There is firelight the woods tonight And a bone pale moon so full and bright Hear the tune of fiddle and drum Revel and play and to the night succumb.
Welcome to Shady Valley
It’s a small rural community nestled in the Appalachian foothills between Grandfather and Black Mountain. Originally a mill town, most of Shady Valley’s industry dried up toward the end of the 1960’s. The town should have withered away, like so many other communities in the surrounding counties, but Shady Valley prospered in spite of its circumstances, and stands today as a testament to quiet stable living; an embodiment of the American Dream.
The community is large enough to support two rivaling elementary schools, but has only one high school. The heart of Shady is it’s picturesque historic downtown, which boasts a variety of curiosity and specialty shops, restaurants, and the odd pub or two. Independent businesses thrive here, and though big box stores can be found no more than an hour’s drive away, Shady has somehow remained impervious to the intrusion of corporate retail. Much of the area outside the business district has been maintained for housing, farmland, and rolling cattle pasture. Beyond that, Shady Valley is surrounded by thick woodland which makes up part of the vast Pisgah National Forest.
For such a small town, there is an unusually low percentage of poverty and unemployment. Circumstances just seem to work out for Shady Valley and its inhabitants, often against the odds. Tourism has now become the town’s primary industry, particularly in the fall of the year, when a steady stream of visitors flock to the area to experience Shady Valley’s enthralling Fall festivities, as well as some of the most spectacular autumn colors in the Appalachia’s.
In addition to numerous weekend events, Shady Valley holds its largest fall festival every year on October the twenty-eighth, which kicks off the preparations for the Halloween Game. Businesses are encouraged to decorate, promote events, and offer day long discounts while schools take part of the day to hold special activities for students. In the afternoon, usually starting around four o’clock, the downtown area is closed to traffic. Street vendors set up stalls between the shops while the town hosts a variety of carnival style game booths, craft displays, live musical performances, and spook houses. Most businesses off of main street will close early in order to allow employees a chance to attend, while schools load up their students and bring them downtown by the busload for an afternoon of fun.
Farmers from across the county bring in the year’s harvest of pumpkins. Quite a few are set aside for purchase, while others are donated to the town council for the local Candlelight Garden, which showcases numerous arrangements of carved jack o'lanterns throughout the town on Halloween night. Pumpkin contests, leg races, and a plethora of other events are held throughout the festival, promoting friendly competition and good sportsmanship. Bingo and other games are held at the local library and Town Hall.
The Festival closes with the pumpkin carving contest, in which the year’s participants in the Halloween Game prepare their jack o’lanterns. The entries are judged, and prizes awarded to the top ten participants.
For the intrepid thrill seeker and curious newcomer, entry into the Halloween Game is found inside of Shady Valley's town hall. There is a small fee for participants over sixteen, but all enterprising players are allowed to pick a pumpkin to carve. Afterwards, the entries are put on display and judged. The top three winners are guaranteed to have their names and faces on the front page of the local paper, while the top ten entries receive an assortment of prizes.
Once the competition is concluded, the town holds a closing ceremony for the festival. Numerous volunteers, wearing masks and traditional attire, gather up the pumpkin entries for the Halloween Game, and in a great solemn procession march down along Main Street and out the old Oak Road to begin the long task of hiding the pumpkins in the forest surrounding the town.
The Game is held at Gathering Field, accompanied by music, refreshments, and a great deal of fanfare. The Halloween Game for children begins at ten o’clock and carries until eleven thirty. It is heavily supervised, and the pumpkins aren’t difficult to find, particularly because adults are allowed to help in the search. Once the children’s game is finished, however, the real Halloween Game begins. Participants must be present at the field no later than the stroke of midnight, or else they will be disqualified until the following year.
The moment the players enter the forest, they have three hours to complete the game and return to the Gathering. A flame is lit inside each pumpkin, and the participant must find their personal jack o'lantern, and bring it back to the field with the pumpkin intact and the flame still burning. The Others lurk in the shadows, people dressed to frighten and entice as they use any means at their disposal to distract or terrify the players. The only thing they cannot do, however, is touch a player. At least, so long as that player's flame still burns. If the pumpkin is damaged, or the flame goes out, the player loses the game.
Prizes are not awarded for first place, as the point of the Halloween Game isn't to finish the fastest, but rather to return safely to the Gathering Field. Players who have completed the Game are each given a small gift, and enjoy the prestige of having participated in Shady Valley's most famous yearly event.
Gathering Field is a vast flat expanse bordered on one side by the town, and on the other by the deep woods of Pisgah National Forest. Ordinarily used for cattle corn and hay, the field is cleared early into the month of October to become the staging ground for the Halloween Game. The Gathering rests at the end of a long gravel drive which branches off the end of Main Street, known locally as the Old Oak Road for the tall overarching trees which grow along the lane.
On Halloween night an immense bonfire is built and ignited in the field. The fire marks the location where the Game will start, and acts as a beacon for players in the woods, allowing them to easily find their way back to the Gathering. Even after the Halloween Game is concluded, the town traditionally mans the bonfire throughout the evening before finally allowing it to burn down in the early morning hours of November first.