From our family to yours: Happy Halloween.
(you’ll find out more about the dog later)
It’s late. I’m sitting by an open window, listening to the wind rattle leaves down the road and bump the ghost against the side of the house. It makes a pleasant “dut…dut…dut” sound when it hits the cedar planks. From time to time, everything grows still, silent, and we wait. We wait for the next gust of wind, we wait for the temperature to drop futher, we wait for winter to come and hibernation to begin. Then the breeze tickles the branches and a dog barks in the distance, bringing us all back to the present, us being me, the leaves, the thumping ghost, maybe the moon, though it’s only a little fingernail clipping in the sky.
I’m out of ghost stories. I thought I had more but I don’t. This doesn’t bode well. Next October, I think I’m just going to post a picture of me in a different festive outfit every day. Not costumes, I’m not that ambitious, but Halloween-themed clothing. I mean, what else do I have now that I’m emptied of paranormal tales? Worse, what am I going to tell you tonight, what will I have for you to read tomorrow morning?
I’m going to tell you about my first nightmare, the first one I remember. I must have been around four-years-old at the time and I think it was the first instance of me realizing just how badly my own mind could betray me, would throw me into dangerous territory, could make me doubt everything I thought I understood about my world.
I woke up in my dream and it was morning. I was wearing my favorite nightgown, a full-length affair with a ruffle at the neck and the ankle as well as around my wrists. It had stripes of blue and orange flowers and a ribbon tied across my chest and another that went above the ruffle at the hem. I got out of bed and walked to the kitchen where breakfast was waiting. It was a fancy breakfast which was exciting as that was definitely out of the ordinary. Mom was at the sink, washing dishes. The basin was full of hot, sudsy water, the foamy bubbles coming all the way to the tops of Mom’s yellow rubber gloves. I was talking to her and she was listening, probably even replying, but I was more interested in the yellow rubber gloves. There were lines all the way down her arm – the line of her short shirt sleeve then the line of her skin then the line of the glove and, finally, the line of the bubbles and the sink. The world turned on its side, then. My mother’s skin started turning green. It crept from inside the glove up her arm, up under her sleeve. Soon, I saw the green creeping up her neck, then her jaw and chin, then her face. Her features transformed, became grotesque and monstrous, witch-like. Her eyes, now red, bulged and she turned them on me. She started shrieking and I started screaming in response. I was terrified. This was my mommy, my caretaker, my protector and she’d just turned green and hideous. (I blame “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s no surprise I have always hated that movie)
I started crying. I wanted to fix the whole thing but when I stepped forward, she grabbed a knife and said she was going to kill me. I took off running. I ran and she chased, caterwauling like a banshee, coming after me, gaining, intent on ending my life. I ran out the front door to find my dad chopping wood. He was in full woodsman regalia and looked nothing like my actual dad (I know exactly where I got that image; it was from my Little Red Riding Hood book with the dark-haired, handsome wood-chopping man in his red and black flannel, suspenders, knit hat, rolled pants, and tough boots) I stumbled to him and he immediately saw the situation. He knew what had to be done. Placing me away from the danger, he took up his axe and calmly went toward my mother, ready to chop her to bits.
I woke up after that. It was still dark. I was tangled in my tiny bedsheets. I wasn’t wearing my favorite nightgown but some undersized adult t-shirt, instead. I was paralyzed with fear, lying alone in my room, the moon shining in through the window. After some time, my heart stopped racing and a terrible sense of loss descended. I started to cry. There was something i needed to do and it was so scary, so terrible for a tiny tot whose world had just come to an end in her dream. I had to go see if my Mom was 1) a monster or 2) dead from being axed to bits.
I crept out of bed and down the hall to my parents’ room. I did that thing that kids do, sneaking up to the bed and lurking, hands on the edge of the mattress, peering at my sleeping mother’s face. Though it was too dark to see, the force of my horrified stare snapped her from her own slumber and she asked me what was wrong. When I answered in what I thought was a normal voice but she said was the saddest little mew she’d ever heard, I asked her, “Mommy…are you green?”
You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.
This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.
April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.
We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.
Oh how wrong we were.
We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.
As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.
That didn’t really help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.
It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?
That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.
I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.
Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.
I’m going to skip the part where I make excuses for my long absence and, instead, jump straight into the meat of things: It is time for HALLOWEEN!
That means it is time for stories and this all crept up on me, despite my watchfulness, so my first ghost story is going to be one that is short and sweet, though a little sad.
I’ve mentioned a time or two that ghosts and I don’t exist on the same plane. I can’t see them, feel them, hear them, sense them. They pass right through me (haunted humor – I’m hilarious) and I am unaware.
Except for this one time.
To back up: A couple of weeks before I was born, my grandmother’s Siamese cat had kittens, a whole litter of ’em. After I was born, my mom and I lived with my grandparents so the kittens and I were raised together. No joke.
Because these kittens were made to be sold, they all found new homes pretty quickly. One was kept for me. They named him Chopin. Apparently, he and I got on quite well and the Household felt we should grow up together and so we did.
When Chopin and I were around 12, he came down with Feline Leukemia and was put to sleep. Well, not all in one day, but it did all happen in a short span of time.
I’d gone to school knowing my cat was sick and I came home to find no cat at all. That was a really hard day, probably the worst of my life up to that point. It still rates in the top 10.
I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so lonely. My bed companion, a constant for my entire life, was gone. There was an empty, cold space where he would have slept. It was horrible.
But then, in the wee, dark hours of the morning, I woke up for no reason. The moonlight was seeping in, I could hear my sisters breathing in their part of the room, and I felt Chopin jump onto my bed. I looked for him and he wasn’t there but all the same, he walked up my side, sat down and purred. I pet him, pet where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t feel him but I could feel him. There was no warmth, no fur, no softness but I could trace his outline all the same. He purred. I cried. And then he was gone. Forever.
He came to tell me goodbye.
Not all ghost stories are scary.
Tonight, I am going to start my cider. I will figure out how to put my Halloween costume together. I will revel in the beginning of my most-favorite season and I think I’m going to take a moment to thank Chopin, my cat, for taking such good care of me.
Welcome to October, my friends. The fun begins!
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.