The other night I went to a party at a friend’s house. I was dressed as Medusa, in a snake hat I bought at the thrift store and a black cape I made myself. At the party, there were the usual witches, princesses, and vampires. One man was dressed as a policeman. A guest made up half his face to look like a burn victim. Another dressed as Brenda and Frank from Sausage Party and went around asking people, “What do you think I look like?” The answer, of course, was “a vagina.”
We all sat eating and chatting, and my friend Ollie, wearing a pith helmet, draped his seven-year-old boa constrictor Sid over our shoulders so we could take pictures. Sid was a lovely creature with the intellect of a plant, and he felt marvelously cold and heavy. I like snakes. In fact, the only real fright of the night was when the snake-phobic host plastered himself against the wall to avoid the snake and nearly fell over a piece of furniture. People accused me of tripping him, which should tell you something about my reputation among my friends.
On the way home, the streets late at night were crawling with couples dressed in costume, because Halloween is for adults these days. It is possibly too frightening for children, even though there is no evidence that anyone actually does hand out drugs or put razor blades in the chocolate bars, let alone assault children in the street.
The eve of All Saints’ Day is a day when fear is vanquished, tamed, made into something humorous and light.
But we still have monsters. In my childhood, my monsters were Communism and nuclear war, and I still from time to time wake up with a start, sure that the white flash I dreamed was the beginning of the utter end. In my teenage years, they were the Vietnam War and President Richard Milhous Nixon, much more realistic monsters. The Vietnam War, in fact, ate many of my friends, leaving them still alive but drug-addicted and desperate. When my daughter was young, the monster was AIDS. AIDS ate other friends of mine. It made them shake uncontrollably, and when they died their parents took their bodies away and held funerals to which their parents and friends were not invited.
In the novel I’m working on right now, the monsters are closer to home. Baal and Mammon still hold sway in our world, and the Morrigan whispers in the ears of our leaders that war and revenge are still the only answer. You have only to read the comments on Facebook and YouTube, you have only to sample a Twitter thread, to realize that Nemesis clutches our hearts and guides our actions. Pheme leads a pantheon of celebrities who mate, quarrel, and create new, tawdry myths. We still make human sacrifices in the name of money, in the name of glory.
But monsters are never the real villains in any plot, are they? They are not the antagonists. Monsters are the manifestations of our own fears. We summon them up ourselves. Dybbuk, Windigo, hodag, tommy-knocker, and snallygaster (to quote from Merriam-Webster’s list posted today) are sad, lonely creatures fed by our emotions. If we stop fearing them, they shrivel into Halloween costumes. It’s the people who feed that fear who are the genuine monsters.
So who are my monsters today? They could be insurance companies who sell freedom from fear by creating fear, or financial advisors who tells us we have not saved enough and will die in poverty. Perhaps they are the news media, which tell stories designed to make us believe the world is full of enemies with nothing in common. Countries that trade in disinformation are monsters. People who act in racist ways and claim they are not racists are monsters. In fact, the worst monsters are those who deny their own monstrosity, who masquerade as the only reasonable people in the room, who put on masks and pretend they are your friends.
Shall we go out and slay some monsters today?