PseudoPod 836: The Halloween Parade


The 2022 Halloween Parade

by Alasdair Stuart


The parade this year feels brittle. At least at first. It reminds you of that first step into a swimming pool, wondering if it will be too hot or too cold. You brace yourself for sharp contrast, face the suck, breathe through it. And then you’re there.

There’s an opening act waiting for you — the horror of wondering how many participants and attendees will be masked. No float. Just you, your too-conscious breath, and too many visible faces for complete comfort.

Nonetheless, you settle in a good spot. With churros in hand and your own mask nearby, you wait for the parade to begin.

The Controller walks the road as she always does, masked as she always is now, and then turns. Spreading her hands wide, the street fills with smoke…


The genius, walking with her eyes directly ahead and her hands by her sides, working frantically at some invisible problem. She’s alone. Except… she’s really not. Motion blurs, oil in water mirages surround her. Briefly there’s a man in a hat. The hint of an octopus. She is clearly tense, waiting for her moment, some moment. Behind her, on a float that looks like a library, her best friend stares at the back of her head. Neither of them turn.


Behind her, comes the vampire slayer. No. That’s wrong. Behind her comes the vampire slayer’s friends: the blonde, the boy, the vampire holding his hand. The Slayer follows, her red bobbed hair catching the sunset, twirling a stake with nervous precision. Her not-quite girlfriend is by her side. Not quite yet, yes, that feels right, feels familiar. But you look at the blonde and you see blood and death and a war with gods. You look at the Slayer and you see raw energy and love and tragedy. You see atonement and guilt. You see someone who has chosen, not been chosen.


You’re sure it’ll all work out.

You’re also pretty sure the librarian who follows is having a very intense and perfectly grammared conversation with that nice young Archivist and his partner, who seems to have packed a thermos of tea. They’ve been through the end of the world, those two. You can’t help but wonder why they’re back…


There’s a walking section up next. But it’s only one man, endlessly tall and awkward. He moves with the awkward, intentional precision of someone bottling every emotion. There’s a featureless box on a trolley behind him. You can hear pounding from inside, and as it passes you the side rips out and you see a hand work its way along, clutching an expensive pen.

The man looks at you and tips his fedora in a way that makes your skin crawl. You strain to follow the man and the box as they round the corner to see what happens next. But all you’re sure of is that he has it coming.


What follows is a street. A whole entire city street, shimmering and flexing in perspective as it moves past. There are twenty houses you count, … no maybe forty? A cat, a cannibal, a ghost, and more follow. Each corralled and controlled and focused into the stare of the narrator who smiles at you with their voice and glares at you with their eyes. Welcome to the neighbourhood. Maybe don’t slow down.


Not that the teams that follow could. The parade has always had an… interesting relationship with time, space, and environment. So it makes perfect sense to see the cold weather team with heads lowered, clumping along in their thick red padded clothing through a snowstorm only they can see. One of them flickers like an overwritten VHS, sometimes in hot weather gear, sometimes walking with the archaeological team that follows them. No one goes alone, and each is aware, like you, of the spindly oil slick silhouettes in the fog that follows.


And then along comes the sea captain. He strolls leisurely down the centre of the foggy road, makes eye contact with you, and smiles. After all, you are far away. And then the fog embraces him too.


The man who follows next is less relaxed. His jacket is too big, and he has a fetish of some sort clutched in one hand. The other hand holds a bell he rings with the forced jollity of an adult determined not to show children how scared he is. The town of castaways that form up around him all have that same pinched look, each moving fast as the setting sun drives and pursues them.

You wish them well. You’re glad when they pass by.


The woman that strides across the world next, face painted with luminous green blood, has a presence that transcends the parade. She’s visibly injured, being pushed past her limits and processing how it feels to find they can be exceeded.

She idly twirls the axe tied to her wrist, watching the treeline as she moves. For a second, you see a heat distortion nearby but the pistol in her belt distracts you and then… they’re both gone.


Usually the parade has four types of floats. Big showy mardi gras ones; small, precise handmade ones; vehicles; and notional floats, just groups of walkers. What follows the young woman is the later — kids. A phalanx of them. Filthy and bloody-nosed, of every ethnicity and age, each murderous with rage. Some of them you can see through. Two you can’t — clearly a brother and sister — are pushing a trolley. On it is a bloodstained magician’s hat, a shattered mask, and a black bakelite telephone. It’s not connected to anything. And it’s ringing.


You’ve almost convinced yourself you were imagining that, when the cowboy rides past. Oh he’s in an orange hoodie, sure, but he is a cowboy. He barely moves, barely speaks, but you can tell this man lives in awareness. His sister, playing to the crowd on her dirtbike, is all smiles and jokes and welcomes. He could be an anatomical illustration: the platonic ideal of a role he’s been generationally denied. She’s waving to the crowd. He’s watching the skies. You’re watching them both.


Another surprise follows – a truck! One of those billboard ones, plastered with what seems to be a gigantic postcard complete with stamp. Displayed on the truck’s LED screen, the image is actually a video. At first it’s the front of the postcard of a beautiful, rugged island shoreline, you’d guess somewhere in the Arctic sea. There’s a boat, just visible, in the foreground, some stone huts on the pebbled beach. You hear the call of birds and a far-off roar of an engine. Then the postcard turns to reveal blocky handwriting, reading simply:
SEE YOU SOON


A hallmark of the parade is the shambling horde of zombies and the humans who share the world with them. But there’s something… different this year. They’re in groups now — scattered, and cautious. Back to back but somehow not in the same place, somehow exposed to the sprinting forms that are defined only as they pass in front of each one of the survivors. Everyone seems okay for now, but you can feel that change is coming.


Likewise the brick of an older man that follows them and the girl who changes as she moves. One angle she’s a kid: gawky and uncertain, exuberant and terrified. Another she’s a young woman: furious, bleeding, alive, unsure if that’s a good thing. The clicking noise that follows them fades as they leave, and you’re relieved about that too.


And so is the mage. You knew he’d be here, and he is; the mercurial figure that changes with every step. Hair color, skin color, gender — none can truly define London’s ace in the hole with a knife in the pocket. He whistles an old AC/DC tune as he walks by. He winks at you, and you wink back.


The last group are the Runners. The glorious cacophony of shape and size and age, a controlled skid of humanity all keeping the roads safe, the towns alive. Zombies, fungal mutations, vampires, the post-apocalyptic wasteland. It doesn’t matter what they run through, or who they run for. It matters that they do it. Them? You cheer.


And, her hour come ‘round at last, the Controller returns in a new suit and mask.

You know this road isn’t circular, you know there’s no way for her to double-back. But this year you’re not interested in finding out how she does it. It’s enough that she does, that her mask matches her suit. She walks her nightmares to the end of the road, turns, and bows.

And this time? This year? You stand and applaud until your hands sting.

Happy Halloween everyone! See you next year!

About the Author

Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, writer and voice actor. He co-owns the Escape Artists podcasts and co-hosts both Escape Pod and PseudoPod.

Alasdair is an Audioverse Award winner, a multiple award finalist including the Hugo, the Ignyte, and the BFA, and has won the Karl Edward Wagner award twice. He writes the multiple-award nominated weekly pop culture newsletter THE FULL LID.

Alasdair’s latest non-fiction is Through the Valley of Shadows, a deep-dive into the origins of Star Trek’s Captain Pike from Obverse Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.

A frequent podcast guest, Alasdair also co-hosts Caring Into the Void with Brock Wilbur and Jordan Shiveley. His voice acting credits include the multiple-award winning The Magnus Archives, The Secret of St. Kilda, and many more.

Visit alasdairstuart.com for all the places he blogs, writes, streams, acts, and tweets.

Find more by Alasdair Stuart

Elsewhere

About the Narrator

Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, writer and voice actor. He co-owns the Escape Artists podcasts and co-hosts both Escape Pod and PseudoPod.

Alasdair is an Audioverse Award winner, a multiple award finalist including the Hugo, the Ignyte, and the BFA, and has won the Karl Edward Wagner award twice. He writes the multiple-award nominated weekly pop culture newsletter THE FULL LID.

Alasdair’s latest non-fiction is Through the Valley of Shadows, a deep-dive into the origins of Star Trek’s Captain Pike from Obverse Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.

A frequent podcast guest, Alasdair also co-hosts Caring Into the Void with Brock Wilbur and Jordan Shiveley. His voice acting credits include the multiple-award winning The Magnus Archives, The Secret of St. Kilda, and many more.

Visit alasdairstuart.com for all the places he blogs, writes, streams, acts, and tweets.

Find more by Alasdair Stuart

Elsewhere