“Parlor Tricks” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 3 - Mishmashers Mishmashers

“Parlor Tricks” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 3

3.

The only mourning fate would afford them on Jamie’s account was the horrific, trance-like stupor they fell into for a small moment, their minds trying, and finding themselves unable to, comprehend what had happened before their eyes.

That moment, like Jamie, was short lived, as the masked man motioned toward them, with only a mere block or so ways of distance separating them.

Abigail was too afraid to move, but was forced to do so by the brute encouragement of someone yanking at her arm, who it was, she was too afraid to check.

As the masked man approached Jamie’s body, he circled around it, stalked it even. There was no way he was not absolutely for certain she was dead. Was he admiring his own handiwork? Abigail could not be for certain. The mask hid away his mannerisms and his facial features, leaving only black holes for the eyes and the mind’s speculation for explanation. At once, he tugged at the harpoon, trying to tug it out from Jamie’s skull. At first, it was a challenge for him, but he succeeded by scraping her remains off with his boot.

The masked man crept forward and then, let out a loud, guttural battle cry, sprinting toward the group with the blood-drenched harpoon in his hand.

Abigail felt the heat in her chest, but ignored it. Instead, when she finally had the courage to turn her back to the masked man, she ran, with no intent to stop herself.

She ran and ran. She ran as fast as she could, as fast as her body would allow. She had no endgame in mind other than creating distance between her and him.

She saw Camden a ways ahead of her, whereas the rest of the group appeared to have dispersed in separate directions.

The harpoon struck down behind her, coming only about a foot shy of clipping her leg, which would have been enough to spell out her end. She continued running, not allowing herself to stop to regain her composure. In front of her, Camden veered to the left and, then, the right, and it was only after a few seconds she realized the obvious – how much more difficult it was to hit a moving target compared to one running in a straight line.

Abigail willed her way forward, venturing off road into the long, unkempt grass behind the North Rites schoolyard. She nearly lost her footing, traversing a large ditch, but managed to stay vertical. She kept on her course, entering the playground; feeling no nostalgia and yet longing largely for any time other than the present.

When she turned around, she was surprised to see the man with the blue mask no longer had her in his sights.

Instead, someone different now had her in their cross hairs; a brown skinned man with a whited painted face. It was difficult to single out specific details of his face from afar, but, when he smiled, his teeth appeared like an extension of that white face-paint; the only distinct characteristic she saw in the darkness of night.

He crept forward. His movements, for lack of a more apt word, were peculiar, with his wiry, long limbs dangling at his side, and his mouth shakily unhinged, like a mad dog. In his hands, he carried nothing with him except for a small knife, not as harsh a weapon as the other man’s harpoon at least.

What do you want!?” Abigail shouted in fear, for a reason she knew not.

If the man was aligned with the other attacker, she had no reason to think why he would not playing the quiet game as well. She maintained her speed, only looking back when she felt certain she had create some space between them.

There should have been the sound of loud, scurrying footsteps, of heavy breathing, or maybe even a guttural grunt, but there was none of that. And yet, when she turned around, she was met with a slash from the man’s knife.

She pulled her hand back to her side and let out a small whimper, feeling the blood dampen her clothing before it dripped onto the mulch padding the playground. The man’s knife left a gash, slashing down the palm of her hand.

Abigail dropped to one knee, on impulse and fright above all else, which kept her from the man’s second attempt at an attack, liberating a swing set from one of its rope fastenings. Abigail took advantage of the small opening, starting at a crawl, then, returning to her feet and running, turning the corner around the brick school building.

* * *

Huey gnashed his teeth with such ferocity he thought they might chip off at a moment’s notice. Although the man with the blue mask was no longer in his line of vision, he could still hear his purposeful, distinct movements, less like plain footsteps, and more comparable to swift stomps, crackling the autumn leaves with his boots.

Like a possum before a predator, Huey did his best impression of a corpse, lying on a set of railroad tracks, hoping the rails on either side of him, coupled in with the darkness, would be enough to obscure him from sight.

Everything felt prolonged and elongated, if they were seconds, they were the longest seconds of Huey’s life. Why couldn’t the footsteps stop? Why couldn’t he have flaked out on his friends and not showed up at North Rites at all? Huey did his best to slow his breathing, to make his body as still and lifeless as the dirt beneath him. That was when he felt a person’s hand over his chest.

Huey,” Todd said in a shouting whisper, a whisper that pierced Huey like a dagger to the chest. “Huey. He’s gone, … we have to go.”

Huey sat up, skeptical, as though he expected the man in the blue mask to step out from the shadows at any moment. When he didn’t, it felt like he was intact and lucid once more.

Where is he?”

Todd shrugged his shoulders, an act Huey was only able to make out from the faint glow of moonlight. Todd’s exasperation was apparent, but where was everyone else? Where was Camden and Abigail? “Jamie,” Huey blurted out, only now remembering the tragic hand she was dealt. “What the fuck, man!?”

I know!” Todd exclaimed. “I know,” Todd repeated, sounding like he was about to say more, but then, he didn’t. And yet, Huey felt like he understood him on some level; parallel thinking, he supposed.

Once Huey was back to his feet, they stayed low, yearning to stay as out of sight as they could. “Honestly, back there, I was terrified I would start hearing vibration and be flattened by a train,” Huey said, and then, laughed nervously.

Todd offered a weak chuckle in turn, but offered little to him beyond that, still in shock by the night’s events. In his right mind, he might have acknowledged the obvious – for the entire time they had lived at North Rites, not a single train had driven on those tracks. It had been segmented and out of service for more than a quarter of a century, much like everything else in the decrepit little town. A town that, now, more than ever, Huey no longer had any intention on coming back to.

Although they had not spoken on the subject, Huey already knew his next course of action. As far as he was concerned, the rule book was thrown out the window with Jamie’s death. His cousin lived only about a block away from where they were at, and although he would not be ecstatic for Huey to kick down his front door, if he did not answer after one knock, that was exactly what Huey intended to do. After that, they could do whatever they needed to do. They could call the authorities and they could hide in the crawlspace or something until they arrived.

As much as it hurt him to think he was deserting Abigail and Camden, leaving them out there with ‘him’, he had a pregnant girlfriend back home and every intention on returning to her. There would be no heroics on his part, and as Todd quietly followed him, he assumed they had an unspoken agreement on that.

* * *

In a last ditch effort, Abigail tugged at the front door to the school, surprised to discover the door was unlocked.

North Rites was never the best when it came to basic sensibilities; this, evidently included not restricting access to a building usually inhabiting mass amounts of children. Even then, it felt peculiar and unexpected even for North Rites.

She ran inside and never looked back to see whether the man was still in her pursuit. She ran down the steps, went by the cafeteria, and soon, found herself in the gymnasium.

In her head, it seemed as ideal a hiding spot as any. Maybe she would hide under the stage, or head out through one of the emergency exits, throw her pursuer off the scent. She found her emotions begin to calm and her thoughts became more rational and levelheaded.

Abigail, Abigail,” A voice called out, amplified by the speakers strewn around the rafters, “How does it feel to be back home in North Rites?”

Shortly after the words sounded, a small spotlight found itself moving from the gymnasium on the side closest to the stage, until the circular light shone itself over Abigail. As she moved one way, it followed her. When she moved the other, it did the same. Her eyes tried to find the perpetrator, whose presence appeared like a black silhouette in front of the bright light.

What do you want!?” Abigail shouted as loudly as she could.

I want to be entertained,” The man answered, a casual cadence behind his voice. “Really though, that is not what you want to ask yourself. It does not matter what I want, after all. What you really want to ask yourself is what does he want?”

Another spotlight appeared, a small, round light amid the darkroom, no different than the last. It spun around directionless, until, at last, stopping at one of the doors, from which, the dark skinned man with the white, painted on smile appeared.

Abigail ran, and so too, did he. He was faster than her. That much was clear early on. As she ran, she noticed the spotlight continued to highlight her presence in the dark room. How many individuals were in the room with them, involved in all of this?

She was headed toward the other exit way, at least by leaving the gymnasium she could spare herself the theatrics, but that opportunity was soon taken away from her. The man ran up the bleachers and leaped off, landing in front of her, his knife in hand.

She was fucked; royally fucked. It was then that Camden showed himself, attacking the man from behind with a metal folding chair, like some sort of maniac professional wrestler. The man with the painted face reacted, but was not taken off from his feet.

Instead, the knife was lost from his hand, falling down against the lacquered floor. Abigail did not hesitate to react. It would have been a lost cause to try and grab it herself, but, at least she could keep it away from the man. With a swiping motion, she kicked the knife out from his reach, sending it spinning someplace under the bleachers.

The man ignored her, turning his attention over to Camden.

Well, well, well,” The voice projected from the intercom called out, “It looks like another challenger has entered into the fray now, doesn’t it?”

Camden was noticeably disturbed by the man’s exclamation; unaware that they had more pursuers to factor in.

However, when the man with the painted face turned to him, he swung the chair at him with all the gusto he could muster. The man reacted accordingly, throwing his hands up in order to deflect the attack. One of the man’s legs buckled. Abigail’s eyes were on the knife strewn underneath the bleachers. She ran forward, climbing beneath them and falling down to a crawl. She didn’t stop to see if she was being pursued, staying fixated. Soon, she held the knife in her hands, her eyes went up to the man.

Camden stayed on the attack, walking near him with the beat worn down chair. About the easiest weapon to come by in the dirt poor town of North Rites. This time around his approach was different, walking with the chair in hand like he intended to jab him in the neck with it.

Abigail breathed easy, at least now, it appeared like they had a momentary advantage. Knock him down and run, that was her plan. She would leave the school and find somewhere to lay low until the cops came. They would be in the back of an ambulance, a black security blanket over each of them in no time.

As Camden neared him, the man with the painted face looked at him, then, shrieked.

The man’s mouth opened wide; wider than what was humanly possible. His tongue elongated, sharp and wet like a snake’s. His teeth were sharp and prickly, and his intent was vile. Had Camden not flinched when he did, Abigail had no doubts he would have had his head bitten off like his neck were an apple stem.

Abigail wanted to scream, but she was too stunned to enunciate her own shock. Worse yet would be if she caught the creature’s attention.

The creature lunged forward toward Camden, and, although he tried to flee, the creature caught his foot in his mouth. Camden shouted and pleaded, but the creature did not care about his cries for mercy. As it bit down, Camden tried to crawl away, he fought, digging his fingernails into the floor, trying to claw his way to freedom.

It was all moot in the end, however. Soon, his entire leg was in the man’s mouth, in spite the absurdity of the fact.

It was as though the creature’s stomach was a bottomless pit or a black hole.

Camden’s screams were loud, but they felt so distant, like a faint echo beneath the ringing in Abigail’s ears. She held the knife in her hands; a weapon that now felt useless and trivial in hindsight. It felt selfish not to do something, not to make some type of effort to save him, but, what could she be expected to do against that thing?

As the creature finished its meal, blood dribbling down its chin, its eyes looked over to Abigail’s, a new prey to devour.

The fear Abigail felt made her want to fall into a fit of hysterics, but she fought the urge and turned herself, dodging the pillars and supports underneath the bleachers. She found herself about halfway to the other side of the large gymnasium before it occurred to her that she was not being followed.

The man merely looked at her from afar, not moving or reacting, cocking his head to the side and staring at her. In his hands, he held something, but Abigail hadn’t the faintest idea of what it might have been.

Then, a mechanical noise sounded.

It was the bleachers retracting back into the wall. It took Abigail a moment to realize the ramifications, running forward in a dire attempt to make it to the other end of the gymnasium before she was crushed.

Maybe it would have been a shorter distance to have went the way she came, but she would have rather been crushed to death by the bleacher than be dealt the same fate as Camden. Still a ways away, she felt herself hugged between the walls and the bleachers, having to pivot her body in-order to continue forward.

She made a leap, not of faith, but of desperation; a last ditch effort at survival. It was by dumb luck she managed to escape to the other side as the bleachers closed in.

She looked behind her as the painted man was already making his way toward her, and ran out the exit way, hearing canned applause play over the speakers while she did.

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