An early Halloween

When my writers’ group put together a Halloween anthology last year, I wrote a story to be part of the fun. I learned a few things along the way.

1. My story was rejected by the editors for inclusion in the anthology. Reason? This is a children’s writers group, and my story was technically told by an adult, outside even the YA genre. This was interesting because the story started when the characters were children, but by the time it was told, children no longer. I was gaining an education on the definitions of genre.

2. The editors recommended rewriting, perhaps limiting the story to the portion where the character was still a child. This I did, and also experimented with a first-person viewpoint, which was enlightening to me. I liked the result, but wanted readers to be able to access the entire story/backstory by referencing a link on my website.

3. The editors rejected the link idea as well — still not a children’s story. So I wrote a completely new story and submitted that for the anthology.

I still wanted to share the complete story, which brings us to today. The first story that follows is the rewrite in the child/YA first person perspective. It’s an introduction to the complete tale that you’ll be able to link to afterward — if you dare.

For your early Halloween enjoyment — The Wishing Mirror.

Harry Bales is my best friend. We do everything together. Oh, we aren’t juvenile delinquents or anything like that, but we drive our moms crazy because we’re not exactly angels, either.

Goodfield, Kansas is a good place to grow up, I guess, even during President Hoover’s great depression. Goodfield is small; you can’t get lost with only four hundred people in town. Then again, there’s not a whole lot to do, either. This year seems more boring than usual since we both turned sixteen. Mom blames it on hormones, but Harry and I think we’re simply bored out of our skulls. It’s funny that I’m thinking about skulls on Halloween.

“Harry, you wanna sneak into the old Simpson place?” I ask.

“That’s clear over on the south side of town,” he replies, stifling a yawn.

“I know, but it’s Halloween night and it’s the closest thing that Goodfield has to a haunted house.”

“You think it’s really haunted? I’ve heard stories, y’know?”

I groan. “Little kids wetting their pants over some spooky night noises. Give me a break!”

“No, I’m serious! Wasn’t there a kid who went there years ago and was never seen again?”

“Harry, there are always stories. Haunted house stories are supposed to be scary, to keep up the reputation.”

He thinks about it for a minute. “I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t be worried about a stupid ghost story.” Then he smiles. “Let’s do it!”

“Now you’re talking!” I hoot. “Let’s go bust some windows!”

Wyeth’s Drug Store still has their lights on as we turn the corner to walk down Maple. We get about twenty feet when I hear her voice clear across the street. Geez, of all the times for my big-mouthed little sister to see me.

“Jack Hunter, where do you think you’re going? You’re too big to go trick-or-treating!”

I paste on my best fake smile and reply as sweetly as I can. “Why, Cassie, Harry and I heard there’s a vampire roaming around town looking for little girls to bite.”

“You ‘spect me to believe that? What could you do, anyway?”

“Me? I was planning on showing the vampire where the really loud and nasty little girls live, so he can drink their blood quickly and get back to his coffin for a nice, peaceful rest before the sun comes up.”

“Ooh! I hate you! I’m telling Mom!” She sticks her tongue out at us and then runs for home, her yellow pig-tails bobbing behind her.

Harry slaps my palm. “Good one, Jack!” he chuckles. “You’re going to be in trouble for that tomorrow, though!”

“Not if we find that vampire first!” I laugh. “C’mon!”

We jog over to Spring Street and follow it past the last row of houses to where it curves into 10th Street—as far south as you can go and still be in Goodfield. The old Simpson place on the corner hasn’t been lived in for years. It used to be a reddish-brown color. Now it’s charcoal-gray and the boards are all warped from the weather.

Leaving Harry to stand guard at the sagging gate, I circle the house looking for a way in. “The front door is padlocked, but I found a window open in the back,” I whisper when I return. “You got the flashlight?”

“Yeah,” he whispers back.

There isn’t much left on the first floor beyond a lingering odor of garbage. What vandals didn’t destroy, the mice chewed to bits. The second floor is something else, though. We creep up the grand staircase to where the musty air turns warm. Harry finds the door half-open leading to the surprisingly intact master bedroom. And it’s far from empty.

Harry lets out a whoop of approval. “Look at this cool stuff!”

I sniff. “It’s only a bunch of old furniture covered with sheets. Yuck, there must be an inch of dust here.” I brush my hand across a table and start sneezing my brains out until the cloud subsides.

“This looks interesting. What do you think it is?” Harry pulls the sheet from a tall, slim mysterious-looking shape. “Hmmm. Not as much dust on this one.”

“Jeepers. A full-length mirror. I am so impressed. Pardon me while I call the Tribune.”

“No, Jack, this is really neat! This is a real wrought-iron frame.” He shines the light at the intricate scroll work. “This must have been worth something in its day.”

“That day is long gone. C’mon, Harry, let’s break out a few windows and go scare some trick-or-treaters.”

“Well … okay, Jack.” He looks wistfully at his reflection. “This is a better mirror than we have back home. Do you think I’m looking older?”

“I know I’m getting older. Are you through?”

“It’s just that we’re sixteen, and pretty soon we’ll be out of high school, and I can’t even afford a car. What I wouldn’t give to have my own …”

He pauses and inhales sharply. “Jack, would you look into the mirror for a second?”

“I know what I look like,” I growl, turning the flashlight tube up under my chin. “But I look much scarier on Halloween in a haunted house, don’t you think?”

“Jack, I’m serious. What do you see in my hand, in my reflection in the mirror?”

I angle the light to bounce off the glass. “Looks like a set of keys. Where’d you get those?”

“I don’t know. I was just wishing that I had my own car, and I saw these keys in my reflection in the mirror. And that’s not all …” He holds up his hand and jingles a real set of keys.

“Go on! You brought those in with you!”

“I swear, Jack, they just appeared in my hand when I thought about a car. Do you—do you think this mirror can grant wishes?”

“If you hadn’t been with me all night, I’d swear you’d been drinking. All right, wish for something else. That will prove you’re dreaming!” I can’t believe he’s trying to pull this lame stunt on me.

“Okay. I wish for a million dollars.”

This time we both watch intently in the mirror. Then, just like a ghost materializing, a leather bag appears at Harry’s feet.

“Harry, move your foot to the left. Do you feel anything?”

“I feel it, Jack. Gosh, it’s heavy.”

We look down at the leather case, shocked. Slowly Harry kneels and opens it up. “Jack, this is crammed full of one-hundred dollar bills! Have you ever seen so much money?”

“I’ve never seen a leather bag come out of thin air, either,” I breathe. “Okay, now this is getting really spooky. I say let’s take the cash and run.”

Harry’s eyes shine. “No, I’m going to make another wish. Just one more!”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea …”

He stands up straight and loudly announces, “I wish for good health and a long life!”

I hold the flashlight on his face for maybe ten seconds. What I see makes me cringe. Harry’s face goes from total joy to a slimy smirk. His expression looks greasier than the bacon down at Flo’s Diner.

“Harry, what’s wrong?”

He looks at me as if seeing me for the first time. “Nothing, Jack, nothing at all. What could be better than having a new car, a million bucks, good health and a long life? Not a thing, except blowing this flea-bitten town. I’m off to see the world. Goodbye, Jack.”

As he picks up the bag, I look into his eyes. They’re empty, without any fondness for friends or sunlight. They aren’t Harry’s eyes at all.

“Who are you?” I whisper, taking a step back.

The creature’s mouth twists into a sick parody of a smile. “Why, it’s me, Harry. What’s gotten into you?” He moves toward the stairs. “So long, Jack. I probably won’t see you again.”

I hear him shuffle down the steps; listen to the creak of the window opening and closing, and then the roar of a roadster coming to life in the yard. Through the window I see him drive off in a brand-new ‘32 Chevrolet BA Confederate.

“So it is a wishing mirror,” I mutter.

I shake my head and plant myself in front of the mirror. “Where is Harry?” I demand.

Behind my reflection in the glass, Harry appears in the mirror. I can’t hear him, but he looks scared and is begging for help. I glance behind me, but nothing is there except the furniture.

Harry is only in the mirror.

“I want to know what’s going on!” I scream.

Suddenly I’m not looking at my reflection any more. Instead of my image, I see something I can only describe as a demon.

Its skin is rough and red, covered with boils. Twin horns grow from its head; two ragged wings sprout from its shoulder blades, and a pair of glowing yellow eyes peer at me without mercy.

“We are trapped here,” the monstrosity hisses. “Trapped in this world of cold and darkness. But we have hope! There are portals, such as this one you see before you, through which we can enter your world. We can exchange our spirits for yours, we can. This is what happened to your friend Harry.”

Cold sweat runs down my neck as I watch Harry crying piteously in the mirror. The demon laughs.

And I know that it hungers for my soul.

If you want to discover the whole story of Jack Hunter, click on the pumpkin.

Warning: The rest of this story is told by an adult, so kids, be ready to hold your parent’s hand!

They might get scared!

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