by Alexa Padgett
They came from the corn maze moments before the pumpkin glow. Simple, wholesome activities for the family destroyed by the undead drifting out of the rustling corn resulting in pandemonium: screams, shouts, screaming horses, hysterical children.
Not real, Marisol wanted to scream, but couldn’t because her voice froze as her fingers ripped from the stroller’s handle. Her beautiful daughter, sixteen months, with a head of soft curls, in that sea of bodies. Her gray pea coat swung to the tops of her black Uggs, bulking up her small frame enough to withstand the shifting forces of the shrinking crowd eddying around her as she shoved back toward Lily’s stroller. Each face, partially illuminated by the nearby bonfire, slid past with mouths and eyes too wide.
The mass of bodies heaved and pushed toward the exits, taking Marisol with them, an unwilling participant. Voices raised as they called for their children, lovers, spouses, friends. Marisol gripped the loudspeaker pole and tried to stand firm in this spot, eyes searching, searching for Thomas and just a flash of Lily’s pink stroller.
Her phone, everything important was in the stroller. Por Dios, her baby. Snatched in the frightened mob. A mass exodus she couldn’t partake. Not until she found Lily and Thomas. No longer near the corn maze, now surrounded by the limping, groaning gray-faced crew.
No way to connect with her husband, to ensure he had their daughter.
Marisol turned, plunging into the sea of bodies, teeth chattering because her child must be cold even under the layers of blankets she’d placed over her drowsing form a half hour ago. Maybe more now. She didn’t know because she didn’t have her phone.
How much time since she last saw Lily’s sleep-pinkened cheeks? Would she again?
She must. She must.
A voice over a megaphone asked for order. There was no order. The field of harvest-themed family-fun had devolved into a nightmare—a crime scene.
Marisol squirmed and slipped through the small spaces, moving, keep moving, hoping shrinking Thomas and Lily would appear. The wet squelch underfoot unbalanced her and Marisol fell, hard, knocking the breath and tinting her vision black. The cap, Thomas’, bright orange but smeared now with red. Blood red, wet and cool as the ground, now in her hand, clutched to her chest. Her husband’s hat.
“It’s so ugly,” he’d complained when she tossed the cap at him earlier.
Marisol had laughed, wagging her finger. “It’s festive. And it’s bright, so I can keep an eye on you.” Marisol had placed it crookedly on his dark head.
Thomas was gone, probably carried away by the thousands of people fleeing the zombies. His hat clutched to her chest, the stroller…nowhere.
Fewer people left. Time to walk, to look. Back toward the cornfield, toward the undead still moaning, reaching from the fringe of yellowed stalks.
Marisol tumbled over a bale of hay, breathless and blinked at the twinkling orange lights curled around a large sycamore, a sick parody of the holiday she’d never celebrate again.
Marisol stood, her legs shaky, but she remained statue still, waiting. Cold air, dripping with burning piñon and burgeoning shadows, chapped Marisol’s face. Tendrils of smoke from the defunct bonfire caressed her cheeks and pooled above her pounding head. Shrieks, a burst of raucous laughter from the cornfield, too loud—too damn loud—and she was alone.
“Not a game,” a police officer grumbled, a scowled building across his face. “Helluva turn.”
Nearer the rustling, dry corn stalks, six teens stood, no longer laughing so hysterically. Their eyes were wide against their undead makeup, their mouths agape, as the police and management detained them, cuffed them. Not real. But the terror they created was, and now her daughter…her baby was gone. Her husband’s hat bloodied, fisted in her hand.
“Is everyone gone?” Marisol asked. More like gasped, falling into another officer. “My baby. My husband.”
“We’ll find them, ma’am. This way.” He led her toward the exit, a holding area, he said, but Marisol’s didn’t listen. Her eyes strained for a hint pink, the bloodied hat pressed to her breast.
Shadows embraced her, crawled over her as the policeman helped her forward.
Instead of pink, a small flash of yellow floated upward, a bright spot against the firmament. Her lungs ached from the cold and she nearly tripped, ripping her arm away from the officer.
The dot floated, a joyous whisper that burst into flame. A luminaria, here? No. Maybe….
They’d planned to light them later this week for November third, their anniversary. Oh! The car. She ran into the nearly empty parking lot, breathless, eyes wide.
She pressed her hand to the tiny pink form snuggled into her blankets, felt the faint hum of Lily’s lungs pressing upward as a puff of warmer air drifted over the exposed skin of Marisol’s wrist. She heaved a breath, not quite a sob but more than a gasp.
“Your hat,” Marisol said.
Thomas eyed the sad piece of felt. “It tumbled off in the initial push. I struggled to get to Lily when you fell into the stampede.”
“Smart. Thank you for keeping her safe.”
The look he gave me was one of disbelief. “Of course. Always. Though I wanted to help you, too.” He held her tight in his arms and her shaking lessened. “This was more excitement than I’d planned at a fall festival. We’ll read about the charges tomorrow in the paper, I’m sure.” He sniffed the hat before his tongue flicked out. “Ketchup.”
“I was scared.” She gestured to the hat, shuddering. Marisol blew out a breath as the bits of ash from the luminaria that dusted her lashes and cheeks. The harvest moon faded up into the quiet night.
“Let’s go home.”
“No more Halloween,” Marisol said, her voice shaking.
“Not this year. Home,” Thomas said again, kissing her cheek.
© Alexa Padgett 2016