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A howling through the forest, a shriek in the night and a baby’s wail makes for the perfect Hallows Eve. The parade of ghouls, witches, and beasts of all forms march through the Irish backcountry and into the wilderness. From a distance, only shades carrying torches by their side can be seen. ‘Tis the dead of night, but the devilish parade wakes the heavens with its drum beats and its chanting, resembling the murmur of waves crashing against a shoreline.
Through the eyes of Marcus, this is his night. Bells ring as Marcus jumps forward with one foot, and alternates with the other. His apparel, made of different patches of cloth, may seem strange to you and I, but mind you, his clothing signifies his position as the Jester. Covered with a blue and red checkerboard, his face looks as merry as a clown’s at the county fair.
Long gray stockings rise from his ankles to his butt, which ripples with every step. The Jester’s shoes, unusually long and pointing outwards, makes it hard to dance. But with the help of fallen spirits who scavenge the earth on this religious day, dancing becomes second nature to Marcus, who has never danced before. Marcus follows the basic principles of dancing to ensure a generous harvest for his people. Last year’s Jester failed the position, and consequently the harvest was a disaster. All of the crops died, and the people ate anything they could find to prevent starvation during that icy winter. This year will be different. Let’s turn our attention to Aaron and Ryan, both marching at the end of the parade.
Being the son of the local doctor, Aaron’s vast knowledge of all things medical comes from the lessons of his ancestors, who wrote great medical books on their discoveries. Outsiders might question his knowledge, claiming that he should study in a university before practicing. But none of the town doctors went to universities; all of the doctors learned from their fathers, who in turn learned from their fathers before them. This form of hand-me-down education is traditional in this town, and traditions play a large role in the lives of these people.
In the spirit of keeping traditions alive, I will only describe Aaron’s physical appearance in the costume. Hogs are meant to be short and plump creatures, but ironically Aaron is tall and scrawny. Wearing hog pelts from his shoulders to his ankles, he sweats profusely near the torch held in front of him. His shoes are made out of some sort of leather, one unknown to everyone except for the elders. He wears a necklace decorated with sharp spikes, which often pierce his skin. A pig mask, complete with horrifying tusks and hideous facial hairs, covers his face. Aaron’s eyes appear can stare directly into a person’s soul.
Ryan, the son of a poor alcoholic carpenter, lives in the lowest rank of society, and was often abused by higher class citizens. His luck took a dramatic turn when Aaron decided to step in and be Ryan’s father figure. Ryan to stayed in Aaron’s house until Ryan was able to afford his own. Their unbreakable friendship was created in that first night..
Ryan, short and plump, has the perfect figure for a Hog. He wears the same clothing as Aaron, long pig pelts and some sort of leather shoes. His mask and necklace, however, strongly contrast that of Aaron’s. Ryan is wearing a chicken finger bone, tied to a string of leather. His mask is joyous; the pig looks cartoonish with it’s ruffled snout and its big smile. Its floppy ears only add to its whimsical appearance.
“Looky here, what do you suppose that is?” asks Ryan as he points towards a nearby hill.
“Shuddapp and pay attention so we don’t lose our pace! Mind you that we are the two Hogs, and we will undoubtably be used for the ritual,” says Aaron.
“Whatever you say, Aaron. Say, why do we have to be the Hogs?”
“Didn’t I ever tell you not to ask questions? Your questions only bring trouble. Shall I refer to your incident with Mary, the bartender’s daughter?”
“I surely hope not.”
“I won’t for your sake, but just remember to think before you speak. Who do you suppose is the lucky winner this year? I heard that Abigail won the drawing.”
“Lucky? Well I wouldn’t say that, but I do suppose it is a great honor to win. I can’t imagine Abigail winning.”
“Aye, could you imagine--” says Aaron before he is cut of by Herald, the lonely hermit who lives in the shadows of the town.
“Hogs are meant to be silent, only speaking when spoken to,” says Herald.
“Why don’t you just shut it, you murderer!” exclaims Aaron.
Herald stops walking to confront this charge head on. While Herald and the two Hogs stand their arguing with each other, the parade moves forward, paying little to no attention to them.
“How dare you, sir! I have no blood on my hands! What happened was purely an accident; the woman had lost her wits. I surely can not be everyone’s keeper,” replies Herald.
“Aye, you surely can’t be everyone’s keeper. But when a man’s pregnant wife is troubled by voices in her head, it is the man’s duty to take care of her. While you were drinking with those w****s, she killed herself and her baby! Can you really be of no blame?” asks Ryan.
“My actions are justifiable. A man fancies his wife to please his every desire. If the wife should fail to please him, the man has the duty to take care of himself, or find someone to take care of him in the meanwhile,” says Herald with an air of pride about him.
“Know you aught of the malevolent spirits whose cries can be heard through the forest? Why, you and them have much in common, and will soon be able to greet one another on the other side,” calmly says Aaron.
With this response, Herald releases a full breath of air. He turns around and runs to catch up with the rest of the townspeople who had not waited for them.
For the time being, we should leave Aaron and Ryan to themselves. Before the parade reaches its destination to pray to the fallen spirits, I want you to understand the importance of this festival. Being a spectator who observes this yearly event, I cannot explain or even interpret this festival while doing it justice. Therefore, I will let the Wizard explain it, for he is the most knowledgeable.
The Wizard waits patiently for the congregation to march to their final destination, the praying ground. Every year the Wizard, the eldest in the town, reaches the praying ground an hour early to make contact with the spirits. Unfortunately, I cannot show you how this is done, for he had already finished this task ten minutes ago. There he stands, dressed in a purple robe with a purple pointed hat, waiting for the others to reach the dark lifeless field.
The Wizard is surrounded be worn statues said to have spirits living within them. They eerily resemble those on Easter Island, although Ireland is not even remotely close to Easter Island. The Wizard stands in front of a waist-high slab of stone which will be used in the ritual. It had not been used since the days of Niall, and the townspeople don’t tell outsiders about it. In fact, the townspeople are so secretive that they restrict outsiders from visiting in the town during Hallows Eve.
But here stands the wizard with his aide, dressed as a Goblin, at his side. The Goblin, the ugliest of all the costumes, is composed of a brown flower sack that runs from her shoulders to the ground. Two arm holes are cut into the side of the bag, as well as a head hole on the top. Whoever plays the Goblin must have her skin covered with mud, which symbolizes the significance of the Earth in our daily lives. Long matted red hair falls from the Goblin’s sides as she turns to face the wizard.
“May I pose a question to your honor?” asks the Goblin.
“Certainly,” replies the Wizard.
“Why must we have the Jester when we have your honor?”
“Good question. A Wizard’s job is to please the spirits, for I am the only one who can communicate with them. There are necessary steps to be completed before the gateway can be opened, which is why I need the Jester. Does this answer your question, child?”
“I mean no disrespect, but I can not comprehend what your honor is saying. You are speaking in vague terms.”
The Wizard gives her a welcoming smile. “You’ll know everything soon enough. This is your first ceremony, after all.”
The Wizard points a little off into the distance. The devilish parade is approaching, making a ruckus as they approach the Wizard. Lights from the torches shine onto their faces, and their terrifying masks are revealed. One man is wearing the head of a goat with a black robe. His shoes resemble hooves, which clack as they make their way onto the field. Next to him is a man wearing nothing more than a veil; the rest of his body stands naked in the field. Then comes the Jester, who carries a newborn baby in his arms.
The two Hogs come from behind the crowd and kneel before the Wizard. The baby is then placed on the stone podium. The Goblin lights two fires, each growing as tall as the highest tree. The congregation has gone silent. The only thing that can be heard is the sound of leaves cackling in the fire’s heat and the wailing of the baby.
“Friends, family, we gather here today on this Hallows Eve to celebrate death. This is the day when summer is on the verge of winter, and life is on the verge of death. I have communicated extensively with the spirits before you all had arrived. This year is different; there will not only be a sacrifice, but there will also be a blessing!” preaches the Wizard.
The crowd cheers, and they begin to beat their dreams with a hypnotizing rhythm. Fearing that the baby will be killed, the Goblin covers her eyes with her hands, hoping for the ceremony to end. The baby wails loudly; the loud sounds scare the baby half to death. The Goblin peeks through her hands to see everything that is going on.
“We have already drawn a name for the winner. Will Herald please step forward?” asks the Wizard.
Herald is forcibly taken from the crowd and brought to the podium.
“Please, no! I haven’t done anything wrong!” exclaims Herald.
“All of our names are put into the drawing lot, yours just happened to be chosen this year. You did nothing wrong. In fact, you will be remembered as the Lamb of this years Hallows Eve,” says the Wizard.
“You b******s! First you take my eldest child and now me? I won’t let you!” exclaims Herald as he tries his best to break free.
Unfortunately for him, his old age is playing against him. Had he been younger when he was chosen, he might have been able to escape. But the arthritis in his bones makes it too painful to resist, and he soon stops squirming. Holding a pocket knife, the Jester comes up from behind Herald and slits his throat. Herald, covered in his own blood, sweat, and tears, falls to his knees and dies quietly amongst the congregation. His blood turns the earth red.
The naked man collects Herald’s blood in a stone bowl and hands it to the Wizard. Praying silently to himself, the Wizard uses Herald’s blood to perform a baptism on the newborn. The Goblin opens her eyes with delight. She is the first of her friends to watch this ritual being preformed. As most children do, she will brag to her friends about this until they play the Goblin themselves.
The late morning sun shines throughout the town as Father McCarthy heads towards the church. Dressed in a long white robe with a pointed white hat, he feels hot under the sun’s watchful eye.
“Morning Father,” is all he hears from everyone who passes by.
As he is walking, he notices a group of girls playing with their dolls on a front lawn.
“I’m telling you the truth! I was the Goblin last night!” exclaims Mercy.
“Ya right, everyone knows that grownups just make that up to scare us,” replies Hope sarcastically.
The girls turn their attention to Father, who couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The girls give him hugs and warm smiles. Although Father greets everyone with the best smile his old face can give, he is stricken with anxiety. It is not until he reaches the doorstep of the church that he feels some comfort. He opens the doors and is greeted by the Deacon and the good townsfolk who decided to pray on this Saturday morning. He waves hello to everyone and kneels before a small painting of Jesus Christ helping the poor.
Father stares at the painting for some time, noticing that the expression on Jesus’ face had turned into a more gloomy one. But paintings can not change their expressions, and he pays little attention to it. He then walks into the church garden where pumpkins are growing. They seem big and plump, a sign of good things to come. His secretary, holding a piece of paper, walks into the garden.
“Father, there is a letter for you regarding the young boy you baptized yesterday,” says the secretary, Anne, with a smile.
“Aye, let me take a look at it,” says Father as he walks out of the garden and towards his secretary’s desk.
Father McCarthy is reassured by the healthy foliage on the pumpkin plants. Upon Father leaving, he fails to notice that the leaves of the plump orange pumpkins shrivel and fall off of the stem.
Anne hands Father the envelope.
“Marcus must have sent it; it has the joker on it,” says Anne.
The joker Anne is referring to is the same one pictured on the wild card in a deck of cards. Father studies its gloomy facial expression.
“I don’t understand, the pumpkins looked perfectly fine to me,” says Father aloud as he puts the envelope in his robe’s pocket.
He quickly walks back to his garden to inspect the pumpkins. Much to his dismay, the pumpkins have turned blue with fungus and the smell of decay overwhelms the old Father, who falls backwards on his bottom.
“Are you ok Father?” asks Anne with a face saturated with concern.
She helps Father get back on his feet. Then, without so much as a warning, the old man runs with the speed of a leopard through the church entrance. Not wanting to alarm the exuberant townsfolk relaxing on this fine Saturday morning, Father walks as quickly as possible without drawing attention to himself.
Within an hour’s time, the old man’s legs carry him over the threshold of the town, through the wilderness, and onto the clearing where the ceremony had been held the previous night. There stands Marcus, with a wrapped blanket nestled in his arms.
“O Father, please tell me you received my letter?” asks Marcus in the most anxious tone.
“Yes,” says Father as he catches his breath, “I came as soon as I saw the insignia. What went wrong?”
“Father, have you read my letter?”
“No,” says Father as he takes out and opens the envelope. “I knew what happened already. The festival was a disaster; I want to die!”
“Now Father, if you had read my letter you would know that it was a success!” exclaims Marcus with a cracking voice.
“Success? What do you mean? Earlier today I checked on the pumpkins in my garden, and they were the epitome of health. They later rotted away in a matter of seconds,” says Father with a confused, mad, and depressed tone.
“Why Father, come take a look at the baby you baptized yesterday,” says Marcus as Father huddles in to observe the baby.
“Isn’t he a beauty?” asks Marcus with an ominous smile on his face.
“Good God man! What have you done?”
“I did nothing, Father. You were the one who baptized him with the blood of that Herald fellow. Look at those red eyes, and those black wings of his. I think we have stumbled upon the second coming of Jesus. I have arranged for the three wisest men in the entire country to prepare gifts for the boy, similar to those given to the newborn Jesus. Isn’t this a miracle?!?”
The Father is speechless, struck dumb by the witchcraft that has been cast upon the boy.
“I-I-I did that? How could...”
“Now Father, don’t tell me you are having second doubts about anything?”
“That child must be hanged from the tallest tree!”
“Have you lost you...” says Marcus as he is cut off by the Father who snags the baby in his arms.
Marcus and Father tussle for some time, never able to gain the upper hand on one another. The baby lies on the ground, watching everything unfold. Oddly enough he is not shedding a single tear; he is happy and laughing as if nothing is happening. Father quickly snags the dagger from Marcus‘ waist. By some stroke of chance, Father is able to get within arms reach of the child.
“Burn in Hell!” exclaims Father as he quickly slams the knife downwards towards the child’s body.
The clouds in the sky turn gray, and rain begins to fall down in buckets. Some unseen force reflects the knife upwards, throwing it two feet out of Father’s reach. Marcus, now truly knowing that this child is in danger, begins to strangle the Father.
“Father, why can you not recognize this as a blessing? This should be a time of redemption and happiness, but instead you want to kill our savior. I can not help you anymore,” says Marcus as Father struggles for air, “It’s too bad a man of your holiness will not be able to see this miracle, but it can not be helped. Goodbye Father, I hope you find God.”
Father struggles for a few more minutes until his body is lifeless. Marcus grabs the baby and holds him in his arms. He walks off, leaving Father’s body in the field as vultures gather.