Halloween has never been a favourite celebration for me. I’ve never really bothered to find out what particular event or ceremony it was celebrating, but it obviously has attractions for story tellers. So, as another posting just to make a change from the sequence of collaborations with Eden Baylee, I’m offering something I wrote recently. I don’t think I’ve ever written a Halloween thing before and I’ve no idea where this one came from. I just hope you like it. It’s called ‘Game Over’.
The favourite time of year for Jake, Harry and Paula had always been late October and the approach of Halloween. When they were kids, it was the usual trick or treat extortion racket they loved, but they were past that stage now. They’d started being more aware of it as a time when the dead woke, souls wandered, a threshold between the dull, everyday world of school and the places where shadows congealed and impulses crawled up out of the subconscious to tear apart any lasting niceness. That’s what reading does for you.
Jake and Paula were just into their teens; Harry’s birthday wasn’t until December. All three lived in the same street. She was a vampire freak, had read everything from the original Dracula to the Twilight series and most things in between. Jake had a black Labrador called Nero and, being a huge fan of werewolves, often imagined himself becoming Nero and stalking the night-time streets of their small provincial town, howling and looking for people to bite. Everything about Harry betrayed the fact that his reading focused mainly on zombies. His clothes were always black or dark grey and, at the slightest excuse, he’d stretch out his arms and stagger along moaning.
As kids they’d set themselves Halloween challenges which got progressively harder but that had stopped two years back, when Harry’s father had to drive him to the hospital to get a wound on his wrist stitched up. It had been caused when the fangs Paula was wearing had failed to penetrate the skin of his neck, so they’d agreed that the only answer was for Nero to bite him. He’d put his arm between Nero’s jaws and Jake had pushed the jaws together until the teeth drew blood. The wound was made worse by the fact that Nero resented the way he was being abused, pulled away, and tore the flesh. The incident also meant that Harry was grounded the following year so the challenges just sort of stopped.
This year, as they sat by the fire they’d made down by the river, the sweet smell of cannabis hanging in the night air, Harry was remembering past challenges and trying to recall the excitements they’d brought, but they all seemed tame and, according to Paula, childish.
‘Halloween’s about something else,’ she said.
‘Like what?’ said Harry.
‘Dunno. Changes, things being … let out, freed.’
‘What, like graves opening and that?’
‘Yeah that, but … other things. I dunno. What d’you think, Jake?’
‘Dunno,’ said Jake. ‘But I know what you mean. It’s not about masks and dressing up.’
He believed what he was saying but he didn’t want to admit that the wolf inside him hadn’t died. Its hunger was stronger, had been for some time. Stronger, but different too.
They fell silent, staring into the fire, imagining things in the shadows around them, out of reach things, shapes of their fears, made more real by the joints they’d been sharing. By nine o’clock, they’d finished their third and were engaged in pretty serious debate about whose turn it was to roll the fourth.
‘I know,’ said Harry, lounging back against a tree. ‘We’ll do rock, paper, scissors.’
‘Grow up,’ said Paula. ‘That’s a kids’ game. We need something else.’
‘Like what?’ said Harry.
Paula looked at him, her fingers playing with a lock of her hair, her teeth biting gently at her lower lip.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Something just for us, something like…’
She stopped as she searched for a solution, her little finger now stroking the place on her lip that she’d been biting. The others waited.
‘Well?’ said Harry.
‘Roll that joint while I think,’ said Paula.
And, forgetting to protest that he’d been conned into it, Harry reached obediently for the skins.
Paula began to nod her head.
‘We’ll do knife, blood, cloak,’ she said at last.
Jake and Harry looked at each other and shrugged.
‘It’s a vamp thing,’ said Paula. ‘Knife causes blood, blood soaks cloak, cloak wraps around knife.’
‘How about alive, dead, zombie?’ said Harry.
‘Eh? How would that work?’
‘Well, a zombie’s living but it’s dead, too, so it sort of wins.’
Paula and Jake started giggling. As usual, the joints had made everything funnier. They’d also made coherent thought very difficult.
‘But how d’you get to be a zombie?’ said Jake.
‘Well, you die, but you sort of don’t.’
‘But how do you die? You don’t just get run over by a bus, or fall off a roof. You have to get bitten.’
‘Yeah,’ said Paula. ‘By a vamp or a werewolf – so they both beat zombies.’
‘Zombies are losers,’ said Jake.
Paula was looking at him, laughing with him. She shifted closer, leaned her shoulder against his. He turned and felt a tiny jolt as he looked at her face. Her eyelids were half-closed, their lashes dark. The flickering of the fire was reflected on her wet lips.
‘But what about when there’s only two of them left?’ she asked. ‘The vamp and the werewolf, who wins then?’.
Jake swallowed the saliva which had pooled on his tongue.
‘Werewolf,’ he said, but without conviction. ‘It’s an animal, no control.’
‘Yeah,’ said Paula. ‘Savage, a beast. But what if it sees the vamp, leaps and there’s nothing there. Just a bat, fluttering about.’
She raised her fingers to mimic the fluttering. Jake looked at them, followed the line of her arm down to her shoulder and breast. And found no words to answer her with.
Harry was licking the skins to seal up the mix of tobacco and weed.
‘Anyway, don’t matter,’ he said. ‘I’ve done it now.’
He took a stick from the fire, lit the joint and dragged deeply on it.
‘What we gonna do then?’ he asked.
Paula and Jake were looking at one another, vampires and bats, wolves and the moon galloping between them, blood beginning to pound to a different, more immediate beat. The world slowed down, they took an age to bring their faces closer to one another, their lips parted and they began to kiss.
‘Aw fuck,’ said Harry.