Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
Halloween is my saving grace – the one night a year I can go outside without a mask.
I don’t want it to sound like I spend all year waiting for this day, just wiling away the hours with bated breath and anticipation; I would like to say that I have other interests, that I am able to find myself so engrossed in some human activity that I actually forget about the one day I can truly be myself.
But this would be a lie. It’s an uncommon hour that I go without thinking about the thirty-first of October, that glorious night when I can step out into the cool air and almost – just almost – feel human.
The last Halloween was perhaps my favorite.
My favorite day hasn’t been the same since this area became occupied, since the human beings with their warm skin and their innocent minds began constructing ramshackle dwellings within the imaginary borders of what was once mine.
When I say it wasn’t the same, I’m speaking quite literally: my favorite day was a different day before the humans came.
Back then, what I referred to as simply My Day took place once every year, on what the humans know as October twenty-third. A day of great power, when the walls between the physical and the supernatural grow thin and malleable. Evil was released into the world on the twenty-third of October, although such designations as months were many centuries from their creation. An insane, power-hungry beast managed to doom her entire species on that day: an October twenty-third many hundreds of years ago. I often wonder what the world might have been like if she hadn’t committed the ultimate mistake. It’s irrelevant, I always end up telling myself. Because I wouldn’t exist.
Unlike the naïve human beings who roam the streets in their speeding cars and make screaming love to one another in their shoddy homes, I have been blessed with a natural intuition allowing me to always understand how far in time we’ve drifted since our last cycle began; it is this sense that allows me to know the current year as Six Thousand and Twenty. In human years, I believe, that would be Two Thousand and Sixteen. Anno Domini, are the words they use. Words from an ancient language. Ancient by their standards.
But I digress. It was the Halloween of Six Thousand and Nineteen – or Two Thousand and Fifteen – that was my favorite.
My Day had always been the twenty-third of October. When I was alone here, I would slip out to the surface and enjoy the rush of power as I was joined by my fellow creatures of the night. I would walk, aimlessly and without direction, as the others whipped around me. Some were burdened with deformed, hellish shapes, cursed to roam in the shadows of the earth, safe from humanity’s leering eyes. Others were no more physical than the wind itself, and only visible to my eyes because of the power that courses through every living creature on the night of the twenty-third. Still others were beyond form, beyond comprehension – no more than forgotten memories, drifting from mind to soul, despairing in their acceptance of eternal suffering.
Some have believed that I may end up like them. I have no intention of proving them right.
When the humans came and settled down, they scared away my friends. Any human child would find the notion ridiculous: an army of the supernatural, the nightmare of the most disturbed, frightened away by innocent human beings. But it happened this way. The humans didn’t come alone – they brought their single most disturbing, most wicked power of all: the power of denial.
Human children spend their time wondering what it would be like to share the powers of their fellow creatures – wings like a bird, perhaps, or the sharp teeth of a dog. They don’t understand that they already possess the most powerful gift of all. Through their human denial, they are able to stare us directly in the eyes and inform us that we don’t exist.
My friends were terrified of the humans’ gift. They believed that we, as agents of the supernatural, would not be allowed to exist on this mortal plane without the consent of the human beings. Without their belief, we would vanish, become nothing.
So they fled. They left my home and went to find a new world, one where humans were scarce or nonexistent, where they could expose themselves once a year on October twenty-third, reveling in their annual powers without interference from those who may destroy them.
They thought I was a fool for staying, for claiming this land as my own. I’m not a fool – I know that the humans rule my world now. I know that I’ve been reduced to a shadow, no, to less than a shadow – but I did not abandon my home. For that I will not apologize.
It was many years ago that the first humans came to settle in my home. They built their home uncomfortably close to mine; I watched them as they worked, staying hidden beneath the ground, marveling at how their species had progressed since the last time I saw them.
My Day came a month after the first humans were settled in. I had spent some time worrying over what might happen; I was not paranoid enough to abandon my home, but I wasn’t immune to my friends’ terror of humanity.
When the time came, I waited. I watched the human dwelling until all the windows were dark, and when they were I waited longer still. Finally I left my home and began walking, my destination unknown but far away from the house. I was meant to feel exhilaration, the sheer ecstasy of being closer than ever to the joining of two worlds…but what I felt was nothing.
There was nothing in the air, nothing moving just beyond the spectrum of the physical world. I felt the cold night prickle against my skin, and the corpse’s hand of darkness caress the back of my neck. There was no one riding through the air to greet me, no one crawling up from beneath the ground to wish me a happy My Day.
I returned to my home that night, disheartened and full of regret. My Day was over, and I had failed to squeeze any semblance of pleasure from its dark hours. I felt as though I had failed, as if something I had done prevented me from enjoying this once-glorious day.
And perhaps I had made a mistake. Perhaps I should have followed my friends, away from this now-tainted land, to an untouched world where humans were nothing but a harmless legend.
With nothing but regret and disappointment inside me, I slept.
I was awoken by a sound I knew, but was not used to hearing: children’s laughter.
Eight days had come and gone as I slept. I had vaguely wondered on the possibility of sleeping through the entire year, giving myself a chance of reliving My Day as quickly as possible; but this idea was thwarted by the children who played above my home.
I watched them, careful to remain invisible to their innocent eyes. What I saw confused me.
There were two children, one male and one female. I had seen them before, of course: they lived in the human house, with the two adults I presumed to be their parents. The girl and the boy had played outside before, often very close to my home – but never had I seen them dressed in such an eccentric way.
The little girl wore a dress of all black, with sleeves that hung down past her small hands. A black hat rested on her head, its brim round and its top pointed like the beak of a crane. For the boy, it was a fancy suit of shiny black material, complete with a red waistcoat and a flowing cape. I recognized his attire as similar to that of humans I had known many centuries earlier, but why he would be reliving the wardrobe of his dead ancestors was beyond my grasp.
Their clothes were unusual, yes – but it was their faces that confused me the most. The girl’s face had been painted a bright green color, closer to an emerald than to grass. Dark lines had been added, making her smooth face appear wrinkled and far older than it was. The boy’s face had been painted white, with two lines of red running down his chin. When he opened his mouth to laugh, I saw that two of his teeth seemed to have grown larger and more pointed.
I watched them for many minutes as they played in my grass. Their behavior was odd, unlike that of any humans I had known before. Unlike themselves, in fact. At one moment, the boy appeared to bite into the girl’s neck; rather than scream, she let out a giggle and ran away.
When the shadows grew long, the children were called inside. Still confused, I tried to watch through their lit-up windows, hoping for some semblance of an explanation. But it wasn’t to come, and when the sun rose the next day, the children had returned to normal.
I continued to watch the human family over the next year, and was alarmed when I saw more houses being constructed. For quite some time I considered abandoning my home, as all my friends had done; but I knew that wasn’t the way. Instead I watched the houses grow like weeds, watched as my grass was paved over and horseless carriages replaced feet as the primary mode of transportation.
The construction of the neighborhood went on for several years and I watched the humans, intrigued, ignoring any threats to my own way of life. Every October twenty-third, I would leave my home after nightfall and wander around what remained of my grassy field. No one returned to me, none of my friends came back to admit their mistake. I never again felt the same electric rush that had once defined My Day.
I was understandably devastated as I came to accept that this thrill, this all-encompassing euphoria, was now beyond my reach. And yet, as the years passed, I found myself with new interests: watching the humans, overhearing their conversations, following their advancement as my once-grassy home became a neighborhood.
I found great pleasure in watching the humans; but there was another interest of mine, another ongoing question that kept me enraptured for nearly all my waking moments. This was the mystery of October thirty-first.
Somewhere in my life before this home, I learned that humans celebrated the twenty-third of October just as we did. They held gatherings, celebrating the paranormal forces they didn’t know existed. Sometimes, I had heard, they would even dress up, disguise themselves in costumes meant to terrify their friends. It seemed to me that the human celebrations of My Day had somehow been shifted, so they no longer took place on the powerful day itself, but eight days later. This was good, I believed: for the naïve humans to be mocking the supernatural on such an important day was not prudent.
My Day came and gone many times over, until one year I didn’t leave my home. I was so intent on watching the humans from within my home that I actually failed to remember the significance of that day. When I finally realized my mistake, I was shocked to discover that I didn’t care. Watching the humans was my priority now.
It was on that day – October of the year Six Thousand and Seven, I believe – that I first began to wonder if there wasn’t a way to resurrect the glory of My Day. I had learned over many decades that October twenty-third had been forgotten in this part of the world, that its power wasn’t enough to get me high; but perhaps, I thought, perhaps October thirty-first would function just as well.
I eventually came to know this day as Halloween. The humans believed it was an ancient holiday connected to their religions; they didn’t seem to even remember that the twenty-third was the real day of power. But this was fine.
Every year on the thirtieth, I would try to convince myself that this was my moment: that I would sneak out from beneath my home and enjoy the utter bliss of My Day for the first time in decades.
I was never convinced by my own thoughts, and was always left alone in my underground lair.
But finally, just three short years ago, I did it.
It was the night of the thirty-first. I knew that less than an hour would pass before the day would end and November would begin; it would be another year of disappointment, another oath to myself that I would never let it happen again.
I was not thinking when I crawled from my lair; nothing was in my consciousness but the instinct, the all-powerful impulse, that commanded my thoughts and forced me to finally act.
Before I understood what I had done, I stood on the grass above my home, the lights from the neighborhood illuminating all the human homes.
I was shocked. Since the first human settlement was built in my field, I hadn’t once been out in the open air except on the twenty-third. Yet here I was, standing in the darkness, my feet wet in the grass, almost as if I were a human being myself.
I cannot say what possessed me to move further; every instinct in my body told me to flee, to run and hide in some distant place with no humans to deny my existence. But I kept moving, somehow, my feet propelling me across the ground until the wet grass became pavement.
The neighborhood was devoid of humans. Lights were on in many of the homes, but if anyone saw me walking slowly down the street, they did not seem to care.
As I moved, I wondered when I would begin to feel that old rush, that old thrill – or if I ever would. I knew that leaving my home was a mistake, but if Halloween proved to be no more powerful than any other day, I would be at a loss.
When I was nearly halfway down the main road, I noticed something creeping along one of the houses: a movement, though without solid form. I wondered for a single delirious moment if perhaps one of my friends had returned to discover the hidden powers of the thirty-first with me.
But no, alas, I soon realized that the movement was nothing but a shadow. In my disappointment, I failed to recognize what this apparition signaled.
When the little boy came around the corner, I froze in terror. I was standing in the middle of the street, the gaudy electric lights blaring down onto my skin; there was no conceivable way the tiny human wouldn’t see me.
It wasn’t the same boy I had seen dressed as a vampire all those years ago. This one had darker skin, and wore a costume similar to my own clothing.
When he saw me, his face drew together in a squint. He didn’t seem afraid; in fact, he seemed to be pondering me as a whole, as if wondering whether or not his concept of the world would allow me to exist.
I remained in the middle of the street, unmoving, as the boy stepped closer. He glanced both ways before stepping off the sidewalk, finally coming to a stop directly in front of me. In his hand was a plastic imitation of a pumpkin.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” I replied.
“What are you supposed to be?” he asked, craning his neck uncomfortably far just to take in my countenance. How was he not afraid, I wondered. How could he, an innocent human and a child no less, stare at me, a creature from beyond his insignificant idea of creation, and not feel the slightest tremble of worry?
“Well I’m your neighbor,” I heard myself saying.
“I mean who’s your costume,” the boy corrected, frowning up at me.
“My costume?” I repeated. I was at a total loss as to what the boy may be talking about.
“Yeah,” he said. “Who’re you supposed to be for Halloween?”
Yes, I thought, finally coming to understand: I was facing the human’s power of denial firsthand.
Then terror struck. What if I was going to die? After all these many centuries, what if I was going to disappear from existence just because one little boy could not understand me? Was there some way to prevent against being thought out of creation? Was I to encourage him, to make him think I was some sort of pathetic human, seeking candy instead of an ethereal high so powerful it could bring the dead back to life?
“Here,” the boy said, reaching into his pumpkin. “Looks like you didn’t get much candy.”
I took the morsel in my hand, staring down at the plastic label. Snickers, it said. I didn’t know what Snickers was.
“Do you want it?” the boy asked. “Cause if you don’t, I’ll take it back.”
“I do want it,” I insisted, hastily slipping the candy between my lips. My teeth made short work of the sugary food.
“You’re not supposed to eat the wrapper!” the boy cried, as if I had done something unspeakable. He was so pathetic, I thought. His view of creation was reduced to this one neighborhood and what he wasn’t allowed to eat.
“Don’t tell me what I’m not supposed to do,” I hissed. The boy took a step back, and for the first time I registered fear in his expression. “You never told me what you were supposed to be,” I growled.
“Oh,” the boy murmured, still craning his neck. “I’m…I’m a zombie.”
“A zombie,” I repeated, feeling the word around on my tongue. The candy had stuck to my teeth and continued to fill my mouth with its sweet taste. I didn’t like the way it refused to leave. “What is a…zombie?” I purred.
The boy took another step back, his expression growing another degree of fear. Some part of him, I sensed, some tiny iota of his being, understood that I wasn’t his kind.
“It’s like a dead person who comes back to life,” the boy explained, his voice wavering very slightly.
“I must admit I am not familiar with any such creature,” I mused. My tongue continued to dig at the solidified candy that dulled the needle-sharp point of my tooth.
“They’re not real,” the boy said. Covering his fear with exasperation, I noted. That was so human of him. “They’re just made-up for comic books and movies.”
“Not real, you say?” I stared down at him, arms at my sides. The claws on my left hand drummed absently across my leg. “And what is real?” I asked. “What sort of monsters do you believe in.”
“I don’t believe in monsters,” the boy said. “I’m not a little kid anymore.” He took another step back. The fake pumpkin slapped against his knee.
“Of course you’re not,” I replied, beginning to lean forward. My legs remained stationary as I bent at the waist. “But are you sure there are no monsters?” I asked.
“Y – yeah,” the boy stammered. This time, he didn’t move: he watched as I leaned forward, my upper half bridging the space between us. If he thought, in some absent recess of his mind, that I seemed to be growing bigger, then he was absolutely right.
“But there are always monsters,” I continued. “You may think there are none. You may shut off your bedroom light and tell yourself there’s nothing hiding in your closet. But my child – you are wrong.”
The boy said nothing. He stared at me, fear and defiance on his young face. He stood his ground as my black eyes stared into him, past his flesh and bones, to where his innocent soul lay trapped in a mortal body, begging to be let out and to join me in my eternal feasting.
I knew that “Yeah” would make for a poor final speech, so I allowed the boy space to make a few remarks before I tore his head from his shoulders.
They will not forget me, I thought as I carried the boy down into my home. They will not forget me – not now, not ever.
And they wouldn’t. I finally understood. My friends had been wrong after all: human denial wasn’t to be feared, but to be combatted. It was my job, and the job of all others like me, to push the bounds of the human mind, forcing them to think up new and more ridiculous explanations until there was nothing left but to admit the truth: monsters exist.
The human mind is a twisted, disturbing place. I realized this as I crouched in the darkness of my home, tearing the little boy’s flesh apart with my bare teeth. The humans would lie to themselves, all to pretend we don’t exist; yet at the same time, they would dedicate an entire holiday to acting out their pathetic depictions of us, pretending to be us for nothing more than cheap amusement. Deep down, they believed. Every last one of them believed.
And on that Halloween night, I felt the first whispers of the old ecstasy that had once defined My Day. It was then, as I sucked the marrow from the little boy’s bones, that I knew Halloween and My Day had become one.
The next year, I was prepared.
After the little boy’s disappearance, several families left town; they were replaced by others of their kind, who in turn brought more, and eventually my impulsive killing had the effect of bringing more houses to my once-grassy field. To my great annoyance, one of these houses was built directly on top of mine.
I had the forethought to evacuate myself and whatever remained of the little boy before construction began. I hid out far away, careful not to be seen by human eyes. This was another of their many hypocritical stances: a scary mask was to be praised on Halloween, but demonized every other day of the year.
When the house was finished, I returned to my lair. The human bastards had replaced my walls, my floor, my ceiling with hard, cold substances that I knew I would never find appealing. My home had been ruined, and I briefly considered building myself a new one, in the earth farther away from town; but my friends had been unable to drag me from my home all those years ago, and if they could not convince me to leave then no human could either.
I have stayed in the basement ever since. The humans who live in my house never come down the shoddy wooden stairs, except occasionally to check the furnace; on the rare day that one of them makes an appearance, I keep myself well-hidden in the shadows.
It was only on the last Halloween – a year since my impromptu feast – that I was seen by any number of humans. Yes, I had known some in my lives before this home; but ever since coming to my once-grassy field, I had been seen by no human eyes, barring those of the little boy.
When the sun went down on the night of the thirty-first, the children left their homes to wander the streets. Some of them were dressed in the brightly-colored uniforms of popular culture heroes; others had retained the traditions, dressing as monsters of folklore that would bring fear to their impressionable younger siblings.
Before making my move, I spent some time watching the children through my basement window. They all seemed so happy, I thought – so ready to deny the existence of my people, yet so quick to wear our faces.
It was a two-edged sword, I realized only in that moment. Human denial prevents us from being what we once were; yet it is their fascination with the supernatural, their obsession with a world they don’t believe exists, that allows us to remain as we are.
Denial is our enemy; fear is our ally. As long as human beings are afraid of the dark, as long as they create vivid monsters out of terror-soaked imaginations, I will have power.
When I was sure all the children in town were out and about, I slipped silently through the basement window and unfolded myself on the lawn.
As I made my way out into the street, children turned to stare. Some cried out in surprise – some cowered in fear. But every pair of youthful eyes was trained on the tall, thin stranger in their midst.
When I came to the center of the street, my feet planted where their friend had died one year earlier, I raised my arms to the heavens.
“Happy Halloween, everybody!” I cried. My voice echoed through the street.
The children all seemed relieved and they resumed their normal conversations. A pair of Satans rushed by me, clutching their pumpkins. A werewolf scooted to the other side of the street, passing by with both eyes fixed warily on my form.
I wanted it. I wanted Halloween. This, not October twenty-third, was the true day of power: not some foolish anniversary of evil long past, but a holiday based entirely on fear, celebrated all across the globe.
For the first time in many, many years, I felt the thrill building in my soul. I felt that high, that euphoria that had once been accompanied by ghostly figures riding through the night; I stared at the scene before me, all around me, and I knew that Halloween was My Day now.
Slowly, I stepped forward. A crowd of children surrounded me, all babbling and laughing in excitement. I paid no attention to their words. Instead, I spread out my arms, allowing the tips of my fingers to brush against every child I passed.
I could feel them. Beyond a physical touch, I could feel their excitement, their pleasure – but most importantly, buried deep in the parts of their minds that forced maturity to blossom, their fear. They were all afraid, on some level. What else are human beings good for, but to fear and deny that they are afraid?
Perhaps some of the adult residents of my town wondered where the tall man in the hideous mask had come from. Perhaps some of them, in the farthest reaches of their conscious thoughts, wondered if I had anything to do with the child who had gone missing a year before.
I hope they did. I hope they stood at their windows, watching me brush my hands against the children as I towered three times as high as the tallest one, and agonized over the question of whether or not they are becoming paranoid, delusional, perhaps insane with the unanswered questions that had followed the boy to his grave.
And I hope wherever my old friends are, whatever part of the world they have decided is suitably human-free, I hope they are never happy again. I hope they never feel the brilliant fireworks of pleasure we used to share every October twenty-third; I hope they never find out that true immortal bliss is only eight days away.
Above all, I hope the human race continues to grow. I hope they flourish, each one of them enjoying long, terrifying lives. I hope they all have children, and their children have children; I hope they teach every new generation the true meaning of fear.
I am the true meaning of fear.
My friends believed they were incapable of being afraid. But they were afraid of humans, and the power they hold. They were afraid that any flesh-and-blood mortal could simply wish them out of existence. And perhaps they could. But not with me there. Not with me, hiding in the shadows. Not with me lurking behind every corner, waiting until their fear reaches its climax and I strike. Manipulation is my game, and terror is my drug.
I am Halloween.
Credit: Nathaniel J. Nelson