Empire State (Part Two)
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Traditionally held on 1st November, celebrations begin on the evening of 31 October, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.
Sam’s text was pretty specific, if a tad brief. I considered ignoring it; after all, how would he know? But then again he was a witch and, perhaps, I might have a mishap or even meet a grisly end if I didn’t comply. I was a very long way up in the air, after all. I closed my eyes. I thought “So what do I do next?” Closing your eyes 443 metres up in the air is a strange experience. Your mind races as you panic about where you are and whether you might walk somewhere you shouldn’t and topple over an edge, falling and falling to the looming ground below; knowing the concrete is not going to do you any favours as you hit the ground like a heavy sack of bone, muscle and blood.
It was then I heard flapping noises. I opened my eyes as I had been longing to do. The observation deck was empty; I was a singleton once more. I looked out into the night as the lights across Manhattan blinked, then flickered, finally winking out as the city was plunged into darkness, block by block. “Oh dear” I mouthed (It may have been something stronger. I forget).
The flapping noise got louder; there was now a screeching, tinny sound to go with the flapping of wings. I looked up and was engulfed by tens if not hundreds of bats. I instinctively ducked even though the bats were a few feet above me. They squeaked and squealed as they passed overhead and into the night, tiny mousey faces with leather wings and teeny bodies. Bats make ideal companions for the dark. It was over in seconds. Perhaps bats at the top of the once, tallest building in the world wasn’t so unlikely. Maybe there’s a belfry around here. Somewhere.
“I really hope that’s it then.” I whispered.
No such luck. Next came a SWISHING noise as I looked back out across the cityscape. I could just make out a dark mass on the horizon getting closer. It was hard to discern exactly what it was in the gloom. As it got closer, I started to get twitchy. This was getting weird. The dark mass broke off into smaller entities as the figures neared the building. I could see them more clearly now.
They were dressed in flowing, black rags and appeared to be riding on broomsticks! They swooshed overhead and swirled around the observation deck for what seemed like hours but what probably closer to a couple of minutes. There were six of them, soundless other than the noise made from flying, not a cackle or green, haggard face with jutting, hairy chin to be seen. They did have pointed hats, though (Margaret Hamilton would have been proud). I expected them to land eventually and crook their outstretched arms in a horizontal motion, crouching, pacing, circling and looking evil – surrounding me.
Reaching for my phone squirrelled away in my trouser pocket, I flicked on the torch app and headed for the exit. Wary of what was round me, I reached the doors that opened out onto the platform and pushed. No dice, locked shut. I turned with, by now, panic rising. The witches had disappeared. Before I had a chance to consider this any further, I heard a loud, guttural, roaring noise and looked up. It was coming from the top of the tower.
Clutching what looked like a woman in one hand and the radio mast at the tower summit in the other, the more defined shape of a giant gorilla swam into view. I peered hard and saw the ape put the figure down gently as it used the hand to then sweep at the air. It was surrounded by three bi-planes buzzing around their intended victim like wasps on a hot day. The giant primate struck one of the planes and it nosedived towards the city below, streaming smoke from its stricken engine. I felt a mix of bemusement and wanting to cheer. Just two more to go KK. Search lights lit up the scene with the battle for life and death unfolding before me several stories higher up. The super-sized beast pawing at the air, the planes weaving and shooting.
I closed my eyes and clicked my ruby slippers. If I concentrated hard enough, I could be back in Kansas by noon. I opened my eyes again and was surrounded by people milling about the viewing platform. The city lights were on once more eating enough electricity to power untold numbers of kettles sourcing a million cups of coffee. The witches and the giant Kong were gone; consigned to the depths of my overactive imagination, it seemed.
The walk from the Empire State Building back to the hotel is about 1.5 miles. The Subway is a 9 minute journey whilst catching a cab is the quickest way back at just a couple of minutes. Walking is a 28 minute affair. I decided to walk; I needed the air. It was a dry (by now) morning. I had Google maps loaded which told me to head down 7th Avenue and Broadway. Walking distances are deceptive in the Big Apple – you get fooled into thinking blocks are short walks but it’s the huge skyscrapers that seem to trick the eyes and make everything look closer together than they are. There were lots of people out and about as you would expect in a place where you can be king of the hill, top of the heap. The streets and avenues thronged with cars and cabs, vying for road space. Horns honked interrupted by the regular wail of sirens. New York hummed with life.
I checked my phone again – no more messages.
I thought about Sam. My mind went back to a weekend in Somerset. We had both recently met a couple of girls and Sam had suggested we all go away for a few days. He knew of this place in Glastonbury that was charming and cosy. I wouldn’t regret it, he had promised. He had made us get up at silly o’clock on the Sunday. He said that everyone should see the sun rise at least once in their lives and he knew just the place to watch it from. It was still dark when we headed through the wooden stile that led to the climb up to Glastonbury Tor. Having passed a weeping willow shrouded in offerings hanging from its branches, by the time we had negotiated the never ending, weather-worn stone steps, the girls had had enough. They sat themselves inside St Michael's Tower perched on the top of the Tor as it offered some protection from the cold, morning wind. The plaque on the inside told the story of Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who was hanged, drawn and quartered along with two of his monks, John Thorne and Roger James. Not so reassuring.
I stood next to Sam looking out over the fields that stretched far into the Somerset Levels below. The sun was emerging from the horizon, the first rays of light waking the day ahead. As the light encroached on the countryside all around, Sam stood a couple of feet to my left, eyes closed with arms outstretched. His long, white t-shirt with a faded CND symbol in the middle stretched down to his knees, his parka with fur-lined hood open to the elements. His blue jeans had seen better days – baggy and ripped. Sam didn’t go in for sartorial.
He was muttering under his breath. I heard him mention “mathair domhain” at least I think that’s what he said as he seemed to be speaking in some ancient tongue that I didn’t recognise (not that I am an expert on ancient tongues of any kind, mind). I imagined it was druid or something.
“You alright?” I asked not wanting to disturb whatever it was that he was doing.
His eyes fluttered open and he smiled vaguely.
The sun was lighting up everything around us by now, the girls looked relieved that it might just get a little bit warmer.
“It must be time for your lentil breakfast.”
“The old religion would welcome you, you know?” Sam stated looking into my eyes for acknowledgement.
“You know me, Sam – non-denominational and proud”.
I was broken from my reverie by a man standing immediately in front of me. I had drifted off into thought and had been paying no attention to what was around me. The man stood ramrod upright, motionless, staring directly at me, wearing his face mask and one-piece, boiler suit. The crowds on the sidewalks skirted past us like a river flowing either side of a jutting rock. Nobody stopped to look, no one saw this as unusual.
He reached behind him and I expected a machete to appear, a precursor to my bloody murder on the streets of New York. A bottle of whiskey wafted in front of me as others dressed as Dracula and Frankenstein sprang up from the shadows, slapping Michael Myers on the back and laughing as one of them said “That was a good one, Bill. You had that guy good and proper.” They skipped off into the bustling, sidewalk crowd, many of whom had been drinking, such was the noise and general mayhem that went with being out at that time of night. Theatre goers, bar crawlers, couples holding hands – Travis Bickle would have wanted the real rain to come and wash them off the streets. Well, the scum, at least.
I finally made it back to the hotel at around 1.30am. I glided through the revolving door and made for the elevator in the passageway next to the reception desk, the polished, marble floor bouncing light around the lobby area. I wish I’d had more to drink. I could put that right at the mini-bar in my room.
“Enjoy the show, sir?” The young girl on reception looked up from her paperwork and smiled. She was smartly attired with white blouse and a silk scarf. She wore a beige jacket and had the whitest of teeth.
“Yes sir. Witches, King Kong et al.” She sounded pleased with herself for using an expression like "et al".
By now I had stopped and found myself looking quizzically at the young woman.
“But?” I started to say.
“Oh we get someone over from the UK on Halloween every year. Master Hain sends them. He always lays on a light show. Pretty spooktacular, huh?” She smiled.
I considered this with the night still throwing curveballs at me.
“The Hain family own this hotel.”
Now I just stood jaw agape. Sam never looked like he had two pennies to rub together.
“And Halloween, of course. Well you would do with a name like Sam Haim.” (Isn't it pronounced "Sow-win?" I thought).
I turned away, shaking my head. Heading for what was probably the Great Glass Elevator (Great Glass Lift in English, albeit not so showy), I muttered ”When I get back I am blocking you on Facebook, Sam.”
I am sure you know but just in case you didn’t Margaret Hamilton was the seminal, green faced, bicycle riding in a tornado, Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz (1939)” movie.
Happy Halloween, dear reader.