What Halloween Means to Me

I guess I’ve always loved Halloween, though it’s meant different things to me at different stages of my life. As a kid, Halloween was all about make-believe and candy. My mom would hand-make our costumes. One year (maybe two) I was Zorro. The sword was the best part of that costume. Another year I was Luke Skywalker. Another, a pirate (hey, I liked swords). It was fun. It was more than fun. These memories forged a big part of my identity.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As a teen, mischief was the name of the game. What was considered the wealthy part of town at the time was in a wooded area situated along a ridge of higher ground above the town center and that was ground zero for all the mayhem. All the junior high and high school kids would gather there and participate in all out warfare. Those of us who lacked cars roved in packs in the wooded areas between and behind houses, darting into the road to pelt passing cars and trucks full of older teens with water balloons and other non-lethal projectiles. They’d try to hit us, but the lack of vehicles made us much more mobile and we rarely got hit with anything. One particularly nasty individual named Travis (Doesn’t that sound like the name of an asshole?) decided to collect dead batteries one year and he and his buddies threw those at us as they tore around the neighborhood in his truck. There were a few fights here and there, but it was mostly harmless fun. I heard the cops put a stop to it a few years after we graduated. Shame.

As a young adult, partying was the main objective. Costumes were secondary and usually last minute. Whatever we could find. Mostly what we were after was optimum Dutch courage and ass. We always managed to get drunk, but we almost never managed to get any of the ass. I’m sure if we’d had better costumes, we would have had better luck.

At some point in my mid twenties, the way I approached the season began to change. I was living with a girl, and getting blitzed and scoring was no longer a concern. My job at the time had suddenly become less hopelessly boring and depressing. The big box store I was working for had opened a new store next door, and a few of us were picked to close down the old building. We were getting overtime, and the manager in charge of us was cool. There were no annoying customers to worry about and no micromanaging supervisors breathing down our necks at all times. But what it came down to was that it was a break from the norm. A welcome break from the soul crushing norm.

As long as we got our work done, we were left to our own devices. I kept a radio tuned to a classic rock station pretty much all day long. This was late September heading into October and ads for local haunted houses filled the commercial breaks. One day, I got an idea for a sci-fi/horror story from a Black Sabbath song. I kept a yellow legal pad with me for tallying inventory and I began to sketch out the bones of the story. I roughed out the plot, then outlined the main characters, and began filling in their backstories. Before I knew it, I had a map of the town the story was set in drawn up (I was reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time at the time; cut me some slack), and I was ready to begin my magnum opus.

I would write in the evenings and on my days off. My apartment had an office with french doors that opened onto a balcony. My girlfriend and I had decorated the balcony with fall mums and Halloween decorations, and I would open the doors and let the cool breeze float in while I wrote. I had always written fiction. Or attempted to write fiction. Sometimes it worked out. Mostly it didn’t. But this time the words flowed out, and I found myself having a great time creating this completely new and fictional world and populating it with completely one-dimensional characters that were basically characters from other movies and stories I loved but with different names. I suppose I knew what I was doing was pastiche at the time, but I guess I was just having too much fun to worry too much about it.    

I wrote all through that October and throughout the fall and into the New Year and managed to produce enough pages to fill about a third of a (bad) novel, maybe half of a thin (bad) novel. I’d love to report that I finished it, published it, and am now a famous author, but that would be a fiction of its own. I abandoned the work, but I never stopped writing, and I’ve always found the most inspiration in fall and especially in October when autumn is still arriving and everything is in flux.

But I’ve never really known why. It was years before I was able to puzzle out the connections.

So what does Halloween mean to me?

To me, it means imagination. It’s a time of year when anything seems possible. Other worlds. Monsters, faeries, ghosts, and goblins. Halloween and fall carry associations of atrophy and death, but, for me, they are indelibly tied up with the act of creation, with fiction, and I owe those associations to my mom. My mom, who taught me to revel in the season, who took the time to create detailed costumes for me at Halloween, who encouraged me to make believe, who set me on the path towards creating fictions of my own.

Nowadays, I mostly celebrate October and the best holiday ever with family. I watch a few old horror films, read a Stephen King book, maybe a coupla Ray Bradbury short stories (I highly recommend “Heavy Set”, if you haven’t read it), burn a few dozen pumpkin-scented candles, and take the kiddo trick or treating. I still revel in the season and I still write fiction.

This is what Halloween means to me.

Thanks, Mom.  

Author: Billy Dhalgren

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts.” -Andrei Tarkovsky