The 31st of October in Locust, Maine - Uncharted

The 31st of October in Locust, Maine

By Amanda Cecelia Lang

I don’t remember my birth-town. But as this road unwinds its final miles through an autumn-spiced forest of crimson oaks and golden locusts, a sense of returning home rises in me like shivery warmth and candy-corn bile.

A signpost waits in the overgrowth ahead.

Welcome to Locust, Maine, population 1,313

The splintered sign slumps sideways in the weeds, spray-painted with layers of unimaginative graffiti: skull-faced jack-o-lanterns and a population reduced to a red-dripping 1.

I roll the rental car to a stop several yards before the town limits. Not quite superstition, but something unseen keeps me from daring any further. A particularly grotesque shadow in the center of the sun-dappled road draws my attention.         

“Is that where they found you?” Julie asks from the passenger seat—and I jump so hard I nearly lose my stomach. Almost forgot she’s here.

She’s been unnaturally silent this whole drive, observing me with her phone. It’s more surreal than I imagined. Coming here, spending Halloween with Mistress Julie, influencer and host of True Tales from After Midnight. Over the years, I’ve been approached by countless producers, Hollywood sleaze slobbering to buy my story. My aunt always shooed them away, said I needed to forget this wicked place. But Aunt Bethany died last year, and I’m eighteen now, on my own. Never would’ve agreed to document the worst day of my life if I didn’t need the tuition cash Julie offered.

And, if I’m being honest, her friendship these last couple months.

“I think this is it…” I crack my door and soft-step outside, oddly afraid of dropping off into another dimension. The surrounding trees tremble, restless leaves, and the buzz of late-season katydids swarms inside my head.

Julie follows me onto the road. “First time you’ve been here since the days following that infamous Halloween. After thirteen years, anything sparking?”

Glimmers, echoes. “I was just a kid, so I don’t really remem—”

“Into the camera,” Julie reminds me. Just like we rehearsed.

I make uncomfortable eye-contact with the phone’s blackhole gaze. She promised to keep this tasteful, promised me final approval before she posts. Even so, I already feel Julie’s followers dissecting my every tangled word in the comments below. There are people who still don’t believe me.

“It’s the 31st of October in Locust, Main…” I start again. “I don’t remember that night. My aunt said they found me wandering the road outside town. Five years old, surviving on candy corn, still wearing my Snoopy costume.” I can still hear the state patrol skidding to a stop around me, blue-and-reds flashing across my blurred vision.

“How’d they know to look for you?” Julie asks, though she already knows every answer. She’s spent months researching, interviewing, preparing for today, our 31st of October.

 “For a week after Halloween, my mother didn’t answer her sister’s phone calls. When my aunt reached out to our neighbors then the constable, she discovered the same thing. Abandoned phones that just rang and rang. Aunt Bethany was the first out-of-towner to report it. Something had happened to the people here in Locust.” Feeling far away, I stare into the camera. “They vanished. Everyone but me.”

“And you had no memory of the event?”

“Didn’t remember anything, not my parents, my house, not even my own name.”

Reagan Morris, Reagan Morris, it pulses through me. Same mantra I used to repeat into the mirror during the months after Aunt Bethany took me in, desperate to feel like the person she told me I was. Reagan Morris, over and over, until it blurred and so did I.

“But you did remember one thing,” Julie says. “You remembered your big sister.”
“Yes. Madison.”

“Tell me about her.”

I hesitate. My mouth feels sticky, cloyingly sweet. “Can we wait to talk about her?”

Julie swings the camera out of my face. “I know this is tough. But Madison’s the reason we’re here, right?”

You’re the reason we’re here, I think, but it’s hard calling bullshit on the only person I’ve ever truly talked to about this. The FBI agents and revolving-door shrinks don’t count. Sitting in my dorm room, night after night, Julie and I didn’t just rehash the unsolved vanishings in Locust. We talked about my broken life, my sense of never belonging. And when that got too intense, we connected over music and popcorn movies, easygoing laughter. Didn’t know how much I needed that until she sought me out.

So I nod. Sure, we’re here for Madison.

“That’s my girl. Let’s introduce her to the world, yeah?”

The camera returns, and I swallow.

“Madison was thirteen. All bony legs and long stringy hair. Kind of a loner, clever. Daring. She wore thick cat-eye glasses and loved reading by candlelight up high in our attic. Halloween was her favorite season, the only time she could be anything she wanted. That last year, she was the sorceress from one of those ratty leather books she always carried around. Antler crown and a long purple cloak. I’ll never forget the swish of the velvet. She had it on when she saved my life.”

Julie peeks over her phone, offers a thumbs up. “Saved you, how? From what?”

But I’ve never been able to say.

Glimmers, echoes. The shadow in the center of the road.

Standing here now, a warm hand curls softly around mine and squeezes.  

I don’t dare breathe, don’t dare move, don’t dare allow Julie’s followers to see inside the private theater of my astonishment. Can this be real?

The phantom fingers tighten. Slick but firm, waxy as candy-corn, just like Madison’s grip when she tugged me to safety all those years ago.

It’s too much. I glance down; I can’t help myself.

But like this town, my hand is empty.


 “You’re doing great!” Julie has me pose for B-roll shots in the road, then finally, too soon, we follow the final mile into town.

Here the weed-choked pavement crumbles down the centerline. That familiarity from earlier sinks into a pit of unease. A strange vertigo zigzags through me, a tumbling sense of being both lost and found, of racing as fast as I can, backward in time until we round the final bend and find the picturesque ruins of Main Street, USA.

The Texaco peeks from the trees first, antique gas pumps wrapped in brambles and a patina of neglect. We creep past a hardware store with a sunken roof, then the splintered husk of a mom-and-pop diner. Vandals or the passing seasons have shattered almost every window. Paint peels off the buildings, hoary wooden beasts shedding time-weathered skin.

“Wow, festive.” Julie zooms in on the diner. A tattered cheesecloth ghost still haunts one window, stained yellow by the elements. “My fans are gonna eat this up.”

Outside the post office next door, a plastic skeleton in decaying overalls slumps on a bench. I knew the town would be like this, even so a sickly-sweet chill invades my veins. Remnants of Halloween linger everywhere. From the purple-and-orange lightbulbs strung like cobwebs between the buildings to the crooked marquee of the Rialto Theater announcing Locust’s annual costume parade.


“Should’ve brought my vampire teeth,” Julie quips.

“Yeah,” I agree with a dry throat, “left my Snoopy costume back on the road.”

Something flutters in my rearview mirror.

I hit the brakes and twist in my seat, heart rioting, squinting back through the windows of the passing diner. This time of year, they used to serve pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream and candy corn. I remember just now. A three-stack, that was Madison’s favorite.

“Did you see that?”

“See what?” Julie whispers.

Late afternoon sunshine ripples my vision. A flutter of purple velvet? Where did it go? “Someone ducked inside the diner.”

“You’re kidding.” Julie peers over her phone. “Reagan, there’s nobody there.”

I watch the space between, uncertain.

She’s right. Nothing moves in or around the restaurant.

It’s nerves, gotta be nerves. Phantom hands and make-believe velvet. I loosen my vice-grip on the wheel and my palms tremble, nervous to be empty, nervous to be tugged again.

“Hey?” Julie touches my shoulder. “You okay?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be driving; it’s all a little much. Can we get out and walk?”

“Whatever helps. I know this is intense.”

I abandon the driver’s seat, and Julie follows. “So, million-dollar question. Anything look familiar?”

“I mean, looks like it did when the FBI brought me back, afterwards.” 

“Sure, but is anything new sparking?”

Glimmers, echoes. Madison’s high-spirited laughter leading the parade.

Farther down, there’ll be a modest clocktower, then a drugstore, followed by a shotgun blast of homes spread throughout the woods. My family’s Victorian-style house waits just beyond those oaks with its castle eaves and Madison’s book-lined attic. I’m certain. Between the FBI tours and the tabloid photos that pop up this time each year, I’ve mapped everything.

I shake my head. “Can I have a few minutes? Before we dig in?”

“Anything you need. I’ll just shoot some intros.” Julie fluffs her hair then flips the phone mercifully on herself. “Okay, my little gravediggers, the moment you’ve been dying for is now. It’s the 31st of October, two hours from sunset, and I’m standing in the heart of Locust, Maine…”

Careful to keep Julie in my side-eye, I wander the leaf-littered sidewalk. Dozens of dark stains grease the pavement where jack-o-lanterns once rotted to fly-infested pulps.

“It’s been called a modern-day Roanoke,” Julie goes on. “Good people, hardworking people, family people. Where did they go, and what took them there? They abandoned everything: vehicles, homes, cherished possessions, beloved pets. Some even left mid-dinner—half-eaten meals later found rotting on plates. The only thing they didn’t leave behind were signs of a struggle. No corpses, no bloodstains, nothing out of place. Whatever happened here, happened peacefully…”

Did it? I wonder.

 Glimmers, echoes. Madison wailing my name, shrieking for me to run, run, run, little sister! Fast as I can…

I approach the Rialto and peer into the grimy, spider-laced ticket booth. An ancient bag of candy-corn slouches beside a roll of tickets for a midnight creature-feature that never played.

Like nausea, the memories keep coming back up. Or have I always known them? Hard to tell for sure. The sunshine shines so bright.

Second only to her attic books and Halloween, Madison worshipped scary movies, I remember that. She couldn’t get enough of the suspense, the bloody make-believe. Nothing frightened her. Monsters can’t hurt monsters; that was her motto. No matter what came at her, bullies, grown-ups, the deepening darkness, Madison was never afraid.

Not until our final moments together.

Alongside the town’s buzzing silence, the ghost-echoes of Madison’s shouts ring in my ears. Run, little sister, run!

“…and wow, folks have cooked up some wild theories over the years…” Julie’s voice carries. “Mass hysteria, mass hypnosis, cults and ritual sacrifices, evil government experiments, and my absolute favorite: alien abduction…”

“Can you just stop?” I rasp, feeling breathless.

I’ve heard this trash my whole life, and just now, it’s all piling up. A dump truck of too much. Never should’ve let Julie talk me into this, no matter how broke and lonely I’ve been. The urge to dash to the car and get the hell out of town overwhelms every nerve. I inch away from the Rialto, suddenly afraid if I turn my back on Julie, my only friend, even for a heartbeat, she’ll vanish like all the others. Like a swish of purple velvet, Locust will take her.

Madison’s long-ago voice shrieks inside my head. Run, run, run! Only…

Only, it’s not inside my head anymore.

And that’s not my sister who’s shrieking.

Somewhere in this departed town, a telephone rings.


“Where is it?” I cry. My sneakers scrape a dizzy circle, and the town twists around me. From somewhere, faint but determined, a phone bell rings, rings, rings! If we don’t find it soon, whoever’s on the other end might hang up.

“There!” Julie tugs my elbow. “The drugstore!”

We chase the sound past the silent, sun-splintered clocktower, past telephone poles with frayed and fallen lines.

As we reach the drugstore, the phone shrills louder, on and on, racing my pulse. The only entrance is a plate-glass door, motion-triggered. Without electricity, it doesn’t budge, and the place probably has the only windows in town that aren’t broken.

Mind spinning out, I tug on an iron trash barrel, heavy as sin, scraping it across the sidewalk. “Help me! It might be Madison calling!”

Julie stares like I’ve lost my grip, then hastily props her phone against a lamppost.

Together, we hoist the trashcan and ram the door. It takes three tries before a cobweb crack appears, and the glass shatters. I rush inside, leaving Julie behind as she fetches her phone.

Run, run, run!

The ringing pulls me through a maze of aisles to the pharmacy in the shadowy back. I scramble over the counter and fumble for the wall phone.

“Hello? Hello?” I strain to hear past the blood rushing through my brain.

The line crackles.

Someone takes a breath. Not me.

“Oh, thank the Lord,” echoes a voice from beyond, faint, ephemeral, familiar. “I’ve been calling for ages. Was afraid nobody would answer.”

“Maddie?” I gasp, though my heart’s already twisting. “Where are you?”

“I’m looking for my sister,” the voice says. “She lives in your town, but I haven’t been able to reach her. Please tell me you know her? Eleanor Morris?”

My heart finishes its icy plummet, chills ripple through me.

Eleanor Morris was my mother’s name.

“Aunt Bethany?” I whisper. Aunt Bethany died of a heart attack last December.

A warm hand closes on my shoulder, and I jump so hard I drop the phone. It clatters to the linoleum.

“Who is it?” Julie asks as I squint into her phone light.

I scramble for the fallen receiver. “Hello? Hello?

Dead silence. Not even the ghost of a dial tone. Almost as if…

I shake my head. “It was my aunt, my dead aunt. Please tell me you set this up? A little trick for your followers?”

“I wouldn’t do that to you, Reagan.” Julie sounds hurt. “And I don’t invent content—”

A specter of purple flutters behind her.

I shove past, chasing afterimages down the aisle. Someone’s here, hiding behind the fossilized cough syrup. The flowing edge of their cloak peeks into the aisle.

Madison? I reach for a fistful of purple velvet.

Metal hangers rattle.

The cloak swings empty.

Part of a sales rack of children’s costumes.

Cold relief. I pull the cloak loose and hold it up to the pale sunlight beaming in from the front of the store. The cloak is flimsy motheaten velvet. Scary Halloween Witch, according to the label. A cheap version of Madison’s. Her cloak was heavy and buttery, much lusher than this, much more majestic and commanding.

I put the costume back and freeze. Next on the rack is Snoopy. White cotton onesie with a red collar and floppy black ears. Same costume they found me wandering in.

Julie brushes up beside me, whispering, “This place is a total time capsule.”

She shines her phone on the fully stocked shelves. Styrofoam gravestones, trick-or-treat buckets shaped like cauldrons. And bags of candy corn. Shelf after shelf of it, nothing but candy corn. “Yuck.” Julie wrinkles her nose. “This town had a serious thing for the devil’s earwax.” 

I swallow thickly. It was Madison’s favorite.

With an easy chuckle, Julie fishes the costume rack and holds up a vampire cape, candy-apple-red. “Is it me? Whatcha think?”

I stare at her. I think I haven’t heard my aunt’s voice in ten months. I think something’s terribly wrong with this town. “We should go.”

Run, run, run, little sister…

A sound erupts from the silence outside. Like a thunderclap, but not.

Julie startles, drops the cape. “The hell was that?”

The sound erupts again, low, dented, discordant. Eerily familiar, like candy on the tip of my tongue.

When it sounds a third time, I gasp.

“The clocktower.”

The bell clangs again, crooked, inharmonious, but louder, a clock winding up. The sunlight in the drugstore dims. Clouds passing over the sun?

I count a fifth gong, then a sixth. With each toll, the sunlight fades.

Julie grabs me. “I think someone’s covering the windows!”

She pulls me toward the front as the seventh bell tolls, and the darkness consumes us.

“Seven o’clock,” I say.

Her light cuts a path between the cash registers. “My phone says it’s only 3:33.”

But when we burst out the front door, we stumble into a nightscape.

“Where’s the sun?” Julie gasps.

Between the rooftops, stars and the full moon glow against an indigo backdrop.

Where’s the sun?” Julie hugs me, nearly sinking to her knees. But a strange calmness overcomes me, an inevitability. We should’ve left when we had the chance.

“Julie, look.” I point. She’s too busy gawping skyward, so I shake her and point again. “Look!


Hundreds of them.

They line Locust’s sidewalks, shimmery orange firelight and serrated smiles, lighting the way for the Halloween parade that, after all these years, is finally about to begin.


“Holy hell, holy fucking hell,” Julie trembles, phone and followers desperately forgotten. “I swear I’m not doing this. I swear I’m not.”

“I know.”

Except for the jack-o-lanterns, Main Street remains dark, dead of electricity. But farther down, nesting beyond the oaks, I spot the candlelight glow of Madison’s attic window.

“Where’re you going?” Julie cries. “Reagan!”

And it’s funny, strange, I’m not afraid anymore.

I’m done running from this.

“I’m going home.”

Julie chases me. “Are you insane? What’s wrong with you?”

“Can’t you hear their voices?” 

“Voices? Reagan, you’re freaking me out.”

“Madison’s voice. And the whole town.”

Yes, there, distant, soft. Whispers between the silence, like late-season katydids lost inside autumn air, buzzing with the magic words that bring Halloween to life.

“We need to leave! Now!” Julie grabs my right hand.

And invisible fingers close warmly around my free hand. Smooth, waxy, tugging me…

I follow.

No more running.

“Reagan, please,” Julie begs, falling behind. “I’m your friend, and I’m scared. We—”

Her voice cuts off. A choking, sputtering scream shreds the haunted fabric of the night.

I whirl.

But where my only friend stood a heartbeat before, the road shimmers with emptiness.

Julie is nowhere.


The invisible hand tugs me onward. My sister’s hand.


It’s only a short walk to my family home.

The jack-o-lanterns and my big sister’s translucent grip lead the way.

The house rises from the trees like a Victorian fairytale. Rounded balcony, castle eaves, white frosting trim. And, of course, a tower attic with a candlelit oval window.

Nothing looks familiar and everything does.

Wooden stairs lead to a sprawling porch clotted with jack-o-lanterns and a cobwebbed Halloween display. Tombstones, skull-faced zombies, black cats with arching spines, all the dime-store clichés.

At the front door, I take a split-second to feel afraid, to hope it’s locked.

I turn the knob, and fate swings inward.

I cross the threshold into a parlor lit with candelabras. Untouched furniture and knickknacks stand in limbo. Memories of my parents must cling like dust to every surface—memories of my childhood self, too—but as I trace my fingers along forgotten edges, I still don’t recognize us.

I climb a long, twisted staircase, navigate hallways and more staircases through a candlelit haze. I don’t bother peeking into bedrooms. What’s the point when she won’t let me remember myself? The house holds its stale breath as I approach the attic door.

Arched, bewitching, closed up tight.

I hesitate. Madison always hated it when I disturbed her. She’d throw curses and hard-edged books my way.

I touch the doorknob.

Someone on the other side knuckle-knocks.

Rap, rap, rap—then a flurry of childish giggles, whispers.

Run, run, run!

“Madison?” I open the door.

“Trick-or-treat!” cry the voices. Hundreds of them. 1,312, if I had to guess. The missing citizens of Locust cluster in the attic, holding candy buckets out to me. Skeletal pirates, bloody scarecrows, headless horsemen, they watch me expectantly.

The one who got away.

Sweet bile rises. “I—I don’t have any candy.”

And with a trick, not a treat, the costume parade begins. 

In a riot of laughter, the citizens of Locust march through the door, strangers all. If flesh still mattered, they’d knock me down, trample me. But they’re something else now, and as their gossamer shoulders graze through me, my skin chills and electrifies, but I resist the current.

On and on, they march downstairs and out onto the road until only stragglers scurry past.

Finally, I recognize a face in the attic doorway. A ghost-pale young woman wearing plastic vampire teeth and a candy-apple-red drugstore cape.

“Julie?” I reach for her.

She passes by me without even flinching, a gliding puppet following the parade.

“Julie!” I waver on the threshold. What do I do? Chase after my only friend—or truly meet my sister?

I face the attic beyond.

An impossibly large space, alive with glimmering candelabras and hallowed leather tomes stacked to the high-arch ceilings. In the center of the floorboards, lines of candy corn form a thirteen-pointed star, and trick-or-treat buckets overflow with sacred Halloween offerings.

Poison apples and wing of bat, plastic spider rings and razorblades in fun-size candy.

Madison’s favorite grimoire sits open on her altar, brittle pages scribed in magical gothic blood.

A big wish, a powerful spell.

To Make the Day Eternal

Like wings spreading velvet, a silhouette rises inside the flickering attic shadows. A lushly cloaked sorceress with striped socks

and a crown of mystic antlers. She watches from the murk with glinting cat-eye glasses.

“Hello, Maddie,” I say. “You always did love Halloween.”

 “And you always hated candy corn. Remember, little sister, how you used to spit it out?”

“Not so little anymore.” I cross my arms, standing taller than her now. “Let them go.”

Madison cackles, echoes, cuts a quicksilver smile. Thirteen years old and boundless, she flicks her mystical hand my way.

A sudden lump squirms inside my throat, sickly-sweet. The devil’s earwax. I clutch at my neck, choking it up.

The candy corn clatters to the floor, jitters, and then sprouts gruesome spidery legs. With a katydid chitter, it scurries into the shadows.

“Remember now, little sister?”

I’m already backing down the hallway when the memories hit me.

Glimmers, echoes, an entire town clawing at their wriggling throats, biting down on whatever crawled up. Madison’s wistful magic infested them all. Spooky, eternal.

But not me.

I always hated Halloween. Hated the scary costumes and fake, shadowy identities, hated the wickedness blooming like corpse flowers inside my big sister.  

Madison swoops from the darkness and snatches my hand—just like all those years ago. She tries to pull me.

Not to safety.

But back into her clutches, her spell, her endless Halloween dreamscape.

I jerk away and stumble down the stairs, the hallways, more stairs, until crisp nighttime air breaks against my face.

Run, run, run, little sister, try to run away, try to escape me if you can…

I chase the pumpkins, chase the otherworld parade of citizens, dizzy, tumbling, katydids buzzing. When I reach Main Street, Locust stands whole again. Bruised purple-and-orange lights shimmer in every window, and all those gaudy decorations phantom back to life.

I shove through the ethereal chaos, past stranger after stranger, until I spot a candy-apple-red vampire.


I block my friend’s path.

Sharp-toothed, eyes shining empty as jack-o-lanterns, she glides around me, through me.

“We have to go!” I grab her undead arm—and reality drops away, confetti, shattered.

Look at that. My hands are small.

Wearing a costume of impossible flesh, I cling to Julie with the tiny, trembling fingers of a five-year-old.

I gawp down at myself, shrunken, dressed as Snoopy once again, floppy black ears, red collar. Somewhere between home and escape, childhood recaptured me.

“Julie, we have to run,” I beg, voice high and innocent, one final tug.

Julie’s hand clamps down like a possessed beartrap, locking me in place. I try to jerk free, but I’m too little, there’s no fighting it.

“Trick-or-treat!” cheers the town.

Down the road, between the jack-o-lanterns and Halloween sparkle, the parade parts before like a festive sea, clearing a path for Locust’s witch queen.

Madison strides toward me in a flourish of cloak and glee. The antlers of her crown stretch to the sky while candy corn wiggles deep inside my throat. Majestic and ruthless and eternal, my big sister eclipses the moon as she welcomes me home to her eternal Halloween.

It’s the 31st of October in Locust, Maine, and this time, I don’t get away.

About the Author

Amanda Cecelia Lang is a horror author and aspiring recluse from Colorado. As a die-hard scary movie nerd, her favorite things are meta-horror, ‘80s nostalgia, and the rise of a fierce final girl. Her stories haunt the dark corners of many popular podcasts, magazines, and anthologies, including NoSleep, Cast of Wonders, Dark Matter, Flame Tree’s Darkness Beckons, and Dread Machine’s Mixtape: 1986. Her short story collection The Library of Broken Girls will debut in the Spring of 2025. You can stalk her work at—just don’t be surprised if she leaps out at you from the shadows.

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