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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I know they say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but for me it’s Halloween. I deck the hall with cobwebs and fake spiders. It’s just such a special time.
Autumn is here and the leaves are beginning to fall. It’s a time for dressing up and suspending reality. We sit in our cozy homes with our jack-o’lanterns and candy, scaring ourselves, and almost will ourselves to see something otherworldly.
My daughter has always loved scary Halloween stories, and last year was no different. We were at the kitchen table, hollowing out our pumpkins and drawing scary faces on them ready to carve. As we scooped the stringy seeds into a large bowl on the table she asked,
‘Is it time yet? Time for stories?’
‘Okay,’ I smiled at her. ‘Where should we start? How about the Monkey’s Paw?’
‘No no, that’s an old one,’ she grimaced. ‘Tell me something new.’
‘Okay, okay,’ and I glanced out of the window and saw the moon disappearing behind a cloud. ‘Right, I’ve got one for you.’ And as we scooped and carved this is the story I told her…
Once upon a time, long ago there was a boy named Jacob, and he lived with his father in a house on the outskirts of a forest. One night his father roused him from a deep sleep.
‘My son,’ he whispered. ‘I have to go out. One of the women in the village is about to give birth and I must be there.’ Jacob’s father was the village doctor and much respected.
‘But, father,’ Jacob mumbled sleepily. ‘What about the wolf?’ There had been sightings of a large wolf around the edges of the village and the forest and the villagers were living in fear.
‘Don’t be afraid, son,’ his father reassured him. ‘I’ll lock all the doors and windows, and you’ll be perfectly safe.’
The boy’s chin trembled, but he trusted his father and agreed to try and go back to sleep. Once his father had gone out Jacob couldn’t sleep. Every noise and creak in the house seemed amplified. He took his blankets from the bed and curled up in front of the window, waiting for his father to return. He saw the full moon through his window and was comforted by the light. Smells of the night forest wafted through his window and he dozed fitfully.
Eventually, he saw the lights from his father’s car coming back up to the house. He was so relieved he ran to meet him.
Jacob’s father saw a huge wolf bound out of the house towards his car, but before he could do anything he heard the sound of a shotgun, and the wolf fell to the ground. From the edge of the forest, a group of villagers appeared. They had formed a posse and been out hunting the wolf. At first, they didn’t understand the doctor’s anguished cry.
‘What have you done?’ he yelled, and he ran to the spot where the wolf had dropped, grabbing its body and cradling it in his arms. As it took its last breath the villagers were horrified to see the wolf’s massive furry body transform back into that of a child.
‘So the doctor’s son was the wolf?’ my daughter asked, her brown eyes wide. ‘That’s a sad story, mommy.’
‘I guess it is, sweetheart, but sometimes horror is sad as well as scary. Anyway, I think these are ready to be lit.’
Our pumpkins were finished and we carried them into the living room. We put them on the low table in front of the TV and lit candles in them. Tradition dictated now it was time for spooky cartoons.
She’d seen them many times before and quickly got bored. She picked up a dusty pack of tarot cards from the table.
‘Tell me my future, mommy.’
I sighed. ‘I don’t like to use those anymore, honey. How about I tell you another story?’
‘Is it about tarot cards?’ she asked.
‘No, although the magician in it did use cards to do some of his magic tricks. This story is called Smoke and Mirrors.’
She curled into me on the sofa and I began:
Once upon a time, there was a man and he made his living doing magic tricks. He did children’s parties and very small venues. He wasn’t very good and most of the time people could tell when he switched cards or pulled things from up his sleeves. Then one day he was browsing the local newspaper when he saw an advertisement:
FREE TO GOOD HOME. PAIR OF MAGIC CABINETS. AMAZE YOUR AUDIENCE!
Well, he was very keen. He didn’t earn much money and that was the kind of thing he would love to use in his act but could never afford. He quickly rang the number on the avert and arranged to go pick them up. When he saw them they were more than he could have ever hoped. They were roughly six feet tall and hexagonally shaped, each outside wall was covered in full-length mirrors. The doors on the front swung open noiselessly and the interior was lined in plush black velvet.
The magician couldn’t believe his luck, and asked why the man was just giving them away. The seller just replied that he had no use for them anymore.
‘So, how do they work?’ asked the magician.
The seller disappeared back into his house for a moment and came back carrying a large cage with a parrot in it.
‘I don’t know how this works’ he admitted ‘it just does’ and he put the parrot into one of the cabinets. He walked to the second cabinet and knocked on the door three times. ‘Welcome back’ he boomed in a very theatrical tone. A hissing sound came from the first cabinet and smoke could be seen coiling from the cracks around the door. He opened the door of the second cabinet, and there was his parrot in its cage.
‘Oh, these are marvelous!’ squealed the magician excitedly. He loaded them into his dilapidated old van.
‘Just one word of caution,’ said the seller. ‘When I procured them I was told under no circumstances to use a human being when doing this trick. I suggest you invest in a parrot yourself.’ The magician nodded his head eagerly and went on his way.
After this, things quickly picked up for the magician. While the rest of his act was still mediocre at best, people were very impressed with his magic cabinet act. He would leave the cabinets where people could examine them during his performance and do his ‘transportation trick’ last. For most of his act, the audience would be barely watching, poking and prodding at the cabinets and trying to work out their secret.
The magician was very proud of his new act, but something was bothering him. He currently used either a rabbit or a goldfish in a bowl for his cabinet trick, and he felt there was something a little dull about that. One day as he was reaching the finale of his show, he realized his rabbit had escaped. He tried to explain but the audience began to jeer him. Someone from the crowd shouted out that they would quite happily get into the cabinet. In desperation, he agreed.
A tall, muscular man made his way through the audience and got into the first cabinet. The magician was very nervous. He knocked on the door of the second cabinet and loudly announced ‘Welcome back’ Clouds of hissing smoke roiled from the first cabinet, and the door of the second cabinet swung open. The tall, muscular man stepped out. He looked a little dazed but none the worse for his experience. The audience clapped and that was the show over.
For the next few months the magician carried on with his show, sometimes two performances a day, only now he used audience members for the transportation trick. He thought it looked more impressive and the audience loved it.
One evening after a busy day he was sitting relaxing watching TV, when he saw something that made his blood run cold. There was a story on the news about a man who had gone crazy and killed his family with a kitchen knife. The magician recognized the man instantly, the tall muscular man who had been the first to go into his cabinet.
He couldn’t eat or sleep and nagging fears ran through his mind. In the end, he determined to go visit the killer in prison.
He faced the killer through a thick glass pane. He picked up the phone on the wall next to him and gestured for the prisoner to do the same.
‘You may not remember me,’ he began.
‘Oh, I know who you are, magic man,’ the killer interrupted. ‘and I’m glad you’ve come. I wanted to thank you.’
‘Thank me?’ stammered the magician. ‘For what?’
‘Why, for welcoming me back into the world,’ smiled the killer.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It’s so much cooler here,’ the killer smirked. ‘So much cooler and so many opportunities.’
‘I don’t understand,’ repeated the magician. ‘Why did you kill your family? What happened in the box?’
The killer began to laugh, it was a sound that chilled the magician to the bone.
‘So it was an accident?’ he laughed harder ‘You stupid little man, didn’t you know? Your cabinets are portals. We have been watching and waiting for so long. We can’t fit into parrots or fish or rabbits, but give us a human body. A demon can fit nicely into a human body. How many people have passed through your cabinets, magic man?’ and with that, he dropped the phone and got up and walked back into the prison.
The magician sat numbly. In his estimation, it was well over a hundred.
‘Ooooh,’ my daughter’s eyes were like saucers. ‘So, a hundred demons on the earth?’
‘Oh, at least,’ I chuckled. ‘I’m not sure the magician’s maths was very good. Anyway baby girl it’s getting very late now. It’s time we tucked you up in bed.’
We headed up the stairs and got her settled. She was very sleepy now. It had been a long night.
‘Tell me the Halloween story, mommy?’ she asked.
‘Now which story would that be?’ I teased. ‘How about the one about the hitchhiker? She shook her head.
‘The Halloween story, mommy,’ she giggled.
‘Okay, okay,’ I smiled ‘Now you’re sure you won’t have bad dreams?’ She shook her head more vehemently and grinned. I would never understand why my daughter loved this story so much but I began,
‘Once upon a time there was a kindly queen and she lived in a big castle in a kingdom far away from here. Her husband the king, however, was mean and cross almost all the time and one day he threw her down the castle stairs. The queen was badly hurt and after that, she couldn’t have any children. She had always loved children and every Halloween she would invite all the children from the surrounding village to the castle, which would be decorated with hundreds of carved pumpkins and thousands of candles. She’d give them the finest treats and the children always had a wonderful time.
‘Eventually, the king died, and the queen was left alone. Now, I know you probably think she’d be pleased that the evil king was dead, but all that happened was that she got more and more lonely. She realized what she had missed out on in her life and became sad and bitter. Her heart grew cold and black.
‘She would look from the castle tower and see the little children playing in the courtyard and it no longer gave her joy. Their laughter grated on her like nails on a chalkboard and an evil plot hatched in her mind.
‘The next Halloween she shooed the cooks and the maids from the kitchen and prepared all the Halloween treats herself. They were the most sumptuous candies and cookies, made with only the finest ingredients. There was one ingredient she used that had no place in her recipes. She liberally mixed rat poison in with the sugar, and there was sugar in everything she made.
‘Just like all the years before, the children came to her Halloween party, and like every other year, they stuffed themselves with all the goodies the queen had provided. As usual, they all had a wonderful time and at the end of the night their parents came and took them home.
That was a terrible night in the village. Some of the children were terribly sick, and a lot of them even died.’
I heard a tiny snuffle from my daughter and looked down to see her sleeping peacefully. I kissed her forehead and made my way quietly out of her room. If she made it to the end of the story she’d always say, ‘And that’s why I’m not allowed to go trick-or-treating, isn’t it, mommy?’
I thought back to the inspiration for my cautionary tale. That terrible Halloween night six years ago, when some crazy woman had poisoned the children’s candy. The sound of sirens filled the night air and there were parents panicking and crying in the street. My neighbor came rushing out of his house, holding his limp son in his arms. The jack-o’-lantern on the step tumbling down in front of him and splattering into mush on the sidewalk, while he made a noise of pain so terrible it barely sounded human. I stood on my porch and stared at it, unable to comprehend the horror unfolding in front of me. Some of the children were dead before an ambulance even arrived.
The clock on the mantlepiece downstairs struck twelve pulling me back to reality, and I turned and looked back into my daughter’s room. The witching hour had come and gone and our special day was over. Her bed was empty.