(The following is a work of fiction. My father was never this cruel.)
When I was growing up Halloween meant dragging my mattress and boxspring into the basement. Dad needed the space for the dissection table. The one with the working exhaust chamber filled to the brim with black bile. The season meant I had to unplug my lava lamp so we had a place for the forensic scale and the random assortment of bodily organs. It meant my wardrobe had to go into storage so dad could fill my closet with body bags.
My father folded up my keyboard stand so he had space for the surgical instruments. He dismantled my ceiling fan and hung harsh florescent lights. He replaced my drapes with blood battered death shrouds.
I’d brought this all on myself when I tore up the carpeting revealing the hardwood beneath it. It made it too is easy for dad to lay the faux concrete flooring he’d need to make his autopsy room look authentic.
Dad was a home haunter, a property poltergeist, a suburban specter. He was bitten by the great Halloween pumpkin and he’d spent the last months of every summer serving its cause, converting our home into an amusement park.
Trick or treating ended when I was seven years. Not because my parents bought into the alarmism of the 1980s, but because they’d needed me to the greet strangers lined up on our door step. My sisters were older so they got to be part of the attraction, jumping out of the shadows with Kayro syrup dripping down their necklines, gnashing their teeth at their classmates.
When I came of age to wear oatmeal skin flakes and putty scars of my own I realized being part of the attraction wasn’t that much fun. You see I was the body on the autopsy slab, rising from the bag, jumping out at tourists who were all to happy to give me a bop on the head for my efforts.
I came to dread the holiday. Halloween, bah-humbug.
Samantha and I started dating in late September. I did everything I could to keep her away from our home, but word of my father’s lawn sculptor spread and she just had to swing by and see the sacrilege.
This was Dad’s publicity stunt to get us in the papers. He repurposed figures from a manger scene to create a “danger” scene. He tattered the three wisemen’s clothes and dripped black sludge from their eyes and noses. He put Mary in a pleather costume that made her look like a dominatrix from outer space. He whittled Joseph’s hat down into horns, Joseph’s cape down into a tail, and his legs down into hooves. Dad covered the baby Jesus in boils, scooped out his ocular cavities, and placed a pair of green beads in the holes. The holy son had become Rosemary’s Baby. The papers refered to this as an anti-Christmas display.
Dad shrugged. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
He never stopped to think that his son would have to reiterate his father’s artistic statement to his girlfriend’s angry parents. Now here I was giving a tour of what Dad had done to our home, a preview of all the cleanup I’d have to do come November.
This was our living room now it’s a crime scene glowing under black lights. This was our kitchen now it’s a buffet of bones laid out by a cannibal cook. This was an office now it’s a web covered library filled with tomes of forbidden knowledge.
This was my eldest sister’s bedroom now it’s a torture dungeon. See the Judas Cradle on her night stand. This was my youngest sister’s bedroom now it’s a mad scientist’s laboratory. See the plasma globes where the bedposts ought to be. This was my mother’s sewing room now it’s a museum of freakish deformities. See the wall of pickled fetuses. This was our basement now it’s an excavated Native American burial ground. See the dirt hills filled with arrowheads.
This was where I slept in the week leading up to the main event. I showed Samantha the tragic refugee camp I’d set up: the sad sleeping bag, the desk lamp on the floor, and the hand me down tablet I was using for an entertainment center. This didn’t deter her from sitting down, kicking the dirt off her sneakers, and patting the sleeping bag. I sat beside her.
“None of this bothers you?”
“A little, but only because it bothers you so damn much. I think it’s kind of cool.”
She looked around the room, never mind the fact that dad’s mood lighting left very little to see. Meanwhile I had an awkward habit of marveling at her features like I’d never seen a face before.
As Dad’s haunted house drew larger crowds it got harder to find monsters willing to work for free. Dad’s solution was to automate his jump scares. He rigged each room with robotic contraptions he could activate via remote. Each room was equipped with infrared cameras. Dad oversaw the operation from a command center in the attic.
His car wasn’t in the driveway when we came in. I’d presumed he was gone. Little did I know someone was up in the attic watching our little make out session. Worse still, they didn’t make their presence known until Samantha’s hand had wandered south of my belt line and past the elastic band of my boxers. That’s when the house started jumping.
Red eyes flickered on from inside the shallow graves. Animatronic zombies rose from the dark, one by one, like an army of angry whack-o-moles.
I backed myself into the wall. The teeth of my zipper dug into Samantha’s wrist. She screamed, glanced at what had spooked me, and screamed again. That should’ve been the end of it, but dad couldn’t help but traumatize us for life.
Had I chosen to play more of an active role in dad’s fall project I would’ve known what to expect, but I was put out by his incessant Halloween Sound FX albums, the toxic fumes coming from the garage, and the graphic gashes on his slaughter sculptures.
There was a rumble of thunder over the subwoofers in the basement. The lights strobed like lightning. Then the fog machine sputtered on.
Samantha scrambled to her feet. “What do we do?”
I felt for the fake rubber brickwork at my back. “We hug the wall until we get to the stairs, we hold the railing, bolt out the front door, and key my father’s car.”
We felt the stones until we came to an old painting with a thick wooden frame, one of dad’s flee market acquisitions. I spun around to face it, careful not to poke my fingers through the canvas. The painting was a sad hobo clown with a muzzle full of stubble, collapsed bowler cap, and a droopy little flower.
Samantha could barely muster a, “Why is that here?” before the canvas slid down the frame revealing a roaring demon clown.
Raspberry jam bubbled up from between its jagged teeth. Its plastic nostrils flared. Its eyes glowed yellow. I tried to punch it only to find my fist hitting a wall of plexiglass. The impact reverberated up my arm. It felt like my knuckles went all the way back into my wrist.
Samantha and I pressed on through dad’s manufactured mist until we came to the staircase. The moment we gripped the railing it started vibrating.
Samantha threw her hand up. “Seriously?”
That’s when a chandelier filled with rusty knives came inches away from crashing on our heads. Although the threat was simulated I didn’t trust dad’s pulley system with our lives. We crawled the rest of the way up. When we got to the head of the staircase a werewolf sprung up from behind the couch. This was a robot fresh off the stage of Chuck E. Cheese. Dad had smeared black eyeshadow down its face in a crude attempt to conceal the its cartoonish features.
I reached for the front door knob and turned to Samantha.
“Don’t be surprised if something falls into our path.”
She nodded. I threw the door open and sure enough a bound and hooded body swung from a noose. A water balloon shot out its leg making it look like it had lost its bowels. Samantha swatted the body aside, charged down the driveway, hit her clicker, ducked into her car, and peeled out without so much as giving a “call you” gesture. She was so done with my family’s bullshit.
She drove over the curb as she turned around the block. Then my father’s car pulled into the driveway.
He fanned astonishment at the sight of the fog spilling over the front steps. “Did you go into the attic and tinker with my toys?”
I shook my head, not amused. “No, but you did.”
Dad played innocent. “But I’ve been out of the house the entire time.”
I grit my teeth. “I hate you so much.”
I’d made it to the edge of the driveway before he called back to me.
“What?! What do you want?”
“Um, just, your fly is still down.”
“God damn it.”
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