I love Halloween. The streets of my town suddenly burst into life around 6.30 p.m., when all the little kids come calling in their bright costumes — mums and dads waiting at the gates. For many, many years I used to host a Halloween party for my son and the children from his primary school (and into his secondary school at least once!). It was mayhem, usually, with my gallant friend Sue and I resorting to a glass of wine earlier each year — as the kids (mainly boys) galloped through our carefully organised games at Olympian speed and usually ended up tying someone to a tree in the garden or ducking someone in the bobbing apples bowl. Happy memories! But, for all those with little ones — whether they’re your own children, grandchildren or nephews and nieces — here’s the first two chapters of a Halloween Special I wrote as part of my The Toffee Makers series. The full version is available free for three days, from 11am this morning. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/reader/B009U82LWI/ref=sib_dp_kd#reader-link
The Toffee Makers are an enchanting company of creatures who make magical toffee and sweets which spark exciting adventures. Their factory is in a field that backs onto 10-year old Alex’s family farmhouse. Most of the time the factory looks closed down and derelict – and no-one would ever dream of what went on behind those old rusting doors. But Alex got a taste of the factory in the first book The Toffee Makers, when he met Delphi, the company’s Delicious Sweets Supervisor and Workers Union Representative. Delphi took him on an adventure where he met some hostile toys, who were left neglected and marooned in a spoilt boy’s bedroom. In this second book in the series, Alex is invited to the factory to meet some more Toffee Makers for a Halloween Party.
Alex held the gilt-edged card in his hand as if it was an invitation to Buckingham Palace. In fact, it was much, much better than that. It was an invitation to the Must-Go Event of the season – The Toffee Maker’s Annual Halloween Party.
Alex hadn’t heard from Delphi, Delicious Sweets Supervisor and Workers Union Representative at the Rainbow Toffee Factory Unlimited, since that fateful day they parted company in the field at the back of his house. He’d been promised a visit to the factory to meet Delphi’s colleagues. But nothing had happened and Alex had expected to spend October 31 on his own … very few of his school mates would venture across the fields to play trick or treat at their farmhouse. And his stepmother Kate had discouraged the invitations he had received to join them in town – too much sugar, she scolded, would keep him up all night.
And yet, here it was; an invitation to the best party in town. He slipped the card into his pocket when he heard his stepmother coming down the stairs. The least she knew about this the better, Alex decided.
But the fact that his stepmother didn’t know about the party, didn’t help him enormously. Just how was he going to slip out across the fields to the factory at night?
“7 p.m. sharp” read the invitation. Alex, from his limited experience of Delphi, knew it was best not to disappoint him.
At 6.50 p.m. on October 31 Alex was sitting in his bedroom, gazing over the inky black fields towards the factory, with no clear idea how he was going to get there in time. He’d bolted back his supper as quickly as possible, excusing himself from the table and taking his homework folder upstairs to wait for his moment.
He could hear his stepmother and father talking in the kitchen, blocking his exit by the back door. It would have to be the front door then, he thought, slipping his overcoat on and preparing to creep down the stairs. At that very moment the doorbell rang; the sharp, unexpected noise creating a kerfuffle in the kitchen.
“Who can be calling at this time?” said Kate, unable to disguise her irritation.
“Trick or Treaters, perhaps?” said his father, “Shall I get it?”
“No,” said his stepmother, rather sharply, pulling her cardigan around her and heading for the door empty handed. “I’ll deal with them.”
From the top of the stairs Alex could see a bunch of people gathered at the door, dressed in a variety of sparkly, colourful outfits. Although they didn’t appear to be wearing masks, they didn’t look remotely human. He could see that his stepmother was taken aback by the strange costumes on show.
“Trick or Treat?” said the one at the front, a copper-coloured curl of hair slipping out from under his hat.
Kate went to shut the door but was stopped by a large boot which wedged it open.
“I take that as a Trick, then,” said the one at the front, pulling out a bag from beneath his cloak. Alex, who had crept down to the middle of the stairs, could see that it was a big bag of sherbet.
“No, no,” said Kate, recoiling and pulling at the scarf around her neck. “We really don’t want that sort of substance in here.”
“Trick!” said the copper-head, his cloak hood falling back to reveal his identity.
Delphi, thought Alex, a smile spreading across his face.
“Sorry?” said Kate, as Delphi threw the bag of sherbet over her head, its yellow crystals glistening in the gloom of the hall, electrifying her. As the crackling subsided, so did Kate’s energy – her body freezing, like an ice sculpture.
“Come on!” shouted Delphi, over her shoulder. “The party’s just about to get started!”
As Alex stepped gingerly around his stepmother, he could hear his father coming out of the kitchen.
“Kate, everything all right?”
“Right as rain,” Delphi replied, showering another bag of sherbet on Alex’s father.
As Alex looked on in horror, Delphi dipped his finger into the bag and licked it. “Perfectly harmless, young Alex. Just a little trick of the trade to keep them quiet for a few hours. Let’s go.”
Lined up outside the front door were five large orange pumpkins, the stalks at the tops jutting out like gear sticks.
“Are we ready?” said Delphi, striding across one of them as if it was a Space Hopper. “Let’s hop it!”
And with that the others all mounted their pumpkins, leaving one for Alex.
“It’s easy. Just jump aboard, hold onto the joy stick and follow us,” said one of Delphi’s friends, her voluminous hair the colour and sheen of a Sherbet Lemon.
Alex climbed aboard, grabbing hold of the pumpkin stalk for support. As he did so, Delphi took off at the front, the others bouncing after him.
“Full throttle, we haven’t got all night,” shouted Delphi.
So Alex pulled back the stalk and his pumpkin lurched forward, bouncing at high speed across the field towards the glowing lights of the factory.
Alex almost didn’t want the ride to stop. He couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to travel to a party. But, he figured, Delphi and his friends would have plenty more surprises in store.
The factory door was wide open and Alex and his new friends hopped inside, leaving their pumpkin mounts in the vast reception. The space was empty apart from a small desk in the corner, with an equally small creature seated behind it.
“Ah, Alex, very pleased you could make it,” said the Toffee Maker behind the desk. “If I could just fix this badge to your shirt,” she continued, stretching her arm across the room and pinning it to Alex’s chest.
“I’m Delphi’s sister, Amalfi,” she continued. Alex nodded. He could see that she came from the same elastic stock as her brother, a creature who could twizzle up and down at the drop of his pointy hat. “Hope you have a horrendous time!”
“Don’t mind her,” said the creature with the Sherbet Lemon hair, “She has as much tact as her brother! Horrendous, on Halloween night is what we would wish everybody. My name’s, Crystal, by the way. I make the sherbets around here. They may not be as sweet as toffee – but there’s no denying my sherbet does the fizz!”
Alex couldn’t help but agree.
“Come on, let me show you around before you meet the others.”
Crystal swept past him and up the wrought-iron staircase onto a balcony overlooking a massive room full of copper cauldrons and conveyor belts, all rippling with activity.
“They’re working late tonight, getting a few more treats ready for later,” said Crystal, as Alex gazed down, watching the workers pouring liquid into moulds, and shimmering sheets of wafer thin metal wrapping round the confectionery as it rattled off the end of the conveyor belts.
“There will be a treat in store for everyone who deserves one tonight.”
“And a trick, for those who don’t,” said Delphi, coming up behind Alex. “Time you met the rest of the ‘firm’.” With that he strode out along the balcony, which curved around the entire room, providing a spectacular view of the toffee-making process below.
The aromas of a hundred sweet and delicious ingredients wafted up, filling Alex’s nostrils and delighting his senses. The workers below whistled merrily, going about their work with the confident and carefree air of bees in a Garden of Paradise.
“They’ll be off duty soon,” informed Delphi, “Off trick or treating – one of the many perks of being a Toffee Maker. Trick or treat – it’s always fun!”
Delphi and Crystal stopped outside a big wooden door at the very end of the far side balcony. Delphi rapped his knuckles against the heavy oak wood three times.
“Come in, come in,” said a voice beyond the door. As it creaked open, Crystal stood back and Delphi pushed Alex through the entrance.
“A guest?” said the rotund looking Toffee Maker seated at the far end of the long wooden table.
Delphi raised his eyebrow, unpinned the badge on Alex’s shirt and held it under the creature’s nose in his outstretched arm.
“Ah, yes, I remember now. Young Alex. Come to join us for Halloween. It will be nice to enjoy the company of a human for a change.”
“This is Mr Glucose,” said Crystal, introducing the important looking Toffee Maker. “He is the founding member of our company and our Chief Executive Tofficer.”
“How do you do,” said Alex, politely.
“I do very sweetly,” said Mr Glucose. “Are you sweet?”
“I’m sweet,” said Alex, catching on to the company lingo.
“Well, let the fun and games commence,” said Mr Glucose, rising from his chair and clapping his hands.
Alex could hear the clatter of a hundred feet on the iron balcony behind him. The chatter that accompanied them was almost deafening. Not daring to look behind him he felt something soft brush against his cheek; a bat – its squeaks lost among the noise and commotion.
A pair of gloved hands covered his eyes: “Guess who?” said a voice behind him.
Turning slowly, Alex thought he recognised the plastic looking person, dressed as Dracula, sitting astride a plastic dinosaur.
“Short memory, little Alex?” said the toy, his plastic smile stretching to a grimace.
“Tobias?” said Alex, looking to Delphi for reassurance. “The mad, bad toy I met in Percy’s bedroom that last time?”
“The one and only!” confirmed Tobias.
“My you’ve grown!”
“Don’t worry,” said Crystal, coming forward and standing by Alex, “He’s been told to be on his best behaviour tonight. And he’s just one of many ‘monsters’ that come to life on Halloween.”
Alex turned round and saw exactly what she meant. The long room was filled to the rafters with monsters and ghouls – some on the ground, some floating in the air, some crawling out of the woodwork. It was going to be some party.
The party games were already getting started. In the far corner Alex could see an alive and kicking devil with a line of creatures queuing up to pin a tail on him. Every time someone got close, the Devil let out a “guffaw”, which got louder and louder the closer they got to the spot.
To his right was a big copper cauldron full of floating toffee apples. Tobias, still perched on top of the dinosaur, was plunging his head in to catch a stem and then tossing them behind him, so they rolled down the dinosaur’s back into a bag held open by his toy friends.
“Would you like to play Guess The Gruesome Object?” asked Crystal, holding out a big bag for Alex.
He nodded and popped his hand into the bag. “A crooked carrot?” said Alex as his hand grasped something hard and thin within.
“Better luck next time,” said Crystal as Alex let out a little cry and dropped the witch’s finger on the floor.
“Maybe another game?” said Alex, sensibly.
“How about Ghost Busters?” said Crystal, pointing to a row of ghosts floating along one side of the wall. “You have to see how many you can shoot with this pea shooter. If you can hit them all – you win a Toffee Surprise.”
Alex looked a little alarmed.
“Don’t worry,” assured Crystal. “They’re already dead. The peas will go right through them. They won’t feel a thing!”
She was right; they grinned happily as the hard peas shot through them, making a “Wooo” sound for every direct hit.
With a high score of 10, Alex accepted his Toffee Surprise with pride. He clutched the golden cup of sweets to him as the party started to settle down for tea.
The long table was decked with over-flowing plates of delicacies. On one sat a pyramid of sparkling blood red ice cream, on another a chocolate haunted house – towering above the rest, its top nearly touched the ceiling. The guests were invited to help themselves and Crystal served Alex generous portions of cake, ice cream, shimmering little ghost jellies, candy wands, savoury monster munches and, of course, a plate of Halloween toffee.
The chat around the table was merry, with the guests all fighting to give their Halloween stories. Alex listened in wonder, nibbling the delicious food on his plate, thinking this spooky party was just heavenly.
After a while Mr Glucose rose to his feet and pulled on a long rope which hung from the ceiling. As he did so the huge bell above rung out, sending the assembled bats flying and squeaking across the room.
“Dear fellow Toffee Makers and honourable guests, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed our party tonight. It is now time for you to take your leave for another year. But, as you know, at this festive time we like to spread our sweet fortune among the local community. Please assemble in your groups at the Great Door, where you will be given your bag of tricks and treats, for the evening. Sweet Night!!”
A chorus of “Sweet Night” went up around the room, as the guests began to rise and walk towards the door.
“This is the best bit,” whispered Delphi, coming up alongside Alex. “You’re in my group. Along with Crystal, Tobias and his toy friends …”
“Where’s Tobias and his friends?” said Alex, looking all around but failing to see them.
“They’re back in their bag,” said Delphi, opening up the little bag in his hand. Sure enough, there was Tobias, the dinosaur and his friends, all shrunk back down to miniature size once again. “And I’d like to introduce you to another friend and colleague of mine – Celeste.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t see anyone,” said Alex, looking all around but seeing no-one but the departing monsters and ghouls who were packing up and heading for the door.
Delphi smiled and handed Alex a transparent block of toffee. As Alex peered closely into the small block he thought he could see a person moving inside.
“Take a bite,” said Delphi. “Don’t be nervous, take a bite.”
Alex did what he was told – the toffee melting on his tongue, conjuring up a distant memory of the sweet oatmeal cookies that his mother had baked for him when he was a very small child. For a short while he was lost in thought and the memory of that happy time. He was woken from his dreams by a gentle tap on his shoulder. When he turned round he saw a tall, gentle feminine creature smiling serenely down on him.
“My name is Celeste,” she said. “I am going to join you Trick or Treating tonight.”