Nobody does Halloween like Ginnie Farrow. Just ask the neighborhood.
Sheila Canterwell, beloved kindergarten teacher, used to take the ribbon with her Haunted Haus, and before that Reverend Jim McGee smugly won decades worth of praise with his carefully planned Zombie Garden. He spent hours in his garage hand painting fake rubber limbs to look terrifyingly real when strewn in haphazard rows. We all enjoyed the results of their friendly feud, ohhing and ahhhing at each new height they managed to reach.
The prizes have varied over time, from gift certificates, to lawn service, to cash on occasion, but really, it’s the awe and appreciation of the neighborhood that most seek to win. And growing ghosts? Well, that’ll do it.
Thing is, no one in the neighborhood ever managed to grow a decent ghost. Some tried, including Jim and Sheila, but the soil didn’t cooperate, or the corpse seed didn’t take even if it was planted at the height of spring, under a full moon. We once saw them collaborate a bit, trying to get a few to come up in the community garden in town. Nothing doing, it just didn’t happen.
Then Ginnie Farrow moved to town and the first thing she did was bury her dead right there in plain daylight. Four coffins came on the moving truck, and after the movers left she stood on the front porch for a long time, tall lemonade glass in hand, surveying the fresh mounds of dirt. She didn’t look like one of us, in her torn jeans and big boots, but it takes all kinds, we always say.
So, this was August, or thereabouts, and by September the ghosts had grown up out of the graves where the movers had planted the hardwood coffins. They grew on long vines and in the evening Ginnie Farrow would come out with her garden shears to prune back the crinkly, grey leaves, and clip off the wailers. That’s how you could tell they were ready I suppose: the sound would mature from a high-pitched whine to a low moan to a deep wail that left your bones feeling heavy with a sorrow you couldn’t name. Ginnie sometimes handed them out, to kids on passing by, who would then use them to torment their siblings, friends, and parents. All in good fun though, and they didn’t live long clutched in sticky little hands.
We’d speculate down at the VFW Hall about how Ginnie might be getting her ghosts to grow so large, and before you knew it folks were digging up Mom and Pop and making the kids dig six-by-sixes in the lawn. Corpse seed sat unpurchased down at the hardware store abandoned in favor of the real deal. Still, the old relatives that grew in were thin as air and sadly small.
Tell you what, Sheila Canterwell’s lips pursed together so tightly they seemed to disappear into her face as her ghosts failed to take root. And Jim McGee turned sallow and mean, with his sermons following suit. We started to hear rumors that Sheila was using virgin’s blood and dirt from the church graveyard to fertilize the earth where her aunts now lay, no longer resting, but weakly growing up and out of the ground.
At the beginning of October, Ginnie’s Red Devil bulbs started to flower, and Jim McGee stood there at her fenceline, sour-faced, crushing his hat between his hands. “Well, this is really the last straw,” we heard him shout at the quiet brick house. “The last damn straw,” he said, and really, we were surprised at the language. The neighborhood expects better from a minister. Sheila didn’t say a word, not one, which is unusual.
October thirtieth came around, sauntered in, really, and gave a slow wink before getting down to business. Most people made sure to pull their pumpkins and proudest decorations in for Devil’s Night. Not Ginnie, no. She threw her porchlight off as soon as darkness descended, and sat in her old rocking chair, calm as a cat while her Red Devils popped off their stalks and scurried into the night. She let ‘em run through the streets shrieking, trails of heat following them everywhere.
Now those Devils didn’t do a thing to anyone in the neighborhood, mind that when the old ladies are grumbling at bingo night. And for the first year in many, not one tree woke to find itself adorned in the next neighborhood over’s Charmin or Quilted Northern. If you think that endeared Ginnie Farrow to Jim or Sheila, well think again. They must have sat there stewing in their own angry juices, until one of them said, well, I suppose we’ll need some gasoline, and maybe a wheelbarrow.
We’re ashamed to say most of us just watched our friends, the once bubbly teacher, and the formerly kind minister trudge up the hill towards Ginnie’s Halloween masterpiece. Damn Ginnie Farrow they must have said, seeing one last time for themselves her superior, perfectly ripened ghosts, larger and denser than any others, and oozing ectoplasm. Vampire bats hung in every inky shadow, perfectly terrifying, better than anything Jim had constructed in his little workshop. Ah, and the hands that thrust upwards towards moonlight were so nimble, grasping for ankles and shoelaces.
Should we have said something as they shambled by? Called out and asked them to reconsider? Sure, we didn’t do right, and we have to live with that, but seemed to us that Sheila Canterwell and Jim McGee were going to do what they thought they must, the neighborhood be damned. And we have to do what’s right for the neighborhood, don’t we? Besides, the kindergarten classes over the years have really enjoyed visiting the plump, gorgeously ripe ghost of Mrs. Canterwell, who we hope is very proud of how well she grew in. Poor Jim is practically invisible.
Folks might complain here and there, but Ginnie Farrow always gives her Halloween best, and we at the neighborhood association appreciate that.
Ani King is the founder and Editor in Chief of Syntax & Salt: Stories and can also be found at thebittenlip.com. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her family, and by day works as an IT project director.