Sunday, May 31, 2009

Memory, Halloween & "Silver Needle"

I've been thinking a lot recently about how my Midnight Walk story "Silver Needle" came to be written. Ideas for stories come easily to me, but the actual writing is much harder. I suppose it's because I've always been a bit of a dreamer. Imaginary games/worlds came to me early in life primarily as a means of coping with violent and unpredictable parents. So much easier to forget your fears and play "war" or "monster". I remember I'd be out by myself in the backyard for hours and hours. Only reluctantly would I come in for dinner or to go to bed. And night was always the best time for games because everything became mysterious and shadowy: just the way I liked it in my imaginary worlds.

Of course, Halloween was the most important holiday of the year for me. It far eclipsed even the fun of getting presents at Christmas. Dressing up as a favorite monster (I didn't really need the costume) and going out trick or treating was a wonderful experience. Really just an extension of my play in imaginary worlds, only this time everyone was playing with me.

So, I knew that when I was invited to submit a story for the Midnight Walk anthlogy, it would be about Halloween in some fashion. I haven't written a short story in many years, so I wanted to write about something that was based on my own real experience.

For days I sifted through my Halloween experiences as a young boy. And one particular experience came back to me several times. Even today I can't quite figure out what exactly happened as it is still clouded with fear and strangeness. Here's what happened.

It was during my first year out by myself on Halloween. Always in previous years one of my two sisters would accompany me as I made my way up and down the streets trick or treating or just having fun running around in my costume. My sisters were in their teens and were much more interested in getting out to their Halloween parties than taking care of their nutty brother, so they pushed and pushed me to hurry up. And once I got home, I could still go out in the yard, but I couldn't go out into the neighborhood on my own. I was too young then (10 or 11 years old).

But when I turned 12 (I think it was around 12), my mom started letting me go out on my own. At first I was so thrilled I just ran all over the neighborhood trying to see everything and fill my bag with candy at the same time. On that particular Halloween as I made my way further away from home and towards the elementary school I attended, the neighborhood changed and became more upper class with precisely cut hedges and only very simple Halloween decorations (if any).

I always made it a point to try and stop at every house on the block even if it was dark or had no decorations. But there was one house that my sisters wouldn't let me stop at when I went out with them (they never explained why). It wasn't a very spooky house. Just a simple rectangular home with a small pecan tree in the yard and a hedge out near the side walk. You had to walk through the hedge (which hid you from the street) down a cement path to get to the door.

I remember that night I came to this house I really wanted to see who lived there. I suspect it was also a little bit of a rebellion against my sisters, but I was genuinely curious. So I walked down the path and when I came to the door I tried to ring the bell. It didn't seem to work though. So I used the brass knocker that was on the door.

I stood there for a long time. So long in fact, I remember hearing other trick or treaters pass the house by. I don't remember being afraid, but it was strange to be out of site of anyone on the sidewalk or street.

Eventually, a very old woman opened the door slowly. She had turned on the porch light and it was hard to make out her face until came closer to me. I very clearly remember her face when she saw me in my costume (could it have been one of the Morlocks from "The Time Machine"?)

She was delighted to see me. She had a huge smile on her face, I remember. It gets a little fuzzy here, but I know that after I said "trick or treat" loudly, she opened the door wider, stepped back and said something like, "Yes, do come in" or "Come on in". Something like that. And beyond her, I could see a light at the end of a long hallway.

Of course, I was petrified. "Come in to someone's home to get candy?" Never on your life. My head had been filed with razors in apples and boys abducted from homes and crazed psychos.
I had no idea what to say.

And yet I found myself following this elderly woman (who had that 'old persons' smell along with plastic on all of the front room furniture) down a hallway to... what?....hell or something? She was nice. Her smile was nice and..I liked her in some way.

Eventually, we turned the corner at the end of the hallway (I looked back and the door was still partly open) and into a kitchen where her husband (I assumed) sat behind a small table and smiled and smiled at me. The table had three or four bowls of nuts in them.

I remember the room was very old fashioned, but super clean. The old woman went and stood behind her husband who then wished me a very happy Halloween. And they both smiled at me. Waiting for something...

I was confused and scared a bit as nothing like this had ever happened in my Halloween experience. I wondered if they were for real or not. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, I recall. I don't think I took off my mask or anything.

The old woman gestured at the bowls on the table and said something like "have some nuts" or "take some nuts". And I went over to look and found that most of the nuts in the bowls were pecans. So they had to be from the tree in their front yard. I really wanted candy, but nuts were good, too. And I grabbed a handful of nuts and dumped them in my bag.

By this time, the my nerves and imagination had gotten the best of me and I turned and ran out of the house and back on to the street. I don't remember hearing anything from the old folks. I just ran and ran until I got to the school and could sit down, have some candy and think about what just happened.

That memory has stayed with me for years. I've had dreams about the house. I've used the memory in acting excercise. I've daydreamed about it. There's always a feeling behind the memory. And, you know, I never went back to the house again. Although I always looked and wonders what ever became of those two lonely old people.

Because that's what they really were. Over the years I've discovered that the meaning I make of this memory is that they were old, lonely people who loved Halloween, but never had anyone come calling. That's why they were so thrilled to have me there. And since they were from another age and time than me, their way of sharing Halloween was very different than my own.

So, this memory became the kernal of "Silver Needle". After reading Lisa's Halloween Encyclopedia, I was also fascinated with the Faeries and how they figured into Halloween night. Eventually, while searching for a good story idea, it just hit me that perhaps that experience I had with the old people could be re-imagined as night where a special young boy was tempted by the Faeries, but manages to outsmart them in the end.

Since I had recently been reading several of the Last Apprentice series young adult novels by Joseph Delany, I hit upon the idea of using his simple prose style. I also wanted to emphasize the environment the story would take place in (like Delany) since it would allow me to spend time remembering details like how the air smelled and how the trees looked. I especially wanted to describe the light in each scene as I loved that twilight time where everything became mysterious to the imagination of a young, 12 year old boy. And to a 50 year old man looking back at moments of great feeling and wonder.

I'm very grateful to the members of the writing group and Lisa Morton in particular for help in getting this memory re-imagined into a short story. Many, many versions later I'm proud that "Silver Needle" is included in the Midnight Walk anthology along with so many good stories (and writers).

I plan on completing a trilogy of "Silver Needle" stories in the future where I'll follow the young boy and his encounter with Faerie as he grows older.

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