Jesse Bravo swirled his ringed fingers on the plastic table, gazed off into some middle distance between this world and the next, and struck up a conversation with the dead. Or at least that’s what he claimed he was doing.
We were sitting in a small, spare conference room in Midtown Manhattan, where the self-proclaimed "celebrity psychic" has helped dozens of clients connect with passed family members, work through existential crises, realize their dreams—whatever it is a self-proclaimed celebrity psychic does—using his purported ability to communicate with the beyond. For this particular session, he was putting his supernatural gift to a new task, attempting something that, to his knowledge, no medium had ever before attempted: asking dead people what the scariest Halloween costume is.
They would know, right? For starters, they’re dead, which is pretty spooky. And being dead, they’ve ostensibly uncovered all of life’s greatest mysteries, existing on some enlightened plane where every question has an answer, from the big, mind-boggling ones (why are we alive, what’s on the other end of a black hole, etc.) to the smaller, yet equally important ones, like where all the single socks that disappear in the laundry wind up. Dead people are an authority on everything, which is why I had a handful of psychic mediums ask them what would make for a really, really freaky Halloween costume.
So it was that on a Wednesday in early October, celebrity psychic Jesse Bravo found himself communing with Karen, a dead woman with “blondish” hair, a double chin, and dark rings under her eyes, who—according to his paranormal judgment—hails from somewhere in former Yugoslavia, and stands at around 5’8”. Suddenly Bravo’s hands, which had been sweeping in small circles, stopped moving. He pressed his palms into the table and leaned forward conspiratorially. Time for the verdict.
“They felt that the zombie would be the scariest costume,” he said.
Of all the terrifying creatures out there, zombies might seem kind of basic—and, more to the point, not all that scary. They’re slow, at least for the most part. They’re dumb. They’re great dancers, which doesn’t do much for their whole "fear us" thing. But just hear Karen out.
“I’m like, Why would zombie—there are so many things that are much uglier, and more gruesome. And they put it to me in terms of spirituality. It was like: Imagine if you were alive, but unable to actually be human itself,” Bravo said. “A zombie eats people, or drinks blood—whatever that thing does, that’s the only thing that exists for that being. And then on top of it, they can’t get out of it. Meaning they can’t die. So you’re sort of stuck: You’re alive, but you’re not, but you can’t be dead. So that’s what they felt is the scariest costume… the ugliest, scariest costume. Because that would be the ugliest reality that somebody could ever have.”
When you think about it, Karen’s weirdly crushing treatise on the undead contains some good advice: If you’re going to be a zombie for Halloween, don’t just dress up like one. Get in character. Put yourself in a zombie’s decomposing, graveyard dirt-covered shoes, and really embody what it’s like to be trapped in that miserable, inescapable purgatory, which from the way Bravo described it—“you’re sort of stuck”; “you’re alive, but you’re not”—basically sounds like a terrible case of depression. Get that sad, and it’ll scare your friends more than some elaborate costume ever could.
But that’s just one dead person’s opinion. Looking for another spirit to consult, I met up with Deeangelys Colón, a psychic who’s been practicing in New York City for the past 25 years. Two weeks before Halloween, in the back room of a deli on 60th Street, she cocked her head to one side, narrowed her eyes, and put a line out to the beyond. Her eyelids began to twitch, then widened cartoonishly as, she said, a dead World War I veteran in full uniform presented himself to her. He was a stout man (“especially over here,” she said, motioning to her belly), somewhere in his late 50s, with a “prominent nose,” puffy jowls, a mustache, and ruddy skin.
“He stands very tall and very straight,” she said. “Good posture.”
Having sufficiently sized him up, Colón asked him the big one. And then she started cackling. Apparently he’d given her an answer.
“An insect, with a lot of things, a lot of legs or whatever—'grotesque,' that’s his term,” she said. “One of those hairy bugs—more in the range of like a spider type of being, with the hair, but not necessarily a spider. More like a beetle type of thing, with the legs sticking out and the antennae. But it’s not a cockroach. It’s something like an oversized bug, with the hair, and the feelers, and the legs sticking out with the hair.”
To do the costume right, according to this dead guy, the apparently unclassifiable bug in question would have to be “squished,” as if someone had stepped on it. Various “liquids and fluids” should be involved, he told Colón: You’d want it to be “bloody” and “oozing,” with “guts and goo” spilling out of its inexplicably hairy body.
“I’ll tell you, I haven’t ever thought about this question, at all,” Colón said. “So this isn’t coming from me, this is more coming from him.”
The last batch of dead people to weigh in didn’t really want to talk about Halloween costumes. Or maybe Carolyn Stewart, the psychic medium who spoke to them, just thought asking dead people what the scariest Halloween costume is was a dumb idea. (To wit: “I’m sorry, but don’t you think that’s kind of a stupid thing? I don’t even get it, like, who would even want to read that?”) Nevertheless, she gave it a go using her ability to channel spirits, which basically involved having the dead speak right through her while she intoned their messages in a low, sibilant whisper. She claims she can use her gift to communicate with any dead person you’d like. So, naturally, we wound up talking to a bunch of celebrities.
Slumped in an office chair, with her long blond hair partially obscuring her face, her eyes closed, Stewart began to channel T.S. Eliot, relaying his answer to a question that, apparently, he wasn’t very interested in.
"Being up at the night," she murmured. She—or rather he?—spoke in a hushed, almost inaudible tone. "Being in the realm of discontent… being sanguine… being relevant—or being revelatory?… being in love… being seduced."
She did her best to get him to focus.
“What’s a scary costume?” she asked. She looked up and laughed. “I don’t know why, he just said, ‘Being a pea-sized brain.’”
She moved on to the next subject, a man who, given his line of work, one has to assume would have some opinions on scary costumes: Alfred Hitchcock.
“Halloween itself is scary,” Stewart-as-Hitchcock mumbled. “The nature of it is absurd… the tricks are foolish… from my asthma of discontent… the nature of the beast… hm.”
He, too, needed a little guidance.
“What’s the scariest halloween costume?” she said. “He’s like, ‘Bugger off.’” She fell silent for a while. “Yeah, I just got those things from him. He’s saying something about a nobleman of discontent? But then he was like, ‘Bugger off.’”
How about Frank Sinatra?
“He said, ‘Being in love. Because it absorbs you,’” Stewart said. “I think these are just the scariest things in their lives, so clearly we’re getting deeper answers. Maybe not everybody’s so into Halloween.”
“He’s like, ‘Why are you wasting my time?’” Stewart said. “I don’t even talk this way—he’s like, ‘horseshit.’”
“‘Tell him to mind his own business.’”
Finally, Stewart managed to speak to a few souls who were a little more accommodating, starting, for whatever reason, with Marilyn Monroe.
“She said, ‘Being inside of my body, it was too much to take,’” Stewart said. “Ooh, and then she said—I asked again, and then she just said, ‘Covered in blood.’ Yeah that sounds pretty scary. That is pretty gross. Marilyn Monroe covered in blood, that would be pretty macabre, that would be pretty scary. Marilyn Monroe meets Carrie or something. That would be a good fuckin’ scary costume.”
Next she called upon the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, a man who basically wore elements of various Halloween costumes all the time: velvet pants, 19th century military waistcoats, kimonos, psychedelic headbands. Surely he would have some thoughts here.
“Being on drugs, yeah,” Stewart said, tuning into his wavelength. “It’s a trip… it’s a wild ride… it comes to an end….” She took a long, dramatic pause. There was a sense that something big was on the other end of it: Maybe, at long last, she and Jimi Hendrix were about to pinpoint a costume so harrowing, so bloodcurdling, so spine-chillingly spooky, it would put an end to this paranormal investigation once and for all.
“Yep,” Stewart said. “The only other thing I heard is like, ‘Being a werewolf inside yourself.’”
Well, shit. Where does that leave us? Bloody Marilyn Monroe is played out at this point, everybody and their boring nephew dresses up as a zombie, and “being a werewolf inside yourself” isn’t really a costume. That hairy-bug-of-indeterminate-origin thing is actually pretty good, but I’m not sure how you would begin to go about pulling it off, if it’s even possible.
You’d think the dead would be experts on this kind of stuff. That they would have some sort of clairvoyant, otherworldly insight into all things spooky, that they could provide us lowly, terrestrial beings with an enlightening answer to a question that seems to fall right within their wheelhouse: What, for the love of God, is the scariest Halloween costume?
Maybe dead people just aren’t the right folks to ask.
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