Halloween Haunts: The Real Horror by Brian W. Matthews
In a few weeks, I will begin my sixtieth journey around the sun. Over those years, Halloween has changed for me. The meaning. How I enjoy it. With whom I enjoy it. But one thing hasn’t changed: I enjoy Halloween. All of it. The chill creeping into the night air. The rustle of leaves as the breeze sends them dancing across the cracked pavements. The movies—especially the old Hammer horror films—playing over the television (or streaming in today’s world). Pumpkins. Costumes. Candy.
The change I experienced over the years may be best termed a maturing. As a child, I looked forward with giddy delight to the costume search, carving the jack-o-lanterns. Teaming up with my brothers to go trick-or-treating. Back then, we could run around the neighborhood, filling pillow cases, emptying them at the house, and heading out again. The thrill of the night brings to home and heart how valuable youth is.
Then, as a parent, my enjoyment shifted. Instead of the (understandably) selfish enjoyment of my childhood, I took a greater pleasure in watching my daughter smile and clap her hands as we carved pumpkins and went in search of costumes and got ready for our night of trick-or-treating. This more mature enjoyment was, for me, deeper and memorable.
Halloween helped me understand better who I am and what is important in my life.
It also taught me how to truly fear. Because you cannot be afraid if you don’t first care.
Back in the late 90s, one of my neighbors were a younger, married couple with a daughter just a few years younger than my daughter. We’ll call her Samantha (not her real name, since this isn’t fiction). Samantha liked to ride her Big Wheel up and down the sidewalk. She was a cute kid. One day, just before Halloween, if fact, I stood at the sink in my home, preparing dinner, and watched out the kitchen window Samantha ride that Big Wheel back and forth along the pavement. Then I frowned when an old, white pickup truck pulled up next to the curb. An older man jumped out and made a show of tightening the straps on the boxes in the bed of his truck. The man kept glancing at Samantha, who had stopped to look at him. When this guy looked up and down the street, presumably to see if any cars were approaching, my heart leapt into my throat.
“Samantha!” I called out the (thankfully open) window. “Dinner’s almost ready!”
The man’s head snapped up. He saw me through the window. He saw me bolt toward the door. By the time I got outside—only seconds had passed—the white pickup had turned the corner and disappeared.
I picked up Samantha and carried her home, explaining to her parents what had happened. They were, of course, thankful.
When I got back to my house, I was shaking. I’ve no proof the man intended to take Samantha, but his behavior was damned suspicious. I thought, What if I hadn’t been there? What if that dude had taken the little girl? It’s possible her parents would never have seen here again.
What I felt then was true horror. Horror for what her parents felt. Horror for what Samantha might have had to endure had she been kidnapped. It hit me like a gut punch.
That’s why Halloween for me brings up thoughts of family and community, of fond memories and hope. Ghosts and vampires and things that go bump in the night. They’re all fun and bring people together.
Because the real horror can exist right outside your window
Brian W. Matthews is the author of the Forever Man series of novels, along with the stand alone novel, The Conveyance. He’s published several short stories. His latest, “Temm the Riven,” will appear in issue #366 of Weird Tales magazine. He’s a member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers. He also serves as a trustee for the HWA.
You can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bwmatthews.