thewolfeinwillowell: (girl in forest)
[personal profile] thewolfeinwillowell posting in [community profile] dearcousin
Dear Emma,

This morning, when I blearily entered my bathroom, I saw a hook-nosed woman wearing a black pointy hat in my toilet. Inside my toilet, Emma, clear as day beneath the water.

I screamed, and Christophe came barging in. “Ilyana!” he said, cape fluttering majestically. “Is everything all right!”

“Happy Halloween!” the woman said, and she threw a handful of candy in the air and vanished down the toilet hole. The wet candy clattered to the floor or splashed back into the water.

“I need to wake Miss Bell,” I said. “I need to tell her there was a woman inside my toilet.”

“Oh, that was just a toilet witch,” Christophe said kindly. “Completely harmless. And look! She left candy.” He picked up a soggy Jolly Rancher and popped it into his mouth, wrapper and all. “I am not familiar with this ‘Happy Hollowy’ she spoke of, however. An obscure toilet witch greeting?”

I explained about Halloween as best I could while recovering from the shock of not only seeing a witch in my toilet but learning that they were not at all unusual. Christophe listened intently, nodding as I told him about costumes and trick-or-treating. Finally, he thumped his fist on his palm.

“Understood, Ilyana!” he announced. “Have a lovely time at the bookstore today. I must make several phone calls.” Then he tossed his cape behind his back (so as not to trip on it, as I have seen him do at least twice), and dashed out of my bathroom.

I didn't know what he was plotting, but I started to feel homesick, so when I arrived at the bookstore, I searched for maps of home to describe for you, but they were all gone! When I asked Iswy where they went, she said vaguely, “Oh, I’m sure they’re around here somewhere. Couldn’t have run off all by themselves, now, could they?”

I looked also for books on poetry, but I haven't sorted through that section yet, and Iswy is so disorganized. It seems that no matter how I categorize and alphabetize, my work is always undone and the store is never any neater. I would chastise Iswy, but I think she is as incapable of change as is the store.

Iswy is– I'm unsure of how she would feel to hear me describe her as such, but she is a mummy. At least, she is wrapped in bandages from head to waist, though loosely in places, so that her clay-colored skin peeks through, with everything below obscured by the floor-length skirts she wears. She has donned a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses on a chain at all times I've seen her, even inside the crowded bookstore where the only natural light filters through packed shelves that block discolored windows and the artificial light from old chandeliers and mismatched table lamps isn't especially bright. Her heavy jewelry jangles when she moves, and she has very bad teeth.

She is scatter-brained but means well and brings me snacks that she makes. Today she brought me little liver pies.

When I walked home in the afternoon, munching on a pie, I think I did hear a bit of your cello. I might have imagined it, but as I passed by the park, Azra the Death Boy called my name and waved me down. He was wearing headphones this time, plugged into the radio on his lap; they flattened down his hair in the middle so that from the side, it looked like a scribbly black heart. "The announcer said this song is for you," he said. He pulled off his headphones and put them on my head, and through them I heard only white noise. I was about to hand them back, exasperated, but through the static emerged a low hum. I think it was the part of the song that goes, "didn't mean to make you cry; / if I'm not back again this time tomorrow / carry on, carry on." I burst into tears, which was very embarrassing, and Azra took his headphones back and continued to listen to his radio, ignoring me.

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I cried all the way back to Willowell, so that when Christophe heard me at my door and threw open his own to yell, “Happy Hollowy!”, he must have seen the splotchy redness of my cheeks and eyes, for he asked, “What’s wrong?”

I was too bewildered by his outfit to respond. In lieu of his usual tunic and cape, Christophe was garbed in a football helmet, a bright green polo shirt, a necktie, overalls, and slippers.

“What is all that?” I asked.

“My Happy Hollowy costume,” he said. “I’m a human man. How did I do?”

I told him he looked just like my father. He beamed.

He welcomed me in and offered me some butter, of course, but I told him I had no appetite, so he decided to cheer me up by revealing the costume he had found for me. “I originally bought this dress for Victoria, but that was long after I’d already lost her.” He held up a white sheet with three holes cut out and threw it over my head. “How does it fit?”

“Perfectly, Christophe,” I said when I had gotten two of the holes to align with my eyes. The third hole was down at my chin.

When night fell, the doorbell rang. Outside was Ygritte holding a tray of apple slices. Behind her, her trembling son shuffled his feet.

“Christophe,” Ygritte wailed, “costumes are for the children. Adults offer treats. I read about it in that book I lent you.”

Our humble host looked faintly embarrassed. I helped myself to an apple slice. It was crunchy and sweet.

“Well, shall we set off?” Christophe said.

“Set off where?” I asked.

“Why, tricks-or-treatsing, of course!” said Christophe. “I read about it in the book Ygritte lent me.”

So Christophe and Ygritte ushered us into Christophe’s bathroom, and we commenced tricks-or-treatsing.

Christophe knocked three times on the toilet tank. The clear water swirled, slowly, and then a witch appeared. “Happy Halloween,” said the witch.

“Happy Hollowy!” bellowed Christophe in return. “Would you like a trick or a treat?”

“Eh?”

“We have here some apples for you!” added Ygritte, and she tossed two slices into the toilet.

“Ruffians,” the witch muttered, and she disappeared in a shower of chocolates.

Our next stop was the door of General Czaszka, who lives across the hall from me—or so I hear. I have never actually seen him, but he must exist, for outside his door was a bowl of ginger and raisin cookies and four glasses of cranberry juice. Christophe and Ygritte ooh-ed and waah-ed, and Ygritte’s son took the glass that was handed to him and spilled its contents over his shirt. He looked at me with wide eyes. He was paler than when he first arrived.

“General Czaszka doesn’t have a toilet,” said Christophe, dabbing crumbs and juice from his mouth with a handkerchief, “because he has no internal organs.”

We passed right by Miss Bell’s apartment. “We invited Miss Bell, but she is much too busy,” Ygritte explained.

Downstairs in the lobby, I saw a very large jack-o-lantern sitting on a comfy chair. It had a black nest crown and skinny green limbs.

“Hey,” I said.

“Pfilman told me to put these on and meet you here,” said Azra. With some difficulty he rolled to his feet. “I am very uncomfortable. These gloves are oversized.” He pointed at the winklepickers on his feet. “And I can’t spread my toes.”

“Well, I think you look great,” I said. “Thank you, Pfilman.”

Azra scrunched his nose. I think he was frowning, under all that hair. “What are you wearing?”

“A lovely dress.”

“Is it supposed to cover your mouth?”

“Azra the Death Boy!” cried Ygritte. She swooped in and grabbed Azra’s face to plant a kiss on each cheek. “Why, you haven’t changed a wick. Have you met my son Lethean? He came in on the train.”

“How do you do?” said Azra, but I do not think he cared much because he didn’t even turn toward Lethean when he spoke.

Lethean stared at Azra and then looked away and chewed his lip. He does that a lot.

The night was chillier than any I had yet experienced on the island. The curtains of Old Man Tango’s windows were uncharacteristically drawn aside, revealing a fire burning in the hearth. I stepped toward the house instinctively, wanting to crawl into that fireplace and huddle in its warmth, but Ygritte placed a hand on my shoulder and shook her head, and so I pulled my sheet closer and followed the group past.

We visited everybody else that night. The witches in the gnome tunnels wore sparkling warts and fairy wings and brought us round hard cakes, which they traded for the galoshes Christophe had been carrying all night for just that purpose. The witch in the silent movie theatre made Ygritte sing "Der Erlkönig" before rewarding us with toffee. Pfilman’s toilet witch wore a rubber mask with peach skin and a long nose. She gave us peppermint candies and laughed at Azra when he got stuck in the doorframe.

As we made our way toward our next destination, Iswy’s bookstore, Christophe talked excitedly about what a successful night we had had, but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking instead how unlike and like Halloween this “Happy Hollowy” was: unlike enough to be strange and new, yet like enough that I wanted to lock away my Halloween memories where they could never fade nor be altered.

Do you remember when we were eleven, we went trick-or-treating by ourselves for the first time? We were marching up the hill toward the Nugurus’ house, when you turned and I wasn’t there. You panicked and backtracked, calling my name, until I leapt out of the bushes and yelled in your face. You screamed, and I laughed, and you hit me. I know it must have been light out because our parents would not have allowed us to venture out alone otherwise, but in my memories, everything is cloaked in the long dark shadows of the trees, and I am a harpy, cackling in the night.

If I stay here forever, where the leaves never fall and Ygritte's book is wet and dripping no matter how long it hangs, will I become blurry at my edges like the girl on fire? Will you stop writing? You won't mean to, of course, but you'll become busy with school or your cello and forget. And when you finally remember and write to me, will I have hands to write you back? Are these hands I write with now still mine?

Christophe and Ygritte’s stifling concern would not let me fall behind, but I did so as much as I could under guise of keeping the ornery pumpkin company. Ahead of me, Lethean’s shirt was partially untucked. I glared at it to no avail.

“My feet hurt,” said Azra. “This whole thing is ridiculous. Why are you entertaining this fancy, Ilyana Wolfe?”

“They’re doing this for me,” I told him. “I can’t just abandon them.”

“They’re doing it for themselves because they are afraid. They see monsters in the dark and witches in the water. What they don’t see is that none of this is real.” He stopped walking and crouched, pulling his legs and arms into the costume so that he appeared a large pumpkin with a little head on top. “Or, I should say, what they pretend not to see. Will you lift this bizarre contraption off of me, Ilyana Wolfe? I cannot actually get out of it myself.”

“Not a fan of Happy Hollowy, huh?” I asked, but I lifted the pumpkin up over his head, nearly falling backward in the process, and set it down beside me, leaving Azra sitting on the ground in his shorts, shoes, and opera gloves.

“Excellent,” he said. He stood and picked up the pumpkin costume. “I will return this outfit to Pfilman and inform him that it is both unwieldy and uncomfortable. Good day, Ilyana Wolfe.”

“Are you coming, Ilyana?” Christophe called from up ahead.

I looked toward Azra, but he was already walking back the way we came.

“No, Christophe. Thank you,” I said, “but I am going home.”

And so I did.

Thank you for playing your cello for me, and for letting Mom help you with homework. She always wanted to help me but I never let her. Can you learn “Welcome to the Black Parade”? I'm forgetting the way it sounds.

Love,
Ilyana
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