Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
I find that, in those long hours where people tend to lazily comb the internet, people will let slip their true tastes. When people are purposeful, specific, they will seek out scientific articles and philosophical treatises in order to impress onto some audience their high pallete. I know, for I am perhaps the most guilty of this behavior. However, when time eeks out like molasses and I have nothing to do but waste it, well, I feel like a more honest (if not totally true) interest will rear its head.
In no time I wander onto websites and wikis that archive the weird and macabre. I often conjure up an excuse, that these excursions are for inspiration, and every once in awhile it will shake out this way. I believe, ultimately, that I seek out the disturbing to protect myself from the vacuous silence of my mind. When I am left undisturbed, without thought or pontification, I quickly know a mellon-baller to hollow out my torso. In other words, my spelunking for the dark and unreal prevents me from falling into something grey and immediate.
Anyhow, the point of this story is not to wallow in my own morbid routines. No, the point of this story is to feed you, my dear reader, with a gift to unquiet your mind. One good turn, as the saying goes, begets another. Here I choose to recount an event that occurred not but two years back from where I write today. It was October, a time of harvest for my mind, and the events culminated on my favorite holiday (you guessed it) Halloween.
Those days I was diving head first into a subject that I have been chronically enamored with: Halloween costumes. Speaking specifically, Halloween costumes from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. From the most decadent to the most shabby, I found the custom-made attire endlessly appealing. I’m sure you’ve heard before the speal against modern costumes, in all their store-bought glory, so I will spare you that here. Still, the aesthetic of homemade costumes, made mostly with common rubbish, overtook my imagination. A few of my favorites were a lovingly crafted Donald Duck with anatomically correct skull, a pair of gnarled and decrepit dwarves whose hats made up half their body weight, and a stout man with a mailbox for a head, adorned with surprisingly realistic teeth.
That October I decided that I would pester my friends until they either ceased to be my friends, or agreed to participate in an old fashion Halloween party. My then boyfriend Garrett gifted me a number of invitations he himself crafted for my party. Garrett was a young Mozart with photography and design, and such artistry was not overlooked in my evaluation of the birthday present. I could tell that the cards were printed from a laser printer, as the stack was still warm. A gaunt model towered on the cover, dressed like a scarecrow with shiny grease-stained overalls rendered in sepia tone. On the inside was a collection of children clutching pillowcases, each masked by paper plates painted up as witches and other gremlins. I still can’t tell if these were his typical models, as with the scarecrow’s wide hat all of their faces had been hidden.
On the inside, Garrett had typed out the invitation using a font modeled after his own loopy and slanting cursive. It read: “You are hereby invited to [my name]’s Halloween party, a spooky, old-fashion bash for all those ghouls and goblins hidden behind your skin. An event conceived by the master of horror himself, with planning assisted by his magnificent better-half Garrett. A costume is required and must not be bought, nor look much younger than your great grandmother. If you fail to comply with these rules, such that we discover a loose tag on your pumpkin head, then do not be surprised to find your skull bobbing with the apples.”
I had chuckled at his absurd and grandiose invitation, and at the same time felt a genuine warmth for the fellow being so appreciative of me to create this. I do not have the pride to deny it, for I then cried. Through my tears and weak smile I asked him, “and have you a costume Mr. better-half?” His lips curled into a wicked grin and pronounced that he very much did have one, but it was to be kept a surprise until the fateful night. I playfully prodded him for some hint, else he knew that my imagination would run wild. “Fine,” Garrett said, “then know that while I am the man of your dreams, I am also the slimy, nonsensical horror of your nightmares.”
The next two weeks, while mulling over the myriad of possible forms my boyfriend might take, I worked with the ancient arts and crafts to synthesize my own design. I began with only a slight inclination to my disguises silhouette, an uncanny figure with a bulbous head. I wrapped soggy layers of newspaper around an over bloated party balloon before carving a hole at the base like a newsprint jack-’o-lantern. My hands are that of a writer, stained with graphite and ink, and suited more to a quick, utilitarian scrawl than the precision of sewing and papiermache. Still, my clumsy skill only strengthened the appeal of the project. I have long believed that creativity thrives within limits, and that everything truly original can only arise from mistakes. Such was the rationale behind my love for those ramshackle garments in the first place.
Examining it, I could see that the hollow ovoid would collapse if the slightest force was applied, thus I added a few more layers of paper and a rigging of Popsicle sticks near the top. The resulting head was much too lumpy and ungainly, even for my tastes, so I wrapped strips of old flannel cloth around the papiermache. The problem arose of seeing and breathing, so hastily I punched two holes in relatively random areas. Putting on the mask, I could not see, so I made more accurate holes coupled with a large quantity of holes on the head to look less out of place. The final resemblance seemed that of a strawberry, and as such the conceit of my costume was solved.
I painted the cloth strips in a deep and vivid red and resigned myself to further work. I awkwardly sewed three table decorations vaguely suggesting leaves, meant for placing silverware, onto the top of the head. My leaves somewhat sagged and shook when I moved, but this only added to the charm. To match the leaves, I cut up little green bits of construction paper and stuck them onto the hems and sleeves on my grandfather’s old, fuzzy, moth-bitten footie pajamas. I amended two dirty rubber gloves and, for the piece de resistance, had my mother sew a little strawberry badge to the left breast. I was perfectly elated with my lovely strawberry.
This whole process took place up to an hour before the party itself began, for, as with everything, I had to add on ever growing final touches. I kept on appending extra tidbits of construction paper while I texted Garrett about the party. We had decided that my basement would be the best (and cheapest) venue for such an occasion. Together we had filled the basement with smiling skulls and grimacing jack-’o-lanterns. Garrett had made sure that no corner was left untouched, that the television was covered with cobwebs and the couch with spiders, that a shabby witch’s cloak was hung on the coat rack, even an old tub of apples lazing in the water, which we had to haul down the staircase. Considering all this work, I had expected him to be there, but I sympathized with him when he told me that he himself was taking the utmost care to finish his masterpiece of a costume.
The next hour and a half crept by as parties are wont to do, especially for a host as unbefitting as I. Despite my ambitions, it was really Garrett’s party, most everyone at the party was one of his friends and had come expecting my more outgoing half. Awkward greetings and stretched smiles abound as we all waited for the man of the hour in the orange glow of lamplight. As time spinned on, I fed my anxiety by critiquing the costumes of guests to pinpoint exactly why they were inferior to mine. The rat by the punch bowl was little more than a gray morph suit with a conical party hat as a muzzle. The scarecrow talking to the rat had a pristine jacket and straw hat, only indicating her facade with rudimentary face paint. The fly in the corner had duct-taped tennis rackets for wings that they didn’t even bother to paint over the logo.
I went on ridiculing each and every person I was lucky to even have show up, until I came to another costume, crouching in the shadows by the banister. The outfit was hulking, probably seven feet at full extension, something I would’ve noticed if I had welcomed it. Not only this, but even in the fading, artificial light I could tell that this costume put mine to shame in every respect. The figure’s stance was that of a frog preparing to leap, and so it was. This frog, however, was a decayed thing, done up in filthy gauze to emulate a mummy, and the impression of emaciated flesh came through the bandages. While crouched, its gaping, wooden head was eye level, and I could tell even in shadow the individual teeth masterfully crafted to make up the lower jaw, complimented further by two cartoon-esque, but pitch black, eyes sprouting from the half ellipsis of the skull. To top everything off, it held an adorable wicker basket painted up like a jack-’o-lantern in its brown, webbed and grisly paws.
“Well hello gruesome,” I said as I approached its dry carapace.
It seemed that the other partygoers had also taken notice of the thing’s sudden appearance, as many huddled together and witnessed my approach. It lifted its magnanimous head, bigger than even my own bulbous invention, and acknowledged my presence. “Are you here for the party” I said, “or just dropping by?”
The thing had to rev up its response, and the sound of cicadas began to reverberate from inside its maw. “Hello,” a chattering voice arose, with a pitch and cadence moderately high and steeped in arrogance, “we are here for the party, yes, but we have yet to sense one in this pitiful hovel.”
Closer now, I could see that the outfit was even more elaborate that I could have imagined. In the pit of its mouth were dozens of barely visible, rubbery eyes. Obviously, a person’s head would have to be in the chest with accordance to the height, but some black mass, slightly undulating with the eyes, had to be hiding something. I could now see that there were many membranous black fibers overhanging its spruce teeth, and as they vibrated with each syllable I supposed that some sort of speaker system was hidden in the head.
“Well of course it isn’t a party without you,” I said, “What did you expect leaving me here to do it all?”
“No,” the fibers began to vibrate, “we suppose very little may be expected from the strawberry.”
What the hell Garrett? I thought, how could you say that to me? “Well Garrett,” I said, trying to express my hurt as well as I could through the mask, “it’s not much of a party either if you’re going to treat me like that.”
The cicadas’ chatter boomed in a few sequential bursts, something that I assumed was laughter. “Not one of us is your lover,” it said, “we simply received invitation within our domain. We are not inclined to deny such festivities, you know.”
This thing, so strange and professional in design, had as well its own little act, a joke that I was forced to be a part of. “Fine,” I said, “then what should I call your majesty?”
“Please,” it spoke, “we are no such thing as royalty. If it then pleases you, you might call us an old-fashioned ‘trick or treater.’”
“Ah!” it exclaimed with a sudden excitement, “speaking of such, we were all wondering what sort of treats we might expect of our dear host.”
Of everything up to this point, this sudden exuberance sent a greater chill down my spine. For a few seconds I really wondered what this thing might truly be. “Well,” I said, “we have some refreshments over by the television.” I indicated the table adorned with punch, caramel apples, and many wrapped confections.
“Perhaps later,” it chortled, “our current appetite is not one for sweets, no, it is for something much more savory.” It had no lips to lick, but the fibers vibrated more vigorously, even after it finished its comment.
Before I could ask what sort of treat the ‘trick or treater’ was referring to, my friend Jennifer crept up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. I swiveled the strawberry around to look at here, and she whispered through the layers that the frog suit was making her uncomfortable and that she would like to leave.
“Leaving so soon, fellow guest?” it boomed, tilting its head in front of the banister, “we would hate to see you go without a treat!”
Jennifer was paralyzed at the sound of its voice, her mouth agape, and even through the skin of my suit the panic was infectious. She could not move anything but her now bulging eyes, focused on the webbed claws reaching into its childish basket. Delicately it presented a moth, similarly paralyzed to Jennifer, crafted so that its wings and exoskeleton were that of an uncannily luminescent ivory. With its other paw it covered the moth before crushing it, ‘causing a viscous black sludge to splash onto the carpet and drip from its webbing. Opening its hands once more, it produced a pristine black rose that contrasted with the soiled brown rags of its costume. The ichor was gone, recalled almost as quickly as it had appeared.
“Here you are madam,” it said with a magician’s bravado, gently placing the rose in Jennifer’s spiderweb-patterned dress while the short bursts of chattering reappeared. “A minor trick, yes, but still one of our favorites.”
Jennifer slowly backed into the corner where she had come from, sneaking out later without ceremony. In about a week’s time she was willing to discuss what had happened immediately after her acquisition of the rose. She did not throw it away, she feared the consequences that might result from such action, so instead she placed it in a vase of water on her writing desk. The next day the flower had wilted and turned to a sour, pale grey. And the day after, she found a charcoal black moth fluttering in her closet, which she caught and let out the back door.
“Know that we never mean to be a nuisance,” it addressed me again, “but you must understand what sustenance we require.”
“What?!?” I exclaimed.
“Are you thick man?!” it shouted back at me, approximating my tone as much as a voice engulfed in cicadas can, “we have been vulgarly obvious with you. We seek a tonic of the psyche, a frothy beverage that supercharges the mind and sends crystalline adrenaline throughout the imagination. We eternally seek a grotesque beauty, a fractured and exaggerated facsimile of what we all once were.”
“Must we spell it out for you?” It shook its head now, softly and without effort, “you of all entities should know, strawberry, that simply telling will putrefy it. We have appeared in a form fitting your requirements, and all good hosts must provide for their guests, yes?”
Behind my mask my mouth was ajar, I did not know how to respond to the thing…
“No,” it said mournfully, “no of course you wouldn’t. We apologize. It is in your best interest, though, to discover our treats. You should not be too hasty in joining our ranks.”
I felt the heat of a swamp rise within the chamber of my artificial head, hot and itchy as if accompanied by bog mosquitoes. I felt my strawberry encasing and almost began ripping it apart; however, I had enough presence of mind to simply remove the mask. As soon as my head was free the heat and itch had disappeared, and along with it the ‘trick or treater.’ The least I could glimpse at the top of the stairs was a bright white beetle that scurried quickly over the door frame. For the remaining half-hour of what was left of the party, I asked around to know if anyone had seen it leave. The truth of the matter was that to everyone, except me and Jennifer, the thing had been a stationary and silent decoration, albeit an unsettling one.
I spoke to Garrett the next day, and it turned out that, soon after finishing his costume, his sister had been bitten by a spider. She was taken to the emergency room, as no one knew what sort of spider it was, just that it had a shiny pearl carapace and looked big enough to be deadly. In the end, Garrett’s sister was fine, but by the time he had gotten back it was two in the morning and his costume had disappeared. During the whole ordeal, as well, his cell phone was nowhere to be found, only discovering it under his pillow once he returned home. I forgave him. We stayed together for the rest of the school year, but it seemed whatever affinity we once had for each other had evaporated that Halloween night. We went our separate ways as we both went off to college.
Now, this would’ve been the end of this strange story had I not kept my costume. Even with everything I had seen through those pinhole eyes, I still couldn’t bring myself to discard the thing I had spent so much work and creativity on. It came with me to college, and I found that, as soon as the semester had started, anomalous things began to occur with it. A week in I found the thing propped up against the toilet of my apartment, filled almost to burst with multi-colored tissue paper. I imagined it must’ve been a simple prank, but began to doubt this as it continued to pop out from the closet in different positions, filled with coffee filters, tea bags, and dead flowers.
These happenings only increased in frequency as October 31st drew nearer. That Halloween I attended another party, one that was all-in-all underwhelming. I only slightly entertained the idea of wearing the lovely strawberry again, for I must admit that I was spooked with everything that had happened. Instead, I went as special agent Dale Cooper and critiqued the state of the host’s coffee. When I got back to my apartment I could smell the rotting scent of something sweet coming from the bathroom. The strawberry was lying in one end of the bathtub, legs hanging over the side. Fat, black flies flew over it and the bath, swarming but never touching down on what was inside.
“How do I taste?” was written in the same black substance I had seen when the ‘trick or treater’ had performed its trick. I don’t know what came over me, but I bended over and scooped some of the substance with my index finger. It had the consistency of molasses, and it tasted just like strawberry jam.
Rising from my trance, I decided I did not want to know what was stuffed in the costume this time, so I hefted it out into the dumpster behind my building. By the time I got back in, the flies were nowhere to be seen, and neither was the inky syrup. I stopped taking baths for a while, but I would be lying if I said the experience had turned me off of horror or Halloween at all. If anything, I found that the following years were more tirelessly mundane because of it. Before garbage day, I recovered the costume completely empty, and found that it never mysteriously moved of inflated afterwards. I kept on searching for the macabre online, still looking up those costumes of decades past. Despite his ominous appearance, I suspect a certain affinity for that odd ‘trick or treater,’ whomever or (more likely) whatever it was. Perhaps you too, can sense their passion. Either way, I at the very least found recounting this story a real treat.
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