All around him, on shelves and in boxes, and lined up in neat rows on the floor were pumpkins. Carved into faces, some grotesque, some less frightening, the orange globes watched the old man add his latest to their number. He set it carefully among the rest and turned to the door. The sun was low in the sky, but he needed one more. He picked up an uncarved pumpkin, set it on his table, and began to cut.
An hour later, he’d finished a light dinner and was sipping from a mug of herbal tea. He’d learned the blend from his father who learned it from his father before him. It was a long, tiring process to find and harvest the herbs and roots, prepare them just so, and recite the words that imbued the mix with its protective power. The finished tea was bitter and strong, but he would need the strength this night. He dressed as he sipped the brew. All black, leather boots, and the polished ebony wood walking stick he’d also inherited from his father. Leaving the empty mug in the kitchen, he threw a black cloak over his shoulders and walked to the barn.
All the carved pumpkins were loaded onto a large cart. He hitched a dark draft horse to the cart and led the horse out of the barn. The cart creaked behind them, drawn along the path from the barn to the gate and out onto the road. It was full dark now and the moon would soon rise among the trees lining the road. As he got closer to the village, he began to see the children- ghost, witches, skeletons, cowboys, and all the other costumes that came out once a year on this night. He’d left his usual bucket of treats at the gate to his home, each one bound to a trinket he’d carved throughout the year. Each carved animal or flower or acorn would be brought home by the children to be placed in a spot overlooking the whole house. The protection each provided would last until next year. It was a small thing, but it was something he could do for his neighbors and friends. As he walked along the road through the village, people on the street moved aside to let his cart pass. A few spoke.
“Blessed All Hallowtide, Watcher.” The old man nodded at each as he made his way through the village. As he neared his destination, he felt the familiar tingling began to shiver up his arms. He increased his pace, using the walking stick to help on the uneven dirt road.
At the end of the main street, he paused. The horse tossed his head, and the old man put a quieting hand on its massive neck. The animal stilled. The old man looked up. The moon was almost over the treetops. It was time.
He pulled open the iron gate in front of him and led the horse and cart into the graveyard. He stopped the cart at the first branch in the path among the tombstones. He pulled a long knife from its sheath at his belt. The large gold stone set in the top of the hilt glinted as he drove the blade deep into the earth at the place where the path divided. He urged the horse forward again and led the cart to the center of the graveyard, where a small grassy area opened. He unhitched the horse and taking a halter and rope from the cart, he tied the animal to a large iron ring attached to a post in the grass. They would be here all night. No need for the animal to stand in the traces until it was finished. Let him relax and graze. The trip back would be just as long.
The Watcher began unloading the carved jack-o-lanterns from the wagon, carefully placing them along the lines of tombstones, facing away from the markers. As he set each one down, he tapped the open top three times with the ebony staff. A brief flash of light glowed inside the carved bowl and went out. Working around the graveyard, he set out all his carved pumpkins and returned to the cart to wait.
The graveyard in this town was more than a simple burying place for the townspeople. This town, deep in the mountains of New England, was home to one of the last magickal colonies in the area. Every grave held the body of a practitioner of the Old Ways. This night, they needed protection from what was to come.
As the moon rose high in the sky, the Watcher settled on the edge of the now empty cart, gazing up at the sky. As the cold silver moon reached its peak, the sparks began to fall. Tiny and distant at first, they crossed the sky like falling stars, showering down on the graveyard. Each light held the soul of someone now dead to this world, but unable to cross to the next. Angry, they gathered this night to find the body of a magick user to use. Unchecked, these maddened souls would create havoc to avenge the wrong they felt done to them. In truth, it was their own sins that kept them from what they truly sought, but when denied, they became consumed with destruction. The power contained in the bodies buried here would allow them to roam the world, destroying everything they could.
The Watcher was told of these avenging souls by his father and grandfather, the village Watchers before him. He was also given the secret to keeping them from completing their goal. As each spark grew in size and brightness, blazing down toward the graves, the pumpkins came alive with white fire. Each of the falling sparks was drawn to the flare and pulled into the jack-o-lanterns. Orange flames danced from the faces and open tops of the pumpkins and burned out, leaving the insides charred.
The Watcher sat on his cart until the first rays of dawn lit the eastern sky. The sunrise would put an end to the rain of souls. He eased himself off the cart and began to gather the pumpkins. Most were blackened inside, trapping a wayward soul before it could raise one of the dead. A few were untouched, but there was never a way to know how many would come seeking. Each grave must be protected. He loaded all the jack-o-lanterns onto the cart and left the graveyard.
In the center of town, he met a group of villagers piling the kindling and logs for the Hallowtide bonfire. Tomorrow, All Hallows Day, would be a day of quiet and prayer, and then, on the following evening at dark, the All Souls bonfire would be lit. The pumpkins would burn, filling the air with the smell of autumn, and the souls would remain trapped in the limbo world between this and the next. The Watcher could relax until next year, when the veil thinned once more, and the stars began to fall.
Copyright 2018 M.A. Kropp
Remember to enter the giveaway for my new space opera novel, Two’s Company. Five winners will receive ebooks of the novel in whatever ebook format you choose, as well as their choice of either my first novel (scifi) or two novelettes (urban fantasy). Winners chosen in a random drawing on November 1. Enter by commenting on this blog post.
On presale now and coming in December 2018:
Two’s Company, a sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition.
Medusa “Deuce” Grainger is smart, confident, and as good a pilot as she is a poker player. A freelance shuttle jockey working for an independent terraforming company, she’s left her former life, and her father, behind. Mostly.
Now, her AI has downloaded another Personality and it’s making him act strangely, her friend’s company is in danger of being shut down, and people have died at a sabotaged terraforming site. If Deuce wants to help save the company and her job, she’s going to have to figure things out fast.
Learn more here, where you will find links to the presale.
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