Friday, 31 October 2014

A Halloween Carol - Fiction

Introduction: What is Halloween? Why do we celebrate it? I have no doubt there are many intellectual answers to these questions but this is my gentle reminder of the fun this festival brings. Believe it or not, a lot of the story came from a dream I had recently.

“You want me to be a statue. That’s all I mean to you.”

Ian began to protest but lost all power of articulation as he struggled to keep up. Her heels clacked feverishly on the grey pavement slabs as she rushed away, back turned, hair bobbing in the prickly breeze. How could Abby be a statue? It was a total overreaction, a miscommunication. Damn it, he loved her. The last thing he wanted was to somehow restrain her vitality, her passion. Of course, he had never actually said how he felt about her. Tonight was meant to be the right moment. But she had read it all wrong. If only he had planned it right, Ian thought, perhaps chosen another day instead of Halloween. Now he was losing her in the swelling crowd of costumed revellers.

“That’s not what I meant!” he called out. His feet shuffled to match her short, punchy strides. “I was trying to be romantic but, look, I’ve made a mess of it, ok? I’m sorry.”

“No”, came Abby’s weak response, “I won’t stand still for you. I...I...want more than that.”

“I don’t think that! Just let me explain.” He let his fingers trail across her arm. It tightened, moving away from his apologetic touch. It would be the last time he could reach out to her. In a matter of minutes she would be dead.

Abby cried, “I don’t want to see you again!”

And yet, she would. Ian’s crumpled face would be the last sight her eyes gazed on as every drop of life seeped out of the bloody tears in her black cocktail dress.

Abby had been his girlfriend for a month, sort of. Her fiery intelligence had attracted him from the start, teasing Ian towards a gradual adoration of her quirky humour and sincere kindness. As everyone thought but never seemed to appreciate, her beauty was practical, modest, but no less striking. Almost like a tragic heroine from a Steinbeck novel, as Ian dreamily imagined. She was the only one who seemed to mellow him. When they were together, all the petty worries that clotted the avenues of his existence were gone. She freed him.

And yet he was the only one to have spotted this grace, or humble elegance, from the quiet girl in seminars, the one who always had an opinion but never seemed to air it. When she finally said yes to that awkward question, after the bashful compliment and Ian’s fumbling small-talk, he felt like every episode of embarrassment in his long record of humiliations had been instantly erased. A date (although it wasn’t cool to admit it) had been arranged with the enigmatic and fascinating girl. More followed. With every new encounter, Ian’s bond grew stronger to the object of his desire. 
Nevertheless, Abby remained as mysterious as ever, her emotions unreadable and elusive.

But now every chance was gone. He had wasted his shot at a romance with the shy girl of his pastoral fantasies. On this night Abby looked more like Holly Golightly, her back wildly twisting against oncoming crowds. Even in her sadness, that unrefined beauty still bore a striking allure. He could no longer see her face, but Ian could picture her tears accentuating each dimple in those soft cheeks. How could she get upset over something so stupid? How could she abandon him?

The sad, misguided fool had resumed his natural state; standing lost in the midnight street with the stench of stagnant urine encroaching on his gloom. Clubbers queued in their inebriated droves for hollow evening attractions. Witches cackled as they swigged the last of their vodka potions, while others persisted in empty thrills under names of ‘sexy nurse’, ‘playmate bunny’ or whatever else was meant to justify their meaningless disguises. On the other side of the road a tribe of lads marched in formation towards their next lewd encounter. Each partygoer swayed to a tuneless beat hollering into the cold, autumnal air. Any other night might have embraced Ian into its rowdy, boisterous and unconsciously fun carnival, but on this late October twilight hour, he found himself stranded from his only care – marooned in a sea of unthinking, unsparing partiers as his love grew steadily more distant, slipping ever further out of sight.

Hallow’s End is no longer just the holiday of the spirits. Nor is it the occasion for childish merrymaking of yesteryear. As Ian could see for himself, a much older crowd was using the superstitious event as an excuse to indulge in raids on sweet treats. The hedonistic contentment of such travails is merely a distraction, a ruse, from the true horror of the pagan festival. As a great malignance stirs forth in its annual release, evil fails to respect the pageantry of the living.

Finally Ian realised, it was not too late to lose her; he could still make amends (for what? He had done nothing wrong). He began walking along his departed lover’s trail, remembering her route home, desperately hoping their paths might cross.

He would reach her; but only when it was too late.
After leaving the main strip, Ian found himself in a dormant residential street, the buzz of the clubs replaced by a blanket silence. It lay thinly over the high, tiled roofs, where the occasional television peeked through clumsily-drawn curtains, splaying thin light into the urban sprawl. Up ahead, a street lamp flickered. Suddenly the television glares crept back inside their apartment windows. Faint flickers spread along the whole row of amber bulbs, gradually slowing until they died altogether. Darkness consumed the path. Then Ian heard it scream.

No animal could make such a fraught, pitiless sound. Its high, leering pitch echoed a barbarous aggression, like a berserker’s frantic bark as it charged into battle. Despite a helpless shudder of fright, Ian could feel his legs pound, muscle by muscle, as he raced towards the source of the noise. He had to get there... Had to, no matter what. Spurred on by a feeling of impending doom, he continued running, round one corner, then the next. The road ahead was invisible, masked by impenetrable darkness, yet he ran headless into the shadow.

Another scream flew out of the opaque black. It was closer, maybe only a few yards away. But this time it was not from the same source. A girl...Alone... Abby! The latent doubt that had caused his sprint now transformed into outright dread. The last few leaps sent jolts down Ian’s skeleton as he desperately bounded across the uneven concrete slabs. Then, in front of his path, forming blank silhouettes in the dim street, lay Abby, with something hideous at her side. It crouched over her feeble, motionless body, head titled back, transfixed by the few visible stars. It’s eyes were the only source of light on the dreadful scene. They shone with a manic intensity, directed upwards, ignoring Ian’s gasping horror.

Abby was almost gone. Her blood ran across the ground in thick pools from each wound. She was covered in them, slices here, cuts there, and worst of all, chunks of skin torn away on her neck and shoulder. With one last swell of life, her eyes confronted Ian directly. Even in his panic, he could not refuse her attention. Still, Ian could not understand her expression – what was she saying? Anger? Regret? Comfort? Love? Frightened, for certain, but the rest passed too quickly to sense. Slowly, gently, her head dropped, eyes remaining still, as she fell into an unshakeable slumber. Dried spots of tears were still clear on her sunken chin.

Then the creature with shining eyes stood straight and stretched back, as if he were inhaling all of Ian’s fear and distress. It was shaped like a man but had the stance and poise of another species entirely. Much of its face remained hidden in the shroud of darkness. Only the eyes stood out, alongside silver chains that tightly encircled its torso and arms. Abby’s blood dripped from thin, ghoulishly pointed hands, specks of scarlet falling back towards her limp remnants.

How could this be happening? She must be fine... Abby? She had to be alright... She couldn’t leave him again. And this... this... monster! It was not possible.

Terror had sent Ian into a fixed state, every nerve in his body refusing to fight as he commanded. They would not yield. His jaw locked in an iron grip. He wanted to cry for help, or to attack this figure, or even to weep. But his body would not allow any of those reactions to happen. Involuntary stillness imprisoned him.

The human beast fixed its attention on its sole spectator. Once again, its head arched upwards to the sky.

“I’ve seen them all,” it said quietly, “...So pretty”. It pronounced the last word with relish. “But so few still clear.”

Stepping over Abby’s corpse, the chains rattling in long clasping rasps, it stood a metre from Ian. He stayed frozen. Blood did not just cover the creature’s hands but also its face and torso. What had it done to her? Ian’s only response was a tremor in his hands, still tightly knotted to his sides.

“Do you think she suffered?” it whined. “Do you even care? It is you who should be bound by these chains, not I. An eternity in irons... But tonight I have liberty.”

The beast was too close. Life had finally been returned to Ian’s limbs. Every nerve in his body screamed to run. Too late. It seized his throat and lifted him off the ground. His legs kicked into empty air. Both arms grasped the long claws, trying to twist the chains, but they could not be gripped, the metal fell through his fingers like smoke.

With fading breath Ian coughed out “A-A-Abby”.

Its laugh echoed across the dark lane. “Your dearest departed? Don’t be foolish. She was a slut. Everyone has had her, apart from you. I killed her out of pity… I’ll do the same to you.”

Those glowing eyes narrowed to fixate on Ian’s choking face. All he could do in return was force all his strength on removing the monster’s grip. It reeked of dust and age. He was beyond the point of questioning this nightmare, panic was the only concern now. Nothing could save him.

Teeth gleamed in the sparse light. Sharp jaws, cut like daggers, smirking in sadistic joy. They too had crimson speckles swirling down their points. It leaned closer, jaw widening, awaiting its pleasure.

The chains rattled once again. “Sweet dreams… Sweet dreams. Your Halloween is no more.”

ST - A big thanks to Alex Smith for helping to edit this piece as well as the advice of Oscar McArthur, from which I took this title.

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