Kage Baker loved trick or treating. Not surprising, in someone who so liked Halloween and who never, ever forgot a moment of a cherished childhood. She contrived ways to keep trick or treating, too, until nearly the year she died.
Being the eldest of many was a terrific help – we could go out quite legitimately until we were in our early 20’s, body-guarding our younger siblings. Kage liked to pace genteely along the dark sidewalks with a single lit jack o’lantern in the crook of her arm like a severed head. While the littler ones ran up to the target door, Kage would pose motionless out in the shadows and turn slowly to display the glowing pumpkin to whoever opened the door … there was something about the silence and solemnity of it that really unnerved observers.
I only quit wearing a costume when I was 21, that being the year the baby, Genny, hit age 10 and was taller than me. It was distinctly embarrassing to have people hand me an Abba Zabba and ask the real kid if she wasn’t a little old for trick or treating … Kage and I still went out, though, even in civvies. By the time Genny was getting bored, the nieces and nephews started arriving and taking them out kept us going for almost the rest of Kage’s life.
When our travels took us odd places, we sometimes tried to get back to the Hollywood Hills for The Night. We once lived for a couple of years in a trailer in a Northern California oak wood, and trick or treaters were a little scarce. Well, children were scarce. Everyone else in the makeshift neighborhood was (like us) a Renaissance Faire actor, and trick or treating was wild and weird indeed. But it wasn’t all that different from any other nights in the woods, so we tried to get home for real trick or treating.
By the time we moved to Pismo, we had slowed down some. We spent our very first Halloweens completely at home, handing out candy … it was weird. And, living in a tourist beach town out of season, there were very few kids. We used to go walking down to the beach, though, when the fog was coming in and the last hot days had brought a red tide to bloom: livid green waves washing in, lines of unnatural light sweeping up the dark beach! All it needed was rotting pirates stumbling ashore. Kage danced between the incoming fluorescent waves and drank rum from a pocket flask, and we sang all the pirate songs we knew. (We knew quite a few.)
Within a year or so, though, our last niece was born, right there in Pismo Beach: Genny’s daughter, the exquisite Emma Rose, the inspiration for The Hotel Under the Sand. She was our passport to trick or treating in Pismo Beach, and a fine time was had by all for several years. When she did move back to Los Angeles, though, we settled back into handing out candy to our few visitors and looking for pirates on the nighttime beach: but we decorated like crazy women, and the neighborhood kids loved us.
We had became That House. The one with tons of lights, and half a dozen jack o’lanterns, and Beisel cutouts in all the windows, and a fog machine raining down mist from the balcony, and Jack Skellington (made by hand from real cornshocks, by the gods!) riding a skeletal stag in the garden …
That’s the way to survive, you see. When the really scary monsters begin to lurk around and make your knees creak and your eyes blur; when you no longer need the grey hair spray; when the crone in the mirror looks pretty good before you begin the makeup: that’s when you become That House and hand out candy to the ones who can still run around in the dark.
When the streets are clear, you can always walk down to the sea and drink some rum anyway. And dance, slowly and carefully, with the incoming glowing green tide.
Tomorrow: where we spent last Halloween