(Image from the excellent Deck the Holidays)
About three years ago I started doing something extra for the Pseudopod Halloween episode. It’s called The Halloween Parade and it sits somewhere between flash fiction,a list of references and rolling around in postmodernism like a dog does in a not recently deceased seagull. I love doing this thing, because it’s a chance to download a lot of the stuff that’s influenced my writing over the year and every year I mean to do an answer sheet and every year I haven’t.
Until now. The answers are already up on the Escape Artists Forum but I thought I’d put them here too, with a little something extra. What’s below is the raw text of the endcap with no answers attached and a link to the episode. It’s a great story, Pumpkinhead by Rajan Khanna and perfect for Halloween. Then, in a day or so, I’ll put the answers up with a few extra links. So see what you can guess and check back tonight and see how well you did.
So grab your coffee, pick something up from the Churro stand and take a seat. Because I have some stories for you, and they’re all true.
We grab our coffee, hot chocolate and tea, hand the Churro dealer enough to make sure he not only closes early but anything he cooks he passes straight to us, and grab our seats. The parade is different this year, taking a different route down Country towards the harbour.
Jack, poor doomed Jack is in the lead. He’s taking it well, especially given what happened to him in the story, juggling his heads and playing to the crowd. It’s only as he gets closer that you see that almost all the faces he’s juggling are sobbing. One is screaming in rage. You don’t make eye contact as he passes.
Behind him come this year’s victims and what a group they are. In front are the irradiated, doomed teenagers, still clustered around the van that took them into the radiation zone. The creatures that brought them down dance around the edge of your vision and the edge of the parade. You hear a child’s voice behind you. You don’t turn round until you know it’s gone.
The astronauts come next. The poor, doomed astronauts who all seem confused as to what they’re doing here. One is clearly still burning, another is followed by red spherical robots that bob and weave concernedly around him. A shadow rolls over them constantly as though something vast was on the verge of toppling but it never quite does. The woman leading them, small, stocky, looks straight ahead, keeps the faith, keeps her eyes on her goal. No matter the cost.
Behind them comes a presidential convoy. A stage coach, armed guards at each corner and on top of it, standing so very, very tall, the man everyone recognizes. The old President nods and smiles, every inch the Stentorian gentleman. Only the axe holstered at his side and his two friends, both old like him, neither bowed, show his other life. As the coach passes, the ageless man sitting next to the President lowers his glasses and smiles. Behind them, a young woman stumbles as though blind, holding a camera in front of her, it’s light painting her face paler than the terror she no doubt feels. She jumps at every cheer, cringes at every sound. Just behind her, the polite Edwardian couple who are watching their son play mutter sympathetically to each other. Poor thing. We really must do something. But the sun is low and the sky is blue and they are together for the first time in so very, very long. The girl is frightened and always will be. They are together and always will be. It’s just the way of things.
Which is exactly what the two older men behind them are bickering about. One, bald with glasses, insists that it was just time and the other, high forehead and a sneer never far from his face, is arguing that if they had to go out why did HE have to go out LIKE THAT?! Behind them, a young woman wearing a lab coat smiles to herself and takes a shot. Behind her, a group of twentysomethings, each one mutilated, each one clearly dead, stares at their backs and smile unpleasantly. What goes around comes around.
Behind them, alone, a tall, older woman in a business suit strides along. Her hands are hidden in black leather gloves. No one can remember how she got there.
There’s a break in the parade there. There has to be.
What follows is familiar and yet somehow brand new. The scientist walking in lockstep with the green man made out of Everglades has been here before but it’s been a long time since he looked like he wanted to be. Similarly, the stuntman and his family all look tired, and frightened, and somehow in sharper focus. They all smile, they all applaud and as they walk the fronds of red and green in their shadows get closer and closer to touching.
They’re followed by a polite, and quite dead, Edwardian police officer, talking animatedly to a female politician. She couldn’t be anything else with that demeanor, those support staff. That haunted look in her eyes. Her security guards are identical twins, both dressed identically, neither showing their eyes. They move as one
Behind the, a tall, brawny woman in her early ‘20s talks animatedly with a slighter, blonde woman with something sitting on her shoulder. Her friend shows no indication of noticing. She’s too busy reaching subconsciously for the wand case on her belt that’s been empty for a long, long time. Behind them, the blonde man in the trenchcoat lights up, only to have his wife look at him. She’s new, he isn’t, and after a moment, he nods acquiescence and puts the cigarette out. At their heels, an old world war 1 soldier medal, a teddy bear and a spring pig jog along. Darkness nips at their heels.
Darkness punctured by the sounds of AC/DC. The ’67 Chevy Impala punches through the darkness like it isn’t there. The two brothers have been here before, they’ve been most places before, and only their passengers, a small, sad looking young man in a trench coat and an older, bearded man in a baseball cap look surprised. They both wave, the small man reluctantly at first then with more enthusiasm. None of them look at the endless array of monsters that follow them; the Djinn, the vampires, the werewolves, the roiling black cloud of demons. The little girl skipping through the middle of it.
The Monster’s Ball continues with the bare chested, mutilated man and his sphere and the black leather-clad demons glaring at him. As the Ball continues, it moves back down through the ‘50s and ‘40s and a cheer goes up as the vast, irradiated ants totter along on their wooden legs. One of them manages a roar and it’s insectile, biped handler calms it whilst the other handler, bulky and inhuman even under the helmet gets the crowd going in response, a louder cheer this second time, less certain but more enthusiastic. The old ones are always the best.
The slaughtered kings come next, a thousand shards of the same story. Some look human, some are held together by nothing but tendons and memory and they all have the same affronted look, the astonishment of men who were sure they were the heroes of their stories being killed before they had the chance to do anything with it. The two young men with them, one with a beard one without, talk animatedly, keeping their charges on course and, from what you can tell, arguing over their names and who is who.
Behind them, the elder things shift and stretch beneath a bank of fog. They’re abstracts, the taste of screaming, the echo of regret, the bitter, metallic taste of predation. They pass in silence. The gloved woman walks behind them. This time she waves and smiles, no one waves back. The smile doesn’t reach her eyes.
The sun sets, and we thank the Churro guy for letting us monopolize him and let it pass us by. There’s more, there’s always more, but the parade takes it out of the spectators as well as the participants. So we turn and head for home, and behind us, the crowd cheers as cave paintings come to life and blood made from minerals and spit is spilt over and over again. The first murders. The first monsters. Always finish on the greatest hits.
Happy Halloween everybody.
Got the answers? Come see me on Twitter at @alasdairstuart or email me.