Halloween Haunts: October Baby by Melissa Pleckham
Like many people born in October — all of us beauty-loving Libras, all of those mysterious, sexy Scorpios — I grew up thinking that Halloween was my special holiday. Like I had some sort of corner on the market. Some of my earliest memories involve inhaling the smell of greasepaint and latex masks in drugstores, crunching through the corpses of once-green leaves piled on lawns in knee-deep mounds, the dull sweetness of soft wax lips clutched tightly between my own baby teeth.
My childhood birthday parties further blurred the line between birthday and Halloween, especially as I got older, serving as a joint celebration of my encroaching adolescence and the advent of the darker half of the year. Since I was born mid-October, it wasn’t at all inappropriate to have a birthday bash that doubled as an all-out Halloween party, and indeed all of my best parties did just that. One memorable year, when I was somewhere in the neighborhood of ten, my friends and I played Dead Man’s Brains, a game I learned about from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz’s beloved compendium of urban legends and folk tales — one of my perennial favorites. We sat cross-legged on the floor in my candlelit bedroom, shrieking as we passed around fistfuls of cold spaghetti (worms), peeled grapes (eyeballs, natch), and the unequivocal showstopper: A raw cow’s liver, which was promptly flung across my room in disgusted, delighted horror. The clean up wasn’t pretty, but I still remember that party as one of my best.
As I moved into and then out of my teens, I tended toward more mischievous pursuits. Some years, that meant a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt, where the Old West-themed amusement park I’d been going to for as long as I could remember took on a deliciously supernatural sheen: Rides were reimagined with holiday overlays, monsters skidded across the pavement on knee pads, teenage girls — myself included — screamed themselves hoarse in fog-choked mazes, barely opening their eyes as they inched through, clutching each other’s damp-palmed hands. In my twenties, the second half of October meant playing Hallow
een shows with my various bands while dressed in costumes. Once, the entire band affixed gory wounds to our throats with spirit gum, spilled fake blood down the front of our white T-shirts, powdered our faces corpse white; another time, I dressed as a dead prom queen, complete with sash, tiara, and oozing lacerations.
Adulthood did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of my favorite season; in fact, it only became more significant in my life when my husband and I chose a wedding a date in late October — the 20th, to be precise. It was close to the big day, but with enough comfortable distance that our future anniversary celebrations wouldn’t infringe on Halloween proper. To mark our first five years of wedded bliss, we renewed our vows in the backyard of the SugarMynt art gallery that borders the Michael Myers house from John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween, my favorite film of all time. The Shape itself officiated. Afterwards, we took photos at various Halloween filming locations all over South Pasadena. This is, unironically, my idea of romance.
Before the world ended (or so it seemed, for a time) in 2020, we spent our last pre-pandemic Halloween in Paris. It was my first visit to the city. On Devil’s Night, we visited Père Lachaise, the fall foliage lending a rich autumnal air to the requisite pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave; on Halloween morning, we wandered in mute awe through the catacombs that wend their way deep in the darkness below the City of Light. That night, walking through streets where French kids in monster masks and pointy witch’s hats called to each other across the cobblestones, we visited a French haunt called Le Manoir de Paris, where we shrieked our way through the beautiful historic building huddled closely with a group of Spanish tourists we had never met before who had also chosen the English-language tour (my French is rudimentary, at best). By the end of the night, I was trailing behind my bemused husband, screaming Spanish women hanging from each of his arms like grapes on a vine, trying in vain to suppress my smile. Even in Paris, where Halloween is just beginning to gain serious steam, where it’s not quite the multimillion-dollar multi-month moneymaker it’s become in the U.S., the magic of the season had found us. Always.
Everyone loves Halloween, it’s true; its popularity seems to mushroom again and again with each passing year, and at this point it’s more than a holiday: It’s a lifestyle, an identity. But for all of us October babies, the season will always be something truly special. It’s an entire month (sometimes more!) when anything seems possible, when the mundane turns magical.
For us, Halloween is more than mere fun. It’s home.
Melissa Pleckham is a Los Angeles-based writer, actor, and musician. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including Flame Tree Fiction, Luna Luna, Hello Horror, Under the Bed Magazine, and FunDead Publications’ Entombed in Verse poetry collection. Her short screenplay “Moon-Sick” was awarded Best Werewolf Short Script at the 2020 Hollywood Horrorfest and was a Finalist at the 2021 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival. She also plays bass and sings for the garage-goth duo Black Lullabies. You can find her online at melissapleckham.com and on social media at @mpleckham.
I sure do envy anyone having an October birthday! Very fortunate.
Melissa is such a unique writer that her use of words surprise and delight me at the same time. She is multitalented but as a writer she really comes alive and expresses herself from the depths of her soul. She has a rare gift that seems to be a natural gift from the gods. Very much impressed, as usual.