Most kids can’t wait to dress up in costumes and go trick or treating on Halloween. Not the Foster children. Even the promise of receiving a slew of candy doesn’t interest them. Charlie, Jack, and Millie know the truth about All Hallows Eve. That it’s a day to fear, a day when the dead walk the earth again. And with their house sitting directly behind a graveyard, they are prime targets for the spirits to haunt…
When witches go riding, and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween.
“CHARLIE, I’M SCARED. I don’t want the bogies to come.”
Four-year-old Millie Foster looked up at her big brother with wide, frightened eyes as she pointed out the window toward the cemetery. Charlie focused his attention in the same direction and his stomach tightened. He didn’t want the bogies to come either, dreaded seeing nightfall approach. The scene out the window only heightened his fear.
Dusk had set in, causing long, eerie shadows of the gravestones to stretch toward the house as if reaching for them. The grassy field between the cemetery and the back door of the Foster home was the only barrier of protection they had against the restless souls buried there. The bright, deep red of the setting sun cast a glow across the earth that made it look like blood was blanketing the cemetery. The mist on the ground billowed up, mixing with the dark shadows and the crimson rays of the sun, making it appear that the spirits were rising up from their graves, escaping. And Charlie had no doubt that on this night, the night when the veil between the dead and the undead lifted, the roused spirits would once again descend on their quiet home.
A chill ran up Charlie’s spine and he wrapped his arm around Millie, pulling her close. He knew if he was scared, Millie had to be terrified.
“It’ll be okay, Silly Millie. Me and Jack’ll keep you safe.” At least he hoped so, wondering where their eight-year-old brother was. He should have been back from his supply run by now. Charlie hoped he hadn’t been caught by their mother.
“And Mommy too?”
“And Mommy too.”
“Can I sleep in your room tonight?”
“Sure. You and me and Jack can have a slumber party.” Charlie tickled her and Millie giggled. “But we better not tell Mom.”
“Cuz Mommy will get very mad if she hears us talkin’ ’bout ghosts. She don’t believe us that we saw them come right in the house.”
Their mother had scolded him and Jack for hours over scaring Millie with their “silly nonsense” about the dead coming to life on Halloween. Said she’d lived by the cemetery her whole life and had never seen any ghosts and that if she caught them filling Millie’s head with more of their stories, she’d wash their mouths out with soap every day for a week. Then she’d make them read five chapters from the Bible. Out loud.
“I wish Daddy was here.”
“Me too, Silly Millie.” Charlie smiled at the little moppet. He knew there was no way Millie remembered their father. She’d only been a few months old when he’d left for war. Charlie barely remembered their dad and he’d been six when Charles Senior’s unit had been called to fight. But she talked about him like she knew him, claimed to play games with him. Charlie thought that was good, even if their mother didn’t like it and told him to quit encouraging Millie’s imagination. But he liked talking about their father and told her stories about him, mostly to keep the man fresh in his own mind, just in case…
Millie puffed her chest out. “He’d believe us. He’d help us keep the ghosts in the graveyard!”
Charlie smiled at her conviction. “He sure would, Silly M—”
“I got it! I got it!” Jack yelled as he ran into the room, a flour sack in one hand and one of their mother’s kitchen crocks in the other.
“Quiet! We don’t want Mother to know what we’re doing,” Charlie whispered as he resisted the urge to clamp a hand over Jack’s big mouth.
Eight-year-old Jack winced. “Oh, yeah, sorry.” He lowered his voice. “I got everything on our list.” Jack crouched down, sat the crock on the floor, opened the sack, and pulled out a canister of salt, a mason jar full of clear liquid, some string, and some book pages.
Millie ran to Jack, flopped down on the floor beside him, and picked up the glass jar. “What’s this?”
“Holy water,” Jack answered.
“Where did you get holy water,” Charlie asked.
Jack’s face and the tips of his ears turned almost as red as his hair. “I, um, got water from the kitchen and as I held the Bible over the top of the jar I repeated ‘I turn you to holy water’ three times.”
Since Charlie had no clue if that would work or not, he just nodded his head at Jack. He bent down, picked up the book pages, and scanned a couple lines. A fine rain now made her still more dismal…“Jack! You tore these pages out of Mother’s Virginia Woolf book! She’ll clobber you!”
Jack winced. “We need them to make paper straws so we can blow the black salt on the ghosts if they come, Charlie. I’ll put them back. I promise.”
He picked up the crock. “Yeah. I emptied the salt from the shaker into this bowl and got ashes and soot from the fireplace and mixed it together. That makes black salt and—”
“You scooped up ashes from the fireplace and put it in one of Mother’s good kitchen crocks. She’ll tan your hide for sure. You’re going to get us all in trouble.” Charlie shoved his little brother on the shoulder, causing the boy to tip over backward onto his bottom.
“I couldn’t find anything else to put it in,” Jack whined. “And she’ll never know we used it. We’ll clean it up and put it back.”
“No, you’ll clean it out and return it. And if you already put salt in that concoction, why did you bring the whole canister of salt with you?”
Jack gave him a toothy grin. “You’ll see.”
Millie touched her finger to the mixture and sniffed it. Her eyes watered and she broke into a series of sneezes. “That — stuff — burns,” she finally managed, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her shirt then shaking her head vigorously.
“Goofy, why’d you do that?” Jack pulled the crock back.
“Because she’s four. Are you okay, Millie?” Charlie asked.
She shook her head. “I’m okay.”
“Well, genius, I hope it works better on ghosts,” Charlie said in a tone that clearly said the black salt wouldn’t be of any use.
“It will. Don’t worry.” Jack picked up one of the book pages and rolled it to make a tube. “Charlie, hold this real tight.”
Charlie did as requested, holding the cylinder at each end. Jack picked up the string and wrapped it around the tube from one side to the other, having Charlie reposition his hands so he could cover the whole thing with string. He made a couple more passed around and then tied the string off. He took the tube and held it vertically. “Thanks. What you do is cover the bottom with a finger, take some of the black salt, and drop it in the top.” Jack demonstrated as he spoke. Then he turned his back to Charlie and Millie. “Then you hold it up to your mouth, take your finger off, and blow.” Black particles flew from the straw.
Millie squealed and clapped her hands. “Do it again! Do it again!”
“Don’t you dare. You’ve made enough of a mess,” Charlie said, annoyed.
Jack squinted one eye and a frown pinched his forehead as he focused on Charlie. “Quit scolding me. You could make yourself useful and help make up the straws. We have to be ready or the evil spirits will come and get us.”
Charlie glanced at their sister. “Shut up, Jack!”
Millie let out a yelp and slammed into Charlie, knocking the air out of him. “Don’t let the evil spirits get me, Charlie. I want Mommy.” She began to cry.
Charlie bent down and wrapped his arms around her. He locked eyes with his brother and gestured his head toward their little sister.
Jack shrugged his shoulders. “What?”
Frustrated, Charlie rolled his eyes. “Silly Millie, Jack’s just been reading too many scary books. No goblins or ghouls are gonna come to get you.”
The frightened girl buried her face deeper into Charlie’s shoulder. “B-but th-they will come. You said so. I don’t want the bogies to get me. I want Mommy.”
Charlie’s shirt was damp from the tears. He was going to beat Jack senseless the first chance he got. Better yet, he’d make sure their mother found out about her book being destroyed. That would get Jack in a whole mess of trouble.
He squeezed his sister, not sure how to comfort her when he was scared himself. Maybe Millie had the best idea and they should tell their mother they were scared. But she hated Halloween and all the talk of ghosts and monsters. Called it the work of the devil and said if someone could see those things, that person was evil. Even refused to let them participate or watch the church’s yearly rendition of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. But Charlie didn’t feel evil. Millie certainly wasn’t evil. Jack was an idiot who didn’t think before he opened his big mouth, but not evil. Still, Charlie couldn’t deny what he’d seen with his own eyes over the past few Halloweens, whether his mother believed them or not.
Jack rummaged in the sack. “Hey, Silly Millie, I have something that’ll for sure keep you safe. Ah ha!” He pulled out a string of garlic cloves and offered it to the crying girl.
Millie lifted her head and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her shirt. Her face was stained with tears and covered in red blotches. “It smells funny. What is it?”
“It’s the best protection you can have. Nothing will come near you as long as you’re wearing this.” Jack leaned over and looped the necklace around her neck.
Millie pinched her nose. “It smells bad.”
Charlie gagged. “You moron. She can’t go down to dinner wearing that. How will we explain it to Mother?”
Jack thunked his head with the palm of his hand. “Oh, right. Sorry, Millie, we’ll have to wait until after we eat.”
“Okay, Jack.” She pulled the string over her head and held it out to him, then jerked her arm away before his fingers touched the garlic. “You promise to give it back, don’t you?”
“Of course. I made it just for you. I got one for me and Charlie too.”
“I’m not wearing that thing.”
“You gotta, Charlie! Please,” Millie said, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Jack! Ugh! Now see what you’ve done! All right, all right. I’ll wear the stupid necklace.”
“What did I do?”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Where do I even sta—”
“Millie, Charlie, Jack, dinner!”
“We’re coming, Mom,” Charlie called. He pointed to the supplies scattered about the floor. “Jack, get that stuff picked up and hid somewhere in case Mother comes up here.” Then he took Millie by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Listen, Millie, remember not to tell Mother what we’re doing up here. She won’t like it and we’ll all be in trouble. And we won’t be able to put on the garlic necklaces Jack made and make paper straws.”
“I won’t say anything. I promise.”
“Good. Once we eat and Mother goes to bed, me and Jack’ll come get you.”
“Okay! Come on. Let’s hurry and eat before it gets dark.” She jumped up and ran out the door.
Charlie was slower to get to his feet, dreading the night ahead. Jack scooped up the things from the floor and dropped them in the sack then carried it and the crock to the closet and set them inside, covering them with a quilt. As he crossed the room toward the door, Charlie whopped him upside the head.
Jack rubbed the spot. “Ouch! What did you do that for?”
“Because you’re an idiot.” Charlie stalked out the door, disgusted.
He jerked around and stared at his brother. “What?”
“We’re gonna be okay, aren’t we? I mean, this stuff’s gonna work to keep the ghosts out of our house this year, isn’t it?”
“I hope so, Jack. I hope so.”
All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.
KNOTS TWISTED AND turned Charlie’s stomach. Whether it was from the foul odor of the garlic necklace around his neck that Jack and Millie had forced him to wear or because he was a nervous wreck at the prospect of facing another Halloween full of ghosts he didn’t know. But one thing was for sure. He hated being downstairs with the back door open so close to midnight. Supper had dragged on forever tonight, followed by Jack being scolded for not having his homework done. By the time he’d finished it and they’d brushed their teeth and said their prayers, it had been after nine. Then they’d had to wait long enough to make sure their mother was asleep before putting their plan into action. Or rather Jack’s harebrain scheme.
Moonlight spilled in through the open back door, bouncing off the shiny wood floors. The reflection gave the room enough light without needing their flashlight, so Charlie had turned it off to keep from attracting the attention of the graveyard spooks.
His eyes had adjusted to the dull glow around the kitchen, and he could clearly make out the whole area. On his left, in the center of the room was the antique farmer’s table their mother loved so much she’d had the floors and cabinets stained to match it. The window on the other side of the table let in more moonlight, so Charlie could even see the white counter and make out the canisters, breadbox, and toaster lined up along the white marble top. He glanced right. Nothing greeted him but the blackness of the stairs leading up to their bedrooms, and he gave an involuntary shutter, longing to go back to bed and bury himself under the covers.
Charlie looked down at Millie. She was spinning in circles making her nightgown billow out, seemingly oblivious to the dark stairwell or the cemetery. He was glad.
His thoughts now on the cemetery, he glanced out the door in that direction. The moon seemed to be spotlighting the graves. Branches from the trees planted along the perimeter danced and swayed as the wind whipped them back and forth. When Charlie’s gaze drifted down to the ground, to the headstones, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Maybe his eyes hadn’t adjusted so well to the darkness or maybe he was letting his imagination run wild, but the way the shadows from the trees met the heavy fog lifting up from the graves, it looked like the dead were clawing their way out. He watched, unable to tear his eyes away. After a few moments, he was sure he saw two figures stand and head toward the house. The thought sent ice running through his veins and made his whole body shiver. Whatever the cause, he wanted to grab Jack and Millie and run up the stairs to their mother’s room and crawl under the covers until morning.
“Hurry it up, will ya?” he snapped at Jack, who was hunkered down in the open doorway pouring salt along the threshold. “Can you explain again why you’re doing that?”
“I told you. Ghosts can’t cross salt. It’s for protection.”
“Well, genius, why didn’t we just stay in our room and put the salt at our door?”
Jack turned his head toward Charlie. “Because we have to protect the whole house or doesn’t do any good. We already did the front door, and when I get finished here, we’ll go downstairs and do the cellar door.”
Charlie’s mouth fell open. Jack had to be kidding. His eyes darted to the door leading downstairs. “You can’t be serious.”
Jack looked up, eyebrows drawn together. “Well, yeah. We have to make sure all the entryways are covered.”
Millie slid her hand in Charlie’s, her twirling forgotten. “I don’t want to go to the basement. It’s scary down there.”
Charlie gently squeezed her tiny fingers. “We’re not going downstairs.”
He jerked his head up and locked eyes with his little brother. “No basement. Mother’s going to kill us as it is when she sees salt all over the place.” Millie’s hand tightened on his, her nails digging into his palm.
Charlie pulled his hand away, wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and glanced down at her. “It’s ok, Silly Millie. Don’t listen — Millie, what’s wrong?”
The little girl’s eyes were bugged out and tears were spilling down her chubby cheeks. She raised her arm and pointed a shaky finger toward the door. “J-J-Jack!” Millie jerked her hand free and let out a high-pitched scream as she turned and ran through the swinging door leading to the main part of the house yelling, “Mommy!”
“Millie, wait.” Charlie winced. They were in trouble now. He furrowed his brows as he watched his sister disappear through the door. Whatever had frightened her was obviously scarier than being alone in the dark house. “What in the world got into her?”
“I’m not sure, but I told you we shouldn’t have let her know what we were doing. Now we’ll all be in trouble,” Jack grumbled.
He turned to see Jack standing with his arms crossed over his chest. His attention was drawn to movement just outside the back door. “Jack, close the door and let’s—” Charlie broke off as his gaze drifted past Jack’s shoulder to the two hooded figures coming up the porch stairs. “Jack, get away from the door,” Charlie whispered in a shaky voice.
“Just do as I say.” Charlie glanced around wildly. Part of him wanting to run, the rest of him unable to leave his little brother to whatever was coming through the door. His eyes landed on the utility sink standing to Jack’s right. “Bend down and roll under the curtain around the sink.”
Dread filled Charlie as the apparitions started through the open door. With the moonlight behind them casting them in shadow and the only thing remotely visible the white surrounding black eyes, they looked sinister, evil. The things were close enough now to be heard, and the whispery hissing sounds they made seemed to surround Charlie and prevented any other noises from entering his ears. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, to almost halt, as the ghosts walked into the house, right through Jack who stood in the doorway.
Charlie’s heart leaped into his throat cutting off his air. Jack doubled over as the spirits passed through him. Panic gripped Charlie, squeezed his chest until he thought he’d die, instinct telling him to run but his feet frozen in place. His mind screamed at him that what he saw wasn’t real, but he couldn’t deny the sinister figures standing a few feet in front of him. Although very dark and black, the apparitions were transparent, almost like a foggy mist, and he could clearly make out his brother on the other side of them.
Jack started to whimper, prompting Charlie into action. He pulled the small satchel of black salt and the paper straw from his pants pocket. As quickly as he could with shaking hands, he poured some of the mixture into the tube. Just as he lifted the straw to his mouth, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a wisp of white floating toward him. It was stark against the pitch-dark of the stairwell. His heart went wild, beating an erratic rhythm that almost made him faint. Heat flowed through his body combining with the ice-cold chill that had set in deep inside his bones. He opened his mouth to scream, but it was too late. Long fingers clamped around his upper arm and jerked him, causing his paper straw to go flying from his fingers, then he disappeared into the darkness.