The funeral was over

The funeral was over. She was gone. Col stood apart.

We are here for you, the strangers said, taking his hands. He blinked away more tears. Everyone was saying the same. We mourn for you. We feel for you. We are here for you.

The bright Halloween sun gave no warmth. The graveyard was shades of green, each darker than the other. Nearby, mourners. In the distance, crows.

Thank you, he said, and tried subtly to let go of their hands.

No Col, one said, their firm cool grip gently tightening. We are here for you.

His heart slowed. Together they walked away.

At Halloween we did not dare

We climbed Arthur’s Seat on Midsummer’s Day, to wash our faces in the dew as the sun rose. The path was slippery and the fog was down, dulling any sound there might have been. Birdsong was distant then silent.

We were near the top, on the steepest slope, when out of the mist the sound of a muffled drum rolled towards us. We stopped. Looked around. Looked at one another. Then out of the mist strode a shadow, taller than any of us and wide as a castle door. Black and silver streaked hair to his shoulders, cape and cassock flying. ‘Pagans’ he shouted, eyes black fire, ‘leave this place.’ He pushed past us and was gone. The drum was still.

Our looks said it was true and we did not speak again until we fell into the palace grounds again.

At Halloween we did not dare.

He read the paragraph again

He read the paragraph again. And again, this time mouthing the words as he read. No, it could not be. But it is, said the voice. A cold dread touched his neck like the fingers of a dead man. He could not look round. He heard the shuffling sliding dusty sound move closer. His eyes rolled white and his teeth clamped tight on his tongue. The sound was near enough to touch and the voice…

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow

Joel was parked illegally, running to the bank and back. He needed cash to buy Halloween treats and souvenirs at the market before it closed at midday. The kids would never forgive him if he forgot.

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

A truck from out of town missed his car by a finger, throwing up a cloud of dust. Sweat washed into his eyes. He blinked and wiped his face with his forearm. Wearing a waistcoat had been a mistake. The scar between his shoulderblades itched.

‘Hey! Hey, young man!’ As the dust settled he saw her, tall as his ribs, old as his grandmother would have been.

‘Hey! Young man!’ She was pointing at him, her dark eyes bright.
‘Yes auntie, what can I do for you?’
‘The cemetery. When are you going to the cemetery?’

Joel looked around. The sweat on his back trickled cold.

‘I can go to the cemetery now auntie.’ The market would still be open later. She got into the back of the car.

He looked in the mirror but could not see her. ‘It’s hot, isn’t it auntie? Too hot for the season.’ There was no reply but Joel could hear her voice. Perhaps she was praying.

More trucks passed, spitting up gravel. Joel paused, engine running. The sun was hot and damp through the dusty windscreen.

Joel’s phone chirruped. His wife. Don’t forget.

The voice behind him stopped. The silence was louder than the voice had been.

The cemetery was not far if you ignored the No Entry sign and cut through the parking lot. Joel usually went that way when he was heading out of town on the cemetery road, when he was on his own. But today it could have seemed disrespectful.

Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

He drove slowly through the dust, all windows tightly closed. A cloud in the shape of a fist or a stone covered the sun. There was no air. Joel sweated.

‘I have to say hello to my children.’ Joel started. He had almost forgotten she was there, almost forgotten he was going to the cemetery on the day of the ghosts. He pulled up next to the fountain outside the cemetery gate. Its water was still and green.

‘Your children, auntie?’ They must be as old as his father would have been.

‘I go to see them every day since they left. Every day I say hello.’

‘Hello, auntie? Or goodbye?’ He did not know where the question came from.

‘I shall never say goodbye to them. They are still here. They walk in my heart. Today and tomorrow they are with the saints. And soon I will be with them too.’

Chirrup. Daddy….

He turned the phone over on the seat next to him.

‘Every day since they went away. Every day.’

Joel gripped the steering wheel and more clouds rolled across the sun, heavy, electric. He breathed in. ‘What happened, auntie?’

And she told him. And when she had slowly, unsteadily, got out of the car, he gripped the wheel still tighter and cried. Ghosts today, saints tomorrow, and then the dead.

When he arrived at the market, all the stalls were closed.

Jogging on Halloween

It hit him on the shoulder like a hammer hurled from hell. His legs were still running as fast as they could so the blow knocked him off balance and he stumbled down the grassy slope and into the icy water of the lake. The mud grasped his ankles like bony hands and pulled. He struggled briefly and tried to scream but the mud and the water were in his mouth. A few frantic bubbles then nothing. Minutes later the nightbirds were gliding gracefully across the lapping water.

He had often joked about being the only jogger not being chased around the park. He went at his own speed but everyone else, the serious ones, the ones who sped past him up the hill, they were being chased by something large and terrifying and invisible. That was why they went so fast, they did not dare slow down. Then, as he ran and the nights grew longer, grew towards his running time, he thought more about the story and as people passed he squinted after them, trying to make out their demons.

Then one evening, just for a flash, he saw one. As the path came out from the trees, the man in shorts ran past him, face contorted, and John caught a glimpse of the animal chasing him. Wolf-like, foam dripping from its jaws, eyes coal red in the dark, it ran snapping at his heels, never quite touching but close enough that he could feel its cold breath on his legs.

And then it was gone. John shook his head. He was sure he had seen it but it was gone. He walked the rest of the way home.

The next few times he went for a run he looked carefully as people passed him. Nothing was chasing them that he could see but still they ran faster. He felt odd, uneasy, when he ran now.

He thought twice about running on Halloween but then put on his kit. It was only just dark and there would be people about, trick or treating. His front door creaked as he closed it and his footsteps seemed to echo on the stairs. As he had imagined, clouds scudded across a deep black sky.

He jogged slowly down the road. There was nobody about. Strange. The castle on the hill hung in its own red light. He crossed the road and squeezed through the gap in the hedge into the park. The trees whispered.

He turned down the hill under the trees. It was darker today and the knobbly roots were hidden. He tried to slow down, tripped and fell. As he pushed himself up onto his knees something touched his hair. Heart pounding he jumped to his feet and looked around and there it was. He had never seen it before but he knew what it was, his blood felt what it was and froze. Down the hill again he half staggered half ran then at the bottom, lungs bursting, he ran and ran and ran until he could not run any more but run he did. He looked around. It hit him on the shoulder like a hammer hurled from hell.

The day after Hallowe’en

The real terror only began the day after Hallowe’en, when the graves did not close again, and their occupants did not return. Tio thought the zombie lurching up the alley towards him was someone still in a Halloween costume. Until it tore his head off. Then the real terror began. Terror you can try to imagine. 

It’s quiet, isn’t it?