"So, tell me what this is again?" Heidi asked with the crabby tone that was typical for her nowadays. She scratched at the messy bun atop her scalp, a frock of red hair barely held together by a pink scrunchie.
"It's an event I get paid to do," said David, brushing his thumb over the laptop's trackpad. "What, did you forget all the gigs I've done over the last four years?"
"If by gigs, you mean hitting play on a Spotify playlist, then no, I haven't forgotten." Heidi kicked at a blue pebble, watched it skip into the street.
"Har de har har," said David with a grin. "I do just fine, thanks. Help me lift this, will ya?" Heidi rolled her brown eyes and took the other side of the large speaker. They carried it across the small stage, puffs of warm breath visible on the chill October air.
"How'd you get the stage here anyway? I haven't heard about this 'event' until today," said Heidi, rubbing the irritation out of her fingers.
"Randall and Buddy from work. They might be a little slow but they can build a stage like it's a fifty-piece LEGO set." David scooped cords off the ground, feeding them to every piece of machinery on the stage.
"I see. But... why'd it have to be here?" Heidi asked.
"What do you mean?" David said.
"Here," Heidi said, gesturing to the chapel sitting to the left of the stage. It was old, the shingles on the steeple blackened and weathered. Its body was brick and mortar, the color sunken and cold. Surrounding it stood a rusting black iron fence that seemed to cry out in desperation for some maintenance. Studded in the yard like dead toes were hundreds of graves, the old ones covered in pigeon shit and weeds whilst the newer headstones were shiny and expensive.
"Well, I do this every Halloween. What kind of spooky concert would it be if it wasn't near a cemetery?" said David, pulling a cigarette from the pack in his jacket pocket.
"Why did it have to be his, though?" Heidi asked, turning to gaze across the field of tombstones. David followed suit and spotted it; the white marble headstone that had cost their uncle a pretty penny to have made. He couldn't see her face but knew Heidi was fighting back tears.
"I've never done this at a place this big before. Every Halloween, it's a small venue with a small turnout. So, hopefully, this year will have a bigger turnout if I use a big venue. And Heidi, it's been almost two years. I don't think I'm gonna disgrace Dad's memory if I play a little bit of music next to his grave."
"I don't care," said Heidi, turning to her brother. "I gotta go. Class starts at ten." She spun on a heel, shoving her hands in her pockets. The cherry on David's cigarette brightened as he pulled the smoke into his lungs.
"I'll see you here tonight?" David called out. Heidi stopped and turned.
"Why would I come?" she asked, shielding her eyes from the sun.
"Good music, good people. A good time. Could help take your mind off things," David said.
"I don't know, David," said Heidi. "I'm busy. We'll see." She turned and started walking again.
"I'll see you at nine!" David shouted. Heidi gave him the bird without turning back. David finished the cigarette and got back to work.
By the time seven o'clock had rolled around, the sun had set, leaving the sky free for a smattering of stars and a crescent moon. David stared at its toenail curve. A full one would've been nice but you can't have everything he thought as he sipped on a steaming cup of coffee, his third of the day. He sat at the edge of the stage, feet dangling off the edge. Though a buzz of city ambiance could be heard in the distance -car horns, construction on a lower avenue- the quiet calm of the neighboring graveyard was welcome and gave his ears a buffer before the music deafened his hearing.
"Some rager, huh?" someone said to David's left. He smiled when he saw Connor standing there in his corduroy jacket, hands in his pockets.
"Connor!" David said, giving him a hug. "It's great to see you. How's it been?"
"Oh, you know, as good as you can make it," said Connor, eyeing the stage. "Quite the setup you have here. Much bigger than last year."
"Yeah, I called in a favor or two," said David, looking at his mixing equipment, the smoke machine. "Wanted to make it special this year." Connor looked around the empty venue.
"Anyone else stop by yet?" Connor asked, his breath dancing in the air. A slight breeze kicked crisp yellow leaves by their shoes. They shuddered in sync.
"You're the first," said David. "Two hours before commencement, I'm afraid." They laughed and stood there. David watched Connor's gaze drift toward the cemetery, the moonlight making the headstones look like bedsheet ghosts.
"The kids doing okay?" David asked. Connor blinked and cleared his throat.
"They're fine," said Connor with hesitation. "As fine as they can be. It's been hard." David gave a respectful nod.
"Well, since you're here early... I can start the party exclusively for you," David said.
"Wait... you'd give me the extra two hours?" Connor asked. "Do I need to pay you more?"
"Nah, don't worry about it," said David. "We've known each other too long. The standard is fine."
"Thank you." Connor pulled a warm twenty-dollar bill from his pocket and placed it in David's palm. David jumped onto the stage and opened the song request list he'd compiled the night prior.
"Is your selection still the one you want?" David asked. Connor gave a silent nod, eyes glued to the cemetery. David hit the spacebar on his laptop and the stage came to life. Gentle purple lights started to glow and the smoke machine gave the occasional puff. 'You Are My Sunshine' by Johnny Cash started to play, the speakers producing the sound of a smooth acoustic guitar. It made David's hair stand on edge.
It didn't take long for Eleanor to show up. Both David and Connor had their eyes on the cemetery when they saw the glow. A stark purple aura arose from a far corner of the graveyard. David watched Connor shift in his spot, fingers drumming at his leg. Soon, the glow grew nearer, until it was on the border of the fence. Once through the bars, it took shape, producing arms and legs, a head and face, accompanied with a long dress and high heels. This spectral woman looked at Connor and smiled with a row of light lavender teeth.
"Hi honey," said Connor, wiping a stray tear from his cheek. The woman brought her hands to his face and they kissed. David wondered if Connor could feel her touch; she looked solid enough that it seemed likely. He didn't question it further. The couple started to dance, slow and within each other's grasp. For the entirety of the song, Connor's smile never faltered.
A healthy crowd had gathered by eight-thirty. They conversed, laughed, and wept but never stopped dancing, save to kiss under the moonlight. David was deep in his playlist. With every song, more apparitions began to arrive from the cemetery, meeting people on the dance floor with nothing but smiles. They came in emerald, magenta, cerulean, and deep violet, shimmering and taking shape as they took the hands of their beloved. David smiled from the stage. This was his favorite part of the night.
With attendees came the money. David had over five hundred dollars tucked into his pocket when the clock struck nine. Three hours remained. He queued a slow song and the attendee's pace came to a crawl. It was a sight to behold from the stage; bodies, physical and ethereal, locking arms and swaying to the rhythm of soft trumpets. They fell quiet, allowed the movement to speak for itself. Spirits continued to wade through and David grew suspicious that more than those committed to the church's cemetery were arriving. He'd never had this large of a turnout before. The glow of the spirits illuminated the dancefloor even more than his lights ever could, collecting into a menagerie of colors like a scrambled rainbow.
"What the fuck is going on?" Heidi's voice said behind him. David turned, saw the startled expression on her face.
"Hey, you made it!" David said, giving his sister a pinch on the arm. He had to shout to be heard over the music. "About time, Debbie Downer. It's almost ten!"
"What is that?" Heidi asked through dry lips. Her expression was slack and her features had sunken into her skull. She let breaths out as quickly as she drew them in. "What are those things?"
"Hey, don't get so worked up," said David. "This is nothing to be frightened by. They're not freaking out over there and they're next to them."
"What is them?" Heidi said.
"They're spirits... ghosts," David said. Heidi met his gaze with a face that said You'd better have a good explanation for this. "Look, I did an event a couple years ago for a Halloween party. Very small but I had a soundboard and a laptop. I played some music for a group of ten. That's where I met my buddy Connor. He's here somewhere. Anyway, I started playing music and through the wall comes his deceased fiance Eleanor, dressed in the same clothes she died in. She didn't say anything, still as mute as she was alive, but they danced the night away."
"How?! How is that a thing? How is any of this possible?" Heidi asked, running her fingers through her hair, giving the strands a stressful tug.
"You think I didn't ask that myself?" David said, sipping from his plastic water bottle. "We were all flummoxed. I stopped playing the music. Eleanor stared at me with these blank eyes until I started playing the music again. They just kept dancing."
"How did she know where to find him?" Heidi said. A cheer came from the crowd as the song changed to something more upbeat.
"Connor and Eleanor share a love for Johnny Cash. 'You Are My Sunshine' came on, Connor started crying and Eleanor showed up. I think Eleanor was drawn to that song. I don't know why she chose Halloween to appear, but it's worked every Halloween since, and not just for her, as you can see." David gestured toward the crowd.
Heidi looked past the stage, bewildered and speechless. She sighed and shoved her hands back into her sweatshirt pockets. David looked at his laptop. 10:00.
"Perfect," David said, shouting over the music. "You made it just in time to see him." Heidi looked over her shoulder.
"See who?" she asked as the song changed. The lights changed to a soft orange and 'The Night We Met' by Lord Huron channeled through the speakers. They stood there for a moment, staring at each other, Heidi beginning to understand. "No. You don't think he will."
David looked out at the crowd, watching more apparitions arrive, filtering through a mass of people. Guarantee you that most of them didn't RSVP he thought. David nodded and wiped the sweat off his brow.
"This is his favorite song. He'd sing this to you when you couldn't fall asleep. Look, I've never played this song on Halloween before, nor have I ever played near this church. I'm not making any promises but maybe tonight will be different. Just go out there already." David gave his sister a gentle smile that flickered like the flame of a candle. Heidi gulped hard, nodded, and stepped down the stairs, shoving her way through the crowd.
David watched his sister nudge elbows into sides, squeezing through couples to find the one specter in the crowd that mattered the most. It didn't take long for him to arrive. He came glowing a soft green. Heidi froze as soon as they made eye contact, started weeping, clutching at her throat and falling to the dancefloor. The ghost took her by the hand, picked her up, and gave her a long hug, which turned into a slow sway. Heidi's face was tucked into her father's chest, his own plastered with a smile that only a father could save for his child. David grinned and sat at the edge of the stage, a bottle of water in hand.
David queued the final two songs and pressed the mic to his lips.
"Okay, folks. We've only got time for a couple more. Thank you for joining us here tonight. It's been a lovely time, hasn't it?" The crowd responded with a raucous harmony of cheers. "Now dance until the lights go down!" David gave a smile and played the second to last song. The crowd danced, hands in the air, faces young and old, clothes dated and current. Regardless of their differences, they all danced; danced like they hadn't anything more to lose.
He saw Heidi walking back toward the stage, the spectral form of their father trailing behind her with a gentle smile. David's stomach did a somersault as they marched up the stairs.
"Someone wants to say hello, David," Heidi said. There was a bewildered joy in her eyes that David had never seen before. Tears lined her eyelids and dribbled down her cheeks. There he was. Their father exactly as he'd remembered him. His long beard brushed at the collar of his fishing jacket, radiating with a spectral lime aura. David could see the rest of the stage through his torso, but could still make out the features of his clothing.
"Hi, David," said their father. David's heart skipped. It'd been so long since he'd heard his father's voice. It was just how it used to sound; happy to be there.
"Hi, Dad," said David. He reached out for a hug and embraced his father, letting a choked sob into the apparition's shoulder. His curiosity was fulfilled; he could feel him. Everywhere their bodies met, he could actually feel it. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, buddy," he said, pulling away and looking at the crowd. "You did all this?"
"Well, I can't take all the credit," said David, wiping the snot from his nose. "Had some help setting up the stage but the event kind of makes itself. The music is the real star."
"I'm proud of you, son," their father said, bringing both of his children together with side hugs. "I'm proud of both of you. Thank you for this, David."
"Thank you for coming, Dad," said David. They smiled at each other, watching the crowd dance to the last song of the night, 'You Or A Ghost' by The Brobecks. They stood there, lights flashing, the ghosts twirling their partners, the music loud and the sky studded with stars. David looked at the watch on his left wrist, saw midnight, blinked while shedding a tear in the same moment, and opened his eyes to find only his sister with him on the stage.
"I love you, Dad," said Heidi. She shut her eyes, forcing the tears back. David held her close, letting her bury her face into his shirt. When they pulled away, they looked at the dance floor. It was now filled only with patrons, satisfied and saddened. They started moving away, shuffling home in a love-drunken stupor and murmuring gentle whispers. A few of the attendees came to the stage; first-timers and veterans coming to thank David for the chance to see their loved ones once more.
David shut his laptop and began packing up. Heidi helped, wrapping up cords and shoving them into boxes. The night air grew chilly as the adrenaline and collective body heat began to fade. Their ears rang as they finished taping the boxes shut.
"Thank you for that," said Heidi, giving her brother one more hug before turning to leave the stage.
"Do you need a ride?" David asked. He pulled the large wad of cash from his pocket. "Made about two grand with this one. I can get you a taxi."
"Keep it. I don't mind walking." Heidi said, spinning on her heel. "You need that to eat with. You're not gonna make money any time soon with these gigs."
"What are you talking about?" David asked. "Did you hear what I made tonight?"
"No, I heard it. Your regular gigs suck. But this," said Heidi, looking back toward the graveyard. She smiled. "This one wasn't that bad. Keep the money, David. I'll see you around."
"Fine," said David. He watched his sister walk around the fence and head down the sidewalk. They met eyes one more time and David flipped her a playful bird. She held up two and disappeared around the chapel. David lit the last cigarette in the carton.
"See you around," said David, gazing at the moon in the sky. A plane soared overhead, the crackling echo of the engines growing and fading as the plane blinked its way across the black blanket above. Thin wisps of cloud had started rolling by the stars, extinguishing their faint glow. He looked back toward the chapel and jumped off the stage. Weaving through the headstones, he found his father's grave.
"And I'll see you next year. You owe me a dance, old man." The cigarette smoldered as he stepped away, smoke trail dancing amongst the cemetery and leaves skipping through the iron fence, guided by the October breeze.