Let’s take a journey together, shall we? Consider me your ghost of Halloween past. Let’s venture back to October 1993. It was a time before Twilight, before Edward and Bella, Sookie Stackhouse, and the Vampire Dairies. It was the time of ... Buffy. Let me explain.
It was the week of Halloween, the leaves fluttering to the forest floor around our house in a picturesque mountain setting. But I didn’t care. All I cared about was my Boyz II Men tape, Doc Martins, and an ever-increasing amount of oversized plaid shirts. I also cared about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I cared about this movie a lot. It was THE movie. And I had yet to see it, which was a source of great panic for me since all the girls at school modeled themselves after Kristy Swanson. And how could I begin to mimic her red lip stick and ballerina prom skirt if I hadn’t seen the movie?
After much pleading, Mom swung by the video store and picked up a copy just for me. I was giddy. My little sister Rebecca was also giddy because her entire existence centered on copying my every move. The suburban creaked and rattled home, the Ozark Mountains surrounded in cold darkness as I clutched our rented video cassette in my hot little hand.
Our father was less than enthused about the prospect of spending the night watching a movie about a bleached blond teenager and floating vampires in a high school gym. As the dad of three daughters, Reggie is perhaps the most tolerant man on earth. But even he had his limits, and watching Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry stab vamps with stakes and make out was just a footstep over his threshold of tolerance.
“No,” he stated resolutely when we got home, “I don’t want to watch that. Let’s watch Lonesome Dove instead.” My father is a tried and true Lonesome Dove fan. He can quote it. He could even re-enact it if the mood struck him correctly.
“But DADDYYYYYY,” I yelled.
“Yeah ... Dadddyyyyyyy ...” piped in Rebecca, my ever-present parrot.
My father, never one to enjoy being the bad guy, shifted tactics. “Fine. If you and Becca will both run to the wood pile and back, alone, no flashlight, we’ll watch Buffy the School Bimbo Slayer, or whatever it’s called.”
It was a fantastic move. A real life Check Mate. It belonged in the Genius Parenting Hall of Fame. Instead of crushing my dreams of teen moviedom outright, he decided to present me with a choice-based question that would inevitably lead to my kicking a rock and saying, “Never mind, we don’t have to watch it.”
The woodpile was a short walk from the house, through the woods, in the dark. You must understand something about rural living. Growing up in the Ozark Mountains, you are versed in certain facts suburban dwellers live entire lives ignorant of. One: there really are such things as bears and bobcats and mountain lions. And two: All of these creatures, at various times, had ambled past the woodpile and into our yard. This was a perceived fear, as I look back, since my dad was a few yards away with his freakishly good night vision and a fire arm. Sorry to my gun-protesting readers ... in the world of rural, guns are a fact of life.
But that wasn’t what scared me most. What scared me the most was zombies. They’re the most terrifying combination of insane people and the quick, cat-like dead. To this day I watch movies about zombies and try to nail down my exact plan of survival. But that’s another story for another time.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” I muttered.
Daddy frowned and glanced across the room at Mom for help, who was amused, watching the situation from afar.
“No, you both have to do it,” Dad bargained, putting all his eggs in one basket, that basket being a kindergartner who should have balked at the prospect of an unescorted trip through the woods, in the dark, a few days before Halloween.
Rebecca shifted from one short leg to the other, realizing that her street cred was on the line. If she punked out, I would never let her in my room to play with lipstick or listen to the Cranberries. But if she did do it, she suspected there was the distinct prospect she might not make it back alive.
“Me too. I’ll do it too,” her head bobbed up and down as her lower lip trembled.
She was scared of bears. She was more scared of being a dork in the eyes of her older sister.
Dad eyed us, back and forth, perplexed and backed into a corner. He didn’t want to watch Buffy, and he really didn’t want us to run to the woodpile. He just wanted peace and the soothing soundtrack of Lonesome Dove playing in the background.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
We donned our coats and boots, tromping onto the front porch. In summer, the forest that surrounds our home is green and beautiful. But in the fall, especially by late October, it’s spooky with dark branches jagged across the moonlit sky like skeleton fingers.
Dad frowned, never having intended for the ordeal to go this far, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Rebecca and I, steeped in Buffy mania, nodded.
“Ok, Rebecca can go first.”
We lost sight of Rebecca as she exited the small pool of light from the front porch, the crunch crunch of her boots in the gravel growing faint. I concentrated on her steps until I couldn’t hear them anymore. I also tried desperately to stop thinking about Dawn of the Dead.
And then, there was a shriek that cut through the silent night air, “I DID IT I DID IT.”
Rebecca was screaming victory from the woodpile, her footsteps coming closer, giving evidence of great speed. And as she drew closer to the pool of light around the porch, I could see her, white face upturned in the darkness, tears and snot streaming from her nose in the cold air, terror and pride written all over her little face.
“I DID IT,” she yelled/cried again, grabbing Daddy around the leg.
At this point, Daddy looked like he might cry. His plan of mental reasoning had backfired, and the result was two terrified daughters and a night of teen vampire cinema. It was not going well. Looking back, I feel great sympathy for him.
It was my turn. I bolted off the stone steps and sprinted into the darkness. My feet pounded and skidded on the gravel road, the wind streaking through my hair. The forest around me was completely silent, except for the sound of my breathing. The light from the front porch faded and I was completely engulfed in darkness.
Just me, falling leaves, the moon, and the zombies.
But nothing happened. Nothing sprung from the dark woods to bite me and infect me with zombie-itus. No bears roared. No bob-cats pounced. And as I ran back to the house, victorious over my fears as Rebecca clapped her tiny seven-year-old hands in encouragement for me, I realized I would finally get to watch Buffy.
I realized it would be a good night after all. I realized my poor father, surrounded by women and estrogen, was (and is) deserving of a house size trophy. And I also realized my little sister was one brave little sucker.
So we settled in with popcorn to watch the dramatics of Buffy and Luke Perry. My poor father even watched it with us. It was one of the best Halloweens I can remember.