Tuesday, November 7, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario "Halloween in Dunwich" by Oscar Rios from the Halloween Horror Monograph Sunday, October 29 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Ambralyn Tucker, Ben Abbott, and Katelyn Hogan.)
Dunwich was beautiful in the fall with the leaves turning shades of orange and gold. It was also that time for one of the favorite time of the year for several cousins and their families: Halloween. All their lives, each of the six cousins had six favorite days during the year: Christmas morning, even if it often was at stuffy Great Aunt Norma's house in Kingsport; the last day of school; their own birthdays; and Great Grandpa Silas's Halloween party.
Most of them made the trip to Dunwich village, their folks leaving their motorcars there and being driven by horse and wagon up to Great Grandpa Silas' farm way up north of the township. Even the local children from Dunwich met in the village proper to ride up with the others. The trip was like going back in time to a simpler age. It was a warm day for late October in 1928 without a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a wonderful day.
Gertrude "Gerdie" Pope was a cute little 11-year-old girl who lived with her parents on Mill Road just north of Dunwich Village on the side of Round Mountain. She had very pale skin, platinum blonde, curly hair, and piercing blue eyes. She was a strange little girl whom many of the local people thought was crazy but she was really just confused sometimes, or so she thought. During the warmer parts of the year, she wandered around the hills and valleys of Dunwich until dark. Once in a while, she'd be somewhere new, a place she'd never been before, but she remembered it somehow, not as it looked normally, but with glowing lights and magic, streets, towers, and shops. She had sometimes gotten the urge to dig and found strange things: old clay pots or pieces of statue, and sometimes the pretty coins she still carried in a handkerchief at all times. Though the writing was strange, she could clearly read it. She carried five of the strange coins and sometimes showed them to others.
She wasn't the first person born in Dunwich with her features, the elders said. It cropped up once in a while, usually in someone "touched."
She sometimes thought of herself as Solinia and had to remind herself she was Gertrude Pope. She knew she had been someone else once before, long ago, and she would be someone else again. The strange flashes of memory weren't so bad when she wasn't in Dunwich but today was Halloween. She loved Halloween and loved being around her cousins. She didn't see them most of the year so they didn't treat her like a loony. She looked forward to a day of food, games, and ghost stories. It was one of her favourite nights of the year, not like that one night when the city was burning "¦
Gordon Brewster was also from Dunwich. Twelve years old he was a blue-eyed, dark haired little boy. He was strong and fit and large for his age. He knew Dunwich was good country if one was willing to work it. His family had been there a long time, going back to when the village was first settled. He'd taken his place beside his father and brothers working the family farm on Dunlock Creek Road, earning extra money by cutting firewood for the neighbours with the axe that was always with him.
When he was eight, kids around Dunwich started to go missing. His parents kept him close to home or weeks. Eventually one of the kids got away from the folks doing it. Polly-Ann had been missing for a week before she turned up at the Brewster farm. She had been all beaten up and covered with scratches. She didn't talk, just rocked back and forth, screaming if anyone touched her. Soon after that, folks showed up with shotguns, rifles, and hunting dogs. They set off to follow her trail back to where she'd come from.
After her parents took her home, Gordon had gotten his squirrel hunting rifle and ran after the others when his ma wasn't looking. He caught up to them as they were setting fire to the cabin of one the neighbours. The members of the Gardner family had already been shot dead by the time he go there. They were horrible to look at in the light with faces and limbs twisted, hunch backs, and sharp teeth. They looked like monsters. His father spotted him hiding nearby and ordered him to stay close after smacking him for being there.
The men found the remains of the missing children under the chicken coop. There were only bones left and they had been gnawed on after the flesh had been butchered from them. Gordon didn't remember anything after that. They told him later he seized up and didn't come out of it for three months. He tried not to think about it.
He loved Great Grandpa Silas's party and knew it would be a great day of fun. He visited the man often, cutting firewood for him and helping out at the farm despite the long walk it always was. In the winter, he hunted on his land with his father and Grandpa Saul and sometimes Great Grandpa Silas even joined them.
Both Gerdie and Gordon knew only a little about the Horror that had struck Dunwich in September of that very year. Their parents hadn't said much about it, just like they had rarely talked about Wilbur Whateley, who had been killed by a guard dog at Miskatonic University in Arkham back in August. All they knew were the rumors: rumors that something huge had broken out of the abandoned Whateley house in early September; rumors that huge, unnatural footprints were found in the Glen Road and wounded cows belonging to Seth Bishop were discovered near Devil's Hopyard; rumors the Horror had disappeared into Cold Spring Glen; rumors of two attacks on the Elmer Frye farm, one destroying the barn and taking the cattle, and the second destroying the house and wiping out the entire family; rumors that several state policemen disappeared near Cold Spring Glen, never to be seen again; rumors that on September 15, the Horror had returned, destroying Seth Bishop's house and killing all within before it was followed to Sentinel Hill by three professors from Miskatonic University and then never seen again. Nothing but rumors.
Alice Sanders was one of the oldest of the cousins at 13. She was from Innsmouth and had light hair and very large blue eyes. She'd always loved living on the water and had always been fascinated by the sea. Her family's business was fishing and she'd been working on the docks with them since she was eight years old. She'd always been told her father died before she was born, but she was starting to think that might not have been true. Her mother kept things from her, telling her not to worry about it for the moment and enjoy her childhood while it lasted. Alice always told her she was already a teenager and had a right to know what was going on. Her mother promised to tell her everything "when her friend comes."
Her favorite member of the family was her Aunt Margie. When Alice was 11, a man grabbed her and pulled her into an alley, tearing her clothes and touching her. He was drunk and she could smell the alcohol. He covered her mouth so she couldn't scream, but she had her fish-gutting knife in her pocket. She grabbed it and there was a lot of blood. He let her go but she couldn't move and he fell at her feet. There was so much blood. Aunt Margie had found her, taken the knife away from her, and dragged the man's body to her uncle's boat. She told Alice she had done the right thing but not to tell anyone what happened. She covered Alice with her coat, took her to her house and washed her up. She told Alice she was a good girl and that her father would be proud of her. Then she gave her a switchblade knife and told her to always keep it with her. The next day, she told Alice it was all taken care of and not to worry about it. Sometimes Alice wondered if she was a bad person because she'd never felt guilty and was glad the man was dead.
In 1927, Aunt Margie got sick. The family said she was going to "go away" to get better. But after that, her house was deserted. Sometimes when Alice passed it, she saw someone in the attic, staring down at her. Sometimes at night, she saw a light up there. She'd been thinking about breaking into the house to see who was up there. But she thought she knew what she'd find. Aunt Margie wouldn't have left without saying goodbye.
Just last February, Alice and her mother had fled Innsmouth. Alice remembered it was late at night when she heard someone come to the front door. She was already in bed but couldn't help hear the deep voice from downstairs. She had peeked out her window and saw a figure walking away from the house in a strange, hopping shuffle that made her uneasy.
The next day, her mother had packed what little money and possessions they owned and they had fled to Ipswich, only a few miles away. She learned that only a few days later, the Federal Government had raided Innsmouth, arresting many people from the village, and putting the entire place under lock and key. No one was allowed in or out. She didn't know why. Her mother wouldn't tell her.
Edward Derby was 12 years old and from Arkham. He was a small boy with brown hair, glasses, and large front teeth. He wasn't very strong but he was probably the smartest of the cousins. His father was an ancient history professor at Miskatonic University and since Edward was old enough to walk, he'd been able to read. Two years before, he'd discovered his father kept certain books locked in his desk. Instead of asking him about it, Edward made a copy of the key and snuck into the library when his father was at work. He found some rare books: a Latin one called Othuum Omnicia, and two in English: The Secret Watcher and Marvels of Science. It took Edward more than a year, but he managed to read all three without being caught.
What he read fascinated him. They told of another world hidden just below reality and illuminated secrets most men would run screaming from. Edward applied himself in school, learning Latin, astronomy, and physics. While other boys were building soapbox racers, he was reading any occult books he could sneak out of the library.
He had a theory. Certain angles, in certain places had power. These powers could be heightened by the positions of the starts, making it possible to open gateways between various times, places, and maybe even realms of existence. He knew that with enough time, he could figure it all out. Part of him was eager for that while part of him feared what might lay behind the doorways. From what he'd read, some of them appeared to have been carefully constructed and shut, as if barriers were in place to stop travel from one side to the other.
He looked forward to the trip to Great Grandpa Silas's farm. The air, the food, the simple-mindedness of it all really recharged his mind. Maybe he'd figure out what was bothering him about those books and theories. Maybe not. But he was sure there'd be candy apples there. He just loved those things. Besides, if his calculations were correct, Dunwich was supposed to have lots and lots of those sealed doorways between this reality and what lay outside of it. Not quite as good as candy but something to keep an eye out for.
Donald Sutton was 11 years old and the only cousin of their age from Kingsport. He was a small boy with short brown hair. He was quick and smart. Both his parents were artists who owned their own gallery in Kingsport and he hoped to follow in their footsteps one day. He was seldom without his sketchbook and was told he had a remarkable gift for one of so young an age. He was a rather sensitive person and able to see things in a way few others could.
Sometimes he saw things, people mostly, who were dead. He guessed they were ghosts and he'd always been able to see them. It didn't happen every day but usually at least a couple times a week. Mostly he ignored them but, once in a while, he'd give them a nod to acknowledge their presence. They usually kept to themselves "¦ except for Simon.
Simon seemed to never be far away. He was a nine-year-old boy who died in a carriage accident a long time ago. He'd been hanging around with Donald since he was six and they talked almost every day. Simon looked out for Donald by giving him advice or warning him if a bully was planning something mean. He'd always been a good friend and Donald guessed he was just lonely. When people caught him talking to Simon, he just told them the boy was his imaginary friend. That excuse wasn't working as well lately, though. He asked Simon to be more careful when he talked to him. He didn't want to get caught talking to himself again. He'd overheard his parents talking about it and they were worried, thinking he needed some "real" friends.
Donald always loved the parties at Great Grandpa Silas's farm. The food, running around playing, picking apples: it was something he looked forward to all year long. He knew he'd be sketching for weeks after all the things he'd remember seeing on the trip. It was a great inspiration for him. He usually saw lots of ghosts in Kingsport around Halloween; that was another reason he enjoyed being in Dunwich for the holiday.
George Weedon was a 13-year-old boy from Arkham and the last of the cousins their age. He was a strong kid and very much into sports of all kinds. There was nothing he enjoyed more than a good game. Baseball and football were his favorites and he hoped to be a pitcher or a quarterback one day. His father always pushed him to do better, try harder, and be the best. It certainly wasn't easy to try harder when he was already giving it all he'd got.
Sometimes he dreamed about his father, screaming at him as he struck out with the bases loaded. In the dream, his father had called him worthless and weak, making everyone laugh at him. Sometimes in those dreams he just stood there. Other times he dreamt of showing his father how hard he could swing that bat.
He thanked goodness for his mother, though. If it weren't for her, he'd be lost. She was always there, telling him she'd be proud of him and love him whether he came in first or dead last. When he pushed himself, it was for her, not for his father. When he made it to the majors, it would be for her.
Arkham wasn't a big city but he liked it well enough. Moving about town on his paper route, he'd glimpsed things out of the corner of his eye though. There were storm drains he'd never get too close to, abandoned houses he stayed out of, and things he just didn't talk about. People said the college had lots of spooky old books and things professors brought back from Egypt and the Amazon that were cursed. Sometimes at night, when the air was still, he could hear things whispering and moving about in the graveyard across the street from his house.
He'd been looking forward to the trip all year. With baseball season over, Great Grandpa Silas's party was how he liked to celebrate. He looked forward to running around all day long with his cousins and just enjoying the time outside. Great Grandpa really threw a great party, going out of his way for Donald and the other kids. He wished all adults were as nice as he was.
The cousins hadn't seen each other since Christmas in Kingsport at Great Aunt Norma's the year before. That had been an adventure in and of itself when their cousin Melba had taken them all to the dreamlands and they'd saved the children there from the Krampus, who turned out to be the father of Gretchen von Khol, the wife of their cousin Wally Weedon. It had all ended happily, however, when Gretchen's father had appeared in Kingsport to share Christmas with the whole family.
Nobody knew hold old Great Grandpa Silas was, but he was old. Really old. Maybe close to a hundred. That didn't stop the man from working his farm or being more active than men half his age. Great Grandpa Silas was a very fortunate man, well-liked by his neighbors, with a prosperous farm, which was a rare thing in Dunwich, and a large family. He was a tough old bird who enjoyed the simpler things in life, good food, a good pipe, and parties. The only thing Great Grandpa Silas liked more than a good party was Halloween.
The trip to the remote farm was a long one, the roads poor, but the six families wouldn't miss it for the world. During the day, there'd be loads of activities for the younger family members to enjoy - apple picking, pumpkin carving, hayrides, and potato sack races. After dark, there would be a huge feast followed by lots of desserts. As the hour grew late, the adults would tell ghost stories before retiring for the night. The families would then leave the next morning, returning home and starting to look forward to the next year.
They all arrived at the large house deep in the hills of Dunwich, a place all of them could trace their roots back to. Great Grandpa Silas had plenty of land; his nearest neighbour was almost three miles away. As the families gathered in front of the house, exchanging greetings, Silas came out of the house. Greeting everyone by name, for the old man was still sharp as a tack, he saved his warmest welcome for his six great-grandchildren.
"Welcome back ta the farm!" he said. "Ah'm ah hopin' yer ready for ah good time, cause ah've gots plenty planned fer ya today."
He hugged each of the children as his rough hands snuck a silver dollar to them with a sly wink. He was a rugged old man with a thick gray beard and moustache and a full head of gray hair
"Let's keep dis quiet," he said. "Don't want ma grandchildren to think ah'm spoilin' ya. Ah did da same when dey were yer age don'cha'know. Come on now, round back. Ah've got some cake laid out. Who wants some cold cider?"
The children were delighted, Edward asking about candy apples. Great Grandpa Silas told the boy they had candle apples and cake, cookies and pie, as well as apple cider.
"By my calculations, those are the best!" Edward said.
"You're a calculator," Great Grandpa Silas said. "I knew that."
"Oh, I am, I am," Edward said. "That's what they call me in school."
"Can I please have some apple cider?" Alice asked.
There were two large buildings on Great Grandpa Silas's farm: the house and the barn. The barn had three horses, a cow, a wagon, and lots of stored farm tools. The house was two stories tall and large. There was also a chicken coop, a pig pen, and a small pond with a few geese within. Behind the buildings was the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch with barley fields and cornfields beyond those.
They had arrived around 11:30 a.m. Tables and chairs were set outside with food and drink laid out for the adults. They sat around and chatted, relaxing.
The first thing Great Grandpa Silas had for the children was apple picking.
"Who's ready?" he asked.
The children hollered in delight. Each of them was given two large baskets to fill with apples.
"One of "˜ems for you ta take home," Great Grandpa Silas said. "The other's for me ta keep "˜cause I need help on the farm, pickin' apples."
Edward and Gerdie noticed that most of the apples had been picked off the trees but a small section had obviously been left unpicked for the children.
"Well-well-well-well, gee Grandpa, if you didn't leave apples for us to pick each year, you wouldn't - you wouldn't need the help," Edward said.
"You're too clever for your own good, little man," Great Grandpa Silas said.
"That's what everyone tells me," Edward said.
Great Grandpa Silas ruffled the boy's hair.
"Get out there and help them pick them apples," Great Grandpa Silas said.
He raised his voice so all the children could hear.
"But don'cha think ah'm not gonna pay a good day's wages fer da help," he said. "Now, get ta pickin ya lazy youngin, let's see how long et takes y'all. Hurry up now! When yer done they'll be a hayride to da pumpkin patch. Scoot!"
"Gonna get "˜em first!" George said.
He ran towards the apple orchard with a basket in each hand.
"Hey!" Alice called. "No fair!"
"You get back here, George!" Gordon said.
He ran after the boy, taking up the challenge.
"There's no point in racing," Gerdie said to Edward. "The baskets are the same size."
Alice and Donald ran after the others.
"Well "¦ well-well some of the apples - some of the apples - they'll get - they'll get the best apples," Edward said. "If-if they get there first, they'll pick the best apples."
George didn't seem to be following that theory as the boy was picking any apples within reach as fast as he could. Edward was quickest though, picking the biggest apples up fast and grabbing the ones he liked. Alice was fast as well, using her switchblade to cut the apples and filling two baskets very quickly. George actually came in third for his own race. Gordon filled his fourth, followed by Donald and Gerdie. She didn't seem to care to race but picked the best apples she could at her own pace.
"I've-I've read up all year, looking at signs of good apples," Edward said.
They returned to Great Grandpa Silas, who had another silver dollar for each of them as well as a hug for the girls and firm handshake for the boys.
"Thank you Grandpa!" Alice said.
It was time for the hayride after that. Going along with the children and Great Grandpa Silas was Grandpa Saul, Great Grandpa Silas's son and Gordon's grandfather. Grandpa Saul had a face like a shrunken apple and was clean shaven. He was going bald and wore a newsboy's hat. A pipe was firmly clenched in his teeth though he wasn't smoking at the moment.
The hayride left the farm and followed the bumpy trail between the fields, circling around for almost a mile. There was singing with Silas leading the children. They saw the large barley field and, on the way back to the house, they passed the huge cornfield with the forest beyond it. Scarecrows stood guard over both fields. Great Grandpa Silas pointed out the ancient trees.
"Dats tha haunted forest where witches once gathered fer dark rites," Great Grandpa Silas said. "Did aye ever tell ye youngin bouts that?"
The children shook their heads.
"No?" he went on. "Well, ah'll be tellin dat one tonight, when we're tellin ghost stories ba da fire, if ye children kin stay up dat late."
The scarecrows made Alice think of dead bodies hanging from poles.
"What does Gerdie think?" Gordon asked.
"They like to come to life and dance in the field," Gerdie said. "But they're made of straw."
They returned to the farm. Shortly after, around 2 p.m., a small band of local musicians arrived to perform.
It was time for pumpkin picking after that. Each of the children was given a sack and work knives to cut the pumpkins from the vines. Gordon ran to fetch his axe from the front porch. All the other children except George noticed that one third of the field hadn't been harvested, left for the children just for that occasion.
"Go get a pumpkin," Great Grandpa Silas said to them when Gordon returned. "To make Jack-o-lanterns out of. We'll be needen um ta scare off da spooks en hobgoblins dat are sure ta be out tonight. Don'cha be fergettin wot tonight is now. Da fate of the entire family es en yer hands! Now scoot!"
The children went into the patch to pick out pumpkins.
"Hey Gordie, can I borrow your axe sometime?" Alice asked.
"Hmm," Gordon said. "Nah. I mean, I'll cut something for you if you want, but I'm not going to give it up."
"Oh please! No?"
"You got a knife. You don't need an axe."
"But this thing is "¦ okay."
"I'll think about it.
"Hey, do-do you all - do you all know that pumpkins are actually fruits and not vegetables?" Edward said.
They all looked at him.
"Really?" Alice asked.
"Augh!" Donald said.
"Everybody knows that, Eddie!" George said.
"I-I-I didn'tâ”€" Edward said.
"I didn't know that!" Alice said.
"I didn't know that until I read it in a book," Edward said.
"I knew it," George said. "I knew it. I knew it."
"These city boys think they know something about farms," Gerdie said.
George glared at her.
They picked out their pumpkins. Gerdie found a strange, twisted pumpkin that was oddly colored. She also found a tiny pumpkin for her pocket. George, Donald, and Alice picked out the biggest pumpkins they could find. Edward got a little pumpkin that could fit in his hand but was also big enough to carve.
They returned with their pumpkins and Great Grandpa Silas had them sit them down on a table prepared for them. They were given kitchen knives and spoons to carve their jack-o-lanterns, Great Grandpa Silas promising them a reward if they met his high standards.
"Oh wow!" Alice said, pulling out the pumpkin innards. "Double the fun!"
Edward, Alice, and Gordon had really nice looking pumpkins. Gordon make his like one of the scarecrow faces out in the field. Edward had carved a simple, happy face with very large eyes. He had been going for the look of his own glasses but it hadn't quite worked out. Alice's jack-o-lantern had really big eyes and really sharp teeth. Gerdie had carved the strange runes she understood into the pumpkin but didn't put a face upon it. It didn't really look like a jack-o-lantern. Donald had gone for a regular face that was a little more intricate face of a krampus but it hadn't turned out very well. George's had triangular eyes, a lopsided mouth, and a triangle nose. It was not very good.
"It's good enough," George said. "I don't care. I'm no artist. No little pansy.
He looked at Donald but he obviously cared.
Gordon's father praised his excellently carved pumpkin.
As they finished up working on their pumpkin, a beautiful young girl walked up the road to the house. She carried two baskets and introduced herself as Cousin Maureen from the other side of the valley. She wore a simple dress and shoes. The baskets contained cornbread, an apple pie, and two jugs of fine applejack moonshine. She had features that resembled the rest of the family and she was obviously related. She was 16 years old and had strikingly pale, ice-blue eyes. She introduced herself to each of the children.
Over the next couple of hours, she talked to each of the children, getting each of them alone for at least a few minutes to find out their names, where they were from, and introducing herself to them. She smiled happily at each of them.
"We have the same blue eyes!" Gerdie told her.
"We do!" Cousin Maureen said. "You're so pretty."
"I read a book one time about alligators," Edward told her.
She seemed amazed by that.
She doted on Alice's prettiness and told Donald she wanted him to draw her. He did so, at least making a basic sketch.
She told each of them: "Now, ah'm knowin ye youngins might be tempted ta git into the moonshine. Et's mighty strong stuff en kids yer ages shouldna be drinkin' et no-hows. Stay clear oh et, ya hear?"
Neither Gordon nor George was pleased to meet the girl as, when she walked over to each of them, just for a moment they saw her as an ancient, rotting corpse in a filthy dress and stinking like rotten bodies. It only lasted a moment before it was gone but it was quite disturbing. Gordon gripped his axe a little tighter.
The adults were not shy about trying the obviously very hard applejack.
Great Grandpa Silas called the children over for the potato sack race. Each of them got into a potato sack and Great Grandpa Silas lined them all up. It was a hundred yards.
When Great Grandpa Silas said "Go," Edward immediately fell over in his potato sack. The others got a good lead on him. It was a close race but Gerdie came in first place. Donald was close behind her with the other cousins behind them. Edward was in the rear, glasses askew.
As the sun went down, everyone gathered for a delicious dinner. The adults filled the huge main table while the children were relegated to the smaller "Children's Table" in the kitchen. Roast goose with all the fixings was served, followed by various pies, cakes, and puddings for dessert.
They noticed Cousin Maureen was no longer at the party. Gerdie was disappointed and Donald was upset that he didn't get to finish his drawing of her.
"I didn't get to show her my switchblade," Alice said with a frown.
They heard some talk about her from the dining room where the adults discussing her leaving early. They guessed she had a long walk and wanted to get home before it got to dark. Someone mentioned it was going to be cold that night and someone else wondered if there was going to be a frost. It sounded really dull.
"Alice!" her mother called to her from the dining room. "Eat your supper first."
Alice had gone over to the bowl of pudding before they finished and put a finger in. She groaned.
"You're going to go to bed before the ghost stories if you don't finish your supper," her mother called.
Alice stamped her little foot and groaned. She sat down at the table to finish the meal.
Donald looked around for a dog, slipping his vegetables to Great Grandpa Silas's old bloodhound, Boomer. His parents narrowed their eyes at him but they didn't say anything. Donald wasn't sure if they had seen or not. The ghost of Simon, whom the rest thought was his imaginary friend, sassed him when he did so.
"Donald," Simon said. "You're supposed to eat those. They're good for you, you know?"
"But they suck," Donald said.
"I know but "¦ no they don't!" Simon said. "You didn't even try them!"
"I tried them before," Donald said. "They suck!"
"You didn't try them at your grandpas!" Simon said.
"Donald, shut up!" George said. "Why are you always talking to that "¦ fake guy."
"No, you shut up!" Donald said.
"No, you shut up!"
"No, you shut up!"
"No, you shut up!"
"Why don't you both shut up?" Gordon said.
"No, you shut up!" George said to Gordon.
"How can he see you?" Donald whispered to Simon, thinking Gordon was talking about the two of them.
Simon just shrugged.
"I'm sorry, why don't all three of you shut up?" Gordon said sarcastically.
"He does see me!" he said.
Donald gasped as well.
Dessert was served and the parents let their children eat a little bit more as it was a special occasion. Alice ate her pudding with her fingers until her mother stopped her.
"Alice!" her mother said. "Stop!"
"But I ate my dinner!" Alice said.
"Use your "¦ there's a spoon right there!"
"This is fine!"
"Just eat with your spoon. Please."
Donald showed off his empty plate.
"I'm done!" he called.
"You haven't been feeding it to the dog, have you?" his father asked.
"No," Donald said. "Not me."
"All right," his father said. "Have some dessert. Have however much you want. It's a party."
"Yes!" Donald said.
After dinner, everyone gathered in the living room which was the largest room in the house. Jugs of moonshine were passed around with pipes being smoked and dips of chewing tobacco enjoyed. The adults filled various couches, armchairs, and rocking chairs, all making a semi-circle around the enormous brick fireplace. The children were seated in the center of the gathering on pillows on the floor. Great Grandpa Silas occupied his favorite rocking chair beside the fire.
Alice stared at the fire.
For several hours, the adults all took turns telling ghost stories. The Morgan Family, living across Massachusetts, had heard plenty of them over the years, more than a few of them even being claimed as being true. The parents of Gordon and Gerdie had the most stories as so many odd things often happened in Dunwich. They talked about Sentinel Hill and Table Rock. Gordon's father, Randolph Brewster, told them about the four boys who had died in the mill near the town right before it was to open.
"Cut right in half!" he said dramatically. "Now their ghosts are there, haunting the place. That's why the mill went out of business."
Edward raised his hand.
"What, Edward?" Uncle Randolph said.
"Are-are-are the ghosts cut in half also?" Edward asked.
"Yes!" Uncle Randolph said. "And their guts are hanging out!"
"Which way?" Alice asked.
"They were cut long ways!" Uncle Randolph said.
"Oh, goodness," Alice said.
Edward raised his hands.
"Yes Edward?" Uncle Randolph said.
"I-I don't think that - I don't think if their guts were out that their-their-their normal body functions would happen the same say," Edward said.
"They're ghosts, Edward!" Uncle Randolph said.
"How can they walk if they're cut in half long ways?" Gerdie said.
"Because they flop," Uncle Randolph said. "Like weird "¦ cut-in-half "¦ spiders. Yeah."
"But don't ghosts float?" Alice asked.
"These don't," Uncle Randolph said. "These don't float."
Donald looked at Simon, who just shrugged.
"Just because their body's cut in half doesn't mean their spirit is," Gerdie said.
"These are," Uncle Randolph said. "It's terrifying. They'll wrap their intestines around your throat!"
"How can a spirit be cut in half?" Alice asked.
"They just "¦ Oh God!" Uncle Randolph said. "What, Edward?"
Edward lowered his hand.
"Do they have to be cut in half again?" Alice asked.
"Is there a spirit blade?" Gerdie asked.
"There must be," Alice said.
"Do they wrap their intestines with their hands?" Edward said. "Because I-I think a rope would be more handy for that job."
"No!" Uncle Randolph said. "Their intestines just come and wrap around you and strangle you and then they take you with them."
Edward slowly raised his hand again.
"What, Edward?" Uncle Randolph said.
"If-if their intestines - if their intestines - if their intestines go-go on their own, what-what controls them?" Edward asked.
"Nobody knows!" Uncle Randolph said dramatically.
Donald and Simon exchanged a look. Simon shrugged again. He poked himself in the belly.
"Maybe there's little people in the intestines," Gerdie said to Uncle Randolph.
The man just frowned and sat down, finished with his story. Some of the other adults rolled their eyes. Others laughed politely behind their hands.
Just before midnight, Great Grandpa Silas took his turn. He leaned forward in his rocking chair. Gerdie asked to sit on his lap and he patted it and she climbed up onto him.
"Now, tanight be been hearin lots ah stories," he said. "All of em good, all of dem entertain, but how many kin say der story es true? Not many, ah gather. How many kin prove der story is true?"
"It doesn't seem to me that many have proved their stories are true," Edward said.
"Don't interrupt, Edward!" Edward's mother hissed at him.
"Even fewer ah'd be guessin," Great Grandpa Silas went on. "Now " ma story kin do both. Et's true, en ah kin prove et ta be so. Why, en dis very house lies some oh da possessions oh da Witch of Altar Rock, encludin her black dagger which she used to offer children up as sacrifice ta da dark forces pushin ta get en our world.
"Now, when ma father was alive, long afore any here wus born, he told me dis story. Da family's been passin et down ever since. When ah was just ah baby, living in dis house, which ma grandfather built wit his own hands, ah went missin. Now, first off, I couldn't yet walk. Second, et was night time. And lastly, et was Halloween night! Snatched outta ma crib, right out from under my ma and pa's nose! How, ye sez? Well, cause ah'd been carried away ba evil spirits, taken by a servant of tha dark lord himself. Ah was kidnapped by tha Witch of Altar Rock.
"Ma daddy knew just what ta do. He had no time ta spare. He gathered up his five brothers, one ma uncle Jonas was a preacher. They took up their Kentucky rifles, da good book, en a couple oh trusty huntin' dogs and set out ta track her down! Her trail led into the woods, da very woods out behind where ma cornfield now sets.
"They say that evil spirits rose up to try ta spook "˜em, but our kin er made of sterner stuff den dat, ain't we? Yes sir, da Morgan's always had nerves o' steel en let's hope we always do! Anyhows, inta dat forest dey went, following tha dogs to a place deep in the woods up on the hill. Der was a set of boulders set there, one of "˜em covered with carvin' with a flat top. Et was a place dey all knew about, a place ye kin still find if yer brave or foolish enough: Altar Rock.
"Dat night der was ah bonfire set up. Der I wuz, laid out on da table surrounded by jack-o-lanterns. Why, ye say, well Uncle Jonas always set et wuz to keep da evil spirits at bay, cause ma soul was to be offered to something else, something far more foul. Da Witch was there beside me, beautiful they say she wuz, with eyes glowin' in da night. She took up her dagger and raised it above ma head, callin' on Da Dark Demon ta save her. Our kin shot, jus en da nick oh time. Da witch went down, calling out ta her master as she lay dyin. Den something, something big and dark en evil came outta da woods. Ma pa en his brothers shot et, da dogs attacked, but it jus' kept comin.
"All seemed lost "¦ until da witch drew her last breath, den all da evil she's conjured up went with her when her soul got sucked enta da pit of hell. Da evil spirits, da dark demon, dey all faded away like wood smoke en da wind. Dat night something else happened too. Two people who suddenly went blind en another who was mute were suddenly cured! Ya see, they'd been cursed by da Witch oh Altar Rock.
"Anyhows, dey took me home en warned everyone ta stay outta da forest near Altar Rock, en never ta go near it on Halloween night. But, ye know people, some hadta see fer demselves. Folk went dere en not all of em come back. Some who returned said they saw something up there. The ghost oh a beautiful woman, coming towards em with outstretched hands. Ya see, such a dark soul ain't even welcome in hell. The devil spit that witch back out en ta dis day her ghost haunts the woods round Altar Rock.
"Ye don believe me ye say? Yer thinking oh seein fer yerself? Well, like ah said, ah kin prove ma story es true "¦ why "¦ upstairs en dis very house es "¦"
At that point, the grandfather clock began to chime the stroke of midnight and Great Grandpa Silas stopped speaking with a mighty yawn. Donald was startled by the noise from the clock, almost letting out a shout. Edward, Donald, and George noticed that not only was great grandpa yawning but all of the adults in the room were as well. By the final stroke of midnight, everyone other than the children was asleep.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017