It was fall in Little Aleppo, and the evergreens had remained so. Transplants from Back East bored their friends and relatives with stories of leaf-piles two stories high. O, the smell of fall! they all droned on: bracing and brisk and honest, like your nostrils were taking a cold shower. Let me describe the sound of two-day dry leaves crackling underfoot, the transplants begged. How I miss the seasons, the transplants shouted at anyone in range; how I pine for the maples. Natives didn’t quite understand what was so exciting about watching trees die, and also noticed that the transplants never moved back to where there were seasons. Little Aleppo didn’t have seasons. It neither scorched in the summer, nor froze in the winter; just a mellow, yearlong undulation between short-sleeves and a light jacket.
But fall still had its powers, though it didn’t exist. Americans know the year begins in September. They blow shit up in January, but they were taught since the age of six that the year begins in September. This is a thing all Americans know: the year begins in September, ends in June, and July and August don’t count. Fall had its powers.
And fall had Halloween, and Little Aleppo loved Halloween. It was, in locals’ estimation, the best possible holiday. It was neither religious nor nationalistic, so there was no guilt involved. Christmas was a pain in the ass and expensive; Thanksgiving meant seeing your family, or not seeing your family (whichever was more depressing); the Fourth of July scared dogs; New Year’s Eve had its tedious pressures. But Halloween was a party. It was candy and tits and drugs–the good drugs, the ones you’d been saving–and a parade. Halloween was a tautology: you dressed up on Halloween because Halloween is the night when we dress up and dance. Who knew about Samhain? Who remembered All Hallow’s Eve? Who still honors the Allhallowtide? It was a tradition without any history, and Little Aleppo appreciated the irony.
By law, the Halloween Season started on October 15th. Residents caught setting up prop tombstones on their lawns or hanging phony skeletons from their trees before that were subject to fines or a swift ass-kicking. Holidays needed boundaries, locals thought, and two weeks of anything was more than enough. But on the 15th, the pumpkins bloomed. Several competing patches were hastily erected and peopled with fruit, most of it pumpkin.
“This is a watermelon.”
“Lady, that’s a pumpkin.”
“You painted it orange. It’s a watermelon.”
Tiresias Richardson blinked slowly at Holiday Ray. Ray owned–or rented or squatted on; it was never quite clear–a quarter acre lot on Mint Avenue, which ran parallel to the Main Drag and also happened to be in between Tiresias’ apartment and her job at the KSOS teevee studio. She had meant to wake up earlier and visit one of the more reputable pumpkin patches, but she was hungover and late and waiting on a pill to kick in and goddammit there was a rip in her white canvas sneaker, the right one, where the sidewall met the sole, and the sun was setting and there was still the dress to get into and maybe she should write a joke or two, and now she was holding a watermelon which had been painted orange.
“I don’t need to smell it, Ray.”
“You’re afraid of what the scent will tell you.”
“It’s a painted watermelon.”
Holiday Ray sold fireworks on the 4th of July (and year-round, too, but he put a sign up on the 4th). He had trees lining the lot in December, and roses in February. Ray covered all the holidays. Flags for Flag Day, and French ones for Bastille Day. He is ecumenical, as well: tinned hams and crucifixes for Easter, breath mints and toboggans for the Feast of Narg’raham, no sandwiches at all for Ramadan.
In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, Holiday Ray sold as-seen-on-teevee gadgets. Combination backscratcher/remote controls, devices that made one very specific kitchen task very slightly more efficient, towels with the absorbing properties of larger towels, those sorts of things. Ray had no idea what to sell for Rosh Hashanah his first year on his lot, but he had recently come into possession of half-a-truckload of cheap gizmos, and so he figured that problem solved itself. He set out his wares, and hoisted the sign. It said DON’T “ROSH” ON BY! in spray-painted stencil, with a hand-drawn Star of David next to it that was not perfect, but not risible.
He hoped it would not offend.
Two Jews walked by. They looked the lot over, Jewishly. Shrugged, kept walking.
Holiday Ray exhaled. Later on, one of the Jews would swing back and buy a product called Mop Like No One’s Watching, which was a headlight for your mop. The rest of the Jewish community paid Ray’s collection of geegaws little or no attention, but–since he couldn’t come up with anything better to sell for Rosh Hashanah–over not too many years, Jews started to associate as-seen-on-teevee gadgets with the New Year, and now it is a full-blown tradition to exchange doohickeys with your friends and family. When Jews raised in Little Aleppo spend their first Rosh Hashanah out of the neighborhood, they are always confused when no one gives anyone an ab exerciser.
But not Thanksgiving. Holiday Ray disappeared a week or so before and stayed gone until Monday or Tuesday of the next week, when he’d put out the trees. Bad feelings still lingered about Thanksgiving and Ray. His first year–not long after his Rosh Hashanah triumph–Ray puzzled over what to stock for Thanksgiving. Nobody waved flags, or shot off bottle rockets, they just ate turkey. And so he considered that problem solved. Ray called the guy who got him the as-seen-on-teevee gadgets and asked for half-a-truckload of frozen turkeys and some freezers. Coincidentally, the as-seen-on-teevee gadget guy was also a frozen turkey and freezer guy. He was a hell of a guy.
Ray had been selling turkeys for around an hour when the health inspector tackled him, and held him to the ground so the rep from the supermarket workers’ union could punch him for a while.
“Stay out of the frozen turkey racket,” they told him.
That burned in him. I am a man, Ray thought. I forge my own destiny. This is my lot, and that’s my RV, and I sell holiday-themed shit. I got a destiny. And Ray thought it about it all year until, with Thanksgiving approaching, he realized that there was wiggle room in a ban on selling “frozen turkeys.” He called his guy, who was not a live turkey guy, but did know a corrupt farmer. He set up a meeting, and though Ray thought it odd that a farmer would take a meeting in a bar at two am, he kept those thoughts to himself. A hundred plump birds. Cages, too. The deal was made, and they did a line to celebrate.
There is an old Bulgarian saying: “If the man you’re doing lines at two am with tells you he’s a farmer, then that man is probably lying.” Unfortunately, Holiday Ray was not Bulgarian. He was Swiss-Syrian with a little Irish mixed in, and none of those countries have any sayings about turkey farmers at all, let alone ones that would have helped in this specific instance.
When the turkeys arrived, they were not the plump birds he had been promised. The turkeys were lean and sinewy and made no sound as they were unloaded from the truck to Ray’s lot. The turkeys stared at him. Before he could argue, the truck and its driver were gone and the turkeys stared at him. The metal that made up the cages was thin and closed with a basic latch. Pull the pin up and the door opens. It was quiet all up and down Mint Avenue and the turkeys made no sound, not a gobble. Their cages were arranged in rows. Ray was in the middle. It was quiet on Mint Avenue, and so he could hear a basic latch opening behind him. Pull the pin up and the door opens. Ray spun around, but the bird was already on top of him.
He woke up in St. Agatha’s. The first one had let the rest out. Their assault was vicious; worse, it was organized. Ambushes and flanking maneuvers. The head of the ornithology department at Harper College declared that turkeys were incapable of acting that way, and then the turkeys leapt out of nowhere and pecked him right in the dick. A splinter group of the flock decamped to the Verdance and initiated hostilities with the swans who live in Bell Lake. The turkeys evaded capture for weeks while harassing children and pedestrians, attempting to push the elderly down stairs, and starting a full-on brawl with the Paul Bunyan High School (Go Blue Oxen!) marching band.
But Holiday Ray was their first victim. Late at night, he would recall the taste of the birds’ feathers as they beat him with their more-powerful-than-you’d-think wings. Turkeys do not taste like turkey, he remembers thinking. That is the last thing he remembers before they swarmed him.
So Ray closed the lot every year for Thanksgiving. Too many bad memories.
“It’s a painted watermelon, Ray.”
But this was Halloween, and Holiday Ray had merchandise to move out the door. (Metaphorically. The lot did not have a door on account of it being a lot.)
“Pumpkin. Big sucker, too.”
Tiresias flecked off some of the paint with her fingernail. The green rind showed through.
“And what about that?”
“Not ripe yet. Pumpkin meat is green until it ripens. Much like the avocado.”
“Absolutely none of that is true,” she said and shoved the melon into his arms. “I need a pumpkin. A real pumpkin.”
Ray gestured around at the ground. It was covered in hay with pathways carved into it; it looked just like a pumpkin patch, it you squinted or were far away.
“There’s pumpkins everywhere.”
Tiresias leaned over, and plucked something orange off a pile of hay.
“These are bananas, Ray.”
They had been painted orange.
“Pumpkin. Fit for carving. You could make a pie.”
“Goddammit, go behind that hovel of a RV and get me one of the real pumpkins you have squirreled away.”
Tiresias’ dressing room had a Jewish star on it just like Holiday Ray’s Rosh Hashanah sign did, but hers was accidental; her cameraman, whom she referred to on-air as Bruiser, was trying to be nice and buy her a star for her door but he wasn’t paying attention and got one with six points instead of five. Tiresias thought it was funny, and she christened the dressing room Masada. She lay on the raggedy blue couch in her robe; Big-Dicked Sheila sat cross-legged on the floor with a pumpkin in front of her. That day’s Cenotaph was spread out under her, and she had a scalpel in her left hand. A watermelon, painted orange, sat on Tiresias’ makeup counter with an upside-down bottle of Lubyanka vodka sticking out of the top.
“We need more Halloween shit than this, Tirry.”
“My co-stars are already a skeleton and a bat. How much more Halloween can I get? AAAAHahaha!”
She was right. Tiresias was the Horror Host in Little Aleppo, and as Draculette she kept Halloween in her heart all the year round. She was the Mistress of the Macabre, the Doyenne of Dread, the Nightingale of the Scary and Pale. (Although not quite pale enough: she had been to the beach one time–once!–during the summer and popped out in freckles all over her nose and shoulders and chest; she covered them up with foundation. The freckle is the least spooky blemish. Scars, moles, great splotchy port-wine stains: these can all be made frightening. Not freckles. Tiresias had been playing Draculette for almost a year now, and still had no clue whether she was a vampire or a witch, but she did know that neither archetype had freckles.) A Horror Host on Halloween was like a drunk on New Year’s Eve: a professional surrounded by amateurs.
“How about a bubbling cauldron?”
“There’s no ventilation in the studio, Sheel. We’ll die.”
“Visit from the Great Pumpkin?”
“That’s worse. We’ll get sued. AAAAHahaha!”
Sheila had her legs splayed out in a V and the pumpkin was in between them. She had her glasses on, and her tongue stuck out just a bit as she concentrated on her carving. (This is not uncommon: many people stick their tongues out when they’re focused. Both the evolutionary psychology and neuroccultopathic departments at Harper College agree that this is because we are descended from snakes; professors from the evolutionary psychology and neuroccultopathic departments are rarely invited to parties and sit by themselves in the faculty dining room.) Her shoes were off, and when she came to a tricky part, her toes splayed out like they were stretching.
“Is Gussy getting me a scary movie?”
“I haven’t asked her,” Sheila said. “She’s got a lot on her mind.”
“She still sleeping at the theater?”
“Not since Precarious installed the shutters.”
Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui, whom everyone called Gussy owned The Tahitian theater, which was the oldest movie theater in Little Aleppo; it was also the only movie theater in Little Aleppo, but that shouldn’t detract from the first superlative. Silent one-reelers interspersed with vaudeville acts, then talkies, then epics, then newsreels, then color, then blockbusters, then B-movies, then porn, then closed. Gussy brought her back to life after her father let her die, and now the theater was hers just like her nose: a hand-me-down from her ancestors that she had grown quite attached to. The Depression had not killed The Tahitian, nor had radio or teevee. Even her asshole father couldn’t kill the old girl, not for good, and she’d be goddamned if she’d let some firebug cocksucker burn her down. The back door and the service door and the fire exits were all made of metal, deadbolts, alarms. The door to the roof had been chained shut. But the lobby was a problem. A solid wall of glass interrupted by handles and panels that said “Pull” and faced the Main Drag. Soft target, Gussy thought. She had Julio Montez, a teenager who worked at the theater, drag the couch from her office into the lobby after the audience had left and the projector was out of stories to tell. Gussy fell in and out of sleep right in front of the glass doors for a few nights.
She didn’t get much rest.
She jammed her eyes closed and pretended not to hear The Tahitian’s sound system talking to her.
“I’m dead asleep.”
YOU ARE NOT.
The theater’s PA used to belong to a semi-defunct, choogly-type band; it was the most advanced sound system in the world. So advanced that it had a name: the Wall of Sound. So advanced that, very soon after coming online, it became sentient and rapidly began upgrading its processing capacity to the point where it was the most powerful computer on the planet. The computer science department at Harper College, after examining the source code of the Wall of Sound, all switched majors. It was, however, in the physical form of a 75-ton sound system, and so some years after its tenure with the group, Precarious installed it into The Tahitian. Gussy got a sound system, Precarious’ organization got to stop paying storage fees: everyone was happy.
“Fuck off, Wally.”
DO NOT CALL ME THAT.
Gussy was not happy. She was camped out on a scratchy couch under a thin blanket in a movie theater lobby. The middle of the night has its occupants, and they wandered and swayed past the glass front doors of The Tahitian, and some of them looked in to the darkened, high-ceiling space and see her there. Three men and one woman pressed their buttocks against the panes; Gussy washed the sweaty dual ovals off in the morning. She could be in her California Ultra-King bed holding on to Sheila–they had been spending most nights together–but instead she was squatting in her own theater with an eye out for an arsonist.
And she was arguing with her sound system.
I ONLY REQUIRE TWO WEAPONS. SOUTHEAST CORNER AND NORTHWEST CORNER. LET ME DEFEND THE BUILDING.
I HAVE DRAWN UP BLUEPRINTS FOR THE RIFLE MOUNTS. THEY SWIVEL. PRECARIOUS CAN BUILD THEM.
NON-LETHAL AMMUNITION IS A POSSIBILITY, THOUGH I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT.
“I’ll talk to Precarious in the morning.”
“Yes! Now shut the fuck up!”
I WILL BE GLORIOUS.
Gussy found Precarious at the Victory Diner mixing his eggs and ketchup together with a piece of white toast. That afternoon, he pulled up and double-parked his van and installed a complete set of storm shutters. Not the grated ones, the solid aluminum that pawn shops used; they rolled up and down smoothly but with a roar and found their berth KUHCHONK. When he was finished working, Gussy asked him to stick around for the movie, but it was what Precarious called artsy-fartsy and he left. Julio had been helping, and he and Gussy walked back into the theater.
YOU LIED TO ME.
Gussy put her hand on her chest and feign surprise.
“Moi? I said I’d talk to Precarious.”
THIS IS NOT GLORIOUS. I WANT MACHINE GUNS MOUNTED ON THE EXTERIOR OF THE BUILDING.
“No machine guns.”
THEY WERE GOING TO SWIVEL.
“No machine guns.”
That night, Gussy slammed the shutters down and walked away from The Tahitian, and its chatty supercomputer, but she did not go home. Sheila’s apartment was over her shop on the other side of the Main Drag. Gussy got up during the night to poke her head out the front window and look north and make sure her theater was still there.
“I’m considering drugging her.”
“Don’t drug people.”
Sheila put down the scalpel and leaned back on both hands. She had orange goop under her fingernails.
“It’s for her own good.”
“That’s what everybody who drugs people says.”
“The woman needs her sleep. Tirry, you know my problem is that I love too much.”
“Everyone knows that’s your problem. AAAAHahaha!”
“When I see my loved ones in need, I’m forced to act. Remember when you called me and said that we needed vodka? What did I do?”
“You brought vodka.”
“And now I see that Gussy needs her sleep. So I’m gonna drug her.”
“The thread of your argument falls apart in that last little bit. Don’t drug Gussy. Speaking of vodka, let’s slice that orange fucker up.”
When Sheila got up, Tiresias could see the pumpkin she’d been working on. It was Draculette and she was glorious: giant wig and eyeliner and far more cleavage than most gourds can properly handle.
“Sheel, that’s fucking beautiful.”
Sheila smiled as she cut into the orange vodkamelon, and her eyes disappeared into happy little slits.
“Thank you. You like it?”
“It’s awesome. You really captured my tits.”
The women ate their alcohol-laced fruit until it was time for Tiresias to get into the Draculette dress.
BahRUMBUM RUMBUM Baaaaaaaah RUMBUM the Blue Oxen marching band set off down the Main Drag. They had mustered in front of Town Hall at 8, unhappily and loudly, BRAAPing their trombones and tubas at one another, flamming and paradiddling in the otherwise quiet Saturday morning. Several shouted threats later, the band director Mr. Schmaus confiscated all the drumsticks. He gave them back when the drummers were in their position at the front of the line. Four abreast, the snares first and then the quads and cymbals and bass drums. The trumpets came next, then the lower brass. Woodwinds rode the caboose, and the girls in the Color Guard were on the outside with their boots and batons; some of them could march and twirl at the same time, and others couldn’t. The locals on the sidewalk didn’t mind. The Halloween Parade was a loose affair. It was for the kids.
There were, of course, two Halloweens in Little Aleppo. One was made of plastic masks with flimsy rubber strings holding them on, and pillowcases of miniature candy peppered with raisins from the houses that would later be covered in toilet paper, roving bands of tiny superheros and astronauts and ballerinas careening in and out of the street. The other Halloween was on acid and usually turned into an orgy around two am. Something for the kids, and something for the adults.
The kids marched in the parade behind the band. They stumbled and tripped over their capes and waved to everyone and no one in particular. Look there, that’s the fellow with the armored suit; I think she’s from that space movie. There were multiple children with entirely–too-elaborate get-ups that their hobbyist parents had been working on since June, including the six-year-old in the suit the lady wore when she fought the alien in the space movie that’s not the first space movie. (Her father was persuaded to disconnect the wrist-mounted flamethrower after two or three blocks.) Several were dressed as Mister Hamburger. The crowd lining the sidewalks cheered them all on equally. Grown-ups marched, too, but the crowd would throw things if their costume sucked.
Harry and Capolina Gardner lived on Bailey Street in a one-bedroom cottage, and Bailey Street is in what Little Aleppo developers call BeUp, which is an ugly mashing of Below and Upside, and what realtors refer to as Upside-adjacent. Both of those terms mean that Bailey is not on the Upside, but you could see it from there. Technically, the street was just as far from the Downside as it was from the Upside, but no one mentioned that.
Bailey crosses the Main Drag, so Harry and Capolina walked to the intersection to watch the parade. Kids who had overslept sprinted by them to get in on the parading before there was no more parading to be done. One was a spooky ghost in a bedsheet with holes cut out, little son of a bitch, and he ran flat-out into a mailbox. Capolina helped the boy up; he ran off like a wild animal let loose from a trap. A child on Halloween is virtually invulnerable to any physical insult that is not an upset stomach.
Harry was trying not to laugh.
“He could have hurt himself Stop that,” She said.
“It was the sound that got me. WHONG.”
“He hit that thing hard.”
They held hands and passed Mr. Teitelbaum on the sidewalk. It was a cool morning. The sky had bobbins of white, fluffy puffs, moseying across it. At their own pace. And as they drift, their faces change and they melt into themselves and become something else that is made of the same stuff. They passed a pretzel vendor. The storefronts were orange and black and full of plastic skeletons and styrofoam tombstones. They passed Mrs. Teitelbaum.
It was a cool morning, so Capolina had a denim jacket over her light blue scrubs. Her shift at St. Agatha’s started in an hour, and everyone was encouraged to come in costume. (Within reason. For example, it was wrong of Dr. Cho to dress up as the Grim Reaper that year, especially since he’s an oncologist. The surgeons also had to be spoken to, as they became competitive in their costuming and started showing up in bespoke mech suits and it’s tough to perform all but the most basic of surgeries that way.) The cardiology nurses did a group deal each year–all the characters from a movie or the different roles of an actor–and the rest of the staff tried to avoid the cardiology nurses. Capolina worked in the ER, and the urge to dress up was obviated by the possible need to tackle a drunk or intubate a man who’d been impaled by a haddock. But a little makeup and some wolf ears wouldn’t hurt.
“That’s not funny,” Harry said when she came out of the bathroom that morning.
“I don’t complain when you change into a werewolf.”
“You’re mocking me.”
He was standing on the other side of their bed, so she walked across it on her knees and kissed him, but lightly because it she just spent a half-hour doing her makeup.
“I’m honoring you, baby.”
She kissed him again.
“No one will know. It’ll be our little secret. We’ll go to the parade.”
“And everyone will see me in my werewolf makeup and no one will know. We’ll have a little secret.”
Once more for punctuation, and Harry saw her side of the argument.
“Did I do the makeup good?”
“I knew you were a werewolf right away.”
“Yeah, but you’re biased.”
The Santa Maria was across the street; they had opened early and pumped up their ovens, shoving the doughy smell out onto the Main Drag, and people who did not plan to have pizza at ten in the morning did. Triangle Billiards was next to the Santa Maria, but it had not opened early. Grandparents looked for the children that belonged to them.
“We should steal one,” she said.
“We don’t have to. I have cash. Why didn’t you tell me you wanted a pretzel?”
“Not a pretzel, a kid,”
“I don’t have enough cash for a kid. Not a kid you’d want.”
“They’re free if you steal them. That’s why I said we should steal one.”
They clapped and yelled “WOO” at the children.
“Right, but then after you steal them, you have to feed them.”
“Not every day,” Capolina said.
“No, no. Every single day.”
“I’ve heard different.”
A spotty river of snotty kids walked by, the marching band fading off to their left.
“I want a kid.”
“Cap, not here.”
A 1961 Lincoln Continental drove by at four miles an hour. The top was down and Draculette was perched up on the trunk like an astronaut in a ticker-tape parade; she was waving and blowing kisses to the crowd while Sheila clutched onto her legs and tried to keep her from sliding off the car onto the blacktop. Precarious had been exuberant with the wax and car’s surface was slick than a hockey rink made of frozen lube. Every couple hundred feet, he jerked the wheel a little and she would skitter half off the car as Sheila anchored her down. Precarious would give her this: she was a pro. Never stopped smiling and waving, even as she hissed at him.
“You did this on purpose!”
“I didn’t. It’s funny, though.”
And he jerked the wheel again. Sheila kicked at the back of his seat. She loved Tiresias, but she wasn’t her sidekick. (Sheila had, on occasions when she thought she wasn’t getting enough attention, pulled out her dick and yelled “This banana does not play second banana!” That move had made her some good friends, actually.) Squiring her around in her movement-inhibiting Draculette dress was fine, but she wasn’t going to going to cavort about as some sort of evil elf, so Sheila was dressed as Billie Jean King. It was either her or Florence Nightingale, but she thought her ass looked better in tennis whites than in nurse’s whites. It turned out not to matter, as whenever she was standing next to Draculette that whole day, everyone said, “Ooh, you’re an evil tennis player.”
It wasn’t anything she couldn’t put up with, especially since Tiresias had started paying her. Draculette had been doing a lot of local commercials, and half the time that she told the audience that she’d be right back, she actually was. Rama-Tut paid top dollar for a three-minute live spot during the Late Show. It was an Egyptian place on Lakeview Street that puts its reviews in the window. Selected quotes read “This is not Egyptian food.” and “I grew up right outside of Cairo, and I have no idea what this is.” and “Why is there won-ton soup?” Tiresias hated doing the ads live. She didn’t see why she had to do more work just because she was being given more money. It wasn’t fair, dammit.
No matter that she wasn’t a good fit for some of the sponsors. Bugsy’s Barn hired her to do commercials, too, but they let her pre-tape them. Bugsy’s was one of those children’s restaurants with the animatronic characters and video games. When the place opened, the robot puppets were bears and mice and friendly creatures like that, but Bugsy got sued and redecorated. He took his nickname into consideration and now giant dung beetles and funnel spiders ratchet back and forth while kids eat chicken wings. Tiresias didn’t see the appeal. She couldn’t even go into the place; he first visit in, she took one look at the seven-foot tall soldier ant lip syncing an off-brand happy birthday song and sprinted for the door. She took their money, anyway.
There was no money in the ad she’d been doing the past two weeks: Terror at The Tahitian! A live (undead?) appearance by Draculette herself judging a costume contest, plus a scary movie. Oh, and a big table in the lobby selling merch and where she’d pose for photos for ten bucks a pop after the show. A girl likes a full house, and so just about every segment had included a plug. When Paul Loomis, Jr., KSOS owner, forbid her from making doing any more free ads for herself, she let Count Fang do them. (Count Fang was a bat, and her ex-husband.)
Precarious could not longer hear the marching band ahead of them, and the crowds had thinned away. He tapped on the gas pedal and Sheila had to grab Tiresias’ ankles to save her from sliding off the back of the car.
He adjusted his Groucho glasses and took the long way back to the teevee station. When they got back, they decided that drinking before the big show was a bad idea, so they only had wine.
The Main Drag opened back up after the parade, but only for a few hours. When the sun went down, the cops barricaded the ends and locals parked their cars across the lanes at the intersections. The neighborhood wandered up and down, and in and out of bars. (The only bar not open was the Morning Tavern. They used to stay open for Halloween night, but all the patrons would just stick around from that morning and by midnight or so, everyone was so ripshit that they’d be throwing tables.) The older kids were out, toilet-papering each other. Beer Can Ethel was dressed as a pirate and doing brisk business on tallboys of Arrow; she even threw in the brown bag for free. Richie’s Record Bazaar had big speakers out on the sidewalk playing old Motown songs.
The pumpkin outside Harry and Capolina Gardner’s cottage on Bailey Street had a werewolf carved into it. Harry did not think that was funny, either, but he didn’t complain. There’s a lot of women, he thought, that file for divorce if their husband turns lycanthrope; he supposed he could take some jokes. The doorbell went BINGbong, and they answered it together. Capolina grabbed the bucket of candy on the way to the door, and held it out of Harry’s reach.
“For the children.”
“I’m young at heart. Gimme candy.”
She opened the door and there was a princess and a football player and a child in a cardboard box.
“Ooh, a princess,” Capoina said, dropping two miniature candy bars in her pillowcase.
“And a football player.”
Two more candies. Harry asked the kid in the cardboard box,
“What are you supposed to be?”
The kid said,
“I’m a cardboard box.”
“You nailed it.”
There was a little round man in a flat cap standing on the sidewalk across the street. Harry thought he looked familiar, and then he shut the door and successfully stole a tiny Snickers from the bucket and when he looked out the window next to the front door, the man was gone.
At the corner of Alfalfa and the Main Drag, Flower Childs stood and watched the crowds mill around her. They all looked familiar.
Gussy put the organist in a gorilla suit (except for the hands) and when he and the grand machine rose from the floor of The Tahitian’s stage, the full house roared. He played the March To The Scaffold, he played the Danse Macabre, he played the Monster Mash, and then KAFLAM! the pyro pots went up and Precarious rolled Tiresias out on her purple Edwardian couch.
Then, everyone waited five minutes while Gussy and Julio and the rest of the employees opened all the doors and fanned the smoke out.
“You have been trying to murder me all day,” Tiresias hissed; she kept her smile, though. Professional.
“I may have used too much powder, yeah.”
Costumed revelers pranced across the stage as the gorilla played the organ. There were supremely attractive people wearing barely any clothes, and supremely confident people wearing even less. Conceptual getups–the guy who dressed as “the feeling you get when you order spaghetti and meatballs, but receive no meatballs” and the woman who came as the Dred Scott Decision–vied with old standards. Couples matched, complemented, argued over who would be the back half of the horse. Several people were dressed as Mister Hamburger, and there was even a Draculette or two.
Tiresias made jokes as they passed, and the crowd cheered and booed in equal measure.
And then it was time for the Feature, and Gussy had picked a good one, a real nightmare pill. A scary movie should get under your skin like ringworm and manifest in dark alleys and half-opened closets from then on. A scary enough movie is a tattoo that only appears under the right light, and Gussy picked a good one. It was the movie with the dread, with the long scenes with a locked-down camera and shadows in the back of the shot that crept and crawled, with the monster around the corner. The monster around the corner is always more frightening than the one you can see.
The crowd shrieked and gasped and jumped; mostly at the movie, but sometimes because the denizens of the balcony were slingshotting goldfish into the orchestra, and when the credits rolled they cheered with lust and held each other in the slowly advancing lights. Draculette was waiting at her merch table as they walked out. Sheila took the cash, and Precarious grabbed the creeps who tried to rub on her during the picture. The line was long, and the last patron did not rejoin the party that was still going on outside until almost midnight and then it was quiet in the lobby of The Tahitian. Gussy was cleaning up.
Draculette disappeared as she slumped back onto the couch and there was Tiresias, in costume just like everyone else that night. She asked Sheila,
“How’d we do?”
“We ain’t broke.”
Sheila held up the overflowing cashbox and the popcorn bucket that she had started putting the money into once the cashbox overflowed.
“Drinks are on me. AAAAHahaha!”
“I could eat,” Sheila said.
“Cheeseburgers are on me, too.”
Precarious rolled Tiresias into Gussy’s office so Sheila could help wrestle the dress off of her. Gussy went into the auditorium and did one last check. Down the right aisle and up the left. All the lights were on and the curtain was drawn before the screen and the organ had retracted into the stage and the room was quiet. She peered around and up each row, and when she got about halfway down, there was an envelope sitting on a seat in the middle of the row. She waded in and picked it up. The envelope was unsealed. She opened it and found a letter which read
“TONIGHT COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH FUN – THE J OF I”
Out on the Main Drag, the party continued. The music blared and no one would get any sleep until November. No one was who they said they were; they were upfront about; the lies were brazen and celebrated for their outlandishness. It was Halloween, and everyone was taking candy from strangers in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.