When I got home that night, I noticed the smiling jack-o-lantern in my front yard was crushed. Muted orange skin littered the cobblestone steps of my grandmother’s old house, candle wax painted the tips of long grass like dew, and I reminded myself that Halloween was not only accessible by those sweet or kind. Sour people, bitter, or bored, or jaded, made it their point to wreck a beautiful night with their misplaced anger, but at least it was my house they’d chosen. I could only imagine the look on my face if something like this had happened twenty years ago. That pumpkin, murdered by a group of masked teenagers, would have broken my tender little heart.
“I can find them you know,” a cool voice, one so familiar, purred from beneath the window on the creaky wooden porch. His tongue clicked against the roof of his mouth and he grinned, teeth narrowed into points like daggers shining bright in the darkness. “The ones who ruined your artwork, I can find them.”
“Oh, don’t be so brash,” I whispered, picking up bits of stray pumpkin as I made my way to the dimly lit porch. The heavy weight of my boots pulled soft groans and weak protests from the hundred year old cedar, and I sighed as my body sank into the swinging sofa pressed against the windowpane. I felt him like cinders beside me, humming and crackling, watching me with eyes that resembled wild things, ancient things, beautiful things, things that I didn’t understand, and things that felt eerily comfortable. His breath was summer heat, and his fingernails, curved into talons, were carved from the ashes of Pompeii. Fear had no place in the space between us, and I smiled as he traced the line down my index finger, his crocodile hide skin ghosting along my palm. “They’re just children.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” he chewed on his words, and then inhaled a sharp breath, his grin stretching further on the narrow planes of his face. “Ah, Mallory, you were just a child when we met, do you remember? You were so alone,” he took my hand in a tight grip, talons curled around my thumb, rough skin biting hard into my flesh. My fingers laced with his, and looked like dainty, spindly pieces of porcelain between the slots of his maroon knuckles. “Tell me, my dear, you are not alone now, are you?”
He spoke with a richness I’d never encountered, and still, even after all these years, it took me by surprise. I held my hand out to him and closed my eyes. “Of course I remember. It was on this night, twenty-two years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Halloween was a time of remembrance for us, and as we sat on the porch together I visited the memory of this night twenty-two years ago. The rain was pushed around by wisps and whirls of unruly October wind, and my tiny self was lost in the darkness of a new town, in a new state, in lieu of my grandmother’s death. I curled inwards on the sidewalk, with the top of my witch’s hat drooping like the branches of a willow tree. I doodled with my fingertip in the rain dampened dirt, and before long, two hands wrapped over the tops of my slumped shoulders. He’d gestured to the design in the dust and said, “My dear, come from the rain. Come, I’ll keep you warm.” And so I went.
I turned to look at him as we swayed on the sofa on my grandmothers porch, and he gazed down at me with those wild, ancient eyes. Two horns, gnarled black antlers, sprouted from his skull, and I smiled when the tips of his pointed ears flicked. “No, Belial, I am not alone,” I said. “I will never be alone.”
“That is true, my dear Mallory, you will never be alone,” he said through a deep laugh, and gave my hand a little squeeze. “Not in this life or the next.”