Space Invaders Halloween

by Weston Ochse

Hackettstown, New Jersey—1972.

The small town of Hackettstown was right out of a Bradbury story back in 1972. It was the picturesque ideal and very well could have been a stand in for Green Town, Illinois, the settings for both Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Green Town was a fictional town and was probably meant as Bradbury’s replacement for his own hometown of Waukegan. But really, it could be a replacement for any small American town.

Green grass, tall trees, old homes, cracked and broken sidewalks, central squares and parks with a bandstand. Kids with bikes, playing outside, paper routes, comic book stores, bubble gum candy and cold cokes after a long afternoon of playing. The Hackettstown of my youth was like this. It was all bright summer and freedom, kids playing as frantically and as free as the cotton released from the dandelions of Bradbury’s own summer dreams.

But it was also dark and gloomy in the forest surrounding the town. The gray slash of river ran through the cemetery like a moat to keep the ghosts out. Mysterious piles of bones were mounded beneath the trees and birds lay dead from DDT along Main Street. The cracked and broken sidewalks rolled up, people went inside, and only the lost, the lonesome and the fireflies were left to the dark. This was the wicked part of my Hackettstown. It was the part that reminded me, usually not until it was too late, that even the brightest of days can turn into the darkest of nights.

I was aware of both of these things. I knew them. But it wasn’t really until the Halloween of 1972 that it really dawned on me what that could mean.

I was 7 years old in 1972. Most of the worldly events didn’t affect me. I did know that some Olympians had been murdered. I knew about a plane crash in the Andes and about the cannibalism of the survivors. I also knew that digital watches, HBO, Atari and the handheld calculator were introduced that year. But it would be many years before I’d be able to have any of those things. We were poor, you see. We’d recently moved out of a trailer, then a run-down apartment, and finally to the top floor of an old home on Washington Street, across the street from the middle school.

But I didn’t really know what poor was. I still wanted to do something special for Halloween. In fact, Halloween was going to be super special that year. I’d made a crystal radio the year before. I used it to tune into AM radio stations. Late into the night I’d listen to the faraway crackling voices in the tiny imperfect speaker. They’d tell me news of murders and cannibals. They also told me stories on Mystery Theater and on Halloween, they were scheduled to rebroadcast Orson Welles’ original space invasion broadcast, War of the Worlds, originally broadcast on October 30, 1938, one day before Halloween. I could not imagine anything else that would a more spectacular way than to spend Halloween reliving a Space Invasion.

I had some money saved up for a costume, but I decided to buy comic books instead. So earlier that day I went to the comic store. I won’t pretend to remember what I bought back then, but I do remember (because I still have them and I checked) that I was into Turok-Son of Tarzan, Sergeant Fury, Luke Cage, The New Gods, The Brave and the Bold, Thor and the Avengers. When I came home my mother let me know that since I hadn’t used the money to buy a costume, there might be a problem with that, but she had a great idea. More on that later.

The War of the Worlds broadcast was scheduled to come on a 7 PM. Normally, I’d go trick or treating at 6 PM, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get back in time. Plus, the crystal radio was a bear sometimes to tune in and could take a while as I moved it in increments that would make a jeweler jealous. So I decided to go out after the broadcast. I was lying on my bed with my comics spread out at 7PM. I’d found the broadcast and had it cranked as loud as it would go. The plan was that I’d listen to the invasion, laugh about it, then during commercials I’d read my comics, then after it was all done, I’d go trick or treating.

Five minutes into the broadcast and my comic books were forgotten. I was terrified. Orson Welles had so captured my attention, I didn’t even get up to pee, nor did I touch the popcorn my mother had brought for me. By the last ten minutes, my terror reached all untold proportions. Grovers Mill, where the invasion was occurring, was less than an hour’s drive south from my town. When the final breathless words of the ham radio operator called “2X2L calling CQ. Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there…. anyone?” I might have actually cried a little.

Then my mother came to me with my costume and ushered me out the door. Within minutes of hearing that broadcast, I was standing on a dark, lonely street wearing a woman’s dress, high-heel shoes that were too big for me, costume jewelry, and a wig that looked as if a raccoon had up and died on my forehead. This was my mother’s great idea for a Halloween costume.

Not another trick-or-treater was in sight. It was 8:30 PM and later than I’d ever been out. Earlier, when my mother showed doubt about my plan, I assured her that I’d heard that dozens of other kids would be trick-or-treating late. I’d heard nothing of the sort. I’d just hoped that would have been the case. I remember staring back at the front door and wanting nothing more than to go back inside, but also knowing that I was afraid at what she’d say to me.

So I hitched up my dress, straightened my raccoon hair and trudged down the cracked and broken sidewalk of what had become the Something Wicked This Way Comes version of Green Town. I was looking for porch lights to be on, indicating that the person was participating. But they were off. All of them. I traveled four blocks down and four blocks up and didn’t get a single piece of candy.

By then a wind came up and began to howl through the trees. I wondered to myself, how would we know if an invasion really happened. Then it occurred to me that it would be a perfect time for aliens to invade, especially when everyone thinks it’s all a joke. The wind picked up more. Back then we used to turn our bikes upside down when we weren’t riding them and now the wind had caught a tire somewhere and it clicked clicked clicked past the playing card that was attached to the front prong. What was a cool sound on Dandelion Wine mornings, took on a chitinous, alien character as the night grew darker and the wind grew stronger.

It wasn’t long before I was sprinting down the sidewalk. Perhaps “sprinting” is an optimistic use of the word. With one hand on the wig, the other on my skirt, the empty trick-or-treat bag under one arm and my feet threatening to slide out of the heels at every step, I moved as fast as a spastically cross-dressing child ever could. I made my front door without any alien encounters, ran up the stairs, tore off my clothes, and slammed the door to my room.

I spent the night with Turok and Batman, hoping if it came to it that they’d protect me. If not them, maybe Luke Cage, Thor or the New Gods.

I’ve never listened to the broadcast again. The next morning my mother let me have the candy left over from us giving other kids candy while I was listening to the broadcast. As I grew older, I realized the nature of a Bradbury story—that things can have equal parts light and dark. A place or situation can change in an instant. Those places you know so well can suddenly be foreboding. It would be easy to say that it is the nature of the person that causes that change. But sometimes I also think it’s the nature of the place, especially if it seems to perfect, as if it’s stepped from the pages of a book.

Weston Ochse is known as El Elvis Rojo south of the Mexican-American Border and has been known to appear on doorsteps singing his tales of horror and woe to the occupants who are huddled inside. The residents of the Mexican State of Sonora have begun to paint sigils on their doors to ward him away and have begun a tradition of providing offerings in the town squares of Sonoran Hotdogs, Pollo Asado Burritos and Chili Rellenos in an effort to appease El Elvis Rojo.

North of the border he is a fiction author who has won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel, and has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in both Short and Long Fiction, as well as the Pushcart Prize for short fiction. His most recent novel is Empire of Salt, a tale of zombie love and loss on the shores of the Salton Sea. In his spare time, he races tarantula wasps, watches Border Patrol Death Race 2000, and bakes in the noonday sun. You can find him at www.westonochse.com.

Multiplex Fandango is subtitled “A Weston Ochse Reader” for good reason. This collection contains a comprehensive representation of short fiction and novellas by the Bram Stoker award winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, including his recent powerful Stoker finalist short story, “The Crossing Of Aldo Rey” and his brilliant Stoker finalist novella, Redemption Roadshow, as well as acclaimed favorites, “Catfish Gods” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Also included in this omnibus volume of sixteen short stories and novellas are six original new works of short fiction written especially for this collection including such future classics as “Tarzan Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Low Men Weeping,” and the stunning, “City Of Joy.”

Multiplex Fandango. Say it. Multi-plex Fan-dan-go. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Just rolls off the tongue. It´s almost as beautiful and satisfying as the book you may now be holding in your hands, or reading a review about. What we´re seeing here is quite possibly the most comfortable, relaxed, and expert takeover that the horror genre has ever seen. With Multiplex Fandango, Weston Ochse has created an incredible collection, and has given the reader one of the smoothest, most satisfying reads they could ever come across. To drive the point home, Joe Lansdale says in the intro that “This is a book that could almost have been written for me.”, but I disagree—this book was written for anyone looking for imaginative, intelligent, and thoroughly awe-inspiring, but strangely uplifting scares that force the reader to think more than react.”
– Paperback Horror

“This is a book that could almost have been written for me.”
– Eight-Time Bram Stoker Award Winner Joe R. Lansdale on Multiplex Fandango

“Weston Ochse is a mercurial writer, one of those depressingly talented people who are good at whatever they turn their hand to. Multiplex Fandango is as wild as the title suggests. It is at times infuriating, complex, moving and bananas. Above all, it is very, very good.”
-Conrad Williams, August Derleth and International Horror Guild Award Winner

“Weston Ochse is to horror what Bradbury is to science fiction—an artist whose craft, stories and voice are so distinct and mesmerizing that you can’t help but be enthralled. Multiplex Fandango is yet another in a long line of exclamation points that reminds us of that fact.”
– Dani Kollin, Prometheus Award-winning author of The Unincorporated Man

“The truth of the matter is that for all the drive-in movie references, what Weston Ochse has really created in Multiplex Fandango is a travelogue. Acting as narrator and guide, Weston takes you on a trip to places familiar and obscure-New Orleans, the Sonoran desert, Mexico´s Pacific coast, and the dark, impenetrable reaches of the soul. He shows off sights that chill the blood, and as with any good trip, the things seen and experienced along the way will stay with you for a lifetime.”
– Jeff Mariotte, Novelist and Comic Book Author

2 Responses to “Space Invaders Halloween”

  1. Carol MacAllister says:

    Loved the essay. Happy Halloween.