banner art above by Charles Carter

Thursday, October 30, 2014


by Vincent Daemon

             Halloween had always been a sacred, splendid time for Old Man Richter, especially before his beloved wife Arazella had passed away. Instead, now, the autumnal season clung to him like cold and wet late November leaves. The memories often clogged his throat with a stifled and suffocating agony, filling his limbs with a series of painful skin-tug anxiety flare-ups that made every day from the onset of the season to just after the New Year not just emotionally or spiritually grueling, but physically as well. This was hell.
This time of year had always been special for the both of them. Together they shared and understood the deep romance within the alternating scents of fresh fallen and burning leaves. Together they reveled in the cool and gray cloudy days that seemed to loom ominously from mid-October on. And together they ran Richter’s Orchard, essentially a three acre lot filled with apple trees and pumpkin patches. Located just behind their house, the establishment did incredibly well, their name becoming fairly known in the Dolton area for their fresh baked apple and pumpkin pies, their kindness, and most notably for their lavish and fun Halloween displays. 
Every year they carved whatever pumpkins they didn’t sell into fun and creepy faces, lit them, and placed them in large and well organized mounds on either side of their front porch. Their large round faces burned bright with the love and peaceful tenderness the Richter’s shared for each other, and the season, drawing people from miles around. The soft orange flickering light would reflect iridescently off the smiling faces of trick-or-treaters and their chaperones. Hanging (on unseen pulleys) just on the inside of the jack-o’-mounds were silly sheet ghosts, cast in both the lights of the jack-o’-mounds and the eerie blue and red lights that illuminated the inside front porch. Old Man Richter would hide up there in the shadows, pulling on the strings so the ghosts would seem to float down at the trick-or-treaters, sending them into gales of uproarious sugar-rush laughter. Arazella would slither out from the eerie lights, dressed as a creepy witch, her lips covered in black glitter lipstick. She would disperse fresh cakes of apple and pumpkin, homemade candy corn, caramel apples, marshmallow treats, and small cups of fresh hot cider from the boiling cauldron kettle that toiled and troubled beside her. Everything smelled of cinnamon and brown sugar, of apple and pumpkin and maple and molasses. Funny thing about Arazella’s Halloween witch shtick was that she was, in fact, a witch . . . a healer and lover of all things nature and beauty. A nurturer and, when need be, a punisher. She was Richter’s Goddess and soul mate and reason for living. 
Old man Richter felt truly lost without Arazella by his side. After the cancer had taken her he sunk into a deep, horrid depression from which he never fully recovered. It had worn on him hard to watch her body wither away, to be consumed from the inside out by this tumorous monstrosity. Every part of her seemed to just fade away a bit more every day . . . every part of her, that is, but her shining spirit.
He spent those long and cold winter months after her passing, that brutal holiday season, consuming whiskey and Arazella’s left over pain medications. He did anything he could to not have to face head-on the unbearable heartache and quaking loneliness that raged so deep within him. He would spend long nights in the bitter cold, not even feeling it due to the narco-numb, with his arms wrapped around her memorial stone, his face pressed against the cold and smooth polished marble surface, crying deep and heavy sobs into the early daylight hours and longing merely for a kiss on his cheek. He even contemplated suicide, but had thought better of it, feeling Arazella’s preternatural disapproval of the idea in every molecule of the air he breathed in. 

            Come spring he snapped out of it a bit, fighting through the bitterness to keep the intense misery at bay. He scattered her ashes on the ground of the pumpkin patch, as she had requested, just before he had tilled it over and planted. It was incredibly difficult to do alone, as he was in his mid-sixties. But he was bound and determined to put up some form of pumpkin mounds outside his house, to appease both Arazella’s spirit and the children, which they could never have. Arazella had been barren in life, a large part of the reason why that holiday in particular had meant so much to them (beyond their spiritual leanings of course). It was the eternal essence of releasing the inner child. A night you could be yourself with absolutely no judgments from the world around you.
Arazella wanted her ashes in the pumpkin patch in order to fertilize the ground, to create little lives that would bring nothing but happiness and joy to others, which it pained her so not to be able to achieve on this plane. It was a beautiful sentiment of positive energy in the face of truly, deeply mixed emotions. That was why Old Man Richter had loved her so.
Into the hot summer months, Richter had hired James, a slovenly and alcoholic wretch of a spoiled seventeen year old snot. There was no way the Old Man could do all that labor by himself, and this kid worked cheap. He was a necessity. Things started off sketchy immediately, the boy always intoxicated on cheap pilfered liquor or huffed gasoline and paint fumes, being lazy and lethargic and argumentative and, worst of all, clumsy, all over Richter’s growing grounds. There was backtalk, smart assing and sass. The Old Man didn’t have the patience of his wife (who would have merely just turned his own words against him) and was quick to temper at the boy, albeit justifiably so. 
But Richter needed the help, with the harvest just around the corner. So he tolerated James the best he could. Until one late August day he caught the boy in the house, with his girlfriend Janice. They were in Richter’s bedroom, pocketing money and coin, Arazella’s jewelry, and even the Old Man’s stash of cannabis he kept around for sleep and relaxation. “Quick, hide the stash, it’s Old Man Richter!” James yelped as Richter caught them. 
Worst of all in this utmost betrayal of an already loose and necessitated trust, the bed, which stilled smelled of Arazella, had obviously been used for their own lusts. A conspicuous slimy wetness was soaking into the mattress, on Arazella’s side of the bed . . . the spot where she died. He lashed out at the boy, James emptying everything from his pockets except the stash, which he threatened to tell people that Richter had sold him. Richter came at the boy and his skuzzy girlfriend, chasing them out of his house. Richter ran out to the porch with his fist raised, bellowing “Get offa my lawn!” at the top of his lungs, straining his throat. James threatened to come back and trash everything, and the two ran off down the driveway parking lot. Richter merely went back in the house, began to clean up the wet spot, and wept.

By October 30th, Richter had managed to do almost everything himself. He harvested and sold his pumpkins and apples, and even carved what was left. The faces no longer had the same chipper creepiness but wore long, saddened expressions, resembling forsaken ghouls lost forever in the lonely cold of an eternal midnight. Their inner glow no longer seemed as bright, and the ghosts that hung on either side looked merely like hung sheets with black-marker eyes. They would not be flying this year, merely swaying in the cool breeze. He did manage to build the mounds. Standing back to check his work, he noticed it all seemed so very lifeless, so empty. Arazella had said, before she passed, that her spirit would always be there, in their “pumpkin children”, in the love of this season and all others, but he had yet to feel it. So he went into the house and watched classic scary movies until he fell asleep.
At roughly 3 a.m., Richter was awoken by several loud thudding sounds. He sat up on the couch, remaining silent and listened closely, acutely. At the loud shatter of breaking glass he jumped up and ran outside, throwing the porch lights on. There were James and Janice, smashing jack o’lanterns and beer bottles all over Arazella’s memorial stone. In fact, it even looked like the boy was zipping up his jeans, having urinated on the now filth encrusted memoriam. With the bright of the porch lights turning on, the two began to skitter away into the darkness. In a fit of sheer rage Richter grabbed a small and uncarved decorative pumpkin and tossed it full force at the little destructive bastard as he fled. 
The pumpkin nailed James square in the back of the head, exploding it’s guts all over the kid and sending him into a full on face plant. Janice stopped running and began laughing and pointing at her fallen comrade, proving there is no honor among thieves. James stood up and gave the Old Man a burning stare down, his nose bleeding, pumpkin gore drizzling down his salty face. He pointed, growling out “Tonight, Old Man Richter, just you wait. You’re done.” The two then sauntered off into the night.
Richter went and surveyed the damage to the memorial stone. It was covered in smashed jack- o’-lantern and broken glass, urine and dirt. The feeling within him was no longer one of depression or anxiety or sadness, but one of violation, intrusion, and rage. He spent hours cleaning the stone back to shining perfection, cleaning out every groove of every engraved letter. He went back into the house and laid back down on the couch, his mind performing a slow burn and his muscles tense with the need for retribution. But he knew better, this kid was true trouble. He swallowed it all the best he could, and tried to get lost in some long stashed pain pills, a few shots of whiskey, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon on the t.v. The old man was just tired, had no more tears to shed.
Halloween night finally came around. Richter was exhausted, his mind a buzzing hive of simmering anger and too many thoughts. He played nice for the families, lighting his depressive jack-o’-mounds and leaving out baskets of prepackaged candies for the children to have at. There were no cakes or marshmallow treats, donuts or candy apples or hot cauldron cider. There was no longer a sweetly sinister witch with black glitter lips to feed the little ghosties and devils and ghouls and princesses that wandered the long and beautiful full moon night. There were no dancing ghosts. There were only still sheets and piles of sad glowing faces and fun size Snickers. 
By 9 p.m. it seemed that the trick or treating festivities had come to an end. Richter was inside the house, drinking a bit, smoking up, and doing what he could to cope with his first holiday alone since the late 1960’s. He was watching John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness, the only light coming from his flickering television . . . and waiting. 
It wasn’t long before he could hear footsteps outside in the gravel of his driveway, rustling through the leaves. Footsteps creeping up slowly, slyly onto his porch. He could hear the whispering voices of two teenagers fucking with the wrong Old Man.
THUD! Something large and wet had slammed his outside screen door. He got up and silently marched over to the door and opened it. He could see and smell the shit sliming its way down the glass. He could also see the burning bag of doodie right there on the porch. With a quick panic reaction he threw the door open and began to stomp on the flaming bag of stinking human waste. He was stomping with such fury that he threw out his back, and with a bellow slipped and fell, smacking his head on the floorboards. He couldn’t move, felt paralyzed with pain all through his body. “MY BACK!” he managed to bark out involuntarily.
“Ha! Old fool. We’re gonna fuck this shit shack up, you old prick!” James bellowed. He and his girl began to whack Arazella’s memorial stone with twenty pound sledgehammers, large chunks of the fine marble exploding every which way with each loud ping of a contact point. 
Richter could only lay there, incapacitated, watching and too immobile to make it stop. His head was beginning to feel woozy, and he wasn’t quite sure what it was that was happening right before he completely lost consciousness. It was, however, one of the most odd things his eyes had ever bore witness too. 
James and Janice were completely involved in the total destruction of the stone, when Janice noticed a bright orange glow, increasing in intensity, reflecting off the chipped rock. 
“The jack-o’-lanterns are all facing us. They weren’t doing that before.” James noticed she was no longer beating on the memorial stone. 
“C’mon, hurry up! The old man’s out cold and we ain’t got all night!”
He finally turned and saw that the jack-o’-mounds were indeed facing them. “So what, probably one his stupid infantile Halloween gimmicks.”
“I think we should stop . . .” Her voice wavered like the terrified little girl she really was.
James dropped his sledge with annoyance. “Will you stop? They’re just pumpkins!” He walked over and grabbed the nearest one, thrusting his hand into its carved sad mouth. He picked it up and said “Look!” as he obnoxiously waved it in Janice’s face. As he reeled his arm back to hurl it, he noticed the expression on the face of the jack-o’-lantern twist into a horrific grimace, a kind of mean he had never seen before. Its mouth snarled up like that of an enraged wolf, and it bit down on the son of a bitch’s right hand. He shrieked a wordless sound and ran in a circle, trying in vain to get the clamped gourd off.  
The jack-o’-lantern only came off when James’ hand did. 
Janice looked to the mounds and they were all rolling off of each other, rolling toward them. Their faces were grimaced and mocking, just as the first biter’s had been. She was frozen in place with stark and paramount terror as they approached her. 
James merely fell to his knees, clutching his bloody stump. 
The jack-o’-lanterns surrounded them, creating a small circular wall around the two as they froze, both in different states of shock but shock nonetheless. Jack did not see the two sheet-ghosts slowly dislodge themselves from the front porch, but Janice did. As they started to float over, their faces also became something more than two marker eyes on white sheet. These sheets were now alive and their visages had become that of tortured souls looking to share the wealth, part hateful smile and part vengeful snarl. Janice’s flight response finally kicked in and she tried to run and jump over the rolling, ever so closely encircling wall of carved demon pumpkins. 
With a sudden and unexpected rapid-fire machine gun burst, the pumpkins all began to spit flaming hot seeds into the eyes of Janice and James. Janice brought her hands to her face with a howl and also now fell to her knees. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she whimpered from behind her hands.
As for James, the extreme trauma of losing his hand (and his loss of blood from the dismemberment) seemed to cancel out all other stimuli in his new little world of agony. 
Neither one of them noticed the sheets drop slightly over the jack-o’-lanterns glowing mouths, and neither one noticed that the floating ghost sheets had caught fire until each sheet draped over the two of them. James merely curled into a silent shivering ball, while Janice began to do a dance of seared suffering beneath the flaming sheet. The jack-o’-lantern wall edged even closer, the angry gourds rolling on top of one another like some kind of strange orange vegetable igloo. Then darkness . . . silence.
When Old Man Richter had finally awoken, the first rays of light were beginning to show in the sky. He sat up, almost no pain present in his back. Still a little woozy, he shook his head out, trying to recall what the hell had happened. The boy, he remembered, and that awful girl. Arazella’s stone.
He walked over to the stone and saw on the ground two sledgehammers right next to his two ghost sheets that for some inexplicable reason (to his mind) were no longer on the porch. They appeared to be a little singed on the edges, and they were covered in a strange black glitter. He then noticed the pumpkin mounds, and they seemed to have been moved. Also, their faces were different. They no longer wore the moribund frowns of lonely soullessness, but instead seemed to be filled with life. They were now smiling. And they each also had a light coating of black glitter around the tops.
Dick Richter went over to his wife’s stone, amazed and even elated to see not a single scratch in it. The smooth marble was so polished in fact that he could clearly see his reflection in the light of the early morning. He looked into his perfect reflection closely, and noticed on his right cheek a large black glitter lipstick kiss. Tears began to stream from his eyes, and he watched the jack-o’-lantern children roll up around his legs, smiling their silly cheerful grins at him. Tears of seeds and pulp sluiced from their joyous, shining eyes. 
The pain was leaving, that constant tug of loneliness and misery was lifting like a wedding veil between two worlds. His body was not aching, his mind not racing. Arazella had always been with him. He looked back to the stone and noticed, written in the same black glitter that kissy-smudged his cheek, Arazella’s words of sweetness and truth and eternity: SEE YOU NEXT YEAR, MY LOVE XOXOXO. 

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