Estimated reading time — 3 minutes
Hannah pressed the button of her digital recorder.
“New World Podcast, number one. October 31st.” She shook her head and cleared her throat. “Happy Halloween, my new listeners. I started this podcast to let others know you can survive. We are here. And you can find us.
The calendar says twelve months to the date since the first outbreak of the virus. Seems like forever ago. I didn’t understand how big this thing was at the beginning. I’m sure you didn’t either. Life imitating art…or our nightmares, right? My parents knew right away we needed to leave. They moved us all to our cabin until things settled down. My little sister whined about leaving but they said they couldn’t have us listening to the gunshots night and day. We escaped just as the barricades went up. Like one of those cop shows, my dad weaved in and around the blockades. And we have the snowball size bullet holes in the back of our car to prove how close we came to not leaving. Dead Control has managed the hordes that crop up now and then. Hm, DC has a new meaning now, doesn’t it? Not to be confused with the old center of government. But around here, we haven’t seen a horde in two weeks and DC has done a darn good job no matter what the conspiracy theorists say.”
Hannah covered the kitchen floor in newspaper and placed everything else on top.
“Halloween seems to have changed its meaning too. One ritual is still popular, though. It goes back hundreds of years and the first part still makes my stomach churn: opening the top and scooping the slimy inside out. It has to be cleaned out well or it starts to smell quickly.”
The pile grew on the newspaper. Hannah’s dog found it interesting. “Get lost, Jasper. It will make you sick.”
She continued. “After ten months we returned home. Home is odd somehow…out of place. Change takes getting used to. My school holds classes as usual and stores are open for business. I don’t know about where you are. If DC spots a pack of wandering dead, our school goes into lockdown until they pass. Or, if there’s enough time, we’re dismissed. Home is safer. Stores roll down their gates and wait it out. We made adjustments. And finally, we feel safe letting our guard down just for a bit to have some fun and celebrate. Like we used to.”
Hannah took her Sharpie and drew a design. “As you’ve guessed, I’m talking while I’m carving, so bear with me, listeners. This one’s tougher than I expected. I gotta work with what I have and this one limits my options for creativity. Right now, I’m carving the eyes. I love doing the eyes; they’re the most expressive. Round and hollow…Now the nose, and the triangle is easy enough.”
She wiped off the knife and decided what to do with the mouth. The teeth are a cinch but tedious, and she cut and carved as she recorded.
“In ancient times, I was told this ritual would keep away the evil spirits. Now it just keeps away evil.
What else has changed? Oh, if someone dies at home, the procedure is to call DC hotline or fill out the Request for Pickup form online. They take care of the disposal and a remembrance service is held at the house. But our neighbor’s wife died and her husband, who shall remain nameless for security reasons, didn’t call. We found out because we heard the growling and snarling from his basement window. My dad said he wouldn’t call as long as he kept the chains in good order. This neighbor had a pit-bull when we were little. Before. My dad said the same thing about the pit-bull. You can email me and tell me and other listeners what your procedures are. That’s if your infrastructure is up.”
Hannah notched the top as a vent for the candle. She twisted and twisted the top so that it sat on the bottom like a puzzle piece.
“Trick or treating. Now that was fun. Free candy, dressing up as superheroes. It’s too dangerous now to go out. Not so much because of the hordes. It’s more because of the lone, missed strays. People have house parties instead. You’re one of the lucky ones to be invited. Social out-casting hasn’t gone away. Some things haven’t changed. Our family was intact when we returned from the cabin. Many families weren’t so fortunate, and now whispers that we had some kind of secret cure or unfair immunity keeps us from being included. We just left before it got to us. Mo magic there.”
Hannah rolled up the newspaper and admired her work. “I’m done. Not bad, kiddies. I’ll post a picture when it’s sitting in front of my house. When the candle is inside, it will glow on our porch and remind others of Halloween’s new meaning.”
Hannah clicked the recorder just as her sister Tasha entered the kitchen. “Hey, nice! Particularly gruesome this year, Hannah.”
Hannah smiled and nodded. “I have to agree.”
Tasha struggled with a large, orange pumpkin as big as her own head.
“You’re going to give yourself a hernia, Tash.”
Tasha set it down on the floor and said, “How ‘bout this time you use a pumpkin?”
Credit: RB Frank