by Lillian Csernica on May 11, 2018
Today’s fortune says:
The prospect of a thrilling time awaits you.
THE JOKE’S ON YOU
Tom stared up at the purple roller coaster. Against the night sky, it was alive with rows of blinking white lights. The lime green cars held ten riders. As they climbed the hills and roared down into the curving twists, the cars whirled round and round. The riders exiting the latest car grabbed the rails along the walkway as they made their way out. More than one looked pale and sick.
“Nope. Not for love or money.”
“Oh come on.” Natalie slurped up more of her giant pink slushie. “I went on those boring boats.”
“It was a flume ride!”
“Boring. Twenty minutes of waiting for what? Floating along in the dark and then whoosh!” She plucked at her damp blouse. “I’m still wet, and now I’m cold!”
“That hell wagon is guaranteed to make me heave up everything I’ve eaten for the past five years.”
“Buzz kill.” Natalie scowled. She reached up to brush his thick brown curls out of his eyes. “What happened to you, Tom? You used to be the craziest guy in college. Everybody waited for you to show up on Fail Army.” She used the hood of her jacket to rub more water out of her long blonde hair. “Nobody could believe how lucky you were.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Tom grinned. “I respect the Laws of Physics.”
Natalie pouted. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”
Not for the first time, Tom measured Natalie’s stunning face and figure against the fact that he’d stepped in puddles deeper than her personality.
“Most people wouldn’t consider ‘putting our lives in danger’ the usual definition of fun.”
“When did you get so boring?”
Tom wondered that himself. He’d graduated with a B.S. in IT. Hired on with a good software company. Found an apartment near work and settled into a steady routine of work, computer games, tabletop RPGs on the weekends, and the occasional camping trip. A good life, but truth be told, he did miss some of the wild times.
“Tell you what. The park closes in half an hour. You were talking about the Scare Shack. Give me a pass on Barney’s Barf-o-Matic here and I’ll go with you through the haunted house.”
Natalie gave him a brilliant smile and hugged his arm. “You’ll keep me safe, right?”
“Right. I’ll stuff the monsters back into their coffins.”
The Scare Shack looked like a cross between a Gothic cathedral with too many gargoyles and the college dorm of every serial killer in Hollywood. Inside, the walls painted black, flickering strobe lights, ultraviolet lights making monster face graffiti blaze out of the darkness. Tom put Natalie in front of him and kept his hands on her shoulders. As long as she could see them coming, the scares would stay funny and safe. He had no intention of letting anybody sneak up on her.
They followed the green-painted path through the usual set pieces. The graveyard, with its zombies and vampires. The saw mill, with the blood and gore and body parts. Tom blinked. The strobes were giving him a headache. Sudden darkness eclipsed even the day-glow paint on the walls and floor.
“I’m right here, Nat.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “No worries, honey.”
“Just keep moving forward. This is all part of the show.”
The floor sloped downward. Natalie lost her balance, flailed out, and fell forward, pulling out of Tom’s grip.
“Tom!” Her screamed faded as she rolled away into the smothering dark.
“Nat! Natalie!” Tom lunged forward. His foot came down on a flat surface. The floor was even again. A trapdoor? “Hey! Hey! Turn the lights on right now!”
He turned sideways, reaching out both hands, trying to find the wall. The darkness was so absolute he couldn’t even see the standard red EXIT signs. Time to get out and find somebody official. Several long, thin strands fell from the ceiling, spilling down around his neck. Wet and slimy, they stank of old metal. Copper. Tom seized handfuls and flung them away.
“That’s it! I’m calling the cops!”
He pulled his phone out of his pocket. The slime on his hands made him fumble and drop his phone. He sank down on his knees and patted the ground around him. Tiny scratchings and scrabblings swarmed around him. Furry bodies ran over his hands. Things dropped on to his back and scuttled down his arms.
Tom crawled forward, banging his knees in his haste. His hands came down on smooth, cold bodies wriggling away. Jerking back, he fell face forward. Reflex made him tuck his shoulder under so he rolled onto his back.
“Turn on the lights!” His voice turned shrill. “Get me out of here!”
Above him, two eyes opened, eyes as wide as his arms were long. The pupils blazed an ugly orange.
“Thomas Caldwell Morton.”
The voice rolled out over him like notes from and old pipe organ. The bones inside him vibrated with the sound. Tom clapped his hands over his ears, pulling his knees up to his chest, curling into a tight ball.
The lights came on, blinding him.
Tom opened his eyes. He lay on the green pathway. Voices up ahead. Laughter. Flashes of light. Tom raised his head. Natalie stood there, surrounded by a butcher, a zombie, a vampire, a girl with several fake stab wounds. Tom shook his head and got to his feet.
“Oh Tom, wait til you see what the night vision camera got! You were so funny!”
Natalie ran forward, arms out for a hug. Tom dodged her like a bullfighter escaping the horns. He spotted his phone and snatched it up. Natalie stared at him, her smile fading.
He turned to see the Scare Shack workers still standing there. “Get out. Anybody I catch gets one hell of a beating!”
They all bolted out the EXIT door.
“Tom? Come on, it was just a joke!”
The whine in Natalie’s voice sliced into Tom’s last nerve. She reached for him again. He slapped her hands aside. He looked up to see the orange lights rigged into the framework above him. Planned. Someone had planned it all. He glared into Natalie’s wide eyes.
“Did you do this? Did you?”
“You needed to loosen up! You were turning into a corporate zombie!”
“You bitch.” He dialed 911. When the operator answered, he put the phone on speaker mode. “I need help. There’s a girl here who’s freaking out. We’re in the Scare Shack.”
Natalie backed up, knocking over a pile of severed heads. Tom caught her by the arm and dragged her back up the pathway to the graveyard. He kicked open the lid of the coffin, yanked out the zombie mannequin, and pushed Natalie forward. She tripped on the edge of the coffin and toppled over, falling face first into the coffin.
“Tom! Stop it! What’s wrong with you?”
Tom shut the lid of the coffin and sat on top of it. Natalie screamed, kicking her heels against the lid. A joke. Really. And she’d recorded it.
“Natalie? Where’s the camera?”
“In the office! Let me out! I’ll show you!”
“Have your little friends already put it on YouTube? Have they shown everybody?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know who’s still here!”
Tom stood up. Before Natalie could get the lid open, he yanked down two of the mourning angel grave markers. They were heavy enough to keep the lid shut. He ran to the office. Sure enough, somebody’s ghostbuster night vision camera had been wired into the security system. Tom disconnected it and stuffed the camera into one of the park’s souvenir bags. He hurried back to the graveyard and put the angels back in place.
The sirens pulled up outside. Two paramedics rushed in, carrying their bags. The older one looked around.
“Where is she?”
The lid of the coffin flew open. Natalie sat up, covered in cobwebs and fake spiders. She fought the sticky strands, screaming and crying.
“He did it!” she cried. “He shut me in this coffin! He’s crazy!”
Tom shook his head. “She’s a Walking Dead fan. Wanted to be a zombie. I don’t know what she’s on.”
The lead paramedic stepped toward the coffin, holding out his hand. “Miss, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”
Natalie scrambled out of the coffin. She snatched up a white wooden cross marking a grave and held up the pointy end. “I’m not the crazy one! Tom’s nuts! It was all just a joke!”
Half an hour later, after listening to Natalie rave on about the “joke” she played on Tom, with the help of all the missing staff, the police relieved the paramedics of custody, cuffed Natalie, and put her in the back of the squad car. Tom walked out to the parking lot, carrying the bag with the camera in it.
5150. A seventy-two hour psychiatric hold in the county behavioral health unit. No makeup, no nail polish, no fancy shampoo, and no cell phone. If Natalie wasn’t already nuts, she would be by the time they let her out.