Authors: Nate Gubin
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
A cheer went up from the crowd.
Rusty leaned into Hugh and whispered, "You may kiss the bride."
Hugh’s and Lily's lips met in between the iron bars of the gate and in that moment, magic happened. Hugh went from ashen gray to a flourish of flesh tones. His bones healed, his neck went back together and his lungs filled with air.
If the crowd wasn't applauding so loudly they could have heard his heart pounding away.
Ana stood and watched with a smile. "I knew it."
The kiss was interrupted by the gate trembling and creaking. The gatekeeper sang both parts of the finale duet from
The Marriage of Figaro
as the gate slowly ratcheted open.
Patrick hastily swaddled a piece of white fabric across a corner of the gate's coat of arms.
With the gate fully opened, Hugh walked out of death and into Lily's arms. They watched as the gate closed. Patrick had covered the words
with the fabric. Hastily scratched on the white cloth was the word that changed everything.
The crest now read,
L'amour Règne Suprême.
Roughly translated: Love Reigns Supreme.
Hand in hand, Hugh and Lily walked into life. Hugh stopped and looked back at the friends that would remain in the Kingdom. Their eyes were smiling as they pressed up against the bars of the gate, waving good-bye. He waved and said with a smile, "I won't forget you."
A dream had come true. Still hand in hand, they walked through the fog and out of the deep, dark corner of the cemetery. They stopped at Hugh's gravestone and watched as his name slowly dissolved from the polished granite.
Up ahead, Morton paced near Ana's stone. They walked over to him, and he was startled at first. Who was this young couple in the graveyard, hand in hand and in love? He felt like he knew the guy from somewhere but he couldn't place it.
He took a drink from his bottle. "Hey, do I know you from someplace?"
"Yeah," Hugh said, nodding. He pointed at Ana's stone and put his hand on Morton's shoulder. "You know, Morton, she just wants you to be happy." He patted him on the back and then strolled out of the graveyard with Lily.
Morton looked at Ana's stone and then at the bottle of schnapps. "This isn't making me happy." He tossed the bottle in the bushes and crossed his arms. "I ... um." He looked toward where he threw the bottle and scurried over to retrieve it. He unscrewed the cap and dumped out the booze. "I should recycle this." He screwed the cap back on and realized he had just poured half a liter of cheap alcohol on Lou Fuller's grave. "Gosh, Lou, I'm sorry, no disrespect."
He nodded with a smile toward Ana's stone and straightened up to his full eighty inches. "I'll ... I'll try."
He quietly walked out of the cemetery, shutting the gate behind him.
Snowblower, Maybe a Shed
It was dusk on the eve of Halloween and Professor Tweed opened the gate to the cemetery. "A portal from the Land of the Living to the ..." On cue, he caught himself and then stared coldly into the dark graveyard. "They say it's bad luck to name it." The tour group was double the normal size and Tweed kept flubbing his lines. He was too preoccupied estimating the evening's take.
He had made enough last season to get his riding mower but now he had his sights set on a snowblower and maybe a shed for his growing fleet of power equipment. The snowblower was in the bag. Depending on the tips from this group and the size of the shed he would need, his mind kept wandering to whether he could afford to have electricity run out to it. He shook his head clear and thought, I'll just run an extension cord out to the shed, and I can get power trenched in down the road.
"Follow me into the beyond, if you dare ..." The group huddled behind him into the night.
Down the road past Frederick, which seemed a little shabby—maybe it was the pack of mangy cattle dogs that patrolled its perimeter—you turned left. After about two miles you crossed Victoria Place and continued on for a while, finally taking a right on Columbus Avenue. Halfway down the block was a cozy house with a small backyard. Three jack-o-lanterns glowed on the front steps. Two of them were large with big smiles carved into their orange shells, and the third was about as small as a jack-o-lantern could be.
Inside the house, Hugh was flitting about, taping up decorations and lighting candles. "They'll be here any minute. Did you leave the north door open? They like to enter through the north door ... or is it the west door?" Hugh twisted from side to side, trying to figure out which way was which. "Do we have a compass? Maybe I should just open all the doors."
"I don't want the baby getting cold." Lily cradled their three-month-old daughter, Anastasia, in her arms.
"Well, maybe she should put on a baby sweater or something." He stopped and gave his daughter a kiss on the forehead, then gave Lily a squeeze. "I'll just crack the doors open, or maybe just leave them unlocked, that's probably good enough. Hey, Morton?"
Morton was cleaned up, wearing a captain's hat, a white sport coat and boating shoes. This wasn't his Halloween costume. After he sobered up he had so much extra energy he got back into sailing. He couldn't quite afford a boat of his own, so he became an active member of the community sailing cooperative.
"Yeah, what is it?" Morton was busy entertaining Lily's mom, Patricia, with a story about how he capsized with a group of kids he was teaching from the Boys and Girls Club. It was plain to see that Morton and Patricia had become more than friends, from the way he was compelled to bend over backwards and contort himself just to make her laugh and the way her laugh made him smile.
Somehow Morton made peace with losing Ana. He didn't forget her, far from it. Somehow through it all he held her closer and closer. He ended up holding her so tight she became a permanent part of him so he never again had to worry about letting her go.
"Do you know which way north is?" Hugh asked as he poured candy corn into a skull-shaped bowl.
"I think it's that way." Morton pointed to the back of the house.
"Can you do me a favor and crack the back door open, just a little bit? It's a welcoming thing."
The doorbell rang and Hugh walked across the room to answer it. "Hey Morton, never mind, I guess they're just coming in the front door."
He opened the door to a chorus of "Trick or Treat!" A motley bunch of real ghosts on leave from the Kingdom were on his doorstep. Hugh smiled. "The treat is all mine." He made a grand gesture, sweeping them into his house.
Patrick instantly went for the baby. "My goodness, she has Hugh's eyes." Lily was a little taken aback at first. Who was this dusty ghost trying to hold her newborn? "But she has your smile, it's a beautiful smile," Patrick said to Lily. That was enough of a give, and soon the baby was smiling in Patrick's arms.
The gatekeeper made a beeline for the piano and started singing ragtime. It was a little over the top, but he was enjoying himself.
Rusty and the rest of the council ministers had traded in their dusty robes for cowboy hats, vests and chaps. Rusty loved the new style but readily admitted that it was a little too Village People-ish. They parked themselves on Hugh and Lily's sectional sofa from Pottery Barn. "Yep," Rusty said, "maybe we should keep the hats but wear really long dusters. Or even black leather dusters, kinda go for that saddle tramp style."
"Like Neo," Jerry chirped. After switching his loyalty to Rusty, Jerry had gone hog wild with the Western motif. His hat was a little small and his jeans were a little tight in the seat, but he was eager to show off his new style. He spit his tobacco juice onto the floor but then popped up. "Harnessing horn jerky. Where are my manners?" He bent over and wiped it up with his handkerchief.
Crain wouldn't be partaking in the Halloween festivities. After his fall from grace, he knocked around the Kingdom for a while but then ended up filling a vacancy at the Ministry of Life Accountancy. It was a horrible job in a dusty little corner but there was an opportunity to move up quickly through the ranks. It turned out the boss's daughter had a thing for dancers.
Hugh and Lily's house was packed with ghosts singing and laughing, but Ana was nowhere in sight. From across the room, Hugh looked to Morton, shrugged and said, "I guess she didn't come."
With his head bowed, Morton excused himself from Patricia's side and walked out the back door of the house.
He looked up at the moon in the sky, and he held an armful of flowers. "I've started seeing someone else. She's real nice, you'd like her." He smiled. "I brought you some flowers, your favorites." He laid the bouquet of white tulips on the picnic table. "Sure do miss you." Touching the soft white petals, he whispered, "Thanks, Ana." He slowly turned and went back inside.
Hidden in the moon shadow of an oak tree, Ana waited until Morton was back inside. She quietly gathered the flowers in her arms, smelled them with a smile and walked back into the night with them.
The party was in full swing and Hugh was singing a duet with the gatekeeper when an all-consuming dark shadow descended on the house. In the front yard the full drape of pegasus wings blotted out the stars, and the steel hooves landed with a sick thud on the soggy grass. The hooded reaper dismounted, gloved hand resting on his sickle. He moved to the front door.
Inside, the doorbell rang and Hugh answered it with a smile that quickly snapped to dread. The reaper entered and Lily snatched her baby from Patrick, holding her tight. Hugh backed up, filling the space between the reaper and his family. His chest puffed up. He would fight. Morton got his back, tucking his gold yachting necklace into his shirt so it wouldn't get snatched.
"What?" Leroy brushed his hood back. "I thought there were no hard feelings ... I brought a hot dish." From under his leather robe he revealed a green bean casserole in a microwave-safe container. "It's got those crunchy onion rings on top."
Hugh exhaled in relief and shook Leroy's hand, saying, "Happy Halloween."
The party started up again but Lily wasn't about to let Leroy hold her baby. He could play little piggy with her toes, which he did, but the baby would be staying in her arms for the rest of the night.
Out front, Grisly grazed on Hugh's bushes. A neighbor's greyhound got loose and barked at her, nipping at her hocks. She swung her head back and roared hot breath at the dog through her weaponized mouth. The dog rolled over and whimpered, its tail tucked between its legs. She thought about eating the dog, but she had a soft spot for greyhounds.
Grisly's roar echoed through the town, and one block away, the kid who was now a couple of sizes too big for his Boba Fett costume was grabbed by his mom and squeezed tight, causing his KYD-21 blaster pistol to fall out of its holster.
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