WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Her Last Halloween is meant to be read after Summons.
Though the spoilers contained in this short story are extremely minor. I still felt it was my due diligence as an author to warn you.
You can still get a great deal of enjoyment form the story, though.
Anyway. Happy Halloween.
Terry sat in his ugly orange chair, working very hard to keep his brood going. He had done his best to make it clear that he didn’t want a Halloween party. He hated Halloween. It was a celebration of everything the Orders had been fighting against since the dawn of humanity. He thought he’d laid out his arguments in a reasonable, articulate manner, but his words fell on deaf ears. Now his apartment was slowly transforming into a plastic-pumpkin paradise.
“Oh, grow up,” Ngazi chided. She stood the hand-me-down daybed pushed against one wall, her knees braced against the faux-wooden headboard with its pink flowers. She had to stretch to hang the string of orange lights across the radiator pipes that ran across the edge of the room. “You can not actually hate Halloween. I swear you and Munindwade would have me believe that everything about today was a personal affront.”
Terry made a low growling noise with his throat and rolled his eyes. “It’s dangerous. Irresponsible. Consumerists. And offensive.” He threw himself up from the chair to better punctuate his tirade with wild arm gestures. “It’s just a bad idea to get a group of kids out on a dark street– begging to be run over by a car or eaten by a grue– and them hop them full of diabetes. Halloween is pure evil! Not the fluffy kind of evil with fangs and acid-spit! The real kind of evil with indoctrination and brain melting.”
A tiny knock interrupted his rant. He stomped to the front door, ready to give his best grimace to whichever little beggar had come looking for candy an hour before the unofficial start of Trick-or-Treating. He slammed the door open. His heart melted immediately when he saw the little witch in black and purple stripes and flaming red pigtails. She held up a re-purposed pillow case with gusto and shouted, “Trick or Treas!”
“Look at you!” Terry cheered. He grabbed a large handful of candy from the bucket beside the door and tossed it into her bag. “Goblin! You are the cutest thing in the world.” He scooped her up, careful not to spill her bag as he dangled her over his shoulder. “Hi, Mitchell. You want to come in?”
“We can’t sty for long. We’re meeting up with Grammy and Poppy for the trunk-or-treat Suez is putting on. We’re supposed to be there at 5:00. But, you were on the way and Miss Sara there wouldn’t stop asking if she could show you and ‘Randy’ her costume.” Terry let Mitchell take the little girl from his shoulders as he came inside. “Nice decorations.”
“Thank you,” Ngazi said. Terry noticed she had begun stringing a third set of lights above his bay window. He was starting to worry she might blow one of the old building’s fuses with all of the lights. She let the end of the lights drop then hopped down off the bed. “This is why it is impossible to hate Halloween. You simply cannot hate a holiday designed to make kids even cuter.”
“We should get going. We don’t want to be late,” Mitchell said. “See you next week for someone’s p-a-r-t-y, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Five is a big one. It only happens once.” Terry winked at Sara. She gave him a small smile, then darted around, leaning across Mitchell to see around him.
“Where’s Randy?” She demanded.
Terry shook his head. “Not tonight, Goblin. Muni’s got things he has to take care of. Next week. I promise.” He drew an X over his chest with one finger. “Now give me a hug.” He let her lean out away from her father and wrap her arms around his neck. He wrapped one hand around her back and sneaked another handful of candy into her bag. The sooner it was gone, the sooner he could close up the free candy shop. He remembered being small enough to love Halloween. There was a time when he and his mother would have been going candy hunting just like Sara and Mitchell.
Terry gave Sara one last squeeze then closed the door behind them and leaned against it. The memory he’d been trying to avoid already sliding up from the deepest parts of his mind.
“Is there any news?” Stanley asked as he walked into the hospital waiting room.
Terry ignored him. His teacher wasn’t talking to him anyway. This was grown-ups talk. He knew that. They wouldn’t actually tell him anything. They would just keep on talking like he wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t fair. He was nine. He was practically fully grown-up. He should be allowed to know. It was his mother. He didn’t even know why Mr. White was here.
“Not much,” Harley told him. “She’s still under. The–” he looked at Terry in the corner–” accident was bad. She would have been fine, but there are… complications. I don’t understand ’em.”
Terry looked up from his GameBoy with hopeful eyes. He was still wearing his brand-new Batman costume, his plastic pumpkin sitting forgotten at his feet. He didn’t care if he got any candy or not, as long as they would just tell him what was happening to his mom. They wouldn’t let him see her but he knew he could help. She always told him that he could make any bad day better. He had thought about sending the monster in to check on her. The monster had to do what he told it– that was the rules– but it would be risky. He couldn’t trust the monster not to do something stupid.
“Let’s step out in the hall. I don’t want to frighten him,” Stanley said. “He doesn’t need to hear any of this. There will be time for that later.”
Terry’s grandfather gave him another weak smile then followed Mr. White out into the hall. They kept their voices low, assuming Terry couldn’t hear them, but he already knew how to make sounds bigger. That was something adults didn’t know he knew. He plugged his headphones into the GameBoy so they wouldn’t know he could hear them then concentrated on the air next to the door. He made it harden into a long funnel, like the one they used to change the oil in the tractor. He hung the big end at the door and stretched the little end back until it touched his ears underneath the headphones. As soon as the air snapped into place, he could hear them again.
“No. You’re not taking him. Not tonight. Not ever. You think you can keep him safer than I can?” His grandfather’s voice was tight and wet, like he was talking with is dentures out. “I don’t care how many of you there are at that Academy. The boy is staying with family. I can teach him just as well as you can. Probably better.”
“Harley. This isn’t up for discussion. Gwen wanted him to go to the Academy in the spring anyway. This just means he needs to come now. We don’t want them to find him. You can’t just keep him locked away on that farm of yours and hope he never has to face the real world. He’s got a gift. His homunculus is special. We haven’t heard of any of the other children having one like it. It’s humanoid and it… Jesus, Harley. It can remember everything. Do you know what kind of resource that is for humans?”
“He’s nine, Stanley. He isn’t a tool. Y’all are wrong on this. No, you can’t change what was done to those kids, but you shouldn’t be trying to use ’em, either. They need time to be kids. Let them spend a few more years being children before you go turnin’ ’em into soldiers. My grandson ain’t a weapon and I won’t let you turn him into one!”
“But he’s not really your grandson, is he?”
Terry perked up. He had always wondered why his and mom’s name was Howard instead of O’Doyle. Mom said she didn’t know who dad was, so it wasn’t dad’s name. He just guessed mom had changed it when he got older. He was going to change his name, too. Terry was a girl’s name.
“Blood don’t make family.” Harley’s voice was a hard growl. It was the angry voice he used for dealing with the men that came to the farm to sell them things they didn’t want. “It don’t much matter who’s blood is who’s. We raised that little girl. She’s ours. That means he’s ours, too.”
“But he’s not.” Mr. White’s voice was cold and hard. Terry had never heard it like that before. Fear made his heart feel like it was going to explode and he lost concentration on making the noises bigger. His spell collapsed. Its energy went flying everywhere before he could get control of it.
His grandfather’s face leaned around the door. The old man was frowning. It made the braids of his beard look like big angry ropes. Terry’s eyes fell to the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I know I’m not supposed to, but I can’t help it.”
“It’s alright,” Mr. White said. The anger was gone from his voice. He was his normal, warm self again. He pushed past Terry’s grandfather to kneel down next to Terry’s chair. He put one hand on his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “I know you can’t help it. You haven’t been trained. No one knows how you kids do it yet. That’s why your mom and I wanted you to come to a special school. The only other students will be kids like you. Kids that can’t help it.”
“Really?” Terry asked. A special school might mean not having to sit out at recess because he had to be careful not to hurt other kids when he played wrong. He knew magic was dangerous. He had learned to control it once. He had been good. But that was before the monster. The monster made magic too easy. Sometimes when he got excited, he couldn’t stop it from launching out all on its own. “Will you be there?”
Stanley nodded. “Yes. I’ll be teaching your class. Just like at camp and at the retreats. It’ll be a lot like camp, but it’ll be all year long. You want to come, right?”
Terry nodded. “But I have to ask mom.” That was when he remember why they were in the stupid hospital in the first place. “If I can ask mom.”
His grandfather sat down next to him and wrapped one muscular arm around his shoulder. “We’ll keep right on waiting until you can.”
“Are you even listening to me?” Ngazi asked. She was holding up a foam headstone that said R.I.P. I.C. Weiner. “Do you think it would be okay to put this where the rule of the day board sits? Just for one night? You haven’t updated it since I’ve been in town.”
Terry nodded. “Yeah. That’s fine. I don’t think David will mind. Just be careful when you move it. It might be booby-trapped or something.” He left the living room, walking in a numb haze back to the blanket curtain that separated his bedroom from the rest of the apartment.
“You mean you haven’t dusted behind this thing in over a year?” Ngazi asked as she cautiously slid the dry-erase board from its perch on the shelf. “Disgusting.”
Terry was ignoring her again. He had sat down next to the large lump in the blanket on the bed. He patted it, then pulled the blankets back. “It’s okay, Muni. You don’t have to hide. I remembered anyway. I always do.”
“We should go see her,” Munindwade said. His twisted, knobby face didn’t fit with the sadness that twisted his eyes. “We have time. No one will be here for another hour. She’s only a few blocks away.”
Terry nodded. “Yeah. She’d like that. It would make her happy to see us.”
He reached down and scooped Munindwade up onto one shoulder then headed out of the apartment. Ngazi came out of the kitchen carrying a bowl of popcorn mixed with candy corn just as he was heading out the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Maple Park,” Terry said. “It’s… It’s her night, you know? I should go see her.”
Ngazi’s face changed from annoyed to horrified in an instant as she realized why he had been moping all day. “I’m so sorry, Terry. I forgot. Do you want me to call everyone and tell them not to come over?”
Terry shook his head. “No. Mom loved Halloween. Besides, I could really use family tonight.”
Ngazi reached out and squeezed his hand in a gesture that asked if he wanted her to come with him. He shook his head and smiled. “I’ll be back in half-an-hour. Plenty of time to help you finish decorating.”
Terry stomped one foot down on the Quija board, almost crushing the hand of one of the two college students. He held his identification card up for them to see it then kicked the board over. “Cemetery closes at sunset. Get out.”
The man stood up, chest puffed out. “That ain’t a real badge. You can buy them at Costume City.” He reached up and smoothed the lines of his popped-collar. “You don’t even look like a cop. What are you? Sixteen?”
Terry stood up a little straighter, realizing he was a few inches shorter than the macho-frat guy. His eyes darted to the woman. She was mousy, with stringy brown hair. Her nose was painted black and she had whiskers drawn on her face. She avoided making eye contact, choosing to pick up the Quija board and put it back in its box instead. Terry felt a disconnect between the geeky girl and the macho guy. They didn’t seem like the typical couple you’d find in Maple Park on Halloween. There wasn’t enough lace or black eye-liner between the two of them. “My name is Terry Howard. I am an Acolyte of the Midnight Order and a citizen of the Ozarks Spiritual Sovereignty. I have the legal right to do– well, basically whatever the fuck I want to do to you. Now get out.”
“Listen, kid, Trick-or-treats isn’t going on here. Why don’t you go back to whatever coven you stumbled out of and I won’t have to kick your ass!” Frat-douche said. He looked back over his shoulder with a small smirk, probably assuming he’d impressed the mousy girl. She just rolled her eyes.
“We’re going. Come on, Craig, the cemetery is closed. We should get out of here before a cop shows up.” She tugged on the frat-douche’s elbow, but he pulled his arm free.
“I ain’t going no where just because some runty goth kid wants his private graveyard playtime! We were here first! Now make with the hoo-doo already. I want to see a ghost!”
Terry rolled his eyes. It wasn’t all that uncommon for college kids from MSU to come down here looking to summon spirits. The fact that they always used the gazebo only made it that much more likely they’d succeed. It became his problem when they did. It was his fault the Veil was weaker at the Gazebo than at any other point in North America. He’d accidentally opened a fissure in the Veil a couple of years before. There was a reason the keys had never been used to fight each other directly, even during the War. It was dangerous.
“Look, guy. I don’t know what kind of spell you think she’s going to cast for you, but she ain’t got the juice to do… well, much of anything.” Terry looked the girl over again, a little more appraising this time. “Let me guess. You got into Wicca because that TV show made it look so cool and now your Chosen or something?”
“It’s not like that,” The girl said. “I just… learned some things.”
“Is one of those things the fact that doing ritual spirit spells in a graveyard on Halloween is a bad fucking idea? Because if it wasn’t, your education is lacking.” Terry turned back to the frat guy. “And unless she’s secretly an old woman glamoring herself to look nineteen, I doubt she’s going to “make with the hoo-doo.” Save both of yourselves a lot of trouble and get the hell out of here before I loose my cool. You’re lucky I found you, and not someone much, much worse.”
“I’m tellin’ you, asshole, we were here first! So go fuck off to a Marilyn Manson concert and let us do what we came here to do!” The frat guy puffed himself up again. “She’s a real witch! She don’t have time for your little twinkle-fest.”
“Twinkle-fest?” Terry asked. He shook his head. Obviously this guy wasn’t going to take the hint. He held up his right hand, palm up, and focused on the air. It took some concentration to balance the energy without adding to the burden already taxing the weak spot, but after a few seconds he managed a small ball of light that hovered a few inches above his hand. “You know what this is?” He asked, doing his best to sound menacing. “It’s a soul-devourer.” He let the ball start slowly floating forward, millimeter by millimeter. “If it touches your skin, it will let me rip your soul to tatters and feast on your spiritual yumminess.”
The frat guy took a step back, not as quickly as Terry had hoped, but it was enough. “You can’t really do that. No one can do that.”
“Oh?” Terry raised one eyebrow. “You don’t think I can tear your soul from your body? Why don’t you ask the last douche-bag I found hanging out in the cemetery?” He pointed behind the frat guy. Munindwade sat on the gazebo’s railing, flailing his tiny clawed hands wildly.
“Braaaaaiiiiiiiinssss…. Fleeeeeeeesh….” He moaned between gnashes of his pointed teeth. The shadows cast by Terry’s ball of light changed the dopey folds of his misshapen face into something truly horrible. “Must feed on liiiiiiiiiiiife…..” For just a little added effect, the homunculus let a little splash of drool etch down the sides of his mouth.
“What the fuck?” the frat guy screamed. “What the fuck is that thing?”
“That would be my soul-bound slave,” Terry said. It wasn’t entirely a lie. Munindwade was bound to his soul and the little guy would do basically everything Terry told him to do.
“Come on, Craig! Let’s get out of here. You’ve heard about Order Mages! They’re all insane! They kill just for fun. We can go to another cemetery. It doesn’t have to be this one.” The girl tugged on Craig’s arm again. This time, the frat douche let her pull him away. Terry let the light follow them out of the cemetery and down the street, staying a few feet behind until they were more than a block away.
He turned to Munindwade, still zombie walking back and forth across the balcony, and let out a laugh. “Jesus, Muni, did you have to spit all over yourself?”
“I was getting into character! Just like in Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane! I tried to find a leg to carry in my mouth, but I didn’t feel like digging.” The homunculus dropped down of the railing and wiped the edges of his mouth with the sleeve of his red hoodie.
“No more Netflix for you,” Terry muttered. He picked the homunculus up, careful not to touch the giant drool spot on the creature’s shirt. “I knew letting you watch the cheesy horror movie playlist would be a bad idea.”
“Hey, the Devil’s Den isn’t cheesy! It has Devon Sawa and a Samurai!”
They walked down the path toward the back of the graveyard. It had been repaved since the night Terry had faced Carter Neil but the signs of the damage done that night were still echoing through the cemetery. The Veil was weaker here, and the ever present sense of being watched was more than just imagination. Terry knew that lurkers– spirits that had been trapped between the real world and the far side when the Veil was made– gathered near weak points. They were mostly harmless and only became dangerous if someone did something stupid, like trying to summon one.
At the back end of the cemetery, just before the stone wall gave way to the deep bed of Fassnight Creek, he stopped at a small, plain headstone. He stood there in silence for a few minutes before finally sitting down against the stone with a sigh.
“Hi, Mom. It’s been a few years.”
Terry’s grandfather woke him up from the ball he’d curled himself into on the floor. It was cold and dark in the hospital waiting room with most of the lights turned off in the halls. He let himself be pulled to his feet, dropping the batman cape he’d wrapped around himself to use as a blanket while he slept. His costume was in bad shape. Mom probably wouldn’t like that. It had cost a lot of money.
His grandfather led him down the hall, walking beside him like a silent giant. Terry was almost as tall as his grandfather now, but for some reason Harley McFinn had always seemed so much bigger. There was just something incredible about him. Terry knew he was a lot like his grandfather. He had once seen his grandfather move rocks just by telling them what to do. He could do that, too, even if it felt different. He reached up and squeezed the old man’s hand.
“I have to warn you. Your mom, she’s hurt pretty bad. How much did they tell you?” Harley asked, returning the gentle squeeze.
“They said she was in an accident. I think she was hit by a car. Is she awake? Are we going to see her?” Terry’s fear came creeping back in as sleepiness crept out. He didn’t know why he was worried. His mom was tough. She could fight, like, a thousand demons. She was even supposed to be in line for one of the keys! Mr. White had one of the keys and he was the strongest wizard ever. If mom was like him, a car accident couldn’t hurt her. He knew that, and he told his grandfather so.
“Oh, son. I wish that were true. But, your mom wasn’t in a car accident. It’s wrong for us to lie to you. She got hurt by another Mage. He was a bad man. He was using magic for bad things and your mom was sent to stop him. He was a lot stronger than they thought he should be, and he hurt her pretty bad.” Harley stopped and squatted down in front of his grandson. “Terry. We’re going to go in and see your mom, but she isn’t going to recover. We’re going to say goodbye. You understand, right? She’s dying.”
Terry’s eyes burned from the tears he couldn’t stop from forming. He bit his lip to keep from making a noise and nodded.
“Alright. I just wanted to warn you. Now, you’ve got to be brave and make sure she’s happy. We’ll stay with her ’till the end. I promise.”
Terry let his grandfather pull him into the dark hospital room. The beeping next to his mom’s bed was the only sound, and he didn’t want to break the silence by letting his sobs out. He held his breath as he walked up to the bed. There was a huge bandage over one side of his mother’s face, but it was her. He slid his hand up into hers making sure not to jostle the big plastic clamp over one finger. Her hand was cold and didn’t squeeze back. “Momma?”
He couldn’t hold the tears back anymore. He buried his face in her hip and let the sobs break through his chest. What was he supposed to do? It was him and mom versus the world. The two of them had been on their own for so long. He didn’t know if he could go one without her. He just wanted her to wake up and tell him everything was going to be okay. He squeezed her hand harder, repeatedly begging her to wake up inside his head.
He felt it when the warm energy flowed down his arms and into her hand. It immediately left him feeling tired and so cold that he thought he would see his breath. His mother’s fingers, the ones not in the big plastic clip, closed around his hand. He looked up at her one open eye and she smiled back at him. He didn’t know how, but he had done it. He’d made her better. He knew it was going to be okay now.
“Terry,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse, like it was when she’d drank coffee that was too hot. She licked her lips a few times then tried again. “Terry.” He squeezed her hand tighter and her smile widened. “What are you doing here, little man? You should be out getting candy with Nana.”
“I wanted to go with you!” He felt like a baby as soon as he said it, but it was true. He didn’t want anything to do with Halloween if it couldn’t be him and mom again, just like all the years before. “It’s dumb without you.”
His mother squeezed his hand again, then looked past his shoulders to the old man standing behind him. “Dad, can we be alone for a little bit. I… I need to tell him something you can’t hear.”
Terry looked back at his grandfather, confused. There weren’t secrets in their family. He was allowed to tell his grandfather everything he learned, even the things he wasn’t allowed to tell other kids. He thought his grandfather would say something, remind mom that they shared everything, but he just nodded and stepped out of the room.
“Terry,” his mother said, voice sounding hoarse again. “There’s something you need to know, something really important.”
“You can tell me when you get better!”
His mother shook her head. “I’m not going to getter better, honey. Now, before I tell you this, you have to promise me something.”
“No. I won’t. You have to promise to get better. I don’t want to know. You have to get better before you can tell me.”
“Terrance!” His mother snapped. Terry’s face popped up to meet her gaze. “No babies tonight. I need you to be a big boy about this. Okay. I need you to promise me that you won’t tell anyone, even Nana and Grandpa, even Mr White, what I’m going to tell you. Do you promise me?”
Terry nodded, lower lip still quivering.
“I need you to say it. This is an Oath, Terry. You know about Oaths. I need you to swear it.”
Terry’s legs trembled. He wasn’t supposed to swear Oaths without spending a lot of time thinking about them first. It was bad. You could create a lot of problems for yourself. But this was Mom. She wouldn’t have him do anything bad.
“I swear by my blood and soul, I will never tell anyone,” he said.
“Tell anyone the secret you gave me tonight. Add that,” his mother prompted and Terry repeated it. He felt a tiny pressure settle into his chest, like a t-shirt that had shrunk in the wash.
“Okay,” his mother said quietly. “Let me start at the beginning.”
The party was already going on when he got back to his apartment. He stopped on the stoop to his apartment building, not really ready to deal with his friends. Instead, he sat down on the porch and took out a cigarette. After the first one, he let Munindwade into the building then pulled out a second and third. He wasn’t avoiding his friends, he just didn’t feel like socializing. He watched the kids walking up and down the street with their little glowing flashlights and their costumes.
The door opened behind him and David stepped out onto the stoop. Terry could tell it was him without looking up. David was the only one of his friends that felt like a mirror of emotions. He sat down on the step beside him and sat with him in silence for a few minutes. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet and strained.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m coping. It’s been twelve years. I should get over it.” Terry smashed the cigarette under his heel and stood up. “It should get easier.”
David shook his head and smiled. “No it shouldn’t.” He stood up and gestured with his head. “But it helps to have a distraction.”
“David…” Terry stopped, unsure how to go on. “I…” he sighed.
“Don’t worry.” David smiled at him and nodded at the door again. “You’ll tell me when you’re ready.” He went back inside without a word.
Terry waited just a few more seconds, shook his head, said, “No… I won’t,” then headed inside.
If you would like to get short stories like this delivered to you for free– before they are available anywhere else– sign up for the mailing list and receive them like magic!