Solum Orphanage’s Halloween Harvest was just around the corner; so close that Jill could almost taste the toffee apples and smell the bonfire smoke at the end of the night. All she needed now was for the sun to set.
“Remember what I said about the vampires, Jill,” Father Gary joked from his shed. Every Halloween, the time when an orphan would be relocated to their new group home, Father Gary organised the Halloween Harvest treasure hunt. This year was Jill’s first year taking part, and strings of excitement tugged her heart.
She assured him things would be alright. All the kids from the neighborhood would be ambling about tonight – they would protect her from any vampires. When the sun had finally disappeared, the little girl eased into her witch costume and slipped on a pair of sneakers. Grabbing her basket, she dashed out the door. Ghosts, zombies and scarecrows littered the neighbourhood and she grinned at the colourful scene before her. Jack o’ lanterns were pitched on the fences of nearly every house she passed. Father Gary had said the first clue would be under the great London Plane tree down the road. From there, she’d find the instructions to the next clue.
An hour later, Jill emerged from Mr Alistair’s doll shop with the second last clue in her basket. Unlike the last ones, this was inside an envelope. She moved under a streetlight to read the words on outside.
The harvest is ripe, but are you brave enough to get it from the Farmhouse?
She was brave enough. Her fingers tingled with the urge to open the envelope but Mr Alistair had told her not to peek inside until she arrived at the final clue spot.
“If you open it, goblins will crawl in your bed and tear out your finger nails with scissors, then cut out your tongue. That would be a terrible fate for an eight-year-old, don’t you agree, Jill?” the old man had whispered.
Worried the other children would reach there before her, Jill cut across the park before taking a shortcut through the bushes. Her feet were getting sore and the lace stitching at the foot of her costume scratched her legs. I should have asked Father Gary for a torch, the little girl thought. Suddenly, a twig snapped behind her. Jill turned around. It was too dark to make out any faces. The air against her face felt colder now.
As she took a tentative step forward, a guttural laugh came from directly behind her. Dropping the basket full of treats, she sprinted way from the sound. The laughter grew closer – it sounded almost like a growl. She continued running until she was greeted by a familiar clearing. In the distance stood the lonely farmhouse, illuminated by porch lights and moonbeams. Jill sprinted towards the farmhouse. Too afraid to look behind, she clawed open the door and scurried inside. An awful stench wafted up her nose. She wasn’t alone. A man, cloaked in a black robe hunched over a table. On it, was the mutilated body of a child.
“Ah, finally. I was wondering when you’d get here.” He pulled down his hood and revealed a large gash across his face. The flesh – now green and purple – was swollen on both sides of the cut. Jill recoiled.
“Well? Aren’t you excited to finally open that envelope?” He moved towards her then pointed at the final clue sticking out of her pocket. With a gulp, Jill opened the envelope with shaking fingers. It held a note, written in drooping letters – the kind Father Gary used to write the invitations for the Children’s Halloween Harvest.
Our harvest offering is nearly ripe, now we just need your untainted blood type.
“I don’t understand, sir.” Her eyes darted from the body on the table to his scar.
“Oh but you do. See the children’s harvest is for exactly that: harvesting children. Your carer Gary brings us what we need and in return…” He stretched out his hand, pointing to a bag of money to the far end of the farmhouse. “Do you know what a harvest is little girl?”
“Are you going to hurt me?”
The man’s eyes lit up. He enjoyed the fear that was tricking from her innocent eyes. He smiled, and his canines – all six of them – were no longer retracted. Instead they hung unnaturally, crammed inside his mouth. Jill now had her back pressed against the door. She watched with wide, teary eyes as his black pupils became rimmed with red.
“Father told you to watch out for the vampires.”
Words by N’Gadie Roberts, Illustration by Clare Moran