Authors: Nate Gubin
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
HALLOWEEN IS FOR LOVERS
By Nate Gubin
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Nathan M. Gubin
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2011
Nate Gubin Publishing
303 Columbus Ave.
Boston, MA, 02116
Lovers are a conspiracy against the world.
Into the chasm gaping we.
—Bauhaus, "In the Flat Field"
A Humble Confession and an Excuse for What Follows
I didn't write this.
For those of you who know me, here's exactly what you're thinking.
wrote a book? Seriously? No, wait, that guy?
Really? No way. You're joshing me. That guy can write? I didn't even think he could read. He's just a sometimes sober handyman who has somehow leveraged his debonair good looks and self-deprecating modesty into a comfortable life. How on earth could he fill a couple hundred pages with any sort of coherent narrative?
Here's what happened. I was taking one of those late Monday morning hangover naps in the back of a housepainter's van. The drop cloths, if folded properly, make a nice firm sleeping mat not unlike a futon. Here's a little trick: fill a plastic shopping bag full of crumpled-up newspaper, and voilà, an adequate pillow that is easily recyclable. It was the Monday after a Halloween weekend that started on a Thursday night and didn't end until bar time the following Sunday night–Monday morning. I spent the better part of All Hallows’ Eve drinking Jack Lords, aka Hawaii Five-O’s (Hawaiian Punch and vodka), with a guy who was four feet ten and a half inches tall—officially a half inch taller than the legal cutoff for being a little person. I can attest to this because he passed out once on the front lawn of a house we were working on and I used a tape measure to get the official measurement. Quick word of advice: if you're reading this and you're a little person, think twice about dressing like a fire hydrant for Halloween, getting drunk and chasing dogs while screaming obscenities and trying to pee on them. Funny in concept, not so funny when executed.
I was a little too old to be partying like this. Thirty-three and living in a rented room of a half-built house. Walls but no doors or trim ... Truth be told, I was sleeping in a buddy’s unfinished basement on a borrowed mattress held off the damp floor a few inches by oak shipping pallets. I had invented an interior decorating style I coined "bachelor tostada": a scattering of dirty clothes, pizza boxes, flattened Hamm's beer cases, magazines and various other wayward slacker flotsam, built up in layers, topped off with shredded Colby cheese. The bottom mantle would compress over time and I was pretty sure that someday I could drill down and extract that layer and use it as a fuel source.
I wasn't sure what I was doing with my life. I went to college to work in advertising but nobody was chasing me down trying to give me a job. To be honest, I wasn't even sure what the jobs in advertising were. After five years of college, all I really had was a vague dream about what my office might look like. It would have a surfboard in the corner and a guitar hanging on the wall. There would be a black-and-white poster from an avant-garde French film like
taped to the door along with a Post-it note that read "Don't Think!" If anyone can tell me the job title that fits this office description, please get in touch with me.
I also coined a term for my love life. I referred to it as "Happy Hour." As long as the affection was cheap, I got my fill from the appe-teaser menu. And I wasn't picky; if they were out of the wings I'd eat the jalapeño poppers. Throw in a twelve-ounce tap beer and give it all to me for three dollars. Now that's love, but only until 5 p.m. and not on Fridays.
There was a special girl but I messed that up. I'm not going into it here but I messed that up about as bad as someone could mess something up. When failure to commit, but not enough courage to let go, mixes with alcohol and anger, et cetera, et cetera.
We were painting the inside of a luxury condo for a failed theater maven–turned–interior designer who demanded perfection done quickly and as cheaply as possible. As far as I could tell, his only joy in life was critiquing other people’s best efforts in front of wealthy clients with statements like, "Oh my God, did you see the finish on the banquette? It's hideous, the whole thing looks like Vegas in oak. I'm having them redo it ... for free."
We weren't painting that morning, we were hanging suede wallpaper embossed with just a hint of Nordic-style mountain flowers. It was pretty in small doses but on all four walls of the master bedroom it felt like you were inside one of those oversize designer handbags that the girls with the big sunglasses are fond of.
It was the wallpaper that made me nauseous, not the hangover, I swear. Regardless, I retired to the back of the van for a late-morning nap.
Unknown to me, or I was so hungover it didn't matter, a bucket full of rags soaked in lacquer thinner shared my little nap nest. The fumes elevated along with the morning sun and I fell into a deep slumber in the tightly sealed van. Napping like a vodka-soaked baby in a Chinese chemical factory, I dreamt the most spectacular dream.
So I confess, I didn't write this. It was a dream. I just wrote it down as best as I could remember.
The EMTs that picked me up that day used a bunch of fancy doctor words. One kept saying methyl ethyl ketones and swelling of the encephalon and permanent drain bamage.
I'm not sure if I'm remembering that last part right. I was going in and out of a silky haze, legs and arms feeling heavy, sharp taste of metal in my mouth, sweaty skin sticking to a vinyl gurney.
Just a white softness, a euphoric limp floating from one fume-filled fever dream to the next. A sweeping waltz into the fog and through the gates and into the Kingdom, where this tale played out before my very eyes.
Professor Tweed was proud of his Scottish heritage. No matter the season, he was dressed neatly in wool trousers and a requisite walking jacket made of a woolen cloth flecked with colors. During the autumn months he supplemented his teacher's salary by leading evening walking tours of local cemeteries and lecturing on the origins of Halloween. He made a good salary at the college, but he was saving up for a new riding mower and the tours paid cash.
On weekend nights, his tours were typically attended by rowdy youngsters chugging caffeine-infused alcohol out of king-size cans. They mistakenly expected something a little more spectacular than an old guy meandering through a graveyard, talking. A guy with an axe stuck in his head or a zombie jumping out from behind a tree would have better met their expectations. At the very least, Tweed could have swapped out the walking jacket for a leather trench coat like the one worn by Crow or Hellraiser or even Neo. But there would be nothing of the sort. Often, when they found out they were going to be walking slowly through the cemetery and learning about sixteenth-century Britain, they asked for a refund.
On the Wednesday night before Halloween weekend the attendees were more subdued, mostly middle-aged couples in fleece and comfortable walking shoes. Tweed led them up along the tree-lined street of the old and wealthy little village to the church on the hill. A small cemetery was planted next to it, an iron fence around its perimeter. "To keep someone out ... or to keep something in," he intoned as they walked past. Next he led them to a small gate and paused. "A portal from the land of the living to the ..."
On cue, he caught himself and then stared coldly into the dark graveyard. "They say it's bad luck to name it." He pushed the gate open and offered the path to them. "Follow me into the beyond, if you dare."
Huddled into a nervous flock, the group moved slowly among the gravestones. Puddles of fog filled the shallows and continued to swell as the professor lowered his voice and peered gravely into the gathering gloom. "The ancient Celts believed that on Samhain the border between this world and the otherworld became thin." He stopped and faced the group. "Excuse me, let me rephrase that, they believed the dead"—he lowered his voice into a creepy dark howl—"could reach back through the veil into the land of the living, oooo-eee-ooo ... Spirits rising from the dead and walking among the living ... And the wailing and moaning."
He turned and slowly marched on. The group now resembled a funeral procession. "Just a veil of fog separating the living from the dead, allowing spirits, both harmless ... and harmful ... to pass through."
A chubby man shuffled out of the group and fired up his camera. The digital chime shook everyone from their trance.
"Please, sir, not here, not on this night,” Tweed protested. "I pray of you, do not disrespect the dead. Not for their sake ..." Feigning fright, Tweed looked from side to side. "For yours."
The man sheepishly tapped the camera off and tucked it into the joey pocket of his Chicago Bears hoodie.
Tweed turned and continued. "In order to ward off the harmful spirits, the ancients started wearing costumes and masks. Not to scare the spirits, but to disguise themselves as harmful spirits. To trick the spirits and thus pass through the night unharmed. Or perhaps appease the spirits with their costumes, honor them, treat them with respect. Trick or Treat ... I'm not sure, I think that term went on to mean something."
The group moved slowly, carefully down the hill into the rising tide of ashen gray. "Samhain became associated with All Saints' Day and then All Souls' Day. The sixteenth-century Scots called it All-Hallows-Even. Eventually it would be shortened into what we now call Halloween."
Professor Tweed suddenly stopped, his arm barring the group from advancing. A woman with Winnie-the-Pooh embroidered on the chest of her cream-colored sweatshirt popped a gasp. Tweed soured as he looked down the path into the forgotten corner of the graveyard, choked with overgrown thickets and entombed by ancient boughs of hickory and oak. "A night like tonight, in this place ... Perhaps we have ventured too far." His eyes grew wide as he searched into the dark fog. "Dear friends, I suggest we turn and go from this place." The group hustled up the hillside back toward the gate. "Quickly, for your sake, please get out of here."
Tweed's voice trailed off in the lonely dark. "If you enjoyed your evening, please consider showing your appreciation with a generous tip."
The graveyard was empty now. The iron gate creaked and clanked shut, closing in the ancient gravestones tangled in burberry. The fog swelled and hung in that forgotten corner, the coldest, darkest, most hollow corner of any cemetery. Into the deep gray of that place ... heavy steps traveled ... darkness. A hollow wind scraped through the charcoal night.
An uneasy silence, an ominous calm. Worst of all, the sense of something massive, lurking just a few steps ahead.
The Kingdom of the Dead
An ancient and decaying black iron gate eighty feet high and topped with craggy brass spikes crests out of the fog. The metalwork between the spears is bent into a pictogram chronicling a newborn baby crawling to his first steps, aging into a child, then an adult, then an adult bowed, an old creature barely standing, a skeleton facedown in the weeds, a gravestone. The brief dance from cradle to grave. The gate joins an endless unsurmountable wall in both directions. As Tweed had noted in his lecture, Was this fortification built to keep someone out… or something in?