“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” — Bram Stoker, Dracula

As if a mad carnival rolled into town, the leaf-strewn street of the quaint picturesque village seemed to transform overnight in ghoulish metamorphosis into a riotous necropolis with skulls grinning and witches cackling at every corner and lamppost. Between the phantasmagoria of lavishly witch-festooned houses lit welcomingly to bands of trick or treaters was a dark gap where a long abandoned Victorian mansion, a gaunt shadow of its former stately grandeur…slowly rotted. It was shunned, of course, hurried past to another lit house….

Then an enigmatic stranger from the western states, it was said, moved in…a certain “Mr. Elmer.” He remained reclusive, spurning curious eyes and neighbourly overtures at welcome….all until one infamous All Hallows’ Eve…that infamous night when the rivalry between neighbours at the greatest Halloween display would be upstaged at a gargantuan scale…in that tranquil town “where nothing happened.”

“Quite a display there…” a cheery voice jarringly intruded into the brooding of that architect of palatial shrine to all things ghostly. An awkward but amicable postman remarked startling him from his brooding and elaborate final touches…

“Mail?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Just making my rounds. You must be Mr. Elmore…”

“His groundskeeper,” he replied evasively.

“Oh…nobody’s seen the fellow since he moved in to the old place….reclusive soul, I guess…”

“Apparently,” he replied dismissively.

“Fact is, I’m surprised anyone would move into the place…with its history and all…”

“Oh?” he asked, suddenly intrigued.

“The house was built over the burnt ruins of an old witch’s haven in the woods. Legend has it the witches would steal corpses from the old graveyard and tried to raise them to life. Some say they were successful…then the old reverend came at the head of a mob and burnt the place down…this house was built over it…nobody who’s moved in has stayed long. They say the witches and whatever spells they worked never really left….I guess the real estate agent didn’t say nuthin’ about it….I’d imagine that charming anecdote was tactfully neglected…but anyway, a man, like his house, needs his secrets…”

“What?” he asked, alarmed.

“Oh, nuthin’…well, anyway, if you see Mr. Elmore, please give my regards…and his mail. Thanks, Mr….”

“Good day,” he replied curtly, turning away.


Mr. Elmer had sought exile here…years that seemed centuries past…yet he was the same…beneath the façade…beneath the mask…something lycanthropic was betrayed in his eyes…

The longer nights closed in…his sleep was haunted by strange dreams….and he thought of them again…as if they stood at his bedside…rather than bound and covered in the basement….his past….three…

No. That was not entirely true…there was another…executed while protesting his innocence to the last….he left that town after that….moved away from that place….he felt no remorse….none saw his guilt. He saw to that…he was always so careful…the plan was perfect, exile to another place….hide among strangers…it was perfect…

And yet…

The old hungers called to him like cries in the night…he would leave here too…yes…but not before there was a fifth…

It’s been so long, he thought. He sharpened his old axe by the hearth and stashed it carefully behind an antique bookshelf. The night was marked with a red smile on the calendar.
Halloween. He smiled.

Night cast its dark spell, falling as black as dreamless sleep over the row of gabled roofs leading to the old colonial churchyard. He had overslept in his nap before his grand opening…the dream was the same…as the night wind seemed to sing a carol at his window.

The persistent knocking again…he rose with a grunt to fling the door open…it was already ajar…he was drawn like a sleepwalker as he looked out from his doorstep…before him, a display of pumpkins ignited, their skull-like eyes flaring. They leered fire at him as he lurched forward. As if ventriloquised by the eerie moan of the wind, the pumpkins chanted, “Guilty! Guilty!”

And silhouetted against the crimson smiles, four dark, featureless figures waited. The carved eyes smoldered like nocturnal creatures.

He awoke with a start…

He took out his axe and brought it down on a lit jack-o’-lantern.

“Nothing will stop me tonight, do you hear me?”

Doors were cast open and the streets were overrun by a wild menagerie of little ghouls….people waited hospitably, eager to be graced with all manners of ghosts and ghouls…“Trick or treat…trick or treat…”

Yet strangely, the anticipated knocks never came…their houses were bypassed as the children stampeded to one glowing beacon….that Halloween “witch manor” was gloriously reopened.

Towering over the dreamscape of houses that were lit in eerie splendour for Halloween like Gothic birthday cakes enticing masked hordes from the dark, the house was lit resplendently, enticingly….like a giant enticing witch’s gingerbread house….

Like a dashing showman basking in center stage was the once reclusive Mr. Elmer….his radiant home besieged by hordes of goblins…little hands snapping at his seemingly endless cauldron of candy….and he lavished them with candy and cakes….and they came in waves…like insatiable piranha mouths, their little hands snapped up the candy and delicacies the masked faces swirling around kaleidoscopically in a wild danse macabre…

A skull-masked boy smiled up at him and Mr. Elmer smiled back patronisingly…a fixed smile like that carved on a jack-o’-lantern…yet his eyes betrayed an uneasiness as he looked beyond the tide of ghouls….to four figures standing aloof from the revelry….

They were silhouetted ephemerally against the display of jack-o’-lanterns…perhaps an older youth escorting children…they ventured no closer…wavering in intent vigil, motionless as shadowscast by the interplay of light…

He forced a wider smile that split his lip and wiped a trickle of blood as he beckoned to them hospitably with an affable wave…yet the figures dissolved eerily in a sudden gust of wind and mist like a cauldron’s vapours…the shroud of mist seeped between the jostling children and they inhaled the darkness and spectral mist…a spasmodic shudder swept through the crowd like an impact ripple over a dark sea…

Mr. Elmer didn’t notice…his eyes never left the place where the ghostly strangers stood…before they dematerialised, he beheld them illuminated In the crimson glow of the lanterns…by the mischievous interplay of light…recognised their faces…his face grew ashen and he recoiled…he felt a surge of unease…then fear…

He suddenly gasped…feeling a sharp pain on his hand…he raised it inspectingly…bitten? The hands grabbed quicker at the candy…more rapaciously…then clawing at an empty bottom in disbelief…their eyes looked up at him hungrily. Then a collective yelp of disbelief rose from their ranks…

“Trick or treat!” they chanted.

“Trick or treat!”

The voices must have been amplified by the walls, he thought…those weren’t children’s voices…their monstrous faces glared up at him…hands raised and grasping…he drew back suddenly…their eyes smoldered with hunger like nocturnal creatures…

He reeled back against the onslaught…and slammed the door. He staggered back into the living room, turning off the lights with grim finality…he knocked over spare boxes of candy stacked to the door before sinking into his armchair…the chanting persisted as they pumped broomsticks and pitchforks in the air. This wasn’t right…wasn’t natural. Their behaviour turned darker…

He screamed as a figure of a boy dressed as a skeleton launched to the windowsill and pressed suddenly against the mullioned windows, skeletal hands clawing at the panes. Mr. Elmer saw the faces of others behind him, eyes smoldering emberously.

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they roared. He buried his face in his hands.

“I should call the police…yes. Yes. No…no, I can’t…the basement…the basement…my secret…”

Then he heard it…the knocking

Not from the door, he realised with sickening realisation…the basement door….

“Trick or treat!” the chant continued, growing in immensity as if the night itself chanted.

He rose shaking…he took up his old axe, threw the books aside to find it…he rose and followed the sounds in the dark…

“You remember this axe; he snarled, don’t you?” he growled. He dropped the axe then…the basement hatch was ajar…the chains and bolts torn off as if something inside ripped its way out, like cage bars too frail to hold back wild animals.

He reeled back, backed away, picking up and then dropping the axe from trembling hands, then….he froze as he heard a child’s voice behind him, like venomed honey…a little girl dressed as a witch was framed at the threshold…

“Trick or treat…trick or treat…” she rasped.

He heard scrambling and scurrying as the candy scattered and was snapped up voraciously as they overran his house. They were chattering like animals in a feeding frenzy…less like a mob than a pack of carnivorous animals…he backed away, fumbling for his axe…and for a place to hide….they were too distracted by the candy…he backed into a boy costumed as a skeleton.

“Over here…the offering is here!” he crowed.

They pursued him through the house…he had turned off the lights, yet he sensed with sickening realization that they would find him in the darkness…he heard them advancing…their footfalls and chattering sounded insect-like…he dove under a table and crawled into a ball, cowering and trembling…time elapsed….a frenzy of searching…the sounds of broken vases and chairs…then silence….

They’ve gone….surely they’ve gone…

He dared open his eyes…and there, head hanging down, was a small, skull-masked face mocking him with a grisly smile…

“Trick or treat!” he hissed.

“Give us something good to eat!”

He was grasped and violently pulled out and clutched by hundreds of hands….

“Trick or treat!” they chanted.

He was lifted onto the table like an altar and borne on top of it, out of the house in ghoulish, torch-lit procession.

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!”

“Where are you taking me?!?”

“To the cemetery, of course!” the skull boy squealed jubilantly.

They poked him with pitchforks and gloated at his horror. The old wrought iron gate screeched open before them. They lowered the table in a circle of vandalised statues. The heads of majestic marble angels had been replaced by jack-o’-lanterns that the children lit like profane idols. Their burning grins leered down from winged torsos.

“Prepare her treat!”

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they chanted incessantly.

They forced a candied apple in his mouth and a pig mask on his face. His arms were bound and splayed across the table…they chanted then in a strange language…

“The ritual! The ritual!” they screeched in feverish anticipation. Some grasped candles; others cavorted wildly in a circle…their monstrous shadows cast on the church wall. The witch-masked girl hopped onto the table, cackling…

She raised a carving knife like a sacrificial dagger to the thrill of the gloating masked faces, chattering like nocturnal insects…she pulled down her mask to reveal an angelic face.

“Accept our offering…”

“Hasten, sister! Hasten, the hour draws nigh…hasten…!” the skull-masked boy begged.

She chanted a strange incantation. They joined hands then in a great circle, like an immense serpent coil.

“Trick or treat!” “Trick or treat! Give us something good to eat!” Their voices rose in shrill chorus.

“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!”

He screamed at the falling blade, yet it was drowned out by their chant. Hundreds of slavering mouths and claws leaning in, teeth bared to feed voraciously…little party cups were raised like chalices collecting the streaming red. The little “witch” licked the blade as if from a carved cake.

“Trick or treat!” they howled in wild rapture like a pack of wolves over a kill. Then the bells from the old colonial church tolled midnight….

Like an exorcised spirit, a dark mist was exhaled from their mouths, morphing into a grisly spectral figure, like a harpy, before shifting amorphously and dissipating like a receding tide between the graves.

A spasmodic shudder swept the horde that sent them to the ground…the children rose, taking off their masks and staggered, dazed…bleary-eyed and disoriented as if from a nightmare…

“Mommy!” a little girl began to cry…

And confronting the old witch’s house, four figures reappeared, as if restless shadows were granted form and face…they lingered against a background of dozens of displayed jack-o’-lanterns like an eerie shrine…they raised their arms like a coven of witches in the act of conjuring and the disembodied moan of the wind caressed them as the jack-o’-lanterns were suddenly extinguished at the final tolling of the bell.

Meanwhile, as frantic parents were reunited with their children wandering aimlessly in the dark, the kindly old churchyard caretaker approached a sobbing child.

“Goodness, you are out late…you should run along home, then…there, there. Don’t cry…my, you have been busy tonight.”

He looked at his amply-filled bag…

“And what did you get for trick or treat?” Reluctantly, the child reached into the bag and Mr. Elmer’s severed head was raised by its hair, candy spilling from its mouth.