HALLOWEEN HAUNTS: THE RURAL HEART OF DARKNESS AND ITS MONSTERS by Nicole M. Wolverton
HALLOWEEN HAUNTS: THE RURAL HEART OF DARKNESS AND ITS MONSTERS
by Nicole M. Wolverton
The rural Pennsylvania hinterlands beg for monsters. It’s more than just the setting—sprawling cornfields, more than a few reputedly haunted covered bridges, dark forests, desolate mountains, and sparsely populated towns—it’s that there isn’t very much to do. Boredom breeds imagination. It sure did in my case. I grew up in a tiny northeastern PA town called Berwick, and that is where my monsters were born.
That was never more evident than at Halloween. My mom can sew—and one of my grandmothers was a factory seamstress. It was not uncommon for me to sweep out of the house on Halloween night as a kid in a full white gown doused in fake blood, or (as pictured here) in an elaborate black robe festooned with (what I thought were) mystical symbols (Nicole, far right, with her grandmother on the left and her little brother in the middle). The air was crisp. The night was dark. A howling wind whipped down off the mountain near my childhood home, practically tearing my wig du jour off. It was always a magical time.
I grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, squarely in the midst of the stranger danger scares—and so behind every door might lurk a pedophile who was very into deeply weird little blonde girls. Those were my mom’s nightmares, though (and really, if I were her I
maybe would have been more concerned about why my little brother was drawn to the Michael Myers-as-a-kid costume, but that is a story for another day).
I was more interested in the ghost that most certainly lived in the cornfield next to my house… who, on Halloween, I was sure could leave the cornfield and walk amongst the living. I could see the Briar Creek Lake from my backyard—and so there was never a doubt that a lake monster waited for little girls to scamper too close to the water, especially if I veered off the planned path for trick or treating. And that enormous man with the thick glasses who answered the door at the house next to my grandmother’s? He was most certainly a goblin come to give me special candy that, having eaten it, would whisk me to the underworld at the stroke of midnight on Halloween.
I was never scared about any of that, mind you—I was fascinated. As a kid living in a tiny world, a small town isn’t all that exciting. So I wanted to be zapped into the underworld. I wanted to meet a lake monster. Hanging out with a ghost? Yes, sign me up, please. There had to be other places that were more interesting than Berwick, where things were exciting. I wanted to see them.
Here in Philadelphia (I moved here when I was eighteen), jewelry designer and absolute legend Henri David has been throwing a Halloween Ball for more than fifty years—the motto: Come as you wish to be and not who you are. That’s what Halloween is to me. It’s pretending—just for one night—that you can be anything, and that anything is possible. My rural hinterlands might have drawn the monsters out of me, even as a child, but I will always want to be part of that other… on Halloween and every day, no matter where I live.
NICOLE M. WOLVERTON is the author of the young adult horror novel A Misfortune of Lake Monsters, coming out on July 2, 2024 from CamCat Books—as well as the adult psychological thriller The Trajectory of Dreams (2013, Bitingduck Press). She is a Pushcart-nominated short story writer with work published in dozens of anthologies, magazines, and podcasts. She also dabbles in creative nonfiction, with work published in The Memoirist Quarterly, Hungry Ghost Magazine, and Months to Years, among others—and she is the editor of Bodies Full of Burning, a 2021 Sliced Up Press anthology of short horror fiction that centers menopause.
She really likes monsters.