23 Oct The Town That Banned Halloween
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"The Town That Banned Halloween"Written by Malcolm MacDonald
Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
For seven consecutive years, no one has gone trick-or-treating in Bigelow County. In fact, no one in that rural, God-fearing little town celebrates Halloween. At all. Under pressure from concerned parents, elderly residents – who make up the majority of the electorate, and the four churches – all of some form of Protestantism, the October holiday is banned. Has been since 2012. No trick-or-treating. No costume parties. No jack-o-lanterns. Neither the K-Mart or Target sells costumes – at any time of the year or even the seasonal bundles of mini-chocolate bars. And you have to drive two and a half hours into Milton Valley if you want to see an R-rated film playing in theatres.
Despite the gripes of uninformed teenagers and former residents, the mayor had not made the decision nor wields any power to reverse it. The decision to bar Halloween was instead rendered by the five city council members: Missus Esther Calhoun, Missus Linda Batali, Mister Ian Finn, Mister Ronald Womack, and Mister Frank Albrecht. Albrecht, unlike the others, is not of Bigelow County. He was born in the city and had moved his family into the small town to set up his businesses – a towing company, a tire shop, and a home appliance outlet. He doesn’t feel the same religious fervor over the supposedly Satanic nature of Halloween, or care about its pagan roots. Truthfully, if he actually spent time to think on it, he would probably be an atheist. But, those reactionary bible-thumpers are not only his constituents but also his customers, so when it came time to vote on the matter, he didn’t have to think twice.
Naturally, October 31st of this year starts out as a non-event for Albrecht, the morning and afternoon passing him by without him ever remarking at the date. Just another Thursday. In the evening, about eight o’clock, he’s settled in his study, poring over sales reports on his desk with a mug of black coffee steaming by his elbow. He has tried reaching his son, Felix, who runs his truck stop in Coldwater, five times on his cell. Each time in vain. He is about to attempt a sixth call when he’s interrupted by the doorbell. It rings feverishly, a volley of six or seven rapid dings, as though being pressed by an impetuous child.
Placing the phone down beside his desktop monitor, Albrecht eases himself vertical and shuffles out of his study. Another rapid volley of eight hasty rings doesn’t hurry his pace but deepens the creases on his brow, puts his teeth on edge.
Through the peephole, he can see a small person. Not a toddler as such, but likely a pre-teen boy – maybe eleven or so – wearing a black polyester cape and cowl. Beneath the cowl, Albrecht can make out an orange, plastic mask. When he opens the door, he can see the mask is of a jack-o-lantern face – similar to the one his son had worn for Halloween decades ago, when they still lived in the city.
He studies the costumed figure on his front stoop for a beat before scanning the vast cul-de-sac behind him, looking for an adult. For a fleeting moment, it feels as though the two of them are the last living souls on earth.
“Hey there, kiddo,” he addresses the figure, a forced laugh in his voice. He is standing in the egress before this would-be trick-or-treater wearing a pair of khakis and a button-down, his reading glasses still perched on the bridge of his nose. No Halloween decorations of any kind anywhere near his impressive property. “Where’s your parent, little guy? You know, your guardian?”
The masked trick-or-treater says nothing. Instead, he just stares up at Albrecht, the eyeholes of his mask filled with shadow.
Annoyed, Albrecht sighs through his nose.
“Look, kid,” he says emphatically. “I don’t have any goodies for you, okay? I’m not doing Halloween. Nobody around here is. Okay? So when your mother or whoever comes by to get you, tell them to take it down the road.”
With that, he shuts the door on the masked trick-or-treater’s face.
Slightly befuddled, he makes his way back to his study, needing to get a hold of his son more than ever.
His shoulders hunched, Albrecht gives out a sibilant grunt before spinning on his heel and charging the door.
“Eh!” he shouts, finding the same masked trick-or-treater waiting on his stoop. “What’s your problem? Didn’t you hear me the first time? You speak English or what?”
Like before the masked trick-or-treater stares up darkly at Albrecht, a taciturn eeriness radiating from behind the plastic pumpkin face. That feeling of loneliness settles over Albrecht again, lingering this time, the two of them standing in an island of weak light.
Albrecht then wrinkles his nose, finding a fetid, metallic odor in the air. Perhaps this child is homeless, he thinks. He also realizes for the first time that the masked trick-or-treater is holding a pillowcase – presumably his sack of candy, which looks nearly full. Who would have given this kid candy? he asks himself. Though given the smell, it might not be anything sweet creating that round bulge at the bottom of the bag.
“Alright, listen to me, son,” says Albrecht, bending a knee, staring directly into the dark eyeholes in the orange mask. “This is private property, got it? And what you’re doing isn’t allowed in this county. Now, either go get your guardian or wander back where you came from. Otherwise, I’m calling the police.”
Again, he shuts the front door on the trick-or-treater, slamming it for emphasis.
His mood sufficiently soured, Albrecht marches back into his study, scooping up his cell phone and checking his messages. Still nothing. No texts or calls from Felix. More agitated than concerned, he hisses out a triplet of curses then begins chewing his bottom lip.
Albrecht can feel the back of his neck turn red at the sound.
He then looks down to his phone, his thumb searching the keypad. Cooling off a little, thinking himself a real goon for calling the cops on some kid in a Halloween getup, he opts instead to dial the number for Child Protective Services. Before completing the call, he sits down, takes a sip from his coffee, now cold, and decides to wait it out, hoping like hell someone shows up to claim the kid.
Sitting slumped in his office for minutes on end, the incessant doorbelling informs Albrecht the child has not disappeared. He knows it would be better to watch him through his den window but, now in the sanctuary of this study, he can’t bear face that masked trick-or-treater again, the thought of the unsettling chill in the kid’s stare spreading gooseflesh up his forearm.
Having waited the better part of an hour, the first tremors of a headache palpable in his temples, Albrecht unlocks his phone and sends the call through to CPS.
He sits there, listening to the phone ring in his hand, before bringing it to his ear, having heard a female voice chime through the speaker.
“Uh, hi there,” he intentionally stammers, “is this CPS?”
“Yes sir, may I ask where you’re calling from?”
Albrecht rises to his feet, making his glacial walk back to the front door.
“I’m at 5748 Chestnut Circle in Bigelow County. Look, there’s this kid on my stoop and he’s just been standing there for an hour it seems and I think he might be lost or homeless or something.”
“I see, sir, do you know the name and address of the child?”
“No, you see that’s the thing: he won’t talk to me.” Albrecht inches closer to the door. Reticently, he peers through the peephole, finding the masked trick-or-treater still standing there, reaching up to ring the doorbell for the thousandth time. “He’s just standing out in front of my door and ringing the bell. He’s dressed up for Halloween, but he won’t leave, even after I’d said I wasn’t giving out candy.”
Another agonizing stream of doorbell rings.
“Okay sir, perhaps you can try again and see if you can get the child’s name and address.”
Nodding his head, Albrecht begins reaching for the doorknob, but then, confused, bites into his bottom lip.
“You’ve got my address,” he then says, more as a question than a statement.
“Yes sir, but if there’s an issue we can send someone to check up on him tomorrow morning at his place of residence.”
“You’re not going to send someone to pick him up now?” He can hear his voice jumping an octave, feeling as though marooned on a desert island and watching a freighter pass by in the distance.
“I’m afraid, sir, our closest social worker lives about three hundred kilometers out of Bigelow County. Believe me, we will call this person tonight, so they know to leave the next morning. So if you’re concerned about this child for the night, I suggest either phoning your local police station or getting the number for his legal guardian.”
“Okay, got it,” mutters Albrecht, exhaling wetly through his nostrils. He hangs up then immediately dials the sheriff’s office.
“Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Buckley speaking.”
“Hi, Ted, it’s Frank Albrecht.”
“Hey, Councilman! How’s that new truck stop in Coldwater? Felix finding it okay?”
“Fine, yes. Look, Ted, I got this kid on my stoop, about age 10 or 11, I think. He’s been there about an hour and he won’t leave.”
“Do you recognize the kid there, Frank?”
“No, no, see, he’s wearing a mask.”
“Like a Halloween getup, there?”
“He causin’ mischief?”
“No, no not really. He just keeps ringing my doorbell and won’t leave. I’ve asked him several times.”
“Well, okay, Councilman, have you spoken to his adult? I mean they should know there’s no Halloweenin’ around these parts.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing – he seems to be unaccompanied. I’ve been looking around and waiting for an hour and there’s nobody here with him.”
“So, I was hoping that you or the sheriff could come by to pick him up.”
“I see, Councilman. Thing is, the sheriff and I are pretty busy,” hearing this Albrecht rolls his eyes; these cops have the cushiest job in one of the smallest safest towns in the country, but are always making excuses to sit on their lazy-asses, “could you possibly just try to speak with the young man again? Find out his name, his address? Perhaps get a number to call his folks?”
“I’ve already tried speaking with him, Ted. That’s why I’m calling you guys.”
“I understand Councillor, but it does seem a bit excessive to send a prowler over there for one lost kid in a costume, don’t it? I’ll stay on the line, but why don’t you try speaking to the kid again, see if he’s willing to talk with you now. I mean, you don’t feel that you’re in any kind of danger, do you?”
Despite the prickled hairs on his neck and the lump forming in his throat, Albrecht responds with a no – he doesn’t feel he’s in any kind of danger. At least, logically he doesn’t. Logically he isn’t.
He couldn’t be.
Exhaling deeply from his chest, Albrecht turns the brass knob.
“Son,” he addresses the masked trick-or-treater, who is staring back at Albrecht with his head tilted to the side, as though not recognizing Albrecht as human. “What’s your name?” he asks, holding his phone to his chest.
The dark tilted stare holds.
“Do you speak English?” Albrecht asks, sincere this time.
Silence. Utter quiet around them, save for the chirping crickets and rustle of the wind.
“Do you live around here?” he tries again, his inability to stir a response from the costumed figure reminiscent of a dream about quicksand. His heart has started firing hard in his chest.
“See, I told you he won’t talk to me,” Albrecht says into the phone.
“I understand that, Councillor,” the deputy replies. “Why don’t you hand him over the phone, let me speak to him.”
That sounds just right to Albrecht. Taking a knee, so to be eye-level with the visitor, Albrecht holds out the phone. The masked trick-or-treater doesn’t bite.
“The police are on the other end,” Albrecht says, brandishing the phone before the sunken eyes behind cheap orange synthetic. “Take it; they want to speak with you.”
Near his wit’s end, and on the verge of strangling the little twerp, Albrecht leans forward, extending his arm full length to hold the phone next to the visitor’s face. When he does, the visitor grasps his arm, catching hold at lightning speed. Squeezing hard. The phone clattering down the concrete steps.
Being a small boy, his fingers aren’t long enough to wrap around Albrecht’s wrist, but his grip stings like a cobra bite. Jarring on the spot, Albrecht feels his entire body tingle hotly, his ears ringing like he’s been kicked in the head. Feeling like he’s having a heart attack.
His eyes squelched closed, Albrecht feels a sudden rush of vertigo and a sensation of being hauled to his feet. When he opens his eyes, he blinks. And blinks again, hoping, praying, that he can will what’s before him from existence. The masked trick-or-treater has disappeared, replaced by a towering, seven-foot obscenity. The polyester cape and cowl have transformed into a black cloak of thick, heavy wool, the head under the sagging hood a carved pumpkin, its jagged outlines consumed by its roaring inner fire, the face morphing as the flames lick and blacken the vegetal meat.
Albrecht looks down at his arm, finding the obscenity’s cadaverous claw enveloping his wrist, audibly crushing the bones. The gooseflesh on his forearm is now overcome with boiling, spreading warts.
He pulls back hard, only for the creature to release him, sending him teetering backward before landing hard on his buttocks.
Inside his home, it is worse. So, so much worse.
The heat is unbearable. Humid and unbreathable like jungle mist. The walls move – slither, made up now of anaconda and python instead of plaster, wood, brick or stone. Their scales shine with menace, their slick corpulent bodies writhing, pulsating, forming a vertical barrier.
Around him, perched on the furniture, are huddled manifestations of the most unspeakable grotesquery. Horns, pincers, grey, puckered skin, dying eyes, vast yawning maws. Nightmares.
Albrecht can’t be sure if he’s in hell or lost his mind.
Nursing his obliterated wrist, Albrecht looks up and sees the seven-foot obscenity has advanced into what was once his home. The visitor has now made his – its final transformation. The pumpkin meat has receded into blackened ribs about the face, revealing a charred death mask with a skeletal smile, the teeth yellow and caked with shreds of cooked flesh. The only remnants of the fire now burn behind the visitor’s peeled, staring eyes.
Met by that odor from before, Albrecht heaves, feeling deathly ill. It has grown intolerably rancid, fecal and coppery. A swarm of insects, from out of nowhere, buzz maddeningly around the room, hovering tellingly close the sack held in the visitor’s grip. That round bulge is still there, though now the bag is soaked through with wet dripping crimson.
In excruciating torment, Albrecht plasters his one good hand to his left ear, burrowing the right side of his head into his shoulder, the doorbell echoing like an alarm in his skull. Then, like a song changing note, the sound morphs, splintering into syllables of a language Albrecht doesn’t recognize. A language more rasp than vowel, more growl than consonant.
Then, as though he has spoken it his whole life, the meaning of the guttural tongue comes clear to his mind:
You do not know – you do not understand the significance of this autumn night. In your ill hubris and folly, you believe you can embargo its cathartic rituals to serve your own sense of normalcy. That you can bar it from your community for the sanctity of your souls. You believe in utter ignorance that tonight is when you invite the fallen angel of your god Yahweh into your commune. No. Tonight, as it has been for thousands of years, is the night you mortals give sacrifice to the titans of your harvest. To the old ones who once roamed this planet with unchallenged authority. To sponsor our brief revival into the material world. To exercise our lingering minions, your most carnal and macabre desires, from your frail flesh.
But as you have broken this promise, here in this settlement, Bigelow County, we seek to take the sacrifice owed us. The same sacrifice as was taken by force before this annual treaty of Halloween was ever made. We take, what was once yours. What you most cherish.
Tears in his eyes, his boils bursting with pus, Albrecht witnesses the seven-foot visitor reaching into the blood-drenched sack. The smell of rot and blood embedding itself in his sinuses, he observes the visitor’s corpse-like arm pulling something out, the position of its wrist indicating a grasp on some kind of hook or handle. As if the visitor is unearthing a turnip by its stem. Or – or pulling something up – by its hair!
“No!” cries Albrecht, choked by the image of his worst possible fear. “No, no, no it can’t! It can’t be! It can’t! You – you couldn’t! It can’t be!”
Albrecht’s scream pierces the night air, rousing the entire cul-de-sac.
* * * * * *
At 9:24 PM, councilwoman and retired school principal, Esther Calhoun is getting ready for bed. In the bathroom, she pulls out her dentures, placing them into a glass of disinfectant on the countertop next to the sink. In the other room, her husband is snoring.
In her slippers and silk nightgown, she pads down the hall, about to turn off the last house light, when she’s startled by the doorbell, ringing incessantly.
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