Three for Halloween
By David Daniel
1: Speed Dating at the Lonely Monsters Club
When they get off the elevator, the sign is on an easel outside the function room: SPEED DATING EVENT TONIGHT
Nervously, Shanna runs her hands down her hips. “This is going to be another big fail,” she whispers.
“You won’t know till you try,” Marci says.
“Every time I do I wind up disappointed. You name it, I’ve tried it. Craig’s List, on-line matchups, blind dates, fix-ups by well-meaning friends—”
“Hey, we were only trying to help.”
“I know. I’m not upset with you and Curt. But it’s discouraging is all. I feel like the homely stepsister.”
“Oh, honey, no.”
“I’m starting to lose hope that there’s really someone out there for me.”
“With this you only need to spend a few minutes with each one, the bell rings, and on to the next. If you find someone you connect with and there’s chemistry, you can take it to the next level. If not, what’s the worst that can happen? And all these guys are available.”
“Okay,” Shanna sighs. “I guess.”
“You already said it’s not all about looks, right?”
“At this point, it’s nothing to do with looks. Personality, tenderness, a sense of humor. I want companionship, somebody to dance with in the dark. I’m tired of being lonely.”
“So are they. Ready?”
“You’ll wait for me?”
“In the bar, champagne at the ready.”
Shanna draws a breath and goes in. The room is dim. Two long tables are set up facing each other. Overhead pin-spotlights pick out figures sitting, four behind each table, eight in all, with vacant chairs opposite each. They are looking up with expressions of uncertainty and hope. Small placards stand on the table, identifying each:
MR. HYDE * QUASIMODO * CALIBAN * PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
GRENDEL * THE ELEPHANT MAN * FRANKENSTEIN * BIG FOOT
2: A Hundred O’clock
My neighbor, who has two young sons, asked me, “Do you write anything scary?”
“That depends,” I said.
“Because Nicholas is champing at the bit for something scary. He’s almost eleven and says he’s ready. He wants to go see It. But I don’t know. I’m torn.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I hear you.”
When I was about ten my brother Jake, who was eight, and I wanted to stay up sometimes to see a scary movie on late night TV. King Kong maybe, and Frankenstein. We had heard about those movies but we’d never seen them and were very eager to. Mom always nixed it. She remembered seeing Bela Lugosi in Dracula when she was a girl and sleeping in her parents’ bed for a month afterward. “That’s way past your bedtime,” she said, “and besides, movies like that aren’t for kids. They’re too scary.”
Which was, of course, why we wanted to see them, why my neighbor’s son Nicholas wants to. Why all kids do.
Dad wasn’t as resistant as Mom. Like a castle in an old movie, which even I could see was made of papier-mâché and ringed by an empty moat, he was easy to lay siege to. Calm by temperament and often tired from his long days as a telephone lineman, he’d sigh. “That’s on pretty late,” he’d say.
“Only ten-thirty,” Jake or I would counter.
“But later by the time it gets over. You’ll be exhausted tomorrow.”
“Please? We’ve stayed up till almost eleven before.”
“We can do it, Dad,” I’d say. “We can stay awake till twelve o’clock.”
“We can stay awake till a hundred o’clock,” said Jake.
“Well . . . I tell you what. Get in your PJs and brush your teeth, and if you can stay awake you can watch the movie.”
Of course, we never made it. We’d try but we’d grow drowsy and fall asleep before the movie even came on and he’d carry us up to our beds. It was years before we got to see those movies. And they were never really that scary. Now it’s the news that fills me with dread. The monsters wear beards or clerical collars or nice suits and bright silk ties, all spewing lies. King Kong and Frankenstein’s creature at least tried to act as if they’d been touched with humanity.
Sometimes I feel like I’m still waiting for a hundred o’clock.
3: Affair of the Heart
I cannot remember the exact moment I fell in love with another man’s wife. The pair of them, along with my own wife and I and several other couples, were social acquaintances for a spell of time in the autumn and early winter of a year too far back for me to name. There were perhaps a dozen of us, all of an age (or, actually, I was slightly older) who found fellowship in the soirées at the local country club. The other men played golf—never my game—and in the evenings, we would all dine and drink cocktails and tell the humorous stories of our suburban lives.
The woman in question—I shall call her Caroline—was a kind, sweet, pretty woman, whose husband ran a successful Cadillac dealership. At thirty-five, she was the youngest in our group. It didn’t take me long to discover that her marriage was not a happy one. Her husband was a loud, blustering man, who approached the world as if it were a reluctant customer he was determined to put into a new Coupe De Ville, and he was not going to take no for an answer.
My wife pointed out to me, fairly early on, how it was between the pair, unsparing in her dismissal of the husband as a boob and his wife as a whey-faced wimp. My wife (call her Lucille, her real name; why spare her in this?) maintained an act in public as a loving, supportive woman, devoted to her husband and fond of other people—but it was a front. In private, no one was spared her ripping critiques; certainly not I.
For my part, I reserved judgment on Caroline. One evening, out on the country club patio, overlooking the 18th hole, she and I found ourselves apart from the others for the first time. It was late October and the night had the surprisingly mild Indian Summer air that New England sometimes gets. Orchestra music drifted outside from the ballroom where other couples danced.
And there in the moonlight, Caroline and I had our first honest conversation. She revealed to me the worst of it: that her husband was a bully, who moved through her life pillaging it, robbing her of the simple pleasures she took in painting water colors and protecting wild birds. I listened, impressed by her bright intelligence and appalled that she should have to accept so obedient a role. But her longsuffering patience struck me. She seemed determined to endure. She said, “I envy you. You and Lucille seem to have things figured out.”
“Oh, I don’t think anyone ever really has,” I said. “Things can seem to be one way when viewed from the outside, but inside . . . different.” Still, out of some sense of spousal loyalty—and not wanting to shift the focus away from Caroline (she seemed especially in need of tender care) I left it at that.
But she had stirred me. The hidden truth was that Lucille and I were not well suited, and our years together had taken their toll on us both. More and more I felt myself the target of her complaints and criticism, her withering derision of my late nights and my time in my basement (don’t all men putter, doing whatever it is men do in their man caves?). Moreover, Lucille complained increasingly about the large old house by the river where we lived, which had been in my family for generations.
Somehow it happened that, on another occasion, Caroline and I had drifted off from the crowd, talking quietly. We probably shouldn’t have; it was the kind of thing that would invite gossip, and yet I knew each of us felt some private excitement in it, a growing frisson, and as we stood there at the far edge of the patio, fringed by a screen of hemlock bushes with their tiny white cocktail lights, quietly talking, I leaned down to her mouth and kissed her.
For one frozen instant, she stiffened and grew inert . . . and then her lips joined mine. The kiss lasted little more than seconds, but it seemed to seal some unvoiced agreement.
One night that next week, each making a pretext of a trip to the library, we met and sat in my car in the parking lot. Excitedly she described her recently discovered happiness. For the first time, she told me, she had someone who cared for her. Not for her as just a baby-maker or dinner-getter or fixture at parties.
And it was true. I did care for her. It wasn’t just a need. I loved her.
But oh, what they did to her, our circle, when they found out. Taking her away, destroying our happiness.
And what they did to me. The cruelty of those men, led by the hated husband and my own betraying wife, who led them to me. Invading my cellar, my private world, wielding golf clubs and hand tools as weapons. As if they’d ever have been a match for me if Caroline were there to warn me. But she was not.
All that was a long time ago. Still, I maintain hope. In some fiber of my being, I live for the day when she and I will be together again, when she’ll come to me, revitalizing me with her love. Until then, I lie in dust, waiting, this stake through what used to be my heart.
* * * * *
David Daniel’s collection of stories Coffin Dust, has just been reissued: https://