Bootsie McCormick hated Halloween. Not in the way that the ladies of the Fenton Hollow Neo-Puritanical Society despised the holiday, his hatred was purer, nobler. Bootsie thought it was rather lazy to hate something just because other people did, it was plain intellectual sloth, he mused to himself as he drove his beloved orange Chevy pickup down Two Deer Lane toward the hardware store. His hatred of the holiday was much more personal.
The chip-sealed surface of Two Deer Lane meandered through the golden birch and larch trees lining it like a pouring ribbon of slightly cold maple syrup.
“This year I’m not holding back,” Bootsie erupted with righteous glee as he glided his truck along the Pullman River.
The town of Fenton Hollow burst into view, a ramshackle patchwork of turn of the century stately homes, brick hipster revival businesses, and a forestry heritage that clung desperately to the periphery. Bootsie bristled as he took in the plethora of Halloween detritus dangling from every surface. Pumpkins, cornstalks, and air-filled Halloween decorations abounded as he drove down Main Street. It sickened him.
He parked his freshly waxed truck in front of Pioneer Hardware and stomped in the door. The shop’s proprietor, Drew Esterhue lifted his head in greeting and resumed stocking the plumbing supplies. Bootsie grunted in reply and stomped toward the tarps.
Drew kept a substantial supply of tarps of all sizes, and Bootsie grabbed a stack of the biggest available. The tarps were a part of his Halloween Defense Initiative. He strode to the counter, his gait unbroken by his polymer burden, and slapped a mountain of cash on the cracked laminate surface. Drew raised an eyebrow as he began counting the stack of tarps.
“Whatcha got a roof leak or something, Bootsie?” Drew drawled, his voice was simultaneously high pitched and slow, like a scared pig having a stroke.
“My business is my own,” Bootsie snapped, a snarl poking out from beneath his wildly unkempt salt and pepper facial hair.
“Just conversating, rechain your logs,” Drew replied without a hint of annoyance.
Bootsie snatched his change off of the counter and rammed it into his pockets while bolting toward the door. He burst from the hardware store like a freed carrier pigeon only to be stopped by a harpy of the worst kind.
“I don’t got time for your bleating Mildred, get out of my way.” Bootsie growled as he shifted his tarp burden.
“Now now Bootsie, that isn’t a way to talk to a lady, what would your mother think?” Mildred gasped in her most fake shocked voice.
“My mother was a drunk and isn’t thinking at all cause she’s 6 feet in the ground feeding worms over on 10th street you vile, pot-stirring harpy! Begone!” Bootsie bellowed, drawing himself up to his full height of well over six feet.
Like most zealots Mildred was undeterred. “We have to stop this Halloween nonsense, for the children’s sake, darkness is going to swallow them up with its immoral thrills. You have to help out, it's your civic duty.”
“I only got one duty and it’s not to you zealots!. Go bother someone else!” Bootsie snapped before stepping around Mildred’s ample bulk and throwing the tarps into the back of his truck bed. He hopped into the cab and fired up the engine, pumping the gas a few times as if to make his point.
Mildred stood on the sidewalk glaring at him in her jeans and mauve sweater set. She looked like a mom from a 90’s sitcom, but Bootsie knew better, she wasn’t getting her holy roller claws hooked into him.
Bootsie’s house was on the edge of Fenton Hollow. It was a blue and white turn of the century bungalow that had been lovingly restored. “Every year those heathens egg you, my beauty, but not this year,” he spoke as though he was swearing a sacred oath.
He gunned the truck onto his short graveled drive and hopped out to retrieve the tarps. He passed the next several hours stringing tarps among the birch and fir trees that surrounded his home. The Tarp Wall was a formidable fortification.
The sky was growing dark and the departing daylight was the herald of impending trick or treaters. Bootsie stretched out on the swinging porch seat and sighed the breath of a man who felt confident in his plans.
Mildred’s screeching voice disturbed his satiated repose like an annoyance dart to his Halloween-hating soul.
“Bootsie, I know you are in there, we need your help! We don’t have enough vehicles for our protest parade, we need your truck!” she screeched from beyond the Tarp Wall.
“Get outta here, woman! I will have nothing to do with your witch hunt!” Bootsie hollered through the tarp.
“Now Bootsie, I have Ellen Gertsen here with me, she was hoping to ride with you,” Mildred called back.
Bootsie’s heart thudded to a stop in his chest. Ellen Gersten made the best creme brulee pie in town. His traitorous stomach gurgled at the thought.
“Hi Bootsie, I promise we won’t keep you long. We just need your help for the parade, and I will give you the first slice of pie.” Ellen’s voice called over the tarp.
Bootsie stood up and hesitated as he looked toward the Wall. He had no interest in helping the anti-Halloween crusaders, but a slice of Ellen’s pie was something else entirely, and the Tarp Wall should repel the others.
For you see, Bootsie didn’t hate Halloween for the reasons most people despised the holiday. Nope, his hatred came from the fact that long ago, several influential families had decided one Halloween that his house had to be egged as a right of passage. Every year for his entire 52 years of life the house had been defaced. The Tarp Wall was his solution to an idiotic tradition.
But a guy had to eat too, and it was early, so he could be back to stand watch before things got too crazy.
“Alright, I’ll help ya. For the pie, not because I think what you are doing is good,” he grumbled as he stepped through the opening in the wall.
Ellen Gersten’s round face lit up when her soft brown eyes met Bootsie’s narrowed dark blue irises. “This is so good of you, thank you!”
Several annoying hours later Bootsie arrived back to his house. His heart started beating faster when he saw a lone Jack-o-lantern sitting in front of the Tarp Wall.
“What in the wide world of whale watching is that?” he growled between clenched teeth as he hopped out of his truck and stomped toward the carved pumpkin. The jack-o-lantern’s sinister smile glowered back at him, its soulless husk was unnerving. Boostie drew back his leg to kick the mocking squash off of his sidewalk only to stop when his eye caught a slip of paper protruding from the pumpkin’s jagged maw.
Bootsie reached down a labor-gnarled hand and snatched the paper from the jack-o-lantern. In the faint glow from the garage light he read.
“What began by the seed is now finished by the fruit.”
“Oh no!” he breathed, running to the tarp wall opening as he crushed the note into his hand.
Standing on his front porch were several teenagers. They were all dressed in costumes ranging from the macabre slasher villain to the standard Harley Quinn look. Every single one of them held cleaning supplies in their hands.
“What in the Hades do you think you are doing on my porch!” Bootsie yelled at the kids.
“Atoning.” One dressed as Thor replied, stepping to the top of the porch.
Bootsie slid to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, his mouth ajar in rage and confusion.
“Our Master requires us to atone for the sins of our ancestors. Your home will be bothered no more, Bootsie McCormick.” the kid continued, his voice a deep and sinister tone that made Bootsie’s hair rise.
Then the kids all rose behind Thor in unison and stepped off of his porch in silence, marching single file until they melted into the woods along the river.
“Maybe Mildred ain’t all wrong,” Bootsie mumbled, as he stared in awe at the gleaming siding and windows of his cherished home.