“Welcome to the annual All Hallows Eve Scavenger Hunt! I see a few of you are still working on getting yourselves pulled together. Take your time, we have all night… or at least until the sun comes up. First things first, for those who are having their first Gathering don’t panic, your parts will all reach you eventually. If you find you are truly missing a piece or two have a look in the trees, sometimes the crows will carry off a bone for their nests. Just focus on the piece you can’t find and eventually you will be able to sense its location. Should you find that something is completely gone you can still rise, you just have to envision the missing bone being in its proper place. For some of you this may take more effort than our one night will allow. If you are unable to participate this time there is always next year. Take things slowly and you will have a better experience in the long run.” The skeleton speaking loomed above the rest, a large, heavy boned, titan of information. If he noticed the multiple postures of alarm in the apparently captivated audience he gave no sign, simply continuing his lecture in a smooth, deep voice that carried clearly through the soughing tree limbs and rustling deadfall of the cemetery.
“Our list this year includes some unique items so pay attention. I will say your name followed by the item you are assigned to. If you can not get the item before the sun comes up you are disqualified for this Gathering. Those who were successful in obtaining your item at the last Gathering you will be moving on to the next step in crossing over. I’ll get to that after I am finished announcing the Scavenger Hunt list.”
Hugh lounged against his headstone and rotated first his left foot at the ankle, then his right in small, tight, concentric circles, focusing on his own bones rather than the sound of Jeremiah’s voice. It was the same speech every year so it wasn’t like he really needed to pay attention. Beside him, sitting cross-legged upon the dirt she rose from, Brianna leaned her spinal cord against her own headstone and crossed her arms over her chest. Hugh stared hard at her, willing her to look at him as a light breeze pushed grass clippings over her femurs. Around them the cemetery boiled with activity as the dead crawled, clawed and complained their way out of their graves.
“Save your strength for getting that Double Chicken Parlay with bacon,” Brianna stated, continuing to stare at Jeremiah while he talked. Hugh looked away self-consciously. This was his third year trying to get his item. At this rate he would turn to dust before he was able to finish crossing over. He looked back at his right foot, watching his phalanges move jerkily through the air. Was his great toe looking grayer than last year? A clump of sod splashed through his rib cage, the grassy roots catching on his sternum. He glanced up in surprise.
“What the hell?”
“I said, do you have a plan for this year?” Brianna’s skull gleamed in the moonlight, her
parietal bone shimmering like steel while she clawed the ground, readying a second handful of dirt. Hugh wished his eyes were physical so he could fully appreciate the colors of the night that surrounded her. Late fall was was filled with browns, yellows and greens that just couldn’t be seen at any other time of year. Regret was a harsh emotion for the dead.
“Yeah, I have a plan,” he said trying to play it cool. “I’m going to park myself next to the drive-thru menu and do my best to force someone to order one and drop it on the ground.” He let his lower mandible drop open like a comedian at the punch line. All he lacked were lips to smile with and a tongue to stick out. Brianna aped him like a delayed reflection then played the air drums in hugely exaggerated motions. Ba dum dum dum.
“Genius. And once it’s on the ground?” Hugh would swear under oath that she was raising her eyebrows at him. He wanted to scowl and had to settle for digging his toe phalanges into the earth. “Is a dog going to carry it to your grave for you?” That thought had actually crossed his mind. “Without eating it?” That had crossed his mind also. His toes dug trenches in the dirt beneath his foot while he brooded over the unlikeliness of his ideas. Brianna had risen, assembled herself and acquired her item before the sun rose at last year’s Gathering. Envy wasn’t even the right word but it was all Hugh could decipher about how that made him feel. He had barely managed to put himself together when he had his first rising. Jeremiah’s voice continued to boom across the cemetery.
“Remember, just because we can see each other doesn’t change the fact that we look like mist or fog to the living. You are not physically visible or audible. Getting your items will take some real thought and careful execution. The item needs to be brought all the way to your grave and laid in front of the headstone. Nothing else is acceptable”. Hugh raised one hand like he was directing an orchestra, holding the pause, then brought it down sharply as Jeremiah continued. “Happy hunting everyone. Let’s have a great Gathering this year.” His voice faded away and skeletons began to move toward the main gate. Hugh pushed away from his headstone wishing he had lungs to sigh with.
“I guess it’s time to get going.” He looked cautiously at Brianna who was still seated. “Since you got your item already what will you be doing this year?” In response she dropped her lower mandible open again, a sarcastic parody of his previous movement.
“Clapping for the underachievers, what else?”