A Halloween Tale
may go and some may stay
For the 'keets of Key Lime Key, Halloween was drawing to a close. To be sure, there were still some ghosts and goblins racing back and forth across the twilight-shadowed grass of the common ground, costumes flapping and flashlights bobbing in the dusk, pretending their curfew was still hours away. But the trick-or-treating from bungalow to bungalow and the big party in the Boathouse were over until next year.
On the upper deck, under a slowly rising moon, the adult Legionnaires were winding down after an exhausting day of goblining for the younger residents of the Piratte Parrott Boathouse, Beach and Bar. Cap'n Ron and Janet, our head nurse, had been diligent in concocting and dispensing their own form of muscle relaxants, which were being sipped appreciatively. Sumo Ken was spinning quiet music over the sound system and BobRob was picking along on his guitar. Skip Wiley's electric lights and jack-o-lanterns with candles burning low tempered the descending darkness. The mood on the deck was mellow, and GreenWoman smiled to herself. Halloween was her favorite holiday, and this was the time of the day she liked best, when the noisy celebrations of the afternoon and early evening gave way to the quiet magic of the night.
Still, after a while, Green slowly began to feel that some things were a bit too quiet. Tropitude and Malibu sat together at a corner table, not speaking, and BobRob's chords were noticeably minor and melancholy. Even Gator Dave sipped his drink in uncharacteristic silence. The mood was more solemn than mere weariness would have warranted. Green sighed. She knew the cause.
It had been a year of loss, and near-loss, for too many of the Legionnaires. There were too many new stars in the sky, and tears in too many eyes, and although she knew it was the way of things and the way things had always been, Green mourned the others' losses as if they had been her own. Worse was the knowledge that there was little she could do to ease her friends' sadness, apart from reciting the same old clichés that time and overuse had long ago worn thin.
Sneakered feet pounding on the hardwood floor of the Great Room and the spooky squeal of the old hinges on the screen door brought everyone's heads up. A phlock of 'keets spilled out of the light from inside onto the deck with t.a., Calaloo, Fearless and a few other parent parrots in hot but futile pursuit. A ghost's sheet, trapped under a pirate's boot, tugged and tumbled its wearer to the ground, and the rest of the small party piled upon the two in a chain reaction that quickly resulted in a squirming, squawking heap of children.
t.a. and Fearless shrugged and seemed willing to let the tangle sort itself out, but Calaloo and the other mothers rolled their eyes at the males and waded in, tugging small bodies to their feet, straightening what was left of their costumes and drying the few tears that had been spilled. The other Legionnaires, their melancholy mood broken, laughed helplessly at the sight. t.a. shook his head in apology.
"Sorry to break up the party, gang," he said, "but the sugar high is a long way from being burned out."
FMA smiled. "Was it my carmel apples?"
"Or my popcorn balls?" asked Trevor.
"More than likely, it was Gator's mom and grandmom, who made way too much of everything," laughed Stephanie. She and several of the adults had diligently taste-tested everything that the two older women had made.
"Should've doctored the punch," said jeff darkly. FMA threatened him with a caramel apple, and he winked at her.
"Come on, you guys. Game over," intoned Fearless, taking his daughter by the hand.
"Oh, daddy, it's not even really dark yet!" she resisted. Immediately unified against the common enemy, the small mutineers loudly echoed her the protest. Calaloo shook her head. "Getting them to settle down to night is going to be impossible."
GreenWoman, childless herself and generally glad of it, thought for a moment and then spoke up.
"You guys, if I tell you a story first, will you go to bed?"
There was some slow consideration of this offer, as tiny minds tried to figure out if the bribe was worth surrender.
"What kind of a story?" asked a goblin with a chocolate-smeared face.
"A story with a princess in it?" asked a small girl in blue satin, her pointed hat barely clinging to her head by the elastic band under her chin.
"No!" cried a pirate, waving his flashlight. "We want a scary story!"
GreenWoman smiled. "Would you like to know the story of Halloween?"
"Yes!" "Oh, yeah!" Tumultuous cries of assent greeted this choice.
"OK, sit down in a circle. You can each have a slice of apple, without caramel, while I tell the tale."
There was some shuffling while the keets collected their apple slices from a tray on one of the deck tables, then jostled each other into a ragged ring around GreenWoman's chair. GreenWoman took a sip of her drink, tipped the wax out of the candle next to her so the wick was clear and the flame flared higher, and began the story.
"A long, long time ago ... before there were cowboys, before there were knights, before there were--"
"Dinosaurs?" asked a T-Rex.
Green smiled. "No, not before there were dinosaurs, but not too long after there were cavemen."
"Oh." "Shut up, Johnny!" "I wanted to know!" "Hey, that's my apple!" "Is not!"
"Do you want to hear this story?" asked Green, trying to sound parental.
"All right, then. Long, long ago, there were a group of people called the Celts. They were farmers and hunters. They didn't have electricity, only the light from their fires, so they could only farm and hunt while the sun was in the sky. And they didn't have grocery stores or refrigerators, so all they had to eat was what they could raise themselves. So, when winter came and the days grew shorter, it was a hard time for them, because there wasn't as much food, and the nights were much longer, than the rest of the year. It was a dark and scary time.
"At the end of fall, the Celts would get ready for winter by harvesting and storing their crops and bringing their animals down from the distant pastures. And they would have a big feast, because it was the end of their year. They would celebrate what a good harvest they had enjoyed, and tell stories of all the things that had happened to them, and remember the people who had left them, in the year that was ending. It was a time for them to look back. They called this time of feasting and celebration Samhain, which is spelled S-A-M-H-A-I-N, but doesn't sound like 'samhane' but 'sohween.' It was a shortened way of saying 'summer's end.'
"Now, the Celts believed that when people died, they walked the Earth as spirits until the end of the year when they traveled on to the Otherworld, which was kind of like what some of us think of as Heaven. At Samhain, the Celts believed, the walls between this world and the next grew thin, and the ghosts of their family and friends would come to visit them one last time before they moved on. Of course, they worried that some of the ghosts who were not their friends might play tricks on them, so sometimes they dressed in costumes and pretended to be other people, to fool the spirits they were afraid of. But they also put out extra food and drink for the ghosts of those they loved, to welcome them into their old homes one last time. And they lit bonfires to help guide them on their journey to their new homes in the Otherworld.
"Now, on Halloween, we still do some of these things ... we dress up in costumes, and eat candy, make jack-o-lanterns, and play tricks on each other. And it's fun to pretend to be scared of ghosts. But it's also nice to remember that in olden times people thought that ghosts were parts of their family, and were kind to them."
The children were silent for a moment. Then the princess asked, "My grandma died this summer. Do you think she might visit me tonight?" There was a bit of a quaver in her voice.
"She might," GreenWoman smiled. "Tonight when you walk back to your bungalow, wave up at the moon, pick out a star and make a wish. That way, your grandma will know that you miss her. But she'll also know that instead of being sad that she's gone, you're smiling when you think about her. That will make her happy, don't you think?"
"And that will make you happy, too." GreenWoman stood up and stretched. "And now, off you go, ghosts and goblins! There still might be some ghosts out there with tricks left to play, waiting for you if you're late getting to bed!"
Happy confusion ensued as parrot parents and 'keets got to their feet and headed for the deck stairs. When the dust had settled, Green glanced down and swirled the ice in her empty glass, wondering if she could trick Cap'n Ron into fixing her one more treat.
"Here, Green," a soft voice said. She looked up and saw three of her friends standing before her.
BobRob was holding a fresh margarita. Malibu stuck a tiny paper parasol into a lime wedge, and Tropi dropped it into the glass. "Happy Halloween, GreenWoman," she said.
GreenWoman smiled and accepted the gift. "A good Samhain to us all," she smiled back at them.
In the dark, Sumo Ken started up the music again.
live on a big round ball
~ 30 ~