This is my quandary.
Mommy… Why are all those people’s heads on sticks?
Well, let’s talk about that later.
These are the types of conversations I hear on Halloween. Children sometimes have questions about things they don’t understand. Heads on sticks would fall into this category. The unspoken answer to this particular exchange might run as follows: “Because your father moved us from Michigan to godforsaken Arkansas, right next door to this redneck who has no sense of decorum.” Or something like that. You see, I don’t decorate for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Independence Day. These days pass much like all the rest on my calendar. I don’t resent these occasions or those who celebrate them, but they simply do not resonate with my experience. But I do decorate for Halloween. In fact, my house has traditionally resembled the mouth of hell. I specialize in mutilated body parts, agitating sounds, and menacing lights. I keep up with latest research trends as to what produces the maximum levels of cortisol in any potential visitor. No one walks away unscathed.
Some of the kids are too young, so they just stare at the lights and drool. Others stand on the sidewalk and scream as frustrated parents tells them it’s OK to ring the bell, their tears of fear sating the dark places inside me. As they get older the brave ones come to love the place and I have lots of repeat business. And yes, they get full sized candy bars. The normal response from parents when they see my house is something like, “Well, this is interesting.” Translation: “What the hell is wrong with you?” Yes, I’m that guy in the neighborhood.
The problem is that we’ve moved. I liked the old street. It was a subtle mix of blue and white collar families living the American Dream. But the new neighborhood is a little nicer. The people are a little friendlier. The rents are a little higher. Everyone is conscientious about recycling. A few folks even have solar panels. The children are all gifted and talented. You get the picture. Everyone couldn’t have made me and my wife feel more welcome. We even got a gift basket with gourmet cheese. What could be the problem you ask? My lovely wife, who is much smarter than I, broached the topic gently:
“Maybe you could think about toning it down a little bit this year.”
“Why, whatever do you mean?”
“I mean Halloween. Like maybe skeletons are OK, but the other stuff, the heads, the torsos, the intestines… Maybe that’s a little much.”
I am crestfallen. “What about the fog machine?”
“The fog machine is fine. Look, these people are being really nice to us. Do you really want to do that to them?”
I do not say it, but the answer is “yes.” Perhaps it is a profound moral failing. It’s just that I cannot abide half-measures when it comes to this issue. I look around at the happy ghosts, smiling pumpkins, and quaint scarecrows in the lawns of other houses and shake my head sadly. Every neighborhood should have that one house that scares the children. Fear is a crucial part of childhood development. They will not remember who gave them which piece of candy, but they will remember the person who made their heart race when that quivering finger approached the doorbell.
So, should I decorate or simply sublimate the darkness into some other activity—perhaps crafting or making myself a better citizen? I already know the answer, but it’s better to keep quiet for a time. I’ll go on smiling and waving. I’ll tend the roses. I will do everything I can to let these gentle people know that I mean them no harm. But self-expression is very important, isn’t it? After all, it’s only for one night.
Thomas Vaughn is an author of dark fiction who resides in the Ozark Mountains. When he is not writing stories, he poses as a college professor who teaches classes in apocalyptic rhetoric and doomsday cults. He has always loved Halloween and remains one of those stalwarts who refuses to let the tradition die. If you are curious about what he is getting up to you, you are welcome to visit him at his website.