The best and worst Halloween I can remember was the year we put the Bee Bride on the porch.
We always decorated our big green house on the corner like a major creep-fest. Bodies hiding in trees, red lights blinking in eyes of inanimate masks that deftly covered stuffed bodies in old flannel shirts and jeans, zombies, faceless masks and spiders and shrouds of webbing in every nook and cranny. My father’s closet was raided and emptied out like some sort of sacrificial offering to the Halloween gods demanding he hand over his work jeans for the good of the holiday and somehow he never seemed to mind.
Or perhaps he never figured out what happened to them.
We never had a designated decorating day. It just sort of happened. I’d look outside at the leaves whistling across our front lawn and know it was perfect. Then I’d hit the attic and find all our decorations from the previous year and get to work. We’d start early, just me and my sister and brother, while my mom made cider or cocoa or whatever we wanted and my dad snored on the sofa.
Our system was half-hazard but it worked. We’d toss all our stuff on the lawn and I’d assign jobs to my siblings. Phrases like “Sherri, stretch out the big black spider” or “Joey, see if you can find an extension chord to light the zombies eyes” and “I’ll write out the tombstones after I hang this guy” were tossed about during the course of the afternoon.
Neighbors would stop by and watch – but only for a couple of minutes at a time. I like to think it was because they wanted to be surprised by what we created and not let the magic of the holiday be spoiled by seeing it birthed too soon. We constructed as we went along. A ghost here, a creature there, a fake bloodied axe or a man being swallowed alive by a squishy black pit all made the cut at different times over the years. We didn’t want a gentle halloween. We were in it to scare. The decorations were never the same and we blistered and fought the entire time but somehow the arguments, scattered sheets, cobwebs and twisted imaginations turned into magic by sundown.
One year my brother offered up a rubber mask that he planned to wear trick or treating but decided against wearing at the last minute. It was a bee face from a cartoon he watched at the time that my mom bought him in Kmart for only two dollars because it was separated from its body costume and thus unsalable to them at full price. It was ghastly and difficult to conceptualize as a decoration.
We didn’t have a concrete theme for our house but even if we did it would have been hard to fit the bee mask in it. It just seemed out of place, lonely, odd and destined to be packed away in the attic until next year. We tossed it on the lawn and it mocked us as we decorated. We went in for a cider break and the bee mask waited for us amidst the dry grass and leaves when we returned.
My sister said, “What can we do with it?” but I didn’t have a clue. We tried to make it wings but they didn’t work. It’s bright green eyes resisted the red devil lighting making it look like a warped Christmas elf instead of an evil diety. It wasn’t scary enough for our front lawn and it didn’t work on it’s own. It became the running gag of the afternoon and over the course of the day we became determined to find a place to put it.
I’m not sure which of us had the original idea for the Bee Bride or why we decided to utilize the mask in the manner that we did but when we found an old white cotton shroud in the basement and a faded linen nightgown in my mother’s salvation army bag the idea clicked and the Bee Bride just fell into place.
We found room for her on the front porch on an old metal love seat that already had the cushions removed for winter. We dressed her in the nightgown and covered her up to the waist in a stained white sheet from our hall closet. We set up cushions and cobwebs and folded her hands across her chest in old white first holy communion gloves and boxed her into an open faced tomb with dim lights for eyes. She became our center display. A mummified creature that defied all assumptions. An unexpected shock to the soul if you were expecting a long haired veiled skeleton of a beauty long passed. The Bee Bride was special. She creeped the hell out of us and we loved her for it.
It was impossible to see the Bee Bride from the road, the sidewalk or even our front steps. You had to walk across the porch, across our horror festival in the dark just to see her. You had to walk by bats and screeching sounds and ghosts, adjust your eyes and peer inside her coffin and follow her bony body under and above her funerary coverings to find her tragically ill lit face. And when you made it far enough you stopped and stared, shocked and sickened in disbelief at what you saw and maybe just maybe, in some nether part of your psyche you wished just a little bit that you hadn’t gone quite as far as you did because once seen the image of the monstrous bride stayed with you.
She was unforgettable.
The Bee Bride became a Halloween hit. Even before Halloween we’d find people on the porch at night, kids I recognized from the area mostly, along with some adults standing and looking at her and even taking pictures. People came by word of mouth from other cities that usually wouldn’t visit my neighborhood.
My best friend Cindy’s older sister Charlene told me the bride reminded her of funeral home poses, pictures of the dead taken by relatives she remembered seeing when she was just a very young girl. She thought the people were only sleeping at first until an ill meaning cousin pointed out the soul-less faces and waxy complexions and told her they were the decomposing dead. The Bee Bride brought back her fear and she didn’t like looking at her.
On Halloween night my brother took up a position in our front yard wearing a black grim reaper cape and holding a fake bloody sword to terrify any kids brave enough to walk across our lawn. They shrieked and laughed and ran up the steps. But our guests never knocked for their candy immediately. The allure of the Bee Bride was too strong. Parents, teenagers, and little children all had to see her. They walked across our porch, looked down into her coffin and stared. Many came back more than once. They complimented us on our display and posed for pictures with our decorations. We ran out of candy pretty early that year but it was one hell of an amazing night and we went to bed happy and excited.
Two mornings later I got up for school and left my house. Instead of running down the block to the bus stop I hesitated. I turned to the Bee Bride and walked across the porch. Halloween was over and the decorations didn’t pack the same punch as they did the nights before. I looked into the Bee Bride’s scrappy tomb and stared like so many times before only now it was different. She was gone.
Someone had come in the middle of the night and taken the Bee Bride’s head. I started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I looked in the front yard and ran around the house but found nothing. I begged my mother to call the police. I woke up my brother and told my sister. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching us and laughing. I imagined people tossing her around and slamming her into the sidewalk or tying her with ribbon to the front of a garbage truck. I felt sick to my stomach. The Bee Bride didn’t belong to some faceless thief. The Bee Bride belonged to us.
We were angry and we blamed ourselves for not putting the decorations away sooner. We singled out the kids in town that we didn’t like. Kids we were sure could steal and destroy and shatter. We grabbed garbage bags and tossed all our decorations inside before going to school. Later we walked up and down the streets searching for clues and trying to find out if anyone knew anything but it was all in vain. We never saw the Bee Bride again.
Every Halloween we created masterpieces that made people scream with delight. But every one of our zombies and spiders and ghosts was fake. The monsters that took the Bee Bride were real and we realized they could hurt you more than you ever though possible. They could invade your space and tear your heart out, take what was yours and make you sad. The monsters existed in people instead of decorations. And they didn’t alert you to their presence by shrieking and blinking their eyes.
When the Bee Bride disappeared she took our enthusiasm and spirit with her and Halloween was never the same again. The next year we decorated a little bit and the year after that a little less until we stopped all together and just gave out candy to costumed children with a knock on our door and a light on our porch. Soon other families took up the banner and raised Halloween hell but for years people asked my mom why we didn’t decorate anymore and she would always explain about the Bee Bride being taken from us and they’d nod their heads in understanding, make small talk and walk away.
The years have passed but we’ve never forgotten the Halloween of the Bee Bride. It’s stenciled upon our skin, memorable for the insights it gave us and the attention it garnered even while other more recent events have slowly whittled away.