Uncle Morty’s Halloween Journey
by Mortimer R. Wolcott
This week the Netherworld is preparing to celebrate the day when the barriers break down and the disembodied, the undead, the restful and the wakeful, can cross back again to see the world of the living. The embodied call it “Halloween.” But I, your Uncle Morty, cross back to the land of the dead. It is the one day I am allowed to visit my gardens, my beautiful shadow home.
Alas, I have been unable to complete the décor due to my present assignment among the flesh-covered. I have been banished from my beloved afterlife. Though they might be interesting, the crimes for which I suffer my penance will not be particularly comprehensible to my embodied friends. Suffice it to say that, for me, Halloween is a one-day vacation from the vacuous world of the living. The boundary is already becoming hazy and I can almost see the old homestead now, tall and thin, multi-gabled - diamond windows and diaphanous draperies drifting gently in the moonlight, windows open to the frosts of autumn no doubt, just as I left them last year. My old house awaits its occupant. Perhaps it pines for the one night of the year the blue flame fills the fireplace, just as I do.
There are two ways to come and go from the gossamer air of the Netherworld, on foot or by train. My preference is to take the train the first leg of the journey. It’s a fine brisk walk back to the homestead from the station. Most of the spirits who occupy the Netherworld, live close enough to their former homes and burial sites to simply walk across the border when it thins into a haze, but my home is further from the land of the living, in the heart of the Netherworld, in a suburb of its biggest city, the name of which its inhabitants are not allowed to speak. Suffice to say, it is a city of esoteric beauty and ugliness, a paradox that not even the oracle could untangle.
I long to see the spire at the center of the nameless city reflecting moonlight onto the palaces, houses, churches, and cryptic temples that tumble down the central hill upon which the whole metropolis is built. But for now, I only have one day, and one night, and I will spend it at my home, where my heart - if I had one - would beat.
There are trains which run to the living world, in the thin spots and hidden places. There is no need to worry about being late. The train to the Netherworld is always, always on time, occupying as it does only one moment on this timeline.
Here it comes now, chugging through the underground tunnel, heavy gray steam rising from its stack. It burns discarded dreams. Never runs short of fuel. After rising from the train, the smoke falls heavily, filling the subterranean tunnel until it’s thick with the smoke of sadness and confusion. I am surrounded by newly disembodied souls. The lately departed will have little to no memory at all of this train station that takes them far from their material pasts.
They crowd around me staring blankly as conductors walk through the melee, demanding that passengers go through pockets and bags for tickets so they can be helped onto the correct train. One tall, elderly man readily pulls a gold ticket from his pocket. The conductor smiles, pats him on the back, and sends him to a bench to wait for the M train. Just in front of me, I see a confused young woman, who looks as if she’s dressed for work, clutching her open purse against her, digging frantically for a ticket. When I catch her eye, I see the vacant look that the young have when death comes as a surprise. She will remember very little of this experience. But I am used to the air of confusion. In my current state, I find shuffling off the mortal world invigorating. It fills me with nostalgia for the silver moonlight and mists of my home country. Perhaps it will be raining in celebration of my homecoming when I arrive.
For those of you interested in the metaphysics of life after embodiment: There are three destinations for souls bound outward from the Mundane World. One is the train to the Netherworld; once there a soul will perhaps catch another train to Hell, or the train to the mountains where Heaven is rumored to exist. Your ticket for the latter two options is by invitation only. But the Netherworld ticket is available to any soul - if you have the right currency and you know who to ask you may be assigned there instead of any other destinations.
Only the train from the Netherworld station ever carries return passengers. The other two trains leave constantly, full to the brim, but return empty. The only path back from any station in the Afterlife must come through the valley of paradox, where transeunt thought conjures a world out of illusion. But now I’ve wandered into the theories of disembodied existence and I’m certain you’re bored, so back to the journey.
I see the N train approaching at last and move the shuffling souls out of my way with my silver-topped cane. I show the conductor my silver ticket, edged in black and he shows me to the first-class car.
I ease into the red velvet seats and close my eyes, waiting for the movement of the train. Homecoming. I don’t open my eyes again until I feel my bones rattle with an abrupt jerk forward. I look out at the sea of confusion in the station as the train passes into the night.
We plunge into darkness, a dense blanket that soothes my old bones. For a timeless moment I am at peace, fallen into nothingness. Then slowly, I feel, rather than see the first light of the Netherworld lightly palpate my face. I open the shade on the window of the train car and see silhouettes conjure themselves from the darkness. The skeletal shapes of trees rush beside the train. A ragged cloud that looks like a dragon runs past the moon, using the silver orb as its eye for a moment. Caves and huts appear on this dark edge of the Netherworld, stones are piled into crude walls. I see the giant ravens hopping here and there or gliding next to the train, to stare in with a red eye before cawing and leaping back into the sky.
A flock of bats glides and swoops, peppering the silver moon with shadows. Now as the rock walls give way to stone and iron fences, the tattered clouds gather themselves into pillowy heaps. I am satisfied that a hard rain will fall soon, and I am not disappointed. It begins almost as soon as I disembark the train. I walk through curtains of water that spill from the edges of my black umbrella, stopping at the first apothecary shop I see on the cobbled lane that leads into the city to purchase Raven tea, made with cranberries, blood orange, and the remnants of dreams. The heavier the rain, the more pleasurable my tea when I arrive home. Though my poor old bones are soaked, they will be gratified with the blue flame in the fireplace, the black iron kettle, and the spurious half-real food of the Netherworld.
The hour is late, but I pass many inhabitants of the nameless city, only tipping my hat in greeting because I am so eager to be home. I pass spirits hurrying off to catch the train for their visits to the land of the living, werewolves who happily dwell in the perpetual home of the moon, spirit women who dart through the rain as clouds of fog. The pale spirits who move through the borders between worlds at will laugh in the rain. These spirits are able to make doors to the Netherworld and are sometimes called Fair Ones. There are even still a few street vendors hawking hot blood wine and the thick, lovely, volcanic chocolate of our beautiful country, but I have no time for them. Not now. I turn from the main streets of the city into one of the near suburbs, gothic houses line the streets. I smell leaf mold and decay. At last, I find my street and follow the pouring rain down the walk to my front gate and its arbor of bones.
Ah! There it is! My beautiful home, water pouring off the gabled roofline. As I walk through the iron gate next to the bed of wild wormwood, I see one of my faithful friends has closed the windows and as I approach I can see ripples of water dimpling the diamond panes. Before I reach the wide porch, gingerbread painted gray and black, now peeling and fading to charming dilapidation, the clouds divide once again into tatters and the rain slows, though heavy round drops still fall. The sleepy eyed moon transforms everything liquid into shimmering silver. The house is suddenly outlined in phosphorescence. I pause to take in the sight and then slowly turn the skeleton key, shivering with delight.
When I enter the long dark foyer, I light a candle. Ah! There’s the talking boar’s head. Here is the magic mirror, fish-eyed so as to see all that's real and all that’s not yet real on the edges of perception. On the dead white marble and iron table by the door, I see a box beautifully wrapped in scarlet and silver tissue. A homecoming gift! When I open it, I see Ligeia’s famous batwing cookies, delicately shaped and spiced with nightmares. Her constant endeavors to remain embodied must have failed again, but that’s her loss and my gain. Her cookies are heavenly. I remove my wraps, settle into my dressing gown and make my tea, which I have in the library. My books line the shelf like old friends. There’s The Metaphysics of Nonsense. There’s The Black Cat’s Guide to the Spirit World. I run my bony fingers along the spines and light my lantern. I must decide what to read as I take my tea. Aha! There’s no surer way to summon my friend Edgar, than by settling in with one of his tales. I choose the one about Ligeia in honor of the cookies. If only this night could last forever!
But tomorrow I must return to land of the sun, the land of bustle, and movement, where thoughts are clogged by the harsh realities of living in the flesh. Not mine of course, but I shall have none but the living to speak with in that hard place. Ah well, perhaps soon my penance will be done and I will be allowed to return to this home for good. I will plant my garden full of bitter herbs and moonlight lilies and bat flowers. Perhaps I’ll take in a stray black cat or an owl - familiars too wander into the Netherworld. Tonight, I will dream of the possibilities and have, as the living say, a Happy Halloween.
Mortimer Richard Wolcott is, quite frankly, not very forthcoming with his bio. We're not even sure if that's his real name. His work during his previous embodiments is not something he'll willingly share. He also won't explain why he's currently assigned to the world of the living. His deathography only somewhat clear from the point at which he showed up at Sacred Chickens Farm for a Halloween Party and never left. He is occasionally pressed into service to help write the blog and you can search the archives here for his wisdom. He enjoys hanging out with cats, the occasional cocktail, and dispensing sarcastic remarks to the living.