Autumnal Equinox 2002
OG BLANKETED THE SMALL TOWN in the classic Halloween way, as it had been doing here for as long as anyone could remember. Night began to fall and the moon hung low in the sky as if an invisible string held it there.
While children scattered the streets in search of that coveted prize of all trick-or- treaters on Halloween night, the adults gathered at town hall for their annual meeting.
The mood was somber. Yet a tension in the air affected everyone that entered the room. The lights shone dim, but seemed to radiate a heat far beyond their wattage.
The room grew quiet save the whispers that floated in and out from the anxious townspeople. The mayor broke the silence, making his way to the podium.
Nervously rubbing his shiny, bald head, he cleared his throat, and thumped
the microphone, making it echo.
The town had had this meeting for as long as anyone could remember, since some of the people here had been children themselves out in the streets on "All Hallows Eve".
But the town had deemed this "Black October Night," the event during the year that everyone anticipated. Even the crickets took to this special event with pride, as they chirped louder than ever on this particular night; they could be heard through the thick silence in the room, serenading the participants with their raucous melody.
Most adults in town were here, save the one from each family that would stay home to accommodate the treaters; sometimes it was a mom, sometimes dad, maybe grandma, or granddad. But always an adult.
"Once again, it's 'Black October Night.'" The mike crackled as he spoke. "As always, the meeting will be held in two parts; during the first, we will have the town discussion, and vote. The second will be the drawing. That said, who would like to start the discussion?"
Without hesitation, Mrs. Peggy Davis jumped to her feet and began her protest of the night's proceeding. "This is outrageous!" she shouted. "My husband and I have been a part of this community since long before any of you were spit out. You're all a bunch of whipped little farts who live with your own noses up your high-society asses. What a bunch of pricks."
She made this argument in much the same fashion every year, always to no avail. The Davises had been in this town for a long time. Some even said that they'd been here before the tradition began. The children in town despised them. During the year, they tormented the old couple and the Davises loved to return the favor.
"Children should be seen and not heard," she ended.
"That old bag doesn't know what she's talking about. She doesn't understand," yelled one of the men from the crowd.
Tom Thatcher. He was a native here, and his family owned most of the land - not to mention some of the people. It was well known that his family started the tradition of 'Black October Night', and he was determined to keep it going. He himself participated in it as a child, and swore that he'd become a better man because of it.
"Tom Thatcher, you uppity prick," Peggy shouted. "Your nose is so high in the air, you think your shit don't stink. Dumb fucker you are."
Everyone gasped as if shocked to hear such profanity, but they were all accustomed to this yearly discussion - and Peggy and her husband's colorful expressions. 'Black October Night' would not be the same without it.
Another voice, this one not so recognizable, came from the crowd.
"We have good children out there," said Ms. Campton, a young mother with a son just entering Junior High. "I'm not so sure that this night is appropriate anymore. You know? So why do we allow this to happen?"
Mr. Kilpatrick, a father of two high school daughters, spoke. "I remember when I was a kid, we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off. Didn't know what to do. We needed this. They need this."
Others nodded in agreement.
"We allow this because we love them. Everyone had to go through this." The mayor nodded vigorously, his dumpy rolls of fat bouncing.
"We need to keep them in line," Kilpatrick said. "Children have a violent tendency; we all know this."
"But how many are still here to talk about it now?" asked Ms. Andrews, a widow with two children, both in middle school.
"It's plain and simple, the kids need an outlet, and we need to keep numbers down. We have a lovely town here, you all agree on that," the mayor said. "Our crime rate is nonexistent, and we have almost no teen pregnancy, or drug abuse." He paused, looking out over the crowd.
"Discussion is over, time to vote."
The vote was 260 for and 21 against - pretty much the same as it always was, give or take a few votes, those who chose to change their minds just as soon as the wind blew.
The proceedings went on as they always did.
Then it was time for the mayor to make his speech, as he often did.
"Tonight is not the night to mourn one of our own, but to honor his passing on 'Black October Night'."
The final tally was made and the straws drawn.
Ms. Andrews stepped up, closed her eyes, and drew a straw. Slowly she opened them and looked.
It was a long one.
She almost smiled as she took her seat.
Mr. Kilpatrick was next. The straw was even longer than the first.
Then Mrs. Thatcher drew.
Next Mr. Newton. Each of their straws was as long as the rest.
One by one each of the residents came to draw, until the bunch of straw dwindled to a few.
Finally it was Mrs. Davis' turn. She gathered her composure and drew…
The short straw.
With a small screech, she fell to the floor. The mayor walked over and plucked it from her hand. "Tell the children that Mr. Davis has been chosen." Then he addressed the town's people, his pudgy belly resting on the podium. "People, we must make way for our children. They must have a way to express their anger, so that it does not manifest itself within our community. The elderly are a burden on our society. Youth is strong; old is weak. We must help keep it that way. Now and forever.
"The children shall inherit the earth.
"His passing shall not be looked on as a desecration, but instead, as homage to our youth.
"And so begins this 'Black October Night'."
THE DOORBELL RANG, and Charles Davis knew instantly his turn had come. His heart skipped a beat and his stomach seemed to fall through his anus to his feet. He closed his eyes, trying not to think of the growing mob of teens who would be waiting when he opened the door.
He was glad now that he'd chosen to stay home, instead of allowing Peggy to stay, as she'd wished. Her health declined more each day; she had been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier.
His only wish now was that she would not have to live out her remaining days alone. This town did not take kindly to the elderly, so in her last days, she would have few visitors. Only the mailman, who always managed to have a nice word to make her smile, and the other neighbors who were, in their own right, on their deathbeds, too.
They'd said their final good-byes before she had left for the town meeting - something they did each time since the beginning of 'Black October Night' in the early fifties. No one ever knew who would be chosen, so he imagined most did it that way. It also rested easy with him that his wife would never have to go through this again. Because she would be the last in the family - the last Davis - and no one would be there to draw straws for her; she could not formally be chosen. So she could rest now without any fear. Be that as it may, she always assured him that she could not live without him, if anything ever happened to him.
He walked over to the door, took a deep final breath, and opened it. Before him stood the entire teen population. About sixty youths.
They carried an arsenal. Bats, lead pipes, stones, and bricks. A few were bare-handed, but he figured it was because they could not find weapons, not that they carried any sympathy for him whatsoever. An old man.
Their faces were filled with a hatred that he could not comprehend. He wondered if they practiced for this night or if the violence actually came naturally. In his own youth, the elderly were viewed with dignity and respect. He always knew that his grandparents would be able to offer him a bit of insight - the insight that only came with age - whenever he needed it. How things had changed.
"You were chosen ol' man," Bobby Thatcher said in a matter-of-fact way. No nervousness. Just as if this was an everyday occurrence; normal routine.
It was routine for this small out-of-the-way town, barely even noticeable on any map.
Charles did not know why he stayed, or even where he would go if he left. He and Peggy talked about it, like most of the residents, he imagined. In fact, many had left, but just as many stayed; this was their home. As it was his, 'Black October Night' and all. This town was a part of his heritage, and he would not abandon it now.
"Do you hear me, you ol' fool?" Bobby yelled.
He was the town bully, had always been, since he was a tot. His father was the same, as was his father before him. The Thatchers were well known for creating 'Black October Night', and were proud of it. They said it formed children into adults; that youth needed to be preserved to the best of this town's ability. Called it an homage to youth.
Charles himself always thought this was a load of hogwash, that this was a way to rid the town of the financial burden of the elderly, so he fought it, the best way he knew how. Always had the same end result, but it damn sure made him feel better.
The young man in the doorway radiated impatience. "Are you there, danged ol' man?" He used his fist to knock on Charles's head as if it were made of wood.
Charles jumped back into the present and became instantly mad that he had allowed himself to show the fear on his face. "Yes, I heard you Sonny."
The mild odor of methane floated up his nose as old man stared face to face into the youngster's eyes, and for the first time that night saw fear. Not in himself, but in the boy who stood before him.
"What the hell are you staring at?"
Charles chuckled; these teens were almost comical. "You don't know what in the hell to do. Do you? Fishes out of water."
"What the hell do you know? I've done this every year since I was ten. You'll be my eighth. I smashed Ms. Burke's chest with this bat here. I stomped on Mr. Peter's skull, heard it crack like a nut, under my foot. Cut out Mr. David's heart, with my bare hands. Do you need me to go on? Bashing your head in will be a pleasure, you fool."
The old man continued to smile, almost taunting the boy.
"That's it! You're a goner." The boy raised his steel bat above his head…
Charles wasn't keen enough to see the first blow coming, and wasn't sharp enough to duck it if he had. But he felt a wave of pain flooding his head as the others swooped in, like vultures to prey, with bats, and steel pipes.
The pungent odor grew stronger as he tried to embrace his last breath of life. He could not hold out much longer.
Charles didn't see her until she was right on him, clinging to his bloody body as mother to a newborn. Her voice like an angel's in his ears, "You get off him! Get off him, you bastards!"
Bobby smiled. "Guess we get a two for one!"
The others laughed.
Peggy laughed too.
Charles and Peggy often discussed how they would end their final moments, and cutting on the gas stove to take the whole teen mob with them seemed as fitting as anything that the kids put their victims through. They figured it would be a long time before 'Black October Night" resumed, if it ever did.
As the entire teen population of this small town crowded into the home of one of its oldest citizens, Peggy Davis flicked her lighter with a smile.
Their homage to youth was complete.
© 2002 Chesya Burke, all rights reserved
Autumnal Equinox 2002 Issue, Updated October 4, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.
"Black October NIght"