Saturday, 31 October 2015

Why Do Supermarkets Sell Christmassy Stuff Before Halloween?

It was shaping up to be a cold winter. Not only were overnight frosts turning the grass outside our student digs a strange shade of white and covering the roads with shining snail trails of ice, but the cold was seeping through the walls and into our houses. Across the country, and especially in Luxembourg where tax rates were low/non-existing, men who already had too much money rubbed their hands together as families switched on their central heating. Half a dozen kids were staring into the Windows, Windows Ten if they’d updated recently, wondering if the cold would freeze their screen. At least one kid whose parents identified as ‘urban Amish’ was debating when the next time he’d be able to uproot weeds outside would be. The Bin men, trawling the streets whilst their lumbering vehicles grabbed many a toddler’s attention, cursed under their breath, the resulting ‘dragons breath’ fogging up their sellotape affixed glasses. “Not long till Christmas, lads.” They kept calling to each other, in the overly masculine way that men did.
Not only, however, was the cold infiltrating our homes literally, with it’s trail of crumbling mud from the bottom of roughly discarded football boots, but it performed it’s terrible sneaking literally too. The hearts of many an Irish loving middle aged woman froze over as Daniel O’Donnell was booted out of Strictly, their husbands’ eyes rolling over as Claudia Winkleman declared they’d always have ‘Danny Zuko' to remember. As the nobodies who constituted as celebrities nowadays chimed, “Keeep dancing!” and the Antiques Roadshow theme began to play, the husbands let out a huff and announced, “Off t’garage.”
I could quite happily stayed in the room and flipped Doctor Who from the previous day up, but no. I wasn’t there. Instead of sitting in a room, having just witnessed Will Young do some quite pathetic dancing before ‘Len’s Lens!’ I was stood in a  room, wishing I was dead.
I, personally, have never been described as a party animal, at least not without a certain air of sarcasm in advance. The closest I got to adventurous on a Saturday Night was Walkers’ Mix Bag of Cheese flavoured crisps (What a disappointment they were!) and that was just once. But, it was a Sunday night and, as Steve repeatedly told me, that meant something. I had lost Steve about half an hour after we entered the party. There was a lot of people and a lot of noise; I disliked both of them. There was only one way the situation could get any worse, and that was on the off chance that someone insisted I danced. I hate dancing.
I was in the desperate search of either a nice quiet area where I could continue to read a Storm of Swords on my phone or an exit. I was quite sure that none of the others would miss me. Suzy, David, Steve and Elise had, on two occasions, been described as party animals, and I think only Elise’s description had been sarcastic once.
As I trailed through the endless corridors of the mansion, I realised how confused you dear readers must be. Ooh, you must think, where is our intrepid hero wandering, in search of a quiet reading space? Ooh, why is this building a mansion, and since when were there any mansions in Accrington? Ooh, I hope he doesn’t give us any spoilers from a Storm of Swords, I’m only on season two.
Well, dear reader, prepare to have all those answers solved with the beautiful use of the much frowned upon literary technique of exposition. (The one reviewer who actually reads these things but refrains from reviewing due to the pre-existing low quality has just pressed CTRL - W.) A few moons ago, a posh person began attending Accrington University. We all commented it was a fall from grace, which was even funnier when you considered the posh person was called Grace. In an attempt to stop everyone from calling her ‘Fall Girl’, she called for a mass Halloween ball at her mansion. The only condition: everyone had a great time, got bladdered and wore costumes.
As I strolled through the corridors, people looked towards me and cried, with varying shades of impolite language, “What the hell is he dressed as?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked the fiftieth person who asked me. I pointed towards the hardback novel sellotaped to my head. “I’m Facebook.”
“The point was to dress as a monster.”
“How is Facebook not a monster?” I asked. “It is a body formed of a thousand different people, brought to life by a single bloke with an enigmatic name.”
“Frankenstein?” Asked the person’s friend.
“No.” I said. “Zuckerburg.”
The two women looked at each other and then let out a giggle, which I decided was properly emphasised by the alcohol puddling in their stomachs. I smiled at them, the one dressed a vampire first and the one who naturally looked like a witch second, and then continued my intrepid quest in search of a quiet reading.
I found a doorway which led into the stereotypical posh library, where the walls were coated in ceiling high oak bookcases. All the books were old and dusty, filled with annoying nonsense like Wuthering Heights. There was a proper bookcase which contained all the volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, except from A Clash of Kings. 
“Have you got to the siege of Kings Landing, yet?” I asked to the seemingly empty room.
“How did you know I was in here?” Replied ‘Fall Girl’.
“There was a book missing, yet this is a perfectly kept library. To such an extent that there’s a sign on the door asking party goers to keep out. Yet, inside there is a book missing. The rest is elementary, I hope.”
“Who are you?” Grace asked, standing up and walking towards me. She was dressed as Cthullu, with her hair tied around the bottom of her chin as a beard of tentacles. She wore huge wings on her back and I couldn’t hep but think of Juliet in that adaptation with the Americans and guns. 
“I’m Douglas, but everyone calls me Duncan.”
“We have a pet Christmas Tree called Douglas.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I don’t drink.” I said. “Or do drugs if you’re wondering.”
“I recognise you.”
“It might help if I take the book off.” I said, peeling the sellotape from my face. 
She ummed and arred for a second, then realised, “You’re the Christmas tree guy!”
“That I am.” I said. “You’re Fall Girl.”
“I dislike that nickname.”
“Christmas Tree Guy is no better.”
She smiled. “I like you, Duncan.”
“That is quite polite of you to say.” I said. “Are you drunk?”
She let out a laugh. I smiled, which was the best reaction when unsure what was going on, unless the situation was a funeral. Before she could say something important or I could say something incorrect, there was a sound that I didn’t think I’d ever be used to hearing.
A blood curdling scream.
“If they don’t turn those bloody Halloween special effects off…” She began.
The music had stopped thumping, nobody was chattering or belching, laughing or singing. I turned to Grace. “I don’t think that was the bloody Halloween special effects.”
My face turned graver and graver. “I think that was a person.”
She put down A Clash of Kings. “The Siege of Kings Landing can wait.”
We scampered towards the door and she pulled it open, creeping towards the edge where light was seeping through. We stepped out into the corridor and looked both up and down, surprised to find nothing except a selection of half emptied bottles of beer. I grabbed the least empty (analyse that to mean I’m depressed, English Teachers) bottle and then knelt down, wrestling my shoe off.
“What are you doing?” Grace asked.
I took my sock off, wriggling my elongated toes, and then pulled my shoes back on. “There was once a bloke called Molotov and he annoyed the Finns. That’s a bad thing to do; they can throw flatpack furniture at you.”
“That’s the Swedish.”
“Oh. Sorry. Anyway, he annoyed the Finns. In annoyance, they stuck a rag into a bottle of petrol and created the Molotov Cocktail. Admittedly, this is Fosters instead of petrol and I’m using a sock instead of a rag but, point still stands. Molotov Beer Bottle.”
She smiled, but said nothing.
I looked down at her. 
She looked up. “Waiting for something?”
“Yes.” I said. “This is the bit where the person normally says something flirtatious or charming and then I turn bright red as I attempt to diffuse the situation with awkwardness.” I paused, then added, “I appreciate routine.”
“Sorry, mister,” she said, “but I’ve got to burst your bubble.Where are the matches?”
I cursed.
We trailed through the corridors in the direction of the ballroom where the scream seemed to have come from. There was a complete and utter silence in the air, a chill that certainly wasn’t coming from outside plagued our skin. I held the Molotov cocktail out in front of me, my other hand holding Grace’s. She had taken an ornamental sword from the wall and swirling it. 
“Do you know how to wield that?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said. “I did fencing at school.”
“Lucky you.” I said. “We did badminton.”
She laughed, her smile a beam of light. “The ballroom is just around the corner.”
“Maybe you should lead us in.” I said. “Seeing that you’ve got the sword.”
“You’ve got the Molotov.”
“It’s a bottle with a sock and there aren’t even any matches.”
“This isn’t going very well.”
“I feel sorry for whoever did the screaming.” I said. We took another step forwards and reached the huge wooden doors which led into the ballroom. They opened with a sinister creaking, revealing the marble floor and the twirling mirror ball near the top. The last time I had been here, Thriller had been belting from the speakers which surrounded the room. I was reminded of a dance routine Suzy had once taught me to that song. It looked good when she did it, but when I attempted it I looked like a camp interviewer from ITV. We stepped forwards, underneath the spotlights which hung from the ceiling. As we did, we saw the person who had screamed.
A single spotlight was shining down, casting a circle of white illumination. Normally, the person the light was shining down would be locked in an embrace with their desperate lover, performing some sort of slow sway which, apparently, counted as a romantic dance. This time, the person the light shone on wasn’t dancing. They weren’t even standing. The person who had screamed was maybe twenty five, with muscles used to playing rugby, and he was lying on the floor. Dead.
We raced over, the sword and the Molotov crashing to the floor, and looked at the young man. Grace plunged her fingers into the glinting material on the side of his neck, searching for a pulse. “Eurgh, it’s sticky.”
“It’s blood.” I said, checking the scene around him for fir needles. It may only be Halloween, but one would do well to remember that Paranormal Christmas Trees are by no means predictable.
“No, it’s not.” Grace said. She raised her fingers and, with a cringe, licked them. “Good God.”
“Have you turned into a vampire?”
“No.” She said. “It’s not blood. It’s… it’s… Pumpkin.”
I moved around and stared at the wound. The neck had been torn out by terrible jaws, but there was more than just blood splattered across the skin and shirt. I gave it a taste, just as Grace had, and discovered that the material was most definitely pumpkin. “That’s strange.”
“Duncan,” announced Suzy from behind us, “stay very still.”
Unfortunately, Suzy didn’t extend this invitation to Grace, who instantly turned and screamed. I sighed and turned too, discovering what had caused her scream. I can tell you, dear reader, that I didn’t quite expect what I saw.
“Bloody hell.” I whispered. Floating about five feet in front of us, their eyes glowing with evil and the candles within, were several pumpkins. They were bulbous and bright orange, but some had splatters of blood around them. Their mouthes, where slices of pumpkin had been cut away to make jagged fangs, were gnashing up and down. From between the rows of jagged fangs, a childish giggling was emitted. “Heheheheheheheheheh!” 
I shot a sceptical look at Suzy. She shrugged. “Nothing surprises me anymore.”
Grace grabbed my hand and pulled me up, her other grand grabbing wildly for the sword. The Pumpkins roared towards us, screaming in terrible hunger. She swung the sword out and sliced a chunk from one of them, but it hardly slowed them down. Simply angered them.
Suzy and David joined us as we scampered through the doorway. “Where is everybody?” I shouted towards them.
“Hiding.” Suzy replied. “After that pumpkin killed that person, they all ran off screaming.”
“Like something from a horror movie.” David added with his rich Welsh tones.
“What about Steve and Elise?”
“We haven’t seen them since we saw you.” Suzy said. “Who’s your friend?”
“Grace.” She introduced herself. “Aka Fall Girl. You’re the rest of the Pine Resistance?”
“No.” Suzy said. “We’re the Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency.”
“PCTA for short.” Said David.
The Pumpkins were still on our tail, giggling and screeching. How they floated, I did not know, but they did it bloody quickly. We were running to such an extent that I was beginning to sweat, yet they were still just behind us, creeping ever closer. We rounded a corner and found a large staircase, but we ignored it and jumped into the lift just next to the stairs. The doors began to close, but the Pumpkins increased their speed. The one at the front of the pack slid towards the doors and found itself crushed as the two pieces of metal closed. We were sprayed with fragments of pumpkin but it was fine, because we were still alive.
“What the hell is going on?” Grace demanded.
“Search me,” I said, “but not literally.”
“We don’t know yet.” Suzy said. “But we’ll find out. We need to go and get weapons and then come back, do some shooting and then ask a few questions.”
“We need to find Steve and Elise first.” David said, having to duck due to the height of the lift.
“I’ll call them.” I said, reaching for my phone out of my pocket.
“No need.” Grace said. She got her phone out and opened up an organisation app. “Did they book a room?”
The Gods of Exposition reminded me that people could book one of the many rooms upstairs, if they’d wanted to, to stay over for the night. “Yes.” I said. “They did.”
“What are their surnames?” 
“Wright and O’Hallain. Steve Wright and Elise O’Hallain.”
“Right, give me on second.” She typed the names in and clicked the button. There was a few moments of nothing happening and then the phone told her the room number. “Room 63.” She turned to the control panel to her right and pressed a button. The lift lurched into life, a display telling us we were passing through floors. Eventually, we stopped. Floor 3. The doors slid open. There were no pumpkins.
“C’mon.” Grace said. “Quickly and quietly.”
We crept down the corridor, passing doors on either side until we eventually found one with the number ’63’ painted on. I gestured to David and he nodded, swinging his foot towards the door. It crashed open and we burst in. Steve and Elise quickly pulled the cover of their bed over them. “Guys, do you mind?” Steve demanded.
“Paranormal Pumpkins, Steve.” I said. “There are paranormal pumpkins. We need to deal with them.”
“Can’t we ever just do something?” Steve demanded.
“Get dressed. We’ll be waiting outside.”
We marched back out of the room and stood in the corridor, our backs to the broken down door. “Sorry, by the way,” David said, “about the door.”
Grace shrugged. “I’m sure the Pumpkins have caused much more damage.”
“Wait till we come back with our guns.” Suzy said. 
“How much does a service from the Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency cost?”
“The lives of half a dozen Christmas trees, usually.” Suzy laughed.
“Seriously, though?”
“We don’t charge.” I said. “Although, a favourable donation is always appreciated.”
She smiled. “I’ll see to that, then.”
Steve and Elise emerged from the room, wearing clothes now, and said, “What now?”
“We get to a place of safety and then call the Professor.” I said.
“We’re going to need a car.” Elise said. 
We all turned towards Grace. She looked bemused. “Didn’t any of you drive here?”
“We got a lift.” I said. 
“Right.” She said. “The car’s in the garage, but that’s at the bottom of the house.”
“We’ll have to go to the garage then.”
“What about the Pumpkins?” Steve asked. “Do we not have any weapons to deal with them?”
“We’ve got a Molotov Cocktail without any matches and a sword.” I said. 
“There’s nothing like being over prepared.” He said.
We trekked down the corridor and found the staircase, twirling down it. The Pumpkins were nowhere to be seen, causing us to adopt a certain air of fear that, any second, they might turn up and kill us. We found a couple more corpses as we went, covered in sticky Pumpkin fragments, but we found no survivors. We presumed they’d quarantined themselves to their rooms, but a part of me was worried that might not be the truth. 
The childish giggling of the Pumpkins was present in the distance, so we kept as quiet as we physically could. For some reason, we crouched over as we ran, even the slightest tapping of our footsteps against the floor causing us to cringe. The corridors seemed to stretch on for all eternity, winding this way and that towards the garage. I held the useless Molotov in front of us, Grace stood just to my side with her sword. The sword quivered in her hand, leading me to worry that she would slide it down and it would kill me. I believe I was being slightly over paranoid in that moment, but I let the fear remain. If I’d tried to banish it, it only would have grown larger.
We got to the door to the garage and David kicked it open. A gigantic crash was the result and we heard the giggling of the Pumpkins intensifying as they crept toward the source of the disturbance. We raced through the door and saw that the garage wasn’t the ordinary type, holding a half stripped down car, a selection of rusty toolboxes, a bicycle and a lawnmower, but instead a classic car museum. There was at least a couple of 
million pounds worth of cars, over twenty as I furiously attempted to count them. Grace ran over to a rack of keys on the wall and began to search through it furiously for the keys to a limousine with waited on the other side of the room from us.
“Hurry up!” Steve urged her.
“I’m searching as fast as I can.” She replied.
The giggling of the Pumpkins was no longer in the distance. 
“Got them!” Grace cried, grabbing the keys and turning. We ran towards the limousine and she clicked it open, allowing us to throw ourselves inside. The Pumpkins raced through the doors towards us, but it was too late for them. Grace floored the throttle and we were off, in a haze of smoke, down the country paths and towards civilisation. But we would return. The Paranormal Christmas Tree Agency had a date with destiny.

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