Things That Go Hump in the NightbyStefan_J©
Over the last few years I've become convinced that my father, Graeme Parker, put a hex on me before I even entered the world. No, my father does not practice voodoo or dabble in black magic, although sometimes I secretly wish that he did. He has, however, been an avid comic book collector since the age of five, which in some circles would be considered to have more of a cult following than those who believe they can harness the raw power of the supernatural.
So how am I cursed? In his infinite wisdom, my dear old dad decided to name me after his favourite superhero's wimpy, extremely geeky alter-ego, Peter Parker. As I grew up, it quickly became apparent to me that I wouldn't be getting bitten by a radioactive spider, nor would I be donning tights and a mask so that I could web-sling my way around New York City in a never-ending crusade to foil brilliant foes such as Dr. Otto Octavius, the Green Goblin or Carnage.
I'm not Spider-Man. Mary Jane Watson won't be waltzing in and out of my life, she of the flaming red hair and dazzling smile. My best friend is called Marty Klein, not Harry Osborn. I have an Uncle Joe who lives in California, which is a far cry from the Uncle Ben who raised the Peter Parker in the comic book world. Uncle Joe, as far as I know, has never uttered the words 'with great power comes great responsibility' to me, although I'm sure that dad has often urged him to.
Anyway, back to dad's curse. He tempted fate, that's all I can say. Was it totally inconceivable that I, much like the freelance photographer from the comic who shares my name, would turn out to be a total geek? Seriously, with a name like Peter Parker, did I ever truly have a chance to be popular?
The question is rhetorical, so don't answer it.
Let's look at the facts: I inherited my father's love for comic books, particularly for Spider-Man; I'm a movie buff; my friend Marty and I are currently working on our very first comic book (I'm doing the illustrations and he's doing the inks); and my computer uses Linux as its operating system instead of Windows. The list is endless. Literally.
Despite being well aware of my geekiness and possessing the knowledge to make the necessary changes to remove the label, I find it impossible to go through life as an impostor. I like who I am, period. If being popular means sacrificing all that I hold dear to my heart, then being a geek with only one best friend is fine by me. At least I know that I can depend on Marty if I find myself in a bind, that the word 'trust' isn't passed between us in the same liberal, unemotional context as almost every other student at our school.
Marty and I have never wanted to gain popularity in order to become pals with the 'cool' guys. We perceive them in the same manner that they see us; as losers. It's the girls that we pine for. Sweet, lovely girls who seem to revel in being treated like possessions instead of human beings, while good, decent men like Marty and I are but observers on the sidelines in the game of love.
But girls were as far from my mind today as the sun is from Pluto. Ordinarily, being the horny 18-year-old that I am, this wouldn't be the case, but today was no ordinary day.
The date on the calendar had made a full revolution in the blink of an eye, as if Marty McFly and his time traveling DeLorean had kidnapped me and whisked me exactly one year into the future, landing us smack bang on the one day of the year that I deplore. I'm talking about October 31st, better known as Halloween. It's the one day of the year that grown men and women are not only allowed to unleash their inner children but are in fact pressured to do so. Those who don't conform to partaking in the festivities – either by partying, supplying goodies or going in search of them – are typically met with a measure of disdain, as if you've suddenly turned into a black sheep that has strayed from the flock.
Marty and I met up in the afternoon at the local McDonalds, spending almost an hour arguing in minute detail over every flaw that had been adapted into the two Spider-Man films. We'd already attacked two Shakes each, his of the strawberry persuasion and mine being chocolate.
"Look, the biggest flaw in Spider-Man isn't that MJ was Peter's first girlfriend," Marty stated, brushing his long fringe out of his eyes. "It's the fact he can generate his own web fluid."
In the comic book, after Peter was bitten by the radioactive spider he developed certain abilities that emulated an arachnid's, such as inhuman strength, wall-crawling, heightened agility and reaction time, and a danger-sense. However, in order to spin his own webs, Peter had to construct metallic objects called 'web-shooters' which he strapped to his wrists. Being a man of science allowed him to create tiny pressurized canisters filled with web fluid, which could only be released when two of his fingers activated a switch attached to each palm.
"I can see why they didn't do that in the movie," I said. "They already had enough back-story to wade through, so giving Pete an inbuilt ability to spin webs probably saved them from having to elaborate even more so."
"How much web fluid would a spider be capable of using in a day? Not much? Spider-Man uses a shitload, so how is he able to generate a seemingly infinite amount of web fluid?"
I nodded. "Good point. You'd think that his body would reach a point where it would be incapable of producing any more, yet he never seems to run out."
We continued to pick apart Sam Raimi's adaptation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's most loved superhero, disregarding the conspiratorial giggles and strange looks we received from our peers on nearby tables. It didn't particularly bother us; we even made an effort to raise our voices.
"So, are you going Ricky Pearson's party tonight, Pete?" Marty asked, leaving our conversation of Spider-Man in the dust.
"Yeah, right after I grow four robotic tentacles and change my name to Dr. Octopus."
A few lines creased Marty's brow and he frowned at me. "I'm asking you a serious question."
"And I gave you a serious answer," I retorted. "You know that I don't buy into that Halloween bullshit, so why did you bother asking?"
Each year Ricky Pearson, the most popular guy in school, hosted a 'be there or be square' Halloween party at his parents' house, the invitation open to all students in our year level. Almost everyone dressed up and gravitated towards his house come dusk, eagerly anticipating the practical jokes, wild costumes and such a vast quantity of alcoholic beverages that it made you wonder if Ricky's dad, a prosperous accountant by day, moonlighted as a hijacker by night.
Black strands of hair fell across Marty's vision again and he impatiently swept them away, never once shifting his intense gaze away from mine. Most people can't meet his piercing stare, generally finding his unblinking, steely blue eyes uncomfortable to lock onto.
"How do you think you're ever going to land Anna if you don't start getting out more?" he whispered. Our classmates were still seated across from us, which explained Marty's hushed voice.
He was referring to my crush on Anna Jones, a cute little brunette who shared Mr. Vercetti's art class with me. My innate ability to draw often brought her firm behind over to my corner of the room, yet I had neither the confidence nor the experience with girls to extend our friendship beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
I shook my head and laughed. "Oh, that's rich. This is coming from a guy who's more of a hermit than I am."
"Yeah, well I'm trying to change that, Pete."
"For starters, I'm going to go to Ricky's part tonight."
Laughter flooded my throat and burst from my mouth, although it died a quick death when I realized he was being serious. "But...but we usually sit around watching flicks while all those bozos make fools out of themselves. Hell, it's as much a tradition for us as celebrating Halloween is for everyone else."
"Come with me," Marty urged. "Let's do something totally against character. Who knows, maybe we'll run into Anna and some of her friends."
It was tempting. I suddenly felt like Judas Ascariot, having untold riches being dangled in front of my very eyes, beckoning me like gleaming pieces of silver, mine for the taking if only I parted company with a little thing called my soul.
"I can't do that, Marty. I can't go with you."
"Because getting drunk and acting like an idiot doesn't constitute as having a good time. Does that sound fun to you?"
"No," he replied, his brow furrowing again. "But I don't want to sit around watching A Nightmare on Elm Street for the gazillionth time while I could be out at a party hooking up with a girl, Pete, a girl. I'm sick of spending my weeknights at home, my only company being a comic book, my computer or a friend who is just as closed off from reality as I am. This isn't living, Pete. This is hiding, and I'm just fed up!"
My mind froze up as if an arctic storm had localized over my brain. Everything Marty had said was true, but I rather liked living on the outer limits of reality. Books, movies, comics, they all filled my life with zany adventures and colorful characters that I could never experience or meet in the real world. Looking out the window can be fun at times, but nothing beyond that smooth pane of glass could come close to filling the aching chasm of boredom that all-too-often afflicts me.
All I could do was crack an unsure smile and say, "Marty, 'gazillionth' isn't even a word."
Marty nodded and rose from his chair. His eyes were somber and swimming with sadness, as if I'd just explained to him that I had a fatal disease and there was no known cure. The steps he took were small shuffles and his body sagged with weariness; he looked defeated.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Peter," he said, clapping me on the shoulder as he made his way towards the exit door.
All I could do was watch as my best friend walked away from me. I could visualize myself jumping from my chair and sprinting after him, conceding that he was right and I was wrong, and then we would both acquire costumes and make an unexpected, albeit surprisingly well-received, appearance at Ricky Pearson's Halloween party. Sometime during the night I would meet up with Anna Jones, who may be dressed in an adorable French maid's outfit, and we would steal away from the party for some passionate necking by the moonlight.
"It sure is a nice fantasy," I murmured, disposing of our empty containers into the trash receptacle. "But we both know that in reality it wouldn't turn out that way."
As I walked home I witnessed the sun go through its daily ritual of merging with the horizon, the enlarged golden orb splashing our costal township with such a brilliant burnt orange that it made it almost impossible to keep your eyes open. Spread out over the western skies were smudges of pink which, as any artist or appreciator of mother nature could inform you, contrasted magnificently with the cloudless aquatic ceiling that blanketed the rest of the sky.
Despite my undeniable distaste for Halloween, I do begrudgingly accept that a certain level of atmosphere can be derived from the ever-clichéd pumpkin heads, tombstones and monsters that people litter their front yards with. The extremes people go in order to slip into the spirit of Halloween rival – and quite often exceed – the lengths of those who celebrate Christmas or Easter.
Halloween is almost a religion unto itself.
Marty's behavior troubled me at first, but with each consecutive minute that ticked by it became clear to me that our friendship was incorruptible. We had been through tumultuous times before, often overcoming our obstacles with clear heads and ice-cool temperaments. This occasion would be no different.
I finally reached home and turned up the drive way, taking note that my both of my parents' cars were parked in the garage.
Although not successful by Wall Street standards, my parents ran a profitable video store with a difference. Not only does it hire and sell DVDs and videotapes, dad had also injected his interests in movie memorabilia and comic books into the business, making it a smorgasbord of delights for every movie buff and comic nut within a sixty mile radius.
"Parker!" a voice growled as I slammed the front door shut. "We need more snapshots of Spider-Man causing harm, not good! 'Masked Menace!' the headlines should read, not...not... Shit! Maureen, what's a good form of alliteration I can use for the positive?"
I padded along the hallway and entered the kitchen to find both of my parents decked out in costumes. They had given up badgering me about embracing the spirit of Halloween years ago, yet my dad continues to have the look of betrayal in his eyes whenever the day rolls around.
"How about 'wonderful web-slinger?'" my mother offered. Her body was wrapped in a sweeping black gown that trailed along the floor behind her. Eyeliner and mascara had been applied to her eyes in large quantities and her naturally blonde hair was now midnight black. It was hard to tell if she was supposed to be Elvira or Morticia Addams.
"Nah, any other suggestions?" dad asked. His costume was characteristically comic book related. As was typical, he'd assumed the identity of his character with unparallel enthusiasm: he'd gotten his hair shaped into a flattop style and had it dyed grey, trimmed his moustache on both sides, purchased a packet of cigars, and slipped into dark blue slacks and a white shirt.
"J. Jonah Jameson and Morticia Addams I presume?" I said, leaning against the doorjamb that separated the kitchen from the hallway.
"Hello, sweetheart," my mother greeted.
"Hey, Pete," dad acknowledged. "I sent away for that Spider-Man comic today, it should be here by the end of the week."
The issue in question was No. 13 in the Web of Spider-Man series, released in April of '86 and titled 'Point of View.' Dad already owned a mint copy that was, as with every other comic book in his possession, stored in an airtight zip-lock baggie. It's one of my favorite issues of Spider-Man, largely due to the flawless illustrations within, particularly on page seven where there is a headshot of J. Jonah Jameson that is sketched with a gritty edginess that modern comics lack.
"Thanks, dad. I've been dying to get my hands on that issue."
Dad chomped down on his unlit cigar and winked at me. "Don't sweat the small stuff, Parker," he growled, channeling Jameson again. "Just get me the snapshots of Spider-Man that I asked for, not this garbage where he's saving little kiddies from burning apartment buildings!"
"Sure thing, Mr. Jameson," I shot back.
You might get the impression that my dad is as big a geek as I am – and you'd be dead right – but where I've failed in the popularity stakes he's succeeded. Our only differences revolve around two key categories: our contrasting levels of self-esteem and our capacity to mingle effortlessly within our peer groups. Maybe having strengths in both areas is what elevated my dad above geekdom.
I said goodbye to my parents and made my way towards my humble abode, feeling slightly disconcerted that they didn't invite me to accompany them to whichever party they were attending. It should've made me happy that they had finally caved in completely, but it didn't.
The front door slammed shut, indicating that my parents were on their way to a night filled with fun, trickery and booze.
With my door closed and curtains drawn, my room felt less like a haven and more like a prison. I felt trapped, surrounded by a library of comic books housed in similar plastic baggies to my father's collection, and like each issue I had difficulty drawing in oxygen.
The house was a tomb, the silence generating an eerie atmosphere that none of the haunted houses erected at the county fairgrounds could ever match. The rapid pulse of my heartbeat thundered through my eardrums, my quickening breaths rebounded off the walls like echoes in a canyon.
It suddenly occurred to me that this onslaught of anxiety was brought on by sheer loneliness. The prospect of Marty breaking apart his own shackles of solitude left me questioning the path of isolation that I was presently embarking on.
What was I going to do? Read a comic book? Watch a movie? The rest of the night flashed before my eyes in a singular premonition of such crystal clear clarity that it scared me half to death. I would watch A Nightmare on Elm Street, read a comic book (most likely Spider-Man or X-Men), eat a bowl of nachos and wash them down with a bottle of coke, watch another horror movie (maybe April Fools Day, seeing as how I borrowed it from the shop the day before) and then fall asleep while scanning the late night television. And I would be by myself, as lonely as an old man who has lost every friend and relative to the grim reaper.
This wasn't just a glimpse of tonight, I realized, but of every subsequent night that would span the rest of my vacuous, introverted life.
The pathetic nature of my universe was suddenly thrust upon me in its true light and, much like a beautiful glamour model stripped of her makeup and flashy clothes, everything underneath the surface revealed a person who encapsulated the very essence of dullness.
Earlier tonight I'd been certain that the lives and experiences of fictional characters offered me more than those sculptured from flesh and blood, but right now, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I would gladly pawn off my entire comic collection just to have the guts to ask a girl like Anna Jones out on a date.
"That's it," I muttered, throwing my bedroom door open and stalking down the hallway with determination. "You think I need to get out there, Marty? Then to hell with it, that's what I'm gonna do!"
I tore open the front door and hesitated on the brink, feeling a potent, contradictive cocktail of fear and excitement surging through my arteries. The glowing ember supplying the source of daylight finally dipped below the horizon, cloaking our town in relative darkness. A three-quarter moon imitated the sun at dawn and began rising slowly in the east, throwing an albino glow over everything it touched.
My feet, itching with wanderlust, crossed the threshold and delivered my body through an invisible portal, where I was instantly transported into another world.
Instinct, which was just a watered down version of Peter Parker's spider-sense, warned me that everything was about to change.
^ ^ ^ ^ ^
It was the witching hour, that time of the night where children and teenagers alike flood the streets like the bulls of Pamplona, and if you don't watch out you'll get crushed to death under the weight of their bulging satchels filled to the brim with candy.
Pint-sized ghosts, goblins, monsters, zombies, superheroes, cartoon characters (mostly Japanese anime), robots and a hundred other variations swarmed around me as I trotted through the streets. The parents of the younger trick or treaters mirrored the exact movements of their offspring in the same manner as the President's Secret Service agents, their eyes narrowing with suspicion each time a stranger drifted into close proximity of their children.
Most of the guardians were also in costume, Elvis Presley being a favorite amongst the fathers. Still clothed in my civilian duds, I suspected that this was as close as I'd ever come to ascertaining how it feels to walk down the street naked.
At first I'd assumed I would up the attendance level at Ricky Pearson's party by one, but my feet were carrying me in the opposite direction, slapping against the pavement with purpose and drive despite my ignorance concerning their destination.
Some of the houses I passed were lavishly decorated with glowing pumpkin heads carved into scary faces, sets of Halloween lights strung around their verandas, fake sculls, speakers spewing sinister laughter, life-like tombstones, creepy monsters, walls splattered with fake blood, nooses and skeletons – the list of Halloween knick-knacks on display, homemade and store bought, was virtually endless.