Where did they come from? James looked over the mess of jack-o-lanterns and cornstalk scarecrows crowded in his back yard. In a moment he knew who the culprits were, and they would also be the ones to clean up - his eighth grade history class.
In the week leading up to Halloween he had taught them the origins of the holiday. They were spellbound to learn the pagan beliefs as they related to All Hallows Eve or Samhain, as it is known in Ireland. They were surprised to learn that Trick or Treating came about because the Druids feared the dead playing tricks on them, so they gave treats, usually small cakes, fruit and sometimes coins, to anyone who knocked on their door. That the carved gourds on the front stoop were to frighten spirits away. Costumes were worn by people who walked out of the town, hoping the spirits would follow them. The thing that had frightened his students the most was the belief that at midnight, the veil between the living world and the dead was thin enough for spirits to pass through. He warned them all to be home, safe, before that time.
These decorations in his back yard had come about because of the bonus question on the test. “How do you suppose I decorate for Samhain?” None of the students answered correctly and were stunned to learn he did not decorate at all. He never felt the need, or desire for that matter. There were enough decorations and treats in his classroom on Halloween that he didn’t need anything at home.
“Mr. Allen, you need to at least have a pumpkin,” Morgan had insisted.
“Or a scarecrow,” Shane suggested.
James had just laughed it off and sent them on their way. He should have known they would conspire with one another. However, they could have used their imaginations a little more. Why not a ghost, witch or tombstone? No, he had 17 pumpkins and 13 scarecrows.
He glanced at his watch, eleven fifty-eight. He needed to get to bed so he was alert for his most troubling class first thing tomorrow. The sixth graders.
James reached to switch off the kitchen light when his doorbell rang. Who would trick or treat this late at night. They needed a parent to instill some discipline.
James turned and strode for the door, yanked it open to give the kid a piece of his mind when he was brought up short. Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had seen in a very long time. Black hair fell to her waist, large brown eyes focused on him, high cheekbones and full, red lips. She wore a black, slinky dress as if going out to dinner.
“May I help you?”
“Hi, I am Sylvia. I am here for the party.” The woman held up an invitation.
James took it from her and read. It was an invitation to a party, at his house, in his backyard, beginning at midnight.
“Where did you get this?”
“A young woman insisted I attend.” A blush grew on her cheeks. “I see now she was playing a trick on me.”
“I am sorry, but I am not having a party.”
His grandfather clock struck midnight.
She glanced past his shoulder. “Your yard seems rather well lit if you did not plan on entertaining.”
James glanced over his shoulder into the kitchen. Even from this vantage point he could see the pumpkins were bright, and people appeared to be moving around.
“This is very odd,” he muttered to himself. He turned away from her and walked toward the backyard. Her heels clicked on the hardwood floor behind him. James stopped at the back door and looked out.
“Are those scarecrows dancing?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“It appears so,” James responded, not sure if he could believe his eyes. The scarecrows were now partnered, dancing.
He opened the door and stepped out onto his deck, Sylvia followed. “I was unaware it was a costume party.”
James turned to look at her, bewildered. A waltz could be heard. Where the music came from, he had no idea.
“Shall we dance?” She smiled up at him.
Unable to stop himself, he pulled her close and began twirling her in three quarter time. He hadn’t waltzed since college.
They continued to dance, never tiring, laughing, talking, as if this were a normal party, with normal people.
A gust of wind blew.
The clock struck one.
James turned Sylvia and escorted her to the door to get her out of the wind. As she stepped through, he glanced back. The jack-o-lanterns were dark. The scarecrows were no longer animated. The wind was still.
A chill ran up his spine and he entered his home. Sylvia was not where he left her. He called, searched the house, but she had vanished.
Standing in the middle of his living room James came to the conclusion that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead did indeed disappear at midnight on All Hollows Eve. Next year he would be waiting for Sylvia’s return.