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Parade of the Lost Souls
An annual Halloween parade held in Vancouver, Canada every year by the Public Dreams Society. The following short story was published in the Public Dreamer (Feb 2005).
Surrounded by moaning ghosts, skeletons, pumpkin-heads and naughty nurses, I slowly follow the thousand spooky figures ahead of me. The annual Parade of the Lost Souls is a genuinely free treat that brings the dormant Halloween spirit out of local Vancouverites. Winding its way through the residential neighborhood of Commercial Drive, thousands of disguised residents and visitors come out to "honour the dead, wake the living and overcome our fears". Sprinkled throughout the pulsing sea of handcrafted masks, creepy stilt-walkers and bloody faces, torches and lanterns cast a flickering glow on the nearby faces. The sounds were mesmerizing — the rhythmic beating of drums gives way to a pair of accordion players, squeezing out creepy melodies reminiscent of old horror movies.
On one side of the street, houses were littered with dancing ghosts, cobwebs and tombstones. Our mob comes to a halt under a sign reading, "Wake Up the Living" and it is unclear where we headed to next. In the distance, I see carved Jack-O-Lanterns atop poles move towards a back alley and we follow minutes later. Entering the tight alleyway, we are greeted by a giant dancing face and a lonely electric guitarist sitting high in a tree under a red lamp. The amplified guitar adds a tinge of punk to the already electric atmosphere. As we pass a house on the corner, a television screen reflects our spooky mob as we walk, hobble or limp past a night-vision video camera panning the scene.
As I watched the screen, I was struck with memories of the famous New Orleans Bourbon Street. People leaned out from second-story balconies shouting to the crowd below. Shadow puppets danced and fought in the windows. The crowd was happy, excited and most of all, embodying the spirit of Halloween. At the end of the alley stood a long row of black hooded figures with evil-painted faces. Their Jack-o-Lanterns and torches blazed quietly in the calm cool air as the crowd walked past. When an unsuspecting individual walked too close, the ghostly figures would jump out and scream, delivering a good scare.
Following the parade, the swarming mass made its way towards an open grassy field. At one side, bicycles six feet high circled each other, spokes rolling in flame. In the distance, the spinning glow of a fire dancer could be seen above the crowd. Pushing slowly to the front, I stood watching a trio of dancers wielding fiery chains and orbs, encircling themselves with intense trails of light. Following the illuminated sword fight display, I turn to follow a procession of people whose heads were capped with colorful paper lanterns, as they snaked their way through the crowd.
Stepping outside the darkened field, I return to the illuminated streets of the Vancouver I once knew. It was a surreal experience; one that I must wait a year to revisit. Returning towards Commercial Drive, I cast my eyes back to the darkened park below, and watch the dancing flames and rituals fade from sight. Only two hours earlier, I had commented to a friend how it felt as though the Halloween spirit in the city had died over the years. Now it’s clear where the city’s demons and spirits have been lurking.
© 2004 Calvin Hass.