Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Halloween Tree" Chapter 19

I can't believe the book is over, the story finished, and my relationship with these characters forever put to rest.  It's always such a shame when a book ends.  Sigh.

First thing when I woke up, I pulled my copy of The Halloween Tree toward me, and began to read the final chapter.  It took a lot of self-restraint not to read it yesterday when I read Chapter 18.  I was so close to the end and I just wanted to keep going... but I felt it would be cheating somehow.  I did promise a chapter a day, and I'm proud to say that I stuck by that promise.

For those of you who've been reading these posts, and essentially following the story with me, I thank you.  And I hope it's been fun.

So Chapter 19 of Ray Bradbury's story brings us the final conclusion of the boys' Halloween adventures.  A woman passes them in the street, carrying mounds of burning charcoal over her shoulder, followed by a man with a small coffin resting on his head.  It seems to be a funeral procession, and Tom can't help wondering if Pipkin is inside the box.
"What do you think, lad?" asked Moundshroud.
"I don't know," cried Tom.  "I only know I had enough.  The night's been too long.  I seen too much.  I know everything, gosh, everything!"
But as overwhelmed as the boys feel, they know that they can't quit and go home.  They need to do something for Pipkin.  Anything.  So Moundshroud points out a tree similar to the Halloween Tree at his house, but instead of being adorned with jack-o-lanterns, it's covered in piñatas.  Each boy has a special piñata just for him, and he must break it.
And from the Skeleton piñata a thousand small skeleton leaves fell in a shower.  They swarmed on Tom.  The wind blew skeletons, leaves, and Tom away.
And from the Mummy
piñata fell hundreds of frail Egyptian mummies which rushed away into the sky, Ralph with them.
So all the boys, followed by Moundshroud, go whizzing through the sky through town alleys until they finally end up on another hill, in another graveyard.  But this one is empty.  Moundshroud finds a handle in the earth, and pulls open a door to the catacombs below.
The boys swallowed hard.
"Is Pip down there?"
"Go bring him up, boys."
"Is he
alone down there?"
"No.  Things are with him. 
"Who goes first?"
"Not me!"
Me," said Tom, at last.
So Tom goes first, and empowered by his bravery the other boys follow closely behind.
For each step down was a billion miles lost from life and warm beds and good candlelight and mothers' voices and fathers' pipe-smoke and  clearing his voice in the night which made you feel good knowing he was there somewhere in the dark, alive and turning in his sleep and able to hit anything with his fists if it had to be hit.
And that's when they reach the bottom, and ahead of them they see a room full of dead bodies.  These are the people who's families were too poor to pay for their graves, who've been dug up and thrown down here unceremoniously.  The dry earth mummifies them.

But then they hear sobbing.  And way up ahead, past this room of mummified remains, they see a small figure weeping...
The crying stopped.
"Is that
you? whispered Tom.
A long pause, a trembled insuck of breath and then:
"Pip, for cri-yi, what you doing there?"
"I don't know!"
"Come out?"
"I--I can't. I'm afraid!"
"But, Pip, if you stay there--"
Tom paused.
Pip, he thought, if you stay, you stay forever.  You stay with all the silence and the lonely ones.  You stand in the long line and tourists come and look at you and buy tickets to look at you some more.  You--
"Pip!" said Ralph behind his mask.  "You got to come out."
"I can't." Pip sobbed.  "
They won't let me."
And he's referring to those mummies.  To get out, he would have to run past them all.  They would stop him.  So Pipkin is afraid to leave, and with this news, the boys are afraid to enter.  What do they do?  And that's when Moundshroud speaks up.  They'd almost forgotten he was even there.
"Here, boys.  Save him with this."
Moundshroud reached into his dark cloak and brought forth a familiar white-sugar-candy skull across the brow of which was written:  PIPKIN!
"Save Pipkin, lads.  Strike a bargain."
And he breaks the candy into eight pieces and hands each of them a part of the skull.  He asks them if they truly want Pipkin to live, and they insist that they do.
"There, there, I see you mean it.  Well then, will you each give one year from the end of your life, boys?"
"What?" said Tom.
"I mean it, boys, one year, one precious year from the far-burned candle-end of your life.  With one year apiece you can ransom dead Pipkin."
The boys agree.  Every last one of them.  Even when Moundshroud explains how very serious the deal is and asks them to take a moment to think it through, they still say yes.
"Do you know what you pledge, boys?  You do love Pipkin, then?"
"Yes, yes!"
"So be it, boys.  Chew and eat, lads, eat and chew."
They popped the sweet bits of candy skull in their mouths.
They chewed.  They ate.
"Swallow darkness, boys, give up your year."
They swallowed hard, so hard that their eyes shone bright and their ears banged and their hearts beat.
And as soon as they've eaten the candy, Pipkin regains his strength and conviction.  He runs through the mummy-filled room at full speed and even passes his friends.  He just keeps on running...

Moundshroud begins to spin, and creating a cyclone he whirls all the boys up with him and they soar into the air for the very last time.  They soar over Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and finally arrive back home in Illinois.  They land on the roof of Moundshroud's house, and notice the skylight window where they can see down through every floor of his house.

The boys jump through the window and slide down the banister of the old house, each getting off on their own floor.  The Apeman is in the basement with the cavemen, Ralph is on the first floor with the other mummies, and Tom is clear up on on the top floor surround by candy skulls.
"Well, boys, do you see?  It's all one, yes? ... Night and day.  Summer and winter, boys.  Seedtime and harvest.  Life and death.  That's what Halloween is, all rolled up in one."
The boys have learned so much, but there is still one more thing to be known.  Did Pipkin live?  So they leave Moundshroud, head across the ravine, and back into their familiar neighborhood.  They head to Pipkin's house, and Tom goes in while the others wait.  After a while, he comes out.  With good news.

Pipkin is at the hospital, but he's doing fine.  He had to have his appendix removed.  With sighs of relief, the boys celebrate by jumping into the air and letting out a few happy tears.  They then decide to decorate Pipkin's front porch with jack-o-lanterns, simply not wanting to leave.  But eventually the time comes that they must all go home.  It is midnight, after all.

So each boy returns to his home, and as each door shuts, a candle on the Halloween Tree goes out.  Tom is the last one to go inside his house.  He stands on the porch for a while, thinking.
Mr. Moundshroud, who are you?
And Mr. Moundshroud, way up there on the roof, sent his thoughts back:
I think you know, boy, I think you know.
Will we meet again, Mr. Moundshroud?
Many years from now, yes, I'll come for you.
And a last thought from Tom:
O Mr. Moundshroud, will we
ever stop being afraid of nights and death?
And the thought returned:
When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.
And Tom went inside, and his pumpkin went out.  Only one remained lit on the Halloween Tree and it belonged to Mr. Moundshroud.  And with a small breath, he extinguished the candle, and disappeared himself like smoke.


Mishqueen said...

So I decided to stop reading at one of the early chapters, because you made it sound SO interesting that I knew I wanted to read it myself. BUT I also know there's no way I'd even notice a new chapter heading, let alone have the willpower to stop reading there. So I decided to read the whole thing on Halloween and go back and read your synopses later. And I gotta tell ya, you've got a gift! Your review was fascinating, really captured the spirit (pun intended) of the quintessential Halloween story. :) Thanks for the ride!

Renee said...

wuta good book that was(:


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