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by Ronald J. Murray


My earliest taste of bringing others frightful fun came on Halloween during my twelfth year. Almost annually, Halloweens were spent at my grandmother’s when I was a kid. I could see downtown Pittsburgh from her front porch, so the trick-or-treater traffic was abundant. This particular year, I wore one of those faceless, hooded ghost costumes, and instead of trick-or-treating, I decided to hang back and have a different kind of fun.

I reclined along the space next to the concrete stairs that led up to my grandma’s porch, and I put on my absolute best lie-still-except-for-shallow-breathing performance. As older trick-or-treaters passed me—I was careful not to traumatize any young children—I’d shoot up to a sitting position in the hope of sending them running. With some, it really seemed to work! Sometimes, I’d tease them with small movements to make them doubt their sanity on this haunted night before I’d end the agony of their suspense and confirm their creeping suspicions with a loud scream.

The entire ordeal was hilarious for everyone involved.  The adults that accompanied their kids especially enjoyed the performance. Of course, I got some of them real good, too.

If I remember correctly, I went off afterward to mess around in the cemetery up the hill with my friends from across the street to deepen all that which put fear on its well-deserved pedestal. We hid behind aged tombstones to jump out at one another, and we pretended that we were fearless protectors of the girls that tagged along, even though I know that we, ourselves, were just as scared.

I am still that child, even if I’ve grown a full beard and have begun to find grays in my hair. And I am still chasing that sensation of scaring the crap out of people. If you’ve read my poetry, you’ll find that I like to encourage readers to contemplate and confront the scary parts of their selves, too, not that I would consider myself an expert on Jungian Psychoanalytic Theory.

Halloween has become somewhat of a marker for me. Like many who enjoy and create in this genre, it’s an important time of year. The numinous feeling ignited by the creeping approach of autumn and its overcast skies and resurrected ghosts returns to spark wonder in me again. The skeletal trees and their clawed shadows enshroud me in the mystery of what I can pull from the darkness to bring into the light. But most importantly, to me, it is a time to examine my work for growth, and to determine in which directions I can further grow.

I like to pull up my old manuscripts—from those I’ve written prior to any kind of mentorship or self-guided sharpening to those as recent as the year before—to see how far I’ve come. I’ll edit and revise unpublished work with my refreshed style and more complex imagination. And I’ll play around with new ideas that have been waiting to be hatched.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that this is a most important exercise. Maybe other writers will benefit from it if they’re not already doing something similar. I would be interested to discover that this is a unique way to celebrate what is most probably the favorite holiday among us all and delighted if I could share in that with others.


Ronald J. Murray is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His published work includes his two dark poetry collections, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, which appeared on the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot and was nominated for an Elgin Award, and Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass, from the JournalStone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press. He curated and co-edited Verse Infernal: Poetry Inspired by the Satanic Religion, from Aperient Press, featuring poetry exclusively by Church of Satan members. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Space and Time Magazine, The Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase Volume VIII, on The Wicked Library Podcast, in Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption, and Lustcraftian Horrors: Erotic Stories Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and more. He can be found at https://ronaldjmurray.com


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