Karen sat and fiddled with her doll’s hair as she sat looking out of the window into the night. They had promised to come. The dark clouds drifted across the sky and the full moon appeared as if from behind a curtain, its white light shimmered on the wet slabs. She watched reflections swim like watery images along the path towards the bottom of the garden. Surely, now that the rain has stopped, they must be on their way. She kept her focus fixated on the gate.
She saw the flicker of lights behind the hedge; she held her breath. Dim lanterns cast shadows of a group of people who jostled towards her house. They stopped and a slow squeak from the gate announced their arrival.
‘They’ve come!’ Karen said. She ran and opened the front door.
Up the path walked a green-face witch with crusty scabs on her cheeks, followed by Jenny dressed as Wednesday, her face powered white and framed by jet black hair. A Humpback moaned and shuffled along as he picked his nose. Next came a pirate wearing a black eye patch and a red scar across his face. A string of plastic seaweed draped over his shoulder. A luminous skeleton wearing a woollen hat and sucking its thumb grasped onto the pirate’s hook. Behind them, Batman closed the gate that screeched against its hinges; he outstretched his cape and dashed to catch up with the group.
Karen met them at the front doorstep. She wore a chiffon nightdress that fluttered in the wind. Her face was as white as new bread and her eyes were red from crying; her lips blue from the cold. She smiled to see her friends and skipped forward to grasp the green-faced witch in a tight hug.
‘It’s a ghost!’ said Jean, the little skeleton, and she hid behind her brother’s leg.
‘Karen, you’re bald,’ said Paul, the pirate. ‘What a great costume.’
‘You came. Oh, you came,’ said Karen as she jumped up and down. ‘Quick, come in.’
Kylie, the witch, held up her jack-o’-lantern to light the steps, and the face on the pumpkin grinned. The group shoved at each other in the doorway and the wind rustled leaves into the hallway around their feet. Hugh, the Humpback, sneezed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He exaggerated his limping lope up the step and down the hallway.
‘Lennie why are your dressed as batman?’ said Karen and she shrugged. ‘It’s Halloween not superheroes.’
The door blew shut behind them with a bang.
‘It was a birthday present,’ he shouted and followed her into the kitchen. ‘Are you feeling better?’
‘Yes. Mum said I had eaten some bad soup,’ said Karen. She turned and smiled at Jenny.
They all placed their pumpkin and turnip lanterns on the floor to form a ring of glowing faces. Kylie filled a basin with water and placed it on the floor in the middle of the ring. Lennie dropped in the apples from his bag causing water to splash out over a lantern.
‘Don’t make a mess,’ said Karen, and she wagged a finger at him. She pushed Hugh the Humpback to one side and knelt by the basin to bite a bobbing apple.
‘You do it like this,’ said Hugh. He dragged a chair over to the basin and knelt on its seat; he held a fork in his mouth. He aimed at an apple and dropped the fork that landed with a plop. He had missed.
Meanwhile, Kylie strung up a line and attached some treacle scones, which were soft and warm. Jenny came over and laughed.
‘Come on Jean,’ said Kylie, ‘have a bite at a scone.’
‘No, I don’t want to. She’s a ghost.’
‘It’s just a costume,’ said Paul. ‘Come on, don’t be silly, have a go.’
‘No.’ Jean scuttled into the corner of the kitchen next to the fridge and sat on the floor. Only the luminous bones on her gloves were visible as she fed sweets into the shadow of her face. She gave a snort and giggled when Batman pulled an apple from the basin with his teeth, and water poured out from beneath his mask.
Karen screamed and laughed as Hugh the Humpback gorged at a scone and the treacle trickled over his chin. Kylie pulled the line back and forth causing the scones to hit Hugh.
Jenny smiled and waved to Jean.
‘Paul!’ Jean shouted. ‘I want to go home. You said we were going to Mrs Bradbury’s for trick or treat.’ She got up and ran down the hallway into the garden.
‘Karen do you want to come?’ said Paul.
‘I can’t, Mum said I must not leave the house,’ she said and watched as Jenny glided around the kitchen. ‘I should be better tomorrow.’
Karen waved goodbye to her friends, the ghouls, as they ran down the path to catch up with Jean.
‘Hey wait!’ called Paul. ‘What’s the matter Jean?’
‘She’s a ghost, you know,’ said Jean as Paul and Jenny caught up with her. She gasped and ducked behind him and hung onto his leg.
Batman ran ahead fluttering his outstretched cape, behind him walked the green-faced witch holding hands with Hugh the Humpback.
Next day, Jenny stood outside of her house and watched the removal men load their lorry.
‘We’ll soon have it all loaded, Mr Radcliff,’ said a sweating man.
‘There’s no rush,’ Jenny’s Granddad muttered and wiped his face with a handkerchief. He leaned against a wall and looked up at the tall windows of the house. His eyes watered.
Jenny remembered she wanted to see Karen before she left. No one noticed as she skipped off down the street as if floating on the autumn wind. She waved to Mrs Bradbury who was hanging some tea towels out on her washing line, but she didn’t wave back.
She followed the path into the woods and on down to the chestnut tree by the stream. She ran and jumped onto the rope swing and let the wind blow her back and forth. This was her favourite play spot and she would come here with Karen and sometimes they fished for minnows in the shallow pools.
Reddish brown and yellow leaves covered the ground and swirled around in the breeze. She picked up two mahogany coloured chestnuts and decided she would give them to Karen if she came.
She skipped along the narrow path between the brambles and the sandstone wall to an open grassy spot. It was here that her mother had collected the mushrooms for the soup. They all had second helpings except Karen who had thought it tasted disgusting, and Granddad had only taken one spoonful before he poured it away.
Climbing onto the wall Jenny looked up the field and saw Karen at the top of the slope next to a row of large stones. Jenny leapt off the wall and a blast of wind engulfed her in a swirl of leaves that rushed and tumbled up the hill. The small whirlwind swarmed around Karen and then; the expired breeze dropped the leaves onto the ground by her feet. Karen reached down and picked up the two mahogany chestnuts. She rolled them in her hands.
‘I miss you so much Jenny,’ Karen whispered. She ran her fingers along the letters engraved in the polished granite.
“Jennifer Jane Radcliff,
Aged 12 years.
May She Rest in Peace.”