by Gay Bost I don't like Halloween. I don't remember why, so don't ask. When
I was a kid I did the Trick r' Treat bit, hauling butt all over town, way past the time everybody else had to be in, bringing home a shopping bag full of candy and apples, popcorn balls and a rare quarter or dime. I remember apartment houses being the best pickings, especially after 9 or 10 o'clock, when my feet were starting to hurt and walking anywhere was getting real old.
I remember finding myself 3 or 4 miles from home and swearing
`Next year I'm not doing this!' and doing it, again, the next year, until I was 13 or 14 and we started having parties. Then I started hating Halloween.
Teddy died in Nam the year Cecy got killed. I remember that. Mom
and Dad went straight to Hell that year and I lost a lot of me, too.
That winter I was 14, the time I spent in the Institution, is still
like some kind of cloud between me and my childhood. I like it there. That cloud needs to be there. Sometimes, when I'm feeling good, when life is going smooth, I think about wiping away some of the tendrils, looking through the mists and taking a peek past those clouds.
I wake up in Hospital the next day, every time I go for that peek.
"What do you mean, `Too old for Trick 'r Treat?'"
I think I really got Mom with that one, but, "Yeah. Too old. I
think it would be better if I had a party. Maybe,in the barn?" I love to watch Mom's face twitch. She gets these little crinkles running all over her face like mouse tracks.
"Your brother Trick r' Treated until he was 15." The voice of reason,
"Yeah, and when he was 16 he got thrown in Juvie for burning down
some old lady's out house. Then he had to go to the Army to learn to be a man. Now he's in Vee-et-Nam smoking dope and getting venereal diseases. Mom! Is that what you want for me?"
"Your mouth, William."
"*Ooops. A little too far. A second `Your mouth, William,' and it's
her hand,*" I thought. Ted was, in Mom's eyes, a problem; in her heart, something else.
"Sorry, but REALLY Mom, it's not a nice place out on the streets.
Especially at night."
"Billy, for Christ's Sakes! This is a nice quiet, middle class town.
"Yeah, Mom, and I'm a nice, quiet, middle class kid."
Once again -- she pinched my cheek. I fumed. I saw it coming, froze
like a nice, dutiful son, and bore it, along with – "And you're so-o-o *cute*!"
"Look, I'll do everything -- even clean up!"
"Look, it's no big deal," he told his best friend, Mike. "It's like,
a tradition, but it's no big deal."
"Tell me, again," Mike said, gawking at the squash with the same
relish he reserved for such tasks as cleaning the bird cage.
He demonstrated, for the third time, what he considered to be the
simplest technique for removing the pulp from a pumpkin. His pudgy fingers wrapped tightly around the wooden handle of a boleine, the curved blade neatly cutting and scraping the fibrous content loose from the meat, seeds sloshing in the resultant ooze. He drew slimy fingers and seeds through the circle cut in the top of the pumpkin, stringy orange pulled loose like strands of rotten spaghetti.
"Gross!" Mike took the boleine from Billy, wiped the slimy blade on
his pant leg and attempted the task set before him. "What's the big deal about pumpkins, anyway?"
"Lost souls," Billy explained. "I read about it at the school library.
See, there was this old drunk, and he was drinking with the devil one night. Him and the devil 'musta got pretty wasted, cause off they go from the bar, or whatever they had in the good old days. The devil tells this drunk that his time is up, his soul is due; and he wants to know if the drunk's got the coin for the ferryman."
"The what?" Mike's face was a mixture of interest and revulsion, his
hand moving around inside the bowels of the squash.
"Man, don't you know nothin'? The ferryman. The guy who takes the
dead people across the river Stinx."
"I'll bet it stinks."
"Shut up and listen. You 'gotta pay this ferryman. So this drunk,
Jack, is one tight old mother. He ain't letting go his drinking money for no ferryman, and no devil, either. But he *is* dealing with *the* devil, so he gets this idea, see, to get a free ride. Well, there ain't no such thing as a free ride, but Jack's too drunked up to think straight. So he tells the devil, `Sure, it's in me tuck, away up in the vent atop the outhouse. But I'm too rubber in the legs to get up there me-self and fetch it.' Well, you've heard the preacher: `The devil is the spirit of greed.'"
"So when he hears Jack's got a sack of gold in the outhouse
stink vent he jumps into the outhouse, climbs up on the seat and starts poking around in the vent hole. `Aha!' says Jack, and he slams the outhouse door and cuts the sign of `The Cross' into it so the devil can't get out. Then he sits down with his bottle of Ripple, or whatever they drunk in the good old days, and thinks what he's 'gonna do. `Did you find me tuck?' he hollers. And the devil curses him, cause that's what devils do, you know. Of course there ain't no sack of gold in the outhouse vent. All there is, is you-know-what in the hole in the ground."
"This Jack's a leprechaun, ain't he?" Mike wants to know.
"How would I know? You 'wanna hear the rest or not?"
"Yeah, it's getting good. Go on." Mike's hand works, cutting,
dragging, pulling the slosh out of the pumpkin, his eyes unfocused and resting on twisted strands of orange and black crepe paper.
"You tight fisted son of a Scotsman!" says the devil, "LET ME OUT
"And what'll ye give me?" Says Jack.
"I'll let you keep your eternal damned soul, you drunkard! May you rot
in the slime from which you've come. May your stringy red hair be full of maggots! May . . ."
"The devil had to take a breath about then, and cause he was inside
the outhouse, he choked on the fumes coming up through the seat. 'Probly wishing he was breathing sulfur and ashes down in his nice warm kitchen," Billy said.
"'An what about a free ride on the ferry?" queries Jack.
"Damn you to Earth!" says the devil, this being *his* worst curse.
"Let me out, or I'll see you get the ferryman's job – myself. How'd you like to listen to the wailing of the dearly departed, crying for life jackets when they ain't got no life left in 'em . . . for the rest of time and beyond?" taunted the devil.
"Well, then, leave me my soul when I've passed on and I'll let you
out," Jack said.
"So the deal is made, Jack marks up the Cross on the door so it
ain't a cross no more and the devil comes out, hotter than a firecracker and throws a flame of Hell's fire at Jack. He didn't make no promises about not scorching Jack," Billy explained.
"And that's why we do Pumpkins for Halloween?" Mike tilted the
pumpkin and peered inside.
Billy peeked over his shoulder and pronounced it, "Good work." He
patted his friend on the back and smiled. "Yeah, sort of. See, old Jack died, just like everybody has to. But he'd been drinking and tight all his life, so they wouldn't let him in Heaven. The devil couldn't let him in Hell, cause of the promise. Jack had spent all his money on booze, so he couldn't pay the ferryman to take him across the Stinx River. All he had was this old squash he'd tripped over in a drunken stupor when he died. There he is, standing at the gates of hell, hollering down at the devil that he's been cheated. And the devil's hollering up at him to take a hike before he gives him a taste of Hell."
Billy unwrapped a cellophane covered candle and stuck it down into
the hollow globe of the pumpkin, then continued. "So, just to get rid of the pissed-off old drunk, the devil lets fly with another bolt of hell and sets Jack's pumpkin on fire, saying, `Let *that* light your way to wherever you're going, you old sot!' And the pumpkin, which was rotten in the middle, and caved in on the top from Jack stepping in it when he was stumbling 'round in the dark – caught fire. The stink was terrible! And the devil got even for that time in the outhouse."
"Is this true about the outhouse, or are you just warming me up for
the Quest?" Mike wanted to know.
"Well . . . ."
"What *is* that stink?" Twyla wanted to know, as soon as she came
through the garage door."I thought we were having a party!"
"*Girls*!" thought Billy. "That's the Devil's Revenge!" he intoned,
She was too skinny to be dressed in black leotard, prancing around
with a fake tail. But her mom had made her face up and the pointed ears sticking out of her black hair looked pretty good. She really looked like a starving skinny black cat with a pointy little face.
"Looking good, Twilight," Billy told her. "You ready to slink through
"Oh, Billy," she simpered, practicing a tone and attitude her mother
used. "Place looks good." Sam Cooke sang from the record player; flickering candle light glowed, lost on unfinished sheet rock walls; crepe paper and balloons made a huge spider web hung from exposed ceiling beams; old suitcases and lawn chairs filled a corner, captured prey of strange urban arachnids. "Do we *have* to do the Quest?"
First girl there, a solitary promise of more to come. Billy shrugged,
praying she wouldn't screw everything up. "Hey, man. That's what it's all about. Ya' know?"
She spied the food, eyes gone wide at Mom's handiwork, and forgot
about the Quest. Chocolate chip cookies were good for doing that.
The Ramirez twins, Mike and some out of town relative of Mike's, Kenny
Smith from down the street, and Scuz Jordon lounged nervously against the wall behind the refreshments table, trapped, as Twyla made her way in their direction.
"I don't care, he gave ME the creeps!" Cecy was whining. "Who IS he?"
Cecy Paker, Karen Tiple and two other girls he'd seen around school came through the strips of black crepe paper hanging over the door, giggling and complaining about being followed.
"Just some guy, Cecy. GAWD! I mean what would he want with you!"
Karen answered, and nudged her friend with a sharp elbow then nodded toward the line of boys, her attention on the known.
"Oh Cecilia, you're breaking my heart . . ." sang the Ramirez twins.
"Up yours!" Cecy grumbled. "Tony, there was this guy, see, and he
followed us all the way from the Safeway!"
"You didn't go to the grocery store dressed like that!" Mike crowed.
Cecy was a little on the chubby side. Dressed like a ballerina in pink sparkling tights and glittering blue stars sewn to her white tutu, she looked more like a rotund fairy godmother – minus the wand.
"Up yours!" she repeated. Cecy's favorite phrase. She tried a new
one once in a while, but always came back to that one.
"Where is he now?" Scuz wanted to know.
"Oh, Twyla!" Karen squealed. "You look like a cat!"
"A Louie Louie, uh, girl now we gotta go now," blared from the
speakers. Three guys stood around it, arguing over the next few lines. Twyla and Karen were scarfing up the cookies, while outside, Henry Ramirez was already puking purple punch all over the flower bed.
"O.K.," Billy announced, "We got a Quest to . . . quest after. Let's
do it." He waited for the moans to die down, hefted the pumpkin from the table top and held it above his head, his arms quivering a little. It was a big one and heavy!
"There's an unmarked gravestone. A lost soul . . ." he began.
". . . wandering around this peaceful little town," Twyla supplied.
"He's searching for his home, and I hope he finds it – some day."
"Your mission, should you decide to accept it . . ." Mike added.
"Is to find that gravestone, so that we, the Fellowship of the Future,
may provide that lucky soul with this," Billy held the pumpkin higher, straining. "An all-expenses-paid vacation to Hell!" Billy liked the way his voice rolled when he did his Bob Barker imitation. "We have until midnight. Let the Quest begin!"
"What happens at midnight?" Mike's cousin, Dub, asked. Speaking his
second complete sentence of the night.
"The hobgoblins'll getcha if ya don't watch out!" Twyla giggled.
"The cops'll haul us all into the Lutheran church, call our parents
to come get us and issue tickets. That's what they did last year for the curfew." Tony and Henry had been rounded up. Their Mom and Dad had been humiliated and the boys had been grounded until Christmas.
"Synchronize your watches," Mike said.
Maybe it was a bad idea, then again, maybe it wasn't. Eight or ten
kids running around a graveyard on Halloween night, flashlights making strange patterns on unusual places. Streaking beams of light playing on tombstones and dancing with half-naked overhanging tree branches. Leaves scattered and became great big brown and grey paper-thin hands with curling clutching fingers, as little whirlwinds chased and carried them closer to you. Just right.
It's a small town compared to most, and walking five or six blocks
to the edge of Memory Cemetery while high on chocolate chip cookies and punch is no big deal. They call the old cemetery "Memory Cemetery" 'cause there are a lot of old gravestones, and the only way you know who's buried in some of the graves is if you've got a good memory. So, first one to find an unmarked grave hollers out, we stick the Jack o' Lantern on the grave and the Quest is met.
We didn't want to be out there all night. And I sure didn't want to
sit around the Lutheran church until my Mom came, and then listen to a lecture for the next six weeks. Mom liked six weeks as a time unit. It just felt good to her for some reason. Every time she grounded me it was for six weeks.
Cecy and Twyla, me and Mike took the north edge of the graveyard while
the others took the south. Me and Mike took turns carrying the pumpkin.
They still bury people in Memory Cemetery. There's two other cemeteries
in town. One for poor people, out on the east side, and the new one out by the golf course. The only way you'd find an unmarked grave in the new bone yard would be if they'd just dug it and hadn't planted the stiff yet.
Cecy hung close to Twyla, still complaining about the creep that
had followed her from the Safeway store. Karen might be her best friend, but when times got rough she hung with me or Twyla. They looked kind a funny, the black cat and the fairy godmother. Most girls keep on dressing up after they're too old for Trick r' Treat. Us guys get 'kinda laid back and do stuff like bums and army guys. I was doing the bum, Freddie the Freeloader style, Mike had got olive drabs from some Army Surplus store. I kept expecting Cecy to grab hold of Twyla's tail, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz holding on to the Cowardly Lion's tail. She was making everyone feel creepy.
She was busy talking and almost stumbled into an empty grave.
Cecy shrieked and hung on to Twyla tighter. Mike just about dropped the pumpkin. There *was* a small blank tombstone. It tilted a little to the right, lopsided and exactly where one should be for this grave. But, it wasn't like someone had dug a fresh grave and was waiting for the day after Halloween to fill it. This marker was old and weathered, like someone had dug up an old grave and . . . .
"Damnit!" Twyla growled. "You guys did this!" Her skinny neck
stretched out just like a cat's. She hissed. A cold chill went up my back and danced across my head before it ran down my arms and went hopping across the graveyard on its own.
"O.K, let's get organized," Mike said, taking charge. "One: we did
NOT dig this grave up. Two: if we had, how would we have got the coffin out? and Three: we got this Quest done!" He walked around to the head of the grave, checking the grave stone to make sure there was no name on it. He set the pumpkin down.
"Not here," said a voice from down in the hole. A hand came up and
dirt packed fingernails gripped on Mikes pant leg. A guy's head came up and black eyes looked right at Cecy. "I've got an angel at my shoulder." He scrambled up out of the grave, pulling Mike half in with him.
Twyla started kicking at him, but the black ballet slippers she'd
painted with white claws didn't do any damage. Cecy just hung on and screamed. The guy swarmed out of the hole, then, as if the sound of Cecy screaming gave him some super power or something. Cecy let go of Twyla and started running, dodging gravestones, getting all of her little kid speed up. She could outrun us all. I pictured that, then, of all times; a little girl streaking down the sidewalk, pumping away on fat little legs, squealing and giggling. She wasn't giggling now. She'd given up the screaming too, using all her air for running, the guy from the grave chasing after her.
Twyla and Mike took off after them, Mike stomping around in combat
boots, Twyla flying over the ground on cat's feet. I looked at the pumpkin, the ragged grin cut in the ribbed orange skin, the slitted eyes filled with fire and started hollering for Scuz, Henry, and Tony. Then started running through the graveyard watching for a pink and white fairy godmother on fat legs.
Cecy must have tried to hide behind a tree, a gnarled old oak,
scarred with roofing nails and initials. The grave guy had her pinned against the rough bark, one hand clutching her throat, the other fumbling inside his dirt encrusted shirt.
Twyla was beating on his back with her fists. Mike had just picked up
a ball bat sized branch and was winding up for the swing. Funny what your mind does in flash scenes like that. I almost told Mike his stance was too wide, he oughtta' choke-up; like he was getting ready to put a baseball out of the ball park, knowing he would swing and miss, go low, or wide. He swung. The grave guy twirled around, grabbed the branch in mid-swing and ripped it out of Mike's hands.
Twyla and Cecy took off, running, again, Twyla screaming for Scuz.
The grave guy hefted the branch, took a good stance and hit Mike right
in the middle of the strike zone, taking him down, a solid hit. I heard ribs crack. The grave guy was sprinting after the girls, headed for home plate.
Scuz and Tony showed up, both puffing and white faced. "What the hell
is going on?" Scuz wheezed, seeing Mike doubled up on the ground.
"Looks like Cecy's creep is for real and he's a crazy, too." I hauled
after them, the other two guys right behind me. I could hear screams from the girls, Cecy's sounding like she'd screamed her mind free and was soaring a thousand miles high. Then it was just a gagging like the wind caught in some suddenly alive tree branch's grasp.
When we caught up to them the grave guy had Cecy down on the ground,
one knee in her chest. In. Because he had a wicked looking knife in his hand, and in the other blood dripping from a ragged piece of something like her heart, maybe, or just skin all red from her blood.
Twyla was on her knees a few feet away, sobbing, puking, with vomit
covering the front of her black tights. The smells swirled in the air: hot blood, fresh puke, old dirt, and all mixed wth – fear. That was me.
The grave guy's knee was poked in the hole in Cecy's chest. I wish I
could say we three guys rushed him. I wish I could say we tore him limb from limb and got him off our friend. But just then he pulled his knee out of her chest with a sickening sucking pop-sound, flung a piece of skin or something to the ground. Then slit her throat for good measure. He picked her up, slung her body over his shoulder and started running back the way we had come. That's when Tony fell to his knees and started puking, throwing his guts up. I heard someone else puking violently – it was me.
Recovering, I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and followed Henry chasing
after the guy. I don't know what we ran on. My legs felt like the grave guy had cut me behind both knees and the life was leaking out. All I could think of was Cecy being an angel on that guy's shoulder, wings she didn't have beating against the autumn air, tied, like a hunting hawk to its perch, flames licking at its feet. I could see it, almost. Then I caught sight of them. Cecy, flopping up and down as the guy ran, with her head too loose on her shoulders – a lifeless bloody mass.
He stopped at the empty grave, laid her down and jumped in. Then he
pulled her into the grave, into his arms, like she was his long lost love or something. Her body flopped down to him, twisting at odd angles, like a fish out of water, then disappeared into the dark hole. When the pumpkin fell in on top of them the thing must have broke open. The light went out.
They said, back then, he had little crawl tunnels dug down there
under the graveyard. They said, back then, when they pulled us out, me still hanging on to one of her ankles, pumpkin pulp in my teeth and a scrap of rotting olive drab in my other hand, that they hadn't found any sign of him, except for the tunnels. I don't remember.
Copyright 1994 Gay Bost ———————————————————————–[1;40;33m Gay is a Clinical Lab Tech with experience in Veterinary medicine. From NORTHERN California, she's resided in S.E. Missouri with her husband and an aggressive 6 year old boy, since 1974. Installed her first modem the summer of '92 and has been exploring new worlds since. Her first publication, a short horror story, came when she was 17 years old. The success was so overwhelming she called an end to her writing days and went in search of herself. She's still looking. Find Gay's great stories in the best Electronic Magazines.[0;40;31m ===========================================================================[0m