Bubblegum and Mud

My porch lights were off. A sure sign that I wasn’t handing out candy. That I wasn’t participating in the candy shop propaganda sponsored by parents who were too cheap to buy treats for their own kids. Though with the prices of costumes these days, they could have skipped the costume and bought the candy themselves.

But apparently, the car in my drive partnered with the dining room light shining through the blinds was enough of a sign to signify that someone was home. The upbeat trill of the doorbell sat at jarring odds with my mood. “I don’t have candy,” I yelled. The doorbell sounded again and my teacup clattered as I slammed it down onto the saucer. It was more whiskey than tea.

By the time I made it to the door, they’d rung the bell twice more. I flipped the deadbolt as it sounded off yet again. “What do you want?” The words began as a snarl and faltered, dying on my lips. “You.”

He didn’t say anything, simply stared at me from beneath his hood. His bony fingers wrapped around a scythe.

“You didn’t ring the bell last time.” Last time when he’d been here it was to… I knew my eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, but he’d already seen me at my worst. Except that hadn’t been the worst. I didn’t even know what the worst looked like any longer because each day found new ways to surprise me. “Are you here for me?”

He cocked his head to his side and I could feel the confusion rolling off of him. His jaw clicked open and shut a few times as if he rejected phrase after phrase. He’d done the same thing when he came to take her away. Halloween had been her favorite holiday.

I pulled the door open wider. “You know where the living room is.” Apparently, it wasn’t enough of an invitation. Everyone knew that vampires required explicit permission to enter, but it seemed a reaper could not enter a home uninvited either. Unless they were here on business.

I didn’t know if I should feel relieved by that or not.

Either way, I slowly extended my hand and once I felt his cold, lifeless hand in my grasp, I invited him in. I settled him in the stiff-backed arm chair, offered him tea (which he declined), then whiskey (another decline), and finally, I left him there to retrieve my own tea cup from the other room. The scythe looked so out of place leaning against the beige wall.

I sat on the loveseat and stared straight at him. “Why are you here?”

He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a billfold—did reapers even need money?—then from it, he extricated a folded up piece of paper. He extended it to me without ever looking in my direction.

The paper hung in the air between us for a long minute. The thudding of my heart slammed into my eardrums as my mind played with every possibility for that paper. I could tell him I didn’t want it. That I’d rather not know what it contained. I could take it, but never read it.

The tea was lukewarm and the whiskey barely burnt through my numbness and I finished off my cup. I knew that whatever secrets lay on the paper, I’d be better prepared to handle with a buzz.

Finally, I reached out with trembling fingers and pulled it from his hands.

It smelled up bubblegum and mud and my eyes immediately began to water. I fought back tears, not wanting to damage the paper.

The paper nearly ripped, her hands were shaking so badly. She closed her eyes and drew in several breaths, willing herself calm, willing away the tears as she had so many times in the past months. When she felt more collected, she opened her eyes.

It was a drawing done in marker. A little girl in a ladybug costume and a woman dressed as a flower. The costumes they should have worn tonight.

“She drew this?”

The reaper’s silence was her only response.

“Why tonight?” Except even as she asked, she knew the answer. It was Halloween. The night that the barrier between the underworld and the real world weakened. If he could come here… “Can you take me to her?”

The weight of his hand fell on her knee. “The living cannot travel to the realms of the dead. She is well cared for, she wants for nothing.”

“She wants for me.”

Silence greeted her. And then she was alone.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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