October thirty-first, Halloween. The one night of the year when the ethereal and material realms come so close their boundaries collide. The one night people should stay indoors, surrounded by a circle of salt and warding symbols, praying that the wickedness did not find its way into the safety of their homes.
Yet for the five, it was the one night in the year they got a break from being themselves.
Five kids stood on the edge of a sidewalk late at night, staring down an empty street. Lights shone from most houses, laughter, and music coming from some. A few plastic pumpkins and some real ones decorated the front yards of people, all proud, round, and orange. This was their night to shine.
“I feel ridiculous,” Haniko said. Subjectively - or objectively, in her opinion - the prettiest girl in seventh grade, she naturally wore a costume that exemplified her given beauty and growing female traits. A miniskirt, sparkling stockings, and a pair of fairy wings for the touch of magic.
“You look ridiculous,” Kenneth said. His top hat, purple velvet cape, and face paint the color of a week-old corpse all spoke of the kid’s indecisiveness as to whom he was supposed to represent.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Francis said. “You both look great!” Francis, of course, could barely see anything from under that old piece of cloth he called a ghost costume. The two holes for eyes had been chewed out by rats in his granny’s attic and the moldy smell truly added to his ghastly persona.
“Hey, I don’t want to hear any complaining tonight,” Morgan said, holding up a finger. “We’re here to have fun and that’s exactly what we’ll do!” Morgan wore a pointy hat, a purposefully tattered black dress that covered her knees, and high boots with too many laces to tie. She also had a fake wart on her nose. A really big and disgusting one.
“Yeah, I think you failed on the fun part when you brought your little brother with you,” Haniko said. “Who’s gonna give us rum balls now? One look at him and we’re all kids!”
“It was either this or I’d have to stay at home, watching Pumpacolla commercials with my folks!” Morgan hissed.
“This is lame,” little Aiden said. “Let’s do something!” Among the five, he was the only one who fit the costume he wore perfectly. Bloodred horns, an arrowhead tail, and the cutest little businessman suit you’d ever seen on a six-year-old, coupled with red face paint, made him one devilish imp.
“We pillaged the entire street,” Kenneth said, looking inside his candy bag. “I’ve barely got anything in here! What, do people think I’m doing this for free?”
“Nobody respects the work that goes into a good costume anymore,” Francis said.
“You’re one to talk, Spookster. Your costume is just an old rag.”
“Hey, it took over forty years for this rag to get this old! None of your costumes are this dedicated! And the name’s Dreadwail!”
“Guys,” Morgan said, adjusting her hat. “Fun, remember?”
Haniko rolled her eyes.
“Alright, we’ve got one more house on this street, actually,” Kenneth said. “The Brokenboroughs.”
The others groaned.
“Nobody’s ever gotten anything from them!” Francis said.
“Spookster’s right,” Morgan said. “ The Brokenboroughs never give anything. I don’t think they even celebrate Halloween.”
“That’s because they don’t have kids of their own,” Haniko said.
“How do you know, Fancy Fairy?”
“Hey, Freakenstein, don’t call me that!”
“Freakenstein?” Kenneth bulged his eyes. “I’m wearing a legitimate costume here, okay? Not some generic cloth like you.”
“Oh yeah, right,” Haniko huffed, placing a hand on her hip. “A top hat? A cape? What version of Frankenstein did you watch, is what I wanna know.”
“I like your costume, Kenneth. You’re like a… a Hero Frankenstein.”
Aiden stomped his foot. “Can we please just do something?”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t get all fired up, little imp,” Morgan said.
Aiden snorted. “I’m not an imp. I’m Infernatron 5000.”
“The what?” Kenneth chuckled.
“You’re not Infernatron anything,” Morgan said. “You’re an imp. Now let’s get to those Brokenboroughs. The least we can do is abuse the hell out of their buzzer.”
The five took off toward the last house, listening to their costumes and candy wrappers rustling. Very few other kids were still up, roaming the year’s most awesome twenty-four hours. Those hours were soon to expire and Morgan wanted to make the most of it. She wanted to live the magic. At least this one night, before real skeletons and witches of her everyday life came knocking again.
The Brokenboroughs lived a little ways off from the rest of the street. To reach their house, the five had to leave the asphalt and cross a gravel path, crunching audibly under the tall spruce trees.
Francis, who walked first, suddenly stopped. “Wait. You hear that?”
“Nice try, lame-o,” Haniko said. “Nobody’s falling for that anymore.”
“Sounds like someone’s crying.”
Morgan heard it too. They hurried on and there, standing under the yellow light of a single street lamp, was a girl, crying. She was dressed as a scarecrow, with a big straw hat and awkward rubber boots, and hay filling the pockets of her checkered shirt.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Morgan asked, hurrying to the girl. “Why are you crying?”
The girl looked up, her eyes red. “You’ve got to help me,” she said, sniffing. “My little sister… she went inside and she hasn’t come back and I’m worried because I heard screams and the door won’t open and… and…”
“Whoa, slow down,” Kenneth said. “Maria?”
The girl sniffed. “Kenneth? It’s you guys!”
“Your sister went inside the Brokenborough’s house?”
Maria nodded. “She’s dressed up like a pumpkin. I’m supposed to be a scarecrow, watching over her...” She burst into tears.
Morgan hugged the girl. “It’s okay. We’re going there now.” She motioned to keep walking.
They soon saw the house. A tall one, and old, made entirely from wood, in the late Victorian style. It looked like every haunted house in every ghost movie ever. The only oddity was the bright red ford focus parked in the driveway.
“The lights are on,” Francis said. “They’re home.”
“Did you try knocking?”
Maria sniffed. “Nobody answered. The door’s locked. When we came, they invited Faith inside. They said they’d give her some cake and I decided to wait here. This hay is really hot and I didn’t want to step inside…”
“When did this happen?”
“I don’t know… half an hour ago?”
“Why didn’t you call your parents?”
“We’ll sort this out,” Morgan said. “Don’t worry.” She stepped to the porch and knocked on the door. As soon as her knuckles touched the wood, the door creaked open. Morgan glanced back and Maria shook her head, bewildered.
“Um, hello? Ms. and Mr. Brokenborough? Trick or Treat…”
“Faith?” Maria rushed up the steps and pushed Morgan aside, entering the house.
“Come on!” Morgan waved for the others and they all went inside.
“Uh, what’s that smell?” Haniko grimaced. “Is this how old people smell?”
“I think they burned something. A whole pile of sweets by the scent of it.”
“Yeah, sure detective Spooks,” Kenneth said.
“Hello?” Morgan called. “Anyone home? The door was open!”
The inside was just like she’d imagined it to be - old and boring. Old photos in old frames, dusty curtains, and ancient rugs. Even the lightbulbs were those big bulky ones her grandfather kept in his garage...
Maria screamed. They rushed toward the sound and found her in the living room…
… balking at a giant tear in reality that hovered a few inches off the ground. It appeared as if the fabric of time-space got torn by the stitches, opening a vertical slit into a swirling orange abyss.
“What… the… f-”
They all glanced at Francis. “Awesome?”
“I bet it’s a portal!”
“Dude,” Kenneth said, nudging Francis. “Aren’t you… shocked?”
“Meh, I’ve seen better,” Aiden said, sticking his hands in the pockets of his suit.
Morgan stared at the thing that should not be. The rift’s edges seemed to expand and contract like the thing was alive and breathing.
“Is… it like a black hole?”
“Well, it’s orange…”
“But it's impossible, right? I mean, I’ve never heard of anything like this happening, like… anywhere.”
“I knew all the movies, all the books, and all the videogames couldn’t have been wrong!” Francis said. “Humans can't come up with anything new. We can only extrapolate from what we already know! This is where they got the idea!”
“Francis! Zip it!”
“Faith?” Maria stepped to the orange rift.
“Whoa, what are you doing?” Morgan went after her.
“I bet Faith went through there,” Francis said. “Those Brokenboroughs too. Maybe they’re actually demons and they kidnapped her for some sick sacrifice ritual.”
“Oh, my little pumpkin! Faith!”
Morgan caught Maria by the hand before the girl could jump into the anomaly. “People! We don’t know what this thing is! The last thing we need is-”
Aiden walked into it. Morgan watched his fake tail disappear into the orange.
“Oh… my… god…” Haniko turned to Morgan. “What will you tell your parents?”
“Well, now we have to go,” Francis said. “C’mon! It’s Halloween! These things are supposed to happen!”
“I’m not sure I-”
Francis walked in.
They stared at the orange rift.
Morgan took a deep breath, then turned to Maria. “Maria, listen to me. We’re going in. We’ll find your sister and get her back, okay? But you’ve got to stay here! If we’re not back in one hour or if this thing does anything spooky, get some help, okay? Like, scientists... and Nasa. Can you do that?”
Maria stared at the rift.
“Hey. Scarecrow. Can you do that?”
She turned to Morgan, nodding.
“I don’t like this,” Haniko said.
“The mother of all bad ideas,” Kenneth whispered.
“My brother and Francis are idiots,” Morgan said, “but I love them. You two will help me drag them back.” She took them both by the hands and pulled them toward the orange rift.
“Maybe we should wait…”
Morgan charged, pulling a squealing Haniko and a screaming Kenneth into the thing.
Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt. And even more surprisingly, they came out the other side, alive.
Morgan’s foot sank into ash and a scent of smoke and sweetness hit her nostrils.
“I knew it!” Francis yelled from nearby. “It is a portal!”
“Francis, what were you thinking…” Her words trailed off as she saw him. Or better said, as she saw through him.
“A ghost! A real ghost! Isn’t this awesome?”
Morgan turned to Kenneth. The boy… was hardly a boy any longer. His face was the same, still not hit puberty, but his body was all muscular and big, like that of a superhero. Suddenly the cape didn’t look as ridiculous on him.
“Man,” he said. “I feel incredible!”
“Um, guys?” It was Haniko. Morgan’s jaw dropped as the girl used her wings to fly, as fabulous as only a true fairy could be.
“Don’t tell me,” Morgan said, turning and noticing her little brother. Remarkably, he looked the same as before. He smiled at her, then flicked two fingers and the ground exploded with hissing flames in front of him.
“Imp?” He shook his head. “I’m the Infernatron 5000, baby.”
Morgan’s head spun. She wondered…
She waved her hand through the air and the ash flowed around her feet, coalescing into a solid block before her eyes. As she dropped her hand in shock, the ash scattered in the wind.
“We’re awesome on this side,” Francis said, hovering above the ground, incorporeal. “Our costumes are real here!”
“Hey, this is awesome!” Kenneth said. He picked up a boulder the size of a refrigerator and launched it into the distance.
Morgan followed the flying rock and took a look at the landscape. The ground was all ash and soot. They stood amongst the ruins of a burned-down house, the orange rift hovering behind them. The sky was a dirty orange with red clouds, a gigantic full moon looming halfway sunken behind the horizon. Twisted and gnarled dead trees surrounded them, and a path led through a burned-down field into a large graveyard.
In the distance, Morgan spotted the silhouette of a castle upon a hill.
“Where the hell are we?”
“In Awesome Land!” Francis said, popping his head through her stomach and looking up at her. Morgan waved her hands through his head, then jumped away.
“Ew, don’t do that!”
“Yeah, I won’t,” Francis said. “Your insides are… fleshy.”
“So wait,” she said, trying to make sense of it all. “On this side, wherever this is, we’ve all got superpowers? Like our costumes?”
“Appears so,” Haniko said, floating.
“Okay, this is too weird. Let’s just find Faith and get out.”
“I bet she’s locked up in that castle,” Kenneth said. “Probably by the Brokenboroughs, who must be evil demons. Right, Francis?”
Morgan sighed. “Maria said Faith’s dressed up like a pumpkin.”
“Now that's a ridiculous costume,” Haniko said.
“You don’t suppose she’d be, well, a real pumpkin here?”
The four looked at each other.
“Smart,” Francis said. “See any pumpkins?”
“Over there,” Aiden said, pointing, one hand in his pocket. He truly looked like a devil’s advocate in that suit.
Morgan looked where her brother was pointing - left of the graveyard was a field full of pumpkins. Black shadows, vaguely resembling humans, were picking them up and hauling them onto carts.
“Yeah, this doesn’t look good,” Kenneth said.
“Let’s go,” Morgan said. They walked downhill from the burned house, leaving tracks in the ash - except for Haniko and Francis who flew. Morgan watched the shadows pick the pumpkins. Their moves were lethargic and the only feature on their crude bodies were the eyes… white holes into nothing.
“Excuse me,” Morgan said, as they got close. “We’re looking for our friend, Faith. We’re assuming she’s a pumpkin now.”
The shadows kept working.
Morgan tapped one on the shoulder. “Hey-”
“Human…?” the shadow whispered, turning its white holes onto Morgan. It reached its hands at her, fingers forming from the crude limb. “So, so hungry…”
Morgan jumped away. The others stopped working and turned toward the five.
“I don’t think these will be of much help,” Francis whispered. “Maybe we should-”
The shadow grabbed Morgan by her arm. The color leaked from her right sleeve and flowed into the assailant, making the figure appear more substantial. Morgan never felt a pain quite like it - as if her soul was being drained.
She shoved the other hand at the shadow, sending ash and pebbles flying at it. The shadow fell and Morgan withdrew, clenching to her arm.
“Morgan, are you okay?”
“It… did something to me!”
“Please…” the shadow whispered, picking itself up. “Meant no hurt… I needed some soul to regain my strength...”
“What are you?”
“We’re the ones who gave into the nightmare,” the shadow whispered, yet had no visible mouth. “You must leave before he realizes you’re here.”
“All Hallow. This world is his eternal eve.”
“We’ve come here for a little girl,” Morgan said. “She was wearing a pumpkin costume when she stepped through.”
“She is lost,” the shadow said. “We already took one round of pumpkins to the castle. If she was amongst them, All Hallow has her now.”
“We’re not leaving without her,” Morgan said.
The shadow hesitated. It looked at them individually with those disturbing eyes.
“You really want to get her out?”
“We made a promise.”
“How much candy do you have?”
The other shadows stepped closer at the mentioning of that word but the talking one waved them off.
“Candy?” Francis said. “Why?”
“It’s the source of your newfound powers,” the shadow said. “It fuels your abilities. You’ll need lots of candy if you’re to face All Hallow and rescue your friend. He’s got an army of wraiths in that castle and a giant pet monster he feeds with the pumpkins we grow. And worst of all, he can suck the color of your souls and turn you into one of us.”
“That’s not good,” Francis said. “No offense, but I don’t want to be like you.”
The shadow said nothing.
“What do we do now?” Kenneth asked. “I’ve got a handful of sweets and a chocolate bar. You?”
“I’ve got some mints and crackers,” Francis said. “Does that even qualify as candy?”
“I’ve got a box of snickers,” Aiden said. “Nicked it from Stevenson’s place.” They all looked at the little devil. “What? It’s Trick or Treat. The guy didn't want to give me a treat, so I tricked him.”
Aiden shrugged. “It’s an unholy night, and I’m a devil.”
“Aiden, you’ll have to share,” Morgan said.
“That won’t be nearly enough,” the shadow said. “You’ll need bags of it. Each. Oh, and you only have a few hours left to do this. Then the portal you came through closes for another year.”
Morgan sighed. “Fine. Fine. Guys, let’s go stock up before we assault this All Hallow’s fort.”
Maria jumped from fright as the five suddenly stumbled through the rift. She’d been waiting and fretting, thinking of calling her parents, but then they finally came.
“And? Have you found Faith?”
Morgan placed a hand on her shoulder. “No. But we know where she is. Come now, we’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it.”
Maria shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
“We need to make this night the best candy haul this holiday has ever seen,” Morgan said. “And then we must go fight a supernatural being, using candy to fuel the powers of our costumes.”
Maria’s jaw dropped.
But she went with them anyway.
Six kids on a candy haul.
To fight All Hallow on his eve.
And save a friend.