Originally published in Trawler magazine, November 2016.
As long as Cicely had lived in her village, which was as long as she could remember, she loved to count trees as their leaves turned each autumn. She liked to compare trees along her road to ones she spotted on walks into town, and judge them on degrees of colour. On Monday she spotted five with a pleasant red hue, on Wednesday seven, on Thursday eleven and so on. Bonus points if a tree was entirely yellow before it dropped a leaf. She also enjoyed counting the number of tacky Halloween shops that sprang up in Southend as September seeped into October (although her personal favourite was a Christmas shop that opened in August and stocked Halloween supplies in the front window until punters could be persuaded to cross the threshold for tinsel).
Halloween was Cicely’s most favourite autumn event. She had grown up with tales of ancient Samhain celebrations and of Jack, who was doomed to wander the land in search of his final resting place with only a lantern to light his way. Everything about modern Halloween fascinated her, from devil costumes to séance sessions to asking strangers for sweets. Her quiet neigbourhood came alive for a week, with children’s parties and horror film evenings, pumpkin carving afternoons and minor scandals when youths broke into the cemetery. Cicely was too shy to invite herself to any events – her neighbours never seemed to notice her in the local shops or at church – but she did love to amble around and people watch.
One Halloween Annabelle, a teenager who lived at number fourteen with about fourteen relatives, dressed up as a cat to go trick or treating and Mr. Brown from number twenty-six was told off by Mrs. Brown from number twenty-six for making a comment about her catsuit. Then Annabelle’s dad egged number twenty-six. Cicely felt bad for Annabelle, but she also hadn’t seen such soap-worthy scenes since the wife at number three ran off with the girlfriend at number thirteen.
Then there was the year Cicely followed a few acquaintances down the pier, because the evening promised to be foggy and autumnal and atmospheric. There was a ghost train, but Cicely hadn’t realised and accidentally wore her normal clothes instead of dressing up like everyone else. Nobody noticed, but she felt silly all evening.
As October ticked by and Essex turned from green to gold, Cicely decided to go trick or treating. She had never been before, not properly, but a few families from the close were going as a group and she didn’t want to miss out on another Oscar-worthy performance from her neighbours.
31st October that year was the most picturesque Halloween Cicely had ever seen. Leaves crunched underfoot. Mist snaked across fields and swallowed junctions. Ravens laughed in the distance. Cicely took extra care with the bed sheet that made up her ghost costume and was at the meeting point – the lamppost by number one – well before seven thirty. Everyone turned up in dribs and drabs, talking amongst themselves. A zombie here, a vampire there. Two knights in plastic armor, and the entire cast of Suicide Squad. Annabelle was wearing a devil costume.
Eventually someone brandished a broomstick and got the evening underway, booming ‘Don’t forget – it’s one family to the door at a time, then on to the next one. Booty will be shared equally!’ It all felt very neighbourly.
‘Treat!’ smiled the Polish couple at number six as they dished out Heroes.
‘Treat!’ laughed the elderly lady at number ten as she held out a basket of homemade cakes.
‘Trick!’ cackled Annabelle’s dad as he pelted them all with fake spider webs.
By number thirty, Cicely was brave enough to venture forward. She couldn’t remember who lived there – it might have been the accountant with the grumpy boyfriend or might have been the lady with at least four overfed Pomeranians.
The door opened and all Cicely could smell was Pomeranian.
‘Trick or treat!’ Cicely beamed.
All four Pomeranians began to howl.
Their owner began to scream.
Cicely turned to the others, bewildered. They screamed too.
‘She’s a ghost!’ Annabelle shrieked, backing away. Her devil horns had fallen off.
Cicely stared around – were they talking about her? Of course she was a ghost. She was wearing a white sheet. Then she realised her costume had slipped.
‘Technically, I’m a witch,’ Cicely replied. ‘Well, technically, I’m the ghost of a witch…’ Cicely couldn’t believe nobody had noticed before. From the moles on her hand that caused her so much trouble, to her black and purple bruises, shattered limbs and oozing welts, inflicted during interrogation in the town jail, to the rope marks around her neck where she was hanged. Definitely a witch.
She would have thought it pretty obvious that she was dead, too, given that most of the crowd had walked through her at some point during the evening. Was it her fault they weren’t paying attention?
No one was listening, though. Every eye on the street had turned to their phone – possibly to call the police, possibly to take a picture. Cicely hoped they had the right settings. Despite four centuries of hanging around the village in plain sight, nobody had ever managed to take a full photograph of her. Everything always blurred, even on All Hallows’ Eve. At least today they had all seen her, she reflected. Usually it took her hours of wandering about for the most observant pedestrian to catch something out of the corner of their eye. She would have to steal a bed sheet more often. Or maybe next year she would find a black cat and broomstick… After all, her outfit was already sorted.
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© Francesca Burke 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Francesca Burke and francescaswords.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.