Hay, It's Halloween
It happened every year on Halloween. Farmer McYurtle of Meridell was truly frightened, but also intrigued. Just what had he seen on that first Halloween night years ago? His memory of the event was seared into this consciousness, so bright and real that it still gave him goose bumps. It had been a normal Halloween night, the air was crisp and cool, and there was not a cloud in the sky. He rarely had visitors that far out in the country side, but he had put out one of his prize marrows instead of a pumpkin, carved with a jagged toothy grin.
Of course, he did hope to get a few trick-or-treaters, or better yet, some more adult pets that could come around for a cup of cider and a nice chat. Farmer McYurtle wasn't everyone's favorite character, although he wasn't as bad tempered as one of his relatives, a certain janitor. It was just hard to be sociable, especially during drought conditions, slorg infestations, or when anything was effecting his farm. He also didn't care for kids. Well, that wasn't entirely true, but sometimes it seemed as though the kids enjoyed getting a reaction out of him. They'd knock on his door and run away or play pranks from time to time.
So he wasn't really expecting any visitors. Still, the night was pleasant, and he loved watching the sun set over his crops in the evening. It had been a good year and he even had made some especially large hay stacks to decorate his fields.
Hay stacks were useful things. If one is caught in a sudden storm, all one has to do is burrow inside and there it is warm and dry. Some pets even loved to eat hay, so it could be food for them as well. McYurtle liked to think that by providing haystacks in his field, he had helped some poor soul survive a tough winter. Yes, McYurtle was proud of those haystacks. He even gave them names and talked to them from time to time, when no one was looking of course.
"Well, guys, it is time for me to go to bed. I have to make hay while the sun shines. Early to bed and early to rise and such," he said to his haystacks.
But he did not sleep peacefully after that. He had just settled under his quilts and was drifting off to sleep, when he began to hear a strange sound. McYurtle was used to the normal sounds of the farm, Lupes howling at the moon, the wind blowing, and the various grunts and baas of petpets. With practice, he could even hear the sound of slorgs as they slimed their way inch by inch towards his crops. It was something different that he heard that night. It sounded like something big and heavy moving. There was a rustling and dragging sound. Then as he looked out the window, he saw lights in the field, heard screams, and saw something huge moving about. He could not understand what he was seeing, but it scared him terribly. He hid in the root cellar where it was dark and quiet, with only a few spyder's webs to disturb him. It was cold down in the root cellar, but he had managed to wrap himself in some old burlap sacks to keep warm.
The next morning, as soon as he was brave enough, he ventured out of the root cellar to take a look and assess what had happened. There in the field was a strange sight. Most notably, his beloved haystacks were missing, and hay was scattered everywhere. Then he became angry. He wanted to shout at someone, but there was no one around, so he shouted at the scarecrow.
"Noo! Vandals! Thieves! Juvenile delinquents! I'll teach you to steal my haystacks! "
But all his shouting managed to do was disturb a few Crokabek birds that rose cawing noisily into the sky.
None of his neighbors reported seeing anything out of the ordinary, but McYurtle did get a feeling they were not being entirely honest. A day later, the three haystacks were mysteriously back. Though McYurtle looked for signs of footprints, he found nothing other than his own. He was happy the hay was returned, but it wasn't the same. Each haystack looked different. He himself had cut them, stacked them, and shaped them. Now they seemed like strangers to him. Eventually he did reshape them and with time he began to feel at ease enough to talk to them once more, but the whole situation was mighty stressful for a farmer used to the slow and predicable pace of farm life.
The year after that, it happened again. He had almost forgotten the whole ordeal, when lying in bed that Halloween night, he heard the same sounds again. Looking into the field, he saw lights. It seemed as though he heard shrieks of terror, and something huge and black moving across his field. This time McYurtle had hidden himself in the coal chute all night. The next morning, again, there were no haystacks, but the next day they returned looking a bit smaller and lopsided. It had taken days to get the black coal dust out of his orange fur and he wasn't about to forget it this time.
The next year, McYurtle was determined not to allow anyone to steal his haystacks. He moved them to the farthest end of the field. He hoped that the walk out to them might be enough to put off some chubby little pets, who might not bother with them. He also piled them high and fat, some of the hugest haystacks he'd ever seen!
So after wishing his haystacks good night and warning them to be brave, he walked back through the fields towards home. He had been so intensely preparing for having his haystacks stolen, that although he was aware that it was Halloween, he really had not given any thought to what he'd do if he had guests. Arriving back home, he found several neighbors who were looking for him.
"Good evening, McYurtle," they greeted him. "Happy Halloween! Will you be coming around to the pot luck?" asked the Gelert from the berry farm.
"The potato counter society has donated a lot of potatoes and since no one could guess the weight of the marrow, we are having a marrow cook off! All the marrow you can eat, I am especially interested to sample the marsh marrows," said the potato counter Wocky.
It sounded like so much fun that McYurtle decided he couldn't miss it. He could always get a plate of food, greet a few neighbors and then make some excuse to go back home. It was hardly sundown yet, and he was sure everyone was going to the party anyway. Surely he'd be home in time to catch any mischief makers.
At the party he sampled dish after dish of delicious marrow, potato, and berry recipes. He was surprised to find that wasn't all that was on the menu; there were all sorts of cheeses and dairy desserts from Kau Kau Farms. He tried a little of everything and lost track of time.
After eating, there were games of bobbing for potatoes, potato sack races, cheese roller, and pin-the-tail-on-the Uni. Someone had even set up a puppet show and after that a jester from Skarl's court came to tell jokes.
After all that excitement, many pets were making another trip to the potluck to finish off any leftovers. While eating some more, McYurtle began to tell the others about his missing haystacks.
"That sounds like a scary story, maybe you should save it for later tonight around the bonfire," suggested the Kau from Kau Kau Farms.
"No, you don't understand. I have no time. I've got to go now before it happens again!" McYurtle said.
He quickly excused himself and headed off towards the field, hoping to beat any intruders. It was later than he thought, and by the time he arrived, it was already happening. He saw the lights in his field, heard screams, and saw something huge and black moving quickly away.
This time he went to investigate, although his teeth chattered loudly because he was shaking so hard. The black shape had moved off in the direction of the Haunted Woods, and he quickly lost sight of it. There was something funny on the ground that crunched when he stepped on it. He looked and saw popcorn scattered everywhere.
Following the trail of hay and popcorn was easy, however, and he could see with certainty that it lead directly to the Haunted Woods. What could he do in the face of magic? He was too afraid to go into the Haunted Woods and knew none of his neighbors would believe him, but he was starting to think someone had put a spell on his haystacks. Or maybe on Halloween they felt the festive nature of the holiday, and decided to come alive to go and enjoy it for themselves. Then, like a true party goer, they would return home later, looking a bit lopsided for all the fun they'd had.
Yes, he preferred to think of it that way. His haystacks wanted to enjoy themselves like any pet on Halloween. He could live with that explanation. Laughing, he returned home, knowing he'd see his friends again. They'd drag themselves home and he'd be there to get them back into shape again.
So if you are ever around Meridell on Halloween, maybe you can stop by McYurtle's farm. I hear that a few of the bravest pets actually climb inside the haystacks as the magic takes hold. They call it going on a hay ride to the Haunted Woods. Of course, there are strange lights in the field and shrieks in the night, but they are only lights from Halloween toys. The shrieks are shrieks of laughter as the haystacks come alive and plod off towards the Haunted Woods. If you ever visit, just be sure not to disturb farmer McYurtle or step on one of his prized marrow plants; that guy can still be pretty scary.