GUEST POST: Jeff Strand

I have been a fan of Jeff Strand since way back in August of 2016 when I loved and hated Specimen 313 (haha). Having him back on the blog makes me very, very happy. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. And Jeff – this post brought back some memories haha.

The Night I Was a Skeleton

I don’t want this essay to immediately involve you saying, “Goodness, but you’re old!” but in my day, kids, Halloween costumes came in boxes that looked like they should contain birthday cakes. You got a cheap-ass plastic mask that only covered the front of your face, and then a very thin jumpsuit to complete your transformation.

In the early days, the jumpsuit would not be the outfit worn by the character you were trying to portray, but, rather, a picture of that character. If, for example, you went trick-or-treating as Spider-Man, the costume would have Spider-Man on the front. It was like he damaged his suit fighting Doctor Octopus and settled for wearing a shirt with his own picture on it. Eventually this would change, but in my early trick-or-treating days I was cosplaying as somebody wearing a Spider-Man shirt.

If you were dressed as C-3PO or Batman, the mask was okay. If you were going as a human, like Evel Knievel or one of the Dukes of Hazzard, the mask was an eerie, haunting representation that fueled a thousand nightmares. Have a crush on Bo Duke? You wouldn’t for long. This was a demonically possessed version of Bo Duke whispering for you to kill for him.

Oh, they had cool costumes back then. Rubber masks and stuff. But I, lacking the financial means to purchase one myself, was forced to ask my parents to buy me one. Every year, they’d consider my request for exactly zero seconds and then say, no, choose one of the cake boxes.

But one year I saw a rubber skull mask that I had to have. It was actually the skull mask from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but I didn’t know that. I just knew that I needed this mask if I wanted to be the coolest skeleton of them all for Halloween. And that meant I had a lot of saving up to do.

Save I did. Every time we went into Pay-N-Save, I looked at that mask, and imagined how amazing I was going to look in it. I already had a black shirt that had a skeleton torso on it, and I was going to get bone socks and bone gloves to complete the illusion that I was a walking, talking skeleton.

My friend was going to affix Dr. Scholl’s Lamb’s Wool all over his face and arms and be an amazing werewolf. Fangs! Yellow contact lenses! We had absurdly long and detailed conversations about how incredible our Halloween costumes were going to be that year.

And eventually, yes, I had enough money to buy the skull mask.

“Don’t buy the skull mask,” my mom told me. “If you wait until right before Halloween, it’ll be half-price.”

Sure, and if I waited until right before Halloween, it might be gone! Had you thought of that, Mom???

I bought the mask at full price. And, yes, right before Halloween it was half-price. But that cruel lesson in economics is not what I’m here to write about. I had the mask! And I was going to be the skeleton! On Halloween night, I put on my costume, and it was sweeeeeeet.

Of course, I could only use it for the indoor portion of the spooky celebration. I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, so it was freezing by the end of October, which prevented me from using the skull t-shirt as my trick-or-treating costume. So I was a skeleton in a heavy winter coat with boots.

At least I got to look cool indoors. And my friend’s werewolf costume was…okay, he skipped the fur part of being a werewolf, and the fangs, and the contact lenses. What he did have was a plastic dog snout, with no way to affix it. So he would kind of shove it on his nose and try to contort his face so that it would stay on, which it wouldn’t, and he quickly gave up and just trick-or-treated as Kid Who Couldn’t Be Bothered This Year.

Though this is a tragic tale, it does have a happy ending. I kept the mask for over thirty years, until a friend who collects Halloween masks freaked out that I had a first-run Halloween III: Season of the Witch mask (later ones were glow-in-the-dark). It now sits as a treasured part of her collection.

Watching. Waiting for the right moment to strike.

Boo-graphy: Jeff Strand is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of 50+ books, including Blister, A Bad Day For Voodoo, and Wolf Hunt. Cemetery Dance magazine said “No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand’s perfect mixture of comedy and terror.” Several of his books are in development as movies. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Allison — Allison can break your bones with her mind, and she can’t control her power.

Now forty-five years old, she’s spent her life trying to stay away from other people. But a random encounter with a couple on the street leaves her believing that she may have done something horrible. Something unforgivable.

Killer-for-hire Daxton and his girlfriend Maggie know the truth. Instead of easing Allison’s anguish, they come up with a cruel plan to take advantage of it. But with Allison’s abilities exposed, there may be a bloodbath very soon…

The Odds — After a disastrous evening playing slot machines, Ethan Caustin wonders how he’s going to explain his massive loss to his wife and kids. As he tries to find his way out of the casino, sick to his stomach and filled with self-loathing, he’s approached by a stranger who offers a solution to his problem.

It’s a simple game. A 99% chance for him to win ten thousand dollars. In the remote chance that he loses…well, he’ll be strapped into a device that shatters his left arm.

The odds are very much in his favor. But this is only the first round.

As the game goes on, the prizes and penalties keep changing, along with his chances of winning. As the high stakes get out of control and Ethan desperately wants to quit, he’ll learn that they’ve only offered him one means of escape: play the game to the very end…

Twentieth Anniversary Screening — This mockumentary-style dark comedy recounts the grisly events surrounding the terrible slasher flick THE ROOFER, remembered only because an obsessed fan tried to reenact the murders as they played out on the screen. When the same theater shows the film twenty years later, will the warnings that this is a really, really bad idea be justified?