The Last Halloween
AN icy autumn breeze smelling of rotting leaves scratched Goff’s cheeks as he studied an eerie bronze statue hidden behind the tiny Spraksville Library—four men in hooded robes at the corners of a tall granite obelisk with a leering gold gargoyle crouching on top, poised to attack. He knew this statue had connections to Spraksville’s deep history with witchcraft, but it seemed much creepier than could possibly be necessary.
Why was there a gargoyle on top?
Were the men supposed to be warlocks?
A blustery wind sent puffy white clouds sailing across a deep blue sky and swayed the tops of tall trees nearby. As pumpkin-colored leaves cascaded down, a dark feeling crept up Goff’s spine. The white noise of the swishing willows seemed to be whispering a warning—“You should not be here.”
Goff shook it off, not the type to believe in whispering willows or any other sort of hocus pocus. That was just an ugly statue, and the trees were just plants—big plants, very big plants, but nothing more.
Preparing to jot down some notes, Goff opened a tattered Spraksville Junior High ring-bound notebook and pulled a yellow No. 2 pencil from behind his ear. With cold fingers, he positioned the graphite’s point just above one of the blue lines and looked up at the gargoyle.
A sliver of fear raced up his spine. It had moved.
Or, had it?
He couldn’t be sure. Perhaps he’d just allowed himself to be spooked by the chatty trees, but had its fangs been bared so menacingly before? Had its eyes been flung open so wide?
“Nice try!” he said, feeling a little silly. “You can’t scare me off! You’re just a stupid decoration!”
He wished he could leave, but that wasn’t an option. It would mean the end of his dream of winning the Journalism Scholarship to Amworth Academy—his only hope of escaping dreadful Spraksville and feeling like he finally had a real home. This paper about the local history of witchcraft was the centerpiece of his scholarship application, and he needed his submission to be perfect. That meant he had to write something about this stupid statue. It was the most peculiar, spooky relic in the entire town.
Frustrated, Goff stared at the statue while shards of late autumn sun stretched across the cobblestones and his unbuttoned barn jacket flapped against his legs. He had hoped that coming here would give him something interesting to use for this paper. But being here only raised more questions. Who had put this strange statue here and why? Where had it come from? The shiny brass plaque on the base only read “Unknown, 1775,” and his research had turned up nothing.
“What are you trying to say?” Goff muttered to the statue. “Beware of evil approaching from an unwatched direction?”
Goff flinched and spun around. 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. He had hoped it would help him “feel” this story, but now he just felt idiotic. He yanked the wizard’s cap off. “I’m doing an assignment for a class,” he explained.
“A class about how to be a freak?” Tom yelled back.
Goff sighed. Tom was typical Spraksville. “It’s a history class, Tom.”
“History of freaks?”
“Regional history of freaks?”
“That’s just 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, his breath knocked out of him, and dropped his notebook and pencil. He wanted to shout something at Tom, something clever and nasty, but that would have required breathing, and his lungs weren’t working at the moment. He fought off the urge to puke, refusing 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,” he groaned.
He 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 now it looked even more evil, more mysterious. Glancing around to make sure he was alone, he jammed the wizard’s cap back on his head. “Forget you, Tom.”
He retrieved his pencil and notebook from the ground. After thinking for a moment, he opened the notebook and wrote:
Behind the Spraksville Library stands a statue of four men, worried and serious-looking, who seem to be 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, and he could refine it later at home. But before he left, he wanted to add an illustration for a bit more pizazz. With broad strokes, he captured the pillar and roughed out the four men and the gargoyle. A stiff breeze kicked up a pile of orange leaves nearby. Goff watched them swirl and dance and then returned to his drawing for a moment before looking back up.
The gargoyle had turned its head.
It was staring straight at him with beady little eyes.
Panic surging through him, 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.”
He slid his glasses back on, blinked hard three times, and then looked again at the gargoyle. It was staring at the distant horizon as it had been before. Goff let out a sigh of relief. With his heart still pounding, he put away his broken pencil and notebook, deciding he had done enough witchcraft research for one day. He watched the gargoyle closely, though, as he backed up toward the stone pillars marking the park entrance. 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 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!
Note: this is from the 2nd Edition. It's a good example of the type of editing I did to reduce it by 25%. This version of this segment is 1200 characters and the previous one was 1550. So, just in this one little section, I was able to cut 22% (350 words) without changing it in any significant way.