It was a night just like this.
Although, maybe it was a few degrees warmer, there were more leaves on the trees and the pumpkins were a little plumper that year. But still. It was a night vaguely resembling this one.
Those calls were coming from inside the house. There was a bloody hook dangling from the door, the killer was in the back seat the whole time and when she woke up she saw the message, "Aren't you glad you didn't turn the light on" scrawled in lipstick on the bathroom mirror.
Chilling. Those were simpler times. Better times. On Halloween night, you'd see hundreds of kids prowling the streets in costumes they either bought at Kmart or made themselves. Not like today when you go out and buy 6 pounds of Halloween candy and you get only one trick-or-treat knock on your door. It's a pair of surly teenagers wearing moldy baseball uniforms and they frown at the Zagnuts you drop in their bag.
You can't blame them. Zagnuts are just awful.
But the point is, it feels like Halloween has lost its essence. Kids don't trick-or-treat anymore or egg houses or bob for apples. Kids don't know what to do with the holiday, frankly. It seems to have morphed into just another reason for grown-ups to party — to dress as provocative witches, sultry cats or naughty nurses and post photos of their cleavage on Facebook.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you, about this new tradition.
For the past dozen Halloweens, I've been hitting the road: the killing fields of Salem; Poe's burial spot in Baltimore; Sleepy Hollow in New York; Blair Witchville in Maryland ... So many other destinations still await, like Transylvania and the Winchester House in San Jose. That creepy ghost town called Centralia or the Lizzie Bordon House, which I understand now sits next door to a 7-Eleven haunted mostly by meth addicts.
I may get to all of those places eventually, bit it's a fool's errand because I'll never find the same joy I found on Halloween in 1985.
Ah, 1985 ...*
*Windy recollection follows. You may be excused at this point if you're still running around trying to find all the accessories needed for that Good Time Zumba costume.
The year was 1985. The moon was full (no need to look that up on any of those online moon charts) and the night was crisp. Leaves stirred like old bones in the impish autumn breeze.
There was a costume party at a buddy's apartment and that year — like the year before — I was a store-bought vampire. You got your cape (a shower curtain with a collar,) your face paint (teenagers shouldn't wear face paint for a variety of reasons) and your plastic fangs (which, with large gulps of keg beer, can be swallowed and buddy, that's going to hurt in a day or two).
Somebody had constructed a makeshift coffin from which I could spring and scare new guests. There was a seance and the inevitable, "So, do you guys believe in the afterlife, or what" conversations that followed. There were a hundred leering pumpkins, scary music on the stereo and about a thousand hours worth of night in which to revel.
It was a glorious night. A perfect Halloween in all ways and I've been chasing it ever since. The road trips, the bank-busting sprees at Spencer Gifts, the endless search for the ideal Halloween destination. Every bit of it as desperate and hopeful as Charlie Brown waiting for greatness in a pumpkin patch.
But here's the thing: I could travel 10,000 miles and spend a million dollars but I don't believe I'd ever recapture the magic of that one night. Because when you get right down to it, Halloween hasn't lost its essence. I have.
As adults, we're always trying to recapture the magic of holidays past. But Christmas is never quite the same after you stop believing in the big guy in the red suit. The Fourth of July doesn't sparkle as brightly as it did in youth and Flag Day ... Well, we all have our dazzling Flag Day memories, but they're too painful to recall.
That night in 1985 was just a keg party with a sheet pulled over its head. Back in elementary school, Halloween was black cats cut out of construction paper and those gooey things made out of marshmallow and Rice Krispies. Those days felt like perfection, too. But the only thing perfect about them, I realize now, was my state of mind. I was young and my capacity for joy was at its zenith. When you're an empty goblet waiting to be filled, even Zagnuts taste good.
I still love Halloween night more than any other, but I'm trying to keep it in perspective. The Great Pumpkin might never come again.
But this is also the time when the chasm between the living and the dead is thinnest and the imagination knows it. Maybe that cloud floating in front of the moon really is a witch on a broom. Maybe that creaking in the attic really is the devil coming to grab your soul.
And maybe, just maybe, that lady in the tasseled pants who asked for your credit card information really is the Good Time Zumba Girl of so many campfire stories.
It's Halloween, my friends, and anything is possible.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can haunt him at firstname.lastname@example.org.