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Chapter 14: Luke Walker and the Halloween Party
Luke, Joe, Isabel and Tania looked at the circle and gasped. They hadn’t believed it could happen. Now that it had, they were scared.
“That’s it then,” said Luke eventually, “I’ll prob’ly be dead by Christmas.”
Three days earlier everything had seemed so ordinary. Boringly so. Class 5A were doing History. History was sometimes interesting, sometimes exciting and often-times boring. This particular lesson seemed like it was going to fit into the last category. Mr Beardsley was talking whilst writing on the board, which meant he had his back to the class, which meant very few people were even pretending to listen.
“… historians believe that many of these traditions originate from Celtic harvest festivals, but others are of the opinion that it has always been a Christian ….”
“T,” whispered Luke.
“No,” said Joe, as he drew a diagonal support on the gallows.
“Yes,” said Joe and filled in the Fs.
“Ooh, two Fs! Is it coffee?”
“No,” and he drew the noose.
Mr Beardsley rambled on and Luke found it disturbed his concentration. He felt sure he was close. There couldn’t be that many words with double F. Then the teacher said something that caught his attention.
“… Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, which is why it was traditional to eat certain vegetarian foods on this special day. In particular they ate apples, potato pancakes, and soul cakes.”
“What’s he talkin’ about?” Luke asked Joe. Joe looked at him blankly. Isabel Jessop tapped him on the shoulder and passed him a note which said ‘Halloween’.
Luke nodded a thank you to her. He pushed the note across to Joe.
“Halloween is a veggietareun day! We’d better listen coz he might want us to explain things to the others.”
Joe nodded and smiled uncomfortably. He’d never been called upon to explain anything to anyone and the idea didn’t appeal to him. However, realising that if any explanations were needed his friend would certainly provide them, he regained his composure. The boys watched their teacher and listened.
“All Hallows’ Eve, otherwise known as All Saints Eve, Allhalloween or, nowadays, just Halloween, begins the three days of Allhallowtide during which people remembered saints and martyrs and other dead people.”
“Oh my gosh!” thought Luke, “it seemed like it was gettin’ int’restin’ so we stopped playin’ an’ now it’s borin’ again!”
“… such as roasted sweetcorn, roasted pumpkin seeds, toffee apples,…”
“Toffee! Is it toffee?”
“No,” said Joe, drawing the condemned man’s circular head.
“… and they would enjoy these foods at Halloween parties where they’d also play some fun games.”
Mr Beardsley had their attention again.
“So I thought we could have a Year 5 Halloween party. We’ll invite class 5B and play some of these traditional games.”
A buzz of excitement filled the room.
“When?” someone shouted.
“On the 31st of October of course. The day after tomorrow. Friday.”
“Here. At seven o’clock ’til ten. I’ll send a note home to your parents today.”
Mr Beardsley was so disorganised. Luke liked that about him.
“Will it be fancy dress?”
“Indeed it will, but stop shouting out and let me finish. I’ll answer any questions you still have at the end of the lesson.”
Friday’s party was eagerly anticipated by everyone. It was going to be historical. They were going to play traditional games and eat traditional food – which they would have to make from scratch over the next couple of days. Mr Beardsley had given them recipes to take home. And they needed costumes. There was a lot to do and very little time in which to do it. Luke and Joe talked about it while they put on their coats and boots at the end of the day.
“I’m going to be a pirate,” said Joe.
“You can’t be a pirate, it’s not historical.”
“No, it’s made up. Like in Peter Pan.”
“Pirates are real,” Isabel couldn’t help pointing out when she overheard their conversation.
“Not Long John Silver, or Captain Hook, or someone with a parrot on ‘is shoulder,” Luke clarified.
“What are you comin’ as then?” asked Joe.
“William Wilberforce’s ghost,” said Luke proudly.
“Ooh, good one,” said Tania as she returned to Isabel the scarf she’d borrowed.
“I’m coming as Queen Elizabeth I,” she added, shaking her auburn curls.
“Who can I be?” Isabel wondered aloud. The girls walked away in deep discussion. Luke and Joe were not far behind. Joe was disappointed that he couldn’t go as a pirate.
“What can I go as then?” he asked his friend.
“Go as a lunatic from one of those old asylums,” suggested Simon Butler who’d appeared from nowhere, “then you wouldn’t need a costume!” And he laughed so loud on his way out that Mrs Tebbut shouted ‘PIPE DOWN OUT THERE!’ from the classroom next door.
“Idiot Butler! Not even s’posed to be in this cloakroom,” he hissed under his breath. “Don’t worry,” he told Joe, “you’ll be somethin’ better’n ‘im!”
“Not Mr Darcy! Mr Wilberforce!” Luke insisted. “I don’t want to look like some posh bloke from Priden Precipice!”
Mrs Walker pulled the black trousers, white ruffled shirt and long black coat from The Village Players’ costume trunk.
“William Wilberforce would have dressed like Mr Darcy Luke, these will be just the thing,” she assured him, “I’ll just give them an iron.”
“Okay,” Luke tentatively agreed, “but what about Joe? Is there anythin’ in there that Joe can wear?”
Luke’s mum set up the board and plugged in the iron.
“Who’s he going as?” she asked.
“Depends what costumes you’ve got,” said Luke, keeping an open mind.
Mum had only recently joined the local amateur dramatics group so she wasn’t sure what costumes they’d got. Most of them were a bit worse for wear but they were lucky to be allowed to use them.
“See for yourself,” she suggested, “have a rummage and see if anything captures your imagination.”
Luke rummaged. Pink tights, brown tights, knickerbockers, caterpillar costume, spider costume, Cheshire Cat costume, blue dress with white pinafore. So far not so good. Red ball gown, green ball gown, yellow ball gown, purple tutu, red clown shoes. Really not good.
“Rubbish!” said Luke ungratefully, “it’s all rubbish!”
Mum sighed and switched off the iron.
“Luke – don’t just throw them around like that! You’re lucky we’ve been allowed to borrow these,” she said, exasperated.
Luke was sorry. He just wanted to find something good for Joe to shut Butler up. He helped Mum pick up the costumes and re-fold them.
“Sorry,” he said.
She pressed her lips tight together and looked him in the eye.
“That’s alright,” she said. Then, just as she was about to put the folded pile back in the trunk, she noticed a couple of things Luke had missed.
“What about these?” she said.
“A nightgown and a Father Christmas beard?” said Luke, unimpressed.
“Not a nightgown, a robe,” she explained, “men used to wear these in the olden days, especially in hot countries.”
Luke’s blank expression indicated he needed another clue.
“Who’s that maths guy you like?”
“Yes!” Mum smiled, “I bet he would have worn something like this. And he probably had a long white beard when he got old.”
“Yeah!” Now Luke was excited, “We’ll both be veggietareun people from history! Joe can be Pythagoras and I’ll be William Wilberforce’s ghost!”
“Why not just William Wilberforce? Why do you have to be his ghost?”
“Coz it’s a Halloween party. Ya know: Ha-llow-een. It’s all about ghosts and scary stuff.” He thought his mum would have known that.
“Yes, but you’re all going as people from history.”
“So they’re all dead.”
“Yeah.” There really was nothing confusing here.
“So why doesn’t Joe go as Pythagoras’s ghost?”
“It’s supposed to be someone who’s dead. So he’s Pythagoras. The man.”
“Yes, I see, so why aren’t you the man?”
“I’m going to be William Wilberforce’s ghost.”
“But if you’re a ghost why isn’t Joe going to be a ghost. Or if he’s the man, why aren’t you the man…?” She caught sight of her own reflection in the mirror and paused, wondering why she kept asking questions to which there could be no satisfactory answer.
“Can you iron this one as well please?” her son asked, handing back the white robe, “I’m goin’ to phone Joe and tell ‘im.”
On Friday 31st of October at 7.08 pm, Luke and Joe said goodbye to Luke’s dad at the school gate and walked towards the classroom carrying their contributions to the party food. Luke had followed the Halloween recipes given to him by Mr Beardsley for barm brack (a kind of fruit bread) and colcannon (mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage). Mum had helped a bit. Joe brought the treacle-covered scones he’d made with Janet’s assistance, using another of their teacher’s traditional recipes. He’d also remembered the string.
Mr Beardsley’s classroom was almost unrecognisable.
Hanging from the ceiling were two large imitation crystal chandeliers, covered in cobwebs and emitting a very dim, creamy light. Long dark-purple velvet curtains replaced the Venetian blinds that usually hung in the windows, the bottoms of which sat in folds on the floor around large pumpkins carved with grotesque gargoyle faces.
The boys approached a long table at one end of the room. It was draped in a ragged, dark red table cloth whose dusty hem skimmed the dusty parquet. On it fifteen white candles stood tall on three candelabra, complete with realistic-looking orange and yellow tissue paper flames and untidily littered with long drips of dry wax. Various plates and bowls of food, brought by the children, were set upon the table. Luke and Joe added theirs.
“No, not on there boys,” Mr Beardsley startled them, suddenly appearing as he did. “Those are for the games, remember?”
Luke and Joe looked at their teacher and then at each other and laughed. Mr Beardsley had really pulled out all the stops for this party. His already lofty frame appeared even taller than usual, and his apparently-severed head rested in front of his chest, supported by his left arm. Atop the severed head sat an enviable black hat, with wide upturned brim and a sinister-looking white skull and cross-bones on the front.
“Who are you supposed to be?” asked Luke.
“Can’t you guess?” teased his teacher, rubbing his brand new coal-black beard.
“No,” said Luke. Joe also shook his head.
Mr Beardsley tutted.
“Boys, boys boys,” he said, shaking his head, “don’t you ever listen to my lessons?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m Blackbeard. Remember? The famous pirate who was beheaded in 1718?”
“Pirate?” said Joe, looking daggers at Luke.
Luke decided to change the subject.
“Where shall we put these then?” he asked.
“Not here,” said Mr Beardsley, “or they might get eaten. Put them on my desk behind the screen.”
The boys did as they were told and made their way through small huddles of various royalty, warriors and poets, a couple of Shakespeares and a Jesus. No sooner had they placed the food on the desk than Mr Beardsley asked Joe to give him the treacle scones and string so that he could set up the game. They would be starting in about ten minutes he told them. Music was already playing and a few people danced self-consciously in the middle of the room.
“This one’s for you Joe,” came a familiar voice through the speaker when the record changed.
Luke and Joe looked around to see Simon Butler behind a turntable across the room, dressed in a short blonde beard; a gold fitted jacket zipped up to his neck; short gold trousers fastened below the knee; long socks and large-buckled shoes. He thought he was so cool because Mr Beardsley had let him be the DJ. The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum by Fun Boy Three filled the room and Butler laughed excessively at his own joke. Luke and Joe paid him a visit.
“So glad you took my advice Joe,” he said privately, “you look even more like a loon than usual!”
“I’m Pythagoras,” said Joe, holding up the right-angled triangle he’d made out of three rulers.
“Oh, yeah, I know you think so, lunatics often think they’re somebody famous,” he chuckled smugly.
“I’m not a lunatic! I am Pythag…”
“What are you s’posed to be anyway?” Luke interrupted their pointless argument to draw attention to Butler’s ridiculous ensemble.
“Sir Walter Raleigh,” Butler confessed without shame.
Luke cast his best contemptuous glance at his arch enemy and said nothing.
“Okay, switch the music off now Simon, it’s time for the games to begin,” Mr Beardsley called across the room.
Mr Beardsley and Thomas had put out four small tables at intervals around the room. They were set up with different traditional Halloween games.
“Take it in turns to play the games at each table,” Blackbeard instructed, “have fun!” He was the kind of teacher who didn’t believe in too much control. He liked to give the children enough room to find their own way and, since he’d already explained the games in class, he chose not to recap. “You can put the music back on now Simon,” he added.
“This table is for apple bobbing,” said Thomas who, unlike his colleague, preferred to make sure things were being done properly. “One at a time. Katia – you go first.”
Luke and Joe decided to come back later for apples and wandered over to see what was on the next table. Joe’s treacle-covered scones, with long lengths of string tied to them, were suspended above the table and dangled at different heights. Queen Elizabeth I and Boudicca were already tucking in. With hands held behind their backs, Tania and Isabel tried to bite the scones and every time they got a nibble, the sticky pendulums swung away and then back, bumping their noses, their chins, their cheeks and their hair. Boudicca, being less concerned about her appearance than the Queen, finished her scone first and bowed her grinning, sticky head in gratitude for the applause of her peers. Queen Liz, dignified in defeat, shook her opponent’s hand and went to the sink to wash her face.
“Us next!” said Luke, standing beside the table and leaning forward. “Go!” he shouted before Joe was ready, and tried to grab an untouched scone in his teeth.
Joe hurried to join in but found himself at a disadvantage when one scone stuck to his thick beard, just below his bottom lip, and prevented him from getting close to any other. Thomas laughed and reminded Joe that he couldn’t use his hands but he needn’t have said anything because Joe was not a cheater. Luke was the clear victor, finishing his scone in just four bites, and afterwards Joe was allowed to manually detach his scone from his beard and eat it normally. There were less hairs on it than one might expect.
At the next table were small plates with chunks of barm brack on them, cut from the fruit breads that Luke and a couple of other people had made.
“I’ve got a coin!” said Isabel as she broke up her piece with a fork, “that means I’m going to be rich!”
“I think you’re s’posed to just bite it,” said Joe, “it might not work if you pull it apart like that.”
“I don’t wanna risk choking!” Isabel explained sensibly.
“Plus it’s dirty,” added Tania, “money’s really dirty you know. Just think how many people have touched it without washing their hands.”
Joe had already bitten into his chunk of barmbrack and discovered that he too had a coin. He spat it quickly into his hand.
“It’s not dirty,” Luke assured him, “don’t ya think I washed ’em before I put ’em in?”
“Is this the one that you made?” Joe asked, a little relieved.
“Yeah,” said Luke confidently, “well, it looks …, yeah, definitely.”
Luke bit into his piece of bread and found only currants and orange peel.
At the next table were three large dishes of colcannon, accompanied by a stack of small bowls and spoons. The game was the same. If you found a coin it meant you would be rich; if you found a ring it meant you would find true love. Luke hadn’t had any rings to put into his baking, and he’d put all his spare coins into his barm brack, so he loaded his bowl from the colcannon he’d made himself, knowing that the only thing he was in danger of finding was a pile of delicious grub. Thoughtful as always, he didn’t spoil the game for the others by telling them that.
A few minutes later, Luke, Joe, Tania and Isabel, all happy in spite of finding nothing but cabbage in their mash, found their newly stimulated appetites craved more and made their way to the long table. It was a good job they hadn’t left it any longer as many of the other children were already digging in and the good stuff was going fast. Luke took a large paper plate from the pile and filled it with roasted sweetcorn, monkey nuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, bonfire toffee and … oh no, Joe got the last toffee apple.
“Oh, do you want it?” Joe offered when his hand reached it just before Luke’s.
“Nah,” said Luke, trying to sound casual, “it’s yours.”
“We’ll share it,” Joe decided.
“Okay.” This was a good party.
Then he noticed something bad on the table. Something not in keeping with the celebration. Something odious. Something which was in shockingly bad taste: Scotch eggs.
“Hey! They can’t have them on Halloween! Who brought them?” he asked, pointing with disgust at the flesh food and surveying the faces around the table.
“What’s wrong?” asked Isabel.
Luke didn’t hear her. He angrily snatched the plate from the buffet, intending to dispose of the offending items.
“Mr Beardsley said it’s a Halloween tradition to be vegetarian,” Joe explained to Isabel, “so Luke is cross that somebody’s not doin’ it right.”
“So I see,” said Isabel as she watched Luke trying to move through the crowd holding the large plate of Scotch eggs above his head with both hands.
“Hey! Where you going with those?” Butler asked as Luke passed the music centre on his way to the toilets.
“Gettin’ rid of ’em!” said Luke, “they’re not Halloween.”
“Hey! Bring them back! My mum made them! Bring them back!”
Luke hurried through the cloakroom door with Butler close behind him. The music stopped and everyone could hear the two boys arguing loudly on the other side of the door.
Mr Beardsley hurried after them.
“Don’t come any nearer or I’ll drop ’em,” Luke threatened, forcing Butler to back off.
“You’ve got no right to throw away other people’s stuff!” he shouted angrily, “you think you’re better than everybody else! You think you’re so good but you’re not – you’re a thief! Give them back!”
“It’s no meat for Halloween!” Luke asserted, “dint your teacher tell you that?!”
“We don’t have to do what you say! Some of us want to eat meat – most of us actually – coz it tastes good! Mmm, I’d love a nice bacon buttie right now, or a nice bit of fish and chips, or a big juicy burger.”
His infuriating smirk pushed Luke to the limit and he lunged for the toilet door.
“Stop!” The boom of Mr Beardsley’s voice did not encourage disobedience.
Luke froze, plate in hand, his back to his teacher and his adversary.
“Could someone please tell me what on Earth is going on here?” Mr Beardsley asked more calmly.
Both boys talked at once: “He’s throwing my mum’s food in the toilet” / “Meat’s not allowed on Halloween!”
“Stop!” their teacher said again, “Luke, what are you doing out here with that plate of Scotch eggs?”
“They shouldn’t be here! You said people dint eat meat on Halloween! It’s tradition!”
“Yes, that’s true, I did, it is traditional not to eat meat on All Hallows’ Eve.”
“But my mum made them! He’s got no right to throw them away!”
“Simon!” Mr Beardsley quieted him, “no one’s going to throw away your mother’s food. Go back in to the party please and get the music going again.”
Simon reluctantly did as he was told and Mr Beardsley turned back to Luke.
“Give me the plate please,” he instructed.
“But they’re not …”
“Luke, now please.”
Luke handed him the plate.
“But you’re not gonna put ’em back on the table are you? They’re not s’posed to be …”
“Luke, I know you feel strongly about this and I respect that but you can’t force your beliefs on other people. Everyone has to be free to make their own choices.”
“Yeah right! Tell that to the chickens and pigs they’re made out of! If they’d had free choice they would’ve said NO THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I DON’T WANT TO BE A SCOTCH EGG!”
“Yes, alright Luke you’ve made your point. Now kindly return to the party and stay away from Simon Butler.”
Back in the classroom Luke found his plate and his friends and told them the whole story.
“You’re right,” said Tania, “Simon knew he was supposed to make something from the traditional vegetarian recipes Mr Beardsley gave us. He should’ve been reprimanded for not doing it right.”
“Typical!” added Isabel, “look at that, Beardsley’s just putting the scotch eggs back on the table. That flies in the face of everything he taught us! What’s the point of teaching us about historical tradition and saying you want to have a traditional party if you’re just going to let people be inauthentic?”
“Yeah! It’s fraudulent!” Tania concurred.
Luke hungrily polished off his sweetcorn while he listened to the impressive but unfamiliar vocabulary being employed by the girls and was in no doubt that they agreed with him.
“I think we should boycott this party!” Isabel declared.
“Whaddaya mean?” asked Joe.
“On the grounds that it’s a sham.”
“What?” said Luke and Joe at the same time.
“She means it’s bogus,” Tania explained, “spurious, phoney, false, fake.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s fake alright,” said Luke, catching up, “he’s ruined it. It’s not thentick at all now!”
“If we want a truly educational, authentic, realistic, traditional Halloween experience, we’ll have to do it ourselves,” Isabel went on, “we should go now and play the other game he told us about. The one he said we couldn’t play.”
The others gasped and then grinned.
“That’s ezzactly what we should do,” said Luke.
A noisy, activity-filled party with only two adults in attendance was easy to sneak away from. It hadn’t even been difficult to get the matches from Mr Beardsley’s desk drawer. Fortunately there had been no rain for a couple of weeks so it didn’t take long to find ample dry twigs and fir cones in the churchyard over the road. Now all they needed was a big stone each and that would be no problem either because Luke remembered seeing some different coloured pebbles, curiously arranged in the shape of a fish, close to the church entrance. They’d just been left there. No one was using them.
It was just after nine o’clock and very dark in the churchyard. Two owls hooted back and forth. Every so often bats flew overhead between the bell tower and the vicarage. Now it really felt like Halloween. The children made themselves comfortable on the ground near the oldest gravestones they could find. Covered in lichen, the writing on them was almost illegible.
Making sure there was nothing flammable nearby, Luke built a small fire with the twigs and fir cones on the crumbling horizontal stone base of one of the graves. He had no trouble getting it going with the few scraps of paper found in Mr Beardsley’s desk drawer earlier.
As their teacher had told them, the game was simple. On Halloween night, participants made a fire and when the fire burnt out they placed a ring of stones in the ashes, one for each person. The following morning they would check the circle and if they found any stone displaced, it was said that the person it represented would die before the year ended.
Luke drew a circle in the ash with another stick. Their pebbles were easy to distinguish from each other. Luke’s was the biggest and the darkest. He put it in the twelve o’clock position, closest to the gravestone. Joe’s was a little smaller and had a notch on one side. He placed it at nine o’clock. Isabel’s looked like it had a nose, hers was placed at six o’clock and Tania’s, the smallest of them all, was placed at three o’clock.
“What was that?” Isabel turned suddenly to look behind her.
“Just a rabbit prob’ly,” said Luke, “or a badger.”
“Or a fox,” added Joe.
The boys looked around eagerly, hoping to see some majestic nocturnal wildlife. They weren’t so lucky.
“We’d better get back,” said Tania, looking at her watch, “it’s nearly five to ten.”
“Wait!” whispered Luke as he ducked behind a tree, “that’s my dad!”
The churchyard was a short-cut between the school and Luke’s road so he might have known his dad would come this way to meet him. Everyone laid low until he’d passed.
“My mum’s probably at the school by now too,” said Tania.
“They’ll all be there, waiting outside the classroom for us,” said Isabel anxiously, “how will we get back in without them seeing us?”
Luke and Joe smiled at each other. For seasoned outlaws like them, this wasn’t going to be a problem.
“Follow us,” said Joe, and they led the girls to a little known entrance to the school which was always left open when the caretaker was around so that he could duck out quickly for a smoke without going past the kitchens or the offices. The door led to the school hall which had a connecting door to Mrs Tebbut’s classroom which shared a cloakroom with Class 5A.
“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Joe added as an afterthought.
Without raising suspicion all four of them rejoined the rest of their class as they emerged from the party. They parted with a secret promise to meet early Saturday morning and check on the fire circle. Each agreed to wait until they were all together before they looked.
When all children had been collected Mr Beardsley and Thomas returned to the classroom to clear up the mess. They were tired but it had been fun; they were glad they’d done it.
“Excuse me,” Mrs Butler put her head round the door.
“Oh, hello,” said Mr Beardsley, “are you looking for your plate? It’s in a stack in the sink. I’ll wash it up and send it home with Simon on Monday.”
“Er, thank you, no, I’m looking for Simon. Did he leave with someone else?”
Mr Beardsley’s jaw dropped. Filled with dread he looked at Thomas. Thomas shook his head. At that moment the classroom door opened again and Simon walked in.
“Simon! Where have you been?” his mum asked, awash with relief.
“Looking for you,” he lied, “shall we go?”
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