Wasn't really sure what to do this week. I know I should keep on a spooky vibe given that it's Halloween, so to that end I put together "Melting Skulls". Not much else to say because I think they speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Using my phone’s flashlight I hurried along the path. The trail zigzagged etching a crooked route over a mile long. Low lights ahead shone on gruesome, unsettling displays – twitching crucifixion victims, gargoyles with glowing eyes, grinning deformed hillbillies in lawn chairs. Traversing the maze meant heading from one illuminated oasis to another. Eventually the path blossomed, opening onto clearings filled by set pieces, everything from a dollhouse full of sinister living puppets to a butcher shop serving humans chopped up by a giant wearing a pig’s head. (It was there I passed the previous maze goers. They huddled in a corner, while Pete -- nice guy -- squealed at them, swiping the air with a meat clever.)
All along the shrouded path performers lurked in the shadows. Hidden by corn stalks they remained invisible until customers came too close. Then the haunters struck. Some lunged out snarling. Others strolled alongside patrons, growling and rasping before slipping back among the stalks. A few merely stood in the middle of the road, silently forcing maze walkers to go around them, anxiously uncertain what might happen. Paraphrased Shakespeare came to mind:
"What are these, so wicked and wildly attired; that look like nothing on Earth, yet are on it?"
Running through the labyrinth I passed the witch’s coven boiling babies, and stumbled beyond the densely fogged lair of the corn monsters – faux fog whiting out everything until the other side – before passing thru the bone orchard. Several posts planted in the ground allowed an assortment of bones to hang from an array of wires. In the dark it looked like the bones floated in midair. Meanwhile, a weeping angel shuffled through the bone orchard. Her broken wings dragging along the ground, getting filthier with each step, she avoided maze patrons rather than went after them.
Some folks took that as incentive to harass her, chasing the angel about the orchard. When they did she cried out, begging them to stop: “Why are you doing this?” And for most this caused a realization about their behavior that compelled them to leave quickly, ashamed and disgusted with themselves. The few contemptible enough to remain, taunting her further prompted skeletons to silently emerge from the shadows. Distracted by the advancing skeletal horde the assholes took their eyes off the angel long enough for her to jump up, grab the wiring, and seemingly floating she unleashed a demonic bellow that would've unsettled a dinosaur.
Aunt Daphne said, “Point there is to make customers the horror, sort of turn the tables on them. I get though some cunt-brain gonna be a dick, so alls I think is yay if it works, if no then won't do it next year."
Although I doubt the bone orchard worked on everyone, not all horror is gore. I’m sure, if nothing else, it provided a lasting memory. And what people said about, what they did when they saw it reveals more about themselves than they may intend to admit.
However, my destination lay beyond the orchard. I wanted to stake out the final corridor. Where the path finally led to the exit an alcove in the corn allowed a performer to hide. As maze goers breathed a sigh of relief, the exit in sight, that performer could come charging out wielding a roaring chainsaw, chasing them out on a final scare.
Unfortunately the chainsaw didn’t fully work. The mechanism had been disabled so that, though the engine rumbled the teeth didn’t rotate – all bark, no bite. Still, it’s hard not to get spooked when a six foot three inch screaming weirdo comes out of the dark swinging a snarling chainsaw.
Slipping into the alcove I turned off my flashlight.
Terry, the aforementioned giant screaming weirdo, said, “Sup?”
“Just looking to cause a few scares.”
“Cool.” Terry passed me the chainsaw, “I’m gonna get a soft pretzel. Have fun.”
She pulled off her mask, and handed it to me. I donned the leathery patchwork, supposedly human flesh, and tried to suppress a mad giggle. Terry disappeared, while I waited for victims.
The chainsaw softly puttered.
"I don't like the sound of that."
I tried not to snicker. When the nervous patrons neared the exit I revved the engine. Heads turned just in time to see me running at them. Those who ran I chased a short distance then hurried back into the maze, in thru the exit to once again hide and await victims.
I heard whispers:
"I think I saw someone."
"Another fucking loser." (This is why the chainsaw doesn't actually work.)
This time I didn't wait. I burst out swinging the chainsaw wildly. However, none of them ran. So at the exit I simply receded back into the darkness.
Such is life.
Some screamed. Some laughed. I couldn’t help smiling when I overheard a little girl tell her parents, “This is how you run from a psycho.” She made it to the other side of the pumpkin patch before realizing I'd stopped chasing her long ago.
At midnight the sound systems crackled as Aunt Daphne got on the P.A., “Well, folks seems another wicked night is behind ya. If ya like, come on back tomorrow, but for now, head on home… before our ghouls get hungry. Muh-hahahaha!”
And with that Wilson’s Pandemonium Pumpkin Patch closed for the night.
Around the campfire Allison, Frank, Glenn, and I swapped stories.
Allison said, “I caught three stoners trying to hide in the dollhouse. Someone always wants to stay her overnight.”
“I had to make some kids stop fake-fucking the pumpkins. We got li’l kids around. Can’t be humping the fucking pumpkins,” Frank said.
Glenn said, “I heard we got two shitters.”
I said, “Jessica told me the same.”
We all raised our glasses, “Spooked so bad they shit their pants.”
We laughed. We howled at the moon. We watched the fire die down just in time for dawn to take over. It felt like home. And that worried me a bit because I didn’t look forward to watching home dissolve simply because the season ended. Yet, it seemed inevitable. Nothing lasts, not even the best of times, so it seemed time to perhaps ride out on a high note.
The nomadic actors eventually retired to their RV, and I ventured to the concession stand to brew myself coffee. I wanted to be alone, but inside I discovered Aunt Daphne deep-frying candy bars.
Never knowing a reason to be gloomy around her, I bowed, “Hello pumpkin queen.”
She smiled, “You and them been up all night?”
I shrugged, “Work don’t start ‘til after dark.”
“True enough.” She pulled out the basket, and dumped sizzling deep-fried delights onto a plate. Talking aloud, though not necessarily to me, Aunt Daphne said, “Doc sez I’m not s’posed to eat this shit no more. Too chubby.”
“Then don’t eat it,” I said fumbling with the coffee maker.
She replied, “I’m your boss, I tell you what to do.”
She laughed. Aunt Daphne glowed brighter than the sun. She knew how to frown, but I suspect she never saw a need for one. Yet, this morning something in her eyes seemed off.
It compelled me to ask, “What’s on your mind?”
She shook her head, “Same dumbass shit every year. Parents get pissed cuz their kids get spooked. They bring their children to a scary place then get mad at me for building it. Can you believe that?”
She sighed, “Problem is – you hear about the shitters last night?”
Chuckling I said, “Yeah.”
“I guess Jessica really nailed some kid whose daddy is just too damn important to have a son who shit himself in the corn maze. He called me this morning making all kinds of noise.”
Hearing the coffee start to boil I felt a knot in my stomach. I got a feeling where this might be headed, and it seemed like dumb luck the bomb didn’t fall on me.
I said, “He wants you to fire someone.”
Aunt Daphne chomped on a bar. After chewing a moment she replied, “He wants Jessica, though he don’t know who to blame. We’re all the same bunch of fucking nuts to him.”
Sighing I said, “Then if it doesn’t matter who goes fire me. I’ve broken enough rules, putting hands on customers and such…”
“Sounded like they deserved it.”
“It should be me anyway.”
Finishing a bar Aunt Daphne said, “I don’t want to fire anyone who hasn’t done a damn thing wrong.”
Nodding I said, “Fine. Then I quit.”
Folding her arms across her chest Aunt Daphne said, “Oh, so you expect me to lie? Tell folks I fired someone I didn’t?”
“Then I guess I’m fired you fat old dumb bitch.”
She lightly slapped me, not even hard enough to kill a fly. Pulling me into a tight hug she whispered, “Don’t think I don’t know this is about something else.”
I squeezed her back then walked out. My pay would come in direct deposit, so no need to linger I went to my car. Climbing in I started the engine thinking, “At least I won’t have to say goodbye.”
“‘Oh my god, it’s eating my brain!’
“‘This is not the job that was advertised,’ I said.
“‘Help me!’ the professor cried.
“‘Keep up that attitude you can save yourself.’
“The professor’s head exploded. His body fell. He looked like a kowtowing ragdoll. The remains of his head slumped to one side, a spectral serpent coiled inside the burst skull.
“One of the graduate students whispered, ‘What do we do?’
“The ghost snake hissed at me.
“I threw up my hands, ‘I’m out. I’m done. I quit.’
“As I walked out of the haunted mansion I could hear the students screaming. Glancing back I saw blood thump-splat across a window. A grad student jumped through the glass, but the ghost snake, now grown to anaconda proportions darted out, snagging her in midair, and pulled her back inside.
“Shaking my head I said, ‘Well, not everybody’s cut out for academia.’”
From the back of the crowd a teenager shouted, “Bullshit. This guy’s full of shit.”
I sighed. There’s one every evening. My glare parted the audience leaving me with a straight line of sight to the teen.
I said, “It’s good to be skeptical. How about you come see this picture then?”
I waved my phone at him. Smugly he approached where I sat. I patted the bale of hay as I scooted aside allowing room for the boy. He snatched the phone out of my hand.
“What am I looking at?”
“Can’t you tell?”
He frowned, “It looks like a blurry room like in a basement.”
“Look closer.” I licked my lips. He held the screen closer. When it got about an inch away I swiftly smacked the phone into his face.
Dropping the phone he jumped up shouting, “Ow! What the hell?”
The audience laughed. As the kid stormed off I saw his friends already swarming to mock him. Picking up my phone I noted the time.
“Hey everybody, the hayride starts up in a minute. So if you’re inclined I recommend heading that way.”
The crowd dispersed, some to the hayride, others to elsewhere. Those who went elsewhere soon found themselves getting scared by costumed haunters. Spook crew members leapt from behind piles of pumpkins, bales of hay, or from around buildings. Delighted shrieks of terror echoed all over the pumpkin patch, and on occasion those who fled from the hired ghouls found themselves chased for a bit.
A group of young kids ran screaming from a fiendish scarecrow, who angled away from them to trouble me for a cigarette.
Handing Jessica a smoke I said, “Almost quitting time.”
She sighed a cloud, “Not soon enough. How’s my makeup?”
“A little runny, but it’s creepier that way.”
She shrugged, “I guess.” The sound of the tractor starting caught her attention. Perking up she said, “Hayride. I gotta go.”
Tossing her cigarette away she bolted. I couldn't help smiling. Like many of the employees here, especially the couple of teenagers, she treated this job like the only time she got to openly be herself.
Jessica liked to lurk in the cornfield as the hayride passed by. She placed herself towards the end, an ear pricked to catch anyone complaining about being bored. Target acquired she leapt onto the side of the cart, letting loose a banshee wail. So far she got one kid to piss his pants, thereby earning management’s approval.
Watching her sprint away infected me with her enthusiasm. I decided to finish the night in the corn maze. Stomping out her cigarette – fire hazard – I headed to the entrance of Daphne’s Diabolic Corn Maze, part of Wilson’s Pandemonium Pumpkin Patch.
As usual I stumbled into the job unintentionally. Over drinks and darts a fellow informed me his aunt ran a spooky corn maze about an hour outside Chicago. Planning to pump in unsettling sounds, she needed help installing audio equipment. I possessed the skills she needed given my previous, albeit brief stint working the recording gear for a professor and his ghost hunting crew of misfit grad students. (Never mind that that gig ended badly because I didn’t fail to do my job. I recorded everything, right on down to the professor’s head exploding -- pop.)
But I took the job in the pumpkin patch because it sounded fun. Not many employment opportunities grant that perk. Plus, it seemed like a short gig. However, setting up the sound equipment led to me lending a hand building sets which turned into other offers.
By the time we opened for Halloween season I founded myself working the concessions stand, spooking folks in the corn maze, and by direct request of the pumpkin queen, Aunt Daphne Wilson, occasionally telling scary stories to small crowds. Not everyone gets to terrorize people without having to deal with real life consequences. Chase a couple kids down the street with a chainsaw; well, the police are liable to shoot such a person. But here in the Pandemonium Pumpkin Patch I could do just that, and get paid to do so. Sometimes folks even thanked me for terrifying them.
As such I occasionally thought, “This must be what it’s like to be a priest.”
Carried by a crisp cool breeze, the aroma of deep fried dough wafted through the air. Clusters of teenagers moped everywhere like globs of apathy. Young children giggled, picking out pumpkins with their parents. Machines out in the corn quietly, steadily fumed columns of faux fog that made the field seem to be on a smoldering hell-mouth. The fog rolled across the grounds, shrouding the floodlights in a cinematic manner. Nearing midnight, it felt like any horror could be possible.
A banshee wail cut through the quiet. Customers flinched. Employees all acquired knowing smirks: Jessica the scarecrow struck again.
Three fiendish haunters presided over the entrance to the maze. Glenn, a psycho hobo covered in smeared blood, Frank, a classic killer clown, and Allison, a teddy bear with a skinned face. Frank irregularly burst into hyena-like cachinnations, while Allison softly growled, holding up her face-skin with a cutesy, blood stained paw. They flanked customers, herding them into a loose line by the maze’s entrance.
Flashing a wide grin full of scummy teeth Glenn stood at the opening in the corn. In a gravelly voice he announced the rules, “Listen closely. None of our performers will touch you, so please return the favor – do not touch them. Stay on the path at all times. No running. No flashlights. No photography. No hope, all ye who enter here; you four come on now into the hell that awaits.”
And so another bunch entered the maze. The giggling pack of pre-teens could soon be heard shouting in happy horror.
Nearing Glenn I overheard him mutter, “Why’s that always get my dick hard?”
It’s a certain kind of person who goes in for hired spooking. The pay is not great. The hours often feel longer than they are. It requires enduring heaps of boredom and scorn. There’s always someone unimpressed enough to feel the need to tell a ghoul it isn’t frightening; and it takes fortitude not to turn the moment then and there into a real horror show. If I had a dollar for every smartass I didn’t stab – I may have choked a few while shouting, “It’s all make-believe,” but they got out alive. Like any kind of performance art it’s a job devoted to those brief shining moments when the screams are real, or a customer’s eyes are smiling.
Glenn, Allison, and Frank belonged to rare breed of performers. They toured the country in an RV, cruising from seasonal gig to seasonal gig. In the summer they did Renaissance Faires, haunted houses in the Fall, and Christmas towns in Winter. In-between they auditioned for any local plays, and even staged what they called “guerilla theatre” by simply tossing down a cap, and performing scenes for whatever coins came their way.
Allison told me three times, “We’re on the subway in New York, started doing Hamlet, and next thing I know – no joke – we’ve done the whole play. And what with it being just like the three of us, it got kind of schizo, but fucking fun.”
That last bit sums up the average hired haunter: kind of schizo, but fucking fun. After all, it’s madness to stand silently in the darkness, waiting patiently to step out of the shadows for all of a second hoping your audience will hurry from you screaming because in the end they aren’t meant to stand in silent appreciation of one’s portrayal of a zombie, slasher, swamp hag, ghost, demon, etc. The goal is to be an unwelcome presence safely encountered like the police.
Working here reminded me of the first time I went to a concert. I felt surrounded by like minded folks. For some belonging is a rare feeling, and in this place the scare-makers and horror hounds truly belonged. Back in the everyday ordinary world wearing corpse paint to a the grocery store gets odd looks, maybe even the manager asks a fellow to leave the store even though he's just buying the fixings for risotto -- I will get revenge on that store, mark my words -- but in the Pandemonium Pumpkin Patch the freaks rule.
I asked Glenn, “How’s the night?”
He shrugged, “We got a few left then we’re shutting down. You comin’ by later?”
Glenn and company stayed on the grounds, camping out of their RV. On occasion we stayed up for hours afterward swapping stories, passing a bottle around a campfire, and enjoying the rural silence.
“I might. I’m gonna duck in, cause a few scares.”
Frank said, “Try not to be a dick.”
“I’m only a dick to the dicks.”
Frank nodded, “Yeah, but when you dragged that guy into the middle of the cornfield...”
Cutting him off, “I got lost too.”
“Not the point,” Frank said.
I added, “He slapped a living doll. Those ladies aren’t older than fifteen.”
Glenn interjected, “You both got good points. I think where Frank is going, though, is ’s been a quiet evenin’. We wanna keep it that way.”
Sighing I conceded, “Fair enough.”
"Alright then." Glenn stepped aside, "In ya go."
So I went into the maze.
This week is a full on audio project. I'm hoping to do more like this in future, a combination of audio and visual. As usual, it'll be simple videos -- photo, art work, etc., but nothing too fancy. This time around I wanted to experiment with a little verse and music. "From Flowers, Piranhas" is intended as a B-movie inspired poem. Every other element around it is supposed to tie into that theme. Hey, it's Halloween, so I want to delve into the fun, spooky side of the season.
The poem is below, so is the picture I made for the video. I've got nothing else to add except I hope you enjoy it.
“From Flowers, Piranhas”
Leaving shrouded streets
For open farm fields
Throw away the suitcase
A treasure trove
Reliquary reminder of corpses
That used to be family.
A brief prayer
Cigarette playing censer
Watch the smoke roll heavenward
Then, all words spent,
Flick a comet across the sky.
Never mind where it lands,
An ancestral ruin beckons
A long lost shard
Remnant of a portrait
In stained glass
Shattered by flowers.
Cadillac as best friend
Carries decades backward
Into a town decay visited,
And not enough interest
Left the job incomplete,
Though rosy residents
Seem to claim
Sunshine fills an open grave
Like warm water in winter.
Houses abandoned to orchids
Line an avenue
No one goes down.
If only all cancer
Could be so beautiful.
Find the mausoleum
Masquerading as a mansion,
Remnant of bygone success
DNA couldn’t carry.
Wander cobwebbed halls
Passing photos oddly reflective,
Unfamiliar yet similar
Faces staring without warning
What grows in the garden.
Winged homunculi gestate
In mammoth roses,
Stalks coated in meat hooks
Emerging from petal cocoons
Glowing neon fluttering
Hungry all night long.
At home in the bone pile,
Another skeleton in the closet
by pulchritudinous piranhas,
Watches the fairies fly.