I swore to myself that I wouldn't do any writing until we had moved out of this house, as I can't afford to get obsessive about anything at the moment. However, I've been sick this week, so on Wednesday I was very evil and took time out to attend to my withdrawal symptoms and write a story for Lydia, so here goes.
It was the sort of night that usually had people huddling indoors in front of the fire. A blustery ice-wind had shredded the clouds so that only pale entrails of moonlight filtered down to the dark streets and leaves rattled along the pavements like skeleton's feet.
But tonight wasn't just any night – it was a night for excitement, for celebration, orange lights twinkling from the branches of trees, silk cobwebs floating across gateways and, from up and down the street came giggles, shrieks, a moaning and a groaning, the running of feet.
A group of children came down the pathway from number eight, black polyester cloaks streaming out behind them, pointed hats askew, bouncing with excitement, comparing their bags of goodies. Pete knew each of them by name, he had watched them so often before.
Jim, the redhead from the next street; quiet, shy, played the trombone and sang in a choir.
Raj – the handsome one of the group, the one the girls all liked, with his shiny black slicked hair and jaunty shoulders, loping legs.
Then there was Kiera, who he had seen crying in her bedroom too many times to count, while her parents fought downstairs. But she was alright now, safe behind her shiny armour of make-up and too-high-heels and wide bright smile. The others didn't know about her parent's fights. He knew secret things about them all.
Mandy, Ed's younger sister. Ed was too old for trick or treating now, in spite of the fact that he had been a babe in arms when Pete was a teenager.
Then there was quiet Jane, the book one – the one who came out of her house with her nose buried in a book every morning, walked to the bus stop reading, stood and waited for the bus without looking up. How many times had he wanted to pat her on the shoulder - “Look, I know this village is pretty quiet, but you do get reckless drivers sometimes you know. It's not as safe as it looks, you should watch out.”
And lastly, Gary, Jane's younger brother, dressed as a gangster, because he was always desperate to be the tough guy.
He licked his lips, swallowed. It had taken him a long time to pluck up the courage for this, years of loneliness - but surely they would see him - tonight of all nights? This was his night, after all. He ran a hand through his hair, stepped forward. “Hi.”
None of them looked up. He swallowed again, clenching his fists. If only they would just look up, surely they would see him? “Hi.” He said it so loudly this time it was almost a shout and this time they did hear – they all paused, looked round. And yes, they had seen him as well, they were all looking at him and he saw the expressions race across their faces in quick succession - surprise, disgust, fear - admiration.
“Yeah?” Gary said. Loud, like the Lad he wished he was.
“Hi. I'm Pete.”
Jane was frowning at Gary, waggling her eyebrows at him to be nice. Pete swallowed again, flexed his tight fingers. “I just wondered if I could come round with you?”
There was an exchange of glances, shrugging. “Why not?” Mandy said at last and he felt the relief surge through him as big as a tidal wave and his face broke out into a big beam. “Thanks.”
She smiled, but he saw that she turned and raised an eyebrow at Keira, who shrugged back. Oh well, so they thought he was weird - he didn't care. Not really. Not much, anyway. They had said yes, that was all that mattered. He could join them - be one of them - for the night.
They were moving off again, the boys too impatient - “No, not number 14, they're always stingy. Gave me an apple once.'” - and he followed along, tagging behind.
“Number 16 is a good one to stop at!” And then they were run-walking and he could feel the energy and excitement emanating from their bodies like warmth and he found himself smiling and trotting along beside Jane. Mandy was a little to one side and behind, Keira walking with her. He had been absorbed into their group as easily as that.
“I'm Jane,” Jane said and he nodded. “Yes. I know.”
She frowned, looking at him sideways, under her eyelashes. “Cool costume,” she said and he opened his mouth to speak but remembered in time not to tell her. They were moving up the path to number 16 and the door flew open and there was Mr Evans giving a booming, fake scream: “Ahh! What a frightening group of people! Linda! The zombies have arrived! We're under attack!” And Gary and Raj groaned and even Mandy said: “Oh F*** off, how old do you think we are?” under her breath. But they all reached out and dipped their hands into the bowl of Mars Bars that he was holding out. Mr Evans looked round at the group and his eyes rested on Pete and he held out the bowl to him just as though he were a normal kid. “Hi, not sure I recognise you under all that paint. Who are you?” he said.
“Right, Pete.” Mr Evans frowned for a moment but then shook the thought away and grinned. “Well, have some chocolate Pete. Great look you've got there.”
And then they were off again in a rush, off to the house next door, and then the next one and the next one and they walked close together in the cold night, jostling each other, giggling, pushing and shoving. Drunk with sugar, Keira tripped and fell sideways, landing heavily against Pete, her warm arm and shoulder hard against his own and he felt a smile heat his stomach.
“Hey, I've got loads of liquorice and I can't stand the stuff! Anyone want mine?”
“Swap you for some sour worms?”
“What about these mint things? They taste like cardboard and stick your teeth together.”
“Hey Pete, don't you want yours?”
He shook his head. “Not really. You can have them if you like.”
“What's the point of trick or treating if you don't eat sweets?”
He shrugged. “Well, it's just for fun, isn't it?”
Jane stared at him and then smiled. “Yes, of course it is.”
Her eyes, behind the thick black vampire eye-liner were warm and he grinned back at her. The wind had died down and the clouds had parted to show the moon, full and round and yellow as a pumpkin and his heart sang. The years of waiting for this moment didn't matter any more. Even the fact that he would have to wait again, for another year, didn't matter, right now. It was his night tonight.
“Hey, Jane, do you remember Pete?”
A worm of memory stirred in the back of her brain and she frowned, but the worm flopped back to sleep again. Gary was pale as he sat down in the seat opposite her and beer slopped out of his glass as he placed it on the mat.
“No, sorry, I don't. Who's Pete? You okay Gaz? What's this all about?”
“Pete. The boy at Halloween.” He was breathing heavily and cracking his knuckles, running his fingers through his hair.
Halloween. Pete. The worm was wriggling now and the memories started to flood back – with an odd sense of guilt. Pete... Oh yes!
He had shown up one Halloween and asked if he could join their gang, but there had been something odd about him – nobody knew who he was and he had not eaten any of his sweets and... and the sense of loneliness had been so strong, it was as though it came off him in waves. At the end of the evening, he had drifted off to wherever he lived and they had hardly thought about him until the following year, when he turned up again – dressed in the same costume – a ragged T shirt and jeans with blood all down his face and arms.
Then the next year, he'd been waiting at the gate again when Raj came to pick her up to take her to the school Halloween Ball. Same costume again. He'd beamed at her, his whole face lighting up with excitement.
“Oh,” she'd said. “It's you. I'm afraid we're not going trick or treating this year.”
She hadn't expected the look of devastation that flooded his face and it had made her feel slightly sick, but Raj had laughed.
“We're getting a bit old for all that crap,” he'd said. “Aren't you?” And then he'd laughed again. “No, I guess not. You're still a kid, aren't you? What happened? Not taken your growth hormones?”
That had been the end of her and Raj. She hated it when he talked to other people like that, but by the time they had finished yelling at each other and he had stormed off, Pete had gone and she hadn't seen him again. Hadn't thought about him again, till now.
Now she looked across the pub table at her brother, who was cracking his knuckles and staring into his beer. There was a thin film of sweat over his skin, in spite of the cold. He had sounded really upset on the phone earlier – so upset that she'd jumped into the car and raced over to the pub to meet him as quickly as she could. Much quicker than she should have done, as it had turned out. “I remember now. What about him Gary?”
He wouldn't meet her eye for a moment, drank half way down his beer glass, but then he looked up. “Went round to Mum and Dad's earlier this evening to drop something off and there was a whole lot of kids out trick or treating.”
“Yes?” She pulled her coat tighter around her. It was cold tonight. Colder than it should be, surely?
“Well I saw this boy and – look, I know you won't believe me, but I could have sworn it was the same boy – Pete - only he still only looked about thirteen.”
“Do you remember how he always dressed the same – like he'd been in some awful accident, or something?”
Jane nodded. “Mmm.”
“You don't believe me, do you? I mean, I know it must have been someone else, but he looked exactly the same. He had that same – that same weird dent on his head as though it had been stove in -”
Jane shook her head. “Don't,” she said. She closed her eyes and the squealing of brakes came back to her, a crunching bang, then agonising pain in her side, quickly gone as it had come followed by cold, beckoning darkness. No. Not tonight. Not yet. She snapped her eyes open again, drawing herself back to the crowded room, the people chatting, calling out to each other, the sticky scent of warm beer, of woodsmoke and damp cloth; the sharp thud of pool balls, a singer, whining in the background about lost love.
Gary was sighing and rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I guess I must be going crazy, but you know, he looked at me and said hi and – well, he seemed to know me. I- I'm sure it was Pete, you know. The same boy, who used to come round with us.”
Jane nodded, a certainty creeping up on her that she knew she could do nothing about.
“You think I'm crazy?”
She shook her head, reached across the table and squeezed his hand. So warm compared to hers. She would miss him. “No, I don't think you're crazy. After all it's All Hallows, isn't it?”
“Well, it's the Night of the Dead. The night the dead can walk abroad. It's our night.”