A skull always helps set the right tone at the dinner table. Photo by Pam Frampton/The Telegram
"'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world …"
- Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
It is nighttime and we are reading in the living room, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Our reverie is shattered by the dog's single, sharp, staccato bark.
There is someone at our door on this pitch-dark night.
A tall, thin figure dressed in tattered grey robes can be seen huddled outside on the doorstep in the lashing wind and stinging rain. Autumn leaves swirl giddily around his feet.
He does not ring the bell, perhaps because he appears to be shackled, and a length of something - chain? - bangs rhythmically against the door.
Yet he manages to lift one bony hand to scratch the glass pane.
We cannot see his face, which is shadowed by his hood, but his hand is skeletal, the fingertips little more than shards of bone.
The dog barks again, this time with a sense of urgency. Something about the figure clearly unsettles him.
"There's no one there," we say, reassuringly. "It's just the Halloween decoration we bought at Zellers."
• • •
We love Halloween at our house - the spectral and the spooky, the grim and the ghoulish.
A large black tarantula with shining red eyes, whom we have affectionately named "Fluffy," is perched above the french door in the porch.
Skella-Fella, our skull-shaped candle holder, sits on an endtable.
We are planning an Addams Family-type photo-op and are watching some classic horror movies together (if anyone knows where I can find a copy of the original "Halloween" with Jamie Lee Curtis, please let me know).
The truth is, it can be fun to get freaked out. I get a chill down my spine when I see moaning, twitching disembodied mummy-type things wailing on a shelf at Shoppers Drug Mart, their glowing eyes speaking of untold horrors.
It's a delicious thrill, because you know the creepy things run on batteries and can't hurt you, and that you can walk out of the store and leave their tortured noise behind whenever you like.
As a child, I loved trick-or-treating, because despite the hordes of ghouls and monsters wandering the street, you were sure enough no harm would come to you that you could enjoy it.
Growing up in an outport, I loved Halloween in particular because it was the one night of the year (aside from the occasional mummering at Christmas) when the proliferation of masks and costumes meant you didn't automatically know everyone you met. You got a glimpse of the freedom that anonymity can bring and experienced the excitement and mystery of encountering a stranger - something that otherwise never happened.
According to the website History.
com, the wearing of masks at Halloween originally had nothing to do with candy and everything to do with self-preservation:
On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
Sounds like a sensible plan to me.
Heaps of horror
These days, while there's still plenty of Halloween horror to be found (such as the St. John's Harbour Haunt, being offered right up until Oct. 31 this year on Kelsey Drive), it's also an increasingly kid-friendly holiday.
People string lines of lit-up pumpkins outside their homes like Christmas lights, or adorn their lawns with cutesy inflatable black cats and smiling ghosts. Some decorations feature bats wearing colourful hats, or Dracula striking a hip-hop pose as he emerges from a pumpkin patch.
Not exactly stuff to keep you awake nights.
Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with putting a friendlier face on Fright Night - particularly when little kids are involved. But there's something to be said for letting older kids enjoy the thrills and chills of harmless horror.
I once watched a movie as a teenager that left me wide-eyed and unable to sleep that night in my bed - with all the lights on - even though my mother stayed with me for awhile.
It was a terrifying experience, but it's one I recall now with a sense of wistfulness.
Because, Lord knows, once you reach adulthood and hear daily news from the world about cyberbullying, child porn, sexual abuse, school shootings, animal torture, terrorist beheadings, tourist abductions and random acts of violence, the horror is all too real.
And you'd give anything to have things like they used to be, when the only evil you knew was illusion. When the devil wore detachable horns and carried a plastic pitchfork, and was confined to just one night.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.