“The Fire at the Haunt,” Halloween Flash Fiction 2nd Place Winner

Image via International Fire Shield

Kera Morris, Author

“Up, up, up,” sang a little bird of a woman standing inches from my face. She flapped her hands, fluttering fingers at my chin. I tilted up my face and held my breath as she sprayed paint onto my skin. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhht. Shhhhhhhhhht shhhhhhhhhhht.

“Your vertebrae are lovely tonight,” said the grinning man waiting his turn to be airbrushed, gored and scarred.

I gazed at the skeleton staring at me from the mirror. “Purse your lips,” hummed the makeup artist, leaning in and air-kissing my cheeks. “Muah. Muah.” She sprayed black over my scrunched mouth. “I like how it crinkles, makes the teeth look broken.” She held a plastic, toothy grin stencil over my crinkles and shhhhhhhhhhht. “Et voila!” Scabbed and sliced and dabbled with bright red corn syrup, my slack face smiled back at me bonily. I could be cheerful without trying, with my spray-painted skull.

The grinning man wore a fraying straight-jacket and scrubs, artfully daubed with patches of rusty red and infectious hues of green and brown. His hair flew wild, a dark cloud, complimenting glinting, cheerful eyes. “She’s going paint my teeth, I believe,” he said, mock stern, looking sidelong.

“She is,” chirped the artist. “He’ll be snapping at people all night and would you look at those teeth? Disgustingly white!”

“Where are you in the asylum?” I asked.

“Usually when they bother with the full on straight-jacked I’m in that flashing hallway you hate,” he mused. “Where are they sticking you?”

“Oh, I got napalmed. City of the dead, by the poor guy with the fucked Geiger counter,” I said. A siren wailed, and some manager somewhere started shouting through a bullhorn. Undecipherable. I looked at my favorite lunatic, and grinned, flashing real teeth. “Kiss, please. Before your gums are all black and green.”

He laughed, looking down at me, and I pulled at the canvas of his bound and buckled arms, tugged him close enough to brush lips. He kissed me, smiling. He tasted like peppermint.

“You’re disgusting, go get in your bomb shelter,” said the artist, laughing and pushing me towards the door. “I have to ugly up this one now.”

I walked off quickly, following a buxom wench with greyed skin and a masked man carrying a chainsaw. Everyone scattered, finding their places.

The walls and doors all bled together, exits covered in black felt and ripped tulle and leftover muslin and sheeting and tarp. I patted my hands down a dark wall feeling for an entry and pushed my way from disorienting darkness to what we called The Street, a house front featuring a hell hound and a shrieking, motion-activated monster with gnarled, clawed hands. Closing my eyes, I scurried down a shortcut through the loathed flashing hallway and high-fived my way past men in pig masks, mad doctors and dismembered, bloody carcasses. I stepped over pads set discreetly into the floor that set off howling heads and walls of searching hands. I lay in my pile of sandbags, waiting for the bombs to drop, to signal my first victims were coming my way. The shrieks, curses and high, screamy laughter began, another blustery October night working the haunted house.

I have a hard time recalling, but I think the first sign that something had gone wrong, a few hours in, was that the fog machine smelled strange. I was accustomed to coughing through the regular clouds of slightly sweet, cloying smoke. Instead, my throat started to ache. My eyes began to water. I hadn’t had a new group of tipsy, giggling scare-seekers in a few minutes.

On a Saturday?

I scrambled up to go check out the execution chamber next door. The man in the death’s mask looked towards me, shrugging a silent question under the barrage of bombs and the thump and sizzle of the electric chair.

A walking corpse entered the death chamber, shouting something. I couldn’t hear. I jogged into the room, zigzagging through fencing and slipping up to the zombie. I cupped my hands to his ear, shouting.

“What’s going on?”

He pressed his face to my ear, one hand grabbing the executioner. “I think something’s on fire,” he yelled, his lips tickling my skin. The executioner stood, perplexed. I stood tiptoe, to shout into the cup of his ear.

“He says there’s a fire!”

The corpse grabbed my hand, and I grabbed the headsman’s. Our zombie lead us through a faux stone tunnel and I started to cough. I lost the executioner’s hand, but the zombie pulled me faster.

“Where’s the fucking EXIT,” I screamed, and then I started to gag. We pounded at walls, the smoke grew thicker. The recording of thunderous clanging and wails started skipping. Seconds of silence that weren’t silent at all; I heard screaming. Help.

“We have to turn back,” shouted the zombie. “It’s too hot.”

Choking, terrified, I held his hand tighter and closed my eyes. I ran where he pulled me, until I slammed into his back. He stumbled, cursing. Then I opened my eyes.

It hadn’t been Hell, our design team hadn’t gone so traditional. But the caverns, the Styrofoam and wood and papier-mache caverns were burning. The flames fed gleefully on rubber corpses, and I smelled burning hair.

“FUCK,” yelled my zombie, wrapping his arms around my shoulders and batting at a burning sheaf of hair. Coughing. Heaving.

“Down,” I croaked, throwing my arm around his neck and wrestling him to the ground. “Less smoke,” I panted. He pointed ahead, and we crawled towards something familiar, finally familiar… the hateful flashing hallway.

“BOBBY!” I tried to scream. Frantically looking towards the Church, the cemetery. Flames licked up the wooden sides of our haunted prayer house, the painted blocks of wooden crosses. “BOB-“ I collapsed, gasping. Then I saw him.

The straight-jacket had begun to smolder, the metal rings smoking against the canvas. Water rushed from my eyes, my nose, my mouth. Thin vomit as I coughed and gagged. My zombie had passed out, but all I saw was Bobby. The cloud of dark hair gone to a nimbus of dancing orange, whipping wildly as he tried to gain his feet without the use of his arms. I couldn’t hear him screaming. I couldn’t hear myself screaming. I could feel my throat cracking.

His face was long, mouth yawning open in wordless agony. The lips I’d pressed to mine hours ago were dripping, his face was running and I couldn’t look but I had to look and Bobby get UP and I crawled and coughed and dug my elbows into scalding dirt, hot sand running down the neck of my costume and Oh Bobby, no, I crawled and thought hideously of Edvard Munch and the Scream, and oh Bobby please, Bobby please no please Bobby you can get up you can run please honey please no please sweetheart Bobby please…

I woke up, lost, disoriented in the rain. I tried to sit up and fell weak onto my side. I looked up squinting, the rain dripping down my face. I reached out at passing legs, curled my fingers into yellow fabric. A man knelt, shelter from the rain, and I could hear the hum of his voice, but not the words. I looked at him, confused, and thought Edvard Munch, and my vision started going dark again. I peered up at the haunt and saw the stream of the firehose pointed towards the burning steeple.

Oh. Oh, no. No. Oh, it wasn’t rain at all.