I have a doctor’s appointment on Halloween. How can that be good? I can picture the scene in the lab: me holding out my arm to a fanged figure wearing a red-lined opera cape who chortles, “I vant to draw your blood.” Since I usually look away during the deed, I might not notice if they use a sterile needle or their vampire fangs to collect my precious blood. Talk about “white coat syndrome”— I hope the doctor will cut me some slack when it comes time to check my blood pressure.
I have a love/hate relationship with Halloween. When the kids were little I loved painting black stripes on an orange shirt for a tiger or rummaging out some elbow gloves for a sweet little Cinderella. But somewhere along the way my experience of the holiday morphed from cute kiddie costumes to ghoulish nightmare-inducing yard decorations.
We just got back from a trip to visit family in Pittsburgh. The Steel City seemed to be experiencing a full-on skeleton infestation. Twenty-foot-tall skeletons loomed on neighborhood lawns. Life-sized skeletons played croquet or lounged in lawn chairs with a cold drink clutched in one bony hand. Most insidious were the miniature skeletons that crawled up the outside walls of houses, converging on the windows in an attempt to slip inside. The population of Pittsburgh likely doubles in the weeks leading up to Halloween if you’re not too picky about including flesh and blood in your count.
It was a relief to come back to Juneau, leaving those spooky skeletons behind. But imagine my chagrin when I looked out my front window the next day to see an array of skeletons infesting the yard and crawling up a ladder on the house across the street. Could those creeping skeletons have clung to the fuselage of the airplane all the way back to Alaska, only to leap off and follow me home in the night? What if they sneak into my yard between now and Halloween?
I haven’t done much to decorate my own yard or house for Halloween yet. Once my kids were past the tiger and Cinderella stage, they enjoyed setting up the haunted doorway to greet trick-or-treaters at the door. Yes, we keep an orange bin tightly closed on a high shelf in the garage that’s full of scary rubber zombie masks, tombstones, and grasping hands attached to a skull that emerges from the ground. There’s a fog machine and a tarantula the size of a dinner plate that hangs on a string from the ceiling to lower down onto the heads of unwary trick-or-treaters. Creepy sound effects mostly consisting of unearthly moans and Monster Mash interspersed with tunes from High School Musical waft out into the night.
My kids would watch the front driveway, gauging the size of the prospective trick-or-treaters to tailor the jump scares accordingly. Strange thing — once we debuted the haunted doorway, the number of trick-or-treaters declined rapidly. I’m guessing a lot of those cute little pirates and princesses were afraid to approach the door guarded by that giant spider wreathed in fog to the tune of Monster Mash. Only the lure of candy could convince them to run the gauntlet. But now my kids are all off to college and beyond, and it’s up to me and my husband to keep the fright flames burning.
So, I’ll need to decide how much candy I want to invest in this year. Inflation is up, and bags of candy don’t come cheap. If I want to economize, I can empty out the orange bin and set up all the frightful haunted decorations to cut down on foot traffic to the door. Or I could just go with the pumpkin and cornstalks that are already up, maybe string up a bit of spider web to enhance the real ones that already festoon our eaves, and make sure to have a hefty bowl full of Twix bars on hand. Small children would feel welcome to ring the doorbell and shout “trick or treat” — as long as the skeletons don’t migrate over from across the street.
Happy Halloween everyone. Stay safe from marauding skeletons, spiders of all descriptions, and vampires masquerading as lab technicians at the doctor’s office.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.