The Attack on Beauty: Halloween And Humanity’s Inner Dissonace

This particular year, my daughter has been rather vocal about the impact of Halloween decoration she sees all around us.

She’s young and understandably narrates most of her day, what she’s seen, what she’s done. But the manner in which she carries on about witches, glowing red eyes, and all the particularly dark ornamentation comes across as being grossly perturbed. Even at a fall festival kids costume party my family saw a child, not even a teenager, dressed in a some pop culture killer costume that neither of us could identify but nonetheless unmistakably knew belonged to the slasher genre. My wife and I reassure her that the decoration is just that and not real, that these things cannot harm her. Nonetheless, it’s given me pause this year to wonder about American fascination for everything gruesome and evil.

Why the devils? Why the witches? Why the serial killers?

The temptation to call all these figures and manifestations as meaningless is unsatisfactory. These fascinations are remarkable and noteworthy, and beg for some analysis much as a dream or pathological behavior would require analysis from psychotherapy.

Another temptation would write off our celebration of Halloween as humanity’s outlet for death. Still, I think this is inadequate. While the Latin American celebration of Day of the Dead, as far as I can see, provides some cultural merit and de-sterilizes a culture on the stigma of death while reminding families to pray for their loved ones. It may be in part true that America attempts to get over its hang up on the uncomfortable idea of death through our morbid scenes and costumes–such cases have been made why the zombie genre was so popular in our country for so long. Still, it doesn’t account for the aforementioned costumes and figures of Halloween that are deeply satanic.

We don’t seem to be portraying monsters and demons in a cautionary or benign manner. We seem to be glorifying them, out terrifying one another by conceiving of more horrific figures. Halloween is not some lived out ritual wherein a repulsive krampus is brought out to scare the population just before St. Nicholas comes in to defeat the evil. No. Rather, it is a procession of evil without good, a long minor chord without any resolve. It’s the terrible horror movie where all the main characters die, the monster wins, and somehow we are ok with this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have dark taste. I see value in books and movies that capture humanity’s capacity for evil. I listen to music that speaks about pain and sorrow. I am not one to sterilize all media and myth to be only bright and happy fairy tales. Ancient cultures, including those from our own Western myths, have not relented to speak about abusive gods and horrific monsters. Even Holy Scripture does not withhold painful details of humanity’s dark heart and the gore that we can conceive of. Dark media–just like all media–has its place so long as it is purposeful.

But glorifying the dark or the evil just for the sake of it isn’t purposeful. That’s just patronage.

What I have gathered about this glorification of evil is an unaligned attempt to convey one’s own inner dissonance. We prop up these figures beyond the margin of society, perhaps, because some of us feel ourselves on the margin of society. Perhaps we have a personal disconnection from our own family. Perhaps we couldn’t find our healthy niche in school. An inner exile occurs while still living within our communities. With that, we convey our own inner dissonance through an acting out, through the portrayal of the figures cast off into he margins: expelled demons, witches left to live in the wilderness, etc.

I believe most of this to be attention seeking behavior, an acting out as an attempt to address the unacknowledged pain of disenfranchisement and loneliness.

It is perhaps equally true–or even more true–that none of us have been shown or conveyed true beauty by our closest confidants and therefore we reach for the low-hanging fruit of shock, ugliness, and darkness. Let’s be honest, walking through America’s oldest and greatest cities is nothing like walking through the oldest and greatest cities of Europe. Our architecture is bland and sterile, and our iconoclastic roots of puritanism meant that America’s inception came without a great deal of beauty or art. While our country did have the foundations of Scripture as its rudder and moral compass, I believe we are seeing centuries later the consequence of the sterility that comes from a solo-Scriptura tradition that endeavors little to create, to convey beauty in new and wholesome ways. As a side note, perhaps it is only too ironic that the celebrated Reformation Day should fall on a day that has ached for art and beauty.

This is not a call to action to stop dressing up for Halloween, and stopping all together–even sheltering–I don’t think addresses our country’s real need.

Instead, I believe the answer to this malady comes from noticing those of us who are on the margins and showing them something beautiful. This could be literal in sharing with them a truly beautiful composition of music or piece of art or story. But the beauty could be just as simple as one’s own kindness and curiosity of their life. Perhaps the easiest answer of this is–in borrowing from Fr Josiah Trenham–the adopting of the beautiful life, the transformed life of truly lived and imitated Christianity that is unmistakably beautiful and bright. And within that Christianity, we ourselves have to understand what is beautiful, what we can adore and share. Yes Scripture is beautiful, and God gives us more than Scripture to rejoice about, to celebrate as beautiful: iconography, architecture, hymnography, the lies of saints, and so much more.

Let us take a moment this Halloween to recognize the catalysts of this mania, to analyze this sick hunger for the darkness. Let us stare in the face of our own sterility and mediocrity, and let us be intentional in both prayer and compassion for those around us who are on the margins that they do not adopt monsters on the margins as their heroes to celebrate.

Let us behold beauty. Let us adopt beauty. Let us be changed by it. Let us infuse it in all we do and recreate it in our works and in our living.

Happy Eve of All Saints.

Who Are the Unmercenaries?

Visit for more Lives of Saints

On November 1, the West & Catholic Church celebrates “All Saints” while in the Eastern Orthodox Church we celebrate Kosmas & Damian, the Holy Unmercenaries.

“Unmercenary” is both a strange-sounding and heavy metal sounding name for a rank of our saints–one of the reasons why I named my novel’s crimefighters after this rank of saint.

In the original Greek, “Unmercenary” is “Anagyroi” which literally means those not of silver, implying those who could not be paid for their service. In English, we dressed up the title using the stem “mercenary” which carries a connotation of paid-soldiers.

However, the rank of Unmerceny saints really have no military implication. Instead, this rank is a medical one, referring to Christian physicians who used both their knowledge of medicine and the fervor of their faith to heal others. However, this rank of saint specifically relates to a Christian tradition of providing medical care without accepting any payment. Just as it is today, doctor appointments weren’t cheap back in the day.

On November 1, we celebrate just two of the many Unmercenaries in the Church: Kosmas & Damian. These two brothers were raised by a single mom who dedicated her life to seeing to the Christian upbringing of her children as well as equipping them to enter into a profession of public service. We owe their mother, St. Theodota, credit for giving the Church two brothers who were extreme in their faith and in their selflesness.

The story goes that these two brothers were so adamant about not receiving payment that it actually led the two to an unfortunate quarrel. Kosmas had gone off to heal a widow who’d been seen by multiple pagan doctors to no avail. Kosmas was able to heal this woman through his prayers, and the woman being so grateful insisted he take three eggs from her as a gift. Kosmas explained his commitment to keeping nothing of his profit for this work, but the woman insisted saying Kosmas couldn’t deny a gift that was made honoring the Trinity (three eggs, three persons of the Trinity).

When Damian found out, he was grievously upset with his brother, and this caused a huge rift because it seemed Kosmas didn’t uphold his end of their fraternal promise to “freely give” to others just as Christ “freely gave” to them the gifts of healing and the gift of salvation. Sad as their rift is, their story serves for us today a kind of testimony to the importance of open dialog and to not allow the letter of rules to get in the way of holy fellowship.

Visit for more Lives of Saints

There are another set of Unmercenary saints who confusingly enough also share the names Kosmas and Damian. They too were Christian physicians who took no pay for their work. They were quite popular in Rome not merely because their service was free, but because it was overwhelmingly successful. This led to a manhunt for the two saints, wherein Roman officers began arresting any Christian they could in the hopes they’d find the two saints who had gone into hiding.

Both Kosmas & Damian eventually make themselves known to spare the local Christians from the collateral arrests, but when they show the power of the gift of healing they received from Christ they are set free–the two saints had healed a man with paralysis in the Roman court and were set free afterwards.

While they were temporarily spared by the state, their teacher who had instructed them in medicine had become jealous of their success and evasion from prosecution. After the trial, Kosmas and Damian’s teacher invites them to join him on an exhibition to collect medical herbs from a nearby mountain. The two oblige–perhaps to resupply for themselves or perhaps to convert their pagan teacher–but are thrown from the mountain by the teacher, killed in envy just as Cain had slain his brother Abel.

Promo art for book, featuring Father, Sheepshead, Red, and Morgenstern

As mentioned before, I use the title of these saints in part because the English translation for this rank has a rather edgy and powerful sound to it. When we think of mercenaries, we think of antihero ronins and black sheep soldiers constrained by no obligation or uniform. “Unmercenary” had always struck me as a kind of soldier that might combat or stand against these lawless sellswords, a kind of anti-antihero, a paladin standing against the rogues.

The Unmercenaries in my fiction series “Masks” are a band of vigilantes who take no pay for their service to their city. But instead of infirmities they are curing, they are surgeons removing cancers of illicit business, antibodies fighting against infections of criminality. They freely give from their own time and well-being to heal their city.

Among Orthodox monasticism and writings of desert fathers, we also see an emphasis on attentiveness or “watchfulness.” It was these holy ascetics–such as the “sleepless ones” and stylites–who kept watch over their soul as though it were a city in need of defense, forcing their bodies to remain strong to stave away from sleep so as to be proactive in spiritual warfare through prayer. The masked crime fighters, the Unmercenaries, subtly fuse these elements of Orthodox “heroism” if we can call it that, of these superhuman qualities achieved by saints who dedicated their lives to Christ, to His Church, to their work for humanity.

That’s who the Unmercenaries of “Masks” attempt to convey. They are not a perfect analogy of any particular or group of saint, but a modern and hopefully palpable allegory of saints, ever vigilant, self-giving “healers”, and usually unseen (much like the intercessions of the saints interceding in our lives today, assisting us without much gratitude or acknowledgment).

With that, I hope we all can set sometime to give some gratitude to God for equipping these saints who pray for us. I also hope that my book–imperfect and sometimes crude–is a refreshing story that encourages each of us to examine our personal calling to become great, to become saints.

God bless you all, and Happy Harrowing!

Buy “Masks: The Unmercenaries” now!

Hard to Believe Heroes (Short Story)

Hard to Believe Heroes

Chaplain Wallace let out a long sigh as he made his long walk through Nymphis General’s barren corridors in order to reach the hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit. His arms strained carrying the stack of Gideon Bibles on top of his clipboard of patients charts, and his glasses slid to the end of his nose as sweat ran down his face. Though he enjoyed the exercise of walking the long hallways of the hospital and ascending its seven floors, the march toward the very remote psych ward was an especially long one, lacking of any pleasant images of sign, windows, or anything but the white wash walls.

Wallace was called to Behavioral Health perhaps once a month at most, more accustom to running to real emergencies on the spectrum of death, be it imminent news or expiration. On eerily slow days, he’d round in the ICUs to introduce pastoral care, and on the brazen days he’d visit the always overpopulated ER that had no shortage of victims and perpetrators of violent crime and nefarious deeds that seemed to as of late plague the city. He had made sure to specifically avoid the ER on his double shift of Halloween—or the Harrowing, such as the city preferred to call it, a name he personally disdained—knowing no such profitable work could take place among the droves of lunatic and self-righteous “Masks.”

Wallace stopped at the locked, double doors leading to the unit, strained to press the page button near the door, and obediently looked up at the camera.

“How can I help you?” A disgruntled and annoyed voice asked him from the speaker just above the button.

“Chaplain Wallace, Pastoral Care, here to see that new patient.”

Wallace winced hearing a long sigh unmuted over the speaker.


“That’s the one. Bill Henny,” he said, remembering the name without looking at his chart.

“One moment please.”

After a few moments, the door gave out an alarming whir before popping open, and standing at the threshold to meet Wallace was a tall and burly nurse technician. He looked down at Wallace at first with an unimpressed glance before squinting and narrowing his eyes at the stack of Bibles.

“They’re for the other patients,” Wallace explained. “Your unit requests them every time I come up, just after I leave.”

The nurse tech snorted and gestured Wallace inside, holding the door open just enough for Wallace to squeeze inside with the Bibles, thereby promptly closing and locking the door behind them.

Wallace was well enough acquainted with the unit despite his few visits to the removed side of the hospital. The first room was a kind of “checkpoint” of two sets of locked doors, monitored by an aged and aloof security guard behind a booth. Beyond that was a U-shaped unit of patient rooms, each removed of their doors, each with a chair stationed just outside each room for a rotation of sitters. The U-shaped unit was always short staffed and manned by a handful of nurses and nurse techs, who behind the desk watched over the rooms and “lounge” of the unit where patients freely roamed about, read, or watched TV—strangely always tuned into the dismal local new channel. At the other end of the unit was a communal cafeteria for meals and sometimes used for support meetings varying in topic and utility.

The security guard waved the two through with flat affect, and the second set of doors swung open for Wallace and the nurse tech. The unit was as “busy” as Wallace imagined for a late afternoon, with patients shuffling and pacing back and forth through the unit, few stopping to talk to one another, save to exchange a mistrustful glance or mutter a subdued curse under their breath. Maddened chanting and muffled cries echoed out of only a few patients who had cloistered themselves either to their beds or to the communal couch and sofa; Wallace had felt relieved that the stereotyped ambience of madness befitting of an asylum was surprisingly absent, though he chalked the phenomena up to the unit’s chief psychiatrist…

Once Wallace approached the nurse’s deck, he could feel all eyes rest upon him and heard the shuffling of feet towards the desk. He plopped his stack of Bibles on the desk while the head nurse, a petite and older woman, looked up at him with a sweet smile. Wallace looked over to the young and overweight nurse tech that had answered the comm, seeing her tiredly glance up at him once before returning to her newspaper, flipping through headlines of turf wars, child kidnappings, and the rote dismal article published on their crime-ridden city; whereas Wallace tended to steer away from such content, he couldn’t help but notice how hungrily the nurse paged through it, as though the depressing stories echoed with something inside of her. The two nurses were a perfect pair of yin and yang, of hopeful optimism and burnout respectively that Wallace had experienced often in the healthcare field.

“Thank you for the Bibles, Chaplain,” the head nurse beamed.

Wallace could feel a drove of patients hovering about him and the desk. His first time up on the unit he’d naively interpreted the interest the patients gave to him as an opportunity to provide care. That day he’d left the unit with an hour of unpaid overtime, unable to leave, as a line of patients referred themselves to Pastoral Care. It wasn’t that Wallace thought their stories didn’t matter, or that their pain wasn’t real…

“They’re just bored,” the other nurse grumbled, taking the stack of Bibles and beginning to pass them out to the patients.

Wallace sighed to himself. He knew she was right. But that didn’t mean he blamed the patients for wanting to schedule impromptu visits with him. It was just impossible to give himself to every single one of them on a whim when his daily referral list always barely got done by punch out, to say nothing of the sporadic emergencies that were called over the loudspeaker that he was required to see to.

“I’m here to see—”

“He’s in your room,” the pessimistic nurse groaned, flashing her eyes down the other half of the unit.

Wallace cringed hearing it referred to as his room, as though there was an asylum reserved for him. That being said, the room, opposite of the chief Psychiatrist’s next to the cafeteria, was relatively unutilized save for the chaplains who visited the unit. It was a small room, exposed by a large window for passerbys and the front desk to see into, and one of the only rooms with a door. It had a table with two chairs, and between the chairs hung a simple painting of a potted flower.

“He’s quite pleasant,” the older nurse reassured with a smile. “Have a good visit.”

“Thank you, nurse.”

Wallace kept his eyes forward and passed through the lingering patients. He did not celebrate the fact that he’d learned to be so direct and unapproachable, though he knew how one simple greeting could lead to a rabbit hole of a visit for a chaplain who had trouble setting a boundary and saying, “I’m sorry, I have to go. Goodbye.” That being said, he marveled as the patients parted before him in a way of knowing, as though they anticipated he had to see someone, as though recognizing the need of one of their own above their own loneliness and listlessness.

On his way to his room, Wallace glanced left, spotting the lead psychiatrist, Dr. Christine Pax, through the window of her office which conveniently looked into Wallace’s meeting room. Dr. Pax kept her head down in her papers, paging through reports and charts with feigned focus. However, Wallace could feel her divided attention, having been hunted after by her each time he visited one of her patients, interrogated for his report.

Wallace turned to his room, surprised to see his referral sitting and staring blankly forward, not at all looking out the window in anticipation for him, wearing a blank and only slightly woebegone expression. He was a lean, middle-aged man, his head recently shaved with a bristle of hair sprouting from his receding hairline. He wore an enveloping blue hospital gown that overlapped his body once, free of strings, wholly covering the patient’s backside—Wallace preferred that design. Just outside the window, Wallace could make out scuffs and marks of bruising around the man’s crooked nose and bony knuckles, the tells of a brawler that Wallace had learned to pick up on.

Wallace ceremoniously knocked on the door despite knowing he was fully visible to the patient.

“Pastoral Care, may I come in?”


The patient’s voice was hoarse though full of life, and as Wallace entered the room, he could see the man’s eyes light up and grow wide as though to take Wallace in fully, though the creases of his mouth did not move.

“My name is Chaplain Wallace. You are Bill?”

“You can call me, Billy,” he said warmly, his eyes still peeled wide open. It was hard for Wallace to tell if the man’s alertness was indicative of excitement, his medication, or merely a baseline of some condition.

“May I have a seat, Billy?”

“Please, chaplain.”

Wallace sat down in his seat, folded his hands together, and shot him a subdued smile. Unless the patient or family of the patient were visibly distraught, Wallace usually began the visits with his routine introductions, “How are you feeling? What brings you here? How has your experience at the hospital been thus far?” In that particular unit, Wallace preferred to steer the conversation himself, knowing how fast a patient could spin such a question into a rabbit hole of an unrelated story.

“I apologize, I didn’t think to bring a Bible for you. Your residents probably have taken them all by now.”

Wallace knew it was an unconventional way for him to begin the visit, though his introduction had a method to it. The apology began to screen for the patient’s general regard towards others and their capacity of extending grace, the Bible was to explore the patient’s faith background or foundation of meaning and purpose, and the mentioning of the other residents was to establish he reality of the patient not being alone and explore how that patient was adjusting with his new environment.

“That’s alright. They’ll probably sell them all once they get out.”

Wallace blinked, subduing his surprise for such a candid response. He learned more from the patient with such a line that a medical chart simply could not communicate.

“Forgive me, Billy, but that sounds a little cynical. Is there something wrong?”

“You can’t give me a Bible, chaplain,” Billy responded flatly, though keeping his pleasant and lively tenor. “You can’t, because you and I both know they won’t let me keep one.”

Wallace waited before answering, and Billy held up his arms as though referencing his unique gown. Wallace knew that the stringless gown was indicative of patients with a history of violence or suicidal ideation. And the patient was right that Wallace knew the nursing staff wouldn’t let Billy keep the Bible, or any possession for that matter.

“What brings you to the hospital, Billy,” Wallace asked, gently gesturing to Billy’s gown with his eyes.

“You know why I’m here, chaplain,” Billy said, still in a pleasant voice.

“I don’t read the charts of my patients before visiting them, Billy.”

That was only half-true. Wallace read only the charts of patients he visited outside of that unit. He knew reading the notes of the medical staff tended to paint his view of the patients and their story.

Billy raised his eyebrows in an expression of what Wallace interpreted as commendation.

“What brings you here, Billy?”


Wallace raised an eyebrow.


“Yeah. Justice. Serving justice.”

“Care to elaborate?”

Wallace was surprised by the level of eye contact Billy employed as he told his story. He was used to patients staring off somewhere, looking up and about as they shared their story—fabricated or otherwise true, Wallace still had difficulty discerning which was which.

“My wife was killed a year ago, on Halloween, on the Harrowing. Ended up here in this hospital actually. She looked so bad they had trouble identifying her. I wasn’t notified until days later when they moved her to a nearby funeral’s morgue. When I reported to the police that she had gone missing, they finally identified her, and then they called me. The Russian mob, the Spades, they did it.”

Wallace leaned back in his chair, squinting with some suspicion as his patient told the story without any affect whatsoever.

“You lost your wife a year ago,” Wallace reflected. “I imagine that grief is fairly raw still, Billy.”

Billy shrugged only slightly.

“I deal with it in my own way. Like I said. I’m serving justice.”

Wallace stopped himself as he was tempted to pry into Billy’s writing off of grief, of crowbarring open his soul to get the man to cry. But the man seemed intent on the word ‘justice’, and Wallace decided to oblige.

“What do you mean serving justice?”

“Retribution, chaplain. I’m making those who killed my wife pay for their sins. I’ve been taking down the Spades, their sex trafficking rings. And I need your help, chaplain.”

Wallace put up a hand and squinted.

“The Spades killed your wife?”

It was hard for him to ask without a sliver of suspicion coming through in his question.

“They did,” Billy answered matter-of-factly. “Killed her, chaplain. She was going to uproot their whole system. Save a bunch of the girls trapped in their brothels and sex rings, put the dirty traffickers on trial. She was onto something big.”

Wallace felt silly for his curiosity, wondering if asking would only enable the fantastical tale. Though as he put his curiosity to words, he knew where his curiosity stemmed from; he knew the outset of the patient’s story was a gripping one, even if he suspected it to be fabricated.

 “How was she going to do all this, Billy?”

Billy broke eye contact, his eyes looking down and off to the side in what Wallace perceived as shame. He pursed his lips as though hesitant to answer. Wallace suspended his misgivings of the expression as a dramatic ruse, and leaned in.

“She got herself into trouble. Gambling problem. We were loaded with that debt. I didn’t approve, chaplain, but she gave herself up to them. Stripped and slept to pay off the debt. I was going to take another job, or two, to pay it off, but I couldn’t talk her out of her indenturing herself.”

Billy looked back up at Wallace, his eyes perking up with the familiar wideness.

“But maybe there’s a silver lining in there, chaplain? Maybe she was able to uncover the truth through her sin? Neither of us would have known how bad these poor girls had to suffer if she hadn’t worked in the trenches with them.”

Wallace bit his lip, knowing how far out of the room the two were. He did not enjoy talking about other people in his visits, not when the patient was the one stuck in the hospital with their own particular condition that required addressing, confronting, and even lamenting. Wallace composed himself, and wove his way out of the weeds of the tale.

“How does this relate to you being here? Is any of this connected to justice?”

Billy finally smiled, just a little.

“It is, chaplain. Almost a year after losing her I decided to do something about it. I decided to get justice for my sweet Mary. So I put on a mask, I took to the streets, and I went after the Spades.”

Billy closed his eyes so as to roll them behind his eye lids without incurring judgment.

“You’re a Mask, Billy?” Wallace asked flatly.

Wallace was familiar with the movement though wholly uninterested with it. He found it hard to follow which Mask was on which side, which one took money and which didn’t, which killed people and those who didn’t. Worse of all, Masks on both sides seemed to increase the patient population in the hospital, and that was just more unnecessary work for Wallace and the rest of the hospital.

“I am, chaplain. I was busy pummeling the Spades during the Harrowing, and I kept at it the next couple of days…until they caught me.”

“What’s your vigilante name, Billy?” Wallace asked, punctuating Billy’s own name in the question.

“The one I gave myself, or the one everyone gives me?”

Wallace blinked with surprise.

“You’ve been given one? Sounds like you’ve earned notoriety?”

“I’m afraid to say it. Maybe you’ll know then who I am.”

Wallace suppressed a chuckle at the insinuation.

“Billy, if I may be candid, I don’t pay attention to the Mask phenomena in our city. You can tell me whatever name you’d like, and I still probably won’t know who you are.”

“They call me Whitie.”

Wallace feigned a guttural chuckle for a cough.

“What was that?”

“Whitie, chaplain. They call me Whitie.”

Wallace blinked. Though the man was Caucasian, he knew there must have been more than race that had to do with the patient’s alias.

“How’d you earn that title?”

“Every Mask and vigilante in this city has a fancy costume, looking to either impress their fans or scare their enemies. Not me. I’m trying to spread the message. I want the naked truth exposed to this city of what’s really going on.”

“Do they call you Whitie because you do your crime-fighting in your skivvies?” Wallace asked pointedly.

“Well, my mask and my cape are also white. Tennis shoes too.”

Wallace closed his eyes and bit his tongue. He’d heard some crazy stories before on the unit. He was sure no subsequent visit to the behavioral health unit would top his visit to Billy.

“Don’t vigilantes need to cover up in order to do what they do, Billy? For protection?”

Wallace wasn’t quite sure why he’d asked the question, but he knew he’d been fully caught and trapped in the narrative.

“Well, I’m really hard to catch when I grease up.”

It was perhaps the most sane thing Wallace had heard in the course of their conversation.

“Again, chaplain, the message is what’s important. Our wives, sisters, and daughters are enslaved in this city to vile men who demand they take off their clothes. Once they get into the Spades’ strip joints, gentlemen’s clubs, and brothels, there’s no way out. They extort them, trap them, and give them debts they can never pay off. So I show them something—I admit—not so pleasant to look at, but the circumstances of our city are far much uglier than what people see when they look at me.”

Wallace nodded slowly. He hated to admit how poetic it sounded. Still, he needed to get the two of them off the streets and back into the hospital room.

“Why are you in the hospital, Billy?”

“Because I got caught.”

“Unless you’re here for those cuts and bruises, I’d imagine you’d be put in jail instead, where the rest of the caught Masks have been going.”

Billy sighed uncomfortably and looked up at the painting of the potted plant.

“They don’t think I’m right.”

“And what do you think, Billy?”

“I think I’m in the right, chaplain.”

Without breaking eye contact, Wallace could feel Dr. Pax peering in at the two of them. Wallace felt his watch ticking towards the end of his shift, which also happened to tick to the end of their visit. He knew the rabbit hole went much deeper, but he knew venturing much further would put him in a place in the conversation much harder to leave from.

“There was a consult to see you, Billy,” Wallace said directly. “You requested to see a chaplain. So, what can a chaplain do for you today, Billy?”

Billy put up two fingers.

“Two requests, chaplain.”

“I’m listening.”

“I wanted to ask if you think it’s wrong what I’m doing, if it’s sinful what I’m doing.”

Wallace chewed on his lip and stared pensively at the painting of the potted flower. His mind steered towards not entertaining the thought at all, to turning the question on its head, but he already knew Billy’s answer; Billy had already indicated he believed he was in the right. Perhaps, Wallace thought to himself, the man was merely looking for affirmation.

Wallace chuckled to himself as he was about to open his mouth to entertain the idea, realizing how uncouth it was to entertain what almost certainly seemed like mania. He knew answering would only fan Billy’s flame, perhaps billowing a real paranoia or delusion that existed behind the story.

Wallace looked back at Billy who waited patiently, eyes still large though with a starved look rather than true mania. Wallace sighed doing the simple math in his head. He was not a clinician, and therefore did not need to prove Billy’s sanity. He was not a judge, and did not need to pry into Billy’s conscience. He was a chaplain and asked merely to hold a mirror to the circumstances before him.

“It’s a hard to believe story, I’m going to admit, Billy.”

Billy nodded slowly, still staring wide-eyed, hungry for the rest of the answer.

“But assuming everything you’ve said is true,” Wallace began. He stopped himself and went through the story once more in his head and laughed to himself. “I suppose it’s hard to deny that our city has a crime problem, a kidnapping problem, a lot of problems. One only needs to turn on the news to see that. It’s frustrating at times, seeing it happen, feeling too powerless to do anything about it, except keep watching the news and getting bothered…”

Wallace paused, cringed as the headlines and newscasts replayed in his head from the nurse’s newspaper, from the morning radio. He shocked himself, feeling something begin to burn in his chest, his face unconsciously burrow into a glower of indignation. As he looked up he saw Billy’s eyes come alive, as though the man began to see something turning inside of Wallace.

Wallace blinked, imagining Billy no longer in his gown, but in his underwear, his face hardly covered by the white mask he spoke of, staring wide-eyed and vigilant in the dead of night while the city was asleep.

And then Wallace laughed.

“What is it, chaplain?”

“Whitie is a refreshing thought to all the madness, isn’t he? A half-naked man who runs through the streets beating up criminals. It’s admittedly a little crazy, isn’t it Billy? But that kind of crazy is oddly refreshing to what’s happening outside, isn’t it?”

Billy laughed limply.

“I suppose it is, chaplain.”

“I apologize. I’m probably being uncouth, Billy.”

“I appreciate your honest thoughts on the matter, chaplain.”

“Well, you asked for something else too, Billy?” Wallace said, looking back at his watch.

Billy leaned in, folded his hands over his mouth—as though also cognizant of the two being watched—and whispered.

“Help me get out.”

Wallace stiffened back in his seat.

“Billy,” Wallace began, the words coming out of his mouth in a robotic, programmed manner, “you’re in here for your health, wellbeing, and safety.”

“I’m not though. The Spades could have taken me out like my wife, and they chose not to. They suspected I might have information on them that could ruin them, the information my wife had collected. They knew calling me in, not to jail me, but to hospitalize me would undermine any testimony I could bring against them. They knew another body would just raise suspicion.”

“You don’t think your testimony is undermined by running around in your underwear, Billy?”

Billy shook his head.

“It’s about the message, chaplain. But I need your help. Please. Get me out of here.”

Wallace bit his lip. He’d heard the plea before. He’d heard it from not just patients in that part of the hospital, but from the confused, the elderly, from those waiting on a doctor or some tests who simply could not get out even Against Medical Advice.

“I’m a chaplain, Billy. I can’t discharge you. You and I both know that.”

“I know that, chaplain. But she will talk to you.”

 Wallace didn’t need to ask who he meant, nor did he need to look over to feel Dr. Pax’s stare.

He was undecided as to his recourse, but he knew failing to give Billy a positive or hopeful word would only keep him in the room that much longer.

“I’ll do what is in your best interests, Billy, as I do for all my patients.”

Wallace anticipated some resistance, some pressing from Billy as to what exactly the answer meant. Instead, he saw Billy nod slowly, and eventually lean back in his chair.

“I believe you, chaplain.”

“Good,” Wallace said, rising from his seat. “It was truly a pleasure talking with you, Billy.”

“Wait, chaplain.”

“Yes, Billy?”

“Aren’t you going to pray for me?”

Though it came as a given in his profession, Wallace had become accustom to not forcing prayer on the end of his visits. Such was especially case in the behavioral health unit where Wallace feared an intention or petition could unknowingly serve as fuel for a deluded narrative or distorted sense of reality based on how his patient heard it.

And yet, Wallace could never turn prayer down to those who asked for it with sincerity.

Wallace sat back down and saw Billy reach his hands to the center of the table. Against his instincts and reservations, Wallace allowed himself to place his hands in Billy’s.

Wallace closed his eyes, and bowed his head with Billy.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for this opportunity of fellowship. Lord of mercy, look down upon us, your servants, and especially on your servant Billy. We ask that you liberate us and loose us from all infirmity and weakness, and that you speak wisdom into our minds and hearts for our edification and healing…”

Wallace paused, hearing Billy not audibly but in his heart repeating and chanting the word: “justice.” Though he was unaccustomed to the petition, he decided to speak towards his heart’s inclination.

“And, Lord, we ask for justice…for…for justice, Lord.”

“Amen,” Billy responded.

Wallace looked up, shocked to see tears streaming from Billy’s eyes. Wallace smiled sweetly. He’d always been told that tears at the end of a visit were indicative of a job well done. Though he felt at a loss for any more adequate words to pray on Billy’s behalf, he was warmed to see the man weep.

“God bless you, Billy.”

“And you as well. Thank you, chaplain.”

Wallace left Billy as he held his face in his hands, as the streams of tears continued to flow. Wallace walked stiffly and hastily through the U of the unit, feeling the eyes of every patient and staff member tracking him. He felt their looks, however, not in the usual way, indicative of those looking for something, but rather looking with awe. He couldn’t be sure how much could be heard outside the closed door of the room, or interpreted through the glass of the room, and yet he felt the staff and patients knew the nature of the conversation, and the nature of Billy.

“Oh Chaplain!”

Wallace paused and grit his teeth, hearing the shrill voice of Dr. Pax follow after him just as he reached the checkpoint of the unit. He turned seeing her smile at him, a feigned kind of smile of pleasantry and formality, a toothy grin that served as a façade of welcomeness behind a want for favor and control.

“Yes, doctor?” Wallace replied neutrally.

“Thank you for seeing Mr. Henny today.”

“I think he prefers to go by Billy.”

“Actually, he prefers to go by something else,” she said with a forced chortle.

Wallace smiled limply back.

“I’m not sure if you are privy to his history, chaplain?”

“I don’t read patient charts,” Wallace replied briskly. “Not unless I have to.”

“It might be good for you to do so, chaplain,” she said, her voice growing slightly sharper. “The man is likely a paranoid schizophrenic and has persisted in a narrative that the mob is out to get him. The police suspect a history of vandalism and assault as well.”

“Suspect?” Wallace asked.

“Nothing that’s been confirmed in court yet. I’m sure he told you about his little ‘crime-fighting esquepades’.”

Wallace refrained from answering directly.

“Why isn’t he in jail?” Wallace decided to ask.

Dr. Pax beamed.

“He came in Baker Acted by the police when they found him streaking in his underwear—again, something I’m sure he’s already shared with you. They found him in a state of madness, only confirmed when he shouted accusations at the cops that they too were connected to the mob. No charges have been pressed yet, despite having been picked up out of a porn shop wielding a crowbar. It’s a miracle he didn’t end up in jail. He seriously needs help.”

Wallace nodded, not so much in agreement as much as to indicate he heard the psychiatrist.

“Forgive me, doctor, but my shift is about up and I need to chart. Anything you need from me?”

“Anything you might have for me that might provide important insight into the patient’s condition?” Dr. Pax asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Wallace spun on his heel to leave.

“Nothing that you won’t see in the notes of my chart. Good day, doctor.”

Wallace took his time descending from the psych ward to his office, his finger glued pensively to his lip, considering what he truly thought, felt, and believed about his conversation with Billy, deliberating what he might log in his chart. He cringed as he played through the conversation again in his own mind, embarrassed at the thought of another staff member listening to him entertaining the story presented to him.

“I got sucked in, didn’t I?” Wallace grumbled to himself.

It was a rookie move. Unbecoming in his work to let the story outside the walls of the hospital to become the topic of discussion, to get away from the diagnosis and how it affected their sense of meaning & purpose, to explore relationships and means of coping in strife, to be nothing more than a pastoral presence.

And yet, he couldn’t shake the prying eyes of Dr. Pax from his mind, couldn’t help but sympathize for the patient after being interrogated by her. Wallace had learned the psychiatrist had extended the stay of many patients by her own orders, had made under functioning prisoners of the weak-willed patients that she’d sunk her talons into. Wallace had seen it before in ministry, a kind of toxic savior complex that sought to keep the flock nice and close for the reward itself of having others becoming dependent on you.

Wallace fell exhaustedly back into his chair once he arrived at his office, and he stared silently at the computer screen instead of immediately going to the hospital charting system. Though he was tempted to explore the patient’s chart, he felt nauseated by the thought, as though prying into the details would suddenly deflate and paint the story in an instant, that the psychiatrist’s verdict would suddenly become his gospel truth.

Instead, Wallace opened up his browser and searched “Mask Whitie.” Sure enough, multiple articles accompanied by stark photos popped up on his screen. Wallace leaned in, seeing Billy Henny, wielding a humble crowbar, wearing nothing but his underwear, a white domino mask, a pair of white tennis shoes, and a cape made of a strange fabric. Wallace leaned in and zoomed into the photo, studying the cape with some scrutiny, interpreting the cape as some fine fabric, something light and fluffy almost like scrap fabric belonging to a wedding dress. Wallace scrolled through the articles, seeing stories of a half-naked Mask vandalizing porn shops and liquor stores, causing bedlam in casinos and strip clubs, even assaulting individuals with Slavic sounding names befitting of the Red Spades recruiting pool.

Not all of it seemed as innocent to Wallace as Billy portrayed it, but Wallace had been in chaplaincy long enough to know man’s proclivity to portray details that either dignified or victimized the teller rather than self-incriminate. And yet, he knew there was even more to Billy’s story that he needed to know.

Wallace turned to his charting program and searched not for Bill Henny, but Maria Henny. But after a quick peck of the keyboard and click, he sighed and shook his head, seeing no such name come up.

Wallace drummed his fingers on his desk in annoyance, displeased to see a hole in the story that he admittedly wanted to be true. Without the dead wife, in Wallace’s eyes at least, Billy wasn’t just a maniac without a motive, but worse, a liar spinning tales to get others to join his crusade.

Just as Wallace was about to type in Billy’s name to write up a damning note, he stopped himself, considering one other alternative. He ran a report of the ER’s patient list on last year’s Halloween and scrolled through the names. Wallace scrolled through the “H’s” first incase the patient had gone by a different first name, but to no avail. And then he went to the “D’s,” and as he had suspected, a handful of “Jane Doe’s” popped up. He clicked through the different charts until he found one that had been pronounced dead, and Wallace eagerly opened the ER Physician’s note:

“Female patient in 30s admitted to ER with violent hemoptysis, acute repertory distress, and multiple injuries sustained to face and body. Patient’s pulse was in decline at emergency admittance. Compressions were administered for 32 minutes. Patient was unable to be identified, and staff could not establish an emergency contact or health care surrogate. A pulse could not be achieved. Time of expiration: 21:33.”

Wallace reclined back in his seat and let out a heavy sigh.

The skeptic in him told him that such circumstances were common enough to fabricate a story around, or that Billy merely could have been privy to the poor anonymous woman’s demise and wrote into his own mind a narrative that she was his dead wife. Believing Billy, on the other hand, that this woman was in fact his wife also required some mental gymnastics as he considered the grandiose nature of the story, considered the flat and manic-looking affect of his patient. Both conclusions required a leap for Wallace.

Wallace opened up Billy’s file and began to write his note. The cursor in the text box blinked annoyingly at him, begging him to pen his observations, his purpose in the visit, the outcome of the visit. As he stared at the blinking cursor, he thought of the still heart of the Jane Doe that came in, and the beating heart of Billy Henny. He couldn’t help but wonder how Billy was still alive after so many bold ventures, after chasing after criminals without any armor or proper weaponry.

The fact that Billy was still alive, the message his comical appearance conveyed, the spirit in which he spoke his story…it wasn’t in itself compelling, but it made him want to believe the story.

Wallace sat down at his desk, and penned his note:

“Pastoral Care visited patient per patient’s request relayed by nursing staff. Pastoral care provided pastoral and listening presence and explored patient’s feelings towards hospitalization and patient’s coping strategies. Patient shared feelings of discomfort being in hospital. Patient seems to use humor to cope hard circumstances. Patient communicates concern for those outside of himself and seems to find purpose in helping others. Patient requested prayer. Chaplain prayed with patient. Outcome of visit seemed to provide patient with solace and emotional release.”


The Next Day…

“Alert! Alert! Alert! Code Grey, East Seven!”

Chaplain Wallace stepped out of line for his coffee and shuffled off to the west side of the hospital, the immediacy of the PA’s alarm hardly coherent to hear what floor of the hospital in which the emergency took place. Code Greys—physical altercations started by patients or guests against staff—warranted no more than a check-in from a chaplain to touch base with the staff, to provide a sense of calm after security had wrestled down the culprit. Still, Wallace forced himself to check in on it, finding an excuse to see to the emergency for the sake of enjoying the sunrise over Nymphis’ bay.

Wallace took the stairwell instead of the elevator, knowing it would take some time for the lift to return to him after security was done ascending to whatever floor the code had been called. Wallace whistled to himself, taking in the morning sun as he passed by each floor’s window, the sun refreshing him with its rays as it pierced through the glistening towers of a morally decrepit city.

Wallace paused as a clamoring set of footsteps descended towards him, and a man dressed in what he thought he remembered to be the garb of another patient from the psych ward brush past him.

“Excuse me, pardon me.”

Wallace reached out and grabbed the man’s arm, and spun him. The man wore a pair of jeans and plaid shirt of a patient not under a Baker Act, and although an N-95 mask covered a great deal of his face, his bald head and large eyes did not get past Wallace.

“Billy?” Wallace asked.

“Chaplain,” Billy groaned, his body falling slack, as though surrendering under Wallace’s grasp. “Look, I can explain.”

“Please do! You’re responsible for that code?!”

Billy shrugged, and he spoke in a spirited way.

“I told my story. Again and again. A lot of other people are trapped up there for who knows how long, feeling like life is slipping by them. They wanted to do something. They liked the story. So they helped me get out.”

“How, pray tell?”

“They all became Whitie,” Billy said. “Got in their skivvies, wrapped bed sheets around their necks like capes, put on masks like these to cover their faces. Meanwhile, my next door neighbor leant me his clothes. Said he was going to watch for me every night outside his window till he got out or I got back in.”

Wallace shook his head.

“You disapprove, chaplain?” Billy asked.

“Your craziness is contagious, Billy.”

Wallace saw Billy look down at his feet sheepishly.

“Not a real fair way to talk about those guys and girls up in that unit, chaplain.”

“Not what I meant,” Wallace said, letting go of Billy. “You’ve got me sick with your story too. Get the hell out of here, Whitie.”

Billy returned to meet Wallace’s face, wearing his same flat and wide-eyed expression, giving not even a coy smile to the absurdity of the moment, but rather a dutiful nod as though he were being sent off to fight a new war.

Wallace heard the ground level door spring open and slam just as he heard a familiar and similar commotion a few floors above him. Wallace looked up, seeing two winded security guards hustle down the steps with Dr. Pax in tow.

“Chaplain!” Dr. Pax huffed, looking surprised to see him.

“Heard there was a code, doctor,” Wallace answered flatly.

The guards pushed past him and trampled down the stairwell. Dr. Pax took a moment to catch her breath, and paused to meet him at his level, her usually forced pleasantry smile suddenly narrowed with a look of betrayal.

“Your note was not very thorough for what appeared to be a significant conversation,” she snapped.

Wallace shrugged.

“They’re all just bored up there, ask your own staff. They just want someone to listen to them.”

“As it turns out, a lot of people listened to Mr. Henny,” she hissed, stepping inches within his face. “Turned out to be a kind of insurrection if you can believe it, chaplain.”

“Hard to believe, mam.”

The New Harrowing: Bo & The Equestrians

Halloween Night

Lenny proudly tied his brown rider’s cloak around his neck, smoothed out his jodhpurs breeches, and straightened out his equestrian helmet. He flashed a devilish smile at himself in his master dormitory suite’s full-length mirror, the same room and mirror belonging to his brother. He imagined his brother’s spirit standing over him, beaming down upon him a proud and equally impish grin, wearing the senior garb of the Epsilon Omicron Alpha house.

It had taken three humiliating years for Lenny to get there. Three diminutive years of hazing, obedience, and misdemeanor to stand in that room, to wear the Equestrian garb, to take the reins of Nymphis University’s Halloween, the inception of Nymphis’ Harrowing festivities.

“You wear it well, sire,” Rusty, his foal, complimented. “Colton would be proud.”

Lenny withheld the temptation to rebuke his foal for bringing up such a stinging and sentimental subject, and yet it warmed him to hear how his brother’s legacy lived on. His brother, Colton, died under the influence in an automobile accident just a year after his graduation, and Lenny had anticipated four years of shame and prejudice merely by association. What he experienced instead was favor and special treatment from the fraternity, an easier first three years than most, a brotherhood that placed high expectations on him to one day lead and leave his mark upon the ‘Greek Life’.

“Too bad he’s not here to see what he created,” Lenny sighed.

Lenny’s brother Colton was among the founders of the Epsilon Omicron Alpha house, or rather the usurpers. Eight years ago, a poor but rambunctious group of collegians had crashed their rival fraternity house’s Halloween party wearing horse masks, the namesake of their school’s football mascot. The damage incurred by them in their celebration forced the former fraternity to move and thereby disband, granting free residence to Colton and his cronies. The remnant of their rambunctious vandalism marked the fraternity building to that day, and stains of their revelry marking the old wallpaper and aged carpets remained untouched.

“It’s sundown, sire,” his foal reported. “The festivities are about to begin.”

Lenny turned around to face his foal, seeing him donning his ceremonial horse mask.

“Remind me, foal, why do we make you wear those masks in this house?”

“So that we never forget we are someone else’s foal, sire.”

Lenny shook his head and paced his room pensively.

“It serve that function, but it’s more than that. Every collegian has pent up energy, a burning to step out of the former constraints of one’s home and high school. The horse mask gives you that opportunity, to do as you would without reproach, to create bedlam not only for the university and city, but even for your peers. Still, you’re correct, it serves as a reminder of the wild horse within each of us, and that we all require a master.”

“Very good, sire.”

“Tonight you wear my cloak, foal. You’ll lose some anonymity in so doing, but you’ll gain the regard to do as you please under that hood. And tonight I shed it off along with my past.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing both, sire.”

“Come with me. I want to show you something first.”

From the fraternity master suite to the private library was a short walk. The old lighting flickered on lazily, revealing bookshelves of dated literature with torn and weathered spines. Save for its couches and armchairs, the entire room’s furniture was lined with dust and cobwebs. The room hadn’t been used for the purpose of an actual study since before Colton took the dormitory, and such a woebegone façade suited the fraternity’s goals.

“Now is as good a time as any,” Lenny said, walking his foal to the end of the library, and gently tugging on the faded spine of a book titled, “Horse Anatomy.”

The book shelf pivoted out gently, and Lenny looked back, seeing his foal shudder at the sudden movement of the trick bookcase. Lenny stepped between the wall and the bookshelf, shined his phone’s flashlight on a hidden cubby carved out of the wall of a hundred or so photo albums, each labeled with initials.

“Rusty Abrams,” Lenny said, pulling an “RA” from the hidden bookshelf.

Lenny sidled next to Rusty and opened the book to the first page, with a simple header titled, “Freshman Year: Pre-Halloween.”

“Remember this?” Lenny asked, pointing to a photo of Rusty captured three years ago.

His foal recoiled at the sight of the old photo of siphoning a keg of beer while wearing a cardboard costume fashioned out of beer cans and cases. Lenny relished the subtle squirms as the photos on the next page revealed only further impaired decision making, wearing far less than his armor of alcohol, the drunk French maid far more clothed than he. Lenny paged quickly through the subsequent pages of damning photos, cringing himself as he beheld parts of his foal he’d rather not have laid eyes on, until they came to the second heading, “Freshman Year: Initiation.”

“Please, sire,” Rusty begged.

“This is the last time we’ll have to walk through any of this,” Lenny reassured.

A chill went up Lenny’s spine seeing a hellish gathering in the fraternity’s main lounge, just before a lit fireplace. Lenny remembered his own initiation as he paged through Rusty’s, seeing the diaper clad men of the fraternity paired with the bikini-clad women of the sorority lined up like soldiers. Standing obediently stiff around them were the horse-clad Sophmores, of which Lenny could spot his own former self. Stretching out and forming a circle around the lower classmen were the Juniors, their faces shadowed by their long rider hoods and cloaks, holding their former horse masks in hand. Standing gathered before the fireplace were the Seniors, Equestrians, dressed in the same splendor that Lenny enjoyed that day, save for the diminutive cloak.

“What was that day?” Lenny asked.

“It was the saddling, sire,” Rusty said weakly.

“The day you were broken in. But you weren’t my foal yet.”

“I was…someone else’s, sire.”

Lenny made a face, paging to the next heading that read, “Sophmore Year.” He found a page where Rusty bowed down on all fours in the dining hall, obediently at the side of a feminine figure donned in the rider’s cloak, the creases of her frown barely visible behind her hood. It wasn’t customary for a member of the sorority to take a member of the fraternity as a foal, or vice-versa. And yet, both the fraternity and sorority seemed to understand advantages of maintaining their rigid hierarchies by allowing romantic relationships to exist between the houses and ranks.

“You haven’t heard from her since?” Lenny asked, paging boredly through photos of the two of them egging a rival house and milk jousting inside a supermarket.

“No, sire.”

Lenny stopped at first page without her, the first page that showed him hooded where the girl once stood, the two of them standing proudly above a pair of away team linebackers following their lost championship game.

“Wish that photo I could save,” Lenny sighed, slamming the book closed and tucking it back onto the shelf. “But rules are rules.”

“Any that you would save from your own, sire?”

Lenny squirmed at the thought of his own photo album, and took solace seeing it missing from the bookshelf. He remembered having to go through the shameful photos of his impulsive and humiliated past with his former rider and Equestrian, a subtle reminder of the importance of the hierarchy, a reminder of the danger that came with leaving…

“None,” Lenny answered. “Come now. Wouldn’t want to miss the big celebration for the two of us.”

The two solemnly walked out the library and down the dimly lit hallway.

“What ever happened to that cheerleader of yours?” Lenny asked.

“To Abigail?” Rusty asked.

“Yes. Abigail. Abigail Brewer. Your old rider. What happened to her?”

“She left town.”

“Left town, what?”

“Left town, sire,” Rusty corrected himself.

“We all know she left town, foal. But what really happened to her, Rusty?”

“I suppose she wanted out, sire.”

“She’d gone through the worst of the hazing. Her last two years would have been nothing. Why risk tarnishing her entire future and leave?”

“Perhaps she wasn’t as concerned with her photo album?”

Lenny scoffed.

“Remind me to show it to you when we are finished, Rusty. The things inside that thing make your ledger seem so tame.”

“You haven’t released it yet then? Her photo album?”

“With the hope that she’ll return and recant. But for now it keeps me company at my nightstand.”

The two descended the hall’s creaky staircase, ushering the entire longue to turn and address them both. The lineup was a familiar one: half-naked freshman kneeling at the center, horse-headed sophomores standing obediently at their side, an outer band of juniors still donning their horse masks in anticipation for their cloaks, and equestrian clad seniors standing ready at the fireplace each with a wineglass in hand. An empty podium and stack of photo albums sitting upon it separated the equestrians, dividing the sisters from the brothers. Lenny smiled and took his place at the center while his foal filed in with the rest of the horses.

Lenny cleared his throat and unfurled the scroll as all eyes lay upon him.

“In Vino Veritas,” he began, raising his glass. “En Oinos Alitheia, or, in wine lies the truth. Each of us came into this house through the libation, through becoming acquainted with our uninhibited self. Our predecessors showed us our wild horses, and we are reminded of those mavericks until we leave this house.”

Lenny turned to his fellow Seniors.

“Equestrians, fellow Seniors, tonight we shed our capes of shame and immolate the annals of our truth. Our time of being lorded over by our past shall wither in the hearth!”

Lenny then turned to the still horse-faced juniors.

“Juniors, tonight you shed your horse faces and don the cloak, learning authority, saddling your foal.”

Lenny arched forward, addressing the stiffly lined columns of horse-headed Sophomores.

“Sophmores, you will continue to wear your long faces, for you are still all wild horses. Your initiation is not over yet. But take courage, for in no time at all you will meet our ranks, and in the meantime you will carry the torch of revelry that has ignited this house so brightly. You will be set free upon our city as horsemen of the Harrowing, proudly rendering bedlam and carousal.”

Lenny stepped forward, coming to one of the freshmen, who seemed to shiver as Lenny’s shadow hovered over his naked body.

“As for you, Freshmen,” he said, pouring his drink over the head of the novice. “You will be shod, you will be branded, and you will be broken in until you are deemed worthy of this house. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sire!” The freshmen obediently chimed in chorus.

Lenny waltzed back to his position behind the podium and threw his glass into the fire where it shattered in the heat.

“Every Equestrian begins by being broken in, made a fool and foal of him and herself. We cannot leave our pasts until we leave. We must pass through the fire of the Harrowing. We must don the mask, become our beast, have our drink, and subject ourselves to being mastered, before we become masters ourselves. Only then we are freed. But until we become lords of our houses, we are subjects to our shame.”

Lenny outstretched his arms out in a flamboyant and ritualistic manner, as though to embrace the whole student body.

“All, but the Freshmen, tonight, will be set free! Starting with the Juniors! Juniors, shed off your faces, and take up the mantle that we bestow on you!”

Lenny made a sweeping gesture with his hands, closed his eyes, and craned back his head in a dramatic fashion.

“Juniors! Take off your masks!”

What Lenny anticipated as a solemn moment of silence came to a sudden burst of gasps and indignant murmurs. He opened his eyes, seeing half the Juniors without their masks as intended, and the other half wearing sheep masks, with austere expressions crafted into their plastic mold.

The rest of the student body looked to Lenny in anticipation, and Lenny fumbled to produce some fitting response.

“What is the meaning of this? Some silly new prank!? Save it for the Harrowing! This is a solemn observance of our great tradition!”

But the sheep did not. They did not move. Instead their unnerving, quiet stares pierced Lenny.

Lenny looked over to where he knew Rusty had took his place, seeing him among the sheep. Lenny strode up to him, and came within inches of his face.

“Take that mask off immediately, foal,” Lenny hissed, “or I’ll send off your dirty little memory book this very night!”

“You have no power over him!” A feminine voice shouted from across the room.

Lenny looked up back towards the staircase, seeing another sheep staring at him from the banister, though dressed starkly different from the rest. She wore ragged shepherd’s clothing, harkening to customary garb worn in a mountainous village in the Balkans. In her hand, she carried what looked like a Bo staff, its steel sheen shimmering in the firelight of the hearth.

“And who are you supposed to be?” Lenny scoffed. “Little Bo Peep?”

“Something like that,” she replied.

“And you think you’ve made a mindless flock of my bold foals?”

“No,” she answered. “I’ve come to set them free of your blackmail, to release them from your perverted little cult.”

Lenny marveled at the grace of her movement, how she effortlessly vaulted over the banister, how she twirled her staff hypnotically in front of her, around her, over her, with helicopter like speed. The sheep parted away from her reflexively, the sorority fled, and a fraction of the fraternity of every class stood their ground.

“All pomp and no substance,” Lenny spat. “Take her down!”

Those loyal and brave enough to stand their ground enveloped the shepherd and raised their fists. The first that leapt forward took a hard thwack to the chin, and another a stiff prod to the sternum. Another handful charged, while the rest waited.

Bang. Smack. Crack.

Even the meatier linebackers of the fraternity fell like dead weight before the spins and strikes of the Bo staff.

Those initially bold to confront her had since sheepishly backed off, and stood nervously before the masked shepherd, giving her wide berth of the lounge.

“Any one of you cowards who does not take her down will have their photo albums released!” Lenny threatened.

“Are you sure about that?” The masked shepherd asked.

Lenny shot her a perplexed glare before he made out the smell of smoke and within seconds heard the blaring of the fire alarm.

“What the hell!?” Lenny swore.

“The library is on fire,” The masked shepherd proudly announced to the room as she slowly strode towards Lenny. “You are all now part of a new Harrowing. Your pasts are all being burned up. You are all free to leave not just this building, but this organization…for your own safety.”

She spun her Bo staff dramatically as she came within striking distance of Lenny.

“We’ll make this quick.”

Lenny glanced over, seeing the whole house vacate, save for his old foal, save for Rusty.

Lenny chuckled to himself.

“I don’t know that I’d be laughing,” she said, poising her staff towards him, “if I were on the receiving end of this very heavy stick.”

“I should’ve known it was you…that you’d return…Abigail.”

Lenny expected a dramatic flinch, a paralyzing moment for the sudden reveal. Instead, he marveled, seeing her gracefully remove the sheep mask from her face, and throw it into the fire.

“What gave me away?” Abigail asked with a subtle smirk.

“Never seen anyone work a pole like that,” Lenny said devilishly. “Which brings me to my next point. Are you sure you’ve set fire to all the photo albums?”

“You mean this one?” She asked, pulling from her a fold of her garment a photo album, initialed “A.B.”

Lenny remained unflinching as she took her album and tossed it carelessly into the hearth.

Lenny fell back, as the staff punched into his gut without warning. As he attempted to catch his breath, he watched as Abigail turned towards her former foal and hand to him the stack of photo albums from the podium.

“Go ahead, Rusty,” she told him. “Send these to the press. Make copies. Let the city, the whole internet, know about this place and its customs.”

“Are you sure about that?” Lenny choked, pulling out his phone and opening a saved draft of an e-mail.

He let his thumb hover over the send button, while he outstretched the screen to show the two of them a collection of photos awaiting to be sent to a handful of publishers of websites of ill-repute.

“Want to let the city, the whole internet, know, Abigail, about your own checkered past here?”

“Y-you saved her photos?” Rusty stammered. “That’s against the house’s conduct!”

Lenny rolled his eyes and chuckled.

“Do we really look like a house of rules, Rusty? We let you imbeciles parade around in horse masks so you could prank each other without consequence. We endorsed your bedlam and vandalism! You really think ceremony would keep me from saving your girlfriend’s delectable secrets? Don’t you—”

“Do it.”

Lenny blinked hearing her so sharply interrupt him, so immediately and with stone-face call his bluff.

“Go ahead. Scapegoat me for your scorched earth. You can try to destroy my future with my past. If that’s the price to pay for their freedom and to bring this system down, so be it.”

Lenny grit his teeth and pushed his thumb on his phone, sending her digital photo album off into the ether.

Abigail flashed a wide and pearly smile and slammed her staff into Lenny’s mouth. He coughed, feeling the debris of shattered enamel burst into his mouth and throat from the impact.

“Look on the bright side, Lenny,” she said, taking him by his ankle and dragging him from the house filling with smoke, “you’ll never smile again for another photo album. Happy Harrowing.”

Pre-Order “Masks” & Short Stories Coming Soon!

The above image is by far my favorite promotional image for “Masks: The Unmercenaries.”

Click the image above to pre-order your copy or begin reading today on Amazon Kindle!

This is a perfect autumn book as the events of this story lay out the question of “what if Halloween carried on a little too long.” The ghoulish festivity of “All Saint’s” unravels into a city’s obsession with anonymity and living out a second life.

You’ll follow a group of vigilantes, known as the Unmercenaries, who work together to clean up their city’s scum of villainy, find and avenge their loved ones, and put down the city’s worst masked plague yet: The Den.

I’m also happy to announce that I’ll be releasing, tomorrow, my first short story set in this universe. The short stories take place in the Mask series as stand alone chapters and provide some backdrop to the city of Nymphis and its crime fighters and villains.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my first short story among many.

These are meant to be quick reads to help dip your toes into the universe while also hopefully providing some thought-provoking themes.

Stay tuned for more details, have a great October, and Happy “Harrowing.”

Writing Setting, World Building, & Sehnsucht

The villain teased above is the mad philosopher, Overman, an embodiment of Nietzsche’s tightrope walker who ironically dwells in the abandoned, dilapidated subway of the city of Nymphis. The old rail and bunker, called “The Rabbit Hole,” is key to the story “Masks: The Unmercenaries,” though it took some time to conceive of this dark hutch of villainy.

The inspiration came originally from a search of “abandoned locations” which yielded a list of beautiful derelict monuments and establishments that had become works of art and even tourism. The throne room of the Rabbit Hole was conceived after watching a documentary on an underground, nuclear-grade estate of vice.

This was just one facet of Nymphis, one facet of imagining and illustrating the world of my book. This process of world-building is enjoyable but is as well laborious in order to paint an immersive world that exists not only in our minds, but in the minds of our readers.

For my fellow world-builders out there, I’d like to share some insight I’ve employed through my own journey of sculpting my book’s world:

Lore & Backstory

“Masks: The Unmercenaries” began as a series of featurette chapters of characters. Before it had a central plot, it was a compilation of vigilantes from different backgrounds, fighting and living in different parts of the cities. Some of the structure and elements of those chapters and characters survived, but many didn’t.

But the exercise helped me craft Nymphis, to explore parts of the city I might not otherwise explore without writing a bit of backstory & lore of characters that wouldn’t even show up.

I think of Skyrim and Ark in this regard, of sprawling worlds that have an impressive collection of literature that lay out backstory of such a fun worlds. The books of Skyrim reference the pantheon of the NPCs, the history of Skyrim’s locations, allude to the dealings of the characters you meet. Ark accomplishes this too, laying out random logs of survivors for the player to collect, each entry expounding on how various perspectives see the island and the dinosaurs upon it.

When one is world building, I think it important to test the boundaries of the world, even if those parts are never directly used or referenced. Unconsciously, as a writer, you’ll be aware of how far your world goes, and invariably parts of that unused expanse will bleed into your novel or serve to be used as material for a later chapter or book.

Good Illustration Can Be Brief

I think of the Harry Potter series when I think of incredible illustration. While we all had the movies to help us in visualizing what J.K. Rowling was putting to paper, the author’s description of Hogwarts incredibly describes what the films set out to do.

For example, see our first view of Hogwarts in the following description provided by

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.

“No more ‘n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry and Ron were followed into their boat by Nevlille and Hermione.

“Everyone in?” shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself, “Right then— FORWARD!”

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.

“Heads down!” yelled Hagrid as the first boat reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy which hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbour, where they clambered out on to the rocks and pebbles.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling doesn’t go overboard with her thesaurus or even set out to describe every inch of Hogwarts. There is instead details that either pair or juxtapose for a really powerful image. She uses the narrow path to blast out the expanse of the castle and it’s large lake, and then pairs the sparkling windows of the towers to the starry sky, as though making the castle heavenly.

In each paragraph, there are no more than two sentences that paint the image of Hogwarts, and most of the exterior castle’s description is accomplished in just a few paragraphs.

This is not to say that all descriptions in world building must be brief or simple, but it does free us from a load of expounding too much, leaving the audience little room to imagine for themselves. We have to realize that the world and characters we imagine in our heads and hearts don’t have to look, sound, or feel absolutely congruent to how our audience imagines them. We want the audience to feel drawn in by the choice details we use, giving them the freedom to almost create for themselves in the story rather than force them into tight parameters of description.

Know Your Tether

A temptation in world building is to blast out your world’s map as wide as you can and create a diverse looking world.

But great fantasy genres such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (yes, I did just call Star Wars fantasy) have a kind of tether or “home base” that are well developed, sometimes even more illustrated and detailed than the rest of the sprawling out universe. For Lord of the Rings, I argue this is the Shire whereas Star Wars is Tatooine. Both have a “homey” feel, especially given that these are the origins of our protagonist. They are the starting point of our adventures and provide us not entirely with a “neutral” palette, but one digestible enough to get us started before we hop into the wilder parts of the universe.

These tethers are either places our story and its characters return to over and over, or are given a special highlight with the amount of time we spend in them.

They function as reference points for the rest of the book, to show the diversity of our world with their simplicity and perhaps even modesty. They creep us into the universe, beginning to show us what the world we are entering into looks like so we’re not totally surprised when things get bizarre. They are places we may even become fond to, that we are excited to return to in the narrative because they fill us with a sense of nostalgia or “Sehnsucht”–a longing for a place we haven’t been.

Come to My City of Nymphis

And with that, I’d like to invite you all to my city of Nymphis!

My goal is to keep sprawling out this city through short story, and perhaps even one day plugging my audience into the city through photos of them wearing masks or their own contributions to the vigilante-plagued world.

You can dive into this world of masked crime fighters NOW and get yourself ready for a Halloween mood by picking up an Amazon Kindle copy today!

Click the cover below to dive in and become a hero (or villain)!

Become a Mask, buy your copy today!

Also, be sure to check out my new gallery page to see and share promotional art!

Masks: The Unmercenaries, Buy Now On Amazon Kindle!

If your friend, your daughter, your sister went missing…wouldn’t you do anything to find them?

To go to any length to save them?

To put on a mask, become someone new, maybe totally unrecognizable, for their life and soul?

Welcome to Masks…

This novel follows anonymous heroes who have become vigilantes, each doing so for someone they love. In each of their walks, they have become someone new on behalf of the other, have transformed from their mundane–perhaps even fallen–state into something legendary and beyond what they thought was possible of achieving.

They become Masks, deified, intercessory patrons and sleepless heroes unto the city.

Available Now On Amazon Kindle

This novel will make its grand debut available in paperback on November 1, fittingly on the Feast of the Unmercenaries.

Those who want to read something special for Halloween (for which the book begins), it can be purchased on Amazon Kindle for $9.99!

Click the Masks below to pick up your copy today and get into the feast of Halloween, of Nymphis’ Harrowing!

Short Stories Coming Soon!

I’ll also be releasing on hopefully a monthly basis (if not more frequent) short stories related to the Masks series. You’ll be able to get a small taste of what the Mask series is all about while also explore the unfurling background of the city of Nymphis through these stand alone chapters.

Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe to the blog to get updates on these stories!

Happy Harrowing!

“Masks” Available November 1!

On November 1, on the Feast of the Unmercenaries, the first novel of the Masks series will be available to the public!

Masks, the Unmercenaries, is an action-packed novel that explores the possibility of what might happen if Halloween carried on a little too long…

The story is set in Nymphis, a metropolis of sin and hermitage of All Hallow’s Eve. The story begins during “the Harrowing,” a once innocuous albeit shameful celebration of anonymous revelry that evolves into a night of violence, that changes this once festive city into a city of Masks.

Thieves & thugs hide their faces for their own gain, while vigilantes and watchdogs take up the mantle to combat the billowing threat of crime.

One such Mask, Father, takes to the streets with his band of Unmercenaries, in the pursuit to find his daughter and win back the city. But as they put away Nymphis’ tyrannical crime lords and nefarious traffickers, they encounter a threat never before seen by the likes of any vigilante: the Den.

Will the Unmercenaries’ non-lethal measures be enough to stop the murderous Masks of the Den? Will the Den succeed in their plot of undermining the entire city of its law and conventional crime syndicates? Will the Unmercenaries’ retain their own souls in the process as they battle this force of evil?

Find out, and order your copy of this crimefighting, suspense story that you won’t be able to put down!

You can order your copy through Liberty Hill Publishing, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, and become part of the Mask phenomena!

So, Mask Up, and Happy Harrowing…

New Book Coming Soon: Masks, The Unmercenaries

I am overjoyed to finally share this exhilarating project I’ve been working on for just about 10 years!

The first novel in the “Masks” series is underway for publishment: Masks, The Unmercenaries

Illustration & Design by Lexie Takis Art

Welcome to Nymphis…

A city of sin under seige from a faceless threat. Rampant crime has given rise to a pantheon of gods and monsters, heroes and villains, all who don masks to shape the face of the city. Driven to find his missing daughter, one such hero, Charles Hail, assumes the mantle as a vigilante to crackdown on the city’s unpunished criminals.With his band of Unmercenaries, these vigilantes set out to save their city from being undermined by Nymphis’ festering cabal: the Den. Outgunned and outnumbered, the Unmercenaries lean on nothing more than their tenacity and principles in order to not only halt the looming threat of the Den, but to quell their own personal demons along the way.

What began as a “what if your average joe put on the mantle of vigilante’ has evolved into a dark and gritty story of saints and monsters fighting for the fate of a broken city. In Masks, we are thrown into a city that celebrates Halloween a little longer than most places. Its citizens don’t take off their masks after the feast of All Hallows Eve, but rather continue to don them for different reasons.

The masks in this book have little to do of the masks we see being worn around the world. Rather, the masks relate to the masks you and I have been wearing long before that. Some of the masks are the veils of anonymity to cover our shame or weaknesses, others the mouthpieces of persona to embolden our voice or identity. They are also the helmets and visors we have worn to mold our inner weaknesses into the person each of strives to become.

‘The Unmercenaries’ refer to a category of wonderworking saints that accepted no pay for their services of healing. Our heroes, the Unmercenaries, embody this title by giving freely of themselves to aide their ailing city, without thanks or profit. As the “saints” of their city, these heroes observe vigilance true to their role of vigilante, and hold to a narrow code while subjecting themselves to Harrowing and unseen warfare.

While I enjoy seeing the “superhero” genre continue to thrive in media, I’ve longed to see the Christian culture recapture this genre of storytelling. Superheroes belong to the Gospels with their self-sacrificial and miraculous qualities that mimic the supernatural and awesome feats of the early Church’s saints and martyrs. While this particular novel doesn’t necessarily feature the “supernatural” component of “superheroes”, the story does feature run-of-the-mill characters who are relatable enough that spurs the audience towards personal spiritual rigor, introspection, and responsibility.

This book is unapologetically “gritty” but perhaps no more gruesome than the harrowing stories we read in Scripture, let alone than what we read in the Lives of the Saints. That being said, the book is also not over the top without purpose. This book hopefully sparks the creative endeavor to infuse the deepest truths of faith that don’t come across as campy or naive. Modern media is successfully selling flash, gorey stories that captivate the masses attention…now I wonder if we can offer something that actually possesses meaning beyond superficial motifs such as “punch the bad guy”. 

This is a book about masks. So long as we are all fine putting on a mask in front of others, let’s just make sure it’s a good one, something that doesn’t merely protect and project, but compels us to act with distinction and nobility, not something that will blend us against a crowd, but will catch the eyes of others to convey a hard but noble walk that we commit ourselves to.

Stay tuned through subscribing to this blog for updates on the book. In the coming weeks, you can check out my weekly blog to get an inside scoop on the process of writing this book as well as some backstory content so as to begin dipping your toes into this harrowing city of Masks!

Lastly, I want to give a big thank you to Lexie Takis Art for the illustrations you see! I will be featuring more illustrations as we approach the publishment date.

Don’t Cancel Halloween-Memento Mori

Holidays are an interesting thing.

Beneath each holiday seems to be an ancient story, a significant piece of history, that we can eternally and mystically relive despite being years, decades, centuries away from said event. Though most holidays are celebrated around such significant historic/religious events, sometimes it seems holidays either evolved or became instituted to have a mandate of recalling one important theme. Yam Kippur emphasizes the need to repent, and New Years similarly incites in us a feeling of starting anew. Thanksgiving emphasizes the importance of gratitude, and Christmas carries with its joy of the Incarnation also the importance of charity. We could spend quite some time on the list, but it seems underneath each holiday, each story and event, is an important lesson for humanity.

Now, most of us are pragmatic and realize the difficulty it is to live out these holidays THROUGHOUT our lives. Afterall, we should be starting anew, grateful, charitable EVERY DAY instead of just one day of the year. Still, to celebrate, think on, celebrate, and prepare for that one particular holiday and its humanitarian component has its merit. Hopefully the season leading up to Christmas is filled with charity, and in that time that we embody the charity we get accustom to it and grow our capacity for it.

Now that leave us to wonder if there is in fact any merit to Halloween. I hear the concern of a more fundamentalist/traditional mindset that looks upon this Halloween and deeming it as evil and dangerous to celebrate, that the ignorant indulgence of Halloween plays a part in a celebration for something monstrous or demonic. It seems that the ancient institution of the holiday MAY have pagan origins, of a superstitious acknowledgement of the spiritual activity on that particular autumn night. One might even argue that we should cancel Halloween because it is a ritual towards evil, a kind of libation to dark forces in our celebration.

I would like for a moment to acknowledge the concern voiced above, while also offering an alternative way of viewing Halloween…

Devotion to Debauchery

Let’s be honest. Halloween does embody vice into its celebration. But I would argue no more vice than Mardi Gras.

First, let’s speak to the topic of indulgence.

Like most holidays, Halloween is a “feast”, a day of partaking in more of something than what we might on any other day. Mardi Gras and Thanksgiving tend to be feasts of gluttony of meats, especially Mardi Gras that begins right before the beginning of Western Lent. And most holidays, especially New Years and St. Patrick’s day, all seem to increase the partaking of alcohol within their festivity. While Jesus does seem to highlight that there ARE in fact occasions for celebration even with wine, I would still point out that the over-consumption of such vices that we have pointed out can be “demonic” as Halloween is accused of being.

On Halloween, our consumption typically is that for sweets, especially when we think of Trick Or Treat. Still, alcoholic consumption is not uncommon among young adults who put on lewd costume parties and drunkly celebrate shamelessly in anonymity.

Which brings me to my next point…

The anonymity of the masks we wear on this day as well as the permission to dress untraditionally–such as in a lewd manner–is another distraction of this holiday. I say distraction because when one thinks on the inception and traditional celebration of this holiday the garb of bad jokes, scant outfits, and all manner of base apparel on this day doesn’t seem to fit the dark overtones that Halloween traditionally convey. A simple google search for “Halloween Costumes” reveals the absurdity of dress that we endeavor towards, dressing as genitalia, as half-naked representations of literally any role/occupation you can think of, and the assortment of cheap-laugh get ups that warrant nothing more than a single chortle and glance.

Though I tend to be more traditional in my celebration of Halloween, I would argue that the aforementioned costumes are less appropriate than some of the most gorish, ghoulish costumes I see roaming the street, that of ghosts, monsters, and slasher villains. These former, gimmicky costumes are deviations of the holiday, so far removed from anything reminiscent of death or of the spirit world. But then again, would we not say the same for the scant and glimmering costumes/masks we wear during Mardi Gras?

I suppose the last “unhelpful” component of Halloween I find is when we go overboard in the direction of Halloween’s ethos. We have a weird relationship with death in Western civilization. We dress up death, making it look tidy and sterile in our funeral homes, even encouraging loved ones to NOT see the body of their loved ones in their natural state in the hospital. And yet, we glorify the gore and macabre nature of it with our plethora of zombie movies and the devilish costumes we conceive of for Halloween. Though I think the attention we ought to have for Halloween is in the right direction here, I think the celebration and careless basking within it only further alienates us from real death. Perhaps seeing the scores of brainless zombie husks destroyed before our eyes on TV helps us cope with the ugliness of a human body, helps us take the humanity out of the corpse before us.

But it begs the question…is that helpful?

Remembrance of Death

Death happens all the time all around us, but for most of us we don’t have professions or live in environments where that exposure is so frequent. Speaking with those in careers of public service–whether it be the police department, firefighters, or medical workers–often offers a unique perspective on life and how fragile a thing it is. But while encountering such danger and tragedy is not for all of us, I do believe the aknowledgement and remembrance of death is important for every single one of us, no matter our creed or our vocation.

I believe Halloween grants the opportunity of putting a wise old saying into practice: remember your death.

Most of us are blessed with a clean bill of health, blessed to have family and friends who are in good shape and expected to live long lives. Not all of us are so blessed, however. Some of us have experienced loss far too early in our lives, have experienced the bitterness of death from an unexpected onset of sickness or a sudden tragedy.

We too often take our life, our vitality, our health for granted, believing that we ourselves and our loved ones will have until our 70s+ to live. Still, none of us have a single guarantee that we will wake up the next day, will have a safe drive to or from work, or suddenly suffer some life-interrupting affliction or calamity.

Fearing the possibility of our departure–or the departure of our loved ones–isn’t necessarily healthy, but the constant acknowledgement of it will help us live differently in a more meaningful way. There is a gratitude and a sobriety in this kind of lifestyle, of finding value in even bad days when nothing seems to go our way, of treading carefully in what we eat, drink, and spend time in with the consideration that our choices could affect the years of our life. Precious commodities increase in value when there is a short supply of the thing that is traded, and so if we look at the very hours of our lie as an uncertain commodity that could suddenly run out in a year, month, week, or even a day, we will then have more prudence in how we spend that precious time.

Halloween reveals to us the grim truth of life, that death is coming for all of us. If we even forget to remember our death 364 days out of the year, only to remember once out of the year that we are all going to die someday (perhaps that every day) maybe we then can make a segment of our life “hallowed”.

day of the dead

The other important component to Halloween I believe is the attention we give to not merely death but to the other aspect of our lives that we too often forget: spirit. Halloween reminds us not only of our mortality, but of those who have tasted death, and some cultures have done this in an incredible manner.

Day of the Dead and All Saints Day place particular emphasis on the importance of remembering those who we have lost, giving us occasion to grieve, mourn, and reminisce. It also should give us a comfort that nobody is truly forgotten, that we are created with the intention of being remembered, of being eternal, of living in communion no matter the divisions that separate us from one another.

I believe that Halloween and Day of the Dead also pry us out of an inherited mode of thinking, of a materialistic mindset that dominates our every day life. Too often we only consider that which is in front of us, that which his tangible, paying mind to only that which seems immediately relevant and controllable.

But there is ancient wisdom in considering the flip side to the reality we experience, the reality of spirit. We are soul and body, and although we have a better understanding of the physical part of our nature and the nature around us, we ought to give some consideration to the ramifications of having a spiritual realm around us. The ghosts and ghouls we see everyone dressing up as should be a sobering reminder that just as powerful forces exist physically before us–both wild and machine–that wild forces also exist in spirit. Conversely, we should look at the good things of nature and consider that goodness also exists in spirit.

The issue is that we fail to address this spirit, in the sense of protecting ourselves from it and engaging in it in a healthy/responsible way.

The sight of such ethereal entities we dress ourselves as ought to give us at least one day out of the year to stop and consider the existence of this invisible realm, the distractions in our life that get in the way of our recognition of it, and the ramifications it has on our souls and our lives.

Hallow your eve

Thus, this Halloween, as you look up to see if Trick-or-Treat is cancelled due to the current pandemic, as you think twice before going to that Halloween party or what you might be for it, consider how your Halloween can be “Hallowed” by which I mean literally “set apart” (the actual definition of holy/hallow).

Consider how this day can be to you and those you love set apart from the other 365 days of the year.

Even for those of you who are leery of its celebration, who still see it is a demonic day, consider how you can “baptize” or “sanctify” this particular evening. Can we not for a moment consider how God invites us to remember our death, to contemplate on our mortal being, the importance of our very souls? As though this holiday were a pagan in need of saving, fully immerse it in sobriety and holiness, christening it with a new name, that we may train for a new awareness to our souls’ betterment.

Spend some time, be it only one hour, aknowledging your mortality, considering a bucket list of things you feel you ought to do, journaling a list of things you are grateful for, contemplating what changes you can make in your life considering this fragility of life.

Spend some time remembering those you’ve lost. Engage with them safely, not through occult practices but in a prayerful way, as though they can hear you, of how you miss them. Pray for them, journal to them, visit their gravesite. Macabre as this practice seems one might find this practice of relating to the dead cathartic and eye-opening to one’s own life.

Most of all, be safe this Hallows Eve and be responsible. Take the evening not in vain for cheap laughs or as an excuse for drunkenness or sex. All such pleasures are fleeting when we consider the finite hours, minutes, and seconds we have to live, that our memories, our obituaries, our legacies, our very souls will have nothing to gain from such pursuits. Let’s not cancel the purpose of the holiday with such exploits.

I bid you all a contemplative, sober, and safe Halloween, and hope we all can responsibly wrestle with the remembrance of death.