“Ah, AH! That…that…”
The words didn’t seem to form fast enough to stem the flow of blood. He felt it pooling under the mask and couldn’t stop what came out of his mouth if he wanted to.
“…motherfucker. That goddamn motherfucker broke…”
“Shut up, son.” The man across from the kid told him as they stood in the dimly lit room. He was older, thirties maybe, short, hands painted with red. He was a lifer at the haunt and related to one of the women that owned it. The kid forgot the guy’s name but he was a pain in the ass by the book son of a bitch if there ever was one.
“…nose. Broke my fucking nose, man. Can you dig that? Can you? And you tell me to shut up? Fuck you man. Fuck you and don’t call me son.” The kid was losing it. Careening now, losing control and heading for a steep cliff. He stepped out of position, a dark alcove where all someone would be able to see was his head and pulled the Halloween mask he was wearing up and blood poured out of it and down his face and the front of the black robe he wore. His nose was bent to the left and the blood was still coming. The kid dropped the mask and pushed his hands against his nose, wiping first left with one hand then right with the other. All it did was smear the red further up his cheeks and send more pain through his head.
“Pick up that mask. Put it on. Get back into place. Now.”
The kid was looking down at his hands and the pool of blood he was suddenly standing in. The flow from his nose had slowed to a drip but it was still coming. He looked slowly up at the man across from him and cocked his head.
“Uh, what?” He was genuinely baffled at what the man had said.
“There’s another group comin’. Get it together. That kid punched you. It happens. Suck it up and gut it out. We have work to do.” The man was whispering but it came with a force that said he wasn’t joking and to cut the shit. The kid smiled and the man saw that the kid’s lip had been cut as well and his teeth were painted red.
“Oh, ohhh…well FUCK YOU! And fuck this place. You don’t pay me near enough to put up with some asshole punching me out. No way. I’ll get a job at the Sit ‘n Spin or the stupid theater. I don’t need this shit.”
The kid turned to leave but the man’s arm shot out and grabbed him and spun him forcefully. The man was wearing a black hood and a black mask underneath that hid his face. It could have been anyone under there and for a moment the kid got a sick feeling that this wasn’t who he thought it was. He got the feeling the didn’t know who this was at all. He looked the man up and down and realized he was stockier than the kiss ass relative and shorter. No, it had to be him.
“Fuck you Casey. Let me go. I’m done. Take that mask and shove it up your ass.” The kid tried to turn out of the grip that had him but it only tightened. There was a moment of silence before the man spoke again.
“I ain’t who you think I am. Who I am though is the person that’s telling you to put your face back on and get into position.”
“Or WHAT you dick? You gonna take my birthday away?”
More silence and then –
“No, but if you don’t cut the shit and do what I say then one of us won’t go home tonight. That’s what. Last call kid. Put the mask back on. I won’t tell you again.” To emphasize this the man squeezed his arm even harder and the teen felt a jolt of pain shoot down to his fingers and up to his shoulder. He was about to let out a holler but the man shook his head in a ‘no’ as soon as he opened his mouth.
“And if you run kid…if you run, you will wish you hadn’t ever learned to even walk.”
There was something in the other man’s voice that sent a chill down the kid and so as soon as the man released him he started to bend down for the mask. He had a moment where he thought – run, I’ll just run as soon as I stand up. I’ll run and get the hell out of here. Yeah… But as his hand grabbed the blood soaked mask he heard the man beside him clear his throat.
“Son, I want you to understand something, so there’s no lie between us when shit goes south…” He knelt down and his voice became a whisper.
“…if you fuck with me, I…just don’t make me hurt you. Please. I will, but I don’t want to. I will hurt you and I will hurt you real, real bad. Now put the fucking mask back on and get back into position.”
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The kid grabbed the mask and pulled it over his head as he stood up. The blood inside was sticky now and feeling it against his skin, cold and wet and gummy, made him gag. He felt the hand on his arm again and he looked up in time to take another punch to the nose. He fell backwards against the side of the room he and the older man were stationed n. It was a bedroom, meant to be a place where the demons summoned by the children of the home had been hiding in wait as the rest of the family searched for their missing baby. The kid was wearing a devil mask painted black but with glow in the dark paint over that layer so that he would pop out of the darkness at the customers and startle them with his partner popping up from behind to give them a secondary shock as they ran from the room. The haunt itself was pretty clever, he’d thought, and the story was genuinely creepy, though the twist at the end, where aliens came in as a last second scare, was awful. It was cheap and he hated it but the gig was nine bucks an hour and he needed the money. The money, the money, the goddamned money and as he stepped back into the shadows of the room he wondered how much he really needed that new guitar when put against this. He took a deep breath, hands shaking, blood flowing from his nose again, head throbbing, and a hum that wasn’t receding. It slowly disappeared though and in its place were the sounds of the haunt, built inside of an old factory and employing fifty people. The awkward laughter of the guests, then their screams, the whispers of the other actors, and at the bottom of that well was his labored breathing. He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. He looked up from his feet and over at the man, who was hunkered deep into a corner behind the door. Even though he couldn’t see his face he knew the man was watching him. He knew it. He closed his eyes and beneath the fear was something else, anger, burning white hot and pushing to take control. There was no pain in the anger, no fear, there was just action. He opened his eyes and let it take him over. Suddenly the door burst open and in rushed three young women, older than the kid but younger than his youngest sister. They were closer to twenty than not and they were all dressed in clown outfits. Clowns. Of course. Everyone loved clowns. The girls pushed into the room, laughing, spinning in the dim light, running into each other and the furniture in the room as they searched for the scare actors. He missed his cue. The girls got past the spot where he was supposed to pop out and he looked over and the man in the corner was shaking his head at him before leaping out silently to scare the girls. They screamed and spun to run out of the exit and reflex too over for the kid. The anger was in charge now.
He jumped out at them and shrieked and shook his hands, covered in real blood, at them. He started jibbering words, phrases, saying how he was going to skin them and wear them, how he’d make a beautiful dress of their skin and that one of them could be his bride in Hell and wear it and then he stopped speaking altogether, stopped moving even and just became very quiet and very still and it was like he was possessed by the anger. It was as if he had opened a door and now that it was open he had no desire to close it. He liked the thrum in his body it brought on. He counted in his head – one – two – three – four – five – watching the girls move slowly away as he did. The man across from him was watching him and nodding silently. The girls were quiet as well now as they slowly moved past the kid and towards the door. Good. Good. He watched them from the corner of his eye and as soon as they got to the door and were starting to go through it into the next part of the haunt, the hallway that lead down to the basement and then out, he screamed. He took the deepest breath he could and opened his mouth and let all of the pain and anger come out in a sound that made the girls run, slamming into one another and into the narrow walls of the hall, even knocking into the actors in there as they moved as fast as they were able.
And he didn’t hurt anymore. And he wasn’t scared anymore. He felt, shit, he felt great. He had tasted something new and he wanted more.
The man walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You did good kid. Real good. I knew you had it in you. Just needed some inspiration. Some direction. Some…motivation. Now’s when things get fun. Once you realize that in here, tonight, with a mask on, you are a god. You control what happens to these shit. You control what nightmares haunt them tonight and after, and well son, that’s a powerful thing. Addicting thing. I started off just like you, a long time ago, and now, well, now I do this on the side. Freelancing you could say. Lending my expertise before moving on. Who I am outside, every other day of the year with my false face on, that has nothing to do with who I am in here. Who I really am. The face I rarely show. My true face. It comes out here. And who you are becoming, right now, right this fucking instant, well son, that’s like finding out the world’s round when all along you thought it was flat. Now then, back into place. We got work to do. Someone will tip one of the managers off eventually and then we’ll have to hot foot it but until then we got work to do. We gotta remind these fuckers how dangerous Halloween really is.”
The man reached around and grabbed something from his waistband and showed it to the kid. It was a mean looking knife. Not long but jagged and sharp. The man gripped it tighter and stepped back into his spot and the kid got back into the corner again. He poked his tongue out of his mouth and licked above and below his lips and then sucked on his tongue and the salty taste of his blood. There was a bang on the wall from one of the other actors to let him know the next customers were coming.
He took a breath.