Halloween Story

So here’s my Halloween story.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but there is no denying the otherworldly feeling that comes when it’s late on Halloween night, and the trick or treaters have all gone home, and there is a dark and quiet moment before you make your way to some party when the world rustles gently in the cool breeze.

That was my Halloween a couple years ago. I love giving candy out to trick or treaters; it seems like my duty, actually, now that I’m a grown up. If we don’t cater to kids, then what point is there to us, right?

I always make sure to keep my cats inside, so that the parade of strangers doesn’t freak them out and make them run away or anything. They’re indoor cats anyway, but occasionally I’ll let them out and give them some supervised play time before I scoop them up and pull them back in. They’re good animals, and know the rules, but if I leave them outside too long their wild blood gets stirred, and they’re likely to roam. So on Halloween, with so much energy coming from every direction, it’s best to keep them in.

Kids came and went, and my cats watched fervently at the window as each little costumed figure passed. They’re vocal, and frequently meowed at me to let them be a part of what was going on. But I knew better, so I let them be.

It was chilly, and I could hear the fallen leaves blowing about in the yard as the candy bowl emptied and I sipped away at a small glass of whiskey I kept tucked out of sight behind my chair. The porch was washed in red and purple decorative lights, and the steady orange glow from a half dozen jack olanterns lit the little concrete walkway that led to my porch. By nine o’clock the streets were empty, save for the occasional car with costumed adults going to their own Halloween celebrations. I finished my whiskey, finished what little candy remained, and turned off the lights, then shut off the speakers that filled my yard with screams and the sound of roaring saws. The night was then quiet, and yellowed from sodium street lights. All I could hear were the fallen leaves, stirred by the wind.

I opened the door to go in but wasn’t fast enough to keep the cats in. They’re big, strong boys, and nimble, and the jumped and shoved their way out almost without effort. Whatever; they would spend the next five minutes sniffing everything in sight. As long as I got to them quickly they wouldn’t wander off.

I grabbed a cigar (I’d quit smoking, but enjoyed the occasional stogie when the mood took me), poured a finger of whiskey, and went back out, watching from the porch as the cats bounded through the leaves, pouncing on one another and generally enjoying how awesome it is to be a cat. I sipped bourbon and puffed smoke, and in the dim light it was tough to notice at first.

The cats weren’t pouncing on each other. They were prone to play fighting – they grew up together, and always wrestled – but as I watched I realized they were jumping around each other. Not randomly; they were both focused on some point between them. They would rear back, and leap forward, rolling as though they held something in their curled paws, then spring back to their feet and jump again. It was playful, and they were laser focused on it. I figured maybe they had found some insect to pounce on. This deep in the south bugs are an issue well past October.

I let them jump and roll and kick up leaves, and when I finished my bourbon I put my cigar down and whistled. They know that whistle – “come here!” – and know that usually treats follow when they answer it. They stopped playing, looked to me, to each other, and then down at something between them. I whistled again, then called out loud for them. Finally, after a pause, they made their way to the door, and I ushered them inside.

I heard the leaves blowing again before I stepped in after them, and at that I paused. The whole time I’d sat outside, I realized, the wind hadn’t been blowing; even now the air was completely still. The remaining leaves in the trees hung unmoving, everything was quiet outside of the yard.

But in the yard…in the yard, I could see the leaves stirring. Not just stirring, really; I could see them shifting, as though jostled by something jumping around in them. Then there was the sound of scampering, and I could see leaves kicked up in the dark. My cats were back at the window, watching something in the dark. After a moment the leaves were still, but next door I could hear the neighbors’ dog begin to bark. I walked down to the driveway, and saw her through the backdoor, focused on something outside and barking excitedly. In the light that poured through doors windows, the freshly raked yard seemed completely empty.

I blew out the jack olanterns, and went inside.

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