To Laugh at the Devil

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One of those sketchy Halloween pop-up stores just opened next to Wal Mart, in the abandoned Sears building. This week, when the bus dropped us off for a shopping expedition, Rose begged to be taken to see it.

I had never been in a Halloween pop-up store in my life. I didn’t know what they were like. I was raised on the Planet Charismatic.  For years, my mother would recoil in horror at the thought of Halloween; she drummed into my head that anything spooky was demonic, and would leave me with an “oppression” if not full-blown possession. I didn’t want a demonic oppression. I was petrified of the devil at all times as it was. The Charismatics had me convinced that the devil was nearly omnipotent– that he could cling to a person and “oppress” them if they watched the wrong film, or read the wrong novel, or came into contact with a “pagan.” And once the devil was oppressing you, you were done for. Your health would fail; your worldly affairs would be sabotaged by bad luck. You would be plagued by nightmares and mental illness. Dishes would levitate inside your house. I spent several years of my life a miserable Charismatic, scared out of my mind that the devil would “oppress” me.

I regret that I have but one child to raise free from that nonsense.

“Yes, we can go,” I said.

Inside, it was noisy and close. Various animatronic spooks were writhing and carrying on all over the store. I thought Rose might be frightened, but she ran ahead.

“We have to go across the bridge first,” she demanded.

I followed her across a weathered particle-board mock-up of a covered bridge, big enough to span my whole yard. Oversized bats leered at me upside-down through cracks in the walls. The floor planks each bowed or wobbled in a different direction when I stepped on them. When this product is pulled from the market, I want to read the lawsuit transcripts; they’re going to be entertaining.

At the end of the bridge, Rose was happily jumping on and off the motion-sensor sticker to make the animatronic grim reaper lunge at her. Every time she jumped, the reaper would lurch forward as if to drop off the bridge onto her head, but lurch back up at the last moment. And each time he lurched, he spouted pre-recorded phrases.

“I can smell your feeeeear!!!!” bellowed the Grim Reaper. “It smells Deliiiiiicious! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!”

Rose laughed as well.

I wanted to browse the fanciful mermaid makeup kits, but Rose did not. She wanted to go to the Area 51 section.

In the Area 51 section, there were many more lifesized, grotesque animatronics that could be operated by a motion sensor. Rose was annoyed that the last glowing alien fetus jar had been bought, so there was nothing in that display case. There was, however, a cryogenically preserved corpse that rose out of his poorly sealed casket with a puff of smoke, and she enjoyed that one.

“That’s kind of gross,” I said.

Rose had already moved on to a set of sturdy metal doors which clanged open and shut over struggling cadaverous hands. Next to that, was a figure made to look like Reagan from The Exorcist— a film that was legendary in my family. As far as anyone could tell, my mother’s religious crotchets largely stemmed from the trauma she’s experienced when, as a rebellious pre-teen, she snuck into a showing of The Exorcist. Instead of finding competent emotional and spiritual help, she’d fallen in with weirdos and believed everything they said. She was convinced that The Exorcist was a supremely demonic film that would leave anyone who watched it struggling with “oppression.” No one in the house was allowed to make reference to The Exorcist.

My mother’s fear of The Exorcist engendered in me an absolute terror of watching horror movies– not of the content of horror movies, but of watching them. I had recurring nightmares about being trapped in an infinitely expanding house with a television in every room, and a horror film playing on each television. I was afraid something terrible would happen if I watched the films, but I couldn’t get out of the house.

I was surprised and embarrassed when, at the age of twenty-eight, I actually sat down and watched The Exorcist. It’s an excellent film, more powerful and intense than traumatic. I haven’t had the nightmare since.

As far as I know, Rose doesn’t have recurring nightmares. She tapped the motion sensor, and the Reagan figure levitated several feet into the air.

“That’s one of Mommy’s favorite movies,” I said.

“I know.” She was disappointed when I bought myself a copy of the DVD, and told her she wasn’t to watch it with me until she was sixteen.

We went to look at the masks and wigs; Rose tried to put on an Iron Man mask. I started to scold her for touching the merchandise… but just then, I was dazzled by the sight of an F-Society mask from one of my favorite shows, Mr. Robot. I tried it on before I realized what I was doing. It was upon taking it off that I saw the price tag, and hastily put it back.

I found Rose several feet away, looking up at a jaundiced animatronic zombie who was shaking the chain-link of a narrow cage and screaming as his eyes flashed.

Then I saw the Darth Vader costume.

Rose is fascinated by Darth Vader. She likes to march around the house in a bed-sheet cape, reciting dialogue from A New HopeShe doesn’t like The Empire Strikes Back, though, because she’s afraid of Yoda.

“Rose!” I cried. “Oh, Rose, would you like to be Darth Vader for Halloween? I’m sure we could get this for you.”

Rose shook her head. “I want to be Mr. Rogers for Halloween.”

Before we left, Rose stopped to laugh at the devil– a seven-foot bat-winged animatronic creature, standing in a planter by the foyer, shouting threats.

“I SEE YOU! YOU WILL KNOW TERROR!” said the devil, reeling back and forth like a drunk. “I WILL COME INTO YOUR DREEEEEAMS!”

“I CAN SMELL YOUR FEEEEAR!” repeated the Grim Reaper from the other side of the covered bridge.

Rose laughed again. She laughed at death’s boasts. She laughed at the bat-winged fiend who postured with such confident aggression when he couldn’t hurt her at all; then she left him behind, and went to run her errands with me, without giving him another thought.

That’s as it should be.

(image via Pixabay)

 

 

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