Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s theme is “Halloween.”
This week’s contribution comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama, is available from her locally or on Amazon. MISTER WOLFE, the sequel, will be published before the end of the year. MY BROTHER, THE WOLF, the last of the series, will appear in 2021.
In celebration of Halloween, Cathy shares the following segment from a chapter in MISTER WOLFE:
“Happy Halloween” by Cathy MacKenzie
Clouds hover, making the evening darker, but darkness is apropos on Halloween night.
Paul bounces from foot to foot. This’ll be the first time trick-or-treating without his mother leading him like a baby, and he’s going to have a wonderful night. The downfall will be sharing his haul with Pauline. Next year, no doubt his parents will force him to take the little witch. They’re so overprotective of her it makes him sick.
He laughs, remembering how her sister looked. She really was a witch: long black dress, pointy black hat, black mole on her cheek. One long white hair even protruded from the mole! His mother thought of everything.
He clutches his bag, a stained ivory pillowcase decorated with paper ghosts, witches, and pumpkins, and realizes how corny it looks. He enjoyed the colouring, cutting, and gluing to the fabric, but the dampness is loosening the paper, and the edges of his decorations are curling. The bag is turning into a mess, and kids will tease him. Bully him. Who wants that?
He estimates how long it would take to go up and down the four streets his mother permitted him to canvass and determines he had plenty of time to visit each house. Thankfully, the streets are long, with numerous houses, because four streets usually wouldn’t be enough on Halloween. He has to be home by nine, but as soon as his bag is full, he’ll head back.
By the time he reaches the walkway of 39 Cresthaven Avenue, his bag is half-full of loot. A pumpkin, light flickering between gaps in the squared teeth, beckons from the bottom step of the sprawling porch. The chunky grin mesmerizes him.
His mother warned him to not believe anything he saw or heard while tricking and treating. “Nothing is real,” she said. “Enjoy being a kid and eat your candy. Forget about cavities one day of the year.”
He was stunned. Forget about cavities? From a mother who yelled at him every night to brush so invisible tooth creatures didn’t create caters in his enamel? And when especially annoyed at him, she brushed his teeth, attacking them with the toothbrush like a maniac. She better not do that again. He’s twelve, for Pete’s sake. Almost a teen. Soon he’ll have sex. He watched the act on television once when his mother wasn’t looking, and he’s peeked into his father’s stash of Playboy magazines hidden on the top shelf in the den. If she discovers them, kaboom!
Other years, even though accompanied by his mother, she insisted on rooting through his treat bag after they were home. The previous year, she said, “There are crazies out there. I have to make sure there aren’t needles or disturbed wrappers.”
All his mother does is nag, nag, nag. It wouldn’t be so bad if she gave him a bit of praise. Her yelling and nagging scare him as much as the dark, but every October thirty-first, he dons a brave face and dresses in the costume-of-the-year—Elvis, Willy Wonka, a dinosaur, a policeman, a hippie. A different flavour every year.
Oh, can’t forget the clowns. Everyone’s favourite. So easy to mimic them. Terrifying, too, with blood-lipsticked mouths and depressive, ginormous eyes. Despite his fear, he looks forward to clowns when the circus comes to town every July.
But what about now, this moment? And what’s with this pumpkin—the weird orange globe with the shimmering light inside? He shivers.
“Nothing is real, Paul. Pretend everything is okay.”
Pretend. Pretend. Pretend.
He shivers again, presses down on his crimson plastic fireman’s hat, and glances around. No one. No one other than the weird pumpkin head beckoning him from the porch.
He proceeds up the walkway.
Wait! He stops.
Did it move? How did it get to the top step?
“What the heck.” He covers his mouth. His mother will kill him for saying “heck,” but “heck” is better than “hell.” Or “fuck.” He heard the “F” word in school, from the older kids.
Paul, standing on the bottom step, jumps. “Wha—”
“You there? I’m a good pumpkin, not the bad, scary kind. Not the kind you eat, either. If you ate me, where would I be?” Giggles and laughter echo. “I’d be in your belly then, and what good would that do except fatten you up?”
He looks around. Who spoke? No one’s here but me.
A voice booms. “Me! I’m here.”
What? Pumpkin Head possesses powers?
Paul scratches at goosebumps sprouting on his arms beneath his blue fireman costume.
“Yes, me!” Pumpkin Head screeches.
The flame inside the orange head is strong and straight and doesn’t flicker. “You? My mother warned me about you. About things that look real that aren’t really real.”
“I’m real. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I—I guess so.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“Nah. I’m enjoying life. The dark. The kids who come and go.”
Paul scans the yard. And the street. Empty. “No one’s here but us.”
“Yeah, it’s deserted tonight. For being Halloween and all. But it only takes one, right?”
“You,” Pumpkin Head says. “An audience of one. I’m happy you’re here even if there’s no one else.”
“Hmmm, I suppose.” Paul looks around again. Where is everyone?
Neither speaks for several moments.
Paul wavers: should he stay; should he go? Darkness will descend as quickly as a collapsing circus tent. “Be home by nine.”
He clutches his bag to his chest. “Gotta go.”
“My mom’s waiting. She’ll be mad if I don’t get home on time.” Can’t admit he’s spooked. “Yeah, I better run.” Run? I better dash for it.
“Why don’t you take me home with you? I’m lonely. And cold.”
“Really? You want to go home with me?” Why does Pumpkin Head want to go to his house? This house is much grander, and surely the owners are much nicer than his parents.
“Please, take me with you.” Paul had never heard anyone beg as much as this pumpkin. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”
“Blow out my flame first. I don’t want to burn you.”
“Sure. Okay.” Paul stoops and blows.
The pumpkin’s smile disappears.
Paul lifts the plump pumpkin, ensuring he has his pillowcase of loot, too, though not as full as he hoped.
When he reaches his family’s small bungalow, so unlike the grand mansion where he found Pumpkin Head, he sets the pumpkin on the landing. There are no steps, just a worn path on the grass to the slab of cement that mimics a front step.
“You have a match?” Pumpkin Head asks.
“I need to see. I can’t see in the dark without my flame.”
A few weeks ago, he’d duct-taped a pack of matches to the bottom of the mailbox by the front door. He heard from his father that duct tape works for all kinds of stuff.
He rips the tape from the matchbook, tears off a match, and strikes it against the rough edge.
A flame explodes. Bright. Hot. Pointed.
He removes the lid from Pumpkin Head and lights the wick. Success! He replaces the lid.
“Hey, great job. And I love your loot sack. Your drawings and colouring are amazing.”
Paul grins, standing taller, basking in words of praise.
“Happy Halloween!” Pumpkin Head bellows.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/