THE HOUSE OF MUNDANE HORRORS
There were five of them crammed into the compact car. Frank was driving with Mimi by his side. Drake, Ralphie, and Al jostled for room in the backseat. One of them could have easily fit in the front, but Frank liked having Mimi all to himself. He smiled over at her, and he thought he sensed a smile in return, but it was hard to tell with dirty bandages covering her from head to toe. They clung to her svelte frame, accentuating all her feminine curves. He grunted as his libido rose in response to the fetching sight next to him.
“Watch the road,” Mimi said, amusement coloring her voice.
Ralphie stuck his furry face over the back of the seat. “How much further ‘til we get to the House of Horrors? If I stay cooped up in this car much longer, I’m gonna go nuts.”
“Yeah, and Ralphie’s getting fleas all over the upholstery,” Al said.
“I ain’t got no fleas, light-bulb head. I just had a dip yesterday.”
“Al’s breath stinks of garlic from that pizza he had earlier,” Drake complained. “It’s making me break out in hives. You know how bad I’m allergic.”
Frank glanced over at Mimi and smirked. “Well, you three whiny little bitches can stop all your griping, because we’re here.”
He turned the car onto a gravel drive that opened into an impromptu parking area. The place was still packed and it was almost midnight—Halloween was always the busiest night for the House of Horrors. Frank found a spot near the far end of the lot and swung the car between a jeep and a minivan. A larger vehicle wouldn’t have been able to squeeze in, but Frank’s little Mazda was a perfect fit.
They piled out of the car and gathered by the fender, staring up at the House of Horrors. They said nothing for a few moments then Drake shivered and pulled his cape tighter around himself.
“Scared, are you?” Ralphie said with a laugh.
“No, I ain’t scared. It’s just cold out here is all.”
“It ain’t that cold.”
“Easy for you to say; you got your own fur coat.”
“The place certainly is spooky,” Mimi said, huddling up next to Frank. She was shorter than he was, the top of her head reaching to about his Adam’s apple, so she was careful not to hit her head on one of his bolts.
“Don’t worry, babe, I’ll protect you from all the nasties that are out tonight.”
“What kind of nasties?” Al asked in a tremulous voice, his oversized, liquid-black eyes darting around the parking area as he wrapped his stalk-like arms around himself.
Drake came up behind him and slapped him in the back of his dome-shaped head. “Well, you’re pretty nasty there yourself, spaceman.”
Al turned and opened his mouth, but instead of shooting back a sharp retort he simply exhaled, his garlic-breath wafting over his caped friend. Drake gagged and welts began to appear on his face as he backed away, baring his teeth and hissing at Al.
“Will you two knocked it off!” Ralphie growled, stepping between them. “You guys are acting like a couple of kids.”
“And I ain’t in the mood to be no babysitter,” Frank said, taking a comb and smoothing his hair down over his flat cranium.
Mimi was watching the group that was gathering by the porch, awaiting their turn to go through the House of Horrors. A girl with a green face and hooked nose dressed in a cheerleading outfit was at the front, next to a boy with flippers and gills in an astronaut’s uniform, the bubble helmet full of water like a fishbowl. “Maybe we should have worn costumes,” she said to Frank. “Most everyone else is.”
“Babe, I think we’re a little too old for that kiddie crap.”
“But we’re not too old for spook houses?”
“You’re never too old to be scared,” he said, coming up from behind and wrapping his arms around her, careful not to squeeze too hard. Sometimes he didn’t know his own strength; it had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion.
“We gonna do this thing or what?” Ralphie said. He was always the most impatient of the bunch, particularly at this time of the month.
“Keep your fur on,” Frank said. “What’s the hurry?”
“You know I got a curfew, man. If I ain’t home by sunup, my folks’ll have my hide.”
“Fine, let’s go.”
As a group, they headed toward the house and the waiting crowd, Frank and Mimi in the lead. Frank didn’t want to admit it to the guys—he didn’t want them thinking he was chickenshit—but the house really gave him the creeps. With its nicely manicured lawn, fresh paint job, and brightly lit windows, it was the very picture of terror. Colonial style with a wrap-around porch and an aboveground swimming pool in the side yard, Frank could only imagine what kind of vile creatures would reside in such a place.
But it’s all make-believe, he kept reminding himself. None of it is real.
Mimi reached out and took Frank’s hand, her dry wrappings crackling like the autumn leaves that scurried past on the night wind, and he forced his fear away. She was trembling, the vibrations carried through her hand into his own, and that made him feel somehow more manly, braver. She was counting on him to be her protector, after all.
They came up to the back of the line, behind a guy with a red face, horns erupting from the sides of his head, and a spiked tail trailing behind him. He was wearing a suit with a Prada label.
“Stan, my man,” Frank said with a smile despite the unpleasant stench of sulfur that stung his nostrils.
“Hey guys. Can you believe this line? Everybody and their Mummy must have showed up for the House of Horrors tonight.”
“Well, it is Halloween, the last night before they close up shop. Last chance for a little fear.”
Stan nodded then cast what he probably thought was a discreet glance at Mimi. Frank put an arm around her and pulled her close. He knew Stan had a crush on her—hell, everyone had a crush on her—but Frank was cool with that as long as Stan didn’t try to act on his feelings.
The door to the house opened with a decided lack of squeaky hinges, and a young ghoul dressed as a Girl Scout shuffled out. She took the next group, but Frank and the gang were too far back in line to make this tour. They were now close enough to the front, however, that they would definitely make the next one.
“So what’s with the suit?” Al asked Stan.
“It’s my costume.”
“What are you supposed to be?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
Mimi gave a squeal of fright and buried her head in Frank’s chest, and Frank could have kissed Stan on the mouth at that moment for bringing about this delightful turn of events.
Stan eyed Al, who was staring up at the sky, watching the stars twinkling like Christmas lights. “Homesick?”
“Not too bad,” Al said with an unconvincing shrug. “I was the one who signed up to be an exchange student so I could learn about other cultures.”
“And what do you think about our culture?” Drake asked, waving his hands about in that fey manner he had.
“I think you’re a bunch of freaks.”
“Hardy har har, spaceman. You’re one to talk.”
The door opened again, and this time a transparent figure with chains wrapped around his body floated out. He said something but the sound of his chains rattling buried it, then he retreated back into the house. The next group, Frank and his gang bringing up the rear, filed inside and the door closed behind them.
They found themselves in a large den with beige carpeting and floral-patterned wallpaper. The furniture was arranged in almost a semicircle with the television as the focal point of the room. On the sofa sat two young creatures, one male and one female, painfully normal in appearance, their eyes glazed as they stared at the flickering screen. Playing on the television was a bland show about unlikely misunderstandings and convenient coincidences, punctuated by canned laughter.
A collective gasp spread throughout the crowd, and several people cringed back as if to melt into the walls.
“It’s hideous,” Mimi whispered. “How long do you think they’ve been like that?”
“Hours,” moaned their ghost guide. “Watching one show after another with the same recycled plot.”
A young tentacled boy in the front began to cry, his mother taking him up in her many arms and trying to comfort him.
The guide floated through an archway and the group followed, grateful to be leaving the chilling tableau behind. Now they were in a dining room with a heavy oak table, a glass-fronted china cabinet, and a reproduction of The Last Supper hanging on the wall. Frank’s attention was focused on the hideous pattern of the dishes in the china cabinet, but when he heard several people scream and felt Mimi’s grip on his hand tighten, he turned his eyes to the thing that was sitting at the table.
It was middle-aged with graying hair, male, wearing a pair of wire-framed glasses. It was dressed in kakhi slacks and a white T-shirt gone slightly yellow. It did not look up at the group, even when the screams increased in pitch. It merely stared down at the newspaper in its hands, flipping the page and silently mouthing the words as it read along.
“Oh, gross,” Drake said, “what’s it doing?”
Al took a bold step forward then quickly backpedaled when the thing rattled the paper. “Man, I think it’s reading the Sports section.”
“I can’t look! I can’t look!” someone shouted.
The guide went through a swinging door—literally went right through it—and everyone hustled along in his wake, shoving open the door and hurrying through. Frank wasn’t in quite so much of a hurry. Although he was trying to keep it under wraps, he was nervous about what they would find in the next room. Still, he allowed himself to be caught up in the tide of the crowd and washed through the doorway.
Into a brightly lit kitchen. Cheery yellow wallpaper, gleaming white appliances and countertops, refrigerator magnets shaped like dancing vegetables. It was like walking onto the set of a horror movie. A hissing sound caught Frank’s attention and turned it toward the stove. A large pan was sitting atop the largest burner, several slabs of bloody red meat sizzling inside. A female creature wearing a simple blue dress, over which hung an apron with the words “QUEEN OF MY KITCHEN” emblazoned across the front, approached the stove with a gleaming silver spatula. With a practiced wrist motion, it flipped over all the burgers, exposing their disgusting brown undersides.
Several people in the crowd gagged and covered their noses and mouths as the stench of cooked meat hit them. Frank felt his own gorge rise but swallowed his revulsion. “Dude, that’s seriously nasty,” Stan said from behind him, followed by Ralphie saying, “They’re ruining some perfectly good flesh.”
The creature went to the counter and pulled began chopping up an onion on a cutting board. All the while it hummed a little tune and swayed slightly to its own music.
“Make it stop!” Mimi squealed, wrapped her arms around Frank’s necks as a shudder passed through her body.
“This way,” moaned the guide as he floated toward a narrow staircase leading up to the second floor. “Quickly, before she starts making…the salad!”
There was almost a stampede up the stairs, a few people in the front actually passing through the guide in their haste to be away from the living nightmare happening in the kitchen below. In the upstairs hallway, everyone paused, huddled together in the cramped space. There were several closed doors down the length of the hall, one opened door at the far end, revealing an unoccupied bathroom.
“Inside each of these rooms,” moaned the guide, “are sights that will make the blood freeze, the heart skip a beat, and the eyes ache for relief. Prepare yourselves before we enter the first chamber of horror.”
The first door on their left opened smoothly and quietly. A funeral hush fell over the crowd as everyone walked through the doorway. A bedroom awaited them, with an unmade single bed, a wooden dresser, posters for rock bands and action movies hanging from the walls. Model cars and a globe sat on a bedside table. In the far corner, next to the window, was a small, cluttered desk, at which sat a teenaged male creature, hunched over an open book while scribbling furiously into a spiral-bound notebook.
“He’s not doing what I think he’s doing, is he?” Al said, and Frank heard a quaver in his voice.
“Homework,” someone said in a tone usually reserved for informing someone that a relative had died. “He’s doing his homework.”
The tentacled boy began to cry again, and with an apology, the mother excused herself and left the room. Frank could hear her hurrying back down the stairs, and he doubted she was sorry to be cutting her tour short. Several others in the group looked ready to bolt as well.
As the creature at the desk began to chew on the end of his pencil, staring blankly out the window, the crowd left the room and moved down the hall to the next closed door. On the other side was another bedroom, this one decorated in pastel shades, a menagerie of stuffed animals gathered on the neatly made bed. Porcelain dolls stared intently from a display cabinet next to the closet. A female creature slightly younger than the one in the previous room was lying on the floor, sinking into the thick shag carpeting, a cordless telephone pressed to her ear as if it were growing directly out of the side of her head.
“Didjahear?” she was saying as the group gathered around her, but at a safe distance. “Helen told everyone in Psych class that Betty has a crush on Steve. Betty’s face turned so red I thought she was going to have a stroke. So to get back at Helen, Betty told Joe that Helen got drunk at Tom Yardley’s birthday party and made out with Greg. And you didn’t hear it from me, but at that same party, Veronica and J.D. went into Tom’s parent’s bedroom and didn’t come out again for forty-five minutes. I know, couldn’t you just die?”
“Gossip,” Ralphie said, sounding as if he were spitting the word out. “She’s gossiping!”
An old troll at the front of the crowd was shaking her head and pulling her greasy hair out by the roots. “It’s grotesque, absolutely grotesque!”
Frank was starting to feel rather queasy, like he might have to throw up. He turned his eyes to the dolls but found their combined gaze even more unnerving.
“Are you okay?” Mimi asked him, her voice low so no one else would hear.
“Me? I’m fine. Just trying not to laugh. This is real kid stuff, you know.”
Mimi tilted her head skeptically but said nothing more.
There was only one closed door left in the hallway. The guide led them to it then paused, leveling a grave stare on the group. “We come to the final chamber,” he moaned, his chains clinking together as he bobbed up and down on the air. “We have saved the most revolting for last. If anyone wishes to turn back, now is the time.”
Frank found his legs wanted to turn and march him right out of the house, but he resisted the urge. He was no baby, he shouldn’t be this unsettled by the House of Horrors. He would never get anywhere with Mimi if she knew what a ‘fraidy cat he was. He took a deep breath to steel himself and followed the crowd into the final room.
This was the brightest room yet, light blazing from several lamps. A Queen size bed with a thick quilt covering it sat against the far wall, and everywhere were pictures of smiling faces, laughing creatures embracing one another. They covered every surface. A squeaking caught Frank’s attention, and he thought his knees were going to buckle when he saw the final sight.
An old wooden rocker, a plump old female creature with white hair and a flowing house dress sitting and rocking, its eyes alight as its hands worked ceaselessly with two long needles and yarn, a pleasant smile curling its lips. A half-finished sweater lay across its lap, and the needles clinked and clanked together, giving birth to even more of the garment. It was an image right out of Frank’s worst nightmares, full of such warmth and goodwill that he thought he might pass out.
“It’s too much!” he suddenly roared, backing up, shoving his friends aside to get to the door. “I can’t take it, I just can’t take anymore.”
Then Frank was out the door, down the hallway, taking the stairs four at a time, and through the backdoor, which was the exit for the House of Horrors. He leaned against a tree and bent over, hands on his knees, taking deep gulping breaths. He closed his eyes, but he could see the creature knitting on the backs of his eyelids and he quickly opened them, trying to will himself to stop shaking.
“There you are,” Stan said, exiting the house with a superior smirk on his face. “Big bad Frank got scared, did he?”
Ralphie and Drake came out next, both laughing. “Oh man, you should have seen your face,” Ralphie said at the same time as Drake said, “I had no idea you could move that fast.”
Frank would have gone even paler if that were possible, and he knew he was going to have to endure much ribbing all the way home. Hell, probably for the next couple of months.
The rest of the group was filing out of the house now, some of them casting glances at Frank and snickering, others giving him commiserating smiles. Al and Mimi came out last. Al, who had known Frank the least amount of time, reached up and patted him on the shoulder in a silent show of support. Mimi hung back, her expression unreadable behind all the bandages.
“Better be careful,” Stan said. “That old lady creature just might come after you with those needles.”
Ralphie howled with laughter. “Yeah, maybe it’ll even knit you a scarf to go with that sweater.”
Frank straightened up, towering over all his friends. “I was just messing with you guys, screwing around. I wasn’t scared of that thing.”
“Oh, sure you weren’t,” said Drake with a roll of his eyes. “That’s why you high-tailed it out of there.”
“You guys leave him alone,” Al said. “We were all freaked out by the stuff we saw in there.”
Stan nodded, but the smirk never left his face. “We sure were, but only one of us ran away like a little ghoul.”
Frank felt his massive hands balling into fists at his side, and rage began to build up inside him, threatening to boil over. He knew it was only embarrassment making him feel this way, but he thought he could tear all his friends limb from limb at that moment.
Then Mimi was suddenly by his side, pressing close to him. She put her hand on his cheek, making him look down at her, and suddenly the rage dissipated like steam. “I think a man who can admit to his fear is sexy,” she said.
“In that case, I wasn’t just afraid; I was petrified!”
Frank leaned down and through the folds of her wrappings found Mimi’s lips, and she tasted of dust and centuries. He was gratified to find Stan looking on with a mixture of irritation and jealousy. His other three buddies were just smiling at him with a look that said, Way to go, big guy.
“So where to now?” Ralphie said. “I still have a few hours before the moon sets and I gotta get home.”
“Let’s go to that new restaurant, the Plasma Palace,” Drake said. “I’m thirsty.”
Al groaned. “Man, you think with your teeth.”
“Well, you got any better ideas?”
They all looked to Frank, his role as the gang’s leader reestablished. He glanced down at Mimi then said, “Let’s go back through the House of Horrors. I’m suddenly in the mood to be scared again.”
Laughing, they walked around to the front of the house and got back in line.