1313 Villa Street. The sign said, “Vicki’s Junque Shoppe…Yesterday’s Trash, Today’s Treasure.” I must have passed that store a dozen times a day…and like all the kids in the neighborhood, gave the malodorous sidewalk vents a wide berth. Oh, not that the display windows didn’t hold their temptations…my ten-year-old self lusted after the millifiore paperweights that sparkled in the rays of the setting sun, but the more than life size reproductions of Gainsborough’s “Pinkie” and “Blue Boy” in ornate gilded frames that flanked the walls were just creepy. And there were the Aunt Jemima syrup bottles that had been fitted out with various costumes. Then there was the building. At one time, in the late 1800s, it had been a hotel on the street that once bore the name “Workman’s Row” instead of the more elegant, “Villa Street.” It was two stories tall with a squared off false front and hadn’t seen a coat of paint in decades. The siding above the huge display windows bore the remains of a coat of white paint, but the walls beyond were dark brown and the windows that looked north and south were dark and lifeless, bearing the remains of tattered shades. A rickety outer staircase ascended the south side of the building to a door that had been sealed by two planks nailed criss-cross over the portal. Of course, the creepiest factor of all was the proprietor…Vicki herself. Rumor had it that her husband was a prosperous real estate developer who dropped her off early every morning and picked her up after dark each evening. Funny thing, though — no one could ever recall seeing that happen. With snow-white, fright wig hair, dressed in ankle-length skirts, with ragged cardigans layered over stained, frilly blouses, and a reputation for chasing children off the sidewalk in front of the shop with a broom, she had all of us convinced she was a witch. Then there was her propensity for “stealing” water from the outdoor spigot of Grandma Turkowski’s house, when the plumbing for the store didn’t work, that sealed her reputation as “eccentric” with the adults. Needless to say, we kids did not need to be told to avoid the place…especially on Halloween.
That all changed the autumn of my eleventh year. School couldn’t dismiss early enough that October 31st. The lure of trick-or-treating was on the mind of every student and our attention spans were non-existent. A few lapses too many throughout the day meant I wasn’t leaving school with my classmates. Instead, I had three rooms worth of chalkboards to clean. So my walk home was unusually solitary. Passing the open door of the Junque shop as dusk began to fall, I was startled to hear the sound of sobbing. The wordless cries morphed to the breathy, strangled words, “Help me!” Frightened, I looked around. The street was empty. A few more yards and I would be safe on my front porch and my parents could answer the cry for help. But the words came again, fainter this time…and this time, I heard my name. With a mouth as dry as cotton, I tip-toed through the door. But Vicki was not there. Instead a scrawny man in a purple coat and striped top hat beckoned me further in. I walked through the dark and dingy anteroom and my jaw dropped in amazement. Beyond the beaded curtain to the back of the shop, light streamed into a high-ceilinged series of rooms that stretched far beyond the fence marking the Cook’s back yard. Not an inch of wall space was visible for the bric-a-brac that glittered and gleamed in the foggy illumination.
Silently, the man handed me a paperweight and then shooed me out the door. It was fully dark, and all up and down the street, costume-clad neighbor kids were trotting up and down the steps to jack-o-lantern and porch light illumined doors. Wait. What happened? Trick-or-treating wasn’t supposed to begin until 6:00. I had stepped into the store shortly after four. I called out to the nearest group of children running between the Mosher’s house and the Peterson’s. For just a moment, the kids stopped, stared at me, and then ran screaming to the corner. Puzzled, I turned and caught my reflection in the shop window…my reflection of white, fright-wig hair, ankle length skirt and ragged cardigan over a frilly stained blouse.