“What’s that?” Sutton asked.
“Um… that’s Spookytown.”
That’s what the sign out front said, though instead of o’s in the word “Spooky”, there were two fiery red demon eyes. If I thought the name might scare my kids, I was dead wrong.
“Oooh, can we go there?” Sutton pleaded.
“No, it’s only open around Halloween.”
She brought up Spookytown constantly — whenever we passed by it, whenever the subject of Halloween came up, and sometimes completely unprompted. “Next Halloween, we’ll go to Spookytown!” she announced. “I won’t be scared, because it’s just pretend.”
She was simultaneously horrified and fascinated. At two years old and change, scary is supposed to be simple. If something’s scary, you stay away from it. But here, there was this store that sold nothing but scary stuff, and people went there ON PURPOSE. My curious little girl was dying to learn more.
As someone who’s never much liked Halloween, it’s taken me some adjustment having a daughter who’s obsessed with it. She brings it up every single day, all year round — more than Christmas, more than her birthday. The topics range from what her costume will be to the character traits of different types of monsters like vampires, ghosts and wolfmen to, of course, Spookytown.
We drove past that deserted eyesore for months, and every time, it launched a conversation. Then one day, it was gone. Spookytown disappeared, and overnight, a tile store moved in. They slapped on a fresh coat of paint, installed a new sign and dismantled the demon eyes.
Sutton was crushed — and Halloween was only getting closer. “We’ll find another Spookytown,” we assured her.
For months, she lived with the uncertainty of not knowing where her October scares would come from. Drew and I know that Halloween stores are the bad pennies of retail. You can always count on one showing up again. Sutton was forced to take our word for it.
Then, in late September, there it was, a quarter of a mile up the road from the old Spookytown. New Spookytown. The second we saw it, Drew jerked the steering wheel toward the parking lot and the tires screeched cartoonishly as we skidded up to the entrance.
It was, as expected, a shithole.
There were cheap packaged costumes, cheap overpriced decorations, and a display of animatronic ghouls in a decorative graveyard. Even though the store had just opened, only half of them seemed to moan on cue.
The kids loved it.
The way they ran from the Smurf costumes to the zombie makeup rack, shrieking at full dog-whistle pitch, it was like they were in Disneyland.
Neither of them could make up their minds what costumes they wanted to wear, so we bought them each three different ones over the last month. I know, we’re suckers, but we’ve gotten plenty of use out of them with all the costume parades we’ve had up and down the hallway of our house.
As we counted down the days to Halloween, reports started coming in of an unprecedented storm headed directly for us. Drew and I gathered candles and filled the bathtub with water, while the kids played quietly with their toys and talked about candy.
“Why did you take down the pumpkin in the front yard?” Bennett asked.
“Because the Frankenstorm is coming,” I said.
It seemed like a joke, like the kind of twisted boogeyman parents make up to scare kids. A Frankenstorm. But this wasn’t something out of Spookytown. It was real, and Drew and I were genuinely scared.
Somehow, the storm that tore apart most of our geographic area left us untouched. The lights flickered a few times, but we never lost power. By Halloween morning, everything seemed normal. I put the kids in their costumes and herded them to the car.
“Who wants to go to Spookytown?” I asked. They went nuts.
It seemed like a simple plan. We’d been to Spookytown half a dozen times over the last few weeks. Why not now? I made a right turn off our street and almost immediately had to hit the brakes. Up ahead, the road was blocked by a giant tree.
It was just sitting there. No one was even trying to remove it. I turned down a different street, and I soon realized why that fallen tree wasn’t a priority. There were downed trees everywhere, practically one every block. I saw one that had landed on the roof of a house, but mostly they were in the streets. It was like driving in a maze, constantly having to turn around and find a different path.
The ten minute drive to Spookytown took forty-five minutes, even with almost no traffic on the roads. When we pulled into the parking lot, it was eerily empty. A man at the door told us that the store had no power. It was their biggest day of the year — in fact, the only day that really mattered — and they weren’t sure if they’d even be able to open.
I took the kids instead to the supermarket. It was open, but barely functional. The shelves had yet to be restocked from the pre-storm hysteria. The freezers were cordoned off with police tape, and what remained in the refrigerated cases was marked “Not for sale”. Employees whose job was to fill up the shelves were instead spending the morning throwing things away. Clearly, they had lost power at one point, and all the perishables had perished.
So this was our Halloween. One thing was for sure: it delivered on spookiness.
The only bright side was that my kids didn’t have many past Halloweens to compare this to. For all they knew, this was a kick-ass All Hallow’s Eve. We decided that our afternoon would be spent watching Halloween specials on TV and having a pizza party. You know, typical Halloween stuff.
Then, the doorbell rang. It was Cinderella. She had tiny glass slippers and a school jacket draped over her light blue ball gown. Her tiny arms spread open the mouth of a shopping bag full of fun sized candies.
In my 17 years in Los Angeles, living in apartments and condos with security codes, I’d never had a single trick-or-treater come to my door. This was the first time I’d given candy to a little kid in a costume since I was a kid myself.
I thought Halloween had been canceled, but when I looked up and down my block, I saw more of them. Harry Potters and Spider-Men and, for some weird reason, a lot of Crayola crayons. (Seriously, what the hell? Is there a factory nearby?)
“Drew!” I shouted. “Trick-or-treaters! Tons of them!”
It was like the sappy final reel of a Christmas movie, where the protagonist loses his last bit of holiday spirit only to glance out the window and see snow falling or Scrooge hoisting a roast goose.
A Halloween miracle.
We turned off Dora’s Halloween episode and raced the kids to the door. “You guys want to go trick-or-treating?” we asked.