A Halloween Story for November
Happy November! I’m always full of delight on the morning of November First, the dawning of “All Saints Day,” except that I usually miss the actual dawning. Of course, it used to be called “All Hallows Day” and its primary reason for existing has, for uncounted years, been so that there could be a night before it-an eve, as in Christmas Eve. Hence, “Hallows Eve.” (drum roll) “Halloween.”
At the request of a nice lady up the street I wrote a Halloween story this year. It follows below, which is where, in conventional writing, things generally follow-and on the Internet, always. This is in case your fright quota was not filled by October Thirty-first. (Mine wasn’t, of course-I was home teaching-I usually miss the New Year’s Eve party, too.) (My wife wonders why in the dickens ((Freudian slip)) I didn’t submit this as my October column. I told her that in a world where Christmas decorations are up before Thanksgiving ((she says, here “Actually Wal-Mart has them out on the shelves before Halloween)), and the Major League sports have extended their seasons to the point that they overlap, how can it matter?) The story has been edited for family consumption in an LDS home.
“The Man Who Hates Halloween”
Elmer Adams was a widower of many years with no children or grandchildren. Whether that was the reason, or whether he was just shy on imagination, he was a man who hated Halloween. He was not a hateful man. There was little else in the world he actually hated. He was not fond of asparagus, but would never have thought of refusing it if offered.
Elmer hated war, and the cancer that killed his friends. Those things he hated. He was bothered by cars that rounded his corner with their radios at a level that disrupted the beauty of the afternoon, but he hated neither the drivers, nor the cars, nor the radios. (It would be fair to say that he hated rap music coming from such cars, but his hate was tempered by his concern for the mental health of those who played it.)
It was, rather, Mr. Adams’ love for life and peace that made him shudder when the stores put up their orange and black decorations. He would wheel his cart around a corner looking for foil, or batteries, or bread, and find himself face-to-face with a grinning black widow of epic dimensions, bouncing on a rubber thread from the ceiling. He knew the venom of the black widow was many times more deadly than that of rattlesnakes, but he would have preferred meeting a live rattlesnake in these aisles.
For some reason, though, or none, rattlesnakes are not part of the pantheon of Halloween horrors-maybe they’re simply not deadly enough. Not dark enough, not hairy enough, and sluggish in the cold of October, when crisp midnights quicken the cruelty of other red-fanged beasts.
Elmer’s was a spirit that could never be at ease with billboards along the freeway that enticed thrill-starved youth to pay good money to. [most of paragraph removed because inappropriately scary] .in commercial haunted houses.
Elmer Adams found no humor in distress or fright. He had tasted too often the poison that flows like flame inside our veins when we are angry or afraid, the poison that numbs us to pleasure, that robs our breath and blinds us to good sense. He was averse to adrenalin.
Somewhere near the root of his hatred toward Halloween was the idea of the holiday giving people permission to be bad. [Remainder of paragraph omitted, containing examples of being bad that are inappropriately depraved.]
Even though the relatively innocent costumes of emperors and clowns and presidents and space pilots are fully acceptable on Halloween, a certain cherishing of authenticity kept him in his jeans and sweaters when the witching time arose, and even the candy of the season seemed to him artificial and dishonest, sealed by law and fear into little plastic shrouds.
But Halloween came again this year, inevitable as death. and Elmer, alone with his bowl of shrink-wrapped bribery, waited for his doorbell to ring.
Always before, it had been rung by little bands made up of a pirate or two, a [costume censored], a green-skinned witch and, as sensible as a cherry on a hamburger, a ballerina. The ringing had always begun just before dark, by monsters too young to know there is any evil at all connected with their characters, evil he saw bound through their costumes as though with threads of steel.
But tonight it didn’t ring until long after those apprentice monsters’ bedtimes. It puzzled him, but the toddling killers and killed filed on past the Adams gate as though someone had posted a sign saying, “Here lives The Man Who Hates Halloween.” Even the teenagers, who always at the last minute pulled stockings over their faces or turned their shirts backwards and tried to mop up after the real trick-or-treaters, failed to show.
Elmer was puzzled, but not particularly disappointed. His only annoying quandary was what to do with all the shrink-wrapped bits of sugar, chemicals, dye, and [remainder of candy ingredients excised as too toxic]. He was about to retire when a dull thudding sounded from his door. He hurried to it and yanked it open. “If you teenagers think I’m gonna.”
But the being on his porch was clearly not a latecoming teenager. It was costumed too carefully for that. It stood six-and-a-half feet tall, wore no shoes, and. [appearance detail omitted as overly gross]. This disturbed Mr. Adams. The unwelcome visitor’s clothing was not readily identifiable as from any particular period. Mostly it hung in musty rags, though the specter’s legs were wrapped with gray bands of fraying linen. Elmer couldn’t see a face, because it was hooded in shadow. But a voice breathed out of the shadow, chilled like fog and distant like the cry of hawks and the squeak of wheeling bats, though beneath that sound Elmer felt, rather than heard, the rumble of brass gongs a mile across. Like a judge, the being intoned “You, you are the man who hates Halloween.”
The being raised the arm in its ragged sleeve, and dragged a long, dead fingernail down the screen door until it pointed at Elmer’s heart. One more word emerged from the shadow. “Behold.” And the being vanished in a black rush.
And a smaller being was instantly revealed, a boy-sized ghost who had apparently been standing behind the monster, the escort, the guard, the messenger.
The ghost was about four feet tall and looked familiar to the man. Swathed around its head and draped about its shoulders was an old bedspread that Elmer recognized with a gasp had belonged to his long-dead grandmother. It had served Elmer Adams when he was nine years old (or was it ten?) as a Halloween costume. Where could this kid have gotten hold of such a thing? From beneath the bedspread, Elmer saw the very Keds tennis shoes he always wore at that age, and in the little phantom’s hand was a pillowcase bulging with donuts, apples, homemade fudge-with not a plastic wrapper in sight, just the crisp paper covers of Snicker’s bars.
The slight figure held out a donut to the man. Elmer cracked the screen door and took it from the warm, slender fingers of a very live boy, who said, “Remember these?” Elmer looked at the donut suspiciously. He did remember these. The boy said, “Try it. Whatcha scared of?” And Elmer gave it a cautious sniff. Immediately the smell transported him back in time to this very corner. The streetlight winked out, and its pole no longer stood there. Elmer peered into the night and gradually perceived that the curb and sidewalk were gone, as well, and the street appeared unpaved.
He heard the boyish voice again. “Come on, take a bite, ya scaredy.” Elmer held his breath and did, and suddenly he was standing in the center of that street, but no cars threatened his safety. There were cars, old ones that looked new, parked in driveways, but none moving on the street. Windows glowed in all the houses, and jack-o’-lanterns grinned warmly from fence posts, as laughing children dressed as queens, firemen, football players, chipmunks, super-heroes, cowboys, and dinosaurs ran from house to house.
Elmer recognized the porch of his own grandmother, the bedspread grandmother, the donut grandmother. “Can we go there?” he asked eagerly, but the boy was gone, and Elmer felt the threadbare bedspread against the skin of his own arms. Elmer ran like a puppy to the porch and, reaching out to twist the ringer, realized that he had to reach upward. That he was now a couple of feet shorter than he’d been a few minutes earlier bothered him not one bit.
A slight old woman drew back the door. “Oh my!” she exclaimed, clutching at her bosom. “What terrifying creature stands on my porch?” Elmer tried to call out “Grandma, it’s me!” but no sound came from his throat. She continued, “What an amazing imagination some young people have!”
Elmer thought, “I do! I do have an imagination!”
She leaned forward then, and winked, “That bedspread never looked scary on my bed, but oh, my! You’re scaring me halfway to distraction. You are beyond a whisker the scariest ghost I’ve ever seen.”
Elmer thought, “Grandma, I’m really an Arab chief. See my sword?” And he drew from his sash a long Venetian blind. The old woman seemed to hear his thoughts, and gazed with admiration at the blade. “I’m on my way to find a magic lamp. When I find one, I’m gonna wish for the genie to come and make you young again. That way you can dress as a princess and come trick-or-treating with me!”
At this, she turned away and seemed to wipe a tear. When she turned back to her dreamy-eyed trick-or-treater, she was holding out a sweet-smelling donut. Elmer deftly dropped the one he was already holding into his pillowcase and took the new one from her hand. He was staring at it reverently when he felt his grandmother’s gentle palm on his shoulder and her talcumed cheek on his forehead. “I hope you find your lamp, buddy. Halloween’s a good time to look.” And now it was his grandmother’s turn to vanish.
Elmer was on his own porch again, in his jeans and sweater, and the little stranger in his grandma’s bedspread stood looking up at him. “Come with me,” said the boy. He took Elmer’s hand and led him out to the front gate. There was, indeed, a sign hanging there. “Here lives the Man Who Hates Halloween.” Elmer wondered aloud how it got there.
“Oh Mr. Adams, everything you’ve done and felt in every October since you caved in and grew up has been an unfriendly sign to everybody who lives in the world of imagination you left behind. This one’s just written down, that’s all.” And the boy yanked it off its push-pins and handed it to the man, who ripped it in half, twice, rolled it roughly into a ball, and pitched it toward the corner of his house, very nearly making it into the trash can that stood there.
Then, with gratitude shining in his eyes, he turned to the boy and picked him up in his arms. Elmer held him tight, wondering how he had ever let the magic of Halloween slip through his foolish fingers. He felt the boy’s warm arms around him, felt the boy’s breath against his skin, and felt the boy’s teeth sink into the back of his neck. Elmer stiffened and shrieked, but the Halloween stranger had begun to devour Elmer Adams like a donut.
Well, it’s tough to know what to write in the Lord’s magazine (one of ’em, anyway) about the Adversary’s holiday. If I were to write “Bah, Humbug,” you would see right through my story to a far better one. So, with thanks to Mr. Dickens,