Read (1972) The Halloween Tree Online

Authors: Ray Bradbury

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(1972) The Halloween Tree (4 page)

BOOK: (1972) The Halloween Tree
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No sooner had he cried this than
Mr. Moundshroud ripped a great tissue from the side of the barn! It
fluttered in his hands: the eye of a tiger! Another rip from another
ancient poster and—the mouth of a lion!

The boys heard roars of Africa down the wind.

They blinked. They ran. They scratched with fingernails. They plucked
with hands. They seized off strips and patches and huge rolls of animal
flesh, of fang, and piercing eye, of wounded flank, of blood-red claw
of tail, of bound and leap and cry. The whole side of the barn was an
ancient parade stopped dead. They tore it asunder. And with each tear
they pulled off talon, tongue, or ravening feline eye. Beneath waited
layer upon layer of jungle nightmare, delicious encounters with polar
bears, panicked zebra, milling prides of lions, charging rhinos,
clambering gorillas which pawed up the side of midnight and swung
toward dawn. A thousand animals in congregation rumbled to be set free.
Now free in fists and hands and fingers, whistling on the autumn wind, the boys raced off across the grass.

Now Moundshroud knocked down old fence-railing beams and made a rough
kite-cross and bound them with wire, then stood back to receive the
gifts of kite paper as the boys flung them in fistfuls.

And these he tossed in place upon the frame, and, spark-flinting, fused with burnings of his horny hands.

“Hey!” The boys cried their delight. “Oh, look!”

They had never seen such things, or known that men such as Moundshroud
with a pinch, a clutch, a pressure of fingers might blend an eye with
tooth, a tooth with mouth, a mouth with feline bobcat tail. All, all
mingled beautifully into a single thing, a wild jigsaw puzzle jungle
zoo billowed and trapped, pasted and tied, growing, growing, taking
color and sound and pattern in the light of the ascending moon. Now
another cannibal eye. Now another hungry maw. A mad chimpanzee. A most
insane mandrill-ape. A screaming butcher bird! The boys ran up with the
last frights handed over and the kite finished, the ancient flesh laid
out, fused by the still blue-smoke-burning horny hands. Mr. Moundshroud
lit a cigar with the last bit of fire that sparked out of his thumb and
smiled. And the light from his smile showed the Kite for what it was, a
kite of destructions, of animals so dire and fierce their outcry
drowned the wind and murdered the heart.

He was pleased, the boys were pleased.

For the Kite somehow seemed to resemble …

“Why,” said Tom, astounded, “a pterodactyl!”

“A
what?!”

“Pterodactyl, those ancient flying reptiles, gone some billion years
back, and never seen again,” replied Mr. Moundshroud. “Well said, boy.
Pterodactyl it seems and is, and ‘twill fly us downwind to Perdition or
Lands End or some other fine-sounding place. But, now, rope, twine,
string, quick! Filch and carry!”

They
ran the rope off an old abandoned clothes line strung between barn and
abandoned farmhouse. A good ninety feet or more of rope they brought
Moundshroud who snaked it through his fist until it smoked a most
unholy smoke. He tied it to the middle of the vast Kite which flapped
like a somehow lost and out-of-water manta ray upon this high strange
beach. It struggled with wind to live. It flapped and floundered on the
heaves of tidal air, laid down on grass.

Moundshroud stood back, gave a jerk, and lo! the Kite—flew!

It hung low upon the air at the end of its clothes line, in a
dumb-brute groveling of wind, veering this way, dashing that, leaping
up suddenly to confront them with a wall of eyes, a solid flesh of
teeth, a storm of cries.

“It won’t rise, won’t go straight! A tail, we need a tail!”

And as by instinct Tom dived first, and seized the Kite by its bottom. He hung there. The Kite steadied. It began to rise.

“Yes,” cried the dark man. “Oh lad, you are the one. Bright boy! You be the tail! And more, and more!”

And as the Kite slowly ascended the cold river of swift flowing air, each boy in turn, seized with the whim, spurred by his
wits, became more and yet more of the tail. Which is to say that
Henry-Hank, disguised as a Witch, grabbed Toms ankles, and now the Kite
had two boys for its magnificent tail!

And Ralph Bengstrum, wound up in his Mummy clothes, stumbling over his
winding tapes, smothered in his burial rags, shambled forward, jumped,
and grabbed Henry-Hank’s ankles.

So three boys hung now in a Tail!

“Wait! Here I come!” cried Beggar, who under his dirt and rags was really Fred Fryer.

He jumped, he caught.

The Kite ascended. The four boys making the tail yelled for more length!

They got it when the boy dressed as an Apeman scrambled and grabbed
ankles followed by the boy dressed as Death with a Scythe who did
dangerously likewise.

“Watch out with the scythe!”

The scythe fell and lay in the grass like a lost smile.

But the two boys hung down now from all the half-washed ankles, and the
Kite rose more, higher, higher adding a boy and a boy, and a boy until
with a yell and shout, eight boys were down-hung in a magnificent
thrashing tail, the last
two being Ghost who was truly George Smith and Wally Babb who had,
inspired, made himself up to look like a Gargoyle fallen off the top of
a cathedral.

The boys yelled with elation. The Kite swooped and—took off!

“Hey!”

Whoosh! The Kite purred with a thousand animal whispers.

Whannng! The Kite rope strummed the wind.

Hush!
said the entire thing.

And the wind flew them high across the stars.

Leaving Moundshroud to look up with awe at his contraption, his kite, his boys.

“Wait!” he shouted.

“Don’t wait, come on!” the boys yelled.

Moundshroud ran along the grass to seize the scythe. His cape fluttered
taking air, making wings until he, also, very simply, took off, and
soared.

The Kite flew.

The boys hung down from the Kite in a fine lizard’s tail, now weaving, now looping, now snapping, now gliding.

They yelled with delight. They shrieked with ingasped, outgasped
terror. They rode across the moon in an exclamation point. They soared
over hills and meadows and farms. They saw themselves reflected in
dusky moon-bright streams, creeks, rivers. They brushed down over
ancient trees. The wind stirred by their passing shook down whole
government mints of coins, leaves, bright showering to the
black-grassed earth. They flew over the town and thought—

O look up! see! here we are! your sons!

And thought: O look down, there somewhere are our mothers, fathers,
brothers, sisters, teachers! Hey, here we are! O, someone, see us! or
you’ll never
believe!

And in a last swoop the Kite whistled, hummed, drummed along the winds to float over the old house and the Halloween Tree where first they had met Moundshroud!

Swoomp, flutter, glide, rush, hiss!

The suction of their swung bodies caused a thousand candles to flutter,
flicker, stutter their light, hiss with desire to reflame themselves,
so all the hung pumpkin scowls and leers and wild smiles were
half-snuffed to unhappy shadows. The whole Tree went dead for a
heartbeat. Then as the Kite sang high—the Tree blazed up with a
thousand new cut-pumpkin frowns, glares, grimaces, and grins!

The windows of the house, black mirrors, saw the Kite go away and away,
until the boys and the Kite and Mr. Moundshroud were very small on the
horizon.

And then down they sailed off away deep into the Undiscovered Country of Old Death and Strange Years in the Frightful Past… .

“Where are we going?” cried Tom, hanging to the Kite’s tail.

“Yes, where, where?” cried all the boys, one after another, below, below.

“Not where, but when!” said Moundshroud, pacing them, his great veiled
cloak full of moonwind and time. “Two thousand, count them, years
before Christ! Pipkin’s there, waiting! I smell it! Fly!”

Then the moon began to blink. It closed up its eye and there was
darkness. Then faster and faster it began to wink, to wax, to wane, to
wax again. Until a thousand times over it flickered and in flickering
changed the landscape below, and then fifty thousand times, so fast they could not see it, the moon extinguished and relit itself.

And the moon stopped winking and held very still.

And the land was changed.

“Look,” said Moundshroud, hung upon the very air above them.

And the million tiger-lion-leopard-panther eyes of the autumn Kite looked down, as did the eyes of the boys.

And the sun rose showing them …

Egypt. The River Nile. The Sphinx. The Pyramids.

“But,” said Moundshroud. “Notice anything—different?”

“Why,” gasped Tom, “it’s all
new.
It’s just been built. That means we really
have
gone back in Time four thousand years!”

And, sure enough, the Egypt that lay below was ancient sand but new-cut
stone. The Sphinx, with its great lion paws treaded out on the golden
stuffs of desert, was sharp-cut and freshly born out of the womb of
stone mountains. It was a vast pup in the bright and empty glare of
noon. If the sun had fallen and lay between its paws, it would have
cuffed it like a fireball toy.

The
Pyramids? Why they lay like strange-shaped blocks, yet other games to
be puzzled over, played with by the woman-lion Sphinx.

The Kite zoomed down and skirted the sand dunes, flirted over one
pyramid and was drawn, as by suction, by an open tomb-mouth set in a
small cliff.

“Hey, Presto!” cried Moundshroud.

With a flap he gave the Kite such a kick as made the boys toll like clamorous bells.

“Hey, no!” they cried.

The Kite shuddered, fell down, hovered ten feet above the dunes, and shook itself like a wild dog ridding itself of fleas.

The boys fell safe in golden sand.

The Kite broke away in a thousand shreds of eyes, fangs, shrieks,
roars, elephant trumpetings. The Egyptian tomb-mouth sucked them in,
and Moundshroud, laughing, with it.

“Mr. Moundshroud, wait!”

Leaping up, the boys ran to shout into the dark tomb doorway. Then they lifted their gaze and saw where they were.

The Valley of the Kings, where huge stone gods loomed above. Dust
sifted in a strange downpour of tears from their eyes; tears made of
sand and powdered rock.

The boys leaned
into the shadows. Like a dry river bottom, the corridors led down to
deep vaults where lay the linen-wrapped dead. Dust fountains echoed and
played in strange courtyards a mile below. The boys ached, listening.
The tomb breathed out a sick exhalation of paprika, cinnamon, and
powdered camel dung. Somewhere, a mummy dreamed, coughed in its sleep,
unraveled a bandage, twitched its dusty tongue and turned over for
another thousand-year snooze… .

“Mr. Moundshroud?” called Tom Skelton.

And from deep in the dry earth a lost voice whispered:

“Mound—sssss—shroud.”

Out of the darkness something rolled, rushed, flapped.

A long strip of mummy cloth snapped out into the sunlight.

It was as if the very tomb itself had stuck out its old dry tongue which lay at their feet.

The boys stared. The linen strip was hundreds of yards long and might,
if they wished, lead them down, down into the mysterious deeps below
the Egyptian earth.

Tom Skelton, trembling, put one toe out to touch the yellow linen strip.

A wind blew from the tombs, saying: Yessss—”

“Here I go,” said Tom.

And, balancing on the tightrope of linen, he wandered down and vanished in the dark under the burial chambers.

“Yesssss—!” whispered the wind coming up from below. “All of you. Come. Next. And next. And another and another. Quick.”

The boys raced down the linen path in darkness.

“Watch for murder, boys! Murder!”

The pillars on both sides of the rushing boys flashed to life. Pictures shivered and moved.

The golden sun was on every pillar.

But it was a sun with arms and legs, bound tight with mummy wrappings.

“Murder!”

A dark creature struck the sun one dreadful blow.

The sun died. Its fires went out.

The boys ran blind in darkness.

Yeah, thought Tom, running, sure, I mean, I think, every night, the sun
dies. Going to sleep, I wonder, will it come back? Tomorrow morning,
will it still be dead?

The boys ran. On new pillars dead-ahead, the sun appeared again, burning out of eclipse.

Swell! thought Tom. That’s it! Sunrise!

But just as quickly, the sun was murdered again. On each pillar they
raced by, the sun died in autumn and was buried in cold winter.

Middle of December, thought Tom, I often think: the sun'll never come
back! Winter will go on forever! This time the sun is
really
dead!

But as the boys slowed at the end of the long corridor, the sun was
reborn. Spring arrived with golden horns. Light filled the corridor
with pure fire.

The strange God stood burning on every wall, his face a grand fire of triumph, wrapped in golden ribbons.

“Why, heck, I know who
that
is!” panted Henry-Hank. “Saw him in a movie once with terrible Egyptian mummies!”

“Osiris!” said Tom.

“Yesssssssss …” hissed Moundshroud’s voice from the deep tombs. “Lesson
Number One about Halloween. Osiris, Son of the Earth and Sky, killed
each night by his brother Darkness. Osiris slain by Autumn, murdered by
his own night blood.

“So it goes in
every country. Each has its death festival, having to do with seasons.
Skulls and bones, boys, skeletons and ghosts. In Egypt, lads, see the
Death of Osiris, King of the Dead. Gaze long.”

The boys gazed.

For they had come to a vast hole in the underground cavern and through
this hole they could look out at an Egyptian village where, at dusk,
food was being placed out in pottery and copper dishes on porches and
sills.

“For the homecoming ghostssssss,” whispered Moundshroud somewhere in the shadows.

Rows of oil lamps were nailed to house fronts and the soft smoke from these rose up on the twilight air like wandering spirits.

You could almost see the haunts shifting along the cobbled streets.

The shadows leaned away from the lost sun in the west and tried to enter the houses.

But the warm food, steaming on the porches, kept the shadows circling and stirring.

A faint smell of incense and mummy dust wafted up to the boys who
looked out upon this ancient Halloween and the “treats” being set
forth not for wandering boys but homeless ghosts.

“Hey,” whispered all the boys.

“Do not lose your way in the dark,” voices sang in the houses, to harps
and lutes. “O dear sweet dead, come home, and welcome here. Lost in the
dark but always dear. Do not wander, do not roam. Dear ones, come home.”

Smoke curled from the dim lamps.

And the shadows stepped up on the porches and, very gently, touched the gifts of food.

And in one house they could see an old grandfather mummy being taken
out of a closet and put in the place of honor at the head of the table,
with food set before him. And the members of the family sat down to
their evening meal and lifted their glasses and drank to the dead one
seated there, all dust and dry silence…

BOOK: (1972) The Halloween Tree
11.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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