This is not a scary story, not a ghost story. It is a childhood memory, one that reminds me that there is magic in the world whether we feel it, or not.
For me, Halloween has always been a night of mystery, of potential, of being close to the unknown. It’s thrilling to run about the streets in the gloaming as the wind kicks crisp leaves around ankles; to terrorize the neighbors, threatening malice if not bribed with sweets. It’s exhilarating to step from one’s skin into the guise of someone or something else entirely for an evening, to be a monster or a fairy, a cowboy, an alien, an old hobo who rides the rails. The sense of fear that permeates the lanes, created by bony tree fingers grasping at the clouded moon and the knowledge that the long, dark winter is just days away, the self-manufactured fear among mobs of kids, a feeling that seeps and creeps from all the other little souls in the streets, is tempered by the familiarity of glowing jack-o-lanterns on porches, childrens’ delighted screams and laughter drifting on the breeze, the smell of mouldering leaves underfoot. It’s one last night to be free before hunkering down to early nights, cold days, and darkness.
And there is magic.
My ninth Halloween, I think I was a fairy, was crisp but not snowy. We didn’t have to wear our winter coats over our flimsy costumes as long as we layered up underneath. We ran in packs from door to door. I was old enough to be on my own with my friends, instead of with my mother and siblings. We were wild children, hooting and hollering, running across dead lawns, rushing through the crackling leaves piled in gutters. The moon was full, the wind blowing spirit clouds across the sky. We were free, we were wraiths of the night, and we were full of candy-powered mischief.
I remember a house where there was a Halloween party and the man who opened the door was dressed as a gorilla. We shrieked in delighted fright and he gave us all dollar bills. Some houses had only glowing porch lights for decoration and others had coffins in the yard and scarecrows on the stoop who jumped out at you while horror music played. I remember old women (probably my current age) handing out popcorn balls and caramel apples and we could eat those treats without fear of razor blades or poison. I remember stumbling back into my house as the streets began to sink into quiet, Smarties wrappers and broken leaves skittering alone down the sidewalks. I remember my arms dragging under the weight of my loot sack. I remember washing my face and putting on my pajamas, then crawling into bed, happy and soul-filled. I remember seeing the lights upstairs go out, of knowing I was the only one still awake in my house and that is when the most magical thing that has ever happened to me occurred. The moon was shining through the high window above me, illuminating the whole room. I stood up on my bed and climbed atop the headboard in order to pull myself up to the window sill to see the luminous body filling the sky, looking down at me. It was so bright, so white, so large. In that moment, the silhouette of a witch on a broomstick, picture-perfect, flew across the face of the moon. I waited for her to pass by again, but she didn’t, and I let go the windowsill to fall backward onto my bed while giggling with the most effusive glee I’ve ever felt, replete with the knowledge that everything I believed about this day was true, all true.
I have looked for that witch every Halloween since and while I’ve never seen her again, I know she is there. For her, for the children who keep the magic of the day alive in their hearts, and for the memory of my own childhood, I heartily embrace the traditions of All Hallow’s Eve. Because, one day, I will see that witch again and I will shriek with glee and be thankful that there is still such wild wonderfulness left in our world.
Happy Halloween, my friends. Even if you do not celebrate this day, I hope you enjoy the spirit of autumn, of readying for a long sleep, of changes. Stay warm, stay safe, and look for magic everywhere you go.