The Ghost of Ray Bradbury

September 14, 2013 — This is only the second Halloween in 93 years that we don't have Ray Bradbury around. But, on the other hand, it is just the second Halloween of Ray Bradbury’s ghost. He still might be working on getting the hang of it.

But how to invoke him?

Actually, that’s not too hard. Bradbury left us a whole library’s worth of instructions on how to do that, and I’ll be invoking him regularly throughout the season.

But to start the 2013 Halloween Season, I wanted something a bit bigger than reading his words by myself in my own head.

A few Halloweens ago, we trekked up to the attic of my barn, threw an old sheet over a rafter, and using a projector, watched a mediocre horror movie.

It was a great experience.

One that we never tried again for some reason.

It was finally time to do that again, but this time with a movie worth watching, worth kicking off a season with, worth tattooing on the more tender parts of our souls: The Halloween Tree.

This Hanna-Barbera animated television movie came out in 1993 and was based on Bradbury’s book of the same name, which he published in 1972. He wrote the screenplay for it, even narrated it. The movie went on to win a Daytime Emmy…and then was never heard from again. You had to have killed seven leprechauns to even have a hope of seeing it on TV, and it’s had a sketchy time being transferred to media so that we can buy it.

And that’s a terrible Halloween tragedy.

The Halloween Tree is both an amazing story and an amazing adaptation of a story. I’ll skip the first part, as that’s more relevant to the topic of the book itself, which I’ve written about before. But I’ll summarize the story for those who need it.

A group of trick-or-treaters meet a mysterious entity named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud and must chase down the ghost of one of their companions through time and place to rescue his soul, meanwhile visiting the lands that inspired each of their costumes (Egypt for the mummy, Europe for the witch, Mexico for the skeleton, etc.), learning about the history of Halloween and humankind’s attempts at dealing with death at the same time.

And the movie is pretty much a perfect adaptation of tone.

They made some smart changes to the source material for it, paring the original group of eight or nine trick-or-treaters down to a group of four plus Pip and adding a girl into the mix. That helped them focus more on the characters and gave them each more time at their Halloween destinations. And gave them a girl. Also, while I usually hate narration, they perfectly accented the story with some of the luscious black and orange prose from Bradbury’s book. Even had Bradbury himself narrate. Meanwhile, the animation was excellent, and Leonard Nemoy’s portrayal of Moundshroud is absolutely dead-on-perfect.

I mean, don’t tell Garfield’s Halloween Adventure I said this, but it’s the best Halloween special of all time.

And that’s how we decided to launch this year’s Halloween season.

Now, this was Thursday evening, and it was, well, summer-hot. Hot enough that we thought about cancelling the idea for a cooler night to be named later.

But just as we were in the throes of deciding that, we heard a soft peal of thunder, saw a few raindrops suicide against the living room window, and immediately decided to go for it.

We grabbed a boxe of Halloween, some snacks, and then flew across the yard to the barn and up its rickety steps to the large attic. There we festooned the place with some vintage Halloween lights that my wife had picked up from a yard sale recently...old-fashioned looking sheet ghosts, grim reapers with glowing skulls, spiders whose abdomens burned a dull amber, friendly looking bats, little orange jack-o-lanterns…flinging them over the rafters and stray nails jutting from the walls.

It felt a lot like we were preparing ourselves for a magical trip with Moundshroud, our equivalent of ripping the shreds of carnival posters from the barn to make a kite or pulling the grain from the ground to bind into flying brooms.

We even found an empty green bottle of hard cider that we’d left behind on that Fall night three years previously. Talk about a nostalgia rush.

Finally, we stuck some skeletons in the corners, lit a pumpkin-scented candle, and draped a sheet freshly pulled from our bed over a rafter.

And then things got kind of rough.

First, we didn’t realize until that moment that it had never really started raining after those first, false drops. And we were sweating. Badly. I had to go back into the house to get a fan. It didn’t feel like Fall, not at all.

Then we had technical problems. I sweated over the projector and laptop for a good 45 minutes, running in and out of the house with even more electronics until the place looked like Frankenstein’s laboratory. But the colors were wrong, then the audio wouldn’t work, then the projector stopped syncing with the laptop. All the while my daughter is running around the large interior space playing with some of the ghoul-shaped plastic casings that had fallen off the lights and shouting, “The sheet is a TV. The sheet is a TV.” It was a really dad moment for me.

Finally, I got it working, but by then it was late enough to be dark, that first blast of enthusiasm had evaporated with the heat, and there were summer crickets in the rafters rhythmically screeching at us in ridicule for apparently failing to end their season.

“Should we put this off for another day?” I asked my wife for the second time that evening.

We went back and forth on it, but eventually decided to go on with it, mostly because we had built it up for our daughter and we also didn’t want to cart everything back to the house in failure.

So we hit play.

And then something remarkable happened. I don’t want to say it was a Halloween miracle, because Halloween doesn’t have miracles. Only spells.

But a thunderstorm suddenly picked up, we’re talking booms and lightning, wind blowing through the room fast enough to shake the barn and drop the temperature ten degrees in mere seconds and rain so hard on the roof that it shut those smug little crickets up.

And the movie started. The dark pumpkin-shaped cloud came up, jaggedly carved in candle-glow letters with the title of the story followed by the wonderful phrase, “Based Upon the Work by Ray Bradbury” overlaid against a sunset sky.

Then Ray Bradbury himself spoke up, “It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a midwestern state…”

Halloween had started. Summer was over. And we had felt the exact moment when the changeover happened.

And we were happy. The Fall kind of happy that only happens this time of year.

Now, I ain’t saying we literally invoked Bradbury’s ghost. But we heard his voice that night.

As we will every Halloween ever after.