Fright Week: Bonus Monster

Fright Week: Bonus Monster

For those of you celebrating a late (9:50 by my clock—ha! How my life has changed!) Halloween, here’s a Creature from the Black Lagoon in a Speedo from my 2002 Monster collection. I tried to give him a swimmer’s build.

Note that most of my drawings depict figures sticking out of water, and yet this aquatic character is as dry as toast. Maybe that’s why he’s unhappy looking.


Fright Week: Happy Halloween!

Fright Week: Happy Halloween!

I chose to spend Halloween Eve carving pumpkins with my family as opposed to crafting a clever and thoughtful post on whatever subject came to mind.

My girls each got to design a face for their own pumpkin, and while my firstborn doodled a 6-year-old take on the classic circle eyes, triangle nose, and jagged smile, my 4-year-old scrawled an elaborate and practically uncarvable (uncarveable?) “spooky ghost,” which proved a challenge to my promise to finish the jack-o-lanterns while they slept—but a challenge I was up for.

So as I write this at 11 p.m., the pumpkins are carved, despite the little flimsy blade breaking off the handle partway through the first eyehole. I just used the mini-saw with my bare fingers, no handle needed.

Then I put some battery-powered candles in the girls’ creations and left them in their room. I hope that if they get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, they’ll be delighted, not terrified.

(Shallow Note, by the way: This creature is from a series of monsters I drew in 2002, back when I was still trying to draw hands. I have a variation on this guy, in which he has two legs and is wearing a Speedo.)

Fright Week: Zombies

Fright Week: Zombies

(Shallow Note: This zombie is from a series of monsters I drew in 2002, back when I was still trying to draw hands.)

As a father, I’ve always got a plan. For certain scenarios.

I frequently rank the objects and people I’m holding from most fragile to hardiest, in case I get tackled or the earth starts shaking and I need to drop something/one to keep my balance to protect the rest. The baby and eggs are priorities.

Some of my plans are decidedly less practical.

When I spot a secluded area with an overhang, I note it and tuck it away into the “if we’re trapped outside and need someplace dry to stay for a while” mental file. This wouldn’t be a case of our getting locked out of our condo. This is like “disaster is upon us and martial law has been declared.”

I don’t stock up on fresh water or anything. I have a hand-crank-powered lantern/radio combo, but I’m not sure where it is. So yeah, maybe I don’t have a plan for most things. But I don’t think I’m alone as a husband and father in latching onto some odd and unlikely or impossible aspect of survival and running with it. I’ve talked with other dads who do the same thing. Maybe moms do it too, but I’ve yet to meet one who brought it up.

When my wife and I found ourselves to be the only guests at a country bed and breakfast (even the caretaker was out for the night; we were seriously alone), I laid awake for quite a while after my wife fell asleep. Every time the crickets and other night creatures all went silent at the same time, my heart started pounding. I began devising strategies for what I would do if I heard someone breaking in and coming up the stairs. The best I came up with: Quickly move aside some of the bulk packages of toilet paper under the bed and have my wife slide between them, moving one back into place to shield her so if anyone looked, all they would see is two-ply. Unplug the lamp, hold it like a club, and hide behind the door so I can whack anyone over the head as they come in. In case of desperate emergency—e.g. I take out a scout, but more attackers start to come in—we go out the window over the Jacuzzi tub (no screen to kick out) and inch along the sliver of roof.

That’s as far as I got before the sun came up. When I told my wife about my (theoretical) heroism over breakfast, she wasn’t knocked off her feet by my (theoretical) actions, like I hoped she would be. She was amused. And a little annoyed, I think, that I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have.

To my credit, however, we’d been seemingly followed by a truck for the whole drive after leaving the restaurant in a nearby town where we’d had dinner the night before. I didn’t want it to follow us all the way back to where we were staying, so I pulled off the main road and down a dirt lane to a driveway a few turns before the bed and breakfast—and the truck continued to follow us. I did a three-point turn at the random house and drove back out past the now darkened vehicle, which was either filled with bad guys I’d just outsmarted or a creeped-out family wondering why I inexplicably acted like I was leading them home, then turned around and left.

In the years since, I’ve learned that my wife isn’t into romantic acts of bravery. She prefers a living, accessible coward.

When we saw the preview for World War Z—about a man who gets his family off of the zombie-ravaged mainland and then leaves them on a ship to go back in and try to find a cure for the undead plague—my wife turned to me and said, “You will not go back. When we get out, you will not go back.”

I later learned that *spoiler alert* the guy is forced into action by a government that will kick his family off the boat where they’re staying if he doesn’t cooperate. So I explained the situation to my wife in a pitch to try to get her to watch the movie with me.

“I don’t care,” she said. “You don’t go back in.”


“You don’t go back in.”

“He has no—”

“You don’t go back in.”

“We’d get kicked off the ship.”

“You don’t go back in.”

“But in your scenario, we’d all go back in.”

“Yes, we’d survive together. You don’t go back in.”

I appreciate her loyalty and tenacity, but I must admit that I have a hard time picturing my kids cooperating in a survival scenario. As soon as I told them to be quiet, one of my girls would start whining that the other one got a bigger piece of emergency rations or that the knife we issued her had the wrong colored handle. The more I tried to shush her, the louder she’d get.

Either that, or my son would see a zombie shambling in the distance and shout “Doggie!” as he does at everything that moves that’s not a ball. “Doggie! Uff uff!”

When I told my wife about what I was writing for this post, she laughed. Then a few hours later, she said, “I’m really good at walking quietly.” I didn’t know this about her.

As parents, we like to think we’re protectors, that we can shield our kids from the world. But we can’t. Even the best of us can’t. So I think that in order to cope with the unpredictability of car accidents and disease and other scary but real things we have no control over, we enjoy exploring threatening scenarios in which we can do something tangible and effective. By we, I mean me. I do this.

So I make myself the hero in the zombie apocalypse. In my nightmare (dream) scenarios, my family is always tucked away somewhere safe, barricaded on the second floor of our condo after I’ve taken out the stairs. I have roof access via a ladder that can be pulled up and down. I scavenge for food, plot escape routes, protect us from raiders, and pretty much keep us alive.

A global doomsday scenario would be horrible, horrible, but there’s a part of me, and not a small part, that wants to know if I have what it takes to bring my family through. So I get a little excited about hints of such disasters.

When the power went out one evening earlier this year, I lit some candles and briefly entertained the thought: “Is this it? Has it started?” Then I worried that the flickering light in our kitchen window would draw whatever was out in the dark like moths.

I’m not alone in this, am I?

Identity Week: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Identity Week: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

A good friend of ours is throwing a pre-Halloween Halloween party tonight, so—yeah—we’re pretty excited.

My wife and I each brought a costume box into our marriage, and we’ve made good use of the combined fantastical wardrobe over the years. There’s no portal at the back of our closet; Narnia exists within the confined space itself, all corsets and vests, scarves, gauntlets, and boots. We’re equipped for any Renaissance faire, theme party, or theatrical production (not that we find our way into many of the latter, but still), and the collection only continues to expand through thrift shop and garage sale finds.

We have wigs of the powdered, anime, and Rapunzel variety. We each have a cloak. We have items that lace, buckle, snap, and tie, and we like to make use of them.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the Shallows that thoughts of trick-or-treating yet to come prompted us to avoid Halloween itself as a wedding date, but we still wanted an excuse to dress up. So we had a masquerade ball a couple of weeks earlier, justifying the theme—not that we needed justification—as a celebration and exploration of identity, considering our debut as a new Us. We chose an overarching appropriate Bible verse to reflect the idea: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” We encouraged our guests to dress however they felt. There were Victorians and Edwardians, pirates and wizards, some medieval folks, and others.

The idea of a new identity, one not worn every day, is so appealing to me. I love acting. I recently began playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends, which involves roleplaying a character. When I write fiction, of course I try out fresh voices coming from my own throat. And I love dressing up for Halloween. Why is all that?

In years past, I’ve been Hagrid from Harry Potter, Strider (not Aragorn) from The Lord of the Rings, and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. My wife and I have aimed for literary-related costumes since our first child was born (that year I went out as Edgar Allan Poe, my wife was a pallid Lenore, and our baby was a raven with a “Nevermore” speech bubble Velcroed to her), though the more kids we’ve had and the older they’ve gotten, the more will they’ve exerted when it comes to costume decisions.

Last year, my firstborn chose to be Superwoman, my younger daughter chose Clark Kent, and my baby son was Kal-El (i.e. Baby Superman, being raised by the bucolic Mrs. and Mr. Kent, played by my wife and myself, respectively). As a geek at heart (and every other part), I wasn’t arguing. And we were even still characters from a printed medium, if not literature.

My favorite costumes include the set from three years ago, when we co-hosted a Steampunk Mother Goose party and dressed our eldest as Little Miss Muffet. My wife was a Victorian lace spiderweb wearing our then-baby daughter as a clockwork spider. I was the tuffet.

And two years back, we aimed for Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is as wonderful a book as you could hope for. Ray Bradbury—my favorite, favorite author, from whom I once managed to get a signature on my vintage typewriter—was a master of language in a way that leaves me adoring and jealous, and his story of a dark carnival descending on a small town and the two boys who learn about boyhood, manhood, fatherhood, friendship, life, and death is an amazing seasonal read. It’s an amazing anytime read, but Bradbury particularly breathed October into his tales, and you can smell the woodsmoke and falling leaves on these pages.

The carnival at the heart of the story is dubbed Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, and Mr. Dark is a man with images of his circus performers and sideshow acts inked up and down his arms. He uses the tattoos to manipulate his subordinates.

For the party we threw two years ago year, I obtained photos of many of the expected guests and printed them out on a special tattoo paper my wife had found. Then I transferred their faces onto my arms and hands. My wife was Mr. Dark’s carousel, which bent the age of any rider depending of the direction it spun. My girls were its passengers. We were pretty proud of this one.

Since the party for tonight is Disney (and therefore also Marvel and Star Wars) themed, this year, we’re going the comic route again, per my daughters’ request. Since the oldest wanted to be Firestar and the middle wanted to be Spider-Man, we figured we’d round out the cast of the 1980s cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends by making the baby Iceman. My wife and I are doing our own thing: She’s the evil queen from Snow White, and I’m her mirror. As I’ll be standing next to her, and I’m sure she doesn’t want to lose me now, I’m expecting to get some Justin Timberlake jokes.

Perhaps the best thing about costumes is being able to take them off at the end of an agreed-upon appointed time. It’s like a low-risk identity trial period—not that a costume wearer is necessarily seeking a new permanent identity (especially an evil one). There’s some comfort in wiping off the make-up, unlacing and and unbuckling and unsnapping and untying everything to find yourself still you underneath it all. Kids know that. We should too.

So what are you dressing up as this year?