Gladys’s passenger made her lunge forward, pawing at Abby and forcing her back onto the table. Abby threw knees and elbows but the cafeteria lady had a hundred more pounds on her side, and Abby found herself pinned to the table, Gladys’s slack-jawed face and the pumpkin’s smirk moving in close to stare at her.
“Sixty-six years old, and slopping mashed potatoes onto plastic trays is the best you could do,” whispered the jack-o-lantern.
And on top of that, a louder noise, getting closer: thud thud Thud THUD thud thud.
Abby twisted her face away from the sick warmth radiating from the jack-o-lantern’s eyes and mouth, but wished she hadn’t. From her new angle, she could see back into the darkness of the cafeteria, and laid eyes on what was making the noise.
Four jack-o-lanterns, sans people, were crawling their way along the tables towards her. They lashed out their vines like tentacles, snagging purchase and pulling their central gourds along, thud THUD thud Thud.
All of them had their glowing, cracked-rind eyes fixed on Abby as they slithered and tumbled along.
Abby grunted in panic and yanked an arm free from Gladys’s numb grip. With a short, sharp inhale, Abby punched at the looming pumpkin as hard as she could. But quicker than Abby’s eyes could track, the pumpkin swung around to perch over Gladys’s other shoulder, and Abby wound up punching Gladys square in the nose.
The jack-o-lantern took time out from its hissing abuse of Gladys to whisper a little peal of laughter as a sluggish trickle of blood dripped from Gladys’s nose onto Abby’s face. Abby gritted her teeth and tried to twist away, but the pumpkin redoubled its efforts to trap her flat on the table.
All the while, its fellows got closer. Abby could hear the lashing and stretching of tendrils getting louder.
You couldn’t have left them out in the courtyard, Abby thought. You just had to bring them inside to start making pies.
Abby groaned as she twisted her pelvis just enough to be able to knee Gladys in the side, bam-bam-bam. The coarse vines wrapping around Gladys’s midsection soaked up most of the blows.
“Okay,” Abby spat. “All right, damn it.” She strained as hard as she could and got her other arm free from under Gladys. A second’s pause, and she faked a left jab at the pumpkin. When it shifted back to its original shoulder, Abby had already swung with her right.
Swung, and connected. The jack-o-lantern rocked back, momentum yanking Gladys off of Abby as it went.
And Abby leapt from the table and ran for the double doors like a cat who’d heard the can opener start up.
She didn’t look back as she flung open the doors and turned left towards Gerard’s room. Only when she rounded the corner did she see, peripherally, the Gladys-thing and two pumpkins chasing her, while the other two pumpkins split off and headed the other direction.
“Clyde! Fleur! Look out!” she shouted as she ran, hoping they could hear her. Then she kicked it into next gear, running like she hadn’t since high school track team.
Five more doors until Gerard, and Abby hoped her earlier uncharitable thought about him hadn’t come true.
Four more, three more, while behind her came THUD-thud, thud-thud-Thud, unceasing.
Two more, and Abby wondered if Brightest Lantern had ever housed the sixty residents it was designed to hold. All the time she’d been here, there’d never been more than six or seven, at its lowest with the four current.
It amounted to an awful lot of real estate to cover when you were running for your damn life.
One more, and —
— the door swung open, and Gerard peered out at her. “Dude…what’s all the noise? Some of us are trying to slee–”
“Get inside, get inside!” Abby shouted. She practically tackled Gerard as she ran into his room, bodily propelling him ahead of her as he squawked in protest. She slammed the door, then cursed: no locks on the resident doors here at Brightest Lantern. Abby grabbed a chair, wedged it under the doorknob, and held her breath as bangs and bumps sounded against the door from outside.
After a few long seconds, the bumping subsided to the occasional half-hearted thump against the door, and Abby let out her breath. She turned to look at Gerard, who stood there in his tie-dyed shirt, scratching at his poor attempt at a beard.
“Dude,” he said again. “The hell?”
“Quiet,” Abby said. She stepped to his window that faced the courtyard and tried to peek through a gap in the curtains, but the glare from the emergency lights in Gerard’s room defeated her efforts. She couldn’t see across the way to tell if Claude and Fleur had heard her, or if they’d spotted the mobile pumpkins in time to get away.
If they had, that meant Parky was most likely loose in the building proper, too.
“Abby, seriously,” Gerard said.
“I said be quiet,” she snapped, and didn’t care that he crossed his arms and fell into a sulk, because a little calculator in her head had just started running sums.
Seven pumpkins in the victory garden: three for Claude, three for Fleur, one for Mister Pouty-Pants. One got Parky, one got Gladys, and four hadn’t found victims. Yet.
So where was the seventh?
And where was the only other person unaccounted for: Dove, the night nurse?
Abby rubbed her eyes and sat, almost stumbling, on the edge of Gerard’s bed. She tried to take deep breaths, tried to calm herself, but doing that felt too much like group therapy.
Right now, with her little microcosm at Brightest Lantern going cuckoo-bird crazy, she wanted the exact opposite of something therapeutic.
“Hey,” she said, then”Hey!” louder when Gerard pretended he didn’t hear the first time. He turned to her, scowling.
Abby looked him dead in the eye, matching him anger for anger. “…Where’s your stash?”
Today’s Words: 1000
Total Words: 5835
Notes: At first, I had Abby running like “a scalded-ass ape,” but I thought that might have been way too Texan an expression!