Some more flash fiction for the Daily Prompt.
A Walk On All Hallows’ Eve.
In the small town by the sea All Hallows’ Eve was a serious time. If you went out at all it was warmly dressed from head to toe. The old folk didn’t go at all, they’d seen it all before. There were some things best not seen, unless you wanted woe. The children were kept in that night, which just bred curious minds. Forbidden was too strong a word, discouraged seemed to be more apt. Then again there was a vague sense that this was a night to experience, when you were ready to see it. The folks you’d see out at that time were the curious, in all senses of the term. The mad, the strange and people who like to stare.
The year I was there they told me all this, as if it was something I’d need to know. I was an outsider after all, so I was bound to be that way inclined. A foreigner, a stranger, the word meant both things. I was not from so distant a place that I didn’t understand. Halloween was a custom in my town too. We had our own stories, but these were mostly history now. We had not seen witches for centuries. We remembered our dead at Armistice or Christmas.
The pubs were full of stories here and every bar had its own historian. History, stories, it’s the same thing really. History is just the tales you can believe. In this town the night was called Samhain, a word from before the saints. The island was full of saints, their churches were everywhere. Still, they hadn’t banished this ancient name, maybe they’d given it power. I could never find out if the nineteenth century mystics had exhumed it, or if it had sat quietly there for centuries like the ancient stone rings, just waiting to be explained. I think that the night has always been known, but the old name may have been lost for a time.
They said it was the night when the Other World comes closest to our own. The barrier between them becomes opaque. The Dead, they said, leave this way, passing finally into the realm of the spirits. It does not mean that the living can stop grieving for them, but it’s the day the Dead stop grieving for themselves. What passes back that night is not explained, the living do not need to know. All we can understand is that the saints are out in force the next day. That is the day to visit our dead, but not the night before.
It was a strange still night when I went out with the young men from the pub. I knew it would be a cold night before I stepped out the door. I could sees a high clear moon through the smoky window. Outside I could see stars, more than I’d seen before from there. Even in the summer there’s nearly always a mist comes up from the sea at night.
It was supposed to be a walk home, back to my boarding house. It was a night for a stroll though, a fine night after a few pints. ‘We’ll go up here’ one of the young lads said ‘you’ll get a better view.’ Someone laughed. One said ‘No fear!’ but he came along with us anyway. It was up the side of the pub, heading to the crest of the hill.
I knew the place on the map, ‘Roidin an Phuca’ they call it. It’s almost certainly haunted, if you listen to any of the tales. The Pooka is there, but he is an old presence, much older than all of the saints. He was there before the men arrived, this night means nothing to him. His road is always open. There was a fort up there once, but it’s just a name now. Only drunks and young men need to go that way at night. But up we went to see the view, to watch the moon light up the stones. Here and there, across the crags, there were odd reflections, rocks made shiny by wind and rain.
We turned to look back. Below us the town was just a glow, the presence of light without a light being seen. Out at sea there was the moon. It was a flat sea, rare enough round here. A line of light lay across the water, coming exactly our way. ‘There’s the path’ someone said. That was clear enough, I could see the road that the Dead went down, across the sea and off the edge of the world.
There was a wind coming up and it was getting sharper. Best be off home now, we all agreed. Down we stumbled past the pub, it was still lit up but quiet. There was no singing that night, no shouting either. All of us remembering in our own quiet thoughts, the ones we’d known who’d gone down that road before us.
Ancient field walls, Aran Islands, Ireland.