there was shoving and jostling and
trampling and squeezy pinchy groping (by Droan Webster) till a
regular student riot resulted, Jekyll & Hyde spurring it
on with demonic piñata stick.
And all was orange-and-black pandemonium, till sirens
sounded and cops arrived and red and blue lights flashed
through the high gym windows, revolving and bouncing off the
glitterball, and making Prince Prospero’s party look really
Th-th-th-that’s all, folks. Temporarily satiated,
Skeeter Kitefly vamped her way into the night and down to the
corner where good old ARnold was supposed to be
waiting. There instead she found a seedy pumpkin
squashed in the gutter.
“Oh my God!” Skeeter cried. “That was our CAR!
Fairy Godmotherrrr! …”
[An earlier version of “Spookacious” appeared in
Arnazella in 1993]