Brian Pinkerton

The November Special Guest Writer is Brian Pinkerton

You can visit Brian at: http://www.brianpinkerton.com/

Brian Pinkerton


by Brian Pinkerton

The big, abandoned farmhouse on the far end of town, once a symbol of economic hardship in the Heartland, now stood as a bold statement of commercial resurgence and reinvention: the Larson County Scare-O-Rama Show.

Entering its third year of operation, the haunted house came to life every autumn with the falling leaves, anchored in Halloween but sprawling across ten weeks to lure nightly ticketholders into a maze-like tour of 17 rooms of shocks and terror. The attraction drew crowds from near and far, bragging about its remote rural Indiana location “where nothing can save you.”

A small group of college-age entrepreneurs ran the Scare-O-Rama like a community theater, hiring an enthusiastic cast of young performers, building elaborate sets, installing dramatic lighting, acquiring unique props and placing special attention on costumes and make-up. Each room of the haunted house presented a loosely themed episode with scripted antics and choreographed jolts. The results resembled a fever dream montage of horror film elements showcasing the insane, the grotesque and the bizarre.

Greg Nesbitt could hardly contain his excitement as he arrived at the Scare-O-Rama in his pickup truck on a Thursday night, feeling the familiar transition from smooth pavement to crunching gravel beneath his wheels. He had visited the haunted house twice already this year and now it was time for his girlfriend Valerie to share in the thrills.

Valerie, however, sat next to him in the front seat with a scowl and folded arms. “You know I don’t like this,” she said.

“It’s even better than last year,” promised Greg.

“I still have homework. Why couldn’t we do this on the weekend?”

“Because it gets too crowded. Thursdays are the best, there are fewer people.”

“It’s stupid,” she said.

Greg reached an area of parked cars stretched out in haphazard patterns across the dead grass. He pulled into an open space, snuffed the headlights and killed the engine.

Up ahead, a narrow walking path led to the multi-layered farmhouse. The structure was lit up in purple hues against the black night sky.

“Try to have fun,” he told her.

“I don’t like people jumping out at me,” she said. “It’s not scary, it’s annoying. The whole thing is so fake.”

“You have no imagination.”

“I do,” she responded. “It’s just more advanced…than this.”

A cluster of teenage boys in heavy metal t-shirts walked past the pickup truck, chugging from cans of beer and bellowing cheerful profanities at one another.

“Well, I already paid thirty-five bucks apiece for these tickets, so we’re going in,” said Greg.

“You shouldn’t have bought me a ticket without asking.”

“If I asked, you would have said no.”

They climbed out of the pickup truck. As they headed up the trail toward the old farmhouse, she muttered, “Thirty-five dollars. What a rip-off.”

“I promise, it’s better this year,” said Greg. “They got some great new stuff.”

A trickle of patrons emerged, coming down the path. They clutched one another, laughing and loud, fueled by a surge of adrenaline as if they had stepped off a rollercoaster ride. Tombstones with comical epitaphs populated the lawn. A few of the gravesites included protruding arms or faces.

An old black hearse sat near the entrance, opened to display a coffin with someone inside. As Greg and Valerie approached, a shirtless boy painted as a zombie sprang out at them from the shadows and snarled, causing Valerie to jump and scream.

The zombie ran off and Greg laughed.

“He didn’t scare me, he startled me,” she said. “There’s a difference.”

Greg teased her about the jump, mimicking it with exaggeration, and she told him, “You suck.”

At the door, Greg produced their tickets and handed them to a grunting hunchback. The hunchback waved them inside and adjusted his hump.

Greg and Valerie stepped into a hiss of fog machines and flickering strobe lights. The first room displayed a chaotic hospital scene with rotting, gore-infested patients shrieking from hospital beds. Doctors in gas masks and hazmat suits warned incoming visitors to continue at their own risk.

Valerie stifled a yawn.

The subsequent rooms offered a variety of horrors draped in shadows and cobwebs:  crazed killers in blood-splattered shirts wielding axes and power tools, psychotic clowns with jagged teeth, raving lunatics in straitjackets, mad scientists with brains in jars, a long-dead grandmother in a rocking chair, an emaciated body in an acid bath, a crib with a yellow-eyed demon baby, squirming shapes in body bags, dangling spiders and snakes, hanging skeletons, projected images of ghosts, outlandish rubber-mask monsters, and ongoing screams and shrieks accompanied by a blaring soundtrack of thunder, howling wind, creaks, groans, buzzing chainsaws and a haunted organ.

Given the light crowd and no one immediately behind them, Greg wanted to linger in each setting to soak in every detail. Valerie continually pushed him forward, reminding him of her yet-to-be-composed social studies paper due the following morning.

They entered a room that resembled a gothic art gallery and Greg insisted on showing Valerie the ghoulish flourishes of every framed portrait: hologram images that transformed innocent faces into creepy skulls; paintings with 3-D eyes that appeared to move; and a collection of frozen face masks embedded in the wall with various expressions of anguish and torture. A spinning red light illuminated the space with urgency and dread.

“Did you see how the eyes—” said Greg.

“Yes, yes,” said Valerie. “Let’s go. I don’t have all night.”

“Okay. We’ll keep moving.”

Then an angry male voice from nearby hollered: “You stinking bitch!”

Greg and Valerie froze and looked at one another. The outburst sounded genuine, not one of the character voices.

Greg peered into the shadows. “What was that?”

“It’s coming from another room,” said Valerie.

The voice returned, louder. “Admit it, you spent the night with him!”

A shrill female voice responded: “I don’t have to tell you anything!”

Greg and Valerie exchanged glances. “Someone’s having a fight,” said Valerie.

Greg looked around the art gallery and said, “There’s usually a vampire girl telling stories about the paintings.”

As he spoke, his gaze caught a thin, vertical slit of light in the black curtain draped behind the exhibits. He stepped forward for a closer look.

Through the slit, Greg could see two people in a small backstage area separate from the haunted house trail. The room was lit up, containing a few pieces of ordinary furniture. A large, beefy man in a crew cut was scolding someone. He wore a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans and boots. Greg motioned for Valerie to come over.

She quietly stepped alongside him and they looked through the slit together.

“It’s her,” whispered Greg. A young woman came into view, dressed up in black lace, fishnet stockings and heavy eyeliner. “That’s the girl who works this room.”

“She’s got a bloody nose,” said Valerie.

Greg took a closer look and said, “Whoa. You’re right.”

The big man raised his fist and shook it, threatening the goth girl. “If I ever catch you with him, I will smack you so hard…”

The goth girl shouted back. “Shut up! Shut up! I hate you, we’re through. I want nothing to do with you.” Infuriated, she spat on him.

The big man exploded. He rushed her and threw his fists at her face.  She fell to the ground. He lifted one of his big heavy boots and shouted: “Now I’m gonna stomp some sense into you!”

Greg jumped through the black curtain and into the harsh light of the natural setting. “Hey! Stop it! Don’t touch her!”

The big man froze for a moment. His foot remained raised over the goth girl as she lay moaning on the floor with her hands covering her face.

“You hurt her,” said Greg.

“Who the hell are you?” said the big man, his eyes narrowing with intensity.

Valerie stepped forward and grabbed Greg’s arm. “Greg, don’t get mixed up in this.”

“Not cool, man!” Greg shouted at the attacker. “Just leave her alone.”

“What are you going to do about it, punk?” he growled.

Greg said, “Don’t try me.”

“Greg—” begged Valerie.

The big man took a step toward Greg.

On the floor, the goth girl cried, covering her face. Blood seeped between her fingers. “I think you broke my nose.”

“Greg, he’s crazy,” said Valerie.

“Who are you calling crazy?” grunted the big man, turning his attention to Valerie.

“You reek of alcohol,” said Valerie.

“You want to get knocked down, too?”

“Get away from her!” Greg advanced on the big man to stop his movement toward Valerie. The man immediately grabbed Greg by the shirt and pulled him across the room.

“Greg!” screamed Valerie.

The big man punched Greg to the ground. He landed with a thump next to the goth girl.

Greg bounded back to his feet, enraged. He pulled out a small pocketknife, exposing the blade. He pointed it at the big man.

“You gonna cut me with that little thing?” said the big man, and he laughed. “Bring it on, punk!”

The big man took a step toward Greg, arms stretched out to receive him.

“Greg!” screamed Valerie. “Don’t!”

Greg lunged at the big man and the two locked into a fierce struggle. The big man howled, “You cut me!” The brawl crashed into a corner of the room, colliding violently with a table and chair.

Then a shot rang out.

Greg fell to the ground, clutching his chest. A stain of blood spread across his shirt.

The big man gripped a gun.

Valerie unleashed a scream against the louder backdrop of haunted house sound effects that echoed around them.

The goth girl, still on her knees, scrambled frantically for the opening in the black curtain. The big man shot her in the back and she immediately slumped to the floor.

Valerie ran for the opening but the big man reached her first, still holding the gun.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said in a deep, guttural voice. “No one saw me come in, no one is going to see me leave. Say your prayers.”

He pointed the gun at her head and she began to sob. Her entire body shuddered. The moment seemed to freeze in time.

Then, from the floor, Greg broke out laughing.

The goth girl giggled, then sat up. She wiped the blood from her face.

The big man tried to maintain a straight face, then erupted into laughter. He backed off.

Valerie stared back at them in horror. “What—what the hell is this?”

Greg stood and brushed himself off. He walked over to her, grinning. “We scammed you, baby. It was all an act. We set it up. You said this place wasn’t scary, that it was all fake... so I wanted to make it special.”

He gestured to his two cohorts. “This is Ben and Melinda. They’re performers with the show. We planned this all out, it’s fake blood. I bet your heart is racing a mile a minute. How was that for a scare?”

“You’re a jerk!” she responded, tears still wet on her cheeks.

Greg picked up his pocket knife from the ground. He held it out and waved it dramatically. “Did you like the part where I threatened to cut him with my Boy Scout knife?”

“Screw you!” Valerie turned away, furious. “I’m never talking to you again!”

She stormed out of the room to re-enter the haunted house exhibit.

“Aw, Valerie, don’t run off,” Greg called out. “It’s just a stupid prank. Don’t be this way.” He excused himself to Ben and Melinda and hurried after her.

Greg plunged back into the shadows of the haunted house. His eyes had no time to adjust. The sudden darkness, flashing lights and cacophony of screams, moans and spooky music overtook his senses.

Greg didn’t see her. He figured she was searching for an exit. He started to run and immediately tripped. He fell hard to the ground.

A sudden, searing pain burned in his throat. He scrambled to regain his balance and orientation. He felt wetness beneath his chin.

Within a few seconds, he realized he had fallen on his knife, plunging the blade into his neck.

A surge of horror overtook him. He staggered to his feet. He dropped the knife. He tried to scream for help but could only emit an awful, strangled gurgling sound. He realized his vocal chords had been cut. He began choking in his own blood.

Greg stumbled deeper into the haunted house, arms outstretched, eyes bugged wild, bleeding profusely. He encountered a group of teenagers and gestured wildly for help. They responded with shouts and laughter, pointing fingers at his gaping wound.

“That is so gross!” yelled one of the kids. “I love it!”

Mortified by their response, Greg ran into the next room, startling two young women, causing them to scream and run away. He ran after them and nearly collided with more thrill-seekers.

The bloodier and more desperately animated he became, the more the audience expressed their joy. The darkness, flashing lights and din of horror music and sound effects accompanied him into every room. His heart pounded with more fear than he had ever known. He couldn’t stop the flow of blood that soaked his upper body. A swarming dizziness filled his head, and he felt faint.

A pudgy little boy approached Greg and stood in his path, studying him with a dull glare beneath floppy bangs.

He shook his head, unimpressed.

“That is so fake.”       

Brian Pinkerton is the author of novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction, mystery and thriller genres. His books include Rough Cut, Killer's Diary, Abducted, Vengeance, How I Started the Apocalypse and the upcoming Anatomy of Evil (Samhain Publishing, April 2015). Select titles have also been released as audio books and in foreign languages. His short stories have been published in the anthologies PULP!, Chicago Blues and Zombie Zoology. Brian received his B.A. from the University of Iowa and Master's Degree from Northwestern University. He lives in the Chicago area and invites you to visit him on Facebook, Goodreads and at his website HERE

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