October 31st, for most people, is a night of frightful festivities. Houses are decorated, Jack-o-lanterns are lit, costume parties are in full swing. Witches, bumble bees, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roam the streets, pillaging doorstep after candlelit doorstep for sugary plunder.
For Jason Howard, this October 31st was a night when the festivities ended unceremoniously, and the frights had only just begun.
Preparations started early. Hours spent in front of a mirror gradually produced a likeness he considered an ultimate triumph. Long brown hair, a beard and mustache, and colored-contact lenses slowly transformed his blond, blue-eyed countenance into one he was sure no one could mistake. He donned a robe, nestled a crown of thorns into place, and carefully added latex wounds where the thorns contacted his forehead. A little make-up to match his skin color, a few trickling drops of of vampire blood… he couldn’t help but look up to admire himself over and over again as he added gaping latex wounds to the palms of his hands.
“Jesus Christ!” Carmen had joked when he picked her up for the party. “You really look like Him!”
“You look like we should just skip the party!” he laughed. Carmine wore a black cat costume that left very little to his imagination.
“And waste all your hard work?” She inspected his bleeding wounds up close. “God, those really look real!” she shuddered.
Jason and Carmen arrived on time to a costume party at the lobby of the Lakeshore Hotel. Everything went well enough for a while. Water into wine jokes, pleas for forgiveness whenever profanity was uttered in his proximity, Jason was really the life of the party at first, but it wasn’t long before things began to head toward Calvary Hill. It began with a whispered comment as he hit the open bar for their first round of drinks. He wasn’t even sure he’d heard it.
He looked around. The only other guest close enough to have said it was a short, fat runt of a man at the other end of the bar, curiously garbed in an angel costume. Jason stared intently at him. After a moment, the rotund cherub brooding under his halo whirled to face him.
“You mock our Lord!” the man whispered again loudly.
“Shouldn’t you be singing songs about me or something?” Jason took a sip of his cocktail while he waited for Carmen’s.
You’ll burn in Hell!” accused the angel, pointing a finger. “Have you no shame?”
“Okay, I was thinking something maybe a little more upbeat,” Jason ribbed, glancing about to see who might be listening. No one was.
The winged one disappeared in a huff of anger, and Jason flew a finger at his back. “Harp on that,” he muttered to himself.
“Leapin’ lizards!” exclaimed the female bartender from underneath a curly red wig. “Jesus is castin’ down angels now!”
Jason shrugged. He stuffed a couple of singles into her tip glass and picked up Carmen’s Cosmopolitan. “For tomorrow,” he winked.
When he returned to the crowd he’d been socializing with, his date was gone. He stood there confused, a drink in each hand.
“Jesus is two-fistin’ it!” laughed Darth Vader through a voice modulator.
“Gotta keep full of the holy spirits,” Jason said absent-mindedly, searching the room for any sign of Carmen. Maybe she’d just gone to the bathroom.
“I bet I can drink Jesus under the table,” giggled a short brunette in a French maid costume. She touched a promiscuous hand to Jason’s arm and took the untouched cocktail that belonged to Carmen. “As long as he doesn’t cheat turning his drinks into water.”
“Drinkin’ a bloke under the table?” voiced a gecko with a Cockney accent. “Shun’t you be wearin’ a Lewinsky costume for that?”
Everyone laughed. The distraction was enough and Carmen was forgotten. Drinks began to flow, and when the fun all came to a screeching halt, it was a much foggier version of Jason’s former self who looked up into the enraged eyes of the sexy black cat who had accompanied him to the party. He fumbled around for the glass that should have been hers.
“Baby! Where’d you go?” he slurred. “I got your Cos… I… I got your Cosmo. I had it… I swear.”
“These are not the drunks you are looking for,” Darth Vader added with a wave of his hand.
“Fork over the car keys, Jesus!” demanded Carmen, snapping the fingers of an outstretched hand.
Carmen was obviously upset over something, probably the tittering maid still clinging to Jason’s robe and insisting she was the “disciple Jesus loved.” Jason tried a little less than successfully to push her away. His date tapped her foot impatiently while he fumbled for the car keys.
“Enjoy yourself,” she spat. Jason cringed at how menacing her painted-on whiskers could look. “You might want to call a cab. It’s a long walk home… unless you think you can really walk on water!”
Carmen was gone in a flash of black. Jason got up. Maybe if he hurried he could catch her. The French maid fell to the couch, but not under the table, he noted as he struggled to gain his balance. The fog in his head clouded everything as he staggered to the door, and down the stairs out into the night.
His silver M3 sat silently in front of the apartments where he had parked it. He stopped and sprawled over the top of the car in dumb frustration, pressing his face to the cold metal. Carmen must have had another ride, and where had she been through the whole party anyway? His head swirled with doubts and confusion. Wherever she’d gone now, she’d gone with his keys.
After a while he lifted his face from the sobering chill and stared down Lakeshore Boulevard. The blinking lights of the city cast shimmering reflections out over the surface of the lake. Carmen was right. It was miles to walk around it. Calling a cab was a much better idea, but his wallet was locked up in the car. Revelation unfolded upon him as he looked back up the road the other way. He couldn’t walk on water, but he could cut through the Lakeshore Cemetery, making the distance home walkable. I’ll show you walking on water, he resolved.
The moment he set foot on the cemetery grounds, he regretted his decision. Hypnotic rows of tombstones chanted the angel’s curse at him again. “You’ll burn in Hell,” they murmured as he passed. Shuddering, he made his way across the unlit roads and into the heart of the graveyard, talking to himself to occupy his thoughts. Carmen’s such a hypocrite, he thought. She was probably off with some guy that whole time, that’s why she was jealous.
He turned and cut across the tops of the graves. The cemetery grew darker and darker and then his thoughts were interrupted as he tripped and fell flat on his face. He stood and brushed himself off and looked around at his footprints tracked across the the grass-covered tombs behind him. He’d had a few too many drinks, sure, but something had to have tripped him.
Starting on more cautiously in the darkness, he immediately stumbled again, and this time he was sure he’d felt something cold tugging at his ankle. He stared down dumbfounded at what appeared to be a hand protruding from one of the graves he had just passed. Sanity and terror battled for control of his wits, but it was fear that emerged the victor, shooting through his heart like a spear when another hand clutched at his shoulder.
He whirled with a start to find the decaying remains of a man reaching out for him. Jason turned and fled in mortal fear. In the wispy light of the cemetery, there were figures appearing before him now as well. He turned, but they seemed to be rising up from everywhere converging on him. He raced to push between them, lost now and disoriented, unsure even which way he had come. Numb fear and his racing heart forced sobriety upon him as he twisted and pulled through the clutching hands until at last he realized it was useless. There were simply too many of them.
Jason stopped. He was surrounded. He looked frantically about as his pursuers closed in, their empty lifeless eyes eating into his soul as he was sure their ravenous teeth would soon be devouring his flesh. He closed his eyes as they closed their last steps, and clenched his teeth to await his fate. Am I going to become one of them? This is a fate worse than death! I’d have been better off driving. God, Carmen, this is all your fault.
The longer his thoughts raced, the more evident it became that the animated corpses surrounding him were not devouring his flesh. Maybe it was all his imagination, tricks of the alcohol. The smell of embalming fluid must be his own breath. He gathered his courage, and peeked out into the night, but his fears were quickly justified. The walking dead were everywhere, shoulder to shoulder, gathered about him for the feast that had not yet begun.
“Get it over with then!” he yelled at the dead man stood in front of him, the same one who had first touched his shoulder.
“Get what over with?” the corpse asked. His sagging skin managed to look confused.
“Go ahead and eat me!”
“You mean like the Eucharist?” the reanimated remains asked.
“Huh? I thought zombies ate people’s flesh or their brains or something,” Jason remarked in surprise.
The cadaver face looked truly bewildered now. “Zombies? What made you think we were zombies, Jesus?”
“Jesus? Are you kidding me right now?” Jason scoffed incredulously. “It’s Halloween, man! This is just a costume!”
A look of exasperation washed over the dead man’s face. He turned around to address the rest of the risen corpses. “Back to your graves, everyone,” he called out. “It’s not the Rapture!”
© 2012 Anne Schilde