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a Halloween story

by John Argo


title by John ArgoWhen you take a deep breath of October air in a place like Alders, you realize that—like the ticking clock whose inner workings carry its hands in only one direction, never the other—your time is moving at a breathless pace down a post road of events shaping your own life, some of them quite wonderful and others terrifying or even tragic—and you have no control over anything worth a dime or more in this existence. And even a tiny little thing like a little girl's pretty hair ribbon, when framed within a clear sign of a world beyond our own, can take on crushing weight that makes you ponder its meaning beyond the obvious little matters of here and now.

As the years pass, typical country towns in New England are nearing 400 years old. It is a long time to accumulate the most remarkable stories about people and things that just don't fit in the normal scheme of things. The most subtle of such stories is the most likely to raise goose bumps on exposed skin, and make us glance over our shoulders a little more often than usual after dark, or sit inside with our back to a wall, facing the doors and windows.

This is that time of year around New England when the days grow short, and dusk comes early. The nights become longer and longer, and toward morning, the darkness is reluctant to let go with its black tentacles. There is a chill in the air, peppered with smoke from burning wood and leaves. You may sit in a room, reading or watching television—or simply watching the clock hands go around, the way older people get when they are lost in thought. As the wood floors cool, and the furniture tightens, you may hear a loud snap suddenly from a chair, as if a ghost just sat down or got up.

Stop me if you have heard this tale, which has made the rounds among the nestled villages with their white clock towers and their strange air of sanctity (if not holy terror) for generations. Probably you feel the power of the seasons, and the universe, and of God or gods or spirits, and think that any little thing may be a sign of the supernatural or the unnatural. Such moments remind us that we too, will soon enough be someone else's long-ago history, just shadowy figures like moving clock hands or clouds.

On a philosophical note, in fact, we may ask if the hands of a clock, as they measure time, ever really do sweep over the same hours and minutes again as they complete circle after circle during our journey through time.

It's easy to overlook some of the little kinks and turns in time or space, especially on a moonless night in those dark forests—where the last glaciers dropped their huge freight of boulders 10,000 years ago. The Puritans believed that the boulders dotting their pastures and hillsides were the debris left over from a war in heaven, when the Fallen Angels battled the Seraphim and guardian angels with their flaming swords.

Native Americans always worshiped nature spirits, and ran like shadows in those forests, hunting deer and other game, and praying to the animal's soul to thank it for its sacrifice, by which the spirits of the hunter and the hunted became unified in a sacred act of nourishing. And that, as they teach up in those rambling old red brick universities with their Classic Greek porticoes and marble window sills, conforms greatly with the Law of Conservation. This law, which the ancient Iroquois and other Native People knew amid somewhat different words, says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it simply lives on somehow, in other forms, into other days.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.