Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid-- 01, November

01, November- Day of the Dead

The boy stepped in line with the procession. A trail of spirits wound through miles of town streets. They were going somewhere, he knew, moving on. He was following some ancient instinct, one that went beyond survival.

His father had gone on ahead. He had been unable to resist the urge and formed up with other spirits before William could even reach the queue. He couldn't see his father now, but he didn't worry. All he could think about was taking step after step as they moved toward their inevitable destination. A drowsiness came over him, and he knew that he and the world were drifting away from one another.

After what felt like hours of walking, he found that he was coming to the head of the procession. Up ahead was a strange sound, stone on metal, followed by a swoosh. Slow, long grinding noises, then always that whoosh. Every time the whoosh sounded, the procession moved forward.

After the pattern repeated a dozen or so times, William could see their destination: A figure, hooded, with a skeletal face. Its body was cloaked in black. It held a long scythe. Even in his drowsy stupor, William knew who this figure was.

They were next to the river, and there waiting with a small raft was Charon, the ferryman.

Death was sharpening his scythe with a grindstone. As each spirit stepped up, the grim reaper made a mighty slash with his scythe across its midsection. Then the spirit would crumble like a shed snake skin. After that, Death would take the deflated spirit in his bony hand and toss it onto a growing pile aboard Charon's ferry.
William was horrified, but his feet wouldn't stop, and the procession moved ever on.

Someone outside of the line drew up next to William. “How do ye like me deal now?”
“Jack,” William said sleepily. “You killed my dad, Jack.”
“I held up my end o' the bargain,” Stingy Jack reminded him. “But I'll leave it up to ye if ye want to hold up yours. Take a walk with me, or join ye brain-dead friends here. No hard feelings.”

Another of the spirits went down under Death's scythe and was deposited on the ferry.

“It's so scary, Jack.”
“It's not your only option.”

The grinding of the stone. Another ghost slashed across the chest. Charon's raft bobbed under the weight of its cargo.
William took Jack's hand and left his place in line.

Across town, the scarecrow was paying a visit to an old acquaintance. The magic of the sabbath was leaving his body. This was already the longest he had managed to stay conscious beyond the hours of Halloween. His left leg had reverted to straw and old rotting pants. The straw was stiff enough to support him, but he had to drag the leg behind.

When he came to the witch's abode, he found her packing things up.

“Going somewhere?” he asked.
“Oh, scarecrow. You're still around, are you? It's time for me to head out of town. There's riper pickings to be had.”
“Ripe indeed,” said the scarecrow. “Ripe like a deal you made with Old Scratch.”
“So, the boy really was your friend, then, was he?”

“Still is,” the scarecrow said. “Your deal was never delivered on. I've come to make sure it never will be.”
“How's that now?” the old woman was growing visibly nervous. The scarecrow liked it.

“As I understand it, Scratch gave you two options. Since one is no longer available, I wanted to see to it you make good on the other.”
“Now, just--”

The scarecrow slipped the sickle behind her neck, touching the apex of the curve to her spine. Before she could raise the strength to fight, the scarecrow placed his right hand, still missing a portion of the little finger, against her face, then yanked the curved blade toward himself. Past the bone, there was very little resistance. Her head hit the ground heavily. Her wide eyes stared up at the scarecrow, blinking rapidly.

“Well done, young friend,” said Old Scratch. He held a palm gingerly to the back of his still-healing cranium. He had been waiting in the shade of the old pine tree William had cowered under so many nights ago.
“Just fulfilling a duty,” the scarecrow told him. “You're no friend of mine. I'll be seeing my real friend next Halloween.”

He tossed the sickle into the brush, then dragged his softening leg down the street. Straw was beginning to fall out of his torso now, slipping out between the buttons of his shirt, falling out in clumps from his sleeves. One glove dropped to the ground, then the other. At last, he was a pile of clothing in the dirt. A cold November wind stirred and carried some of the loose straw into the sky.

Shaking his head at the scarecrow's sentimentality, Old Scratch strode to the Witch's body. He picked her head up by the hair and held it before his face. She blinked her eyes at him fearfully. Her mouth gaped. Without lungs, she had no ability to scream.

Scratch grinned at her. “Welcome ta Hell!”

And that's Halloween 2011. I hope those of you who survived had a great time! Comments are welcome. Of course, horror never dies, so there's more content coming up soon!

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