Lanterns: Day Seventeen

Despite wishing for a distraction, Abby thought hard about what Fleur had said — and about those kids in her class — as they passed a few outlying houses on the short drive to get to the heart of Caliche. At last, Abby dug into her pocket as they drove along, and fished out Dove’s cell. “Fleur,” she said, and tossed the phone into the back. The girl bobbled it and it landed on the suitcase. She looked at it for a second, eyes wide, before snatching up the phone.

“Dove will have everyone from Brightest Lantern on speed-dial. I need you to go through and call all of them, until you get someone who can join up and help us.” Not even looking back, Abby held up a hand to stop the protest she knew was coming. “I’m sure you hate talking on the phone, but these are people you know. I need you to step up and help us out, okay?” And with that, she looked back and smiled. “Kick some butt for me.”

Fleur smiled back, doe-eyed, and Abby turned to look out her side window as the girl began tapping and swiping on the phone’s touchscreen. They went by a farmhouse with signs out front advertising “Pumpkin Spice” everything…coffee, herbal tea, rock candy, hand-cranked ice cream, sachets, and more.

Gerard snorted from the back. “More like pumpkin spite tonight,” he said, and Claude laughed.

“Hello? Hello?” Fleur said, then: “No answer. Um, I mean, that was Liza.”

The somewhat crabby afternoon nurse. “No problem,” Abby said. “And don’t let it worry you if they don’t answer. It doesn’t mean the worst, not necessarily. They might just be hiding.”

Hark at Miss Optimism, Abby thought cruelly at herself. Where’s that coming from?

She looked out the window again in the absence of any answer.

Another house had a stray cat in its yard. The animal watched them as they cruised by, headlights briefly making its eyes glow.

“Animals are okay,” Claude observed. “I was wondering about that.”

“Pumpkins taking over dogs and cats?” Gerard scoffed.

“No,” Claude said. “Pumpkins taking over people and having them kill dogs and cats.”

Gerard didn’t have a comeback for that.

“Oh,” said Fleur, “I got voicemail. What should I do?”

“Who is it?” Abby asked.

“It’s, um, the — the phone just says ‘Dietician’ and I can’t remember her name. The new lady. Sorry.”

“Just hang up and go to the next one,” Abby said.

Claude drummed his fingers on the steering wheel: something quick and up-tempo. No one spoke, and Abby wondered if they were having the same thoughts as her, about what they’d find once the van crossed over the railroad tracks and entered town.

One last house, and Abby remembered the family that lived there — they’d been one of the ones that roundly condemned Abby at that final school board meeting. There had been plenty of angry parents, especially after the judge had waived all criminal charges in exchange for Abby’s year-long involuntary committal at Brightest Lantern. But when it came to deciding if she’d be allowed to keep her teaching job, though, the nays had it.

She could still picture the woman whose house they’d just passed shouting into the microphone at the mini-lectern where the public addressed the board, commenting on the poor quality of lessons her child had received from Abby.

“My baby girl got tooken for a fool!” she’d hollered.

Abby stared straight ahead, watching the upright safety rails at the train crossing got closer and closer.

Wonder if you and your kid got ‘tooken’ by a jack-o-lantern, Abby thought.

“Hello? Hello, is — oh, hello! Dr. Godfrey, this is Fleur LaPointe from Brightest Lantern, we — hello? Hello?” She looked up from the phone like she’d dropped the touchdown pass. “He hung up, or we got disconnected, maybe. I’ll try again.” She poked at the phone. “…Hello? Oh. Voicemail. But it’s Doctor Godfrey; should I leave a message this time?”

“Go ahead and stop for now,” Abby said. “We’re almost there.” She spared a thought for the man who founded and ran Brightest Lantern. Overworked, underfunded, barely enough patients to pay the utilities, and a facility on the verge of shutdown every quarter if the nurses’ gossip was to be believed.

And now all this insanity tonight. Dr. Godfrey’s bad luck was at an all-time nadir.

They crossed over the tracks with a triple-thump, and passed into Caliche.

“Wrong side of the tracks,” Gerard said. Abby could hear some high-strung nerves mixed in with his usual smugness.

“And that ain’t no sh–,” Claude started to say, just as the glow appeared through the windshield. Abby might have been excused for thinking the town was on fire, but she knew what it was. She’d been anticipating it even as she hoped against it:

Jack-o-lanterns. Thousands of orange-radiant jack-o-lanterns, each with a citizen to call their own. They lined the streets, making arms wave and slack faces distort into cheery grins as the van rolled by.

And as the van passed, the manipulated townsfolk stepped from both curbs, forming a wall of bodies that slowly walked behind the vehicle.

“It’s not too late,” Abby said, and cursed herself for the anxiety that had entered into her voice as with Gerard’s. “Put it in Reverse. Floor it.”

“…But there are some kids back there I go to school with,” Fleur said, once again showing everyone what a nervous voice should sound like. “And, um, some old ladies, too. Sorry.”

“Ah, God. Ah, Jesus,” Claude moaned, his knuckles tight as he gripped the wheel. “Jesus, watch after these poor souls,” and Abby wasn’t sure if he meant the ones inside or outside the van.

“…It’s a parade,” Gerard said, voice pitched up and halfway laughing. “Look at me, Ma, I’m the Grand Marshal in a parade.”

“Is that your dying wish?” Abby snapped, trying to ground him. She needed all hands to have their act together, because anything else…

…well, hell, if they were going to be overrun and killed, she wanted her group to take as many of these sonsabitches out as possible.

Gerard shook his head. “Wait…you believe me? About dying?”

“Of course not, moron,” Abby fired back. “You sounded like you were about to flip your damn lid, is all.”

“Wait,” asked Fleur, “who’s dying?”

“Nobody,” Abby said. “Nobody’s…” She almost turned back to look at Fleur, but couldn’t. “Nobody’s going to die,” she concluded, her voice a lot less convincing than she’d planned it to be.

But as the ‘parade route’ led them through town to City Hall, and the numbers of pumpkin-people lining the streets didn’t abate, and the wall of marching bodies behind them grew so large that even backing the van up wouldn’t accomplish anything, Abby let the steaming lump of truth in her guts sit there and fester.

The only reason the pumpkins would want to stop fighting…is because they’d already won.

*****

Today’s Words: 1165
Total Words: 19468

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Notes: Now two days behind! Catching up isn’t impossible, though. Onward!

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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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