Two Hundred Seventy-Three Years To Go

Submitted into Contest #117 in response to: Write about someone whose busiest night of the year is Halloween.... view prompt


Fiction Horror Suspense

TW: Death, Language

           You’ve heard the old verbiage. The stories of how spirits are allowed to walk between worlds with ease on Samhain. They’re right, the dead do walk.

           Free to do what they please- check in on loved ones, visit old haunts- so long as they follow two rules:

           Be back in your world by dawn.

           No killing the living.

           She supposed it made it messy, killing on a night when the veil was already so thin, but that was where her job came in.

           Call it reaping, snatching, whatever fit- Sophia’s job was to track down those tormented souls intent on raising the death toll one night a year.

           Honestly, she didn’t know why they were released in the first place when it was obvious what they had planned. She figured everyone deserved a chance for a reprieve though; a tiny taste of freedom before reporting back downstairs.

           She’d agreed to this gig in exchange for a place up top. Three hundred years of service in dragging back souls to Hell and after her stint was up, she could finally have a modicum of peace. Be able to wander for herself once a year instead of waiting for orders.

           Hers was a light sentence really. She’d heard of some hunters who had thousands left to go, all dependent on what had landed them in Hell in the first place. But seeing as she wasn’t one of the tortured souls she regularly heard screaming throughout the lower levels, she’d consider herself lucky.

           She also figured, in a convoluted way, that it made her a demon. A cozy spot in the netherworld, no worries of torment, and enhanced abilities that certainly helped with the job.

           At least she didn’t have horns.

           Sophia watched the trick-or-treaters in their dizzying race for candy, parents toddling behind with smiles plastered to their faces.

           When had this holiday become nothing more than a glorified sugar rush?

           To the world, she wasn’t there. Light bent around her same as it did the spirits, she just happened to have more substance. If she were to bump into anyone, they’d feel her, assume it was some riled-up child before heading to the next house.

Maybe it was best they couldn’t see her- she didn’t have the most friendly look. Black leather over worn denim and shit-kickers, dark hair complimented dark features. Not to mention the resting bitch face and the fact she was leaning under a tree surveying the entire block.

No, her appearance didn’t exactly scream amiable.

“Could you look more disgusted?” Irene mused beside her, handing her a faded picture.

           “Can you blame me?” Sophia sneered and took the picture, crossing leather clad arms in front of her. “Children used to have some manners. Parents anymore let their spawn run free in the world with no consequences. What year did you die? Did kids act like this?”

           As if to prove her point, a child- what she assumed was a boy- ran past her, screeching at the top of his lungs just for the hell of it.

           “Any child acting like this would have had their hide tanned raw. I never liked crotch-goblins though. Too messy. Too loud.”

           “Crotch-goblins,” Sophia snorted at the term. “Who’s this?” She studied the family portrait, scribbled pen circling the father. Even in what should have been a happy moment, the man had crazy eyes.

“Duke McKinnon. Went nuts last year. Killed his wife, tried to kill the stepson. The neighborhood had an idea of what was going on, regularly took the kid on overnights. So, when he couldn’t find where the kid was hiding, he turned to the neighbors. Slaughtered seven houses with a hatchet before the cops could take him out.”

“Christ. So, what? Tail the kid tonight?”

“You got it. He’s with the babysitter,” Sophia followed Irene’s gaze to a kid- couldn’t be older than six, she thought- all dressed up in his Spiderman costume. His pretty, blonde babysitter happily holding his hand as they bounced between houses.

At least this one seemed well-behaved.

“Everyone downstairs seems to think he’s comin’ back for the kid tonight,” she went on. “The second McKinnon starts a swing, take him out.” And off she went through the crowd, not bothering to move for those who ran into her, leaving a path of confused children to either side of the sidewalk.

Sophia sighed, crossing the street to keep an eye on the child. She’d signed up as a demonic bounty hunter, not a babysitter. Tailing toddlers was not part of her job description. “Two hundred and seventy-three years to go,” she muttered to herself.

She couldn’t much complain though. Halloween was always her busiest day, some years she’d drug in as many as five souls. If this year consisted of walking around a few cul-de-sacs, who was she to bitch?

After all, she was the one who’d agreed to this. She never thought she’d end up in Hell in the first place. Hadn’t she been a good Christian? Well, up until she killed the man who had just murdered her husband and was getting ready to kill her.

Turns out it was still a sin even if you killed to protect yourself.

They’d wanted kids though, she and Cal. Had talked about having a family. Come to think of it, this kid she was following would be the same age as any grandchildren she would’ve had. Not that it gave her a soft spot for him or anything.

He was a job, nothing more.

She dodged a few more children who had run in front of her, Batman nearly swiping her legs out from under her. Why were so many of them superheroes? Some white haired princess in a blue dress and superheroes. Where was the creativity?

It was a nice night at least. Breezy and cool, but not so bad she’d feel the need to tug her jacket closer around her. Some Halloweens she had to trudge through the cold and the muck just to bring her souls back in.

If she was going to be miserable, she made damn sure whoever she brought in was just as unhappy.

One Halloween, she was lucky and the person she’d been assigned to follow choose to seek out family instead of revenge. It’d been a nice surprise.

Rare, but nice.

It didn’t take long for the lunatic to show himself. He trailed on the same side of the street the pair were on, only a block and a half behind, and he hadn’t spotted Sophia yet.

She tied back her long dark hair from her face. If this was going to get messy, she wanted to be able to watch the bastard- no cheap shots just because her hair was in the way.

He was taller than she’d expected, with eyes that still held that look of guano-crazy. It was as wonder they didn’t wheel around in their sockets. Hell hadn’t been kind to Duke.

He closed in.

And then he paused, letting the kids get away. Some lazy S.O.B. had considered his pumpkin carved when he stabbed the shit out of it and left the butcher knife sticking out of the top.

And Duke was the one to pull the blade from the pumpkin.

Sophia hurried behind them, gaining on McKinnon just as much as he was to the clueless, giggling kids. When the girl turned them onto a dead-end, she cursed mentally. Of course they’d be in the only house on this dead-end block. Because why would they stay in a populated area? Why would her job be easy tonight?

It’s like they were asking for the maniac to find them.

Sophia rounded the fence, looked to the front yard and couldn’t find anybody. Had they already made it inside? Couldn’t have, she decided, the house was still dark.

Where the hell was McKinnon? If she could just get a good hold on him, she could drag him down. Be done with this!

She heard the repeated squish before she heard the screams.

Sophia made it through to the backyard in time to see the bloodied babysitter pulled backwards off the treehouse ladder, heard the sickening thump as her limp body hit the packed dirt hard.

“Duke!” Sophia grabbed his foot, same as he had the girl, and ripped him to the ground.

She hurried up the ladder, saw the boy was untouched, cowering in the corner.

In her mind, McKinnon would go for the boy, maybe even her next since she was the one to interrupt his warped idea of revenge. She never thought he’d finish off the girl, but jumping to the ground, she saw him sitting on her chest, bloodied hands wrapped around her throat.

She reached through, ripped the girl’s soul from her body before he could end her and launched herself at Duke, wrapping an arm around his neck, trying to wrench him off the teen.

Fucker was strong, but she was stronger. He tried to shake her off and succeeded only in letting her sink her arm further around his throat.

When he reached up to try to tear her off, when he finally had no more contact with the crumpled body on the ground did she drop them down below.

“Who’s in charge of this soul?” She bellowed. He fought against her hold as if he had a chance to reach the surface again on his own.

A demon came forward, shackles already in hand to take McKinnon. She shoved him forward, waited just long enough to make sure the cuffs closed around his wrists before sending herself topside again.

She’d write up the damn report later.

The girl still stood there, shell-shocked and crying over her body, and damn it all if Sophia’s heart didn’t go out to her. “What’s your name?”

“Tiffany,” the girl sniffled.

Preppy blonde named Tiffany. Shocker, Sophia thought, but kept it to herself. “The way I see it, Tiffany, you have two options. You can accept that you’re dead and move on. Or I can try to put you back in your body.”

Surprise lit up the young girl’s face. “You can do that?”

“It’s still Halloween, the veil is still thin. I suppose your body is still inhabitable,” she looked down to the mangled corpse. “Maybe a bit damaged,” she admitted. “It won’t be fun, but you’ll live.”

She’d catch grief about it when she went back down. The dead were meant to stay dead.

Technically though, Sophia had been the one to kill her. And by that technicality, Sophia had done her job. She intended to argue that point till she was blue in the face.

Tiffany laid down over her own body, but it was Sophia merging the hearts of soul and body together once again that brought the girl back to life.

Nothing more she could do for her.

Sophia climbed the ladder, found the tiny child sobbing under his mask in the corner and made herself visible to him. When she lifted him, carried him down and into the house, he clung to her.

She settled him under a blanket on the couch, called the police for the barely breathing babysitter still on the ground outside and left. Her job was done.

           On to the next soul.

October 27, 2021 00:57

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Crows_ Garden
19:24 Mar 10, 2022

My mom's boyfriend still calls us crotch goblins. It's hilarious. I love that tidbit, and this story. It's awesome. I love stories about souls and crossing over.


Kimberly Close
20:50 Mar 10, 2022

My friends and I use the term a lot, but it's one I mainly use when people asking me when I'll finally have children. They don't ask again after that! :)


Crows_ Garden
21:10 Mar 10, 2022

It's a fun term to use. Oh- the pressure to have children.. It's a mess.


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Amiah Jared
19:39 Nov 04, 2021

I love the way this story grabs your attention with the unique perspective and character motives and holds on until the very last sentence... you truly made a compelling MC with an intriguing job and a humorous outlook on (the undead) life. I liked how she became a strange and unexpected sort of protector for the kids, despite being a literal demon. Great job, and happy writing! :)


Kimberly Close
00:55 Nov 05, 2021

Thank you so, so much!! :)


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Courtney Moore
13:30 Nov 03, 2021

Super interesting story! I like the way we find out subtle clues about Sophia’s past. It does make me think she has a soft spot for the child. The pacing was great, and I enjoyed the details. Great job!


Kimberly Close
14:26 Nov 03, 2021

Thank you!! 😊


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