Halloween (The Devil’s Ball)

by Jessie Lynn McMains

vintage Halloween postcard, via thegraphicsfairy.com

for Jack Terricloth

It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Hallowmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, & all of us!

Come, do you hear it?

The wind, calling you back to childhood. Calling you back to last year. The wind, calling you back.

Halloween season is meant for nostalgia. Nature blazing its yearly death (here in the northern hemisphere, anyway). Ancestor worship, offerings to the dead. Everything calling you to remember, remember.

Remember toothaches & sugar-thick tongues. Pranks & creepy-creeping. The early dark, wet red leaves shining against night sidewalks. Orange-yellow haloes of porchlights & streetlamps. Smell of bonfires, burn barrels, rotting pumpkin guts & petrichor. The misty rain, the wind’s ghost-song. Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. (Trick or treat, trick or treat, the bitter & the sweet.) Running down the night streets, rubber mask making you into someone new, cape or coat flapping blackly behind you. The veil so thin; the goosebump sensation of something hiding behind every tree, just outside every circle of lamplight. The feeling of something so beautiful & terrible right there, if you could only grab hold of it.

Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a child. I didn’t care so much about the candy. My love for Halloween was about the chance to be deliciously scared, to read certain stories & watch certain movies even though I knew they’d keep me awake, huddled beneath my covers, all night. It was about the chance to dress up & step outside my own mundane existence for a night or two. It was about staying out well after dark—back then, the time change came before Halloween, so trick-or-treat didn’t start until it was already dark, & we’d be out for hours, walking, running farther from the bounds of our neighborhoods, farther than we were normally allowed to roam. & roam we did, endless streets, searching for the houses with the best treats & the spookiest decorations. Nevermind our parents’ warnings about razor blades in apples & poisoned candy; nevermind the urban legends we passed around like a horrific game of telephone, about evil witches living in abandoned houses, bad men with hooks for hands lurking beneath darkened porches. Nevermind the older bullies who sometimes jumped out of the bushes, shoved us down & stole our candy. We were going to stay out as late as we could, hit as many houses as possible.

I never grew out of my love for Halloween, though the way I celebrated changed. There were the teenage years of punk shows & sneakouts, slasher movie marathons & make out parties. Of Rocky Horror & mischief.

I still love Halloween, for many reasons. On Halloween, I can be anything, be anyone—whimsical or scary, sexy or sad, angry or romantic, or any combination thereof. I can be completely decadent—drink imperial pumpkin stout, or wine dark as blood, dress in fishnets & leather. I can be childlike—gorge myself on candy, get sugar-buzzed, watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! over & over, watch The Nightmare Before Christmas & lip-synch along to “Jack’s Lament,” wander my neighborhood to look at other people’s Halloween decorations. Or I can mix a dash of decadence with a splash of childlike wonder.

I can carve faces into pumpkins & light their insides to keep the early dark at bay, then run into the nightstreets in search of beauty & terror. I can write love poems to my favorite monster-men, tell ghost stories by the fire. I can dress all in black: black eyeliner, black lipstick, black clothes, black boots, black leather—and be the goth I wanna see in the world. I can stand out on my front porch, backlit by the orange glow of Halloween lights; listen to the wind & the crows in the trees, feel the cold rain on my face making my eyeliner bleed. I can wander through cemeteries, leave offerings on the graves of long-dead strangers. I can bury my candy corn under the light of the full moon, & be so, so sincere. I can brew a pot of spiced apple cider tea. I can pour some of the tea into a cup, & place it on my altar as an offering to my dead—then light candles, put on music, & wait for all the waltzing, slamdancing ghosts to come.

I can embrace it all.

Tonight is the Devil’s Ball, you could come every fall. We’ll dance & scream & burn ‘cause you know that anything could happen…

collage by the author


This post is an excerpt from my brand-new zine, Every Day is Halloween. The zine version is uncensored and expanded—it contains a lot of stuff about being goth as well as the Halloween stuff. Email me at coeur.de.fantome@gmail.com if you’d like to find out how to get your hands on a copy.

The dedication is a twist on a passage from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Come, do you hear it? is the opening line of Stuart O’Nan’s fantastic novel The Night Country. Trick or treat…the bitter & the sweet is from “Halloween,” by Siouxsie & the Banshees. Tonight is the Devil’s Ball…anything could happen is from “The Devil’s Ball,” by the World/Inferno Friendship Society.

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