It existed—for me, anyway—as some kind of weird holiday I got to see on TV and in movies. Halloween was so far removed from my world that it might as well have been as make-believe as the shows I was watching. It sure looked like fun, though, dressing up as ghosts and goblins and monsters and ghouls, and decking out your house with bats and Jack o’ lanterns and spiders and such…
I remember going to the Hastings Library one day and looking up Halloween in the Dewy Decimal System (bloody hell, that makes me feel old!). Even back then, I was curious about the darker side of things, and an eve spent pretending to be all manner of monsters just intrigued the hell outta me. Imagine then, the surprise of this budding young horror writer when I discovered the supernatural connections this day had. Pagan festivals, the close proximity of the world of the dead—my still-to-be-corrupted mind was spinning out of control.
Sure, the movies and TV shows mentioned some of that, but I had no idea it was all real.
Boy, I really was missing out…
Each year after that, I’d get to watch Halloween unfold on TV and in the movies with a sense of missing out, until finally, I determined that it was a silly holiday for babies. When you can’t enjoy the fun yourself, you turn the event into something you wouldn’t want to attend even if you could; no way was it as cool as I’d made it out to be. I put it from my mind, buried it deep, and carried on with life.
It wasn’t until my university days that I got the chance to go trick or treating. This still wasn’t done in New Zealand in the 1990s (I’m not sure if it is now, either), but a small group of us decided one year that we should give it a go. Why not, right? It’ll be fun. So we dressed up and hit the streets, so excited about our very first trick or treat expedition that we were giggling like little kids. My costume left a lot to be desired, and was no doubt fuelled by all of the beer I had consumed; I wore a raincoat and gumboots, and when anyone asked for a treat, I flashed them.
(I was wearing shorts underneath so it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds)
We had a blast that night—only we didn’t really get a great deal of candy. What we got instead was a couple of bottles of wine, and invited into a party. I got asked to ‘treat’ a lot. It was great. Nothing like Halloween played out on TV, but still an experience I’ll never forget.
I haven’t been trick or treating since. And actually, I haven’t even experienced any Halloween parties, where the location is decked out in its finest ghostly treats and everyone drinks bloody marys with skeleton straws. I always find myself caught where folks just don’t do that kinda thing.
(Hey, Einstein, why not host a Halloween party yourself?)
A goal of mine is to be in the States one Halloween, and to enjoy this wild and crazy night to its fullest, like I begrudgingly admit to wishing I could’ve done when I was young. We’ve all gotta have our goals, right?
Marty Young (www.martyyoung.com) is a Bram Stoker nominated editor and writer and sometimes ghost hunter. He was the founding President of the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) from 2005-2010, and one of the creative minds behind the internationally acclaimed Midnight Echo magazine. His horror fiction has been reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror (‘the best of 2008’), repeatedly included in Ellen Datlow’s year’s best recommended reading list, and nominated for both the Australian Shadows and Ditmar awards. Marty’s essays on horror literature have been published in journals and university textbooks in Australia and India, and he is co-editor of the Australian Shadows Award-winning Macabre; a Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, a landmark anthology showcasing some of the best Australian horror stories from 1836 to 2010. He also runs the HWA’s Horror Roundtable every month on the Dark Whispers blog.
The following is a sneak peek from Marty Young’s novel 809 Jacob Street
As the final bell sounded, Mr. Little, their portly teacher, smiled and told them there’d be no homework tonight, which was greeted by cheers.
“It’s going to be far too wet to make your poor brains think for longer than they need to,” he said as he put down the chalk and dusted his hands. “So be gone before I change my mind.”
As the class rapidly emptied, Iain snagged Byron’s arm and drew him aside. Hamish stood silently next to him.
“Hey, B, we’ve got something for you.”
“Grab your bag. We’ll meet you outside.”
They found a spot sheltered from the wind, and once Iain was certain they were alone, he pulled an old tattered scrapbook from his school bag. He brushed his hand over the cover before giving Byron a hard stare. “This is more important than your life, got it?”
“What is it?”
“Did you hear what I just said?”
Byron held up his hands in mock surrender. “Yeah, I heard you. Keep your bra on.”
“I’m fucking serious, Byron.” His eyes flashed. “If you show this to anyone, I’ll fucking kill you.”
Byron stopped smiling.
Hamish looked uncomfortable next to him, his eyes troubled beneath his frown.
Iain pushed the scrapbook against Byron’s chest. “Put it in your bag before anyone sees.”
Byron took it; the cover was painted black, and there was a crease in the bottom left, as if the corner had been folded back at some stage.
“What is it?”
“It’s all you’ll ever need to know about 809 Jacob Street.”
Byron felt his heart lurch. “Are you serious?”
“Do I look like the joking type?”
With Iain’s wild hair and thick glasses, most people would’ve been tempted to say yes, but Iain was quickly becoming the least funny person Byron had ever met. He glanced at Hamish, but his friend didn’t want to meet his eyes.
“I want it back tomorrow, okay?”
Byron touched the cover. This was what he’d gone to the library looking for. It was the holy grail of his failed research.
Iain punched him in the arm. “I’m serious, B. If you don’t give it back then, I’m telling your mom you stole it from my place.”
“Relax, Iain. I’ll return it.”
Iain shoved him, not hard enough to make him fall, but hard enough. “Don’t tell me to relax. Not while you’re holding that. Just fucking put it in your bag!”
“Iain–” Hamish began, but Iain stuck up a finger and Hamish fell silent. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and looked out across the rapidly emptying schoolyard.
“If it’s such a problem, maybe you should just keep it,” said Byron, trying to give the thing back.
“Just read the fucking thing. It’ll change your world. It’ll change the way you think about us country bumpkins who don’t know no better.”
It suddenly occurred to Byron that it would change his world. Hunting down newspaper clippings was one thing, but being suddenly given a whole scrapbook filled with them was something else. There’d be no time to digest what he read before being confronted with the next entry, not when all it would take was something as simple as the turn of the page. The excess would drown him before he could dissect the stories for the lies he knew they were.
And knowing what lurked so nearby, so readily available with the minimum of effort, there would be no way he could stop himself from turning the page.
Iain suddenly laughed. “Oh lookie here, Ham. He doesn’t think it’ll change anything.”
“No, it’s not that–”
“Guess you’re in for an exciting night, B. But just remember, I want it back tomorrow, or else.”
A flash of lightning exposed their deeds and underlined Iain’s threat.
“Now put the fucking thing in your bag like I told you to before it blows out of your hands.”
Byron did as instructed, then slung his bag back over his shoulders; it felt heavier than before.
“C’mon!” Iain spun and took off for the school gate. “It’s about to piss down an’ I’ve got a fire waiting for me at home.”
Hamish hesitated. They stared at one another, and he looked about to say something before deciding otherwise. He gave Byron a quick apologetic shrug and followed his longtime friend.
Maybe once they got to the road a car would hit them and that would be that. Knock ’em both outta their shoes. Hope they had clean undies on.
It seemed there was something Hamish wanted to say but for whatever reason couldn’t. Something against Iain.
Perhaps the car should miss his tall, lanky friend and only get Iain, then. Knock off those damn glasses once and for all.
Then he rubbed his face and sighed. No, even that ending wouldn’t do, because he would still be stuck here, with the house, surrounded by the mythology of Jacob Street. Iain’s death wouldn’t solve a thing. It would probably only add to the legend.
Maybe that wayward car should hit him, instead. Kill him on the spot.
Sure would solve all of his problems.