First Words — 02 October 2015
A chilling South Florida Halloween tale

By Mark Gauert

will now attempt to explain the inexplicable, only-in-South Florida kind of Halloween mystery you see here in this actual, unretouched iPhone photo from the darkest recesses of my freezer.

You might want to leave the lights on.

A long time ago, long before iPhones, our two young boys were traveling with their adoring grandparents on a summer vacation in the snow-capped Alps of Switzerland. (Why yes, we did get some T-shirts).

On one of their many fantastic stops that golden summer – which, we later learned, included a train ride in an observatory car through pristine mountain passes, a stop in Gruyères for fondue and seats immediately behind Quincy Jones at an all-star tribute for Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival (did I mention the T-shirts?) – we learned that they had also stopped at a kindly woodcutter’s workshop high in the misty Alps.

The knotty walls of the workshop were hung with masks of animals, famous people and fantastic creatures the woodcutter had painstakingly carved from native woods and painted by hand. The boys were so impressed with his work they talked the aforementioned adoring grandparents into purchasing a hand-carved mask for them.

I want the fox!” the younger boy screamed. “It’s my favorite animal!”

I want the scary snowman!” the older boy added. “Halloween is my favorite holiday!”

So begins the tale of the mystery at the bottom of my freezer.

The woodcutter took the fox and the scary snowman down from his knotty walls, wrote up the bill for the adoring grandparents and wrapped the two masks for the long trip home.

Look, I got a fox mask!” the younger boy beamed as we unpacked the bags after the fantastic trip to the snow-capped Alps.

I got a snowman!’’ the older boy added. “I can’t wait for Halloween!”

And they rushed upstairs to display the masks proudly in their rooms.

Many a Halloween then passed in the misty low country of South Florida. The older boy graduated and went to school in Gainesville. The younger boy graduated and went to school in Tallahassee.

The woodcutter’s masks from the high mountains of Switzerland went into closets. And they waited, and waited, and waited for the boys of summer to return.

Until one day, when it was pretty clear the boys of summer were not going to return till Thanksgiving break, earliest, and maybe not until winter break, unless they get a job, so possibly not till spring break, but they’ll let us know, just as soon as they know, really, I noticed something strange about the Halloween snowman mask.

More than strange. Inexplicable.

So I called in the most experienced help with the inexplicable in South Florida.

The bug man.

“Here’s your problem,” he said, turning over the snowman mask. “You’ve got termites.”

Fortunately, in closet space, no one can hear you scream.

“We can treat the whole room,” the bug man said. “But there’s no way we can treat smaller wooden objects like this.”

“So what do we do?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “this may sound strange…”

“Strange, you say?”

“Well,” he said, “if it will fit into your freezer, you can put the mask in there overnight, and freeze the termites out.”

So there you have a perfectly rational explanation of an inexplicable, only-in-South Florida kind of Halloween mystery. We all have such stories unique to South Florida, many of which you’ll find throughout this October issue.

I was thinking about some as I sat by the pool the other day. Soaking up the warm sunshine, wondering when the boys might return, forgetting all about the mask chilling deep in my freezer drawer.

When I heard a gasp from the kitchen.

“I leave you here by yourself for a few days,” my wife said, “and what do I find at the bottom of the freezer?”

“Oh, that,’’ I said.

I can explain.

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