Halloween Extravaganza: John Boden: The Trick

John Boden is one of the coolest guys I know. And I know some cool guys, so that’s seriously saying a lot. Even when I was living in Pennsylvania, not fifteen minutes from where he lives, it always felt like he was in some other world, too far away for me to become real friends with. I think of that often now that I live over fifteen hours from him. He’s that friend I wish I made, if that makes any sense.

I can’t imagine a Halloween without him, though, so me, not being the best at keeping in touch with people, even with Facebook being right there, made sure that I invited him once again to take part in my annual Halloween Extravaganza.

He told me he wanted to do a guest post, but he had to talk to his family first, to make sure what he was sharing was okay with them. When I received it, after they gave the go-ahead, it was a story I never expected. John Boden, being serious, and so perfectly serious at that.

It’s definitely a get-to-know-the-real-John-Boden type of piece, and something I think everyone should read, especially those of us who have siblings.


Every Halloween either Roscoe or I went as a hobo/Old Man/Bum. It was the easiest costume for Mom to whip up as it wasn’t too far removed from our daily uniform. Worn jeans/pants, ratty shoes and a big old flannel shirt. Usually stuffed with a pillow. We were always warned to keep the pillow clean and undamaged as it would be returned to the case and its place on our bed when we got home. We’d then take our brown paper bag and walk the length of our block. The faces of our neighbors usually a cocktail of thinly veiled disdain or snotty or sad embarrassment. It took me years to realize there was an ironic joke here.

Roscoe and I were always brothers, but we weren’t always friends. We loved one another but I couldn’t say we were nice to one another. There was five years between us and a lot of circumstances, often it felt like lifetimes and fathoms deep. Our father left when I was almost seven and Roscoe was two. There was a rocky valley forged in the fact that I had a father for a few years, years that I could and can recall somewhat fondly, while he had a few splintered recollections of a man holding him as a baby. Once Dad had left, we moved around for three years, like gypsies, the not-so-politically-correct term was, and during it all I found myself more primed for the role of surrogate parent/caregiver to this bull-headed little boy who squinted when he smiled and followed me like a shadow. It was a role I’d never auditioned for and had most definitely sought to lose. A role I realize now had bounties unforetold and riches unparalleled.

That joke being that we grew up in a poor area in the mountains of Pennsylvania. No one was rich or swimming in wealth. There were the dirt poor, the poor and those who were not as poor as the rest. I always felt we were the level above dirt. Most folks were good people. Hardworking parent. Most kids just happy to play and have fun. But there were some that were cut from different more expensive cloth. I vividly recall a girl telling me in third grade (after making fun of my Dollar Store vinyl hi-tops) that “If you don’t wear Lee jeans or Nike sneakers, you’re nothing.” That is a false statement but it sure made little Johnny feel like a little pile of nothing. I never told anyone about that. My Mom already had her hands full–multiple jobs, keeping a house around us and food on the table all while holding up the world. There always have to be some who look down on those with less than they. And I’m not talking about money specifically.

As time crawled on, I found myself bitter at my lot in life. I wanted nothing more than to be a normal kid, to play with the others my age and to experience the pains and aches of growing up. I was in no way spared the aches, but more accurately probably had some that the other kids didn’t, I always had to factor in when Mom left for work so I could be home to watch my brother. How to cook and clean the house. To do laundry, check homework and many other tasks that my friends had mothers or fathers handle for them. Mothers that didn’t work or if they did only one job. Our mom was a nurse at night and cleaned houses during daylight hours and on off nights from those, tended bar at the American Legion. For her hard work she was labeled a slut and a bad mother. Neither title being true but basically being tongue-carved into the trunk of our lives. I grew older and meaner to Roscoe. Endless name calling and fighting. And while he fought back, he was always quick to forgive and return to his usually accepting love of his big brother.

-This year I was going to go as a mummy. Mom had sacrificed one of our white sheets as had Gram to be torn into long strips of ancient bandage. It was the best costume I’d ever had. This year would be so much better.

–Better than the cardboard box robot that got me condescending snickers from other children, some hard candy, tootsie rolls and a stale popcorn ball.

–Better than the cheap plastic masks with the rubber band that held them on your head but pulled at the hair at the back of your neck.

–Better than seeing the looks on the faces of children who were nice to you once in a while, when there was no one else around. Children who’s parents were still together and both worked and brought in more income than your poor three job juggling mother did. Yeah, it would be better.

Years swirled and got away. I got married and moved across the state, won the role of a happy husband with two sons, a role I still play. Roscoe was married and had a pair of daughters. He tried to cut the leash to our hometown but never could do it. He was a boomerang that kept returning. I always did what I could to help him when called to, or even when not. We rarely talked but when we saw each other it seemed strained a little. The elastic growing dry and cracked like an old rubber band. I assumed it a resentment for the hand life dealt us, differing and wide in expanse. Too many small wounds from things I’d said or done when we were younger, given to salty scars that throbbed when I came around. When our Grandmother died and then a few years later our father, those somber events strengthened our bond in some way. We still have our moments of antagonism but mostly we just quietly accept the other. We are brothers and that cannot be changed. We vowed to call more often and see each other more. We both treat vows like a juggler treats delicate glass.

-The air was chilly, not cold but chilly. Mom said I’d need to wear my long johns under my costume, but not to get them dirty or torn as they were my only pair of pajamas until she could afford us new ones. I stood in the kitchen while Mom knelt in front of me carefully wrapping my legs in linen. Gram sat at the table and smoked her cigarette. When the wrapping was done I was covered head to toe, save for an opening left over my eyes so I could see. I ran into the living room and took in my costume via the full length mirror. It was fabulous. Gram said she’d drive us around. “Johnny will break his neck over them bandages around his ankles.” We got our bags and headed out.

First stop was old Mr. Whiteall. He sat on his porch swing with a large mixing bowl full of butterscotch discs and cinnamon lozenges. He always smelled sweaty but was a nice man.

“The Mummy walks!” he yelled and shrank away in mock terror.

I laughed and took the offered treats. As we turned to leave his porch, a few boys from school passed in the opposite direction. One of them hissed “Welfare Johnny.” I pretended not to hear.

The night was an apple halved–a sweetly tart and raw wound sticky at the same time. Gram sat in the car and smoked while Roscoe and I would hit the houses, most adults smiling and handing us candy and compliments and once in a while someone just looking at us like we’d shit on their porch and dropping the treats in our bags like used Kleenex. We went home and Gram left us to organize our spoils while Mom got ready for work.

Now, these decades later, I sit in my chair with the lights out, as I do every Halloween, and stare at the phone. It’s right there. Inches from my hand. It’d be such an easy thing to pick it up and call my brother. Sometimes you’d think the device was made of spiders and bees– a cursed idol carved of scorpion sting and snakebite the way we eschew it. I sigh and don’t make a move, choosing instead to once again take a walk through the territory behind my eyes.

-“You boys, made a haul!” she crowed as she grabbed a peanut butter chew from Roscoe’s pile. I offered her one of my starlight mints.

“No, those are your favorite. You keep them.” She went into the kitchen and got her sweater from the back of the chair. Crushed her cigarette to death in the ashtray on the table.

“Don’t you kids eat all that candy tonight.” She finished her coffee in a single gulp and sat the mug in the sink. It clattered with dirty silverware. “One more piece each, then brush and go to bed.” We nodded. She reminded me for the millionth time to lock the door behind her when she left. I stood and watched her pull out into the road and the taillights disappear into the night. We ate more than one piece of candy each and we went to bed without brushing our teeth. And the world never stuttered in its turning.

I often think of my brother and think of the years wasted between us. How all I need to do is call him once in a while, or even message him on the computer. In this day and age is there any valid excuse?! I’ve got pictures of the girls in the mail last week. They’ve grown up so much and I’ve not seen a lot of it. I’m as much a shadow to them as I am he. A pre-diagnosed stranger. I look at the table where the pictures lay and can see the face of my brother in them. See his school pictures in my mind. Green sweater and those squinting eyes when he smiled. He looked so happy. I so wish I could see him smile like that again. A smile that doesn’t know what a spiteful prick the world is. What a vicious bitch life can be. And how the sharpest blade is the slow scalpel of time and apathy. I feel my eyes begin to leak and wipe them across my arm. The tears are cold on my warm skin. I smile and stare at the spot of light near the front window, a feeble sliver from the streetlight. I can almost see a short shadow by the chair. See the alfalfa sprout of the Roscoe perpetual cowlick. I can see his eyes twinkle in the dim.

“What’re you thinking about, Johnny?”

“Bandages.”

“Like your Mummy costume?”

“Not exactly.”

“Like when you’re hurt?”

“Often.”

“Like what?”

“Like everything.”

I feel his small hand on mine.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, little brother.”

The streetlight goes dark and it thunders silence. I sit in it with my hand on the phone.

John Boden lives a stones throw from Three Mile Island with his wonderful wife and sons.

A baker by day, he spends his off time writing, working for Shock Totem Publications or watching old television shows. He likes Diet Pepsi and sports ferocious sideburns. He loves heavy metal and old country music, shoofly pie and westerns.

He’s a pretty nice fella, honest.

His work has appeared in Borderlands 6, Shock Totem, Splatterpunk, Lamplight, Blight Digest, the John Skipp edited Psychos and others. His not-really-for-children children’s book, Dominoes, has been called a pretty cool thing. His other books–Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid, Detritus In Love, Walk The Darkness Down— are out and about. He has also written a few collaborative novellas, one with Chad Lutzke called Out Behind the Barn, and Rattlesnake Kisses and Cattywampus with Bob Ford. There are more things in the works.

Out Behind the Barn (with Chad Lutzke)

The boys crept to the window and watched as Miss Maggie carried the long bundle into the barn, the weight of it stooping her aging back. Rafter lights spilled from the barn doors and Davey saw an arm fall from the canvas-wrapped parcel. He smiled.

“She got someone!”

Both children grinned and settled in their beds, eyes fixed to the ceiling.

The boys crept to the window and watched as Miss Maggie carried the long bundle into the barn, the weight of it stooping her aging back. Rafter lights spilled from the barn doors and Davey saw an arm fall from the canvas-wrapped parcel. He smiled.

“She got someone!”

Both children grinned and settled in their beds, eyes fixed to the ceiling.

This was family growth.

Rattlesnake Kisses (with Robert Ford)

Dallas is a man seasoned by both time and circumstance—a fellow you hire to get certain things done. The kind of man you definitely don’t want to cross.

The Kid is his protege—his younger shadow with more quirks than Dewey’s System has decimals. He’s loyal as a hound and just as likely to bite.

After being hired for a seemingly easy job, Dallas and the Kid find themselves on a wild ride. Every stop they make introduces lies, violence and memories best left buried. When the control Dallas holds so near and dear starts to squirm free, things get ugly. The routine becomes anything but, and revenge is a bloody dish best served with a .45 pistol.

Cattywampus (with Robert Ford)

There had been a plan. It wasn’t a good one, and it was rough around the edges, but it was a plan. Then things went off the rails and into places where no one was comfortable. Violent places. Unspeakable places. Places stained with blood and other things. A nesting doll of crimes and sordid deeds. Darlene and Sheila were up to no good, but the mess they find themselves in makes their original plans seem like a Sunday school picnic. And it started the way you’d expect a bad day to begin: A robbery.A death. A bucket full of teeth. Welcome to Steelwater, PA. We’re glad to have you.

Walk the Darkness Down

Some things are older than time. Older than darkness.

-Levi is a monstrous man—made of scars and scary as hell, he’s glutted on ghosts and evolving to carry out the dark wishes of the ancient whispers in his head. He’s building a door and what’s on the other side is terrifying.

-Jones spent a lot of time living bottle to bottle and trying to erase things. Now he’s looking for the man who killed his mother and maybe a little bit of looking or himself as well.

-Keaton is on the run from accusations as well as himself, he suffers alone until he meets Jubal, an orphaned boy with his little sisters in a sling.

-Every line is not a straight line and everything must converge. A parable writ in dust and blood on warped barn wood. A journey in the classic sense, populated with dried husks of towns…and people both odd and anything but ordinary. Hornets, reverse-werewolves and one of the most vicious villains you’ll ever know are all part of it.

Pull on your boots and saddle up, we’ll Walk The Darkness Down.

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