The spookiest thing about Halloween? That its frights and frissons are based on a simple and scary truth: we humans are the source of the villainies that pose the gravest dangers to us, as well as being the easiest mark for them. Be very afraid!
I suppose it’s only natural that if one is expecting a visitation from anyone scary or spooky, one might require a good drink to calm the nerves. After all, one of the most predictable symptoms of fear and trepidation is a dry mouth and that tends to heighten the other signs of nervousness in turn. One can quickly devolve into a quivering heap of ghostly dust at the mere thought of being stalked by ghouls and goons. And of course, the arrival of the Halloween crowd is a virtual guarantee that such terrors will appear on the doorstep.
So I recommend that you keep your shelves of glassware well lighted for the occasion, and have a dram or two of life-saving elixirs handy as well. The thirty-first is nearer than you think, and close on its heels, a horrible horde of wandering souls planning to maraud your home and demand a ransom from your candy-related treasury in exchange for safety from their pranks.
For the dedicated defender of the home barricades, it might be apropos to do up one’s home like that belonging to the landlady of Hänsel and Gretel‘s nightmares, the formidable cannibal who lured them in with the decorative delights of her gingerbread cottage. One could sit on the porch of such a candy-dandy place and leer meaningfully at passers-by over the lip of a neat little glass of Hexenblut. While that might be a counterintuitive choice for threatening them, it could also be seen as a warning that you’re so tough you slurp up your own wicked witchy sisters’ veins just as readily as any flimsy little trick-or-treaters’.
Me, I tend to be content to assuage my fears far more moderately and without putting up such a frightful front. I’m more inclined to turn off the front porch light and hole up in the back room to watch a nice double feature of, say, The Innocents and Gaslight or perhaps Bunny Lake is Missing and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, all while drinking a nice soothing glass of dry white wine or Scotch. The family label of “dry Riesling” from the Hungarian Count and Countess Károlyi’s estate that we visited this summer is not a bad choice for a light counterpoint to some delightfully creepy movies, or if I want something to warm my chilled heart better, I can opt for a short medicinal snifter of Bushmills 1608 or the Macallan 12 year old single malt.
Naturally, there are times and places and people not requiring the nerve tonic of alcohol. In that case, there’s nothing more quenching and comforting than the old standby of spiced cider. Nothing warms the cockles of the heart better while simultaneously moistening the dry and gibbering lips of a scaredy cat like me than a nice steaming mug of that stuff. I like mine very well when I get some beautifully unfiltered apple cider (happily, I’ve some on hand right now) and mull it well with stick cinnamon, whole cloves, and pieces of ginger root, but this too can be made more festive if one wants to get a little more playful with it or, when necessary, make it a more potent potion for warding off baleful beasts and cryptozoological creeps. One could, for example, add some black peppercorns to the spice blend for a little more bite. (Take that, ye murky monsters!)
Still, there are so many delicious directions to go with a mulled cider it can be hard to choose: add sliced whole [seedless] oranges, especially of course beautiful blood oranges if you can get them in late October; melt in a dollop of dark molasses before adding the spices to create a little liquid gingerbread effect; serve simple hot cider with hard caramel lollipops as stirrers, if you’d like to drink a caramel apple; and of course, you could go for all-out reassurance and flavor the apple brew, instead of with spicy flavors, with dashes of rose-water and almond essence and a steeping quantity of green tea leaves for something much gentler to soothe your quaking spirits. For spirits will, one way or another, abound on this night.
The doorway was a toothy maw, the casement was an eye,
and all the children crept in awe each time they must pass by,
regardless what they heard or saw; they knew that they would die
if anything at all should draw them in, no matter why,
For bogeys, fiends and ghastly ghouls inhabited the place,
entrapping and devouring fools, and set on them apace;
those children who had left their schools and homes without a trace
now lay decaying in deep pools as dark as outer space,
Dug in the basement deep below, a catacomb of holes
filled up with youth who’d tried to go into this cage of souls
and found, not fun adventures, no, but rather, evil moles
of spirit-kind hid here–and so, for them the town bell tolls;
Lost children wail twixt yonder walls at night while moonlight creeps,
and roam like mists down endless halls while all around them sleeps;
no knowing parent ever calls again; the mansion keeps
its secrets tight, and silence falls, far as the deepest deeps;
At least, the children’s fears said so; the legend kept in thrall
the children thereabouts, who’d go timidly past it all
at anxious speed along the row, lest they lose their recall
to safety. As grownups all know: life’s scary when you’re small!
Barbara is standing by to cut my scruffy hair:
but, say–doesn’t that look a bit like an electric chair?
Look at that pair of scissors–oh, boy howdy, are they sharp!
Will my coiffure just leave me playing sad songs on the harp?
I’d say it’s mighty hot in here–a preview glimpse of Hell,
Or maybe just a purgatory-hint, that hairspray smell–
I’m not so absolutely sure that something here is wrong;
and yet, what’s so darned horrible in leaving hair this long?
Is it sheer paranoia and delusion of myself–
Hey! What’s that creepy science stuff in tubes up on the shelf?
I’m getting awfully shaggy, yes, it’s true–but not a Nut!
(I merely hope it’s nothing but my hair that will get cut!)
Oh, Barbara, I am nervous, so please, kindly, Dear, refrain
from trimming quite so near my throbbing jugular, poor vein.
And if you have to croak me (does this happen very often?),
at least make sure I’m wearing stylish hair there in my coffin.
Remember the years when we were young
And captive among our babysitters?
Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,
The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.
Under the bed or under the house,
A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam
Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;
O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!
Anything dark and anywhere doored
Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;
They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:
The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.
Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?
Or was it the howl of the restless dead?
The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?
All around are the sounds of the things we dread.
That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,
And both of them proving that something is near:
We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions
And all the perceptions of what we fear.
This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,
And all of the fun known as children was moot
Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;
Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.
Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,
We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,
Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,
A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck
Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear
And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole
Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight
Even though Halloween itself has never been a huge event in my life, you may, just possibly, have noticed a rather dark tinge to my humor (if such a thing exists) that pervades the year regardless of its official celebrations. So I’m hardly above taking advantage of the approach of a publicly sanctioned excuse for some of my own cheap brand of funereal jocularity. I plan to shower you with gloomy silliness as the holiday nears, so if you’ve any fearful tendencies, pull up the covers and plug your ears.
Creeping down into October and its necromantic nights,
thrilling, chilling masqueraders revel in the season’s frights,
both imagined and uncanny, sweets in surfeit, pranks and scares,
work to raise each other’s hackles, catch out courage unawares–
And the bat and spider, ghostly visitors and ravens reign;
even crows can briefly boast the power to enchant the brain
with a Halloweenish horror, freeze the unsuspecting nape
the suggestible door-knocker turns to sky while dressed in crape–
All a-cower, cowards wander in the dim light of the moon,
hold hilarious their hauntings lest they all prove true too soon,
everyone immersed in darkness, celebrating cyclic fear
as the month and season trickle, bloodied, off to end the year–
All this rampant spookiness, however, leaves the Grackle cold:
black and iridescent bird, she perches, watches, and of old,
knows the crows‘ and ravens’ moment passes, quick as life, is gone,
and her rule o’er earthly foment, like her tail, goes on and on . . .
Night Terrors and Morning Madness
How odd, arising in the morning, to look in the mirror’s glass,
To see someone so unfamiliar, so unkind, uncouth and crass,
So ill-mannered and repellant, full of grossness, grease and grunge,
And to wonder how on earth I can begin to clean, expunge,
Remove, ameliorate; to salvage any goodness I could hope
To find in such an unfit carcass; rescue with what bar of soap,
What fell razor or belt sander, what hair shirt, what whips and chains
Aimed at purifying putrid monster madness, would what else remains
E’en resemble who I used to think I was, have any grace?
What relief, when after coffee, I come back and see my face!
Under all of it, thank heavens, lies the self I onetime knew,
With its kindly dragon scales and bony crest familiar: Whew!