Preparing to Scare

By Beacon Staff

We decorated the house for Halloween this week, doing a little here and a little there. First, the jack-o-lanterns went out, carved on a sunny Sunday afternoon: one goofy, one scary. The previous Saturday we wandered the aisles of Wal-Mart, comparing prices on an orange string of lights, and the cost of one plastic skeleton over another. I settled on two skeletons, and a plastic, fake blood-spattered meat cleaver to hang between them. I grew excited at one point when I found a large winged skull-demon for six bucks, but it’s price tag was significantly higher; the demon had been placed on the wrong rack.

We walked out with the above items, an extension cord and fake cobwebs. I exercised my willpower and withheld from purchasing the blonde mullet wig. There’s something weirdly liberating about buying these seasonal decorations; you tend to worry less about prices when you know what you’re buying serves no practical purpose. Two plastic skeletons with movable jaws for $4.99? What a deal!

Later I felt, giddily hanging the decorations, nostalgic. I imagined the Flathead High students, leaving school in the evening after a game or something, being spooked out by our house. I imagined trick-or-treaters approaching the house on Halloween, that night of freedom and mayhem, and knowing that this was a house that celebrated. Were the jack-o-lanterns facing the proper direction? Do the cobwebs look authentic enough? Is that plastic meat cleaver too scary?

When it was done, we stood out by the street and stared at the house, the jack-o-lanterns flickering and glowing. The scene was, in a word, spooky. Rarely does spookiness inspire such pride. It’s my first Halloween in the Flathead, and I don’t know how much candy to buy, or whether the jack-o-lanterns will get smashed or how early the kids will arrive. There’s not much Halloween decoration on the west side of Kalispell, nor do we have sidewalks on my block, so I wonder how many trick-or-treaters will ring the doorbell.

My pride, however, deflated promptly upon a drive through the east side of downtown, past some of the big houses. Big houses with appropriately big decorations. Giant inflatable pumpkins with rotating heads. Huge fake tombstones and bats and scarecrows. The decorations on some of those houses are bigger than my actual house. For a moment, I felt cowed, ashamed. I’d been outdone. These are, clearly, homeowners not afraid to pay full price for a large winged skull demon.

Then I thought about the house in my hometown that my family would drive to look at every year for Christmas. You know the house, there’s one in every town: The front yard is filled with decorations: snowmen, candy canes, millions of lights, music, sleds, the works. We’d pull up and gawk. One year, my father, for the first time, turned his head the other way, and noticed the tiny house across the street, where one sorry, sagging, small string of lights hung crooked from a picture window. We wondered why that neighbor would even bother putting up such a lame display. Looking back though, I think we misunderstood why anyone decorates for the holidays. You do it for other people, sure, but mostly you do it for yourself.

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