As Halloween approaches, I was fortunate enough to find out about a flash fiction contest put on by some really fun people. The site is new to me, but I’ve been lucky enough to be acquainted with the people who run it for some time now. It looks as though there will be frequent contests and prompts there, so it is certain that Ink After Dark is one keep an eye on.
For Halloween, they are doing a Monster Mash contest. Here is the main page, and they have it split between lighter and darker stories. There are definitely some good ones up there, so it is certainly worth some reading time.
Here’s the short story that I posted up there for their Light section.
“No, I’m sorry; we don’t have any openings on that day. Our technicians are always booked months ahead of time.” The receptionist on the other end of the phone went through the practiced delivery with the boredom of the repeated underpaid delivery.
Steven was desperate. He couldn’t have known months ahead. It had only been three weeks since the funeral, and only this morning that anyone had mentioned the Mortician’s Ball. “Please, anything you can do.” His voice broke as he explained. “This is all so recent, none of it has really sunk in, and then this…whole event.”
“Oh, is this Mr. Davis?” The tone shifted from boredom to sympathy at his acknowledgement. “My condolences about your wife. We were expecting you, the funeral director already has a reservation set for 5:30 on the 31st.”
“Thank you. See you then.” After the connection broke, he stood for several minutes, just staring.
Halloween evening came shortly, and Steven went to get his appointment, wanting to look his best. It was a new and overwhelming experience immediately as he entered. More than a simple haircut, the store was packed with carts of clothing and people bustling about here and there. Glowing holiday decorations reflected off of shimmering dresses darting by, sending dizzying patterns of color through the store. He was almost back out the door, when a young stylist caught his arm in one of his tanned hands. “Just in time, but we can’t have you wearing that. Oh, we have so much work to do, and again, our condolences.”
“I don’t understand. I just thought a haircut would be nice. This is all just, just no.” He pulled his arm back and turned to walk out the door.
“Hold on. You don’t understand. You don’t want her to see you looking like crap, do you, Steve? How do you think she will feel?”
Too unsure to resist, Steven was led into the middle of the frenzy. Clothing colors were picked, and sizes given to runners who leapt into action. Brushes and trimmers and hands and faces whirled about. Every bit of skin and hair was meticulously buffed or trimmed to precise detail. Once, through a gap in the action, he caught a reflection of a near stranger in the mirror. Other customers came and went, undergoing similar transformations, and threads of conversation drifted past him.
“Blue was always Joe’s favorite color, can we work that in somehow?”
“Her eyes were as green as the lawn; I don’t want to clash with that.”
“No, we can’t do yellow. Her sister’s bridesmaid dresses were yellow, and she hated it since.”
As the clocks chimed eight times, Steven’s transformation was finishing. “Your ride is here, right on time. And, oh my, your wife will be pleased.” He stepped out into the darkened street, and a driver held the door to one of the waiting cars. He slipped in and attempted to contain his anxiety. He had wished he could have more time together, but it was quite an adjustment from never thinking that he would see her again. As arrived at the graveyard, Steven noticed that it had been transformed as well. Areas were secluded by tents and connected by carpeted paths. He went in, past extremely polite staff eager to meet his needs, to a central area loosely filled with other people from the town.
As he waited nervously, looking around the crowd without really seeing, a hand lightly touched his shoulder. He turned, and nearly dropped his drink when he saw his wife standing there, vibrant and beautiful. He couldn’t speak, so he just grabbed her in his arms, and held her tightly. The crowd around them may as well have vanished, as they just touched each other, making sure that they were real. Familiar fingers brushed happy tears away, and arms twined together. She was warm and tan, just as she was before the illness.
His wish had come true: one more night together. Somehow, it would again every year. They were so utterly lost in each other, making each moment stretch as long as possible, that they paid no attention to the Mayor on the microphone.
“Welcome to this year’s Mortician’s Ball and Happy Halloween to everyone!”