by Terri Coop
I saw the white flash just a moment before the collision reverberated through the car and sent my
Doritos and ice tea flying.
What the hell was that?
Grabbing a flashlight, I got out to check for damage.
Not even a dent.
Walking down the road looking for a wounded animal, I saw nothing save a few scraps of litter around a signpost and my tire tracks in the gravel. Turning the beam onto the sign, I laughed.
“Hey, Wolfman! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the House of Screams. Gave me nightmares for a month. Glad to see you’re such a responsible corporate citizen.” The tension relieved, I looked at my watch just as the numbers turned over to midnight.
I heard rustling and panned the flashlight toward the sound. Hands, dozens of them, skittered along the roadway. Some picked up bits of paper and others smoothed out the gravel.
This is insanity. I’m asleep or unconscious from the crash, I thought, backing away. I caught a whiff of cold rot and an icy hand grabbed my wrist. Raising my eyes, I saw a nightmare. The wrecked mouth moved in a chant while the dead eyes looked to the moon. She tightened her grip on my wrist and I saw a bracelet on her arm glow, disappear, and reappear on my arm. Then, with what looked like a smile, she dissolved into mist. The hands retreated into the night, leaving me alone on the side of the road.
“Well, that’s ten bucks I lost.”
In the dark silence, the cultured voice sounded like thunder. I turned and saw a slender well-dressed
man in the shadows.
“Let me introduce myself. Call me . . . “
“Ah, you flatter me. Glad to see I’m recognized. Welcome to the staff of the House of Screams. I can’t believe you fell for Lila’s stunt. Most people don’t swerve. They run her down and keep going. But, you...” his voice trailed away as he pointed up the road.
My eyes followed his gesture and a veil of ice descended over me. My car was wrapped around the tree. Smoke crept out from underneath and through the window I could see a figure slumped over the wheel.
I dropped to my knees waiting for tears that didn’t come.
“Yes, you are quite dead and the dead don’t cry, so stop trying. And Lila was able to bind your soul when you went for a stroll, meaning that you took her place. This section of road now belongs to you. Stand up and meet your crew.”
Realization dawned in my soul. It wasn’t cold that I felt, it was lack of heat. I exhaled and saw no vapor cloud. I touched my hand and felt the smooth cool sensation of a marble statue. A noise interrupted my musing. The rustle of hundreds of hands dropping from the trees and emerging
from the weeds.
“Ah, here they are. Ready to get to work. I’ll cut you some slack tonight because you are new. However, from now on I expect this mile to be spotless.”
“Or what? You’ll kill me?” I said, watching what looked like my own blood trickling from a wound in my chest.
Wolfman came close enough for me to smell his warm fetid breath. As I watched, two tendrils of his
breath formed into small snarling beasts.
“Mocking me is a poor choice.”
Despite my new cold countenance, I drew back. Instinctively, I knew I didn’t want to press the matter.
“Smart girl. There are things worse than death. Now, I need to get back to the House of Screams. I have a show to organize. After you prove yourself, feel free to ask for an audition. You are a lovely thing and Marie Antoinette is starting to get a bit . . . um . . . scruffy.”
“What? Those were real ghosts?”
“Of course. Anyone can use projections. However, the real ones are so much scarier. You, yourself said you had nightmares for a month. Music to my ears. However, you need to get to work. First order of business is to clean up that mess,” he said, looking toward what was left of my car.
“What do I do?”
“Just tell them what you want. They are quite well trained,” he said, disappearing into the night.
I looked down. For a moment I had forgotten the hands. Row upon row of white hands. Not knowing
what else to do, I pointed and said, “Go on.”
The hands moved as one, swarming over the wreck, dragging and pushing it into the underbrush.
Dozens more followed picking up glass and smoothing out the ruts. Watching my body sink into its final resting place, I felt nothing. I belonged to the night now and I had work to do. This section of road wasn’t going to clean itself.
Terri Lynn Coop is a lawyer and writer who just scared herself. She’ll never drive Route 171 into Joplin again after dark. Come keep her company at http://www.whyifearclowns.net