I live in a town where the dead outnumber the living and always have. In September, men in costumes overtake the town. They shoot real guns stuffed with fake bullets. They stoke real fires in my backyard and smoke Camel Lights while drinking from Dasani bottles wrapped in burlap. There are tents. The air is thick with damp, machine-stitched wool. Someone ties up a bleating sheep outside my front door and calls it Kevin.
A long time ago, people died in my house. They scratched their names into a closet doorjamb with the year and half a flower. I wonder if they were here now, would they take a cup of human blood and throw it on a father-son outing that had started out as fun.
Not so fun now, the long-ago people would say, watching them run.
After all the Boy Scouts and vendors and people playing dress-up scattered and left, I would give my visitors a cold drink from my kitchen faucet. They’d look at me and my thin shirt, look at the house that once was theirs. They would see how it took over fifteen decades and one new floor to scrub it clean of everything they had witnessed.
When I’d make small talk and ask them when they planned on going back, there would be a pause longer than a century. They would look at each other and sip my clean water. Never, they’d say.
I would show the women my closet, and as they fingered my clothes they would shed their own. We would have a fire later that night. Each of us would take turns gathering stubbed-out cigarettes from the grass and flicking them into the barrel. Following those would be petticoats, brass buttons, and skirts stiff with lye soap and old blood. My visitors would teach me old songs, and we’d drink new whiskey. We’d watch the past burn beyond recognition.
Ashley Hutson‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, DOGZPLOT, The Heavy Contortionists, Pantheon, Calliope, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere. In 2014 she was named the short fiction finalist for the Orlando Prize. She lives in Sharpsburg, MD.