Halloween Haunts: Halloween Transformations by Adele Gardner
From my very first Halloween, I learned how important sewing is to that special night.
My mother wore an elaborate clown costume, complete with a separate neck ruffle with ringing bells. Her mother had crafted this costume for her when Mom was in the eighth grade, for a stage performance at school. Mom also owned a child-sized devil costume of fluffy red that Grandma sewed for my Uncle Dan in 1948, when he was five, and Mom, age three, portrayed a Little Dutch Girl; Mom wore the devil costume the next year, and Uncle Dan became (through Grandma’s wizardry) the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.
While my siblings and I were growing up, both our grandmothers loved to sew us clothes. My brothers and I wore matching outfits—which also matched the doll clothes Grandma sewed while I watched and she explained.
I began making my own costumes at age 10—building a communicator out of a Band-Aid lid, contact paper, and a cardboard egg carton that I painted with watercolors, as part of my first attempt to be Mr. Spock. (My second attempt, also the most recent costume I’ve sewn, now looks a lot more realistic—but I still feel the kid’s excitement at the thought of that communicator!)
The next year, my attempt at the Tin Woodsman, with a body built from paper bags and my mother’s funnel on my head, did win an award for “Most Creative,” but the judges proclaimed me “Miss Paper.”
So my ambitions grew. I wanted to make more recognizable costumes. I asked Mom to teach me to use the sewing machine. I gained permission at age 14 and sewed my first—Jason from Battle of the Planets.
That is one of the many, many things I love about Halloween: the thrill of crafting your own identity—a look that makes others see you as someone else (perhaps a deeper part of you?), if only for a night.
Most of the characters I’ve chosen to portray—for any event that involves dressing up as a recognizable character—have been male. While playing “pretend” with my brothers from age four (as soon as they were old enough to play my favorite game with me), I always chose the boy characters. That felt more like “me,” most of the time.
And, on Halloween, even in the 1970s and ’80s, for that one night, no one gave me any grief for portraying the male heroes I wanted to emulate (like Spock, Batman, Jason, and Shade, the Changing Man).
For me, this was all part of the transformation of Halloween. That transformation is magical and real. For one night, we become who we want to be—and are recognized as such. We often act the part, adopting an appropriate voice and manner. And those we meet see only the masks and address us as our characters.
Of course, I love the Halloween scares, that thrill of fear. I love designing my own haunted houses for my relatives. Learning that my haunted house was scary enough even for the adults brings joy to my heart. I love decorating (and making decorations); baking Halloween cookies; carving jack-o’-lanterns; visiting pumpkin patches; taking walks to view Halloween decorations; trick-or-treating; watching scary movies, and so much more—and, most of all, doing these with various family members.
And speaking of family, when I think of my deepest fears, it basically comes down to losing those I love.
When my father died, one of the things that comforted me was watching old episodes of One Step Beyond (while eating cookie dough I’d frozen before his death, from his mother’s recipe). We’d all loved this show as children, fascinated by its subjects, and often terrified by them. But after Dad died, I found myself watching again and again, wanting these proofs that spirits lived on. For the same reason, while I had always loved horror and Halloween, I found myself gravitating toward it more and more.
Even the most terrifying horror movie about ghosts had at it’s core some comfort—even when I got so scared I couldn’t walk down my hall at night, and slept only with every light blazing in the place. These ghosts insisted that life continues beyond the grave.
Of course, while I felt Dad near me, he would not be a frightening presence. What was most frightening was the fact that he was not there right beside me. How could it be possible that one so loving and kind, my greatest champion, would not be here? How could I not share with him all the new things we would have enjoyed together? So I tried to share them with him on some spiritual level.
Halloween, with its emphasis on ghosts and the grave, speaks to my soul and always has. I love visiting graveyards, especially the one in Elmira where my father, uncle, grandparents, and cousins are buried. Yes, I am a sentimental person, but I hope it is in the best sense. I remain inspired by those I have loved and lost.
And by Halloween.
Some of my Halloween favorites include black cats on fence posts (I always wanted to be a cat; and my first costume, by choice, was to become one); witches (these agents of change may be scary or wise, but I love their flight across mystic moons, and how they are one with the night). Monsters like Frankenstein’s, grinning from ear-to-ear because they’ve found a friend.
We transform ourselves. On Halloween, we may live out our dreams—or share our admiration (or terror) for a particular film, show, book, or character from folklore. Even if only for a night, we delight in these chills, carving pumpkins, watching them glow with the promise of reaching across the borders of the spirit world.
Halloween is capable of bringing out the best in us. (And the worst, if we are portraying a devilish side of our nature.)
Halloween’s transforming energy fuels a surging creativity—in making costumes, decorations, cookies, and cards; in carving and decorating pumpkins; in building haunted houses and finding new ways to scare one another—and ourselves. For me, it has always brought the itch to compose scary verses and tales, often on black paper with a silver pen, by low light or candlelight. The first poems I composed, in fourth grade, were a series of Halloween haiku.
When dreaming Halloween crafts and activities to include in my upcoming family party, the first thought that struck me was an invitation to word-craft: prompts by which we would create our own spooky verses or short tales.
Won’t you join me in crafting a piece of micro horror? It can be a poem of up to 20 lines, or a prose piece of up to 200 words.
First, pick two beings or objects that speak to you of Halloween.
Option 1: Create a shape poem that depicts one of these subjects. Without alluding to the subject by name, guide the reader through language to really understand your subject. The revelation gained should scare the audience—and the speaker of the poem!
Option 2: In a visceral flash piece or prose poem, imagine what happens if one of them transforms into the other—describe the process, and their ultimate feelings about the change, delving deep into inmost thoughts.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Adele Gardner is giving away a signed copy of their new poetry collection, Halloween Hearts.
Comment below or email email@example.com with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.
Adele Gardner (gardnercastle.com, none/they/Mx.) is a fiction writer & award-winning poet with a new poetry collection, Halloween Hearts, from Jackanapes Press and over 475 poems, stories, art, and articles in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, PodCastle, Daily Science Fiction, and more. In addition to Halloween, this genderfluid night owl loves libraries, samurai films, and reading comics with cats. Adele serves as literary executor for father, mentor, and namesake Delbert R. Gardner.
Adele Gardner’s Halloween Hearts is a welcome celebration of all things Halloween, whether they take place on October 31st or not. Disciples of All Hallows’ Eve, enter of your own free will . . . haunted houses, trick-or-treaters, vampires, demonic foxes, witches and their familiars, revenants both longed-for and uninvited, and the creeping mists of autumn all have their place in these pages.
Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe—icons of the American imagination, pilgrims of the nightside territories of the mind—have a special place in Gardner’s works. The poetry in this volume is inspired by much of what makes each of these authors special to so many readers: Poe’s sensitivity to loss and melancholia, and to horror and terror, and Bradbury’s enthusiastic embrace of Halloween and other dark aspects of Americana, along with his refusal to allow death to be the final word in our relationship with our loved ones. With “Eureka” “Nevermore,” “Poe’s Prophets,” and other poems, Gardner explores Poe’s hallowed place in our haunted hearts. And in the title poem, which opens the book, Gardner lovingly celebrates Ray Bradbury and his unique alchemy of nostalgia, dread, and Halloween eternal.
“. . . this book has been a long time coming, with its black cats and witches, ghosts and the grave, vampires and writers that haunt the night. Whether their subjects are traditional to Halloween or on tangential themes, all these poems are Halloween to me—that season so melancholy and elegiac, yet also fierce, with shining teeth, pointy grins, and a cat’s fang-filled mischief.”—Adele Gardner, from the introduction
“Adele Gardner’s Halloween Hearts presents a kaleidoscopic pageant of delightful October imagery. Haunted by the wistful ghost of childhood past, and paraded through by a midnight processional of witches and black cats, these pages provide a fine evening of autumnal entertainment. Like the many twinkling branches of Bradbury’s Halloween Tree, every pumpkin here has a smile, and every page has a grin—yours.” —K. A. Opperman, author of Past the Glad and Sunlit Season: Poems for Halloween
With a foreword by S. T. Joshi and an introduction by the author
Illustrated • Featuring art by Gustave Doré and Dan Sauer
Trade paperback – 6 x 9 – 140 pages
I love Poe so much. I own a gorgeous volume of gilt-edged pages, of his life’s work. The book is illustrated and oh so thick. I also have a tarot deck dedicated to Poe and a Nox Arcana cd dedicated to Poe. He demands our admiration. I would love to read your book! I hope I get the chance to someday.