Lisa Morton

The October Special Guest Story is by

Lisa Morton

Please feel free to visit Lisa HERE

Lisa Morton


by Lisa Morton

The sign was crudely hand-lettered on a flattened-out cardboard box and nailed to an old signpost, but Mason smiled when he saw it.

Just like he said it was, he thought, as he followed the arrow at the bottom of the sign onto a dirt road, out in the middle of fucking nowhere. This is going to be IT.

The discussion board posting at Mason’s AmericasGotHaunts.com website had been from a new poster, HalloweenJoyRide, and had claimed to have found the most terrifying haunted attraction in the country – “My girlfriend and me couldn’t sleep for a week”. Normally Mason was skeptical about postings that sounded like sales pitches, but he’d never heard of the haunt, and from the directions HalloweenJoyRide had provided, it was clearly located in the countryside, at least an hour from anything. It had to be pretty outrageous to turn a buck in the boonies. And it had no website, which somehow intrigued Mason even more.

He’d driven for four hours to get here. It’d been a long drive without Kat.

The dirt road finally led to a parking lot that had obviously once been the spacious front yard of a home. The house itself stood at the far side; once a prim and proud farmhouse, it was now a dilapidated blight, with splintered porches, empty windows, crumbled chimney.

They’re not taking us through THAT, surely…

Then Mason saw more crudely drawn signs, with big arrows pointing around the house. He drove further and saw a huge, old barn, still standing and lit up.

Aaaahhh. A barn. She would have loved this. Her loss.

He parked the SUV, then debated about bringing the camera bag. When he encountered a new haunted house, he usually went through it once first with Kat –

No, that wasn’t right. Kat was gone now.  Mason felt regret pricking at his thoughts.

“You don’t really care about anything but this Halloween shit, Mason. Yes, I think it’s fun, too – but it’s more than that for you. I think you want it to be real. Sorry, but I don’t.”

For the last two years, Kat had come with him to every haunted house. He realized how much he’d counted on her, even just for help with carrying a bag or pointing a light.

Fuck it. AmericasGotHaunts.com doesn’t need her.

He decided to go through the maze alone first, to get a feel for it, then he’d go through a second time with the camera.

If they gave him permission, that is. Or didn’t catch him doing it without permission.

He knew they might have a no-cameras policy. Even the smallest neighborhood haunted houses had photos and videos online – “Here’s our Freddy Krueger scaring those stupid kids from next door!” – but this haunt didn’t even have a name.

Mason locked the doors and looked around. He’d timed it right; it was early in the evening, and there were only a few other cars parked nearby. The barn stood maybe a hundred yards away. A faint echo of ghostly music and wails drifted over towards him, and there were tables set up near the front of the barn.

He forced himself not to rush toward the entrance. He wanted to take his time, to watch other customers leaving the maze. They were usually the first indication of how high the fear factor was. So frightening that they were still laughing nervously, girls clinging to their boys, the boys grinning like upright wolves? Were jocks slapping each others’ backs too hard and making bad jokes about lunatic girls in nightgowns and gay killer clowns?

Mason spotted a couple coming towards him, moving away from the barn – twentysomethings, maybe even married. The man had his arm around the woman, who was sobbing quietly. He looked ashen and said nothing; they didn’t glance up as they passed Mason.

What the fuck…?

He wanted to stop them, ask what they’d seen, but he knew he’d find out soon enough.

A small group of college boys walked out of the barn and started towards him. Mason deliberately veered slightly towards them, listening intently.

“…telling you, that shit was real,” said a broad-shouldered boy with a flannel shirt.

His friend, sporting a hoodie with a band logo on the back, barked a single sharp laugh. “’Course it’s not real, doofus. It’s make-up. I read about how these haunted houses get all these make-up guys from Hollywood now who’ve been put out of work by computers.”

“I dunno…”

The third boy, with a compact, wrestler’s body, had his head down and hands thrust in the pockets of his jeans. “Just shut up,” he muttered to his friends before speeding up to reach their car first.

“What the fuck’s eating him?”

Then the boys passed out of earshot. And Mason felt his interest growing.

These people are all seriously effed up. This is going to be good. Maybe great.

But as he neared the front of the barn, he was hit with a series of small disappointments. The music was a tinny, cheap Halloween CD that he recognized as one cluttering seasonal bargain bins all over the country; it was being played over an old-fashioned boombox set up on a folding tray. Parked nearby was a well-used RV, paint chipping from its sides, but with new tires that told Mason it was still being driven. The barn doors, which had a few paper Halloween decorations glued to them, were closed. An older man sat behind another table with a metal cashbox before him. The only impressive part of the scene was the giant who stood before the doors; he had to be at least eight feet tall, and his massive feet, poking out from the bottoms of stained overalls, were bare. He gazed at Mason impassively, and Mason realized he was a kid – he couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16.

“Happy Halloween,” said the older man behind the table.

Mason looked down at him, and saw that his lined, weathered face and gray hair betrayed a man who’d worked hard in life and received little in return.

“This your place?” Mason asked.

“The haunted house, yes. The farm…nobody owns it. Been abandoned for a few years now. You here for Halloween?”

“Oh, yes, sorry.” Mason almost asked for two tickets, then caught himself. “One, please.”

“Ten dollars.”

At least the ticket price was reasonable. Mason handed the man a twenty, and received two fives in exchange along with a warning. “No pictures inside. We’re pretty strict about that.”

Mason shrugged, but was already planning his approach when he was ready for the second go-around: “I run the largest haunted house site on the web. We get half-a-million hits a week in October. Just let me post a few photos, and I guarantee your business will go nuclear.” Damn it – if he’d still had Kat, he knew she could’ve worked magic on the old duffer. He’d seen her do it before.

If there was really anything worth covering here.

The old man nodded at the giant, who reached for the barn doors. Mason’s excitement started to spike. The familiar anticipation, that sense of both tension and glee, began to pulse in Mason like a black star. He even forgot for a few seconds that Kat wasn’t beside him, her hand in his, sharing his joy.

Mason stepped through the door, which closed behind him. The music from outside was shut off by the heavy wood, and he was surprised by the lack of sound. Most haunted attractions reverberated with pounding music, shrieks, chainsaws…but this place was almost silent.

Ahead was a long, straight aisle; on the right side were the stalls that had once held livestock, and down the left was a hastily-installed wall, simple wooden flats placed there to form a narrow walkway. The flats were decorated with crudely-done Halloween paintings – lopsided jack-o’-lanterns, skeletons missing a lot of bones, devils who were probably supposed to be leering. It didn’t look like the usual maze; Mason couldn’t make out any twists or turns, just a single one-way path. There were a few other customers visible at the far end – two couples. They gazed at whatever lay within one of the stalls and whispered to each other.

Whispers? What kind of fucking place is this?!

For a second, Mason had the horrible feeling that it was a ‘hell house’, and he was about to be presented with a series of scenes badly acted by youthful members of a church in which he’d be told about the horrors of abortion and raves and gay marriage. If this was a hell house, he’d turn around at the first stupid fucking stall, march back out the way he’d come in, and demand his ten bucks back. Assholes.

But no, whatever the quartet at the far end was watching was quiet, no shouted re-enactment of a deathbed or surgery scene.

Mason took a deep breath; he was starting to feel a less happy apprehension now, and he stepped forward, already turning to look into the first stall.

For a few seconds, he couldn’t quite parse what he was seeing: The wall between two of the stalls had been removed to make a larger space, and a platform constructed from sawhorses and sheets of plywood had been set up in the center. On the platform was a large glass aquarium – Mason guessed 20 gallons – but it was only partly full of water. Most of the tank’s space was taken up with a gray, scaled mass, something like the hide of an unremarkable snake. The mass was large, though, and had arms, legs – and a human head peering at Mason. Mason stared dumbly, trying to figure it out. Was this a setup for a scare? Something would pop out, surely, or perhaps swoop down from overhead on a zipline; but then Mason felt his gut clench when the thing in the tank blinked its large, liquid eyes, and he knew it was alive. It repositioned itself in the tank slightly, and issued something like a sigh.

Okay. Well, at least it definitely isn’t a hell house…whatever it is.

Mason moved on to the next stall. In this one, a teenaged girl was sprawled stomach-down on an ancient, tattered couch, reading a magazine by flashlight. She wore low-rider jeans and a t-shirt that had been positioned to allow her sinuous, four-foot-long tail to wave lazily above her. As Mason stopped, gaping, she glanced back at him once, then returned her attention to the magazine. It was a mindless celebrity rag sheet, its pages stuffed with photos of television and film stars.

Mason had been to exactly 212 other haunted houses. He’d covered everything from theme parks that hosted hundreds of thousands of visitors to home haunts that delighted trick-or-treaters one night a year; he’d been to trade shows and workshops, and he knew everything about hydraulics, wires, ghost glass, infrared sensors, latex appliances, blood squibs, and projections.

And so he knew the girl’s tail was real. He watched it twitch in the air, its tawny, soft pelt undulating, and there was no question that it was a part of her.

“Hey,” he blurted out, softly.

The girl turned and looked at him, but didn’t say anything.

“What’s the deal here?” Mason asked.

“We’re not supposed to talk,” she said, and her voice was a normal teenaged girl’s, high and lyrical, with a light regional accent he couldn’t place. She went back to her magazine.

The next three stalls held a young man with feet the size of steamer trunks, a little girl completely covered in thick fur who was more interested in her Barbie dolls than Mason, and a boy with four seemingly normal arms.

In the last cubicle was a girl of maybe 17, wearing a large, loose t-shirt featuring innocuous smiling kitten graphics. At first she looked like any other girl, and Mason wondered why she was here. Then he felt a stab of shock as her shirt rippled. She glanced at Mason, pulled the shirt up – and revealed a fist-sized head and tiny chest and arms extending from her torso, just below the rib cage. The twin – for Mason knew it to be that – looked at him, wiggled its tiny fingers, and giggled. The girl bent her head for a moment as if listening, then she also glanced up at Mason and snickered as well.

Mason turned and stalked out.

He heard Kat’s voice in his mind – Kat, who worked with special needs children, and who’d left him because he was more interested in searching out horrors than working for progress. Well, maybe he could make progress happen here, and then he could tell Kat what he’d done, and she’d –

“Hey!” He’d reached the front table again, where the tired man and the teenaged giant stood. They both looked up at his shout.

“Maybe a lot of these other suckers you’re selling tickets to don’t know what this is, but I do, and it sure as hell is not a haunted house. It’s a goddamn freak show. All you’re missing is a barker standing on a platform shouting out, ‘All living, all alive, alive-alive-oh!’”

The ticket seller’s shoulders repositioned, as if some weight had just been laid across his back. He reached into his cash box and withdrew a ten, which he extended to Mason. “I’m sorry, sir. Here’s your money back –”

Mason ignored the bill. “I don’t care about the money, asswipe. See, I know a little something about the history of these things, and I know freak shows are illegal in most states, probably like this one. And some of these people – Christ, they’re just kids! These aren’t even adults you’re putting on display in there. Where the fuck are their parents?”

The tall boy took a half-step forward and a jab of fear shot through Mason’s gut, but then the older man rose and put a hand up to the massive chest. “It’s okay, Jack – I’ll handle this.” The kid glared at Mason, but didn’t advance.

The older man stepped from behind the folding table and extended a hand. “My name’s Andrew. And you are…?”

Mason didn’t accept the hand. “Just give me one good reason why I shouldn’t call the cops right now.”

“Because I’m the legal guardian of all these children.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. I’ve adopted all of them. This is my family.”

Mason flung a gesture at the barn. “So in other words…these are your own children you’re displaying like animals.”

Andrew winced slightly. “Please understand: It’s not cheap to raise so many special little ones. This is our one big chance every year to make money.”

“They should be in…special homes or something.”

“Institutions, you mean.”

The word sounded mean, coming from Andrew, and Mason shrugged, suddenly feeling guilty. “Some place where they can be taken care of.”

“I take care of them. We take care of each other. We do all right.”

“What did the girl – the one with the tail – mean when she said, ‘We’re not supposed to talk’? What is it you don’t want people to know? Are you abusing them?”

“Abusing…?” For a second, Andrew flushed, and Mason wondered if he could outrace the giant, make it back to his car before those hubcap-sized hands were on him, lifting him like a doll. Then Andrew inhaled, and turned toward the RV parked a short distance away. “There’s something I’d like to show you.”

Without another word, the older man started towards the side entrance door to the RV. Mason hesitated, then saw Jack eyeing him, and decided to follow. Andrew opened the door, stepped up into a dark interior and motioned for Mason to wait. “Hang on,” he said before turning to the shadows and saying softly, “Kevin, are you awake?” He listened for a moment, then turned on a light somewhere inside the RV. He disappeared from view for a few seconds, and then returned, motioning Mason to step in.

Inside, Mason saw a small kitchenette, closets and cabinets, a table, and a large, padded dog bed on the table. Andrew had turned on a single light over the table, and he whispered to Mason. “He’s asleep, so we’ll have to speak quietly.”

Andrew waved Mason forward until they both stood over the dog bed. “I’d like you to meet Kevin.”

Mason looked down into the bed – and felt his dinner from two hours ago climb halfway up his throat.

Inside the soft, fleecy interior of the bed was something that looked like a raw puddle of semi-translucent flesh about the size of a terrier, but without fur. There were longer, gelatinous-looking extensions that might have been arms and legs, and a rounded knob on one end that was some sort of head, but it was almost not even recognizable as anything human.

“Kevin,” the old man whispered, looking down at the thing with eyes that gleamed wetly in the dim overhead light, “was essentially born without bones. He’s almost six years old, and it’s a miracle that he’s still alive. A friend found him when he was three months old; his parents left him out in a snowy field on a January morning to die.”

“God,” Mason muttered, and he was shocked to realize that he could understand: The young parents, faced with a lifetime, not knowing whether it was short or long, of caring for this child that would never run, never play, never even go for a walk or sit up. “Why didn’t they…take him somewhere?”

“Where? Please don’t tell me some government-run home or hospital, because there aren’t any, not since all the budget cuts. We’ve got wars to finance – we can’t afford to give away precious money to children like Kevin. And his parents…they had nothing, not even health insurance. There was no way they could take care of a boy like Kevin.”

Mason wanted to look away, but he found his eyes drawn again and again to that alien form, impossible and yet alive. It was jarring when he realized Andrew was speaking again.

“Kevin, you see, is not comfortable around large groups of people, so it’s his choice not to participate in our performance. His brothers and sisters all enjoy it.”

The boy in the bed shifted slightly. Something in the head rolled, and Mason’s fascination curdled as he realized he was looking at an open, pale blue eye that had fixed on him…an eye that was intelligent and measuring.

Andrew reached down a comforting hand and rested it lightly on the child’s back. “Oh, we woke him. It’s all right, Kevin, go back to sleep. I just wanted our friend here to meet you, but it can wait for another time.” Andrew looked back at Mason, and added, “There are going to be more like Kevin, and Lizzie, and Jack, and Dolly and Missy, and Terence, and Michael, and Abby, you know. They’re a product of a world that’s been poisoned, and that world’s not interested in offering them the antidote. They’re the future.”

One of the rubbery arms slid across the soft covering of the dog bed, and Mason realized that Kevin was trying to reach for him.

Mason staggered back, horrified at the thought of being touched by the boy. He collided with a closet behind him, rattling it loudly, and from the dog bed came a high-pitched whine of anxiety. Andrew leaned in closer, shushing the child, while Mason stumbled to his left, trying to find the exit, the goddamned exit that he knew was here somewhere, and –

“Shhh, Kevin, it’s all right, he’s just…well…”

Mason didn’t wait to hear the rest. The door was behind him suddenly, and he pushed against it so hard that he fell through it backwards, landing in the barnyard dirt. Jack loomed over him, and Mason gasped and found his feet, then turned to run, and Andrew was behind him, standing in the doorway, shouting, “Please, mister, just let us live…”

Mason ran, not looking back to see if a giant pursued him like some ogre in a dark fairy tale. He reached his car and restrained an urge to vomit, then dug his keys out and climbed in. By the time he’d made the main road, leaving a trail of dust, he knew he would never make any phone call – whether to the police or Kat it didn’t much matter, because Andrew and his family would be gone by the time the police arrived anyway, gone until next season, when they’d set up in some other town and make just enough money to see them through for one more year. And someone who’d read about them online, in some forum, would show up and try to take a photo, and Jack the Giant would grab the camera, and so Andrew’s family would remain mysterious and safe.

And Mason wouldn’t call Kat, because she already understood: That the world was broken and the future twisted.

Mason drove on through the dark countryside, towards the comfort of artificial monsters.

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert. Her work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening”, and Famous Monsters called her "one of the best writers in dark fiction today".

She began her career in Hollywood, co-writing the cult favorite Meet the Hollowheads (on which she also served as Associate Producer), but soon made a successful transition into writing short works of horror. After appearing in dozens of anthologies and magazines, including The Mammoth Book of Dracula, Dark Delicacies, The Museum of Horrors, and Cemetery Dance, in 2010 her first novel, The Castle of Los Angeles, was published to critical acclaim, appearing on numerous “Best of the Year” lists. Her book The Halloween Encyclopedia (now in an expanded second edition) was described by Reference & Research Book News as “the most complete reference to the holiday available,” and Lisa has been interviewed on The History Channel and in The Wall Street Journal as a Halloween authority.

She is a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, a recipient of the Black Quill Award, and winner of the 2012 Grand Prize from the Halloween Book Festival, and she recently received her seventh Bram Stoker Award® nomination for the collection Monsters of L.A. A lifelong Californian, she lives in North Hollywood, and can be found online at www.lisamorton.com.

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