Deciding Not to Take Halloween
for Granted Anymore
Ever since I was a boy, Halloween was the big event, the bees knees, the great horror spooktacular, the horrific—dastardly—candy-having marathon of fun and games, and then some, if I do say so myself. As I’ve grown older, though, the joy in which I have for the holiday has become few and far between, depending on the year and whether or not someone in my life had convinced me to go out and actually live life in the night during it or not, perhaps instead choosing to stay home to probably sleep early in order to be in tip-top shape for work the following morning. After having this sad state of affairs brought to my attention, please allow me to lament that fact.
My earliest memory of Halloween was probably similar to many other young children, that of being horrified in person due to a jump scare by a grown man in a rubber mask, bringing myself and whichever family member my age that was with me to screams so loud and so bloody-murder-style distraught that dogs in the next district started to howl at a moon that wasn’t there. However rocky the start, my mother made sure to provide much more cherished incentives to celebrate. She would deck out our home—trailer, house, apartment, it didn’t matter—with cobwebs, all manner of skulls, baroque drinking glasses filled with gooey eyeballs, paintings that looked normal until viewed at an angle (which would then unnerve the onlooker as if they’re being watched), make-shift witch umbrellas (the handles were made of her legs, as were her shoes with the popular imagery of the witch herself), crystal balls, and so many books without stories filled with edible bugs and other creepy models of deliciousness. I could spend an entire essay describing the amount of effort that my mother went into the holidays, this goes for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even the Fourth of July, but October 31st was something special. My mother made us active participants in the structure of the world we lived in when it came to the entirety of that month. I remember many a night sitting with my mom at the table—Monster Mash coming from the speakers—as she had my siblings and I tie a loop of string around a tissue filled with paper before we would use our permanent markers to make darkened eyes and mouths. We’d hang them from the ceiling using clear tape, each in a spot of our choosing for the adults to ever be bombarded with ghosts on high. It was a magical land of character archetypes that if not for Halloween and my mother’s intense appreciating and fostering of its traditions and imagery that I’d likely never have deep dived into stories about werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, beautiful mermaids that are actually disgusting sea creatures, killer dolls, vampires, and the ilk; later, these led into mythology and other forms of storytelling that inspired much of my writing thereafter. That which makes us scared and reflects our fears of the mundane world, twisted and formed into something that at face value already adds a higher level of mystique and wonder to it are all things that a growing child can really sink their teeth into.
My mother had costumes for us and our friends, too, out the wazzoo. Did you want to be a super hero? Bam, Superman and Batman, there you go. Did you want to be scary? Heck yeah, here’s a Grim Reaper outfit, a scythe, and skeleton mask with a button attached through your sleeve that will make it look like blood was gushing from your skull. Would you rather be a zombie or paint something on your face? She had paint made specifically for your skin back when that stuff was hard to come by. Mom thought of everything, so much so that I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
Well out of high school and still at home, I’d show up from work in October and the decorations, which weren’t there that morning, miraculously covered the house. Every year, with my participation and enthusiasm slowly draining, as if a grain of sand intermittently pushed the value of it further from my understanding and eventually it all began fizzling out into oblivion. Mostly, the last time I visited my mother during Halloween, only a miniature haunted house remained upon the dining room table.
One year, a group of friends had asked me to go out with them, so I dressed as a greaser, partying it up with my drunken cohorts downtown, and after leaving to go to another late night after party, I had a gun pulled on me (check that story out in issue 22 of Weird Mask)—I wasn’t home, so I got into trouble again and again trying to be cool, forgetting what the holiday was really about. It wasn’t the scares, or the costumes, or even the candy. It was about joining my family in on the fun.
My wife asked me years ago when we started dating (and every year since) to help her set up around the house. She had her own set of reused cobwebs from a box marked with a sketch of a jack o’ lantern and I didn’t have any pep whatsoever. Next year, I helped in placing the window stickers that had a variety of cartoon ghosts printed inside the plastic, which started to make me smile and the kitschy candy jars reminded me of my mother, but I was too old for this pretend stuff. “This was the real world and it’s serious business,” said the fiction writer without an ounce of irony. We had wooded and stuffed black cats and bats that needed somewhere to live, nightly horror movies to watch, and Stephen King books to read. One year, we didn’t have money to spend on costumes, let alone did I ever dress up anyway, so my wife and her sister had the brilliant idea to dress in our best fall clothes and started to paint these brown paper bags in whatever designs we wanted. It was a real treat and a hit with our friends. I don’t know if my wife had intended to or not, but she brought that wide-eyed little kid back from the grave, digging him out with a shovel, and offered him a wobbly bowl of Jell-O-brains. He was back and he wasn’t going anywhere, especially now that we have a son who could join in. It was like my heart learned how to smile once more at the grotesque and the slimy, and rediscovered something far more meaningful that I had truly lost: the enriching warmth that is spending time with loved ones as we celebrate the holidays without a care in the world.
Now, I’m going to be 30 years old soon and my son was 10 months old when Halloween hit. A lot of my time aside from work has been thinking about the direction in which I want to raise my child. Of course I want him to have good manners, understand the value of standing your ground, and to know when to show kindness, but I also want him to experience the absolutely ghoulish spirit of Halloween that I knew when I was a kid, which I wish I had kept up on. I’ve got a lot of time to catch up with! I want him to read Casper, watch Stranger Things, light candles that could bring old spirits back—and Hell, I just might grab an old Ouija board for kicks, man. Recently, I haven’t even shaved my beard in a good while just so that I could be Tormund from Game of Thrones for Halloween and perhaps after we’ve raided the Spirit store, we’ll find an appropriate wildling costume for my son, or maybe an old lady costume with a walker that has miniature tennis balls at the bottom, or I don’t know, Ron Swanson or something. More than likely, my wife will create something one of a kind for him from scratch.
Literally, the world of family horror is at our fingertips, limited only within the utmost of our own creativity. I have finally decided not to take Halloween for granted anymore. I want to be kickass for Halloween, just like my mom.
Tristan Drue Rogers is an author living in Texas. His stories have been featured in fanzines such as Weird Mask and M, literary magazines such as Genre: Urban Arts, and horror anthologies such as Deep Fried Horror and 100 Word Horrors Book 3. His novel Brothers of Blood is available now in paperback and e-book.
Brothers of Blood follows Belle Whynecrow in her final year of highschool. Her best friends Josue, Xavier, and Jesus the hobo welcome the new kid, Chris, with welcome arms. The only catch? To quell their boredom, Belle tells them to create a kill list, marking off the names as they complete their goal before senior year ends. While struggling to pass their classes with flying colors, this band of merry murderers seems to be on a delightfully bloody roll until Belle’s long imprisoned older brother, Beau, arrives at her doorstep. Now a devout man of God, the brotherhood schemes for his return to his original, and highly exaggerated, bloodlust. That is, if Chris’s jealousy doesn’t destroy Belle’s ranking in the gang first. Not everyone will survive, but those who do will certainly have a year to remember because those that kill together live forever.