Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Story

     “Trick or treat!”
     Debbie gave her well-practiced look of fright as she handed out the candy. “Oh, look at you—such a scary witch! And a vampire, too? Oh my!”
     The children’s mother made them thank Debbie before leaving.
     Once they were gone, Debbie set down the bowl of candy and adjusted her hair in the mirror. Nobody had yet recognized her costume as Marlene Dietrich, but she thought the resemblance was stunning and practiced walking like the actress on her way back to the living room. She settled into her recliner and hit the play button for what seemed like the hundredth time that night.
     “Thank God for Tivo,” she said out loud.
     No sooner had she said it than the doorbell rang again. Suppressing her annoyance, Debbie hit the pause button and dutifully pulled herself up to resume her station at the door.
     “Trick or treat!”
     “Oh, such a creepy goblin! And you must be a yellow ghost!” The ghost costume wasn’t very good, so she put extra effort into looking frightened.
     “I’m not a ghost, I’m a Pokemon,” said the ghost.
     “Well, you’re a very scary one,” Debbie said, tossing candy into his bag.
     The kids said their thanks and the door closed again. Debbie rubbed her temples. She felt a headache coming on and wondered if it was even worth it to sit down again. She thought the neighborhood kids would all be in bed by now and she really wanted to finish the Fritz Lang marathon that was airing on AMC, but the
trick-or-treaters showed no sign of slowing down.
     As she stood there, the doorbell rang once more. Debbie let out a sigh and took a moment to calm her mind. Then she prepared her frightened look and pulled the door open.
     “Well, what do we have—oh?”
     Standing before her was a seven-foot tall figure in a black hooded cloak. He stood motionless on Debbie’s doorstep, all by himself, and he was looking down at her. That is, he seemed to be looking down at her. It was hard to tell because the figure had no face. In the opening of the hood, all Debbie could see was a shiny mirror reflecting a warped version of her own face. As she peered into the ghastly reflection, a cold draft crawled through the door and sent a chill up her spine. All the surrounding noise faded out.
     Debbie and the visitor stood there for several seconds without a word. Finally, she felt it was time to speak up.
     “I didn’t hear you say ‘trick or treat,’” she said, waving the candy bowl in a taunting manor.
     The visitor remained silent and motionless.
     Debbie let out a sigh. “Don’t you want some candy?” she asked.
     “Well,” Debbie said, “I have to say you seem a bit old for Halloween. And I’m not exactly sure what kind of costume this is supposed to be. You look a little like the Grim Reaper—“
     As she said it, lightning flashed and thunder struck, causing the whole house to tremble.
     “But no,” Debbie continued, “that obviously can’t be it.”
     The visitor moved for the first time, tilting his head in a way that suggested huh?
     “Well,” Debbie explained, “You bear a resemblance to the Grim Reaper, but you look more like the character from Meshes of the Afternoon.”
     The mirror face righted itself for a moment, then tilted to the other shoulder with another indication of huh?
     “Meshes of the Afternoon? You don’t know it? Well, it was Maya Deren’s most accomplished surrealist work. It’s a magnificent portrayal of how an individual’s subconscious will manipulate an intrinsically simplistic idea until it evolves into an emotional catastrophe deeply embedded with Freudian implications.”
     This time, the visitor lifted his arm and scratched his head with a bony finger.
     “Of course,” Debbie continued, “One could argue that the hooded character in Meshes was meant to represent the forthcoming death of the lead actress…”
     The visitor nodded with excitement.
     “…but a much more recognizable image of the Grim Reaper would most definitely be the character of Death from The Seventh Seal.”
     He stopped nodding.
     “Oh don’t tell me you don’t know about The Seventh Seal! It was Ingmar Berman’s masterpiece! It was the beginning of a series of his films exploring the conundrum of religious faith and it contains scenes that are still iconic in cinematic history.”
     At this, the visitor just hung his head low.
     Debbie let out her biggest sigh yet. “Well, I just don’t know what they’re teaching in school these days.”
     Fortunately for Death, Debbie had both Meshes of the Afternoon and The Seventh Seal on DVD. She even let him borrow her Criterion Collection versions of Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Rossellini’s Paisan to give him a good introduction to French New Wave cinema and Italian Neorealism. Never would he experience such embarrassment again.

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