The Short Story Project ~ A Story

First published: Thursday, November 12th, 2009
1,830 words ~ spooky scale: ••••• 12+

Mischief and Mayhem

Suddenly the door was open and she could run out into the evening streets. She stopped for a moment just past the threshold and looked around. It was night. It was always night. A half moon glowed through the thin grey clouds like a candle seen through a curtain, and the stars hadn’t yet started to sing. Over the way, bare trees scratched long fingers at the sky and all about, half-formed shapes sat shrouded by the dusk like furniture in a house that hadn’t been lived in for years.

The perfume of roasted chestnuts hung in the air, and bonfires and somewhere behind this the damp smell of compost, rotting wood and toadstools.

A form brushed past, a white shroud fluttered on the crisp cold air and the sound of laughter like feet running through dry autumn leaves.

She turned and saw a ghost and a small red-horned demon speeding hand in hand down the lane before turning and disappearing from view.

The air rippled as, all along the street, orange lamps flickered to life, all strung together like a necklace of glowing Jack O’Lanterns.

She thought it was a delightful trick and clapped her hands, skipping around to better see the lights. And now she saw street lamps lighting up back streets and porch lights and real candles flickering through windows as if the whole place had felt her presence and lit up to welcome her.

She kicked at the leaves and laughed at the dry crackle and how they flew into the air and then fell helter-skelter like puppy dogs chasing their tails.

Two children came running down the path from one of the houses. One was dressed in a curious hat, a scarf around his neck and pantaloons. The other seemed to have been assembled from ungainly pieces of grey gun metal. Both were carrying sacks. She didn’t recognise them, but tonight was her night so she took them for her own kind.

They stopped and looked at her.

“Trick or treat?” they chanted.

She laughed and clapped her hands, rising into the air as she did.

Wow!” said the first child as the girl floated back to the ground as softly as thistledown.

“How’d yo do that?” asked the automaton.

“Aha!” she said, overjoyed at their bewilderment. “Both a trick and a treat, I dare say.”

The two children looked at each other.

“D’you wanna come round with us?” said the one. “Trick or treating?”

“You got anything good?” asked the other. It lifted its sack. She saw it was an old and worn pillowcase.

She felt into the pockets of her smock.

“A stone, a cat’s eye, a bat’s claw, some leaves…” she said, holding the objects out on her hands.

“No sweets?” wondered the first.

“We can always share,” said the other. “We’ve got lots…”

“Sweetmeats and mischief,” said the girl. “Mischief and mayhem.”

“We usually just say ‘Trick or treat’,” said the first.

“But yours sounds kinda good,” said the second.

“He peed in the letterbox of a biddy who wouldn’t give us anything, he did,” said the child in the pewter grey blocks.

“Did not!” protested the other with a smirk.

“Did so! I saw you!”

“Nah!” the other admitted. “I just pretended.”

“And you? You done anything?” asked the one in grey.

“Oh yes,” said the girl enthusiastically. “I turned the milk, I changed the babbies, I kissed a Prince, I bewitched a farmer’s wife and cut off her hair with a carving knife…”

“Sure…” said the others looking at each other.

“C’mon,” said the first. “We haven’t got all night.” He turned to the drive way they were standing in front of. “I’m Nigel.” He pulled at the fringe on his baggy trousers. “I’m supposed to be a cowboy. Not very Hallowe’en is it? Me Mum’s idea. I really wanted to do Darth Vador,” he explained, seeing the girl’s puzzled expression. “And he’s supposed to be C3P0.”

“I made it all myself, too,” said the other.

“I made myself too,” volunteered the girl. “Especially for tonight.”

“But aren’t you supposed to dress up like someone else?” Nigel wondered.

“But I am,” huffed the girl. “Tonight I’m a little girl.”

The boys looked at each other. Nigel raised his eyebrows.

“Yes…” they said.

C3PO shrugged his shoulders.

She caught up with them when they arrived at the front door.

“Trick or treat!” they called as the door opened.

“The Lone Ranger, the Tin Man and little Miss Muffet?”

Nigel and the other recoiled.

For a split second, the image of the red-faced avuncular man in baggy mismatched jogging pants and top had been replaced by a massive hairy-legged spider, its mandibles clicking and slobbering.

Waoh!” they called out in shock and astonishment, frozen as they turned to run away.

“That’s a new one on me,” said the man, reaching for the bowl of sweets by the door. “Now you just knock and run away..?”

“Sorry mister,” said Nigel looking around at the shadows in the front garden.

“You see…” started the robot.

The girl said nothing, but watched and smiled as the man dropped packets into the gaping mouths of the pillowcases while the boys kept him at a good arm’s length, their eyes darting from spot to spot, just in case the vision returned.

“Happy Hallowe’en,” he said as he closed the door.

The girl thought he had got off lightly and sketched a small figure in the brickwork by the door, in the shadow of one of the imitation Victorian coach lamps, as a message to other visitors who may call by tonight.

“What did you get?” asked the boy dressed as the root when they got to the pavement.

“Coupla mini Mars bars and gob smackers, I think…” said the Cowboy.

“Gobstoppers you mean. Yeah, got them too.” He showed the contents to the girl. “You want something?”

Her hand plunged in and came up with a wrapped sweet. She ripped at it, then stuffed it into her mouth. The boys looked at her.

“Mmm. It’s all choft and creamy,” she said.

“That’s generally the idea,” said the robot

The boys looked at each other again.

“I’ll take another, I’ll thank you very much.”

He hand disappeared into the bag and came up with another sweet. She pulled away the wrapping and snapped it up.

“That’s sho good,” she said. “Where can we get some more?”

“Just keep knocking on doors,” said Nigel.

“Come on then.” And she was off, trotting up the next pathway.

“Have you got soft creamy sweeties?” she asked as a woman opened the door.

“Mind your manners, Miss,” said the woman, brushing back her hair behind her ears as she looked down at the children. “Aren’t you supposed to say something first?”

“Mischief and mayhem,” said the girl. “Sweetmeats and mischief, magic and mayhem. Trick and tease.”

“I thought it was ‘Trick or treat’?” the woman insisted, ignoring the boys waving their hands and making signs behind the girl’s back. And she made a noise between a braying and a squeak and disappeared from view.

“Perhaps it’s some kind of trick…” said Nigel, as if trying to convince himself. “Like on the telly. All done with mirrors…”

“Go get the sweeties, then,” said the girl, turning to them.

“No way,” said the robot, stepping back. “Let’s go!”

“It doesn’t work like that, you know. If you ask nicely, they give you something,” added Nigel.

“We’d better be going,” insisted the robot. “Someone’ll be along.”

He looked anxiously up and down the empty street, the deserted gardens, the open door with the light from the hall spilling down the garden path.

“is she coming back?” Nigel wanted to know.

The robot tugged at his arm, urgently.

“Oh! Fiddle-dee-di!” said the girl, and the woman appeared back in the hallway.

“I thought it was ‘Trick or treat’,” she repeated, then paused, eyes wide open. She stared at the girl, at the boys, then pushed her hair back behind her ear again.

“Just give her something and we’ll scoot,” called the robot with a slightly muffled voice.

“Forget it,” said Nigel. “We’re going.”

They left the woman staring out the door, down at the empty path.

Safely on the pavement, out of the view behind the privet hedge they turned to the girl.

“Look I’m sorry,” started Nigel.

“…but you can’t come with us,” said the other.

“It’s a bit strange with you around.”

“I mean, it’s fun, but…”

“We’re better off alone, you know.”

“Trick or treat?” said the girl, smiling.

“Yeah, you’ve got it off pat now,” said the voice of the boy in the robot costume.

“No!” said Nigel. “Give her something. Quick.” He felt in his sack, grabbing a handful of sweets. “Quick, or she’ll do it to us!” He pushed his sweets at her. “Now you, Dumbo!”

The other reached down towards his sack, then looked at the girl, calculating. He froze. Great reddish-brown spots appeared on the silver-painted boxes and tubes that made up his disguise, creeping over the joints and the helmet and the breastplate.

Nigel!” said the voice from inside. “What’s going on? I can’t move…”

“Stop it!” said the other boy. “Just take his sweets and leave him alone.”

The girl laughed rocking on her heels.

Rust covered all of the costume now, eating at the edges, exposing wires and cogs and circuits underneath.

“Ron, close you eyes! It’s just a trick. She can’t do anything. Not really.”

A cog fell out onto the flag stones, bounced and rolled away. Ron’s left arm, the one not holding the bag of sweets, looked ready to fall off as the rust and corrosion reduced it to something as fragile as lace doily.

Nigel!” shrieked the other.

“Here, take it all,” said Nigel, pushing his pillow case at the girl. Surprised, she caught at it, taking her attention off the other. The robot slipped forward, one knee to the ground, but his costume was back: card and piping and pie tins and duct tape, all covered with spotty silver paint.

“Let’s go!” called Nigel. He snatched at the other bag of sweets and threw it on the pavement in front of the girl. “C’mon!” He pulled the robot to his feet and then down the street, peeping back over his shoulder as they hurried away.

The girl waited until they were out of sight then weighed the two bags in her hands. It was meagre pickings for the night. She helped herself to another sweet, letting the soft creaminess dissolve on her tongue, then turned to walk to the next house. There was still plenty of time for mischief and mayhem before midnight sounded and she had to return to the other place. Plenty of time to build up a stock of sweets to tide her over until she could once again walk free on All Hallow’s Eve next year.


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Last edited: Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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a full-length novel

black as snow Juliet has just moved to the country. She doesn’t like her new school, she doesn’t like living on a stinking farm where it always rains. Then she starts seeing a pony, waiting outside at night in the rain. And she’s sure it’s waiting for her...

Before she knows it, she is called on for help by a trio of strange creatures who live in the woods nearby. And then the rabbits... Oh yes, the rabbits.

Fantasy, comedy, and more than a touch of spookiness in this strange tale where things quickly get Black as Snow.

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