I’m shivering again.
Halloween has arrived unannounced this year, with only the constant cold as a sombre reminder of the long dark winter months that have passed by unnoticed. Thank heavens for summer’s hesitant appearance; her golden warmth slowly overshadowing the creeping chill that lingered through spring for me this year.
But still, I am cold.
The magnificence of the sunrise captures my gaze as anticipation warms my bones and I snuggle in deeper. Halloween has always been my favourite holiday with its ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, vampires, and zombies. It’s easy to hide behind a disguise and step into a new life for a while. Costumes always hide the truth.
Losing myself in Halloweens gone by, my anticipation increases with thoughts of the décor we’ll put up later. Carrie and I are the Halloween Queens, and our parties are legendary. Thick cobwebs in the corners, blood spatter on the walls, personalised polystyrene gravestones introduced last year (Here lies Abby - her ethics led to her downfall), and our most recent piece de resistance - the body in the bath.
Transfixed by the rapidly rising sun spilling its mango and peach cocktail across the skyline, my skin prickles at the nostalgic comfort of this splendour. The whisper of another spilled cocktail suddenly lingers at the edge of my memory but dissipates on the soft breeze.
Unsettled, I rise from the comfort of my resting place and see the sad little ghost hanging lifelessly in front of my mirror. Staring at her through frozen eyes the crushing fear snuffs out the last fragments of my earlier excitement.
Shifting to face me, her mouth falls open in a silent scream, and her arm rises in my direction. Terror grabs at my throat and squeezes my eyes shut as icy fingers clamp down on my breathing.
Shaking my head, my eyes open slowly and the suppressed scream escapes as a relieved laugh. My Halloween costume shifts again in the early morning breeze, and I chuckle, a little unsteadily, at the illusion. The spirit of the day has descended - let the preparations begin!
Heading to the kitchen I see the heavy cobwebs and spatter are already in place, heavier than usual this year. Note to self – we need new blood for next time – the glossy red of last year is now a dried russet mess. It’ll do for now though – congealed and darkened it adds nicely to the gory atmosphere.
But when did we start on the décor? Carrie wasn’t here yesterday, was she? I must have done it myself. How many cocktails did I have last night?! My memory has been so full of holes lately.
Bewildered, I turn to my steaming mug for comfort, and feeling slightly warmer from the scalding coffee, begin planning the day ahead. I need to organise for the Trick or Treaters that will come creeping around later, and we still haven’t finalised arrangements for the party tonight. The rest of the décor needs to be completed and only my gravestone is leaning against the wall. Where are the others we made?
We never leave things to the last minute, and in mounting frustration, I check my phone again. Still nothing. Before I do get hold of Carrie though, I need to tidy up and do some shopping. I’m ravenous and there’s nothing to eat. I can’t remember the last time I even bought groceries.
Come to think of it, when last did I do some cleaning? Have I been so distracted that I haven’t even noticed the heavy dust that my apartment is wearing like its own Halloween costume? And are those clods of earth lying next to my bed?! I’ll fix it all tomorrow – for now, it’s adding extra atmospheric mystery.
Getting ready, I glance again at my sad little ghost. She really does seem mournful - and she’s affecting my mood too. The solitude of the recent past settles over me like a heavy blanket and the loneliness is suffocating.
Another memory tugs at my subconscious, and I think back to last Halloween. I was Emily the Corpse Bride, and Bladon pulled off her greedy and vengeful fiancé’ Lord Barkis Bittern perfectly - hardly needing a costume to achieve the evil essence of the character. He was the only shadow over the day, just as he had been over most of my days towards the end. But he is gone now.
It was my last Halloween with Bladon, and this year I’m free.
Free of the fear he controlled me with when I stumbled upon the truth behind his ‘Investments & Family Trust’ business. Free from the guilt of not doing anything immediately because of the privileges it bought. Free from his threats when I could no longer live with myself (If they come after me, I will come after you!). But that’s all over now. Last Halloween I was finally set free when I stopped turning a blind eye to his nefarious dealings.
Cringing inwardly, the memories bury the last of my diminishing pleasure. How did I look past his despicable behaviour for so long? Why didn’t I tell the truth and escape from his dark world sooner? Although the echo of his threats still hangs in the air, the words on my gravestone tell the wicked truth – because you benefitted too.
My sad little ghost shifts again in the breeze to look at me reproachfully. Shrugging off the suffocating shame, I look back at her curiously and then smile tentatively as she seems to do the same.
“What are you trying to tell me Little Ghost?”.
Scrunching up my nose, I shut the window against the strange metallic smell in the air. It’s been getting stronger all morning and is making my chest feel tight. But strange smells or not, I can’t wait to see everyone later. It’s been ages. It feels like Bladon is not the only person I haven’t seen this past year. The isolation of working from home and the magic of Halloween are surely weaving their creepy spell over me today.
Still no messages.
Worry worms through my stomach and overshadows my hunger pangs. Why is everyone so quiet today? We will never be ready in time if we don’t get going soon.
Trying to call Carrie, my jangled nerves react further to the shrieking tone in my ear as I realise my phone has no service. Great – when did that happen?! I’m literally cut off from the land of the living. And I truly am starving - when last did I eat something? That explains the buzzing in my head and the odd lightness I’m feeling.
Time to get some food in my stomach. I’ll fetch Carrie on the way back to get ready here. Throwing on a warm tracksuit I head for the front door, but I can’t find my keys anywhere.
“Come on Abby think! Where did you put them, dammit?”
I can’t even remember the last time I left this apartment though, and I bang on the door in frustration.
Feeling suddenly trapped, my throat constricts, and my shallow breaths quicken. The crawling sensation in my stomach intensifies and my tightly balled fists are oozing in alarm.
Normally I’d enjoy the irony of these little coincidences happening on the spookiest day of the year, but the slithering panic is getting stronger. I need to get out of here right now – I can’t breathe. The thickening dust is overwhelming me, and the icy fingers are squeezing again.
Stumbling back into my bedroom, desperate for fresh air, a blood-red sky rises up in a macabre greeting. Gone is the golden sunshine of earlier and my dizzying anxiety escalates. Whipping around, my throat closes in panic as the terror of realisation stretches my mouth wide forcing out a strangled scream.
The sad little ghost is not my Halloween outfit at all – but an image of me reflected in the mirror on the wardrobe.
There is no costume. Only my frozen eyes and frozen scream.
My bloodless face is as translucent as my body, and I lift my arm slowly, pointing at the reflection I hardly recognise. The memories come showering down like heavy clumps of earth striking a coffin.
The last wisps of the veil lift to reveal the devastating truth.
Bladon’s cold fingers around my throat, squeezing tighter and tighter. His black eyes glittering with murderous elation.
“Thought you’d screw me over hey baby? Well, you’re not going anywhere. You’re not fucking this up for me, Abby. Ethical dilemma, my arse! You were happy to turn a blind eye when it suited you!”.
My last words tore a painful path through my closed throat: “Bladon please! Please stop! I’ll never tell, I swear. You know I don’t care where you get your money! Bla-”.
The crushing pressure on my throat severed my final pleading attempt, as his other hand slammed the knife down again and again, splashing the walls and carpet in scarlet impressionism. Such perfect blood spatter for the party later, I thought from a distance.
Turning my fading eyes from the black malevolence in his, the last thing I saw was my pre-party mango and peach cocktail spilled over the floor.
The horror of this reality darkens my own tormented eyes even further, and it all shifts into place. The thick cobwebs and layers of dust. The deep abyss of isolation and loneliness. The constant chill. The empty fridge, and disconnected phone service. The metallic smell of rusted blood in the air.
Being unable to leave.
NO! Tripping over the half-carved Halloween pumpkin with its slashed-wide smirk, I pull myself to the front door, movements slowed by the sucking mud of dread, and bang wildly again. My frantic screams are sandpaper against my raw throat.
But nobody can hear me.
Through this agony of despair, I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror and the melancholy ghost stares back sorrowfully.
A deep sigh drifts silently through empty rooms as my shoulders slump and my head tilts down in exhaustion. I need to lie down. Wearily dragging myself back through the freshly clawed earth, I head back to my resting place, where my gravestone taunts me with its undeniable truth. Lying back, grateful for the escape, I place my hands over my still heart and close my eyes in resignation.
It was indeed the last Halloween.