Saint Lazarus Day
My family moved to White Valley on September 17th, 2018. One month before Saint Lazarus Day. The most exciting thing about the town was supposed to be the pizza.
I can still remember the debate my wife and I had while house hunting. She, naturally, pined for a picturesque colonial type, one with a wrap around porch, and big windows. I guess she hoped to sit on it and sip some iced tea, like rich people did in those old fashioned country films, or something. I, on the other hand, demanded a large office slash man-cave, where I would be free to work from home and hide from her friends.
When it came to our dream home by the lake, we never had to compromise. The fixer-upper on Juniper Street had both accommodations, and so much more in spades. We signed on the dotted line after only a couple visits. We upended our lives based on little more than a whim and a dream of something better. That risk felt exhilarating, at the time.
Our kids took the move better than expected. On the day of arrival, they skittered down the slippery wood floor halls like little ants eager to claim their individual hills. Joseph and Jordan took the smaller rooms on the second floor. The girls, Leah and Olivia, took the spacious double in the attic. My wife and I settled into the master suite on the first floor. The unpacking went well. The settling settled smoothly. It truly felt like we were living a dream.
White Valley was a small town. The type so small that it did not even have an online record. The next community sits about sixty miles down the highway, and it was a little bit bigger, with a population of five to six hundred. But we wanted to avoid hustle and bustle. We required the true country experience.
My kids started school soon after the move. There were a few odd rules and customs we had all to abide. Sunday would be a required day of rest in which business in or out of the house could not operate. Saturdays would usually be community gatherings and parties. We tried our best to make it out to some of them, for the kids’ sake, but it became more difficult to keep up with the schedule as our work commitments began to encroach around the holidays.
One holiday, we could not miss, however. Every citizen in the Valley was encouraged to attend.
Saint Lazarus Day.
The few people in town were the quiet and God fearing type. They followed an early offshoot of Christianity, one based exclusively on the teachings of James the Less, an obviously popular disciple of Christ. There were a few other odd traditions, but primarily among their beliefs was a communal celebration of Saint Lazarus.
The event was so popular in White Valley that it came with it’s own song. One day in late September, my wife and I caught the kids singing it together as they piled off the school bus and walked the short walk home.
“OH Saint Lazarus is the Day“
“When the Dead come out and play!“
“You can say hey or stay.“
“On good Saint Lazarus Day!“
“When you whistle, when you talk.“
“The dead will join your walk.
“You can leave or you can stay.“
“On good Saint Lazarus Day!“
Their little voices drifted in the window like a macabre little orchestra as they marched through the door. My wife met and accosted them at the door like a furious little hummingbird.
“Where did you learn that? Who taught you that?“
My oldest, Jordan, piped up first.
“They teach it to all the kids, Ma. It’s supposed to get people in the spirit.“
Joseph nodded enthusiastically while my youngest, Olivia, piped up from the back.
“Yeah, mom, aren’t we going to celebrate Saint Lazarus Day?“
Leah’s squeaky voice soon joined the rest.
“Are we going to the party, mom?”
All four kids dropped to their knees in front of us like little wind up dolls, with their hands pressed together in perfect prayer. I had to chuckle at that, even if my wife shot me a venomous glance in return. Part of me was happy to see the kids adjusting so nicely to the weird little community.
“I guess we can go. If everybody does their chores.“
My wife sighed exasperatedly and marched out of the room while my kids cheered and surrounded me like a football hero. I felt bad for throwing her under the bus, so I told them to get to it, and escaped to find Emily. I found her undressing in the mirror with a tight knit expression and tense shoulders exposed.
“We’ll only stay for an hour,” I compromised quietly.
“No, Matt, it’s a lock-in. Don’t you know what a lock in is? We’re not allowed to leave.“
“Oh, c’mon, we’re adults. We can’t just leave when we want?“
“No. A woman at work said it’s not safe.“
“How can it not be safe?“
My wife pulled off her work clothes and climbed into bed. She was doing that thing where she’s so mad she can’t even look at me. I tried not to laugh at the cuteness of it.
“I don’t know. That’s all she said. She said it’s not safe to go out on Saint Lazarus Day. She said once you go somewhere, stay there, lock the doors, and don’t go outside.“
This time, I laughed.
“Seriously, Em? It’s just another one of these hokey traditions. Everyone has them. Are we really in a position to judge? We eat fish on Christmas, right?“
“Yeah well this is pretty fucking far from fish on Christmas, Matt.“
“Look, I get what you’re trying to do. If you think this will help the kids adjust, we can go to the stupid frigging party. But just so you know, it’s all night. All or nothing, kiddo.“
I groaned and climbed into bed next to her. All or nothing.
The things you do for your kids.
We arrived to the party to find ourselves massively under-dressed and thoroughly impressed. The small town of a few hundred had turned out every stop to make the town hall look at its utmost best. Streamers and posters lined the walls with boxes of confetti carefully distributed throughout. Trays and boxes of junk food and coffee filled jugs covered about fifty tables with six or seven chairs each. The room looked packed. They even had a bar at the back for some of the more thirsty townsfolk.
As soon as we got in the room, Joseph led the gang over to the kids area, which included an inflatable house and several big screen TVs. My wife and I got started with a couple cocktails at the bar. We downed two or three in an hour, and by the fourth, a semi familiar neighbor from down the street approached our table. She wore an elegant black dress that fell off at the shoulders and accentuated her long blonde hair.
My wife jumped at her like a drunken hyena.
“Gwen! How are you? So nice to see you here!“
Gwen smiled quietly and then offered a quiet look down at her feet.
“Oh, I’m okay, a little emotional… given the circumstances. Helen may not stay this year.“
“I’m sorry?” I asked, a little drunk myself. “She gets to leave the party early?“
Gwen stared at me with pale blue eyes. Then she shrugged.
“I guess you could say that.“
A clock struck a loud buzzer located somewhere towards the back of the room. All of the conversations quickly turned into a quiet chatter as a few people, including Gwen, clapped emphatically. A massive group of flood lights illuminated the courtyard outside. It suddenly became very clear that we were in a bubble like room. Every wall was a window that provided perfect vision of the picturesque night outside.
“We’re about to start!” Gwen whispered. “Better go grab your kids. I think they will unlock the door this year.“
Emily disappeared to the children area to round up our brood while I tried to grab the bartender for two more martinis. I finally got his attention, but he stared at me stupidly and shook his head. Then he pointed at the clock.
12:00. Great. Why can’t I drink?
I noticed that the ground started to shake. It was subtle, at first, like a tiny earthquake. Then it was as as if thunder had taken down a tree somewhere in the near vicinity, only, there were no storms. I grabbed onto the bar to steady myself as several people laughed happily and did the same.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMAN…” a voice shouted over the loudspeaker. “THE HOLIDAY HAS BEGUN…” His voice rose with building anticipation. “THE DEAD HAVE BEEN SIGHTED ON WILMINGTON AVE!“
The room erupted into wild cheers as spotlights began to search the woods surrounding our building. Emily and the kids ran up into my arms just as I saw a shadow escape from the treeline outside and stumble forward.
“Oh! Look, look!” Leah shouted. “More of them!“
Rows upon rows of shadows started to drift aimlessly from out of the woods. A bright pair of headlights, somewhere in the far distance, seemed to be herding them in that particular direction.
They were people. At least, they looked like people.
As they got closer, their horrible features became clearer. Bits and pieces of skin hung like glue from faces and legs and any number of terrible places. The ones with leg injuries dragged themselves forward piteously, like zombies. Even the unharmed looked to be in a complete daze incapable of understanding. The only thing that seemed to animate their intentions at all seemed to be the little white lights that led their way towards our building.
Leah whimpered quietly and hid under my arms. Jordan began to pepper me with questions as people pointed out to individual bodies moving their way to the windows.
“Who are they?“
“I don’t know, Jordan.“
“What are they doing here?“
“I don’t know, Jordan.“
“Is this a prank?“
“*I DON”T KNOW, JORDAN.“
I shouted the last line so angrily at my poor son that I thought people would turn and stare. But no one seemed interested. Many of the townsfolk ran over to the windows to get a better look at the bodies. As the first corpse approached, it did the most absurd thing. It spoke.
“Cindy. Today is Saint Lazarus Day. Will you leave, or will you stay?“
A little girl cried piteously at the window as her mother held her and patted her back.
“No… no, daddy, not today.“
The corpse nodded sadly. It’s dead eyes glanced quickly over the auditorium behind the glass. Then it walked away and disappeared into the woods. With it’s back turned, I could see the rot thad had developed on his arms.
I watched across the room as so many other families rushed up to the windows and met with loved ones. I held my kids and wife tightly and whispered to them incessantly not to move. Most of the people exchanged a few similar phrases. “Not today, Dad” or “Not today, Mom,” and the like. Most of the encounters ended with just a simple goodbye. Until finally, one scream eviscerated the room, and the entire place grew silent.
The herd of dead, decaying… people moved lazily back into the woods in response. The spotlight began to wander away from them. It searched lazily through the crowd outside until it found one simple shadow, shorter than the rest, waiting just beyond the edge of the courtyard.
A little boy.
“Timothy, oh Timothy, oh Timothy,” a woman screamed as she rushed forward. “I see you, baby.”
The little boy walked up slowly to the glass and placed his hands on it. I could see parts of the wounds sustained to his neck and face. I could see the perfect hole carved into the back of his head.
The woman placed her hand on the glass beside him.
“Timothy,” she sniffed.
The boy spoke. But his voice didn’t sound like the voice of a boy. It sounded dark, and old, and musty, and crackling. Truthfully… it sounded evil.
“Hello mother. Today is Saint Lazarus Day. Will you leave, or will you stay?“
Helen looked towards the front of the room. I recognized the mayor as the source of her glance, and also the source of the large megaphone which he held in his hands. Mayor Tom nodded, with tears in his eyes, and lifted it to his lips.
“OPEN THE DOOR.“
Helen picked up her purse and followed a very official looking gentleman in all black clothing. They made their way to the back of the auditorium. A few folks clasped Helen on her back. A few shouted their well wishes. Most stayed quiet. My wife whispered what the fuck is happening just as they opened a short little door, gestured Helen out, and shut it behind her.
I watched them outside. The boy and mother looked at each for a few long moments. Helen cried openly. Timothy seemed conflicted and confused.
“It’s okay, honey,” Helen said. “I’m read-“
But before she could finish, Timothy leaped the five foot gap between them and sunk seemingly jagged teeth into her exposed neck. Helen screamed and gasped like a hooked fish. I forced my family to turn around. But I saw everything. The gore… the viscera. The boy ate entire pieces of his mother’s face in five short minutes. I watched him drink blood from her spurting neck.
The crowd watched this all silently. When the process seemed to be complete, they started to chant.
“Rise, Helen, for this is His way.“
“Rise, Helen, today is Saint Lazarus Day.“
Without another word, the dead woman rose to a sitting position. She looked towards the window and considered the group quietly. Cold dead eyes peered into mine, even from what felt like a mile away, and I felt them burn an existence into my soul. Then she rose to her feet. She took her son’s hand in hers.
And they walked into the woods together.
I moved my family the fuck out of White Valley the following morning. The realtor seemed surprised by my decision, but we were able to cash in on the warranty arrangement I made prior to moving. We were forced to live in a hotel for a while, but the house was returned to it’s latest owners, and resold to the highest bidder.
I never asked for more information. I never asked why, or how any of this could ever be possible. Part of me feared the answer. Before we left, my family received one small letter in the mail. I don’t know who it was from. Maybe the Mayor, or Gwen, or a combination of them and the townsfolk. It had only four lines. To this day, I can’t decide, whether it is an explanation or threat.
“Keep our secret is what I must say.”
“And don’t weep for Helen.”
“For we shall all be reunited.”
“On the next Saint Lazarus Day.”