Sunday, October 31, 2021 – Halloween Afternoon
“Sylvester! You have mail!” A young man in his late teens said as he walked into the living room of his house. A slightly younger teen was kicked back on the couch blankly staring at the television as it played some random cartoon. The older teen, Cameron, looked at his younger cousin who wasn’t acknowledging him in the least.
With a sigh, Cameron slid the large envelope in front of Sylvester, who didn’t acknowledge its presence until it bopped him in the nose. He shook his head quickly and turned to his older cousin.
“Bro, what the hell?”
“It’s for you.”
Sylvester looked at the envelope and then back at Cameron.
“Uh, on a Sunday?”
Cameron scratched his head nervously. The package had been sitting on a small door-side table for a couple days.
“Well... you know how they’re having delays because of... truck drivers! Yeah!”
“Yeah, okay.” Sylvester sarcastically said as he opened the package.
“It’s probably some college advertising. I got a few of those my senior year.” Cameron smugly said as he plopped himself down next to Sylvester.
“...I got in.” Sylvester quietly said in disbelief. At first, Cameron was too engrossed in this show to pay attention. But then it sank in.
“I GOT IN!” Sylvester said as he leaped up from the couch.
“...Are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to be a downer, but I thought they wouldn’t get back to you until March or April...” Cameron said in complete confusion and disbelief.
“Nope. They’re what they call ‘rolling admission.’ Here’s the proof right here.” Sylvester said as he handed the acceptance letter to Cameron. Cameron looked at it and blinked a couple of times.
“Holy crap... you did it. YOU GOT IN!” he cried out in happiness as he wrapped his arms around his younger cousin.
“Yeah, I did.” Sylvester said as he reciprocated the hug. Cameron released his grip and moved his arms to Sylvester’s shoulders.
“I am so proud of you, bro.” Cameron said as he found himself trying not to tear up at the realization that his cousin will be leaving for good soon. It felt like yesterday that it was the summer of 2017 and the two became housemates for the first time.
“Thank you.” Sylvester replied as he blushed slightly at this sudden burst of affection.
“Man, this is your lucky day. Getting into college, going on a Halloween date...” Cameron started to say. That last sentence snapped the young man back into reality.
“OH... Oh... shit.” Sylvester said as he sat back down.
“Huh? What’s the matter?”
“If I go to this college, I will have to break up with Natalie.” Sylvester said as he sighed. Cameron sat down and put his arm around Sylvester.
“Well, to be honest, you’ve been dating since, like, three hours from now?” Cameron said, semi-sarcastically.
“Hey, we’ve been talking to each other since I came back from Hollywood last year. It's just that we’ve never been together offline or outside of class. We both like each other, I know that much.” Sylvester explained in the most awkward tone a seventeen-year-old boy could muster.
“And besides all of that, who says that an online relationship can’t work? Remember how Kenton was dating Olivia? You know, the one who was seeing Ors-”
“Yes. Yes, I know.” Sylvester said as he tried to wave the conversation away.
“Look, you know you got into college, so you’re well ahead of everyone else. You have, like what, six months or so before you graduate and another two months before you must get ready to go. Why not just worry about what’s going on right now?”
“Eh. I guess you do have a point. But still, this makes me realize that this relationship has no future. She’s wanting to get into medicine, and I’m going to go for culinary. I don’t even know what school she’s trying to get into.” Sylvester frantically said.
“Don’t worry about that right now. You can’t predict the future. I want you to go out tonight and have fun. This is your last Halloween as a kid, and I want you to make it COUNT. Understand?”
Sylvester nodded and sighed.
“Are you seriously going to be dressed up as that?” Cameron asked as Sylvester walked into the living room. Sylvester, “dressed up” in a gray t-shirt, black basketball shorts with leggings underneath, and a white towel draped over his shoulder, made an overconfident pose and shrugged.
“I’m a sexy rich guy who just came from the gym.” Sylvester explained. Cameron gave him a look of skepticism.
“This is how you dress regularly.”
Sylvester looked around nervously. The truth was that he had zero plans for Halloween until he woke up this morning to a message from Natalie asking if he wanted to go with her to some lame community costume party.
Cameron, deciding not to press this further, threw on his older brother’s tattered jacket and looked at himself in the mirror. After inspecting himself for a bit, he walked out of the room. Sylvester shrugged and looked down at his phone. He had seen Natalie at school many times and talked to her even more online. This was the first time they would do a “couple” activity.
“How does this look?” Cameron said as he walked back into the room with a mop head covering his naturally jet-black hair. Sylvester’s mouth gaped for a second as he took in his “grown up” cousin’s costume.
“That’s very gross!”
“What? It’s a clean mop head! I’m a nasty janitor!”
“You nailed the nasty part.”
“Whatever. At least it’s something creative, unlike this.” Cameron retorted as he gestured towards the “costume” that Sylvester was wearing.
The two boys walked out of the house and Cameron locked the door behind him. Sylvester started to walk towards a little black sedan sitting in the driveway.
“Uh, aren’t you riding with me?” Cameron asked as he pushed the unlock button on his key fob causing a nearby gray truck to quickly beep in excitement.
“Nah, aren’t you going to be leaving early to spend the evening with the better half?”
“She’s getting off work after the party’s over.”
Sylvester sighed. Cameron wasn’t picking up what he was laying down, and he didn’t have time to explain the logic.
“See you there.” Sylvester concluded as he unlocked his car and got in. Cameron climbed into his truck and waited for his cousin to pull out of the driveway before starting his truck. As the two vehicles rolled down the road, Cameron sighed and shook his head. He understood exactly why his younger cousin wanted to ride on his own.
A couple minutes later, the two pulled into the parking lot of the community center and parked next to each other. Sylvester was the first to leave his vehicle and he quickly looked around to see if there was a car that he recognized. His heart dropped when he realized that it was not there. Cameron got out of his truck and joined him.
“Are you still hung up on the whole college thing? Bro, just have fun with her tonight.” Cameron said as he patted Sylvester on the shoulder.
“Kinda hard to do that without her, dontcha think?” Sylvester semi-sassed back. Cameron silently dropped a swear word in his mind.
“We’re not even in the building yet.” Cameron said as they started walking.
“But her car’s not here!”
“Does it have to be? Maybe she got a ride from her actual boyfriend.” Cameron involuntarily responded. The hurt look on Sylvester’s face reminded him that some jokes should not be said to certain people. The two walked into the building in silence.
“Ghoul evening! Ghoul evening!” a vampire watching the door said as the two cousins walked through the double-doors.
“Hey, Mr. B!” Cameron said as he shook his former (and Sylvester’s current) high school principal’s hand.
“Hi, Mr. Baltimore.” Sylvester awkwardly said.
“Ghoul evening, young man!”
“Cameron! Sylvester!” a female’s voice called out. Both boys looked up to see a waitress standing next to a man wearing a nice suit and a feathered hat. The waitress was holding an infant who was dressed up like a beagle.
“Hey... looking snazzy, Kenton!” Cameron said as he joined the suited man. The man, Cameron’s best friend, eyed the younger man’s costume.
“I, uh, wish I could say the same.”
“Damn. You look like a pim-” Sylvester started to say before looking down at the infant. Kenton and the waitress (Kenton’s wife, Talisha), both started laughing.
“He’s your boss, so if he’s a pimp, you know what that makes you!” Talisha blurted out as she tried to regain her composure.
“This is so cute!” Cameron said as he looked at the infant’s outfit. The little one, named Andre, reached his arms out and giggled. “Thanks! This was a bit of a last-minute decision, but I think it turned out really well!” Talisha replied as she handed the kid to his godfather.
“Daddy!” Sylvester heard a familiar voice said. He turned towards the entrance to see a tall teenage girl with strawberry-blonde hair and dressed in a doctor’s coat (complete with a stethoscope) hugging the vampire that was manning the door.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Mr. Baltimore has got a hot wife that is half his age.” Cameron said as he handed the beagle-dressed boy back to his father, not noticing that the kid had grabbed a strand of the mop head on Cameron’s head and was in the process of pulling it off.
“That’s his daughter.” Kenton replied as he wrestled Cameron’s makeshift wig out of his son’s hands and gave it back to his best friend.
“Hey, Natalie!” Sylvester cried as he waved to her. The teen quickly walked over to meet her date.
“Sylvester! … Did you just come from a basketball game?” She asked as she looked him over with curiosity.
“Nah, I’m going for the sexy rich guy look.”
“Well, you definitely look the part.”
Sylvester felt his heart start to beat rapidly, and he thought that steam would come out of his ears. Cameron, Kenton, and Talisha all watched in amusement.
“T-Thanks... you look hot yourself.”
This being Halloween, fear was to be expected. However, nothing could spark more of an “adult fear” than bog-standard teenage awkwardness.
“That’s so sweet of you to say!” Natalie said with a polite smile. A few seconds went by and the only noises in the room came from the other partiers. Finally, Sylvester decided to try to get past this moment.
“Oh, Natalie, this is my cousin Cameron, my boss Kenton, his wife Talisha, and his good boy Andre.” Sylvester quickly blurted out to break the tension.
“Nice to meet you all. My name is Natalie.”
Not wanted to embarrass Sylvester any further, three just gave brief greetings.
Twenty Minutes Later
“So, what time did you say we pull this off?” Sylvester asked Natalie as they stood off to the side and eyed up the people spread out across the room.
“Five-thirty. So, in ten minutes. Dad’s plan is to take to the dance floor, and that’s when we slip out.”
“I’m going to go use the restroom, get ready and I’ll meet you by the door.” Natalie said as she nonchalantly walked off. Sylvester, nervous as a young man could be, slowly made his way over to the exit and pretended to read the signs.
“Uh oh, did something go wrong? I saw her walking away.” Cameron said as he skillfully moved out of the dance area to talk to his cousin.
“OH! No...” Sylvester said as he looked around to make sure that the vampire wasn’t anywhere near the door before continuing. “We’re actually getting ready to sneak out and go to the graveyard. Natalie’s never been to one, so yeah.”
“Yeah, maybe we’ll see a ghost or something.”
“Okay. Okay. This party is lame, and this was our plan all along.”
“Then why not meet up at the graveyard?”
“Well... Natalie’s dad doesn’t know we’re here together. And I would rather he not find out because of that whole thing where he’s my principal and all. This way, she’s here for appearances and when he starts to flail around out there, she ‘leaves with one of her friends’ out of embarrassment.”
“Brilliant. Just... don’t do anything stupid.”
Sylvester nervously scratched behind his head.
“Sylvester, I’m serious. It’s a school night and you have a lot to look forward to. If you’re not home by 11, you’re dead.”
Before Sylvester could respond, they heard a voice behind them.
“Hello there, fellas!”
The two boys turned to see a child behind them wearing a pink and white owl costume with sunglasses.
“Uh, can we help you?” Cameron asked, confused.
“It sounds like you’ve said something that could negatively affect someone...”
Before the kid could continue, a lady came up to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Dang it, Billy! I’ve told you to stop going up to strangers and interrupting them! You do it one more time and we’re going home!” she uttered as she pulled him away.
The two boys looked at each other and shrugged. There wasn’t much time to react as loud music started playing. Sure enough, the vampire that was manning the door was now on the dance floor wobbling his arms and upper torso like he was having a medical issue. Despite this, he was joined by a werewolf, a princess, and a middle-aged man in a diaper.
“Time to go.” Natalie said as she walked past the two. Sylvester nodded.
“I’ll be home by 11.” he quickly said as his older cousin just stood there and watched in horror as a large jug of milk jiggled out to the dance floor.
“We’re free!” Sylvester said as the two of them approached Sylvester’s car. Being polite, the young man opened the car door for his date.
“Thank you, Mr. Old Fashioned!” the girl said as she got in. Sylvester quickly made his way around to the driver’s side and hopped in. Sylvester started the car and they left on their journey. The town had a small graveyard where some of the locals chose to be buried. However, there was another graveyard about forty-five minutes away that was more secluded in the woods and thus “spookier.”
As the car roared down onto U.S. Highway 26, Natalie finally got the courage to break the awkward silence.
“So, have you applied to any colleges yet?”
Sylvester was dreading this conversation. Why did it have to come now of all times?
“Actually, yeah... what about you?”
“Well, there’s a few places, but they aren’t going to be taking applications until the new year. So, where did you apply to?”
Sylvester hesitantly told her, afraid that he was going to influence her decision. She sat there in silence, staring out of the window for about a minute.
“That’s in California... right?”
“Yeah. Not far from Hollywood, to be precise.”
“Makes sense, I guess you don’t want to be far from home, right?”
Sylvester sighed. This town in Oregon was his home now. There was nothing for him in the Golden State.
The two teens continued talking as the car rumbled down the road. Neither one of them wanted to go into the “what about us?” conversation. After all, while their friendship had blossomed over a year, their relationship was still brand new.
Those forty-five minutes and thirty-five miles went by fast, and they came across the graveyard. There was nowhere to park, so Sylvester simply pulled the car to the side and turned it off. The two teens got out and looked around. The sun was just below the tree line, and darkness was creeping upon the area.
“Wow, I knew that this place had some history... but I wasn’t expecting this.” Natalie said as she carefully looked at some of the more aged grave markers.
“Yeah, it really makes you think about the people that are buried here. What kind of people were they? What problems did they have?” Sylvester replied as he brushed some dirt off one.
“And do you think that they would have imagined the world turning out like it did?” Natalie asked as they walked down the row.
“What do you mean?”
“Look, this man passed away in 1847. I wonder if he knew that 180 years from now, we would have the ability to have a whole library in our pockets, or that we would be able to have friends from all over the world.” Natalie mused as she pointed out another marker.
“I wonder if that man can hear what you’re saying.” Sylvester smugly joked.
“You know, there’s times where I wonder that myself. I wonder what happens to us after we die. I mean, I know the religious concepts of Heaven and Hell, but exactly are those two concepts?” Natalie said as she looked to the still-darkening sky.
“I thought one has clouds and stuff and the other place is all burnie and painful.” Sylvester replied.
“Right. But what if they’re concepts that are exclusive to the person? Heaven could be the place you enjoy the most, and Hell could be the place you hate the most. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say an old man passes away at 100 years old. If he was good, he’s going to go to the creek where he played with his friends growing up as a little boy because that was where he felt the happiest. However, if he was a sinner, then he’s going where he doesn’t want to be, like the DMV on the last day of the month.”
“My cousin and I have talked about that several times, actually. He knows someone who had a near-death experience and met up with their dead ex in the video store where they first met. So, you could be onto something with that theory.”
“So, do you think that answers your question?”
Sylvester stopped and looked at her. She outsmarted him, and he loved it.
“That depends, do you think this is that man’s happiest place?” he asked to throw it back onto her.
“Well, maybe you’re not stuck in one spot. Think about whether you can move around. You hear about ghosts watching over their loved ones for instance.” Natalie replied.
“Yikes. Would you want a ghost watching over you all the time? Like, even if you’re showering?” Sylvester said with a shiver.
“That’s why I try to be good, and also why I’m glad my loved ones aren’t buried here.” she replied with a wink.
“I can’t say the same to either of those.” Sylvester sheepishly retorted. Natalie thought that he made a slip of the tongue, so she didn’t think anything of it.
The two walked in silence for a few more minutes before they heard a noise, like a branch being thrown.
“Sylvester, don’t throw things.” Natalie scolded. Sylvester tilted his head in confusion.
“Uh, I didn’t?”
“What do you mean? I heard something being thrown to the right of you.”
Sylvester turned and looked. There was nothing. The two stood there in silence and listened to the trees sway gently in the breeze.
“Sorry about that.” Natalie said as she looked down to the ground. Sylvester did have a slight air of irritation at her jumping to conclusions but thought nothing of it as well.
After a few more minutes, Natalie noticed that Sylvester was looking at something on his phone. She craned over his shoulder and noticed that it was a map with a spot marked on it. It was then that she realized what he had said.
“Hey, Sylvester. That thing you said earlier. Do you know someone buried here?”
Sylvester stopped, causing her to stop as well.
“Yeah. My other cousin is buried here. He was four years older than me, and I loved seeing him every time we visited. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cameron very much, but don’t ask me who my favorite was...” Sylvester said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. I also apologize if I get a little emotional. We were very close. In fact, he would call me his ‘hug monster’ because I wouldn’t stop clinging onto him.” Sylvester continued as he felt himself start to choke up a bit. Natalie picked up on this and wrapped an arm around him. He wrapped an arm around her in return and they continued walking as Sylvester looked at his phone.
The two teens stopped when they heard a strange whistling noise.
“Was that you?” Natalie asked. Sylvester shook his head and had a look of slight fear.
“Are you screwing with me, Natalie?”
“Why would I?”
Sylvester had a funny response in mind, but he shook his head as they were approaching the grave marker that he wanted. He walked a bit ahead and looked down at it. He took a deep breath as he read the name and confirmed that it was indeed where his cousin was buried.
“Natalie, can you give me a few minutes alone?”
“Sure. I’ll be over there.”
“Thanks. Don’t wander too far and don’t hesitate to shout if you need something.”
Natalie walked away, and Sylvester looked at the grave.
“Hi, it’s been a long time since I saw you. You probably don’t recognize me, but it’s your little hug monster.” Sylvester said as he stopped to keep the tears from starting. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.
“I wasn’t expecting to bring this with me, but I wanted to show you this. I got accepted into college today.”
This was too much as Sylvester felt himself starting to cry. A whistle snapped him back and he looked around.
“NATALIE?!” he yelled as panic started to set in. He looked around the graveyard. She was nowhere to be found. He quickly took off in the direction that he came from.
“Natalie!” he ran off in the direction of her voice and eventually met up with her. They instinctively gave each other a quick hug and took a few minutes to calm down.
“Did you hear that whistle again?” Natalie asked.
“Yeah... that’s what made me think of you.”
The two walked towards Sylvester’s car.
“Wow... I’m sorry to have scared you.” Natalie said as she noticed that Sylvester looked... off.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry that you have to see me like this.” Sylvester uttered as he wiped his eyes.
“I’m definitely glad that you didn’t come up here alone. Are you going to be okay to drive?”
“Yeah... I think I could use a few minutes, but we probably need to get out of here.”
Natalie thought for a second and then had an idea.
“Okay, how about this. Give me your keys. I know where we can go.”
“Uh, okay.” Sylvester said as he got out his keys and handed them to her.
The two got into the car, with Natalie in the driver’s seat. After taking a second to make some adjustments, she started the car and they set off. After a couple miles, they arrived at a clearing in the trees. She pulled the car off to the side, not unlike how Sylvester did at the graveyard, and turned it off. The two got out and looked up at the now-starry sky in amazement.
“How’s this for a date night?” Natalie said with a grin.
“This is BEAUTIFUL!” Sylvester said as they climbed up onto the top of Sylvester’s car so they could sit and get a good view. The two sat in silence and just stared at the infinite cosmos.
“We need to do this as much as we can.” Natalie said as she rested her head on Sylvester’s shoulder.
“Yeah.” Sylvester read between the lines on that statement. Whatever they had was only for the time being, and nothing can last forever.
“Hey, look at that!” Natalie said as she noticed a greenish glow in the sky. A solar flare kissed the Earth during the final days of October 2021, and it caused the sky over western Oregon to be draped in a beautiful aurora.
With sky dancing with a mix of eeriness and elegance, the two teens swore that it was a Halloween miracle.
“Why don't you just worry about what’s going on right now?”
Sylvester remembered Cameron’s words and let out a small smile. “Right now,” was the right concept, and right now the world belonged to the two of them. He realized that if he focused on the right now, maybe the future wouldn’t be so bittersweet after all.
Two miles down the road, at Sylvester’s other cousin’s grave, the whistle happened again. This time, however, a ghostly figure walked up to the stone and looked at the piece of paper that Sylvester dropped. The figure, a tall, blonde-haired boy of around fourteen years of age, rested his transparent hand on the paper and looked towards the sky. As he faded away, his face cracked a slight smile as he felt so proud of his younger cousin.