You can take that hayride and all those apples you picked and the cutesy “OMG I <3 FALLLLL” pictures of foliage that you just posted to Facebook and shove them straight up your plaid and fleece-lined-legging-clad arses. You can keep your stupid, slutty Halloween costumes, your sickly sweet pumpkin spice lattes, and your crisp, cool mornings, too; I AM IMPERVIOUS TO AUTUMN’S CHARM!
Scary stories make for a fine celebration of this season, marked as it is by the brightly colored demise of all New England’s deciduous green, but death runs deeper for me in October than it does for these yellow and orange and red and increasingly naked trees. The entire natural world is withering before our very eyes, friends, and we’re going about our business as though everything is fine..! Oh, I know, I know… they’ll be all right come springtime. With any luck, so will I.
The problem is that my mom died in October. That was a lot of years ago now, but I still can’t seem to get October right. Leave me alone to sleep and binge-watch Downton Abbey. I definitely don’t want to write. I definitely, definitely don’t want to write about dating. But dealing so early in life with the inevitability of death did spark in me an insatiable appetite for all things macabre. I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, so here’s my concession to October; The Tale of the Haunted Date.
When I was twenty-one, under the guise of freeing my big brother from the proverbial bottle he’d inhabited since our mother’s death, I ran away to the Blue Ridge Mountains because I couldn’t bear another Northeastern October. Billy had bought a house down there, and he lived in it alone. It wasn’t all that awfully far South, this mountain he lived on top of. The leaves changed with the season, though later, and with a certain antebellum dignity. While Massachusetts braced itself, all gnarled bare branches clutching dreadfully skyward for one last gulp of the sun, Virginia’s willows and laurels and asters bowed to the unafraid earth, their little leaves dancing in the warm dust of a golden afternoon. I liked it there, and because he tried so damned hard not to drink when I was around, I liked being with my brother.
Since I didn’t know another soul down there, Billy asked his neighbor to dine with us the day after I arrived. Deric was about a decade my senior, same as my brother. With his blue, blue eyes, his Bob Dylan accent, and his rusty red pick-up, his simplicity suggested sincerity to my cynical Yankee sensibilities. Although I played already, he offered me guitar lessons. During one such lesson, in his bohemian shotgun shack further down the mountain, Deric said I sang like an angel. I blushed. His six-year-old daughter begged me to marry him that night, and it seemed like an okay idea. I was running low on ideas as well as patience with my real life, and it did strike me as rather quaint just then to barely get by in so idyllic a setting. But because no one will ever be good enough for Billy’s baby sister, my brother wanted no part of it. As such, Deric waited until Billy left for Colorado to take me on a date. It was the weekend of Halloween.
The date itself wasn’t wild. We chatted easily and picked at plates heaped high with comfort foods in an ancient, dimly lit plantation house hung with dried cornstalks and phallic little gourds. What happened in bed afterward, though..? That was wild. That’s what this story is about, but I’m afraid you’ll be as disappointed as Deric was if you’re expecting something explicit. ‘Twas childish fear which occasioned my invitation that Deric might spend the night—if he promised to behave. As I explained to him, I couldn’t very well sleep alone in a creaky old cabin atop a remote Appalachian mountain where the closest living creatures were semi-feral cows asleep in a derelict apple orchard. That’s the premise of a horror movie if ever I did hear one. I wasn’t playing coy, either; I was tired. Allowing for nothing kinkier than a goodnight kiss, a soft Merlot slumber carried me off as Deric awkwardly kept his hands to himself in my tiny and, as I recall, exceedingly lumpy twin bed.
Out of a dead sleep, some hours later, I bolted suddenly upright and I froze. Unable to move, unable to breathe, my eyes fixed upon an inexplicable orb of white light suspended above the foot of the bed. Though glowing, it scarcely illuminated the room around it. The mirror opposite the bed reflected only darkness. Nothing moved. There was no sound. The orb floated and glowed. Dizzy, disoriented, and struggling to draw breath enough to scream, I found my voice quite as paralyzed as the whole rigid rest of me. Before I could utterly panic, the light vanished and I collapsed on the bed, gasping for all the world like a nigh-drowned sailor.
Deric woke to find me hyperventilating and babbling about what he laughingly deemed “a midnight visit from Tinkerbelle.” I didn’t find his assessment of the situation amusing, nor did I allow myself to be soothed by his dullardly assertion that I must have been dreaming. I had not been dreaming, thank you very much. I had been accosted. But he heartlessly dropped back off to sleep again and there I laid beside his senseless, snoring body, my eyes darting agape until daybreak, conceding at dawn that I was, perhaps, rather off my rocker and that I probably ought to have offed myself back home in Massachusetts where my ghost would at least know its way around. Daylight dispelled that horrid darkness, and finally I slept.
I didn’t stir or say farewell when Deric crept out to avoid discovery in the bed of his best bud’s baby sister. Who knows how much later an incessant knock, knock, knocking drew me, indignant and bedraggled, to the cabin’s door. There I found Deric sheepishly shifting from foot to foot among the fallen leaves. When had he left? And since when did he knock? Blinking away what might have been tears, he said he was sorry for waking me. He asked if he could come in. He did not sit down. There was a message on his machine when he got home, he said. I braced myself. I awaited The Worst, which I knew had to do with my brother. Without me acting as chaperone, he’d gotten too drunk and gone ass over teacup off a snowy cliff. He was injured—or worse. No, Billy said it was nothing like that. Well..? Then he surely got drunk at the lodge and impaled an entire flock of yuppies on ski poles for some imagined incivility. But Eric assured me that Billy was fine.
“What is it then?” I shrieked, “Deric, you are killing me.”
“It’s my granny,” he said, “I’m sure sorry you had to meet her under such strange circumstances. She was a real nice lady.”
I didn’t doubt that his granny was a real nice lady, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I said so. I certainly had not met her.
“Well, girl… I think you have…” he sighed rather sadly, “she died just after midnight. I’m sorry if she scared you.”
Happy Halloween, you assholes