After Dusk Falls – story

After Dusk Falls

In the distance the trees looked like fading matches, their colors almost glowing in the dying light, and watching it, from a hundred doorways, were five hundred eyes. The children danced from foot to foot, anxiously awaiting the word from their parents that it was time for the night to begin and every minute they waited felt like a week. Wait the children did though as the adults held them back, their eyes on the horizon as the sun slipped away for another day. As soon as the sun was gone the adults looked to a small woman sitting in a wicker chair and with a nod to herself she lit the Jack-o-Lantern and the children were released into the street with a cheer.

As soon as the children were freed they pulled their masks down, grabbed their candy bags, and sought out their friends so they could start out for the houses. With the children gone most parents went about the work of gathering goodies warm and cold, some even finding costumes of their own to put on. There were some adults though who had other responsibilities on this night, and these people moved away in the darkness, their forms twisted in the dim light from the lit pumpkins, and went to the  watch towers to keep an eye on things outside. Inside though, inside it was Halloween, the first Halloween in fact since the world had changed, and that was all that mattered to the children, and that made the adults smile.

A nervous mother with ragged nails approached the woman in the wicker chair and spoke –
“Is this right? Should we do this?”

The woman, whose name no one had ever asked so they all just called her Missus, smiled and patted the mother on the hand.

“Yes, it is right. It has been a long time since these children have known any joy, and even longer since any of us have. We are safe here. When my husband, god rest him, and me found this place and started broadcasting it was a dream, a blind hope that people would find us but you did, you all did. We found each other. Now, this place, this life, this is not forever, this is only until we are ready to return to the world again but for now this is what we have, and it is time we learned how to live again. I know I won’t live long enough to see the world like it used to be but those children may and we gotta teach them about what was and not just about what is. Ya understand?”

The woman looked off into the darkness, to the sound of distant laughter that echoed off the cinder block walls of the former prison compound and forced a smile. The older woman nodded, patted her hand again, and then shooed her away, knowing she was anxious to see how her boy was. With the mother gone Missus looked off into the dark and saw shapes moving quickly from shack to shack, home to home, bodies twisted in the light of the Jack-o-Lanterns. They would be at it an hour, maybe a little more, gathering together as she and her friends had to discuss the night’s haul and how things had gone. Some may tell of seeing things hiding in the shadows while one or two may tell of a trick they played. Eventually they would all make their way to the mess hall where it was warm and cocoa was waiting for them. And each child would be counted and re-counted as the parents made sure everyone was accounted for and everyone was safe. It was small, but it was a start, and bit by bit they would start taking the old world back, at least that which was worth reclaiming. Her stomach soured at the thought of the war that had preceded the fall but she pushed the thought away and smiled as she heard “Trick or Treat!” in the distance. Tonight was the beginning, and then came November and Thanksgiving, and beyond that was a hope chest that was full to the brim. Out in the night though, further off than the cries of children, was another sound, and this sound chilled her and moved her from her warm thoughts and out of her chair. In the distance came the sound of a rifle firing.

Miller was frozen in place as heat rose in waves from the barrel of his rifle. Younce, a corporate head in another life, came up to his watch mate and clapped him on the back. ””’

“Nice shot. Took her right down. Christ that was close. I dunno who the hell left the back gate open but I am gonna radio it in and someone’s ass is toast. Right? Shit.”

Miller didn’t answer his companion, standing completely still as more of the dead made their way slowly towards the gate. The back gate was the weak link in the defense of the prison compound that had become a new home for so many families in this new world and while it was only one gate of several something would  have to get past, it was a mistake like this – someone leaving a gate open after coming back from a reconnaissance mission – that could get them all killed. Younce clapped Miller on the back again before walking over to secure the gate and its latch for a second time, correcting a mistake that he had made that afternoon when he’d snuck outside the compound to check on the marijuana he had growing nearby. This was close, too close, but pot was a valuable commodity since the war and the rise of the living dead and a man had to make a living. When he turned back around Miller was already heading back to town, their shift over and the people in the towers back on guard. Younce called to him but Miller heard nothing, only the echo of the report from the rifle and the dull sound that  had come from the girl’s head as it had split her face into two. It was the face though, the face of that poor, dead girl, that would haunt him until his own death.

Her name had been Angela and in the old world she had been a Kindergarten teacher; since the change though she had been a sort of one person welcome wagon to the compound. Miller and his wife were newlyweds when they had come here and Angela had been the first to know when he and his wife caught pregnant. If there was one person he came to love in that place that would never be home beside Missus it was Angela. She had disappeared one night after supper, heading off into the mountains with a man she had fallen in love with, the two of them anxious to be out on their own. Miller had seen her off and had locked the gate after they had left, cutting into the darkness and around the dead as they gathered outside. That was a month ago. And now he knew what had become of her.
Now he knew.

Halloween was winding down in town as the werewolves, vampires, fairies and spacemen made their ways slowly to the harvest party and expectant parents. Another night safe, another night where everyone was safe. He frowned then, as he caught sight of his wife, their daughter held close in her arms, a frown he had to quickly erase as he drew near. No, not all of them were safe that night, but no one need know that.
No one ever needed to know.

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