This cold, humid place is nearly nothing but shadow—gray air that raises goosebumps on my flesh and makes it wet and sticky at the same time. Obscurities, blacker than the darkness that surrounds me, are like ever present gargoyles guarding the singular door that might serve as an escape route—if my legs weren’t secured to this moldy chair, my hands tied with twine in front of me. The stone walls dripping with water, the table on which the thing has served stale bread and gritty, murky water, the chair itself—none of these things have been useful as a means of escape. My cell phone has no reception in this stone shack. I wonder if anyone is looking for me, or if they have given up the search. I dig the cell out from under me, hold it up, and let the light from the LED screen wash over my face—a sea of blue-white in an onyx abyss—the battery is at twenty percent. It’s now or never. I prick my ears to listen for the echo of footsteps. Silence except the tinkling of water petering down the wall. I sit the phone on the table, turn on the camera, and press record. I pause for a moment as I observe my face, smeared in mud, tracks that had once been tears look like veins running down my cheeks. My face is pale, sick, my eyes red and swollen. If I am not dead yet, it’s clear enough, I will be, soon.
“H-Hello. My name is Angela Baker. I-I have been gone for two days. My husband is Brad, Brad Baker. He—We live at 157 Newry Lane—Altoona. If-If you find this,” I begin to weep. The words get hung up in my throat like the family photos that line the halls of our house. Photos I’ll probably never see again. A faint sound catches my ear. I panic. “If you find this,” I rush, “I’m probably already dead.”
“Did you remember your meds?” Brad asked as he turned down the annoying kid’s song that had been playing on repeat for the last half-hour. I thought it would be permanently etched in my brain.
“Last time you stopped for gas,” I smiled from the passenger seat. “Do you think there will be that many? It isn’t a theme park theme park.”
“I checked the website. There’s definitely a mascot. It’s a squirrel named Toby.” Brad looks at me, sticks out his front teeth, and raises his eyebrows. Idiot.
I grimaced, “A squirrel? How lame is that? It feels like they aren’t even trying.” I stared out the window and watched the fall leaves swirl by in a cascade of colors. They intermingled and became a blur of reds, yellows, and oranges. It was as if someone rushed to get all the colors onto a painting and simply splashed them all on a canvas.
“It’s a park in the middle of the forest. Apparently, they didn’t need to get creative. Would it change anything if it were an alien in a blonde wig?”
I laughed a little, “No.”
The boys had started to get uncomfortable and anxious in the backseat. They squirmed like ants under a magnifying glass on a hot summer day. Justin shouted, snatched a toy from Ronny’s hand. Ronny smacked him.
“Boys, knock it off or we’ll just go home.”
Brad was great at empty threats, and I smiled when he doled them out. The boys stopped, but they’d be at it again in a few minutes. They were, at least, a good distraction from my phobia. “What if I can’t do it, Brad?”
“You’ll be fine. Dr. Peters said you have to face it head-on. One foot in front of the other, or whatever. You don’t have to touch it, just be in the same park as it.”
I could feel bile rising in my esophagus. It boiled like lava in my gut and threatened to spill over into the front seat of our car. My hands shook like leaves in a gusty autumn wind. “Brad, they’re just so—disturbing.”
“They’re just people in costumes, honey. Teenagers, probably. Nothing to be scared of.”
“If you say so.”
The park was old, ancient, as far as amusement parks are concerned. The roller-coasters were made of wood, not iron or steel—none of them went upside-down. Most of the rides were chipping paint. The Ferris Wheel cars had big, faded clown faces hand-painted on them. The whole park was shaded by big deciduous trees. The game booths were littered with fallen leaves that were wet and had begun to decay. Every squealing child caused me to lurch into Brad’s shoulder and jerk my head from side-to-side in search of the thing that I knew would surface at any given moment.
The boys were sticky with cotton candy and funnel cake. They bounced like popcorn in a foil pan. Justin and Ronny had been looking for Toby all day. Luckily, they had yet to find him, or her, I wasn’t sure of its gender.
“Hey boys, you want to ride the Ferris Wheel?” Brad asked them.
“Yeah!” they answered gleefully nearly tossing their sugary foods onto the concrete.
“You ride too, Daddy.” Ronny tugged on Brad’s flannel shirt and pointed to the giant spinning wheel.
Brad looked at me and squinted, “Do you mind, honey? I know you aren’t a fan of this one.”
“It’s fine,” I sighed and smiled at the same time. “Someone has to stay behind to hold the snacks. They aren’t going to give up their treats for a quick ride.”
“You’re the best,” Brad said and pecked my cheek. “Give your treats to Mom, boys. Let’s go.”
The boys handed me their half-eaten food, which had begun to get soggy and cold, and chased after their father toward the slowing Ferris Wheel, dodging popcorn and souvenir vendors, families walking to other rides, and other darting children. I stood and watched them take their place in line when I heard a commotion behind me. I wheeled around hastily, dropped half of Justin’s remaining funnel cake—powdered sugar flurries blanketed my boots like snow—and I just saved the remainder, when I saw it. Surrounded by excited children was a six-foot squirrel. Its beady eyes looked from one child to another as if it were sizing them up for dinner. The faux fur tail behind it bounced ominously, as if it were real, as if the thing inside the costume owned the tail, commanded it to sway to-and-froe, perch high, wiggle with glee. Toby the squirrel did a little, vile dance. Waved merrily at the watching children. Toby handed out balloons in an assortment of colors.
And all I could think was that those balloons were poisoned. That they were laced with arsenic and those children would die if ever they should pop. Inside the balloons oozed the fermented blood of Toby’s last victim, bludgeoned and tortured and butchered. Stored for safe keeping in a child’s precious toy. Before I escape my internal anxiety, Toby has made his way to me, hovering over me, has shoved a blue balloon toward my face.
The synapses in my brain fired off—triggered my fight or flight response—and I have already dropped the boy’s food and sprinted in the opposite direction. My fear birthed by the inability to know who lurked inside that sweaty, germ-covered costume. Who controlled it. The inability to see a face, recognize a person, a human. There can be no safety in lack of control.
A restroom sat in the shadow of a red-leafed oak tree, behind a rickety roller-coaster which was closed for repairs. I heaved open the black, painted door and locked it behind me. I ran down the line of stalls, checked to be sure the place was empty. Nobody was there but me.
My heart thumped in my chest, pushed the searing, hot-soup blood through my dilated veins which made me light-headed, made my vision foggy—like milk painted glass—and I breathed ragged gasps of putrid bathroom air in a useless attempt to calm myself. The orange bulb in the over-head light fixture made my reflection look green, corpse-like. Brown-to-blonde hair stuck out, sweaty and wild, in every direction from the braid that I had so carefully styled that morning. Mascara formed grocery bags beneath reddened blue eyes.
“B-Breathe,” I said in a shaky voice to my mirror image. “In, out, in, out.”
I couldn’t get control. It was time to employ the calming tactics Dr. Peters had taught me. “Let’s see. Ok. Alphabetize. Foods. Shit. What starts with “A”. Um. Ok. Avocado, black berries, cantaloupe, “D”—what the hell is a “D” fruit?”
A loud groan reverberated from the handicap stall in the back of the bathroom. I swiveled and patted my back pocket to check for my cellphone, a habit I had acquired that made me feel safe. It let me know I could reach Brad any time I needed him. Silently, breathlessly, I tiptoed to the guttural noise, unsure what could have created it, I had been utterly alone. I used my foot to kick open the stall door, and, standing like a statue before me, was Toby, wielding a long, shiny butcher knife. I opened my mouth to let loose a banshee wail of a scream, but Toby intercepted me. The squirrel huged me with one arm, placed the tip of the blade under my chin with the other, and slowly shook its head ‘no’.
My body instantly began to quiver uncontrollably. I felt my knees buckle, but before I hit the floor, the mascot scooped me up and dragged me through a backdoor that I had previously missed in my inspection. I twisted and writhed in the thing’s grasp. When it hauled me through a hole in the perimeter fence and into the dense, wet forest I screamed a shrill, terrified call for help, but we were too deep and the rides and music too loud for patrons of the park to hear my cries. On a makeshift stone table lay flesh and blood and entrails—half eaten or played with or God knows what.
“What is that! What is that?” I shrieked.
The mascot shook me into silence and continued to pull me through wet, sticky mud and leaves. We stopped at a stone and mortar building deep in the woods where he shoved me in and locked the door. He has kept me here for days, bringing me putrid meat and moldy bread, water that looks like it was dipped from a stream.
“If you’re looking for me, Brad, I’m sorry,” I weep into the dark screen of my phone’s camera. It has a giant crack across the glass, broken when Toby tossed me on the floor of the stone shack. “I-I love you Justin, Ronny. Mommy loves you so much. I’m so sorry. What was that?” I hear a noise outside the door. “He’s back. Oh, God, he’s back.”
The door creaks open and the giant shadow of the squirrel appears. It lumbers inside, slowly inching closer and closer, and I realize it has the knife.
“Please don’t. You can still let me go. Just let me go,” I cry as my image is cast back on my still recording phone.
Toby stands over me, and I can take no more. Knife or not, I must fight because the very electricity in my brain demands it. I use my two hands to form one giant fist and fling it into the thing’s abdomen. Without hesitation, I strike another blow to its groin. Toby doesn’t double over, perhaps the padding, so I go for the head. But my blow isn’t severe. It knocks the head from the costume. Finally, I can see my captor. I can identify whoever will end me, perhaps if someone finds my phone, they’ll identify him. I watch with bated breath as the googly eyes, and big teeth, whiskers toppled from the limited light into the darkness. My eyes like magnifying glasses, ready to see, search for the rest of it, but when they find him, there is nothing. No face, no eyes, no mouth—there is only emptiness where a human should have filled the October air.
“No!” I say in disbelief.
The headless thing comes for me, knife raised in preparation to strike, and it lunges. The bitter surge of steel enters me, over and over again, spilling my blood onto the floor, tossing it onto the stone walls like a grisly fall abstract—and the real darkness descends. I know, finally, it was all real—fear is real. And, then, it is gone.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.