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"Brooding Night" By Thomas Stewart

The wolf howls in the distance. It’s time.

No words can describe the excitement I’ve felt for this night. If there was one thing someone like me could be excited for, it was this night: “Μελαγχολική νύχτα”, or “Brooding night”, for you lot. It gets boring down there, you see, always toiling about in a task I didn’t even want in the first place.

To give just a quick look into what I do on a day to day basis, I basically get to have the tribulation-- oop, I mean “honor”-- of being a tour guide of sorts. I get to show people around this shithole I live in while making sure the unruly ones don’t step too far out of line. I don’t get paid for it, nor am I rewarded for it except for the fact that I don’t have the head guys upstairs breathing down my neck constantly, if you know what I mean.

But tonight, you see, is my one sort of “day off” from that task. Brooding Night is the one time every year where I can actually have a bit of fun. The one time where I can actually leave this shithole and go out, see the world. Not that there’s much to it, but even still, it’s something.

The best part, though, comes at this time, when the wolf howls at the moon. Night time, clear skies, a rushing wind, and just an overall atmosphere of ominous happenings everywhere. When it’s quiet, you feel like there’re eyes on you. When it’s loud, you feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, like you are in imminent danger. Ahh… Perfect for telling a tale or two, right?

That’s what “Brooding night” is; a time for story telling. What kinds of stories, you ask? Oh, just stuff about our lives, how our days went, who did what, and the most interesting thing to happen this week. Basically what you all do at any of your little gatherings, only with me and my little group of pals, things go a good bit differently. With us, let’s just say for right now that a lot of people, your kind of people, end up losing their minds.

I begin setting up the fire in the middle of this clearing here in the park. It’s a pretty place enough during the daytime, sure, but when that sun goes down…

The flames kick up and start dancing wildly atop the kindling. I chose Maplewood for this occasion, too, the kind that has an extremely nice fragrance to it. I know one friend in particular who’ll appreciate that. I hear the wind kick up harder and I grin.

Howls and wails fill the empty night air and from my right, I see Grim walking toward me. “Hello Grim, so glad you could make it.” He stares at me and nods. I think I can even see a small grin parting across his face, though it’s hard to tell because of that big ass cloak he always wears. “Take a load off, the fire’s nice.”

“I take it the others haven’t shown up yet?” he asks with his raspy as hell voice. Admittedly, it took me a long time myself to actually figure out anything he was ever saying.

“Not yet, pal. It’s still early, just take a seat and relax.” He just stands there, staring intently at the flames. I can’t help but chuckle a little at this. That’s our Grim, always so intense.

All jokes aside, he always told some of the better stories, the more interesting ones, because of this. I guess, to put it into perspective, listening to him tell his story is similar to when you might listen to a police officer or an EMT tell one of their stories. The way they don’t try to dramatize anything because they don’t need to.

In the past, myself and the others actually tried to see if we could tell a more interesting story. This ended, though, after we all ended up losing a pretty sour bet, putting me out at least 5,000 bones and forcing me to work double overtime at my “day job” so to speak to make it all back. No, after that, “Brooding Night” went back to just being about a couple of buds hanging around a fire, talking about how everything was going.

I hear the howling again. Time is drawing near. Grim and I look up at the horizon. In the distance, a very faint silhouette of a wolf is seen in the distance. “Running late, isn’t he?” asks Grim.

“Isn’t he always?” I shoot back with a chuckle. “You know he likes to try and make an entrance, besides which, he isn’t late yet.” The wind around us kicks up and I look over to see our old friend Shin come up from my right.

“Charry-boy, how’s it goin’?” he exclaims.

“If it ain’t Shinny-minny.” I shoot back. The two of us laugh and he joins the fire next to Grim.

“Grimmy, you been losing some weight? You’re lookin’ thinner every time I see you.” Grim says nothing. Like I said, always so intense.

“It’s been so long since we did this.” I laugh.

“Only a year.” I reply.

“Too long.” He shoots back jokingly. “Well, what’re we waiting for? Gang’s all here, fire’s high, and--”

Uh uh, not everyone.” I interrupt, pointing to the moon. Shin looks at the moon.

“Oh… Right. Fashionably late as always.” The next minute or two passes with the only sound now coming from the howling in the distance. In my head, I’m thinking of telling him when he finally arrives that his little gimmick here isn’t all that cool anymore. It was one thing when he did it the first couple thousand times, but now it’s growing just a bit stale.

Finally, one last gust of wind blasts the three of us in the face and we look to see him standing before us, in front of the fire. “Well look who finally decided to show up.” I remark as he starts walking over to the fire.

“Nub, my boy, how’s it been?”

“Light, actually.” Nub replies in a tone more casual than I’d ever remembered hearing before.

“Well that’s good.” I say. “Wish it were the same for me.”

“Really?” he asks. Shin and Grim both look at me. I’m apparently going first here.

“Well yeah, I mean, you should’ve seen the workload this year. What with all the disease-related deaths and the shit going on in Eastern Europe right now.”

“Please, do tell, comrade.” Shin jokes in a bad russian accent. I chuckle.

“Well, this last month in particular stands out to me. Between all the cossack G.I. Joes trying to scream at me while I’m doing my job, and the privates that kept wetting themselves just from looking at me, it was a hassle enough. Then, though, came the children.”

My voice goes soft. I honestly wish Shin wouldn’t have made me go first. I wasn’t quite ready mentally to talk about this, not yet. I see the others looking expectantly at me. I take a deep breath and start again.

“So… The children… You know, as long as I’ve been doing my job, guys, I’ve never quite gotten used to having to involve the kids. They’re so small, you know, so innocent. I mean, what’ve they done, you know?” Nub nods his head while Shin tells me he gets it, telling me it’s “Just something you have to shove down”. Obviously this doesn’t do anything to help me feel any better about it, but he’s not wrong. Unfortunately, in our line of work, no matter who or what it is, old or young, the time comes where we and people like the four of us see you all.

“Well, this time, it was a little girl. Name was Alexia, I believe. She was trapped for three days under the rubble of her house before she was sent down.” I hear a sharp inhale from Nub. “She wasn’t even in one piece when they found her, either. Imagine of one of y’all had to someone like that as one of your clients, a little girl with her fuckin’ eye hanging out of one socket and no arms or legs. Just a stub, disfigured to the point where you can’t even tell whether or not it’s even a little girl at all.”

“Jeez Char,” says Nub. “I think you’re about to bum us all out, here, even Grim.” He looks at Grim. Grim stares at the flames.

“Well, what can I say, you asked.”

“Well, I got one that cracked me up just the other day.” Me and Shin look at him. “So you know how there’s been a lot of videos going around on the internet up here recently with idiots filming themselves fucking up some kind of stunt?”

“Yeah,” Shin and I both reply almost at the exact same time. He starts having to hold himself from busting his gut laughing. The two of us lean in closer.

“Okay, so I want you guys to imagine real quick, a teenager, I’d say about 18, maybe 19; old enough to drive and vote, but not enough to drink or smoke legally, right. And he’s like, super angsty. Everything to him has to be “EXTREME”.”

“YOLO type.” Shin interjects. Nub points to him.

“Exactly. So I want you to imagine this kid seeing me and somehow thinking “Oh look, guys, Imma wrestle this dog man looking motherfucker and get a million hits.”

Shin immediately starts losing his breath laughing and I ask, “Really?”

“Yeah, Char, dummy went from “dying an internet star” -- sorta -- to getting his shit stomped by Ammit.” Now I start laughing. Just the idea of some punk ass kid getting beat up by that half lion, half gator son of a gun makes me smile with devious glee.

“Wish I had someone like that.” I say.

“Me, too, man. Especially since people look at me and think I’m gonna give them some notebook or something to use as a weapon. I mean, come on, I’m a guide, not a personal fucking hitman.” Nub and I snicker. “What, it ain’t funny.”

“It is a little funny.” chimes Grim. The three of us freeze and look at him. Grim having a sense of humor, what an unheard of concept.

“Oh, okay, wise ass, let me know how you like it when people walk up to you and think you’re a joke.”

I chuckle and say, “Doubt it, I mean, Grim’s a little too well known for all that, ain’t that right, buddy.” He nods at me and returns his gaze to the fire.

“Ah well, it does make it fun still when I come and they think they’re going to be saved from the wrath of whoever they ended up pissing off. The looks on their faces…” He makes this sort of squealing noise and says, “Priceless.”

“I can imagine.” I say, grinning.

“You should’ve been there when I saw this one poor kid getting his head shoved in the toilet at his school. Don’t remember exactly what he’d done, I think something about screwing around with the football captain’s girlfriend, or at least being accused of it for some reason. Honestly, if you’d have seen him, you wouldn’t have thought he’d have gotten any, not from a hot cheerleader like the girl he was getting his ass beat over.”

“Anyway, so he’s getting good and waterlogged, and here I come, making my… 17th stop for that day, I believe. Yeah, he blacks out after a good commode bath and when he wakes up, my beautiful mug is there, waiting for him.”

“What’d he do then?” Nub asks.

In a fake voice, he says, “Oh thank God, With your notebook, I’ll get the whole football team for--” And I stop him, telling him, “Look kid, I’m here for you, not them.” And he starts goin’ all crazy on me, talking about how I’m supposed to help him take his revenge, just like I do on his dumbass TV show he watched all the time.”

Nub and I go into hysterics.

“It’s been years since the last time I wanted to rip a kid apart with my bare hands, I tell ya.” Nub and I continue laughing.

“Your turn, Grim.” I say. He looks up from the fire.

“My turn?” he asks.

“Well yeah,” Nub chimes in, “We’ve heard from Char and Shin, here, you’re the only one left.”

“Yeah man, I gotta know if you’ve had some punk or some little kid,” Shin stops for a second, looking at me, “that you’ve had to deal with this year.” Grim shakes his head.

“No?” I ask. “No asshole from up here?”

“No.” he says. “There’s not been any kind of interesting client. Not like you all anyway.”

“What do you mean?” Nub asks him.

“I haven’t dealt with any “punks” or anything.”

“Okay then, what have you dealt with? Come on, I know something’s happened.” Grim sighs.

“Well, I guess if you really wanna know, there was one that made my night rather interesting. It was a group of men at a bachelor party held at the park.”

“The park?” Shin asks, pointing his hands around himself. “You mean like this place?”

“Exactly like this place. They were all out, boozing like there was no tomorrow. One of them was blacked out and this particular one, I believe, was a very paranoid drunk. That, and he likely had some shit in his system. Either way, his friends didn’t realize he was packing heat-- that is, until he began unloading the clip of his nine millimeter on everybody else.”

Me, Nub, and Shin all look at each other in shock. Neither of us know what to say to this. Again, either because of his stoic demeanor or because of the scene he described, the three of us can’t seem to make a joke or anything out of this, nothing to try and lighten the mood any.

“No one was spared.” he continues, “And as soon as he executed the last one, he goes on a shooting spree, laying out any and every unlucky bastard he happens to see, including at least two children and a pregnant mother, until a policeman manages to drop him where he stands.”

Another moment passes with the only sound coming from the pop of the flames atop the Maplewood. Finally, I speak up, asking, “When was all this?”

Grim looks up at me, exposing his bleached white, bony face for the first time and says, “Just before I arrived.” He gestures around us and the flames flare up, almost like they were waiting for this moment, and Nub, Shin, and myself all drop our jaws at the holocaust before us. How either of us could’ve missed it before now, neither I nor they could tell you, but all across the park grounds were the bodies of murdered men, sprawled out in various poses.

Without another word, the four of us stood, nodded to each other, and split off. The other three vanished into the air, returning back to their places in the sky while I remain a while longer with the fire. It is quiet again.

Despite what I said earlier, the park isn’t so beautiful anymore. The night now taints the grounds instead of accentuating them. For the first time ever, “Brooding night” ends on a somber note, because it began on one. I suppose, I can’t help but feel that Grim is the only one that truly understands what it means to be one of us, guides of the dead. He can watch all of this, this carnage, and still have it in him to come to our little gathering.

Still, part of me wonders if it’s possible that this wears on him, too, somewhere deep down. I don’t expect it does. That’s just our Grim.

I know this, though. This has easily been the single most shocking “Brooding Night” in a millennia.

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