Three Dollar Mask

By Jonathan Crimmins 

After much anticipation and preparation, Halloween night had finally come.  The fake warning tape and decorations were set up, all of the special lights were working and I was finally able to get the troublesome Grim Reaper dummy to stay in his chair without slumping over.  If any of the monsters I set up were not glowing or blinking in some manner, then something else in the area near them was.  Now that I had filled up the candy bowl and put my black robe on, there was only one task left for me:  To pick out the mask I would wear while answering the door for trick-or-treaters.

This was my first Halloween in my new neighborhood and I wanted to wear something that wouldn’t be too realistic (I didn’t want a bad reputation from traumatizing any small children) and yet not too hokey-looking.  Since most of my masks were already in use as various monster heads peering out of windows, my choices were limited.  The monster mask with the bulging eyes was far too comical-looking and the alien mask just didn’t fit in with all the supernatural-themed displays I had constructed.  The bleeding skull mask, complete with heart-shaped blood pump, was definitely out of the question.  I was seriously considering just not wearing a mask when I noticed one that was practically hidden on the far end of my closet shelf.

 It was an inexpensive latex mask that covered all but the neck and some of the back of the wearer’s head.  I had purchased it years ago at my then-local CVS pharmacy during their after-Halloween clearance sale, with its price slashed in half from the original six dollar price tag.  I had originally planned on using it as the head of a dummy in a web-covered, cardboard coffin, in imitation of a display I had seen at a party supply store.  However, that plan never came to be, as I was unable to find a fake coffin at a reasonable price and could not obtain enough materials to build my own.  Since I figured that the holes punched in its mouth and ears made it an obvious fake, I chose it as my mask for the night.  Besides, how scary could a cheap mask be?

The mask itself depicted a bald humanoid with a wrinkled brow, pointed ears and a grinning mouth full of fangs and nasty yellow teeth.  Truth be told, it looked awfully similar to Baraka from the video game, “Mortal Kombat II.”  For all I knew, it could have been a “budget version” of the mask which had inspired the design of said character.  Due to those factors and skin tone (aside from the green highlights), I had always referred to it as a “corpse-demon.” Little did I know that it would be given other names later that evening. 

  I took my place at the front door after loading up the dryer (I was using the exhaust vent as a makeshift fog machine).  The candy dish and device that made evil laughter and flashing light at the press of a button were in place.  I put on my voice changing microphone and set it to the “Monster” setting, hoping that the mask would help hold the mouthpiece in place.  Thanks to a nearby window, it was not long before I heard the voices of trick-or-treaters outside.  I struggled not to giggle as they wondered where the doorbell was, despite the large sign I had put up telling people to knock.  They were older kids, clearly in their early teens.  In other words, they were fair game for the scary stuff.  Just as they were discussing whether or not to try knocking on the door, I activated my noise-maker and dramatically flung the door open.  The gasps and looks on their faces were absolutely priceless.  After a few moments of stunned silence, one of the girls finally stammered out “Y…you’re not real” in an attempt to save face.  Just as I was about to say something, my microphone fell out.  Caught unaware by this, I chose not to try my original planned line and just smugly said “I know” in my normal voice.  Looking back, I probably should have said something to the effect of “Oh, I know I’m not…but you clearly didn’t about five seconds ago.”  Oh well, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

 After my voice-changing microphone fell out of my mask during the next few visitors, I then decided to remove it.  And after accidentally activating some scary sound effects when I opened the door to some young trick-or-treaters, I decided not to use them unless I knew for sure that I was dealing with teenagers.  Not that the loss of those devices mattered, as it soon became apparent that my mask was more than enough to unnerve most trick-or-treaters.  Every couple of visitors, I’d get a child who would freeze up and not say anything as soon as they laid eyes on me.  Several of them even refused to come up the stairs.  In those events, I would take off my mask in front of them and smile.  Next, I would crouch down and talk to them in the softest and most soothing voice I could muster.  I would explain that it was all just make believe and I was only wearing a costume, just like they were.  Finally, I would give them some candy and send them on their way with a “Happy Halloween!”  Thankfully, nobody cried or wet themselves.  I would have been crushed if I had ruined the holiday for some child.  I was not doing this to horrify everyone who came by; I just wanted to give the kids a little something extra with their candy, just like my favorite houses to visit on Halloween did when I was younger.  In fact, I felt a surge of pride whenever some little girl or boy shouted “Look at the creepy house” to their parents.  Several children asked their parents what I was supposed to be.  Over the course of the night, I had been labeled as a gremlin, ghoul and zombie.

While my costumed appearance did unnerve many, some trick-or-treaters were downright mystified by the concept.  It soon became clear that they had never had anyone answer the door for them in costume before.  As I told a friend the next day, I was blowing more minds than “Xavier:  Renegade Angel.”  Although initially surprised, I remembered that I had never worn a mask while answering the door at my old neighborhood, nor did anyone I visited while trick-or-treating as a kid.  There were also quite a few people who would look amazed and ask why I was wearing a costume.  Since this was my first year and they seemed to be genuinely confused, I opted not to pull the “This isn’t a mask” routine.  I just said that it was creepier that way and that seemed to satisfy them.  Besides, I could always do in-character responses next year.  The same went for any questions about why the house was so dark.  I guess that, in their focus on getting candy, they failed to notice the monsters and other strange beings peering out of the house’s many windows.  Come to think of it, that focus might explain why many didn’t bother saying “Trick or Treat.”  At first, I regarded this as an affront to holiday tradition and would try to coax them into saying the classic phrase by asking “Now, what do we say?”  I abandoned this after most said “Please” or flat-out did not seem to know what I was getting at.  Besides, the massive amount of trick-or-treaters meant that I simply did not have time to wait until they got it right. 

I had definitely been spoiled by years of only getting a handful of trick-or-treaters at my old place, as I was unprepared for the massive amount of visitors.  I actually ran out of store-bought candy and had to use peppermint hard candies that I had amassed from various job interviews and restaurant visits earlier in the month.  Towards the end of the evening, I was simply glad to hand out candy in order to spread more joy and speed the line up, even if they never said “Trick or Treat.”  

All in all, the house was a hit.  I got numerous compliments and introductions from neighbors.  I was even taped via someone’s camcorder.  It was not until after the trick-or-treaters stopped coming and when I was taking pictures of the setup that I realized why so many people were creeped out by the mask.  Although the less realistic aspects were readily apparent in normal lighting, the combination of darkness and the red porch light hid all of those details whenever I opened the door to give out candy.  It was all so clear now why some kids froze in their tracks!  It just goes to show that you don’t need an expensive mask to scare people on Halloween.