Thanks to everyone who took the time to email in their feedback on “The Final Question” in Cemetery Dance magazine. If you have any comments or even a suggestion for a question you’d like to see answered by your favorite authors, feel free to email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re new to the magazine or if you haven’t ordered your copy of Cemetery Dance #61 yet, the premise of “The Final Question” is simple: each issue we’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then we’ll publish their responses exactly as we receive them.
Normally this feature is limited to the magazine, but we wanted to do something special for our website visitors this Halloween, so here you go!
The special Halloween question is: What is your earliest Halloween memory?
One Halloween was a big mistake for me. I had a bunch of my friends over, and I put on my Houdini manacles. I was supposed to break free from them, to show my friends what a good magician I was, and I couldn’t get out of the goddamn things. So I fell down on the floor and writhed around, and all my friends gathered and looked down at me and laughed. I got mad at them, and I said, “Get the heck out of the house! You’re not wanted here now.” So I sent them all home.
My earliest Halloween memory – the year I was five – is all the more clear in my mind because my father had bought a home movie camera to record all the important moments in the lives of his kids. Christmases. Birthday parties. Easter Egg hunts. And, of course, Halloween. The camera was one of those Keystone 8 MM silent wind-up dealios with the excruciatingly bright lights that turned every documented event into a cheerful marathon squint-fest. My mother, a very creative soul, always made our costumes. This was the year my older sister was a witch, I was a fairy princess, and my younger sister was a bunny. My younger brother was stuck in the playpen, squinting and watching his older siblings in the pre-Trick or Treat parade of costumes back and forth across the living room floor, grinning for the camera. I envied my older sister’s excellent, bright yellow yarn witch wig and my younger sister’s gloriously full white yarn bunny tail, but I love-love-loved my glitter-covered star wand.
I wrote about my most vivid (and scary) Hallowe’en memory for CD’s October Dreams, but my clearest first memory of Hallowe’en is rather mundane … I remember getting candy corn for the first time and trying then (as I still do today) to bite each triangular piece into thirds on the lines where the colors change. How mundane is that?
I was obsessed with skeletons. When I got older, my brother and I would use face paint and make-up and take great joy in rummaging through my father’s box of old clothes for hobo getups — but my very first costume, when I was perhaps five, was an out-of-the-box, store-bought skeleton costume (the only one I ever had) that I never forgot. The mask alone scared hell out of me (and, I hoped, everyone else): bone-white with large hollow eye holes and a set of grinning bone-teeth that were nothing short of creepy. The mask was too large for my head, of course — but the body of the costume was the kicker, satin-black to blend with the night, with printed white bones right down to the splayed bony feet. I looked, and felt, like a vintage jointed cardboard skeleton come to life. They don’t make them like that anymore. At least I hope so — if I saw me coming, I’d run the other way!
I was no older than four or five. After Trick-or-Treating, my folks went out to a party. My kindergarten teacher, Cathy Cavanagh, was watching my brother and me for the evening. We scooped the brains out of an overdue yet innocent pumpkin while the original Halloween played on TV. Needless to say, the movie scared the crap out of me. Jack-O-Lantern finished, movie over and a couple of games later, I went to my bed, which was right up against my bedroom window, for a long stretch of nightmares. I was just drifting off when a tap came at the glass. I opened my eyes and screamed at the horrific sight of a bleeding Frankenstein snarling at me from outside. My brother got in some trouble for that one.
In England, we tended to concentrate on Mischief Night and Bonfire Night (4th and 5th of November) but there were some kids — particularly those whose world existed within the four-color confines of the American comicbook and the stories of Ray Bradbury — who were aware that there was something else to be had . . . another special day; one with something more than mere firecracker mayhem to entice and inveigle. That special day was All Hallows Eve . . . when witches rode the cool winds on brooms and the dead left their soily resting places to walk the night-time streets once again.
Of course, my childhood imagination created all manner of spectral happenings and I’ve written about many of them. But the first real memory I have comes from much later . . . when I was in my early 30’s. For it was then, armed with thermoses of coffee and hot milk and little packs of sandwiches and chocolate biscuits, that Nicky and I took the boys — then aged seven and five — up to nearby Knaresborough Rocks to watch for witches.
I write this stuff for a living, of course (at least, I do when PS Publishing lets me have an hour or two off for good behaviour!) . . . so I’m probably not a good judge. But I reckon the best rush you will ever get out of Hallowe’en is through the eyes of a child alongside you. It could be your child, could be someone else’s — doesn’t matter. Just watch their eyes, wide like saucers, their mouths dry with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Unbeatable.
We repeated that excursion other years — in fact, it became a staple in the Crowther household — until the commercial side of Hallowe’en took over and Olly and Tim went out trick-or-treating. But, you know, for a long time after — all the time we were in Harrogate, in fact, years after the kids had left home — Nicky and I still went out to Knaresborough Rocks, scanning the dark skies . . . looking for witches. I think I even saw one once or twice. . .
My parents, for a Halloween treat, allowed me to stay up late to watch a TV ghost story. Possibly, I was aged five or six. I don’t remember the show’s title now (it might have been from the Mystery & Imagination series; if I’m misremembering then I might be combining childhood Halloween memories, which for me adds to the emotional potency of that night). The series graphics were of a frantically beating dove, shown in ghostly negative, then an ominous thudding heartbeat would begin. And then….
….and then I’d had enough. Terrified, I scrambled off to bed before the film had even properly started. Oh, but the dreams – and the nightmares – those opening credits triggered…
I grew up in rural Eastern Canada, where the houses were spread out along the main highway. We set out in a group of five or six and wandered abroad for hours, covering three or four miles in each direction. Because of the latitude, it got dark early. Our parents didn’t appear to worry about the fact that we were gone until eight or nine o’clock.
Since it was a small community, everyone knew everyone else, so part of the game was to guess who the masked visitors were. At some places, every young person in the community had a specially prepared treat with his or her name on it. Usually the treats in those places were homemade: fudge, Rice Krispie squares, things like that. Nobody had to worry about apples with razor blades or candy with needles, though we knew those things happened in far-away places. We all coveted nickel bags of potato chips, though. That was the barometer of the evening’s success: how many bags of chips we acquired.
We had plenty of time for shenanigans. We had fights with ripe cat-tails, which could be thrown like hand grenades and would explode to cover you with seeds that looked like feathers. Setting off fire crackers and soaping windows were the standard tricks. Hiding or knocking over yard implements. One member of a political organization had his garage wallpapered with posters for the opposition party, I recall. It was all good clean fun and the night seemed to last forever. In my memory, it now seems straight out of a Ray Bradbury story and I regret that my daughter wasn’t able to share that magical experience, since Halloween in the suburbs in the 1990s was a different creature altogether.
I reckon one of my earliest Halloween memories was in 1966. I was six years old and the Batman TV show with Adam West was the big thing that year. Every kid in our neighborhood was Batman crazy. Dozens of Caped Crusaders were running around, leaping across ditches and climbing up porches. I guess the neighbors were a little confused, wondering if they were handing out candy to the same kid over and over again. I don’t think there was a single Robin in the bunch. Who wanted to be stinking Robin anyway?
I remember I had my mom cut the bottom half of my plastic mask off — the man face part — leaving only the cowl. All the other kids thought I was kinda weird because of that. But at least I wasn’t huffing and puffing and sweating under my mask. At least I could breathe!
I was 5 or 6, had never really been out after dark on the streets in the neighborhood. A perfect Halloween night — cool, blustery breeze, leaves hissing in the maples and scuttling down the streets. I was a “hobo,” complete with a beat-up old fedora and a mascara stubble, applied by my mother. What I remember most is the thrill of being out at that time of day, how the neighborhood seemed so different, the taste of the autumn night air. I got a lot of Mounds and Almond Joy bars — at that time, they were all made at the Peter Paul factory in town, long before it was taken over by Cadbury, and eventually moved, just a few years ago, to some other location. I didn’t think of Halloween as necessarily scary then, just different, fun and once-a-year unique. Scary came later.