There was a chill in the air. Autumn had arrived, swirling leaves from the trees and lifting the smell of the soil towards me as I walked past the church. Somewhere in the back of my head, I thought about what made up that smell and wondered what proportion of it was the bodies buried there. It was an uneasy sort of thought, which rattled around, waiting for me to push it into the box where things I chose to ignore stayed. I had been haunted for years by my fear. This time of year brought the feelings to the surface. The way I felt paralyzed me.

The kids at the school where I taught were already excited about Halloween and the fun they would have and the sweeties they would eat. There was a wildness, a reckless abandon that came with Halloween which had always made me edgy until the holiday was over. I had hidden at home when I was a child, refusing to go out with the others. It had been a source of terror which I had mastered, as I controlled most things in my life by pretending that I did not see them or know that they were there.

The late afternoon gathered into dusk around me as I reached the high street, and breathed a little easier once the street lamps and the lights from the shops were in sight. Only one more day until Halloween. Pumpkins and witches on broomsticks were in every window. Even the cakes in the bakery had sticky orange icing and chocolate spiders’ webs. I shuddered at the thought of eating something so disgusting.

I was finally home, fumbling with the keys to open my door, and threw myself into my house and slipped the lock to keep me safe within. My stomach was tied in knots; there was no way I would be able to eat dinner, but a cup of tea might help. I was grateful to sit in the warmth of my small living room and sip from my cup. If I could get through tomorrow at school without a complete meltdown, I could get home, turn off the lights, and pretend to be out. It would be over for another year.

The morning was beautiful, cold but crisp, as I walked to school. I threw the lights on in the classroom and breathed slowly to control the panic that the pictures on my wall threatened. Witches and werewolves were plastered across the orange paper on the pin boards. The head teacher had laughingly suggested that the children be allowed to come to school in fancy dress. I fully expected to be teaching a group of vampires and demons all day.

At nine, they streamed into the class, dripping fake blood, and barely suppressed excitement. I painted on my equally fake smile and took them through English, stories about Halloween, maths; if I take 17 pumpkins away from 30, how many do I have left? Art, pictures of your favourite ghost of ghoul. Playtime saw them scream around on the tarmac, terrifying each other. At 3:30, I was hugely relieved to send them home. All I had to do was to get to my house, without any further incident, and it would be over for another year.

I avoided the church, and therefore the graveyard. I walked for ten minutes longer, to stay on the main road. Finally, I opened my door, and slipped the bolt. Sitting in my house, with the curtains closed and the warmth of a blanket wrapped around me, I felt a little better. Slowly, my breathing returned to normal. I was even able to drink a cup of tea and have half a piece of toast. It was so close to being over.

The banging on the door started before six, and I tucked the blanket a little closer around me, closing my eyes and my ears to the dread that filled my stomach. Staying quiet and hoping they would give up. The banging carried on; I felt it had been hours, my head below the blanket in the darkness. My breathing restricted by the soft fabric. My chest heaving in and out, the panic restricting my lungs with every gulp of air.

The banging became louder and was accompanied by screams and shouts. It was nearly 9:30 when the banging stopped. I peeked out into the room and sat up, a little less hunched. I had survived another year. Another Halloween. Time for a bath and an early night.

Out in the hallway, I was surprised by a blast of cold air; the front door hung open. I had slipped the lock; I knew I had. The front door leaned against the wall. I heard my own gasp as I sucked a gulp of air in.

A creak on the stairs sent me towards the front door, moving fast and holding the wall on my way. At the door, I was met by a witch, green-faced and cackling. Behind me on the stairs when I looked behind me was a zombie, walking slowly, grunting. I drowned in my own screams. My eyes shut tightly.

Opening my eyes, just a crack, I saw a black-cloaked-and-hooded figure. He stood tall, filling the doorway. My panic stilled. My breathing calmed. This was surely someone come to save me. I pushed myself up against the wall, leaning heavily against the paint that I had chosen and feeling the softness of the carpet I had paid for. It would all be all right now.

“Thank you,” I whispered to my saviour. “Who are you?”

The cloaked figure turned towards me, his eyes glowing red within the hood. His hands held a razor-sharp scythe. His shoulders lifted in breath.

“I am death.” His voice croaked with lack of use.

I shuffled back towards the stairs, the screaming and the panic returning. My heart beating faster than could possibly be safe. My breathing shallow and fast. On the stairs stood the zombie, his mouth wide and dribbling with blood.

“No. Please no,” I heard myself screaming. That was the last I remembered. My heart gave out, I suspect. I stepped away from the heap I had become on the floor. Death nodded his hooded head at me and scooped me up really quite gently into his arms. To be completely honest, it was a relief. I could not have stood it a moment longer. We left through the front door and floated past the shops and the church, even the school where I had worked.

The streets were still filled with people, and if they saw us, they did not show it. Perhaps they thought we were celebrating Halloween, rather than celebrating a release from fear and horror.

The night was dark, and for once, I felt safe in the darkness.

Happy Halloween.