The creeping horror that infests my happy place

I must open with a confession.  On this All Hallows Eve, I must spill a dark secret that will earn me enmity, derision, and scorn.

 

I really really really HATE Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t always hate it, but I never liked it.  It was… okay.  The songs were generic, trying to be all gothy while still being sugary pop (An Elfman staple.  Sorry, his music is hit or miss for me. )  The story was…  blah. Jack as a character was… blah.  I rooted for Oogie Boogie, really.

 

All that changed one fateful October, after years away, visiting the Happiest Kingdom on Earth with my mom and brother.  I raced for the Haunted Mansion. Unaware of what waited. I saw the additions on the outside, and was all… well, okay. As long as they didn’t mess with the inside.  15 minutes later, exiting the Mansion, my rage slowly rising the entire time, I now HATED that movie with a passion. How DARE they.

 

Anyways, a couple weeks ago, a coworker announced they were going to Disneyland for Halloween weekend. I scoffed.  “I do not go to Disney in October. It’s too… painful”

 

Another co-worker, who has heard me rant before, rolled her eyes.  “Jesus Alex, you’re so dramatic about it.”

 

I… may have been temporarily possessed by the ghosts of Houdini, Vincent Price, and Ken Anderson. That is the only thing to explain the next few minutes.  Note, this is from memory, I MAY have tweaked a few lines below.

 

“Dramatic? Too dramatic?  NAY!  I say I am not dramatic enough about this… evil.”

 

I looked at the original coworker, the one who as you read is enjoying the Mouse. “You may be unaware. But my feet will not find themselves passing under the gates this month, or the next, no. Not even until after the Yule season has passed, and the three Kings have finished their annual pilgrimage to the manger, can my soul walk with ease upon the grounds of the so called, Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

I fluffed an imaginary cape behind me, and stood straight.  My voice was carrying, and carrying a mild unidentifiable accent, and I started drawing a crowd. The last three words, Happiest Place On Earth, were said with a sneer and slow sarcastic cadence that I hope would have made Price proud.

 

“You see, there is an unholy abomination this time of year.  There is a blight, a disturbing blasphemy that winds its tendrils through the Temple of Terror. A creeping evil that grows along the walls of that shrine of darkness, that plot of land where all may bask in true darkness.

Yes, within the sacred graveyard where I have buried my very heart, to forever thrill in horror and dream sweet in the concentrated nightmare of Glory, the seeds of disdain are planted, and growing vines of decay. My beloved Haunted Mansion, the Manse of Macabre where my true self can be free, is BOUND.  BOUND I SAY!

Bound in chains of crassness, bound with shackles of commercialism, bound by the gauche gaudy ungainly streamers hung by that… that villain.  That KNAVE of pumpkins, who would DARE attempt to claim the crown of Halloween and name himself King, the Man Jack. ”

 

At this point, my coworkers were evenly split between giggling and backing away slowly.  I may have spun a few times and gesticulated wildly with my hands.  I do that.

 

“But his profane influence wanes.  The Glorious Holy Imagineers who, caught in his spell as the summer fades, and fall begins, will soon find their minds clearing.  Yes, even they whose hands did the dirty work of the Pumpkin Knave will doubt, and the true Unholy Peace that is the spirit of the Mansion will cleanse their minds of his taint.  And LO, in the cleansing powers of the new year’s frost, they will put right that which they themselves have put wrong, and Jack and his Ilk will find themselves again in boxes, gathering dust through spring and summer, waiting for their time to again blaspheme. And then, once its halls are restored to their rightful sinful terror.  THEN, and not one moment before, will my feet once again walk the Main Street, and find happiness in the darkness as I wander the tombs of those who have gone before, and enter the Halls of the Haunted Mansion. ”

 

At this point, the crowd was a bit tense.  I figured, enh, cathartic end.

 

“And don’t even get me started on Space Mountain.”

The Rose Queen of Crime

Due to joking about the wildly talented Rebecca Rose’s handsome husband dressing in a Harley Quinn esque uniform, and her playing the Joker, I have this stuck in my head.  (Work in progress)

 

She strolled into the bank to the sound of organ music, no one sure where the sound came from.  A purple dinner jacket flapped like a cloak, matching slacks perfectly tailored, falling to just above a pair of shiny black and white spats. Her face drew the most attention, half in a painted smile, white foundation under lips the color of roses left in the stands on valentines day, the dark blooms passed over by all for brighter, happier shades.  The other half of her face was bare of pigment, yet the eye that pierced out from natural colored flesh bore all the testament needed by the left side of her face.  One glance into that orb of marble and jade left one disassembled and put back together in a heart beat, the unbearable feeling that with a glance she knew all of you. The clown eye shone in joy and extravaganza. The other glinted with madness.

Hair spilled from under her broad fedora, golden strands stained verdigris, like a statue of brass that had just begin to age in the rain. All eyes drew to her, and the figure behind her slipped in unnoticed, a feat considering the bright white and red uniform he wore, and the cartwheels he turned in place of walking.  As he worked his way around the outside of the lobby, bells jangling, she walked to the middle of the room.

 

“GOOD MORNING TO ALL!”  Her voice rang to every corner, and she paused a minute, arms outstretched, basking in the glow of several dozen eyeballs glued to her every movement.  “This, is an art installation.  I call it, Trickle Up Theory.  And you lucky people are audience, artist, and patron, all in one!  Isn’t that great folks?”

Security started to move towards her.  Some of the crowd stared in apprehension, but quite a few whipped out phones and started filming. A couple of the bored customers, standing in line for the next teller, clapped in delight, taking her words at face value.

” I am, as I am sure most of you know, the renowned performance artist and creative genius known far and wide as The Joker, The Rose Queen of Crime! And we shall start today’s entertainment by filling my hat.”  Bowing, she took her hat off and pressed it to the white pinstriped shirt under her jacket. Tossing it to the ground, it landed a few feet away and wavered for a moment, as if untucking itself, and grew nearly a foot larger across.  “Wallets, jewelry, watches, no digital watches, real watches.  No phones, keep your phones, I’m not heartless!”

 

***

Across the room, one of the tellers reached for the hidden button under his desk.  As his hand darted out, a blur of motion intersected it, and pain erupted from his hand as it slammed into his knee.  “Now now, none of that Freddy!”

 

The teller looked up at the source of the voice.  Thick eyebrows and a goatee that screamed Evil Twin framed a loose smile and eyes that seemed kind and caring, yet still filled him with terror. They peeked out over a nose that pointed like a hunting dog sighting it’s master’s prey, and wriggled like a cat about to pounce on it’s own.  A white and red uniform plastered itself to the man, diamonds down the legs matching a marching Sargent’s hat that perched at an obscenely loose angle, as if ready to fall at any moment. The uniform was piped in a bright green that matched the hair of the woman in the lobby.  Against his shoulder lay the head of a croquet mallet.  The shaft was painted a barber pole of red and blue, leading to a handle that was cradled lovingly in the jester’s hand. The teller blinked, the absurdity and incongruity of the handle sticking out even among what was already absurdity, pushing surreal.

 

“Is that.. a lightsaber handle?”

 

The jester smiled, and swung the mallet up to show off the handle.  It was indeed a steel lighstaber, the blue and red appearing out of it as if a beam.  “I have a purple one as well, but I’m not allowed to use it in public.” He put a hand to his lips and mock whispered, “It says, ‘Bad Motherfucker’ on the side.”  He tapped the side of the mallet, where the teller could see words engraved in the painted wood.

 

Focusing, still confused and trying to make sense of the world, he read them aloud. “Croquet. A game for just one player.” He looked up at the jester in confusion.  The jester brought the handle up to his face, his nose and eyes peeking over the top like a living “Kilroy was here”.  “It’s a pun, my dear Mr…”  He glanced at the desk. “Greene.  Really? A banker named Greene.  How gauche. As I was saying, it’s a pun.  Sadly, while it’s quite clever, no one on THIS side of the invisible wall will get it. ”

Self preservation finally made it’s voice known in the gibbering clatter of the teller’s brain as realization dawned that the kind eyed jester was mad, stark, raving, barking mad.  He turned in his office chair, shoving himself back against the thin wall separating him from the next teller over. The motion caused pain to blossom fresh in his hand, and he glanced at it, a bright red mark already starting to purple. “You.. you hit me!”

 

The mallet swung, showing a bright yellow face on one of the striking surfaces, dark black Xs in place of eyes.  “Mr. Ouchy hit you.  Do anything stupid like go for that alarm again, and he’ll hit you again. And if you really piss me off…”  The mallet twisted a hundred and eighty degrees.  The opposite striking surface held a raised brown poo emoji.   “And Mr. Poop will half to talk to you.  Trust me, you don’t want to talk to Mr. Poop.  It’s a sure fire way to have a shitty day. ”

 

The jester stood suddenly.  “Ta ta! Be Good!”   He started to  walk back into the office behind the bank counter, then whirled and pointed at the teller, who froze in fear, hands up to show he wasn’t touching anything. The jester crouched there, pointing for a long moment, then his hand darted forward and tapped the teller on the nose.  “BOOP!”

At that moment, both men looked up at the loud ringing pop of a gun going off.

***

 

The guards were advancing on the Joker, both with sidearms drawn.  The closest guard was armed with a snub nosed revolver, trained steadily at the Joker’s chest.  “My good man!  I normally don’t traffic in guns, but if that’s all you have, I scorn no man’s contribution to the arts! Please, toss it in! ”  With that, she motioned towards the hat.

 

“Sorry Miss, I would, but it belongs to the company.  Can’t donate what isn’t mine, ya know? Now put your hands up!”

The Joker grinned and flourished in his direction. “Well, company loyalty AND a good come back joke.  I appreciate it, really I do.”  She took a quick step towards him and put one elbow on the gun as if leaning on it.  Head propped against fist, she grinned at him from inches away as he pulled the trigger over and over again. Click. Click. Click.

 

“A good sense of humor aside though, I can’t let you keep the bullets. ”  She fanned her free hand in the air, several shining copper jacked rounds nestled between fingers.  With several deft flicks of the wrist, they sailed in a long arc, one at a time, into the hat, quickly joined by a flood of jewelry and wallets being tossed in by a now truly frighted crowd.

She looked back at the guard, smiling, and slipped the hand into her jacket.  He stood stock still, sweat beading on his brow, trying and failing to keep his eyes from flicking back and forth from her to his fellow guard walking up behind her.  Still staring the guard in the eyes, she whipped her hand out of her jacket and pointed it behind her, directly at the face of the second security guard.  She curled up one side of her face, the unpainted one, the guard noticed, and spoke in her worst faux gangster impression.  “Dontcha even THINK about it, copper.”

 

She turned her head slowly, making a CREEEEAAAAAAK noise under her breath.  All eyes were focused on her hand, an on the giant silver ring that adorned it.  The guard looked at it, eyes narrowed past the barrel of his gun.

The ring appeared to be of a single piece.  Bright silver, the band went around her pointer and middle finger, a thick piece of silver with numbers carved into it. The primary focus was a human hand, maybe two inches from finger tip to wrist, in the classic finger gun position.  The pointing forefinger was hollow, a gun barrel the size of a bb.  The disembodied mini hand was held up by two small bears, with a third, smaller bear, standing on the curve of the top of the hand.  It appeared to be trying to push the thumb backwards, like cocking a gun.

 

“I call it “Bearing”.  It’s a statement on way we’ve trivialized gun ownership to the point where everyone has one, like hands.  There are some deeper levels of meaning, but who has the time to go over it? Also, its a pun.  You know, to bear arms.”

“Cute, now put your hands up. ”

Without moving her hands, the Joker slowly grinned back at the guard, a wider, wilder smile than any she’d yet worn.  The guard stared at her lips, a dark pit opened into the recesses of her soul.  He couldn’t help but feel like she was pouring every ounce of disdain and hate she had through those lips, and his vision swam dark, his fingers and cheeks growing cold.

 

“Do you know why the baby bear is cocking the gun?”

 

“Because..  uh… children and guns that aren’t secure?”

 

“OO!  Good.  That, and , because, well.  Papa bear, he’s too hard. Mamma bear, she’s too soft. And as we all know, the baby bear?  He’s JUST RIGHT. ”

 

A stream of liquid shot out, clear and quick, splashing in the guard’s face.

He spluttered, blinking his eyes to

Short Story Challenge: The Thousand Doors of Olive Garden

So, saw a comment from the forward thinking Rose Eveleth ( @roseveleth on twitter, check her podcast, Flash Foward ) about a small contest being run by another writer @hels on twitter.   Write a story using this opening line, and she’ll buy you dinner at OG.  Well, im good without the dinner ,but the first line was too good to pass up.  Especially since literally minutes before reading it, I had been discussing with a coworker dopplegangers.  You know the old saw about how everyone has one?  I met mine, when I was 6, in a restaurant bathroom.  We were looking at each other in the mirror while trying to comb our hair.

 

There is only one Olive Garden, but it has a thousand doors.  They come in a hundred shapes, a dozen sizes.  Some have knobs, and a sign that says “Pull Me”. Some have brass plates inscribed “Push.”  Some slid open, sound waves detecting the unwary that walk by, smells of garlic and chianti enticing them to enter. One, Western themed, has handles made of cast copies of the Colt Peacemaker.  If you are reading this, though, you are unlikely to ever come across that door, as the world on the outside of it has a gravity that will snap your bones and stop your blood in your veins.

 

Chances are, if you’ve been to four different Olive Gardens in your life, spread around your home state, you’ve only walked through one actual door.  Maybe two. They are like holes, drilled into the shell of a vast multidimensional Nautilus.  Each leads to its own chamber. Alike, but different, growing into being as the Nautilus extends it’s shell in directions whose mere existence would decimate your mind to comprehend.  Growing larger as the Olive Garden beast grows, the door, the same door, appearing across each individual landscape as it bends and buckles in four dimensions, a hyper door, a single door for each face of hole into that particular cavernous chamber of the growing beast. Perhaps one day there shall be a thousand and one doors, but today, there are a thousand.  The shell of the Olive Garden beast keeps each chamber apart, keeps the denizens from mingling, but the back of the beast runs through them all.  It twists in those dark directions our three dimensional mind knows not.  Ana and Kata, Ceriden and Quariden. It spins and turns, passing through vast holes in what, to our small minds, seem solid walls painted in yellow tones and festooned with fake rock slabs.

 

It takes a determined klutz to fall in a direction he doesn’t even know exists.  And as my mother, friends, and lovers will all tell you, I am a DETERMINED klutz. (We aren’t talking about the chicken egg incident. It was as much Samantha’s fault as mine, and I hear most of her hair has grown back and the skin graft took with only minor scarring. )  Digging into some pasta dish with a dozen tiny sea creatures cooked into it, I managed to miss my mouth with the glass of Merlot. I mostly blame the fact that my mouth was a moving target, as I was mid delivery of a particularly bad brick joke when I tried to take a sip.  Excusing myself from the gaggle of coworkers who had gathered for lunch (when you’re here you’re family MY ASS), I shuffled my way in the supposed direction of the bathrooms.

 

Dabbing at my soaked shirt with the napkin in my hand, I slammed bodily into a large man in a suit coming out of the hallway to the bathroom doors.  I ricocheted off his solid bulk, hit my head on the hanging lantern behind me, which caused swears of surprise from the couple seated at the small table there, and spun widdershins on one foot trying desperately not to fall on my ass. I brought my other foot back down to support me, and stepped on… something.  If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on a person while navigating a dark room during a sleep over (or whatever parties you may have gone to that involved many people on the floor, I won’t judge), you ALMOST know the sensation of squirming flesh under my foot.  It twisted, it moved, in a direction that felt WRONG.  My feet slid out from under me as the ground was suddenly off to my side somewhere, and bright lights flashed behind my eyes as I rolled up hill, down hill, the world spinning around me.  I slammed against the wall, finally, and tried to rise to my feet.  My stomach churned, the white sauce laden sea bugs in my stomach threatening to make war upon my esophagus, and I lay there trying not to vomit for a moment.

 

Finally rising, the world seemed to flicker in and out as I blinked my eyes, like a badly programmed video game redrawing vectors slowly.  Blinking, I stumbled down the hallway and pushed past the heavy wooden door marked “stneG”. The light was dim, and someone was already standing at the farthest sink from the door.  I grabbed a stack of paper towels and stood next to him, blotting up wine.  I looked down to wet the paper towel and looked back up at myself, but I found that no matter how I moved my hand, I kept missing the stain, just touching the pale cream of where I HADN’T spilled on myself.  This went on for a few moments before I realized that something was wrong.  I looked at my face, and saw that my eyes were pointed to the side.  I had never seen the side of my eyes in the mirror before!  There was something else wrong with my face, but it wasn’t immediately clear.

I panned my eyes to my right, and found myself staring at myself, the way a good mirror should.  There was a mark on my forehead where i had smacked into the lamp, a red mark quickly purpling into a bruise.  I slowly raised my arm to touch it, wincing, and noticed in my peripheral the man next to me doing the same.  My eyes flicked back and forth between the two images of myself.  Same clothes. The face…  the one without the mark on his forehead looked like pictures of myself. Not my face reversed in the mirror. I have a missing tooth in the front, that was the most obvious misplacement. And the stain on our shirts were almost mirror images of each other.  Not quite the same, no Rorschach blotch test could ever produce two identical stains, but close enough.  I could see his eyes flickering back and forth as well, our brains moving in unison.  Slowly, we turned and faced each other.

 

“Mirror world?”

“Rerrem dlrouw?”

 

His voice broke over my eardrums like static, obviously reversed.  From his expression, mine treated him the same.  Almost as one, we pulled the small notebook and pencil from our back pockets.  While I couldn’t HEAR backwords, I had spent lots of time as a child learning to READ backwards.  Wizard writing, it was called in several books.  Hopefully he had done the same.

We communicated slowly through writing, both easily able to read backwards. I told my story, and he nodded, understanding.  He told me that he had slammed into the same man, but avoided the lamp.  We threw out theories for a few minutes, then, flipping to a new page, he wrote out a single word.  “ANA?”

 

I wasn’t thinking as quickly as he, I blamed the bash to my head and getting twisted in some unknown direction.  It wasn’t until he wrote “ketchup packets” that I remembered.  A book I’d read as a boy, with people that moved in other dimensions.  Left, right. Up, down. In and out.  And for the fourth? Ana and Kata. I nodded slowly, and closing my eyes, tried to remember the feel of moving that strange direction.  He giggled a strange reversed sound at the sight of my head bobbing, then gasped as bright light and geometric shapes burst out in my eyes again.  I moved back and finally did throw up, losing my lunch into the sink next to me.  He looked a little green as the smell rose.  I can’t imagine what chirality must be doing to the smell of bile.

 

Grabbing his pad, he wrote, “Your head vanished!”  I almost had it.  I held out my hand and he took it, and closing my eyes, I stepped.  I felt his hand slip out of mine, and desperately hoped that he was left in his old world, and not dumped randomly somewhere, unable to step in this new direction.  Opening my eyes, i saw fragments and pieces of the bathroom, and the rest of the restaurant, panels sliding in and out of existence as I walked. In the distance I saw a great curtain of white, the only truly solid thing as I stepped around.  I suddenly felt the floor squish under me again, and jumped backwards.  Embedded into the floor was a great column of grey flesh, nearly a yard across, and raising a foot high before descending back into the ground.  It pulsed, red veins specking it, a large black cord running down the middle, just inside the translucent body.  It ran off in either direction with no end in sight.

 

I followed it, ducking around portions of walls, half lamps that hung in midair, and the occasional chest, head, hand, or leg.   After several minutes of walking, I came to the white curtain.  I touched it, and it was solid, but also round under my hand.  I understood that it ran solidly in this fourth dimension i could now move along, the large flesh tube running through a small hole in it.  Ducking down, I crawled over the flesh and moved Kata back the way I had twisted.  I found myself in Olive Garden, the walls solid, the curtain and tube gone.  I walked to the main dining room and saw my coworkers sitting at our table, my own spot empty.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I rushed to the table.  Marjory looked up at me and screamed in horror.  I stopped dead, looking into her one, large, green eye, flickering in the center of her forehead.  I heard the bathroom door open behind me, and I was shoved out of the way by… myself.  The rest of the restaurant had started screaming and pointing, and I watched myself lumber to a stop, and turn around slowly.  A single giant eye, a saucer sided plate of glass held by two thick bars in front of it.  I spun and watch as the walls slid away, and I could see the cord to follow again.

The cord seems to only go in two directions, and following it back the other way seemed obvious, but past the mirror world was one where the atmosphere was thick and foggy. I’ve traveled up and down the grey cord for a year now, grabbing plates to eat when no one is looking, sleeping on empty tables.  I’ve thought about walking out the front door a hundred times, but there seems to be a safety in the Olive Garden, no matter how dangerous the outside is, it only inconvenienced me within the chambers of the great Nautilus that is the Olive Garden. I’ve tried drawing a map, but it’s useless, the cord moves in directions I still can’t perceive.

 

It is an interesting thought though.  Should someone ever find my notebook, and understand the words, realize.  Every time you enter this place, nine hundred and ninety nine other you’s do as well.  Some just slightly different. Some downright monstrous. But they are all you. Related through time and space, even if not truly related by blood.  A family of other yourselves.  And now I understand the true meaning of their slogan. When you’re here, you’re family.