Save that terribly dark and rainy night that a big kid stole my Jack-o-Lantern candy bucket, Halloween was a terrifically exciting time as a child. I’d forgotten how fun it actually could be and had a somewhat condescending view of this very weird, very-North American ritual that most Europeans only know from movies and Second Life. Then I got a chance to go trick or treating all over again at Havenhollow, and oh, how fun it all was!
Just the very idea of getting costumed up and going fearlessly into the neighbourhood after dark was so electrifying; the candy we were so excited about collecting a few hours before, became scarcely more than an afterthought when the night was over and it was time to put our exhausted bodies to bed.
There were always the families that would get really into it: shining flash lights from behind cobwebbed windows, sticking rubber spiders to footpaths and exterior walls, playing the recorded voice of Vincent Price amidst ghoulish howling, or the anguished screams followed by the cackling laughter of witches.
I loved the plywood, half-opened coffins, packed with dry ice, overflowing with whitish vapours creating an eerie mist mixing with the startling pops, fizzles, and smokey firework fogs, adding even more spook to the already energised atmosphere – all making up the essential ingredients of high-stakes competitive suburban Halloween’ing.
We had very specific rules surrounding proceedings and I’d often be the first to remind our trick or treating party, including parent chaperones, about them.
For instance, we always walk on the left hand-side of the street and keep to the sidewalks, so that we can see the cars coming in the other direction.
We don’t zig-zag from house to house, we only cross the street at signed cross-walks or intersections, and stay in groups – preferably holding hands.
A dark house without lights on inside is a no-go zone – and was most likely occupied by people who hate children – what other explanation could there be to not be home on Halloween?
When approaching houses, we walk, we don’t run, to the doors of the houses – because wearing costumes and masks isn’t the same as street clothes, and it’s much harder to see where you’re going whilst avoiding dangers underfoot.
When the door opens, we say (we do not shout) “trick or treat!” and we always say “Thank you”. Yes, even for whole apples and the “Awake” magazine from the local Jehovah’s Witness house.
Most importantly, we never, ever, ever walk inside a stranger’s house no matter how compelling or attractive a treat might sound that was “just around the corner”.
There was a nearly indisputable valuation scale on treats: branded chocolate bars were clearly at the top of the scale, followed closely by generic supermarket toffees wrapped in black bat and orange background wrappers. Then there were the liquorice packs (Twizzlers were the best!), then the nearly indestructible jawbreakers, and the hard candy balls.
We’d do our best to look appreciative at the sorry sight of juice boxes and the aforementioned apples being tossed into our buckets, knowing full well that we’d soon be binning them anyway, lest they contain razor blades or had been spiked with who knows what injectable poison (how’s that for instilling a fear of strangers into a child, eh?).
There were other annoyances too: the bigger kids – much too old, in my opinion, to be trick or treating – and their over-stuffed pillowcases. They would sometimes menacingly follow us, threatening to steal our loot as they pushed us aside, despite the typical presence of a parent that would be usually watching over us from the curb.
I’d get annoyed when they’d push in before us as we walked to the next house, and watch them in disapproval as they’d run across the lawns, kicking up flowerbeds – instead of walking back to the curb like decent people – all in the greedy pursuit of getting as much candy in the least amount of time.
And then we’d come home, damp with a mix of sweat and rain (it always rained on Halloween…) and spent a little time sorting our candy. There might be a little snack of pumpkin pie, no chocolate before bed, but always some costume deconstruction and labourious face-scrubbing – that itchy petroleum-based makeup now a mess on our happy faces.
It was the most exciting of times – annoyances and all – and I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it until we got a chance to do it again, in Second Life.