Halloween Haunts: Thing That Make You Go “Hmmm…” by L. Marie Wood
Halloween Haunts: Thing That Make You Go “Hmmm…”
by L. Marie Wood
We speak of the dead in past tense and positives. We dress for them in ceremony and as protection. We offer them food, plant trees in their honor, name celestial clusters after them. We ameliorate, machinate, gyrate, lie prostrate in the hopes that we can appease them, calm their souls so they favor us, smile on us… do any and all so they don’t haunt us.
But what do they think?
Do the dead balk when considering Samhain? Do they smile at our ignorance to think that we might grant them passage in limited form, silo them, relegate them to Visitor status and control their movements? Do they descend upon our celebrations, sample our food, throw some at an enemy who is still among the living? Do they go on haunting tours? Do they celebrate the rituals of the dead from all over the world like groupies following a rock band?
Do the dead squeal in delight when we try to scare each other – yell “Boo!” after little ones covered in sheets, ghosts running down the sidewalk in search of candy? Do they compliment the zombie bride as she walks by?
Trick or treat!
Trick or treat!
Give me something good to eat!
What fun it might be to rap on a door and watch a party store Elvira open it with a bowl of candy in her arms. Sugary, sweet, and sour… oh my! How might it feel to stand behind the goblins and witches and chant “Trick! Trick! Trick!” as they asked Elvira which she’d prefer, trying to sway her response. Would their voices break through the din? Children yelled the question like it was one word, years and excitement stripping away its meaning, who knows which. It was perfunctory, just something to say to get candy in their bags – they wouldn’t know what to do if Elvira didn’t respond with candy in hand. But what if she heard the call of the dead? What if Elvira made out the voice on the air, gravelly and monotone, that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once? Would she repeat the chanted word as beckoned, asking for a trick she’d never forget? How about the man two doors down, the one still in the suit he’d worn all day – if a knock came and the question floated on the wind, would he want to see the card tricks of the elders? Would he want to peer into the glass marble, yellow, blue, orange at its core, and watch it whirl?
Would either of them notice the dead at all?
It was the wind, they’d likely assume, or ding-dong-ditching teens too old to don the paint, too amped to wear the mask. Elvira and the man in the suit would assume they’d been too slow getting to the door, tired as they were, or that they had been hearing things. They’d never see the pale visages before them, never stare into the sightless eyes of the dead looking back at them from the open door, never appreciate the gaping mouths filled with rot waiting for something sweet.
A chill on their skin; goosebumps might rise, and the religious among them might cross themselves. Some might close the door, lock it tight, turn off the porch light to urge the kids to walk by, to leave them be, no more candy in the house, nosiree. They’d feel the momentary cool, feel the hair on the backs of their necks rise in response, but would gather themselves and shrug it away. Maybe they’d remind themselves to say a prayer the next morning, extend the olive branch into the afterlife, a promise they’d forget in the light of day. It would have been too late anyway. All Soul’s Day, Día de Los Muertos, All Saint’s Day – take your pick… each one a day late and a dollar short, as they say. By the time those holy days came around, the dead would have taken what they wanted, would have supped and had their fill. If they so desired, that tired man ready to take off his shoes and eat the candy left over in the bowl would never get the chance to soothe his aching feet or taste of something sweet. If they so desired, there would be all tricks and no treats for Elvira that night, all tricks and no treats evermore, and no one could do anything about it. The dead are not to be denied and shall visit us all – so says fate. For that, it was always too late.
… if you believe in that kind of stuff, anyway.
Marie Wood creates immersive worlds that defy genre as they intersect horror, romance, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy elements to weave harrowing tapestries of speculative fiction. She is the recipient of the Golden Stake Award, a MICO Award-winning screenwriter, a two-time Bram Stoker Award® Finalist, a Rhysling nominated poet, and an accomplished essayist. Wood has won over 50 national and international screenplay and film awards. Her short fiction has been published in groundbreaking works, including the anthologies Sycorax’s Daughters and Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. Wood is also part of the 2022 Bookfest Book Award-winning poetry anthology, Under Her Skin. Her papers are archived as part of University of Pittsburgh’s Horror Studies Collection. She is the founder of the Speculative Fiction Academy, an English and Creative Writing professor, and a horror scholar. Learn more about L. Marie Wood at www.lmariewood.com.