The Ninth Archive

A phantom Jack-O'Lantern looms of above a stone well at twilight on a field.

E号-S003

Pumpkinhead

The sky above the road is all smoke and dead leaves, sun’s last fingers going away over the blurring, flat landscape. Silas speeds past as fast as he dares. “Oh why can’t I,” he mutters along with his music, its distorted rhythm trailing out of his rolled-down windows like a tattered wedding train. “Why can’t I live a life for me?” He’s supposed to be at some family dinner or Fall Festival with pie baking contests or bobbing for apples or some other stupid bullshit. He can’t even remember where he’s supposed to be. But he knows he’s not there.

The road unfolds beneath him between barren sprawls of dry grass and dust. The smell of rot and stone and dusk intoxicates him, reaches through his skin and pulls at him by the ribcage, promising that there is a living, lurking presence in the world past the horizon of insufferable suburbia. And these winding, untrafficked roads will lead him there, some day.

“Why should I take the abuse that’s served?” Silas continues murmuring, hand loose around the wheel, foot tapping against the pedal. He imagines the rest of his family wondering where he is, why he’s missing whatever it is he’s missing. He scowls and shakes his head, pressing the gas harder. There are never any cops around here anyway, usually. Not that it matters.

His headlights now feel like the brightest light for miles. Shadows of fences and shrubs blur through them and out faster than he can see. He wonders what it was like to have lived here before cars, before electricity, before even fire, when the darkness of night was absolute. What did they do to stave off the wind and rain and night? What did they–

Silas swerves and slams on the breaks. His car grinds to a halt in the dirt, headlights beaming off into the night-covered field. About fifty feet behind him is the stony crown of a well jutting up like a headstone’s silhouette in the darkness. For a moment, briefer than a heartbeat, he thought he had seen a grisly Jack O’Lantern rising from it, regarding him with misshapen eyes. His heart pounds and his music echoes out across the still empty road.

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