It’s that time…Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Jean Johnson’s Imperial Prince Kah’raman Li’eth V’Daania from her First Salik War series.
The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.
Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.
Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?
The third book, The Blockade, comes out tomorrow; so if This Terran Halloween Thing gets your interest, make sure you check out the first book, The Terrans.
This Terran Halloween Thing
Imperial Prince Kah’raman Li’eth V’Daania eyed the indoor span of shops around him. The buildings were similar to other indoor collections of retail merchants found elsewhere, but the decorations did not match anything he had seen before. Almost every one had a bizarre yet similar theme of unsettling and disturbing images. Some were caricatures, patently artificial and not realistic. Other were disturbingly real-looking.
Human skeletons, withered greenish faces, rotting flesh on dummies. Transparent…things draped in flimsy cloth. Plus the bizarre ones, utterly anatomically inaccurate depictions of things that he hoped to the Saints weren’t supposed to be Solaricans. The spiders, he understood; spiders were among the creatures transplanted inadvertently to V’Dan during the D’aspra. They weren’t supposed to be K’Katta, though some were big enough to almost be the ten-legged aliens, but he wasn’t sure about the furry-faced human-like things with their claws and teeth exposed in threatening displays.
This shopping mall trip was supposed to be a showcase of cultural consumerism, as a part of the efforts to begin integrating Terran commercial ventures with other businesses and interests in the Alliance. Most stores seemed to be participating with some sort of display, whether they were selling garments, jewelry, footwear, or furniture, and those that did had little tables in front with bowls of colorfully wrapped sugary treats. Children in colorful, inventive, presumably significant costumes were being escorted from table to table as equally costumed adults handed out the candy.
Lots of black and purple and orange and a lurid green predominated for the colors, and strange giant golden fruit-things that had been carved in ways ranging from simple and crude faces to elaborate artworks. Fake leaves decorated store entrances in vines and garlands of gold and red and yellow. Stalks of pak’with plants sat in bundled bunches with more of the giant orange fruit-things at their bases, and dried grass had been stuffed into plaid-shirted dummies.
“So…this is Halloween,” Li’eth stated, peering at all the displays.
“Yes,” Jackie MacKenzie said.
“A cultural celebration of…dead things?” he asked cautiously, keeping his voice low. He could have used telepathy, but this was being recorded by discreet cameras carried by the quartet of men and women escorting them at a slight distance “And harvest things?”
“Scary things,” she corrected. “And harvest things, yes. But mostly just things that aren’t real, in general.”
He peered at a group of teenagers lurching their way down toward a table with large bowls of candy, their clothing deliberately torn and red-stained, their faces smeared with grayish white makeup, giggling in between attempts at low groans. “Those people are pretending to be…zombies, right? Those zombie-things?”
“Yes.” Jackie struggled not to grin, but his confusion was rather cute.
“I still do not understand your fascination with the shambling dead, but please tell me those things aren’t Solarican caricatures,” he muttered, nodding at the life-sized cartoon drawings of furry-faced humanoids.
“No, no. Solaricans are very feline, if you have to compare them to a Terran creature. Those things are werewolves. Wolf-based. Canines,” she clarified. “I know you have several canine breeds on V’Dan.”
“They don’t look… Oh, right! Wolves!” he exclaimed softly, remembering. “The parent creature from which dogs descended. We don’t have any, so our dog-equivalents are all hyper-bred away from the original creature. I think I can see the wolf resemblance now. Is this some sort of spirit-being or god of your people, amalgamating the wolf and the…? You’re laughing at me.”
Shoulders shaking, face red, Jackie hugged her arms to her chest and tried to breathe. It took her a few moments, and she shook her head quickly. Dragging in a lungful of air, she regained some control, and merely said, “No, a werewolf is a legend of a human being bitten by a supernatural monster—not a god, just a monster—and turning into a wolf-like being during the fullest light of the moon at night. They’re like zombies in that they started out as one thing and evolved into a whole bunch of variations.”
“And you celebrate this wolf-bitten-man thing,” he stated.
Coughing to hide a laugh, Jackie cleared her throat. “No, we celebrate scary things, and the gathering of the harvest, as a way of releasing stress, among other things. Way back before modern agriculture produced enough food, our ancestors worried a lot. Back then, you worried about having enough food to last you through the winter and spring and into the next summer when food was plentiful again. You worried about floods, and droughts, and having enough people on hand to get the harvest gathered in time. And in the colder climates, where creatures like wolves or outcast humans who became bandits could end up attacking livestock when other game was scarce mid-winter, we feared being attacked by them.
“The harvest symbols of corn stalks and pumpkins and other gourds are part of the harvest celebrations, but they blend into Halloween since it’s held in the same season. Putting aside the rather longwinded explanation about the religious aspects,” Jackie demurred, “which is best saved for a history lesson…Halloween is about the other aspect of autumn. Our ancestors also feared dying in the coming days of winter, either from the cold, or from starvation, from illnesses, wild beasts, so on and so forth. That’s why there are all the ghost decorations.” She pointed at the sheet-draped things. “We feared things we couldn’t explain, things that we saw out of the corners of our eyes, and called them ghosts and spirits.”
Li’eth quirked his brows. “That’s a ghost?”
“Ghosts are transparent people, not tattered cloth sheets with black spots for eyes and mouths,” he told her. “To V’Dan eyes, no insult is intended, but these caricature decorations look rather silly.”
“Well, they look silly to us, too, but that in a way is the point,” Jackie reassured him. “We take scary things and make them fun, whether that’s through pretending to scare each other, or by turning them so silly that they’re no longer frightening. It’s an inversion festival, where we invert the usual order of things.”
“Inverting the usual order? How so?” the prince asked her.
She started to reply, but a group of teenagers came up. They had streaks of color on their faces and in their hair, and one of the males raised his hand in some sort of ritual gesture. “Nice V’Dan costume! It looks so real! Love the colored contact lens!”
He did not know what a contact lens was, but Li’eth did realize two things. One, the teens were attempting to look like his people, with their faces and hair streaked with makeup instead of natural coloring. And two, he’d seen the hand gesture before, exchanged among the Terran delegation over the year and a half he’d known them. Raising his own hand, he let the teen give him a “high five” slap, palm to palm. The group wandered on down the corridor, laughing talking.
“He didn’t realize I am V’Dan, did he?” Li’eth asked under his breath.
“Nope. This is the one day of the year everyone will assume you’re just pretending,” she said. Wrinkling her brown nose, she added, “They really shouldn’t do that, because in a way it’s racial appropriation and could be seen as insulting…but I think they just want to be part of the new and exciting thing in the universe, now that we’ve met the V’Dan and the Alliance. I don’t think they’re trying to make fun of any V’Dan.”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, I can see that. So many of our markless are clamoring for the chance to come visit Earth, where they won’t be mistaken for juveniles… This is just the reverse, the exotic seeming…what’s the word for it…awesome?”
“Awesome will do. And it’s a way to invert the normal way they live, injecting some of the exotic as you said,” Jackie agreed. “Speaking of which, you wanted to know about the inversion part of Halloween, yes?”
“Yes, please.” He had to be able to explain all of this to the various races of the Alliance, after all.
“Most of the year, we are logical and rational. We don’t believe in ghosts, or skeletons or zombies rising from the grave. We don’t believe in vampires, men and women who suck the blood and the life-energy out of their victims so they can have eternal youth and other supernatural powers… You’d have learned all of this last year, if we hadn’t been so busy fighting the Salik,” she added. “But once a year, we let ourselves believe in all the scary things, all the silly things. We dress up and play pretend—oh, hey, nice AI costume!”
Li’eth looked toward the people she called that out to, and found a pair of adults leading a pair of children in little costumes covered in bits of circuitry wiring, blinking lights, and so forth. He smiled and nodded when they smiled and nodded, acknowledging her compliment, then asked under his breath, “Wasn’t the AI War a horrific period in your people’s history?”
“Exactly. We take something very scary and make it easier to handle by mocking its strengths, pretending to be those things we fear, and diminishing our fears of it through playfulness and constant re-imagining how it works.”
“Oh! Like all the version and variations on zombies! Fast scary ones, slow shambling ones…except in zombies, you and the others told me it had a trend of going toward being more scary,” he pointed out. “That doesn’t sound like a way to desensitize the fear of a thing.”
Jackie nodded. “That is true. Sometimes we do that instead. There are things called ‘haunted houses’ that we do, which deliberately try to scare people with their displays and acting. My grandmother once told me it’s because if we try to exaggerate just how bad something will be, well beyond the point of rationality…when something bad does happen, it’s usually not nearly as bad as we’ve prepared ourselves to handle.”
“And that preparation makes it easier to handle,” Li’eth said, figuring it out.
“Nice costume! You look just like the Imperial Prince—can I get a picture with you?” another teen called out.
Looking at the speaker, Li’eth flinched a little from the streaks of black and red on the girl’s face, until he realized she was some sort of character, and not a caricature of a V’Dan. Her clothes were patterned in big diamonds of black, red, and white, very distinctively a heroic costume of some sort. He managed a smile, nodded, and said, “That would be fine.”
The neatly suited bodyguards assigned to escort them watched carefully while the trio of girls clustered close, one in a green bodysuit with antennae bouncing on her head, one in white and pink clothes with long ears waving over her dark locks, and the girl in the diamond-patterned clothes with the diamond-patterned face. They lofted their communicators, which hovered in front of all four of them. Each one flashed two, three times, then their owners caught them. Backing up with murmurs of thanks, the one in pink and white with the long ear-things on her head blinked, stared at Li’eth, looked over at Jackie, then looked back up at Li’eth again.
“Wait… You…you’re…” Her eyes grew wide.
(What do I say?) Li’eth asked telepathically, seeing the dawning recognition in the girl. Sharing thoughts meant he could ask swiftly and discreetly how to react. (I don’t want to cause a scene with my identity.)
(The proper response is “Boo,”) Jackie sent back.
Putting his trust in her, Li’eth pursed his lips and said, “Boo.”
She shrieked, jumping back—and then burst into laughter. He wasn’t quite sure why she had shrieked, since he hadn’t said the word very loudly, but that was what she did. Her friends gave her odd looks, but joined in the giggling. Clutching at each other, grinning, they waved and walked off.
“…What did I just say to them?” Li’eth asked Jackie, puzzled. “I’m not sure what that word translates as.”
“Boo is the traditional thing ghosts say on Halloween,” she explained. “The fake ones, anyway.”
“Oh. So by saying it, I participated in the local customs, and…she laughed because…it inverted her realization, making her think I was faking my appearance?” he asked.
“Something like that,” Jackie allowed, smiling. “Halloween is a very complex cultural observation. Most people will claim it’s all about the candy, or the costumes, but it’s also about taking everything we know and turning it upside down or inside out. Fears, jokes, intensities… We become our monsters, like the werewolves, and we become our cultural heroes, legends, characters of renown… It’s a chance to pretend the world, and we who are in it, are all something different for a little while, before we go back to the reality of our lives.”
“We have inversion celebrations, too, now that I think about it,” Li’eth told her. “Serving day, where those of the Imperial through Second Tiers work in Fifth Tier tasks, and of course the Tier celebrations for Third, Fourth, and Fifth…and days to celebrate those who have died…” Movement off near the store selling kitchen goods caught his attention. “Wait, why is that person dressed like a banana? That’s a fruit, not a cultural hero or a monster. I know that’s a fruit. I’ve eaten them. And why are they flailing their arms and feet in and out like that?”
Jackie laughed silently again, and shook her head. “…Like I said, this is going to take years to experience and explain.”
Thank you for reading this silly little holiday story. It is set about ten months after the end of The Blockade (third book in the First Salik War trilogy). In this short story, Imperial Prince Li’eth, cultural liaison from the V’Dan Empire to the Terran United Planets, gets to go to a shopping mall on Earth where Halloween is being celebrated by the locals. The conversation about zombies takes place in The Blockade.
I know not every culture around the world celebrates Halloween, but a lot of them do celebrate ancestral spirits, the imitating of cultural heroes (and villains!) through costuming, and social activities that help to soothe fears and griefs through group activities. When you grow up in these cultures, you often understand them very well, but may never have been asked to articulate what it’s all about, both on the surface and in the deeper meanings.
For some, Halloween means candy and costumes and lacks any religious or spiritual meaning. For others, it’s very religious and very spiritual, as “November Eve” is the night marking the turning of the seasons and even the start of a new year in some calendars, connecting people with their environment in a signal of the end of harvest-time and the beginning of the colder half of the year. For myself…it’s all that and more.
I’m not a Halloween fanatic, and I don’t like horror as a genre, but I do love the bountiful creativity found at this time of year. I know it’s closer to Thanksgiving than Halloween by this point in time, but Halloween is the start of the winter holiday season for me, the beginning of festivals for Thanksgiving and Bodhi Day and Chanukah and Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, so on and so forth. I’ve only scratched the surface on all that Halloween is in this short story, but there are a lot of resources out there for readers to find and enjoy. I encourage you to go looking, go reading, and enjoy all the silly and serious myths and customs surrounding this first (and in my opinion best) holiday celebration.
Meet Jean Johnson!
Jean Johnson currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, has played in the SCA for 25 years, sings a lot, and argues with her cat about territorial rights to her office chair. She loves hearing from her readers, and has a distinct sense of humor. Right now she’s living in a home with zone heating & decent plumbing, but hopes to some day put turrets and ramparts on it so that it looks like a castle.
The Sword (Sons of Destiny #1)
Shifting Plains (Shifting Plains #1)
A Soldier’s Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why #1)
The Tower (Guardians of Destiny #1)
Dawn of the Flame Sea (Flame Sea #1)
How to Write Hot Sex: Tips from Multi-Published Erotic Romance Authors
An Enchanted Season
The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance: Volumes 1 and 2
The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance
Agony/Ecstasy: Original Stories of Agonizing Pleasure/Exquisite Pain
Bedtime Stories: A Collection of Erotic Fairy Tales
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