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The Haunted House
The Haunted House
“The haunted house hopefully will generate so much money we’ll build you a whole new library.” Bea waved the mayor away. What was the use of arguing? They would only ignore her.
Elsa Brighton, called for a vote on the haunted house proposal. One by one the hands went up. The Haunted House Project passed five to one. Bea Abastic sat there with her arms crossed silent, steaming, protesting as hard as she could. It was resolved that the town would consider investing resources in the creation of a haunted house.
Bea expected to be ignored and she wasn’t disappointed. What she was going to propose had zero chance of even being discussed let alone passed. She was going to call for an audit of the town’s finances. She wanted to know where all the money went. Those fat cats on the council, that’s where.
Mayor Schienbaum twiddled his thumbs as Dexter Pinkwater shuffled through his papers on his big desk. The North Croyden Bank and Trust had been in the Pinkwater family for three generations and considered itself one of the town’s most important institutions. “We’ll have to get the house appraised and inspected,” Pinkwater said assuming an air of due diligence, “but I don’t foresee any problems giving you a loan.”
The mayor flashed his mirthless grin. Of course he’d get the loan. With what he had on Pinkwater in his safe in the town hall would ruin the man forever. “I’ll need a hundred thousand dollars to start and another hundred in a few weeks. I need to hire carpenters and set designers, then there’s publicity. Oh this is going to be big, Dex, really big. I anticipate ten thousand people paying ten bucks apiece. What is that a million bucks?” Pinkwater smiled inwardly at the mayor’s poor math skills. He didn’t care whether the money went to the mayor’s stupid scheme or directly as blackmail. He knew he’d never see it again.
In the day and weeks that followed, the Earl house was slowly transformed from a real life house of horrors to a Hollywood version of one. Schienbaum and the rest of the council were happy. There was plenty of cash to skim. The mayor quickly set up several bogus companies to do the construction and padded all the bills. He signed off on all the inspections—electrical, structural, fire— without actually performing any of them. While it lasted, the project was a big cash cow for the council. Envelopes of cash fattened their pockets.
A small army of craftsmen labored on the old house for weeks installing elaborate lighting, sound effects and machinery. When the council came for their private inspection two weeks before Halloween, they were as excited as teenagers. It was in the words of Elsa Brighton, “over the top spectacular.” And it was too. In spite of cutting every corner and stealing half the money, the end result was pretty damn impressive. Ghouls, goblins, witches and assorted animatronic monsters popped out of every closet; vampires slept under beds and zombies walked the halls all to an overly loud soundtrack of screams, roars, evil laughter and creaking doors. The lighting too was spectacular, black lights and strobes added to the effects. The council gathered in the big front parlor where the wallpaper dripped fake blood and toasted their success. “To the best haunted house in Ohio,” said an ecstatic mayor raising his glass. The council, with the exception of Bea Abastic, joined him in a self-congratulatory toast. Bea thought the whole thing was a waste of money and generally in poor taste. But that was just Bea. No one paid her any mind. The party went perfectly until the overloaded electrical system blew its main breaker and left the celebrants in the dark. Under Schienbaum’s orders the offending breaker was propped open with a paper clip and the celebrations resumed.
On the publicity front, things were going swimmingly. The house was getting mentioned everywhere. It got a feature spot on the local news and a two-page spread in the local paper. Papers as far away as Cleveland were talking up the North Croyden spectacular. Schienbaum was very excited. A full twelve hours before the opening costumed families began lining up at the ticket booth. Ice cream and food vendors arrived and the whole scene in the parking lot took on the look of a carnival.
By that evening, the line stretched for a quarter of a mile. The original plan was to let people tour the house in small batches of fifty or so. The council had arranged for a shuttle service to take people from the ticket booth up the long driveway to the house. When Schienbaum saw the long line, he told the ticket sellers to, ”Let everyone through. If they want to walk up, let ‘em.” Within minutes several hundred people were hustling up the hill, racing to be the first to experience the haunted house. Concealed lights cast ominous shadows on the walls and speakers, hidden in the shrubbery piped out eerie sounds. The people of North Croyden were in a festive mood as the early birds raced to be first through the door. The volunteers manning the four ticket booths were selling tickets as fast as they could. Every few minutes a council member relieved them of their excess cash.
As the first customers approached the front porch, they were met by the ebullient mayor dressed as a short, round Count Dracula. When he judged the crowd large enough he called for silence and attempted to deliver a short welcoming speech. The good citizens of North Croyden were in no mood for politicking. They pushed their way onto the porch sweeping the mayor aside as an army of town’s folk surged inside.
The panic was on in earnest. Sparks from the ancient wiring ignited the equally ancient wood in the basement. Smoke and flames put a swift end to the last shreds of laughter. Now the only screams were human. The crumbling staircase, choked with people clawing their way down, collapsed with a resounding crash spilling dozens of more bodies on top of those scrambling to get out. Their added weight stressed the rotten joists to the breaking point. The floorboards opened and swallowed a host of screaming citizens into a flaming, smoking hell. The collapsed staircase effectively trapped many families upstairs. Those who could, leaped from the second story windows as the smoke and flame raced to cut off their escape. Mothers threw their children to people below. The fire, now freed from its basement confines, engulfed the first floor trapping dozens more. The haunted house had become a death trap. The mayor and council members who were responsible for the debacle stared at the ruin in disbelief.
micheledutcher - laurabeaz: This is a clever story with a strong plot. Some of your phrases are incredible. The story came alive for me when you described the new town hall as a mausoleum, great foreshadowing. I loved when you said his "dentures flashed skeletal." Also the phrase "menacing at mid-day" was wonderful. It is so invigorating and refreshing when you describe thing in such new novel ways instead of clichéd or familiar terms
micheledutcher - Times are tough all over and everyone is just trying to make a buck - can we really blame this feeble minded mayor for what he does?
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