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.
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.
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.
“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.