A short novella featuring one of the lesser adventures of Jane and her companions.
Jane and company take a well-deserved break from adventuring when Reaper’s Night comes to the Shifting World. A celebration akin to Halloween, they join the revelers in donning harvest costumes to celebrate the end of the growing season.
However, trouble brews on the darkening horizon as they’re regaled with tales of monster hunting by the ancestor of their host. Jane’s keen senses and the hairs on the back of her neck tell her something is amiss. When the time comes for the penultimate celebration the danger bursts into the light, as does a whole horde of monsters who fall over one another in their eagerness to tear the heroes apart.
Now Jane and Caius must stop the curse of Reaper’s Night before they're turned into monster chow.
It wasn't a dark and stormy night, but it was going to be one filled with monsters, cemeteries, witches, and a lot of screaming. Most of that was from me. I mean, who wouldn't scream when they're being chased by a hoard of monsters?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First we have to have monsters to chase me. That all began at the creepy manor of one of my grandparents' oldest friends.
"Welcome! Welcome!" shouted mine host at the top of his bellowing lungs as he stretched his arms high over the crowd that streamed into the entrance hall. "Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may rest!"
I was still in awe at where I found myself that crisp autumn evening. My family and I stood on the threshold of a stately manor that had much the same style as a plantation house. The portico out front had thick, white columns that held up the second-floor balcony that wrapped around all sides of the building.
The rooms were wide and spacious, which was a good thing as a large crowd nudged their way through the pair of front doors. A winding set of stairs led to the balcony that overlooked the hall, and on either side were a pair of doors. The entrance on the right was open and revealed a large ball room where the guests mingled.
"Hey!" I yelped as I was pushed against the door frame. I looked at my attacker and jerked back in time to avoid being face-brushed by a broom.
Sage stood by my side and chuckled. "You were nearly swept off your feet there."
"That joke's older than you, old man," Caius quipped from his place on my other side.
Sage clapped a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. "She appreciates the classics, don't you, pumpkin?"
"That's a really fitting nickname right now," I retorted as a squash walked by.
These weren't plants and household cleaning supplies come alive by some sick experiment. The guests of mine host had dressed themselves up in all manner of harvest produce and implements. There were corn stalks, carrots, a couple of beets, and the occasional onion. Other guests were dressed in the rough finery of country folk and carried around their tools of choice, mostly hoes and scythes.
For our small group, my grandparents were attired in matching peas, and each had half of a pod. I looked down at my own attire and smiled. I'd put a lot of work into my yellowed leaf costume to give it a lifelike look, but it couldn't compare to Caius' costume. For once his bone wings were revealed to the public and he was without his glove that hid his cursed bone arm. He presented an imposing picture of the half-dead, especially as he was taller than most of the other guests.
"So this is a Reaper's Night party?" I asked my companions as another cabbage walked by.
"A rather elegant form of the celebration, yes," my grandfather confirmed.
Caius leaned his back against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "I'd rather have a simple one. The bonfires are the best."
"So unlike Halloween there's no trick or treats?" I guessed.
Sage shook his head. "No. Merely the celebration of the finishing of the harvest and the beginning of the winter season."
I squinted at a passing farmer with scythe and winced. "Why do some of those scythes looked real?"
"Because they are," a sweet voice spoke up.
We looked to our left and into the entrance hall. A large tomato waddled our way. It wasn't because of the wide costume that the woman walked in such a manner, but her rotund figure perfectly suited the wide, friendly smile on her lips as she came up beside us.
"Frieda!" Bee exclaimed as she grasped the woman's outstretched hands.
"Bee! It's been far too long!" Frieda scolded her.
"Just a little vacation," Bee assured her as she turned to us. "You remember my husband, don't you?"
Frieda squealed and glomped onto Sage, wrapping him in her thick arms and giving him a tight, bone-crushing squeeze. She drew him to arm's length and studied his red, air-exhausted face. "My goodness, but you are still handsome, aren't you?"
He let out a wheeze, but managed a smile. "I see you haven't changed, Frieda."
"And I wouldn't have it any other way," a jolly voice added as our host, a burly fellow with a smile to rival his wife's, walked over to us. The honorable man was dressed as a corn shock complete with strands of loose leaves that rustled with every step. He opened his arms wide and embraced my grandfather in a hug as powerful as that of his wife. "My good old friend! How joyous it is to see you again!"
Sage's voice was as squeezed as his body. "I, too, am glad to see you, Sir Heron."
"It's Audley to you, my good friend!" Audley insisted as he released my grandparent.
Sage staggered around for a moment before my grandmother caught him. He smiled at our host and bowed his head. "Of course, Audley."
Audley turned to Caius and me. "And who is this lovely couple here?"
Bee nodded at first me and then my dragon shifter. "This is Jane and her lovely mate, Caius."
Frieda grabbed one of Caius' wings and tugged on it. "This is so very lifelike. How ever did you manage it?"
"I was born with the talent," Caius told her. I clapped my hand over my mouth to stifle my snort.
Sage coughed into his fist. "Yes, well, your annual Reaper's Night Masque appears to be going quite well."
Audley swept his eyes over the crowd and puffed out his chest. "Yes, I must admit this is a better turnout than most years. I would say it's because of the anniversary."
"Anniversary of what?" I asked him.
"Of the night our ancestor died," a new voice chimed in. A beautiful young woman of fifteen approached us. She was slender with long brown hair the ends of which swished against her waist. Her beauty was accentuated by her costume, a slender black dress with dark shoes and a rough rope for a belt. Her hands were covered in tight-fitting black gloves and she moved with the grace of a gentle breeze.
Audley set a hand around her waist and drew her against his side. His face beamed with pride as he studied the beautiful young woman. "My good friends, this is my daughter, Eda. Eda, this is Bee, Sage, and their young companions, Jane and Caius."
Sage bowed his head. "You are the picture of loveliness, Eda, and very much like your mother."
Eda smiled. "Thank you so much."
"What were you saying about an anniversary?" I asked her.
Audley gave his daughter a squeeze before he nodded at the closed pair of doors on the left. "Why don't you go show them the portrait and tell them the story?"
Eda nodded. "I'd like that. If you will follow me I'll tell you the tale of our ancestor, and why Reaper Night is so important to us."