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 #NightHarvest. Oh, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a giveaway!
by Lucas Hargis
It makes sense that I’d die in a thrift store.
My breath’s hot and steamy inside my trash bag. It’s clinging to me with all its wetness. Its neon-whiteness glowing in the dark. A black one would sink into the shadows, but even the kind rich people stuff dead leaves into are turning into body bags tonight.
Most of me wishes I hadn’t torn these eyeholes.
Two of my classmates’ bodies slump against the storefront window. Over by the musty dressing room, the freckle-faced guy who once loaned me his gluestick in Art begged for mercy. They didn’t care. Another limp body’s leaking all over the checkout counter, blood dripping onto a stack of old, cut up magazines. The quiet girl who eats lunch in the library is spilling out from a shelf of dirty shoes.
They’re actually killing us.
I have to be the last of the Crops, as they’re calling us, to keep breathing. But as silently as I can. And I must fight the urge to rip off this sweaty bag smothering me like some suffocating ghost. If I can do those things, maybe I’ll be the one to survive. As long as the Reapers, as they’re calling themselves, follow their own rules.
I’m at the back of the store, camouflaged in the pile of black and white donation bags Mama sifts through to save the best clothes for me. I scrambled, laughing at first, when the Reapers started counting to twenty. At eighteen, I ditched the furniture section because this hiding place popped in my head.
Being a trash bag hiding with other trash bags might save my life.
There are five Reapers. All wearing masks. I recognized their muffled voices when they locked us clueless Crops in the pitch-black store and explained the full rules. It’s the same group that’s always putting us worthless kids in our place. But they had to be joking about the killing part. Just messing with us.
Two of them are silhouetted against the front window. One’s guarding the door, swinging a machete and daring us to try to escape. The other’s poking a pitchfork into the clothes racks. An ax, a familiar pair of scissors, and a sickle are slicing somewhere in the darkness.
Behind the two Reapers I can see, the bonfire’s raging in the town square. People are crunching expensive candied apples and squealing on all the rides they want. A few blocks farther, the tip-top of the Ferris wheel. I was heading towards it, gripping the only three tickets Mama could afford, when a gloved hand tapped my shoulder.
I pissed myself, just a little, with excitement. I didn’t think, there was no way, I’d be chosen. Not being who I am, on the social scale between a slug and whatever animal has the smallest bladder, living in the Roach Apartments, wearing clothes from the exact thrift store I’m cowering in.
The snippets I overheard the popular kids whispering in school sounded fun and mysterious. I pretended not to know the details. But Gavin, whose family stuffs leaves into gold-plated bags, bent that rule this year. In English, he angled the handmade flyer being passed around so I could read over his shoulder. I smirked along with him and acted like I’d never seen it before.
Oh God, a scream. To my left. Only a few feet away. Chopping, chopping. I squeeze my eyes shut. Don’t dare move to cover my ears. A juicy sound. Crunching. The rustle of plastic. A bag. A garbage bag with pieces of a now-silent person inside.
Footsteps. Closer. My white bag glowing.
From far away. “How many more sorry-ass Crops left to harvest? I need some cotton candy.”
The closest Reaper’s so close his body count rattles my bag. “I got three, all black bags.”
“Asshole. I only harvested one. Also black.”
“You’re all losers. Four for me, black bags.”
Nine out of twelve us already dead. I have a one-in-three chance.
The last voice. I recognize its golden tone. Gavin. “No one got that pathetic, white-bag pisser yet?”
Even though I helped him. Even though I’ve done every single thing he’s ever—
The bag next to me, touching mine, shifts the slightest bit. A quiet whimper squeezes through its plastic and into mine, mixing with the echo of Gavin’s words, the stifling humidity and darkness in here with me.
Metal rips through plastic, squishes into wet flesh. Thrashing. The sob, it’s a girl, chokes into a gurgle. More punctures, each thrust jolting me, stabbing me with her pain. I try to hold in my own scream, my unstoppable tears, the warmth flooding my jeans.
“Somebody help me harvest all these pissy-smelling bags of junk. That stinky fucker can’t win.”
“Please.” A new voice. Crying from the far corner. Maybe by the donated toys.
The Reaper hovering over me shuffles towards the begging Crop. I let myself exhale.
“I want out.” The Crop’s silhouette is backlit by the distant bonfire. He shucks his bag and keeps his hands raised in surrender. “I thought it was a game. Not real. Not this.”
Machete girl abandons her post by the door. “You know the rules, Crop.”
All the Reapers, blurred blackness, swarm him.
Gavin, the masked shadow with the sickle, raises it. “If the bag comes off, so does your head.”
My heartbeat thumps against my hands pressed so tightly to my ears. If there’s a scream or a thud, I don’t hear them. My eyes are closed. All I can see is the flyer burning against my eyelids, the intentionally misspelled Festicle, as Gavin calls it, the letters I cut out and glued down like he told me. My chest is heaving. I’m crying now. I’m sure of it. Out loud and I can’t stop. My white bag’s suffocating me. I’m the last one, but there’s no way they’re letting anyone go.
Especially not me.
A million excruciating years tick by. One slow-motion second. Another. Another. I wait for the ax or pitchfork or sickle to erase the flyer, the urine smell, the memories of the crunching, screaming, wet, plastic sounds. Harvesting, forgetfulness, relief. I’m ready. I want them all.
Instead, the scents of bonfire wood and kettle corn nudge me. Faraway laughter ripples the flimsy ghost shrouding me. I open one eye and peek through the ragged holes. The thrift store’s door is propped open. No Reapers in sight. Just bodies of the losers and the other crap the rich people in town don’t want around anymore.
My bag slips up and off without me doing it. I cringe. Its sickly silhouette dangles from Gavin’s sickle. He’s still wearing his mask.
He plops onto the bags, the side opposite my chopped up classmate. “You better clean up this mess before the festical shuts down if you want to ride the Ferris wheel.”
I bump his knee with mine. “You actually killed them. The year you let me come.”
“I finally talked the other chicken-shit Reapers into it.” He takes off his mask. His rich-boy teeth shine in the darkness. “Covering your pathetic faces with trash bags was a genius idea.”
“You didn’t even warn me.” I wish the lights were on. “And why did you remind the other Reapers I was in a white bag?”
Gavin stands. “Next year, I’ll loan you a big, black one.”
“But you promised. If I made the annual flyer and let you use Mama’s store during fifth, sixth, and seventh grade—” My choked tears cut off the rest.
He uses my bag to scrape the blood off his sickle. “Fine, pisser, you can be, like, an Assistant Reaper or something next year.”
I stand, too, and try so hard to look him in the eyes. Maybe he really means it this time.
“New rule, though.” Then he’s behind me, his sickle blade cold and sharp against my throat. “You can’t piss yourself anymore.” His whispered breath is hot and gooey in my ear. “If you do, I’ll harvest your pathetic ass, wherever we are, on the spot.”
Gavin’s right. I’m pathetic white trash. Poor. Stupid. Worthless. I’ve tried so hard to change, to be different than I am, to somehow not be me. But there’s nothing I can do about it.
The pressure’s building. This urge, an undeniable need, so strong I can’t stop it. I hold my breath. Swallow hard. My Adam’s apple bobs beneath the sickle blade. I squeeze my thighs together like a million other times before. It doesn’t matter.
The oniony smell hits me. It hits Gavin, too.
And soggy warmth fills my thrift store shoes.
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