Harper Lee sets up the events to come with overtones of death during the final paragraphs of Chapter 27. Scout had previously noted some of Maycomb's recent Halloween pranks, but none of them had the devious nature of what was about to happen later that night. Just before the children left the house, Aunt Alexandra
... stopped short in the middle of her sentence. She closed her mouth, then opened it... but no words came out.
" 's matter, Aunty?" I asked.
"Oh nothing, nothing," she said, "somebody just walked over my grave."
Jem and Scout were walking alone to the high school for the Halloween pageant, and under normal circumstances, Atticus would be accompanying them after dark. But he was tired after returning from a week in Montgomery, so the kids were on their own. They had to walk past the Radley house in the dark, walking carefully to avoid tree roots, and they talk of "Haints, Hot Steams and incantations." Scout was already a bit nervous when Cecil Jacobs jumped out to scare them. Once inside, Scout had the misfortune of wearing a ham costume in the class skit. Then she missed her cue and comically sauntered onstage at the wrong time, and Mrs. Merriweather, the pageant director "made me feel awful" afterwards. Once outside, they turned down a ride home and then were ominously warned to "be careful of haints." Nearly everyone had left the school by the time Jem and Scout made their return trip home. Jem had to hold Scout's "hock" since she had decided to wear her bulky costume home--plus she had forgotten her shoes and had to walk barefoot. Then, they heard the start and stop of what sounded like footsteps in the dark.