tagErotic HorrorThe Last Halloween

The Last Halloween


"I don't know that there are real ghosts and goblins, but there are always more trick-or-treaters than neighborhood kids."

-Robert Brault


Somewhere in one of the darker corners of the world, a witch and a ghoul stood at the entrance of a cemetery at midnight, and both of them were afraid. But they weren't afraid of what was inside: Rather, it was everything outside that scared them.

"Mark my words," said Stokes, shuffling his old undertaker's boots in the dirt, "tomorrow will be the last Halloween for most of us." A night breeze stirred the tree branches and the old cemetery gate creaked, as if in agreement.

Anne knew he was right. There was something in the air that year—some quality of the night or the moonlight or just the entire world—that suggested terrible finality. It was a miracle any of them had made it to this Halloween; expecting another would be hoping for too much. She chewed her nails; they were looking ragged these days, tending toward the bloody side.

"Are we the only ones?" she said. "Where's the countess?"

"Dead," said a voice from the shadows, and there, stepping out from the hollow of a tree, was Jezibaba, an ancient hag with a hump that could capsize a ship. How long she'd been there was anyone's guess. Anne had sent for her, but she was still surprised to see that the other witch had come.

"Dead and gone," she said again, "and the word has only just come. I was the first to know, and now I've told you, so together we make three who know: Dear Liz has gone the way of dust and darkness, and there will be no more midnight sabbats or crimson baths for her wherever she is now. It would bring a tear to my eye, if witches could cry."

Anne gasped. Stokes took off his hat (a battered stovepipe affair that he'd stolen from a particularly famous grave) and lowered his head.

"How?" said Anne.

"The rumors disagree," said Jezibaba, stopping to light a pipe, the orange flames reflecting on her iron teeth. "Some say a mortal believer found her coffin and opened it, exposing her to the daylight. But others say..."

She didn't have to finish. Anne knew: Elizabeth had left her own coffin open, because she'd given up hope. She wouldn't have been the first. Anne dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, though she did it out of habit rather than necessity, for of course she couldn't cry either. She'd known Elizabeth for nearly 400 years, and just like that she was gone. Was life so short?

"'Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there. I do not sleep,'" said Stokes. "We'll never see her like again."

"Was she the last one?" Anne said.

"There are a few old bloodsuckers still knocking around in Romania, and at least one that I know in this country," said Stokes. "But there can't be many. My kind runs into them less and less as we till the midnight soil. Of course, there are few enough of us left either."

"Few enough of any of us," said Jezibaba. "Few vampires, few witches, few ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties to go bump in the night. And soon there'll be none. It's only going to be the three of us here tonight, so let's not keep burning moonlight. We've a job to do, don't we?"

Anne stood up straighter. Jezibaba's presence restored some sense of spirit. The First Witch was rarely seen outside the old country anymore. She had traveled a long way through what must have been great trouble, but the stubborn squint of her eye was not diminished. She'll be the last of us, Anne thought. When we've all have gone to dust like the countess, Baba will still be here for a hundred more years.

Anne opened the cemetery gate (wincing at the touch of iron) and the three of them went in. Three old monsters, alone and afraid in the dark. Anne led the way, with lantern raised. Jezibaba walked at the back, looking over her shoulder, for she could see in the dark better than in the light. Stokes took up the middle, which was awkward since he'd grown enormously rotund in recent years (he had few brothers and sisters to compete with for meals anymore), and the bones in the pockets of his coat and trousers rattled with each step. It wasn't a particularly big graveyard or a particularly old one, but it was still a sacred place, and good enough for their purposes tonight.

Along the way they exchanged gossip: The final Massachusetts coven had parted, their circle forever broken. Now there were only three covens in the entire world stocked with genuine witches rather than just humans playing at being "pagans." Stokes reported that Germany's last werewolf was living incognito in a pen in the Berlin zoo, and that several prominent haunted houses, including the abandoned sanitarium in Waverly Hills and the Himuro Mansion in Tokyo, had somehow lost their ghosts and become spontaneously unhaunted overnight. And it had been six years, Anne told them, since the Sleepy Hollow horseman had appeared for a midnight ride.

"Where do you suppose ghosts go when they no longer haunt us?" said Stokes.

"If we knew where they'd gone, they wouldn't be gone," Jezibaba said.

Anne set the lantern down on a grave and turned it down as low as it would go. They had come to the exact center of the graveyard. It was a good place: tall trees, long shadows, and a hint of fog. Jezibaba brought out the offering: the fleece of a black ram. They spread it on the ground. It was up to Anne to say the words, since this was all her idea. She had never done it before, and she was afraid, but there was no turning back now. The three of them linked hands: Jezibaba's was an old, dried claw, like the talon of a vulture, while Stokes' was plump and soft, but cold. Taking a deep breath Anne said, as loud as she dared:

"Mother, we're here for you. Will you come?"

No more elaborate spell or ritual was needed. All they had to do was ask the question and see if it was answered. Often it was not, and for a moment Anne worried that this would be one of those times. But then they heard the trees stir and (muffled beneath the great tons of earth covering them) the voices of dead men call out. The dirt over the graves seemed to tremble and Anne felt her knees go weak, and then the fog parted and, faster than the shake of a bat's wing, a great black chariot appeared. Nothing pulled it, but its huge wheels still rolled and came to a stop precisely where they were meant to.

The charioteer was a tall, handsome, and pale woman. She wore nothing except a black cloak, longer and finer than anything in the world, and something about the whole of her looked misty around the edges, as if she were not really there at all. This was Mother Night.

She came to Jezibaba, kissed her on the cheek, and called her daughter. She kissed Stokes too (he doffed his hat with so much gusto that he almost shook the old thing to pieces), but when she came to Anne she paused. Anne flinched under the scrutiny. "I don't know you," said Mother Night.

Anne's cheeks burned. "Anne de Chantraine, Mother," she said.

"Oh yes. My suffering one."

She kissed Anne, and Anne felt lighter. It was true, they had never met, but this was still her mother. She was a Child of the Night as much as any of them. Mother found the tallest and grandest mausoleum to sit down on. She looked powerful and stern, but also loving.

"You've called me and I've come," Mother said. "Tell me why?"

Anne realized everyone was waiting for her to answer. This had been her idea, after all. She cleared her throat.

"Mother, thank you for--" No, Mother didn't care about ceremony. Instead Anne launched right into the meat of their plea: "Terrible things are happening," she said. "The Children of the Day rule the world unchallenged now. We, your children, are fewer every year. Once we rode through the night on broomsticks, slept the daylights hours in coffins, dug up the sacred ground to feed on the dead, and took on the bodies of wolves or other beasts to ran howling under your moon.

"But soon there won't be any of us left. The world isn't safe for us anymore. Tomorrow is Halloween, and we fear it will be the last for most of us."

"I know all this already," said Mother. "Why call me?"

"We want you to save us," said Anne. "You can't just let us die."

"It's not for you to tell me what I can't do."

"But you're our mother." Anne's eyes burned, tearless, again. "Don't you care?"

"Of course I care. I love you all," Mother said. "But this is the way of things: Sometimes the days grow long and the nights become short. But the wheel always turns: Day and his children will burn themselves out eventually, and then my kingdom will expand again and my children will multiply. It's always been so."

"Well and fine for you," said Jezibaba. "But the rest of us can't afford to wait that long."

Mother Night waved the old witch away and stood up. Anne knew that if she returned to her chariot she'd leave and never respond to their call again. Thinking fast, she blurted out:

"What about you, Mother? Don't you miss the old nights too?"

Mother paused.

"Don't you remember when we ran and sang and did your good works in city and field? What if it could be that way again? Not in a hundred years or a thousand, but now?"

It was a daring thing to say. Mother didn't respond at first, and Anne braced herself, wondering how terrible a curse might fall on her for speaking out of turn. But Jezibaba laid an encouraging hand on Anne's shoulder, so she spoke on.

"Tomorrow night, we'll have one more Great Sabbat," said Anne. "All of your children will be there, one last time. Will you come? If you can't save us, will you at least honor us? Will you do that, if we throw ourselves at your feet?"

The night grew colder. Anne hugged her black shawl around her bare arms. When Mother spoke again her voice was changed, seeming deeper and hungrier. "Maybe," she said. She turned, and the look on her face was just awful.



The next night, half a world away, in another, far more ordinary corner of the world, a witch and a ghoul knocked on a door. Chann answered it and the little monsters held up sacks and said in unison: "Trick or treat!"

He smiled dutifully and told them how cute they were, parceling out candy for each of them. But as soon as their backs were turned he slammed the door and secured all three locks, then tugged the curtain aside and held his breath until both kids were all the way down the front walk and out of sight. Only once they were gone did he sight in relief.

Chann dreaded Halloween, and the sight of costumed children filled him with revulsion and terror. But he was too soft-hearted to send them away with nothing, so he indulged them for the first few hours of the night and then snapped the lights off promptly at 9:00 PM. It hadn't always been this way. Once, Halloween was the highlight of his year. But things changed.

He looked around his little house. It was a tiny, plastic, pre-fabricated thing. Most of his neighbors lived in in old Victorians, but Chann disliked anything with a gloomy atmosphere. He tried to fill the place with bright knick-knacks, but he wasn't much of a decorator, and it always looked sparse. He tried to surround the house with a pleasant garden, but it always grew in patchy, and the only things that thrived were wolfsbane and nightshade (which he never even remembered planting). He just wasn't a homemaker. It wasn't in his blood.

The oven timer shrieked. He ran to the kitchen and promptly burned himself on the baking sheet before remembering to use the mitts. The cookies were done, but would they be cool in time? He stood at the counter and blew on all of them until his mouth went dry. He should have started earlier, but kids at his door were a constant distraction. Now it was almost too late. Any minute now she'd be here.

The doorbell rang. More kids? Or was she here already? Chann half-ran to answer it but stopped to take a deep breath, smooth his hair back, fix his shirt, and put on his biggest smile before opening the door.

"Hi!" he said. "You're--"

A witch and a ghoul were on his porch. They didn't have sacks, but the ghoul did hold out an old hat. "Trick or treat," they said.

Chann slammed the door and locked it three times. Then he put his ear to it and listened. Maybe if I don't let them in they'll just go away, he thought. Then he imagined what might happen if some kids came up the walk while those two were still on the porch and, panicking, he opened the door again and ushered the pair inside. Stokes rattled when he walked. Anne hesitated for half a second at the threshold, but followed him. She took off her black shawl but didn't hang it.

"Hello Chann," she said.

"What the hell are you two doing here?" said Chann.

"What a rude welcome," said Stokes. "And you haven't even offered us anything to eat yet. What's that smell?"

Moving faster than it would seem possible given his corpulence, Stokes footed it to the kitchen, where Chann caught him with his plump grey fingers on the cookies. "Not that one!" he said, actually slapping Stokes' wrist as his hand strayed toward a particular confection. "The trash is on the back porch, if you'd prefer it," Chann said.

"Delighted!" said Stokes, excusing himself. Chann was relieved only until he remembered this left him alone with Anne. His insides turned to jelly. She sat at the dining room table, eyeing him. He couldn't help but squirm.

She looked...exactly the same, but entirely different. Wasn't that always the way when you see someone again for the first time? He imagined he looked much the same to her. A little heavier, maybe (he sucked in his gut), but he was mostly the same man. Wasn't he?

"This is a nice place," said Anne. She used the word "nice" in tones most people reserve for words like "diseased."

"I got a good deal on it," Chann said.

"Did you? I wonder if you know how much you really had to give up."

He realized he was still wearing the oven mitts. He deposited them on the counter. The sight of the cookies jogged his memory. "Both of you have to get out," he said.

"There are things we have to talk about," said Anne.

"ANY night but tonight."

"Tonight is the only night," Stokes said from the backyard.

"Someone else is coming and she can't find the two of you here."

"Then you'd better hear us out fast, so we'll leave sooner," Anne said. "We're having a party tonight. A Great Sabbat. We want you there. It'll be like the old nights again."

"Rage, rage, against the dying of the light," said Stokes. "One last great act of defiance, while we still have the strength."

Chann shook his head. "Not interested."

"Mother will be there. We talked to her."

Chann's jaw dropped. "You saw her? You spoke--" But then he stopped and crossed his arms over his chest. "Good for you, but I'm still not interested. That part of my life is over. I'm not one of you anymore. I'm normal."

"That's a lie," said Anne. "No one ever stops being one of us."

"I have."

"You only think so," said Anne. "But we're not asking you because we want to. We're asking because we NEED you. This will be the last Halloween for most of us. We need every single hand on deck. We can't spare anyone, because there are too few left to spare. We need a good howler, and you were always the best."

She stood up now and put a hand on his arm. He expected her fingers to feel cold, like the legs of a spider, but instead they were warm. "I know you haven't forgotten those autumn nights, back when it was you and me and Elizabeth and the full moon. It can be like that again..."

Chann looked at the clock. Seconds were ticking away. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't. It's been too long. I've lost my touch."

"The moon is full tonight."

"You could fly me to the moon and I still couldn't manage a howl. It's like riding a bike: After a while you forget."

"No, no, you never forget how to ride a bike," said Stokes.

"Okay, then it's not like a bike at all. What do you want out of me? I already said no." He shook Anne's hand off. She looked more distressed than he'd been ready for.

"I didn't want to beg," she said. "But: Please. Just this once. If you ever cared about me?"

Chann had never heard her say "please." For a second he felt a twinge of something he thought he'd forgotten, an old, savage feeling, deep down inside...but it passed.

"Those were good times while they lasted," he said, "but those nights are behind us. I've got a new life, and I want to keep it. You should think about doing the same. The old ways are over. We've got to change if we want to survive."

"I see," Anne said. Her voice was cold. She put her shawl back on. "When you say things like that, you might as well kill me yourself, but it's your decision. I guess I'm not surprised. But I had hoped." She paused. "Elizabeth is dead. I don't expect you to care, but you should know. She still talked about you sometimes."

Chann felt a jolt of shock. Deep down, he'd known it would happen sooner or later: there was no place in the modern world for someone like Elizabeth. She had been a true vampire, in the oldest tradition: elegant, refined, brilliant, and heartless.

No, he thought, not entirely heartless: She'd loved him, once, just as much as he'd loved Anne. All three of them had loved each other. It was true what he'd said: Those had been good nights, when they were all young and dangerous and had no idea what kind of pain life could bring. And now she was gone.

He groped dumbly for something more to say, but Anne walked right out, and the look she gave him might as well have been a knife in his chest. Stokes followed her and tipped his hat. "Thanks for the grub," he said, and left.

Chann slammed the door. The house seemed particularly dark and empty now. "Fuck," he said, to no one in particular.

Again he felt the slightest twinge of something he thought he'd put aside forever, but again it didn't last. Where did the two of them come off barging in here like that? That life isn't for me anymore. That's what tonight is all about.

Tonight! He looked at the clock: It was passed nine. That meant--

The doorbell rang. It was Diana, all smiles, in a yellow dress and pearls. "Baby!" she said.

"Hey!" said Chann.

She hugged him and then kissed him and it was a second before they both realized another little spook had followed her to the front door, treat bag in hand. Chann gave the girl a handful of candy, closed the door and (with a quiet sense of triumph) turned off the porch light.

"That was the last one," he said.

Diana looked out the window. "There are still kids on the street."

"But it was the last one for me. The only treat I'm interested in tonight is you." He kissed her again. She purred, but then looked puzzled. "Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I...ran into some old friends earlier. People I'd rather not have seen again. But it's nothing for you to worry about," he added, very quickly. "I don't want to think about that tonight. Tonight should be all about me and you."

"I've been looking forward to this ALL day," she said, putting down her bag and hanging up her coat. "I'm glad we made plans, because just between you and me, I hate Halloween."

"Me too," Chann said.

"It's so morbid. I don't understand why we spend a day every year getting kids to think about monsters and death. That can't be good for them, right? And the things adults wear to those parties; so tacky." She paused. "What's that smell?"

Chann panicked. Had Anne been wearing some scent? Had the smell of Stokes' grave coat infected the whole house? His mind raced for an explanation. Then Diana said:

"Is that chocolate chip cookies?"

"Yes!" He led her to the kitchen. Stokes had gotten into the pan after all and eaten almost half, but the important one was still there. Working hard not to look at it yet, he picked another one off the edge and broke it in two, handing half to her. She rolled her eyes in ecstasy as she bit into it. He'd never met a woman who loved rich food as much as she did, especially chocolate. "I'm not much of a baker, but I wanted something to surprise you with."

"Aren't you sweet."

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