Flicker flames and haunted faces
Shuffling feet find empty spaces
Moving shadows, someone's hurting
Huddle closer, campfire burning.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Hallowe'en on October Street

The gallows are primed at the foot of October Street. The Jack-o’-lanterns are lit, and leaves flow from trees like red and gold tears, scurried by an errant autumn breeze that haunts the dusk. The moon, gibbous, ablaze, rises, and raises a swarm of shadows that chase the last threads of sunlight from the road. It’s clear to anyone and everyone that Hallowe’en is here.

There are bats that flap and rats that snap, and spiders that spin webs from threads as thick as your finger. And from every eave and bog and storm gutter swamp, from crypts laced with dust that stirs as coffin tops lift, from mad laboratories and crematories and great gothic castles, from every abode on October’s road comes the same cry:

“They’re coming!” said Igor, as he swept bone ash from the lightning rod on the top of his master’s tower.

“They’re coming!” echoed the hunchback from his belfry on the other side of the street.

“They’re coming!” cackled witches three as they stirred a cauldron of bubbling slime that smelled of rotten meat and rotting vegetables and worse.

Every eye and tooth and furry snout turned as one to the tiny troop of flicker-flames as they snaked towards the street, and as Hallowe’en touched every town, village and city with its long, elegant claws, so more flames appeared, more candles, more pumpkin faces grinning and snarling in the dark. Children, coaxed by the promise of candied delights donned costumes, wore disguises, became monsters tall and monsters small and joined the parade, and soon the candle light was a river, an ocean flooding into October Street, its ebb and flow too powerful for the street’s inhabitants to draw in their doormats and batten down their hatches. Now they could only watch and wait for the first visitors of the night.

First came Johnny and Christopher, and Christopher’s little sister Sally, trailing behind in a tutu that would soon be frayed, wielding a tinfoil wand that would soon be bent. Of course every child’s costume would be a little worn by the evening’s end, a little too stained with mud and chocolate and masticated candy corn to be worn the next year. But now, if only for a moment Sally was a fairy princess, clad in pink from top to tiptoe, and she took extra care not to scuff her ballet slippers while climbing the steps to the first house of the night.

“It’s a big house,” murmured Johnny, looking up at the eaves that hung above them like great stone bat wings.

“A big, expensive house,” said Christopher. “That means better candy, and more of it.”

“I don’t know. Mom always says rich people scrimp and save - that’s why they have more money,”

“Just press the doorbell, doofus.”

Johnny pressed the doorbell.

It rang somewhere deep inside the mansion, tolling in funereal tones that sent night birds squawking and flapping and wheeling away from the rooftop. A million eyes peeked from the bushes at either side of the porch, a million glistening, watching flames, and when Johnny rang the doorbell again they scattered like bonfire embers in the wind, the last of the Indian summer’s fireflies fleeing into the sky.

They waited for a time, and were just about to leave when they heard heavy footsteps and the click of a thrown latch. As one they stood back, lips trembling, jaws agape as the front door swung slowly open.

“Trick or . . .” Christopher began, and then he stopped to swallow a cry, for the man who’d opened the door was not a man at all but a walking slab of granite, an ashen-skinned creature eight-foot tall. His head bulged at odd angles, his eyes were those of a bloodhound, rheumy and ringed with red, and at either side of a neck the width of a redwood pine was a single metal bolt like a coffin nail hammered into his pallid flesh.

“Whoah,” breathed Johnny. “Nice costume, mister. Trick or treat.”

The eight-foot thing’s mouth grimaced in what Johnny assumed was a grin, and a great gnarled fist rose between them.

Three times the fist rose, and three times the curled fingers opened to let a giant handful of chocolate and jelly beans rain into the children’s sacks, and once they were done they left the porch, their hearts hammering, their hands trembling, feeling like they’d come close to death yet were still very much alive. As they darted down the street to the next doorway little Sally, feeling brave in her pink fairy frock, turned to wave back at the behemoth, but he’d already returned to the house, closing the door behind him.

The children streamed from house to house, their eyes widening and sacks bulging more with every visitation. At every house there was a new horror to behold, a monster, or demon, or spectre, or spook. A hanged man with skin bruised black, a lizard with a forked tongue, ghostly twin girls whose faces and party dresses were stained with something dark, and a woman whose eyes hung damply upon her cheeks, whose bloated and pustulant skin hung from her arms in grizzly grey sheets. At every door was a new nightmare that would accompany them to their beds, that would be locked in their heads in return for a night collecting sweet jujubes and sour sherbets.

I watch them go now, Johnny and Christopher and sweet little Sally, travelling the route from October Street with not a spring in their steps but a slouch. Their arms are weighed down by pillowcases fit to burst, and their bellies are just starting to squirm with too much sugar, the result of small snacks snaffled between doorsteps, little treats eaten between stoops.

They grow tired at this late hour, as they should, as they always have done, and when they fall asleep it won’t be sugarplum visions that dance in their heads, but us. The monsters, the zombies, sea creatures and crones, and I at the head of us, I at the front, leading us onward and into their world. After All Hallows' Eve, when children visit us and take their fill of sugary treats comes our night, the Day of the Dead. We follow their candle flames back to their land, and spread out in the darkness, visiting every bedroom and every child sleeping within. Every monster, every vampire, every mummy and ghoul; we’ll haunt their dreams and we’ll feed on their imaginations until they wake.

The humans never notice it’s missing. They think it’s a part of growing up. They never stop to think that monsters might have holidays too, or that once a year we might visit them with our own carved heads, to mass on their doorsteps and beg for sweet things.

But we do, and tonight as I lead the parade I know exactly where we’ll stop first. Oh, we’ll still visit Johnny’s house and Christopher’s room, but right now the monsters and I hunger for something more satisfying, something sweet.

We stand on the landing outside little Sally’s room; we giggle and shuffle and our costumes are perfect as costumes that can’t be removed always are, and finally, when the excitement grows too much, when we can’t contain ourselves any longer, I knock on the door and we wait for Sally to answer.

Trick or treat, little girl. Trick or treat.

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