Samhain, October 31st, the Celtic Pagan religious festival. End of Summer, end of the harvest, and beginning of the darkest period of the year. For the original and ancient cult, it was the end of the year, and also according to other, more sulfurous pagan cults. The date appears in the Compendium Maleficarum of 1608, written by Francesco Maria Guazzo, marked as the second more influential Witches Sabbath, after The Walpurgis Night at the end of April.
Back in time, they wrote many analyses about the last day of October. From the original pagan festival throughout cultural reinterpretations. Renamed in middle English Alholwmesse, meaning All Saints’ Day, it became eventually Halloween.
The Night of All Saints’ Eve. The night where people wear terrifying costumes to keep away the ghosts. A night where kids have a lot of fun going door to door, asking for Treat or Trick.
I was never a fan. I’ve always found this kind of festivity as a money mine for those in business with it. The same I’ve always thought about all the rest of the celebrations based just on marketing. Of course, it could have been a good reason to catch up with people, friends, but the calendar has other three-hundred and sixty-four days to meet up with someone. My Halloween nights were all the same. Couch, a few cans, a pizza from Domino, some TV, and straight to bed. Of course, the mobile rigorously switched off. No invitation to silly parties, please.
I must admit that this year is different, though. I’m experiencing a huge restlessness. Although I’m sure I’m not going anywhere, as I explained. I feel uncomfortable, to the point I keep changing my trousers and shoes, t-shirts. I feel like I’m exploding inside the clothes. They burn my skin. I feel like One second I’m burning and a second after it’s so cold to freeze. I have no temperature, and apart from this discomfort, caused for sure by a nervous condition, I’m fine.
I keep looking at Domino’s pizza flyer, finding nothing interesting, where normally I would have ordered the entire menu.
It’s strange. The beer tastes like a bitter stock, slimy like cheap honey. I’m too nervous, it was a tough year, and every stress for me was double. As I said, I’m not a fan of this bloody celebration, but it never represents a source of so intense discomfort.
There is nothing I can do. The walls are collapsing over me; the ceiling is pressing my head down. The couch seems like a marble bench. The hot skin is confronting a terrible cold in the room with dimmed lights. For a second I have the impression of seeing my breath, like in the frosty winter mornings.
For the first time in my life on a Halloween night, I have to go out, probably to reach a pub, a crowded place, where to confuse me with other people, get distracted and stop feeling the symptoms of this anxiety. I get ready quickly, wearing the first thing I can, and after a look around I am out on the corridor. I have the impression that they push my apartment door from inside, leaving me puzzled. Thankfully, the keys are in my pocket.
Walking down the stairs to the front door, I reflect on my first Halloween night out. I can say I’m laughing, but the feeling is mixed. Outside, the road is silent, the usual darkness for this time of the year. The air is warm, though. Extraordinarily warm.
Out of the gate, I turn left; the road is deserted. Where are the party-goers? I keep walking and Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are everywhere in gardens, windowsills, and the most impressive mansions on my road have spectral figures, like ghosts, skeletons, and wicked witches hanging on the door.
It’s just a confirmation for me, a commercial thing. I’m surprised though, there are no kids around. Entering a pub, I can see the first sign of life, with people dressed in costumes, The Rocky Horror Pictures Show Party, says the board on the sidewalk. I’m looking at this drunken bulk of Dr. Frank N. Furter wannabes, ready to dance the time warp. I’m not ready. I’ll come back later, maybe. I still have that globus sensation, still sweating, walking like the party members but without being drunk.
A gentle rain falls like a drizzle. I can feel it on my forehead. I hope it can calm the burning sensation in my head like an elixir.
Past the pub, the road is empty. I can see the asphalt getting shiny. The lampposts are rare in this section of the road, and the more you walk through, the more it gets dark. A petrol station, as the last source of brightness and, after that, the void.
The darkness wasn’t bothering me. I prefer that to the long queue of cars during the day. I’m looking at the trees’ shadow. It is amazing how there’s always a lower level of darkness before total blindness. Blindness is the absence of light, and this is a matter of fact. My head is running around in the desperate effort to escape that dreadful state I’ve been caught in, early on.
This road I chose, all of a sudden, reminds me of a presence. Here, close, I’d say a couple of miles away, a real ominous presence. What is funny is that I didn’t choose this route on purpose. It just happened.
The presence I’m referring to is an old abandoned mansion. Wynnstay Hall. It was the residence of noble families back in the early nineteenth century, glorious with what looked like a botanical garden rich in singular and exotic species of plants. A garden dense of eccentricity and mystery. The property survived for centuries, but after the last descendants left the country, or simply vanished in the early twentieth century, the mansion fell in despair. Acquired by holdings and corporations, it wasn’t able to go back to its original splendor, also because all the new owners’ businesses failed, dissolving.
A lot was said about Wynnstay Hall. The focal point of the fall that occurred to the mansion was a transition moment. A moment in which some forgotten proprietors, owners of the mansion just for a few years between the historical landowners and the following corporations, used to have a guest who lived in the house for a while. A weird guest. They described the man as a hypnotist and a healer. According to the oral tradition, this lad appears to be like a mad monk, a sorcerer. Some elderly village inhabitants remember the words of the adults of the time, saying he was the devil himself.
They officially recruited him as a piano teacher for the three young daughters of the wealthy landowner. Rumor has it the girls loved their music lecturer, but you couldn’t say the same about the young son.
He hated the sorcerer, as he used to call him, saying he was casting a spell on the family and the house, voted to curse them and the mansion forever.
Their son’s attitude towards the music teacher disappointed the family. Especially because the mother, too, adored him.
Apparently, with the power of his eyes and some mystic litanies, he was healing two of the daughters from a rare and deadly syndrome.
The precarious balance resisted until the day in which the son attempted to kill the music teacher.
It happened in the botanical garden of the mansion. Some shots were fired by a revolver the son stole from his father’s studio. Some bullets that hit the music teacher on the chest made him fall to the floor instantly.
The mother was the first to run out into the garden shouting desperately. Her son, motionless in the middle of the garden, still holding the smoking revolver.
A large pool of burgundy blood surrounded the man on the floor, but, once the horrified mother arrived at his side shouting and crying madly, the man looked revived. He mysteriously sat straight up like nothing happened, holding the young mother in a hug, comforting her, assuring that nothing serious had happened. No trace of blood around. Apparently the blood pool was gone, but that never got confirmed.. What was sure enough, though, was that the man holding the mother stared so intensely at the young son paralyzed in the middle of the garden, that when the woman turned towards her son, he has simply vanished. The family thought he escaped to avoid consequences, and they appealed to the village seeking help in finding him, but with no success.
The mother, once alone with the music teacher, was now concerned. She saw the man shot dead; she saw the blood. But now he was still standing nearby, wearing the same black blouse he was wearing at the time of the shooting. The fabric was intact, with no holes, no bloodstains, nothing. Like brand new.
The father arrived early that morning, disheartened. He instantly questioned the music teacher, who had no answer. When asked how he was still alive, the man replied that evilness could not kill him. The influence of the dark forces shielded him.
The two parents talked a lot that morning in the studio. While he was teaching piano to the now terrorized daughters, the opinion was unanimous; he had to leave.
An inflexible father summoned instantly the man, informing him about their decision. The man didn’t appear surprised. He just laughed, collecting a few things with which he arrived.
He reassured the father that he would see his son soon, maybe in another form. Other appearance.
The night after the man left, the two daughters he was healing from the disease perished suddenly.
The wealthy couple found themselves alone in despair.
One morning, very early, while the father was looking at his majestic garden made of exotic plants, hoping for his son to materialize happy and healthy, a vision disturbed him instead. The man ran out in the mist breathing the air saturated by the smell of the chlorophyll and wet earth.
What he saw in front of him was hard to believe.
A white giant Llama was standing still, exactly where his son was when he shot the music teacher. The man had the feeling that something big was going on, but most of all, he was asking himself how an animal of that type could be six thousand miles away from its natural habitat.
The answer was at first like a distant voice in his ears, the voice of the music teacher, who was saying about the comeback of his son, under a different appearance. He was feeling something special looking at that furry, candid animal. Any further question disappeared from his mind. He went closer, observing the puff of steam from its nostrils, and the way it was staring at him in the eye. The man on the verge of a huge cry came closer to the animal, that nervously was stepping back.
He tried to hug it. His legs collapsed. The father was the umpteenth victim of what started to appear as a spell.
The following weeks and months at the Wynnstay Hall were times of madness. The mother, left alone in the manor in a realm of disorder, grief and despair, was conducted into the local asylum after a few thoughtless acts in the village.
Nowadays, Wynnstay Hall is facing very hard times, being in terrible conditions of abandonment. The recent history of the companies who bought it was probably way scarier than the story of the last family who owned it. Anyway, many people could swear they saw a Llama at night in very recent times. So, the old legend is still leaving.
While I’m walking, the drizzle becomes a more consistent rain. The drops are isolated and heavy, and I can feel them on my head. I never used an umbrella in my life, so it is fine. I’m still waiting for the calming power of the rain. The drops in the eye are annoying and, for that reason, I have to look down at the ground. I’m thinking about that story and the fact that on my first Halloween night out, I’m unintentionally directed to that derelict house. The rain is quite heavy now, and I should go back home, maybe have a break at the pub on my way back for a couple of Time Warps. I’m so intentioned to see if the Llama is still there though, probably the son of the wealthy merchant trapped in the animal body by the spell of the false music teacher, the sorcerer, the antagonist. All stories, interesting but just stories. I put my hand above my brows to have a quick look at the dark street in front of me. Nobody is around and the silence is quite terrifying. I just had a shiver. I’m soaking wet, I’ll better go back. I force myself to look in the darkness and suddenly I feel confused. The yellow-ish light of the only lamppost in distance seems to be interrupted twice, while I’m staring at the empty straight road. The heavy downpour makes me unable to understand what has just happened. I look at the ground, trying to gain control of the sight, and that’s where I see a pair of boots, perfectly paired, staying still on the watery asphalt. I’m taking my time, trying to dry my eyes with my wet hands. With one of them, I search my coat’s pocket, finding the only little piece of dry fabric within myself. A piece of kitchen paper. I wipe my eyes, feeling those heavy drops stabbing my head and shoulders, and abruptly, that sequence of needles heavy like lead stops. Something as safe as a home roof is now covering me. A shelter where to hide.
Slowly, I raise my head. The pair of boots are still there, followed up by a black slim figure, probably dressed either in a black cloak or an old-fashioned double-breasted coat.
I follow the dark figure arriving at his face, his head.
The man is holding a big umbrella above us. His traits are sharp. Wearing a black fedora, he shows a perfectly shaven head when he lifts the hat in an elegant bow. His eyebrows are angled towards the forehead in a sinister shape. He has a goatee like a classic movie villain. He reminds me of Ming the Merciless.
Before I can say a word, I realize to be trapped under the umbrella of this dark figure, probably a Halloween enthusiast. I must admit that the shelter he is offering me is so convenient.
“Pleased to meet you. Are you Ming the Merciless? Are you going to the pub party? If yes, I’ll ask you for a lift. I’m going back home in the same direction. I live quite close to the pub.”
He is silently staring at me, his green eyes on me hypnotically, lighting just under those diabolic brows. I feel a tremendous comfort, a warmth as if under that umbrella with Mephistopheles I was at home in front of the fireplace. Waiting for a good cup of tea and a nap in a cozy velvet armchair.
“Shall we go, McPhisto?”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m not a Halloween admirer, not a character of a party, not a time-waster. I’m here because I had to meet you and to ask you a favor. Better to say, to invest you in what your destiny decided for you. Call it a mission, if you like. I’ll call it a duty.”
“No duty on Halloween night boss, I have no time to waste with you crazy obsessed.”
“Honestly, I’m not talking about wasting any time. Of course, maybe your life is a waste of time, completely and utterly. For that reason, in your shoes, I would consider what I’m offering you. It probably represents a good chance to redeem your existence, to add spice to an unsavory plate. If you see what I mean.”
I’m puzzled and seriously annoyed by this ridiculous Halloween character. Too convinced, and too much in the part to be entertaining.
“Look Ming, Mephistopheles, Mr. Goblin, or whoever you are, thanks for the shelter under your umbrella. I need to go home now. I don’t have time for your stupid parties. It’s cold and I’m soaked. Thanks again, buddy.”
Trying to move away, I can’t. My feet seem glued to the ground, my knees paralyzed. I can turn my shoulders and head back, just to see an ocean of rain falling over the safe place represented by the umbrella, which seems to get bigger after any attempt to turn around.
“Look, it is not funny. I need to go. Buddy, I’m not joking. What’s your name?”
After long attempts to get free from the trap, I turn my head towards him, now closer. Strangely, his face, so close to mine, emanates cold, quite freezing waves, instead of the typical warm feeling.
“I’m not interested in names, nor I define myself with one of those senseless etiquettes, much loved by idiots. I have no name. I’m not interested in yours if you have one. I’m sure you know me. Yes, you do. You know me so well, don’t you?”
His eyes and brows are like a cage to mine. For some unknown reason, I can’t argue with it. He is right; I don’t know how is that possible, but now I feel like I know him, for a long time.
“Yes, I do” I have nothing more to say.
“Excellent, I hate to waste time. So, going back to your duty, I have to ask you to be so kind as to follow the road and reach Wynnstay House. There’s a wild animal left there alone, for which I have a deep sympathy and a true love. Unfortunately, I have no time to go back there. It’s your duty now, planned for you. For us, if you prefer.”
My will is under his control; he is my will now. For sure, that story attracted me, yes I was wishing to reach the manor and check on the Llama, but it’s just a joke, something to lift my anxiety. Now that sense of lift, early felt, is a quick descent to the abyss.
“What do you want me to do? Feed it?”
“Oh no, it is not a matter of food. Become friends, and once close enough, put this scroll around its neck. It’s of vital importance. Beware of the monkeys, that garden is particular.”
“Monkeys?? I never heard of it… what monkeys?”
“Little creatures, ready to disturb your noble intent. Take the scroll now, don’t open it, put it on the Llama’s neck, and you’re done.”
A few seconds after he finishes his words, I’m under the water curtain again, while he is walking in his cloak and fedora, but he is not holding an umbrella. He is just walking, unreachable. Making hundreds of meters at every step.
I feel now able to walk again, trying to open my way to the most impenetrable darkness, holding the mysterious scroll.
In the pitch black of the night, I’m scared to fail my step falling to the ground. I can feel I’m near to that damned house, but I’m also feeling observed. Advancing I can perceive something near, a presence. I can hear laughing. Like hyenas’ horrendous screams.
These must be the monkeys he was talking about.
Trying to find a clue in the darkness, I can only see quick shadows moving like flies around, bats looking for light. I was quite alright until these shadow figures got closer, trying to steal the scroll. In a panic, I run and finally I’m in front of the mansion gate.
It looks barely illuminated by a trembling light, like emanated by a huge blaze, but there’s no fire. There’s light enough though, to understand that the little figures my mentor called monkeys are instead goblins, creatures from hell.
I’m surrounded, and I have to enter, while I’m still looking for the Llama.
The gate is ajar and easily I’m in the garden. The atmosphere is chilly, damp. I can see the century-old plants there, the same that witnessed the attempted murder of the music teacher.
I’m trapped. I can see millions of eyes of those little monsters behind the bushes. I’m holding the scroll, but I can’t see the Llama. I have to see what the scroll is about before perishing.
It is a music sheet, notes on staff. The title, The Dream of a Loser.
Instantly, I’m knocked out, falling to the ground. Something is pushing me down. I can see the Llama finally, its eyes on fire. I can hear a voice talking about the music and the time, stating that music is reversible, but time is not, time to turn back, turn back. I’m sure the Llama ran over me, and after that, silence.
A tapping wakes me up. Heavy rain on the car roof. Halloween night is not my cup of tea. I was so tired I had to stop and sleep in the car at a petrol station. I thought just for a couple of hours, a refreshing nap. I dreamed of being at home, nervous and ready to get out. It never happened. I hate Halloween. So here we are, all Hallows’ morning.
Next year, I will take a day off.
Wait a minute, we have also the weirdo this morning. There’s a guy in the middle of the parking lot, staring at me, under the rain in a dark coat, black fedora, and a face that reminds me of Ming the Merciless, complete with that diabolic goatee.
James Marchiori is an Italian born, Dublin based poet and writer. He wrote his first verses at nine years old, and since then, being part of prestigious cultural organizations, he has been collecting various literary awards across Italy, London, Barcelona, and Prague. He’s also been awarded at the European Parliament in Brussels for one of his poems. At twenty-one years old he published his first book of selected poems and, by his 28th birthday, other two poetry anthologies and short stories were out. His professional career brought him around the world from London to Los Angeles and New York, but he never stopped writing and studying philosophy and literature always taking tons of notes with him, no matter where his job experiences were heading to. His last novel, ‘To My Beloved Heart’ is a tribute to the master, Edgar Allan Poe, his primary source of inspiration, and 2019 will also see his first English collected poems anthology; he’s also currently working on a crime story set in Dublin, Ireland, with fragments of gothic, occult and supernatural elements. Bohemia incarnate, a soul devoted to Surrealism and Poetry.