Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s prompt is to write something about boats. Author Val Muller decided to incorporate her favorite holiday, Halloween, as well as some deeply-embedded memories of watching Garfield’s Halloween special with her sister. You can find out more about Val, including information about her soon-to-be-released Corgi Capers: Curtain Calls and Fire Halls, at www.ValMuller.com.
Halloween at Ball’s Bluff
By Val Muller
Laura slid down the path, dropping her flashlight against a rock. The light went out.
“Damn. Where’s your flashlight?”
Mary flicked hers on. “Are you hurt?”
Laura held her ankle. “Just bruised, I think.” She pulled herself up, groaning. “Flashlight’s busted. Now we’re down to one. Spooky enough for you?”
Mary couldn’t help but smile. “That is why we came here.” Balls Bluff closed at dusk, but it was easy to sneak in. The wind whispered through the trees, and all around animals skittered through dried leaves. It was too dark to see them, and Mary’s skin rose to gooseflesh under her fleece jacket.
She loved it.
“Next Halloween, I’d be happy to settle down with a glass of wine on your back porch.”
“Boring.” Mary giggled. “Come on. Let’s keep hiking.”
Laura groaned again. “Just don’t bust that other flashlight.”
Laura scrambled after her sister. “I’d rather be eating bite-sized chocolates.”
“This is more fun. Besides, chocolate goes on sale starting tomorrow. I promise I’ll take you to Walmart and buy you two whole bags.”
“Maybe an ice pack for my ankle, too.”
“Deal.” Mary continued down the path. “Watch your step here. It gets pretty steep.”
“During the Civil War—almost around Halloween—there was a battle here. Soldiers didn’t know how steep this drop-off was, and they fell down the cliffs.” Mary held the flashlight under her chin and turned to her sister, making her voice ghostly. “Fell to their deaths!”
“Not funny,” Laura huffed.
“Come on.” Mary laughed. “Remember how fun Halloween was when we were little? Those gaudy-but-spooky lawn decorations? All that fake spider webs? Those people at the cul-de-sac who played a repeating spooky music track with witches cackling and wolves howling all night?”
“Mom and Dad said we had to come in from trick-or-treating when they turned off the music.”
“Which wasn’t until like 10:00 those days.”
“Now that I live in the middle of nowhere, there are no trick-or-treaters anymore. No one carves jack-o-lanterns. All the kids go to malls and church parking lots. Trunk-or-treat has taken all the scare out of it. Besides, everyone goes around as Disney characters now. Not as anything spooky.”
“Oh, come on, Mar. You went as a Disney character.”
“Once. And I was like four.”
“Anyway, I just wanted to recapture that sense of prickling fear—and fun—that we used to have during Halloween. I remember drawing skeletons and pumpkins, witches and ghosts for months, it seemed like, just waiting for Halloween. I think I drew a haunted house in art class every day for a week. Don’t you miss that?”
In the distance, something growled.
“What was that?” Laura asked.
Mary shrugged. “Nothing worse than the animals living around my house.”
“But that wasn’t scary enough for you. You had to drag me all the way out here.”
“Come on. Remember when we were little? How scared we’d get this time of year? The chill in the air. The damp smell of leaves. And remember that one year—the weird van pulled up near us and kept chanting?”
“We ran to the next house and asked them to call the cops for us.”
Mary smiled. “Those were the days. Being scared was fun. I thought tonight could recreate that. Otherwise, Halloween seems like just another day.”
“You thought you could create that by trespassing after dark. Look at us, two grown-ups acting like teenagers.”
“Who you calling a grown-up?”
Laura grabbed Mary’s shoulder. “It’s steep here, though. I think we might fall to our deaths. Like those poor soldiers you were talking about. And if we did fall, we’d freeze before morning.”
“It’s not that cold.”
“Hypothermia doesn’t take much more than this.”
Mary pointed her flashlight down the trail. “Let’s just go down to the river. Then we can turn back. Besides, I’ve heard there are others who sneak in here at night. They have fires near the river. A Halloween celebration. I see remains of campfires when I hike here during the day.”
“I thought I smelled smoke.”
“Like I said—”
“Not that kind of smoke.”
Mary shrugged. “It is Halloween.”
Laura bit her lip. “And some of us have to work tomorrow. Alright, sis. A walk down to the river. Then we turn around and drive home. And you buy me a hot chocolate on the way back to my place.”
The girls continued down the trail. The ground was damp, making the wet leaves slick against the trail. They took turns sliding, their pant legs and hands getting muddier by the minute. With only one flashlight between them, the hike was slow.
“What was your favorite Halloween movie?” Laura asked as she navigated a sloping turn.
“I think The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has to be the best, hands-down. Right? I mean, who hasn’t heard of the great pumpkin?”
“I always like the Garfield Halloween special.”
“True. That pirate scene terrified us.”
“It wasn’t a pirate that scared you. It was an old man.”
“He was an old man, but he was also a pirate.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. And he escaped in that row boat, didn’t he?”
“I remember a row boat. And those pirate-ghosts…”
“I’m surprised Mom and Dad let us watch it.”
“When it cut to that old pirate-man…”
“You always screamed.”
“Squealed like a child.”
“I was a child.” Mary laughed. “But you’re right. That scene gave me nightmares for years.”
“I used to imagine we were Garfield and Odie, and we took out a little row-boat into the middle of nowhere, mistakenly looking for Halloween candy.”
“Candy, candy, candy!” Mary joked. “You always loved candy.”
Something growled in the woods. Mary froze. Laura ran into her.
“What was that?”
“Turn out the light.”
“Turn it out?”
“Whatever’s out there, we can’t see it. We don’t want it to see us.”
Mary turned out the light. The moon was barely more than a crescent, and it allowed just enough light for Mary to see the faint outline of her sister. The thing growled again, and something squealed. The sound of flesh tearing. And then sloppy slurping. Something was eating.
“I think I’ve had enough scaring for one night,” Laura whispered. “Let’s go back.”
“The thing—whatever it is—is between us and the car. I don’t think it’s safe to go back that way. The trail is too steep. If we had to, we’d never outrun it.”
“We go the long way. We’re almost at the river. The path continues along the river until it turns upward.”
“Let me guess. Steep and dangerous?”
The thing growled again. Mary’s heart pounded, and Laura clutched her arm, digging her nails in. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Mary said.
A scurrying of leaves revealed the thing running closer.
“It’s after us!”
Mary threw on the light and hurried to the Potomac.
“Find some of those people partying with campfires,” Laura huffed. “Or the ones partying without campfires, for that matter. Just find someone.”
“Help!” Mary called.
But no one answered, and the thing sounded closer, its breathing raggedy and marked by growls.
At the bottom of the trail, the river opened up. There was not a campfire to be seen, but the moon reflected on the rippling river. “Where is everybody?”
“Maybe they were afraid the cops would be out on Halloween. I swear I thought there would be at least some teenagers looking for trouble. I’d take a cop at this point. He could arrest me—as long as he got rid of whatever that is.”
Whatever it was kept growling, and Mary turned quickly, shining her light at the growls. Laura dashed behind her. The thing looked ragged, a large dog—maybe a wolf—snarling at them, foaming at the mouth.
“It looks rabid.”
“Don’t touch it.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Scared enough yet?”
“This is your fault. I’m writing that on my tombstone.”
“Get into the river.”
“I don’t think rabid animals like to swim.”
“Just get in the river.”
“It’s not a werewolf.”
The thing snarled once more and charged, and the girls headed for the river without a second thought. Mary swiped at the darkness with her flashlight, but the night seemed to fold in over her.
“Help!” she cried. “Isn’t anyone there? Please!”
But only the creature’s frantic movement through the leaves answered her.
“Look!” Laura cried.
“Shine your flashlight at the river!”
Mary did. There, waiting on the shore, was a small rowboat.
“Just like in the cartoon!” Mary and Laura grasped hands. “Should we?”
The light rippled against the river, and the moon smiled down overhead from behind a veil of clouds. Cold air prickled like magic in the air, and the water lapped against the boat, beckoning, calling the sisters to one more Halloween adventure.
The Spot Writers—our members:
RC Bonitz: http://www.rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/