Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I’m pulling taters when I hear the bell and the rhyme starts pounding in my head. I scatter the haul as my legs take off of their own accord, carrying me with them.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
No time to hide
Just dive inside
Down the flows
Dim the glows

Their ears give them away. They might be behind a hedge, but the ears stick up above, all mirror shiny like the hubcaps on Uncle Tap’s old truck. Seeing ears ahead, I drop and roll under the hedge on my left, then cut across the maize field beyond, heading for the second grate. It’s open! I dive through and pause to make sure it ratchets quietly shut. No need to attract attention from what’s under them ears.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Behind the hosties
Dodge the ghosties
They want your heat –
Be quick on your feet

I drop torches into their water cans as I run past. Ahead I can hear people trying to be silent as they scoot round the maze of server machines. Behind me, the darkness fills with a scary silence. I reach the machine stacks; there’s nothing to do about Laura, caught by the cooling-wights. I slip by easily as they’ve clustered about her body, soaking up the last of her life. Must remember to light a candle for her if I make it.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Round the scrap
Through the trap
Cemetery stones
Under the bones

It’s a short corridor from the stacks to the piles. I have to slow down as the scrap has sticky-outy bits and jagged edges. Just as I reach the far side of the junkyard, I hear the cooling-wights scream. They fear snuffymen because they can’t steal their heat and snuffymen can do for them. The rhyme thunders in my ears, louder than ever.

Run, run, run,
The snuffymen come!
Pop a lid
Like she bid
In with the dead
To save our heads.

I dive into the chute and hope I got the right one. I plunge left, then right, then slam down with a ‘whumpf’ into a pile of old softs. Scrambling out of mouldy sheets and shirts, I hear chute-flaps banging. Snuffymen always hit the flaps to make sure we haven’t left traps. They never remember we criss-cross this end of all but one chute with cheesewire.
Out of the laundry dump, down the tunnel and into the necropolis. Headstones and crypts as far as the eye can see – and my underground eyes can see a long way. I hurdle three crypts and swing past a tombstone topped by a statue of a screaming angel with one wing missing. Two over, one back. A big, old grave topped by black stone. I slap its surface as I wince: Snuffymen screams are horrid.
The cold stone lifts along one edge and I wriggle into the dark, helped by the dozen hands pulling at me. The ratchet rattles as it’s released and we curl about each other as the lid drops and silence comes back.
“Breen, you made it!”
“Did too, Ella. Laura got chilled, let me pass easy.”
“Candle for her tomorrows, then.”
“Time to pray?”
“Make it short, Ella.”
She starts and we whisper along, sounding like leaves in a churchyard on an autumn wind.
“Snuffymen, snuffymen, can’t get us today.
Snuffymen, snuffymen, take your nets away.
Snuffymen, snuffymen, we’ll not be your kill.
Someday, snuffymen, our kin will do you ill.”