Lanterns: Day Three

A moment later, one of those amorphous, lantern-carrying silhouettes loomed closer to the door…

…and knocked.

“Hi! Can you help me? My car broke down.”

After a second, Claude actually burst out laughing: big, booming guffaws as he leaned over, hands on knees. Abby allowed herself a smile of relief and an embarrassed “Oh, for God’s sake.” Even Fleur, the portrait of anxiety, let her shoulders slump. She put the stapler, which Abby hadn’t even seen her grab again, back on the desk.

Abby walked to the door, ready to open it and let these hapless folks in. If they hadn’t knocked, who knew how long they’d have waited for help while Abby and the others played Scooby-Doo?

“Just a second,” she called, grabbed the door latch, and pulled.

Nothing happened.

If this had been an actual Scooby-Doo episode, Abby would have slapped her forehead and smeared her hand down her face. The doors were locked after hours, duh! Looked like they’d have to find someone on staff after all.

“Hey,” Abby called through the door. “We don’t have a key to the door. Just sit tight, okay? We’ll get help as soon as we can.”

She turned away from the entrance to find Parky or Dove or maybe even old Gladys in the cafeteria, but stopped short at the sound of another knock.

This time, a woman called out.

“Hi! Can you help me? My car broke down.”

Abby turned back, and spoke in the time-honored method of addressing the hard-of-hearing: slower and louder.

“We’re going…! To get help…! Just…wait there!”

Before she’d even turned back, the two figures on the left raised their shadowy arms and knocked as one.

They spoke as one, too, but not quite in synch with each other.

“Hhi! Cann youou hellp mmee? Mmy caar brokeoke dowwnn.”

Abby backed away from the door as the two figures on the right repeated the performance, badly overlapping dialogue and all. She bumped into Claude, and he put his hands on her shoulders.

“A prank,” he said. “A damn prank.”

All three figures knocked this time, and their words, when they spoke, lined up perfectly with each other.

“Hi! Can you help me? My car broke down.”

“Us,” Fleur said in the most fragile of whispers. “Why aren’t they saying ‘us’ and ‘our’?”

The figures did it again, with a louder collective knock, and a louder, but still singular, request for help.

“Hi! Can you help me? My car broke down.”

Abby slipped away from Claude’s hands and stormed back to the door. “Listen, assbags, knock it off and shove off back down the hill! We’re getting the security guard, and he’s got a gun! A huge one!”

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! The frosted glass rattled in its frame. HI! CAN YOU HELP ME? MY CAR BROKE DOWN! The shouts had to be tearing up these lunatics’ throats, but they kept on, getting improbably louder with each repetition.

Then, as Abby went back to stand by Claude and Fleur, the crazies outside settled into a round: the first one would knock and shout the line, but the second would knock and speak before the first had finished, followed by the third stepping on the second’s delivery, then the beginning figure would start again, second verse same as the first.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK HI! CAN YOU HELP KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK HI! CAN MY CAR HELP BROKE KNOCK ME KNOCK MY CAR KNOCK HI! CAN YOU BROKE DOWN KNOCK KNOCK HI! CAN YOU KNOCK

“To Hell with this,” Abby and Claude said at the same time, and Abby felt a shudder race through the big man as their own words overlapped. Even Fleur stepped away from them, looking at the two of them as if Abby and Claude had caught some disease from the figures outside.

Abby didn’t know what deranged part of her thought it was cool to joke at a time like this, but she said it, anyway: “Do I owe you a Coke?”

Claude was right there with her. “Ask one of them. I think they owe each other a dozen apiece by now.”

That was enough to break the spell, and Abby felt herself blush. Stupid kids outside, doing some stupid routine they’d rehearsed to freak out the addicts and headcases at the nuthouse.

Everyone was stupid. Everyone.

Twenty-five counts of child endangerment. Twenty-five counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Twenty-five counts of neglect. All for coming to work after over-correcting for a night of partying.

“Come on,” she said to the others. “Let’s stop giving these jackwagons an audience and find Parky.” She grabbed Claude and Fleur’s hands and began the march away from the reception area.

The shouts and knocking cut off as something new banged against the door: something bigger and…moister than a fist.

Abby spun back just as the light that had been pressed against the glass was pulled away, just as the three figures fell silent and withdrew.

She could’ve sworn the shape of that light was familiar.

Like two eyes and a mouth.

***

While they agreed they were being pranked, they also agreed that splitting up would be the height of idiocy. They walked softly down the hallway, side by side in a triangle shape with Abby and Fleur flanking Claude.

“Where’s Gerard?” Fleur asked.

“That guy can sleep through anything,” Claude said. “It was before you came here, but Abby remembers. You know, when they pulled the fir…um, I mean they pulled the alarm. We all evacuated, and someone started looking for Gerard. There he was, sound asleep in his bed, sirens going off all around.”

“We should find him,” Fleur said, nodding in agreement with herself. “We need to stick together.”

“There’s not anything to worry about,” Abby said. “Just some jerks trying to freak us out. We’ll get Parky to crank up his rent-a-cop routine to maximum and run them off.”

Fleur frowned. “There’s just four of us. He shouldn’t be alone.”

Ah, God, Abby thought. You poor, screwed-up kid. We’re not your family. Your real family is —

“Okay, honey,” Claude said. “Gerard’s down the other hall.” He slowed to a stop as they reached a glass-paned door to their right. “We can just cut through the courtyard here. ” A poster hung by the door, accounting each resident’s success in the ‘victory garden.’ Fleur had grown three pumpkins, tied with Claude’s three, followed by Gerard’s one and Abby’s goose-egg.

“But this door’ll be locked, too,” Abby said as Claude gripped the latch.

“Lucky us,” Claude said. “We’re on the side that has the broken lock.” He clicked the latch and swung the door open out into the courtyard.

The motion lights must have been on the emergency circuit, because they flared to actinic life with the pivot of the door.

And when the lights shone upon what stood in the middle of the victory garden, Abby finally let herself scream, long and loud.

*****

Today’s Words: 1163
Total Words: 3600

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Notes: Nothing to say this session. Busy day, tired night. More tomorrow!

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I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

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