It was the time of year when the winds blew cold and the bleak night came early to tuck you in.
The leaves blazed in defiant colors of life that were, in fact, their grave clothes, a splendid array of royal colors of fire and berries, with the cool but ugly afterglow of sepia, umber, and ochre.
Melanie and I were bundled against the chill, hunched against the rising wind. She looked at me and said the most bizarre thing I’d ever heard from her.
“Let’s go to that house and ring the bell.”
“What the hell for? It’s getting dark out here, Mel.” I was the only one allowed to call her that; she never told me exactly why.
“We have time,” she argued. “There’s enough light left, and it’s only a couple of blocks off the road.”
Well now I had a dilemma: the prettiest girl in school just dared its lowest life form to do something totally out of the norm.
I wrestled with the thought of not going, and not only pinned it down, I shoved it through the ring floor.
What’s a lower life form to do?
It sat on the top of a gently sloped hill, the path secluded by lush, expansive, mature trees leading to the black wrought iron gate with a lock busted long ago by unseen vandals.
What we were doing here was stupid, to say the least; we had no idea if the place was still being used by squatters or even criminals that were still staying there.
I didn’t want Mel getting hurt, but if anyone was in there that meant us harm, it was likely they’d get away with it. No one would think we’d been dumb enough to come here, and it would take them awhile to find us.
I made a last-ditch effort.
“Hey Mel, it’s not like we could just ring the bell and take off for home. It’s pretty isolated out there.
“That’s what makes it fun.”
“Why can’t we do it on Halloween?”
“No one’s ever come here on Halloween.”
“Really? I’d think this would be a favorite ‘haunt.’ Why not?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just never happened.”
The sun dropped, and though it still dappled the leaves the color of the light deepened from dark yellow to amber.
I looked down the road to see the light play on the intricate scroll work of the gate, and it seemed like ethereal fire burning on black coals.
From a low branch, a crow called.
Melanie and I jumped, the suddenness of it in the quiet scaring us; our sheepish grins betrayed us to each other, but disappeared when another answered in front of us, down the path closer to the gate.
We stopped, listening. Animals often gave warnings of danger, but we heard and saw nothing more.
As remote as the area was, there should have been more animal traffic, but it was getting dark.
The amber sunlight turned to persimmon.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said.
We started jogging.
My mind turned back to the crows. Sentinels?
We finally got to the gate, but then there was the driveway. From there we could see the house; dark blue shadows ascending from the bottom would slowly engulf it.
Melanie pushed the gate open without resistance. It squealed on its hinges, but that was to be expected. It sounded like a plaintive child whining for attention.
“Remember,” she huffed, “just ring the bell.”
The house loomed close, from being in sight to being within reach.
I leapt the stairs onto the front porch while Mel watched from the bottom.
I pressed the bell, not even sure it was still working after all this time.
It rang. The sound was melodious, beautiful, and in the emptiness within I could hear its resonating echo.
“Awesome,” she said.
I turned to jump down the stairs, and found I couldn’t move.
“I can’t move! Mel, I can’t move. Help me…” The rising panic in me threatened to overwhelm my thinking.
She started to move toward me, but found she couldn’t move either.
“I’m stuck! Goddammit!” She looked up at the windows and screamed. “Let us go! Let us fucking go! Now!”
The door lock clicked, and the door swung open on silent hinges, in contrast to the squeaking gate.
The persimmon sunlight deepened to red.
An old woman with skin the color and texture of ancient, delicate parchment stood looking at us, her sunken eyes glittering dark, the red light like a small ember reflected in the tiny pupils.
Melanie stopped shouting, and only gaped as the woman’s eyes took her in.
An old man of equal antiquity, dressed in a black moth-eaten suit, came shuffling toward us holding a candle in a silver holder.
“Who is it, love?” His voice was a file on metal, but with timbre.
The seams and pockets on the lady’s face stretched horizontally, and I realized she was trying to smile.
Without turning her head, she answered him. “The new Caretakers.”
Her breath reeked of the grave, and I dry-retched.
The man filled the doorway, and the air went rank. “Come in, children.”
He looked down at Mel. “Come in.”
“All we wanted to do was ring the bell,” she said, her voice quavering as she started to cry.
I knew now why no one ventured here on Halloween.
The dull red sunlight turned black.
And it was night.