Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt for Oct. 28th was to use ‘oo’ in any way we wanted. I ended up posting a short response, because I’d gotten started on a ‘oo’ Halloween story that turned into too much of a story to be stream of consciousness, so I saved it for today’s Monday Musings.
I’ll be very put-out if WordPress’ paragraph breaks go haywire. All the images are from Unsplash.
This story is appropriate for all readers.
Here we go…
Now, gather ‘round while I elucidate. I have a doozy of a Halloween tale to tell.
Thirty years ago this very night under a blood moon, cousins and best friends, Boone and Cooper were Trick-or-Treating. Their rescue pooches, Snaggletooth and Baloo, named after their favorite Hanna Barbera and Disney cartoon characters from their childhoods, went with them.
The cousins were spending the long Halloween weekend with their grandparents, Oonah and Elwood Rooney. They’d never missed a single Trick-or-Treating excursion to their grandparent’s cottage. Before they were old enough to Trick-or-Treat without an adult, their parents accompanied them around town and then they all went out to the Rooney cottage, which was always the last stop after Trick-or-Treating in their neighborhoods.
This Halloween night, outfitted with a flashlight, their eagerness to see their Grandma Oonah and Grandpa Elwood, and the bravery that comes with pooling courage when traipsing around in the dark, the cousins headed into the woods along Gooseberry Brook. When they reached the covered bridge not far from the cottage, a cool, damp fog rolled in shrouding the path in a gloomy veil. A whippoorwill sang a mournful tune. They’d walked this path countless times and never once felt scared or in danger, but it was different this time. They could feel something afoot coming in the air that night.
Snaggletooth and Baloo led the way across the bridge, sniffing the path and bobbing their heads side-to-side as if anticipating bark-at-worthy spooks lurking just over the edge. The two kids’ footsteps echoed hollow beats on the bridge planks. Leaves rustled underfoot. Something with a wide wing span swooped and swooshed down from its roost in the treetops. They ducked as it whooshed low over their heads between them and the roof. Cooper shivered and reached for Boone’s hand, both giggling at their goofy jitters.
Picking up their pace, they left the bridge a quarter mile behind to see the welcomed sight of the cottage all a-glow in a visually inviting festoon of autumnal delights, which accentuated the Halloween mood. Lighted Jack-o-lanterns lined the stoop. Black cats watched from their places on the porch railing through amber-gleaming eyes. The black cat with a splash of white on its forehead groomed a paw, seemingly indifferent to their arrival, yet attuned to their every move without actually looking at them. A thin tendril of smoke rose from the chimney. A flood of warm, welcoming light spilled through the windows onto the porch.
The aroma of the feast of food Grandma Oonah always prepared when they spent the night made their mouths water—hot buttered rolls, caramel cheesecake, cinnamon-spice cider, baked apples, pumpkin pie, and Cooper’s favorite soup, Frog-Eye Vegetable Stew. The first spoonful was something she always savored. She could eat the whole pot by herself, which is how she came by the nickname Cooper-noodle.
The floorboards creaked when they stepped onto the porch, stopping them in their tracks. They scarcely breathed. Cooper laughed at the silliness of imaging they’d disturbed some sort of goo-oozing, drooling, noose-wielding, loony hooligan with drooping eyelids and rotting teeth who skulked in the shadows for the right time to pounce on unsuspecting travelers.
Cooper chalked-up her nervousness to this being Halloween night, and that she and Boone had explained at nearly every house that the Rooney family was NOT into voodoo, while clarifying that the Rooneys were ancestrally linked to shapeshifting, although it’s said to skip every other generation. So nobody in the family knew for sure. People loved to hear that story. It always garnered them more candy, especially when they added that anyone who marries a Rooney can learn to shapeshift, too.
Shaking off how creeped-out she was right then and wanting to get inside the house where she’d feel safer, Cooper knocked, and then opened the door.
“Grandma Oona! Grandpa Elwood! We’re here!”
Boone closed the door then they dropped their backpacks and candy sacks on the couch, hung their coats on hooks by the door, and checked all the rooms. Snaggletooth and Baloo snuffled about, inspecting the nooks and crannies. The house was empty.
Boone asked. “Do you think they’re okay?”
“Oh, I’m—I’m sure of it,” Cooper said.Cooper wasn’t sure of anything. This was so unlike their grandparents. They always met the cousins at the door with a barrage of oohs and aahs over how much they’d grown since they’d seen them last, or they jokingly scolded them for waiting so long between visits. On Halloween, because they planned for, and expected to see, their only two grandchildren, their greetings were always What took you so long? We’re not getting any younger, you know. What kind of goodies did you get? Circus peanuts? Candy corn? Tootsie Rolls? Peanut Butter Taffy Kisses? Black licorice?
“They can’t be far,” Cooper reasoned. “Food’s on the stove. Fire’s fresh in the fireplace. No doubt they’ll be back soon. I’m sure they’re close—”
Cooper jumped, almost screamed, at the clock’s announcement of ten o’clock. Boone had a good laugh at how easily Cooper was spooked, but she stopped laughing at the sound of hoof beats like a galloping horse pounding along the path. The sound drew nearer and louder. They turned as one toward the door. A shiver scuttled down Cooper’s back. They scooted close together. Rooted to the spot, they stared in frozen terror at the door, which creaked open of its own volition.
A flaming orange orb hurtled toward them. It soared across the porch and smashed BOOM! at their feet, splattering them with the sticky, slimy innards. Bellowing laughter roared, shattered the night air. Boone and Cooper clung together, too frightened to move in their near-swooning terror.
In the middle of the yard and silhouetted through the doorway, a massive coal black stallion reared on its hind legs. Its front hooves pawed the air. The headless rider’s cape billowed with the burst of wind that swooped down in a cyclone that swirled dry leaves before the wild hurricane up to the sky. The horse took off at a dead run on the sound of thundering hooves and an eerie, lamenting whoooo whoooo Booonne Coooperrr lifting and falling in its wake.
“The horseman knows our names!” Cooper whispered, scared the horseman would somehow hear her.
Snaggletooth and Baloo zoomed after the headless horseman, their barking and the hoof beats fading until all were swallowed up in the depth of the woods.
Hand-in-hand, drawn by an unseen force, the cousins approached the door. An owl hooted, swooped on silent wings across the yard to a low-hanging branch, and perched to peer at them with its spectral eyes.
The only cat remaining on the porch was the one with the white streak on its head. It lay curled on the seat of the gently swaying rocking chair, watching them through slitted eyelids.
“Coop,” Boone urged, “Let’s get out of here.”
They bolted for the stoop, running into each other when they stopped. Grandma Oona stood at the bottom of the step, hands on her hips, her dark jeans and long sleeved sweatshirt camouflaging her in the shadows of the moonless night.
“You two look like you’ve seen a ghost? Where are you going? You just got here. Supper’s ready.”
“Wh… Wh… Where did you come from?” Boone stammered. “We called for you in the house.”
“Why, I’ve been right out here on the porch. Don’t tell me you didn’t see me in the rocking chair?” Her eyes twinkled with a mischievous gleam.
“There was a cat—” Cooper froze, staring. Until this moment, she’d never noticed the strip of gray across her grandma’s long, dark hair above her forehead.
Boone and Cooper cut glances at each other. Cooper could tell Boone had the same realization.
Lumberjack-heavy boot steps thumped up the back porch steps and came steadily nearer along the wrap-around porch. Boone and Cooper turned toward the sound. Their hearts pounded in rhythm with the footsteps. Louder, closer came the steps.
Snaggletooth and Baloo raced out of the darkness, barking like crazy as they leaped over the porch railing in the moment a looming, shadowy hulk rounded the corner of the house. The dogs jumped on their back legs, yipping and wagging their tails in happy excitement.
Cooper’s knees when weak with relief, when she recognized her grandpa’s deep, hearty laugh as he stepped into the light.
“Down girls! Down! You’re not puppies any more. You’re too big to be jumping on me.”
Cooper saw the black cape draped over the crook of his arm, and she cast a glance at Boone, who had seen it, too. Cooper mouthed, The headless horseman? Boone mouthed back, I think so.
The cousins jumped and whirled. Their grandma stood right behind them.
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to say on Halloween night? Boo?” She laughed like she’d told the funniest story as she walked across the porch to stand by Elwood.
Boone demanded an explanation. “What’s going on? You weren’t in the house, and now you’re both out here. There was a cat on the chair, but you said you were sitting on the chair. And there was a headless…something… wearing a black cape and riding a big black horse. Grandpa… You’re carrying a black cape.”
“Right on both accounts,” Grandpa said.
Backlit by the lights glowing inside the house, which gave them the aura of bigger than life creatures of the dark, Grandma Oonah and Grandpa Elwood looked at their grandchildren.
“What do you mean—” Cooper sucked in a gasp.
Elwood chuckled at her surprised revelation. An instant later, Boone realized it, too.
“Then the Rooney legend is true,” Boone breathed.
“Of course, it is.” Grandma said. “And your parents know it, too.”
An owl hooted. High up in the treetops, the sound of a horse’s neighing rose and fell with the breeze.
“Come inside, my darlings. Tonight, you’ve come of age…”
Until we meet again,