A breeze swirls and spins through the technicolored leaves on the giant oak. The wooden sculpture stands firm, but his limbs move to the melody as if conducting mother nature's orchestra. Gentle nudges encourage some to go and glide carelessly through the atmosphere. Leaflets perform a Japanese Kabuki dance in their final act before returning to the Tennessee soil.
The best part about fall isn't even trick-or-treating. Every kid on my side of the Cumberland River gets excited about the annual Halloween carnival. The entire community shows up, and it's the only time I can't wait to burst through the doors of Cumberland Heights. The whole school is transformed into a spectacularly spooky spectacle for a day. Classrooms become a midway, as colorful as the oak leaves, painted with cornhole, fortune tellers, and duck ponds. Balloons popping and screams from the haunted house invade the halls as folks shuffle through admiring costumes.
My favorite attraction is the cakewalk. I've managed to bring a cake home every year except for second grade. That was a challenging time with Mrs. Allen. She could have quite possibly sucked all of the luck out of me with those watchful piercing eyes. Mom is pretty happy when I bring home the prize. I mean, who doesn't appreciate a delightfully delicious sweet treat.
This particular year is bitter-sweet because I'm a sixth-grader, and I'll be moving on to Montgomery Central soon. I probably get along with Mrs. Taylor better than any other teacher I've had so far. A few weeks earlier, I mentioned how I was concerned about leaving and how I'd miss my school. Most adults pretend to care and nod most of the time without even listening. Not Mrs. Taylor; she pays attention and lets me know that things will be alright. I'm still worried, but she inspires me to do my best, and I suppose that is all I can do.
Making my way toward the gym for the cakewalk is no easy task with all of the distractions. My buddy Leon is in line for the haunted house. We've been close since kindergarten after meeting for the first time on the bus. I've spent the night a couple of times. Man, his dad makes the best bacon ever for breakfast. I'd never tell Mom that, though. It looks like Kim is on her way to the gymnasium too. She got most dependable this year, and her smile is incredibly contagious. I've always had a soft spot for her, but she will not stand in my way. I will do whatever it takes to win my final year.
Everyone I know is in line for tickets. I see Stephen, Sabrina, Tammalyn, oh and Susie. Susie was voted best personality along with me. I'm sure the picture we took together will look awkward because I'm not used to standing that close to girls. It's not because they have cooties; it has more to do with how different they are. Take Melanie, for instance. One time I asked her if she thought Spider-Man could beat up Mighty Mouse. Can you believe she said no!? For real? Girls.
A giant circle of paper plates, all numbered and taped to the floor, decorate the giant hall. I'll be starting on lucky number seven just like every other year. Well, except for second grade. Mrs. Tue, the librarian, carefully watches over the table full of goodness covered in frosting. The moment of truth is finally here, and I will be taking my trophy home this evening. Mrs. Mills drops the needle on the forty-five, and it's game on.
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Monster Mash begins to play as the contestants stroll from number to number. Tension builds while each lyric escapes the speakers infecting the auditorium. We all pay close attention anticipating the silence that will reveal a winner. FRIIP! The tune comes to an abrupt end, and everyone freezes in place, awaiting the announcement. "I'm standing on twenty-seven; please let Mrs. Phillips call out my number," I mumble under my breath. "Twenty-eight is the winner," screams our announcer. Luckily the spot in front of me is empty, so we keep going. The song plays again; I take a deep breath and start walking. The stress becomes overwhelming as I take each stride, hoping I land on the winning spot. Once again, the Halloween anthem is interrupted, and a new number is unveiled. The teacher calls out my lucky seven, and that happens to be where I stand!
The contestants shower me with pats on the back and an overabundance of congratulations. Mom meets me at the table to admire the giant horseshoe cake we'll be enjoying soon. It turns out she is more excited than me, and I'm proud I could give that to her. My last Halloween carnival at CHES is a success. I'm sure going to miss this place.
A light drizzle coats the windshield on our drive home. Wet leaves blow around and stick to the hood of the car, desperately trying to hang on. Eventually, they're pushed away by the unforgiving wind and carried off into the darkness without a sound. I took time to appreciate them before they vanished and stored their memory somewhere in my thoughts. Next year more will sprout, and the cycle will start all over again. It's how life works.