By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past
Fall. October. Halloween. Three of the four things I live for every year at this time. The season is magical to me. It’s comfy and mysterious—warm days growing shorter with each tick of the calendar ... chilly evenings with the musky-scent of falling leaves and fireplace logs. Every August, I start counting the days until October and now it’s here. So haul out the Halloween decorations—skeletons, witches, and hay bales—and warm up the cider. It’s here. Yet, there is a downside of this season. It tends to be short in Virginia, not the long, more colorful weeks in Upstate New York where I grew up. But having lived overseas where the difference in seasons was the tone of the sand, dirt, and olive trees all around, I’ll take it!But wait … what? Me sappy and romantic for the changing leaves and children scurrying around dressed like Bill Clinton and Batman?
Halloween has a special place in my heart, but it’s not born of sappy memories or trick or treat (it is but I’ll never tell). I grew up in the country in Upstate New York and spent a good amount of time in the outdoors. Yes, I love the changing fall colors and the scents and sounds of the season. Yes, it conjures up some great memories—and some pretty horrible ones, too. But, none of these is why October makes me giggle and swoon like my wife at a shoe sale.
It’s about the killing and the mayhem. It’s about the dark, maniacal gathering—the food, the spirits … murdering the entire family one at a time ... and slowly. Oh yeah, baby, it’s here. Bring on the hors d'oeuvres, the expensive wines, and the spread of gourmet delights. Sharpen that cleaver and load up the pistols. It’s time for a killing. Or two. Maybe three or four—“The wine is delightful and the mussels marinara divine—bang, you’re dead!”
Uh, perhaps a little explanation is in order. I think I heard a siren coming up the road.
Each year for the past many years (and each summer years ago when my kids were younger and less a pain in the …), I sponsor an annual Halloween murder mystery dinner party. No, not one of those “out of the box” dinner parties with lame scripts and phony dialogue (I tried one and it was horrible.) No, I’m talking a homegrown, authored by moi, props galore, murder-in-abundance dinner party for my family and friends. As my two passions are cooking and writing, I put on a spread of tons of good food, write the storyline, and perform as the master of killer-monies (read that ceremonies for you slow folk). What a blast! The storyline and party include prizes for best costume, prize for who solves the murder, prizes for who solves any murders that take place during the evening, and prizes for who ends up with the most money (fake of course) at the end of the party. Party Note: The money is a story prop used as bribery, graft, payoffs, extortion, and general mayhem. While I try to control this mayhem, I am rarely successful. Like before I let anyone into my home, they must undergo a body search for unauthorized weapons, cheats, their own fake money, and other props used to steal the show. Each year, I lose this battle miserably—like the year the meek, mild victim who should have died in Act II ended up killing more party guests and surviving the evening more than anyone. Damn, I didn’t see that one coming.
If you want to see a bunch of friends and family turn on each other for three hours, throw one of these gigs. Spouses kill spouses. Children kill parents. Friends kill everyone. And in the end, nothing—no one—is sacred! Even my yellow Lab was assassinated three times in one evening—give that boy a shrimp and a cookie and he becomes a ham!
Last year—2013—the costume theme was favorite monster movie characters. The storyline was about a family patriarch who was about to sell his new book The Killing of Tyler Quinn, but the family all had a piece of it and wanted their cut. (Yes, it does sound familiar to me, too.) So the patriarch, his agent, publisher, and editor were all killed out of vengeance and greed (sorry Midnight Ink, Melanie, Kimberley…honest, there were stand-ins!). It took about thirty minutes and one round of drinks before the partygoers were killing each other off and trying to win the game—and not on script, either.
The funniest part of these events is that I spend weeks writing the plot and putting together crime scene clues, evidence, and all the characters—only to have my guests run away with the show and start improvising as they go! No one has any lines. Each player has a character to play and gets a card during three rounds of the evening (appetizers, dinner, dessert rounds) which tell them what they must accomplish and do. Last year, the players had to solve a series of clues, puzzles, and hidden secrets to find all the evidence—after examining a crime scene. They were stealing each other’s clues, locking others in the bathroom, moving evidence to hide it from the others, and even stealing my artwork on the walls “just in case it meant something.” It was so exhausting even my three Labs found a corner to hide out in. It took three days to straighten my house afterwards!
Publication Note: No animals or stuffed animals were injured during these productions. My artwork and memorabilia is another matter. And my liquor cabinet takes weeks to recover. As does my refrigerator. And nerves. And checkbook.
But alas, the laughs and the food and fun lasted long after the party was over.
This year, the theme is “Shaken Not Stirred” and the costumes are their favorite sci-fi (not syfy) movie characters. The storyline is about spies and counter-spies trying to find each other’s secrets and kill off the enemy agents. I’m sure I won’t have to write too many details—the imaginations of the partygoers—most on their 7th or 8th event—will write it themselves. The question will be—will I survive for another October-kill next year?Stay tuned. Listen to your police radios. Watch the night sky.
Maybe I’ll use up another blog in November to report on the mayhem and pass around a few photos. If you don’t hear from me though, they got me again. Hopefully, none of my family or friends will use my annual gala as a means to my real end.
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past, the first of two sequels to Dying to Know, will be released in January, 2015—available now for pre-orders! Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations. Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.