A favorite author of mine, Mr. Neil Gaiman, has proposed a new tradition. All Hallow’s Read. Inspired, I wrote a short story for my kids and am sharing it with you too.
Halloween is here, and so is the final chapter! Hope you have a blessed Samhain!
Katie’s parents kept her home from school the next day, even though she was eager to go back. After spending most of the morning with her folks, she retreated to her room. She sat down at her laptop and worried for a moment about what she should write. How could she complete her project now?
She’d connected the lack of a Hallow’s Eve festival with the tragedies of the missing children, but she’d promised Mr. Lars she would not mention what happened out in the woods. Finally, she decided to treat it as a creative writing project. Mr. Lars had told her that the original assignment was about traditions, and what is more traditional than a telling spooky tales on Halloween? Suggesting that the town might possibly be beset by a curse, she speculated in her paper that perhaps all residents had a requirement to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, for the greater good. She suggested that there was a need to practice ‘fright’, like an exercise, in order to strengthen their psychic shields and so protect the boundaries between the worlds. They had a duty to continue the spooky traditions, and keep the monsters, big and small, from getting through. As a way to conclude her paper, she proposed that she could help hold up her end of the bargain by organizing a reading booth at this year’s All Hallow’s Eve Festival.
She proofread her own paper, then she brought her laptop down to her dad for revisions and grammar checking. He was a bit surprised by her positive mood over homework, but happy to see it. When he read through the paper and got to the part about the reading booth, he asked her if this was just part of the assignment, or did she really want to do this?
Explaining that she thought it might be fun, he offered to stop by the library and local book shops to look for book donations, if, that is, her teacher approved of it. Katie thought that was a great idea, and added it to the notes in her paper.
Mrs. Lincoln drove Katie to school on Tuesday, but she was still ambushed by her curious schoolmates as soon as she stepped onto school property. She couldn’t go five steps without having to answer a question or explain, yet again, how she found the old gate or recount how dark and scary the woods were in the night. They gasped at her explanation of following Jaxon’s crying through the dark, these tiny sounds all that she had to go on to find him in the small clearing, hidden in the fog and brush. When she told how the moon kept dipping behind the clouds, leaving them in pitch dark blackness with only the groaning of the winds for company, many of the kids shivered with goose-bumps in sympathetic fright.
Many of her peers expressed curiosity about Mr. Lars’ book because the TV news reporter, that Katie had spoken to the night she’d found Jaxon, had shared the fact that she’d been driven to search the cemetery after reading the town history. A couple of the kids proudly displayed copies of the book of their own, old books that they had found in their family libraries. Individuals broke off from questioning her, to gather together in twos and threes to compare notes about the book with other readers. Keeping her promise though, Katie said not a word about their staff-wielding defender.
When 4th period Language Arts rolled around, Katie eagerly made her way to class. By this time in the day, most students had already satisfied their urge to interrogate her about the rescue, and she made her way mostly unhindered to class. She walked into the class room with five minutes to spare before the bell. She approached Mr. Lars at the whiteboard. When he turned and saw her, he gathered her up in a very unprofessional hug.
“I am so proud of you!” he said. “To act on your instincts and save that boy…” and his eyes got all misty for a minute.
Awkwardly, Katie quickly held out her paper to change the subject, overwhelmed by emotion herself.
“You finished the project?” he exclaimed, “you actually had time to read a novel, run off into the woods, save a child, and still write an essay?!” A sly smile stole over his face. “You have set the bar high young lady. You know that I will be expecting nothing else but greatness from you this year! Let me glance through this.” Sitting down at his desk, he hurriedly read through the three pages that Katie had typed up.
Reaching the end, he looked up at her. “This is very good. I really like how you explain various traditional beliefs concerning the veils between the mortal world and spirit world thinning at this time of year. Your speculation that our little town of Hickory Falls might connect to a place of particular darkness is an interesting one. That our ancestral instinctive fears of unknown evil provides a psychic barrier, that we are not even aware of, which closes the thinning tears in the veil, protecting us from that darkness, is positively brilliant! He read out loud a passage that Katie was quite proud of, ““Like a vaccine, we must inoculate ourselves with small doses of fear to keep our immunities strong.” Ah! I love this!” he exclaimed! And you got all of this from the book? You’ve truly outdone yourself Katie!”
Somewhat disconcerted by his complete lack of allusion to events in the woods, Katie tried to match his resolve to keep his part in it hidden. “I found the book very interesting, although quite sad, and it helped me understand how our modern celebrations evolved from ancient beliefs and how superstitions and traditions come to be.”
“Yes.” He said with a more sober tone. “This book is always difficult for me to read. I was very young, but the events in this book are true. My big brother did disappear and my father was driven mad, and eventually away from us, because of his grief. My mother and I got by and we have done very well since, but that was a dark chapter in our lives.”
By this point, more children had arrived for class and had gathered around Mr. Lars’ desk. He looked up at their quiet faces and smiled. “I think that I may have to dig out some more copies of this old book, maybe?” Shy giggles came in reply. “Miss Katie has already used this text to complete a make-up essay for not following instructions on the last project.” He paused to give her a mock frown, and Katie played along by hanging her head and glancing back up with sad puppy eyes. “However, I am sure that we can work it into our class somehow. Let me think on this. And get back to your own seats! How can we have a proper class with everyone sitting at my desk?”
They proceeded with their regular classwork. Today’s assignment was peer reviews of last week’s reading buddy assignments. Katie was instructed to use her original papers, even though she’d ‘cheated’ on the actual assignment, as it was still a good exercise in grammar and paragraph formation. The kids found themselves often side-tracked in their work, as they would digress into discussions about the books they’d read and how much their reading buddies had enjoyed the stories. Katie found herself wishing that she’d actually read her book as she had no such story to share!
The bell for 5th period rang, and as she started to gather her bag and walk out the door, hoping to catch up with Carin so they could walk to their next class together, Mr. Lars called out and asked her to stay behind just a minute. He finished looking over a couple of papers for other students, and signed a form that Mrs. Carlos, the band teacher brought by, and then he finally turned to Katie.
“Are you serious about the reading booth at the town’s All Hallow’s Festival this year?” he asked. “We are cutting it close, time-wise, but we may be able to squeeze it in there if this is something that you really want to do. I would need you to help organize it and get volunteers.”
“Yes!” said Katie. “While I was reading your book, I noticed that most descriptions of past celebrations always included the telling of ghost stories. I don’t remember ever seeing that at the festival! We have booths with food and crafts. We have apple bobbing and carnival games. Sometimes they host a hayride, in the daylight not the dark, and sometimes they have a hay-bale maze. But I don’t ever remember ghost stories. We haven’t ever had a haunted house either. As I was writing my essay, I couldn’t help but think that our festivals weren’t doing very much to “inoculate” us with fright, and that it might be fun to bring back this scarier part of Halloween night.”
“We still have the books that we read to the kindergarteners,” said Mr. Lars. “and we can include some more frightful young adult books for after sundown. You start thinking about how to decorate such a booth … posters, props, etc., although don’t go out and buy anything yet, and we’ll discuss this more later. I must bring this up with Ms. O’Donald for permission first. I don’t think she’ll have a problem with it. This is truly a grand idea Katie!”
“Oh! And before you go on to your next class,” he said, abruptly changing the subject, “I have something to show you.” He reached into his drawer and pulled out an old envelope. Gingerly opening it and carefully shuffling the contents into his hand, he held out an old black and white photo. Standing in the driveway next to an old car with lots of chrome and outrageous looking taillights, was a small blonde boy in shorts and a much taller version of himself. The teen was in shorts too, and his long blond hair was slightly lifted in what must have been a warm summer breeze. He leaned casually on a long wooden staff and was smiling down at whatever it was his little brother must have been telling him at the time.
“This was my brother, Colin,” Mr. Lars said, “he had broken his leg badly a few years before this picture was taken and he used that old staff as a cane. He teased me relentlessly, and always threatened to “whup me” with it, but he never would and I knew it. He was my hero. I wish, Katie, that somebody had investigated my brother’s disappearance, and that of the other kids’, like they do for kids now. We didn’t have Amber alerts or emergency broadcast systems or 911 or national missing kids registries. It breaks my heart still to think that whoever killed them managed to get away scot-free. It’s been so long now that the perpetrator is no doubt long dead and gone. But maybe, just maybe, if someone had looked for him like my dad tried to do… ”
“Anyway,” he said, interrupting himself with a sigh and a sad smile, “I’m sure that you don’t want to hear this moroseness and long ago loss and gloom. It was great luck that you found little Jaxon. I don’t know what possessed me, exactly, to have this book handy the other day when I assigned it to you, nor what possessed you to actually go look for that hidden grove, but the fates were smiling on us, and on little Jaxon in particular. When I heard the news, I knew that I had to share this photo with you. See, when Jaxon was reported missing the other day, well, it wasn’t just my family that had old wounds opened. You might not hear it from anyone else, but those of us who lost loved ones before, we all have our own reasons to be particularly happy that this weekend’s story had a much better ending than the tragic story that we lived through long ago.”
And as Katie took one more deep look into the long ago eyes of the elder Lars brother, she was glad that she’d kept her promise not to mention seeing her teacher in the woods the other night, as it would seem that he was not, indeed, ever there.