Halloween is Samhain.
|My American friends do not understand Halloween. In the States it is a fun celebration, with as many, or more, decorations as Christmas. Kids dress up and go from door to door, begging for 'candies', en mass. Here, the Old Ways are remembered. Halloween was Samhain, a Pagan celebration, marking the start of winter, a time when the worlds of the gods were made visible to humans. A time when the gods played tricks on mere motals. A few of us may put out a jack-o-lantern, a few children may drag out their parents to go trick or treating and get a miserable haul of sweets. But for most of us, Halloween is a night when ghouls and ghosts roam the night. A night to stay in, safe and warm. This is the real Halloween.
'Give us a treat or we'll play a trick!' The boy rattled the door, yelling his demand through Robin's letterbox. The old man sighed and heaved himself out of his armchair.
'There ain't no pumpkin here, sonny.' He growled. 'Don't you know that you only knock where there's a lit Jack-o-lantern out?' The boy stared back with an entitled grin on his face. Then whipped out a water pistol and squirted dark liquid that dribbled down his old tweed waistcoat. Robin dabbled at it, his hand came away, stained blue. The little wretch had loaded his toy with ink.
'Shove off, you little wotsit!' He shook his fist, bellowing.
'Come on Rhys!' The mother's voice was a nasal whine. 'Leave the nasty man alone.' Rhys smirked, turned on his heel and sauntered down the garden path. 'Your dad will take care of him later.' Robin closed the door on her.
The Morgan family were not ones whom he would have chosen for neighbours. They hovered on the borders of having the police called on them. Not quite noisy enough, not quite enough old cars, old furniture or old appliances dumped in their garden for not quite long enough. Not that it stopped them complaining to the Environment Department of the local council. And Digger Morgan was not above a bit of personal 'sorting out'. Things happened. Phone lines mysteriously cut. Water turned off at the street stopcock. Fences knocked down. Graffiti. Eggs thrown at walls and windows. Wheelie bins overturned spilling their household waste. So, when Digger came to thump on Robin's door, the old man opened it politely and hung a placatory smile on his face.
'You scared my son.' It was a low growl.
'It's Halloween.' Robin held out a brown paper bag with a couple of wrapped bars in it. 'It's meant to be frightening.' He shook the bag temptingly. 'A few sweeties.' His smile showed a row of perfectly white, slightly pointed, teeth. 'Trick or treat.'
'Right!' Digger snatched the bag. 'Make sure it don't happen again. See?
'Oh. It won't.' Robin's tongue flickered around his lips. 'I can assure you of that.' With the golden light spilling out of the doorway all around him, he had the illusion of being bigger, stronger, imposing. Digger backed away a step, turned on his heel and sauntered down the path. 'Enjoy the tricks' Robin's whisper was a sly smile.
Once Digger was back on the road, he braced his shoulders and stuck out his chest. A sense of curiosity sent two chubby fingers into the paper bag to draw out a slab of loosely wrapped something. It smelled delicious. It made his mouth water. Unwrapping it, he saw that it was, probably, fudge, it was difficult to tell under the harsh glare of a streetlamp. Better taste it, just to be sure. Just a nibble. After all, Rhys might not like it. He blinked. The bar was gone. All that was left was a perfume in his mouth and an empty wrapper on the ground. There was another in the bag and, before he knew it, the wrapper was empty and he was swallowing the last lump. Oh well. Rhys was too fat anyway. He screwed up the rubbish and chucked it over the hedge into Fishface Codling's garden.
That was wrong. It came as a blinding pain between his eyes. Frank Codling was a skinny streak of nothing who never did anyone any harm and kept his garden neat and tidy. Digger tried to slip into the garden to retrieve his litter. The gate grated on the path, it had dropped on its hinges when Rhys had been swinging on it last week. Digger decided to mend it first thing. After breakfast. No, before. There was an old take-away burger carton in the gutter. Digger picked it up. By the time he reached his house, he had a haul of cigarette butts, greasy wrappers, plastic drinks bottles and doggie do-dahs. The street was full of litter.
He went in his home by the back door, straight into the kitchen. Wordlessly, he sorted through the cupboard for a roll of bin bags, not paying any attention to Lin's nasal whine. He left the cupboard's contents on the floor and dashed out. Two hours later he had filled every bin bag and left them in random people's dustbins. And still the streets were full of rubbish. A minimarket was still open, so he popped in and bought all the rolls of bin bags on the shelf. By dawn they were all full, his feet were blistered, his back was aching, his eyes gritty, he was covered in filth and he had no idea where he was.
Exhausted, he staggered into a tiny park and collapsed on a bench. It was drizzling. He was cold. There was litter everywhere. And the bins were empty. Mindlessly, he bumbled around, gathering armfuls of stuff, shoving it into the bins. Somehow he dragged himself out into the street, not noticing how the morning's commuters avoided him. One, then another, chucked away empty coffee cups. More to tidy up. He wanted to tell them, to force them to pick up their trash. They didn't let him get close enough and when he tried to speak he sounded like a babbling baboon.
Passing by a shop window, he glanced at the display of fresh cakes. He had only time for one lick of his lips before he saw his reflection. He was disgusting. His hair scrambled over a face smeared with sticky marks, unshaven jowls hollow, his neck poking out of his jacket like a turkey's wattle. Grime and stinking gobbets covered his clothes. They were totally destroyed. He had to dispose of them. Now the commuters did notice him. He stripped off every rag on his body and, shivering, bundled them into a street bin. Suddenly aware of what he had done, he ran.
The pavement was harsh on his soles, bitter on blisters as they grew and burst. He could hear every comment, every sound of disgust, every laugh, every criticism, every whistle. They cut into his brain. He had to get off the street. There! A garden hedge. Where was the gate? It would not open, broken by a child swinging on it. He had to get off the street. Batting away thorny branches, he forced his way through it. His soft skin was punctured, ripped, shredded by twiggy talons. He wanted to give a manly groan but it came out as a piggy squeal.
Collapsing on to wet, cold tussocks he gasped for air. The world danced a dizzy triumph as he levered himself to his knees. There was an old sofa, on its side, familiar. There was the stain where he had spilled his beer. It slipped sideways into his mind that he was in his own front yard. His front door opened. His wife stood on the doorstep, scowling down at him. His son stood behind her. Sniggering.
'Digger Morgan! What do you think you are playing at?' That nasal shriek cut through his bones. 'What will the neighbours think?' She pointed to the side passage to the back door. 'Get down there and into the kitchen! You're a filthy disgrace!' She went inside and slammed the door. Sobbing, Digger lurched towards the back of his house. The man-size wheelie bin, supplied by the council, emptied weekly of its waste, stood waiting to be put on the street. Tears splashed on its lid as he hauled it out. Flipping the lid, he saw it was only half full. He climbed in. And waited.
With a crash the lid flew open. A grizzled head peered down on him. A wide smile, inhumanly wide, rows of sharply pointed, too-white teeth, a beak of a nose, slicing between two ice-blue eyes. Old. As old as the hills. Timeless. That mouth formed words.
'Trick or treat.'