The Halloween Carnival, held on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of October was his favourite day of his favourite time of the year. The anxiously awaited fete seemed to have been dreamed up in order give the Lost Boys of all ages and sexes who never grew up a substitute for the trick or treating that they had outgrown. It was the Halloween party and no one needed an invitation.
The day was a brilliant one of sunshine and cornflower blue skies that set off the Technicolor explosion of the red, yellow and orange leaves of a Northern Illinois autumn at its peak. He eagerly awaited the day and had decided on wearing a minimalist costume.
He passed the time as he always had on every Sunday; hearing the church bells as he walked to St Anastasia Church where he attended morning mass. He returned for his late breakfast of a small pot of tea, toast and a bowl of breakfast cereal on his TV tray table whilst he watched The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid bring justice to the West.
As he would eat at the carnival, he didn't have any lunch. After watching a noontime rerun of the original Twilight Zone in his costume, he then left his house for the Carnival that would last from one to four. As always, he would return home in time for another pot of tea as he watched Family Classics' annual screening of The Canterville Ghost.
He walked up the tree lined streets of Massena Avenue. With the exception of two teenagers playing catch with a football in a vacant lot, the streets were deserted as they were most of the time. As he passed the two boys, they stopped their play in order to go inside their home and watch a televised football game.
He walked further east up the slight hill, then found Massena Avenue was gradually being populated by others in costume who had come from side streets and alleyways. The wind had picked up, leaves fell like large coloured snowflakes, and the dried fallen leaves made scraping and rattling sounds on the streets that were devoid of traffic. He thought his city's most famous author, Ray Bradbury had described Waukegan perfectly as 'The October Country'.
The usually busy North Avenue was also nearly devoid of traffic. Due to the streets being mostly empty of motorcars, he could imagine how they were in generations past; he visualised the old tangerine coloured streetcars that had ceased in 1947, but forever travelled in his mind humming their way down North Avenue.
He and the bizarrely attired others walked down Gillette Street with its last of the city's red brick streets that were shaded by an archway of flamboyant trees shedding their glorious leaves like a small blizzard. He reached County Street and walked to the pathway leading to Upton Park, with the stream in its small ravine covered in dead leaves slowly making its way to empty into Lake Michigan. He soon arrived at the location of the fete, the stately gabled Douglas House that had been built in 1853. The old mansion was now used by the Girl Scouts of America who were running the Halloween Carnival.
The costumed crowds had grown larger as they all followed the pathway together towards the sound of eerie organ music. He thought of the Eloi being hypnotically summoned by the Morlocks in The Time Machine, as everyone seemed to be in a trance of ecstasy. A recording of the sound of one ominous bell signalled the official opening of the Halloween Carnival.
In addition to the seasonal foliage, the outside of the Halloween Carnival had stands selling pumpkins, pre-carved jack o'lanterns and the foods of autumn. There were brown caramel apples covered with chopped nuts on wooden sticks, sweet popcorn balls, jack o'lantern shaped sugar cookies with orange icing and a portable charcoal barbeque where one could purchase and toast their own marshmallows. There were stands serving more substantial Chicago hot dogs and Milwaukee bratwursts with yellow mustard and green gherkins or pickle relish that were washed down by root beer or brown coloured apple cider served either cold or hot, mulled with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices. For the adventurous and the curious, the Currywurst made its first appearance in Waukegan. The smell of fresh hot buttered popcorn, as well as cheese and caramel corn give a wondrous aroma of fun.
He followed the queue and eagerly paid his admission fee to the Girl Scouts, whose green uniforms slightly changed with their age. All of them wore green sashes with their merit badges and matching green berets.
He placed the exact amount of his admission on the table. One of the Green Berets challenged him,
'That's the price for someone in costume. Normal dress is twice the admission.'
'I am in costume. I'm Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. "Would you like me to tell you the little story of Right Hand Left Hand?"'
He did his impression of Robert Mitchum's soliloquy and hand jive as he displayed he was wearing a costume; not merely his formal black suit tarted up with a Colonel Sanders string tie and a large cowboy hat, but his fingers below their joints were emblazoned with LOVE and HATE done with Magic Marker. The Scouts and their Scoutmistress responded to his display of self expression as all women did; the former with indifference, the latter with slight disgust. The Green Beret sitting at the table commented,
'I thought you got lost on the way to the synagogue and forgot it wasn't Saturday.'
'Julie!', admonished the Scoutmistress. She gave the high sign to allow him to enter for the fee of the Costumed Ones. Julie stamped his wrist with a rubber stamp allowing him reentry privileges.
Upon entering Douglas House he was grabbed by a person in a gorilla suit who screamed,
'ARE YOU SCARED YET???'
'No, just embarrassed.'
The female in the gorilla suit appeared unfazed and stepped back into the shadows to surprise the next visitor. She was undoubtedly working on her merit badge for eccentricity.
The inside of the building, decorated in orange and black scenes of flying witches and black cats on broomsticks, full harvest moons, haunted houses and monsters was divided in a variety of kiosks that reminded him of his Glen Flora School carnival; games of chance with donated prizes, cake and other food stalls, white elephant sales, used books and records, all patronised and attended by people in various costumes. There were also tables filled with homemade crafts of Halloween decorations, as people would decorate their homes for the season as they did for Christmas. The Girl Scouts of America had done themselves proud. The crowds were as happy as he was in the temperate Bacchanal of the Fall. The mood was infectious and the costumes a joy to the eye; it was Waukegan's own Mardi Gras, or a Gras Dimanche. He was lost in happiness.
The Green Berets patrolled in pairs to ensure order and provide customer service. He was unsure whether he overheard an actual Green Beret or a someone in a Girl Scout costume respond to a query with,
'Hey, what am I, your Mama? Go find it yourself!'
After what seemed like hours, he felt his arm grabbed and looked down to see a friendly woman in a clown suit who resembled a dwarf Lou Costello in drag.
'Our fortune teller is waiting for you, she'll tell you your future.'
'If I had a future I wouldn't still be in Waukegan.'
To his surprise Louella Costello wasn't taking no for an answer. She put his arm through his and walked him down the aisle of tables and kiosks that had a garish tent at its end. He noticed that he had been grabbed and touched by more strangers than he ever had been before. Everyone was truly happy and seemed to communicate by actually physically touching each other in non-offensive ways.
He wondered if the fortune teller was Bud Abbott dressed as a gypsy woman; he could imagine him saying 'I'll inform you of several predestinations. "Who" is Fate, "What" is Kismet, "I Don't Know" is Destiny and "Why" is What's Going On...'
A man in a spider suit jumped from the upper level, being suspended in front of him by a harness of ropes pulled up and down from above by a series of pulleys. The Spider Man shouted,
'ARE YOU SCARED YET?'
'No, but your parents must be...'
Inside the colourful tent was a woman dressed as the expected gypsy, but she had the looks and facial expression of his teachers. The material of the tent muffled the sounds of the music and crowd outside to a suddenly unnatural silence.
'What do you want?'
'You're the fortune teller, you tell me.'
'You have no future.'
She sounded exactly like his teachers as well.
'Then why was I ordered to come here?'
He felt his arm being grasped,
'Because I need you. I saw you on the floor and I know you're the only man who can help me...'
He turned to see a hauntingly beautiful woman with a pale complexion dressed like Morticia Addams but with a face like Barbara Steele's. She was holding a box that he guessed held flowers.
'You're the only man who can help me because you're the only man who's suitably dressed. Would you please come with me?'
Like Louella Costello, she had her arm inside his as they walked down the aisle of the stands to the entrance to the Halloween Carnival.
'It's a long, sad, strange story, but we don't have far to walk to where we're going. I had a relationship with a man named John Arthur, but his elderly mother didn't approve of me for reasons that I shan't go into.'
As the Halloween Carnival bell tolled three, they left the building. From beneath her flower box she put on a top hat with a long dangling black scarf around its band that made her resemble a cross between a Victorian undertaker and one of Matt Helm's Slaygirls.
The other side of Douglas House was either the end, or the beginning of Genesee Street, the town's main drag. Wooden or brick Victorian homes still lined the end of North Genesee Street and the parallel Sheridan Road.
'His mother ordered him to never see me again, or there would be dire financial repercussions for him. As he had a variety of debts, he explained to me that he had no choice but to follow his mother's orders. I only just heard today that he died, how he died, I don't know...but I fear the worst.'
They stopped in front of one of the old Victorian homes at the Upton Park end of Genesee Street, one of those that he had passed and he had admired so often, yet he had never been inside any of them.
'I can't go in...I dare not enter...especially in this costume, but please, please, tell them that you are delivering some gardenias to John Arthur. They were his favourite flower, but whatever you do, don't tell them who they are really from...'
Wind blew dead leaves up the pavement with their scraping noise as he entered the wrought iron gate and marched to the door with the flower box. The mystery woman had walked away and turned so she couldn't be seen from the entrance.
He raised and banged a heavy metal door knocker. The door creaked open, an impassive tall man whose face looked like he may have the beginnings of acromegaly stared at him without speaking.
He introduced himself to the tall man at the door and said he had some gardenias for John Arthur. The tall man left the door open, but guided him and his flowers into a room that had an open coffin with the deceased lying in state. A small group of several men and women dressed in mourning were sitting in chairs facing the sepulchre. Recorded sad and eerie funereal organ music was being piped into the room. The inside of the house looked more morbid Victorian than the outside.
An elderly woman in black holding a handkerchief stood and walked up to them, but the tall man moved to her and whispered in her ear. She looked at him with sad eyes.
'Are these flowers from you?'
'No Ma'am, I never knew Mr. Arthur. I just was told to deliver these without knowing who they're from.'
'Then please, please, place them on my beloved son's casket....'
He moved with the gardenias to the open casket to see a pale faced man smelling sickly sweetly of some type of talcum powder.
He heard a commotion and turned behind him to see that everyone in the room has turned to face the way he had come in. His woman companion, the femme funereal who had refused to give her name to him dressed in black and still wearing her hat stared at the casket as everyone in the room stared at her...
'Ignore her! Place the gardenias on my son's casket.'
He placed the flowers on the chest of the deceased. The deceased John Arthur came to life and grabbed him by his throat, pulled him to his face, opened his eyes and shouted,
'ARE YOU SCARED YET???'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).