Misfit’s Magic

The Last Halloween
Fred Gracely
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    An icy breeze smelling of rotting leaves scratched Goff’s cheeks as he studied the eerie statue hidden behind the Spraksville Library: four bronze men in hooded robes standing at the corners of a granite obelisk, unaware of a fanged gold gargoyle crouching on top, poised to attack. A dark feeling washed over Goff. It almost sounded as if the white noise of the tall swishing maples nearby whispered a warning—you should not be here. Goff shook it off, not the type to believe in whispering trees or any other sort of hocus pocus. He was here to do research, and that was just a statue, and the trees were just plants, big plants, very big plants, but nothing more.

   Preparing to jot down some notes for his paper, Goff opened a tattered ring-bound notebook to an empty page and pulled a yellow No. 2 pencil from behind his ear. With cold fingers, he positioned the graphite’s fine point just above one of the thin blue lines and looked up at the gargoyle. A sliver of fear raced up his spine— it had moved.

    Or had it? Perhaps he’d just let himself get spooked by the chatty trees. Perhaps it was just wind-blown hair thrashing against his glasses like sea kelp. Perhaps it was the shadows cast by the cascade of multicolored leaves fluttering through the air, but was that talon raised now when it hadn’t been before? Had its eyes always been turned ever so slightly in his direction? His heart beat like a kettle drum as he tried to convince himself otherwise.

    Statues don’t move. That’s crazy talk. 

    He resisted the urge to run. Leaving wasn’t an option. Leaving meant failure, and in a way, a slow death: it would be an end to the hope of ever getting out of Spraksville, out of the cruel, moronic foster home here, and the end of his chance to win the Journalism Scholarship to Amworth Academy where he hoped to feel like he finally had a home. He couldn’t write this paper, the centerpiece of his scholarship application, without discussing this statue. His submission had to be perfect, and this stupid statue was the most peculiar, spooky thing in the entire town.

    Regretting his decision to write about the local history of witchcraft, Goff stared at the statue while shards of late autumn sun stretched across the cobblestones and puffy clouds blew past under a deep blue sky. Frayed flaps of his unbuttoned barn jacket beat against his legs. Dry leaves flowed in waves over his black and white canvas sneakers. Goff remained fixed, trying to understand what it meant that such a strange statue sat here behind the Spraksville  Library

    “What are you trying to say?” Goff muttered aloud to the statue. “Beware of evil approaching from an unwatched direction?”

 

    He had hoped that coming here, standing before this peculiar artifact, would give him some insights into Spraksville’s deep history with witchcraft, something interesting he could use for this paper. But being here only raised more questions. Who put this statue here and why? Where had it come from? The shiny brass plaque on the base only had “Unknown, 1775” etched on it, and research had turned up nothing.

 

    “Freak!”

    Goff flinched and spun. Tom Sweeney, a dim-witted rhino of a boy from his class, was clomping toward him. Goff suddenly regretted donning a pointy dime-store wizard’s cap and cape—the cheap kind made of navy blue felt with gold stars hastily glued on. He’d just finished reading Excellence in Reporting by the late William Cranston about the importance of a writer fully immersing themselves in a story. Now, feeling idiotic, he regretted taking that advice. He yanked the wizard’s cap off. “I’m doing an assignment for a class.”

   

    “A class about how to be a freak?” Tom asked.

 

    Goff sighed. Tom was typical Spraksville. “It’s a history class, Tom.”

 

    “History of freaks?”

 

    “Regional history.”

 

    “Regional history of freaks?”

 

    “That’s just dumb.”

 

    “You’re dumb.”

 

    Goff didn’t reply. This was going nowhere.

 

    Tom walked closer. “Freak.”

 

    “Will this be over soon?” Goff asked.

 

    “Yup,” Tom said, punching Goff hard in the stomach. “Done!”

 

    Goff doubled over, unable to breathe, and dropped his notebook and pencil. He wanted to shout something at Tom, something clever and nasty, but shouting required breathing, and his lungs weren’t working at the moment. He fought off the urge to puke, not wanting to give Tom that satisfaction.

 

    Tom walked away. “See ya later, loser!”

 

    Goff stared at his shoes, watching the ground spin. It spun and spun and then slowed and eventually became just the ground again. The danger of puking now over, he stood up.

Tom was nowhere to be seen, but Goff caught his own reflection in the brass plaque on the statue’s base. There before him was a blurry picture of the poster child for “Most Likely to Be Bullied”—skin as pale as snow, wild blue eyes, a mass of brown hair clawing at his head, plastic glasses with thick frames covering half of his face, and of course, a goofy wizard’s cape draped over his shoulders.

 

    “It’s a miracle I’m still alive.”

 

    Goff stared for a moment longer and then looked away, even more determined to win that scholarship. He stepped back and surveyed the statue. The sun had faded just a little, darkening the shadows, and it looked more evil now, more mysterious. Glancing around first to make sure he was alone, he jammed the wizard’s cap back on his head.

 

    “Forget you, Tom.”

 

    Goff retrieved his pencil and notebook from the ground and opened it to a blank page. After thinking for a moment, he wrote:

 

    Behind the Spraksville library stands a statue of four men, worried and serious, watching, guarding against something unexpected, something evil, something that will attack without warning. I ask myself: Are we all in danger here? Perhaps the little town of Spraksville harbors secrets only the oldest townsfolk know, secrets that may one day haunt us—or maybe even kill us—in our sleep.

    He reread it and smiled. It was a good start he could refine later at home. But before he left, he wanted to add an illustration to give the paper more pizazz. He wasn’t great at drawing but could manage the basics. With broad strokes, he captured the pillar and roughed out the four men. He rendered the gargoyle by pressing hard and making dark lines for its wings, bulging muscles, and eyes.

 

    A stiff breeze kicked up and fluttered the corner of the page. Goff pressed it down and kept drawing. The wind kicked up another notch, lifting a pile of red, orange, and brown leaves nearby. Goff watched them swirl and dance and then returned to his work. He added a few lines of description about the ugly creature on top before looking back up.

    The gargoyle was no longer staring straight ahead as it had only a moment ago. It had turned its head and was staring right at Goff with beady little eyes. Goff’s blood turned to ice. He pressed the pencil too hard against the paper and snapped off the tip. With shaking hands, he pulled his glasses off and cleaned them with the sleeve of his jacket, muttering, “It’s just a smudge or something. Has to be.”

 

    He slid his glasses back on, blinked hard three times, and then looked again at the gargoyle. The great stone creature was as before—gazing straight ahead toward the distant horizon. Goff let out a sigh of relief.

 

    I think that’s enough for one day...

 

    His heart still pounding, Goff put away his broken pencil and notebook. He backed up toward the stone pillars marking the park entrance, watching the gargoyle closely with each step. When he reached the threshold, the gargoyle’s head swiveled toward him.

    Goff’s legs started running before he had a chance to think about it. He didn’t stop running until he rounded the corner of the library and threw himself up against the cold bricks, goosebumps covering his arms, rapid breaths blowing silver clouds.

    That did NOT just happen!

~ End of Sneak Peak ~

Misfit’s Magic Copyright © 2022 Fred Gracely