I watched the dense thicket of clouds slide over the giant luminous cookie in the sky. A pitch-black darkness descended over the neighborhood, and there was not a single streetlamp to mar it.
It appeared that All Saints Eve was going to live up to its reputation after all. I glanced at my companion. I could tell she was thinking the same.
“Should we start? The time looks right,” Myra said.
“Yeah, let’s go.” I smiled at my longtime friend and neighbor. She adjusted her lace-up corset and handed me her long and tattered train before gingerly stepping out of the alley that had been our hideout ever since the beginning of our ritual. Once again, I had to pause to admire her elaborate costume. She was very pleased with it, especially since she had put it together herself. The delicate tea-stained ivory lace and tulle dress accented with droopy brown roses gave her a wispy and forlorn look. The years and our adventures had supplied a precious aura of authenticity to the dress, as it had been tripped on and ripped several times.
Slowly we made our way through the familiar streets we fondly called our haunt. They had watched us grow from carefree children into not very responsible young adults. We had roamed them innumerable times, even in our dreams. Being here made us feel at home. For a moment I stood still and closed my eyes. The night air was flavored with moist earth and pumpkin spice crumble. I gulped it down hungrily.
Tonight, as always, silence is the key broken only by the rustle of the rotting leaves that swept the sidewalk. We listened, mesmerized. Five long years had gone by but to me, it seemed like yesterday. Suddenly, the wind came rushing by our feet. It gathered up the leaves and they danced and twirled in the middle of the street.
“Brrrr…it’s cold.” Myra laughed, and I joined her. It was close to freezing and neither of us had our jackets on.
“Let’s walk faster,” I said.
The houses stood out like cardboard cutouts against the inky black sky. Most of them had some kind of decor except Mr. Blacksmith’s, or Mr. Blackheart, as we used to call him as children. Ever since he had moved in more than ten years ago, not once had he turned on his lights or handed out candy.
The Millers, on the other hand, had gotten more and more flamboyant with each passing year. What had begun with a few pumpkins and a cobweb screen on the porch had now turned into an ambitious graveyard project. Tombstones could be seen everywhere with rotting carcasses spilling out of the ground. A zombie undertaker dug his own grave while a phantom funeral procession made its final journey under the watch of a flock of rapacious ravens.
Halloween is my favorite time of the year. It has an attitude of its own; people using their imagination to be someone entirely different makes it both enchanting and spooky. I had always wanted to dress up as a matador, don a magnificent bolero jacket, and swing my satin cape at the imaginary bull.
“But we can’t change our look now,” Myra admonished me. It was a wonder how well she read my mind. We could have been twins.
I nodded. It was a bummer. But we had given each other our word to keep the same getup we had on that fateful night five years ago.
Myra squeezed my hand. “At least it happened on Halloween.” She couldn’t have been more right.
We hung back to allow a couple of kids to run ahead–their parents staying close behind. We were good, well behaved teens. And we weren’t really out to for candy. It was something else that drew us out tonight.
A group of fine little elves skipped by. “The costumes seem to be getting better every year.”
Myra nodded looking at a little girl with glow in the dark wings and a light up necklace. She was out alone with an adult probably her father. She tugged at his sleeve, appearing to seek his permission before bounding up a driveway. We saw her skip around a grinning Jack O’ lantern then come to a hesitant stop on the porch. The door had opened on its own and out of the yawning darkness slid out a most unusual creature consisting of a large grotesque green face and spindly white hands. The little girl turned around and ran back screaming to her dad.
A young family had a huge lab in tow. He shrunk back and whined when he saw us. Then, when he thought we’d retreated a safe distance, began to bark. Myra and I broke out into giggles. This was turning out to be real fun.
There was a party on in the next street. A loud one. We choose to skip it. The shortcut back passed through a secluded copse. I caught my arm in the underbrush and in the process ripped my sleeve. “Our costumes are getting old!” I whined.
“But isn’t that the idea?” my friend said putting her arm through mine. The slash on her forehead and the festering wound on her left shoulder couldn’t have looked more real.
We’d walked quite a ways and Myra was beginning to look restless. I glanced at the cracked face of my dollar store watch.
“Hey, have we seen you two before?”
I looked up. A couple of boys had appeared suddenly out of nowhere. One tall, the other short and rotund. They looked like high schoolers. Sophomores or seniors, it was hard to make out.
Myra and I look at each other. “Maybe…” I said, trying to sound mysterious. Myra’s hold tightened on my arm.
We turned around and started walking again. The houses disappeared. The road changed to lose gravel. We picked up our pace. The boys followed. We still looked good despite our costumes.
After some time, we approached a long winding broken picket fence that shined eerily in the moonlight. Beyond it was a long stretch of tall sparkling grass. A grey fog hung suspended over it. A dense black forest could be seen on the other side. I clambered over, and my practiced fingers found the hidden latch. The gate groaned open and Myra floated in like a queen.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“A place you’ve never been before?” Myra suggested coyly standing in the middle of the meadow,
The squat boy who was dressed like a pirate burst into a high-pitched giggle. “Hey this is cool!”
I glanced at his quieter, better looking pal. He reminded me of someone I used to know. “What are you waiting for? Afraid of an adventure?” I said, holding the gate open. He snapped up the bait and rushed in, his mate following close behind. I shut the gate. It was always easier when there was more than one.
At ninety-eight going on ninety-nine, Mrs. Maybelle Merriwether was one of the oldest continuous residents of Hazardville, a small township in Kentucky. She had her own house with a large sprawling ranch near the edge of town. She had lived there alone after the passing of her beloved husband of sixty-five years except for a maid who came twice a week. None of her well-wishers had been able to persuade her to move. “Memories,” she told them. “I live for my memories. This old house has almost all of them.” But it wasn’t as if she was out of touch with current affairs. She was actually an authority when it came to information regarding her beloved town. The residents and regular visitors to the town knew to be on the lookout for the little old woman who sat on her porch everyday sipping tea and scouring the local newspaper cover to cover.
Today was November 2, 1996. It was a special day because Mrs. Merriweather was in a hurry. She did not wait to set her kettle to boil before picking up her copy of The Hazardville Enterprise that the boy had thoughtfully slid inside the mailbox attached to the front door. She quickly found what she was looking for. Tucked at the bottom of the 3rd page were two advertisements titled ‘Missing’.
She had to sit down and take a few breaths to calm the fluttering of her heart before reading further. Both the ads were fairly similar. Two young men, they said; Nathan Pierce, 17, and Diego Sanchez, 18, both seniors at Hazardville High, had been reported missing since the night of Halloween. Nathan was dressed as a cowboy while Diego was wearing a pirate costume. They had gone to attend a party at a mutual friend’s house and had left slightly before midnight saying they were going for a walk. They were last seen on Rushmore street near Old Mill Road.
Mrs. Merriweather leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Old Mill Road led to a large marshland that encircled Silver Moon Lake. Most of the lake had been drained to accommodate the expanding town population but a large expanse of it still remained. Over time, several people had drowned there. The town corporation had cordoned off all access points and put up huge signs warning everyone to keep off. Yet, for the past four years on Halloween, high school boys had gone missing from the very same spot. Their bodies were never found – they had simply disappeared without a trace. Apart from that, five years ago, two young girls out trick or treating had been fatally run over by drunk high schoolers near the area. Mrs. Merriweather had always wondered if that was a coincidence. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
You can also listen to this story. Click on the player below:
Inconvenient Relations- a novel by Simi K. Rao, Chap 1 and 2 – Healthwise & Author Talk with Simi K. Rao
PS: Hope you enjoyed this story. This is one of the short stories and poems published in my book Under the Shade of the Banyan Tree.