October is my favorite month of the year. Relief after the summer heat that sometimes lingers into September? Yes, please. Bugs disappearing for five blessed months? Hallelujah! Halloween? Making a costume is de rigeur, because c’mon, you don’t get that many chances to be someone else for a night. But one of my favorite things about October is that it seems to know how atmospheric it is.
I have never experienced an October whose drear and gloom wasn’t pitch-perfect. Cold wind, masses of wet leaves swirling down the street, stick-black tree limbs against the sky, screeching crows sitting on the power lines … The presence of Halloween and a mind inclined to fantasy make a miserable October a perfect October. With the ragged remnants of this year’s spiderwebs still hanging around my door, I don’t even have to decorate. October is Halloween season, and every time I see the crows or the leaves or the lone black cat slinking across the street, I feel like the world is winking at me.
Given what I write, of course, I almost feel professionally obliged to observe the season with all the doom and gloom I can muster. I like a bit of a laugh with my macabre most of the time, so I break out the Ray Bradbury (if you haven’t read The October Country, I can’t recommend it enough) and sit by the window to read while the light lasts. Bradbury’s vampires, bone-eaters, and Grim Reapers are perfect company this time of year.
Because really–we all know that October is monster season.
But October’s gloom can make you smile, and monsters can be all too human. Here’s a little something to play on that. It’s called “Exhibition.”
She pushed her way through the crowd, ignoring the murmurs and disapproving glances aimed in her direction. Hundreds of people had gathered to see the exhibits in Mr. Barnum’s show—respectable people, ladies in their broad-skirted dresses and gentlemen with their tall hats and sleek frock coats. When she passed by, though, their sideways looks and imprecations touched her for only a moment before falling on her husband trailing behind. For him, they reserved the open -stares. An apparently=decent white woman, walking with someone who looked like him? Clearly there must be something wrong there.
The crowd grew thicker the further she went, and soon she was blocked altogether. She hissed in frustration as a lump grew in her throat, threatening tears. Oh, no, no damned tears, not today and not ever again. She was here for what was hers, hers and her husband’s and nobody else’s. They’d been looking for far too long to let it go one minute more.
A cool, dry hand touched hers, and she turned. Jack was smiling sadly as he squeezed her hand, his familiar blue-green eyes silently asking a question. After a moment’s hesitation, she squeezed back, feeling the scaly roughness of his hands.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “But I can’t wait any longer. I have to—I need to make it right.”
“I know,” Jack said softly. “I do too.”
The worn gold of their wedding bands glinted under the high, bright lights of the exhibition hall. The surface of each ring was marked with dimples and dark spots; years in the sea had taken their toll on the old metal, but to her they were as fresh and beautiful as they must have been when they were first cast. Jack had dredged the rings up the day he asked her to be his wife. They’d had so many wonderful memories by the sea …
… and the sea had taken their daughter away. That might almost have been bearable. But she had been found, and now these good people crowded around to stare at the mixed-race freak.
True, the girl had been born a little strange. They’d known this might happen: there were always dangers, illnesses carried in each family. Sometimes people from different groups just weren’t … compatible. But to lose your child, and then to see her body on display?
The crowd was beginning to thin. People were shying away from the husband and wife, perhaps not trusting Jack not to do something mad. (He looks like an animal, they would be thinking. That skin.) As his hand tightened on hers again, she turned and took one step. Then another. Slowly, slowly, they pressed on towards the glass case.
And there it was. She stared down at the body of her daughter.
The girl lay on a red velvet pillow, her little arms tucked up by his side, her eyes closed. Her skin was faded and dried a sickly gray. Her tail was ragged. Next to her head lay a little plaque: Fiji Mermaid.
She took after her father.