Cobwebs and strings of skeleton lights hung overhead the frivolous partygoers. Jean sat nonchalantly in a far-off pool chair, distancing herself from the rambunctious crowd who seemed oblivious to the holiday they were celebrating. She wasn’t sure why she came to these things anymore. Every party ended up the same. Her bored out of her mind, with no interest in mingling with any of the buffoons there. That was college she supposed. Endless parties with little value, that everyone just had to attend.
Her gaze seemed to keep wandering in the same direction. Across the cluster of hastily carved jack-o’-lanterns, and beyond the group of giggling bikini babes controlling the boombox, was Jack. Wearing a noble pirate’s costume, he sat on the grass fidgeting with a Rubik’s cube. Every so often he’d take a sip of punch from a paper cup adorned with bats and spiders. They shared a few classes, but she couldn’t remember ever having seen him at a party. He was rather unconventional, always occupied with a book or toying with a puzzle. He seemed to be a man of few words, which she found quite intriguing.
“Hey Berlot!” Skeeter and his posse exited the pool, their matching Dia De Los Muertos themed swim trunks corresponding with their pastel painted faces. Jack looked up momentarily with little interest, knowing of their immature and pestiferous antics, before he looked away. “Hey dweeb what are you supposed to be? A wench?” Their group broke into a gaggle of laughter. Not getting any reaction from Jack, Skeeter swiped the Rubik’s cube from his hand and tossed it in the pool.
“What the hell?” Jack stood up glaring, chest to chest with Skeeter.
“What the hell what?” Skeeter shoved Jack, whereas he went back three or four feet before regaining his footing. Before he could react several of the guys lifted him up and rushed towards the pool. He hit the water with a ferocious splash causing a gaudy roar of cackling. Jean rushed over to the side of the pool and watched as Jack surfaced, his pirate hat floating beside him.
“Are you okay?” He slicked his drenched hair out of his face and looked up at her. Her elegant teal and black witches costume shimmered against the night, accompanied with heeled boots and a bantam hat.
“Lame!” One of Skeeters sidekicks exclaimed before running over and pushing Jean into the water, nearly avoiding Jack. Upon resurfacing she gasped, surprised by the coldness of the water. It was still a rather warm and temperate night in South Florida, but the pool had certainly dropped past a comfortable swimming temperature. Looking around she saw many faces smiling and snickering but it seemed Skeeters group had taken off. She swam to the steps, holding the sides of her weighted dress to avoid tripping as she ascended from the pool. Jack sat nearby emptying his pirate boots of water. He caught Jean’s eye and gave a little smirk.
“May I?” He motioned towards her witch’s hat that had been clipped to her hair now sagging sadly on the side of her head.
“Oh.” She removed the hat herself and clutched it in her hand as she sat next to him.
“I’m Jack.” He held out his hand.
“Jean.” They shook hands. We actually have a couple classes together.”
“I know. You need a ride home?”
“Uh…” Jean was hesitant getting a ride with a man she barely knew, but she was saturated and the night did feel rather brisk. “Yeah, that’d be great, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Not at all.”
They sat in the 69 Camaro cruising down the country lane, passing houses with ghouls and skeletons in their yards. The car’s hugger orange paint a perfect accompaniment to the Halloween night. A mile from town Jack went to flip the cassette when the car suddenly began sputtering, allowing just enough time to pull to the side of the road.
“What the hell?” Jack threw his pirate hat in the backseat before, popping the hood to investigate.
“Do you need help?”
“The engine just went out. I’m sorry but we’re going to have to walk into town. I’m going to have to-”
“BOO!” A menacing clown holding a knife popped out of the woods causing Jack to curl his fists.
“Woah don’t wig out! I was just having some Halloween fun!” The clown smiled showcasing the genuine looking faux knife that retracted when a stabbing motion was made. His costume and makeup so terrifying and well executed it was as if he’d popped at of a feature horror movie.
“Way out here? I was about to knock you out.”
“Yeah, my friends ditched me in the woods. Thought it’d be funny, I guess. I’m Clark.”
Half an hour later the three meandered into town.
“Hey Harley’s Arcade is open! We should go!”
“Sorry Clark but I need to get Jean home and find a shop to give me a tow.”
“But it’s Halloween. You don’t want the night to end yet? Plus, Harley will let you use his phone.” He looked at Jean with a pronounced frown.
“I mean it is Halloween. I’m not quite ready for it to be over. Your car will probably be safe where we left it.”
Jack frowned and ruffled his hair. “You know, you guys are right. We only get one Halloween a year.” They ran across the street eagerly entering the glowing arcade. Machines of all variations blinked and flashed, making noises of delight and defeat. Two air hockey tables were in the center, behind them a spritely man in his forties stood behind the counter exchanging dollar bills for coins, and tickets for prizes.
“I love air hockey!” Jean exclaimed.
“Alright let’s play a round.” Jack inserted the quarters, unveiling the puck. They clutched their strikers, undergoing a momentous game that certified their mutual love and skill for the game.
“I’m going to use the phone.” He placed his hand on Jean’s back as he passed.
Jean began playing a combat arcade game, whilst Clark went to a ball throwing booth. Halloween tunes blasted throughout the building, cheesy ghosts and witches hanging from the ceiling. GAME OVER. Jean sighed as she turned from the machine. Jack was approaching her, the neon lights dancing off his blonde hair, his costume as dashing as ever.
“I got everything taken care of.”
“Oh good. I-”
“I just saw Skeeter go across the street into Minnie Firewaters.”
Jean bit her lip, suddenly coming up with the perfect idea as she stared in Clark’s direction. Fifteen minutes later they were across the street. Jean and Jack crouched close together in the shadows of a fire escape that hung over the alley. They had a difficult time making eye contact as every time they would begin to laugh, and silence was imperative to their plan. They whispered a few lines back and forth mostly of their adoration of Halloween and the eccentricity of how they’d both ended up in the pool and were now here.
Jack squeezed her hand as Skeeter exited the backdoor of the bar and arranged himself by the overflowing dumpsters for a whiz. Suddenly a low-pitched maniacal laugh ensued, causing him to look around wide-eyed.
“Who’s there?” The laughter continued, becoming more psychotic by the second. Skeeter zipped his pants and started to make a beeline towards the door when the clown slowly peeked above the dumpster. Skeeter took a step back, his mouth open in shock.
“Whatever kind of Halloween prank this is, go bother someone else. I am not amused.” Skeeter stood tall attempting to puff out his chest. The clown rounded the dumpster and displayed his left hand that yielded a large silver knife. “Dude just leave me alone”. He put his hands in the air displaying his defeat. The clown took a step forward, his face upturned in a leer of pure psychosis. Skeeter shook his head in disbelief before stepping back and falling over a pile of trash. He jumped back up in a panic, sprinting towards the street. A few car horns assailed the night while Skeeter screamed for help. Jean and Jack succumbed into a gaggle of laughter that had barely been assuaged. Clark smiled up at them giving a thumbs up before disappearing into the bar.
“Oh my gosh, the look on his face was priceless. I wish we would have got that on video.” He beamed while Jean continued to laugh hysterically. They descended the fire escape and dashed down the alley in the opposite direction that Skeeter had. Their clothes now virtually dry, they walked the streets, chatting and examining the various haunt displays set up in people’s yards. Everything from a sole jack-o’-lantern, to an intermediate graveyard or scare zone, all the way to the most intricate. People who lived for Halloween, who planned their haunts in their heads for months before they began the work. Those who fed off the energy of Halloween and waited all year for that unnerving wind to blow through, the howls of the night to amplify, the barrier between the worlds to grow thin. Those people like Jean and Jack.
They ended up in a small park devoid of light that was made up of a solitary picnic table and several drooping trees.
“Do you believe in aliens?”
“Definitely. I think there have been so many UFO sightings, and abduction experiences that can’t be overlooked. As well as the fact that it would be absurd to assume we are the only form of intelligent life out there”. She looked up at the sky in awe as she did every time she saw it, contemplating everything that could be out there, and how many other people may be looking at the exact same spot in that moment.
“I agree”. Jack smiled shifting closer to her on the bench, a chilly breeze whipping through the trees.
“What about the Loch Ness monster?” Jean laughed. “Yeah, I think it most likely does exist.”
“Yeah”. Jack chuckled as he observed her dazzling smile. He looked at her for a moment before he finally managed to grab her hand. Their fingers intertwined as if that had always been their destiny as they continued to observe the night sky. They asked each other questions, attaining a depth of conversation neither had experienced before, well into the night.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yeah, but I doubt anything is still open in this town.”
“I can whip something up at my house”. He shrugged.” It’s less than fifteen minutes away.”
They walked hand in hand down the quiet streets now devoid of any trick or treaters. The music and lights since switched off, with only a few stray jack-o’-lanterns twinkling with enchantment as they passed by. Jean sat on the front porch as Jack toiled in the kitchen. Pondering the probability of her having met such a captivating man on her favorite night of the year. He emerged from the front door smiling, carrying a tray with a plate of sandwiches, gourmet chocolates, a bottle of wine, and two glasses. He sat it down beside Jean before taking a seat on the porch step close to her.
“You shouldn’t have.” Jean blushed.
“Only the finest tonight.” He poured the Italian Merlot into the glasses, the dark ruby liquid reflecting off the porch light. “Oh wait!” He jumped up and grabbed a candle and lighter from the window ledge and rushed to the jack-o’-lantern that sat on the porch beside him. He removed the lid, placing the lit candle within, before putting it back in place, turning the jack-o’-lantern slightly so it faced them. Jean smiled at the gesture; her heart invigorated. They clinked glasses before sipping on notes of cherry and espresso, savoring the earthy undertones. They ate and rejoiced, relishing in the ambience and forces of All Hallows’ Eve, with the jack-o’-lantern ablaze beside them, as they would every year thereafter for the remainder of their lives.