This year, Americans are forecast to spend $4.96bn (£2.61bn) on Halloween, versus £120m ($200m) for the UK. “It’s the second-biggest celebration after Christmas,” said Shannon.
Zoe was throwing a party for her friends the Saturday before. Shannon is a Halloween veteran, and has been throwing them since Max (now 16) was three. On Friday night after our weekly bookstore and dinner trip we stopped off at Joann’s Fabric’s in Santa Rosa to get material for Zoe’s costume. She pointed out the perfect quarter moon on the way back.
“It’s going to be very scary tomorrow night, Zoe,” I said.
“I like being scared,” she said. “But I don’t think you can scare me.”
“I’m going to make you pee your pants,” I said.
“No way,” she replied. “You could never get me that scared.”
“Oh, we’ll see,” I said. Moments later I had an idea, and chuckled.
“Oh-oh,” said Shannon quietly. “He’s got something planned, Zoe.”
Just days before, Zoe had told us that she’d seen the ghostly vision of a king and his entourage in the forest adjacent to the house. She said he was on a quest to find his missing daughter. I was going to capitalise on her vision. I laughed myself to sleep that night as I thought through the details.
Whilst Shannon and Zoe were out getting party supplies the following morning, I gathered several cubic feet of leaf litter and made it into the shape of a fresh grave a little way out into the woods, under a gnarled oak.
The kids arrived in late afternoon and so did my helper, Matt – father of one of Zoe’s friends. Shannon, ever-resourceful, had managed to buy a fake gravestone. At half-six Matt and I went out to the ‘grave’ and he dressed me in bandages and toilet paper. In the ten minutes it took, the darkness thickened. I lay down on the ground and he covered me with leaf litter.
“As soon as I leave, the maniac who’s been watching us will kill you,” said Matt.
“Farewell, then” I replied. My nose immediately began to itch but I couldn’t move for fear of revealing myself from under the leaves.
Eventually, I heard the distant sound of adult and children’s voices. I knew that Shannon – an expert storyteller – would have pumped up her audience to maximum fear levels. I’d asked her to tell the kids that the king looking for his daughter had pined to death and been buried here – and that his grave only appeared every hundred years. I learned later that she’d invoked the king’s spirit by getting the kids to chant his name, and blow out a candle. Several kids refused even to be left in the lighted kitchen without an adult, let alone venture out into the darkness.
After another minute I heard Matt pretend to come upon my grave. Through the leaves over my eyes I began to see the blue light cast by the storm lamp. My heart beat faster – when to spring my surprise for maximum effect?
I heard the crunching of leaves next to me. Zoe’s voice was near and the light was dazzling through the gaps in the leaves covering my face. If I didn’t move, I’d be uncovered.
I reared up through the leaves and roared. I’d forgotten how deafening the screams of ten-year-olds are. Shannon said it went on for 12-15 seconds.
I went to bed tired, but satisfied at a job well done. At one o’clock the following morning we were woken by Zoe at the bedroom door. She was having nightmares about the story. I’d passed my first American Halloween with flying colours.
The ‘grave’ I rose from