The Screech Owl, a Halloween story
“What’s that sound?” our mother asked as we walked along in our Halloween costumes. My sister and I were quite young. We were excited to be going Trick-or-Treating. We held tightly to Mommy’s hands as we passed through a dark, wooded section of Nichols Street not far from our home. “Shh! Listen. I think it is a Screech owl,” she continued.
We could hear a ghostly “hoooOOOooo” sound in the distance, and then a descending “hoo-oo-ooo, hoo-oo-ooo, hoo-oo-ooo” whistle somewhat like the whinny of a horse. We were eager to continue down the road and gather candy, but Mommy was much more interested in the sound in the woods. She loved nature and loved teaching us about it. She imitated a Screech owl’s call, and then we heard the distant one again. She led us back towards the sound.
Slowly and cautiously we walked through the dark, focusing on the sound. Closer and closer we came, until we approached a medium-sized fir tree at the edge of our yard. The calls seemed to be coming from high in that tree. When we raised a flashlight into the upper branches, we saw two bright eyes! The eyes were HUGE! Suddenly a big voice boomed out, “You’re stepping on my toes! Don’t shine that flashlight in my eyes!” We jumped back in horror. A talking tree with silvery eyes was too much for us.
We ran as fast as we could back to the safety of our little house. There we found Daddy standing at the bathroom window looking out towards the tree and talking into a gadget. HE was the voice in the tree! He had rigged up a system for talking through the tree; he was a clever electronics engineer. We could see a wire running from the bathroom window towards the tree. He had used metal parts from his hearing aid business to create the “eyes” and face of the tree creature. We had been tricked!
The rush of mixed feelings – fear, relief, annoyance at being fooled by our parents – turned into glee as we witnessed what happened next. Some neighborhood boys approached our yard, hoping for Halloween treats. They heard the owl-like calls from the tree, and they too walked close to investigate. It was a thrill to watch Daddy work his magic on these boys. “Stand back! You’re stepping on my toes!” I’ll never forget the scene of those big brave boys running away from that talking tree! One fellow ran across the yard and climbed up our maple tree as high as he could go. My sister and I felt much better knowing that we weren’t the only ones scared by that talking tree.
That was a Halloween to remember. Of course we gave treats to the boys after explaining the source of the sound. They then delighted in bringing other friends to our yard to experience the Talking Tree. None of us saw screech owls that night, but Danvers really did have screech owls. We heard them on other nights. Today, as I write this and listen to sound recordings (easily findable on the Internet), I am reminded both of the real owls and of the long-ago Halloween trick my parents played on us.
"The Screech Owl: A Halloween Story" was published in the Danvers Herald and posted online Oct 31, 2007.
You can listen to Screech Owl sounds and learn more about them at these sites: