Written for the Fall Theme Contest on The Village Square forum.
It was All Hallow's Eve, when the spirits of the dead returned to the realm of the living, and the living prepared to celebrate another year's successful harvest.
More importantly, it was the night when everyone could dress up in funny costumes and no one would think badly of them.
Kent and Stu ran over to Jack's farm. They'd been here a few times before, of course, since Jack didn't really mind, and he always had some new flowers or animals to fascinate budding agriculturalists with. But tonight, they were coming here because Jack was going trick-or-treating with them.
When they arrived, May was already waiting. Considering that they lived next door to her, and that she was further away than they were, suggested that she'd been waiting for a little while now.
Still, little boys are not known for being masters of perception(a problem which, sadly, never really seems to go away), and the first thing that any of them said came from Kent. He asked where May's costume was.
"Grandma said this is all the costume I really need," May replied, somewhat shyly, "if I wanted to be a witch."
She did have a witch's hat on, a big, black, pointy thing that flopped over a little. It was a little too big for her though, and she was using the hand that wasn't holding her pumpkin basket to keep it out of her eyes. Other than the hat though, she was dressed in the same clothes she wore every day, a simple red dress that looked just like her grandmother's.
Kent, who at all of eight knew everything, decided that May's grandma, who was sixty years older than him and had helped, not only himself and his brother, but also both of their parents into the world in her role as village midwife, was wrong about how much detail May really needed to have a proper costume.
"Well, you're supposed to have a broom you carry around, right? And what about the scary green mask? And your dress oughta be black, and..." Kent didn't yet have a vocabulary for feminine attractiveness, but if he had, the word 'sexy' probably would've been the one he chose. Since he didn't, he settled for, "...you know, not the same stupid little red thing you wear all the time!"
May, who had learned everything she needed to know about a boy's thinking processes at five(and that was a year ago), simply replied, "Grandma didn't want me losing her broom, she said I only needed a mask if I wanted to look stupid, and she said real witches don't waste their time on needless drama, so they don't wear anything very unusual."
"It's a nice hat, though," Stu said, in an attempt to salvage the situation. He was May's age, a little smarter than his older brother in any case, and he had a bit of a crush on May besides. "It looks cute on you."
May blushed, ducked her head, and let the hat's brim cover her eyes. "Thanks, Stu," she replied, mumbling as she did so. "Your costume's nice too. What is it?"
Stu wrapped his black cloak around the mini-tux his Grandpa had gotten for him. "I'm the Phantom of the Opera!" he said, with unnecessary, but very nice, flourish. "Cool, huh?"
May pulled her grandma's old hat out of her eyes again, and got a better look. She didn't know what a Phantom of the Opera was, but Stu wore the costume pretty well. He'd tied a plastic mask over his face, so that half of it was hidden by it, and was holding the cape in the same "Dracula" pose he'd held it in last year. Stu was drawn to capes, for some reason, and she had to admit that he always looked really cute in them.
She giggled, told Stu that he looked really cute in his costume, and giggled a little more as he deflated at the compliment.
"I'm supposed to look scary!" he said. Of course, if he'd been older than six, he probably would've realized that A) He was trying to look debonair, as opposed to scary(which is not the same thing), and that B) He wouldn't be able to pull it off until his mid-teens, at least. However, since this response got May giggling even harder, and his older brother laughing at him, he just sat down and pouted about it instead.
May saw this, and did her best to make Stu feel a little better. "I'm sorry Stu, you look really scary too. Really." May was unusually perceptive for a six-year-old, but she didn't really have an adult vocabulary yet, either.
Stu turned around a little, mumbled a thanks, and started to wait quietly for Jack to show up.
"My costume's the best, though!" Kent boasted, once more with all the authority of an eight-year-old and an older brother. And in the traditional sense, he actually was. As Frankenstein's Monster, he had the look down pat. Hobnailed farmer boots, ragged old pants and jacket, black sweatshirt underneath(it was late Autumn, after all), and the green makeup and head accessories that he insisted came with the costume. Rick had even given him some neck bolts, as a special bonus.
"Yeah Kent, it's a real cute Frankenstein getup. Really suits you too, though I can't imagine why." Jack, who understood more vocabulary than all three of them combined, showed up on the tail of those words.
"Not funny, big brother," Kent replied, turning his head away in embarassment.
"What are you dressed up as, big brother?" Stu asked. Despite Jack's best efforts, Kent and Stu insisted that they call him that. They were related, but to him it wasn't really that important.
Then again, he was raised in a suburban neighborhood, and had learned to like the close nature of Flower Bud Village's residents far more than the chilly standoffishness that passed for community love in the suburbs. So he finally gave up and accepted the moniker.
"I'm a scarecrow, of course. Now, if I only had a brain..."
May giggled. The Wizard of Oz was her favorite movie. Stu rolled his eyes. He'd seen the aforementioned movie a few too many times, usually at May's house. Kent, once more being the Great Wise Eight-Year-Old, scoffed.
"You don't look like a scarecrow at all, big brother."
Jack, who'd been eight, the oldest child in his family, and very intelligent(while, at the same time, was severely lacking in the common sense department at the time), was three seconds away from giving the natural reply when someone beat him to the punch.
"Shows what you know, squirt."
Elli walked in then, wearing a costume that could only be described as... different. Tight leather pants(with matching corset), linen shirt with puffy sleeves, black boots that screamed Errol Flynn(or at least his female counterpart), and, to top it off, a rapier buckled onto her belt. She was a classic swashbuckling heroine, in the finest traditions of the theater. To Jack(who was dating Elli pretty seriously now), she couldn't have looked hotter in any other costume.
To Kent, who'd seen her wear the exact same thing last year, she wasn't making any sort of effort.
Of course, he then made the mistake of telling her that.
"I like this costume, Kent! Why should I waste money buying something different every year?"
"Because he's eight, Halloween's important when you're that age, and of course it's in very bad taste to wear a repeat costume on Halloween," Jack replied, subtle irony coating his voice. "And since the night isn't getting any younger, I think it's time we got started, hm?"
Stu took Elli's left hand, May took her right. Kent, deciding that big boys didn't hold hands, followed along behind, with Jack bringing up the rear quietly.
Since the Green Ranch was basically Jack's closest neighbor, that was the first place they hit. Doug and Ann were waiting by the gate of the ranch, amid the usual decorations of jack-o-lanterns, dried corn stalks, and hay bales. As an added touch, someone had even set some dry ice fog to gently billow along the ground.
"Trick-or-treat!" the three children obediently chanted. Ann, in her own scarecrow getup, and Doug, who'd skipped the costumery and just worn his day-to-day wear, greeted them and assured them that their costumes were very nice indeed.
Kent, flushed with pride under the greasepaint, held his basket out a little bit higher. Stu and May, reassured that they weren't as stupid-looking as they thought, held their baskets out as well.
Doug put a handful of caramel apple pops into each basket. Ann put in a couple of butterscotch pieces in. Since the butterscotch was clearly burnt, this was a blessing. Only Jack was daring enough to eat a piece of candy that Ann had clearly had a hand in making, and that was mostly because he hadn't done so before.
With the kids thanking Doug for the suckers, and supposedly Ann by extension, the adults in the party ushered them on to the next destination.
Ann, in a parting shot, complimented Jack on his costume.
"Thanks," Jack replied, "yours is pretty nice too."
Laughing, Ann jumped off the fence and headed inside to get ready for the village party. As she did so, she wondered where Jack had gotten that old straw hat he'd added to his costume. With the straw poking out of his cuffs, it added just the right touch to his getup.
Next stop was the Moon Mountain Vineyard, where Kai handed out homemade grape-flavored suckers and Karen did the same with strawberry. To make sure she hadn't spiked them, Jack and Elli both tasted one of Karen's handouts.
"Oh c'mon, guys," Karen protested, "I know better than to spike candy. The alcohol would burn out anyway. Now, the cider..."
Elli and Jack both laughed at their friend's obsession toward anything alcoholic. Jack didn't entirely approve of it, but since that was her choice, he just played along when he had to.
Besides, he was known to have a few drinks on a Saturday night, himself.
Moving on, they went over to Florist Lillia's, where Popuri handed out chocolate miniatures. At the Bakery, Jeff and Ellen handed out butterscotch(sans carbon), chocolate mints, and cherry cordials, as well as a chocolate cupcake for each kid.
The next stop was Rick's shop, where he'd completely forgotten about Halloween(despite having ordered in Kent and Stu's costumes), and simply gave them some Almondjoys he'd stashed away and forgotten about. Fortunately, this wasn't too long ago, so Jack and Elli could allow it.
The next stop was the Mayor's house, where Maria handed out store-bought candy by the double handful. May's grandmother was waiting for them there, handed them some root beer barrels(courtesy of Kent and Stu's grandfather), and took the three village children in hand. It was time for them to go home and divvy their haul, and for Jack and Elli to head to the bar for the annual party.
As Kent said his goodbyes, he noticed that May's grandma wore a witch's hat too. It fit her perfectly, and was a little newer-looking than the one May wore.
As he drifted off to sleep later that night, he realized that he owed May an apology. Her grandma looked more like a witch than any catalog could've done, and May had, as usual, looked a lot like a younger version of her grandma.
As evening faded into true night, Jack, Elli, and Maria headed over to the bar, where the village had established a tradition of holding a party for the teenage-to-twenties crowd, presumably to keep them out of mischief.
Once they arrived, the party could begin. After they'd gotten their cider(which was indeed the hard stuff, as Karen threatened) and got some fruit-filled pastries, they found a quiet corner and started looking at what everyone else had decided to wear.
Although Halloween had snuck up on Rick, he'd been prepared weeks in advance, and now sat in his own corner as Dr. Frankenstein himself. Karen, ever the dramatic, had chosen a vampire queen getup, and Popuri had matched it with a 'Victorian Dancehall Girl' costume, placing four dots of fake blood on her neck to good effect.
Maria had gone for a literary costume, dressing as a random Hogwarts Student(Ravenclaw House). It was a little nerdy, but Harris(dressed as an English soldier from the Napoleonic Wars) thought it suited her rather well.
Kai, a costumer of least resistance, had chosen to put on an eyepatch, wrap on a sash, and tuck his slacks into his boots to make a passable pirate.
Although Ann was still a scarecrow, she'd changed out her usual overalls for some denim shorts, drawing the eye far more than she had before. Her father, in his supervisory role, was eyeing her very seriously indeed. Jack guessed that Doug would have a few words with Ann about her choice of costume this year as soon as they got home.
Doug, as before, had decided that dressing up wouldn't be worth the time or money. Duke, if you'd asked him, would say that he was dressed as a bartender. Since he was a bartender, and wearing his usual clothes besides, it was a typical smartass bartender response.
Refreshments were consumed, cider was drunk, and midnight was called before everyone walked, staggered, or(in Karen's case) was carted home. All in all, a good time had been had by everyone present. As Jack walked Elli home(before staggering back to his own place), his mind turned, inevitably, to the past.
He remembered his last visit to Flower Bud Village, when he was six. He'd stayed for the Halloween Festival, and had gone trick-or-treating with the other kids in town. There'd been a few more of them than the three he'd escorted tonight, but one in particular he'd remembered.
She was a cute girl, with short hair. She'd been wearing a puffy-sleeved shirt, black trousers, and a red cape. If it weren't for the plastic double-bit axe, you'd probably think she was some sort of pirate, instead of the adventurer she'd wanted to be.
Of course, he'd laughed. But he'd been dressed as a scarecrow at the time, and now, fifteen years later, he realized something profound.
Our tastes in costumes never really change. We get older, we find better sources for our accessories, and in some cases we even get the chance to wear real weapons as our pretend selves, but a farm boy at heart will always dress like a farm boy.
And a girl who lives for adventure will just find better ways to express it.
"You look nice, El," Jack slurred.
"Thanks Jack," Elli replied, blushing. "You look good too. Better than we did when we were six, right?"
Jack laughed, very loudly and somewhat off-tone. "Exactly!" he exclaimed, about as loudly as he'd just laughed. Elli shook her head gently, gave her boyfriend a very passionate good-night kiss, and pushed him gently towards his home before going straight to bed and thinking over the whole night with a warm feeling.
I'm never getting this drunk again, Jack thought as he groped for his front door a few minutes later.
In less than six hours, he'd be up again, taking care of his animals and nursing a terrible hangover. He had eggplants to water, and if his memory was right(which, even smashed as this, it usually was) tomorrow would be a harvest day, as well.
He was too tired to write in his journal, but a single line still wrote itself regarding October 31st of that year.
Today was a good day, and I'm going to have a good sleep.
It was enough.