The Bell Tower by Alex Hurst

The Bell Tower by Alex Hurst

“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question the stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.”

-Emil Sinclair, Demian by Hermann Hesse


Autumn was always the most dismal time. As if God himself had cracked the umbral sky with his tears, melancholy drops callously pounded against the windows of the study.  Confined behind the fogged glass, Decebal fidgeted with the collar of his shirt. His brief excursion outside, merely from his car to the foyer, had left his fingers feeling icy. The heated skin of his neck made that feeling even more pronounced, and caused a singular shiver to cascade down his body. A banged up, unsightly grey piece of craftsmanship that functioned as his toolbox was at his side, condensation pooling on the red cherry wood of the floor beneath it.

Decebal fixed clocks for a living. He had been coming to this house in particular for decades, and it was always the same. Between the rain and the mud, he couldn’t cross the driveway without feeling like an old kitchen rag in a mop bucket. In the end though, he couldn’t complain. In a world of digital beepers and electric slats, his profession was a dying one. Yet the owner of this mansion, a Mr. Marius Graenger, delighted, near obsessively, with an artistic collection of grandfather clocks. There was not a single room, hall or stairwell that was not in some way influenced by the presence of their antique faces. Their ticks, tocks and the creaks of gears drowned out the silence in mechanical, maniacal chorus. Decebal imagined that for an average guest, the incessant echo of pendulums might be a little disconcerting. To Decebal, the sound of constancy was a creature comfort, and a decent reminder of who paid the bills.

There were always those days, though, where the timed rhythm in the halls grew weighted and the air thick, making Time’s own metronome struggle to cut through it. Today was like that; the pendulums were rocking in slowly diverging paces, like the race and quiet of a heartbeat. The estate was too large to be so still. The dark cherrywood floors, lacquered from a century of polishing, protested the weight of his feet as they shifted in cracked, aged whines. Every now and then he heard the voices of the staff carry through the wings.

The Graenger mansion had once been a monastery. It had been converted in the late 1900s by Mr. Marius’s great grandfather. An architectural marvel, it was listed in the provincial books as a heritage site, and thus, the contractors hadn’t altered too much of its original blueprint. On the western slope of the estate was a belfry, which was in turn connected to an extended network of basement rooms. The belfry’s bricks were stained with lichen and various other molds and mosses. Decebal often got the impression of a painting when he stared at them long enough. The bells were long gone, of course, and all of the entries above ground had been sealed off, but the basement was still quite accessible. It was here he usually had to go to adjust the clocks in Mr. Graenger’s son’s room. Under usual conditions, he had a tight reign on his imagination, yet he could not ignore the feelings of trepidation that filled his breast when going down those stairs. At times, it felt like he was falling into a strange abyss from whence there could be no return. The stains of rust on the iron and wood steps loomed like ghosts from the darkness when they caught a certain shade of light.

Naturally, to be in the service of Mr. Graenger for so many years, Decebal had heard quite a bit about his employer’s life. Live-in help, he knew not what to call these modern maids, often gossiped as they treated him to a cup of tea to warm his hands before work. They often spoke of the retired statesman and his trophy wife, though as far as the staff was concerned, the two had been divorced for many years. Between them, they had only one child, a boy named Remus, who hardly ever left the house. The child was about eleven now, and not the most pleasant company. Young Remus’s disposition reminded Decebal of the foul stenches of bogs in the summertime; the boy’s only redeeming quality was that he was severely emaciated from anemia, and thus not able to throw tantrums for an extended length of time. The boy’s sour attitude, coupled with the dank quality of the room, made the few times that Decebal had gone to maintenance the clocks there an exercise in haste. He did not know whether Remus’s aura was what made the room so gloomy, or if it was the other way around. All that mattered to the time-smith when he was there was to finish and be on his way as quickly as possible. He honestly couldn’t fathom why Marius would wish to keep his son in the dank cellars a story beneath sodden earth. It was a living coffin.

The maids, of course, had rumors to explain it. The truth of the matter is, as Natalie would say, is that long before Remus was even born, Marius and his trophy wife started living separately. The statesman was known to be something of a boor, and despite the staffers’ best efforts to hire elder women or simply men, there was an occasion here and there when a pretty young woman made her way into their midst. One of these ladies was an Irish girl named Evette. By Decebal’s own count, she had only worked for Mr. Graenger for two years, but then, he was not at the house often enough to know. One day, he had actually had the misfortune of passing the study he stood in now, only to find the statesman jeering the hapless maid.

Decebal was certainly not a confrontational man, but since he had seen the two of them, and they he, he could not simply abscond to another area of the house and pretend it hadn’t happened. Marius had quickly excused himself, leaving Evette alone with Decebal in moments that would come to be remembered as practically separated from time. He didn’t want to get involved. There was a moment, however, when their eyes met as they passed each other. The green of her eyes was startling; the very act of looking upon them made Decebal’s blood run cold. For a single moment, he ceased to know anything but that haunting stare, and the distress that stirred like worms under its surface. The next year, when Decebal returned to calibrate the clocks, Evette was gone and young master Remus was two months old. The reasons for her absence had been unresolved. Decebal had heard things from she’d run off with a stable-boy to the far more likely that she’d gone into hiding after giving birth to Marius’ illegitimate child. Apparently, no one had ever come looking for her.

He did not know why, almost a decade later, he found himself thinking about the soft-skinned redhead. It was as if he were back in that moment, caught in her serpentinite gaze all over again. Where was she now? Did she miss her son, if Remus was indeed her child? He cradled the cup of tea the maids had given him in his hands, carefully turning the lightly chipped china. Perhaps even her name slipped passed his lips as he thought of that day and the way Marius’s hands had claimed Evette’s own with such terrible authority- how her own slender body had trembled in what Decebal would like to assume was fear. He sighed, imagining how the swell of her young breasts must have looked under the navy blue costume she had been wearing.

His mind was lulled back into that precarious memory, frayed at the edges due to the great leagues of time that had passed. As he looked out the window steamed by his breath, he thought he could see Evette in her gay little dress, perhaps a little moth-bitten, in this very room- pushed to the bookcase by Marius’ predatory leer. His hands fell to his heart, checking for the quick pace Evette’s would have adopted while Marius took from her youthful body, and how the illness that followed would linger on for months, until it was clear what she carried inside her. He could almost sense the swell of life in the mother diminishing, damaging her and her unborn, until what she birthed was monstrous, hardly human. His stomach felt cold.

Taking a hand to wipe the sweat from his brow, Decebal paused, looking into his half-empty cup, the tea now cold. The child would have been born out of sight and sound, in the cellars. Yes, perhaps in the very room Remus now occupied. Evette wouldn’t have been able to stand the silence she had been forced to keep. It would gnaw at her and she would seek escape. It wouldn’t do for Marius, who was still married and not yet retired from office. This mansion was miles from the nearest town; for even a few hours of work, Decebal often had to stay the night. Marius would force her into silence. He would make her stay.

Looking at his cup now, he watched, mesmerized, as his fingers gripped the porcelain in a stranglehold, squeezing that fragile china like a neck. Yes, Evette, in her unfortunate luck, was far too dangerous to be kept alive. Marius would wait for the rains, like today, when there were few visitors, and dispose of her. But where could he hide the body?

Unbidden, uncalled, Decebal found his memory latching on to the red iron stains of the belfry stairs. He saw, too, places he had never been. Thick, rat-bitten ropes and gears. His mind filled in the blanks as if he had been there himself, as if he had every reason to belief their truth.

Startled, Decebal pulled himself out of such dark, terrible thoughts. His hands were sweaty, his heart was pounding, and adrenaline was making the very tips of his fingers tingle in frantic energy. What had he been thinking? He was too bewildered to even consider that he had gone into something totally of his own creation, in which he played the bastardly part of Marius, imagining the very death of a girl that had merely gone missing. He put his teacup to the side and rung the stiffness out of his hands. His body trembled from the chill of the room and, perhaps, the thoughts so unlike him. It took every ounce of his willpower to banish the image of Evette’s stare from his thoughts. Those dual greens remained defiantly branded on even the darkest recesses of his mind. Gradually, he began to hear the mechanical music from the halls again.

It was right then that the measured tune of those hundreds of clocks ceased, and there began a fantastic ringing of their chimes for the noon hour. Long calls, short calls, soft melodies and cuckoo birds of every flavor, Decebal’s eyes closed so he could listen. It was faint, but in their choir, he heard, rather distinctly, the grand tones of monastery bells. They reverberated through the halls, rising from depths of the earth and on through the rafters, gradually drowning out all else. Dong, Dong, Dong


A note from the author: This piece was originally published in Fiction Writers Group’s Writers’ Anarchy I anthology.
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The Water Seer by HMC

WSCover_Final_eBookChapter One

Saturdays in Burleigh: fresh coffee brewing on James Street, blue skies and golden sand, sand so hot you danced on it, Sadie calling out orders for fish and chips – yes this early in the morning, too – and the sea-salty air obliterating any aggravation from the work week.

Those were my favourite mornings, a time where I could forget death and just surf instead. Surfing was my temporary distraction, a way to calm my mind. It was my creative outlet. An artist painted, a writer wrote, and a surfer surfed. There’s the thrill of waiting for the lump, gauging the size and direction of the wave, readying my body – apprehension and adrenaline combined – and the wave lifting my feet. I block out the world. It’s just me and the wave. The board catches, the world falls away, and I stand. Gravity takes me. The wave knows what to do. It has a mighty energy of its own. For a moment, we dance. I don’t thrash and slash the water, I move with it. It’s the purest form of surfing, soul surfing, riding the rail with my longboard. It’s important to treat the wave with respect.

The other surfers stick their middle finger up if you drop in, but for some reason, I cop it more than most. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl, because I ride a long board, or both. Maybe it’s because I surf better than they do. But no one owns the waves. They own you. Continue reading

The Woman by Amber Jager

He sat alone in his chair, quiet for now. It is the first time all week that he has kept to himself, the soft slippers given to him when his daughter last visited settled calmly on the grey industrial-style carpet. All around him people mill about; those others that live here easily distinguished by their walking aids, grey hair, and shuffling steps. Slippers to match his own are extremely common, some marching slowly from place to place and others seated in chairs identical to where he now rests. Among the groups is the occasional younger person, the footwear being the comfortable easy walking style common in those that work in the medical profession. Not all are nurses, but all work taking care of those unable to take care of themselves any longer after the sands of time took their toll.

For the most part, everyone leaves him alone. Some smile over at him if they even bothered sparing him a glance, but he does not pay attention to them. His focus lingers on the far wall, waiting. The nurses call him ‘troubled’ and do what they can to keep him settled, but no one dares try to move him to another place with another wall to watch. This was the only place where there was ever a quiet moment. If ever placed somewhere else, he would fight and scream and demand to be placed in his usual chair.

When he had first moved into this place it had been different, of course. He’d had the occasional episode. Moments where his children were frightened by his rage-filled tirades, directed at empty spaces. He never turned on them specifically, but after one day where he had fallen after lunging at a lamp, they’d had no choice but to seek out somewhere that he could be kept safe. Since then, the episodes grew more and more common. The medication had helped in the beginning, but now he instead had straps carefully keeping his pajama-clad arms in place on the chair, which was securely bolted to the floor. Short of constant sedation, there was only so much that could be done for someone in his situation.

“Hello Mister Turner. How are we feeling today?” The voice came from his right but he didn’t turn. The nurse came to check on him every afternoon, and he didn’t dare look at her and away from the wall. He did give her a slight nod though, an acknowledgement of her greeting. Continue reading

The Sphinx Without a Secret – Oscar Wilde

SThe Sphinx Without a Secret
by Oscar Wilde

(about 2100 words)

By chance, two old college friends meet in Paris where they spend some time catching up before one of them lets slip that he’s had some sort of a mystery woman in his life. Upon being pressed he tells his story. One day he happened to see a lovely young woman, wandering around and looking alluring. He had no idea who she was, or where she could be reached, but her image refused to leave his mind. By chance one day he was introduced to the same woman by a mutual acquaintance, and after a brief dinner date he managed to find out her address, and that she was a recent widow. Bolstered by this, he sends a letter to her house, and when he finally receives a reply back, it is to tell him never to send her letters to her house, only to a care-of address at the library. Obviously he’s puzzled by this, but as most of their subsequent dates are normal enough, he lets it pass. That is until he finds her skulking around a room letting house. He picks up her dropped handkerchief from the location, and when she later lies to him that she hadn’t been out of the house all day, he throws a tantrum and leaves her and France to go instead to Norway. When he returns, he learns that the lady has died of congested lungs following a cold she caught at an opera. Distraught, he seeks to find the cause of her mystery but finds nothing. The room she let she only just sat in and did nothing else, and saw no one else. What a mystery indeed.

Oscar_Wilde_portraitOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. His father was knighted for his work as a doctor and his mother, a poet, greatly influenced Wilde’s own writing. Wilde excelled in his studies, winning awards in all levels of his education for his academic performance. It was while attending Oxford that he first seriously attempted writing, and won prizes for these early poems. After releasing a collection of poems to moderate critical success, Wilde toured America, giving 140 lectures in nine months. There he met some prominent American writers of the time. During his tours through America and England, Wilde became known for his place in the aesthetic movement which denounced using art for social or political statements, and instead insisted on appreciating beauty for the sake of beauty. He married in 1884 and had two sons with his wife, though he is most well known for the stint he spent in prison on accusations of homosexuality. While not strictly secretive about his sexuality, Wilde was screwed over by the father of a male lover who insulted Wilde so badly that he sued for liable. This unfortunately made his ‘open secret’ complete public fact and had him charged with gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison. Despite all the literary success he had achieved before his imprisonment, when he was finally released he was broke, broken and in desperate need of a change of climate. Like D. H. Lawrence, he went into a period of self exile where he couch surfed with friends in France for a time. He died three years later of meningitis at the age of forty-six. His most famous works are his novel “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and the play, “The Importance of Being Ernest.”

Borges and I – Jorge Luis Borges

I-11Borges and I
by Jorge Luis Borges

“Borges and I” is technically a short, narrative poem, rather than a short story, but it is often included in short story anthologies, so I’ve added it here. Struggling to find another short story that started with or had “I” in the title certainly didn’t influence this decision at all.

Certainly.

In the story, the first person narrator considers his relationship with ‘the other,’ Borges. He laments his inevitable destruction, but has seemingly come to terms with living on, and being expressed through Borges. The most common interpretation of this piece is as a self reflection on the harmonization and separation of the public and the private self. As artists we all have to be conscious of the strange relationship that these two have. We cannot write true to ourselves without our private lives, but we don’t want it to leak too much, or perhaps too openly into our public, professional lives. This poem then, is a bit of a reconciliation, and concession of private values toward the advancement of a public, professional facade.

Borges_1921Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges was born on August 24, 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His family was relatively well off, with military roots that Borges felt ashamed for not having ambitions for himself. Borges’s passions were always books. He began translating at the age of nine and cites his biggest literary influence as his father’s extensive library.  He spent his teen years with his family in Spain, waiting out the political unrest in Argentina, and there began his writing career. Borges’s writing has always had a touch of existentialism, of self-reflection and surrealism. He is considered to be one of the fathers of magical realism and fantasy in some respects. Borges died on June 14, 1986 in Geneva Switzerland.

A Quartet of Twitter Fiction by Alex Hurst

Eventually, it was discovered that the man who sold Jack those beans was actually Rumpelstiltskin, purveyor of oddities and parlor tricks.


A week after top minds in science revealed a world he’d only ever imagined, he wanted to be blind again. The dream was better.


The horrors of her Dust Bowl days never left her; frozen meals and watermelon rot in her fridge while she starves, afraid to waste the food.


Three thousand years, and Atlas, weary, shifts the globe on his shoulders. A new north star, a new direction; a new world.

Jack o’Lantern by Anthony Hulse

Halloween was here and I should have been overjoyed, but I was not. My parents looked at me proudly as I shivered in the passageway. I was dressed in my vampire costume and held my prized pumpkin.

Bobby Shaw, my next-door neighbour, trundled along the icy path, his Frankenstein costume as immaculate as ever, his pumpkin twice the size of mine. “Hello, Mr and Mrs Francis. Hello, Peter,” he said, his icy breath visible.

My mother fidgeted with my scarf, mumbling how cold it was, and embarrassing me by saying, “I don’t want my little angel to catch his death of cold, now do I?” She seemed to forget I was now ten years old and not a child anymore. She kissed me on the cheek and I reluctantly followed in the footsteps of Bobby, joining up with the other trick or treaters, who waited beneath the lamppost, stamping their cold feet.

“Did you have to bring the little twerp?” moaned Vernon Greer, the oldest and tallest in the party, who wore the mask of a ghoul. “He ought to be with kids his own age.”

Bobby Shaw slapped me around the head before he answered. “I didn’t have any choice, did I? My folks made me take him; besides, he has no friends his own age.”

“Well, he’s not coming with us,” insisted Vernon.

I acknowledged by now my role for the night. I was to walk well behind the group, and to receive only the candies that the others did not like. I followed the annual routine, waiting out of sight while the others collected their rewards. Woe betides anyone who never coughed up. Their windows would be pelted with eggs, or dog poo would be pushed through their letterbox.

I jumped up and down on the spot, attempting to ward of the cold as the swirling snow numbed my face. My eyes followed the large party across the road. They were led by a short, stocky man with huge sideburns, a top hat and cloak. In his gloved hand he carried a huge lantern, even larger than Bobby Shaw’s. Towards the rear of the group was a small boy with red hair, his face as white as snow. His eyes and lips were black like coal. The boy, who looked about my age, wore a skeleton costume.

I decided to introduce myself and jogged across the road. “Hello, I’m Peter.”

The boy ignored me and walked on, following behind the rest of the group. One by one, they looked over their shoulders, their faces seemingly hid behind masks. There was a mixture of ghouls, vampires, skeletons, witches, and ghastly-looking dwarfs. I scrambled after them, curious as to whom these people were.

I kept pace with the small boy, who continued to ignore me. “What school do you go to?” I asked.

Again, he chose to disregard me. The only sound that could be heard was the crisp footsteps, as they plodded through the laying snow. The man with the lantern led us into the grounds of a large house. He approached the door and pounded on it loudly.

A grey-haired man in a red, silk dressing gown answered, and regarded the group like something on the bottom of his shoe. His large Alsatian dog manoeuvred its head around the door and growled.

“Yes?”

“Trick or treat?” The voice from the man with the lantern was deep and rasping.
“Beggars! Bleeding beggars, that’s all you are. Now, go away or I’ll set my dog onto you.”

The door was slammed shut in our faces. The man in the top hat turned and placed his hand upon the shoulder of a woman, who wore a witch’s costume and held a broom. The witch stepped forward, her wrinkled hand reaching out for the door handle. She stepped inside the house and a deep groan spread throughout the party, as they turned and walked away.

I was mesmerised and walked backwards, wondering what I had just witnessed. A loud scream, followed by a high-pitched yelping, caused me to jump. The strange group appeared unperturbed and continued on their way into the dark, bitter night.

Several houses later, a similar development occurred, with the householder most uncharitable. This time, one of the deformed dwarfs entered the house, and the screams followed. This happened on five occasions during the evening, and the group was whittled down gradually.

They walked on silently, heading away from my neighbourhood. I stopped and contemplated what to do. True, I was curious, but my parents I knew would be livid at me for leaving Bobby Shaw and the others.

The small, redheaded boy looked back at me as he followed behind the others, his eyes sad and forlorn. I ran after him when they crossed the main road and headed towards the woods.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, but a scowl from the man with the lantern made him change his mind. The woods were enshrouded by a cold, swirling mist, and a hooting owl serenaded us as we advanced. Again, the party looked back at me one by one, their pale faces seeming to have lost substance. Rotten flesh clung to their bones, their gnarled teeth clearly visible.

I halted and watched when the strange people gradually vanished into the mist, apparently unconcerned about my presence. The small boy reappeared and walked slowly towards me, his face devoid of flesh. He reached out with his bony hand and I turned to run.

“Wait! Please, don’t be afraid.”

I cowered behind a tree and watched as he advanced slowly.

“Come, and I’ll show you where we live.”

I shook my head, my body trembling with fear, as well as the cold.

“Please, we’ll not hurt you… It’s been so long since I’ve seen someone my own age,” he stated.

“W-w-who are you?” I stuttered.

“My name is Jacob.”

“Your face… Is that a mask?”

“Come with me and I’ll explain everything.”

I cautiously followed Jacob deeper into the woods, until he stopped at an enormous tree.

“So, where do you live?” I quizzed.

“This is my home.” Jacob turned and walked towards the tree, before he vanished. “Come on, don’t be afraid.”

I walked carefully towards the tree with my hands held out in front of me, marvelling when I saw them pass through the growth. Another stride and I was inside a huge structure of whiteness, with many doors leading from the mist-filled room. Through the vapour, I made out the shape of Jacob waiting for me.

“Welcome to my home,” he smiled.

“But, I don’t understand. What is this place?”

“Peter, after midnight, you’ll not see me for another year… I long for the day I’ll not return here, but my time has not come yet.”

I was confused. “I don’t understand, Jacob… Who are you?”

The bizarre boy kept his distance, purposely I believe; not wishing to portray his hideous features to me.

“Peter, we live in different worlds. I am one of the undead, as is everyone who inhabits this world. When the time is right, Jack will offer me my liberty.”

“Jack?”

“Why, you’ve surely heard of Jack-o’-Lantern, have you not?”

I looked down at my pathetic pumpkin and nodded.

Jacob continued. “Many many years ago, Jack was a drunkard and a trickster. One day, he tricked Satan into climbing a tree. He carved the image of a cross in the tree and trapped the Devil. Jack made a deal with Satan that he would never tempt him again, on condition he would let him down the tree.”

“He agreed?” I asked.

“Yes… Years later, Jack died and because of his sins was denied entrance to the gates of Heaven. Because he annoyed the Devil, he was also denied access to Hell. Instead, Satan gave Jack a single ember to help light his way through the darkness. Jack placed the ember inside of a pumpkin to keep it glowing, hence the legend of the Jack-o’-Lantern.”

“You said Jack would offer you your liberty? I don’t understand.”

“Every Halloween, we trick or treat; our reward being that any mortal denying us will be replaced by one of us. The remainder wait for another year, hoping they too will one day be free.”

“But, why you?” I asked.

“As I’ve already told you, Peter, I’m one of the undead. The people who live here were evil in your world…including me.”

“You?”

“I too was denied the entrance to Heaven, because I killed my parents. I accidentally upset a candle and my parents perished, over one hundred and twenty years ago. Hell was never an alternative for me… You see, I live in hope that one year, Jack will choose me.”

“But, you said you killed your parents accidentally?”

“It matters not… Listen, you must leave.”

I was more curious than ever. “But, why did you invite me here, Jacob?”

“Because, I want you to be my friend. We can meet every Halloween.”

“I’d like that.”

I held out my hand and strained my eyes, trying to see his hideous features that were concealed by the mist. I felt nothing but pity for the small boy who had been trapped in his own hell for so long. Jacob refused my handshake, no doubt ashamed of his skeletal hands.

 

“Please, go before it’s too late,” he insisted. “Goodbye, Peter, my friend.”

“Goodbye, Jacob.”

Jacob pointed towards the exit and I followed the line of his finger. I trusted him and stepped through the wall and into the woods. The mist was now even denser and I had trouble getting my bearings. I advanced slowly, unsure if I was going the correct way. A rustling sound behind me caused me to increase my pace. I glanced over my shoulder to see someone approaching. “Jacob, is that you?”

A shrilling laugh came from the mouth of the white-haired witch. On closer inspection, I could see she carried a large knife. Hunched behind her was a dwarf, his decaying face contorted in anger.

I turned and ran for my life, blindly crashing into tree limbs and thorny shrubs. I dropped my lantern, my legs tired and my breath coming in short spasms. The twisted maze of roots took me by surprise and I plummeted to the ground. I turned on my back and saw the hideous witch and the dwarf stood over me.

“A tasty morsel for my cauldron,” laughed the witch.

“Yum, yum,” followed the dwarf.

She placed her spindly, bony fingers around my throat and brought the knife upwards. The dwarf held my arms down, his vile breath reeking of rotten fish.

“No!” came the scream from behind.

“Jacob!” I yelled.

“Go away, puny boy,” ordered the witch.

“Leave him be! He’s my friend.”

“Leave him be, he’s my friend,” mocked the dwarf.

The witch raised the knife menacingly. “He’s a mortal and it’s not yet midnight.”

“Put down that knife!”

The witch’s expression changed from ecstasy to disappointment when she turned to face the protester.

The bright glow coming from the lantern was evidence of his identity. “Your time has not yet come, Matilda, and you know the rules. Leave the boy be!”

The witch reluctantly released me and scampered off, the groaning dwarf following closely behind her.
Jack approached and held his lantern in front of my face, the gruesome face of the turnip even more terrifying than the owner’s disfigured features.

“Go, and do not ever speak of this night to anyone. The consequences for you will be dire; do you hear me, boy?”

I clambered to my feet, nodded rapidly, and looked past Jack, towards Jacob, who pointed towards the exit of the woods.

“I understand, sir.”

“Now, go. Run, you young scamp!”

I ran faster than I had ever run in my life, only stopping when I reached my home. I kept my word and never ever spoke of that Halloween to anyone. As the years progress and my hair turns grey, I still venture out at Halloween, accompanying young Jacob on his trick and treats, hoping that one day he will fulfil his wish and be chosen. I was not entirely truthful when I said I kept my word; after all, I’ve told you, haven’t I? Can you keep a secret?