|"Forest in Autumn" by Gustav Courbet|
This post goes best with Over the Garden Wall and Chromatic Soup: Issue 2.
Ho-ho! Ha-ha! ‘Tis harvest time
When all the hill’s russet and gold!
Bring in the feast! Bring on the dance!
Be bold, make a risk, steal a kiss, take a chance!
Tap us some cider! Lay out the cakes!
Pile pies on the table until the thing breaks!
It’s a night fit for chaos, in that we believe
For this here tonight’s the great Goblinwatch Eve!
All the farmers with their oxen, their wagons overflowing for the last market of the year. Cousins you hadn't seen since the year before last, now that the Grub Port bridge has been rebuilt. Banners and flags and every color under the sun as the countryside seemed aflame with its joy. Church bells and mourning doves.
There were jugglers, acrobats, jesters, fire-eaters, stilt-walkers, troubadours, fiddle duels, medicine shows, buskers, hobos, hurdy-gurdy men, blue-ribbon goats, performing dogs, hedge-mages, a traveling show with kings and swords and red streamers for blood. Children running underfoot looking for the Third Pig. Corn-hole, ring-toss, quilt circles, the husking bee, the dunk-a-monk tank. Grinning lantern-jacks everywhere you turn (you and your friends ran through the hills with butterfly nets each evening for the last week to get proper will-o-wisps for yours).
You remember your grandpa and the other old men in their navy coats, their flat-topped caps and their shiny brass buttons, sitting on the general store porch and playing St. Anne's Fingerbones while passing around a stoneware jug of grobbo.
(A note: grobbo, or goblin-cider, tastes like getting kicked in the face by an apple-flavored Clydesdale.)
You remember the Knights of Autumn returning home in all their russet finery, with stories of the world beyond and all their adventures in the wild places where the Folk lived. Some years one or two of the older children would be taken on as an apprentice to a journeyman knight. Your parents shot down your request instantly, on account of your main motivation being your terrible, obvious crush on Abigail Haaghenholt, who had taken her vows three years earlier.
You remember the Witches' Court, where the wise women young and old gathered in numbers you'd never see elsewhere (save the funeral of Goodwife Jemyan the winter before last). Anyone with a problem in their life, no matter the size, could bring it before the Court and have it solved right there and then, though there's never any guarantee they'd like the solution. Sometimes it was best to bury the hatchet before going to the Court.
There was the barn dance, where they crowned the Harvest Queen and Skeleton King and everyone danced and sang and drank and ate until the sun was dipping low and the lantern-jacks were lit.
And the food! Candied apples, roasted pine nuts, pop-corn, troll-ears with cinnamon sugar, saltwater taffy, succotash, four-score types of cheese, coalwater crabs from upstream on the ridge, cider from the orchard on harvest-moon cakes, pumpkin bread, corn and squash on the grill, roast turkey and pheasant, apple flapjacks, maple wine, more pies than even the gods could comprehend.
There was always a seat left open at the head of the table, right by the King and Queen. Death is an honored guest at Goblinwatch, to remind everyone that they were alive that night.
This was the finale, the bombast before the long decline into winter.
The first drumbeat falls at the moment when the sun has sunk completely below the horizon and the moon has risen fully above. In the hills one can see the distant fires, and hear the hoots and hollers and the beating of hide drums and the playing of reed pipes and bladder horns.
The goblins sing and dance around their Ugly Tree, gathering their forces of mischief, and when their song is done they descend upon the town in a wave.
Actually describing what comes next is difficult due to both the inherent magic in Goblinwatch Eve and the sheer amount of tomfoolery and vandalism going on.
A good Goblinwatch Eve will include but is not limited to: theft of livestock, raiding of liquor cabinets, raiding of underwear drawers, damage to public property, arson, jaywalking, cross dressing, cases of mistaken identities, cruelty to cheeses, biting political satire, incomprehensible accents, public drunkenness, graffiti, dirty limericks, silly walks, and excessive Monty Pythoning.
Goblins will be accompanied by other creatures, their "auxiliaries in the cause of mischief." These are typically unique, region-specific beings who are generally only seen on Goblinwatch Eve, unless the Eve is set up to be a real humdinger, in which case they might be glimpsed as early as but never prior to the feast of St. Percival Tuckett, thirteen nights earlier. These companion beasts include:
- The Bugaboo - A tall, ape-like creature with shaggy black fur and luminous eyes like dinner plates.
- The Great Askutasquash - A knobbly green-and-yellow striped vegetable with legs like an elephant. Squashes things, delivers presents to gullible children.
- The Tagalong of Tougkepsin - A river monster, like a salamander mixed with an otter and twice as big as a man. Sings like a lovely woman, shouts like an angry priest, talks like a city slicker.
- Big Barn Owl Face - A body like a big lumberjack, axe in hand and shirt of plaid, with a barn owl's head on top. Constantly bobbing and swiveling around.
- Hopkins Gobrol - It looks like a goblin, but is not actually a goblin. Bright orange skin, unblinking eyes, laughs before the punchline is delivered but doesn't put any heart into it.
The Witching Hour
The reign of chaos lasts until one in the morning, at which point the Witches' Court will disperse and its members will begin to round up the goblin horde. By means of the mighty Disapproving Look, the Crossing of the Arms, and the Tapping of the Foot (as well as clever counter-pranking and tactical witchery), the township's witches will wrangle to goblins into righting their wrongs, returning their loot, and fixing up the town to just as it was.
Having had their fun, the goblins will sing a final song of farewell (which has the added effect of putting the townsfolk into a restful sleep) and depart for their warren.
Witches have no obligation to stay further, and many of them return to their homes at this time.
There is one more celebration before all is complete and winter may begin. In the quiet of the misty morning, a procession will set out to the hills, singing old songs of Folk-friendship and the Humble Art. It is not a boisterous celebration, but instead one of a different kind of life - of stillness and silence and the dew upon leaves.
The procession will meet the Folk in the appointed place - sacred grove, standing stones, enchanted spring, whatever it may be. There will be a shared meal, a recounting of histories from both peoples, an exchange of gifts. The old agreements between Folk and man will be re-affirmed. The Folk will depart, and the people will return to their homes in silence.
Thus comes the end of the harvest season and of Goblinwatch, until the next year arrives.
If dreams can’t come true, then why not pretend?
How the gentle wind beckons through the leaves, as autumn colors fall
then sink in a swirl of golden memories
the loveliest lies of all