The morning of October 31st broke dim and gloomy in the village of Piffling Vale. Antigone stood at her bedroom window, a mug of strong, hot water in hand, and watched the fog creep its way across the empty village square. A perfectly gloomy start to a perfectly gloomy day, she thought. Across the square, the lights at Chapman’s flickered on. Naturally he’d be up early. Probably up planning yet another perfect funeral that they couldn’t compete with. Perfect Chapman with his perfect blonde hair and his perfect smile and– no she had to stop thinking about that. Her gaze wandered around the rest of the square, content with the silence.
The stillness was suddenly broken by a shout. “ANTIGONE! ANTIGONE WHERE ARE YOU?” Rudyard had evidently gotten up, but Antigone hadn’t the faintest idea what he could be on about this early in the morning. She rolled her eyes and blew on her hot water. Whatever it was, it could wait. The echo of footsteps and slamming doors reverberated through the house as Rudyard searched for his sister. Antigone continued to stare out the window, eyes now following Georgie as she crossed the square and entered the Funn’s house.
The bell downstairs rang gently as the door opened. “Antigone! Rudyard! Where are you?” Georgie called. “Oh hey Madeline! Know where Antigone and Rudyard have gotten off to?”
“I’m up here Georgie,” Antigone replied. “Be down in a minute.” As she turned her gaze from the window, Antigone heard footsteps pounding on the stairs and turned just in time to see Rudyard fling open her bedroom door.
“Now look here Antigone, I have been searching the entire house for you–”
She glared at him, setting down her mug and obviously annoyed at the intrusion of her privacy. “Yes Rudyard, well if I wanted to talk to you this early in the morning I would have answered you, wouldn’t I?”
“Antigone, I need you downstairs this inst–”
“Get out, get out, get out!” she cried, pushing him out the door. “I’ll come down when I bloody well feel like it, thank you very much!” She slammed the door behind him and went back to the window and her mug. The water that remained was lukewarm by then. No point in drinking it now.
Unwilling to go downstairs and face whatever her bothersome twin brother wanted from her, she stared out the window for a few minutes more, thinking about what the day might bring. It was Halloween, after all. Not that they ever really did much to celebrate. Georgie usually spent it with her Nana. As for Antigone and Rudyard, well every day was like Halloween for them. That was one of the side effects of being in the business of death. The only real difference between Antigone’s daily duties and Halloween was that one of them involved an excessive amount of sweets. Antigone supposed that her job at the funeral parlour could entail sweets as well, but the last time she had tried her hand at candy making, it hadn’t gone well. Chapman had been the only person that actually liked those chocolates she designed. She really didn’t understand him.
After a reasonable amount of time had passed, Antigone descended the stairs with her now cold mug of water to find Georgie rummaging through the cupboards. Rudyard sat with his feet propped on the table, reading the newspaper and sharing a biscuit with Madeleine.
“Georgina, what exactly are you doing?”
Georgie withdrew her head from the cupboard she was currently rooting through. “Oh, hey Antigone. I’m just searching for your wreath.”
“Wreath? Why are you searching for our wreath? It’s far too early for Christmas.”
“Yeah, well, I thought it would be appropriate. Y’know, since it’s Halloween and all.”
“Yes, I’m aware that it’s Halloween, but I don’t see what our wreath has to do with that.”
“Yeah, but it’s got little coffins and skulls on it, hasn’t it? That’s the kind of stuff you put up for Halloween.”
Rudyard’s voice came out from behind his paper. “I already told you before Georgie, we don’t decorate for Halloween. We’re a funeral home, not a circus.”
Antigone turned to her brother. “Whaaa– Why would you even say that? What do you even know about the circus?”
“I went once when we were children!”
“You didn’t want to be there! Besides, circuses don’t decorate for Halloween!”
“They might,” Georgie interrupted. “Marlene was talking about maybe doing a haunted circus next year. Something about ghost clowns. I don’t think I’ll go though. It’s disrespectful to the spirits.”
Haunted circus? Ghost clowns? Was nothing sacred anymore? Antigone wished that for once, just once, people would respect the sanctity of death. It was nonsense like that that made people think of her profession as nonsense. Necessary, yes, but nonsense all the same.
“Yes, well, that’s just my point,” said Rudyard, turning to the page of his paper. “No need to decorate if we’re going to be associated with stuff like that. We are a business, after all.”
Georgie turned to Antigone. “Please can I just hang up the wreath? Please please please? My Nana and I used to decorate every year. Just the one spooky wreath.” Antigone looked at her friend and let out a small sigh. “Fine, we’ll make an exception. Just the wreath.”
“Yes!” Georgie gave a very enthusiastic fist pump and danced a little from side to side. “So where is it?”
“In the attic,” Antigone said, “but it’s–” She was cut off by the slam of the attic door. Georgie had sprinted up the stairs before Antigone could even finish her sentence. Apparently that wreath meant more to her than she thought. A minute later, Georgie came downstairs with the dust-covered wreath. While it did seem to be an appropriate decoration for the day, a few of the skulls were coming loose and some of the coffin doors were falling off. “I was going to tell you,” said Antigone, “It’s looking a bit worse for wear.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” Georgie grinned. “I’m great at fixing wreaths.”
An hour later, the newly refurbished wreath hung on the Funn’s front door, the mini coffins gleaming in the sun that was now poking through the clouds. A thin layer of dust still covered the wreath though. Georgie said it gave it character. By that point, the Funns, Georgie, and Madeline were all getting ready to sit down to breakfast. Normally they didn’t do that sort of thing, but Georgie had insisted on making pumpkin pancakes. Seeing as they had no work to attend to, the Funns had allowed it. Plus, it seemed important to Georgie. Now she was going on about some movie called The Nightmare Before Christmas. Antigone and Rudyard didn’t understand much of it, but they listened all the same. “It’s made by this guy named Tim Burton, see?” Georgie said, obviously excited. “It’s about this skeleton bloke named Jack who’s the Pumpkin King in this place called Halloween Town, but then he decides to steal Christmas–”
“Christmas?” interrupted Rudyard, his confusion evident. “Georgie, I thought you said this was a Halloween movie.”
“Yeah well it is, but it also involves Christmas. Anyways, this Tim Burton guy is great. All of his movies are really weird and spooky. Nana and I used to watch a few every year for Halloween. I think you lot would really like them Antigone.”
“Mmm,” Antigone hummed, unsure if she’d really like it or not. It didn’t sound like the kind of cinema she was used to. Her kind of cinema tended to involve passion, French, and subtitles, but she wasn’t about to bother Georgie with that.
Before Georgie could tell the Funns about other things she and her Nana used to do on Halloween, a soft ring signaled someone coming through the front door. Assuming that someone might be in need of their services, Antigone rose and called out “Be with you in a moment!” Before she could make it very far however, a very familiar face poked out from the door leading to the kitchen.
“Good morning Funns! Georgie, Madeline.” Eric Chapman beamed at them. “Oh wow, it smells lovely in here. Did someone make pancakes?” He slid into the room, inhaling deeply. His blonde hair was impeccable as always and he was dressed in a burgundy cable knit sweater, dark jeans, and worn sneakers. More casual than his usual business look, but one that suited him all the same. “Nothing like a warm breakfast on a chilly autumn morning.”
Rudyard stared incredulously at his rival. “Now look here Chapman, you can’t just come barging into my kitchen–”
“Morning Eric,” Georgie called from the stove. “I’ve made my Nana’s pumpkin pancakes for Halloween breakfast. Secret recipe.” She winked as she flipped the last pancake off the frying pan and on to the plate at her side. She brought it over to the table and set it down next to the syrup and milk. “Well everyone, dig in.” Antigone sat herself at the table again as Rudyard began to help himself to pancakes and syrup. Georgie was starting to serve Madeline her special mouse-sized pancakes when Chapman cleared his throat.
“Well, I don’t want to keep you from what looks to be a very good breakfast–”
“How very good of you Chapman,” interjected Rudyard, somewhat absentmindedly. Normally he would have looked up to deliver some scathing remark, but he was very focused on drowning his pancakes in as much syrup as possible.
“Yes, well as I was saying,” Chapman began again, hoping he wouldn’t be interrupted. “I just wanted to invite you all to the Halloween party that I’m throwing tonight. It’ll be loads of fun, the whole village will be there!”
Rudyard stopped pouring copious amounts of syrup to look at Chapman. “Party? Why on earth would we want to go to a party?”
Chapman sighed. This behavior was to be expected, but it really got to be quite tiring. “To have fun, Rudyard. To laugh, have a drink, and get away from work for a while! Surely you can’t say no to that.”
“I can and I will,” Rudyard huffed. “I don’t go to parties, and neither does Antigone. Or Madeleine. Or Georgie.”
“I love parties,” said Georgie.
“Yes well that is beside the point. Besides, I think Halloween is overwrought. And we are going to watch a Christmas movie tonight, aren’t we Georgie?”
“The Nightmare Before Christmas is more for Halloween, but yeah.”
“See? So thank you for your invitation Chapman, but we are very busy tonight and therefore won’t be able to attend your ‘party.’” He drew finger quotes in the air as he said the last word.
Chapman rolled his eyes in annoyance. “I don’t know why you have to talk about it like that Rudyard. Parties aren’t a bad thing. And it is going to be a ‘party’, the whole town is going to be there! We’re going to have dancing, bobbing for apples, trick-or-treating, a pumpkin carving contest, and even a haunted house! I called in favor from an acting troupe I used to be in...a long time ago.”
Georgie stabbed at her pancakes, obviously not interested in Chapman’s mysterious past. “Look Eric, we appreciate the offer but I think we’re going to stay here tonight. Besides, Halloween is disrespectful to the spirits.”
Chapman turned to Antigone. “What about you Antigone? You haven’t said a word, are you just going to stay in with them?”
Antigone’s cheeks flushed. She really wasn’t used to someone asking for her opinion like that. “Yes, well you see, I-I-I-” she stammered. He always managed to catch her off guard, it was so unfair. She took a deep breath and tried again. “I-I think I’m going to stay in tonight. I don’t really do...parties.” The last word came out quietly. The truth was, Antigone Funn didn’t do much of anything outside of her mortuary. Sure, she went to the cinema on Thursday evenings and occasionally left the house to go to the market or attend a funeral, but she rarely attended a party. They never ended well for her.
Chapman sighed. It really was no use. “Well, if you change your minds the party starts at eight. Also, there’s going to be a costume contest, so you can dress up if you like! I think Des said something about a dressing up as a vampire?”
“Ah yes,” muttered Rudyard. “The mayor has been using that costume since we were children.”
“Right. Well, like I said, it starts at eight. Come and join the party if you like. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourselves!” And with that, Eric Chapman left the kitchen and made his way out of the house, the bell above the door announcing his exit.