Halloween Contest 2023

A Hallowed Tradition by Ian Hiatt

First, carefully traverse Bill Grant’s twelve-acre pumpkin patch. Only the rotten ones are left.

Then, cut along the gully to the towering pines just visible from my back porch.

Weave amongst the pines for about twenty minutes.

There, you can find the ancient apple orchard planted a few hundred years ago. Quiet, abandoned in the forest owned by a couple from New York who come out once a year to holiday at the nearby mansion.

“Are we really doing this?” Kayla asks.

“This is a Halloween tradition,” Tausha insists. She’s the strong one. “We’ve been doing this for years. She would want us to.”

I agree. Marcus does, too. Kayla opens her mouth to argue but stops. Zach is quiet.

Zach always liked me. I like him, too. But our senior year of high school is well underway. I just knew we would never be together.

Tausha carries the old wooden spirit board discovered in her grandmother’s attic our freshman year. She places it on the massive stump while Kayla, hands shaking, sets the candles around our group and lights them each in turn.

The chilled night is quiet but for the crickets playing a tune to accompany a soft breeze.

Every year we sit in the same spots. It’s unspoken. Tradition. So, I gently settle in beside Marcus. He doesn’t seem to mind, huddled in a hoodie identical to one of mine. Marching Band insignia. A wan smile drifts on and off his face, the only view of the indecision within.

Zach sits across from us, steel gaze on the board. He dares a look up in my direction, and I see a smirk of memory. Unlike Marcus, Zach’s sticks around. I smile back and wish we could each overcome the barrier between us and be together. But we won’t.

The candles are nearly done circling our group now that Tausha has started helping Kayla. The grill lighter that Kayla brought is not the best for candles, but Tausha carries a Bic on her at all times for mostly innocent reasons but occasionally nefarious ones as well. Tausha takes her spot between Marcus and Zach with a heavy sigh. Kayla sits between Zach and me, but I notice her inch toward him. I wonder—not for the first time–if she has feelings for him, too.

“Everyone ready?”

The group is silent. I consider attempting to interrupt but decide against it.
Tausha takes the silence as permission.

“We gather here again to speak to the spirits on All Hallow’s Eve. We beg the spirits allowed to roam today to make a connection.” She swallows hard. “We miss our friend. She died in August. Abby? Abby Harwood? Are you with us tonight?”

I sigh. That’s my cue. Gathering my energy, I move toward the board. My hand slips through Marcus and he shudders. I look at my friends. My best friends. I miss them so much. I summon all my strength to move the spirit board marker to ‘Yes’.