THURSDAY: Halloween Hell

BY DARREN O’BRIEN

Copyright is held by the author.

Halloween is for hillbillies.

I had given Kim every reason I could think of. Halloween is for losers, people who don’t have lives. It’s for the young and the immature. It’s for kids, running like packs of wolves through their neighbourhoods, pillowcases stuffed with the cheapest confections mankind has ever created. It’s for people whose idea of funny is pretending to be a dead person with pasty skin, a bad back, and horrendous oral hygiene.

Nothing worked.

“David, we’re going to be late! Hurry up, get your butt into that costume and let’s go! I’ll wait for you in the car!”

I screwed up my courage. I’m telling her I had no interest in this party, this celebration of stupidity. I took a deep breath and shouted:

“Be down in a minute!”

Of course, expressing your dislike for a tradition like Halloween gets you branded by most people as being, among other things, miserable, a malcontent, a pain in the ass, or just a big bore, totally lacking a sense of humour.

I looked at the bag hanging in the closet, wishing I were hanging in there instead. Kim had handpicked my outfit and put it there months ago. I hadn’t looked at it yet. When pressed why, I mumbled something about wanting to be surprised. She smiled, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “Thank you for doing this for me. I really want to go and have some fun. You’re going to look so great!”

I pictured Lisa’s house, the drunken mob of ghouls and goblins, the loud music, the cheap thrills. What’s the fun part of getting scared? Of somebody hiding around a corner, jumping out at you and saying Boo! Does that actually stimulate the mind of anybody over seven years old?

The car horn blared from the driveway. Resigned to an evening from hell, I took out the bag and quickly got dressed; my costume was noticeably snug on my protesting body. I gave myself a quick once over in the mirror. Shock set in, like an electric eel swimming around in my veins. Not good. A wave of panic flowed through me as I rifled through my closet, desperate to find something else to wear. Three more blasts came from the driveway, longer and somehow seeming louder. I sighed, zipped up my coat, and scampered to the car.

I jumped in the passenger side and put on my seat belt, wondering if the buckle would cut through my wrists if I sliced hard enough. Kim was wearing one of my trench coats, covering her from head to toe.

“What are you supposed to be? A flasher?”

She smiled. “No, my costume is underneath. You’ll see it when we get there. I think you’re going to like it! Can’t wait to get a good look at you — you’re going to look so cute!”

I’d heard that one before. I thought of all the various costumes I had been squeezed, cajoled, or prodded into when I was a kid. A pirate. A ghost, made from a bed sheet with two holes cut out for eyes. And not just any plain old white bed sheet. Mom used a white and pink vertical striped one, made from the world’s cheapest polyester. I was an itchy, chafing ghost from the dreaded world of candycane land. \

A woman the next year, complete with ruby red lipstick and high heels, and two balloons stuffed under my shirt for boobs. When Mr. Duke next door saw me, tears came to his eyes, the resemblance to his dear departed wife too much for him to bear.

And then the year that changed everything. In a final indignity, a green garbage bag, stuffed with old newspapers, was wrapped around me as I was pushed out the door to collect my bounty of sweetness.

Waddling down the street like an oversized avocado, one thought kept running through my mind. Who the hell would be terrified of a garbage bag? A dirty napkin?

Through the shouts and hollers from my fellow trick-or-treaters, I could hear the snickers and giggles. My face burned with embarrassment. Somebody yelled, “Hey, doesn’t the trash go out in the morning?” That was the moment. The realization hit me like a thunderbolt. I hated Halloween. Enough was enough. I turned to go home.

I spun around and bumped directly into Captain Marvel. Or was it The Flash? I could never tell the difference between the two.

“Watch it, garbage bag!” the unidentified crime fighter yelled, pushing me to the ground. As I staggered to my feet, I felt lighter. Noticeably lighter. One look to the ground told me why. I was surrounded by old bunched up newspapers, which were hemorrhaging from a long rip down my side. I was running now, aching to get home. The faster I ran, the faster the news bled from my body. By the time I was safely inside the house, the bag hung from my backside like a limp leaf of three day old spinach. A lifelong hatred of October 31 was set in cement.

We pulled up to Lisa’s house, party central. Putting the car in park, Kim turned to me. “You all right? You’re awfully quiet.”

Here was my chance. I’m not going in there. I hate this. See you at home.

“I’m okay. Let’s go.”

Walking up the sidewalk to the front gate, I grimaced. Lisa must have toiled for hours to turn the front yard into a cemetery. All the guests had their own personal cardboard tombstones, scattered like birdseed on the lawn, each with their own epitaph. I searched for mine, finding it in the back. Squinting through the darkness, I read out loud “David Martin, 1967 – 2014. Died from missing funny bone.”

“What the hell? I have a funny bone! Maybe not as big as everyone else’s, but I have one!”

Kim put her arm around me. “Calm down, it’s just a joke. She doesn’t know you like I do. C’mon, let’s go in.”

Lisa greeted us at the door, dressed like Elvira. “Hi, you guys look great, come on in! Just call me the ghostess with the mostest!” I groaned. Halloween humour sucked. Lisa took our coats. Kim stood before me, resplendent in her Wonder Woman costume. She placed a sparkling tiara atop her long, flowing raven hair. The sparkles from her red, blue and gold trim corset shimmered in the light. With her knee high leather boots, lasso of truth and indestructible bracelets, she looked like a goddess. Hopefully, we would have our own private party when we got home.

“You look awesome.” I said.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, a concerned look on her face. “Umm, I’m not sure about your Peter Pan outfit.”

I turned around and caught my image in the front hall mirror. My tights clung like saran wrap to my legs, making them look like pipe cleaners. I cringed at the sight of my creeping stomach, hanging over my belt like a ten pound bag of flour. Three buttons had popped off of my olive vest, victims from the pressure exerted by my torso. The sleeves of my shirt were a good eight inches too short. And the piece de resistance: a limp feather hung from my pea coloured hat, as if plucked from a bird dying from influenza. I looked like Peter Pan, alright — age 46, overweight, and in the middle of a midlife crisis.

I gathered Kim and took her to the corner of the hall.

“I can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“This party! I look ridiculous!”

“Of course you do! So do I! So does everybody here! Get over yourself!” She crossed her arms and bit her lip, a stance normally reserved for conversations about her mother.

“But my outfit doesn’t even fit!”

She sighed. “David, I’m sorry, but I bought it for you months ago. You didn’t want to try it on, remember? And maybe you’ve gained a few pounds lately? Try and relax, mingle a bit, have a good time.”

She squeezed my hand and walked away, joining her friends in the kitchen. I trudged out to the patio, reached into a cooler full of ice and pulled out a beer. I cracked it open and took a big gulp. I was wondering how many I would have to drink to forget all this when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“Hey, Robin Hood, great costume!” said some kind of werewolf, maybe a coyote. I couldn’t tell for sure.

“Peter Pan. I’m Peter Pan.” I said, my annoyance hitting a fever pitch.

“Sorry, my mistake.” He backed away, hands up in the air, disappearing onto the makeshift dance floor inside. I followed him in and shook my head at the lunacy I was looking at. A group of people were line dancing as “Monster Mash,” the worst song in music history, blared from the cobweb covered speakers. Through the smoke and strobe lights, I saw a witch, using her broom as a stripper’s pole. Behind her, Rob Ford, complete with a two foot crack pipe strung around his neck, chatting up Miley Cyrus. And in the corner, a neon green Frankenstein was having an animated conversation with a very agitated looking . . . Wonder Woman?

I tore straight through the dance floor, knocking over a mummy and stepping on the long, hairy toes of a hobbit. I arrived just in time to hear Frankenstein say, “So, what do you say, wanna get out of here?”

I put myself in-between them and turned to Kim. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, but this guy won`t leave me alone. I think he’s had a few too many.”

“She’s not interested, Frankenstein. Have a good evening.” I quickly sized him up. He was much taller than me, but thin as a reed. If worse came to worse, I could probably sit on him, cutting off his air supply until he passed out.

“Get lost, Robin Hood, find your own Wonder Woman.”

“It’s Peter Pan! And she’s with me, you . . . you . . . six-foot-two pickled piece of asparagus!”

The house went deathly quiet as the DJ cut the music. The pounding synths and booming drums were replaced by the clinking of glasses and nervous whispers. Frankenstein and I stared each other down, like two gunslingers with their hands on their holsters, waiting to draw. My eyes shifted back and forth from the stitches on his forehead to the two green spools of thread that were acting as bolts on the sides of  his neck. I had to admit that was a pretty good idea.

A squeak from behind me broke the silence. Then another, higher pitched and longer. I turned around, and there was Kim, both hands covering her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter. She couldn`t stop herself, and burst into a roaring belly laugh.

“Six-foot-two pickled piece of asparagus!” she squealed, doubled over, tears coming from her eyes. “That’s hilarious!”

The tension in the room broke and floated away like a runaway helium balloon. Everyone was laughing, pointing at Frankenstein. I started to smile. I knew I was funny.

Kim`s eyes grew wide, her expression completely changing. “Look out!”

He charged at me, his arms reaching out in classic Frankenstein pose. Seeing nothing but two big green fists coming at me, I closed my eyes and ducked.

I heard the whoosh in the air above me as he swung and missed. The momentum of his punch kept him going, right through the spot where I had been. Tripping over his size 22 boots as he staggered on, he finally lost his balance and crashed into a table full of treats.

Standing on the dance floor flexing their biceps, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant suddenly found themselves taking a shower of fruit punch and Bits & Bites. Slowly wiping themselves off, they looked down at the blubbering Frankenstein lying at their feet. The Hulkster growled, ripping off his yellow tee shirt and throwing it to the ground. Andre made a thhhhpt sound as he spat out a pretzel, which dribbled out of his mouth and stuck to his chin. Each grabbing an arm, they dragged Frankenstein away, his gigantic feet kicking the whole way to the front door, his voice filled with rage.

“You haven`t heard the last from me Peter Pan! I`ll get you someday! Revenge!” Andre slammed the door behind him, bringing the party back to life.

I looked at Kim. “That was close. I nearly got clobbered.”

“I know, you nearly got clobbered — for me. You saved me, Peter Pan!” She wrapped her arms around me gave me a long, soft kiss.

We spent the rest of the night drinking and dancing, playing pin the tailbone on the skeleton, bobbing for apples so furiously the water was churning like a whirlpool. My back was sore from all the backslaps I received, and Kim howled with delight as she accepted her prize for best costume, a gift certificate from Haunted Harold’s Halloween Emporium. I smiled as we walked to the car, Kim’s arm wrapped around mine, her head on my shoulders. After all these years, I finally got it.

Halloween was for heroes.

One comment

  1. Suzanne

    Darren, “Man of few spoken words but a talented man of the written word” … This was FANTASTIC! I couldn’t wait to read to the end to find out what happened. I’m so glad you are letting those voices in your head come out to play.

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