October’s Guard

Editor’s note: though we are typically a news outlet, we got haunted by a ghost this Halloween season. They made us publish the following fiction—or is this just a reported piece? Spooky.

Story by Samarah Bentley, sophomore at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orleans

Carina had a Halloween party to set up. But first and foremost, her stomach beckoned food like a crooked, coaxing finger. She swiftly made her way out the door, her long cornrows flowing down her back, boxes full of party supplies in hand. When she pulled up to Voodoo BBQ in her crimson red blouse and matching headband, she could already smell the savory pulled pork and mac and cheese.

Most people would get chips, sodas, and mini sandwiches for a Halloween party, but not Carina and her friends. They were the kinds of college students that knew which wines to pick out because of their semesters abroad in France. And they wanted to go all-out this year. They even rented space at Mystere Mansion on Canal Street. Maybe—just maybe—Carina wouldn’t flake out this year. That’s why her friends put her in charge. Carina couldn’t miss her own party, could she? 

Despite the fact that it was mid-October, the New Orleans air stuck to her skin like the coating of a candy apple. 

Carina stood in line silently, scrolling through her Instagram, when an older woman in a grey trench coat tapped her on the shoulder. She had a stunning blond halo of hair surrounding her face.

It was too warm to be wearing a trenchcoat, but Carina had heard that older people tend to be colder. 

“Hi, how’s your day been?” The lady smiled charmingly. “Doing anything special tonight? I heard that this weekend the city’s gonna be real busy.” The lady put her hand out. Carina shook it. 

She didn’t state her name at all and Carina made a mental note of that.

“Oh, I’m hosting a Halloween party. I hope it goes well though—my friends won’t stop pestering me about how ‘epic’ it has to be. Like I don’t already know that. And you ma’am?” Carina asked. She didn’t really care for what this woman had to say, but thought to be polite about it.

“Me? I’m just searching for my niece, who loves ghosting her responsibilities. Now I’m stuck looking for her all day, instead of relaxing like I was supposed to. She works at my company. And works on my last good nerve…” The lady shook her head sternly. 

Carina was next in line and moved up.

“Well, I hope you find her. And hopefully you get to relax too.” Carina picked up her Party Pack, which was too heavy. “Have a nice day!”

Carina welcomed the cold blast of air that greeted her as she stepped foot in Party City. She stalked the aisles, searching for plastic spiders, a fog machine, and string lights. Her strides were purposeful—she was doing everything last-minute. She rushed to the counter, where a blond, elderly woman began scanning her stuff. Her name tag read Leilani. When Leilani finished scanning, she started to bag the merchandise and spoke.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Leilani asked.

Lifting her head up for the first time since she made it to the counter, Carina met the elderly woman’s eyes. Her stormy grey ones bore into Carina’s dark brown ones, but a small smile tugged at the end of her lips.

“You’re the lady from Voodoo BBQ. I met you earlier today right?” Carina questioned, her breaths picking up pace without her permission. She didn’t know what she was so afraid of. 

Leilani looked puzzled. “No, I don’t think so,” she tapped the counter with her perfectly manicured nails, “Are you sure you aren’t forgetting anything?”

“Uh, yeah I’m sure,” Carina said before she quickly walked out the door with her purchases.

By the time she made it to Mystere Mansion, the moon, a silver alarm clock ticking in the deep navy sky, glistened with its brethren, the stars.

Finally it was night.

Finally time for the party.

She began stringing up the lights, encircling the white pillars inside the building and covering part of the mahogany bar in bright orange. She peeled back tinfoil to reveal barbecue, mac and cheese, and a mini tower of bread. Suddenly, she heard feet shuffling on the hardwood floor behind her. She whipped her head around to catch a glimpse, cornrows following just a whisper behind.

Panic made another appearance. Today seemed to be its favorite day to prey on Carina.

“I was trying to be subtle,” a familiar voice muttered out of the comfort of the shadows.  “But you clearly didn’t get the memo, Carina.”

The lady from earlier. Greycoat. Or Leilani. Maybe both. 

But she wasn’t smiling this time.

She held a rough-looking burlap sack, brown, tattered a bit, with a horrific visage painted on it. Its eyes were menacing and seemed as if they were scanning the room. Its sickly smile made Carina feel as if a disease crept into her soul.

Greycoat’s cold yet oddly familiar demeanor sent shivers down Carina’s spine. 

 Carina felt her ankles dip into the hardwood.

“Maybe this will jog your memory,” Leilani growled. She tossed the hideous bag at Carina, who jumped a good four inches in the air before catching it. Realization struck Carina like a hard blow to the face. She gasped, voice caught in her throat, as images of scarecrows and six-legged beasts raided her mind.

First, a monster. A thing. Rows of razorblade teeth protruded from a large, slimy mouth. Containing that mouth was an ugly, oval-shaped head, the color of squid ink. That hideous head hovered above a seven-foot-tall body. And supporting that body of the beast were six long, spindly legs. 

Next, like a row of soldiers, a battalion of scarecrows flashed across Carina’s vision. Moving scarecrows. Rapid, torch-wielding scarecrows that rose nearly as tall as the beast. The cohort of scarecrows struck the beast in unison. The beast vanished in a hurricane of thick yellow smoke.

The Terrors. 

The Guard. 

She had to protect the inhabitants of the city. 

It was that time of year.

The visions dropped, and so did the burlap mask. 

Carina’s face shifted, fading away as memories flashed before her. Everything came back in place. 

She let out a sigh, and pouted. “I don’t wanna do this.” Carina crossed her arms. 

“I guess you finally remembered?” The older woman said. 

The young woman nodded. “Hello, Auntie.”

“Get to your post then, Acolyte. Your shift started four hours ago,” Leilani Spears declared, bending down to pick up the burlap. “The Terrors won’t defeat themselves!” She thrust the sack into the acolyte’s hands.

Carina’s head. 

“Can I have this year off?” 

“It’s your duty to protect New Orleans.” 

“Yes, yes I’ve heard the mantra! ‘And its inhabitants from the Terrors October presents.'” Carina mimicked Leilani, and rolled her eyes. Then there was an uncomfortable pause. Oh no. Her aunt gave her the look. The one that says, “Say one more thing, I dare you. Better keep yo mouth shut if you want to see 22.”

“I understand, Lieutenant Spears.” A small, quiet voice escaped her mouth. She didn’t like who she became.

 Reluctantly, Carina lifted the sack over her head. 

It spread like a virus.

She grew a foot taller. 

The burlap sack wound tight on her face and melded with her skin. It snaked down her body until it reached her colon, then stopped. Her fingers tingled and her heart buzzed with odd familiarity. Starting with her heart, tracing through her digestive system, and then stretching all the way down to her toes, different parts of her became dry. They became sharp. They became straw. Where human flesh lived and breathed on her arms, chest, and legs, suddenly rough-hewn fabric took over. 

It smelled of rotted birdseed and old grass. 

What stood in Carina’s place was a monster. Motionless, attentive, and ready to strike at Terror when needed. The wind bellowed, and the scarecrow’s crimson headband fell to the ground. 

Such a shame—Carina would have to raincheck that party.