The stiff autumn wind bullied brittle leaves across the sidewalk and into the empty street on Angela’s way home from the daycare center. She wrapped her too-thin cardigan tightly around her as the leaves were marched swiftly to the opposite curb. Their colors had drained from bright fingerpaint yellows, oranges, and reds to a dull, crunchy brown. Once they danced, she thought. Now, they merely scuttle. Her brow furrowed for what felt like the hundredth time that day as she wrenched the cardigan even tighter. Her pace became brisk to match the air, her heels making curt interjections with each step. She tried to warm her mood with thoughts of hot apple cider and pumpkin spice lattes, but the cold kept rushing back in. Mrs. Weaver’s condescending scowl would return without warning, and the memory of her supervisor’s resentment cut through Angela, biting her, and making her wince.
Decrepit jack-o-lanterns sagged on many of the front stoops of houses and businesses that Angela passed. Their sunken eye sockets and sagging mouths seemed to cry out, “Help us! Save us!” but she knew there was no hope for them. Most had been smashed the night before, a post-Halloween “tradition” celebrated by local kids. Those that remained would be left to rot until a distant garbage day, their blackened insides becoming nests for insects. Don’t worry, Angela responded to the refugee pumpkins, even the best of us end up covered in bugs. Her mood was degrading along with the afternoon light; the sky was now a flat, cloud-covered gray with no sunset colors in sight. The street lamps began to blink on. There was plenty of natural light left for Angela to see, but the hazy gray sky would be black in less than an hour. For now, the lamps provided only ambiance and a low humming. In her irritation, Angela was more focused on the latter, and she walked even faster now, concentrating on the clack-clack conversation that her feet were having – until music interrupted them.
Down the street the wail of a trumpet was making its way towards Angela. It was soon accompanied by a guitar, then a chorus of shouts, laughter, and clapping hands. Appearing at the end of the block was a mass of colors, defiantly challenging their drab surroundings. As they drew closer, Angela could make out the chic-a chic-a of maracas and snake-like rattle of castanets. A mariachi band? Angela’s brow beetling once again wonder what could be coming up the middle of the street.
The troop was much closer now, and Angela stared at them, impressed by their numbers: thirty to fifty at least. The men wore sombreros and black suits with shiny brass buttons, the women long dresses with ruffles upon ruffles. Some carried instruments, others sang, and all were dancing. No face was left uncovered—they were near enough now that Angela could see that every person was either wearing full face paint or a mask. Many were hyper-realistic skulls adorned with roses and gemstones. The music was enchanting. Angela found herself dazed in wonder, her mind lost in the crowd of celebrators. Then, to her surprise, she was in the crowd.
A man’s gloved hand grasped hers and pulled her in, spinning her off balance. She stumbled but was immediately in the arms of another masked figure. At first she was stiff and reluctant, but she soon gave in to the dance. She let the twirling dancers envelop her. The vibrant skirts dazzled her with their flower garden of colors and the way they flew through the air, twisting and fluttering over the ground. She allowed herself to let go and was swept up into the thrum of the many guitars and the arms of yet another dancer. Together they spun, faster and faster, until Angela was certain she must be floating, her eyes closed in pure elation, laughing as if she were drunk on delight.
Then, her foot found the hem of one of those flying dresses, and she tumbled into her partner, knocking them both down. She looked at him, giggling with apologies, only to have the laughter sucked from her lungs. His mask had been pulled askew as they toppled, and what lay underneath was unlike any face Angela had seen outside of a museum. His skin was mummified, papery and dead; his eyes, sunk into their sockets, were dark, horrid remnants yet blazed with an unnatural knowing. He calmly replaced the mask and stood. Angela stayed frozen on the ground as the man reached out a hand to her. He seemed to speak, but the mariachi music was too loud, suddenly crazed and out of tune. She clambered backward toward the curb as more dancers turned to look at her, their skeleton faces now too realistic for mere face paint; the roses in their hair black and crumbling like ash.
Angela’s fingertips found the curb. She pulled herself up and bolted, ignoring the cluster of outstretched hands. The terrible music faded with each stride, and she slowed to glance over her shoulder. She watched intently as the mob danced onward into the dusk and out of sight. She stopped, gulping cold air that clawed at her lungs. Her body tingled with needles as she tried desperately to steady her breath. The sky was now dark enough for the street lamps to be necessary, and she was thankful for the light. Hot chocolate had just begun to settle into the forefront of Angela’s thoughts when an icy wind knocked it away. The gale carried the final notes of a trumpet to Angela’s ear. “Come with us,” the song whispered. “Join the dance.”
Credit To – Vixen666