April 2023

Life and Death on Halloween

Gogo Germaine

Play Audio
read by Karen Huie

art by Daniel DuBoulay

Reasons for partying in a ghost town on Halloween:

  1. Walking around an abandoned town feels like you’re one of the few survivors of the apocalypse, and you can finally snoop in everyone’s homes and drink their liquor.
  2. You’re in a goth phase, and nothing is more antisocial or macabre than partying in a ghost town. Victor, Colorado is a double entendre: It’s a ghost town because much of it is deserted, but it’s also extraordinarily haunted.
  3. It’s October of 2020, and the only places to responsibly “party” are where there are no live people. You don’t know how to talk to live people anymore anyway.

History books won’t mention the deranged-horny phase of the pandemic. After the grocery disinfecting phase but before the sourdough hobbyist phase, the pent up loneliness of quarantine rubbed up against the revving anxiety of perceived world annihilation like two teens dry humping. When humans sense the death of their species, they fuck to propel the human race forward. Your marriage at home is erupting into flames, the smoke and ashes of its toxicity inescapable as you are all trapped indoors. The marriage is open, which is a joke in the suffocating pandemic. Non-monogamy is not why your marriage is destroyed. In fact, the open part is why it’s lasted this long.

You’re the publicist for a haunted bordello called the Black Monarch in Victor–a brothel from the Gold Rush era that was bought by a Denver couple named Adam and Rachel, who designed serial killer rooms, turning it into a boutique hotel for horror enthusiasts and ghost hunters.

In 1899, The Monarch was the “gentlemen’s club” where fat landowners smoked opium across from the whorehouse that the miners frequented, the Fortune Club. Victor was ground zero for the labor wars, where the government murdered union workers from the mine. After a fire that leveled the whole town, Victor percolated with frenzied paranormal activity as the tiny cemetery became filled with an alarming number of child graves–their headstones marked in groups: “the children of the Browns.” Guests who stay at the Black Monarch often hear a raucous party around 3:30 in the morning with women laughing and men shouting – revelry on the verge of vengefulness. Then the sounds of the party vanish like gunsmoke.

As modern hospitals overflow with COVID patients, bodies pile high in New York City, and the world hurtles toward destruction, the colors and flavors of full moons multiply. Strawberry Moon. Super Duper Moon. Deranged Plague Moon. Pumpkin Spice Moon. October 31st features a Blue Moon: its rarity imbues the entire night. Sprung from quarantine, you and your girlfriends take to the streets of Victor at sunset, donning masks and carrying flasks. You’re dressed as a cute goth bat. Despite repping the Black Monarch, you’re staying a block away, at the Star Hotel, also filled to the brim with ghosts. You’re hoping for paranormal action, rooming with your bestie Roxy Domino, dressed as a gothy hot pink fairy.

The other haunted hotel is the Garnet–the most terrifying of all. It is off-white as a doily and has a shrine at the end of a long and soul sucking hallway. Off white is a color of attempted, and failed, purity. And the Garnet Hotel is so scary, apparently two strapping sailors stayed there recently and had to scoot their twin beds together to hold each other. As some of the girls check in, you notice that the owner of the Star Hotel, Miles, is attractive. You sense he might be excited to prospect his goth girl hotel guests.

The 400 residents of Victor don’t agree that it is a ghost town. They prefer the term “sleepy.” You wander the streets openly drinking alcohol, peering into eerie movie theaters and crumbling Masonic temples, sunkissed deer approaching you in the street, begging for snacks like puppies. Some buildings are perfectly preserved like a pristine train set. Others have top levels gone so the stairs climb up to an empty question mark. The town is probably somewhere between dead and sleepy – maybe in a light coma. If it is truly dead, it’s about to reanimate.

Your client Adam texts you. “An artist from Denver is there and he wants to meet you. He’s dressed real snazzy.” It feels surreal to meet prospective clients dressed as a bat, drinking in the streets with deer about. With a second’s warning, you spy the silhouette of a man in a dandy suit ambling down the street, dancing around the pumpkin mush where deer gorged on a tasty fall display.

The girls wander while you schmooze with Allan, a wild haired lanky man who can pull off a cravat. He’s enamored with this town and has ideas for it. Everyone has ideas for this town, including you. How often do we get the chance to revitalize a town, to rebuild this shit society one village at a time, rewrite our mistakes? It needs industry other than the surprisingly-still-operating gold mine, but if you’re being honest, the magic of the Black Monarch is that it emerges in glorious grandiosity from seemingly nothing. The notorious Stanley Hotel was the same way, built before there was even a town of Estes Park to serve it. Something about that ornate overabundance, the needless luxury, is intoxicating.

Allan disappears into some chasm, adding to your disorientation. You catch up with the girls and walk past the 1899 Saloon, with two fake bedsheet ghosts on either side of the window. It makes you jump. In between the ghosts is a stoic old man peering out from the window, which makes you double-jump.

“It’s just Ed,” you exhale. You’ve never walked past the saloon without seeing Ed peering out. He’s a colorful part of the foundation, inseparable from your experience of the bar.

It’s dark. Suddenly, electric guitar quivers on the breeze. It sounds like….punk? Skipping faster, you follow the sounds. Other live beings trickle towards a park where there is a crowd before a band playing, black clothing lit up in green light. The punk rock is actually decent, what the hell? There’s a man dressed like Beetlejuice who looks cute until you get closer and realize he’s haggard, nominally drunk, and also married. Above the band, the full blue moon gleams big and vivacious. Holy Green Punk Moon. You haven’t been around a crowd of people in ages, and even masked and six feet apart, it feels narcotic.

A grey kitty approaches, beguiling everyone. Something feels uncannily human about her. When the punk band finishes, your gothy girl group heads back to the Star Hotel and she follows. As you approach, flashing red lights inject an air of confusion into the moment. You scoop the grey kitty up and bring her into the Star Hotel, up to your room, where you take a break for some boozy refreshment. What kind of hotel lets you bring a cat inside? Kitty Cat Goth Girl Hotel Moon.

When you come back down into the lobby, Beetlejuice and his wife are sitting forlorn on the couch.

“It’s Ed,” they say. Ed is dead. Ed, the fixture of the 1899 Saloon. Ed, who was part of the Victor scenery. Ed with his big beard and his stoic stare. Perhaps the Blue Moon and the punk rock were too much for his heart to behold. It stopped beating. Heart Full Stop Moon.

It feels like a karate chop to the gullet. This night of possibility, this night of all nights, is marked by death. You triple-jump. What if Ed was already dead when you saw him 40 minutes ago, sitting up as straight and still as a mannequin?

You decide to drink in Ed’s honor. There’s a party in a pizza parlor with pot plants in a back room and a glaring lack of pizza. The epic nature of the evening makes masks seem feeble against what the world has to offer. It feels good to be naked-faced with live humans, even for a moment. Casually, Miles tells you and your friends that he identifies as a hedonist. It starts to feel like someone is getting laid tonight.

You go back to the Star Hotel and Miles gives a tour. A window in the hallway has inexplicably shattered this evening. No rock, brick, or projectile to be found. Miles takes the group to the basement and talks about how much energy it takes for ghosts to haunt things. To throw an object across the room takes a shitload of ghost energy. The tour is over, it is late. Miles turns off the lights, everyone is walking back up the staircase when you feel his hot lips on yours, his tongue grazing yours. This is a bold move, presumptuous. Thankfully, he presumes correctly.

“Do you want to come over to my room, or maybe I can come to yours?” he whispers.

“Yes, yours,” you find yourself saying.

“Give me ten minutes and meet me at the Garnet Hotel.”

You quadruple-jump. “The Garnet?” The most terrifying hotel.

“Yeah, my apartment’s there at the end of the hall.”

You quantuple-jump. Where the shrine is. What are the odds? You clearly have to do it.

You make your lone journey through the lobby to the outside, waiting for ghosts to jump out. Bursting into the frigid air, you walk ten feet to the Garnet Hotel. A steep staircase and you’re upstairs, surrounded by off white in the dark. You can’t quite see the shrine at the end of the hallway, but it’s there looking at you. Step by step, walking closer towards fear and sex.

Your omniscient self drops in, having zoned out for the past 12 hours, suddenly wondering what the fuck you’re doing here. Marinating in unease amid constant simmering fear in a global pandemic, you’re chasing your anxieties to the maximum potential outcome – death and ghosts. You’re finding freedom here, trudging toward an unlikely sexual connection, an absurdist act of intimate creation, a greedy and thoughtless reclamation of life. Why else are we alive if not to feel the outermost edges of the universe, travel the strange roads, walk the haunted hallways? The more vivid the journey, the more obscenely obvious the message comes hurtling from the universe.

Nearing the end, the shrine has unlit candles and a painting of a woman that makes eye contact with you as you swiftly turn the corner into Miles’s room and slam the door shut. In here, it feels like a normal, boring apartment. You sit on the couch waiting. He comes in minutes later.

You’ve never had a one night stand before. Despite being a card-carrying nymphomaniac, you’re demisexual. You can’t fuck someone with bad taste in music or a lack of books on their shelves. But something about the Super Duper Death Punk Kitty Halloween Blue Moon blurs the lines that you color in most days. And you have full moon energy and feral pent up pandemic derangement to unleash on him. Wild Friction Wet Engorged Girth Moon.

Afterwards, you sneak back to your hotel giddily, returning to Roxy Domino. She smiles and asks how it was, and you say she should try him out sometime. As you’re checking out, you’re both polite as if nothing happened. There is a customer service poll after the receipt. You give the hotel a glowing five star review in all categories. In the optional notes part, you write “Thank you for the ultra generous stay.”

Your next correspondence is a text because Adam is not picking up. “Adam, I’m really sorry to have to be telling you this, but Ed passed away from a heart attack last night.” It feels strange to be telling someone that someone died. You glance at the empty window of the 1899 saloon, which is right next door to the hotel and where your car is parked. Ed’s not there, but in his defense, no one is here. It’s like the entire town zipped itself back up, a fever dream hallucination.

About the Author

Gogo Germaine is the punk alter ego of Erin K. Barnes, a Denver-based writer of memoir, speculative fiction, music journalism, lifestyle, and travel. A synesthete, PR wing woman, mother, and Denver denizen, she penned a travel book called Easy Weekend Getaways from Denver and Boulder, published by Countryman Press (W.W. Norton). She currently spends her days working in a phantasmagorical wonderland as a PR manager for Meow Wolf. Her debut memoir, Glory Guitars: Memoir of a 90s Teenage Punk Rock Grrrl, (University of Hell Press, 2022), became a hopeful platform for her to reclaim her agency and make sense of the heartbreak of being a differently-wired girl in a predatory world. Critics compared it to Kids, Thirteen, Cherie Curry’s Neon Angel, and  “if Howl had been written by a 15-year-old fanzine writer high on life, booze and illicit pharmaceuticals” (Louderthanwar). Follow Gogo’s Instagram @gogo.germaine.

About the Reader

Karen Huie is a recurring guest star on “Welcome to Flatch” (Fox & Hulu), and acted in about 60 other shows. She voices Nai Nai in the award-winning animated series, “Abominable and the Invisible City” (Peacock TV & Hulu). She has done voice work on about 3,000 tv shows and films, including the last 5 Star Wars features. She played Yuriko in the award-winning video game “Ghost of Tsushima”, recorded some audiobooks and for three years voiced sponsorship spots for KCRW.

About the Artist

Daniel DuBoulay is a Venezuelan visual development artist and animator attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He loves color, animation, and telling personal stories that resonate with people. In his downtime you can find him at local film festivals, or writing a dissertation on yass theory.