The air was cool and crisp, the moon bright, and the highway quiet as a graveyard beneath it. Two figures crouched in in a dell choked with weeds. The tattered husks of the lantern berries that grew along the hillside rattled against them when the wind caught.
Hel tugged on her half mask. “Ugh. Sounds like a ghost rave out here.”
Skuld leaned into the brush, listening as hard as she could. Somewhere in the distance, a bird startled awake and fell abruptly silent. “Sounds like the country to me. I mean, I get that, and maybe it’s kind of creepy, but there’s no such thing as ghosts, so…”
“Seriously? It’s fucking October. We’re out here in the dark. And you just uttered the actual words ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts’.”
“I did do that, yes.”
“Are you trying to make one show up?”
“Uh, no. Can’t make what doesn’t exist, you know, come into being.” Skuld shrugged despite the fact this made her presence in the weeds more obvious.
Groaning and muffled expletives followed beside her. This faded into a silence which seemed chilly in and of itself. Well, as much of a silence as anyone ever got among chittering lanterns.
“Alright, fine,” Skuld somewhat capitulated in that she broke said silence, but she didn’t sound especially pleased with having been relegated to that role. “If ghosts are a thing, what kind of thing are they? Where do they come from?”
Another long pause followed. In it, Hel fumbled her half mask again. Finally, she sat back with a crunch. “Ghosts are wasted human potential.”
“Okay, so, by that logic, aren’t we ghosts?”
“I was in a doctorate program. Now, here I am with you and the Magnificent…” Skuld flashed the grip of her .38. “In a field. At midnight. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not wearing any underpants.”
Hel gave a groan as she listed to side; Skuld’s side in particular. “You chose the in a field life.”
“Yeah, but I could have had a doctorate in semiotics.”
“Now that’s wasted potential.”
“Ouch.” Despite her sentiment, and the ongoing ignorance of the general public when it came to the applications of semiotic theory, Skuld washed up into chuckles.
“I mean like,” Hel sighed. “What if what you wanted more than anything was to keep on living, but then you didn’t. You still went through the motions anyway just to yourself so you stayed and here you were.”
“Sending life-like faxes forever with no hope of promotion. Or a body.”
“Something like that.”
This lead to a bit more considering. In that, the highway took on a faint light along the eastern edge, the way that lead back to the city. The two women in the weeds perked to attention, staring out across the darkness as long as it lasted. Also wincing a bit– the car had its headlights on high and after the softness of the moonlight, that rather smarted.
“Wait,” Skuld interjected against the quiet. “Did you just tell me you wanted to be a hitman?”
“It beat most of the alternatives,” groaned Hel. Her glove creaked against her sleeve.
“That sucks! I’m so sorry.”
“Why are you sorry!” The shout split the rasp of tires over the battered pavement beneath them. “You chose this. I chose this. I’m also choosing to not want to be eaten alive by the office drones of the un-fucking-dead, so let’s get this over with already.”
“I don’t know. Seems like that last part should be more instinctual,” mused Skuld.
“Says the person who doesn’t even believe in ghosts!” A squinting, ‘damnit’ing moment after, she added, “Also, that’s our guy.”
“Right.” Skuld clambered out of the dell, just to go speed towards the highway, bracken crackling off around her. A ticked off bear would have been more subtle than she was, galumphing right up to the turnoff with her gun gleaming in her hand.
Hel plodded after. Her half mask wasn’t sitting right on her nose and she was pretty sure she was coming down with a cold underneath it besides. The crinkling, whispering lantern berry husks sounded more like a crowd of antsy theater goers now that they dragged on behind her. She paused once, glancing over her shoulder. Just those few lacy bulbs nodding had made so much noise, now they waited still and almost golden in what glisten rode up the hillside now that the car idled below them.
A crack broke across the night. Suddenly there were birds and crawling things all alive in the headlights. Then, the quiet crept back in, settling like frost around them. A whiff of cordite followed, but didn’t last more than a second or two against the crystalline rot of autumn.
Hel plucked the bullet casing from the dead lives where it had landed. Skuld reached into the car and turned the key until the engine died. The lights went with it. She wiped her glove on the grass after. “Heh. I made a ghost.”
“Good for you,” said Hel. “Can we get out of here now?”
“Because he’s coming back for reveeeeeenge? Ooh, spooky.” This was of course accompanied by wriggling hand gestures made with not exactly clean hands.
“No, because the boss will have us for breakfast if we’re late.”
The air was cool and crisp, the moon bright and the highway quiet as a graveyard beneath it. Two figures retreated into the shadows. The tattered husks of the lantern berries that grew along the hillside rattled when the wind caught.
Then, the bracken laughed.
I’m still awful fond of last year’s if you missed it. Thanks to Kas Roth for making sure the fire contents was reasonable.