by S.C. Denton
She was about to place it on her head when the woman’s screech gave her pause. Some might’ve considered it repulsive, she felt it possessed of great beauty. From the moment she sighted it, she knew it was special. She’d never known such a desire to own something. Usually her pursuits were merely business; rarely was she ever so taken aback.
“I’m sorry I can’t allow you to try it on. It’s precious. I hope you’ll understand,” the antique dealer said.
“Sure. This is my business. I should’ve asked. I don’t know what got into me. It’s just so… breathtaking,” Penny said.
“I understand dear. Happens to us all. Are you seriously interested?”
“Yes mam. But I don’t think I can go quite what you’re askin’.”
“What could you do?”
“Let me check.” Penny reached in her purse, removing the latest gadget still passing as a phone–barely. Zooming over the screen with the stylus, she confirmed her budget.
“Twenty-five thousand. That’ll pretty much destroy my acquisitions allowance, but I’ve got to have it. So, please, please, please, say yes.”
“Sold!” the shopkeeper laughed maniacally. “Lady you have yourself a deal. But I must request that if it is your intention to wear it, that you not try it on till you’re well away from here.”
“Why’s that? If my card comes back approved why wouldn’t you let me try it on in the store?”
“Some might call it superstition, but that item is cursed. It belonged to the illegitimate half sister of Medusa, and it’s said to bestow demonic powers on the wearer.”
“Hmm… that is interesting. But it doesn’t change how I feel. However, I’ll honor your wishes and wait till I get home before I try it on.”
“Thanks so much, sweet lady. It is a beautiful find. I’ve only seen it’s like one other time, and that I’d only glimpsed.”
“Come again won’t you.”
Phillip Richards found Penny lying on the sofa, in what she called her wardrobe room. It wasn’t the first time he’d found her there, but this was definitely new. She was stark naked and with a rather odd-looking thing resting on her head. He’d almost say it was some kind of Mardi Gras accoutrement if the theme weren’t so dark, and archaic. His heart-thumps grew exponentially as he inched closer.
Had it finally happened? Had she been right all along?
For years she’d predicted her early death by heart failure. Congenital heart disease ran in her family. But he had always just chalked it up to her active imagination, and excessive worrying.
He crouched down on bended knee, putting his face right up close to hers, as if he intended to wake sleeping beauty with a kiss. He waited for a time that seemed interminable, finally noting the slightest hint of expelled breath. But that came in little hitches, and was so irregular that he could not fathom how she had a heartbeat.
He dialed 911.
Moments later an operator assisted him. He put the phone on speaker, adjusting the volume to maximum. The operator kept him calm, consistently assuring him help was on the way. From one of the closets he gathered a few nights’ worth of lounge-around clothing, and hastily dressed her before the paramedics arrived. Lastly, he reached out to remove the tacky adornment which still rested on her head.
“Ouch! What the hell!?”
He shook his arm as if that would somehow alleviate the throbbing wrist pain. Raising his arm up to investigate, two runnels of blood trickled down his forearm. Momentarily they pulsed red, and then the puncture wounds disappeared. The blood vanished. Mere seconds later he was able to forget. No evidence = never happened; least that’s how he felt.
By the time the ambulance arrived, her lips had gone over an aquatic blue. Phillip repeatedly wiped sweat beads from his forehead. The ambulance came screeching to a halt and the emergency room doors flung open. A gaggle of nurses assisted the paramedics into the hospital. Once inside, the on-duty ER doctor looked Penny over, taking measured steps, going through the process, assuring himself he’d missed nothing before announcing–
“I’m afraid your wife has hypothermia.”
“Hypothermia! That’s impossible. She was just laying on the couch when I found her. Granted, she didn’t have any clothing on, but no way our apartment was that cold. It was actually pretty warm.”
“Well, that may be, but her core temperature has bottomed out. Frankly, I’m amazed she’s still alive. Her systems should have totally shut down by this point. Yet here she is, alive and breathing. It’s quite amazing really.”
“Amazing?! Fucking amazing. That’s what you choose to say?”
“Sorry. I just meant… if we could find out how she’s still alive it might improve many aspects of modern medicine.”
“I could give a crap about modern medicine. I just want my wife to be okay.”
“Certainly. I believe she’s going to be fine, but I’d like her to stay overnight just to keep an eye on her. Give her fluids, get her temperature back up. You saved your wife’s life you know. Getting her here when you did.”
“Fine. Good. Try not to kill ‘er.”
Lennox Henderson followed all the greats. Each Halloween he stepped into their shoes for a single night. But Lennox had grown tired of his normal mimicry. It had become stale. He’d always known that one day he’d have to break free from the normal routine. The thought of recreating fictional scenes was compelling. The thrill of viewing the world he knew through that illusory lens was enthralling. He found himself thinking of almost nothing else as his day approached. His annual shopping spree had begun. Let the good heads roll.
Lennox was the epitome of nice guy next door. If ever he’d been discovered all his neighbors would have (shockingly) confirmed they knew of no one more neighborly. An ideal member of society. Considerate of the environment, but not a nut. He earned enough to stay afloat, but not so much as to draw attention. He and his wife were in good standing in the community, yet they were not pillars. Their children had just the right amount of intelligence versus brawn, so they didn’t get picked on. It was all a part of his grand scheme. He’d been planning it since he took his first, as a teenager. That kind of exhilaration he had spent a lifetime trying to recreate. Nothing so sweet as the first.
Phillip and Penny returned to their apartment after her extended stay in the hospital. The doctors were truly perplexed. In the span of an hour Penny’s symptoms had completely disappeared, her core temperature returned to normal, and all her bodily functions were healthy. Technically, they could have left that first night, but the doctors pleaded for her to stay for overnight observation.
“How you feelin’?”
“I told you I feel fine. My back’s hurting, and I need a good bath but other than that…”
“What do you want for supper?”
“But I thought… It’s Halloween, Phil.”
“We have that costume dinner party tonight.”
“Surely you don’t still want to go to that? After having just got out of the hospital.”
“Phillip, you know I have been looking forward to this thing all year.”
“Fine, I just thought… well do you want me to run some bath water?”
“Babe, you’ve been great these past two days, but I’m ready to start doing for myself now, okay?” She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek.
A few minutes after he heard the hair dryer quit, he went in to see what masterfully creepy outfit she’d chosen this year.
Twenty years together and he found her just as sexy as ever.
She was posed in front of the mirror, her milky-white skin beaming through the open back of the sequined dress. At this moment (before her hair had begun to shift to its winter shade), she looked sort of like a mermaid. Her reflection revealed a knowing smile. She still had it, and she knew it.
“How do I look?”
“Really? I think it’s missing something.”
She reached out of his line of sight, retrieving the headdress. And for the first time Phillip recognized the mythological theme wrapped around the onyx swirled marble banding. Though it was not the prominent feature of the historical sculpture, one face jumped out at Phillip: Medusa. Before he could utter a word, she had crowned herself. He did not care for the look that came over her (reflected in the mirror), but the cold stare she greeted him with was by far the worst. She was blank, devoid of emotion, dead. Deader than she’d been when he had found her suffering from mysterious hypothermia.
The second he looked into her eyes, all thoughts ceased, and he went to a place of darkness. His pupils clouded, and an obsidian swirl formed at the center; tiny phosphorescent crimson flecks emanated from the vortex and came to rest on his pupils, as the whites of his eyes blacked out.
Penny screamed but no sound escaped her. A prisoner in her own mind. She watched (through goggle-like eyes) as her husband walked zombily out the door, her body in tow but completely out of her control. Then she heard them. The throaty utterances in the darkness. She now lived within a mask, and only the bounding orb’s light penetrated this terrible pitch. Yet there was something else which lit her imprisonment: a multitude of dripping fangs, set beneath gleaming hungry eyes.
Lennox chirped along happily, perusing the street wares with an ever-vigilant eye. He’d already found the perfect blade to replicate his fantasy. Now he searched for the mask. He wanted something cheap. More evocative of the early movies. Before his fictional kith and kin had taken a film hiatus only to be brought back by popular demand in the fourth movie.
Lennox peered through the window of a novelty shop, scanning the outfits and masks on display. He glared, noting the reflection of the man and woman across the street. His adrenaline spiked. He was almost certain they’d been following him. He tested, and walked inside. Milling around at the front for several minutes put his paranoia to rest, and he resumed his task. There were several aisles of masks and he cruised by slowly, taking it all in, reevaluating his thrill kill as he went along. When one broke from the strictures of afore, it paid to be flexible. Then he saw it and his heart leapt. It was perfect.
The pale chalky face; the ratty looking brown hair; the expressionless void.
Lennox was already wearing his maintenance jumpsuit. He couldn’t wait to put the face on which had inspired so much fear. Just as he was about to slip it over his head he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye, and his danger sense flared combustily. Spinning around quickly he just had time to think,
‘I was being followed.’
Just as Phillip’s eyes had gone over, so too had Lennox‘s. Penny struck out at the parasitic thing that had taken her over. Its only response, “For that, he is dead.”
Penny watched helplessly as her husband led the way, the man behind him clinching his killer mask tightly in his hands. Impatient to put it on.
They plodded along until they reached the center of old town. Where the last historical buildings still stood. Not a one of them taller than three stories. Her husband made a left turn onto some railroad tracks which ran between two abandoned lots. Minutes later he halted his step, and stood patiently on the truss bridge.
When they caught up to Phillip, Lennox–having slightly more control–telepathically addressed the abysmal darkness within Penny. And as he nodded his head, Penny shouted, hoping her thoughts would highjack the brainwaves. The effort was useless. And as a penalty, she was granted a full panoramic view:
She saw the Lennox-thing happily don his serial slayer of a mask, yank a chefs knife from his jumper, and plunge it into the back of Phillip, over, and over, again. The slung blood creating an abstract on the chalky white mask.
Vertigo overtook Penny as the creature within her leaned over, forcing her to witness her husband’s plummet to the river below. She shut her mind’s eye, and wretched in mourning, assuming, (hoping), that she’d soon be dead too. Most certainly she’d be entirely cut off from the world.
No such luck.
Regaining some bravery, she tested the waters, timidly allowing a view here, a flash there.
The deadly duo was on the move again, heading toward what appeared to be a train station. The yard dotted with the hulking skeletons of railcars long since passed.
There was only one train boarding. A classic, a recently renovated diner car. The windows were all decorated holiday appropriate. Witches here, black cats there, pumpkin patches everywhere.
The setting sun was held firmly in Penny’s eyes and she’d yet to make out who the train boarders were. Just then the clouds drifted in, effectively covering the reddish orange fireball. Moments later, her eyes adjusted.
“Oh god no! You can’t damn you! Please not them,” Penny pleaded.
Not one of the Drakinton first graders, teachers, or parents, had neglected their Halloween costume. The demon grumbled low in satisfaction. This was going to be too easy.