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Scariest Sight on Halloween? Grown-Ups

Posted by jcmaziquemd on October 31, 2010

Scariest Sight on Halloween? Grown-Ups

By R. L. STINE

Since I write scary books for kids, I’m asked to do a lot of weird things. A couple of years ago, a magazine asked me to tour some of the haunted houses that were popping up around New York City. They had names like Blood Manor, Dracula’s Dungeon and Nightmare: Bad Dreams Come True.

As I made my way through the dark, twisting, fake-cobwebbed halls of one of these haunted houses, I was more surprised than frightened by the quantities of gore and blood.

Screaming ghouls and zombies lurked in every room, with missing body parts, gashed flesh, hatchets embedded in open skulls, blood-soaked entrails hanging from gaping stomach wounds. Bloody handprints smeared the walls and sticky blood puddles stained the floors.

When I finally staggered outside, shrill shrieks and maniacal laughter ringing in my ears, I gazed at a sign at the entrance I had missed: “No One Admitted Under 18.”

Of course, much has been written about how this generation of American adults doesn’t want to give up its inner child. I don’t have to spell out the evidence — it’s everywhere — that grownups want to be kids for as long as they can possibly get away with it. And who can blame us?

But … no kids admitted to a Halloween haunted house? Talk about a hatchet blow to the head. My brain exploded with vivid images of my own childhood Halloweens.

My memories are typical for anyone who grew up in a quiet suburb in the middle of the last century. I remember the chill of the October night air and, despite the cold, the sweat rolling down into my eyes inside my plastic mask. I can still hear the crunch of my shoes over the frost-hard ground and the whoosh of the wind ruffling our flimsy store-bought costumes.

I can conjure up the heavy disappointment I felt when someone would drop a popcorn ball or an apple into my trick-or-treat bag instead of candy. And I remember the panic when a big kid would stop me and my friends on a shadowy driveway and demand to see what was in our bags.

I remember clearly the costumes my parents brought home from Kresge’s. My favorite was a scarlet devil disguise, the grinning mask complete with curled horns and a painted goatee. My least favorite was a duck costume with a fuzzy yellow tail. I told everyone I was actually a vampire duck. But you can guess how that went over.

Typical memories. But as I recall, the special excitement of Halloween didn’t come from candy or costumes or dark, whispery streets. The overwhelming thrill came from going out of the house at night and wandering freely around the neighborhood with no parents.

Halloween was a night of incredible freedom.

I’ve written dozens of Halloween books for children, and I try to capture those memories and that feeling of liberation. So it was alarming to think that adults were taking the holiday away from kids. Was it really happening?

I walked into the Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood and spotted a table of Halloween-themed books near the front. Sure enough, they were all for adults:

“Halloween Collectibles Price Guide”

“Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night”

“The Original Duct Tape Halloween Book.”

Duct tape? Really?

Farther down Broadway, I saw a Halloween costume store. Yes, you guessed it — there were no princess costumes with sparkling tiaras, no duck costumes with fuzzy tails. I saw a lot of flimsy negligees as well as studded black leather outfits with handcuffs and whips. A popular item seemed to be fakeblack, curly chest hair for men.

I returned to my apartment disheartened. Perhaps in a few years, I would write a 10-year-old character who described his Halloween like this:

“Best Halloween ever! First, Mom and Dad let my sister and me help decorate the house for their party. Then, they said we could help them get into their costumes! Totally awesome!”

I fretted about this for days, the end of Halloween as I’d known it. And then I happened to eavesdrop on a group of kids waiting in my lobby for their school bus.

They were talking about their Halloween costumes. One boy said he was going to be an iPhone with a lot of apps up and down his front. Another boy said he was going to wear two fake heads, one on each shoulder, and go as triplets.

The only girl in the group insisted they had to start their trick-or-treating at a building a few blocks uptown. “It has a 13th floor,” she said. “We totally have to start on the 13th floor.”

The three-headed boy told them his cousin lived in Connecticut down the block from a “real” haunted house. He said that a group of trick-or-treaters went into the house last year and were never seen again: “All they found were their masks stuck to the front window, looking out.”

That story made the kids laugh. It made me laugh, too. I walked away thinking, yes, more adults are celebrating Halloween. And, yes, the best-selling costume this year may end up being the BP oilman uniform. But, no matter. Kids live in their own special and private world. And Halloween is still the holiday that proves it.

R. L.

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