The weather was foul. Rain beat on my windows and the wind howled down my chimney. The very thought of going anywhere made me shiver. I pulled the thick curtains against the cold and put on my favourite old sweater, the one with the holes at the elbows.
I had worked hard all day and the journey home on an overcrowded train had not cheered my spirits. So I was glad now to settle down with a good book and a hot chocolate by the fire. It was not the sort of night that made it inviting to go anywhere and so I was not very pleased when my friend called at my house, demanding I should go to a Halloween party right then with no warning even.
‘’In the middle of the week?’’ I said, thinking to use my need to get up for work in the morning as a reason not to go, as if the weather were not excuse enough.
‘’But it’s THE night!’’ he said. ‘’I think we should observe the old traditions and it’s best done at the right time, don’t you think? We are having the kids party on Saturday with a bonfire. This celebration is for us.’’
‘’If we MUST celebrate it at all,’’ I said, somewhat grumpily.
I couldn’t care less about all the ghosties and ghouls myself. As far as I was concerned Halloween was pathetic; all that dressing up as skeletons and ghosts or witches in black and purple. I didn’t like it when I was a kid either. I don’t even like pumpkin lamps. It just seems like a waste of pumpkin. If anything, I thought Halloween was a time to show some respect for the dead and not go cavorting about in silly costumes.
‘’But I have bought you a costume!’’ he said.
I groaned and sighed as he thrust a damp carrier bag into my hand. I unwillingly pulled out a white mask and a black hooded cloak. It could have been worse I suppose. I guess he knew he would never cajole me into a skeleton suit or a witches hat.
‘’I will put the heater up full blast in the car and you won’t be cold at the party,’’ he said. ‘’Don’t be such an old stick in the mud. Come on! It will be fun!’’
Well I can tell you this – it was not fun. He had a map reference to the party house and either his satnav was on the blink or it was cursed. We ended up on a back country road deep in some dark wooded area where the lanes got narrower and we just kept getting more lost. I felt more and more annoyed and frustrated.
I thought I saw some figures in the dark of the woods and the glint of a distant fire but when we pulled up we could see nothing. We sat there peering into the darkness and a shiver ran up my back, the sort that makes all the little hairs on your body stand on end. Alright, so I don’t believe in ghosts and all that but even to me those woods seemed spooky.
‘’This isn’t the right place,’’ my friend said, as if anywhere out here could be.
We drove on.
We rounded a bend and I swear I saw a clown run across the road, briefly caught in the headlights. My friend said he saw nothing. He said it was my imagination. I thought maybe he was right because I was pretty spooked by then. I was tired too. The trees were starting to take on a threatening aspect and I hate clowns so if I was ever going to imagine something bad it would certainly be a clown.
An old friend of mine has a big clown doll that sits on top of his bookshelves. I guess his face is quite nice in a way with a friendly smile and everyone else seems to like it but I always imagine its smiling about all the evil thoughts it’s having and it’s eyes always seem to follow me. Only me, no-one else. I feel uncomfortable sitting in that room and the first time I saw it I had nightmares for a few nights after. I still get them sometimes.
In my dreams that clown followed me everywhere. He was always laughing. Sometimes in my dreams he played jokes on me that made other people laugh but I always knew he was evil. All his jokes were spiteful and malicious. I always woke in a cold sweat. Once I woke myself from a nightmare only to find the clown in bed beside me grinning. I screamed and jumped out of bed realising I had still been dreaming.
Other times were far worse. We would engage in some sort of hunt. He would say it was for some treasure or something that was good for me but I always knew that the quarry was me. Wherever I went he would hunt me down.
He chased me down empty moonlit streets where I had no shadow. He chased me through stairways and tunnels that became more and more narrow as I climbed panting upward. I hid in cupboards and he would suddenly be in there too beside me.
If I ever was foolish enough to think I had got away he would suddenly pop up like a jack-in-the-box right in front of me, laughing madly at my shock and panic.
Just as I was thinking this, there he was again in the full glare of the headlights. I jumped. He jumped too, to the side of the road and waved at us frantically. My friend saw him that time and started to slow, as if he was going to stop and ask the way or something. I lost my cool entirely and yelled at him, insisting he drive on.
We hadn’t gone a whole lot further when we saw the fires in the wood again. He pulled over and put the window down. We heard drums and laughter.
‘’This must be it, at last!’’ he said.
‘’What? Out here? I thought the party was in a house not out in the woods on a freezing night.’’ I was really annoyed now.
He got out. I had no choice but to follow. No way was I going to sit alone in a car out here with a clown, straight out of my nightmares, wandering about.
‘’I thought it would be a house too,’’ he said, ‘’but I guess it’s meant to be a surprise. I was only given a map reference. Come on. We have arrived just at the right time.’’
‘’The right time for what?’’ I asked, but he was already well ahead of me and didn’t answer.
As we stumbled along in the dark towards the fire, which seemed further away now, I kept falling over tree roots. This must be a very old wood, I thought. The trees were enormous and misshapen and they creaked and groaned in the wind. Their roots seemed to cling to my boots and I got tangled in briers that grasped at my cloak as I passed. An owl hooted somewhere far off.
We finally entered the clearing where a huge fire blazed. I saw no source of the drumming, which was becoming louder and wilder by the moment. Everyone was dancing in a circle around the fire. They all wore cloaks like my own and I couldn’t see their faces. They all wore masks. My own mask was simple and plain but their masks were in the likeness of birds and animals and all were distorted in hideous grimace. Again I felt the warning prickle of fear on my skin.
I stood at the edge of the clearing, too fearful to step out from the trees. The woods were threatening enough but compared to what I saw at the fire they had become a comfort. Each of the figures dancing around the fire threw a long shadow and each shadow was not human. The dancing shadows all had horns and wings and one was shaped like a bull, another was like no creature I knew of on this earth. The shadows twisted and writhed on the ground and did not follow the dance.
My friend seemed oblivious to all this. He went and joined the dance. He put on the mask of a jackal. They welcomed him. I heard him laugh and say ‘’I bought you some party food.’’ I instantly knew that was me. My feet froze to the ground and my head span.
I realised in horror that the shadows were sentient beings and they knew where I was. They began to break away from the dancing figures at the fire and move toward me, very slowly, almost imperceptibly, but they were coming for me. The trees were closing in on me as the shadows drew closer and closer. The dancers began to chant.
The chant held me spellbound. I felt as if snakes were writhing all over me but I couldn’t move.
I heard a twig snap behind me.
Something grabbed me. I managed to turn a little. I heard myself scream. It was the clown. My worst nightmare. I struggled. He was strong. He gripped me tighter. He started to drag me backwards. In that moment I wished I was dead. I must have passed out in sheer terror.
I woke up around dawn in my own bed. I was so relieved. It was just another horrible clown nightmare after all. But then I realised I was on the bed, not in it, and I was wearing a damp, muddy Halloween robe with a hood. I stood up. I was so confused. Then I saw them.
On the floor at my bedside were muddy footprints. Not my footprints. They were the prints of very big feet. Clowns shoes. He had rescued me from a horrible fate. Maybe he is possessive and thinks only he should be allowed to scare me or maybe he is not as bad as I imagined. I still don’t really want to find out but I am grateful. Whatever that clown is and whatever his motives he is no longer my worst nightmare. He is my hero.
As my grandmother always said – if you have a really bad dream it will never come true, reality will reverse it.