His head ached, and his memory
was hazy, like he had just awakened from a night-long bender of cheap whisky
But Charlie didn’t drink the
night before. As a matter of fact, Charlie hadn’t had a drink for forty years,
and the night before was a milestone of his staunch sobriety. He remembered
dinner at his favorite restaurant with his wife, a rare steak, mashed potatoes,
lots of bread and a side-salad, two or three glasses of ice-cold Pepsi…
Racking his brain, he remembered
going to bed shortly after they got home, kissing Diane goodnight, lying down,
forgetting to take his blood-pressure medication…
He remembered waking up briefly,
rays of moonlight shining through his bedroom window, curtains rustling in the
breeze, clutching his chest, tightness…
Then he fell back to sleep.
Now, he was here. He grew
more aware of his surroundings and felt the first of many tinges of fear crawl
across his cold skin: he was in a hollow, surrounded by thick trees, a trail
head directly in front of him that wound into the woods.
Charlie surveyed his arms and
hands and gasped: his skin – his liver-spotted and saggy skin that drooped from
arthritic bones – was healthy and sun-kissed, bristled with black hairs,
forearms thick with muscles; and his tattoo, the one his buddy Jack gave him in
the Navy with anchor and rope and sailor cap, looked absolutely pristine,
as if the ink was still drying.
The clothes he wore were brand-new
but very much dated: tight Levi’s, his favorite pair of Saint Laurent patent-leather
ankle boots that he bought in France, and a black mock turtleneck tucked into
his jeans with the sleeves rolled up.
His belly was gone, and he could
see his abs rippling under the knit material. His chest stuck out in two hard
mounds of muscle. He saw the rectangular bulge in his right pocket. He didn’t
have to investigate to know it would be a pack of unfiltered Marlboros.
He was young again.
At least fifty years younger.
Next to him, a six-pack of
Rheingold – the go-to beer of his youth.
“What in the hell–” his voice,
now strong and far from being atrophied from the trials of old age, caught in
his throat, and then broke into a scream.
The girl wore an orange ribbon
in her hair that matched her sweater, which he thought made her look even
younger than she was for some reason. She stood in front of the Ferris wheel,
licking pink cotton candy, seemingly waiting for someone.
He stared up at the yellow and
green monstrosity that carried jolly children in passenger cars.
Look at them, he thought, jamming hands into
Levi’s, the pair that fit so well around his perfectly proportioned bottom half,
and a full pack of fresh smokes in his right pocket. Crammed together in
those pods, so many children screaming at their mommies and daddies, “Look at
me, mommy! Look at me, daddy!”
He thought about the pictures in
his favorite book, The Discovery of the Holocaust: black-and-white
photos of so many malnourished people being forced into cattle cars, forced to
wear the mark, forced to take that last ride to the fate awaiting them at the
end of the tracks…
He thought about children being
ripped, literally ripped from their mommies and daddies, screaming just
as enthusiastically as the ones he saw now that were so blinded by their
they have no idea how lucky they
He ambled toward the girl, the
sleeves of his turtleneck shirt rolled up, his forearms covered in thick, veiny
muscles, tattoo a few years old but still looking fresh. Black hair slicked
back and held firm with Brylcreem, chiseled cheekbones and a crooked smile that
made the ladies melt. His eyes were icy blue most of the time.
Except in the moonlight.
They turned black like blood does
in the moonlight.
As he got closer to her, he
could get a better view of her tongue as it twirled around the spun sugar. His
heart felt like it was rising up into his throat. He was practically panting
and had to take a few deep breaths, dry his sweaty palms on his thighs, smooth
the stray hairs back behind his ears.
He had knelt down, dusting his
boots off with a handkerchief, the ones that made him just about a foot taller,
when she approached him.
“Excuse me,” she said tapping
his shoulder. He slowly rose, his eyes scanning every part of exposed flesh below
her swing skirt and gaped for a moment as their eyes met.
She giggled, plucking off a
piece of cotton candy and letting it melt on her tongue.
“Better close your mouth before
it gets stuck that way,” she said.
He snapped his jaw shut and
smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “you just startled me is all.”
“I startled you?” she said.
“Well, yes,” he said, “you and
She rolled her eyes, but not
unkindly. “Well,” she said, “me and my beautiful peepers spied a pack of smokes
in your right pocket and were wondering if we could bum one if you would be so
“Of course.” He pulled the pack
of Marlboros from his pocket. “They’re unfiltered,” he said as he tapped a
cigarette out for her. “Hope that’s all right.”
“Just fine,” she said and smiled.
He handed the cigarette to her,
waited for her to put it between her lips, and lit it. She coughed a bit at
first, obviously unaccustomed to the harsh smoke, and then exhaled a blue cloud.
She held her cotton candy out to him.
“Sure,” he said, taking the
paper cone from her and biting down on a particularly moist spot that she had
been licking. “What’s your name?” he said.
“Cherie,” she said, taking a
much lighter drag from the cigarette this time. “You?”
“Bob?” she said, raising
an eyebrow. “That’s all?”
“That’s all,” he said.
“Well, Bob – what do you do?”
“Sales,” he said simply.
“Oh yeah?” They began to slowly
walk toward the midway, the sounds of pyramids made of cans being smashed apart
with rubber balls, bean bags being tossed, apples bobbed, and the wheel of
fortune spun. A man on stilts stood before a crowd, juggling bowling pins
effortlessly beneath the Crazy Mouse as its cars swung side to side on rickety
“Yep,” he said. “I sell Bibles
“You don’t look at all like a
Bible salesman,” she said.
“What exactly does a Bible
salesman look like?” he said with a smirk.
“Not like you,” she said.
“You’re in such good… shape.”
“Well,” he said, “I’m
“Really?” she said, obviously
“Yep. Amateur as for right now,
but I do hope to go pro once I get a few more wins under my belt.”
She ran her sugar-stained
fingers up his arm, lightly squeezing at his forearm then his bicep. “You’ve
certainly got the body for it.”
“Thanks,” he said. He patted her
ass, and she playfully skipped to the side and smacked his chest.
“You better watch it,” she said.
“I’m no floozy now, so don’t go thinking any unsavory thoughts.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he
“Well,” she said, tapping his
crotch with a finger, “that’s a shame.”
He gently took her hand and put
her fingers in his mouth, sucking the sweetness off each one of them.
“I got a sixer back at my car if
“I’m absolutely parched,” she
The sound of the crowd faded as
they made their way into the parking lot.
Charlie cracked open his first
beer in forty years and drained it in three gulps as he slowly walked down the
path, not knowing what else to do.
These woods were like nothing he
had ever seen before: eerily silent with not a cricket chirp or hoot of an owl
or rustle of leaves in earshot. The trees were thick and shimmered with spooky
iridescence when the moonlight hit them just right, and the dirt he treaded
upon was an inky black that reminded him more of ash than earth. He let the
empty can of beer fall to the ground and immediately pulled the tab from
Charlie knew he was dead and
wasn’t as frightened as he expected he would be. There was something peaceful
about the way he felt, his surroundings. The quiet was more comforting than
anything else, and the air tasted so clean and crisp as he inhaled it.
There was the beer too,
obviously – that unforgettable feeling of euphoric numbness as it washed over
his neurons was like an old friend.
As minutes turned into hours,
and he walked deeper into the woods, that pleasant ache of strong leg muscles
being utilized after so many years, he finished off his last beer. Now
pleasantly drunk, he waited for what was to come next. He most certainly was in
heaven, after all: he was enjoying the vibrancy of his youth, getting drunk off
his favorite beer, and enjoying the peaceful bliss of nature. The only other
thing that would make things perfect would be a piece of ass.
“Excuse me, handsome.”
Charlie turned, startled by the
sudden break in the silence.
The woman stood before him,
wearing nothing but a smile, and her body defied perfection. Something about
her seemed familiar, eerily familiar, but he didn’t care: he had a hard-on so
sturdy he could hang a full load of laundry from it.
“What can I do for you, miss?”
he said as he began to unbutton his pants.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a
smoke, would you?”
“As a matter of fact,” he said,
reaching into his pocket with his free hand. He took a fresh smoke from the
pack and held it out to her. She took it from him and put it between her pouty,
red lips. He lit it for her. As she took a drag, he wrapped his arms around her
and began kissing her neck, tasting the sweet skin as he nibbled at it. She
giggled and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her breasts up to him. It
felt so good to hold a woman.
“You like it rough, baby?” he
said and grabbed a handful of her long, blonde hair. He tugged at it playfully
and decided to see how far he could take it before she began to panic. So, he bit
her neck, so hard he drew blood.
She kept giggling.
Damn, he thought, she must really
enjoy the pain. Everyone has their breaking point, though.
He pulled harder at her hair and
a tuft of it came out in his fist. He frowned. He didn’t pull that hard.
He tried to back away from her, but she held him tight, not ready to let go. Her
grip was as firm as concrete.
“Hey!” he said and that taste of
skin and fresh blood, so delicious a moment before, turned putrid like rancid
deli meat in his mouth. He frantically began pushing away from her, and when
that didn’t work, he slammed his fists down onto her head as hard as he could.
He heard a sickening crunch after his sixth or seventh blow, and she let him
A corpse stood before him, one
that was good and rotted. The left side of her skull was caved in, and her eye
sockets brimmed with maggots as they feasted on her jellied eyeballs. Her mouth
was partially ripped away, exposing black stumps where her teeth had once been.
The rest of her nude body was grey and green, dappled with mold, some parts
shredded up, most likely from wildlife. He had seen this happen many times before.
He would visit them, the special ones, after he stashed them away, deep in the
woods. Animals would get to the bodies relatively quickly, and they usually
went for the intimate parts first. But that was okay: he didn’t always need
to have the usual way to get his rocks off. It was when they began to putrefy,
however, that it just wasn’t possible. He tried, lord knows he tried, but the
smell was just too much, even for someone like him who liked some stink
with his sushi.
“Maybe this ain’t the good place
after all,” he said.
The dead woman pointed a
moldering finger further down the path.
He nodded, backing away. He
turned and quickly made his way down the blackened path, every so often glancing
over his shoulder. The dead woman never lowered her hand, never deviated from
the spot she stood in, a smile forever inscribed in the place where her lips
should have been.
He had been talking to her for a
long time. Pacing back and forth, every so often raising his voice to a fever
pitch and then bringing it back down to a simmer.
The orange ribbon, the one she
wore so prettily in her hair, was now around her throat so tightly her neck was
constricted to half its size.
“You probably just think I’m a
loser, though, right? A fuck up?” he said. “Hell, maybe I am those things.”
He threw his arms up.
“But out here? Out here, I’m
the boss.” He looked down at the empty can of beer he held, crushed it, and
lobbed it at the left side of her head where it rebounded off her temple and
into the brush.
He could still hear the carnival
in the distance: the gleeful hollering of children coalescing with all the
other joyful noises. Part of him was still there, standing below the Ferris
wheel with the beautiful girl as they chatted and shared her cotton candy. He’d
ask her if she’d like to go to the drive-in sometime, get a steak dinner…
He would introduce her to his parents,
and his father would get drunk and make inappropriate comments, and his mother
would blush and make excuses for the old man as he poured beer after beer down
They would go steady for a year,
take a trip to Barbados, and he would propose to her under the Caribbean sun…
He would run for local office –
councilman or maybe even mayor – while managing his father’s restaurant, while
she made their home and carried his baby…
They would grow old together,
and it would be a happy life…
“It’s your fault, y’know?”
said, putting his pants back on. “You came on too hot, baby. Got to learn to
pump the brakes.” He laughed. “I mean, I know I’m handsome and all, but there is
something called tact, self-control.”
He finished getting dressed,
slipped his shoes back on, and stared at his latest mistake.
“Don’t you worry your pretty
little head, though,” he said. “I’ll be back to visit, probably in the next few
days. You won’t be lonely for long.”
He covered the body the best he
could with branches and dead leaves. He then pulled a small bottle of castor
oil from his back pocket and sprinkled some of it around and over everything,
which would dissuade the wildlife, at least for a little while.
He whistled “That’ll Be the Day”
as he made his way back to the car.
The trail ended and the trees
opened up to a field of tall grass. The moon was so white it hurt to look at
for longer than a moment. The grass parted as he stepped through it, lazily
falling back into place. Nothing moved, nor made a sound.
He had to walk through another
small patch of woods, tripping over himself as the tall trees engulfed the
moonlight and finally ended up where he was meant to be all along:
The corrugated metal, rusted
from so many years of disuse and neglect, towered over him like ominous,
prehistoric beasts. He felt eyes on him, but saw no one, and the only sound he
heard was his breath as it caught in his throat. The beer had helped calm his
shaky nerves after his encounter with the corpse girl, but he had sobered up
since then and hadn’t stumbled upon anything to ease his nerves since.
He slowly made his way down the
midway. He didn’t want to, even tried to stall himself at one point, but it was
as if an invisible hand was pushing him forward – he had no choice but to walk.
Finally, he came to it: the
octagonal monstrosity that seemed to stand in the center of everything else.
The Ferris wheel was the biggest he had ever seen, twinkling in the moonlight
He looked over his shoulder,
feeling eyes on him, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He threw
his hands up in the air.
“Fuck this! Alright, what now, huh?
Am I supposed to be scared of all this? Is this my comeuppance? Takes a lot
more than a zombie bitch and broke-down carnival to scare me, asshole! Let’s
get this over with! Stop stalling and dole out my punishment!”
He saw something flicker in his
periphery. Turning quickly to the left, Charlie watched as one of the million
turbo bulbs on the Ferris wheel quivered to green life. More followed suit,
until the entire ride was set ablaze in neon brilliance.
The ride began to move.
Everything that happened next
All of the rides came to life,
shattering his senses with techno-colored brilliance. He watched as the Crazy
Mouse whipped its empty cars from left to right as they rode the rickety track,
heard bells buzzing as non-existent people won prizes at the shooting gallery,
smelled the buttery goodness of popcorn as dried kernels exploded. Calliope
And he saw them lumbering toward
him, emanating from the mist. He could immediately smell the decay, even from
where he stood – a scent that he could never forget from so many long nights
with his Beloved Dead. He pieced the situation together in his head like some
sort of giant, demonic jigsaw puzzle: the things making their way toward him – obviously
rotting corpses – he could already see were mostly female. (Charlie did kill a
few young men during his most prolific period. Not because he was attracted to
them; rather, he needed to switch up his M.O. when the pigs came a little too
close for comfort.)
Nodding his head, he said, “So
this is it. How original!” Charlie let out an insane laugh that died in the
still air as soon as he cut it off. “What comes next? Are they gonna feed on
me, over and over again, like I’m some sort of Prometheus? Hah! You
As Charlie babbled, he made his
was up the steel stairwell to the Ferris wheel and climbed into one of the cars
as it lulled by. “Well, I may as well get comfortable then, huh?” He rested his
back against the hard plastic, throwing his legs up on the cushioned seating,
and threw his head back, laughing again as he was lifted into the night. “If I
am Prometheus,” he said, “let this rusted hulk ride be my rock! Come and get
me, mother fuckers!”
The things had made their way
onto the platform of the ride, wrapping their sinewy, maggot-eaten bodies
around the supports and spokes and crawling toward him with acrobatic
precision. One, in particular – a young girl with an orange ribbon in her hair
– was coming fast, much faster than the rest.
“I remember you,” he
said, glancing down at her. Half of her face was eaten away, and the other half
plastered into a badger-snarl. “Cherie, baby! We had fun didn’t we, honey? Come
back for seconds?”
The corpse clawed its way up the
side of the car. When her head appeared, he lazily kicked at it and laughed at
the look of surprise. “Takes a lot to scare me, sweetheart. I was hell on earth
before my libido went. I was a monster!”
With supernatural agility, the
corpse girl flipped herself into the car. A rain of maggots showered off of her
head and onto his lap. She spider-walked the brief distance between them and
was on him before he could think what to do next. She had crawled up his lap, leech-like,
her stench so offensive but also so welcoming, and sunk a maw of razor-sharp
teeth into his shoulder. She tore a big chunk of flesh and muscle off and threw
her head back, gnawing on the raw meat with hungry glee.
He grinned – she was exactly
where he wanted her: distracted. What she did to him hurt, hurt like hell, but
Charlie was good at compartmentalizing pain. He wrapped his hand around her
waist and pushed her hard toward the other side of the car, smacking her skull
on the railing. A look of confusion and then fear crossed her face, and he was
Charlie had the corpse flipped
around and leaning over the edge of the ride in no time.
As he began to unbuckle his
pants, he muttered to himself, “Even in hell, I’m the boss.”
A few months later, Diane
received the rest of Charlie’s pension.
“Just in time for summer, dear,”
she said, staring lovingly at the picture of her husband on her bedstand. He
was such a handsome young man.
It was more than enough money to
put in that pool they had promised their grandchildren in the last few years.
Her daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Sam, came over the next night to browse
catalogues and help her decide which company she should choose.
They eventually settled on Orange
Ribbon Pools and Spas. The reviews and – even more importantly – the prices
were exactly in line with what she was looking for.
It was an unseasonably hot
April. The day the young men began digging the trench, the temperature clocked
in at just over eighty-degrees, and it wasn’t even noon yet. She poured them
all large glasses of iced tea with extra sugar and promised them lunch.
Diane was watching The View
when she heard the first shouts from the backyard. She lifted off the couch,
minding her creaking knees, and made her way toward the racket.
As the kitchen opened up into
the sunroom, she saw two of the young men running from the already sizable hole
in the yard. One had his hand up to his mouth, which was spewing regurgitated
iced tea all over the lawn. The other had a look of wide-eyed terror on his
face. His sun-kissed skin had gone ghost-white.
“What’s going on?” Diane said,
opening the door that led into the backyard, heat hitting her face in
nauseating waves, her temper rising to meet the temperature. “Are you trying to
cause a scene? I have neighbors!”
“No, ma’am,” the young man who
oversaw the project said to her, standing above the yawning pit. “Ma’am, I…
well, I honestly don’t know what to say, and I hope to Christ that this is some
sort of sick joke.”
“What are you talking
about?” she said, slowly making her way toward him. “It’s too darn hot for me
to be outside today. The heat is just torture on my knees.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but,”
spread his arms out in front of him and shook his head slowly, “if this is for
real, we need to call someone, the cops or something, ASAP.”
Soon she was beside him, looking
down into the pit. At first, it took her eyes a moment to adjust, and she
assumed the things scattered in the dirt, the things that looked like
bones, were just – what? – roots?
It wasn’t until she saw the
skull sitting on top of the hill of dirt to her left that she realized, yes, in
fact, she was staring at bones, and they were most certainly human, poking out
of the soil like a morbid crop of root vegetables ready to be harvested.
N.G. Leonetti’s horror stories have been published in Bewildering
Stories and October Hill Magazine. He resides in South Jersey where
he teaches college writing. He is married to the poet, Maria Provenzano.