A Halloween Story

There was once a girl who came from a land where Halloween wasn’t celebrated very much, but she knew many things about it. Like trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving and dressing up. So when she found herself in the Land of Halloween, many years later, she took every opportunity to celebrate. Her mother had warned her about talking to strangers though. About taking candy from them. But the girl didn’t listen. Because everyone did it, so why should she worry? She wasn’t worried at all. In fact, she was too excited and felt her mouth water and teeth ache for the sugary sweetness of chocolate and candy.

She decided to dress up as Little Red Riding Hood. Not a sexy Red Riding Hood — just plain ol’ Red. She would use her basket for trick-or-treating, and instead of filling it with things to take to Grandma’s house it would be full of candy to bring home by the end of the night. Her teeth ached even more now at the thought.

Finally Halloween arrived. She rushed through her chores and errands so she could get into her costume and out into the streets. It was a cloudy, chilly day and the wind blew dead leaves all around her. She made a game of stepping on as many as possible to see which ones crunched the loudest. Everyone was out. All dressed up and chasing candy from door to door as she did the same. Running from one house to another, ringing one doorbell, then another.

Eventually she made her way to a secluded street. The crowd was thinning now and the little kids had all gone home. She had been trick-or-treating for hours but her basket wasn’t full yet. It was weird, actually. All that candy but every time she looked down at her basket there was still room for more — and she had only sampled a few herself. It was almost as if her basket was gobbling up the candy. But that was impossible.

She slowed down her pace, tired of running now. Jack-o-lanterns lined walkways and glowed bright orange in the dark. Some of them had smiles on their faces but most were wearing sinister grins or downright frightening scowls that almost made her want to turn around and go home. But her teeth still ached and those burning lights called her forward.

The houses on this street weren’t like the others. They were quiet and dark and she wasn’t sure if their inhabitants were dead or alive. Many of the other trees in the neighborhood still had some leaves in tact, but all the trees on this street were bare. And the bare branches seemed to be peeling. And yet, she made her way from house to house. Ringing one doorbell, then another. Chanting trick-or-treat like a broken record as her basket was weighed down with more and more candy.

Finally she made it to the very last house. The house at the end of the street. The biggest and darkest house of them all where one lone jack-o-lantern sat at the top of the steps and glowed. She paused for a moment, making eye contact with the orange face. Her basket was so heavy now. She was just about to set it down when she heard someone speak.

“Oh, you don’t want to do that.”

“I don’t?”

“No.” It was the jack-o-lantern talking.

She stared.

“You want to ring the doorbell.”

She wanted to ring the doorbell. Her tooth ached. Her basket was only… half full. She needed more candy.

Slowly she approached, practicing the phrase she’d been saying all night in her head now. In case she forgot it. In case they wouldn’t give her the candy she needed. Trick-or-treat… trick-or-treat… trick-or — she was at the door now, hesitating for only a moment until the jack-o-lantern urged her with a cloying sweetness to “Go on, ring the bell.” So she rang the bell and she waited. She listened to the wind howl. To the birds cry. To things scurry across the dark grounds that she could not see. And finally the door opened.

“Why, Little Red Riding Hood.”

The girl looked up and into the glowing eyes and snarling grin of an old woman dressed in black. “Grandma! My… what big teeth you have!”

“Yes…” said the old woman, stepping aside to let the girl in. “And what have you brought for me today?”

Winter

There was once a girl named Winter who had no heart. Everywhere she went things died. Trees died, flowers died, animals froze. Birds didn’t die but many of them flew far, far away from her. Winter didn’t know how to be any different. For as long as she could remember this was always just the way she was: cold, heartless and frozen. She was like the Tin Man but a million times worse. She traveled all around the world, covering it with frost and ice. One day, when she was traveling somewhere far up North, being especially bitter and cold, she came across a witch brewing a spell in her cauldron outside in the snow. The witch didn’t seem cold at all.

“How is it that you are not cold?” Winter asked, taking offense.

The witch beckoned her to lean in closer, as if she had a deep, dark secret to tell her. And she did.

“I eat beating hearts to keep me warm.”

Winter smiled. This pleased her immensely and she wondered what superpowers she might gain from consuming beating hearts. Would she gain extra strength? Longevity? Coldness? Would she be able to cover the whole world in snow all at once?

She immediately set out to find a beating heart. Her victim was a tiny bird and she didn’t even hesitate. She swallowed with the same greed as a child does candy. But what happened next was completely unexpected. Winter didn’t gain any superpowers. She didn’t become colder or crueler in any way. Instead Winter began to panic, because suddenly she felt warm. Because suddenly, she was melting. She wasn’t gaining any superpowers at all, instead she was losing them all.

And soon enough flowers were blooming and the animals were playing games. Soon enough the grass was green and the birds were singing, beautifully loud and crystal clear. They sang in honor of the bird who had lost its heart. In honor of the bird who had helped give birth to Spring.

A Halloween and Autumn Story

Stepping on leaves was one of her favorite things to do in autumn. Especially when they got crispy after baking in the sun for some time. She wasn’t really sure if that’s why they got so crispy but that was her theory and she was sticking to it. That c-c-c-rrrrrrunch sound was one of the most satisfying sounds in the world.

But sometimes she did feel bad about it. She knew it was kind of silly but leaves were living things too, weren’t they? At least they used to be when still attached to the trees. And when did the leaves actually die anyway? Was it just before they broke off from their branch, as they fell, or once they hit the ground? Or was it when someone stepped on them? She didn’t know but now they were like tiny corpses littering the streets and she was stepping all over them. It was kind of like stepping on dead bodies or graves but not really expecting a hand to reach up and grab you.

But then she thought about it some more, and she was pretty sure that when she died she wouldn’t feel anything anymore herself. And it was probably the same with fallen leaves. Her soul would leave her body and go elsewhere and the only reason she could feel anything at all right now was probably because she still had her soul. It’s what made her alive, wasn’t it? So she just assumed the same thing applied to leaves and went on her merry way.

Another thing she really loved doing was jumping in big piles of leaves. She never did any raking herself but when she came across a neat pile of leaves she just couldn’t resist. And it just so happens that on this day she came across a pile of leaves. No one had jumped in it yet. She thought that was a bit odd because she’d noticed other ruined piles of leaves along the way, but for some reason this one remained untouched. And it was a big pile of leaves too. Probably the biggest she’d ever seen.

She looked around her, making sure that no one was about to scold her for making a mess. She took a deep breath, took a few big steps back and ran. She ran until she was leaping and flying and then falling into the arms of the biggest pile of leaves in the world. The fall lasted mere seconds but it felt like forever, she was so happy. And that’s when she felt it grab her. A hand, reaching up from the leaves to pull her under. And just before everything went black she heard a small sinister voice wondering aloud about what sort of “satisfying crunch her bones would make.”

Bone Girl

She was a girl made out of bones. Not skin and bones but just bones. People called her Bone Girl but she didn’t like that. She had a name, after all. She loved the summertime because in the summer it was always warm and her hands and feet were never cold. Neither was the tip of her nose. She could stay out in the sun all day and sleep on park benches at night. She could sleep anywhere really, being made out of bones. But once it got chilly her bones started to shiver and shake. Once the weather changed she started to wish she was skin and bones. Skin would keep her warm.

Every year when summer turned to autumn it was the same old story. She had to go in search of warmth. In search of discarded blankets and jumpers and winter coats stuffed with feathers. She had to break into fancy homes with fireplaces when no one was there. If there was no fireplace she would turn the stove on instead and warm her hands over the hot blue flame. She usually remembered to turn it off before leaving, but once she forgot and burned an entire house down. She still feels guilty about that to this day. Thankfully no one was home so no one got hurt. Sometimes, if she got lucky, people would invite her in. But usually they just screamed at the sight of her and ran, locked their doors and barred their windows.

But on one particularly chilly night, when her knees wouldn’t stop knocking against each other, she met a man who had all sorts of warm things in his home. Pillows and fleece blankets and hot mugs of tea and coffee, and scarves. He heard her bones rattling before he saw her but when he did their eyes met and she expected him to scream and run. But he didn’t. Instead he invited her inside.

He gave her all the spare blankets and pillows he had and led her to the warmest room in the house where she slept for days. She never wanted to wake up. Even in her dreams she could feel the warmth. Her bones felt less like icicles and more like plain old bones. It was an odd feeling, almost as if something was wrapping her up like a present. Almost as if she was transforming into something else. And when she finally awoke, days later, on a relatively warm and sunny day, she realized that she had.

She was no longer just a handful of bones. She was skin and bones. She was skin and bones with eyes and hair and fingernails and everything. She was a real girl and not just a reminder of death. And she almost didn’t know what it was, when she felt her heart beating in her chest for the first time in a long, long time. For a split second she actually thought she was dying.

Moon Story

There was once a girl who felt so lonely — even when she was surrounded by people. There were places to go and things to do, but this feeling wouldn’t leave her alone. Even when it was mostly dormant, it still felt like a pesky fly that just wouldn’t let her be. It just would not stop buzzing around and around her head; it was everything a merry-go-round wasn’t.

Some nights she’d wander the streets, looking for nothing in particular but then looking for any and everything peculiar. Other nights she’d stay at home and pretend her bedroom window was a TV screen, and that the moon was the star of the feature film playing in her head. The moon could really act. It could really steal the show. It was so bright and shiny — so alive with magic. Even the stars were jealous that the moon was a bigger star than all of them combined. Sometimes the moon got the girl in the end. Sometimes the moon died. Sometimes the moon saved herself. And sometimes it rode off into the sunset for no other reason than that it had always wanted to do so. But no matter what, the moon always looked cool walking away from an explosion.

On one night in particular, the girl decided to go for a walk; she was all out of stories. She needed to feel the night air playing with her hair. She needed to feel its coolness coaxing the rosy glow from her cheeks, even if no one would see it in the dark. She needed to count the street lamps as she went along — to name the light and call it her own. And most importantly, she needed to feel something solid beneath her feet, because she felt too much like a balloon. Too much like she’d float off in the wrong direction at any moment — far, far away from the moon.

Eventually the girl grew tired and found a bench to rest. She sat down and the night sky sat down beside her. She leaned back comfortably and the night owls leaned back with her. She sighed against the armrest and the city streets sighed with her. The trees sighed with her, the sleepy buildings too. She needed some new stories. Her head was so full of hot air and that was never a good thing.

She gazed up at the moon then. It was almost a perfect circle. It was glowing and radiant. It was a ball in the night sky and it was all hers to play with. But she didn’t feel like playing very much. She felt like listening.

“Tell me a story?” she asked the moon.

The moon obliged. “There was once a moon who felt so lonely sometimes — even when it was surrounded by millions of stars…”

Flower Crown

There was once a girl who ruled the world with flowers in her hair. Every so often someone would tear petals from one of those flowers, playing a wicked game of I Love Her, I Love Her Not. But the girl didn’t notice this; her head was so full of flowers. She was a walking, talking, breathing garden and the birds, butterflies and bees couldn’t get enough of her. The ladybugs too. She was so sweet and her heart was the watering can, the sun, the shade and the soil: everything required for a garden to grow. She was also very young. She didn’t know what it meant to truly rule. She didn’t know where true power really came from, or what it meant to be strong. All she knew was that she wore a flower crown and the air always smelled sweet.

But one day the girl looked in the mirror and noticed that her flower crown was thinning. Her garden was no longer blooming. It looked more like a Winter Garden than a Summer Garden. She placed her hand to her chest and felt how dry her heart was, how barren and cold. Her flowers were wilting and her heart was parched. She was older now. Smarter and a bit wiser, but still very new to the idea of power and strength — and where it comes from. She had let too many people pick her flowers. She had let too many voices tell her who to love and how to love them for the price of no love in return. Her flower crown wasn’t a crown anymore, it was just a play thing. Had it always been just a play thing?

The girl turned away from the mirror. She took the flower crown off her head and hid it somewhere safe. Somewhere no one would find it. She realized now that she had been taught all the wrong things. That it had all been just pretend. That she had bought into an illusion — of what love was, of what power was, of what strength was. The girl knew she had a long journey ahead of her now. Of relearning, forgiving and letting go. Of gathering new flowers for a new crown and a different kind of strength for a brand new heart. She knew this was only the beginning, but she was ready. She had her sturdy boots on, her lucky charm around her wrist, a map in her pocket, and a flashlight in her backpack. She had a head full of determination and a heart that was longing to know.

On the evening of her departure she left a note for her friends and family, just so they wouldn’t worry:

“Gone flower picking. Don’t wait up.”

A Bird, The Sun, And Its Heart

There was once a bird who carried the sun in its heart. Everywhere it flew a warmth went with it. Balmy spring breezes and hot summer winds delighted people the world over. The bird soared on the strength and generosity of these winds — barely having to make an effort to fly. And as the bird grew so did the sun. It grew from a meek and tender yellow to a bright and pure gold. At first the sun was the size of a pebble, and only as shiny as a brand new penny, and the bird could handle that. It weighed almost nothing and the bird flew free and unencumbered.

But even though the bird grew in size and strength, the sun grew one hundred times faster, greater, bigger. For a while the bird could handle the blossoming sun, but soon the sun outgrew the bird. In heat and strength and size. The sun grew and the universe grew — time and space expanded — but the bird remained the same. Its balmy spring breezes and hot summer winds could no longer carry the weight of the bird and its sun. The bird’s wing span was only so wide, and the sun’s light reached far beyond the tips of its wings. It became heavy, like a stone globe. Like bricks of gold. And too hot, like lava, forest fires or blue stars. The bird had to let it go, or risk burning alive.

But how do you let go of what’s in your heart? How do you reach in and pull it out without causing damage? Without leaving a gaping hole. How do you keep what you love inside your heart, without it breaking?

You grow your heart. You grow it until there’s room in there for everything, and then you keep growing it.

And the sun had grown but so had the bird’s heart. Even if the bird was no longer strong enough to carry the weight of the sun, the bird’s heart was. The bird hadn’t realized this at first. It had been too focused on physical strength and endurance. It had failed to realize that the heart has its own strength too. That it is so much more than just a funny shaped organ. The bird was done growing, but its heart wasn’t. Its heart outgrew its wing span and its heart outgrew the sun. And, soon enough, its heart outgrew the entire universe. and the bird was able to carry everything in existence within it — with plenty of room left to breathe.

My Friend Rain

When I first met you I was very young. Too young to remember anything you said or did. They say you told me stories of how all your raindrops formed. How each one of them wished me good night and cleaned all the dirt from under my fingernails. How my first kiss was really you kissing the tip of my nose, then the tips of every single one of my eyelashes. (Now I wish I hadn’t pulled them out so often.) Though I don’t really remember any of that. But then I grew older, and we met again—and again and again, and soon enough I was remembering everything. Like the way you turned the view from my window into a watercolor painting. How at night the lights blurred into wishy-washy yellow globes. I remember the way the trees and plants would complain about you sometimes, when there was too much of you. When you soaked them to the bone and they could barely keep from bending—almost breaking—their frail green necks. But then I remember how they yearned for you when all that was there was sun and heat and barely a breeze. They used to ask me to write you letters on their leaves and bark—and beg you to come home.

And when you did you left me a pair of yellow rain boots outside my door. I know it was you because your signature was on them—this one lone, little raindrop that just never dried away. I remember those boots because you said it was your way of making sure I always had a little bit of sunshine in my life, and I never forgot that. I wore them until I couldn’t fit my feet into them any longer, and then for a while I squeezed my toes and wore them some more. But one day you came to me, and I put on those boots, and you poured down on me, and I watched those boots melt away—down my ankles and then they were just gone. They were nothing but a smudged chalk drawing on the ground like in Mary Poppins, and I couldn’t jump into them anymore.

But you told me not to be sad, because the rain is what makes everything grow. And sure enough—only a few days later—a brand new pair had sprouted outside my door. This time they were rainbow striped, and you said it’s because I was always too busy hunting for rainbows and finding only birds in the sky. I asked you about thunder and lightning—what were they for? And you said that sometimes you needed the company. Sometimes you needed someone to tell you where to go, and someone else to light the way. I asked you if the thunder ever told you stories; you said yes, but not the kind of stories you could tell me just yet. “When you’re a little older,” you promised. And one day, when I was finally old enough, I found a pair of grey rain boots outside my door and you said it was time for me to get lost in those stories. To blend in so perfectly that no one would be able to find me. But they had a thin yellow stripe at the top; “Your lightning bolt,” you explained, and then all I heard was thunder.

1.. 2.. 3..

There was once a girl who couldn’t sleep very well, so she spent many nights sitting by the window and staring up at the stars. No matter where she was, even if she couldn’t see the stars with her naked eyes, she could still stare up at them because she had a special pair of starglasses that let her see the stars at night whenever she wanted. This is how she learned to count. How she learned to name things. To keep track of things. She counted the stars the way you’d count out seeds to plant flowers. Counted them the way you would gold coins in a treasure chest or jelly beans in a jar. She tried to spread them out across the universe as evenly as possible so she could get a good look at every single one of them. But when the wind blew the stars swayed, and when the wind blew harder the stars moved with it, and constellations formed that all at once perplexed, fascinated and annoyed her. She thought the wind only toyed with leaves and twigs and earthly things. She didn’t know it could reach so high into the sky as to roll the stars around the universe like marbles. That the same wind that ruffled her hair ruffled the stars. She didn’t know that the stars were actually blazing birds, or burning ships sailing across a black sea. She didn’t know that the stars liked playing connect-the-dots, or that they needed to move and be moved as much as any restless soul does. And she didn’t know that the wind was an old friend, and that the stars were all madly in love with each other, and that this old friend had always been wildly in love with her. She didn’t know any of this. But how could she? She was always too busy counting.

Lost Girl

I decide I want to be a Lost Girl, so on a cool summer night I leave the window wide open for Peter Pan. When my side of the world is finally fast asleep—and I am only half that—he flies in through my bedroom window. I see his shadow before I see him and wonder how it is that it is so visible even in the dark. I reach over and turn on the bedside lamp and his shadow is now somehow strangely less visible. I throw off the covers to reveal that I am all dressed up and ready to go. He doesn’t say anything. He simply does a quick glance around the room, looks me once in the eyes, and then turns his back and faces the window he came in through. He reaches his hand straight out behind him for me to take. Before we leave he says only one thing.

“Turn off all the lights.”

In Neverland I am a Lost Girl and my eyes turn a deeper shade of green. The trees are taller and stronger here. Their roots are wicked and play tricks on us in the night, but somehow no one ever twists an ankle. And there are always fireflies, but we are not allowed to catch them. Because even if you are here to be lost, sometimes you need something to help guide your way through the dark woods.

There are mostly Lost Boys here, but I meet another Lost Girl who reminds me of every girl I have ever known and loved and called a friend. She is somehow the embodiment of them all. She has her smile, her laugh, her sense of humor, her dancing feet, her big beating heart, her poor posture, her bravery but also her fear. And I can’t help but wonder if I am the same thing to her, an embodiment of all the girls she has ever known and loved and called a friend. I never ask her though, because I also never explain that to me she has dozens of names and faces. She is the one who introduces me to the others. Everyone here has different reasons for being lost, for wishing to be lost. I stay here for a while. I breathe in midnight blue air and sleep in warm patches of sunlight. My eyes grow even more accustomed to the bright and dark colors of the earth and even when it’s cold my hands and feet are always warm. They tell me that is a good sign. I don’t even have to look for anything anymore, because that is the privilege of being a Lost Girl. When you’re the one who is lost, you don’t have to waste your time looking for things. You just get lost, and the fireflies always find you.

But one day my eyes start to water and sting, and when I rub them they only sting more. And my friend, the girl who is every girl to me, tells me that thorns are starting to grow in place of my eyes. That this is a bad sign, and asks me what I’ve done? What did I do… I don’t know what I did.

That night we are sitting at the top of a small green hill, combing the grass with our fingers when she notices something funny. A new star? One of our fireflies? (No, our fireflies aren’t allowed outside of Neverland.)

“What is that?” she asks.

I follow her pointing finger until my eyes fall upon a distant shining light. I stare at it. It looks so familiar. Why does it look so familiar? I squint; it’s actually getting harder to see now, but soon it hits me. That isn’t a star at all. It’s the light I left on when Peter Pan told me not to. It’s the light I left on so that I could find my way back home.

“That’s not a star…” I explain.

“You’re going to be in so much trouble!” she panics: I’m going to be in so much trouble. I don’t completely trust in being Lost. Peter Pan will send me away. Not home, but away.

“You have to leave,” she insists. “Before he finds out it’s you.”

Then she takes my hand and leads me through tunnels I do not remember seeing. Because my eyesight is fading. Because if I don’t get out soon everything will go black. And then everything does go black, but only because I am asleep, and then seconds later I am awake and in my bed again. And when I open my eyes I see that my bedside lamp is on. And beside the bedside lamp is a single firefly buzzing around in circles, and just for a moment I swear that in its light I see every girl I have ever known and loved and called a friend.