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Working Halloween for Christmas Money

Story by John Minichillo (Read author interview) September 30, 2010

art by Aaron Grayum

The axe murderer was on the porch of Greer’s trailer, his feet propped on the banister, the bloody axe in his lap. He was tipping back a cold one with the-lady-with-the-dead-baby while Greer was in the trailer counting money. The zombie firefighter and the grim reaper smoked cigarettes and mulled about. They hadn’t thought to bring a cooler and the axe murderer wasn’t in the mood to share. The axe murderer was a six-year veteran of Greer’s Haunted Moonshine Massacre and he knew a night spent chasing teenagers was best ended with Budweiser. In the cooler was beer for himself, though the-lady-with-the-dead-baby inspired his generosity, because she was hot. She sat in the rocking chair and sipped from the bottle.

The redneck swamp newlyweds walked up the gravel drive and the redneck swamp bride talked on her phone while the swamp groom stepped onto the porch.

“Greer in?” he said.

“Counting cash,” the axe murderer said.

“We want to go ahead and get ours,” the redneck swamp groom said. “We have to leave.”

“There’s cash in the cashbox at the gate,” the axe murderer said. “Can’t none of us leave until it’s all in. You know Greer don’t like that.” The axe murderer lifted his bloodied arm and tilted it so his watch face caught the single porch light above the door of Greer’s trailer. “We got another hour.”

“There’s only a few kids out there,” the swamp groom said.

“They paid for the full experience,” the axe murderer said.

“What about you all?” the swamp groom said.

“My territory,” the axe murder said, “encompasses the graveyard and extends all the way up to here.”

“You been drinking this whole time?”

“Greer never said we couldn’t,” the axe murderer said. “It goes with my character. You and the swamp bride are supposed to stay in the barn.”

“What about her?” the swamp groom said, indicating the-lady-with-dead-baby.

“She’s allowed a fifteen minute break, as required by law.”

“I don’t know why I’m even talking to you,” the swamp groom said, and he banged on the trailer door with the bottom of his fist. “Hey, Greer! Open up!”

Greer guessed a thief wouldn’t know his name, but he couldn’t be too sure, so he called out: “Who is it?”

“It’s me. Lyle. Me and the bride, we have to leave.”

“You can’t leave.”

“Just come out here and talk to us.”

The trailer door opened to let out a shaft of light. Greer moved uncomfortably for a nervous moment, until he had the trailer locked up. He was the only adult on the property not in costume, in army fatigues, flip-flops, and a Def Leppard t-shirt. He helped himself to one of the axe murderer’s beers, twisted off the cap, and tossed it into the bushes. The lady-with-the-dead-baby stopped rocking and leaned forward, the broken doll adjusted in her lap.

“Our kid is sick,” the swamp groom said.

“We got to get home,” the swamp bride pleaded. “The babysitter’s been calling. She’s threatening to take her to the emergency room.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s just sick,” the swamp bride said. “A fever.”

“Maybe she should see a doctor,” Greer said.

“Give us our money,” the swamp groom said. “It’s what we’re owed.”

Greer sat on the cooler and looked out into the black night of his environs, his mother’s farm. When he was old enough to want to leave the farmhouse, his mother bought him the trailer and he moved to the other end of the property. The Haunted Moonshine Massacre was something he started for fun. No one expected it to take off like it did.

“Bring her on by,” Greer said, and this was unexpected. “I was pre-med at Auburn.”

“But did you graduate?” the axe murderer said, rhetorically, because they all knew the answer.

“You want us to drive home,” the swamp bride said. “Then drive her back?”

“Or you could go to the emergency room.”

Somewhere in the blackness a girl screamed, followed by the ripcord of a chainsaw, the putter- putter, and the chainsaw whine. His terms were laid out and Greer wouldn’t budge: payout was contingent upon the swamp newlyweds agreeing to come back with their kid. It wasn’t about Greer playing doctor or any sincere desire to help. Greer thought they were lying.

Last year at Christmas the groom almost broke down and told his daughter what the world was really like. He almost gave it to her straight about Santa. And so after three consecutive weekends of working at the Moonshine Massacre, instead of bullshit, Lyle’s kid deserved toys galore under this year’s tree.

The bride and groom wore green face paint and the groom carried a jug labeled XXX. The swamp bride’s dress was a prom dress they’d found at Goodwill where they also bought the groom’s jacket and tie. But the swamp bride’s veil was real. The same one he’d lifted to kiss her. Back when the preacher said I pronounce you…

A clique of high school kids rummaged through the clothes at Goodwill to find costumes too. They called attention to themselves. They had too much fun. They were loud. Lyle was embarrassed as he looked around and recognized the discomfort of the regulars, the high school kids nave and rude. They didn’t know about dignity yet. As far as Lyle could tell, they didn’t know much of anything at all.

“I can go as a fat woman,” one of the football players said, and he held up a dress. It was a dress a real woman had worn earnestly for years. To work and to church. The boy was heavy, with a bad buzz cut, and he was her size. Maybe she wore it well, or maybe she wore this dress until she was sick of herself. But the boy was laughing at her.

“All I need now is a pair of fat heels.”

About the Author

John Minichillo’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Third Coast, the anthology Next Stop Hollywood (St. Martin’s), Gigantic , Monkeybicycle, wigleaf, Metazen, Nashville Review, Staccato Fiction, In Posse Review, Prick of the Spindle, Necessary Fiction, Everyday Genius, Moon Milk Review, Northville Review, Hint Fiction: an Anthology of Stories in Twenty-Five Words or Less and elsewhere. He lives in Nashville and teaches fiction writing at Middle Tennessee State University.

About the Artist

Aaron Grayum is a painter and graphic designer living in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated with a B.F.A. from Middle Tennessee State University in 1999 and has won several Addy awards working as a graphic designer. He and his wife Michelle own The Gray Umbrella, a creative art & design studio.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Nine

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