“Black cat, black cat hanging from a tree, black cat, black cat come join me.” The black cat dropped onto the witch’s shoulder. Black cats had more than nine lives especially at Halloween. Witches filled the sky, even the Ancient Ones had flown with them. It was twenty years since The Incident. This would be a special Halloween, a dark Halloween in Clearfield, Ohio.
“It’s been twenty years this Halloween. Your kids need to skip trick or treating. It won’t be safe for . . .”
“Stop it dad,” Emily cut him off. “I know the story by heart. You saw the witch’s face and pulled the little girl away from the witch’s grasp.” She had changed from a long haired teen beauty into a short haired mom with blond streaks in her brown hair.
“That little girl was you Emily.”
“I know, I know. And you spent the next five years in the Rosemont Sanitarium.”
“They put me with all the crazies. People laughing hysterically, crying, screaming every night. I was the normal one. I told them the truth about that witch. They didn’t want to listen.”
“Ever since mom died and you couldn’t be by yourself anymore, Bill and I took you in, gave you a home.”
“And I’m grateful. I offer you my disability check every month.”
“Dad, we don’t need your money. Bill has a good job. We’re not rich but we’re comfortable.”
“Emily, Halloween is in two days.”
“The kids won’t let me forget that. I know you’re worried and want us to be safe. Just don’t talk like this in front of Bill. He’s not your biggest fan.”
“And Clearfield Acres are open and waiting for me.”
“I didn’t say that dad.” Emily stood, heading to the kitchen. “I bought four pumpkins this morning. Why don’t you carve them before Ted and Caroline come home from school.”
Dad looked out the big living room window. I know the witches are coming, coming for me and my family, he thought. He walked to the kitchen and sat in front of the pumpkins.
Emily handed him the large knife. “You can put the pumpkin guts in this paper bag.” She zipped her light jacket. “I’ll be outside raking leaves.”
The first pumpkin was not his best work. The smiling face and hollow eyes stared back at him. Dad reached for the second pumpkin. Pulling out the pumpkin guts, he thought of a different face, a silly face for the kids to enjoy.
But the knife wouldn’t cooperate almost like it had a life of its own. The slices were different this time. A face emerged not of his choice. NO! It couldn’t be! The last strokes completed the second pumpkin. The large knife dropped to the table. It was the witch’s face!
Then the pumpkin’s mouth spoke,”I am flying to kill you and everyone you love! All my friends are coming too. You cannot escape your fate this time!”
Dad leaped backwards from his chair and fell to the kitchen floor hitting his head. He looked up at the pumpkin. Was the pumpkin laughing at him?
Emily ran from the back door. “Dad, oh my god what happened?” Dad was unconscious covered by pieces of a broken pumpkin.
“Ghouls, it is time to awake, there are more souls to take.” The legion of witches joined an enormous army of bats. the sky turned black as night as they flew to their Ohio destination. Two days remained before Judgment Day on Halloween.
“Dad, are you alright?”
His eyes opened slowly and he looked up at Emily. “I’m okay. Sorry about the pumpkin. Maybe I need to take a nap after lunch.” He sat down again.
Emily made chicken noodle soup and placed a box of crackers on the table. They ate quietly. Finally, she said,”You scared me dad.”
“I’ll call my doctor. Don’t worry.” He carried his soup bowl to the kitchen sink. “I’m gonna get some sleep.” Dad had a small back bedroom. But he still had furniture in storage for many years now. Perhaps for his future condo? If he lived that long!
Dad fell deep into sleep and had That Dream again. Twenty years ago Emily was his little girl. Trick or treating wrapped up and Emily’s bag weighted down with candy. They turned on Walnut Street for the long walk home.
The witch appeared before them. Her long black arms reached suddenly for Emily. Dad pulled Emily closely into his arms. Then he saw the face of the witch. An evil face of an old hag with black lifeless eyes. He raced Emily down the sidewalk safely into their house. He stood by the window staring into the dark night. That was where the medics found him incoherent and in shock.
Sometimes, the dream became a nightmare and Emily disappeared with the witch into the moonless sky. He would wake up crying into his pillow. Once, he woke up screaming. Bill was the first to open his bedroom door. Not a way to make points with Bill. Dad stopped talking about it until today with Halloween fast approaching.
Emily’s car was gone when he left his room. Time to pick up Ted and Caroline. Dad grabbed his car keys and drove slowly down the street to the police station. He needed to get his question answered without being arrested.
The desk sergeant Murphy looked up from his paperwork. “How can I help you sir?”
Dad tried to choose his words carefully. He wouldn’t be much help to anyone if he spent the next few days in jail or the Rosemont Sanitarium. “I guess with Halloween in two days I”m concerned about the safety of my grandchildren trick or treating.”
“Nothing to concern yourself. We have police cruisers on all the main streets. The side streets aren’t ignored either.”
“Thanks, but I was worried about other, people, bothering the children.”
Murphy nodded. “I understand. We recommend the parents or grandparents escorting the younger kids. You can always call 911 if necessary.”
“They’re coming for us!” Dad pleaded. “You have to be ready for the terrors of this Halloween!”
“Buddy,” Murphy replied,”go home. We’ll be safe on Halloween.”
Dad hurried back to his car. It wasn’t enough protection. The police had no idea what was heading to their town.
The witches scattered everywhere. No one could see them until they wanted to be seen by others. They could spy on the people and plan their Halloween mischief. One witch landed in front of the police station watching a man drive away in his car. “There he is! Revenge is mine! This Halloween will be remembered forever by my sisters of the night!” The bats continued flying and dominating the afternoon sky.
“Spider, spider come out of your web, spider, spider many will be dead.” The brown spider moved slowly over the witch’s outstretched hand. Nellith smiled with her crooked teeth as the spider climbed onto her other hand. She was named by two of the Ancient Ones, Zoraida and Louhi. The original Nellith called “the searcher of the night” many centuries ago.
But Nellith needed to add a young girl to the witches’ coven. Her failed attempt in Clearfield, Ohio had embarrassed her. What seemed like a few moments had been twenty years. Now revenge was hers and now a young girl would be hers as well.
Ted ran up to Dad when he walked through the door. “Cool pumpkins gramps. Mom said you did all the work.”
“Well, your mom helped too. You got homework young man?”
“Some math. Guess I’ll try to do it without anyone’s advice.”
Dad ruffled Ted’s hair. “Good idea.” When Ted left the kitchen, Dad continued,”You know Caroline is ten years old, just like you were when it happened.”
“Dad, I thought we finished this conversation.” Emily replied as she filled a pot with water. “If it will make you feel better, come with us when the kids trick or treat.”
“I will. You can bet on that!”
“Enough dad. Bill will be home soon.” She continued making dinner and Dad spied Caroline on the living room couch.
“Tell me about your day honey.” Dad sat next to her.
“Me and my friends were talking about Halloween. We wanna trick or treat together without moms.”
“NO!” Dad shouted.
Emily ran into the room. “What’s going on?”
Caroline looked at her through teary eyes. “Gramps yelled at me.”
“I’m sorry,” Dad said as Emily gave him an angry look. “I’ll go outside till dinner. Where’s my sweater?”
Dad sat down on the old chairs they kept on the patio. Emily had made a small dent in the multicolored leaves decorating the yard. If his back would hold up, he could help with the raking. Probably not though.
He had always liked the fall even as a child. He would throw the football around and even play in the neighborhood football games. Going back to school was never a problem for him. It was a chance to meet girls, even his future wife, Jackie, had been a classmate of his.
But all Dad could focus on was Halloween. Would the witch return? He knew the answer. Of course she would return and bring other more powerful witches this time. He felt a sudden ice-cold chill as if winter had started only for him.
Nellith stood over him. Should she let him see her? Too soon. Maybe her little friend would want to say hello. She dangled the brown spider in front of his eyes; back and forth it went.
“What the hell?” Dad screamed out loud as he swatted at the spider without success. Suddenly, it was climbing on his forehead. He tried unsuccessfully to knock it away. Terror gripped him as the spider moved down his face. There was an otherworldly laugh and the spider vanished. Dad’s entire body shook until Bill arrived home.
“Terrors of the night, bring fright on Halloween night.” Nellith watched the costumed children hurry down the sidewalk to school. Halloween, the wait was finally over. The Ancient Ones had selected the flat roof of Clearfield City Hall to watch their sister witches tonight. Nellith readied for her choice of a little girl to become a witch just like how it happened to her ages and ages ago.
Black magic shrouded her from being seen by these foolish people. Nellith did realize that the one they called Emily was that little girl on the sidewalk all those years in the past. But now there was a daughter, Caroline. She would be a real prize to give to the Ancient Ones.
“Maybe you need to stay home tonight dad,” Emily said as she stirred her coffee. “I’ll be with Ted and Caroline for trick or treating.”
“No. I’m coming too. The children need to be safe.”
“Dad, you haven’t been yourself. You’ve been on edge for days now.”
“I’ll be joining you for trick or treat. It’s important to me Emily. Humor your old man.”
“Okay dad.” She finished her coffee. “Are you up for bagging leaves if I do all the raking?”
“Sure. Let me get my jacket. I”ll meet you in the backyard.”
The day passed from raking leaves to eating lunch. Then Emily left to pick up the kids from school. Dad wondered how he could help protect the children tonight. Twenty years later his strength and reflexes had weakened. Would this be a battle for Caroline’s life?
Ted walked in carrying his green monster mask. “Hey gramps. Are you walking with us tonight?”
“Yes I am.” Dad responded. Caroline followed in her white angel costume complete with a halo clipped in her hair. “You look beautiful honey.”
Caroline smiled. “Thanks.” Then she left for her bedroom.
“Change your clothes before dinner,” Emily called to her. “No food stains on that white dress.”
When Bill arrived, Emily served dinner. The children ate quickly with more on their minds than meatloaf. Dad pushed his food around his dinner plate with little being eaten. Emily worried too but didn’t want to show it.
Bill announced,”I’ll pass out candy and try to get some work done on my laptop.” He felt more comfortable with numbers than people. Fortunately, he spent most of his working hours in his Federal Savings office away from the customers.
Caroline struggled while Emily brushed her hair. “I’m almost done. Let me use these clips on your halo.”
Ted dressed in his costume and stood by the front door. “Let’s go!” He carried a pillowcase for tonight’s treasures.
Dad and Emily exchanged glances as they followed the children out the door. Nothing needed to be said. Bill disappeared into cyber space unaware of the terrors of Halloween night.
Ted and Caroline hurried to each house as Emily waved to the neighbors. Everything seemed like a normal Halloween. Pumpkins and ghostly displays decorated the porches. Emily smiled at the cute costumes for trick or treating. Then they turned the corner to Walnut Street, the same street where It Had Occurred.
Dad’s heart skipped a beat when he saw a woman wearing a witch’s costume. Only it was a mom just joining in with her children. Dad’s eyes looked past the children up and down the street. Would this be the battleground again?
Emily searched through the growing twilight for the witch from twenty years ago. “I must keep my children safe,” she kept repeating.
Nellith materialized in front of Caroline. “Leave my sister alone!” Ted cried out. Dad turned and dove towards the witch. He crashed onto the sidewalk in pain. How did the witch disappear?
“Pretty, pretty girl.” The ancient gnarled fingers grabbed Caroline’s arm. Emily screamed and rushed to her daughter. Dad reached out and grasped the witch’s hat. “My hat?”
Emily scooped up Ted and Caroline and they ran down the sidewalk. Dad faced the wrath of Nellith. The intense pain made his chest explode. Dad fell dead on the sidewalk. Emily ran into the house locking the door behind them. She stood watching and waiting for her father, her hero.