he kicks through wet leaves. Orange and red, dying and dead. The streets are empty. All the children, their laughter and their shouts, are safely tucked away for another year. Butterscotch wrappers scattered in the gutters are all that remain. She follows the pools of lamplight, jumping in and out of darkness, like she has for most of her life. Nobody rang the bell again this year.
Here, she climbs the wooden fence. Paint flaking, boards leaning like old men trying to catch their breath. She can’t hop it like she used to, barely breaking stride. She gets one leg over and her coat catches on a scab of wood. She gives it a yank, the seam tears and she lands on her ass in the dirt of the field.
Nothing’s been sown here but weeds for the last twenty years and even those aren’t doing so well these days. There’d been some sort of run-off from the factory. Folks just bought their pumpkins from the supermarket nowadays.
She finds him here at the far end of the field. Stretched out on the earth, his ratty blue blanket tucked under his head. His skin glows in the moonlight. So pale, you almost don’t notice the grey in his hair. His face looks so relaxed in sleep without all the tremors or tics.
She plays with the torn seam on her coat. New this year, but now as ruined as anything she owns. Just like him. The neighbourhood kids have their jokes. If his failure weren’t so sincere, she’d laugh too. Coming out here, year after year. He’ll freeze to death if she doesn’t bring him home.
She pulls the edge of the blanket up to cover her brother as best she can. They have a long walk ahead. But for now she’ll let him sleep. The disappointment of tomorrow could wait a while longer.
e likes his showers hot. He likes it to burn. After, he wipes the fog on the mirror with his hand and gets a glimpse. Nothing of the cherubic young boy left.
He has another long day of meetings ahead of him. Sitting, listening vaguely, nodding. Doling out limp orders like a cafeteria slop server. He’d drag himself home after dark. Make a martini, sit on the couch and watch the news. Pet the dog, if it wasn’t off terrorizing someone.
He shaves, the razor stumbling over stubble. Things had been easier when he was younger. Before shaving. Sure, there was the pressure of potential that all children feel, and he felt it more than most. But there was still time to play. Time to be free. And, of course, time enough to entice a nanny into suicide, now and then.
He wraps a towel around his growing middle and opens the door to the bedroom, steam following on his heels. His clothes are laid out neatly on the bed. Ready for work, or a casket. When he was a kid, wearing a suit was special. Like playing at being grown-up. Just like carrying a butcher’s knife and smiling was special when you can’t even reach the counter. He’d been the next Antichrist. Now he was just another middle-aged savage in a sea of murderers.
nce a year, they’d meet for lunch in some charming New England town. The kind of place with booths covered in naugahyde, like tanned skin, and squeaking springs like bones. You’d almost feel they were all trapped in a bell jar of time, except the three of them were looking so old these days. Jay and Mike and Fred.
Things ached. As they should after so much pain. Burns and scars and broken bones. It all mended but none of it looked pretty. At one time, they’d been called unstoppable. Invincible. But you wouldn’t know it. Age wears even the biggest mountains down.
They came like three kings, laden down with gifts. Scrapbooks and old newspaper clippings. Frankincense. It used to be a competition: how many could you bag. In a day, in a season. A premium on teenagers. Now it was just comparing histories. A way for them not to forget, since it seemed everyone else did.
There used to be more of them. The guy who wanted to be a lumberjack. The one with the acupuncture fetish. That little doll would even sometimes show up. It was almost like a convention. Sometimes the owner would bring the good stuff out from behind the counter. It had been a party. But even in paradise, the milk goes off and flies get after the honey.
Fred would take off the fedora, run those long nails over his smooth head like some idle god. He’d prattle on about the old days. Jay and Mike would nod or grunt once in a while. They both still kept their faces covered. Better to fit in.
They’d finish their lunch. Separate bills. None of them tipped. The waitress cleaned the table with a dirty rag and watched them go. Bastards, sure, but harmless.
hey sat there for a while longer, passing the bottle of J&B back and forth while the camp burned around them. Everyone else was dead, even the guys he had liked.
It was a disappointing ending. Not an ending at all, really, because he still had none of the answers. Did they win or lose? Was he himself? Or something else? Was this guy, the camp’s big black mechanic, who he said he was? Was anyone really? When you get down to the brass tacks of the thing, maybe we’re all hiding some thing. Maybe there’s a murderous tentacled alien presence lurking inside all of us.
It hurt his brain to think about the big questions. He failed his way out of first year philosophy and also he was drunk.
They said they’d wait a while and see what happened. It had been a while and nothing had happened. And they were quickly running out of scotch. He wished he could dig his Apple II out of the wreckage and give the chess simulator a spin. Even down here, in the Antarctic, things were like any place else. Sure, aliens attack, your friends die, things get blown up, but in the end all you got’s another cold, hard morning and an empty bottle.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.