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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