The Burnt Offering

Halloween Quest

The Burnt Offering is where Stu Horvath thinks too much in public so he can live a quieter life in private. 

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The following is a reprint from Unwinnable Weekly Issue Twenty-One. If you enjoy what you read, please consider purchasing the issue or subscribing for the a month. 

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I hate costumes.

Being around people in costumes makes me profoundly uncomfortable. No one, no matter how much they love costumes, looks at ease in them. It is like seeing someone wearing a beret for the first time – you can perceive something from their body language that screams “I don’t wear this all the time.” Which, I mean, is a given for Zombie Abe Lincoln standing by the punch bowl at the Halloween party. At least I hope it is.

Even the most elaborate costumes never look properly lived in. I recently saw pictures of an elven warrior from one of the Hobbit movies in front of a green screen, surrounded by crewmembers in jeans and t-shirts. This costume was likely assembled by a team of craftsmen at great expense to convey a sense of regality. In the context of the film, I wouldn’t give it a second thought, but in these production stills, it all just looked terribly awkward. Thankfully, he was concerned with looking like he was in the woods, fighting some kind of giant wolf thing. If he was holding a coffee cup in his chainmailed fist, my world might have collapsed in on itself.

I used to date a girl who’d cosplay at comic conventions. That went about as well as you’re thinking it did.

When I am around people in costume, I sometimes get a feeling that is the inverse of the guy in the beret. I worry that people look at me in my regular clothes and think “What is he dressed as?” Yes, I wear these rings all the time. Yes, this is how my beard looks. I’m wearing a flannel because it is chilly, what of it? No, I am not dressed as a werewolf, mid-transformation. Seriously, I am not a weirdo like you, Zombie Abe Lincoln.

What I am trying to say is that this is another example of me being Stu Horvath, enemy of fun.

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This probably isn’t going to surprise you, but I don’t really like Halloween. I love October, the way the air gets colder and the leaves change color and there seems to be a horror movie around every corner, but the big day leaves me cold. I don’t need one night out of the year to scratch the spooky itch; I’m mainlining it year-round. Or maybe I am just dreading the annual costume party.

I don’t think I was this against costumes when I was a kid. I had some pretty good ones, actually. There was the pirate with the awesome plastic sword that accompanied countless make-believe scenarios for years afterward. And the patriot soldier my mom slaved over the year we went to colonial Williamsburg for the first time – I’d be surprised if that one wasn’t still hanging up in the attic somewhere. I was also Dracula and the Invisible Man. They were all pretty cool.

I don’t remember any others, though. And I don’t remember what it was like to trick-or-treat, to run riot up and down the blocks, ringing doorbells and getting all that precious candy for my trouble. Not one single memory.

I do remember carving one particular pumpkin, though. I was still pretty young, maybe second or third grade, but this was the first pumpkin I carved myself (well, mostly – those dinky safety knives don’t cut real well and I can’t imagine my parents having quite the amount of patience it would take to wait for wee Stu to saw through the pattern). It was a nice, tall pumpkin and I carved two simple round eyes, a triangle nose and a wide smile with two vampire fangs coming down. I was pleased with those fangs. So pleased, in fact, that I got out the tempera paints and added a bit of blood and yellow bags under the eyes. It was a good jack-o-lantern.

On Mischief Night, though, we all forgot to bring the pumpkin in from the front steps – in retrospect, I can’t imagine why it was out there in the first place. Stupid kid pride, probably. In the morning, it was sitting in the gutter, smashed just enough for a stupid kid to think he could maybe put it back together. The garbage can smelled like pumpkin guts for weeks.

I learned a few days later that one of the kids across the street had done it, but he was older and far bigger than me, so there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I tried anyway, and got shoved to the ground harder than I thought was possible. I remember just lying dazed on the cold ground, looking up at the sky, feeling so angry. I’m still angry, I guess. That kid was a shithead.

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When I played Costume Quest for the first time, it was like getting one last, perfect childhood Halloween, the adventure every kid dreams of when they run out the front door into the cool October night, pumpkin-shaped buckets in hand. The dark suburban streets, lined with skeletons and jack-o-lanterns, are a dream of Halloween made real.

And, of course, when the mean monsters show up to steal the candy, the kids of Costume Quest have the power to kick their well-deserving butts.

I admit, I was hoping for more of the same with Costume Quest 2, but it is different. In this installment, a time travel story, the kids wind up in an alternate future where Halloween, candy and costumes have all been outlawed (by a nefarious dentist, of course).

It may seem strange for a costume-hating humbug to say this, but it was all a bit sad. As a kid, the dentist just wanted one perfect Halloween. When he didn’t get it, he grew up and made sure no one else would get one either.

I’d hate to be the dentist. There has to be some middle ground between not wanting to put on a costume and kicking in gourds, right?

Right?

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Kids and costumes make sense. The masks are the answer to that tiresome adult question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A ghost, a robot, a zombie president, a werewolf mid-transformation. Anything but you, you big boring grump.

I suppose that’s true of adults, too. Halloween makes for a one-night reprieve from reality, when you get to be a ghost, a robot, a zombie president, a werewolf mid-transformation instead of a cop, a receptionist, or whatever you happen to be the rest of the year.

That’s cool. I’m happy for you (maybe even a little envious). Make those kick ass costumes. Bob for apples (do people still do that?). Have fun. I salute your Halloween spirit.

I have enough trouble being one thing all year, though, so I’ll be on the couch, watching Monster Squad and eating store-bought Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, if that’s OK with you.

Just don’t smash any pumpkins while you’re out.

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Follow Stu on Twitter @StuHorvath

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