There are all kinds of darknesses. The fear the four privileged Oxford students felt that Halloween night was real enough. They sat together in a rowing boat surrounded by whispers, winds and shadows.
They were dressed in Halloween costumes and masks fresh from a party. And the boat and the lake had seemed like a good idea after some drinks, despite the cold.
Jason, the unofficial leader of the group, rowed them across the lake. The darkness of the waters seemed to saturate their souls like a chill, like the cold itself. The lake was surrounded by woods, and was much further out than their main university grounds.
And the curtain between worlds was as secure as a shroud (so they felt). The moon, waning, cast her comforting spell of light. It was not the only spell to be cast that night.
The whole atmosphere shifted, like the sudden singing of a lament. Like a turning down of the lights. Helen and Simon, the other two students held each other close.
Zoe, Jason’s girlfriend, screamed suddenly. Across the surface of the lake they all watched as a figure approach them, walking on the water.
"It's a ghost," said Helen, grabbing Simon’s hand.
"There are no ghosts!" replied Jason. Jason didn’t believe in anything supernatural. He believed in logic, reason, Dawkins and hedonism.
But it was a ghost. Of a kind.
Its eyes blazed red, like an old digital clock (something so ancient that it was before even the internet).
For now its head was lowered. But as it approached, the students could see its hair moving like a black nest of snakes.
And when it reached them, the four students wondered how providence, once so kind, could allow what was happening to them to take place.
The ghost spoke to them in a siren-call, like the wild song of a high wind.
"You realize that tonight is Halloween?"
"Of course," replied Jason, turning away instinctively to avoid the red eyes.
"And by taking part in Halloween you are in fact worshiping evil."
Jason spoke up:”There is no devil. And there is no God. They are myths.”
The figure simply stood there, on the dark waters.
Jason continued: “Oh come on, we aren't worshiping evil, we’re just trying to have a laugh."
"A laugh?" whispered the ghost, "Isn't there enough evil in the world already? You are worshiping death and the devil along with the rest of your people. As a result you must be punished for not worshiping the true God. As a result the whole country will be judged, starting with you."
“So you're a Gorgon type ghost, right?” asked Simon, “And you turn people into stone?”
“Medusa's tribe did that,” said the ghost. “Aren't her offspring allowed to use their imaginations a little? Must it always be stone? Each of us can turn creatures into a different substance. Some can turn them into ruby, emerald or sapphire. Some can turn them into metals, copper, gold and silver. One of us is known to change people into glass.”
All of a sudden the ghost sounded very sad and lonely. It had existed long before Christianity. Wind swept around its snake hair.
“Some are destined to make the hearts of their victims grow so very cold. And this is the source of the evil-eye of folklore.”
Jason was secretly attempting to row away from the whole situation, but the boat was suddenly immovable, as if sin-chains anchored it to the lake floor. Meanwhile Zoe was fumbling for her iphone. She had a plan – if she could select the camera function and reverse the camera then the gorgon-ghost would see its own reflection and be destroyed.
"Wait a minute!" shouted Helen. "At Christmas we meet up and go to the midnight cathedral service and sing hymns! And we do it consciously. So we do worship God. At Halloween we try to have fun but we don't consciously try to worship the devil!"
The ghost smirked. "I'm afraid that doesn't change the way you are," it said.
Zoe found her iphone, pressed the camera app and reversed the view. Then she raised her mobile high. Triumphantly. But suddenly, horribly, the boat shook with a treacherous gust of wind and the iphone fell from Zoe’s hand into the water. They all watched as its dim light was extinguished in the depths like hope dying.
And the ancient ghost lifted its head.
So the land’s judgment began there. The ghost caught the eyes of each student. And each of them felt their blood freeze as their hearts turned as cold as ice and snow. Then, like snowflakes their bodies simply blew away in the pummel of the October wind.
And a further darkness filled the country, like the opening of a Pandora's Box. As if a multitude of furies had been released from storehouses, like snowflakes, each unique. Like an army of cruel ironies, intimate and individual in their messages of death. So that the hearts of the people grew colder.
And the ancient ghost stood in the middle of the darkness and laughed a wild siren-song, knowing that All Saints Day with her gentle mercies would never come.
There are all kinds of darknesses.