I found myself very much looking forward to the holiday this year--the candle-lit Chapel, the heart-felt memorials, the goofy eulogy song--it's a special, exciting time. And of course, being on the groundskeeping team, I got to help set everything up.
I sat with Ebony on one side of me (and Eddie beyond her) and Steve Bees on the other (and Andy beyond him). It was Steve's first Samhain on campus and Ebony's last (at least until she comes back for her ring). Eddie and I took turns explaining what everything looked like to Ebony and I wished I could still hold her hand.
The masters processed in bearing lit candles. With the candles already on the walls and along the aisles, the whole place seemed very bright and warm, although in point of fact it was still too dim to read. The ceiling and the far corners were still lost in a dark, honey-colored gloom. As before, the masters deposited their candles on the stage and then took their seats among the audience--except for Allen and Kit. Allen, you may remember, has been Head for the past two years and now it is Kit's turn. That means she will be responsible for acting as liaison to the outside world whenever anybody other than Sharon is needed. In emergencies when someone needs to make a decision for the school quickly, she would be empowered to make that decision. On the stage, she held yet one more candle, which Allen solemnly lit. After that, she served as MC for the evening.
"Oo, that means I'll get to graduate with Kit!" Ebony whispered, meaning that Kit would conduct degree conferral. "She'll take off my cloak and everything!" As you may remember, part of the ceremony is that the master removes the graduating student's uniform cloak to reveal whatever outfit symbolizes the student's next phase of life.
"I'd like Kit to take off my cloak and everything," I whispered, meaning something completely different. Ebony giggled.
"So would I," added Eddie, from her other side.
"Hush!" said Steve. "I'm trying to hear them." Andy giggled.
Greg, once again, read the long list of memorialized names. He does official and solemn very well. I still don't know most of them, but a few are people I've heard enough about that they don't seem like strangers anymore. I added my Aunt Ida to the list, too.
Kit led all of us in the "Hats Off to Dead Folks" song, which is a goofy memorial where everyone who wants to can add their own verse and we all join in on the chorus. Last year I added a verse for my kitten, Sanchez, who died when I was little, but this year I did not. I wanted to give other people room to jump in.
Finally, we all stood up and milled around for a while until the bell rung and the masters all left, suddenly, without saying goodbye. Of course, they join us for the reception afterwards, but it's like in that moment the school year dies. With only a few exceptions, as teachers, they're gone until next year. It's kind of a bittersweet thing, the end of the school year. This warm, funny, grand ceremony, and it means that something is over....
On our way out, there was the sound of a struggle. Someone cried out and then stopped, suddenly. Steve looked back, concerned and asked what was that? I pretended not to have heard it and kept walking. He wasn't convinced and kept looking back over his shoulder. Ebony told him to wait until we got to the fire pit and then we could ask around--if something was wrong, someone would in the crowd would have seen it.
Of course, Ebony knew what the sound was, too. She was in on the secret. Steve, being a yearling, was not.
That seemed to settle him. I asked him what he thought of the ceremony and he laughed.
"That was cool," he pronounced. "Totally not morbid. When I die, I hope to be memorialized like that! Hats off to dead folks." He laughed again. "But the thing is, I like Halloween. It's fun to be scared. Don't you think? Having a time set aside for the creepy and the unexpected. I wouldn't want to lose that."
"You don't have to," Ebony pointed out. "You can celebrate Halloween also." We had reached the fire where people were milling around and collecting food (mostly candy and baked goods) from long folding tables. There were a lot of people, the whole campus, all the faculty, plus some of their family members and most of the allies. We were among the last to get there, because Steve had stopped walking because of the noise. Once people stopped arriving, he looked around, once again concerned.
"Kit's not here," he said suddenly. "Hey, anybody seen Kit?" he called out.
"We have Kit!" announced what looked like a stereotypical Gypsy in heavy skeleton make-up. She strode into the group and planted herself authoritatively next to the fire. "We have Kit and you will never see her again if you do not pay the ransom!" The Gypsy carried a shiny scimitar and had a very real-looking handgun stuck into her belt.
For a few seconds, Steve stood frozen in shocked terror before he realized that of course the figure was a child in costume. He gave a little moan of embarrassment and giggled.
"They do this every year, right?" he asked.
"Yup," I told him.
Julie--of course it was Julie, Allen's older daughter, haggled fiercely with the faculty over the ransom, paid in candy, expanded TV privileges, and a later bedtime for some of the younger kids. Finally, they reached an agreement and the other Sprouts and their friends from off-campus brought in Kit. She was completely tied up and gagged (the gags are always fake, just a handkerchief tied loosely across the face, but the faculty member does not talk while it's on. All the other bonds are real). She wasn't painted up, as the kidnapping victim of the past few years had been, but they had been allowed to walk and she wasn't. The group of costumed children actually carried her in a small cargo net.
The miscreants deposited their prisoner, claimed their candy, cheered, and ran off. We untied Kit, who laughed and said she hoped they wouldn't eat the random all at once.
"Tell me about it," said Allen. "If I need help peeling Julie and Alexis off the ceiling tonight I'll let you know."
"Oh, no, you're on your own. You're the one who let them talk you out of all that candy."
"Me? Joy was the primary negotiator this year. She can't bargain worth a damn."
"Then make her deal with the kids."
"Hey, I'm staying in the barn tonight," announced Joy.
While all this was going on, various people had begun setting up and tuning instruments. Eddie went over to talk to the impromptu band and then they all launched into "I put a spell on you." I think it's by Nina Simone. They party was in full swing.
"You were saying, about wanting to be scared?" I said to Steve.