Friday, October 24, 2014

Grownup Guide to Halloween

I’ve always been a sucker for Halloween. Give me a pumpkin cream and dollar store cauldron and I’m good. The holiday changes once you’re an adult, though – and if you give into your inner Halloween curmudgeon, you can end up with less sugar and more stress. Since I refuse to hang up my witch’s hat, I’m sharing a few suggestions for staying sane on Samhain for grownup goblins and ghosts:

A Grownup’s Guide to Halloween

1. Ditch the dignity. If you really want to get into the Halloween mood, now is not the time to worry about how ridiculous you look wearing a Dracula cape to the office. One year, someone in my office suggested we “all” dress up in costume for Halloween. Getting into the spirit of things, I came to work wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and teased hair, thinking it would be funny to dress as a biker babe. Well, the joke was on me because nobody else dressed up, we had a company-wide meeting, and worst of all? No one realized that my outfit was a costume.

Did I let that dampen my Halloween gusto? Heck no. Before going out that night, I added more hairspray and traded the jeans for fishnets. Because if you’re going to look like a trashy Motley Crue groupie, own it. Did I later wish for something warmer than fishnets on my quest for a cab? Sure. But, on the plus side, several very friendly strangers offered me rides home. Halloween: bringing people together since we stopped burning them.

2. Remember that a little costume goes a long way. And by little, I’m talking the amount of fabric, not creative effort. Ever been in the section of the Halloween store where they stash the costumes for grown women? Party City: puttin’ the “adult” in adult costumes. There’s basically two choices: regular slutty or scary slutty. Regular slutty is your nurse, your cheerleader, belly dancer, etc. Scary slutty is regular slutty meets Elvira. Wear what you want, but I have to doubt the historical accuracy of a witch costume with thigh high slits and a navel-length neckline. If you want to look like a middle-aged Bratz doll, knock yourself out. Just don’t whine if the ‘tricks’ you’re getting offered aren’t made by Hershey.

3. Suck it up, buttercup: Halloween ain’t like it used to be. Certainly not the way it was when we were old enough to trick-or-treat and our parents sent us out the door with a vague warning to stay away from the creepy guy’s house at the end of the street. No one ever explicitly said the neighbor was a pervert, of course. Because that would be rude.

Things are different now and it’s best you face facts. You will be accompanying your kids the entire time. If they are too old for trick-or-treating, you’ll probably be ferrying them to some other appropriate activity, not leaving them at home with a buddy to make prank calls and smoke your cigarettes. (Inhale, cough, gasp that you’re “totally going to barf,” giggle, repeat).

I know that’s terrible and kids, don’t do drugs … but it was fun. Where were my parents? I have no idea. Parents were never home at night during the 80s. They were always at a dinner party. Maybe they were all at the same dinner party; a suburban Last Supper with cheaper wine and shoulder pads.

4. Drink up. Because the only thing worse than trick-or-treating with a kid who’s been mainlining Kit Kats for three blocks sans water bottle? Trolling the ‘hood sober. Trust me; both you and your child will be happier if you’re packing a chilled thermos of water for him and a solo cup of wine for you. A six-pack of beer is too unwieldy and will prevent you from toting the mask, cape, and other accessories that your kid will abandon at some point during the night. A smarter choice is a cocktail bar tucked into a radio flyer wagon. Or golf cart.

5. End on a good note. You’ve made it through the neighborhood, the kids are in bed, and you’re left sitting there, wondering: is this it? Yes. Yes, it is. And consider yourself lucky that you managed to get yourself and your progeny home in one piece. So do yourself a favor – pick out the Snickers from the kiddos’ stash, freshen your drink and put on a scary movie. Because you might be old now, but there is one thing about Halloween that’s just as true whether you’re 14 or 40.

You still can’t watch The Exorcist without covering your eyes.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Man in the Pool

In honor of my favorite holiday, tinkering with a chapter of a Getaway Girls sequel. Happy Halloween!

The house was quiet that night. The call about Mercy had shaken them all, but eventually the boys had fallen asleep. Now, as the moonlight streamed in through the bedroom curtains, Audrey felt anxious about the missing girl.

But it was more than that. She couldn’t shake the sensation that someone had been in her backyard, had looked through her window. She got out of bed and stared out her window overlooking the small pool. Nothing but a tiny breeze that barely stirred the water.

Without anything else to do, she remained standing, watching. Aqua ripples washed outward from the center of the pool, spreading in smooth flat circles. The circles extended, growing in diameter until they reached the edge. There they broke apart, the rings weakening until all movement had finally disappeared.

Or had it? As Audrey watched, small bubbles began to form on the surface in the pool’s center. That’s funny, she thought. Maybe something had fallen in. She leaned over for a better look. She couldn’t see anything but the bubbles, but they kept popping up. And getting bigger.

Now curious, she left her room and headed for the back patio door. Probably some animal, she told herself. Better scare it away before it drowned. She refused to let herself think anything else until she pushed open the French door and stood on the smooth, dark stonework.

She flipped on the exterior light and the round yellow bulb flashed a steam of light down into the pool. The bubbles continued to build, but now ripples curled forth from the bubbles, and quickly spread out into thick rings of water that expanded quickly, audibly lapping against the tile.

A shovel leaned against the brick siding of the house, and she picked it up carefully. The dirty metal handle was warm and she clutched it tightly, taking another step closer.

The bubbles had now multiplied into a thick, frothy blue and white foam that coated the surface of the pool.

"What the hell," Audrey gasped, her whispering voice lost in the jagged churning of water.

As if in response, the foam suddenly exploded into a tall fountain. Water spurted ten feet into the air, spraying Audrey and the entire patio. She jumped back, drenched, as the fountain twisted and thickened. Beneath the water, a dark form began to rise.

Shaking, she dropped the shovel and turned to grab the handle of the door leading back inside when a heavy wave knocked her to her knees.

And a voice rang out above the splashing. “Remember me, Audrey?”

Audrey froze, sopping wet in a huddle on the ground.

She knew that voice.

She lifted her head and saw a tall, dark-haired man in a striped shirt and jeans standing – standing – on the water in her swimming pool. He reached up with a long, muscular arm to flip a hunk of wet hair from his forehead. His eyes were blue and brilliant, but cold. And he smiled with a mouth full of sharp, white teeth.

Like a shark circling his prey, he moved around the perimeter of the pool, still miraculously hovering atop the water. “You didn’t answer, Audrey. I asked if you remembered me.”

Then in one quick, fluid movement, he stepped onto the slick stone.

Audrey’s teeth were chattering, for despite the sticky night air, the water suddenly felt like ice. “Yes," she stammered. “I remember you.”

She could hardly forget the tall, pretty one – the man who had looked as though he belonged on a yacht, not trying to rip out women’s throats in a decaying house in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. A man she’d impaled with a nail-studded drawer and set on fire.

A man she’d thought was dead.

“Sucks to be wrong, doesn’t it?” His eyes sparkled as he surveyed her, crouching on the ground. “No, I didn't die. You killed the others. But not me.”

Audrey stood up slowly, her eyes never leaving his. “That’s because you left the rest of them to die.”

The man shrugged. “I’m a scavenger, sweetheart, not a Marine. I do leave men behind.”

He took a step closer and then stopped, extending a hand. “Where are my manners? We’ve never been formally introduced. I’m Rho. Nice to meet at last.”

Audrey grabbed the doorknob, trying to get a firm grasp with her wet fingers. “The feeling isn’t mutual. What are you doing in Dallas?”

Rho studied his fingernails for a moment. “Aw, I’m just a cowboy at heart,” he drawled in a passable Texas accent.

Then he shook his head. “Just kidding. I’m here for revenge.”

“Revenge?” Audrey asked, her eyes flitting around for the shovel.

“Loyalty's not my thing, so I don’t care that you killed my boss. But getting rid of Carl let those whiny vampires back into the Garden District. I could barely stalk a sorority girl without running into the undead. You cost me my hunting ground and my home." He glared at her.

"So I had to relocate. Thought about Seattle ... too cliched. Then I read an article describing how many companies were moving to Texas, bringing carloads of naive newcomers. And I thought hey -- if it's good enough for corporate America, it's good enough for me."

He paused, staring down the length of her body, and as his glance traveled back up to hers, he winked. "Plenty to eat. And your hot, miserable summer seems to make everyone just a little more careless.”

Audrey felt her breath come in shaky little gasps. “You’re staying here?”

Rho smirked. “We'll be neighbors. I just can’t wait to catch up with you. And your boys.”

“Stay away from my kids!”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill them. At least not right away. That would ruin all the fun. But I’ll be around. All summer.”

He took one more step forward and Audrey turned her wrist to engage the doorknob. Just as she heard the click of metal, Rho lunged at her, grabbing her chin with the long, cruel claws that extended from his fingers where nails should have been. He twisted her face until she was inches from his and he sniffed the skin above her cheekbones.

“Just as sweet as you were the last time we met.” He drew one long, yellowing claw down her face and across her lips, drawing a thin red line of blood.

“But I’m not. I’m going to leave you and your family alive long enough to watch me murder as many of your friends and neighbors as I can before I get bored with Texas.”

He lifted the blood-flecked claw to his own mouth and sucked Audrey’s blood from his hand. Then he shoved her back down to her knees. “And then, I’m coming for you.”