The Corpse House, by Tyrel Kessinger

Along with the freelance handyman jobs here and there, Terry always picked up the seasonal hours at The Corpse House. Extra money was extra money, he told people, though he did it simply for the art of it; his love for scaring the shit out of people. He practiced moves in the mirror in the off-season, armed himself with the secret of melting in and out shadows. He’d mastered all the stock and trades years ago: the zombie drudge, Dracula laugh, baritone Frankenstein’s Monster growl, the howl of the Wolf-Man. He could brandish a fake-bloody plastic knife in one hand and a chainless, battery-powered chainsaw in the other and made it look real as a bad haircut. Every year for the last seven, The Corpse House’s owner and operator, Rod Alpine (your stereotypical sleazy, small-time, fly-by-night entrepreneurial-type), reached out to Terry, offering any role he wanted for minimum wage and part-time hours before The Field Of Screams or Tunnel of Madness (who paid several more dollars an hour) had a chance to scoop him up. Hell, he always thought, smiling to himself. I’d have done it for nothin.’

Terry was good for a reason. He had somewhere acquired the great power to easily laser-focus in on which kid would be the wildest scare. Probably, he got it from his father, who had spent years developing new ways to scare the shit out of Terry growing up. However he got it, he treasured it. When some poor soul pissed themselves and ran screaming like their butthole was on fire, why, Terry believed, there was nothing finer than a job well done. ‘Never saw him coming,’ he heard them say sometimes while taking a smoke break in the shadows of of the concession stands at the end of the maze; eavesdropping on the kids who made it through the attraction. They sometimes hung out afterward, slurping down runny chocolate-and-vanilla soft-serve from stale cones or throwing back boiled hot dogs, two for a dollar. The acknowledgement of his skill made Terry feel damn near invincible. Of course he smiled. How could he not? True, knowing what was most likely to turn tail and run wasn’t quite as impressive as his gift for scaring the shit out of people. But if Terry knew anything it was that a gift was a gift.

The second to the last week of closing a group of high school kids came marching quietly down the unintentionally, yet genuinely creaky floors of The Corpse House. They were always harder to frighten in bigger groups, so sure the largeness of their pack represented safety. But Terry sussed them out, no problem. This time it was the small fry with glasses and baby fat cheeks bringing up the rear. The silver tuna of the night. Of course, he never saw Terry coming. The makeup pale face emerged silently from the darkness and perched beside the boy’s ear. He screeched a long-practiced death howl followed by a long-perfected, over-the-top vampiric laugh. In the thunderstorm of fear that followed the group scattered like a kicked brood of chickens. Terry’s mark fell, his foot caught in a stray electrical chord, ankle violently twisted. His friends disappeared leaving only Terry and the boy. Terry bent down, held his hand, listened wordlessly while the boy cried pitifully for his mother over the haunted sounds of The Corpse House. They watched, unspeaking as other patrons roamed through, none sure what to make of the sight of Terry, in full costume, holding the hand of the frightened boy. Rod Alpine had not been willing to shut down for the sake of one overly scared boy, though he did at least call 911. He brushed the errant cable out of sight, looked at Terry and put a finger to his lips in a “keep quiet” gesture. Terry hunkered in his cape and remained mute, not knowing what to say, sitting with the boy until the paramedics arrived. He watched as they took him away and realized that he didn’t even know the poor bastard kid’s name. Although he had never done it before, Terry asked Rod if he could knock off early for the night. Rod patted him on the back and assured him that it was fine, that he should go on home, relax, kick back with a beer or three. Maybe he’d still make it home in time to catch Jimmy Fallon. Though being the consummate businessman that he was, Rod did ask that Terry note the precise time on his punch out.

The night before The Corpse House closed for the season was always the biggest draw. Terry had always wondered why that might be but had never been interested enough in an answer. He simply accepted it and prepared. He ate a sizeable—though not too filling—carb heavy meal. He hydrated properly, filling his extra-large Yeti thermos of Blue Ice Gatorade that he kept stowed behind a newly purchased wooden crate prop dressed to look old and neglected. He made sure to get enough sleep the night before and had long ago forewarned any potential clients of his handyman gig that he did not, under any circumstances, work that day. He didn’t tell them them it was as much his Holy Day as Sunday to a Southern Baptist. Like always, he went to work scaring the shit out of the world as though his life depended on it. The smile on his face was never visible when he was in character.

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