All Hallows’ Eve

”What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”

John Mayne

In the encyclopaedia ‘of all the useless things which everybody knows deep down inside, but refuses to acknowledge’, is a most peculiar picture. The picture is beneath the word lonely. It features a man dressed as Count Dracula, standing beside a tall table, nervously clutching a pint of beer. The strange thing about this picture is not the man’s attire but the fact that he appears to be the only guest at a party.

The party itself was of a nature which has remained the same for many moons, and yet gone by many different names. It was a Halloween party. The reason it was a Halloween party was due to the fact that it was Halloween. A thousand years prior it would have had a different name. Yet some things would have remained exactly the same. In the past the purpose of such festivities was to bid farewell to summer and to prepare for the long, dark winter ahead. In the modern age it’s apparent that people use this celebration to bid farewell to their sensibilities and dress up like lunatics.

The venue for this particular exercise in futility was a city bar amusingly titled ‘The Underworld’. It was amusing because it had absolutely no connection to fantastical creatures, or gangsters. It was in fact named ‘The Underworld’ because you had to walk downstairs from the street to enter. The clientele that frequented this magnificent beacon of bad taste could only be described as the hipster elite of London. It would be no exaggeration to say that the patrons of the said bar are so hip that they are hipper than a hippotamus’s hips.

Needless to say, on an average evening ‘The Underworld’ would be full of tight fitting, disgustingly-coloured trousers, bad haircuts, ray bans and cocktails with more paraphernalia than alcohol inside of them. For the uninitiated, it should be pointed out that it was essentially a bar full of people that looked exactly the same. Privately, the long-suffering barmaid hoped that her patrons would at least feel obliged to reveal some semblance of their own personal identities, although deep down she wasn’t sure if any of them actually had one. However so far her hopes had been dashed as her only customer was a slightly depressed vampire.

Clearly, the vampire in question wasn’t really a vampire. Although sometimes he wished that he were. Not because of blood lust, or any regular homo-erotic thoughts, rather that sometimes he thought that he’d quite like to be a bat. Alas, such a thought process only goes to demonstrate exactly what kind of warped mind we are dealing with here. Anybody with a tiny smidgen of common sense understands that being a bat would be absolutely terrible. Hanging upside down all day, being blind as a, well, for want of a better word, bat and subsisting off a diet of insects is not a very attractive proposition, to anyone except a twisted lunatic. Or a man named Quentin.

Quentin the Vampire stared into his pint of beer as if the answer to life’s greatest question lay hidden beneath the surface. It wasn’t. And deep down he knew it. It was in fact a vain attempt to try and ignore the fact that he was twenty-nine years old, at a fancy-dress party, and alone. It didn’t work. In truth, the longer he stared at the lukewarm amber liquid, the more desperate he was to leap into it and drown himself in a sea of alcohol. However he knew that it was nothing more than an impossible dream. It wasn’t the fact that Quentin acknowledged that there was no way on earth that he could squeeze himself into a pint glass, it was actually due to Quentin’s inner snob. The shirt he was wearing under his Count Dracula cloak was a Tommy Hilfiger and had cost him an indecent proportion of his monthly income.

“Do you vant to bite my neck?” The voice behind Quentin startled him so much that he turned around in an instant and splashed his beer onto the floor. The apparition before him was positively terrifying. The suit was definitely second hand, and far too big. “What do you think?”

“What are you meant to be?” Quentin turned away with a sigh and leant against the tall table once more.

“Frankenstein” replied the voice. Quentin glanced at him.

“But you are not even green” sighed Quentin. Frankenstein looked more than a little hurt by the ridicule. “You are aqua-marine.” Frankenstein shuffled off towards the bar.

Quentin smiled as he returned his gaze to the contents of his pint glass. Not because he had so brazenly hurt Frankenstein’s feelings but because he was swept back to the time we went to see ‘the Fetid Wombats’ play their final gig. He was one of the four lucky people who were there to witness it. He remembered fondly how he danced alone as they sang ‘Frankenstein’s Cock’. It was just all so edgy.

The moment was broken by the sound of glass touching down on wood. Quentin looked up and saw that Frankenstein had returned with a round of drinks.

“So how are you David?” asked Quentin the Vampire. The truth be told, no one but Quentin called Dave David. On some level David quite liked it as it made him feel as though he surrounded himself with a better class of person.

“Not bad. And how about your good self?” replied David. The conversations were always awkward at the beginning. Dave supposed it was due to the cultural gulf between them. David said a silent prayer that Quentin wouldn’t mention his work.

“Quite excellent to be truthful. Superb even.” The lack of details enabled Dave, to be certain of what was coming next. He knew if he clung onto the silence long enough Quentin would literally burst with whatever news he was desperate to share. “I sold another print today.”

“Congratulations” said David and he raised his glass to toast his friend’s success. As the glasses clinked Quentin felt a tinge of regret. He didn’t like lying, but then experience had taught him that honesty was never ever the best policy. For a millisecond the moment slowed to a stop. As time caught back up, the two friends were suddenly aware of voices and people around them.

“And how’s work?” Certainly a bat would have heard the hint of derision in Quentin’s voice. David didn’t.

“Errm so, so. Buying a lot today. Err yeah” mumbled David. The reason for his reticence was the fact that he had lied to Quentin when they first met. He had told him that he was a commodities broker, despite the fact he had no idea what exactly a commodities broker broke and why the commodities needed breaking in the first place. It just didn’t seem right to admit to somebody called Quentin that you are a trainee assistant supermarket manager. David scratched at his neck, inadvertently dislodging the plastic Frankenstein bolts he was wearing. “Bollocks.” David bent down to pick them up. When he stood up he was taken aback to see a man dressed as the Grim Reaper sitting on a stool beside him.

“Who’s that?” Quentin mouthed at David, behind a cupped hand. David shrugged.

“Hi” said Dave awkwardly towards the Grim Reaper. The silence which hung over the table was palpable.

“Nice scythe” added Quentin in a vague attempt at friendliness, before taking a nervous swig of his drink. Quentin cocked his head in realisation that there was music playing which he hadn’t noticed before. It hid the silence at the table as poorly as a cough covers a fart.

“So…” said David uncertainly, before glancing at the Grim Reaper. “Well, erm, have you seen…”

“No, no I haven’t” lied Quentin. “I’ve been really busy organising my next exhibition.” The Grim Reaper covered his mouth as his coughed. “What?” The figure didn’t move.

“Nice costume by the way” added David. Quentin shot him a look of disgust. It momentarily alleviated his guilt. The reason he felt so bad was that he wasn’t the high flying photographer which he claimed. It was true that he did indeed take pictures, but he had never even sold one. He survived on monthly checks from his wealthy parents.

Suddenly cheering erupted in one corner of the room, followed by a half-hearted ‘happy birthday’, and rounded off with a quarter-hearted ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow’. As the rambunctious revellers gradually took over the room, the table of three dropped into silence. The Grim Reaper, face hidden by a hooded cloak, sat motionless. Dave, or David as he preferred to be called, kept taking breaths as if he was about to speak before stopping, whilst Quentin contended himself with swirling the remaining beer in his glass in an effort to create a beer tornado. All in all it was a mournful sight.

It was the kind of silence that engulfs deserts in the middle of the night. A silence which would have lain there all night, slowly bleeding to death, like a hedgehog which had over exaggerated its own grasp of physics before attempting a particularly difficult road crossing. So painful was the silence, that gradually it started grabbing at the ankles of the other people in the room.

“Fucking lovely arse on that. I’d proper smash her backdoors in!” Frankenstein, Count Dracula and the Grim Reaper snapped their heads to attention to see an enormous Mummy standing beside them, with a beer in a bandaged hand. “Alwight boys!”

The grimace on Quentin’s face appeared to be carved from stone. He looked as if he had bitten his bottom lip so hard that his front teeth had become lodged in it. It wasn’t that Quentin disliked the Mummy; it was that he hated him.

“I wondered when you’d show up” said David happily.

“Who’s this then?” asked the Mummy, gesturing at the Grim Reaper. David shrugged.

“I’m Wayne” The Mummy stuck out his arm in a gesture intended to be welcoming. Wayne’s over enthusiasm meant that he accidentally prodded the Grim Reaper in the chest. Slowly, the hooded figures head rose until he appeared to be looking directly at Wayne.

“I’m Death” growled the Keeper of the Keys to the Underworld.

“I SAID, I AM WAYNE” repeated Wayne loudly in the clearest voice his diction would allow. It was too late; the Grim Reaper’s attention had already wavered. “Suit yourself.”

“Drink?” Quentin offered as got up and went to the bar. Wayne watched him as he disappeared into a sea of people.

“What’s up with her?” asked Wayne jovially.

“No idea. I think he’s celebrating” replied David. Wayne rolled his eyes. “So where did you nick the bandages from?” If anyone had been observing them he may have described seeing a sparkle in Wayne’s eye. However the vast majority of people would have wrote it off as a nervous tic.

It was a moment befitting of tumbleweed being blown across the desert plains. The reason for Wayne’s silence was thus; Dave knew that he worked in a hospital as a porter, and he also knew that stealing was wrong. It wasn’t that Wayne ever stole anything for his personal gain; he merely stole anything which wasn’t nailed down. Let us leave the two gentlemen engulfed in their bubble of silence along with the gatekeeper to the next life and canter on to the bar.

As Quentin stood in a stinking, sweaty mass of badly dressed mammals, two things were bothering him. The first was a thought which had never truly left him since the advent of the smoking ban, and that was precisely ‘Christ people fucking stink’. He missed not bathing in the scent of toxic body odour and farts. And he did like to smoke. He wasn’t ever what some people would call a bonafide smoker. Quentin wasn’t even a social smoker, as he really didn’t like to speak whilst smoking. He was a drunken smoker.

“Three” said Quentin pointlessly as he deftly leant over what could have been mistaken as a trio of pygmies before gesturing with three fingers and pointing at the correct beer tap. As the barmaid smiled at him, he felt sick inside his stomach. The first thing which had enticed him to enter ‘The Underworld’ was the fact that he thought it was a gay bar. In time he had learnt that it was just the fashion of the time. Somehow he had drifted into becoming a regular without ever sharing his secret. “Thanks.” Quentin handed over a twenty pound note and waiting for his change. The barmaid was almost sloth-like in her speed. He snatched the change from her hand, picked up the glasses, raised them aloft like a standard bearer mid-charge and proceeded to manoeuvre himself back to his table.

Meanwhile some semblance of normality had returned to the table. The Great Spirit Transporter was sat stock-still, in a way which potentially could be described as staring longingly into his lager. Whilst Dave and Wayne were engaged in a discussion regarding the evolution of Celtic rituals and their subsequent realignment by North American marketing strategists.

“That’s fucking bollocks that is; of course it’s bloody American!” accused Wayne in absolute confidence.

“No, it’s not. I’m telling you it comes from a Celtic festival” replied David in a calm, soothing tone.

“Don’t be a dick Dave…” Wayne was interrupted by the return of Quentin. As glass touched on wood, the moment froze as all eyes gazed towards the table. That moment, as insignificant as it may be, was to the trained eye, truly remarkable. Quentin passed out the beers and screwed his face up in concentration. He was sure he had only ordered three beers.

“Thanks” said the Gatekeeper to the Netherworld. Wayne couldn’t help but frown.

“What do you think Quentin? Where does Halloween come from?” asked Wayne.

“The day of the dead” replied Quentin nonchalantly. Dave smirked disbelievingly.

“That sounds like a horror film” muttered Dave. Quentin looked disgusted.

“La Festividad de los muertos” said Quentin confidently. He paused for a moment to stare at Wayne as he tried to adjust his bandages to make it easier to drink.

“Didn’t know you spoke Spanish” uttered Wayne.

“Well, you know, err, I picked a little up some time ago” lied Quentin. He bit down on his tongue momentarily, before continuing. “It’s not actually Spanish. It’s a Mexican thing.”

“Same difference” mumbled Wayne. Quentin glared at him for a second.

“No it is bloody not. That’s the point of it. That’s the interesting thing about it. It’s nothing like any of the stupid celebrations we have over here” moaned Quentin as he took a long sip of his beer.

“How do you mean?” Dave looked surprised that his voice seemed to have snapped out of his daydream before he had.

“It’s happy” replied Quentin.

That word, so toxic to the human soul, served as a reminder to each of the four men sitting at the table that they had failed. That life had beaten them. And that happiness had eluded them thus far. Perhaps they had touched it, maybe even held it for a short time, but somewhere they lost it. The truth be told everybody loses it. The moment they believe it’s possible to be happy, is the moment their fate is determined.

As each of the four men sat around the tall table and avoided eye contact in much the same way as we tend to on underground trains, they were all thinking exactly the same thought. ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ They had all consciously chosen to attend a fancy dress party. And yet they all felt empty inside, privately thankful that their outsides disguised their insides. Inevitably, one by one, they all reached exactly the same thought. ‘When will I be happy?’

The self-deception that one is deserving of more than the next man is the greatest lie ever told on this fine Earth. This lie alone has been cause enough for war, murder, revolutions and obesity. The last remaining barrier between modern man and ape, is man’s humongous sense of self-entitlement. You will know when the apocalypse arrives, it will be the day a passer-by in the street will turn and throw his own shit at you.

As Quentin sat in silence, drinking nervously to deflate the tension and terror which he felt somersaulting inside of him, he felt sad. Sad, that he was sat at a table with his best friend in the entire world, who didn’t know next to anything about him. He also felt angry. Angry that he consistently covered lies, with more lies. Despite the fact he was fully conscious of his behaviours it never once occurred to him that the truth could set him free. Alas, that was the story of his life. Quentin was wiser than most, he knew that life happens to people, so he never wasted a day swimming against the tide.

David on the other hand was nervous. Nervous that he was sure Quentin would catch onto the fact that Wayne keeps calling him Dave. Deep down, he was sure Quentin had noticed. For the life of him he couldn’t work out why Quentin hadn’t mentioned it. In Dave’s mind it was so refreshing to spend time with someone that could discuss topics a tad more wide-ranging that what was on last night’s TV. It had never occurred to David that his background would not be a problem; he simply assumed that it would.

Wayne took a mouthful of beer and dribbled some of it from the corner of his mouth and on to his shirt. Wayne wasn’t feeling much of anything. Apart from the skunk weed he had smoked before he went out. And now the beer on top.

“I don’t wanna die” uttered Wayne. It seemed to take an age for the words to penetrate the stench of sweat and beer and enter the eardrums of the others.

“Sadly I don’t think you have much choice” sniped Quentin merrily. Wayne nodded to himself.

“I mean it. I don’t. Like, I know life is pretty crap most of the time but death looks fucking boring” whined Wayne sadly.

“I am death” said the Grim Reaper as he interrupted Wayne’s monologue.

“I WAS TALKING TO THEM” explained Wayne in a near-shout.

“Wayne” implored David in a bid to stop the shouting. Wayne merely shrugged his shoulders in response.

“He’s deaf” whispered Wayne.

“In what way does death look boring to you Wayne?” Quentin didn’t even bother to try and hide the sarcasm in his voice.

“Just the erm, lying around underground in coffin. What’s that about?” Wayne stopped when he saw the expressions on his friends’ faces. “What? What?” Wayne’s face took on the complexion of a tomato.

“Well what would prefer to do, play a spot of tennis? A round of golf perhaps?” spluttered Quentin.

“No stuff that. I just don’t know why we can’t go where those Muslims go. You know ganja, fifty-seven virgins. Sounds like a party to me mate.” Before his brain had a chance to step in and stop him, Wayne found himself standing on his feet and simulating, what for all intents and purposes, was in his mind, a correct sexual posture. For the passing stranger however, Wayne looked as if he was riding a wild pig. When Dave finally stopped laughing he was somewhat startled to see a look of sheer hatred in Quentin’s eyes.

“What about you Quentin? Are you scared of death?” asked David nervously. Quentin tried to take a sip from his drink, before splashing it down himself. He reached into his mouth, pulled out some plastic vampire teeth and dropped them onto the table.

“No, no. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Just part of the cycle, part of the deal I suppose.” Quentin paused in a moment of half-drunk introspection. “David. Do you ever think of how you would like to go? You know. If you could choose your own ending?”

The silence which cast itself over the table somewhat resembled an indecisive raincloud. David swirled the beer in his glass and stared deep at the bubbles which penetrated the surface.

“Never really thought about it” remarked David sadly. Perhaps it was the way he breathed out as he said it, or perhaps it was due to expectation, but the Mummy, the Vampire and the Reaper simply stared at him. David idly fingered the plastic bolts which were hanging from his neck.

“You’ve never thought about death?” said Quentin, quite astonished by the admition. David shook his head.

“No I mean, I haven’t thought about my own” replied David softly. Quentin shook his head and wore a smirk which most people would have misinterpreted as politeness whereas it actually was a mask of disgust.

“What about you Wayne? How do you want to go?” Quentin turned his body to face Wayne as he spoke.

“Man, I don’t want to get old. Getting arthritis and shitting your pants. Not for me, no way. I don’t want any of those diseases either. Specially the ones which make you stupid. And I don’t wanna know it’s coming either. Just here one minute and gone the next.” As Wayne finished his monologue his eyes looked incredibly suspicious of his mouth, almost like they couldn’t believe that he had built more than one sentence at a time.

“So what about you then?” asked David, with a grimace on his face which acknowledged how cold his question sounded. Quentin looked to David, and then to the Gatekeeper to the Great Beyond and smiled. The sweat on his forehead had smeared the pale powder he had so carefully applied earlier that evening. He sat up suddenly, sending his cape into what can only be described as a swish.

“Picture this. I’m eighty-eight years old. I have a Jacuzzi behind my house. I am sitting in it. Naked. Either side of me sits an 18 year old Swedish twin. Behind me is a tray with cigars, champagne and cocaine. I lean over to pick up a cigar and have a heart attack.” Before Quentin even finished Wayne was clapping his hands together with all the enthusiasm, of a sexually aroused orang-utan. David in the meantime couldn’t hide his surprise. As he struggled to construct a sentence there was a shuffling at the table. David looked up and noted that the Grim Reaper had got to his feet.

“You people.” Death downed his beer in one, slammed the pint glass down so hard on the table that it smashed. Dave’s face was a perfect picture of abject terror. “You fucking people.” Quentin couldn’t help but laugh. “What’s so funny faggot?”

“I t-t-thought that you are deaf” stuttered Quentin, his face whiter than a sheet of fresh snow.

“I am death “replied the Reaper man. Both David and Quentin were terrified. It was hard to say it exactly what Wayne was feeling as the bandages of his Mummy costume hid most of his face.

“What?” said David.

“What’s so difficult to grasp DAVE? I am the Reaper. I am El Muerte. I am the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. I am He who rides the Pale Horse” barked Death angrily.

“You’ve got a horse?” gasped Wayne, astonished by the fact that this person dressed as the Grim Reaper, was the first person he had ever met that actually owned a horse.

“Yes you thieving little shit, and he is older than your planet. You people, you cretinous little worms. Sitting there pretending to get along and yet each of you lying to each other. You aren’t friends. You are treacherous bastards. I wouldn’t trust any of you to babysit a goat for an hour.”

“Just hold on a minute pal, what’s your problem? We haven’t done a thing to you” whined Quentin defensively. Death took a step towards Quentin and poked him in the chest with a long, boney finger.

“You! You people! You don’t know you are born. You have no idea how lucky you are. I would love to have been born. Instead I have to collect up the dead. And you know what the worst thing is?” Death took a step back and raised his cloak to reveal bright yellow wellington boots.

“Wellies?” asked Wayne. Death shook his head angrily, if it had been possible to note an expression on his sinew less face it would likely have been anger with a hint of fuck you.

“You people really don’t know that you are fucking born, you really don’t. Do you have any idea just how many lives I had to take so each of you could live?” Death dropped his cloak, covering his wellies once more. “Two hundred million.”

“Two hundred million?” repeated Dave sarcastically.

“The afterlife is knee-deep in jizz. In love juice. In man milk. In baby gravy. And I come down here once in a while for a quiet drink and all I ever hear is ‘I don’t wanna die’. ‘Death is awful’. ‘Someone died it’s so sad’. Not once to you give a thought to how truly lucky you are. You lot, you are the winners. You bought the magic ticket. And yet it’s not enough for you.” Death stood with his hands on his hips, breathing heavily, like a horse that had ran a mile. Suddenly laughter erupted around the table. Death clenched his fists tight against his body.

“Ha, ha, ha you said baby gravy” spluttered Wayne. All it took was a moment, a second, a blink of an eye, for the landscape of the universe to change. The future shifted, moulded and melted into one. As Death raised his arms to the ceiling a large chunk of the roof collapsed and landed on the table of the Vampire, Frankenstein and the Mummy. Killing them instantly. Incredibly the barmaid survived, however sadly she was later institutionalised after claiming that she had seen the Grim Reaper ride away on a white horse after the tragic accident.

And yet life continued at its banal pace. Some people were born. And other people died. Somehow the sun continued to rise, the seasons continued to change, and absolutely nobody on earth became much more grateful for their fortune in having been born. Instead they continued to only see misery in death. If only people would realise that the true reason there is misery in death is that we make death miserable. Despite the fact he has never done anything to us. Yet.

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