Thomm Quackenbush, author

11.03.06 8:48 p.m.

Reputation is character minus what you've been caught doing.  

-Michael Iapoce

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily were keen on the Pagans.

Devil's Rejects

I know the party has reach critical mass when a girl with a pierced cheek starts fondling Kevin's bare chest. Kevin, incidentally, is (or was) wearing a torn white t-shirt covered in fake bloodstains and a platinum white wig purloined from another partygoer. Jacki, Emily and I hang back and watch with a kind of mute horror. What can really be said when confronted with this kitchen tableau? Any sounds or sudden movements will provoke their attention and it goes without saying that they can't let us live.
Jacki  
See? As appropriate for the boardroom as ballroom.

Jacki is dressed in a typical fashion, a tight, black velvet bodice and skirt. She insists her costume is actually "What Jacki would wear if she wanted to get fired," but I think she could get away with it. She is the only person I ever met who could make goth look both sexy and professional.

Emily and I wear matching sweaters and jeans, claiming we are a cult of two. I tried to convince her that our chant should be "Who loves the little, little duckies in the pond? I do, I do, I do, a chicka quack quack." This failed to catch on outside my head, but was marvelously entertaining thus confined. In our capacity as cultists, we brought more than enough Kool-Aid for everyone. It was pointed out that our cult seemed to be a conglomeration of Jonestown and Heaven's Gate, but I prefer to think they copied off of us retroactively.
Kevin  
I'm not sure what I fear the most...

Emily felt the need to apologize for our matching appearance when we procured our Kool-Aid and "something with nutritional value," which we interpreted as a precooked turkey breast despite my protest that pumpkin pie is chock full of autumnal gourd vitamins. I did not think anyone, least of all our cashier at the grocery store, would care one whit that we had the same sweater. I imagine we amuse a lot of strangers who think better of mentioning it.

Most of the people at the party interpreted the call for costumes with cinematic violence. Kevin the Specific-Though-We-Don't-Recall-How serial killer, Frank Booth from Blue Velvet (the man's name may have actually been Frank, as I heard him addressed as nothing else), an attractively shredded girl from The Devil's Rejects, and whoever was the original bearer of the platinum wig were in attendance. We also had a boy wearing a functional noose, who may or may not have been his postmortem self;
Emily and Xen with Kool-Aid  
One of us, one of us. Gabble, gabble, one of us!
a boy I knew from a creative writing class three years ago, who was simply well dressed and therefore somehow evil; and his nineteen year old girlfriend in devil horns and a red bodice. There were two women who resembled one another in my memory, if not in actuality, and who wore costumes briefly if at all. In addition was the pretty girl with the pierced cheek and septum, who I assumed always looked as she did at the party. She would later correct that she was Patricia Arquette's character from "True Romance," but I only asked as an excuse to say something to her; I don't know the character.

The guests - aside from Emily and me - were Kevin's friends. Their presence and interactions, as well as his reactions to them, gave me insight to him. Around Jacki, I know somewhat who Kevin is; this is, of course, the only part of him I know as I have yet to see him divorced from her context. I would like to, if just to get a more three-dimensional portrait of who he is when provoked by different stimuli. He seems looser and sillier, perhaps a bit younger, confronted with his blood-splattered friends. Jacki can be intimidatingly smart and strangely sophisticated given that she has a gun that hurls miniature rubber chickens at her students. I can easily see how he may show off different gradations of his personality in her company.
Frank Booth  
[Insert oxygen infused profanity tirade here]

Emily and I discuss how we didn't feel we really got to talk to anyone aside from the devil girlfriend, who said she was "tired of people shitting on [her] parade" in reference to her decision to get a BA in English and a Master's in Education. The point of this party was not to talk as much as it was to be as loudly as possible. Frank Booth cursed in character and took gasping hits off an unconnected oxygen mask. Kevin, in his purloined platinum wig, read Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" in an affected voice. The Devil's Reject, Pretty Pincushion, and Asphyxiated yelled "tits!" at one another for no reason I could grasp. The soundtrack to all of this was some ambient gothic music turned to eleven. In the living room played a mute Nine Inch Nails DVD, far more unsettling than any horror movie.

On a whim, half the party left for twenty-five minutes to get gas. I can only hope this was a less than oblique reference to nitrous oxide and that they didn't just beg off so they could get cigarettes and petrol. Much of the party thereafter took place on the blustery front porch to accommodate a bevy of costumed smokers, to the displeasure of our nonsmoking hostess, so I fear I have my answer.

Costumes can do far more than give us something new to wear for one night a year, they can free us to act outside of our comfort zones and briefly allow to do things outside our societal constraints (real and imagined) that would otherwise embarrass us. We can be something we are not or something we fear to be, princes to dragons or nuns to harlots (or any variation thereof). We are liberated from having to be ourselves and that may scare us most of all.

And To Think That I Saw It On Parrot Street

"Have you been to Parrot Street?"
Conor  
So lifelike...

We had not, but this constituted the third time that someone from whom we were extorting unwanted candy asked us this question. Usually the fates are subtler, but I can't fault their overtness this time. The veil between the worlds is thinnest on Halloween night and they may as well be showy while they can manage.

We made our way toward Parrot Street in Cold Spring, masked and clad in black. I insisted we couldn't be in any town where it was likely I taught my fellow trick-or-treaters. Even with my skull face cowl, a single teenage yell of "Mr. [My Surname]?!" would be mortifying. While Emily is both baby faced and unconnected to any teenager not her minion, she had a similar disinclination to be fingered as an arguable adult. As such, though rich German women begged, our masks remained in place in the presence of strangers. This isn't to say I did a good job of keeping undercover, informing one woman that I liked her decor and provoking Emily to tell me that I needed to reduce my vocabulary to pass for the teenager I am supposed to be. I also complimented parents on the cleverness of the costumes their children wore, thought they informed me that I was referring to a bird and dog, respectively.

Emily skipped her statistics class and tae kwon do training for Halloween, though she waited until a few hours before trick-or-treating to confirm this was her plan, thus necessitating whatever disguises I could find.

It should be noted that we treated the 31st as Halloween and not Samhain this year. Emily had no interest in a festival for the dead, having lost both her father and dog this year, especially as her clan niggled her that she wasn't dealing. A clan member who shall remain nameless said the problem with dead bodies is that they start to stink. But they are Emily's deaths not his, and I firmly believe both Stuart and Quest would rather Emily enjoy the evening gathering sweets than slog through their deaths once more.

Parrot Street was covered in shaving cream and eggshells. Some of the shaving cream had attained sentience and took the form of foamy children, but the truth was plain. Police officers patrolled the goop, enforcing the sanctity and permeability of the barrier. They had ceded the street to the shaving cream and were protecting this new life form from the cars with a roadblock. Or, possibly vice versa. No matter, containment was an issue and I was too frightened of their combined frothy might to get a good picture of them. If I just kept walking and didn't make eye contact (did those things even have eyes?) I would be fine.

We finished on Parrot Street with a minimum of cross contamination.

Conor did not recognize us when we knocked on his door and stood stunned for a moment when we pulled off our masks. We sat on his porch once he got a warm coat to put on over his Bermuda shorts. His mother Elizabeth made M and me hot chocolate, which Emily sipped while sorting the bad candy out of our bags and putting it into the nearly empty bowl of treats Conor was offering to children. Emily lied from embarrassment and said we had been with my nieces. They were somewhere in Cold Spring, so it was only a venal sin.

His life had been busy doing very little of note so we just sat and talked of nothing, which was far nicer than a bag of candy.

Soon in Xenology: The incredibly true story of two girls in love. And by "two girls," I mean "one ninja and one writer, who happen to have interconnecting genitalia."

last watched: Little Miss Sunshine
reading: Still Life with Woodpecker
listening: Tidal

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush