Death by Halloween

Halloween-Final

It is the last day of October, a day that used to be your favourite of the year.

As a child, you counted down the days to Halloween, thrilled at the prospect of venturing out into the night in a monster’s clothing and returning with a sack stuffed full with candy.

As you grew through adolescence, your tastes gradually changed. You still lived in anticipation of Halloween, but you no longer cared much for its typical offerings. The costumes weren’t real. The candy was too sweet.

What you wanted was adventure, panic, black magic. You wanted to find yourself on a dark hilltop, shaking with fear as impossible shadows crept up the slope toward you. You wanted to see the dead sit up in their graves. You wanted to stumble through the fog trying to escape the clutches of a madman. You wanted to survive a nightmare.

But year after year, the Halloween of your imagination — a Halloween shaped by a thousand books and movies — failed to live up to your expectations. You hungered for terror and mystery but found only superficiality and boredom.

It has been years now since you’ve referred to Halloween as your favourite day of the year, but you’ve never had the heart to pick another to replace it. That place of honour sits vacant now, though perhaps your continued love for the stuff of autumn — the tumbling leaves and dying flowers — is a remnant of your former obsession.

The late afternoon has just become the early evening, and you are sitting on the screened-in porch at the front of your house, drinking a cup of black coffee and staring out at the street. It is a cold day, but the snow that so effectively ruined so many of your childhood Halloweens has yet to fall, leaving the browning vegetation to wither away in the open.

You hear a small boy’s laugh piercing through the sound of the breeze. Looking up, you see him five or six houses down, the first trick-or-treater of the night. He is a dressed as a white-sheeted ghost and accompanied by an elderly woman who can only be his grandmother.

His presence on the street reminds you that the candy you bought for tonight is still in a grocery bag on the kitchen counter, so you swallow down your last sip of lukewarm coffee and head inside.
In the kitchen, you tear the candy bags open and empty them into an orange plastic bowl with a face on it. You watch as the tiny chocolate bars mix with the candy necklaces and gummy delights. Grabbing the candy and the pumpkin you carved earlier in the day, you head back out to the porch.

You leave the candy bowl on a small plastic table and step through the screen door to place the jack-o’-lantern on the steps.
You set the thing down, looking at the simple but sinister face, just a wide, jagged mouth smiling out from beneath two glaring eyes. You feel proud of the malevolence you have managed to create with your knife.

Eagerly, you reach inside to click on a battery-powered tea light designed to mimic the flickering of a candle. You are immediately disappointed with the result.

The evil visage has been robbed of its potency by the smokeless sterility of the device. No longer dark and elemental, the mechanically flickering face seems instead to perfectly embody the way your expectations for Halloween have always been let down by reality.

Sighing, you survey the neighbourhood again. The sheet ghost is only two houses down now, and several other chaperoned demons have appeared here and there down the length of the street.

Through the screen door you see the bowl of packaged sweets awaiting the children. You shiver against the cold as a strong gust of wind carries a few dry leaves down the street behind you. Part of you is suddenly eager to retreat to the relative warmth of the porch, but another part of you wants to give yourself up to the breeze and be carried away with the leaves.

It is a strange feeling. There is an energy in your limbs that was not there yesterday, a vitality that is pulling you away from the known towards paths unwandered, sights unseen.

If you return to the porch, the night will be predictably pleasant. You will smile at the children and make small talk with the parents. You will struggle to mask your disdain for the loping, uncostumed teenagers who believe they have somehow tricked you into giving them candy. You will turn out the porch light once the last of the suburban ghosts have disappeared into the night. You will make popcorn and watch a poorly executed horror movie. You will fall asleep without showering. You will dream about work.

The world outside of the porch, however, is cold and mysterious, pregnant with possibility. Perhaps this is just a moment of nostalgia for a Halloween you never had, but you would almost swear that the night is calling to you, trying desperately to draw you away from comfort and sameness.

Death by Halloween is an interactive horror novel by David Warkentin. It is available now for Amazon Kindle.

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