Happy Halloween – in a break from the Bike around Britain posts here’s a story I wrote a couple of years ago, with a Halloween theme.
Trick or Treat
Jack flicked through the channels, idly looking for something that might be vaguely interesting. So much dross on the television these days, perhaps it had always been that way and he’d just not realised it until now.
‘Oh great, Big Brother is on again Soot, you’ll like that,’ he muttered to the German Shepherd at his feet. The dog glanced up expectantly at the sound of his name, then seeing no movement went back to gnawing on the dried pig’s ear Jack had bought earlier from the market.
‘No…no…no…definitely no…and sod off Most Haunted,’ who believed that fake crap anyway, but it was a done deal on Halloween. He liked Halloween, but it was late now and the local kids had stopped coming around about an hour ago. They liked to visit number eight, and Jack always tried to make an effort to provide some entertainment on what was supposed to be a spooky evening. Soot loved it, all the people and attention. He didn’t really live up to Jack’s claims of being a hell hound, or Black Shuck, who’d savage them if they were naughty, preferring to wag his tail and lick anyone who smelt nice. As usual Jack had carved a couple of pumpkins into as scary faces as he could manage, and as usual they’d come out slightly lop-sided and comical, but they did the job sitting out on the porch. He’d even tried carving a couple of turnips again, in an effort to un-Americanise the whole thing, but they’d not worked out quite as he’d hoped and he’d relegated them to the garden to scare the pigeons instead.
Jack lived on the outskirts of town, part of a new estate that had been built over a patch of scrubland bought up by developers seeking to squeeze as many homes as possible into the small space. Still, they’d left a fair sized common in the middle of it; a planning regulation requirement no doubt, but something for the kids to play on and for people to walk their dogs. In its centre were the remains of an old tower that was slowly crumbling away, maybe part of an old church, or Norwich’s old medieval defences, Jack didn’t remember. It was pretty enough with ivy growing up its old flint walls, and in Spring birds nested in the hawthorn trees that grew around and in some places through it.
‘Right, nothing on Soot, let’s have a drink.’ Jack turned off the television, got up off the sofa and wandered over to the drinks cabinet. ‘Hmmm…a small whiskey maybe, no nothing for you here,’ he said, nudging away Soot’s inquisitive nose. Soot whined slightly disappointed at the lack of treats, and then the lights went off.
‘Bugger, power cut or fuses do you reckon?’ Jack walked carefully over to the window trying to remember if he or Soot had left any crap on the floor. Pulling open the curtains he glanced outside, all the neighbours’ houses were dark too. ‘Power cut Soot, maybe the spirits are pissed at something,’ he said sarcastically, ‘time to take you for a walk anyway.’
The streets were dark too, with only moonlight making things visible. Still, Soot didn’t seem particularly bothered and Jack didn’t worry about a lead. It was close to midnight and there weren’t many cars around, in fact he couldn’t hear any at all which was a nice change, if not a little unusual. They walked down the hill past the common and onto the main road that led down to the river. Jack could only vaguely make out Soot sniffing along the edge of the hedgerow a short way ahead, his black coat merging with the darkness. The night was fresh, crisp and clean, with clear starry skies and the promise of a beautiful morning ahead.
Candlelight flickered warmly through the windows of the Freeman pub as they passed it, but Jack didn’t go in. The local folk seemed to resent his presence on the rare occasions he did go in for a pint, not that he’d ever done anything to earn their suspicious glances. He thought they’d have accepted him in the neighbourhood by now, but for some people if you weren’t born here you’d never be a local.
Turning onto the path beside the river they walked towards town, under the sycamore and beech trees that arched out over the sluggishly moving waters. The waxing gibbous moon gave Jack enough light to see by, reflecting off the water and casting long shadows of the trees across the path. The moonlight also reflected off Soot’s eyes, as he regularly turned his head back to ensure Jack was still following, making them seem to glow green in the night. ‘Wrong colour Soot, they’re supposed to be red remember,’ Jack mused to no-one in particular.
A slight breeze sent dead leaves skittering across the ground, and carried with it the faint sounds of music; what sounded like a lonely flute being played somewhere across the river, the beautiful yet sad notes merging with the night, and almost seeming to set the leaves waltzing in time. Perhaps someone was having a party at one of the cottages that backed onto the water, where the haunting strains would certainly lend the evening an appropriate quality. The music seemed to follow them as they moved further down the path and up towards the road which took over where passage was no longer possible along the riverbank. The song brought unbidden feelings of something lost to Jack’s mind, or of something being searched for, he felt he almost knew the tune. The music seemed to reach out, observe then move away once satisfied you were not of any significance to it. Jack shook off the melancholy threatening to engulf him, moving up and onto the road where abruptly the music could no longer be heard.
The houses and street-lights here were still all dark indicating the power cut was unresolved. Jack decided to continue following Soot who seemed intent on having a longer walk than planned, making his way along the pavement towards the roundabout where one could either continue towards the town centre, or follow the ring road either way. Soot was probably heading for the small park on the other side of the roundabout, which backed onto the graveyard. There was still no traffic around although he could hear a distant rumbling of what could be a group of motorbikes out for a midnight ride.
They crossed the ring-road and made their way up the hill towards the old marker stone sitting next to the park’s entrance, indicating one mile to the old town centre in Tombland. Jack thought he could make out a figure close to the marker stone still some 100 yards away. Whoever it was seemed to be looking for something, crouching down to examine the ground before getting up and moving on to a new patch a bit further on. Soot stopped, waiting for Jack to catch up before approaching the stranger who hadn’t seemed to notice them, intent as they were on their searching. Jack realised it must be a young women, or girl, wearing in a flowing dress, with her long unbound and slightly curly hair flowing across her shoulders and down her back to her waist. God knows what she doing out so late; perhaps she’d lost her keys.
The girl looked up, away from Jack, as the sound of the motorbikes he’d heard earlier suddenly got a lot louder, lights appearing on the road at the top of the hill and pausing briefly before streaming down towards the marker stone. Soot growled as the peace of the night was shattered by the loud engines and shrieks from the riders who bore down the road towards the girl. She backed away towards the park entrance but came up short against the old rusting iron gate.
There were nine of them, dressed in leathers and riding on what looked to be old Harleys, the motorbike lights illuminating their helmets which seem to have been adorned with a variety of horns, crests, and twisted motifs. They screamed to a halt forming a crescent in front of the girl as Jack walked up behind them, Soot at his side. He thought he recognised them. The lights also illuminated the girl’s terrified face yet defiant face, as she frantically scrabbled behind her at the padlocked gate.
Two of the riders dismounted and approached the girl. ‘Come here little one, out all on your own, you’re wanted.’ The lead rider’s voice sounded guttural and growling through his helmet.
‘Leave me alone, I ain’t done nothing, and you ain’t allowed to just take folk,’ she shouted back at them.
‘Doesn’t matter anymore, your wanted Moon Seer, his Lordship’s got plans for you,’ said the gruff rider.
Jack came to a stop behind them, silhouetted by the bike lights on the opposite side of the crescent. ‘Look, she doesn’t want to go with you so just take your ride elsewhere,’ he said.
‘Who the bloody hell are you then,’ said the leader turning towards Jack. Several of the other riders dismounted from their bikes. ‘Being out with your puppy on Halloween ain’t such a good idea.’
‘For whom,’ replied Jack.
Some of the riders moved towards Jack and Soot, unlimbering chains and clubs from various jacket pockets and bags. Soot growled deeply at Jack’s side causing them to pause.
‘I don’t want any trouble alright,’ said Jack. ‘Just let the girl go and I’ll walk away, no need for anything else.’
‘They ain’t allowed to take me anyway, I’m neutral and ain’t done anything,’ shouted the girl who’d scrambled half way up the gate.
‘Shut it bitch…I said that don’t matter any more’ said the leader. ‘Look mate, you on mushrooms or something, there’s nine of us and one of you plus lassie there, this ain’t none of your business so sod off,’ he growled menacingly. ‘You two grab the girl.’
The girl shrieked and climbed further up the gate away from the approaching riders, three others squared off against Jack and Soot, who showed no inclination towards leaving. Jack reached inside his trench coat pocket fingering the zippo lighter he kept on him. ‘Stop,’ said Jack in a low tone that seemed to ripple through the night.
‘Urrr boss’, said the rider closest to Jack, ‘something funny going on here, he ain’t right and neither is his dog.’
The leader turned back towards Jack. ‘Well what we got here then, if it ain’t mister candle eyes. What, got yourself some of the blood do you? Teach him a lesson lads, Trick or bloody Treat mate.’
‘Trick,’ muttered Jack.
‘What?’ said the leader who walked up behind the three in front of Jack.
Jack could feel the fire building inside him, and as it did the glamours in front of him faded. ‘I said Trick,’ said Jack drawing, flicking open and lighting the zippo in front of him. Soot snarled and leapt from where he’d been crouching at Jack’s feet, teeth latching on to the arm of the nearest rider, sheering through leather and into the flesh underneath.
Jack raised the lighter to his face and blew into the flame, causing a roaring sound as it expanded and flew out towards the two riders advancing on him. Flames swirled and danced through the night, illuminating the area and combatants. Riders revealed for what they truly were stumbled off horses, clad in furs and leather, chain mail, and motleys of scrap metal, wielding crude spiked clubs, flaming torches, chains, nets and short swords. What could be seen of their faces revealed green tinted skin and rugged features, with teeth filed to points sitting in slobbering mouths. ‘I hate Scrags, and you’re no wild hunt,’ Jack said menacingly, knowing flames would now be dancing in his eyes as he let the power grow.
Cursing the leader raised his short sword and charged towards Jack, shouldering through the two burning riders hit by fire already; they collapsed to the ground engulfed in red and blue flames. Jack turned his gaze towards the charging figure and tendrils of angry blue fire leapt towards him, wrapping around torso and limbs causing shrieks of anger and then pain. The short sword lunged out from the leader’s burning form straight for Jack’s chest; he stepped to one side and brought his left hand down on the arm holding the sword. With a crack the arm broke and more flame poured out along Jack’s arms and over his assailant.
Chaos descended after that as riders struggled to avoid the fire and the huge snapping dog in their midst, regain their mounts and escape. Fire danced on engulfing the two who’d been trying to grab the girl, reducing them in seconds to ashes, then stabbing out towards another who looked like he might have a go. No-one came at Jack or Soot again, and soon all the riders were ashes or had fled, the sound of retreating hooves soon turning into the rumble of motorbikes. The flames slowly subsided and winked out, and Jack put the zippo back in his pocket.
He turned towards the girl who’d managed to scramble over the gate during the fight. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. The way’s open now. Nice dog,’ she said, staring cautiously and slightly curiously at Jack and Soot through the gate’s iron bars. Jack could hear the same haunting flute tune he’d thought he’d recognised earlier drifting through the night from somewhere in the park.
‘Well sounds like the Piper’s abroad so you should be safe, don’t know what you were doing out here but best you get home, wherever that is,’ said Jack.
‘Who are you?’ Asked Mia.
‘Doesn’t matter, just someone hoping for a quiet life, should have known better than to go for a walk on Halloween,’ replied Jack.
‘Well I’m Mia, thanks for helping me. I’d have got away anyway, but thanks. Scrags don’t usually bother us but something’s changed, that’s why I was out, looking for answers in the leaves.’ She started to back off into the park, keeping her eyes on Jack.
‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know, think Soot and I’ll just head home,’ said Jack.
‘You could help us, one of the folk like you, if you change your mind about wanting to know come and find me at the Star Wherry.’ With that Mia turned and ran barefoot across the grass into the park, her black hair flying out behind her. She disappeared down a cobbled path that most people would be forgiven for not seeing, and soon was invisible to anyone who couldn’t look In Between.
‘She should have shoes on,’ muttered Jack, ‘she’ll step on a needle or something.’ Soot looked up at him and whined softly, then wandered over to sniff and urinate on one of the small piles of ashes that were gradually blowing away in the wind. They’d be gone in a few more minutes leaving no evidence anything had ever been amiss. There might be locals complaining about kids setting off fireworks in the morning, but nothing more, people only saw and heard what they wanted to most of the time.
Jack took one last look around, wondering if he should have just left the riders to it. It wasn’t a world he wanted to be involved in any more, but they’d pushed it after all, and it had felt good using his powers again. Smiling slightly he turned for home.
‘Don’t piss with Jack-O-Lantern on Halloween,’ he muttered to himself, before starting to whistle the Piper’s song. Soot padded off ahead, sniffing along the hedgerow again.