Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Barbara Klein. October thirty-first, this coming Saturday, is Halloween. Millions of children will dress as ghosts, witches, skeletons, superheroes, princesses — all sorts of costumes.
Then, with parents usually nearby, they will walk through their neighborhoods. They will go door to door, yelling "trick or treat." This threat of a trick, all in good fun, quickly brings a treat, usually some candy. Then the trick-or-treaters will go off to the next house.
But, you know, there is a reason people in ancient times were careful to honor evil spirits and the dead with a night of their own. The masks that people wore on All Hallows' Eve were meant to hide their identity, so they would avoid a most frightful trick. But now, do you want to know a story that is even scarier than that?
Do you mean the story of my mother? That story? It makes me shake just to think about it!
Faith's mother lived in a small town in New York State when she was a girl. The fall season was beautiful in the Adirondack Mountains, but it was very cold at night.
There was a girl named Arial at my mother's school. She was popular but not very nice. She told stories about people. She ruined them with her gossip.
Missus Hart was a very kind teacher at the school. Everyone liked her.
"Class … "
she said one morning early in the new school year,
"… we have a new student, Pearl Dew from Kentucky. Please welcome her."
Arial saw an easy victim in Pearl. And my mother says Pearl was very strange. She was so thin and her skin was so white you could almost see through it. She had long black hair. It reached so far down her back, she had to bring it around the front so she would not sit on it. She did not look healthy.
Arial did not help the situation for Pearl, did she? No, she made the situation worse. Soon terrible stories about Pearl and her family were going around the school. Kids were saying that her father had murdered a family of five back in the hills of Kentucky, but got away with it.
Yes, Arial started that rumor. She said Pearl's father had buried them deep in the wilds of the mountains, so their bodies were never found. No one could prove he killed them. Arial also told a lie about Pearl's mother. She said the mother knew about the murders and could not live with the truth, so one night she threw herself off a mountain.
Everyone believed Arial. They all knew that Pearl did not have a mother.
"She fell by accident. She loved walking in the hills. She would never leave me. It was an accident. My father's not a murderer. That family — he didn't even know them. No one knows what happened to them. Why do you say these things, Arial? Please, stop. What did I ever do to you?"
When Pearl would ask her to stop, Arial would just laugh. Or she would act frightened. "Don't get your Dad after me, Pearl," she would say.
Yes, although Pearl's father was apparently not the threat that Arial needed to worry about.
Weeks went by, and October came. People put pumpkins on their porches and hung skeletons or ghostly shapes on their front doors.
The children at school noticed a slow change in Pearl that month. She began to talk a little more. Sometimes you might see a little smile, or hear a quiet laugh. In late October, she sent out twelve invitations for a Halloween party. My mother got one. So did several of her friends. Pearl even invited their teacher.
But not Arial?
No, no, not after all that torture Pearl had to suffer from Arial.
But Arial did not understand that reasoning. She was angry. In fact, it was the first time anyone saw her speechless. She was so filled with rage, she could not put a sentence together.
But that did not last long. Arial told my mother that she planned on attending the party anyway. She said she did not need an invitation.
The night of the party was cold enough that you could see your breath. My mother dressed as a ghost, so she could wear a heavy coat under her white sheet. It was difficult to get to Pearl's house. She and her father lived in an old house in the valley of a mountain. There was a footpath, but parts of it got a little rough.
But they all got there safely?
Well no. They never got to the party at all. My mother said all the guests first met at her house. They decided it would be best to walk to the party as a group. So they started along, dressed as witches and zombies and the like. It was fun, she said, playing little tricks to scare each other along the way. The group entered the woods near Pearl's house. The kids were excited, happy to be going to a party. They could see the lights in Pearl's house in the distance below.
So what happened?
Well, the kids and Missus Hart, their teacher, saw a woman ahead of them walking very close to the edge of the path. Missus Hart quickly reacted.
"Oh my god — she's going to fall! We have to warn her. Miss! MISS! Run ahead, kids. Oh, no!"
It was too late. The woman went over the edge. Yet she did not fall. She was floating in the air. She had her arms held out.
"Come to me, child, come to me, my little girl."
All of a sudden two girls come crashing out of the woods and across the path. The girl in front is clearly Pearl. Her black hair is flowing like wings of a dark angel. But who is she pulling behind her?
"Pearl, STOP! You'll fall off the cliff. You'll kill yourself. Who is that with you? PEARL!!
Pearl stops and looks toward the floating woman.
"Come to me, child. Come to me, my Pearl."
My mother shined her flashlight at Pearl and the girl behind her. And there for an instant a look of insane fear stared back at the group from the face of Arial.
Well, after that night, no one ever found any sign of Pearl or Arial. Pearl's father also disappeared that night. The house had been decorated for a party that never took place.
At the cemetery in town, there are headstones for Pearl and Ariel in graves that hold no remains. My mother says she visits sometimes when she goes back to her hometown. She told me that the last time she was there, she noticed something for the first time. If you mix around the letters of Arial's name — spelled A-R-I-A-L — it spells "a liar."
Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Transcripts and podcasts of our programs can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.