That Night

Submitted into Contest #65 in response to: Write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.... view prompt

10 comments

Horror Fantasy Holiday

It was a beautiful night for a walk, but no honest and good people would ever dare to venture into the woods. It was a place for devils and ghosts after all. And ghosts there were upon this of all nights. Those who had more substance than others would go seeking their families, and some would succeed. But many would wander muttering amongst the druids until the next sun rose in the East. 

A few fluttering spirits brushed against the edge of a settlement, nothing that those with clear sight would find unusual. But on this year, there was a figure of a person among them.

The figure walked in a lithe, cat-like stride with soft footsteps overshadowed by the gentle whispering of her dress. The young woman wore long auburn hair, fair skin, and a constellation of freckles trailing across her nose. Her golden eyes shone brightly, like polished copper coins. 

Her mouth was opened slightly, staring at the ghosts in confused awe. It had only been a few full minutes after true sunset, but her gleaming eyes flashed in the shadows, reflecting her young astonishment back towards the apparitions. Some of the ghosts found familiarity in this creature, and one in particular drifted forward curiously.

In response, the girl clicked her fingers together and a dancing orange flame alighted on her fingertip. She flicked it at the spirit mildly, watching the living ember illuminate its pale face. The ghost blinked, moving closer in wonder, looking for the remaining traces of the ocherous candlelight.

“That is a rare sight.” A chalky voice rumbled behind her. The girl jumped, whirling in shock while faint trails of hissing fire bled from her palms.

The voice belonged to another something the girl had not seen before. It was a thing like a gargoyle, a squirming mass of mud and shale with leathery wings and a scaly hide. Lamplight yellow eyes blinked at her as the thing hunched on the ground, spined tail flicking from side to side. 

The girl stared. The thing blinked at her again. “You are very new for a ghost, I have not seen you in past years.” It purred.

The girl pointed at it stiffly. “You… can you see me?” She asked softly, her voice tinged with the hesitancy of disuse. 

The thing tilted its head to the side jerkily. “Yes.”

And then it left. 

The girl blinked in shock, and then ran after the thing as it loped towards the center of the settlement. It was strange. Few of the lights were on in the houses. 

The thing leapt up to a rooftop and continued lumbering forward. The girl bounded after it, scaling to the very top of the house in nothing but a few remarkable leaps. The thing slowed gradually, letting the girl come level with it. 

“Do you have a name for yourself?” The thing asked.

The girl opened her mouth, but promptly closed it instead of issuing a response. She did have a name that she thought belonged to her, but as of late she was getting the impression that she wasn’t really a person anymore. Perhaps that name no longer applied to her. She shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She admitted.

“You are unlike most.” It told her. “You are a grand ghost. Something fierce must have pushed you to this nature.”

The girl shook her head. “I don’t know what it was though.”

“Death is… a traumatic thing.” It explained. “If your memories are so fragmented I wish you to never remember how you died. But I believe that it will still return to you soon enough.”

“Oh.” She whispered. She didn’t really understand what the creature meant, but she could infer enough to be wary of the things she had forgotten. The girl wasn’t sure if she was ready to remember her death if her mind had locked away that piece of her memory in such fear.

She looked around with more attention than she had before. There were more lights on, even more than what could be contained in the houses. There were lanterns, many lanterns all alight with a natural yellow tinged flame. And there were people too. Their voices were loud, ricocheting off one another in a cacophonous chatter.

But not all of them, the girl observed, looked like people. A number of them wore big billowing cloaks and furs, with big wooden masks twisted into grotesque smiles. They whipped wooden switches in the air like cracking thunder, and chased after little children who were screaming with their faces split into thrilled grins.

The girl looked outward from the scene, and saw a number of billowing smoke towers over the settlement. She wanted to run towards them, but her muscles still seemed to seize in fear. They were just bonfires, surrounded by songs and the voices who sang them. Eve’s throat closed up, and she backed away from the sight jerkily. A scream rang in her ears.

The girl held up her hand, watching it ignite like a torch. It was a bright orange. That wasn't a normal flame, but it was hers. The thing watched her standing, twisting her palm around in fascination. It eyed the fire knowingly.

The orange flame went out with a whoosh. The girl turned towards the thing slightly, gesturing to the people beneath them. 

“What is this?”

“It has many names.” It rumbled.

“Such as?”

“All Souls Day, All Hallowtide. Many call it All Hallows’ Eve.”

Eve, she thought. That was a pretty word. “And all of this happens tonight?”

“Yes. This is the beginning of the darkest time of the year. Many groups do different things to acknowledge it.”

“The beginning of the darkest…. You mean winter, right?” She clarified, murmuring the familiar and foreign word with caution. 

“Yes,” It informed her. “Winter is when the barrier between what they know and what they don't becomes the most fragile. It is when many things become possible.”

The girl looked around closely, gazing beyond her first impression of the festival. She saw glimpses of other things, like gargoyles and slithering winged things and abnormal wolves who stalked the shadows on hind legs. The people didn’t notice, they looked like the costumed humans. 

“This is one of the few times of the year when you are real,” The thing told her. “Go join them.”

The girl turned, blinking at it. “Join..? Join them?” She asked. 

The monster only blinked it's bulging yellow eyes at her. The girl swiveled towards a wide plaza. Great braziers of fire illuminated every inch of the courtyard, and soaring music rippled across the crowd. The center of the plaza had been made into a dancing circle.

The girl skidded down the brick walls in an alleyway, landing in a light crouch with a quiet thump. She stalked nimbly forward until the fluttering light of the fire brushed against her face while her frame remained cloaked in shadows. 

“Hey!” A voice exclaimed. 

The girl jumped, head snapping towards a grinning young man who had appeared before her. He extended his hand welcomingly. 

“Come on out of the dark.” He told her invitingly.

Her hand found its way into his and he led her into the crowd. Her heart hammered. 

This wasn’t what she had seen on the rooftop.There was so much more than she had thought. The decaying color of fiery leaves dripped from the eaves of the houses and lamp poles. The once distant smells of cinnamon, apples, and sweet bread hit her in a tidal rush. The triumphant music ricocheted everywhere, banishing darkness, banishing silence.

There were so many people, and they could all see her. They could touch her, they spoke with her. She was real. 

Suddenly she stood at the edge of the dancing circle- no- she was within the circle. And the steps of the partner dance still came to her, a muscle memory from a foggy life she had lost a few months ago. The girl giggled childishly as she spun around with the festivalists.

She stayed up dancing until the early hours of the morning, when even the most resilient folk would surrender themselves to exhaustion. Her blood still pumped with the thrill of the night, but as dawn’s watercolor fingers reached up to claim the heavens, her heart fell with the realization of what that would mean.

The restless ghosts faded away into a peaceful nothing until their unsatisfied souls dragged them back to the world. The girl did not leave, for she was of a different nature than them. The foggy amber sunlight dripped onto the girl's face in a warm caress, and she knew she had slipped back into the world of the unreal. She stood alone even when the people of the settlement began to leave their houses again. 

They did not see her, or the hollowed, empty expression she wore.

They never saw the monsters that had celebrated with the night before, nor did they ever see the creatures that had been banished from their torchlight shield. They, the dark misshapen shadows that trailed behind unknowing footsteps. They made no sound, there was not even a puff of breath on their lips. They brought silence clipping by their heels and they left silence in their wake.

Five people went missing in the woods that night. Only two bodies were ever found. 


-XXX-


It was a beautiful night for trick or treating. The suburbs of Mayburn always had the best decorations. They weren’t the scariest, or the most elaborate, but Eve had dubbed them the best and so that's what they would be.

It wasn’t fully dark yet, but the messy spray of luminous clouds was still a beautiful sight against the descending night. Families, especially ones with younger children, were already headed door to door, with cries of the seasonal greeting clashing over the picket fences. 

Eve strolled down the road, an umber broomstick resting over her shoulder. Her short auburn curls swayed in the gentle breeze with the dancing leaves at her feet, and her flashing golden eyes twinkled in unspoken laughter as she watched the tiny festivalists fun from door to door. 

As the young woman passed a group of cold jack o’ lanterns, the hollowed torches lit up with a firm orange glow. The leering faces of Eve’s little sentries suddenly had a flicker of character. 

Eve paused, quickly sidestepping as a miniature vampire bolted through the space she had just been standing in. It wasn’t the child’s fault, they just didn’t know she was there. It stung a bit, but not nearly as much as the feeling of being walked through like a cloud of vapor. To that child, Eve simply wasn't real. Some things, of course, just weren’t believable anymore.

Eyeing the thickening group of people, Eve vaulted onto the enchanted broom and soared above the group. A strong current of woodsmoke curled around her shoulders, and she looked down to admire a set of barrel fires lighting up the closed section of the road. She wasn’t as skittish around fire anymore, especially not the normal kind.

She couldn’t see any genuine monsters from her perch. Most would choose to go to a place more superstitious, or better yet, a place without Eve. They had to pass some high standards if they wanted to mingle with her wards.

Eve nodded to herself in satisfaction. The suburbs of Mayburn was a good place to be. It was safe. She closed her eyes, listening to the laughing voices beneath her. It was a beautiful celebration. Banishing darkness, banishing silence. She wouldn’t let anything happen on this night. Nothing that she could prevent. Eve opened her eyes again. It wouldn’t make sense to dwell on past failures. This was her night!

She looked down at the costumes, taking time to give credit to the adults who had put effort into their look. One in particular stood out. She had painted her skin green, with a dramatic fake nose and set of warts. Eve rolled her eyes, unimpressed with the generalization. 

She gave an exasperated sigh. “Another witch,” she observed blandly. “How quaint.”

Of course, it was the kids costumes she liked best. Eve drifted closer, till her booted feet hovered just a few inches above the tallest pointy hats. She preferred the feeling of intimacy, however fake it had become.

Her gaze jumped away from the crowd towards a new family coming out of their home. The parents looked like they were ready to go mingle with the bigger group, but a little jumpy ball of fabric held them back. Eve glided over. 

The parents were laughing with some friends of theirs, glancing at the nervous white shadow behind them humorously. 

“This is Rosie’s first Halloween,” the parent smiled. “She wanted to make her own costume.”

Eve hummed, nodding thoughtfully as if she were a part of the conversation. Rosie hadn’t done that bad of a job. It had two functioning eye holes. 

The ancient girl smiled fondly at the fabric ghost. “Happy haunting, little spirit.” She told the child softly.

It was a beautiful night for it, after all.

October 31, 2020 03:32

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

10 comments

Maya
23:46 Nov 04, 2020

The imagery in this story is impressive. Great description of what it would be like to be a ghost, observing people from up close but invisible to them. Nice job!

Reply

23:56 Nov 04, 2020

Thank you! I've been messing around with a lot of nonhuman protagonists, or at least ones that *used* to be human. One of my favorite characters (based off of a real folklore character) isn't even alive for 1/3 of his own story. Its always interesting to think about how these people would react. Everyone is different- and for that matter, faces problems differently- but humans are still really social, what do they do when that's taken away? After that needlessly long response, thanks for the feedback!

Reply

Maya
00:07 Nov 05, 2020

Yeah, it would make a great backstory to talk about how the ghosts died. I was thinking about writing a novel with people who have died or had near-death experiences.

Reply

05:06 Nov 05, 2020

That would be really interesting to read. It's a frequently used trope, but I have even more respect for the author's originality when they show it to me in a way I have never seen or thought about before.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Alina Manha
03:54 Nov 06, 2020

BTW this story is awesome. Loved it.😊🤯😊🤯😊 Hope you write more.😁😁😁😁😁😁😁😁😁 Happy writing. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻😀😀😀😀😀

Reply

15:33 Nov 06, 2020

Thank you so much! I plan to go check out some of your work when I have the time

Reply

Alina Manha
22:37 Nov 06, 2020

My pleasure! Oh! thanks. 😊

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Alina Manha
03:53 Nov 06, 2020

Hi! Isabel. 👋🏻 I just read your bio. Over there you said that you are a talkative person. Well, I am a very talkative person myself 😅 (just wanted to let you know) Have a great day ahead -ALINA

Reply

15:32 Nov 06, 2020

You too Alina!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
03:34 Oct 31, 2020

I hope by calling the modern city-town thing Mayburn (I made it up, I hope it's not actually real), it would show maybe that this world is like ours, but isn't supposed to BE ours. We share the name of a festival, but the way we celebrat(ed) it was different. The things I described weren't really that accurate. Except trick or treating

Reply

Show 0 replies