Slumpy Hollow Halloween

Slumpy Hollow Halloween

by

Kate Hill

(Free Short Paranormal Romance)

 

Halloween Present Day

 

Nestled in a small valley just outside the magical woods stood a pumpkin farm called Slumpy Hollow. Two old horses, both sway-backed, and plump with age, grazed in a paddock in front of the slightly crooked stone-face cottage. The dark brown mare trotted toward a greener patch of grass, her steps still light and graceful in spite of her years. The stallion, once steel gray but now almost white, continued nosing around. Every now and then he lifted his wizened head and glanced toward the pumpkin patch in the field beside the cottage. There his master harvested the orange and white vegetables–pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Like the horses, the farmer was elderly, but through an active life of working the land he had kept his youthful physique–tall and broad-shouldered with respectable muscles. Only his short gray hair and beard as well as the lines around his eyes and mouth revealed his age.

Back at the cottage, an elderly woman sat on the front porch, carving jack-o-lanterns. The table in front of her was filled with many pumpkin faces, some scary, others pleasant. Tonight those faces would light the windows and walkway of Slumpy Hollow, for tonight was Halloween.

* * *

October, Two Hundred Ten-Years Before

“You’re sure you want to go through with this?” Hope asked her sister, Serenity, as they sat outside their farmhouse, carving pumpkins. “I mean, we just moved into town. Do you really want to start trouble already?”

 

“If they allowed girls in the race, there wouldn’t be any trouble,” Serenity said, her gaze fixed on the sharp-toothed face she had cut into the pumpkin’s orange flesh.

 

“If Jack wasn’t away at school, he could ride Brandy,” Hope said, referring to their brother. “You could ask Pa to ride her.”

 

Serenity turned to her sister and raised her eyes to the heavens. “Pa weighs too much. With me on her back she’s sure to win. I know she’s faster than any of the other horses in Elfspring County.”

 

“I don’t know. Everyone says Robert Jefferson’s stallion, Luki, is the fastest horse this side of Hot River.”

 

Hot River ran through the magical community, connecting magical folk throughout the world. Serenity’s family had practiced witchcraft for centuries, but they were the first generation to actually live along Hot River. She had hoped that now, in an enchanted community, there would be less of the prejudice against women she’d encountered in the human world. Unfortunately it seemed that other than the blatant use of magic, things were pretty much the same.

 

Each Autumn, on Halloween day, Elfspring County had a celebration that began with a horserace. When Serenity first heard about it, she had been overcome by excitement. Her beautiful brown mare was known for her speed and agility. Serenity immediately tried to register for the race but was turned down because it was open to men only.

 

That was two weeks ago. Since then she had come up with a plan to cheat the rules. Tomorrow, on Halloween, she and Brandy would not only enter the race, but win it.

 

“Girls!” their mother called out the door. “It’s time for supper.”

 

The sisters placed aside their pumpkins and carving tools and stood.

 

“I still think you’re crazy,” Hope said.

 

“You’ll see. By this time tomorrow, Brandy and I will have won the race.”

 

At that moment, Serenity spoke with confidence. She joined her family inside for dinner and helped clean up. Then she went to sleep with a feeling of excitement.

 

Even the next day when she cut off her long chestnut hair, donned one of her father’s tattered caps, and dressed in her brother’s old clothes, she felt nothing but giddiness and a sense of pride. Without a bit of apprehension, she signed up for the race at the last minute, saying she was a cousin visiting from across the river.

 

Only when the horses lined up did her confidence wane and her pulse skip from something other than race day nerves. Across the field strode a magnificent steel gray stallion. He was absolutely perfect in every way, from his excellent proportions to his beautifully-shaped head and blazing brown eyes. Even more stunning than the horse was his rider. Serenity had never seen a more handsome young man. Tall and lean, he had thick biceps. His long, sleek legs rested against the horse’s sides.

 

After a moment of staring with unabashed lust, she realized she was supposed to be a boy.

 

She patted Brandy’s neck and said, “Don’t worry. Just because they look good doesn’t mean he can run or he can ride.”

 

She had spoken too soon. Seconds later the race began and she realized that the steel gray stallion ran like the fires of hell were on his heels. Fortunately Brandy had just as much speed.

 

By the end of the race, the others had fallen behind and the stallion and mare raced neck-to-neck. Serenity glanced at the competition from the corner of her eye and found the handsome young man looking back at her. For a moment time seemed to stop and she knew that no matter how long she lived, she would never forget the fiery beauty of his amber eyes.

 

Brandy and the stallion swept across the finish line in a dead heat. The horses slowed and Serenity patted the mare’s sweaty neck.

 

“You did wonderful, Brandy,” she said.

 

The stallion jogged up beside her and the young man said, “What a race. No one has ever kept up with Luki, especially not a mare.”

 

“Brandy isn’t just any mare,” Serenity said.

 

“And you’re not just any rider. What are you doing today?”

 

“Why?”

 

“I thought you might want to go to the fair with me?”

 

Serenity stared at him, aghast. “But I’m a. . .you’re a. . .I’m a boy, can’t you see?”

 

A smile spread across the young man’s slender lips and he said, “If you’re a boy, then I’m Old Man Winter.”

 

“You. . .you know? Please don’t say anything.”

 

“Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me, but only if you go to the fair with me.”

 

She narrowed her eyes. “That’s blackmail.”

 

“It sure is. What do you say?”

 

“I guess I have no choice.” She lifted her chin and tried to look haughty in spite of how her stomach tightened with desire.

 

“By the way, what’s your name?” he asked.

 

“Serenity Reilly.”

 

“I’m Robert Jefferson. I’ll see you at noon, Serenity.” He nodded, winked one of his twinkling amber eyes, and turned his horse around.

 

Glancing over her shoulder, she watched them walk down the path. A moment later, he glanced back at her. He smiled and Serenity felt heat rise in her face. She could scarcely wait until noon.

 

A couple of hours later, after she had cooled down Brandy and returned her to the barn, Serenity washed in the river and donned her best dress. Glancing in the mirror, she could have kicked herself for cutting her hair over a stupid horse race.

 

As promised, Robert met her at the fair at noon. She had told herself that a man this handsome couldn’t possibly be nice, too, but to her surprise he was everything she had ever dreamed of. They spent most of the day talking and holding hands. She learned that he worked as a farmhand for a minion of Lady Autumn, but one day he wanted his own land and pumpkin patch. He was of tree-spirit origins and had a knack for growing magical plants. Farming appealed to Serenity. She loved the country life and the idea of settling down with a man who shared that love.

 

As dusk fell, Robert joined her at her house to light jack-o-lanterns and eat dinner. Later, she and Robert slipped away and walked in the moonlight. There, on the bank of Hot River, he kissed her for the first time.

 

“This is the best Halloween of my life,” she told him.

 

“You mean so far.” He smiled and kissed her again.

 

* * *

 

Halloween Present Day

 

Robert loaded the last of the pumpkins onto the back of his truck and headed for the stone-face cottage where Serenity sat on the porch, carving jack-o-lanterns.

 

He smiled and thought how nice it was that after more than two centuries she still made him the happiest man on the planet.

 

As he made his way down the walk, she waved and said, “You better get washed up. It will be dusk before you know it and I’m looking forward to Halloween night.”

 

“So am I, my love.” He walked up the porch, bent, and kissed her lips. Stroking her cheek and gazing into her beautiful green eyes, he said, “I look forward to it every year.”

 

“Me too.” She placed her pumpkin aside and rested her hands on his chest. Her eyes sparkled and she kissed him again. “We’ve been lucky, Robert.”

 

“Very lucky.”

 

* * *

 

October Two-Hundred Years Before

 

Serenity’s heart beat faster as she walked toward the brook that branched off from Hot River and ran behind the cottage she and Robert had built five years before. They had been married ten years already, and as he’d said, they now had their own plot of land nestled in a small green valley. With her knack for carving pumpkins and his knack for growing them, they had a thriving business supplying much of the magical community with pumpkins for their Halloween festivals.

 

Robert had spent all day working in the pumpkin patch while she had worked around the house, preparing for the winter weather that would strike all too soon.

 

She smiled, nearing the brook. Robert stood up to his waist in water, the muscles in his arms and hair-dusted chest rippling as he washed. He was so handsome–tall, strong, and virile yet gentle. Sometimes she could scarcely believe he was hers.

 

“Hey, wife,” he called with an endearing grin. “Why don’t you join me for a swim?”

 

“Dinner is ready,” she said, though she had every intention of joining him. She’d never been able to resist him, but she did like the little games they played–her pretending not to be interested while he tried to convince her she was.

 

“Can’t it wait?”

 

“It will get cold.”

 

“Yes, but I’m warm.” He wiggled his eyebrows and she laughed. “Come on, you gorgeous piece of womenflesh. I’ve been working the fields all day and I’m lonely.”

 

“Well,” she smiled, “if you put it that way.”

 

She untied her boots and rolled off her stockings slowly, loving the way his gaze followed her every movement. Glancing around to make sure they were completely alone, she started undressing.

 

“Oh shoot,” she said and gazed at him with her most seductive expression. “The tie on my apron is stuck. Would you help me?”

 

He chuckled and strode out of the water. Even after so many years her mouth still went dry at the sight of him naked. He stood behind her and untied her apron. Then he unbuttoned the back of her dress and slid it down her shoulders. She felt his warm lips nuzzle the side of her neck and she closed her eyes. Nothing felt as good as Robert’s touch.

 

“Serenity,” he whispered in a deep, husky voice.

 

She turned and gazed into his amber eyes. If only she could spend forever looking into those eyes. Her arms slid around his neck and he held her close, his mouth covering hers in a tender kiss.

 

When the kiss broke, she said, “I wish we could be like this for all time and that we would never have to part.”

 

“So do I,” he said, an expression of longing in his eyes. “But unlike some magical folk, we’re not immortal. All I know is that I’m lucky to spend my life with you, Serenity.”

 

* * *

 

Halloween Present Day

 

A horn honked and Robert and Serenity glanced down the road leading to Slumpy Hollow. A pickup truck rolled toward the cottage, a black-haired man behind the wheel and a chestnut-haired woman beside him. They waved out the window, and the elderly couple waved back.

 

The truck parked and the young couple stepped out.

 

“Hello, Robert,” called the man. “Good to see you and Serenity.”

 

“Hi, Hugo,” Robert said. “Have you come to pick up the pumpkins for the Princeton pack?”

 

“Robert!” Serenity snapped. She turned to their guests. “He didn’t mean that pack comment.”

 

Hugo and his wife, Sadie, were werewolves, though the rest of Hugo’s family were werewolf hunters. It made for some sticky times in the past, but luckily they all got along now.

 

“No problem.” Sadie grinned and walked to the porch where she stood, admiring Serenity’s pumpkins. “These are great.”

 

“Take one,” Serenity said.

 

“Really? Thank you.” Sadie picked up one with a wolf face. “May I?”

 

“It’s all yours,” Serenity said.

 

“Hugo, look.” Sadie turned around and showed the pumpkin to her husband. “This will look wonderful in the foyer.”

 

“Yes it will.”

 

“Here are the keys to the truck.” Robert handed them to Hugo. “It’s loaded with the Princeton pumpkins as well as the last delivery for Hot River Campground. Thank you both for doing the driving.”

 

“It’s no problem,” Sadie said. “We know this is a very special night for you. We’ll be watching for you at the bonfire at the campground.”

 

“We’ll be flying over around eight-o’clock,” Robert said and winked. “Gives us some time for other things.”

 

“Robert!” Serenity snapped again. It was funny how after two-hundred and some odd years he could still make her blush.

 

Moments later, they watched the two trucks roll down the road–Hugo driving the delivery truck and Sadie driving their pickup.

 

“It’s nice to see a young couple in love,” Serenity said.

 

“Yes,” Robert agreed. “But it’s also nice to be an old couple in love.”

 

They held each other’s gaze and smiled.

 

* * *

 

Halloween Night Two Hundred Years Before

 

Robert and Serenity had just finished lighting the jack-o-lanterns on their porch when a gust of wind made the flames flicker. A shadowy figure appeared at the end of the walk.

 

“Who is it?” Robert called, stepping protectively in front of Serenity.

 

“You have worked for me most of your life and you don’t know me?” replied a husky female voice.

 

Robert relaxed slightly. “Lady Autumn. Welcome to our home.”

 

Lady Autumn, who held the spirit of fall and brought the crisp weather and the beautiful red and gold colors that preceded the cold white of winter, walked closer. In the candlelight, her long reddish hair looked even more fiery and her large gold eyes flickered in her face. She was tall–far taller than even the tallest mortal man–and her lush curves where scarcely covered by a delicate spray of red, gold, and orange leaves.

 

“My Lady,” Serenity said, bowing her head respectfully.

 

“Serenity, it’s good to see you again. Robert, you and your wife have spent years serving the spirit of fall. You have consistently supplied the magical world with the finest pumpkins and most beautiful jack-o-lanterns ever seen. I have come here to offer you a reward for your service, if you would like it.”

 

“Serving Autumn is reward enough,” Robert said, and Serenity agreed.

 

Lady Autumn smiled and said, “But would you like to continue serving for centuries?”

 

“What do you mean?” Serenity asked.

 

“I have the power to provide my minions with long life, even those who were not born with it, such as humans. If you agree to continue providing pumpkins for the magical world, I will grant you a long life as my autumn wraiths. You will age, as humans do, but when you reach your sixtieth year, you will stop growing older. Each year after that, on Halloween night, you will turn into wraiths, with the ability to fly about, free as a spirit can be. You will also become young again for that one night a year. You will live for centuries and when the time comes for you to pass, you will do so together and venture into eternity as a pair. This I will do for you, if you so desire.”

 

Robert and Serenity looked at each other. They didn’t need to speak to know what the other was thinking.

 

* * *

 

Halloween Present Day

 

Hand-in-hand Serenity and Robert stood by the brook behind their cottage. As dusk fell, they glanced at each other and felt their bodies lighten. Gray hair turned black and brown. Their youthful faces smiled and they stepped into each other’s arms–a curvaceous woman and a tall, lean-muscled man. Their lips met and as their kiss deepened, they faded, becoming transparent against the darkness.

 

Horses whinnied in the distance and the couple turned, watching the steel gray stallion and the sleek brown mare gallop toward them. With each step the horses, young and strong, also became transparent.

 

Robert and Serenity leapt onto Brandy and Luki’s backs, and all four ascended.

 

High in the air, they soared over Hot River, watching the festivities below. Bonfires blazed. Trick-or-treaters collected candy. People danced and celebrated the most magical holiday of the year. Around them in the sky flew Lady Autumn’s other wraiths.

 

As Serenity and Robert soared over the campground, they saw a clearing filled with people enjoying music and pumpkin pie. Sadie and Hugo gazed up toward the sky and waved at the wraiths.

 

Robert and Serenity waved back before heading for home. They still had lots more celebrating to do that night, and it was best done in the privacy of their cottage.

 

The End

 

Copyright 2008 Kate Hill

Revised 2017

 

Note: Slumpy Hollow Halloween is related to the Hot River series by Kate Hill.