Worst Halloween Ever
Originally published in "Sleep Tight Dark Mistress" Hallowzine Book #1 in October 2015.
When I park my car in front of Mikey’s house I notice that it’s one of the only houses on the street without any Halloween decorations. It’s just after 4 p.m. on October 31st, 2015. I left work early because it’s a holiday and because I really, really want to lie on a couch and watch X-Files for a few hours before going to the Halloween party at my little sister Jamie’s house. Mikey is in the kitchen rummaging through a big Rubbermaid container full of hats, tacky fashion accessories, and costume clothing. Ernesto, visiting from New York City, is sitting at the counter looking at his phone, trying to glean costume inspiration from Tumblr.
I find a can of 801 Pilsner in Mikey’s refrigerator and drink half of it before pouring a few ounces of Fernet in a glass. I’m depressed. Mikey and Ernesto had waited until today to think about Halloween costumes. I give them shit for procrastinating. They give me shit for refusing to dress up. “I just don’t do it. I don’t give a shit.” “Fine, but you’re coming with Ernesto and me to find costumes. You can’t just sit on my couch and drink Fernet all day. Get up! It’s fucking Halloween!” They aren’t satisfied with Mikey’s costume collection and they somehow talk me into going to Zurcher’s with them. On Halloween. I know it’s going to be a nightmare but I agree to go for some reason. Mikey volunteers to drive so I fortify myself with a few more ounces of Fernet and finish my beer.
As predicted, Zurcher’s is a shit-show. The store is crowded with people. There are wigs on the floor. Children are running around with plastic weapons. None of the costumes are where they are supposed to be. Dozens of different animatronic creatures laugh and scream and boo on the shelves, forming a dissonant cacophony. I follow Mikey and Ernesto, muttering to myself. Ernesto is looking for some kind of medical robe and fake blood so he can impersonate The Knick. I don’t know what kind of costume Mikey is looking for. I tell Mikey we should get out of here, since he’ll just end up dressing as a fat old lady like he usually does. They keep searching, though. I escape the throng to stand in a calm corner by the dressing rooms.
Defeated and costumeless, Mikey and Ernesto find me and we leave right as the after-work crowd starts to really flood into Zurcher’s. We get into the car to regroup. I’m starting to feel shaky with hunger. I haven’t eaten anything since the Clif Bar I choked down on the way to work this morning. I suggest pizza. We conclude that we’re too hungry to drive to Este and that their delivery drivers would be swamped. Mikey thinks we should grab a pizza at Costco. I curse and refuse but Mikey persists.
“It’s right here. It’ll take 10 minutes.”
Expectedly, the scene in Costco is the same as in Zurcher’s. It’s a madhouse. The lines of impatient shoppers helming giant shopping carts full of candy and frozen food stretched from the check stands 50 feet back into the aisles. We weave past the check stand lines and stand in line for the fast food restaurant window. I can’t believe we’re doing this. I haven’t eaten this food since I was a kid. I feel shame for myself and for everyone else who is inside Costco on Halloween. We wait in line for 10 minutes. It’s my turn so I approach the cashier. She asks me if I already ordered. I’m confused—why would I be in line if I already ordered? I tell her no and I order a cheese pizza. She gives me a receipt and says nothing. I step aside and stand with Mikey and Ernesto.
There isn’t really a designated waiting area, and the orders aren’t differentiated by names or numbers. A small crowd of people hovers near the counter, clutching crumpled receipts and checking the time on their phones. They look like they have been waiting a long time. I’m not sure how the employees will be able to figure out what food goes to whom. Ten more minutes go by. I feel extremely hungry and anxious. I start pacing among the crowd, trying to get the attention of a cashier or cook to check on the status of our pizza. Mikey tells me to relax—the cooks look like they are working quickly and our pizza shouldn’t take much longer.
I walk away and drink some water at the drinking fountain near the restrooms. I join Mikey and Ernesto and check the time. We have been waiting 40 minutes for our pizza. A feeling of panic wells inside me. I begin to pace again. I seriously consider jumping over the counter and grabbing a pizza off the pizza warming rack. Everything starts to look and sound and feel fuzzy. I start chanting “holy fuck” and rubbing my thighs. Mikey and Ernesto look scared.
I approach a cook who is dropping off a pizza and I tell him I’ve been waiting 40 minutes for a plain cheese pizza. He says he’ll check on it. He walks back and pulls the pizza off the pizza warming rack—the one I was thinking of stealing. I snatch it from his hands without saying anything and walk out toward Mikey’s car, already eating a slice and burning the roof of my mouth on the pizza’s molten cheese. Mikey and Ernesto follow me to the car and we head back to Mikey’s. I finish a second slice in the back seat before we arrive. It’s terrible pizza.
Back at Mikey’s house I pace back and forth in the kitchen while I finish off the bottle of Fernet and rant about the Zurcher’s and Costco experiences. Mikey and Ernesto are pretending they can’t hear me. Once I get it out of my system, I join them in the front room. They are watching Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy Krueger seems like much more of an asshole than I remember.
There is a knock on the door. A few children yell, “Trick or treat!” Crap. We should have bought some candy while we were at Costco but we didn’t. I look around for something to give the kids but all Mikey has is coconut water and Clif Bars. I answer the door and apologize to the kids. I close all the curtains in the front room to make it seem like nobody is home but Mikey’s front door has several completely transparent windows in it. Any number of kids could clearly see us watching the movie and pretending that nobody is home. I push my armchair in front of the door but it only covers the bottom half of the windows. I pull the Pendleton blanket from the couch, crack the door, and close the blanket in the door, effectively covering the top half of the windows. Children continue to come to the door yelling and expecting candy, but at least they can’t see us ignoring them.
Halfway through the movie Ernesto’s phone rings. It’s a friend, also named Cody, who is standing on the porch waiting to be let in. I dismantle my kid-blocking wall, let him in, and rebuild it. Cody has very long hair and is in an elaborate costume. One side of him is supposed to be a man and one side is supposed to be a woman. Like, half pant and half skirt, one platform boot and one high heel, half his hair up, half his hair down. It must have taken a lot of work. He sits around with us and watches Nightmare on Elm Street while Ernesto cobbles a costume together. Ernesto ends up wearing all white with a yellow bob wig and colorful mirrored sunglasses.
Ernesto and Cody leave to go to a party. I’m not sure what Mikey’s plan is, but after Nightmare on Elm Street is over we smoke marijuana and browse Netflix for another shitty movie to watch. We pick Grabbers and it’s ridiculous. It inspires us to drink more, but we’re out of booze. When the movie is over we walk to Willie’s* for a quick drink before I go to my sister’s party. It’s dark outside now. There is a gentle breeze. Dead leaves blow. Inside, we sit at the bar and order whiskeys and beers. Mikey just finished a lucrative photography job and was feeling festive, so he insists that this round is on him and that we should drink expensively (for Willie’s). We get Laphroaigs and Escape to Colorado IPAs. An off-duty Willie’s bartender, also named Cody, is sitting next to us at the bar so Mikey buys him a drink, too. Mikey tips our bartender an obscenely large amount and she tries to talk him out of it. Mikey insists. “I owe you for dealing with my drunk ass all summer!”
The bartender acquiesces but immediately pours us each another whiskey. We accept and gulp it down—it’s from the well. “Aren’t you two dressing up for Halloween?” Mikey doesn’t hear her—he’s talking to a drunk old guy next to him. I’m wearing my typical autumn look: black denim jacket, ripped black jeans, dirty black boots, tangled shoulder-length locks, unshaven face. “I am dressed up. I’m going as an apathetic piece of human garbage.”
She rolls her eyes and fills our shot glasses again. I turn and stare at Mikey. I didn’t want to get drunk tonight. I wanted to sit around, make an appearance at my sister’s party, and go to bed. I’m being what you would call a downer. Mikey grabs me by shoulders in an effort to snap me out of it. “COME ON! IT’S FUCKIN’ HALLOWEEN!”
We walk back to Mikey’s and I drink two large glasses of water. I look at my phone. I have a missed call and a text from Jamie asking where I am. I tell her I’m on my way and request an Uber. I put a Clif Bar in my jacket pocket for later. A white Toyota Prius arrives in front of the house. I can’t remember Jamie’s address so I tell the driver to head toward 9th South and 9th West. I spot her street and identify her house. I thank the driver but I don’t tip him because I’m pretty sure you’re only supposed to tip Lyft drivers.
I walk in the front door without knocking. In the front room there is a three-foot bong on a coffee table with half a dozen 20-year-old dudes huddled around it. They stare at me as I walk past them into the kitchen. In the kitchen I’m greeted by a handful of 20-year-old girls drinking bottles of Redd’s Apple Ale. A Fetty Wap song is playing. I see Courtney, Megan, and Ambrie—Jamie’s childhood friends are now adults with tattoos and alcoholic beverages. We exchange awkward smiles and I walk past them to the refrigerator where I find a Wasatch Pumpkin Ale. That’ll do. Jamie sees me through the open back door and runs screaming into the house to hug me. She’s dressed like a witch or something. “You guys! It’s my brother! Let’s do shots!”
Jamie turned 21 last month so I haven’t had time to indoctrinate her with beverage snobbery. Tonight her liquor of choice is Parrot Bay passion fruit–flavored rum. The ex-cheerleaders and I raise our neon plastic shot glasses and empty them. I wash the foul liquid down with my pumpkin beer. It’s a horrible combination of flavors. I follow Jamie to the backyard and she offers me a veggie burger from the grill. I decline—my stomach feels sour from the passion fruit and pumpkin combination. For such a newbie, she’s an impeccable host. She asks if I’ll get a fire going in her new fire pit.
I walk across the dirt yard to the fire pit. Jamie’s two boxer dogs are leaping and thrashing together like the cartoon Tasmanian Devil and they collide into me. There is no firewood—just a large stump sitting by the pit. Jamie’s boyfriend is standing around smoking cigarettes. He was supposed to buy firewood but he forgot. I scour the yard for wood and kindling. I only find tiny bits of tree branches and a few discarded two-by-four scraps. I tell Jamie I’ll start the fire later on, when it gets cold.
I smoke a cigarette and make small talk with Jamie’s friends. My brother Chad and my sister-in-law Hillary show up dressed vaguely like witches. Hillary comments about us being the oldest ones here, and it’s true. Chad brought Wasatch Pumpkin Ale and he offers me one. I accept, and Chad and I set out to build a fire. We collect tiny pieces of tree branches and dry weeds to use as kindling. We build a miniature log cabin out of wood scraps and light it. One of Jamie’s guy friends tries to help by poking around in the fire with his foot but he’s really drunk and it’s not helping. Hillary, Chad and I sit around the fire. I smoke another cigarette and try very hard not to blow my smoke on them even though the fire’s smoke is blowing in everyone’s faces. The wood scraps won’t fully light so I look around for some hot-burning fuel. In the kitchen I find a half-empty box of PBR so I set all the cans on the kitchen counter and take the box outside. I set the box on top of the dying fire and it is quickly ablaze. The wood scraps get hot enough and stay lit. Its smoke mixes with the dust kicked up by the two boxer dogs play-fighting in the firelight.
I suddenly feel very drunk. I don’t remember drinking that much, but I might have had more than one shot of that passion fruit–flavored rum. Jamie’s drunk guy friend sets the big stump on the fire. I tell him that it will smother the flames. Now I remember: the drunk guy friend offered me some Hennessey from the bottle earlier on. That must have tipped the scale. Now Jamie is sitting next to me at the fire. She’s telling me a story, but stops and stares at me. “Code! Are you even listening?”
I stand up and walk just outside the ring of firelight and vomit. Oh god. I’m the drunk old guy at the party.
I wake up on Mikey’s couch, still wearing my jacket and jeans and boots. I smell campfire. It’s morning. November 1st. All the lights are on. I must have taken another Uber home. I look at my phone and see text messages from Chad and Hillary and Jamie and Mikey, all asking if I’m OK.