31 Lists of Horror: Stephen Michell on the Greatest Eve of Them All

Today, in the four­teenth of my ongo­ing 31 Lists of Hor­ror, we direct our atten­tion to Hal­loween itself, in all its choco­late-grub­bing glo­ry!
Today’s special guest lister: Stephen Michell


Stephen Michell is a free­lance writer and edi­tor based out of Toron­to. His writ­ing has appeared at The Good Men Project, as well as in the Exile Edi­tions spec­u­la­tive fic­tion anthol­o­gy Those Who Make Us, with his sto­ry ‘As Worlds Col­lide.’ His first nov­el, Only the Dev­il is Here, is com­ing out in Novem­ber from ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions and is avail­able for pre-order.

 


October 14, 2017

Top 10 Reasons Why Halloween is the Best!

1. It smells good.

The smell of the air on the night of Hal­loween in Octo­ber is incom­pa­ra­ble. It’s like you can smell the earth begin­ning its decline into win­ter dor­man­cy, and yet it’s alive and fresh. Par­ti­cles are break­ing down, decom­pos­ing into some­thing pure and raw and ancient. It’s like the smell of time itself. And there’s a hint of bon­fire in the air, as if so many peo­ple in the coun­try­side are burn­ing leaves and the scent of wood smoke is waft­ing every­where. And the air is chilly, but the smell makes you warm like you’re wrapped in a big wool blan­ket read­ing a good book. Yes. The smell of Hal­loween in autumn is like a good book, print­ed and bound, with a spine that stretch­es when you open it, and pages that make a scuff­ing sheet sound as you turn them, and a strange pow­er that over­comes you to seek some­thing deep­er than touch and truer than sight, as you stick your nose between the pages and breathe in.

2. You get to dress up.

I love cos­tumes. Always have; always will. But I think Hal­loween cos­tumes are one of those things that have our orbit­ing alien observers a lit­tle per­plexed. Humans are a fun­ny species, they must think. They live most of their lives walk­ing around in rea­son­ably com­mon out­fits, each per­son pret­ty much dress­ing like the next, except on this one day of the year.

What’s the day called?”

“They call it Hal­loween.”

“What do they do on Hal­loween?”

“Well they all change their out­fits dras­ti­cal­ly. The adults, the teenagers, even the chil­dren. Every­one. They all change their out­fits for a few hours on this one day, typ­i­cal­ly at night. They put on masks, capes, dress­es, fun­ny hats and shoes, and then they all go out and show off their out­fits to each oth­er. Often they have con­tests and award prizes to the out­fits that are the most out­ra­geous. And they all seem very excit­ed dur­ing these few hours, while wear­ing their strange out­fits. Some of them even hope that their out­fit is so out­ra­geous that it fright­ens oth­ers. But then the next day, they return to their com­mon cloth­ing and their reg­u­lar rou­tines and speak lit­tle of the occur­rence.”

“Why do they do this?”

“We think it must be some kind of psy­cho­so­mat­ic rev­o­lu­tion, an impulse of expres­sion born of their con­scious mind con­tend­ing with it’s phys­i­cal con­fine­ment, result­ing in a reju­ve­nat­ed sense of self and lib­er­ty each year. After all, they are still such a young species of con­scious­ness. They’re still strug­gling to under­stand the point of exis­tence. Putting on strange out­fits once a year seems to help them.”

3. Haunted Houses

When I got to the age that Trick or Treatin’ was more pleas­ing to remem­ber than to expe­ri­ence, my friends and I decid­ed to stay home, hand out can­dy, and cre­ate a haunt­ed house. It was all fun and games until the chil­dren start­ed cry­ing. Kids would stop at the edge of the curb, look down this walk­way, and then keep going. When they did brave the pas­sage up to the front door, can­dy-courage fuelling each step, we would roll our heads after them and then leap up from our seats with a ghoul­ish growl. I like to think that peo­ple appre­ci­at­ed our com­mit­ment to the haunt­ed house. I would have.

4. The 1993 film, Hocus Pocus.

Need I say more?

Hocus Pocus (1993)

5. Halloween is a night of adventure

When I was grow­ing up, Hal­loween was a night of adven­ture. The cos­tumes and the can­dy were excit­ing, but the real thrill was in know­ing that I would be out explor­ing the neigh­bour­hood at night with my friends. Of course, we had a route planned for max­i­mum treat col­lec­tion, fac­tor­ing in those odd­ball hous­es that gave away full size choco­late bars or sim­ply left a bowl of can­dy out on the porch (what suck­ers!), but as soon as we got out there every­thing changed. It was like the night took over and we were swept away. The whole world was changed at night. Neigh­bour­hoods and hous­es we walked by every day trans­formed into hulk­ing shad­ows, labyrinthine laneways, and pitch-black parks. We’d find our­selves cut­ting through a corn­field, con­vinced it was a short­cut, only to find our­selves lost on the oth­er side of the neigh­bour­hood. And you nev­er knew whom you were going to meet; would you run into friends, bul­lies, or maybe your crush? Would you sur­vive the night? Hal­loween was a night of adven­ture into anoth­er world and it was won­der­ful.

6. Michael Myers (not the actor, though he’s pretty cool, too)

When I was ten years old, my friend Jake and I were obsessed with Michael Myers. Think­ing about it now, it was pret­ty weird. We were con­vinced that his white mask was hang­ing in the win­dow of this house down the laneway, and when­ev­er we went rollerblad­ing we would stop and stare at it and cringe with ter­ror and excite­ment. We lat­er learned that the mask was a dec­o­ra­tive chi­na plate. But that just goes to prove the pow­er of the imag­i­na­tion when inspired. Our inspi­ra­tion was the movie Hal­loween. Excuse me, I must go watch it. Now!

7. The Simpsons Halloween Specials

Zom­bie Flan­ders (from Tree­house of Hor­ror III)

I’m not a huge fan of The Simp­sons, but the show was a sta­ple of my child­hood, and I loved the Hal­loween Spe­cials. My favourite might have been the one where every­one becomes a zom­bie. When Homer blasts Flan­ders with a shot­gun, and Bart or Lisa yells, “Dad, you killed Zom­bie-Flan­ders!” and Homer says, “He was a zom­bie?” Haha. I’m laugh­ing just writ­ing this.

8. Halloween is kind of about death, in a good way.

I don’t know what Hal­loween is cel­e­brat­ing. Like most of our tra­di­tions it prob­a­bly has a con­vo­lut­ed ori­gin sto­ry with one or two hor­rif­ic real­i­ty checks to which the mod­ern cel­e­bra­tion is a mass mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and most like­ly mean­ing­less. What­ev­er its inten­tion, Hal­loween hap­pens to high­light the ideas of death and dark­ness in a pos­i­tive way. Not death as the end of exis­tence, but death as the door­way to a world of spir­its, ghosts, ghouls, oth­er delights. In that way, Hal­loween seems like it could be a pos­i­tive, spir­i­tu­al cel­e­bra­tion of death and con­tin­u­ance. From my expe­ri­ence, our soci­ety keeps death in the shad­ows, hid­den behind some door, or closed inside a cas­ket, and I think that dis­tance con­tributes to a fear of death. Instead of under­stand­ing death as a nat­ur­al inevitabil­i­ty, one to be wel­comed in its time as any oth­er life event, cel­e­brat­ed even, we treat death like some ter­ri­ble secret. But on Hal­loween night that’s not the case. On Hal­loween night we let the idea of death walk free in the streets, and I think it’s a good thing.

9. Cooking Pumpkin Seeds

Pump­kin seeds are deli­cious, and they’re the per­fect snack while carv­ing a Jack-o’-lantern. I like to roast mine with a lit­tle gar­lic salt or sprin­kled dill. Plus they make you super smart, super strong, super nice, and super fun­ny. You can’t lose.

10. It’s simply the best! 

When I was in grade 10, I think, I dressed up like a nin­ja for Hal­loween. In shop class the old­er kids dumped a buck­et of wood shav­ings onto me. It looked a lit­tle like I’d been tarred and feath­ered. I was embar­rassed, sure. I felt like a dork, sure. But I nev­er once doubt­ed whether dress­ing up for Hal­loween had been worth it. That wasn’t some­thing I was able to ques­tion, because I knew the answer in my heart. Dress­ing and cel­e­brat­ing Hal­loween is absolute­ly worth it, because it’s sim­ply the best.

 

Happy Halloween!

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