Halloween Extravaganza: Chris Miller: Halloween in the Bible Belt

Halloween in the Bible Belt, circa late 1980s through the 90s (and beyond):

I have a single memory of going trick-r-treating as a child. I know, that’s odd, even for folks who grew up in rural East Texas like I did. Every year I would see hundreds of kids out in their costumes of ghouls and devils and vampires and other various monstrosities, all carrying a bag or a bucket or a tub of some kind to store their candied spoils. And even with my single memory of trick-r-treating, I was never with any of those other kids. Not the ones going door to door, holding their containers out and open with a cheery, “Trick-r-Treat!” coming from them in a totally jarring contrast to the looks of their costumes. Not me. Not in my family, or in the families of any of the other people I knew growing up.

None of them?

That’s right. None. You see, when I was old enough to start school, I wasn’t put into public school. Public schools produced nothing but drug addicts and sex fiends, or so I had been informed in my upbringing. Teachers were active agents of the “enemy” (I always deduced this enemy must be the devil, though he was never specifically named), trying to dissuade children from any thoughts of higher powers or deity of any kind. So, when I started school, I was put into a private Christian school. Now, you might be thinking that even in a private school, there’s lots of kids and lots of different points of view, lots of diversity. But that wasn’t the case at Victory Baptist Academy. I think there were a total of around 15 students there, and that included Kindergarten through 12th grade. 15 kids. And about six of those were the children of the principal (a Baptist pastor), and one of the supervisors (we didn’t really have teachers, just workbooks we studied from and took tests from, and when we had questions, the supervisors would help us out).

I attended this school from Kindergarten through second grade. It was then that the school shut down due to lack of funds (the church that ran it couldn’t afford to keep it going any longer), and then I homeschooled my third-grade year. VBA reopened and I went to 4th grade and the start of 5th there once more, but they again ran into financial difficulty and had to shut down again. I finished out 5th grade homeschooling and spent 6th going to the home of a parent who wanted to homeschool, and we had a total of four students. So it wasn’t until 7th grade that my parents finally succumbed (claiming I was a monster of a student at home…utter nonsense to anyone who knows me 😉 ) and sent me to public school where I actually started meeting kids and people who were living their lives very differently from my family and who had some radically different points of view.

So, what does any of this have to do with Halloween?

I’m glad you asked.

As I was growing up, anytime “the devil’s birthday” came around (I have no idea how anyone ever came to this idiotic conclusion, but it was a standard mantra in our circles), we would typically attend what was called a “Harvest Festival” either at the church we attended or at the private Christian school I was in at the time. They had booths where you could bob for apples or toss ping pong balls into cups to win a goldfish or some candy, other various fair-style games. Candy and prizes. And we all dressed up as various Bible characters. NO ONE was to dress up as an evil monster. That would offend the Holy Spirit…or something.

It was like that every year. I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to get into one of the cool Jason or Michael Myers costumes I’d see in Wal-Mart (I’d never been allowed to watch any of those movies or horror movies of any kind, so I had no idea what they were about other than the looked really cool), but if I even asked I was met with the “I’m so disappointed you would want to do that” treatment from my parents. Like I had asked to smear turds on Billy Graham’s face or something. It was absurd.

BUT… it was my childhood. Yet, I DO have one memory of going trick-r-treating, and I didn’t achieve it by sneaking away with friends or anything. My dad took me. Me and my sister. I’m not even sure how it happened, but I was young enough I wasn’t in school yet, so perhaps they hadn’t gone fully into the “Halloween is bad, m’kay?” mentality at that time. But in any case, I did go the once.

I was Superman. I still couldn’t be a ghoul or a goblin, but Superman was cool enough. My dad made up this little trailer that could attach to the back of our four-wheeler, and me in my Superman getup and my sister in pillow case with eye-holes meant to make her look like Casper the friendly ghost loaded up in the trailer and my dad fired up the quad.

I need to pause here just a moment and explain the topography of where I grew up. We lived LITERALLY 15 miles from ANYTHING. There were four towns near us, and we managed to land right smack in the middle of all of them. Last house at the dead end of a black top county road, at least after my grandfather passed and my grandmother moved away. Our house was over a mile back into the woods from the highway, and there were maybe a dozen homes or so back in there.

So, we got rolling, my sister and I bouncing around in the trailer behind the four-wheeler, and we started making stops. Now, I’d seen other kids doing this around town when we’d be in town for church or events or visiting friends. I was anticipating getting all kinds of candy and was even practicing my “trick-r-treat!” for when we got to the doors and held out our bags like tiny little addicts.

The first three houses we stopped at were vacant. Nobody home, no answers to the door. Bummer. So, on we went down this old blacktop road, the rumble of the quad’s engine dancing and echoing through the pines and oaks all around us. We found a house with some lights on and pulled in. An old lady answered and was shocked to find there were kids out trick-r-treating way back on this country road. She looked a little embarrassed when she said, “I-I don’t have any candy set out… let me see if I can scrounge something up.”

She went to work hunting for something to give us, finally returning with a fistful of Werther’s Originals butterscotch candies for us. Woohoo. On to the next place.

Several other houses were likewise unoccupied that night, and in total, we scored candy from three houses. And only ONE of those actually had some candy out and ready for kids such as us. And this was the last one we stopped at.

We rode back a little lackluster as my sister and I looked over our meager spoils. It wasn’t much. Hardly enough to cover the bottom of the bag. But it was something. I had gotten to go trick-r-treating with my dad, and I had something to show for it, even if it was only a little. I remember looking forward to the next year where I was going to figure out a way to get my parents to take us to one of the towns we lived near and go trick-r-treating with some large groups of kids and REALLY make out like bandits. I would work on my parents through the next 365 days and I’d get to dress up like one of those really cool horror movie baddies I saw at the store and I’d get so much candy I’d make myself sick eating it.

I remember all of this, can remember the smile that was on my face as we pulled into the dirt track driveway of our home at the end of the county road, the one I was still sporting when we came inside and showed my mom what we’d gotten while we were out.

There was always next year.

Only, there wasn’t. Not for me. The next year and all the ones that followed were “Harvest Festivals” where we got plenty of candy but could only dress as Bible characters or—maybe—a decent superhero like Superman (since he’s a lot like Jesus…or something). I can remember too being able to look out the windows of the churches where these “festivals” took place and seeing all the kids going door to door with their cool costumes and getting candy and not having to settle down but getting to run and jump and skip and have such a great time…

It’s sad. There’s no big reveal here at the end, nothing we’ve been building towards where you see I finally got to take part in an ages-old tradition with all my peers. Nothing. Even when I was older and in public school, I still wasn’t allowed to partake in any of the school’s Halloween festivities. When I was told to write a paper about my favorite memories of Halloween, I had to sum it up with a single sentence: my family doesn’t celebrate Halloween. When my teacher saw this, her face scrunched, and I thought for a moment she might cry as she looked at me with sympathy oozing out of her by the gallon.

She gave my single sentence essay a 100. God bless her.

But that’s why we have kids, right? So we can do better than the generation before us did, to put the world into the hands of people who are better equipped than we are and who will make the world a better place than it was when we handed it over to them. And that’s what I’m doing. Halloween is a BIG event for us every year in our household and we trick-r-treat and we decorate and have a huge cauldron of candy we set out for other trick-r-treaters (our street alone gets between 700 and 1000 visitors every Halloween). My wife makes kick-ass margaritas and we watch Halloween (1978) and its sequels and anything else filled with flesh and blood until we can’t stay awake anymore. And my kids get to dress up as they like. Funnily enough, they’ve never chosen a ghoul or a goblin or a monster. Not yet. We’ve been princesses and superheroes and animals, but no monsters. But I’m working towards that. Maybe I’m trying to relive my childhood through my kids vicariously. I can own that. And, is it really so wrong if we do? When we miss something in our own lives, we really build it up in our heads as to what it was supposed to have been, and because of this we’re more equipped to orchestrate it for others later on. To really go all out.

I’m sad I didn’t get to experience these things when I was growing up, but the way my children get to experience them with my wife and I, that’s priceless. Their faces, their excitement, their copious amounts of candy, all of it. Knowing they are getting more than I did lets me know I’m doing something right.

And because of that, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

A Murder of Saints

Sophie Fields is a little girl tortured by her memories of Damien Smith, a much-loved and respected church elder with a secret lust for the unmentionable. After his misdeeds are covered up by church leaders, she climbs to the roof of her house and jumps to her death, right in front of her shocked brother, Charlie.

Twenty years later, detective Harry Fletcher is still haunted by the personal demons associated with the church cover-up. After losing his faith, his wife, and now his partner, Fletcher learns that Charlie Fields has come back to town with one mission: to kill everyone responsible for his sister’s death. It is Fletcher’s job to track and stop the crazed killer. But as it becomes clear who the main targets are, Fletcher finds himself in the midst of a moral quagmire. Although he sees justice in Charlie’s crusade, the killer seems to be taking out others not responsible for his family’s destruction. As Fletcher and his new partner battle each other in a test of ideology and limits of the law, the real demons show up and change everything.

The Hard Goodbye

As the old axiom goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

John Savage realized that too late. 

Following the biggest job of their lives, John and his small crew think they’ve got it made. But a lawyer, a junkie, a crooked cop, Savage and his girlfriend have unknowingly opened Pandora’s Box. And they won’t know it until it’s too late. As the brutally tortured bodies of their partners come to light, tensions rise all the way to the screaming, chaotic conclusion of this bloody crime thriller. 

High risk brings high reward, but the safe bet is usually the smartest. Stick to the plan, or get ready for the hard goodbye.

Trespass

An adrenaline pumping, nerve wracking, intense thiller that will leave you breathless. Frank took his son hunting and what was supposed to be a pleasant time of bonding turned into an absolute nightmare. Out in the middle of nowhere, on their own property, They stumble upon a group of trespassers trying to get rid of a secret so damning they’re willing to kill anyone that sees it. Get ready for a relentless page turner as Frank dares to fend off the assailants, while racing to get his son help before he bleeds to death.Chris Miller tells a story that any father could relate to. Trespass has what it takes to be a thriller best seller.

Flushed

You’ve had a bad day before. We all have.
But Marty is in a whole other level of shit.
Literally.

Following a drunken night of sex with the office secretary, Marty’s guts are rebelling after his personal hangover remedy, nachos with jalapenos and hot sauce.

Marty has to go. And he’s got to get across the office to do so. Standing in his way are Nikki, the secretary from the night prior, Brad, the vape enthusiast douche, and possibly even his boss. The office door is always open, after all.

Join Marty on his trek, like a vulgar Lord of the Rings. The distance may be shorter, but the stakes are just as high.

The Damned Place

A small town with dark secrets. A house hidden in the woods that holds horrors unimaginable. Four friends on summer break fighting off a group of bullies dead set on ruining their summer of fun. The little town of Winnsboro has buried its secrets beneath years of history and faded memories. But, it’s about to be unearthed releasing ancient creatures as a budding psychopath blooms Will they survive what comes for them and possibly the world or will The Damned Place end it all?

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