‘Failed!’ shouted the new Head of Haunting, slapping a ghostly performance dashboard. ‘All you have to do was scare people witless. One night. Once a year. That’s it. We talked it through. We had a plan. But you failed.’
‘We didn’t have a plan,’ muttered the Elf Queen. ‘You did.’
The Head of Haunting flicked her a glare. ‘I’m getting the flip chart and sticky-notes.’ He vanished into another dimension.
‘Oh no,’ grumbled a spectral Train-Driver. ‘He’s going to do modern management. That’s what comes from recruiting fast-screamers. None of that rubbish in my day.’
‘When was your day exactly?’ breathed the Chief Ghoul.
‘Before the Romans,’ said the Train-Driver. ‘Started on a ghost chariot, then half a millennium later I got a carriage with skeleton horses, then in 1860, I started running the midnight special from Waterloo to Hades. Mwaha—’ He slumped. ‘My heart’s not in it this year. Not that I’ve got one. The druids removed it. Weirdos.’
‘Meh. Druids,’ said the Elf Queen. ‘They weren’t as weird as the Rock Shifters. All those stupid massive stones – “right a bit, left a bit, can’t have them misaligned or the elves’ll come in”. Like a lump of rock’s gonna stop The Fair Folk from crossing the veil.’
‘Unless the lump of rock’s got iron,’ suggested the Ghoul. ‘That does for you and witches doesn’t it?’
‘Like that’s logical,’ said the Spokeswitch. ‘The Rock Shifters didn’t have iron. And what do you think my best eye-of-toad boiling cauldron was made of?’
The Elf Queen sighed. ‘Life used to be simple. We crossed the veil, had a bit of a laugh and popped back again. My grandmother says… Oh hang on, he’s back.’
The Head of Haunting reappeared and pinned some transparent flip-chart covered in sticky-notes to the ether. One by one, the sticky-notes slid off and vanished. ‘Right!’ he snapped. ‘Ghosts, ghouls and witches: the Existential-Dreadograph didn’t shift one bit on Hallowe’en. What went wrong?’
‘We tried,’ said the Train-Driver after a pause. ‘But humans seem beyond scaring this year.’
‘Humph.’ The Head of Haunting turned his icy glare on the Elf Queen. ‘What’s the elves’ excuse? All you had to do was lure a few foolish mortals back to our realm. But I gather not one of you did. In fact-’ he flicked a ghostly finger down an eek-Pad, ‘-according to the data, none of you has crossed the veil since last Winter Solstice. Why not?’
The Elf Queen shuddered. ‘What fool would want to visit the human realm this year? And as for luring people back, we wouldn’t need to lure them. They’d be fighting to come here even if we admitted there was no gold or lover waiting, just… processing.’
‘It’s true,’ breathed the ghoul. ‘Hallowe’en was wasted this year. Everything is already too scary in the mortal realm. Put away your problem-solve mate and admit the truth. We just can’t compete with 2020.’