The Halloween Party

by Martin Pearson
After braving the vertiginous descent that took her to the tunnels, Marigold found, with no small measure of relief, her journey through the Underland to be uneventful. Philomena had mentioned that no one had walked through the region for some weeks, so she was surprised to find that the rush lights, placed in great iron sconces along the walls, were burning as if they had been lit that very hour.

Marigold felt bad about stealing Philomena's key to the faux-chest in the attic, the secret entrance to the Underland. She felt certain that the barmaid would understand her reasons; surely, if anyone could cure her amnesia, and tell her where her home was to be found, it would be the mysterious Doctor Dee, whom Philomena had first met there. 
As she walked along the fire-lit paths, Marigold pondered the information that Philomena had unwittingly given her, regarding the cave which lay at the very end of the tunnels. Apparently, it had presented itself differently each time she had visited. Well, however the cave chose to appear to her, Marigold decided that her course was set, and there would be no turning back until she had either found Doctor Dee, or solved the mystery of her origins herself.

Marigold's heart missed a beat; the mouth of the cave loomed before her. It was smaller and less imposing than she had expected and pale fingers of mist reached out, as if beckoning her to come in. The heat from the rush-lights had kept the tunnels warm, almost too warm for her to need the blanket that she had thrown over her shoulders when she left The Squid. Now, however, a cold draught made her skin prickle, and she drew it close around her. Then she took a deep breath and stepped into the reaching mist. 

 "Oh, for goodness sake!" Marigold exclaimed crossly.
The view in front of her bore absolutely no resemblance to the inside of a cave, or an Elizabethan alchemist's study, as she had hoped. In fact it bore no resemblance to anything other than the island of Hopeless, Maine. She could see the Gydynap hills outlined in the moonlight.
 "I've taken a wrong turning somewhere," she muttered. That at least explained why the air had grown so much colder. Hopeless was dreary at the best of times. Now, at the end of October, the island was definitely trying on its winter wardrobe.
Marigold looked about her, trying to get some sense of where, exactly, she was. The cave mouth had disappeared and the only landmark was a stone cottage. There was a light in one of the windows. Whoever was inside would hopefully be able to direct her back to The Squid and Teapot.

The young man who answered her knock smiled broadly. A welcoming, golden light flooded through the open doorway.
 "Of course I can tell you how to get to The Squid," he said amiably, " but come in and have a drink and a bite to eat first. We're having a celebration. I suppose you could call it a Halloween party."
 "Halloween? Is it really? Gosh, I've lost all track of time since my... since my recent illness" said Marigold. " Well, just for minute or two wouldn't hurt, I guess. Thank you."

It was obviously a family gathering. The cottage rang with the laughter of three generations, a dozen happy people all clustered around a great oak table that was laden from end to end with the sort of food and drink that the inhabitants of Hopeless can usually only dream of. A blazing log fire roared in the grate, and slender white candles burned with a pure and even luminosity.
Marigold was puzzled by the opulence, but appreciating her good fortune, hung her blanket, to which she had pinned the chest key, on a hook on the wall. Gratefully she took a seat at the table.
 "This is so lovely," she thought, wine glass in hand and reaching for another helping of roast potatoes. "It certainly beats starry-grabby pie." 
She put her head to one side and tried to remember why she didn't like starry-grabby pie. Come to think of it, what was starry-grabby pie anyway? Wherever did she get that silly name from?
 "More corn, Marigold?" said the young man, "Let me top your drink up..." 
 "Thank you," she replied. "This is such a wonderful evening, I wish it could go on forever, but I must leave soon."
 The elderly woman sitting beside her smiled warmly. 
 "Why not stay a while longer? There's no reason for you to leave just yet."
 " No, I've no reason to leave... " said Marigold, dreamily.

Philomena peered down the yawning shaft of the chest that squatted in a corner of the attic. 
 "We're going to have to leave it open," said Bartholomew Middlestreet . "It has only been a few days. You never know, she might come back that way."
 Philomena said nothing. With, or without The Sight, she knew that such a thing would be unlikely. She really wanted to seal the passage up forever, cut the ladder from the wall, lock the chest and throw the key - the key she no longer possessed - far into the ocean. 

It was on the following morning, while walking with Drury,  that she found the blanket. Her blanket. Drury, for reasons best known to himself, had decided to explore a ruined cottage in Creepy Hollow. It had been little more than a couple of walls and a heap of rubble for years. The blanket had been lying on the floor. At least it looked like Philomena's missing blanket, though it was faded now, and thick with dust, as though it had been abandoned there fifty years ago. 
 "Oh Marigold," she thought to herself, "I don't know who or what you found in the cave, but I'm pretty sure that it wasn't John Dee."
She picked up the blanket and noticed that an iron key had been pinned to one corner. Philomena recognised it immediately.
" She won't be coming back, " she said quietly to herself. "And this must never - will never - happen again."

Philomena had long doubted that she possessed any magical skills, despite the assurances and protestations to the contrary of both John Dee and the ghost of Granny Bucket. So maybe she thought, as those words left her lips, that the earth tremor was a coincidence. Nothing remarkable; seismic activity was commonplace enough in the state of Maine. 

Bartholomew Middlestreet had to steady himself when the tremor hit. It seemed to come from directly beneath The Squid and Teapot, shaking the building so hard that pictures fell from the walls and crockery smashed. In the shaft that led to the tunnels, the agonized metallic death-rattle of the long iron ladder could be heard as it pulled away from the fabric of the walls, becoming suddenly, and unaccountably brittle, bending and shattering beyond repair.

Far beneath the inn, deep in earth, many hundreds of tons of rock tumbled like skittles, sealing forever all access to the Underland.


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