Night Harvest: Professions by Ashly Nagrant

Posted by on Oct 25, 2015 in Night Harvest, NightHarvest | 0 comments

Night Harvest: Professions by Ashly Nagrant

Welcome to the Night Harvest. For the entire month of October, we’ll be featuring scary stories and illustrations from talented authors and artists around the globe. I hope you stay awhile. After all, the Night Harvest is quite a scream. You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.

 

Follow the buzz on twitter using the official hashtag #NightHarvestOh, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a giveaway!

 

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Professions

by Ashly Nagrant

 

Kate May Callihan could not believe how bad the parking was year after year.

You would think, she told herself silently, that they had been doing this long enough that they’d know how to route traffic and supply ample places for the people attending over the October weekend.  But with limited lots and street parking, plus road closings, coming here on Saturday evening was difficult.

But Saturday night was always the best night to be at the annual Harvest Street Fair.

Even if she’d been forced to come alone this year.  Her husband had refused to join her and look at “all that crap people drag out and charge you too much for” and with her daughter away she was by herself.  If she’d have known this was going to be an issue, she might have extended an invitation to some of her coworkers to join her.  They worked together in a tightly knit office at the local college, nothing academic, she was always quick to assure people.  Just managing paperwork and taking calls.  The sort of easy work most people could appreciate.  And of course, since her daughter was attending another branch of the same college, it meant her tuition was paid in full.  Really, what more could she ask for?

It took her roughly five minutes to walk from her car to the well-lit parklet that served as the center of the festival.  A great white bandstand dominated the area, and a group of young women could already be seen setting up instruments and speakers.  But mostly Kate May was paying attention to the people around her, what they were selling, what they were eating and what they were wearing.  The scent of grease and dough and kettle corn filled the air and drew her around to the little stalls set up and filled with all kinds of handmade goods.

She was busy looking over a booth full of quilts with Bible quotes embroidered on them when a familiar, thin voice called out her name.  “Miss Katie May!”

Her head jerked up and she saw a short man in jeans and a t-shirt with the slogan “Gun Control Means Holding It With Both Hands” walking her way, accompanied by a taller woman in a purple sweatshirt covered in embroidered butterflies.  Kate May responded with a slightly forced smile.  “Kenny!  Annie!”

“Fancy meeting you here!” Annie said, something about her voice always sounding slow and paused.  “Whatcha doing?”

“Oh, just looking around, enjoying myself,” Kate May said.

“Looking at some arts and crafts?” Kenny asked, the lilt to his voice slightly mocking as always, as if he couldn’t help but make it clear he thought he was speaking down to anyone around him.

Kate May looked back to the booth as if she’d forgotten what was there.  “Distracting myself,” she said.  “Trying not to cheat on my diet.”

“Oh but you gotta cheat,” Annie encouraged.  “C’mon, they have all kindsa good stuff.  Did you know they deep fry Oreos now?  Who thought of that?  That’s crazy.”

Before Kate May could say something, anything else, another voice entered the conversation.  “Did somebody call an office meeting and not tell me?”

The trio was approached by a younger man, clean cut hair and glasses, wearing a shirt sporting the logo of the college they worked at.  He was smiling openly at them. “Kenny.  Annie.  Kate May.  Funny running into you here.”

Kate May straightened her back automatically in her boss’s presence, unconsciously straightening out her blouse and hair.  “Alan,” she said.  “What brings you here?”

“Oh, you know, gotta come out to Harvest Fest.  And I think tonight is when Tabitha’s band is playing,” Alan said.  “Should be a good time.”

Kate May raised her eyebrows.  “They got Tabitha’s band to play?  Is that going to be appropriate?”

“Just cover songs, I think,” Alan said.  “Taking the gig for a quick couple of bucks.  I can understand.  Every little bit helps.  And it’s good that she has a hobby.”

“She doesn’t think it’s a hobby,” Kenny supplied.

“Hey, Kenny, don’t,” Alan started.  Then, he turned his head and nodded at someone on the other side of the street.  “Hey, I’m sorry to run but I’ve gonna take off.  You guys have a good time, okay?”  He headed off across the pavement in a slow jog, leaving them all alone.

He was barely gone when the silence was broken.  “Wait.  Tabitha has a band?” Annie asked.

“Yes. I know she mentioned it to Alan the other day when she was in his office for her evaluation meeting,” Kate May said.  “He was encouraging her to think more about her future in the office because she’s considered to have a ton of potential.”  The last few words were laced with a breezy spite.  “Also, she’s had the poster at her desk for two weeks.”

“I musta missed it,” Annie said.

“Oh, I’m not allowed near her desk.” Kenny’s voice carried just the slightest hint of lisp, as if the world was afraid any more than that would make him nothing more than pure caricature.  “You know she had me reported for sexual harassment.”

“Hell, I wish you’d sexual harass me more!” Annie declared with a hearty laugh.  “What is her deal, anyway, is she…” her voice trailed off.  “Ya know?”

“A dyke?” Kate May supplied.  “You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was.”

“You better watch out, Annie,” Kenny teased.  “Maybe you’re her type.”

“She better not try,” Annie said, seriously.  “I just can’t imagine that, can you?  Like, I just couldn’t do that.  Be with a woman like that.  Just seems wrong to me, ya know?”  Then, quickly.  “But that’s just me.  I just don’t see how anyone could do that.”

“Well, what she needs is…well, speak of the devil,” Kate May gestured towards the bandstand with her chin.

The band had finished setting up and now a pale figure in tight black jeans and a grey tank was taking her place at the mic. Her eyes were rimmed in black eyeliner and her hair mussed artfully.  She didn’t smile at the crowd, just nodded her head at them before turning back to the drummer and repeating the gesture.

A moment later, an almost foreign rhythm began sounding from the speakers, leading into the smooth, strange sound of the singer’s voice.  “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…”

As the strains of Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones continued, the trio watched in sadistic amusement.  “She’s not half bad,” Annie said in surprise.  “I can see why she’d wanna do this.  But why she’d say she’s a man?”

“But it’s silly,” Kate May interjected.  “Regular people don’t end up being famous.  If she put half the energy into her work that she does into this, she’d be much better off.  I mean, look at Alan,” she emphasized this by glancing over at where their boss was laughing as he attempted to pull off just a single petal of a Blooming Onion.  “At some point he realized that you have to face reality and stop with the childish stuff.”

Annie nodded. “Well, and Kenny, you still do your photography thing but you realize it’s just a side thing, even if you’re really, really good at it.”  She looked at the balding man but realized his attention was now turned to a group of young women from the local college, out and about in skinny jeans and hooded sweatshirts.  Kenny was concentrating hard on snapping pictures of them with his cell phone without being caught.

“Anyway,” Kate May said, “Tabitha has this job.  Why not just realize that’s what you have and work harder on it?  Instead of this farfetched idea she has about still making getting somewhere with this band of hers.”

In the background, the band had segued into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”  Tabitha was clutching the mic like it was her lifeline and practically growling out the line “Superstition ain’t the way.”  People looking close enough at her noticed something strange and alive in her eyes, something compelling.

“She probably needs something to distract her,” Annie suggested.  “I mean, she ain’t married, don’t have any kids…she’s prolly really sad, ya know?  ‘Cause she can’t have that stuff.”

Kate May rolled her eyes.  “Then she should get married.  And you know how she carries on about not wanting kids.  What kind of woman doesn’t want kids?”

“Dykes,” Kenny answered, lowering his phone as the group of girls wandered out of his line of sight.  “And she’s such a man hater I hope she doesn’t have kids.  She’d probably kill it if it were a boy.”

“Kenny!” Annie laughed, slapping her cohort lightly on the arm.  “C’mon.  That’s not funny.”

“It’s true,” he said.  “She hates men.  That’s why she didn’t want me talking to her about stuff.”

“Would explain why she tries to scare ‘em off.  Look at all them tattoos she has,” Annie interrupted. “Never realized she kept all them covered at work.”

Kate May wrinkled her nose.  “Disgusting.  Why would you do that to yourself?”

“They’re gonna look awful after she has kids,” Annie said.

The conversation degenerated into more gossip about the office: who they actually disliked (everyone), who had done something to upset them recently (everyone) and showering Kenny with compliments which Kate May did with special concentration so she didn’t let a pitying tone crawl into her voice.

The band played on beneath it all.  “Hotel California” by the Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” which featured Tabitha howling enthusiastically during the chorus.  Kenny had to identify “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the other two, but he did it eagerly and without being asked.

Then the music stopped.  No explanation, no fade out.  Just stopped.  People took little to no notice until Tabitha spoke into the microphone.  “We’ve got one more song for you here tonight.  It’s a traditional, but you probably haven’t heard it.”  She nodded to the bassist who started playing a low, throbbing rhythm

Tabitha started to sing, her voice low and deep, a strange reverb accompanying it.  Nobody could make out the lyrics she was singing, but suddenly, everyone was paying attention.  Rapt, they faced the stage and approached it.

Katie May began to scream.  She wasn’t sure why.  But she had to scream.  She kept it up, pausing only now and again to take a breath.  And her hands moved suddenly, grabbing at her clothing and ripping it to shreds, throwing it off of her body.  Then, she took her expertly manicured nails and began tracing patterns and pictures into her skin, just deep enough to draw thin lines of blood to show off her artwork: birds and bones and skulls all over her arms and collarbones, reaching up her neck and onto her face.  When she finished tracing them out, she went back and did it again, nails digging in deeper, leaving long bloody marks all over her body.

Elsewhere, Alan reached for his neck and discovered he wasn’t wearing a tie.  Frantically, he ran from the group of old college friends he was talking with, searching for something, anything, until he found a coil of abandoned cords at the side of the bandstand.  Grabbing the shortest one, he looped it around his neck and improvised a half-Windsor knot, then pulled it up around his throat until he was throttling himself, desperately choking for breath but unable to stop.

Annie was grabbing at her mouth with both hands, trying to open it wider and wider, pulling at her lips and teeth, clawing at her gums until they were bleeding. And then she fell forward and began to grab at loose chunks of sidewalk, shoving them into her mouth with a sick desperation to fill it fill it fill it.

The group of young women that Kenny had photographed earlier were shrieking, running at him and forcing him to the ground, three of them kicking and beating at him, grabbing at his arms and pulling until they dislocated, beating his head off the cold asphalt street, while the fourth rescued his phone and took pictures of her friends.  Occasionally, they traded places, different feet on his back but the same group of screams sounding through the air.

All around them, every person in attendance was going mad in the streets.  Bodies rolled everywhere, contorting, gasping, screaming at things only they could see.

And then, once again, the music stopped.

Everyone froze in place.

Slowly, they came back to their senses.

Tabitha stood on stage, a cold little smile on her face and now something strange and frightening in her eyes.  But only if you were looking for it.

A shadow passed over the bandstand and when it was gone, so was she.

 

 

Ashly-Nagrant-pic

Ashly Grace Nagrant is a Pittsburgh based writer and Library Pirate.  She has also written for Buzznet.com, Sub-Cultured, Women Write About Comics and LiveNation.  She is a member of the Interstitial Arts Foundation’s Working Group, is a former ghost tour guide and has appeared multiple times with Pittsburght’s Beat Cabaret.
She hates writing about herself in the third person.
You can find her at @newageamazon and on newageamazon.com, but NOT in the New Age section of Amazon.com.

 

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