Friday, November 28, 2008


This October, I happened to be in Golgoolian on Hollowane Night. I'm glad I was. The city throws itself into the holiday with more enthusiasm than anywhere else I've ever been.

Hollowane is the night of illusions, when everyone tries to look as strange as possible in the hopes of getting candy. Half the people in the city dress up and go out onto the streets; the other half dress up and stay home to feed the random strangers at their door. There are chocolates and candied fruit and muffins wherever you look, lollipops and peppermints and sugar beetles, berries and bonbons, fruit jewels and candymoss and the little spiral pastries called Shwamp shnails. The bakeries, fruit stalls, and sweet shops of Golgoolian are nearly emptied for Hollowane.

I wasn't out to get candy (I took what people in the crowd gave me, but that's all I want to carry), and I didn't have anywhere to give it out from, so I mostly just walked around the city. I wandered through Golgoolian all night. There were people and things everywhere, walking and eating and singing at the slightest provocation.

Practically everyone in Golgoolian is in costume on Hollowane. They mismatch their clothes, paint their skin and scales and fur, and hang curtains from their antlers. Groups of courtiers trade masks of their own faces and become each other for the night. Acrobats walk on their hands and put sock puppets on their feet. A few of the people in the crowd actually had two heads; others were two people sharing a costume. A spiny reptile had stuck fruit and vegetables on every spike - onions, turnips, squash, and a small cherry on the tip of his nose. A large samoval had rubbed something into his fur that made him glow pale blue all over. One... something... seemed to have covered itself with most of a hillside. It shed dirt in clumps as it walked. Grass covered its back and shoulders, pebbles dotted it like scales, and a small tree was growing out of its head. Someone else was wearing an outfit of creased leather that, in the dark, looked exactly like the wooden skin of a Drae. There were blue eyes behind the dark knotholes.

Golgoolian has more costume makers than anywhere else in the Railway Regions. They spend all year getting ready for that one night. The makers of wigs and artificial tails (a common sight in any city or medium-sized town) serve a steady stream of the bald and unentailed all year, but they still do more business in October than in all the other months together.

All over the city, the toads were dancing in the sinkhole gardens. It was like...


I can't explain it. If you've never seen a toad dancing, no amount of description can possibly tell you what it's like.

The moons were full. The moons are always full on Hollowane. It's a tradition. A group from the Lupine Astronomers' Guild had decided to come to Golgoolian for the celebrations, and the streets were full of grinning, hairy shapes. Some looked like ordinary people of canine ancestry; others looked like wolves, or large dogs, or massive hulks of teeth and bristles half-glimpsed in the darkness. The crowds of big furry stargazers added something to the celebration, a sort of intense canine happiness that seems to follow them wherever they go. Everything's more fun with werewolves.

They would stop every now and then, as if on cue, to howl hauntingly at the moons. Several of them had started doing four-part harmony and jazz improvisations by the end of the night.

Hollowane is the one night when shapeshifters all over Hamjamser (full shapeshifters, not their half-malleable descendants, like the werewolves or myself) get to show what they're really capable of doing. They can walk the streets undisguised, in all their frilled, multicolored, glittering glory, each one completely different from the others and many different from one moment to the next. If anyone recognizes them, they can always say that it was just a costume.

The people of Golgoolian also believe that on Hollowane, the things that live under the city come out to join the celebration. No one is sure exactly what the things under the city are, but almost everyone is sure that they're there. All that space has to have something in it. There are tales of mole-people, of albino alligators, of earthworms bigger than the Train and mud that writes poetry. You can find all of those on the streets during Hollowane. They're part of the city's mythology. It's anyone's guess how many of them are people in costumes.

As if that weren't enough, every ghost in Hamjamser gets stronger on Hollowane night. They refuse to be overshadowed by real people. No one is sure why. Some ghosts have even been known to leave their usual routines for the night, doing something new instead of the one thing they've been echoing for years or centuries. Three years ago, the ghostly actors in Tazramack stopped halfway through "Without the Dragon," the show they've been repeating since their deaths, and instead launched into an impromptu performance of "The Importance of Being Hairy," a comedy by the brilliant Worsel Acid. According to the audience (the theater allows a larger one than usual on Hollowane, due to the temporary amplification of the ghosts), they put on a splendid show. Scofferell Flint and Giacomo Cargellini even managed to acquire a plate of ghostly muffins for one scene. It's never happened again.

There are a lot of ghosts in a city as large as Golgoolian. In the dark, it's hard to tell them apart from real people.

For quite a lot of people, including me, that's the most exciting thing about Hollowane: the people out on the streets could be anyone or anything. There are a lot of strange and wonderful things in Hamjamser that stay hidden all year. Some of them are frightening; others, like shapeshifters, are just a little too interesting for their own good. Hollowane is a chance for them all to come out of hiding. By the next day, the shapeshifters have returned to their disguises; the troglodytes have gone back underground; the werewolves have returned to their observatory on Mount Moler. The ghosts fade. The clandestine androids cover themselves once again with artificial skin and rubber muscles. The world goes back to normal, or at least a very convincing imitation of it.

For many people, Hollowane is a chance to dress up as something else. For others, it's a chance to be entirely themselves, if only for a single night.

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