The Next Day: The Morning After Halloween

It’s cold this year.
Halloween usually is.
But, it has never really bothered him.
Cold weather means he can be alone, uninterrupted.

He runs his fingers through his thinning hair and watches the clouds slide across the moon until the windshield fogs up. Tonight is the night – he can feel it.

He stops his car in the middle of the field. Kicking rocks and trash away from him.
He knows the ritual by heart. He can do it all with his eyes closed. He’s memorized the incantations and movements needed.
Tonight…tonight is the night he proves himself right.

With only the moon above and the headlights shining behind him he gets to work.

It’s easy.

A circle of salt. Any amateur magician knows that.
Candles at the four cardinal points.
But, that’s not enough.
He’s tried all of that before.

In the middle of the circle he sets the most perfect pumpkin he could find. A face drawn on it in blood- his god awaiting animation.

Opening the trunk, he smiles at the sinners, the four non-believers, the wretched and the weak that doubted him for decades.

He hears their sobs. He almost feels bad for what he’s about to do. But it must be done, and it must be done soon. He cannot miss his chance. This is his only chance.

He grabs one of the wriggling bodies and drags them from the trunk. The smell of the crying man turns his stomach. He’s glad he put a sheet over him – they were friends once. It makes this easier.

The man kicks and tries to scream, but he was smart and gagged him earlier.

He lights the candle on the Eastern side of the circle and forces the man to his knees in front of it.

The knife is sharp. It cuts through the makeshift ghost costume, then skin and muscle and finally it strikes bone. The sheet quickly turns red and the cries become wet moans.
The candle flares up.

He smiles.
Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle on the Southern point of the circle. The woman screams as he pulls her from the car by her hair. She tries to fight him off, but years of abuse at her hands gives him strength. The green makeup he painted on her face smears with tears and the witch’s hat falls to the grass. He isn’t kind with her. He stabs her repeatedly and lets her drop to the ground unceremoniously.

The candle flares up.

Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle to West and drags the rotting carcass of a dog to the circle. Bones protruding against wax skin and dying white fur, eyes gone blank and clouded. He paints symbols on the bloated stomach with yellow feathers.

The candle flares up.
He can feel it happening already.

Tonight is the night.

He lights the candle facing North.
He takes his last hostage from the car, wishing he had gagged him.

“You don’t have to do this. We’re friends. We were best friends.
I don’t deserve this.
They didn’t deserve this.
What did my dog ever do to you?”

He pushes the last man to the ground, whispers in his ear as he slides the knife’s blade into his back, between ribs and into his old friends heart. “I’m sorry, Charlie”

Painting his face with blood he enters the circle. Staring at the painted pumpkin, their faces a gross mirror of each other.
He pulls a ratted, blue blanket over his head and begins to chant.
Quietly, at first.
Rocking back and forth on his knees.
His words getting louder as the wind picks up.
Louder as the four flames around him grow.
Louder as the pumpkin in front of him begins to glow…brighter, brighter, then…it begins to rot. Collapsing in on itself. Smoke spiraling from the dried stem.

He can hear birds.
The blood on his face is dry and cracks when his face contorts into a cry.
The sun comes up.
All around him, dying pumpkins, melted candle wax, and dead friends.
He wipes his tears.
Next year. It will happen next year.

Hour 24: All Souls Day

He leaves her body in magnolia leaf strewn grass.
Pure white staining red.

Church bells ring out in sorrow across the night sky.

He climbs into the darkness, whistling a song he learned from the morning birds.

As a kid she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up.

Did he want to kill her? He doesn’t know.
But his hand felt good wrapped around the knife that, too easily, slid into her soft belly.
He feels remorse, like any good person would. It’s just hidden somewhere behind his heart.
As a kid, she dreamed of dancing on the surface of an exploding star.

His stomach aches like a black hole, a supernova of hunger and nausea.
A car drives by, it’s headlights dim and orange and judging him.

He thinks he’s crying.
Halloween is over, the sun is starting to rise and there are no longer costumed children on the streets.
Her first costume was a bumblebee. She has a picture of herself in that costume on her bedside table.

The streets are empty except for him and his blundering footfalls.
The knife, like a savior, like Jesus, gives him strength to keep walking.

In the middle of the street he falters and drops the knife.
He’s definitely crying now. Not over the girl, over the knife. He’s fallen in love with the knife.

Her first kiss was when she was 12. It surprised her and made her feel happy and sick at the same time.

The sun was up, the streets littered in trash and candy wrappers and toilet paper.
He stepped on a broken eggshell.
He wanted to lie down, to feel the cool asphalt against his cheek.

She wanted nothing more to ride a horse, at least once. She thought it would make her feel like a princess.

Halloween is officially over, he holds the knife tightly to his chest and begins to cry and beg for mercy.

Hour 23: Out of Memory (By Michael Cassera)

“Are you leaving soon?”

“I’ll be getting out of here shortly,” Jack replied on the phone. “I’m just trying to figure out this one little programming issue.”

“Alice sounded exasperated. “Well, don’t be too long, you know how you get when you’re trying to solve a programming problem…”

“Don’t worry,” Jack replied. “I won’t be long.”

1062 8E E1 10 STX INCX2
1065 A2 C8 LDX #$C8
1067 A9 00 LDA #X2
1069 8D B2 10 STA TOX+1

Jack knew the issue was somewhere in those four lines of code, but he was struggling to figure it out. Normally, the solutions popped into his head and he tapped things out on the keyboard. He assembled, linked, and loaded the resulting machine code into the computer and the solution presented itself.

That was not the case this time. He stared at the code for longer than he expected. His eyes were red with weariness. He stretched his arms and fought off the hunger that was gnawing at his belly.

“One last look,” he thought to himself, “and then I’ll head home.” He rubbed at a new ache in his neck and cracked his knuckles.

1062 8E E1 10 STX INCX2
1065 A2 C8 LDX #$C8
1067 A9 00 LDA #X2
1069 8D B2 10 STA TOX+1

Still nothing. Jack was done. He’d figure it out after a good night’s sleep. He closed his eyes and picked up the cordless phone. He dialed Alice.

A sleepy voice picked up. “Hello?”

“Hey, honey. I’m on my way home. I’ll see you shortly.”

The voice responded. “Who is this?”

“It’s Jack, who else would be calling you this early in the morning. I know I took a little longer than I said, but come on…” Jack replied. he was tired and a little irritated. There was silence on the other end of the line.

Finally, Alice spoke. “Jack? You disappeared 22 years ago…”

Jack was bugged. “Quit it Alice. I’m tired and I’m…”

Jack turned around to face an abandoned office space. The reflection of an older version of himself stared back from a cracked computer screen. He looked at the blank screen, but he knew the dead offer no answers.

 

Hour 22: The Witch’s Ladder

She sits alone in her house in the woods, fingers working fast.
The moon is hiding.

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.

The animals stay away from her house.
The people in the city four miles from her woods tell stories about her.

By knot of two, the magic comes true.

Her fingers move nimbly, liver spots and all.
She can feel her blood rushing around her body, her breathing quickening.

By knot of three, so it shall be.

Leaves and twigs tangled in her hair, a spider watches from a small hole in the wall.
She’s done this many times throughout the years.

By knot of four, the power is stored.

Her one good eye, making sure the knots are secure and fashioned properly.
Her other eye, in a glass jar, keeping watch for anything trying to sneak around in her house.

By knot of five, my will shall drive.

Her fingers are beginning to ache, magic isn’t as easy on the body as it used to be.
The wind blows in gusts and flurries, matching her breathing.

By knot of six, the spell I fix.

Her muscles straining along her bones like ship-ropes, strong and taut.
The cat sits at her feet, purring in its sleep.

By knot of seven, the future I leaven.

There’s a knock at her door, but it doesn’t startle her.
The little woman in the jar on the table next to her rouses from a dream.

By knot of eight, my will be fate.

Her fingers move faster, smoother, the liver spots on her hands fading.
Her hair grows longer, soft as velvet and silk.

By knot of nine, what is done is mine.

She finishes the knots and opens the door.
A man stands there, wet from autumn rain.

He sees a beautiful, naked woman, with long soft hair and glowing skin.
He kneels in front of her, offering himself, his life, his love.

Another century, another Halloween done. The knots begin to slowly, imperceptibly unravel.

Hour 20: Feathers and Freedom

Their son has been eating dead birds.

Birds he finds on the side of the road, in people’s lawns, mauled by neighborhood cats and dogs.

They can’t stop him.
They’ve tried.
They’ve brought him to doctors and psychiatrists but nothing has helped.

They found him last night, in the back garden, surrounded by dead raccoons and rats. Bones and feathers on his face and in his hair.

He had a plastic shopping bag full of birds.

Why, they screamed, why are you eating the birds?

There’s healing in the bones, mommy. The feathers will help me fly away to a better place when you die.

The bag is moving. Wings flutter and spasm.

Their son reached into the bag, pulled out a bird, and bit into its thin neck.
Blood dripped onto his pajamas from his chin.

His parents flew into a rage.
His father vomited and his mother stared in cold disbelief.

I love you, but I can’t stop it from happening. This is the only way. The birds told me so. They tell me lots of things you don’t want to know.

The parents held hands and backed away slowly.

They went back into their house and locked the door.
Turned the light in the back garden out.

They left their son to his bones and feathers and blood.

I know, the boy says, they don’t understand anything. No adults understand. But I’ll be free and safe and with all my friends.

A bird squawks in response from the plastic bag.

Hour 19: First Words (By Kyle Willis)

Christy and Steve Sumner fell in love with their daughter Abigail the moment they pretended to identify her on the first sonogram.

Now seven months old, Abigail was on her way to talking.  Christy and Steve were in competition to be the first name Abigail said.

“Da-Da.”

“Ma-Ma.”

They each took whatever opportunity they could to coo at their daughter, in hopes of invoking an echo from her.

Tonight, Christy has an upper-hand.  Steve is out of town on business, and she is determined to get Abigail to say it.

“Ma-Ma.”

Abigail just laughs in response.  Maybe it’s from the way Christy was bouncing her on her knee.  But maybe Abigail just laughed because Christy was at her mercy.

Three hours of “Ma-Ma” yielded no results.  Defeated, Christy resigned to bed, first tucking Abigail into her crib.

It is around 3AM when the sound of glass breaking downstairs yanks Christy from sleep.  

Her reflexive thought is Steve has broken something while trying to quietly indulge in a post-midnight snack.  But soon she remembers Steve is out of town.

Christy shuffles out of the bedroom and into Abigail’s room.  Sound asleep in her fuzzy pink onesie.  

She hears footsteps in the hallway.  Coming closer to Abigail’s bedroom.

Christy reaches in to Abigail’s crib and gently lifts her out.  Abigail remains undisturbed as Christy moves with her to the closet.

The footsteps come closer.  

A man dressed in all black steps into the room and looks around.

Christy shuts her eyes tight.  Hoping desperately Abigail doesn’t wake up.

Abigail shifts.  Christy does her best to keep her quiet.  

Abigail’s eyes open.  And she looks right up into Christy’s horrified face.

“Ma-ma”.

The man in black’s head snaps toward the direction of the closet.

It’s the next morning.

Steve comes through the front door.  He wheels his luggage to the coat closet and calls out.

“Hon! I’m home!”

“Ma-Ma.”

Abigail’s voice floats out of the baby monitor.

“Aww!  You won!”

He curses to himself under his breath and bounds up the stairs to reunite with his girls.

Steve steps into Abigail’s room to find his daughter standing up in her crib.  

“Hi Little One!  Where’s your Ma-Ma?  Huh?”

Steve’s brow furrows when he sees specks of red on Abigail’s pink onesie.  He squints to better assess the spots.

Abigail giggles and points to the closet.

“Ma-Ma!”

Steve turns to look at the closet and finds Christy.  Her corpse.  Doubled over in a pool of her own blood.

“Ma-Ma!”

Hour 18: Porn Job

He’s drunk.
Not drunk enough.

But getting there.

He’s had a rough night. A shit night. Maybe the worst night he’s had in years.

So he drinks.
He’s drinking and watching porn.

Anything to dull the day that he can’t wait to be over.

He’s drunk.

But not so drunk he thinks the fake-looking woman giving a blow job on the screen is talking to him.

That is, until she says his full name and looks right at him.

No way, he thinks. No way is the porn talking to me.

The images on the screen go wavy and blurry.

He gets off the couch and kneels in front of his TV, trying to find the problem.

“Ah, you came closer, good. You are handsome, aren’t you? Yes you are. Too bad you’re on the other side.”

His heart skips.
Holy shit.
The porn is talking to him.
It actually is.

“I have an idea.”

The screen goes fuzzy again and the glass bends. The porn star pushes her hand through the screen and caresses his face.

Static dances across his cheek and lips as she touches him with her fingertips.

He kisses her fingers, electricity gently playing over his tongue.
He can taste her, smell her perfume and make up.

“Oh, I wish you could be here with us.”

He stares at the screen. The man in the video is standing still, unmoving, like a cardboard cutout.

She reaches for him again through the screen.

She laughs and looks behind her, then gives him what he suspects is supposed to be a naughty wink, and begins to push her face through the screen.

He can see the lights of a thousand camera flashes bouncing in her eyes.

He leans forward and she kisses him.

His heart stops and is jump started again.
Her kiss is magic.
Her kiss is life.

She pushes forward.

His hands move over her cheeks, through her hair to the back of her neck.

She pushes her electric tongue into his mouth.

He touches her porn star neck, her porn star shoulders, her porn star breasts.

“Come. Come be with me”

She cradles his face in her hands.

“Okay,” he says.

Her smile flashes wicked.

She grabs the hair on the back of his head and pulls hard.

His face smashes into the glass, breaking his nose.

He screams.

She pulls again. The glass cracking against his cheekbone.

Blood pours from his split lips and she pulls again.

And again.

And again.

Each time his face breaks and bleeds more.

Each time his screams become dimmer and duller.

She pulls until his face is unrecognizable and the sounds are like pudding falling from a second story window.

The TV screen broken, the porn playing out, he lies on the floor bleeding, still drunk, but not drunk enough.

Hour 17: The Waiting Room (By Kyle Willis)

Today was the worst in my life.

I got three voicemails today.  One fired me from my job.  One ended my five-year relationship.  And one was from my mother.

I got to the bridge at about 7:00.  It spanned from the good part of town to the bad.  Water rushed underneath.  I never learned to swim, so the proximity of the rocks to the water’s surface was of no matter to me; the job would be done either way.

I swung my legs in the nothingness they hung in.  The October breeze tickled my ears and burned my throat.  

It’s time.

The ninety-foot fall was kinda fun.  About halfway down I became very aware of the golden lion that I’d hung around my neck for the last seventeen years, ever since my father gave it to me the night before he took this very same fall.

I braced for impact.  

Time passed.  My eyes were heavy when I tried to open them.  White florescence flooded the slits in my lids.  It was a chore to face that light fully.

The white light.

Actually, the white room.  Filled with people of all ages.  A place soon explained to me by a six-year-old girl in a purple babydoll dress with a white bow in her hair.  She called this place “THE WAITING ROOM” and told me this was the place where souls waited to die.

Sad it was to see this young girl waiting to transition as I was.  Thankful I was to hear her say souls were also here waiting to be born…and she was one of those.

Those souls waiting to be born were waiting to choose their parents.  

I gave her my sob story.  Not that a six-year-old girl would fully understand.  And she didn’t.  

She did, though, ask if she could have the lion that hung around my neck.  

I wrestled with it in my gut.  This girl meant nothing to me.  But I meant nothing.  Obviously.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken that jump.

She wanted the lion?  Sure.  I gave it to her.

The six-year-old girl gave me an orientation to The Waiting Room.  She brought me to a wall with four windows and told me to look out of the each of the windows.  

These windows looked out at the people whom I’d left.  I saw them from a perspective of a photo they’d had of me.

I looked at my former boss straight in the face as he took my Employee of the Month photo down from the wall in the breakroom.

I looked at my ex-girlfriend from the photo of us on her night table as she engaged in a round of break-up sex with the guy who I’m sure she had broken up with me for.

I looked at my mother from one of the school photos she still had up on her fireplace.  A man was with her.  Beating her.  I assume she owed him the fifty dollars she’d called to ask to borrow from me yesterday.  

Through the fourth window, I saw Lorelai.  Lorelai was the waitress at the diner I used to go to every morning on the way to job at which I was once Employee of the Month.  She was pretty, and she made me feel good.

And now, she was crying.

I’m guessing news of my jump has circulated by now.

Lorelai wasn’t just crying.  She was sobbing.  Uncontrollably.  I saw in her glassy eyes something I’d never seen before.  

Love.

Was Lorelai in love with me?  Did I want her to be?

I was shaken to my core.  I did want her to be.  I had no idea why, but in that sobbing woman I saw a single reason to keep going.

Then I thought of my mother.  If I go now, I can’t protect her.

I thought of my job.  I can get back on that wall.

Suddenly, I knew I needed out of the Waiting Room.

I fought.  I fought.  I fought.  

The next time I opened my eyes, I was back on the bridge.  

The jump had never happened.  Time had turned back.

I gave my mother the money she needed.

I told my boss I’d once pissed in his coffee mug.

I called her back and said I had been on the DL with the guy she was about to have break-up sex with.

And then I went to the Diner…ordered my usual biscuits n’ gravy…then asked Lorelai on a date.

Three years later, Lorelai and I were married.  Another year after that, she crushed my hand in the delivery room as she gave birth to our daughter.

Lorelai held her first.  Then it was my turn.  

And that little hand reached up and grabbed the lion that still hung around my neck.  

And I knew that little girl in the purple babydoll dress and white bow in her hair had picked me.

Hour 16: Stars Splashed Like Blood

She wakes, covered in blood that she knows is not her own.
The mask she made as a child from mud and twigs and feathers is stuck to her face.

Her yellow dress, her best dress, is dirty and torn and wet with sweat and blood and what she hopes isn’t semen.

The phone rings.
It’s been ringing for hours.
The same song on her father’s old record player spinning and spinning.

Her boyfriend reaches across the bed to her.

“Don’t touch me.”

The phone rings and rings and rings.
The song spins and spins on the record player.

“You’re bleeding.”

“It’s not my blood.”

She looks at the hand he’s extending towards her.
It’s missing.

The phone rings and rings.
The song spins and spins.

“If you want to bleed, like me, just bleed.”

She can see herself, like remembering a dream, in the line at the supermarket.
Wearing her mask and pretty yellow dress, fighting the urge to kill someone.

She places her hand to her chest and realizes there are crude stitches over her right breast.
She looks at her boyfriend again and sees a gaping hole in his chest.

“You have my heart and all the stars, splashed inside of you like my love for you.”

All through the house the phone is ringing and ringing.
The song is spinning and spinning.

She hears a hyena laughing, breathing against the back of her neck.

She removes the mask and screams.
And screams one more time with feeling.

The phone rings no more and she wakes up.
Sweaty and breathing heavy.
Glad it was just a dream.

She runs her hands over her face, leaving streaks of mud and blood and semen and star dust.