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Halloween Writting Contest Entry

The following story was submitted as an entry in The Wanderer's third annual Halloween Writing Contest.

"All Help Us Eve" by Andrea Ray

Josie Thompson is reclining in a haze of deep contentment. She is lying on the cool grass of her wide backyard when her ears pick up the faint sound of fence boards creaking in the distance. "Mom!" Declan's cheerful voice chirps.

"Declan," she replies, rolling over on her side to better face her small son as he skips gaily into perspective, "we have a gate for a reason."

His small lips turn up into a mischievous, bright smile. He has heard her utter this warning a hundred thousand times, each time with a little less patience. "So that I don't get hurt?"

"No, so that you don't break the fence. It cost more than you did," Josie informs him seriously.

"Mom," Declan says, dragging out the "o", his small features morphing into an expression of annoyance.

"Inside." She herds the boy toward the red door of their small and old-fashioned farmhouse, listening with one ear to his various chatterings.

"Mom!" Declan wails, a veil of sheer outrage filling his mild green eyes. He tugs impatiently on her hand.

"What?" Josie asks reflexively, surprised. She runs her fingers through his dark, windswept curls.

"Can I be a zombie ballerina for Halloween?"

"What?" she asks again; she is completely flummoxed. She stops dead in her tracks. "Declan, it's October thirtieth. I thought you said you didn't want to do Halloween this year."

She remembers this particular morning vividly. She was in the middle of making Declan's peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Declan had recently banned Fluff from the house. Whichever child it was who decided what was popular in fourth grade had swiftly vetoed Fluff. To be seen with the marshmallow substance now was apparently the same as traipsing around with jelly shoes on or reading a book. This same child had also placed a pocket veto on Halloween, for Declan bounded downstairs that morning declaring Halloween to be "for little kids". As a fourth grader, he was above such ridiculous affairs.

Apparently, this ruling has now been changed.

"But Mom," Declan groans. He drags the last word into three syllables (in the obscenely annoying way that all children do) to explain his entire reason for doing a three-sixty on the subject of Halloween. Josie recalls the relish in which she used to unleash these very words upon her own mother. By now she would rather be voluntarily subjected to officiating a fingernails-on-the-blackboard contest than hear these words ever again.

"Fine," she says at last. "You can wear your sister's tutu."

"What?" his voice rises, incensed. "But Mom, it's pink!"

"I wasn't aware that a zombie ballerina was any different from a regular ballerina. Except for being dead, anyway."

"Pink is girly, Mom. It has to be black." He then has the audacity to show her what the costume should look like, and is lucky she doesn't faint on top of him.

"Declan, it's the night before Halloween. You couldn't at least want to be something I could buy from the store, could you?"

"I thought you could make it," he says, his voice laced with the dreamy innocence of childhood.

"Lucky I have Old Widow Singer here to help," Josie says sarcastically. "We'll get it done in no time."

They argue about Declan's last minute costume for the next forty-seven and a half minutes, but like all small children everywhere, Declan has the upper hand over his mother, no matter how much Josie protests that it isn't true. While he grumbles over his math homework, she drives her ailing silver Volkswagen to the nearest fabric store.

Instead, she finds a war zone. The entire store is flooded with bright fluorescent light, which stings her eyes. It appears to Josie as if the store has been raided by a battalion of rabid elephants. They have shredded thick plastic casings with their tusks and have left the remains spread across the floor. The remnants of glittery pink feather boas float, defeated, before her. The elephants obviously took them as battle trophies and wore them proudly out of the sliding doors. In a far corner (and here, deep within her heart, a fluttering of hope stirs) she manages to spot one costume bag, which still contains a costume. Quickly, however, she discovers why. No self-respecting elephant will go out in public in Superman's tights and knee-high boots.

By some providence, which she deems a miracle, Josie manages to find a small amount of black cloth. The harried mother beside her, whose dark eyes are filmed with vexation and anguish, is not so lucky - any remaining cloth for her daughter's last-minute Japanese Soda Bottle outfit has mysteriously evaporated into the cold night.

Back at home, Josie puts her son to bed. Declan is complaining about the report he must do on Benjamin Franklin. Josie hides the amused smile, which tugs at the corners of her mouth. She has not yet inducted her son into the grand life of Benjamin Franklin, preferring to save the sordid details of his hygiene, his air baths, and his European meetings for another year. American icons must remain pure, virtuous and godlike to any good school child.

While Declan sleeps, Josie pulls her dark hair out of her face. She spreads the long skeins of black thread and delicate silver needles within reach of her fingers, preparing for the delicate and time-consuming task ahead. The light is warm and low in her cozy living room as she twists the fabric around her fingers. She admire the neat stitches, which glow in the light as she continues to tighten the soft threads, her mouth pulled into a small moue of concentration.

Outside the latticed windows, the cold night darkens, and then softens at the edges, moving inwards. The moon's tender silver rays begin to kiss the trees, the grass, paling darkest noir to deep navy and cool violet. The pinnacle of night comes and goes without a sound as she bends over her project, patiently setting stitch after stitch. Somehow, without the faintest acknowledgement, the day of Halloween has arrived.

The costume is perfect -as perfect as it can be under Josie's abominable sewing skills. Every pleat on the skirt is in place, however. Every tear on the black bodice is artfully ripped and clumsily sewn back over. It appears as if the ballerina has been viciously attacked by a zombie - which, as a matter of fact, is completely the case, Josie realizes as she thinks back over the sleepless night.

Declan has no shoes to wear with his outfit. His sister's would never fit his feet, and Josie reckons that he would refuse to wear such shockingly pink shoes anyway. He is left with two options: wear his regular sneakers, or go barefoot. Which means that he will be wearing his sneakers. If Josie has to tie him down and use a combination of duct tape and crazy glue to keep them on, he will be wearing his sneakers.

Sunrise finds Josie again preparing Declan's sandwich, a dark ring of fatigue lining her under-eyes. His costume - a horrifying mass of black cloth which will bring a bright scarlet blush to his mother's nose and cheeks whenever she thinks of him in it - hangs on the back of the old wooden chair.

Her ears detect bellowing footsteps on the staircase. "Today's Halloween! Today's Halloween!" Declan chants, howling with delight as he plows through the door. He is so wound up he nearly ends up with his nose in the costume before he realizes that there is something in his path.

A bright flame of happiness sparks in his wide forest-green eyes as he takes in the costume, and for a moment, Josie imagines she's triumphed. A wild delight rises in her eyes, until-

"Mom," he says. "I want to be an evil candy bar instead."