Oh, one other thing, um....two actually. Been reading and thoroughly enjoying this Halloween horror anthology aptly called HALLOWEEN HORRORS (previously published as OCTOBER DREAMS). There are plenty of Halloween themed horror anthologies out there, all worthy of your time and money, but this one is special, made up of stories and reminiscences. Highly recommended!
And secondly...if you haven't yet, do check out my Halloween horror novellette, MISTER JACK. I just rereleased the trade paperback with a slicker interior format, and tweaked front and back cover. Available exclusively in that edition on bn.com. You can find my ebooks and trade paperbacks here. Additionally, my ebooks are on Amazon here.
My Halloween in the Sunshine State
While I was born in Pittsburgh in late July 1967, I’ve spent most of my life in Florida. As a kid, I grew up along the southwestern Gulf Coast. Growing up in North Fort Myers until I moved to Central Florida in 1990, where I still now reside, was a special experience. I remember how my Dad drove us to the only movie theater in Ft. Myers Beach to see Star Wars back in 1977 because it had been sold out everywhere else. My Mom used to take my brother and I fishing out on Pine Island on Saturday afternoons. One of my fondest memories was haunting the area used bookstores as a young teenager (this was in the day before the chain bookstore dominance and Ft. Myers only had one big bookstore at the Edison Mall back then, which wasn’t close to where we’d lived), scouring the shelves for those slim Men’s Action-Adventure paperbacks I’d been so hooked on…or the occasional Conan the Barbarian novel.
However, this is about Halloween memories. One of my earliest ones is from when I was very little, probably around 4 or 5 years old, and we’d been living in Key West. My brother and I had been given these red devil costumes and my father made us pitchforks made from cardboard and painted them yellow. Being a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, Halloween was a big deal. Even as a teenager, it was still fun to get a cool spooky, or not so, costume and grab an old pillowcase to fill up with sweet goodies. Sure, we had taken precautions, and our parents always made sure to check our confectionary bounty for those apples stuffed with a razor blade…or any suspicious items. But it was still a mostly innocent and fun time. I hadn’t yet discovered horror fiction (around the age of 18, I picked up PET SEMETERY at the above-mentioned Edison Mall bookstore and the rest was history) but always loved those old classic horror movies, especially the Saturday Creature Feature program on Channel 44 WTOG out of Tampa, hosted by the legendary Dr. Paul Bearer.
All Hallow’s Eve in Florida is a bit different than in places where autumn shows itself with cooler days and nights, not to mention the rusty fallen leaves. It’s still warm or downright hot, many of us sweating inside our cheap plastic or rubber masks. Back then, even before the advent of Wal-Mart, you only had a few places to buy a cheap costume (unless you had a crafty Mom to make one for you), like Walgreen’s or the TG&Y. There were no pop-up Spirit Halloween stores chock full of dozens upon dozens of costumes and spooky décor. A lot of people found Halloween decorations at whatever stores sold them and many just made stuff themselves. In my neighborhood, there were a few houses that decorated outside, and most had on their porch lights to let us kids know we were welcome to knock on the door or ring the doorbell, and yell, “Trick or treat!” Some folks left candy in a bowl on the stoop, which would be quickly raided. There were those houses with no lights on, so those we stayed away from. One large two-story home handed out a basket full of quarters instead of candy, to which we altered our costumes one year to go back and collect more handfuls of coin. They never suspected a thing. But nothing was cooler than someone who really got into Halloween, dressed as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-man or the Mummy, to scare the daylights out of us kids after they opened their front door.
One of my favorite Halloween memories trick-or-treating was this house a few streets over from ours, and on a cul-de-sac, with an empty weedy lot in between two homes. One of the home owners used the lot to set up props—home-made tombstones, if I remember correctly, and some other creepy things—and would pop up dressed in rags and fake blood and face paint to look like a ghoul to terrify us. And it worked. We knew the family vaguely and even their kids took part. They let us hang out with them and we had a blast taking in the festivities, scaring other trick-or-treaters.
One of the things I miss dearly from my childhood are the haunted houses. Not the real thing, mind you, but the ones put on by the Jaycee’s, Kiwanis Club, or another similar organization. For a few bucks, you could stumble your way through the darkened, maze-like, cobwebbed interior. It was usually filled with somewhat cheesy and cheap sets, but with plenty of monsters lurking about to make you sweat or scream out, or both. Another fond Halloween memory, but towards the end of my time living in Southwestern Florida, was a nature preserve outside of Ft. Myers in a vast woodland area filled with live oak, palmetto, and cypress swamps. The Ft. Myers Nature Center, as it was called, had crushed shell and sandy dirt footpaths, and boardwalks, and plenty of spooky costumed monsters, both supernatural and those more human ones wielding big knives and chainsaws. I’d only been out there once, but it was a blast!
More common today than when I was growing up, there are lots of professionally done “haunted attractions” that do very well, with elaborate sets and scare-actors, along with the rural Hayride of Horrors, but I still think back wistfully to the autumn of my youth. For the past several years, I’ve decorated the exterior of my house, adding new Halloween decorations most every year, complete with spooky sounds, lights, and a fog machine. I’ll don my werewolf costume and sneak out of the garage to growl and howl at trick-or-treaters. Sadly, every year it seems we get fewer of them, but I’ll keep doing what I love to do…simply because Halloween is the BEST. To not take part, not just because I’m a horror fan/reader/writer, would be like letting go of it. And I refuse to do that.
My last Halloween memory is a nice segue to a little piece of fan fiction, of sorts, I wrote three years ago. When I was 19, I had been dating my first serious girlfriend. It was Halloween and we went over to her aunt’s house for a little while and helped her hand out candy to the early evening trick-or-treaters. It was fun because we ended up donning white sheets and pretending to be ghosts out in her front yard. We came back to my house and it was the first time I had watched John Carpenter’s iconic horror film, Halloween. I was both impressed, enthralled, and totally hooked. Since that day, I’d devoured all his other movies, with some of my perennial favorites like The Thing and The Fog. Back then, Michael Myers returned to the big screen in Halloween 4, which spawned several more films over the years. And of course, last October, we had a brand-new Halloween film, a direct sequel to the original, produced by John Carpenter, with the original actor, Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers (or known as The Shape), and Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Strode. Next year, we get yet another direct sequel aptly called HALLOWEEN KILLS.
Which brings me to this story, written about four years ago, aptly called “Halloween: The Beginning.” Enjoy this prequel, if you will, a glimpse far into the past of the sleepy Midwestern town known eventually as Haddonfield.
HALLOWEEN: THE BEGINNING
The land was bad, had been since as long as could be remembered. The Native American tribe, the Pashawakas, had long since avoided the area in southeastern Illinois, after experiencing their own run of horrors many years ago. They simply dubbed that vast plot of fields and thick groves as “tainted with evil.” The first white settlers who had the opportunity to interact with the mostly peaceful tribe wouldn’t get much else for an explanation, except that the Pashawakas never set foot there, even to hunt. Too much innocent blood had been spilled.
The shaman warned the settlers that the evil that resided there would sleep for 30 years or so, only to awaken hungry for violence, for bloodshed. And it was always the same. Loved ones would slaughter loved ones, whole families found butchered and mutilated.
One of the first settlers to ignore the morbid stories was Thomas Hadden. In 1840, he brought his young wife and two children to the area. With just a wagon and two mules, they staked their claim, and while the initial first few months was difficult, Thomas managed to build a simple three-room log cabin before their first winter. That spring, he started tilling the fields for beans, corn, and a variety of squash, including pumpkins. What they didn’t consume, he planned on selling to nearby settlements. They’d also built a small barn and coop for their pigs and chickens. After that summer, a year since their arrival, the Hadden family thought their hard work would pay off, and Thomas made plans to build a fine home in the next few years.
Over the next several years, other settlers moved into the area and it grew into a community of sorts. Talk began of forming an official town, with a name and mayor, but Thomas Hadden, while pleased and excited by the growth, wasn’t a politician, just a simple farmer. He had no such aspirations, but he supported the future of the unnamed but developing town.
The harvest season approached, in 1848, and it proved as it always did to be a busy time for the many farmers, including the Haddens. The crops were plentiful and the general mood amongst everyone was one of contentment, if not eagerness to expand and name their town, and elect a mayor and sheriff.
Some had suggested calling it Haddentown. After all, it was Thomas and his family who had settled in the area first.
However, in late October, horror struck the peaceful community. The curse the Pashawakas had warned those first settlers of had awakened. For reasons unknown, one night Thomas Hadden’s son, aged 14, got up from bed and went outside to the woodpile stacked against the side of the cabin. Taking the axe, he went back inside and murdered both his parents while they slept. Splattered with blood, Benjamin Hadden entered the room he shared with his younger sister, Adelaide. When she saw him covered in blood, holding the axe, she screamed before he cleaved her skull.
Summoned by the screams, nearby farmers investigated the disturbance, only to find young Ben standing out front of the family home clutching the bloodied axe, his face blank and emotionless. Later, some would claim his eyes were the most frightening aspect of the horrific scene, deep and black, as if the Devil himself now inhabited the boy.
When one man, a close friend of the family, moved to go inside the cabin, Ben lunged with the axe. Another man holding a shotgun opened fire, and Benjamin Hadden slumped to the ground, his head all but vaporized by the blast.
It took the still unnamed community quite some time to recover from the horrible tragedy, but eventually they did. Explanations for why Benjamin Hadden, seemingly a fine young man, would do what he did that night went unanswered. While many people had heard the stories told by the local Indians, they scoffed at it as native superstition. Instead, they believed that the Hadden youth went inexplicably mad, or perhaps even possessed by Satan himself.
One year after the tragedy of the Hadden family, the town finally elected a mayor (which had been Thomas Hadden’s good friend, Daniel Strode), and it’s first Sheriff (the man who shot and killed Ben Hadden), Jess Brackett.
All they had to do was to choose a town name. There had been many suggestions, but only one that most thought fitting. No one objected.
Ten years after Thomas Hadden and his family settled in the area, making it their home, the town became first known as Hadden’s Field.
Some time later, the town name was slightly changed.