Shape: A Halloween Myth

by J. A. Carter © 2002

"Oh dear," said Bess. "Aren't you gentlemen a bit old to be playing trick or treat?"

"We're terribly sorry to bother you, ma'am," said the smaller, wiry one. "We're both very hungry and thought perhaps... a couple pieces of candy are all we need..."

"Candy?" Bess repeated, staring at them. Keen, scented autumn wind tugged at loose strands of her white hair. "Nonsense! You men come inside and warm yourselves. It's a nice, hot meal you need - not candy!"

Two shabby strangers shuffled into her cottage.

"You men make yourselves comfortable on the couch by the fire. I'll heat up some food. Philip! We have visitors!"

A shriveled but erect little man tottered into the room. "Why, hello gentlemen!" He cried, lowering himself into a corner chair. "How very nice to have to have you visit us tonight! Please, please, sit down. Lay your packs on the floor - wherever. It doesn't matter."

Glancing at each other, the visitors laid their bags at their feet and their caps on the rough-hewn but neatly arranged coffee table.

The smaller man spoke up again: "Really, sir, all we intended to ask for was a little candy..."

"Oh, please don't worry about that at all! By the way, I'm Phil," their host said, extending a thin hand. "You've met my wife, Bess."

"Yes," the man replied. "Forgive us for not introducing ourselves. My name is Murray, and this is my friend Joe."

Joe politely nodded his huge, lion-like head.

Phil's firm blue eyes fixed on him. "Have I met you before, Joe?"

"Perhaps," he replied in a deep, rolling baritone.

"Well, no matter! Have you gentlemen been out in that weather for long?"

"A week," Murray said. "We've not eaten in several days."

"And no one gave you anything?"

"Everyone turned us away," said Murray. "We had almost given up when we came to your door."

"Well, I'm glad you found us."

The conversation lulled for a moment.

"How long have you and your wife been married?" Murray asked.

"Sixty-one years next month," Phil replied. "I met Bess when she was a pretty young Philosophy professor at the college. I was just starting to teach Classics down the hall - you know, Greek and Roman myths and such. Not much call for that anymore. Anyway, she showed me the ropes of academic life and we've been a team ever since."

"Gentlemen, come and get your food!" Bess called from a stove across the room.

Much of the kitchen table's finish had been worn away, and the top was only partially covered by a threadbare cloth. Inscriptions carved with thumbtacks by long-vanished children were lovingly preserved in its wood. A short leg was propped up with a flat rock.

Phil and Bess sat close together, watching as their guests devoured bowls of Dinty Moore stew and a few slices of pumpernickel bread.

"Thank you so much," said Murray, sopping up the last drop of stew. "You have both been more than kind to us..."

Joe interrupted: "You have no more food here, do you?"

"Well," said Bess, embarrassed, "I do need to do some shopping."

"You gave us the last of your food," he bluntly persisted.

"You men were both starving. What else would we do?" Said Bess as her husband nodded.

"I have heard enough," Joe declared abruptly. The burly man stood. Phil and Bess gaped as his body seemed to swell, his skin to glow, his beard and hair to become dazzling white. The dingy brown coat and trousers melted away revealing a radiant being dressed in robes of flowing white.

"I am Jupiter, king of the Olympian gods!" he proclaimed in resounding voice.

"And I am Mercury," their other visitor announced, "Jove's swift messenger." Murray had been transformed into a lithe, winged, well-muscled youth, divine glory glimmering through his skin.

"Oh dear," Bess murmured. Neither one of them could rise from their chairs.

"We came down among humans to learn if any still show kindness to strangers," declared Jupiter, "Of all your fellow citizens, you alone reached out to relieve our suffering."

"But - but where have you been for the past 2000 years?" Phil blurted.

"Come now, Professor," said Mercury, "call to mind your history. We now serve a greater power."

"For your kindness, ask now anything you wish," Jupiter continued, "and it will be granted you."

For a long time Bess and Phil just looked at each other. Then, at last, a smile spread over both their faces.

"We have all we need," said Phil. "There's only one thing we really want."

"Name it!"

"When our time comes," Bess said, still looking at Phil, "we want to pass away at the same time. We want always to be together."

The Olympian monarch's eyes softened uncharacteristically. "I vow it shall be so. You shall never be apart."

On a winter night not long after, Phil and Bess sat bundled up on a bench in their front yard. They embraced, then kissed one last time.

"Happy anniversary, my dear," the old man said.

"Yes. A very happy anniversary," she replied.

And they left together.

That same night, two trees sprang up there - an oak and a linden. And they are still there to this very day.

x x x

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