The taxi swept up the twisting gravel drive to the dark imposing manor house and stopped outside the glazed front door, eerily lit by a rather gruesomely carved pumpkin. After a short pause during which the driver was paid and a return journey arranged, Anna and Barry alighted.
“Who uses the word ‘alighted’”? Barry gaffawed. Anna gave him a stern look.
‘What’s wrong with the word “alighted’? I like it. Just because a word has fallen out of fashion doesn’t mean we should forget it. What would you say then?”
“Like everyone I would say that Anna and I got out of the taxi.”
Anna knocked firmly on the door. “Stop squabbling, we’ve spent a long time planning this party and I’d like to enjoy this evening.”
“This is certainly the right night for a disconnected voice. I’ll try and behave.” the voice chuckled
“Sorry. I do love your outfit but why couldn’t I have come dressed as Gomez as you are Morticia?”
“Because you are clearly more of a Lurch.” Anna reached up and kissed her husband lightly on the cheek. Think yourself lucky I didn’t get you the Uncle Fester outfit.”
The door swung open and the Bride of Frankenstein greeted them. “Hello lovely people in fabulous outfits do come in.”
“Hi Caroline, how are you?’ Anna kissed her friend and handed her a bottle of amber dessert wine. “Here is the Zombie Pee, Lurch here is carrying the pudding.” Barry proudly offered a large sealed box.
“Bring it through to the kitchen, everyone is here.”
Anna and Barry followed Caroline in her blood splattered wedding dress into the large dark kitchen decorated for Halloween with candles flickering inside pumpkins placed around the room. Dark red flowers adorned a long table covered with gossamer spiders web and horribly realistic looking spiders.
Halloween is such a wonderful celebration for those with an active imagination. After the last adventure, I needed to find a way of grounding myself within both the process of writing and the story itself. Perhaps, by becoming directly involved in the narrative with Anna and Barry, I could ensure my role as author maintained the requisite detachment. It was also an opportunity to have some fun.
Frankenstein himself was the first to greet them by grabbing Anna, enveloping her in a green-armed hug. “You’re all corset!” he exclaimed.
“Don’t expect me to eat much tonight Tom,” Anna laughed, “I can barely breath! Everyone looks incredible.”
Barry went around the entire room lifting the women in a stiff Lurch-like manner, planting kisses on cheeks and shaking the men firmly by the hand, before accepting a large glass of green punch with some rather dubious looking floating garnish. The dinner party guests were close friends with a shared history of raising their families in a small town, connected by the school run, Sunday football, parties, sleep overs and the tradition of regular “throw it all together” picnics by the river.
“I don’t know you.” Barry declared in a surprised and apologetic voice after planting a kiss on the cheek of a woman who looked remarkably similar to Caroline, except that she was dressed as a witch.
“Barry this is my baby sister, Sarah. She is visiting for the weekend with her new boyfriend Sam. Barry looked about expectantly for a ‘Sam’ to shake by the hand.
“He’s upstairs putting the finishing touches to his outfit.” Sarah explained.
“Happy Halloween everyone.” Helen, dressed as a rather beautiful ghost, raised her glass and clinked it with her husband Rob who had conceded to his wife’s insistence that he join in by wearing a long black cape and a pair of vampire teeth.
“Have you really organised games Caroline?” Peter received a swift elbow in the ribs from his wife Sally fittingly dressed as Daphne with her long bright red hair.
“Oh, don’t be such a party-pooper. This is why your daughter doesn’t want you to go out with her on Halloween” Sally laughed.
“I’ll have you know that our daughter loved my Fred costume and considers me to be the town party animal.”
“That’s because she knows you’re always in the pub.” Barry smirked and took a long sip of the punch.
“Yes, Pete, I have organised some games, we’ve got to get in the spirit of the occasion. This is my first Halloween for ten years that I haven’t had to traipse round the town following children in flimsy outfits undergoing a massive sugar rush!”
“Fair point, what are we playing?”
“Wait and see, lots of scary stuff.” Caroline reached for the punch ladle and stirred the gruesome looking liquid. “I think this looks disgusting, and I made it.”
“She’s right, the punch looks like liquid vomit.” Barry made a face in agreement.
“Tastes pretty much the same way too.” He muttered. Anna shot him another look; it was going to be a long night if she was going to be required as a referee. “The most realistic thing is the froth on top.”
“That isn’t froth it’s spit, you know like when after you’ve puked?” Barry put his glass down slowly.
“I think I’ll leave that there for now.”
My Mother loved a party. When we were young, it was decided that the festival following closely afterwards, involving burning a terrorist at the stake after an attempt to assassinate a King, was an inappropriate motive for a party and chose instead to concentrate on Halloween, originally a more religious remembrance of the dead. Long before the festivities evolved into knocking on neighbours doors and sugar overload, the evening involved dressing up at home, eating gruesome food and playing silly games, at least it did in our home.
Sam entered the kitchen. He was tall and slim, dressed like a Disney wizard with a long blue cape and a false beard. “Hello, I’m Sam.” He had a warm smile and relaxed nature. “I’ve checked on the children, they are all fast asleep, or at least pretending to be.” He conceded.
“Thank you Sam.” Caroline handed him a glass of punch, which he eyed cautiously. “What is in this?” he asked quietly. Barry tried to give him an encouraging smile but he knew it wasn’t very convincing.
“Are we going for the first game?” Caroline was excited by the evening she had planned. “The first one is pretty scary.”
“If you are five years old maybe” laughed Tom “Is it the one in the lounge?”
The lounge was completely dark. Caroline had gone to a great deal of effort to make sure that there wasn’t a chink of light in the room. Anna grasped Barry’s hand and stood very still as everyone moved in around her. Caroline was the last to enter and shut the door, blocking out the last of the light from the flickering candle in the hallway, all the furniture had been moved to the edge of the room. “Are we all here? Can you each check you have your partner? Is that you Tom?”
Tom groaned like Frankenstein.
“We all need to hold hands and then sit down so we are in a circle”. Caroline tried to bustle everyone but the vodka in the punch was beginning to take effect and there was a good deal of mischievous fumbling while everyone got organised and seated.
Everyone held their breath waiting to see what would happen next.
Tom’s voice broke through the dark in a low menacing voice.
“It was a dark and windy night aboard the HMS Victory as it limped home following the fierce battle in the Atlantic. Men huddled on deck, frightened and cowering against the splintered balustrade. The ship rolled violently with the waves, spraying seawater as it crashed into the surf. Their beautiful ship had sustained heavy damage but was thankfully still afloat. Feel a piece of that same decking, wet with sea water and sticky with the blood of the dying…”
Tom paused for effect and passed a piece of wet plank to Caroline, who passed it on round the circle until everyone had handled the object. Everyone was caught up in the ghostly atmosphere and Tom continued with the story.
“The rain lashed against the terrified men,” he recounted, spraying them with fat drops of water to yelps of surprise as the cold water unexpectedly hit their skin. Tom was unable to see where he was spraying but he knew from the responses that he was hitting targets. It took all his story-telling effort not to laugh. “They knew that their beloved leader had been lost in the battle that day and they mourned his death. The small group of men were secretly afraid of the stories they had been told about what happens to those who steal from the dead, for each had taken a grisly souvenir from their Admiral’s temporary resting place. They knew he might want to take a bloody revenge while retrieving what was rightfully his.”
Another long pause and Tom handed around a frayed piece of linen. “One had ripped from his body a piece of the flag that had been used as a shroud, demonstrating his patriotic sacrifice. It was bloodied and soaked from the wounds in his torso and the surgeon’s efforts to remove the bullet.”
“Gross! It is actually sticky.” someone muttered in the dark, trying but failing to lighten the mood.
Tom continued. ”One went further and actually removed the bullet from the warm corpse with his fingers.” A small hard spherical object was passed round.
“I think it’s one of the children’s marbles” Barry whispered imperceptibly in Anna’s ear. He knew she wasn’t keen on the dark.
Next, Tom handed a small flask of brandy around the group as if giving them a small respite in the story. He waited until they had all taken a sip. “One had taken an small flask of the very embalming liquid itself.”
“Oh Tom that is horrible.” Helen wasn’t impressed with that one but she knew it wasn’t the end. What could be worse than that?
“One had removed a piece of their leader’s skin.” In turn something that felt like fresh skin was passed around the circle, to various exclamations of disgust. There was another long and spooky pause.
“And finally, one particularly foolhardy seaman had taken the biggest risk of all and removed Admiral Nelson’s good eye.” The ‘eyeball’ that was passed around was too much for some and Tom finally allowed himself to let go. His hearty laugh released the tension and everyone relaxed.
“Ugh, what was that last one? Was it really an eyeball? Sally asked cautiously, not really wanting to hear the answer.
“Hang on, let me turn the light on, watch your eyes everyone.” Caroline fumbled towards the switch and pressed it a couple of times to no effect. “Power must be out, never mind there is light in the kitchen.” Caroline opened the door allowing that small light from the pumpkin candle into the room. As the light entered and everyone acquired some vision there was a slow realisation that something was hanging in the middle of the circle. Feet, limp and visible below a dark blue coat, swayed imperceptibly, inches from the floor. As the friends slowly looked up in horror, the long white beard gave them another clue. Sam hung from the light fitting. His eyes, wide open, reflecting the flickering light, blankly stared down at them, his tongue protruded horribly as his mouth silently gasped for breath. It took a moment for everyone to take the scene in and Sarah was the first to let out a blood-curdling scream.
“Quickly Barry get him down, he can’t have been up there long.”
Barry reacted immediately; lifting Sam up by the legs while Tom moved forward quickly to disentangle the cloak cords from the elaborate centrepiece. Sam slumped to the floor with a sickening bump.
“Call an ambulance, quickly.” Even in the dark, Anna’s first aid instinct leapt into action as she prepared to administer CPR.
“You start, I’ll take over.” Helen knelt beside her offering support. “Hopefully the ambulance will arrive soon.”
Anna looked down at the shape of the body and a feeling of nausea swept over her as she realised the task ahead of her. Then, it dawned on her and she sat back on her heels and laughed.
“It’s OK, get up Sam, that was a horrible trick. How did you hover off the floor like that and not hurt yourself?
Sam grinned and sat up, “That would be telling, but I will say that I’ve spent the whole day making sure the light fitting could hold my weight. Excellent scream Sarah, well done.”
“Thank you Sam. That was our contribution to the evening everyone. Happy Halloween.”
“I need my drink.” Barry muttered and headed out to the kitchen. Everyone followed, moving very quickly away from the lounge, clearly shaken at the events and not looking back.
“You could have put me on the floor a little more gently.” Sam complained rubbing the back of his head and laughing at Barry as he downed the contents of his punch glass.
“You took control very quickly Anna, Caroline always tells me you know what to do.” Admiration clearly showed in Sarah’s voice.
“Why don’t we eat?” Caroline suggested. “That will lighten the mood. Sit down everyone, I’ve put out place cards, if you can see them.”
The friends were happy to be directed by Caroline and found their place at the table. Laughter slowly started to return to the evening.
My Father’s contribution to the evening was to build up the gruesomeness of the food (something to which he excelled – it is always useful to have someone who throws themselves in wholeheartedly) and as we pushed the food around our plate in disgust they waited for the brink of revolt before telling us what the ingredients really were.
“Ok, in typical Halloween style we have Blood Soup with floating fingers.” Caroline served at the table. The warm homemade tomato and basil soup was welcome and Caroline had gone to a lot of effort to make the grissini look like fingers with dirty fingernails drawn onto the end. In the dim light the food looked gruesome but tasted delicious. The crisp cold white wine flowed and all the friends began to relax again.
“Before we go onto the main course, can we play the game we bought as it can be played at the table?” Helen knew that her husband would enjoy the game and he still looked a bit shaky. “I need to give you all one of these.” Helen handed out envelopes seemingly at random. “We take it in turns to open our envelope and we have to act out the character quote inside in the most accurate way we can. Barry would you like to go first?”
Barry stopped in mid-bite of a floating finger crouton, having discovered that they had been baked with grated Parmesan. “Really? OK. Here goes.” He surreptitiously opened his envelope and paused for a minute reading the name inside. “Was this envelope really meant for me?”
Helen nodded with a smile.
Barry’s love of cheese and Hobnobs gave him a rotund physique but he sucked in as much belly as he could muster, moved round the table to stand close to Tom, stuck his left hip out at a grotesque angle and stroked some imaginary long hair. In a surprisingly feminine and husky voice he uttered the immortal words “Well get on with it, I haven’t got all night you know.”
Anna cheered but she refused to divulge the character, forcing Barry to put even more effort into his vamp. Finally Tom took pity on him, and in an effort to move Barry, who was now practically sitting on his lap. “It’s Valeria from Carry On Screaming, now get off me you great lump.”
“Thanks Tom, any longer and my pelvis would be permanently displaced!” Barry sat back down and resumed munching on the cheese croutons. “Who’s next?”
To increasing hilarity each one took their turn to act out their character. Helen had been careful to match the envelopes to the charades skills and outgoing nature of her friends. Caroline put particular relish into her “Get away from her, you bitch,” and Sam cleverly used two books for his rendition from ‘The Shining’.
“Excellent game Helen. Are we ready for the main course?” Caroline presented Flesh Stew and Mash Potato Ghosts. It was hearty food for the start of winter celebration. Conversation flowed, centring around rugby training, dance practice, school and town planning.
As the evening wound down and everyone was satiated, a voice whispered in the darkness. “This is getting dull. We’re supposed to be scared on Halloween. We’ve done Uncle Fester Bobbing Apples and Barry’s eaten all the cheese. Everyone enjoyed your Brain Mousse, Anna. So when is the taxi arriving?”
Barry laughed “I thought bringing a swim cap and brown towel for that game was very funny. I’m sure I’ll be seeing photos out there tomorrow morning!”
“Thank you. The taxi will be here in ten minutes.” Anna smiled “What happened to Sam?” She looked around, he’d been gone for a while.
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know. Perhaps the punch got him in the end. I’ll go and check on him.”
The problem with a Halloween party is how it should end. Like the end of a school disco just turning on all the lights is disorienting and abrupt. There needs to be wind down, a story perhaps, or a final quiet game…
“Is there anymore cheese?” Barry, having eaten all the Cheddar, could have nibbled until the early hours.
“No there isn’t, this has been a fabulous evening Caroline, thank you for hosting.” Anna interrupted Caroline as she rose to retrieve more cheese from the fridge, shaking her head furiously. “We need to start planning Christmas now.’
Sarah returned to the kitchen, she was visibly shaking. “I don’t know what is happening.” Sally was the first to see that there was something very wrong. “What is it?”
“Sam.” Sarah pointed towards the lounge. “Could we turn the lights on now?”
Caroline leapt towards the fusebox. “Of course, sorry. Shield your eyes everyone.”
The bright light caused everyone to blink but Anna quickly saw that Sarah was in shock and looked as if she was about to faint. “It’s Sam. Hasn’t he been with us all evening?” It was an unusual question.
“Yes he has.” Anna was confused. “I don’t understand, what’s happened?”
“He’s in the lounge.” Sarah sobbed
“I’ll go, Sally look after Sarah.”
Anna walked through the hallway that was brightly lit with a large central fitting bouncing light off the cream coloured walls, and opened the door to the lounge. In the centre of the floor, Sam lay in the same position that Tom and Barry had dropped him earlier in the evening. His blue cape cord was wrapped tightly around his neck, digging deeply into his skin. In the bright light she could see that the blood had drained from his face, his body had stiffened and his open eyes starred blankly up to the ceiling. It was obvious to Anna that he had been dead for hours.
Barry entered the room and audibly gasped.
“I don’t understand, he looks like he has been here all evening, but he was with us. I don’t understand.” Anna was starting to gabble and slumped on her knees to the floor beside
the body. Barry took over.
“Let’s go back to the kitchen and call an ambulance.” Barry lifted her off the floor and onto her feet, guiding her back through to the kitchen and sitting her onto a dining room
chair. Caroline was making coffee, Barry picked up his mobile and moved over to the window to make the call.
“Sam is in the lounge. He’s dead.” Anna started. “He looks like he has been there all evening, from the time we lifted him off the light fitting. I don’t understand.”
The friends sat quietly round the table as the horror of what had happened sank in. In their minds Sam had spent the evening with them, playing games, eating, drinking and laughing. In reality, he had spent the evening alone and cold on the lounge floor, unable to breathe with the tourniquet tightly gripping his neck, and unable to call for help.
Blue lights eventually screeched up the drive, coming to an experienced and controlled halt to avoid spraying gravel as they reached the front door. The friends knew that it was going to be a long All Hallows Day and that none of them would be able to explain what happened.
Footnote: As a Secondary School Business Manager, my work is focused around education funding and the current shortages that mean we have to find other ways to provide students with the resources they deserve. My contribution is my writing. If you’ve enjoyed this story, please search Amazon for ‘Idyll Interrupted’ in paperback or Kindle, my first crime mystery that is being sold in aid of my Academy. Any support you can give would be greatly appreciated and will encourage me to continue to write Anna and Barry adventures.