CD BONUS TRACK: SAME OLD LANG SYNE
October departed with all the accoutrements. Leaves began their suicidal jumps from every tree, ending their lives without regret. The air developed a constant chill, sapping the warmth from all living things, reminding even the simplest organisms of impending mortality. The sky was devoid of birds across its grey, slablike expanse.
And along every street in every town, monsters roamed in search of candy to devour.
And, for the twentieth year in a row, Andi Brennan-McCall returned to her one, true hometown in Texas for Halloween night.
Passing the City Limits sign always gave her goosebumps, even all this time later. The hell she and the other survivors of that Halloween week went through…interrogations from cops and the FBI, the shunning from the townsfolk, and eventually their departure before Andi had started high school. No one would be surprised if she never went back there again.
Luckily, in the Eighties, forensic science was not at its best. Otherwise, they might have been able to place Andi at the farm where a house burned to the ground, or at the school facility where Cyrus Brodsky was murdered atop a mound of bizarre manifestos, and where Benjamin Vail vanished off the face of the Earth.
They couldn’t even pin the arson of Randall Hart’s house on Edison Montreux, hard as they tried.
Not that the exoneration ultimately did Eddie any good.
Every year, the same landmarks stood, decaying and unimproved. Every year, more storefronts stood vacant and dusty. The practice farm had lain empty ever since Cy’s death, the school begrudgingly reallocating funds meant for the athletics department to relocate the FFA to the other side of town.
No one else had tried to buy the unoccupied land from the school. Superstition ran deep in these parts.
Andi drove into the now-gateless entry and pulled in behind the largest barn, out of sight of drivers-by even if the night hadn’t been pitch black.
She shouldered her purse and stepped out into the cold, dry evening.
“Hey,” she said softly, same as she did every year. “I’m back.”
And for the first time since she started, someone replied.
Andi felt her heart jump as a figure stepped out of the shadows.
“I said, who’s there?” the figure asked again, a woman. “I’ve got pepper spray.”
Andi clicked on the tiny flashlight on her keychain and held it up to her face, hoping it didn’t make her look too scary. “Sorry! I don’t mean to be trespassing. I used to live here, and –”
Andi shone her light at the woman, who shielded her eyes. Slim and blonde, and a few inches taller than her.
“Ow,” said the stranger. “Andi, it’s me! It’s Eury Vail.”
“Oh my God…Eury?” Andi cast her light on the ground and made her way over the gravel and weeds until the two met and hugged.
“I thought that was you,” Eury said. “I’d recognize that hair if it was a hundred years from now.”
Andi self-consciously patted at her untamable explosion of curls. She’d never needed another hairstyle.
“What are you doing here?” both women said at once, then laughed.
“Let’s sit in my truck,” Eury said, and they walked to a pickup parked by a smaller building. Andi’s headlights hadn’t shined on it as she entered.
Eury turned up the heater and passed Andi a little airline bottle of Chardonnay, from which she took a tiny sip.
“Whew,” Andi said, her breath fogging the window in defiance of the heater’s efforts. “Sorry to startle you,” she said.
Eury took the mini-bottle back and had her own small belt from it. “Not a problem,” she said. “Sorry for doing the same.” They sat in silence for a moment, then: “We’re waiting for each other to ask again, aren’t we?” Eury laughed. “I’m here visiting Eddie, and thought I might…I don’t know, swing by this old, awful place. Don’t know why.”
Andi nodded. This town was as good a place as any to stay overnight if you were visiting the prison thirty miles away.
“How’s he doing?”
Eury blew out a breath. “I think he’s finally starting to regret what he did. He’s got about five years left; it took him long enough. I always ask him why he did it, and he always brushes me off with a smart-aleck remark.”
“Same old Eddie.”
“Mmhmm.” Eury passed the bottle back to Andi. Two sips down and two remaining.
Eddie stayed in town and found the ultimate way to piss off both the citizens and the student body: he became Valedictorian. Then, the day after he graduated, he walked into the local Allsup’s with a gun and no mask and robbed the place. He’d been eighteen, and the court gleefully tried him as an adult.
If she thought about it, Andi figured she knew why he’d done it.
“I pass through every few months for work,” Eury said. “Pharmacy sales rep. If I can get past his army of secretaries, I visit Randall, too.” She smiled. “I’d have been visiting you, too, if your folks hadn’t moved without telling anyone. I could never track you down.”
“Sorry,” Andi said. “I didn’t think you’d want to –”
“I might not have,” Eury said. “Not for a few years there, at least. But I’m glad for whatever happened to make us run into each other, finally. It’s good.”
“…So, Randall…how’s he?” Last Andi had heard, ground had broken on the construction of TV pastor Randall Hart’s megachurch, thirty miles the opposite direction from town.
Pincered between prison and church. Seemed appropriate for this town.
“He’s always glad to see me, and he’s always happy to pretend that none of what happened, happened. He’s managed to protest and shut down a few companies that publish role-playing games. He’s really proud of that.” Eury took the bottle back and finished it off. She looked over at Andi, and Andi had never seen eyes so blue. “I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Can you?”
“No,” Andi said. “Because it did.” She heard a crack as Eury broke the seal on another small bottle.
“I shouldn’t” Eury said. “My Dad. Eddie’s mom. But…” and she took another miserly sip. “Here you go,” she said, passing it to Andi.
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Eury asked. She stared out the windshield of the truck, across the empty field of the farm. They’d stopped storing pumpkins here after that night, too.
“I come here every Halloween,” Andi said. “Or have since I turned eighteen and left home.”
“Have you –” Eury started, but her voice broke. She gestured for the bottle, and Andi passed it back. Eury finished it in a small gulp, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“I haven’t seen him,” Andi said. “I’m sorry.”
“Ah, God,” Eury said, and fished in her purse for a tissue. She blotted her eyes. “So stupid. So dumb of me to come here. I don’t know what I expected. All I’ve gotten out of it is sad and semi-drunk.” She sniffed and gave Andi a lopsided smile. “Y’all saved my life,” she began, but her expression soured and she turned away, tissue to her eyes again. “He saved my life, and I never got to tell him thank you. I never got to…tell him sorry for being such a pest when I…I was little.” She cried openly now, and Andi put a hand on Eury’s shoulder.
“I get these little bottles,” Eury said, “but sometimes I want to buy a big one and…just drink and drink until I can see him again.”
“Hey,” Andi said. “Hey.” Eury turned back to her, mascara running, and Andi leaned over and grabbed her in a fierce hug.
She thought of carrying Eury, smaller and lighter, out of a now-incomprehensible hell.
“I want him back,” Eury sobbed. “I want him to come back so bad.” Andi clutched at her, crying as well. “I go through life pretending like I’m this big adult,” Eury said, “but I’m just a little girl. I’ll always be a little girl.”
They separated a moment later, sniffing and blowing their noses and not talking from vague embarrassment. Eury pulled out another bottle but, after Andi declined, put it back in her purse.
Eury finally broke the silence. “So what about you?” she asked, smiling through the last of the tears. “I felt that diamond poke me in the neck.”
“Oh,” Andi said, and reached over to turn her wedding ring round and round her finger: an old habit. “Yeah. We met in college; we’ve been together ever since. He’s an architect. I work in insurance. No kids, and we’re happy with that.”
“And this?” Eury said, waving her hand at the farm.
“I told him when he proposed,” Andi said. “Said it was a deal-breaker. He agreed.”
“Sounds like a good guy.”
Andi looked out at the farm herself. “…I do this every year, and he’s happy to see me when I get back home. Yeah…a good guy.”
“Do you think you might not go back home some year?”
Andi laughed, short and soft. “Hasn’t happened yet.”
“If you…” Eury said, and Andi could hear the smallest crack, “if something happens, some year, to make you not go home…you’d tell me, right? You wouldn’t vanish, too?”
“Oh, honey,” Andi said, and took Eury’s hands in hers. “Of course. Of course I’d tell you.”
Eury nodded, a fresh, miniscule tear in the corner of her eye. She wiped it away, then fished in her purse for a business card. “Call me,” she said. “Write me, send me an email if you’re on America Online or something.”
“You’re not leaving, are you?”
“I have to. I’m sorry. I’ve gotta be in Lubbock tomorrow for a convention. Have to get back to the motel and try to pretend to sleep.”
They hugged again. “…He’s out there, somewhere,” Andi said, face buried in Eury’s blonde waves. “Fighting for us.”
“I know.” They moved apart, and Eury said, “Even if you don’t see him…please tell him I love him.”
Andi got out and waved as Eury drove away, back to the world of grown-ups. She felt a bit like a little girl herself when Eury had gone, standing there in the dark in the witching hour, in a place charged with weirdness and the darkest of histories.
She found her way back to her car, her little flashlight cutting out every time it could have warned her of a rock or tangle of weeds in the path. Once there, she sat on the hood for a few minutes, gazing up at the moon.
Almost time to go. Miles before she slept, and all that.
She’d been drawn to her future husband when she saw him posting a notice for a Dungeons and Dragons group on the dorm bulletin board. He was nice, and sweet, and nerdy, even though he never made up his own adventures. He was happy to buy pre-made modules and play within the realms of other peoples’ imaginations.
She’d never told him about Voidville, about any of it. Maybe it was better that way.
At last, Andi heaved herself off the hood and walked the few yards to where she’d last seen Benjamin.
If he came back, would he be old? Would he still be a teenager? Time had to flow differently in that other land…infinite, like the first day of summer vacation. Endless, like the night before Christmas Day.
Not divvied up into delineated boxes, like time became once you were an adult.
“I have to go,” she said to the empty air. “But I’ll see you next year…or the next time you blink your eyes. Whichever.” She turned to go, but spun back on her heel.
“…I try,” she said, her voice strained. “I try so hard to imagine, to wish like you said. But it gets tougher every year. Remembering your face gets tougher, or remembering what it felt like to play the game.
“This world is eating me, I think. Or maybe it already has. Is that it? Am I inside the Leviathan, and just don’t know it?”
The wind blew, making noise that in no way resembled words.
Andi walked back to her car. For just a second, it seemed as though the path ahead of her was a bit more illuminated, as if a light had come on behind her.
She thought of her husband, loving and affectionate and waiting patiently for her return. She thought of her job, and her friends, and her responsibilities.
She didn’t turn back, and didn’t feel bad about it.
Out of the cold, she sat with the key in the ignition for a good thirty seconds before she turned it. She switched on the headlights, and Dan Fogelberg came on the radio.
Andi put the car in Drive and, for the twentieth year in a row, made her decision.
Today’s Words: 2170
Total Words: 46947
Notes: And that’s all, a day late! Thanks for reading. I’m going to continue to log my writing progress on this blog, and will do another live-blogged novel next October (might as well make it a tradition now). See you then!