Cold wind bristles the trees. Leaves scatter as the children move like sheep, walking from house to house. Collecting their treats.
Cute princesses and adorable pirates. Kids dressed as faux vampires, scruffy werewolves, and pop-star zombies. Silly costumes, trivial things.
Things that won’t trick.
Not in the slightest.
They’ve no idea why they’re dressing up. What the goal is.
But I do.
And I partake properly.
Not because I’m stingy. Or because I’m some crazy “purist”. But because I know.
Tonight—and tonight only—it’s happening. They’re here.
“Hey dude, nice mask!”
I nod to the kid. My horns dip, the headdresses’s weight shifting awkwardly on my head. But it doesn’t fall, and that’s what matters.
I walk on.
Because I’m not nodding at him.
I’m nodding at his friend.
Once a year, they come out of hiding. They rise from their slumber. Walk the earth with us. Can be seen, and can see.
And they can touch.
That’s the important thing about tonight.
Tonight, there is no veil. No breath of heaven to keep us separated from hell. Tonight, all bets are off, and all spirits can do as they please.
It’s All Hallow’s Eve.
And the spirits want to play.
What is life, after all, to the dead? It’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. Means nothing. That’s why we wear the masks. Why we hide from them, this one night a year.
A spirit’s tricks are far worse than its treats.
And they have no limits. No sense of when and where they should stop.
What’s funnier than pushing a kid off a cliff? Than forcing a man to step into traffic? Than taking them into the forest to see what color their innards are?
To a spirit?
Noting is funnier.
That’s why we hide.
Why we wear masks.
As I pass, the spirit does what it does. It spirits the child away. Convinces him to take a shortcut into the woods. Woods that appear to be fine. Appear to be normal.
I have no doubt that they’re not.
I can say nothing.
I can only walk on.
Because, I, too, can be a target.
I am no spirit.
And I’d like to keep it that way, too. Which is why I say nothing. Why I walk on. Why I made this gaudy, disgusting headdress. Why I’m wearing it. This cowl that stinks of musty animal fur. That’s been pieced together by me. That’s made of things I cleaned, dressed, preserved. Animal skins that I’ve found on roadsides and in ditches.
My mask is disgusting. Antlers and all.
But it does the trick.
No spirits look twice at me.
I walk on.
Hideous mask in place.
Horns protruding from my head.
I walk on, but I can feel them. The cold presence of death lingering in the air. Clotting my mind with its grip.
I hurry along, fear spurring me.
I have to get back.
My house is safe. The only haven on this night.
I have to get back—
I get knocked down.
I can see clearly the guy who knocked me down. A drunk dressed as… a hillbilly? His fake buck teeth begin popping out as he mutters a drunk apology before he stumbles away.
Led by a spirit.
A spirit that glares directly at me.
A spirit that sees me.
It fell off.
Now I’m alone.
For the spirits.
They see me. Ten or so twisting as soon as my facade fell. Eyes boring holes into me. Angry—furious—at having been tricked. At falling for the oldest number in the book.
The spirits gather closer. I can feel their death. Cold presses in, biting at my skin. Chilling my blood as it runs through my veins. Threatens me as the dead press in. As fate chases me with its slowing and steady pace.
There’s no escape.
“I don’t suppose I’m in for a treat then?” I ask.
The spirits say nothing. Make no reaction. They don’t have to.
I know who they are. I know what they’re about. They don’t have to pretend with me like they do the other humans they choose. Don’t have to pretend like they do with the other living souls they trick. Because I know.
And I knew, I knew how to stop this from happening. I tried so hard.
Happy Halloween to me.