All Hallow's Read: Lullabye

The doorbell rang again. Josh's hand slipped, just a little bit. The razor blade carved off a tiny sliver of paper, mostly white with a touch of black ink along one side. He cursed softly, losing the sound of his voice in the song-song of trick-or-treaters at the door and the crinkling of cellophane wrappers. Abraxas filled the doorway with his spindly frame. Josh didn't have to see his face to know he was grinning. Josh could picture it perfectly. Face painted white, dark lips pulled back and looking freakishly wide with paint. Long white teeth. And the spit. That was the worst part. It gathered in the corners of Abraxas's mouth, leaving deposits of crusty film, spattering anyone within a foot when he spoke.

Josh shuddered and crumpled the paper figure. He'd have to start over.

He picked up his pen and began drawing again. Long strokes. Watching the dark ink sit then settle into the paper. He managed to lift his hand from the page as Abraxas say down heavily, crowding him against the arm of the love seat.

Josh coughed.

Abraxas picked up the remote and hit play, spreading his knees out and taking up more space. Some half-dressed woman on TV screamed and ran through a dark forest.

"There are other places to sit," Josh held his sketchbook protectively to his chest.

"Yeah. But I'm sitting here." He took a drink of his shit-water beer, treating eye contact like a combat maneuver.

Josh gritted his teeth, moved to the chair, and wondered why he hadn't sat there in the first place. Deprived Abraxas of the chance to annoy him from the beginning.

Abraxas was not his real name. It was Brad. Not like Bradley, but Braden, which made it all worse somehow. Josh only called him Abraxas to himself. And once out loud by accident in the kitchen after he'd found maggots feasting on rotten leftovers in the sink full of dishes that certainly didn't belong to him.

"What are you doing?"

Without looking up from the drawing, Josh watched Abraxas finger the paper figures on the table. "It's a diorama."

"Diarrhea?" He laughed. A sound like wet leaves and sticky caramel.

The doorbell rang.

Abraxas paused the movie and answered the door with a flourish. Barely audible over the kids, Josh caught the sound of distant thunder. He prayed for rain to chase the children back inside early.

"Can we turn off the porch light?"

"Why?" Abraxas flopped himself down on the couch, putting his feet up on the table, shoving the box and characters to the edge.

Josh picked them up quickly. "Because this is stupid."

"It's not stupid, it's Halloween. You love this scary shit."

"This isn't scary."

On the TV, a man in a rubber monster suit stumbled through the dark.

"This isn't scary?" Abraxas's voice went up several octaves at the end.

"No, it's all fake. It doesn't even look real."

"Duh. It's not real." He leaned forward and snatched up a tiny paper girl. Her face was frozen in a carefully etched scream. The smell of fresh permanent marker snuck in to fill the space between the beer and chocolate. "Neither is your stupid paper town."

Josh forced himself to hold still. To not react. As Abraxas put the girl down, thunder rattled the windows.

"Well, I guess you got your wish, Scrooge."

"That's for Christmas."

"It's for any holiday when someone's being a pussy." Abraxas stomped his way to the door and flicked off the outside light. "I'm going to bed. You put me in a bad mood."

"Sorry."

"No, you're not."

Josh shrugged. "Yeah. You’re right."

He listened to Abraxas's footsteps fade down the hall before going back to his drawing. It was the last piece and it had to be perfect. The long thin limbs sprinkled with wiry hair, bulbous head, and dripping saliva mouth. When all the pieces were cut out, he colored inside the thick black lines with bright markers and taped them inside the box. With each paper doll, he whispered a name. Most of them he didn’t know, but they came to him like trick-or-treaters to the incandescent bulb. Each house had tiny numbers carefully etched over the door.

Leaving it on the table, he lit the three seasonal pumpkin spice candles Abraxas’s mother had brought over to hide the stench of dirty laundry and festering dishes. Josh felt it was not only fitting, but helpful. He mumbled a quick prayer to the universe, which, for tonight, he called Samhain. He didn’t like to think of it as casting a spell. Spells were for Wiccans and crystal-wavers. When it was done, with the last piece, the spidery monster, set into place at the community park, the only space big enough for it, with the pumpkin orange wax, he padded down the hall and let the rain lull him to sleep.

He woke up to the raindrops still tapping on the glass like silver fingers asking for an invitation inside. And then, just as he thought that, he felt the water on his skin. He opened his eyes slowly and found the sky above him, thick and dark, and the cool, wet ground beneath him. The jungle gym arched around him like a cage. He deftly slipped through, one long stick limb at a time through the bars.

He stood, taller than he’d thought possible, and looked down at himself. Six long legs and two arms, candy striped in yellow, orange, and white like candy corn, held him high. Whisper soft, like silk moving over flesh, he skittered down the street, stopping to look in the windows of each house that still had the porch light on.

They were all the same stark box design with square windows holding small, unmoving forms. All color was lost in the cold grey light of the moon carried on the spidersilk strands of rain, leaving the bodies looking like white paper with inky shadow outlines, blissfully dead, overdosed on candy.

Finally, Josh found the window that looked familiar. He raised his head up slowly to peer in. There, huddled in bed, was Abraxas. The blankets were pulled around him like a cocoon, but still he shivered. The window was unlocked and slid up with ease, making a sound like a sigh.

One many-jointed leg at a time, Josh made his way inside. He filled the room, his tiny feet touching the walls, his candy-corn legs arching and bending at the ceiling, his body and head held low, almost brushing the scuffed, faux wood vinyl.

Abraxas looked up, his eyes wide.

“Shh,” Josh whispered. “Don’t be scared.”

Abraxas made a small animal sound in the back of his throat. The smell of nutmeg and melting wax was overtaken by the acrid stench of urine. He made a feeble lurch for the door, but got tangled in Josh’s legs.

“Oh, you’re right again. Scared is better.”

Josh wrapped his arms around his roommate tightly, pulling him close and close and closer. The smell was sharp and sour, like green apples and gummy bears. He ran his tongue over Abraxas’s skin, letting the sweat and tears settle on his tongue. With a moan of pleasure, he opened his mouth. With a click, his jaw unhinged. Teeth filled the bottom of his vision until he finally had room to shove Abraxas into his gaping maw.

The rain stopped by morning. Josh got out of bed and shuffled into the living room. The orange candles had burned down to the metal disk holding the wick. The diorama sat in the middle of the coffee table, the ink running in translucent rivulets across the glass, the paper faded and wet.

He looked up to find a small water stain on the ceiling. With a sigh, he picked it up and tossed it in the trash. They never survived. His stomach gurgled and he put a hand over it as if to silence the sound, feeling uncomfortably full.

Just to make sure, he went and knocked on Abraxas’s door. When there was no answer, he pushed it open. The room was cold, the autumn breeze blowing in through the window. Abraxas’s blankets were strewn across the floor. His bed sheets stained.

Josh patted his stomach.