It's been half an hour since the last trick-or-treater rang the doorbell, and it's only eight-thirty. Polishing off the last of the Jagermeister I slump back in my seat and wonder why on earth Gilbert Godfried was chosen to co-host KUSA's 'Up All Night' with Elvira? The two are so far in opposite directions that the mind boggles.
Why in the hell did I stay home tonight?
Maybe I should have gone with my roommates to check out the Crash Worship show or waste my money on the watered down drinks in the Eurotrash bars on the square.
Well, it's time to do inventory; we've got one bag of Chic-o-stix, 13 Sweet Tarts, 20 bite-sized Snicker bars and one rotten orange for any asshole kids that show up. Halloween used to so exciting until you started making enough money to buy your own damn candy. Now it's so blatantly commercialized that I've sworn to myself that the next unoriginal rugrat in a Bart Simpson costume is going to get my fist in their face, or better yet; the rotten orange.
Ghosts and witches dance across the TV. screen, trying to sell me a waterbed at ". . . frighteningly low prices." Next a beer commercial with a mummy making pitches for many adults favorite candy: Budweiser. Just what the hell has happened to our holidays? Why are they all so perversely twisted into symbols of mass-consumerism?
I wonder how this Halloween business all started, what were the very first ones like?
Heavily sedated, I pondered the subject, trying to focus my eyes on the boob-tube, but my eyelids weigh a ton. Maybe I'll just listen to the movie until I can open my eyes again.
In the blink of an eye that lasted over an hour, I was startled awake by the sounds of people walking outside my back window. Grabbing my coat from the floor, I head outside to see what the commotion is. In the street I see several groups of people heading towards the mouth of a forest I could swear wasn't there before. Off in the distance I can hear dogs barking, people laughing, and the distant toll of the church clock.
Up close, I recognize no one, and even when I get in their faces, none will make eye-contact with me. Weird, even for SF. Ambling along, I try to remember If I locked the front door, curious to find out where everybody is going. Is there a party somewhere?
Passing thru the first couple of trees, I find myself in a jungle scene straight outta 'Apocalypse Now'. I half expect to stumble upon the set of a Stephen King flick, but I trudge on thru the muck and compost until I cross a clearing and head aboard a tacky looking 'Jungle Ride' tour boat with the rest of the crowd, which I notice looks like the cast of a UN delegation in ratty period costumes. Must be some sorta Halloween cruise.
With the horizon behind me fire-lit and fading fast, the boat soon reaches top-knot, and I'm overwhelmed with a queasy felling that I was off on some sort of ancient mystical pilgrimage, tho I'd never been on one before.
The river's banks were lit with candles and paper mache coffins drift by on quicker currents into the darkness beyond. Stopping at a riverbed, I alone get off and head up towards a muddy path thru rain soaked woods along the riverside. Cresting a hill I see that off in the distance huge bonfires are burning on sandbars and islands like I saw during Halloween back when I lived in New Orleans.
But hey, wait a minute, this isn't New Orleans! I haven't lived there for years, and what rivers are there running thru San Francisco? I start to panic as I sense the presence of beings that aren't all there, and I suddenly fear being alone in the woods. Quickening my pace, I run up the next hill overlooking a small hamlet of thatched-roofed cottages and a three-way fork in the road. Pondering which one to choose, I nearly shit my shorts when I hear a wicked laugh behind me.
" Welcome home lad." I spin. "It's so nice fer ya to be droppin' in!"
Standing not ten feet off, holding a lamp overhead in the rain, stands Grizzly Adams gone bad. Glaring down at me hard, I see the switch in his eyes, like when a dimwit solves a puzzle, and shoving the lantern mere inches from my face, he asks, "Where you be from lad, fer I've not seen the likes of ye before?"
"I'm from San Francisco." I respond.
Clutching me with one hand, his stanky breath in my face, he shouts, "San Francisco? Ye'ed best not be one of them zealots coming through to cause us grief, now are ye lad?"
"No!" I offered, " I'm nonreligious."
"Aye then, when'd ya die?"
"I'm not dead, but I think I definitely overdid it on the grog."
"So that's what ye did! Too stupid to fear, you're intuned to everything ya shouldn't be, and so you followed Samhain's call to the Dead," a pause, "You unlucky bastard!" and then a hearty laugh.
Confused, questions run thru my mind. "Hey, who are you, where am I, and who the hell is Sam Hane?"
"I lad, just happen to be the one and only Jack O'Lantern, watching fools of yer ilk cower and hide on the Night of the dead, and the eve of our New Year. When I died I was sent straight to the Devil, who booted me outta Hell fer playing tricks on him. I've been doomed to walk the earth with just this damn lantern to guide me ever since, to find me way back in."
"As fer where yer at, it matters little, fer this is everywhere. I believe its cawled 'Hallowe'en', or 'All Hallows Eve', the night before the Catholics All Saint's Day and the Mexican's Day of the Dead. It's the one night of the year when Samhain, Lord of Dead Souls, and his wife, the Banshee Sidhe assemble the dead souls around them and allow them to walk the earth and party hearty in their old abodes. To be honest, `tis the only time when ol' Jack gets any company from the happy isles of the Other world."
"So, am I dead?"
"Nay, you've just slipped from the side of the living thru the gates of the dead, and only you can find yer way out. The trail to the left is yer best bet, for it will take ye to the town down yonder with quickest speed."
"Go on ya fool, afore the Devil's dogs get ya! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. . !" as he bounded down the other trail and disappeared from sight.
As I approached the village proper I overheard cries of laughter and sorrow, and felt the lustful late fall moisture, soiled and humus, fouling the air as it permeates my lungs making my heartbeat quicken. I feel the energies of friendships rejoined and celebrations of the bounty of the harvest festivals. The cottages along the curved road into town had turnips and pumpkins carved hallow with candles inside, projecting snarling faces far better than any I'd ever made as a kid. Following the mud coated cobblestone road to the town's center, I arrive to find a three alarm bonfire in progress that would feed any 'Frat night at Ski Beach' party to the pigs.
People in worn, old hand wrought clothes heartily groped one another in a frenzy of drunken hugs as others feed the fiery blaze nonstop. At twenty feet away you can feel your eyes dry up as a sweat breaks out, to be evaporated just as quickly. Young lovers throw chestnuts into the fire and curse their luck when the offerings exploded in flames.
It seems that the sheep have been brought in for slaughter and battle scared shields lie in piles by the doors. On the far corner of the square, the carcasses of cows hang while they're drained of blood and the children play on in the street oblivious to the gruesome scene nearby.
It's obvious by now that I'm in some kind of medieval theme park, designed to look like England or Ireland or some such place. Could this be the set of Braveheart II, I hope? Fuzzy, I calm myself with the reassurances that I'm either passed out on the floor dreaming, or outside having some kind of flashback. So this is what it's like, huh? Focusing, this seems all too real to be either. Gathering what's left of my courage, I decide to head into the bar, or what looks like a bar, at least that's a constant.
Inside the tavern, I order beer, but the man behind the counter ignores me completely. Needing a drink, I pick up a half filled mug from an empty table, which is probably for the best, as I doubt they could break a twenty.
It's funny, but no one in the room has paid me the slightest notice except for a raven haired girl of about twenty-five in the far corner. That's definitely not normal. Her sly smile is full and she radiates beauty in her white gauze like tunic held together with crimson red ribbons.
Casually looking around the room I spy several rugged and richly dressed men arguing about which laws they should keep and which ones have outlived their usefulness. I grin to myself, thinking that our legislature would probably be in better touch with the people if they too held their congress in the local pub. It'd give new meaning to the term, 'Political Party'!
Looking back for the girl in the corner, I'm surprised to see she's nowhere in sight, but even more shocked when she taps my shoulder from behind.
"Damn it! Why do you people keep sneaking up on me?" I ask, "You'd think I was in Central Park or something."
"Come with me Jeffree, this is not the place where you belong."
"How did you know my name?"
"I know many things, but I know nothing."
"Huh?" I replied as she took my hands in hers and led me out the door towards a wooden thicket surrounding an old oak tree. Sure hope she has a yellow ribbon.
My hand was wet with nervousness, yet hers were calm, cool and purposeful.
"Uh, who are you?" I asked, trying to sound casual. "Where are we going?"
Motioning for me to be silent, I could swear I heard her say without words that I would know all in due time.
We walked for what seemed to my lazy ass to be forever, until we came upon an two story log house in a clearing surrounded tightly be a grove of oak trees. Ascending the staircase into a house reminiscent of the Zendik Farms Headquarters,
I was overwhelmed by the smell of herbs and incense in a room bathed by the slow soft glow of too many candles. There were cats all over, and crystals and wind chimes.
"Odd location for a New Age shop." I offered to break the eerie silence. "Ahh, what kind of work do you do?"
"I'm a healer, a witch to many, a blessing to others," she was slowly sprinkling powder into a bubbling pot. "I'm a disciple of the Earth Mother Goddess."
"Yeah, I must definitely be having a flashback." I taught to myself, but this is San Francisco.
"Not quite," she said aloud. "This place is very real."
"But you don't look like a witch. Aren't witches ugly old women with warts and brooms and all that? I think you would hardly qualify!"
"In the world where you come from there has already been centuries of patriarchal interference; the Age of the Wargod. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many of us will have been wiped out. It will get to the point where any midwife or independent woman will be accused of being possessed by evil, because they believe that woman aren't part of original creation, and sentence them to burn as a witches. Even as I speak there are apostles about the land, attempting to rewrite our history to integrate with their beliefs. And they shall succeed in all but one; and that is Samhain's festival of the Dead."
"And you know all this because...?"
"Through divination with the spirits of future days, from the dreams of those not yet born. You are one yourself, but you have come in the flesh. How is this so, who has summoned you here?"
"I haven't the slightest idea." I respond. "I don't even know where here is."
"Then we shall invoke Samhain to find the answer."
"Hold it a minute. You're telling me you're gonna call the Devil and ask him why I'm here? No thanks, I'm not into that voodoo shit, ok? I think a better go before somebody turns me into a frog or something."
"You have nothing to fear, it's the last day of the year, and as custom allows, it is the one day we may invoke Samhain for answers to our questions. It's no problem."
"Naw, I really gotta go now, I forgot to lock the door on my house, and there's all these freaks out tonight, and I don't believe in this Devil stuff anyhow."
"Here then, take this at least, it will ward off the mischievous spirits."
She placed a satchel of foul smelling herbs around my neck, reeking of vegamite, and kissed me on the cheek and hand. I thought to myself, "Well, if I was an evil spirit, I'd sure as hell steer clear of this stench."
Heading back thru the woods to the trail, my Doc's covered in mud and muck, I soon become lost in the thick undergrowth. Brambles with thorns snag the front of my shirt and jeans, tearing thru to the flesh. The ground underneath is soft, like quicksand, and leaves no footprints. After an hour of wondering in incoherent circles, I found a rock upon which to rest. As I kicked back, eating a Chic-o-stick, I heard off in the distance a half-crazed giggle and focused on the silhouette of a man dancing through the trees.
"I did it! I did it! That'll show that beast!" he laughed to himself.
"Did what?" I asked out loud.
"Uh, what?...Who's that?" he relied startled. "What's that foul smell? Who are you?"
"My name's Jeffree, what's yours?"
"How can you see me? You're not dead!"
"Hey, do I look like the fucking answer man? Who are you and what did you do?", losing my patience.
"I'm Gilliwan, and this is my first trip out since I was killed by me bitch wife's brother. Put a ward on me home, she did, but I figured it out and broke it. Then I went in and stole their voices, I did! Now none shall have to listen to their fat slobberin' traps nomore!" He giggled joyously and took off into the night. "I finally got the last word in!"
"This is crazy," I thought to myself and broke out my Bic and flicked it on. Holding it overhead like a headbanger at Metallica, I found the path he came in on, and headed that way. The trail opened up into a muddy road and I followed it's snake like path into the foggy valley below.
Working up my pace, I soon heard a lilting song, and turned off to find the source of this beautifully haunting voice. I could hear the plinky strings of a harp accompanying the song, and in a clearing to the right of the trail sat the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen.
She was barefoot ... to her neck, and she sat upon her robe on a fallen tree. She looked deep into my intruding eyes and continued her singing and playing.
Beckoning for me to come nearer without so much as a word, I felt all resistance drain, and moved forth like a puppy to a biscuit. Her skin glimmered like gossamer under the rays of the Hunter's Moon and her coal black hair blew in the wind, keeping tempo with the leaves and harp.
Her voice came thru unwavering, unnaturally, as though it came from inside my head.
Tuning out all other sensation, I became focused only on her.
As I stared into the bottoms of those dark black eyes, I realized she was the ideal female for me.
Putting the harp down she stood and took my willing hand.
"Come Jeff, come be with me forever."
We began walking towards an opening on the side of a steep hill, her voice dripping desire and all it promised. Walking along I could hear the sticks underfoot cracking like ribs, and in front of us an icy heat blew forth from the mouth of the cave. My heart beat faster, like a cop on his first drug bust, and I walked into her liquid embrace as if in a hallucination. Locked in eye to eye combat, I felt drawn to her kiss and as
I surrendered my eyelids to the darkness, I experienced the unexpected - ice water!
In all the time it takes to do an emotional 360, I felt cold ice water slashing my face as she screamed in agony and terror.
Opening my eyes, I discovered her skin sizzling mere inches from my face. Suddenly aware, I watched in puzzlement as this beautiful creature standing before me spontaneously evolved into a nightmarish vision of everything I find repulsive, politicians included.
Standing there in a hazy stupor, I was suddenly knocked to the ground by some nut from behind, throwing water in her face like battery acid as he shouted something in Spanish or Latin over and over again.
Within seconds this horrid creature was sucked back down the cave like a monster turd down a toilet bowl. Laughing and panting joyously, he then turned to me.
"Lucky for you brother, I saw the Cross affixed your sleeve, for she has consumed the souls and flesh of several heathens this very night.
I was studying her behaviors for signs of weakness, and after hours spent in prayer with our most Worshipful Highness, our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, I fear I had fallen asleep when your footsteps awoke me. I was preparing to watch the evil beast commit her atrocities again when my eye spied the Cross of the Lord on your tunic. Do tell me good brother, what Order of priesthood does that symbolize and what manner of garb is that you're wearing? And what is that smell?"
Still dumbstruck, I stared in disbelief at this cartoon of a man dressed like Friar Tuck. He was pointing to the old army Red Cross armband on my leather jacket and searching my face with inquisitive eyes.
"I'm not a priest", I told him as I realized I was sitting on the dust dry bones of several men. "I'm just ... well ... kinda lost, you know?"
"Then allow me to introduce myself. I'm Father Beryl of the Order Socrates. I'm on a most Holy Quest for the Lord Almighty. For near two whole years now I've wandered these isles, converting pagans and bringing them into the light of the one true god. I've been beaten, robbed, tortured and laughed at by these blasphemous scoffers and retricants so many times that it's no small wonder that evils such as that banshee walk freely upon these lands, to prey upon the weak and unchaste sinners that abound here. I know deep down that it is but Jehovah, testing my resolve to bring His will to these poor lost people. Within due time they will brought under the wing of our most Benevolent Father."
"You mean his foot, don't you?" I asked with my standard Jehovah's Witness retort. "We all know the real reason you're here; to control the people and destroy their culture like you did to the Indians of the Americas!"
"The where?" he asked.
"The Americas. Where you went to plunder all the gold for your kings. You romanticize death with your ritual cannibalism, your death fetish patriarchal domination. Using your religion as an excuse, you decimate and enslave the native populations and then give your sanctimonious approval for slavery on the basis that dark skin is evil. Your kind make me sick!"
"Good Lord man, you've gone completely mad! That she-demon has taken hold of your tongue and is within you at this very moment. Brace yourself brother, as I prepare to cast her out!"
Lifting his staff and bible overhead, he begins chanting his prayers.
I thought to myself, "Oh brother! what a nut case. . ."
But before I could even finish the thought, I felt the cold hard wood of his walking staff as it connected upside of my poor tired head, and as I fell to the ground, a thought escaped my lips, "What now?"
Feeling hungover, my aching brain throbbing with each heartbeat like a shotgun blast, I wake up to find myself face down in front of the TV as MTV's 'Day in Rock' blares in my ear." Ah shit! I've died and gone to hell."
"What the fuck did you do last night? Roll around in a gutter? You look like shit." my wise ass roommate slurping on a bowl of fruitloops. "You should of went out with us last night night bro! We had a blast watching Motor Cult jammin' with Burning Hands, the babes were getting evil and playing hard all night long! You missed out on an unforgettable night"
Dragging my soggy, muddy ass off the floor, I smelled the foul satchel around my neck, still tied there with the crimson red ribbon. I winced at my reflection in the mirror. "Man, I gotta get a job or something. I'm really staring to lose it' I'm too old for this Halloween shit. I think next year I'll just stay in bed all day.
To hell with Samhain's New Years Eve!
- Originally published in Sin Magazine, with Illustrations by Jason "Guile" Rodriquez. To all those who write in to tell me that Samhain is a holiday and not a person, yes, I know that, but this is a work of fiction, so thank you for your feedback!