SHORT STORY: Treats at the Aver Residence by AJ Brown

Treats at the Aver Residence
By AJ Brown

1

“They’re going to love this year’s treat,” Cade said, giddily. He moved around the large steel table with a carving knife in hand. His milky eyes dazzled in the yellow glow of the overhead lights.

“What do you think, Mr. Mason?”

On the table lay Mr. Mason, covered by a sheet up to his chin. The man squirmed. His arms and legs pulled on the restraints that held him. His eyes were wide orbs, glassy and full of fear, a bruise beneath the left one. His dark hair was ruffled.

Cade lifted one eyebrow. His face loomed over Mr. Mason’s. “What? No response?” He shook his head, the joy of the time of year—the very day—coursed through his veins. “Brighten up, Mr. Mason. It’s Halloween—the greatest day of the year.”

He checked the I.V. line running into Mason’s arm. The steady drip told him Mr. Mason would be flying high soon enough, but not too high. Mr. Mason certainly didn’t want to miss out on the festivities.

“All those years of being a surgeon come in handy this time of year, don’t you think?”

Cade looked down into Mason’s green eyes. The man blinked, and a stray tear fell down the side of his face. He let out a groan, not one of pain, but fear. Cade was certain if the white cloth shoved into his mouth wasn’t there, Mason would scream for all he was worth—and at that moment, he may not have been worth much more than a cheap bottle of wine to any drunk on the side of the road, but he was worth all the candy in the world to Cade.

“Don’t worry—you will only feel a moderate amount of pain, and for only a few seconds, maybe a minute, then you’ll pass out.” He stroked Mason’s sweaty cheek, lovingly, as if he cared for the man before him. Cade’s eyes grew tender, his smile softened. “Then you won’t feel anything at all. At least until the children arrive.”

Mason shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. He strained to move. The veins on his forehead and along his throat, bulged against his skin.

“Stick around, Mr. Mason,” Cade almost sung, then patted Mason’s face. “It’s going to be a wonderful Halloween.”

2

In their homes, children sang and danced. Their mothers painted their off-colored skin whatever shade of pale, brown or black they chose. Halloween shows like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Monster House, played on the television. Those who were finished with their dinners sat and watched until the sun began to set.

The anticipation made some of them bounce in their seats. Toes tapped. Fingers drummed. Betsy Wallabanger’s teeth fell out twice, and each time she put them back in, she had to adjust her lipstick. Excitement hung in the air like a thick fog on an early fall morning.

3

“Would you like a smiley face or a frown? Or maybe a really scary face?”

Mason shook his head and moaned. His eyelids were heavy, but he was still very much awake … and aware.

“Hmm … none of those? I have templates this year—got them cheap at the WalGreens in town. They practically gave them to me.” Cade rubbed the blade of his knife against the side of his head. A small flap of skin peeled back, and a few strands of dirty brittle hair flaked to the floor. Blood spilled down the side of his face. “Wow, that’s sharp—I guess I should be careful where I put it.”

Cade pulled the sheet away like a magician putting on a show. A pair of red underwear covered Mason’s privates. Other than that, he was nude. His belly was plump, the signs of a man who liked to eat well.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I shaved your body while you were asleep. You had a lot of hair, and you know how kids are—most of them just don’t like hair on their treats. But I didn’t shave your head. Some of them like to keep scalps for souvenirs these days. I wouldn’t want to disappoint the few traditionalists still out there.”

Mason shook his head and let out a yell that was muffled by the cloth. He chewed on the rag as if trying to eat it so he could cry for help.

“I’m sorry you don’t approve, but you needed the shave. What’s done is done—you’ll just have to get over it.”

Cade set the knife on a counter behind him and rifled through the templates. “Frankenstein? Oh, how about Shrek—he used to be popular with the kids.”

After going through all the patterns, he set them down, and picked up a black marker. “None of those will do. Not for you, Mr. Mason. I’ll just have to come up with something on my own.”

He stood over Mason’s ample belly and drew an odd oval just below the ribs. He drew a second oval, then a triangle around Mason’s belly button. Cade tapped his temple with the marker and looked up at the ceiling. Many images ran through his head. Then the right one came to mind. A smile creased his face.

“Oh, you are going to love this.”

He drew the large squiggly line below the triangle, then brought it down close to the waistband of his underwear. Cade picked up the knife and looked at Mason. “Are you ready for this?”

Mason screamed when
Cade plunged the knife into his stomach.

4

“Come on, let’s get into your costumes.”

Children squealed with joy when the mothers beckoned them to get ready for the festivities. They hurried to their rooms and donned their outfits. They were vampires and werewolves, neither of which sparkled or walked around shirtless. They were witches with warts on their noses and brooms by their sides. They were zombies—oh so many of them were zombies. Betsy Wallabanger dressed up as a corpse bride, her hair jutting this way and that way, her outfit a natural dirty shade, complete with stains across the front. Her mother had worn that very costume when she was Betsy’s age. There were no princesses or Batmans or video game stars. There were no cute little lions, tigers or bears, oh my. There was an Alice and she carried a bucket shaped like the tardy rabbit’s head that dripped blood every few steps she took.

They practiced the chants they learned from past Halloweens. Their voices rang up to the ceilings and none were off key.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”

Some of the older kids added extra verses. “If you don’t, I won’t cry. I’ll slit your throat and then you’ll die.”

Mothers gave approving looks and fathers ruffled the enthusiastic heads of the extra verse singers.

There were no idle threats of ‘behave or else.’ Those were reserved for parents in towns where Halloween was more of a burden than a rite of passage. Besides, the kids in Dreads Hollow knew the parents would never stick to their threats of no haunting the neighborhood if they behaved—it was just as much fun for the adults as it was for the children. Then there was always the one house at the end of Corpse Avenue that did something different each year. If anything, the parents wanted to see how Mr. Aver had decorated. If there were no haunts for the kids, there was no visiting the Aver residence for the adults.

5

Cade pulled away part of the flesh of Mason’s stomach. He bit down on a piece of it, chewed and nodded. “Tasty,” he said. Blood dripped down his chin. He wiped at it absently.

He looked inside Mason’s stomach. He had deadened the nerves and cauterized the flesh where he had carved away the precious meat. Blood still flowed from the chest cavity and Mason still breathed, though shallow as it was. The carved face was gruesome, but Cade hadn’t finished. He left a long slit beneath the reamed-out mouth. A mesh was sewn in place, holding Mason’s intestines in.

Cade looked down at the man who had once said, ‘Halloween is for the devil’s children.’ He wanted to correct him—oh Halloween was so much more than for the offspring of Satan, it was for everyone, young and old, tall and small. The day didn’t so much matter, but the spirit of Halloween, that’s what drove Cade and every other person who loved the day so much, to celebrate it. He slapped Mr. Mason’s face gently with a bloodied glove, leaving four red imprints on his face. “Stay with me, Mr. Mason. Your moment is coming soon, and you won’t want to miss it.”

Cade carefully moved Mason’s body onto a gurney he had procured from one of the medical catalogues he still received, though he hadn’t practiced his once chosen profession in well over seventy years. Mason moaned and opened his eyes. Gray bags clung beneath them, and he seemed to stare off at the ceiling, not noticing Cade at all. A few seconds later, his eyes slid shut and he was unconscious to the world around him. Cade pushed the gurney through the house and onto the front porch.

Out in the fresh autumn air, Cade took a deep breath. The cool air filled his throat but burned his ancient lungs.

“I love this time of year.”

He worked like a cautious burglar, careful not to set any alarms off and give himself away. In Cade’s case, he was careful not to jar Mason’s body and have his efforts ruined by an act of clumsiness. He slid his arms under Mason’s legs and back and carried him down the steps. Cade sat him on a sturdy lawn chair, not bothering to brush off the leaves that had fallen on it or the spider web that hung between one armrest and the seat. The spider on the web crawled from one sticky line to another until it sat on Mason’s forearm.

Back inside, Cade grabbed the accessories, chip wrappers and empty beer cans. He littered the area around Mason with the garbage and placed one of the cans in the man’s hand.

Cade stepped back and looked at his creation. The backdrop of his old house with its warped steps, shuttered windows and flaking paint would give anyone from outside of Dreads Hollow the creeps. Those people would cautiously walk away, their eyes not wavering from the sight before them, or they would run as if their hair was on fire. Cade smiled and shook with something akin to lust. His body tingled. His heart raced with excitement.

6

They walked the streets of the neighborhood, clothed in their homemade outfits and masks. Each child’s eyes beamed with excitement as they went from door to door. The welcome lights shone brightly at each house, luring the kids to knock and speak their chants. Neighbors opened doors, smiled, and played along. They oohhed and ahhed at the costumes; they told the children how scary and terrifying, and even how sickening they were; they gave them treats of lady fingers and animal eyes, of hair necklaces and cooked tongues.

“I got a rock,” one kid said when he left each house.

Tunes of Trick or Treat rang throughout the night until they reached the Aver residence at the end of Corpse Avenue. A dim bulb hung from the porch’s ceiling. It cast shadows that looked like pointy fingers stretching across the ground. Cade stood on the porch, his face covered by a mask made from the skin of Mason’s stomach.

Children approached the house. Their bodies hummed with anticipation and their eyes darted about the yard. Mason sat in the shadows near the porch, one hand wrapped around the beer can. He moaned weakly. The children stopped. Some of the parents leaned into get a better look.

“Welcome one. Welcome all. Let’s not delay this year. I hope you will not be disappointed with this year’s treat at the Aver residence. I call this Drunk Man.” Cade flipped a switch that lit up the yard.

Loud gasps echoed through the night as parents and children alike took in Cade’s work. Mason’s stomach had been carved out as if it were a normal pumpkin face, the lining of his insides burned black. A trickle of blood still washed down into the man’s briefs. Mason’s eyes had been sewn open and crusted blood clung to his face. His intestines, which had been held in by the mesh earlier, now dangled on Mason’s lap. It appeared as if they had been vomited out of the wide mouth of his belly. The cloth that had been in his mouth earlier was gone. Mason’s bottom lip trembled.

Betsy Wallabanger—six past a hundred years of age—approached the creation, cautiously. “He’s still alive,” she said with wide blue eyes that held childish excitement in them. She reached forward with one hand, then pulled it back quickly, uncertainty stretching across her face.

“Go ahead. It’s okay, he can’t move,” Cade said.

Betsy set her pillowcase bag on the ground and leaned down. She sunk her teeth into one of Mason’s thighs. A scream came from his throat as she worked her jaw from side to side. She ripped off a piece of flesh, her teeth coming out slightly. She shoved them back in place and chewed. After she swallowed, she smiled. “Delicious.”

Cade clapped his hands like the young child he no longer was. He motioned with his hands. “Come, little ones. Enjoy this year’s treat from the Aver residence.”

Children squealed as they lit in on Mason. His screams filled the night, much to Cade’s satisfaction. The parents looked on with a happiness reserved for their offspring.

“You really outdid yourself this year, Aver,” one of the fathers said before he walked away with his little boy. Blood soaked the front of the boy’s costume, and he licked his fingers clean of the blood that had been on them.

7

Cade sat on the porch in an ancient rocker that squealed like a wounded rat as it went back and forth. The sounds of singing, happy children had long since faded. What remained of Mason lay scattered on the lawn. There were bones here and there, a clump of hair by the sidewalk—the scalp had not been taken this year. One of the kids had bit off his privates. Or was it one of the moms? Cade didn’t know, and honestly, it didn’t matter. The birds and bugs would come and clean up the mess, leaving only bones behind.

On his lap sat a skull. Part of it was still pink from blood and meat. He pulled a piece of flesh off the cheekbone and popped it into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed.

“Hmm … Delicious.”

AJ Brown is a southern-born writer who tells emotionally charged, character driven stories that often delve into the darker parts of the human psyche. Most of his stories have the southern country feel of his childhood.

AJ draws inspiration from every day events and conversations. The characters of his stories are drawn from people he has met or seen during his life. Some of the best stories are inspired by his two children.

Though he writes mostly darker stories, he does so without unnecessary gore, coarse language, or sex.

AJ is also a husband to Cate and a father to two kids, who often inspire him in the most interesting ways.

More than 200 of his stories have been published in various online and print publications. His story Mother Weeps was nominated for a Pushcart Award in 2010. The story, Numbers, won the quarterly contest at Wily Writers in June 2013.

Website

GUEST POST: Phil Sloman

Guising
By Phil Sloman

It’s always been a pleasure to be invited along to Meghan’s House of Books Halloween Extravaganza. I’ve enjoyed it each and every time. This year I thought I’d do a short article about guising or, more particularly, masks.

On reading up on guising it seems that the tradition grew as a way for children, and adults, to avoid the dead when they visited on Halloween. Or something along those lines. Now I like that as a concept but there’s a different take I wanted to present to you, dear reader. And perhaps as much to myself.

We all hide our true selves from time to time. Some more than others. Often dependent on the situation we are in. So, your work persona might be very different to your persona with friends which again may be different to your round the house personality and so on. Some masks may be worn for self-protection in a world where prejudice is rife and the anonymity of social media (a mask in itself) emboldens the bigots who are out there. That is not my story to tell.

For many, masks develop in childhood. I was bullied as a kid. A lot of people were and, sadly, continue to be. For me, it was mainly for being a bit of a nerd (bright kid, crap clothes). That was probably the first time I learned to wear a mask. I learnt to dumb down and hide the fact I was clever. I know I am not alone in this.

Now somewhere along the line I got into horror. Probably around the age of 15 or so. I remember having the Gremlins Read Along audiobook as a vague dabbling into horror and progressed from there. Ended up reading the book adaptation of Nightmare on Elm Street long before seeing the films and have to admit my imagination worked far more effectively than the films in the end. So, where is the mask here, I hear you cry. Well, this is the mask from my family. My Dad didn’t really get horror and couldn’t really understand what I got from it. So, I don’t really talk to my family about my horror writing and therefore hide it away. Even when up for awards I don’t mention it. Whether this is really a mask or just hiding from a situation; discuss amongst yourselves.

With the advent of social media, as noted above, it is interesting to see the persona some people adopt and the masks people choose to wear (or indeed the masks people drop behind the distance a screen and keyboard present). So much can be hidden behind that avatar, so much of us presented as the best versions of ourselves. The thing is that you risk getting lost in this other you of your own making; a smiling personality which may be drowning in tears on the inside. And there is a fear of judgement should that mask slip and our vulnerability be revealed.

Okay, so the link to Halloween, and thanks for sticking with me so far, is that this is a day when we get to wear masks as we go out and about on the streets asking neighbours and strangers for treats. Yet, I would claim here that some of the masks out there are people being free to express the true them and drop their day-to-day societal masks. Societal norms are abandoned and we can fully embrace “us”. The same, I find is true of horror conventions. Places where I know I have found my tribe. A place, other than at home with my wife or out with close friends, where I feel I can be me. There is a natural coming together of the like-minded and, what I have found personally, the welcoming.

As said, this was a short musing as an offering to Meghan’s celebrations. There may be pieces in the above which chimed with you. Equally, there may have been rolling of eyes and a note of “just be yourself and let the world accept you for who you are”. This is sound advice. Yet there is something drilled into a lot of us as kids that fitting in is what is required. And it takes time to feel comfortable to let those masks slip – and there are always multiple masks – where that vulnerability dissipates and all that is left is the wonder that is you.

So maybe we should hold on to that freedom that the 31st October brings with it and take that as a mantra through the entirety of the year. I know it is something I shall certainly ponder.

Boo-graphy
Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. His first story was published in 2014 and he has been writing ever since. In 2017 Phil was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, and was part of Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Anthology in 2018, and edited the 2020 British Fantasy Award shortlisted anthology The Woods. Phil regularly appears on several reviewers’ Best of Year lists.

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

GUEST POST: Thomas Smith

Halloween via Time Machine – or – How to Haunt a House

When I received the request to write this post I was whisked away in my mental time machine and deposited smack dab in the middle of Halloween in the 1960s.

Bobby “Boris” Pickett was singing his new song, Monster Mash, on the radio. A day or so before the big day itself, televisions all over the country were following the antics of the Peanuts gang in a new TV special: It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And in theaters everywhere, there were new movies unlike anything we’d ever seen before, each one guaranteed to make you sleep with a night light:

Night of the Living Dead, The Birds, and Norman Bates as the ultimate mama’s boy in Psycho loomed large on the big screen for those brave enough to keep their eyes open.

And when Halloween finally arrived, a legion of ghosts, goblins, clowns, ballerinas, and hobos came home with bags and plastic jack-o-lanterns filled with apples, oranges, Baby Ruths (regular and minis), Butterfingers (regular and minis), Saf-T-Pops (complete with heavy string loops instead of a stick), Dubble Bubble Gum, Snickers, Milky Ways, Forever Yours Bars, Kraft Caramels, B. B. Bats, wax lips, wax fangs, and boxes of Boston Baked Beans.

And almost every character that wasn’t created at someone’s mother’s sewing machine came from a cardboard box with a cellophane front from either Collegeville, or Ben Cooper. They were the huge Halloween costume companies in the 1950s and 1960s. If you really wanted to be cool, Ben Cooper’s clown, devil, princess, dragon, and spooky monster costumes had flashing lights in the mask. But Collegeville, not to be outdone, had some of the coolest costumes with their Gorilla, Ghoul, Monster, Body Snatcher, and Weird-O, Fink costumes.

Now none of the boxed costumes fit worth a dang, but we didn’t care. A rip here and a patch there (always in the back) and who’s to know? Besides, if you were wearing the Planet of the Apes, Batman, Superman, Hobo, Frankenstein, ghost, and mummy costumes (the very latest and greatest of the day), it was worth it.

Meanwhile, in the middle of all of this Halloween spectacle, my brother and I were waiting in the basement of our house to cap off Halloween in style. We worked for the previous two or three days to get everything just right. Then we went trick-or-treating with the first wave of costumed candy beggars so we could be back in time for the opening of Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement.

OK, the title wasn’t terribly original, but for the early 1960s, we were the only game in town (in our particular town at least). We took turns standing in the outdoor entrance to the basement and ushered the unsuspecting costumed customers (admission fee was one candy bar) into a maze of glowing cardboard skeletons, a ghost that moved and floated in the corner of the basement (thanks to an old screen door spring and a string), rubber bats that dropped out of the darkness above onto their victims’ various noggins, a bowl of grapes coated with a little vegetable oil and placed in a black box labeled EYEBALLS with a hole cut out just big enough for a victims hand), a Frankenstein’s monster (each of us in turn, in costume) that would jump out and growl menacingly (as if there’s any other way for the creation of Victor Frankenstein to growl) and watch the guys finch and the girls scream.

Then there was the scary movie.

We would get an 8mm copy of Frankenstein vs The Wolfman from the local Public library (the original movie condensed to approximately five minutes) and coupled with a homemade soundtrack from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House record (copied onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder to correspond with the movie scenes), we had the perfect ending to a horrifying (hey, I was nine years old in the 60s) trek through the darkness.

I went trick-or-treating a lot after that. And I’ve been through some really good professionally staged haunted houses. But I’ve gotta be honest.

I’d love to go through Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement just one more time.

Boo-graphy:
Thomas is an award-winning writer, essayist, playwright, reporter, TV news producer, and a three-time American Christian Writers Association Writer of the Year. His work has appeared in numerous publications from Writer’s Digest and Exploring Alaska, to The Horror Zine and Cemetery Dance magazine.

He has written for many publishers including Grinning Skull Press, Zondervan, Barnes & Noble Books, Adams Media, Chronicle Books, Borderlands Press, Barbour Publishing, Pocket Books, and Cemetery Dance Publications. Two of his short stories (Mother and Child Reunion and The Heart is a Determined Hunter) have appeared on Tales to Terrify, and his short story, A Rustle of Owls’ Wings, has been adapted for the stage.

Thomas has written jokes for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.

He is also, quite possibly, the only writer in captivity to have been included in collections with Stephen King, and the Rev. Rick Warren in the same week.

And other than author bios, he rarely refers to himself in the third person.

Rarely.

Something Stirs
Ben Chalmers is a successful novelist. His wife, Rachel, is a fledgling artist with a promising career, and their daughter, Stacy, is the joy of their lives. Ben’s novels have made enough money for him to provide a dream home for his family. But there is a force at work-a dark, chilling, ruthless force that has become part of the very fabric of their new home.

A malevolent entity becomes trapped in the wood and stone of the house and it will do whatever it takes to find a way to complete its bloody transference to our world.

Local sheriff, Elizabeth Cantrell, and former pastor-turned-cabinetmaker, Jim Perry, are drawn into the family’s life as the entity manipulates the house with devastating results. And it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. Even if it costs them their faith, their sanity, and their lives.

Monsters
“I killed my parents when I was thirteen years old.”

And now, with the murder of Missy Blake twenty-two years later, it’s time for Jack Greene to finish what he started.

When the co-ed’s mutilated body is found, the police are clueless, but Jack knows what killed the pretty college student; he’s been hunting it for years. The hunt has been going on for too long, though, and Jack wants to end it, but he can’t do it alone. The local police aren’t equipped to handle the monster in their midst, so Jack recruits Major Kelly Langston, and together they set out to rid the world of this murdering creature once and for all.

GUEST TV REVIEW by Sarah McKnight: The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

Are You Afraid of the Dark S5: E1:
The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float

TV Series – 10.7.1995 – Not Rated – 22 minutes
Director: DJ MacHale
Writer: Will Dixon (original creator: DJ MacHale)
Stars: Margot Finley (Clorice), Kaj-Erik Eriksen (Zeke Matthews)

Zeke and Clorice find an abandoned swimming pool at their school where a secret is contained.

“Submitted for the approval of The Midnight Society, I call this story…”

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a horror anthology series that ran on Nickelodeon from 1990-1996. The series featured members of The Midnight Society gathered around a campfire in the woods and exchanging tales that ranged from the bizarre to the truly terrifying. Each character had a distinct personality and told stories that aligned with their individual interests. With a rating of TVY7, the show not only sparked my love for all things horror, but essentially traumatized me with a few memorable episodes as well.

The one that scared me the most, and naturally became my favorite, was titled The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float. As a child, I absolutely loved swimming and would spend hours in the pool, but the fear of drowning was always in the back of my mind. This episode solidified that fear. The tale revolves around Zeke, a nerdy teenager who never learned to swim, and Clorice, a cool girl on the swim team. After Zeke discovers a pool hidden behind a fake wall within their high school, he teams up with Clorice to get it cleaned up so the swim team can stop traveling for their practices. In exchange, all Zeke asks for is private lessons so he can finally learn to swim. But, as Zeke and Clorice soon find out, there was a reason the pool was hidden away for so long.

Something is lurking beneath the water; something invisible and evil that caused numerous deaths in the past. After a near-fatal experience in the newly opened pool, Zeke and Clorice soon discover, with the help of an old janitor who was once a lifeguard for that very pool, that the school was built over a cemetery and some of the bodies had been missed during the excavation. While this is a tired, arguably overused, trope, the twist on it feels unique and the story, in my humble opinion, still holds up to this day.

Now, Zeke and Clorice know what is lurking beneath the waters, but how can they fight something they cannot see? Fortunately, Zeke is a wiz at chemistry, and he has an idea that just might be crazy enough to work.

When Zeke pours his chemical compound into the pool water, the creature responsible for so many deaths is revealed, and my young mind was subjected to the most terrifying imagery I have ever seen. It still haunts me to this day, and I love it.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? didn’t have to go so hard with their visual effects, but I am so thankful that they did. There was something raw about this show that I feel you don’t see in modern kid’s TV, even if it is horror themed. I recently rewatched the entire series and was surprised at the amount of death and sadness portrayed in the stories shared by The Midnight Society. I think, even as a child, this was one of the reasons why I loved the show so much. Sometimes, it was incredibly real, and the dark tales were not watered down. No one tiptoed around the subject matter just because the audience was mainly children. It was an entertaining, spooky, and occasionally funny show that can still be enjoyed by all audiences to this day.

The series had a short revival from 1999-2000 in which only one member of the original cast returned, and beginning in 2019, Nickelodeon has begun airing short spinoffs of the original show, which have grown in popularity. While these spinoffs are enjoyable, and I feel they have captured the vibe of their predecessor, nothing can beat the original. The entire series, save for seasons 5 and 6, can be found streaming on Paramount+. I highly recommend binging it. Maybe, though, keep the lights on.

“I declare this meeting of The Midnight Society closed.”

Boo-graphy:
Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The Reaper Chronicles 1:
The Reaper’s Quota
Meet Grim Reaper #2497. Behind on his work, he must complete his quota of thirty Random Deaths or face termination in the worst way. Faced with an insurmountable task and very little time to complete it, Reaper #2497 struggles to hang on to the one thing he’s not supposed to have – his humanity.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Lisa Morton

Halloween III: Season of the Witch
By: Lisa Morton

Let’s get one big thing out of the way first: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is possibly the worst sequel ever made. I don’t mean that in the sense that this is the worst movie ever made that followed another movie, but rather that this is not even remotely a sequel to Halloween (1978) or Halloween II (1981). This movie has no slasher in a William Shatner mask (except for a couple of scenes of the first movie glimpsed on televisions), no courageous Laurie Strode frantically repurposing a wire coat hanger into a weapon. Making this movie part of the Halloween franchise is about like making a Mad Max movie set in a scenic utopia where everyone walks.

Aside from that, there’s really a lot to love about Halloween III: Season of the Witch, especially if you’re one of those who (like me) start cruising stores in July for Halloween stuff. Unlike the other films in John Carpenter’s Michael Myers series, this one is not merely set around and finally on Halloween, but explores the deeper meaning of the holiday itself.

In case you’ve either skipped seeing Halloween III because of the bad press or haven’t seen it since its original release in 1982, here’s what it’s all about: a small-town doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), is working the late-shift at the hospital eight days before Halloween when he finds that one of his patients has had his face pulled apart. When the dead guy’s comely daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) shows up and decides to investigate Dad’s murder, the good doctor accompanies her to the small Northern California town of Santa Mira, where Dad had been dealing with the Silver Shamrock Company, producers of Halloween masks. Silver Shamrock’s owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) is a mysterious Irish toymaker who is more than he seems. Before long, Dan and Ellie are surrounded by a number of bizarre deaths, all somehow related to a five-ton piece of Stonehenge kept in Silver Shamrock’s basement, surrounded by scientists and high-tech (for 1982) equipment. It’s finally up to Dan to escape Cochran and tell the world that the immensely popular Silver Shamrock masks will unleash more than just a lot of candy.

So, where’s the title witch? Okay, yeah… Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a double-fail as a title because there’s no Michael Myers AND there’s no witch. What there is instead is Conal Cochran, who is known as the ultimate practical joker and who tells Dan that he was around when Halloween was still called Samhain and “the hills ran red.” The first screenwriter on Halloween III was mad genius Nigel Kneale, the British writer who not only wrote the terrifying Quatermass and the Pit (known in the U.S. as Five Million Years to Earth), but even invented a now-accepted paranormal investigation theory in his 1972 television movie The Stone Tape (“stone tape theory” speculates that some objects or structures can record traumatic events and replay them). Producer Debra Hill asked for a story that combined ancient witchcraft and modern technology, and Kneale was brought in to write the first draft but he ended up being unhappy with the gore added later and had his name removed from the credits. Kneale’s influence is plainly still there… but, sadly, watered down. In his draft Cochran was an ancient demon; in the final film, his nature is so ambiguous – is he a trickster spirit? A sorcerer? A Druid? Just a creepy old dude? – that it deprives his character of a shot at real iconic horror stardom.

Halloween III certainly has other problems. It was Tommy Lee Wallace’s first directing gig (he would go on to make the It television miniseries with Tim Curry as Pennywise), and he has a bad habit throughout the film of holding on his actors so long that you can see them actually wondering what they should be doing. Tom Atkins is always a reliable and likeable actor, but his character here is a doctor who drinks and smokes too much, slaps his nurse on the ass, and asks Ellie how old she is after they have sex (hey, at least he’s not a typical hero). The editing is lazy, and the story takes too long to get going.

But here’s what’s great about Halloween III: it’s Weird with a capital W. Weird as in, full-on go-for-broke crazy. Name another movie that incorporates 18th-century clockwork automata, Jerusalem crickets, loving shots of latex masks being produced, a fake living room set in a lead-lined laboratory, a heroine whose last name is Grimbridge, a reference to Samhain, a woman whose face is (very artistically) fried by an energy beam… well, you get the idea. Buried beneath all this wackiness is some interesting commentary about consumer culture, especially about how it has created a middle class that is happy to plant its children in front of a television while the parents are otherwise engaged. The Silver Shamrock commercial jingle, heard throughout the film, limns an American society obsessed with advertising, even at the expense of protecting its own children. Halloween III is one of those few films that doesn’t just threaten children but shows one being graphically killed, while the parents attempt not to save the child but to flee.

It’s probably no coincidence that Halloween III, which John Carpenter co-produced and also co-wrote, is intensely cynical and ultimately nihilistic, because it was released in 1982, the same year Carpenter directed The Thing. Although in some respects it’s closer to Carpenter’s 1980 gem The Fog – they share the same small Northern California coastal town setting – it absolutely reflects the “we’re all doomed” aesthetic of The Thing.

It also happily wallows in Halloween-ness. First are the three Silver Shamrock masks – a jack-o’-lantern, a skull, and a witch – which we get to see in the factory, in stores stocked full of Halloween goods, and on kids parading about the streets in costume, engaged in trick or treat. The plot’s meticulous build toward the 31st – giving us a seasonal countdown – raises the holiday to an appropriate level of importance. And even Cochran’s undefined nature could arguably be a comment on the deeper mysteries surrounding the history of Halloween.

If you’ve never seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch, consider giving it a spin this October. Go in knowing it’s neither a perfect film nor a classic slasher and you might find other, stranger pleasures here to enjoy instead. Just don’t blame me if that Silver Shamrock jingle gets stuck in your head for weeks after.

Boo-graphy: Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, Bram Stoker Award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.”  She has published four novels, 150 short stories, and three books on the history of Halloween. Her recent releases include Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction from Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852-1923 (co-edited with Leslie S. Klinger) and Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances; her latest short stories appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2020, Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles, and In League with Sherlock Holmes. Her most recent book is the collection Night Terrors & Other Tales. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and online.

From Halloween expert Morton, a level-headed and entertaining history of our desire and attempts to hold conversations with the dead.
 
Calling the Spirits investigates the eerie history of our conversations with the dead, from necromancy in Homer’s Odyssey to the emergence of Spiritualism—when Victorians were entranced by mediums and the seance was born. Among our cast are the Fox sisters, teenagers surrounded by “spirit rappings”; Daniel Dunglas Home, the “greatest medium of all time”; Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose unlikely friendship was forged, then riven, by the afterlife; and Helen Duncan, the medium whose trial in 1944 for witchcraft proved more popular to the public than news about the war. The book also considers Ouija boards, modern psychics, and paranormal investigations, and is illustrated with engravings, fine art (from beyond), and photographs. Hugely entertaining, it begs the question: is anybody there . . . ?

An abused child finds comfort in the friendship of Frankenstein’s monster…a near-future Halloween party becomes an act of global terrorism…one of the world’s wealthiest men goes in search of his fate as he rots from within…Hans Holbein’s famed “Dance of Death” engravings are revealed to be an instruction manual…a man trapped on an isolated road confronts both a terrifying creature and the legacy of his tough-as-nails grandfather…

Night Terrors and Other Tales is the first major collection to gather together twenty of Lisa Morton’s finest short stories (chosen by the author herself). During a career that has spanned more than three decades, she has produced work that has been hailed as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening” (the American Library Association’s Readers Advisory Guide to Horror).

If you’ve never encountered Lisa Morton’s work before, you’ll find out why Famous Monsters called her “one of the best writers in dark fiction today.” If you’re already a fan, this collection will offer up a chance to revisit these acclaimed and award-winning stories. You’ll also find a new story here, written just for this collection: “Night Terrors” reveals ordinary people trying to cope with extraordinary and terrifying dreams that have spread like a plague.