Come along with author Barbara Edwards to Rhodes End to celebrate that spookiest time of year. There’s a cool wind blowing…and do I hear bones rattling in the distance?
Welcome to Rhodes End
by Barbara Edwards
Welcome to Rhodes End where All Hallows’ Eve is celebrated on the Town Green.
Darkness falls as the two churches bracketing the wide swath of grass like book-ends dispense orange and black decorated candy bags. The scents of cinnamon, burning candles and scorched pumpkin drift on the breeze. An owl hoots from a hollow tree in the ancient cemetery behind the church. The nearby streets are dark and empty in stark contrast to the noisy party-goers. No-one goes from house to house yelling Trick-or-Treat since an incident in 1943 that no one claims to remember.
A huge bonfire lights the night where excited children toast marshmallows donated by Nelson’s grocery store and parents drink heated apple cider from Styrofoam cups. Peter’s Pluckers’, a local blue-grass band is stomping out ‘Turkey in the Straw’ to loud clapping at the gazebo strung with bobbing skeletons and ghost lights. Johnson’s Orchard donates huge tubs of shiny green Granny Smith apples for bobbing. The dripping faced kids hardly wait to be dried before running off to another game. Colorfully attired townsfolk escort laughing, excited children from event to event. Everyone wants to keep the little ones safe tonight.
Costumed or painted to reflect their own personality, every child is present except Mickey Burton. He has the measles. A few giddy teenagers who dared each other to climb the flat-topped boulder on Witch’s Rock Road, run onto the green shrieking. One shouts she saw a shape fly across the face of the rising full moon. Parents nod wisely and laugh. Kids!
The full moon rises as the evening wanes and the younger children are taken home, protesting through wide yawns. Parents cast uneasy glances into the shadows. Older children drift to the games and food offered inside the church halls. More and more are encouraged to return to the safety of home as the hour grows late.
The costumed crowd oddly thickens. The patrolling police cruiser stops to allow two witches, a werewolf and a ghoul to cross the street. Headlights pick out gleaming red eyes. A casual wave is exchanged.
Under the huge silver moon, the townsfolk circle the bonfire as midnight approaches. Thankfully, a full moon doesn’t occur every All Hallows’ Eve. The churches shoo the remaining families home, shut off the lights and lock their doors.
A few brave souls linger, nervously glancing over their shoulders. The air is electric with nerves, fear tickles. A dozen witches gather to one side. Shadows conceal details, but a gleaming fang or claw occasionally reflects the flames. Hair, hide and patchy skin conceal the wearers. Too many red eyes reflect the light.
A thick-set man wearing a knit cap feeds wood onto the fire and flames leap voraciously skyward. The crowd pulled back then surges closer. It’s almost midnight, the witching hour. The heavy wood-smoke mingles with a coppery smell of fresh blood and rotting flesh. Circles within the circle join hands and murmur. Not all are willing, but they must protect their secrets.
The Congregational church clock bongs, once, twice, and the flames explode up in a column of sparks. Three, four, five…chanting echoes across the Green. Six, seven, eight, nine… skeletal figures twist and turn, stretch clutching fingers from the seething flames, almost breaking free. Demons howl. Ghouls curse. Ten, eleven… the chants strengthen until they drown the unearthly noise. The threatening figures shudders with rage. Tonight is their night to walk free!
With a weary sigh, the fire shapes disappear. The fire dies. Only embers remain.
The crowd silently melts into the night leaving a few shivering adults to wonder what they just saw.
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