Halloween is come. Yet I am thinking not so much of candy and plastic or rubber masks. Rather, I am thinking of older times. Perhaps some racial or genetic memory calls down the centuries flown. My pagan ancestors, speaking in faint whispers, some ancient humming along the usually insensitive antennae of my DNA. Suddenly the word Halloween doesn’t fit on my tongue. Nor Hallowe’en. Not even All Hallows Eve. No, the right word is…. Samhain. The coming of the dark half. It is not a celebration, not a fall festival. It is a wake. It is the death of the old year, the end of light and warmth, and the beginning of the long dead of winter. I imagine hearing the words of the shaman, a druid priest, speaking beneath bushy brows and fierce eyes, to beware. For this night, after darkness falls, as midnight waxes, the wall which separates this world from that other becomes thin. So that others may pass. Others….and the dead. Not only to pass, but to speak, and to be heard. If you dare.
Feeling that call, I make my way. As the shadows of encroaching night gather beneath old oaks, their bare branches questing for the darkening sky even as their roots grasp the cold ground, I find myself standing. Standing before tomb stones. My familial plot. Why here? I ask myself. Do I really think to hear some dear voice, long silent, speak as dry leaves skitter over my feet? It all begins to seem so, irrational. Even so, I seem to be possessed with a sense of abandon. My decision made, I set upon the old marble border which marks the extent of the ground where relatives lay, unseeing and unknowing.
Presently I see a figure marching along an approaching path. It has become quite dim now, so he moves as a shadow within shadows. Yet, I can see it is a man with grey hair, wearing a hat.
“They’re coming to get you Barbara” I whisper, chuckling.
Still he comes, marching to some unheard cadence. Soon he is close enough I can see it is a military uniform he wears. But what kind? Everything about him seems strangely colorless. He is all grey. His face a blur of lighter grey floating within darker grey borders.
I suddenly realize I should be frightened, yet I am not. Again, there is a sense of abandoning…something. Fear perhaps? It is, after all, Samhain.
Before too long he stands before me. I see he is indeed an old man. His greyish face is pulled tight against his closed mouth, like a man clinching his jaws against a long remembered bitter taste. His uniform is now distinct and clearly old. Civil war I guess. Once again, the thought passes briefly, I should be scared, but I am not. I am now feeling and acting as a dreamer in a dream, one I am strangely aware has no power to touch me in any corporal sense.
The words slip out of my mouth, almost of their own volition. “Whose color’s do you wear?”
His bright moonlit grey ghost marble eyes turn to me. His lips part like someone who has forgotten speech, forgotten speech even existed. I wait in quiet anticipation. Until he finally speaks in a faint whisper.
“Whose colors…..I had forgotten. Color.”
His voice becomes stronger.
“I wore the colors of the cause, son.”
His eyes, now becoming less distinct in the gather dark, lift to peer at some unseen horizon. His shoulders straighten with some new vigor as he speaks, as it turns out, one last time.
“There comes a time when your colors don’t seem to matter so much. When all you see is red. Red everywhere. Rivers of red, flowing like tears. Futile, bitter tears. Then everything turns black and finally, finally everything fades to grey. Nothing but grey. And before long no one even remembers your name, least wise no one comes to speak it. Everything you ever worried or fought about, it just don’t matter no more. Then all you want is rest. You gotta let it go and……rest. That’s where I’m heading. Gonna find that place.”
I really didn’t know what to say, he seemed so sad and yet, there was a certain gallantry and calm to his resignation. I couldn’t meet his eyes, so instead I looked to the ground at my feet. Finally I looked up to face his gaunt determination and…..
He was gone.
And soon so was I. Back to the warmth and light of home.