Bobby Joe Vaccarello was a kid most parents warned their children to stay away from. His folks ran a salvage yard outside of town and stayed mostly to themselves. They didn’t attend a church or go to teacher’s meetings. Didn’t much care how well Bobby Joe did in school, or if he played sports, or if he was home by any certain hour. One of Bobby Joe’s uncles was up state “making license plates.” 

This column originally appeared on November 29, 2001.

Bobby Joe Vaccarello was a kid most parents warned their children to stay away from. His folks ran a salvage yard outside of town and stayed mostly to themselves. They didn’t attend a church or go to teacher’s meetings. Didn’t much care how well Bobby Joe did in school, or if he played sports, or if he was home by any certain hour. One of Bobby Joe’s uncles was up state “making license plates.”  

By age 13, Bobby Joe smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes, had already tried beer and knew all about ‘the birds and the bees’ (his grandpa had told him about them, he said, on a summer trip to his farm in Nebraska).  

Tommy Klontz was a kid most parents would be happy to have their children hang out with. He was an “A” student, played basketball and baseball and was an altar boy at the Catholic church. His father was a salesman. His mother a housewife.

On the surface, Bobby Joe Vaccarello and Tommy Klontz had very little in common. But they were friends none-the-less. They were friends for two reasons. The first was precisely because they were so opposite ... and felt an unspoken attraction to one another. The second was because they both got picked on by some of the junior boys in the local high school. Bobby Joe because he was a Vaccarello. Tommy because he was overweight and wore horn rimmed glasses.

It was name calling mostly, but it hurt. Sometimes they were grabbed and given nookies or Indian burns and pushed around a little. The older boys’ favorite thing, though, was to taunt them with what was going to happen in high school the next year — when the boys were seniors and Tommy and Bobby Joe would be freshmen. The hell they would put them through, starting with the bonfire at the snake dance where they would de-pants them and pour molasses on them in front of the girls.

Just before Halloween, Bobby Joe came to Tommy with a plan. He’d overheard the high school boys talking a couple of nights before as they sat on the school steps smoking cigarettes in the dark. Heard them dare one another. The dare was to meet at midnight near the old coal mine outside town.

They went on to retell the local legend of the witch woman who was supposedly cut to pieces in the late 1800s and thrown into that abandoned mine shaft at midnight on Halloween, after it was discovered she murdered and drank the blood of several men, women and children in the area. Told about her stench being so bad it suffocated people and drove animals mad. About her paralyzing scream. About her vow to get revenge on the descendants of those who’d dismembered her.

On Halloween night, the five boys sat in the dark beneath an old oak tree near the mine laughing about the witch woman and the people she’d supposedly chopped up. “What time is it?” one of them asked.

“Ten minutes till twelve,” replied one of the boys who had a Timex with hands that glowed green in the dark.

A little way off into the darkness, on a direct line between the boys and their car, Bobby Joe and Tommy could see the glow of their cigarettes as they eased the covers off four five gallon buckets in which Bobby Joe had mixed, a week before, bloody steer and pig entrails and chunks of discarded meat his uncle had gotten for him from the packing house where he worked. As they poured the contents of two of the buckets on the ground, a putrid odor swirled about and caught the October breeze.

What’s that smell?” one of the boys said with a start when the stink wafted around them. “Yeeccch!” another said.

An acorn dropped through the oak leaves, sounding as if something or someone was descending toward them from above. They all froze. “Just an acorn,” one boy said tentatively. There followed a long silence broken by one of the boys asking, “What time is it now?”  “One minute till,” the boy with the Timex replied.

At exactly twelve o’clock Tommy and Bobby Joe began to lob the bloody chunks of meat toward the glowing cigarettes. One of the boys, who had a flashlight, shone it on the a piece of bloody bone and meat as more continued to fall around them.

Then the screaming started. Screaming so loud and horrifying that it was impossible to tell its source. It was as it had entered their bodies and was vibrating their very flesh.

The boys yelped and went headlong for the car. When they hit the stinking slop of entrails and animal parts they slid and rolled and fell over one another covering themselves with stench. Now crying out in fear and anguish they crawled and ran to the old Chevy, climbed in, and sped off.

As their tail lights headed up the road, Tommy and Bobby Joe began to laugh and holler at them, “Who’s so big and strong now? Ha, ha!” “Serves you right!” “I bet you’ve all got brown shorts! Ha, ha, ha!”

When he’d finally caught his breath, Tommy turned to Bobby Joe and said, “That was great! Especially the screaming. Boy I didn’t know you could scream like that. It even scared me a little.”

There was a short silence, then Bobby Joe said, “Me? I thought you we’re screaming!” Tommy dropped his bucket and took off for the main road. Bobby Joe followed, running hard, amazed that he was unable to keep up the shorter, heavier Tommy.

•  •  •

 The snake dance was called off their freshman year due to parent protests. By their sophomore year, Bobby Joe had turned 16 and so quit school to go to work at his parents’ salvage yard.

Tommy lost weight, got contacts and discovered girls. So as happens, they were close friends no more.

From time to time, they would see one another at a dance or the drive-in or the local gas station and say, a little nervously, “Howya doin?” but they didn’t really talk.  

Now in their 50s, they’ve had a lifelong bond never-the-less. An unspeakable bond about one certain Halloween when they were 13.

Just exactly breaking that bond might cause to happen, neither Bobby Joe or Tommy are sure about.

But they’re both sure they don’t want to find out.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.