Category Archives: The Midnight Special

The Midnight Special – Christmas Edition

Anyone else find Christmas ripe for disquieting reflection?

Why do Santa’s eyes twinkle so? What terrible ideas is he delighting at so brilliantly?

What if he stays a little longer than he should, just to keep an eye on things, while you slept unknowing through the night?

***

“Presents”

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

Tammy only made it halfway down the stairs before the shaking in her legs made her grab the banister. She felt like if she went any further, she wouldn’t be able to walk any further.

Besides, what if they got caught? What if Santa caught them?

“Lisa!” The older sibling had had no problem making it to the living room. Tammy fidgeted in footy pajamas, called out in a voice that barely wasn’t a whisper: “Lisa, what if we get caught?!”

“We’re not gonna get caught!”

“What if Santa gets mad at us?!”

“The presents are already here, dummy! Santa can’t take ‘em back!”

Lisa let her little sister fidget, felt her bare feet warm as they stepped from the hardwood and sank into the carpet. The tree was a squat, fat affair, weighed down with drowsy lights that glowed as gently as candlelight. The tinsel the girls had buried it in made the room shimmer, and as the heating vent made her nightshirt billow, Lisa had the unconscious feeling she was stepping into the night sky.

The seven-year-old ran back upstairs. Lisa crept to the closest box she could easily open, a shimmering green and red thing with a sumptuous golden bow. No tape or ribbon held the box’s lid in place.

Lisa quickly scooped the box into her arms, like an animal hoarding food, and shook it against her ear. Nothing rattled, nothing bounced against the sides. Lisa turned it, felt for any shifting weight. She listened for moving parts she might have accidentally activated.

All she heard was rushing wind. A music player?

The lid made a card-like clatter as it bounced on the floor. Despite the glowing room, the inside of the box was very dark.

***

“Bobby! Bobby, wake up!”

The kid swatted at the dark, missed his sister’s face but succeeded in shooing her back a few inches. Tammy reached back out and grabbed her brother when his arm fell back.

“Bobby!”

“What?!”

“You gotta get up!”

“Why?”

“Lisa’s gonna open the presents!”

Bobby sleepily opened his eyes. “The presents?”

“Yeah! She’s gonna get Santa mad!”

“Santa’s been here?”

“Yes!”

Bobby sat up, quickly but with his eyes still closed. He rubbed them open, broke the encrusted sleep with a balled-up hand as he shuffled out from under the covers. “Lisa already opened presents?”

“Yeah…”

Bobby was on his feet and out the door, with Tammy close behind. “Bobby, wait!”

Each pounding footstep made the kid sound like he weighed a thousand pounds. He leapt the last three stairs, came down heavy, stomped into the living room.

Tammy looked around for a scowling, bearded face, a gloved finger waving angrily over the naughtiness afoot.

Bobby ran past the shimmering box closest to the stairs, braced his shoulder against a package nearly big enough for him to hide in and knocked it over.

It went over with so little resistance that Bobby nearly fell with it.

Tammy, fearful, ran back to her room.

Bobby scrabbled to the lid, wrenched it off with both arms. But the living room was dim, and it was hard to see inside. Eagerly, burning in the cold night, Bobby crawled inside the box.

***

Tammy rocked on her bed, pillows against each ear, knees against her chest and sheet overhead. She waited for the muffled screams of naughty children to pierce the down stuffing.

Occasionally she thought she heard the deep cheer of chesty laughter, but no screams had come.

The night was nippy, even inside with the heat going. Curiosity brought her feet to the floor. The aching cold made her step into her slippers.

Tammy’s door could open a foot without any noise. She cracked it an inch and put her ear to the house. Nothing.

Bobby and Lisa had seen their gifts, and nothing at all had happened to them.

The fear was gone, but Tammy wasn’t old enough to know she should be embarrassed. It just suddenly seemed a strange, far away thing. Punished for being naughty. Afraid Santa would catch them.

Catch them, when he had all those houses to get to. Silly.

Tammy opened her door wide enough to slip through, made it to the stairs with her cloth soles eating any noise. Downstairs the living room glimmered and waggled fingers of shimmering light.

She heard the faint tinkle of the aluminum strips of tinsel as they danced in the drafts of heat. It was almost like they were asking what she was doing up there. Silly girl.

One, two. Twenty soundless steps, each one taken lighter than the one before. Then a brief space between her and the withholding tree.

The lights were coy. They winked and grinned, teasing her with what they knew were in the boxes.

The socks and carpet made her feel like she was stepping higher and higher, like clouds were building under her tiny feet. Lisa’s box looked boring, Bobby’s box was still tipped over.

But there was a new box under the tree.

A flat, long box, in smooth white paper and deep black ribbon. A silver tag stuck out beneath the bow.

Tammy…

The ribbon fell away with just a motion of her hand as soon as her fingers were on it. The paper fell away without a single crinkle.

The gold box had a little latch, and Tammy flipped it with her thumb. She bit her lip and lifted the lid.

The sparkles on the walls spun like angry winter stars.

***

Strange. The children never slept later than the parents on this day.

The mother and father rub their eyes. Dad ties his robe, Mom yawns. Odd, too.

There are three boxes Mom and Dad don’t remember putting there at all.

They all seem disturbed, all seem explored. That one in the white paper is even unwrapped.

Dad picks up the shimmering box closest to them, walks to the large gift while Mom lifts the little golden box. There’s an odd heft to the tiny thing. Mom has the unusual thought that she hears soft footfalls inside.

Dad lifts the lid from the massive box, screams and drops the package in his arm. It falls open as he drops to the ground.

Mom screams, and the golden box tumbles away.

Neatly packed away, tucked and folded, twisted and bent so they could fit the corners perfectly. Three naughty children, awake on Christmas night.

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The Midnight Special – Break Room

The Midnight Special


Working overnight in a hotel can be a cozy experience, especially if you’re the houseman. You’re not chained to the front desk; in fact, you’re pretty much expected to be out of sight for most of the night, toiling in a far off corner.

But you can also get the feeling that you’re the only wakeful person in the world there.

An empty lobby. A ballroom that would echo if not for the carpet eating the sound of your footsteps. Halls that rattle with the dreams of dozens of sleeping guests. The hotel seems to whisper that you’re all alone, that the dreamers wouldn’t stir if it decided to bare its teeth and snarl.

The break room is what tells you that the building is really an insomniac. It lies quiet and tries to sleep, but the buzzing of the fluorescent break room lights lets you know its sanity has become a frazzled and weary thing.

***

Break Room

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

            The hotel was a sleeping mountain of concrete and glass.

The night auditor ignored them as he brushed through to the employee men’s room. Normally he would have snuck into the guest bathroom in the hall, but Kurt had made a point of mopping just before going on break, and the tiles were angry when they were wet.

Abdi sat peeling oranges, his back against the big corkboard, crinkling the purple paper below the sequined cardboard letters telling them “AT MARRIOTT, YOUR COMFORT IS OUR BUSINESS!”

Kurt sipped coffee with creamer that was just a little too old. The massive LED clock above Abdi flickered as it hit 0145, signaling their break was over when it came two o’clock.

There was buzzing at the front door. Dom came bustling out of the bathroom to let the guests in. Kurt looked to see a gaggle of drunk homecoming girls stumble past the desk. One saw him through the office hall, asked Dom if the blondie in the uniform could come tuck her in.

“We need a teddy bear!” another slurred. “Can he be a teddy bear? We’ll, you know…” she smiled a little too slowly over Dom’s shoulder. “We can tip.”

Dom waved them by. Abdi laughed.

“You are good investment,” he said in a voice that rang of western Africa. “You make hotel look very good to happy people.” He smiled in a way that told Kurt that fifty years of hardship is never an excuse for poor humor. He liked Abdi, wished the old man didn’t have to do the shit work they shared.

Dom was back in the break room. “Kurt, I’m gonna need you to start in on the conference room.” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost two already. You’re really gonna have to hustle.”

“No conference,” said Abdi, pointing at the clock. “Not two yet.”

Dom turned and stared him down. With the girls back in their rooms, the hotel had gone back to sleep.

“Big room,” Dom said, loudly. He knew this irritated Abdi, but hadn’t figured out Abdi understood English better than he spoke it. Abdi always let it go; people had been far ruder in Kenya. “Big room,” Dom said again. “He needs to work now.”

“No. No work now.” Abdi was quiet, polite, simply pointing out the time.

“I’ll get to it in a sec, Dom,” Kurt said then.

“Now, Kurt.”

“I’m on break.”

“I’ll punch you back in at two.”

“You can’t really do that.”

“Kurt, it’s a big meeting tomorrow. And you still have vacuuming.”

“I get it, big room, lots of shit. I got ten minutes to go.”

Dom’s jaw bulged, one direction, another. Kurt was a little quicker to call HR than the rest of the staff, even though he worked nights. The isolation usually drove night crews in the past to start thinking they were on their own.

He left to man the desk as a red eyed family dragged their bags to the door.

“Good man,” Abdi nodded. “Others, they work, work too much. You, you sit, you know when. Good man.”

Abdi ate a slice of orange.

***

            Fifteen years of service gave Abdi the unpaid half-hour break and an extra paid one. Kurt handed the old timer his half-full thermos before he clocked back in. “Maybe you can help me move tables with some coffee in you,” he told him.

“You no drink coffee, young man!” Abdi smiled. “Coffee, it wake you. This, it bite you!”

The old guy poured the coffee anyway as Kurt went back to work.

Kurt walked past Dom, grabbed his radio from the counter. “Headin’ down,” he told the manager.

“Got two hours,” Dom was unnecessarily nervous as Kurt made his way down the sloping hall to the ballroom.

There were clicking heels behind him. He turned, saw one of the college girls crossing the lobby. Her legs looked tight, like they strained to keep her steady. He caught her eye, and she gave a smile highlighted with heavy mascara before she was out of sight.

Kurt ran his hands over his short blond hair, stretched his arms over his head. Muscles tightened like shoelaces, joints in his chest popped. The ballroom was too bright; he reached into the closet where the tables were stacked, found the dimmers and lowered the lights until they had to strain to make shadows. It was quiet except for the rumble from the heating vents. The chill that crept in through the doors made him feel sharp and quick.

Kurt worked while the hotel slept.

***

            The last touch was dividing the conference center with the air wall. The thing was heavy as shit, and despite the angry November chill leaching the heat through the doors, he was red and sweating. He undid a button and went back upstairs.

Dom almost looked like he was giving him a stare, but no, it was over his shoulder. Kurt turned, saw the girl from before bending over, looking at the chips. Her ass was shaped like a round heart.

He figured she wouldn’t like catching the help scoping her out, looked away as he made for the kitchen. He could never figure out why they stored all the glass cleaner in there, but whatever, he didn’t run the place…

He was holding the door open as he left, looking for the light switch, when he felt fingers work their way past his undone button. Soft fingers, almost as soft as the lips that were working on his neck.

Something pushed him back into the kitchen, almost off-balance. He grabbed for support, grabbed a pert, round heart.

She was breathing in his ear, her slick tongue on his earlobe.

“You workin’ all night?”

“Most of it.”

“You think they’d notice you slippin’ in my room?”

Kurt’s girl was asleep at home. “I think they’d see me gone.”

Her thin black skirt rode high enough for him to feel her heat against his groin. He spun around, compulsively. She grabbed him tighter as he stumbled through the door, cackled as they spilled into the hall. She didn’t let go until he was pressed against the wall.

Dom’s head was down over the computer screen, but his eyes were up and burning into Kurt. They lit the girl aflame as she stumbled away in heels.

Kurt straightened his collar, saw a familiar red in Dom’s cheeks. The same red Dom had after he’d called Tadiloni Italian, when Tad corrected him that he was Cuban.

The burning red told him someone was going to get bitched out.

Kurt got out of sight quick, bee lined for the break room. Abdi came out of the men’s room just as Kurt’s soda tumbled out of the machine.

“Taking a break again young man?” the older man asked in his usual mock surprise. His eyes twinkled kindly and he smelled of a snuck smoke break.

“Can’t work too hard,” Kurt told him as he left. “Might end up looking like you!”

Abdi sat at a side table to review his checklist, and laughed.

***

            There was thirty minutes left until his shift was over. Kurt had worked the eight-to-four shift for a little over seven months, but he still found himself aching to sleep every night.

Thirty minutes to go. With everything inspected, Abdi had likely already gone home. Kurt blew the last puff of smoke through the roof’s trapdoor, latched it behind him as he went back down the ladder into the engineer’s office.

“Feel bad for housekeeping tomorrow,” Dom told him with a sideways look as Kurt crossed the lobby.

“Why?”

“Messy rooms.”

Kurt nodded, walked past the desk to laundry. Something heavy thumped inside the driers as they went through their nighttime wrinkle guard cycles.

Abdi’s paper and pen was still on the table when Kurt stepped through into the break room. His glasses had fallen on the floor; one lens had chipped and fallen out of the frame.

Huh. Abdi never took those off without stuffing them in their plastic case.

Footsteps behind him. Dom standing a few inches from him, eyes burning him sharper than before.

“About to clock out?” Dom’s voice was flatter than the room’s fluorescent lighting. At least the room had that one flickering bulb to give it a breath of life.

“Is Abdi still here?”

“No,” Dom told him. “Why would he be?”

“I think he left his glasses.”

Dom looked over his shoulder with a simple tilt of his body, tilted back in place. His eyes never moved in their sockets; he looked at Kurt only when he had Kurt back in his field of vision.

“I’ll make sure he gets them.” Dom spoke like an angry dog fighting not to show its teeth.

“Yeah, okay. Cool.”

They stood still for another half a minute.

“About to clock out?”

“Yeah. Yeah…” Kurt didn’t move for the punch clock. Something about how Dom stood gave him the impression of a wall full of nails.

Another half minute…

“Long night?”

“…yeah.”

“Feel bad for housekeeping!” Maybe Dom had meant to say it with a laugh. It had come out with a bark.

“…why?”

Dom looked up, nodded. “Rooms. Fucked up.”

“Party girls? It…” Kurt listened. The hotel was new, thin. Sound got everywhere. “Sounds kinda quiet to me.”

“Is now.” That bark that didn’t mesh with the wild eyes. Kurt realized the eyes were smiling. Smiles are never cheery when the rest of the face ignores them.

“I…I guess I’ll go…” Kurt slowly, carefully stepped around Dom. Dom didn’t move but to follow him with his eyes.

Dom’s right hand gripped his left arm behind his back. The edge of a dark stain was visible on his sleeve, peeking from his clenched fingers.

“’Night Dom.”

The driers thumped, too heavy to be shoes.

Half a minute. “’Night Kurt.”

Dom was still standing there when Kurt walked by the desk, looked over his shoulder and watched with his lone, smiling eyes as Kurt walked into the frosty night.

Kurt made his money shuffling about while others slept. He would go home and dream beside Mel.

Behind him, the night began flashing with bright blue lights. They were streaking for the hotel. Kurt listened, barely made out the sound of sirens.

The sleeping mountain flickered and flashed as Kurt drove home.

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New Midnight Special Comin’ Tonight

Because I need you! Baby don’t leave, I’ll treat ya real good! BABY I LOVE YOU!

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Rolling in the Dust – The Midnight Special

 

Let’s go back to your place.

I want to whisper awful secrets in your ear. It’s late, and there are terrible things we can only think of in the dark.

***

Rolling in the Dust

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

            We didn’t wait very long after we got through my door. She was on me so quick I almost couldn’t get the deadbolt latched. Then I felt her leg lifting up and slithering around mine, and suddenly I was the one tearing into her. I grab at her wrists, hold them firmly against the back of my waist. She pulls, I follow.

We kissed like our lips were fused, our tongues beating against themselves, our mouths sucking on each other’s warm moisture. We didn’t really breathe, just shared air.

That red dress of hers was hiking over her hips, and I crushed her against the wall when I felt the lace of her underwear against my fingers. She started holding me real firm then, her fingers pulling the thick curls of my hair, like she didn’t trust where I might kiss her next.

As much as it seemed like she wanted me, it felt more like she needed me to want her.

***

            We almost made it to the bed. Almost.

The carpet was soft enough, even though it’s really only in stories when people do it on the floor. She wouldn’t let me up; her legs were the most pleasant shackles you’d ever find.

The dress came off slowly, in little hitches, until it was over her head. It never really came off, now that I think about it, just hung off one of her arms for the rest of the night.

Until there wasn’t anything to hold onto.

***

            The feeling is so crazy I don’t know when I’m coming or if I’m going. I just feel her move, her skin almost hot enough to burn me.

She’s so smooth, all over. Kissing her skin is like tonguing satin. Her shoulders almost gleam in the light of the bedside clock. Her hair is a constant, night-dark black, unbroken, unbothered.

She’s moaning constantly, louder and louder but never, weirdly, too loud. It wavers out of her, like heat from a flame. It burns me alive. For a little bit I think I can feel steam between us, but maybe that’s just the blood rushing through me at breakneck pace.

She doesn’t give me time to take my clothes off all the way. Even when we finish the first time, she just holds me tight, tells me to stay on top. She wants to feel me breathing in her ear.

She says it cools her off. She says her hot flashes can be a bitch.

***

            Her lips feel a little tougher, firmer. I feel lines on the curves of her shoulders, grooves with my tongue.

She’s just as energetic, more even. She’s eager to get something, give something. But it seems to take a lot out of her. She’s grunts with effort as she pulls and pushes me. She kicks off her heels, and her feet feel rough against the back of my legs.

She’s breathing really heavy when we’re done. She says she hasn’t felt this way since she was a girl.

We go again, starting even quicker than last time. We’re not getting any younger.

***

            She’s dying. We all are, but her a lot faster than others.

Doctors say if she takes it easy, doesn’t exert herself too much, she’ll have lots of long years ahead of her. She says it sounded an awful lot like they were prescribing dying to live.

When she pulls me in it’s with an almost amgry determination she hasn’t shown before. There’s something she needs. Not taken from me, taken from her.

She has to work harder at it now. When she moves it’s with an effort from her whole body, I feel her tense up. Her legs don’t hold me as tightly as they did before. The nails she digs into my back feel brittle, kind of jagged.

The streetlight coming through my window brings out the streak of gray in her hair.

***

            She doesn’t want to move to the bed, but her back hurts. The floor is not good for her.

I pull some pillows down and she arranges them under her. When we’re done she reaches up, pulls down a blanket. She’s cold.

***

            She asks for me to show some pace. She slept for a little while, and she seems to be getting tired.

I slow down, look in her squinting eyes and ask her if she wants to stop. She says no, never, deeper, slower.

Her lips are lined with small, deep furrows. Her arms don’t wrap as far around me. Her legs tell me I can go whenever I want.

But she says to stay. Don’t leave an old woman alone in the dark.

***

            She’s gasping. Mostly, I think, fighting for air.

Her heartbeat races, her legs ache. She pauses halfway through, tells me she needs to catch her breath.

But we’re back at it soon enough. She doesn’t have the strength to pull me anymore, but she whispers in my ear:

Go, go, go, take me with you.

***

            She gives a last, electrifying burst.

It feels like she is running away, pulling me overhead for cover. She rocks me back and forth. Her knees strain but she locks me in, and I feel her body writhe with me.

She is grunting and panting, but soon we’re spent, and we become very quiet. Our breathing slows, slows, stills.

***

            I pass out just as gray begins to tickle the black sky. Draped across her, I sink into her soft skin. It feels cool, yielding. Unresisting.

In the night I have a sudden sensation of falling, of something giving out from under me. The feeling startles me awake, but I am hollowed out, and easily go back to sleep.

***

The morning light shoots me in the eye, and I wince, crying out in irritation and yelling obscenities. I am quite unlovable in the morning. I bet she wouldn’t have been.

I look over to see her, but find only her dress. I’m lying in a pile of dust. Buried in the mound are the panties she never took off, just moved to the side.

Strands of her silvery hair are stuck in my carpet, and they shine like metal in the sunlight. Beside them are hairs black as night, momentos of a youth spent too slowly.

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Bringing in the Pumpkins – The Midnight Special: Halloween Edition

Hope your Halloween evening’s going well. Hope your Halloween late-night goes better.

Remember, it’s still Halloween ’til the sun comes up…

***

Bringing in the Pumpkins

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

            The air was cold enough to bite me as I stepped outside. Halloween was over. The night was quiet, the kids were in bed. Every light in the complex was out.

Time had killed the candles in the jack o’lanterns, and their darkness only made the unlit night feel heavier. They scowled at me as I scooped them both in my arms. The rushing wind of the night came off as the sound of reproach.

I made my way down the stairs. It wasn’t unusually quiet; it was a school night, and people would be bitchin’ to the cops if anybody was throwing down. Nah, all the partying had been taken care of Saturday. Still the quiet was eerie. Everywhere.

The security lights buzzed as I shuffled to the dumpsters. Usually there’s a strong smell of pumpkin coming from those things this time of night, but I can’t catch any whiff of it. There’s something else, something kind of rotten. Drunk puke? I don’t know.

I can’t hear anything as I walk, except the soles of my shoes shuffling against the flat cement and the humming of the lights. None of the windows I pass have any light in them, and I don’t catch even a hint of movement. No rustling curtains, no floorboards creaking from soft footfalls on carpet. Nothing. I don’t even hear people talking. I mean, it’s late, but it’s not that late.

All the jack o’lanterns are gone, too. My complex is usually full of the things come Halloween. Not out of holiday zeal or anything. It’s just that in Middle Tennessee, you can pick up a pumpkin in autumn like you can pick up apples. There’s so many of them grown around here, you don’t even have to look to find one.

But cheapness begets aloofness, and they’re dumped pretty quickly come November light. They’ve all been trashed tonight, probably tossed out back before the porch lights were turned off.

But I don’t smell them, that faint sweetness that’ll turn to dusty mold in a day or two. Just…something. Something a little more awful than the usual dumpster stench.

The wind keeps whistling, through the steps and the empty trees. I’m starting to leave the sanctuary of the security lights, entering into the howling darkness of the patch of trees that surrounds the dumpsters.

Still haven’t seen anybody. Not that I’m worried. I imagine muggings are pretty rare this far out of Nashville. Still, the breeze almost sounds like a voice, and it would be comforting to see a human body attached to the sounds of whispering in the wind.

And I can’t shake the feeling that I hear whispering around me. Following me. It doesn’t get louder or quieter as I move. It just…stays with me.

The moon gives a little light, but not enough to see very well. The path I walk is mostly by memory. I can only barely see the outlines of the trees themselves, shivering in the chilly wind.

I think I see something moving near the trash. Something rolling along the ground. A pumpkin being tossed away?

I should probably be a little embarrassed, but I find myself breathing with a little relief at the thought of seeing another person. It’s silly, but I can’t stop feeling like I’m alone out here.

More movement, more things rolling along the gravel and thunking against the walls of the hollow containers. I hurry my stride, eager to break the stretch isolation.

The pumpkins feel heavier in my arms. I have to struggle to keep hold. They roll around, almost like they’re trying to break free.

The concrete walkway ends, and gravel crunches under my sneakers. My breath fogs so thick I see it even in the dark.

I hear a deep, gruff whisper: “Shall we cast you out?”

I hear it plainly, beside me. It’s loud enough to make me jump. I drop the pumpkins and spin around.

My whole body clenches, not to flee but not really to fight either. My hands curl into fists, but there’s no one around to hit. I keep spinning, but I don’t see anyone.

It’s a while before I’m confident enough to keep going. I reach for the pumpkins, still looking over my shoulder for anyone who might be creeping just out of sight.

The pumpkins aren’t there.

I pat the freezing ground, don’t find them. I look into the night, see something rolling away to the clearing within the trees. The pumpkins.

Rolling uphill.

I hear someone talking, casually, conversationally, by the dumpsters. They are closer than the complex at this point, and I jog to catch up. Strangely, the pumpkins don’t slow down. It actually seems like they’re picking up speed as I do.

That smell again. That odor of something rich and awful, something that can grow strong enough to become truly wrenching in its stench.

Most folks don’t throw their jack o’lanterns in the dumpsters themselves. Usually you’ll catch a mound of them in the grass behind the trash, left to rot and feed the weeds. Right now they’re scattered everywhere.

All looking in one direction.

At me.

I stop so suddenly I almost fall over. They’re all hear, dark and angry. Beyond them is the pile, and suddenly I know what it is I’m smelling.

The wind howls through the frosty night, carry the crisp smell of dead flesh.

A pile of human bodies is stacked high in the grass. Bodies of people I know, people I see by the mailbox and the leasing office.

People I live beside. People who fill the buildings which lie dark and hollow behind me.

The pumpkins watch me carefully. I see the two I carried – one with a face like a skull, the other that of a bat. The bat makes an excited, chittering sound to the skull. The skull looks to me and asks:

“Shall we cast you out?”

I don’t do or say anything. I just stand there, unmoved by earth or wind. I just watch the pumpkins. The pumpkins watch me too.

The skull speaks again: “Shall we cast you out?”

The pumpkins glower, brightly unlit. After a forced breath, I take a step back.

The pumpkins turns, so slightly, tracing me as I retreat.

I take another step. Finally, another.

They do not try to stop me.

I see them as I am halfway down the hill. Three hundred carven faces, grinning and scowling against the fading Halloween.

They lined the clearing, and I could barely make out their outlines as I reached my door. They watched as I opened the door, stumbled inside. Likely heard as I threw the deadbolt.

Cast me out? No, please. Just go in peace.

They’re still out there now, as the sun threatens to rise. I see them from my window, rolling and turning, speaking in whispers too old to be heard by those who haven’t learned to listen.

I wonder if the day can drive them back, or if they will simply stand vigil against the light as well as the dark.

I refuse to think of what they will do to me. For now I’m safe, and they attend to their duties against the dawn.

They will stand firm while the deposers will soften and rot. They will stand before the mound, their carved fangs hungering against any others who stand between them and their duties. They are the keepers of the dead.

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