by Shirley Hailstock
The midnight bells pealed. Usually they were a barely noticeable chiming background that sounded on the hour. Tonight their tone was more ominous. The night was different too. It was Halloween and one should expect a difference when the spirits of the dead returned to the earth. Lucy looked up as she reached the steps of the church, an imposing structure that had stood solidly in place for nearly a hundred and fifty years.
“Look at that moon,” Sean said, tapping her arm. He was an arm tapper, always touching to make sure he had your full attention. Sean was her sometime boyfriend. They often filled in for the other when a date was necessary and either one or the other was between relationships. Tonight they were both free of entanglements.
Lucy followed his gaze and looked at the moon, full and silvery, but with a hint of red covering its surface and causing a reflective glow.
“It looks like someone poured red wine over it and it’s blushed into pink.”
More like anemic blood, Lucy thought but held her words. She worked as a lab technician testing blood for any number of abnormalities. She could tell the various combinations of blood from its range of colors – clear serum to fully oxidized red cells. And this was definitely anemic.
Footsteps scraping on the concrete walkway didn’t lead into the sanctuary, but around the side to the old cemetery. The two of them followed the procession.
“Halloween, midnight, cemetery, wedding, what were Magda and Gary thinking?” Sean asked, his face threatening a smile. “I love it.”
They entered the area, winding around gravestones, crosses and crypts to reach a space of sporadically placed chairs. The place was brightly illuminated and decorated in several shades of orange and black draped over temporary frames. The flowers gracing the makeshift altar and defining the aisle were bouquets of black roses and orange chrysanthemums filled in with leaves of various autumnal shades.
“Would you get married on Halloween?” Lucy whispered when she and Sean were seated.
He took a moment to think, glancing up at the moon-washed sky. Lucy elbowed him in the ribs and he laughed. Shaking his head, he said, “I picture myself someplace warm, in the daylight, with natural colored flowers and a bride whose face you can see.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “What about you?” He tapped her on the arm.
“The same. I don’t think I’d mind a Christmas wedding or even one on Valentine’s Day, but I’d like to be in a warm climate, too.”
“Magda is lucky the weather is good. It could be raining or worst, snowing,” Sean said.
The music began, interrupting their conversation. Lucy turned in her seat to watch as the processional started down the aisle. Groomsmen and bridesmaids, arm in arm, walked slowly to the front. Orange for the women, the men sporting coats of cream over black pants.
Not bad, Lucy thought as the spread of men and women adorned the altar in a fit-for-framing photo-like pose.
Not only were the bride and groom dressed in costumes, the guests and attendees were also decked out for the annual Halloween costume ball. Lucy recognized Napoleon Bonaparte, several Draculas, and one Grim Reaper. She shuttered at the appeared of the last. He was so authentic, even to the scythe he carried, that fear rose in her.
Sean tapped her on the arm and they continued walking. She wore the iconic Marilyn Monroe’s signature white dress from the movie The Seven Year Itch, her naturally red hair twisted under a blonde wig. Thankfully, they were not in New York where the wind from an arriving subway train could blow the fabric above her knees.
Sean sported fake sideburns as he was fully clad in the bejeweled jumpsuit that the late, great Elvis Presley made famous. Together they were a mismatch, but as Sean had said at her door when he saw her, “It’s not often you get to have a sex symbol on your arm.”
Lucy smiled and thought, having the King at her side wasn’t a bad deal either.
A pause in the music provided a silent cue that Here Comes the Bride was next on the score sheet. The familiar music started and the congregation stood. The bride wore black, her gown crafted from yards of tulle that had been gathered into bows and attached to an underdress. The entire concoction restricted her movement forcing her to take small steps as she made her way to the altar.
Exhaled air could be heard from the gathering. Lucy was unsure if it was because of the unconventional dress or in awe of it.
When she joined the groom and they faced the purple-clad priest, who looked more like Merlin the Magician than a man of God, the nuptials commenced. Unconventional may have been the theme, but the vows were as old as marriage. The priest got to the part about the pledging of troth, a part Lucy never understood, when the shrieking began.
Suddenly the cemetery was flooded with children. They came in running, dressed colorfully in costumes, their faces smeared with makeup. All eyes were on the children. They shouted, ran, yelled unintelligible noises as they wove through the crowd. People shifted from side to side, allowing them to get through tight places.
Lucy checked the bride and groom. While the wedding guests were smiling, the happy couple clung to each other, their expression one of horror.
This was not a wedding trick, she thought, even though it was Halloween. The children continued to entertain the audience who were oblivious to the truth. Lucy realized their shrieks weren’t just noises. They were communicating with other. She didn’t know why. Standing, she took hold of Sean and together they moved out of the way of the running balls of energy.
Like the world-famous Radio City Rockettes, the children morphed into a spinning circle, their costumes flowing around them. In unison they linked arms and swayed up and down, their movement flowing like an amusement park ride that turned clockwise, then counterclockwise. The children’s progress was precise, their actions choreographed to perfection. The audience applauded as one revolution kaleidoscoped into something new and more magnificent. Then, one by one and without a missed step, they continued the organized dance, pulling strings or chords that had been concealed, allowing their colorful costumes to unfold into an identical white shimmering fabric.
Another burst of applause came from the wedding assembly.
“This is fantastic,” Sean whispered, with another arm tap. “I’ve never seen anything like it. What an idea for a wedding.”
“And in the middle of the ceremony,” Lucy replied flatly. “So unexpected.”
“Do you know who they are?” Sean asked.
“I’ve never seen them before.”
Lucy’s eyes widened as did everyone in the yard as the children began to climb on each other. They formed a pattern as many of them on opposites sides moved simultaneously. With the sureness of youth, and the appearance of countless hours of practice, although Lucy had the feeling they never practiced, they executed a three-dimensional circle, either standing or holding one another. As their former movements had been, these were just as definitive and just as flawless.
“The moon,” Sean said, his voice holding both awe and praise. “They’re in the shape of the moon.”
“Where’s Magda?” a woman shouted.
Then two things happened at once. First the crowd turned to face the voice of the woman shouting. Then the children broke formation, jumping to the floor of the cemetery without falling or staggering into any of the headstones.
“Has anyone seen Magda and Gary?” The woman’s voice was a full octave above middle C, panic evident in its volume.
The bride and groom were gone from their former place at the altar. The woman moved into that area. She and the priest were the only people there. No one had apparently witnessed the bride and groom disappear.
Lucy turned back to the children. They were gone. Not a single remnant of them remained. No noise, not running footsteps receding in the night. It was as if they had appeared and disappeared as apparitions.
“Where’s Magda,” the woman shouted again. This time her voice broke as if she was fighting tears in her throat. Her gaze was trained on a space next to the altar.
Sean took Lucy’s hand and pulled her toward the area. Several groups were also heading in that direction. As they got closer, she could hear the woman repeatedly asking, “Where’s Magda?”
“What happened to the children?” Lucy asked.
Sean stopped a moment to look back. His expression turned to confusion. “They’re gone.”
Lucy understood that he wasn’t stating the obvious. He wasn’t even talking to her. He was speaking to himself.
Suddenly, she sucked in a gulp of air, covering her mouth. Sean turned back to her.
“What?” he asked.
Lucy couldn’t speak. She looked at Sean, fear forcing her heart to beat wildly. Raising her hand, she pointed. Sean turned to follow the place where she looked.
“Oh, my God,” he whispered.
They looked at two open and empty graves.
Then the shouting woman turned to them and saw what they saw. She started screaming, her voice high and filled with dread, rage, hurt, fear.
“It was the children,” Lucy stated, more to herself than Sean. “They were a distraction. They weren’t invited to the ceremony.” She tightened her hand in Sean’s.
It’s a joke,” he said. “They’re playing a Halloween joke on all of us. Those had to be there before we arrived.”
“They weren’t.” The priest came up behind them. “We have no burials scheduled and we’d never leave an open grave.”
“Look at the headstones,” Lucy managed to get out over a lump in her throat.
Carved deep in the granite above each open grave was a single word.
“Bride.” Sean read.
“And Groom,” Lucy finished.
But that wasn’t what sent chills down Lucy’s spine. Standing off to the side was the image of a young girl. Lucy blinked and shook her head, trying to dislodge the image. Yet it persisted in the eerie graveyard. Without knowing it, she grasped Sean’s hand, squeezing it.
Was it a trick of the Halloween night, or did both air and moonlight pass right through her? Her face, cast in blue, held a strange expression and Lucy was in not doubt that she was looking at a mirror image of herself.