For Heather Magness and the 9 year old boy she once babysat (who wanted to remain anonymous). Hope you enjoy this treat.
Teenagers trick-or-treat for the candy; I do it for the excitement.
This thought was Merra’s constant companion, and it gave her a separateness as she walked down the street. This year she had put on a black cape and some red lipstick. With her dark skin and pale hair, it was all she needed to look like the queen of the bloodsuckers.
Merra kept her eyes peeled, tapping her skeleton-shaped and very empty bag against her thigh. She walked alone, not desiring human company tonight. What a lot of people didn’t know was that Halloween hadn’t always been about stroppy kids throwing tantrums if they didn’t get enough genetically modified and artificially flavored candy to power their three-day-long sugar-high.
A cold breeze pressed Merra’s cape against her legs and she stopped walking, turning in a slow circle. The breeze died down and the only thing moving was a chubby pink bunny followed by a very short Iron Man coming down the closest path. Merra frowned and started walking again. False alarm, but she was used to it by now.
Ever since that fateful night when she was only five years old, Merra had been hoping for another glimpse. For she was one of the few people that knew that All Hallows Eve was a time when the wall between reality and fantasy became thin enough to see through and sometimes, sometimes even walk through.
Merra didn’t know if she would be able to keep it together to get past the Gatekeeper if she did see one, no matter how exciting it would be to step through a gate into whatever world lay beyond. Last time she had been so awed she had stood there long after the gate disappeared, staring at the darkness. Hopefully, she would be a little better prepared next time, but Merra didn’t put her hopes too high.
Turning the corner, Merra found herself walking along a stretch of road belonging to people who did not believe in festive lights or haunted houses. Only the yellowy streetlights illuminated the sidewalk for a long distance.
Up ahead, the decorations started up again beginning with a yard covered in white webs and giant orange spiders. The next house had a witch and a skeleton guarding the door. Across the street was a full-on graveyard with creepy music from hidden speakers.
None of these interested Merra. She was still looking for a gate or the signs of one. She had done a little research, but soon she had become convinced it was quite unreliable. And she also knew that someone who had truly seen what she had would have been stunned and may not remember clearly what had happened.
Somewhere close by, someone screamed. Ordinarily Merra would have written it off to something mechanical and plastic jumping out from behind a potted plant, but the scream had an undertone of real terror. And something in the air called to her on a primal level.
Breaking into a run, Merra stopped beside the road sign at the corner and looked around. A ten-year-old by the size of him, with a sheet splashed with red paint thrown over his head was clinging to his mother’s arm, pointing into a dark space between two modestly festive houses. The air shimmered gently like a mirage and Merra’s heart began to pound.
She walked closer, slowing as she neared them. The kid was in hysterics, babbling about a hairy monster with six legs that had chased him with a black stick. Merra was willing to bet it wasn’t six legs, but four legs and two arms and she almost forgot to breathe. A Gatekeeper!
Dropping the bag in her hand, she ran towards the space. Only visible for a moment, the giant crystal archway with black runes shining on its surface stood as high as the trees on either side. Through the arch, a range of mountains reached for a purple sky and a ribbon of blue wound through an impossibly green landscape. Merra didn’t have time to drink up every little detail as she would have liked to because her eyes were drawn to the figure next to the arch.
Standing with his arms crossed over his naked chest was the Gatekeeper. The lower half of his body was that of a bay stallion with white feathers and golden hooves. His face was proud and noble and he wore a wreath of oak leaves in his long red hair. In his hands was a black staff covered in shining runes.
Merra drank in the sight of him, her hand reaching out to touch him though he was much too far. He looked at Merra for one instant before reality righted itself and the Gate faded into the night, along with its keeper. Merra stood frozen for a long time, standing in the dark, the yells of ‘trick or treat!’ a long way away. She’d seen it again just as she always wanted to, and she almost didn’t believe her eyes.
Slowly, she walked forward. In the dirt where the the gate had appeared were a number of hoof-prints. She bent down and put her hand over one. It was warm and a tingle raced up her whole arm. It had only been a glimpse, and a heart-breakingly short one, but Merra felt her whole body swell with pure joy.
Merra walked home without remembering to retrieve her empty trick-or-treat back, her purpose for the night fulfilled. She didn’t bother to look into the darkest places, somehow knowing that she wouldn’t get lucky enough to see two in one night.
But there was always next year.