The Ghost of Yesteryear

By Colin Heaney

In Ashton Grove one would find a wide platter of horrific apparitions. Tonight was the night – Hallow’s Eve – when darkness became a comforting mattress and fog an everlasting blanket. It was the time for mischief, things beyond belief, the party for the beasts and ghouls with sweet teeth. The late hours were no longer Morpheus’s domain; gone was the light of day, up came the moon at bay, and into darkness the fugue of sleepiness held no sway. Timothy Watterson watched the scene from the shabby confines of his front porch, hand on newel, clutching a brown paper bag, on which he had scrawled in black marker: “be ye who you dare!” He did not know exactly what the sentiment meant, but it was a sentiment nonetheless, and as such he felt he was parting onto the devilish masses a certain kind of wisdom, chest proud. 

Look around!

Over there, by the street corner, was Frankenstein’s monster leading a longtooth daschund on a walk. And here, on the sidewalk, was a troupe of swashbuckling pirates, donned in kerchiefs and snarls, knocking into one another and full of harsh talk. A scarecrow was lost in gesticulations, tossing semaphores like shooting stars across a blackened sky, no longer an unmoving stalk. Two witches wielding scimitar broomsticks knocked the door next to Timothy’s house, yelling the primordial mantra, forever to repeat:

Trick ‘r’ treat!

Timothy was the latest of all trick ‘r’ treaters; the last call to the bar of fizzy pops and monkey nuts and rotten apple cores. Firework gunshots rang from an unknown distance; splinters in the night. This was sporadically met by lonesome, melancholy howls, of guttural dispositions deep and foul. It was a soundtrack like no other, a concoction of childlike exuberance and witching wonders; great flaming licks of ambience steamrolling through the town. A medley assortment of costumed freaks pointed Timmy’s way as he bolted down the road in the most bothersome flounder.

“A ghost? Again? Can’t your mom buy you another costume?”

“Loser!”

The insults fizzled into the fog, lost in the dissipation of the unnoticed, in obscurity divine. For the boy’s mind was concentrated on one specific task: reaching the graveyard. 

His stomping feet pounded saturnine leaves into sand dust, his shadowy form illuminated itself under skeleton-frame lampposts, and his trembling fatigue failed to withhold him against his insurmountable excitement, like overlapping waves reaching further and further ashore in hopes of grasping some land based stronghold. The scene was straight out of a book – leather bound, printed with a toothless grin, stained in rubies and the falsities of nightmares, blanket illusions. The night had the crisp surrender of parchment, papyrus scrolls rolling the pathways. 

Timmy came to a halt outside imposing wrought iron gates; in the centre was carved a wretched gargoyle face, twisted in hate. It was here, in the hours so late, that his fun began. 

“Hello?” He called out to the curtain of pitch blackness, girded in withered ivy and skull spider weeds. There came back to him the groans of somber reeds. 

“Yes.” A voice of echoes responded from the great depths inside. “Are you outside?”

“Of course I am! Where else would I be? Come out, hurry, before everyone goes to sleep. We might still get some doors.”

A pinpoint pierced the landscape of shadows; a crystal orb amidst velvet throws. It grew larger as it approached, and next to it, at waist level, something jiggled. 

Timmy gave a wicked scythe grin. “Lemme guess: you’re a ghost this year?”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.” 

And up it came, materialising from the nothingness beyond, like one drifting balloon in a city of desolation, where stars did not wink they cried, and the moon leaked swan-songs onto the stone heads around the vicinity, the names of those of yesteryears, old streams on forgotten rivers. The boy was around Timmy’s age, and around his height too. What was different, however, was his material form. 

The boy was a ghost, never to feel warm. 

The ghost stood on the other side of the gate, in seraphic illumination, hewn in a moonstone frame. In his glowing hand he held one small bucket, attached to which was a plastic belt, swaying tame. It held the shape and form of a pumpkin, with a face etched onto its surface. 

“So, where to first?”

“Old man Coogers?”

“No way! We save the worst for last, like you said.”

Timmy raised his palms in false surrender. “Fine. Have it your way, Harvey. We’ll take the night’s trails, along the goosebumps of our soles!”

With this both boy and ghost burst into maniacal laughter. The ghost, in a hue of diamonds, walked through the gate as if it were nothing but a beaded curtain. 

“Let’s get treatin’!” Harvey exclaimed. 

Bubblegum memories streaming over dewy foundations, dim porch lights fighting the darkness in vain, casting nothing but melancholy sweetness. The two pals – normal and paranormal – traipsed the streets in wicked delight. No-one batted an eyelid at the two ghosts, other than to stop and remark that one of the boy’s costumes was scarily realistic, whereas the other’s was a cheap, tattered blanket with eyes cut into it. 

Trick ‘r’ treat!

An old, bespectacled man in a maroon suit and golden cravat answered the door. Whether his outfit was a costume or not remained a mystery. There came an avalanche of multicoloured, vibrant sweets, some fizzy enough to tangle the tongue in knots of sourness, others tough and hard as a rubber bullet, battling with one’s teeth, desperate to unearth any loose fillings. 

Trick ‘r’ treat!

A young woman answered the door, raven witch wig and black pencil dress, a cobwebbed shawl hugging her shoulders. Her makeup told of false wrinkles and varicose blue eyeshadow. A varied lot became their treasure: toffee apples and popcorn bags, yet also bruised fruit and the ever venerable monkey nuts. 

Trick ‘r’ treat!

There came no answer. The lights were out, the door bolted, curtains drawn. Timmy craned his neck to view the enveloped bay window, where a faint hue struggled to free itself; it was undoubtedly the television. This was followed by faint laughter. 

“Want me to walk through the walls and give them the fright of their lives?” Harvey asked, his eyes faint and obscure, indefinable yet at the same time conveying some deep emotion, borne from twinkle stars and race car tracks and Christmas mornings; all the joys of childhood shone from his torch-like body. 

“No way. I’m not going to jail.”

Harvey shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

So the treatin’ hours crept further along down fiendish crypts, the ghouls crawled home, and an ever increasing number of doors closed themselves off from the outer world: viridescent composite and scarlet hardwood and bleached PVC. The last remaining domain for domination was the worst of all, the house that stood tall, taller than the rest, of Gothic brush strokes and Victorian severity. 

“Mr Cooger,” Timmy gulped. 

At once a sudden stroke of divine lightning hit the backdrop of the frame, sending flashes to both boy’s faces, forcing squints and raised hands. Did they have a plan? No, for there could be none when met with Dracula himself. Together, hand in hand, they approached the large gated entrance, scarcely aware of the pealing bells. Without so much as a ‘hello’ or ‘is anyone home?’ the gates parted, revealing a driveway of harsh stone and the occasional freakish dwarf. 

Bang!

Another zap of lightning zigzagged the obsidian canvas. Timmy and Harvey were trembling now, quaking from the highest hairline to the longest toe. It was enough to scare a ghost. There came a ghoulish laugh, echoing amidst the vast space. Every step on the porch was the scream of a Banshee, and each time the boy’s flinched. Timmy braced himself. 

Knock. Knock. 

They couldn’t believe it. After all this time they’d finally had the guts to call to Mr Cooger’s haunted residence. As quickly as their exuberance arrived it faded amidst the clacking of sharp shoes and the swishing of a cape. The door swung open and out stepped the old man. 

He was a cast of melted marshmallow, with mountainous craters and steepled brows. His lips, drawn from ruby wine, stood in sharp contrast against his porcelain countenance. “Greetings, young ones,” he crooned, revealing stalactite fangs. “You are but a few who have dared to venture into my dominion. Accept patience, and rewards will burst from the stem of composure.”

Mr Cooger turned, and the swipe of his cape sent them into caverns of bleakness, before revealing the light once more. The old man was crouched over them now, holding in two bony, varicose hands a bucket filled with the best sweets one could hope for; shining gold they were, gilded with sugar, melted with chocolate, touched with caramel. They gazed in awe at the treasure horde before them.

“Trick ‘r’ treat, fellas,” Mr Cooger winked. 

Respite

It was the witching hour now, and the town had long fallen into the peaceful slumbers of steaming chimneys and groaning drains. A soft mist lifted from the gutters and added its own shallow pool of spookiness. Timmy did not go home; that was not a place for happy participation, or a place to be missed – truly missed – like dreams of snowflakes on a sweltering, languid July day. Instead, Timmy stayed with his only true friend, the needle in the wide haystack, only for him there was no haystack – no – the oyster was not so tremendous, being rather a cluster of empty shells. They reclined on the banks of Mournview, trick ‘r’ treat bags empty, stomachs full, hearts contemplative in the maze of soliloquy. 

“You don’t have to stay with me,” Harvey grumbled. 

“Of course I do. It’s the only night you get to be a real person again. I mean-“

“No. You’re right.” Harvey climbed onto his elbows and watched the stars. “Come six, I’m back to the grave.”

“I’ll be here to see you off.”

Harvey glanced at him, and there was a glint in his eye – temporal sadness, crystalline promises shattered, future prophecies spelling despondency. “You always fall asleep before I go. Always. And soon there won’t be many more nights like this.”

Timmy’s brows joined hands. “What do you mean? Of course we’ll have more nights like this.”

From afar fireworks sounded, smaller than before, weaker. The final exhalations of a tired party. “No. You’re ten. Soon you’ll be too old for this…too old for me. And all these wonderful things, being a kid-” he raised his hands and gestured to himself. “They’ll sink like all things do, whether it be into the dirt or into the water, they’ll go, and only the memories will remain, to float in the skies, shooting stars of time’s passed too quickly.” Harvey jabbed a finger into Timmy’s chest, and he could feel it: it stung. “Soon you’ll lose those rainbow colours, and Halloween will just be like any other day, and trick ‘r’ treatin’ will be just for kids and you won’t do it no more, not until you get kids of your own. But the magic is lost, you can’t keep that. That bird can’t be tamed, and one day it’ll grow wings.”

A silence fell as thick as the lowland mists. Timmy wanted to rebuke Harvey’s assertions as baseless worries drawn from the night’s end, but he knew better. Still, he wanted to bestow reassurance onto him, but his tongue had fallen into quicksand, losing its grip, slipping away, fixed, lost, gone, drowning, as all things do…

An early dawn burned his eyes, and Timmy struggled onto his elbows. He looked around; Harvey was gone, and he wouldn’t appear again until next year. It was in these moments that Timmy always questioned it all: had Harvey really been here? But no, he knew it, as surely as he knew he had two feet and if he planted them on the tarmac he’d feel the tired wobble of a tired boy who had eaten too many sweets and stayed up too late. This was Morpheus’s revenge.

Sighing, he collected the now empty pumpkin bucket and made the slow, dreaded march home.

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