#1: The Night Of Halloween
Most fairytales you have ever read begin with the famous line, “Once upon a time. . .” Its gives you the sense that the story you have begun to read is full of happy singing animals, beautiful sleeping princesses, and faraway castles. They allude to that wonderful Prince Charming; you know the one, with shining armor and a noble steed. The one who climbs to the highest room, of the tallest tower, to rescue his one true love. And of course, all it takes, is one simple kiss.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if all stories were written like that?
Well this one isn’t. Sorry to disappoint.
This story begins in a small, sleepy town in Massachusetts. . .
It was a cool Thursday afternoon in late October. The leaves were red, orange, and yellow. They crunched against the sidewalk as Will O’Riely walked down his street towards home. He passed by normal suburban homes and saw old family station wagons in driveways. He always enjoyed his walk home from school. It was his time to de-stress and relax before going home. He liked to stroll along and take all the time he wanted. He didn’t really have anything to do anyways. He had homework of course, but he always did it last minute. He had wrestling practice, but he was always late.
Will was a tall seventeen year old. His golden blond hair was longer than he liked and had started to curl slightly. The warm colored leaves brought out the green in his bright eyes, and what was left of his childhood freckles. He loved this time of year. He stayed up late watching all the scary movies on T.V. and he loved seeing people dress up. Personally, he didn’t understand why anyone would want to be anything other than what they were. But he enjoyed the holiday.
Later that night, he and Abigail Sheppard, or Abbie, were planning on attending the Fall Festival. They’d only been together for a few months and this was something they’d been looking forward too. He maneuvered from leaf to leaf, going out of his way to step on them. Each one crunched under his sneakers. It took him longer to get home than usual.
He moved idly though his house, not wanting to do his homework. It was a national holiday. Homework could wait until tomorrow. He still had a few hours until he was supposed to meet Abbie at her house, and he wandered around fidgeting with little things here and there. He passed some of the time going through old drawers, and checking his e-mails. He didn’t feel like watching T.V. and he would be eating dinner soon, so snacking wasn’t really a good idea.
Eventually it was time to go. He walked into his parent’s office and found his mother sitting at the desk doing some paperwork.
“Hey mom, can I borrow the car? I’m taking Abbie to the Festival.”
“Sure honey, but remember, curfew is at twelve.” He learned that lesson the hard way when his mom showed up at a party and dragged him out by the ear. Everyone at school talked about it for weeks.
“Thanks, and I will.” He grabbed the keys off the hook and headed for the car.
It only took a few minutes to get from his house to Abbie’s, living in a town this small. Will parked in the drive way and walked up to the large oak door. He rang the doorbell and was greeted by Abbie’s younger sister Danni.
“Hey Will, come on in,” she said. “Abbie will be right down.”
“Thanks,” He said with a warm smile. She ran up the stairs and he could hear her telling Abbie that he was here. A few minutes later, she came back down and stood next to him in the foyer.
He stood by the door with Danni, while he waited for Abbie. She came down a few minutes later. Abbie was tall with dark brown hair that passed her shoulders in length. Her crystal blue eyes were wide with excitement and she was dressed warmly and comfortably in a dark purple sweater and jeans.
“Hey Will. Sorry I’m late,” she apologized.
“No worries,” I said as I opened the front door.
“Mom! Mom Wills’ here and I’m leaving! I’ll be back later!” No one answered so they walked outside towards the car.
The pumpkin patch where the festival was being held was just down the road and they could see the tall orange lights from Abbie’s front porch. The drive was again short, but they passed children in costumes and parents walking close behind. They passed the store fronts where they read signs like “Closed for the holiday, be back tomorrow”. They soon arrived at the pumpkin patch and Will parked the car in the straw parking lot and he went around to open Abbie’s door.
“Ready?” he asked her. She nodded and they set off hand in hand.
They laughed at the decorations, and pointed out interesting costumes. They stopped and talked to people they knew, and they took pictures in the photo booth. They got their faces painted, and they bought silly hats at a stand. Will went bobbing for apples and won Abbie and stuffed jack-o-lantern. They went to the haunted house and when they came out at the end, Abbie said she was hungry.
They got pizza at the concession stand and went to find a picnic table to sit at.
“Hey, do you see that old man over there? The one in the black trench coat and hat? I feel like he’s been following us. Look he’s staring this way.” Abbie said.
“I hadn’t noticed but now that you say that, he does look a little sketchy. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He took her hand and they walked in the opposite direction.
For the next few hours they kept seeing the old man where ever they went. He was behind the cotton candy cart, and he was in the shadows at the costume contest. He was behind the stage at the cake walk, and he lurked near the prize tables.
Will didn’t know whether to confront the old man or to just keep trying to get Abbie away from him. Either way he needed to do something because she was starting to get freaked out.
“Hey Abbie, look over there! There’s a Haunted Hay ride. You want to go?”
“Ya! I’d love too!” she said.
Meanwhile, deep in the woods that lay just beyond the pumpkin patch, there was a small and forgotten cottage. The roof was built from thick layers of straw and the walls and doors were simple boards covered with moss. The glass in the windows was discolored and worn. There were weeds growing all around and from the outside it looked completely abandoned. There was a chimney made from only red bricks, and tall trees formed a dark circle around the perimeter. There were only stories about this cottage, for no one had ever returned who had set their heart on finding it.
An old Witch lived there alone, except for her crows and an old black cat. Her hair had long since grayed and was damaged with age. Her pointed nose was wide and covered with unattractive warts. Her eyes were dark and beady and encircled with sinister, purple shadows. Her teeth, what was left of them, were dark and rotting and her finger nails were long and yellowed. She wore a shredded robe of pitch black fabric.
On the inside, her cottage was covered with old, dusty books and melted candles. There was a small table in the center of the room, and a large black cauldron hanging from its mount in the fireplace. The floor was covered in the same simple brown boards and a thick layer of dust. There were stairs leading to the attic, and the basement. Jars lined one wall. They were filled with all sorts of creatures and herbs. Everything the old Witch needed to create her potions.
There were legends of the old Witch who lived deep within the woods. Of course people only thought that parents said those things to keep kids in line. But little did they know they were all true.
The old Witch laboriously walked over to the ancient book shelves where she kept all of her spell books.
“Now, let’s see here,” she said to herself. She pulled one book after the other off the shelves, fingering through them. “Where did I find that potion last time. . .” she said. “It worked wonders for my complexion.”
For you see, the old Witch had played this game before. Many years ago she got away with it and she planned to do it again.
“Well in the mean time,” she stopped and coughed. “Where’s my spell book?” She picked up a very large book bound in cracking brown leather. She opened it to the bookmarked page and set a large pumpkin in front of her. “I need a potion, to bewitch this pumpkin. Now how hard can that be? I need a way to bring two children to my lovely home the night of Halloween.” She flipped a few more pages, and then found what she needed. “Hmm, now here’s something I can use.”
She waved her hands and chanted the ancient words and smoke came out of the pumpkin. The once small pumpkin grew to the size of a carriage and the vines shaped themselves into spider’s legs protruding from underneath the bottom. A window with vines as bars cut itself into the wall.
“Now that I have created you, what have you to say?”
“Master,” the pumpkin greeted the old Witch.
“Wish to please me pumpkin?” she asked.
“What shall I do to please thee?” it hissed.
“Carry thyself to the pumpkin patch, thy home, and when two children come snatch them with your vines. Then put them in your seedy stomach and bring them back to me,” the Witch ordered.
“Yes Master,” It reassured.
“Now, go, we don’t have much time.”
“I shall do my best Master.”
The pumpkin set off down the old, weeded road. It nestled itself into the pumpkin patch and waited for two unsuspecting children to come along.
Back in the pumpkin patch, Will and Abbie waited in line for the Haunted Hay ride.
“Hey, look there’s that old man again,” Abbie said.
“Don’t worry, here comes our ride,” Will said, trying to calm her. He thought for sure after they left on the Hay ride, they’d lose him for good.
“Good, ‘cause he is really starting to creep me out . . .” she said as Will helped her up.
The hayride started to move. It was now dark, and the forest looked spooky. The ride was only supposed to be an hour or so long. When it was over, he and Abbie would have a little while before he had to return home.
They entered the forest and were instantly surrounded by tall black trees. There was a somewhat foggy look to the forest as they traveled. It was quiet, except for their breathing and the sounds of night creatures. Then, a boy dressed as a zombie jumped out from behind a tree, throwing gummy limbs. Abbie screamed in horror and begged the driver to go faster. Then they heard the wailing of a small child begging for help and the screams of women, which only frightened Abbie more.
The ride continued on and one person after another jumped out in attempt to scare them. Will was glad when Abbie reached for his hand, wanting to be comforted. At last, they saw the Exit sign that read, “We hope you enjoyed the ride, Happy Halloween!” It was dripping with fake blood. Will helped Abbie down and the hay ride drove back to the entrance for its next victims.
They looked around and saw that they were alone. Mist circled around the large orange pumpkins like a blanket on a cold winter’s night.
“Hey do you want to look around? There’s some really big ones over there,” Abbie suggested. Will figured that she just needed a few minutes to slow her heart before rejoining the crowd at the festival.
“Sure,” he said.
They walked up and down the rows of perfectly planted pumpkins. Each one was different and unique in its own way. That made Will think of people. Everyone has the same basic make up. Hair, skin, eyes, nose, mouth. But everyone is truly different. They are no different than the pumpkins. They all have the same orangey skin, and gooey intestines, but they were all different.
He was deep in thought when Abbie yelled out, “That’s the biggest pumpkin I have ever seen!” She raced over to it. “Take a picture of me sitting on top of it, will you?” She climbed up to the top and posed. Will took out his cell phone and got just close enough to get Abbie and the pumpkin into the picture. He was just about to press the picture button, when his feet got tangled up into the pumpkins long vines. He slipped and landed with a thud on the cold, wet earth.
“What the-” he started. The vines were wrapping themselves around his legs, like a snake encircles its prey.
“Will? Will what’s going on?” Abbie, still sitting on top on the pumpkin, asked.
“I-I don’t know. Something crazy!” he shouted, trying to pull the vines of him. Abbie slid down and tried to pull the vines away from Will’s knees. Then, what little moonlight they had to see was gone. Both Abbie and Will turned around and were shocked to find that the once immobile pumpkin had raised itself off the ground on spider-like legs made from vines.
Another set of vines shot out from behind the pumpkin and wrapped themselves around Abbie’s waist. The side of the pumpkin split and created a door. Abbie began to slide towards it and she reached out for Will’s hand.
“Will!” She screamed. “Will help me please!” She was crying now. Heavy tears ran down her face, soaking her cheeks.
Then, Will started to move towards the door too. Slowly, they were both being dragged towards the gaping mouth of the pumpkin. Will clawed at the soil and tried to find something to grasp onto. But nothing worked. Soon, they were both deep inside the pumpkin’s belly and they watched in horror as the wall closed itself up, leaving behind a small window with vines for bars.
The pumpkin started to move. It carried them deep into the forest, over logs and fallen trees. They passed a small brook and they hear an owl hoot. Will looked out the small window of their prison and saw that they were nearing a small cottage.
“Well done my precious!” the Witch exclaimed. “You have made me most happy.”
“Anything to please you, Master,” the pumpkin hissed.
“Let us out!” A boy’s voice yelled from inside.
“Please! We’ll give you anything! Just let us go!” shouted a girl.
“Oh, you’ll come out all right. But first, I need to finish my potion,” The Witch replied.
She moved over to her black cauldron and threw in a number of items from her shelves. She stirred the mixture and muttered a few words and the potion lit up with a bright light.
“There! At last it is complete!” the Witch exclaimed. “My dear, would you please bring out guests out here? I wish to meet them.”
The pumpkin allowed its side to open, revealing two teenage children wrapped in vines from the shoulders down. They squirmed and wiggled, trying to free themselves. The pumpkin lifted them out and stood them before the witch.
“Now, aren’t you two precious!” she purred. “You’re absolutely perfect!”
“What do you want with us?!” Will asked.
“Have you foolish children not heard the stories? About the old Witch who lives deep within the forest?” she giggled at them. “The stories are true, you know. Always listen to the stories,” she trailed off thoughtfully. “About, oh let’s see, how long ago was that? I think it was about one hundred and fifty years ago I was about this age. I looked the same, and I knew I didn’t have much longer to live. I wasn’t ready to die you see. Who ever is? Who is ever ready to close their eyes for the last time and see nothing but black? Never to think real thoughts or breath real air again. Who is ever ready to face what lies beyond this life? I wasn’t ready. I wanted more time. Don’t we all?” the Witch had taken on a dream like stance as she told her story.
“I realized one day, that it is possible to escape Death. I looked Death in the face and laughed. I laughed at Death and for that I was punished. Yes, my potion to restore my beauty would work, but not without a price. Death bound me in this cottage, never to leave. So in a way, my youth is my curse.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Abbie screamed. “What do you want with us?”
“Dear, you are my youth.” The Witch whispered.
In dawned on Abbie, in that moment, what was going to happen. She’d heard the stories since she was a child and now her childhood nightmares were playing out right before her eyes, like some sick Halloween special plastered on a giant screen.
The Witch continued. “Their names were Jack and Susan, if I’m not mistaken. They were about seven at the time. They were out playing in the forest one day, innocent as can be. They spotted my cottage and stopped by to say hello. Probably the biggest mistake they ever made in their short lives. Being a nice old lady, I invited them in for a freshly baked treat. Little did they know I was only days away from my grave.
I told them to sit in a chair, and I’d bring them their treat. I set the pie on the table and got them some of my potion to drink. They ate, and they loved every bite. Children can be easily deceived. They believe anything you tell them. They asked me, curious as they were, why their drink was green. I replied ‘because it came from a magical green cow’. And they believed me. Down to the very last drop.” She let a peal of laughter escape her lips. “And when they were finished, I was transformed back to my younger self. I felt so alive and then I realized I was a prisoner in my own home.” She sighed and stared off into space.
“Then why continue to be? Why punish yourself further? End this and you’ll truly be free!” Will said.
“You foolish boy! Do you really think that Death would gladly accept me after I cheated him so?! I’ve lived a hundred and fifty years past my turn! I should be long dust and bones! Resting peacefully in the afterlife. But no! I chose this for myself! I can’t stop it now! There’s nothing left for me but this house and my youth!” She moved over to the caldron and scooped a glass full of potion and walked over to Abbie and said, “You first, my dear.”
“No! Abbie no!” Will screamed and thrashed against the vines. Tears streaked his face as he screamed her name over and over. Abbie screamed and tried to kick the witch but it did no good. She was bound by the strong, thick vines and could do nothing but surrender.
“Are you ready for Death, my Sweet?” The Witch taunted.
She held the glass to Abbie’s lips and forced her to drink until the green liquid was completely drained. Abbie lay against the vines, lifeless and drained of all energy.
The Witch’s features transformed. Her skin tightened, and her hair grew into a shiny brown, just like Abbie’s once was. Her robes had refashioned themselves into an attractive black gown with long sleeves and a full skirt that gracefully moved with her body. Her eyes were filled with a beautiful blue, the color of Aquamarine and the deep purple shadows ceased to exist. Her once rotting teeth were changed into a gorgeous smile of white teeth. Her features were radiant and her complexion was blemish free. She was restored to her past beauty.
All it cost, was Abbie’s life.
“No Abbie no!” Will sobbed.
“Now, it’s your turn,” she hissed at Will. She again poured a glass of potion and walked to where Will was being held. Will shut his lips as tight as he could, trying to resist the Witch’s hand. There was a loud crash as the cottage’s door fell into the room. Dust was kicked up from the floor and filled the air, swirling in distinct patterns.
“That’s enough Witch! No one else is going to die for the sake of your immortality. This has gone too far!” Standing in the doorway was the old man in the black trench coat and hat. Will was momentarily shocked. Why was he here? He decided he didn’t care as long as he was here to help.
“Please, Sir! Please help me!” Will pleaded.
“I will Son. But let me take care of the Witch first,” the old man said.
Will wasn’t sure what happened next. One minute the Witch was there and then a bright flash of light exploded from within the Witch herself. Ash flew everywhere, adding another layer of filth to the old cottage. Will slipped into unconsciousness.
“Will? Will?” he heard Abbie’s voice. That was impossible, Abbie is dead. The Witch killed her.
“Will? Come on Will, please. Please wake up!” It was Abbie, but how?
“Abbie?” He croaked. He opened his eyes and saw her leaning over him. He looked around and saw that he was lying just outside the Witch’s cottage on the damp forest floor. It was still dark outside and the old man was standing just behind Abbie.
“Abbie? But. . .How? You were dead!” without waiting for her answer, Will reached up and hugged Abbie so tight he thought he might be hurting her.
He saw the old man and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. But how? How did you know . . . any of it? How did you know we would end up at the Witch’s house, or where that even was? How did you know what to do?”
“You can call me Joshua. I travel the earth looking of things like the Witch. I’ve been around for a long time. Longer than the Witch could have ever dreamed. I search for those who have been here longer than their turn. I search for those who think they have escaped me completely.”
“You mean you’re-” Will blinked and said, “Death?” but the old man, Joshua, was gone.
There are many in this world who think they can escape me, but they are the foolish ones. Like the Witch, they know deep within, that one day they would have to face me. They are the cowards. The Witch did not deserve the hundred and fifty years that were granted to her. She was greedy, and she wanted more and would stop at no cost to get it. How is one life greater than another?
No one is meant to live forever. If they were, wouldn’t you think that humans would already have that power? Immortality was never given to man, because of his selfish heart. No one can elude me forever.
Abigail Sheppard was not ready for Death. She was not ready to greet me. She had many years left ahead of her. The power to bring individuals back from the grave, is a power that lies in my hands. I used that power on Abigail Sheppard because she never should have died.
This is not your average fairy tale. There is not a fairy God-mother. There is me, Death. I waved my magic wand, so to speak, and created this happily ever after.
#Two: The Box Labeled C. J. W.
I make my way into his room, in the early hours of the morning. I walk over to the loose floorboard in the corner of that baby blue room. I feel for the hidden notch in the ancient wood floors. I find it and hook my finger into it, to lift the wood out of its designated place.
This was his hiding place. This is where he hid his most prized possessions. I wasn’t aware it was even there until after he was already gone. At his service, the little boy from down the street came to me and said how sorry he was for our loss. He’s the one who told me of my son’s special place.
Inside, I find the little oak box he made with his father the summer before it happened. On the lid were his carved initials: C. J. W.
The sight of this beautiful box instantly fills my mind with memories and my sad eyes with tears. I can still hear his laughter and see his smile. I can remember the pride that was so clearly painted across his small face as he showed me the finished product. “Look mom! Look what Dad helped me make!” he’d said. His words seemed to echo around me.
“It’s beautiful,” I’d said. Now, I wish I’d said more. Not just then, but during the entire six years I was blessed with his presence. There was so much more I had wanted to say but I thought I’d have more time.
It took what little strength I had left to lift the lid of that little oak box.
Inside, I found several things. All exactly as he left them. All exactly the same as the last time I looked inside.
There was the normal things boys had; marbles, baseball cards, my father’s pocket watch. Then, there were the three special things I remember most. Three things I was surprised to find. I hadn’t known he’s cared about them.
I pulled those items from the box and laid them on the icy morning floor beside me. A 49ers playing card, a dark feather, and a small gold dog tag.
To some, these items would seem random and unimportant. But to me, a grieving and heartbroken mother, they meant the world. They reminded me of the boy my son was, and the man I knew he’d become. Each item held a story and they all had one thing in common. Carson James Williams.
One summer, not to long before Carson died, my husband, David, took him to see the 49ers play. Although Carson was young then and didn’t understand the game he was so excited to see the team in action. He often watched games on the television with his father. It was something they did together on sleepy afternoons.
Before the game began, David told Carson that he could pick one item as a souvenir. Carson browsed the multiple carts and stands and finally picked up a single, square item. He showed it to his father and said, “This is it Dad. This is what I want.”
In his hand was a pack of 49ers playing cards. David purchased the deck and they returned to their seats.
Carson took that deck of playing cards everywhere he went. David showed him how to play Solitaire and Slap-Jack and I often found them on the back porch laughing and having a good time.
Eventually, Carson lost most of the deck and after a while, he was left with only one card as a memory of that day. That one card now lay in my hand. A single Ace 49ers playing card.
I can remember the day we arrived at the camp site. Carson was running in all directions. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied, “I’m exploring Mom. That’s what I’m going to do when I get older! I’ve decided.” He continued to run about the site looking under every rock and in every bush. He came back for lunch with scraped knees, dirt on his face and holes in his clothes. I can remember being upset, but laughing it off. I decided that those things didn’t matter. He was making memories and being a child. Who was I to take that from him?
After we finished eating, we all headed down to the water. Once there, Carson proceeded to look for adventure. He came running over to us with an incredibly small feather in his hand. “Look what I found! Isn’t it cool?”
He was so excited about his discovery, but I was worried about the diseases. It sounds silly now thinking about it. I never knew he had bothered to keep that feather. I had always assumed that he had left it behind when I didn’t see or hear about it again. Now I know that that small, dark feather really meant something to him. He thought it was necessary to keep it and now that fragile necessity was a part of him that I could hold onto.
When Carson was young, David and I bought a puppy. His name was Clover and he was a yellow Labrador retriever. Carson fell in love with him the minute we brought him home. They became instant best friends. He never went anywhere without Clover and Clover never went anywhere without him. Each night, when I went to tuck Carson in, Clover would lift his sleepy head as if to ask, “Whose there?” and each night he would be snuggled up against Carson in the bed.
We took them to the pet store and Carson picked out a bright red collar and we purchased a small gold dog tag that read, “Clover. Owner, Carson Williams.” Carson put the collar around Clover’s neck. We took a picture of the two of them; Carson kneeling on the floor and Clover licking his face.
Six months after we brought Clover home, he escaped from the backyard. That afternoon, David and I discovered that Clover had been hit by a car. We talked about replacing the dog before Carson noticed his absence, but soon realized he would be able to tell the difference. We came to the decision that this would be a valuable lesson for Carson to learn. Eventually, everyone’s time is up. Ironically enough, Carson’s time was running out.
He didn’t take the news too well. I wouldn’t let him watch as David dug the hole and lowered Clover’s body into it. Rather, I told him to draw Clover a picture and David set it inside the hole before covering it with dirt. When it was done, Carson covered the spot with stones and then said, “Clover, you were a good dog. I’ll love you forever.” Then he turned and went inside. I had never noticed the dog tag was missing. I had assumed that David had buried Clover with it. But somehow, Carson had found an opportunity to save it from the earthy grave. Now, it lay in the oak box next to that picture.
I make my way into his room, in the early hours of the morning. I walk over to the loose floorboard in the corner of that baby blue room. I feel for the hidden notch in the ancient wood floors. I find it and hook my finger into it, to lift the wood out of its designated place.
It’s been ten years since we lost Carson and every year on the anniversary of his death I come into this room and I pull out this precious box with my son’s keep sakes. Every year I relive the memories from those six wonderful years. I remember all the times my son laughed and all the times he cried. I remember all the things I said to him, and I think of all the things I’ll never say. I remember all his birthdays, and I mourn for all that are lost.
Every year I cry for my baby boy. He would be sixteen.
Every year I relive those last six months we had with Carson; the trips to the doctors, the medicines, the surgeries. His last few months were filled with pain, but they were also filled with love.
There will never be a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. Everything reminds me of that little boy I was blessed to call mine. I long for the day when we can be together again. But for now, the only thing that sooths my never mending heart, is this little oak box labeled C. W. J. that lies beneath the floorboards.