Lanterns: Day Nine

The dull trowel sank into the meaty rind of the pumpkin with a squelch, and the light from its eyes and mouth flared, shifting down-spectrum from yellow to orange to red as an ear-splitting screech came from inside its hollowed shape.

“Die!” Abby grunted under her breath, keeping the trowel jammed in place right where she’d thrust it. “Die, die!”

Finally, finally something hadn’t fallen to pieces during this misbegotten night. Finally, something had gone right —

In the dim red light, she could see the jack-o-lantern collapse in on itself. The pressure yanked the trowel from her grip. A second later, the pumpkin expanded out, popping the trowel out into the air. The tool’s wooden handle biffed Abby right in the face.

“Son of a –” she spat, hands batting at her face as she butt-scooted away from Dove’s hose-wrapped body. Her flailing tripped the motion lights again, and she blinked away the spots in her eyes.

Gerard had scooted away twice as far as Abby had, his eyes wide.

Abby looked back at Dove, expecting the worst. But the nurse lay there, still breathing, her eyes fluttering as if waking up from a deep sleep. She seemed all right.

Less could be said of her passenger. The pumpkin was rotting in fast-motion, decaying into brown, filthy goop even as its vines dried up and crumbled into greenish dust that the night breeze scattered far and wide.

“…We did it,” Gerard said, breathing heavily.

Abby bit back on what she wanted to say, that no, she had done it. But she had to admit she couldn’t have done if Gerard hadn’t tied up Dove and given Abby a weapon. She looked back at him and nodded, once.

“Come on, cowboy, let’s get her untied,” Abby said, and the two of them moved in to unwrap the garden hose. But as they got close, Abby heard Dove talking to herself, and wondered if the nurse was all right after all.

“Momma,” Dove gasped. “Momma, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to hit you.”

Abby tried not to listen as she and Gerard unbound Dove. But it was hard not to hear the terrible confession coming from Dove’s quivering mouth.

“Such a hard day…gave you your pain pill but it wasn’t enough…you wouldn’t stop screaming…couldn’t give you another dose for hours…oh, God, Momma, I just wanted to rest but you wouldn’t be quiet…” She lapsed into a foreign language, her tone no less anguished.

“What’s that?” Abby asked as they finished freeing Dove. Abby sat by the nurse and propped her up, stroking her hair by reflex. Where was her smile? What did that thing do to Dove’s smile?

“Vietnamese, I think?” Gerard wondered. “Tranh — that’s a Vietnamese last name, right? Dove Tranh?”

“I think so,” Abby said, and continued to embrace and soothe Dove. The nurse continued to speak in her native tongue for a few more seconds before she shifted back to English, making Abby wish she hadn’t.

“It felt so good to hit you,” Dove moaned, “just to see the shock on your face. God, I want to cut off that hand. I want to cut off my hand!Forgive me, Momma, forgive me, please!” Her voice went raw and guttural at the end as she collapsed into sobs, Abby hugging her tighter.

Gerard stood, looking around the courtyard. “We’ve got to get moving,” he said, then looked down at Abby and Dove. “Leave her or bring her with us?”

Abby glared up at him, pushing away the identical thought she’d just been having. Of course, if Abby had a thought like that, it was simple practicality. If Gerard had it, it’s because Gerard was a buttmunch.

“We’re bringing her,” Abby said. She tried to stand, but Dove struggled, pulling free from Abby’s arms and plopping back down to the ground. Dove looked up at Abby, tears making black stalagmites of mascara on her face.

“Abby,” she said, seeming to recognize her for the first time.

“C’mon, Dove,” Abby said, holding out her hand. “We’ve got to get going.”

Dove shook her head. “No. I should…” She knuckled her eyes and stared at the ground. When she spoke again, Abby had to lean in to hear her. “I deserve to be here more than any of you. I’m a terrible person. I should be in jail.”

Abby leaned closer and touched Dove’ shoulder, but the nurse shrugged her away. “Leave me alone.”

“We’re not going to let those things get you,” Abby pleaded, “not again.”

“Let them. Maybe they’ll kill me this time.” Dove looked up at her again, and Abby felt a bolt strike through her. Dove’s face would never know another smile.

Gerard stepped over and put a hand on Abby’s upper arm. “You heard her.”

Abby yanked herself from Gerard and resisted — barely — the urge to punch him. He shook his head and walked away, pausing by the open door into the facility.

Dove wouldn’t meet her eyes anymore, and Abby wondered if that was a blessing. If she had to look at that crumpled, crestfallen expression again, Abby thought she might start crying herself, never to stop. Then what use would she be to anyone?

“We’ll come back for you,” Abby lied; one of those rare lies of hers that actually made her hurt as she spun it. And with that pain still throbbing in her gut, she went inside with Gerard. Abby closed the door behind them, knowing the next stiff breeze to come along would just swing it open again.

The pumpkins had come at Claude and Fleur from the right, so heading left was the logical choice.

No, she thought, the logical choice is to find the keys to the day-trip van, drive until you reach the ocean, then swim until you find some abandoned island where pumpkins have never grown.

“So what’s the plan?” Gerard asked. “I say we get the van and drive the hell out of –”

Abby rounded on him, bunching the front of his idiotic swirly tie-dyed shirt in her fist.

“You don’t talk,” she spat. “You. Do Not. Speak. To Me.

And with that, she let him go and walked away in search of Claude and Fleur, not caring if he followed.

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Today’s Words: 1052
Total Words: 10060

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Notes: 10K words! I still need to step it up if I’m going for a minimum of 40K by 10/31, but still — things are going nicely!

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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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