“Scott writes scary stories.”
I get introduced that way to kids sometimes. And they usually say, “Cool!”
To a grown-up, it usually goes “Scott is a horror writer,” or sometimes, “Scott is a science fiction writer.” Often by someone who has never read my books. And the grown-up who hears this usually gets narrow-eyed and mumbles an uncertain “Really?”
In October, it’s somehow more forgivable to be a writer of scary stories, though of course I do it all year round. Many people only give themselves permission to do the mask thing once a year, and they go to great lengths for their costumes, planning elaborate parties, spending money on decorations, and sacrificing pumpkins to arcane deities.
The Catholic Church’s attempt to co-opt both Halloween and El Dia de los Murtos as religious holidays by mashing them against All Soul’s Day creates a clash of superstitions and customs which sometimes overlap and sometimes leads to uneasy tension. Here in the South, when Halloween falls on Sunday, most “official” events are moved to Saturday. This year, one event has even been moved to Friday because of a college football game.
My daughter finds this abhorrent—she is shocked that the mayor has the authority to “move Halloween.” When you think about it, it’s the only holiday that gets rescheduled solely for moral sensibility, and the public schools have a devil of a time dancing around possible mention of witches, changing activities to “fall festivals” or “harvest celebrations.” The spirits could care less. They move when the veil is thinnest, regardless of human calendars.
Halloween brings out these conflicts precisely because death is so uncomfortable that we want to keep it as far away as possible. A Day of the Dead honoring of ancestors can look an awful lot like cannibalism, eating the skulls of relatives. A little witch going around threatening tricks can come close to a willful intention of evil if you’re of a mind to view it that way.
But you know what? The dead do not care. The dead are not worried about your superstitions, or your candy, or your cool costume, or your permission to get drunk because you haven’t had a society-approved binge since Labor Day. They are going to play when they bloody well like. And what are you going to do to stop it?
Halloween. The night we pretend the line between the living and the dead temporarily meets. When we know in our bones that life and death overlap, all the time, even on Sundays, in every part of us, cutting through every superstition and spiritual belief. You might find it scary, but I find it beautiful, because that means life overlaps with us once we end up on that other side.
Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. Bury me with a Snickers bar, and I may not have to come back for a while.
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