"Do I really have to go?"
I smile compassionately at the young man in front of me. "No Son, you have fortunately died on a very special night and can take your time."
The young man looks around the mess of the car crash and gathered observers to the pumpkins in the yards beyond. He looked back at the people.
"Why can't they see us?"
"You are no longer here, my friend. Not your flesh and blood anyway. Now stop wasting time. Go see your family for I will be back at midnight."
The eighteen-year-old, still dressed in a skeleton costume, nods and disperses into the air. I leave the horrific scene and continue my way.
Have you ever heard the song "Don't Fear the Reaper?" If you haven't, you should; it's popular. Anyway, it's also true. You do not have to be afraid of me. Most people don't like me simply because of what my presence means for them, but I'm really a nice guy.
Take Halloween for one. I allow all my good spirits a night to cross over and visit their families and friends. And hey, it's a lot of work. I must watch over the whole operation, because things can get hairy fast. Some slip past my grasp and stay in the living world. They haunt their families or the poor unfortunate people who move into the places they died. They don't always mean harm but being a free soul in the world drives many spirits crazy and they become hostile. So, it's my job to bring them back home by midnight.
Sometimes even bad spirits slip through, and they don’t like to go back. I am on my way to go deal with one now. I fly through the streets, scythe in hand. Ever wondered why I carry it? Well, it’s the key between worlds of course. I’m collecting souls, not marbles. I can’t just throw them in a bag. That would be cruel.
Halloween is such a perfect night for my spirits to do their visiting. Some families prepare for their loved ones to make a visit. Others are not even aware of it. But the spirits enjoy being there with them all the same. They do not care that they go unnoticed.
The air chills as I pass. You yourself might have felt me or one the visitors pass by. It gives you goosebumps and prickly neck hairs. So sorry. We can’t help it.
Finally, I sense the wandering soul. I can tell it’s a malicious one. It smells like evil. Evil has a very unpleasant musty odor, like basements and mold with a tinge of burnt plastic. I look around. My eyes are trained to see spirits. They have a glowing aura, whereas living flesh is a dull, easily ignored color. That’s mostly what I see in this neighborhood. Just parents and children trick-or-treating. Teenagers wreaking havoc. Nothing unusual here-
I feel something. That smell is stronger. I float forward, my senses on high alert. A child of about ten passes by me without even shivering. He’s dressed like a pirate and is busy counting his candy. Or wait…
I turn slowly. The child slows and glances over his shoulder and looks right at me. Suddenly he smiles, and his mouth glows. Bingo.
I rush forward and the kid runs. It’s laughing hysterically and throws candy behind it as it goes. I follow it into the nearby cemetery. Perfect, it has trapped itself. Spirits who no longer had families alive but still loved to spend some time on good old planet Earth, usually hung out by their gravestones. This cemetery was full of them, and they were usually on my side. They all look towards the commotion.
The evil spirit stops by a large tree and spins around. “Stop! Don’t come any closer.”
I do stop. I grip my scythe tight. “It’s time you leave. Let go of that little boy.”
The spirit uses the body to smile wide and shrug its shoulders. “Here’s the thing…I don’t want to go back. And I’m pretty cozy in this young suit.”
I shake my head. These spirits are amusing when they think they have a choice. “I won’t ask again. Let’s do this the easy way.”
The child’s body sticks its tongue out at me. Okay, game on.
I swing my scythe with violent force. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt the child. It only touches souls that have already passed and sends them back to where they belong. The spirit lunges to the side and only gets nicked. Its glow brightens around the kid’s body for a moment then sucks back inside. It starts to run towards the river. “If I can’t be here, then neither will he!”
Sometimes spirits have taken lives with them. I have had many sad moments in the past collecting a soul too soon. All because I couldn’t save them in time. But not tonight; not on All Hallows’ Eve. I use every bit of speed I can muster and beat the spirit to the river. However, in the young body he is quick and again dodges my scythe swing. He stops at the edge of the water and turns to tease me. He smiles and tilts his head. “Too late.”
He exits the body and flies into the air. The child, still delirious from the possession, limply falls into the water.
The spirit laughs as it flies away. I should follow and capture it, but I can’t bring myself to leave the little boy. He is thrashing around in the water, struggling to get air. He doesn’t have a chance. I look around, but there are no living souls to be seen. Only glowing spirits with sad faces, watching the little boy drown.
I look back to the kid. Now the rules state I cannot interfere with Death itself. He does his job and I do mine. We don’t get into each other’s way. However, I don’t sense that I will be receiving this boy’s soul tonight. And the rules don’t say that I can’t break that big branch down the river a way that just so happens to be in the boy’s path. I rush over to it. Perfect, it is dead so my tool will work on it. I separate the branch from the tree with a smooth chop of my scythe. It falls into the water and after a few moments the boy floats into it. He coughs and grabs on for dear life. He struggles for a few long minutes, but eventually uses the branch to pull himself to the bank. He crawls weakly and looks up. His eyes go wide. He sees us, but I quickly make it all disappear. He will most likely think it was a hallucination.
I gather all the cemetery spirits. They come without a fight. I glance back at the direction the evil spirit had fled. I will be looking for him throughout the year. But for now, I have other work.
My energy is waning, so I work as quick as I can. Hundreds of souls absorb into my scythe. They wave goodbye to their families, whisper last words, smile at the moon one last time. Their happiness gives me strength. I have almost all of them by now. It is getting close to midnight.
I stop in front of a hospital. A few souls fly down to me, but there is one more. I float up to the third floor and down a long corridor. There is a waiting room and a crying mother. Her husband stands beside her holding a well-worn baseball cap. A young man stands in front of them. The young man dressed like a skeleton. I make myself known to him. He looks up with despair in his eyes.
“It’s time,” I say.
“I will miss them. I can’t leave them.” He crouches down and touches his mother’s hand.
“You can see them again next year,” I say and hold out my hand. “Now come.”
He nods and gives his mother’s hand one last squeeze. She looks up, aware that something is different. A slight smile touches her lips, and she closes her eyes with a small sense of peace. The young man smiles and turns to me. He reaches out and takes my hand.