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

“Parlor Tricks” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay


The leaves came down. They undressed the trees, accentuating the auburn majesty of the autumn season. Perhaps, naively, Abigail could not help but wonder to herself how the trees felt when they watched all of their leaf children raked up into piles and illegally burned in the backward of each person’s home.

She smiled and waved when old man Donahue waved at her with a toothless grin. She donned worn jeans and a thick, flannel button up shirt. Doing ones’ best impression of a lumberjack felt appropriate for the season, after all.

Abigail appreciated this time of year. Fall was the happy medium of two extremes in the small village of North Rites, a time where you were able to step outside without being swarmed by mosquitoes and yet, all you needed in order to keep warm, was a hooded sweatshirt.

She hopped over a ditch and into the road, kicking up some small gravel when she did. Her eyes went toward traffic, waiting for a vehicle to drive by her, only for the person to direct her forward with a waving motion of his hand. Why an individual would stop their vehicle in the middle of the road where there was not a crosswalk, for a petite young girl to cross, was an anomaly that would puzzle anyone who was not from a small town.

Today commemorated the Night’s of Past. The holiday’s traditions were foggy at best, and what they actually meant or stood for were subject to interpretation. Purists decreed it a way to honor and remember those of us who had come and went, with candlelight vigils held in their honor.

That, however, died away over time, chipping away with each year. People were simple and liked it convenient. Candlelight vigils were replaced with candlelight’s lit on doorsteps, and then, overtime, that became leaving your porch on as a hollow sign of respect.

Businesses, on the other hand, found new and inventive ways to market it. They created makeshift legends and newfound ideology to make the Night’s of Past synonymous with sugary sweets, morbid outfits, and high-priced movie tickets. Children, in turn, who knew no better, embraced it to the fullest, whereas everyone else, as said, liked it simple and convenient.

She smiled when she saw her friends Jamie and Todd, standing only a block away from a rundown fast food joint called Macintosh, which, ironically, had food the farthest thing away from a healthy apple snack. The restaurant’s owner had long since retired, celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and went on to the beyond place, now having his life celebrated and revered by townspeople too lazy to buy matches and some wax. Macintosh’s tattered, dilapidated décor certainly felt festive and scenic with the evening, but they had something bigger in mind.

Hey, Abbey!” Jamie exclaimed, a high pitched enthusiasm in her voice that brought Abigail right back to high school. That was the way Jamie always sounded, so peppy and full of enthusiasm. Abigail always wondered how she found the energy to be such an optimist.

Abigail smiled back at her, closing in on her for an embrace she reciprocated in turn. Afterward, she looked at Todd who had a deer caught in the headlights sort of look.

“’Sup?” Todd asked nonchalantly.

Unless Abigail was mistaken, she could have sworn he even did a swiping gesture with his hands like a rapper about to breakdown in a freestyle, ‘the yo-yo’ gesture, as Abigail lovingly deemed it when they were in high school. Todd was a lot of things, be it stoic, a little awkward, or kind, but the type of person who could authentically pull off a zen, coolness, he was not.

“’Sup?” Abigail replied in response to him. Then, she rolled her eyes and brought him in for a hug as well.

Never thought I would come back to North Rites again,” Todd said, his eyes wandering off, beyond the small neighborhood, where North Rites High School sat off in the distance, a glaring reminder of Abigail’s more socially inept years (and when she thoughts bangs were a good idea).

Abigail smiled and spoke somberly, “Verdicine’s House of Horrors has nothing on the horrors we endured in that place, am I right?”

It had been a few years since Abigail had spoken to Todd and Jamie in-person, their more recent encounters through social media or webcams. That was how high school friendships went, she supposed. Everyone had responsibilities and ambitions to pursue. Jamie was a nurse to be and Todd’s pursuit was in graphic design at a fancy pants college in Italina. No matter though, as they met up, time felt like a fickle barrier between them.

Did you hear Mr. Megraw is the Principal now?” Jamie said, in her quiet, squeaky voice. Her footsteps hastening in order to keep up with her much longer legged friends.

That sauerkraut? As our science teacher, he was a royal jackass, I can’t even begin to imagine how bad that power has went to his head.”

Do you remember when Tommy,” Todd started to say.

I was about to say that, …” Jamie interjected, giggling. Then, she stopped nervously, chuckling and offering a small apology as restitution.

No, I don’t,” Abigail said, looking around them for an explanation.

Well, okay, you remember how Mr. Megraw looked right?”

Uh-huh,” She said.

And she did. Mr. Megraw was an older man, with a longitudinal flap of skin dangling from beneath his chin. He had a wiry, small frame, which only made his dewlap look more distinct. His demeanor was always no nonsense, with his hands and arms at his side like they were handling the buttons on an invisible jet pack. He wore suspenders and a cardigan with dark patches on each elbow.

Okay, then you remember how he looked like a raisin, and how his body looked like his skin was taken off and shoved under the bed for a century, then, worn again without ironing it first?” Todd explained, eloquently summarizing Abigail’s own perception. “Well, Tommy walks into class one day and, I don’t remember what it was, but he was late for some reason after lunch. Mr. Megraw is laying into him, right?” ‘You kids need to stop jacking around! Always jacking around!’ and all that,” He continued, at a point, doing his best impression of Mr. Megraw’s grumpy, old man voice. “Tommy looked at him. And, you know Tommy, he was high out of his mind, like he always was. He looked at Mr. Megraw, stone faced.”

Stoner faced,” Abigail corrected with a small chuckle.

Stoner faced,” Todd agreed. “He looked at Mr. Megraw and that flap of skin under his neck and went,” … Todd placed his finger underneath Abigail’s neck and mimicked the gesture, tickling underneath her chin, where Megraw’s excess skin would have been, all while doing chicken noises.

Abigail laughed loudly at the gesture, and Todd and Jaime shortly joined in with her. “Tommy was only showing he pays attention, showing Mr. Megraw the gobbler effect!”

As they continued walking, Abigail could not help but feel nostalgic. Too often, she remembered the bad times spent at North Rites High School, but it was her friendships with Todd, Jamie, Huey, and Camden that made the time not only livable, but sometimes worth remembering.

Speaking of, “Where are Huey and Camden?” Abigail asked, her eyes looking through the bleak, repetitive scenery that was North Rites in all its majesty.

She had never noticed until now how many worn down buildings there were. They walked by a brick building, which was missing its front wall, but still had a door standing at the front, connected to a wooden frame. Something about it struck her as hauntingly goofy, the sight of a useless door held up, as if by magic.

According to her mother, the building had once been a theater where her and her friends could watch movies for only a buck apiece, a bargain compared to the cost cinema’s charged nowadays. Abigail had not been alive to see the theater in its splendor, and so, she only ever knew it as a broken down eyesore on the town, of which, there were many.

Jamie looked at her cellphone, as though it held all the untold answers to the universe. Either that, or she was checking the time. “They said they would meet us there at around seven.”

There was what brought them to North Rites again. There was Verdicine’s Home of Horrors, a haunted house attraction that popped up in small towns, usually unannounced.

They drew their name from an old time God that allegedly once acted as a veil, shielding the city from evildoers and the like. Whatever the truth behind that may have been, the reviews of their attraction spoke highly of it, calling it the best throughout all of Maharris, and maybe, the world. Both Camden and Abigail had raved a lot about them over the years. As the attractions build steam, they captured the zeitgeist and the imagination of onlookers alike. The only documenting of Verdicine were through second-hand testimonials, which were difficult to have faith in. Otherwise, they had the strict demand that all cellphones be left outside upon entry.

Whether it was worth the hype or not, Abigail was only grateful to have something actually happen for a change in their hometown, and an excuse for her friends to meetup again.

They carried on their tread for a short while. Circling around North Rites was likely what most children did in order to pass the time in town. It was not as sad as it sounded, but it was pretty fucking close to it. Thus, doing so, along with beholding their makeshift, wannabe landmarks, felt nostalgic.

The sun soon bid them adieu, replaced by the melancholy gleam of the moonlight overhead. Soon after, Jamie looked at her cellphone again, and, as she did, Abigail noticed a small tattoo of a rose wrapped in barbwire on her wrist. She let it be, but smiled to herself.

Everything could change in only a few years, it seemed. Prior to leaving, Jamie’s religious mother and father forbade even the littlest irregularity, and would have flipped their wigs at such traitorous, obscene blasphemy. Now, however, she was a liberated anarchist! A true rebel. Or, at least, she had a tattoo.

As if Verdicine’s Home of Horrors could not be anymore hidden away, they chose to have it smack-dab in the country of North Rites. They must have needed a lot of space to accommodate them, Abigail supposed. The sound of the great outdoors kept them company momentarily, of cicadas and dogs howling out into the night. Soon after, they heard the commotion of shouting drunks and cars revving up their engines in a battle of who could be the loudest.

When they arrived, they saw Huey and Camden.

Huey looked about the same as she remembered, always wearing a hoodie and shorts, in spite the fact it was freezing out. His hair was unkempt and curly, and his beard traveled down his neck. His smile when he saw them was warm and affectionate, however.

As they exchanged pleasantries, Abigail was surprised to see how much Camden had changed.

Be honest with me,” Camden asked, wearing a suit and tie, and black sunglasses that must have been hell to see out of in the night. “Did you ever worry about me when I was fat?”

Be honest, are you sure? I feel like I was awful fat,” He pressured on. “Did you worry about my knees? I bet you could have actually heard them screaming back then. ‘Help me, Abbey! Help me!”” Camden pleaded, doing his best impression of a weak dying man.

Abigail laughed, as did the rest of them. They were all well aware of how insecure Camden had once been about his weight, trying and failing one diet after the next. Abigail was happy to see him healthy and fit, but even more happy he was in a place he could laugh at it and put it behind him.

They all stood in front of a large black tarp, hiding away all the spooky things contained within. For only a moment, Abigail felt intimidated by it. Like an alien spaceship had crash landed in North Rites, something important and mainstream belonged no place near their town.

The rest of the greater Acera must have caught onto Verdicine’s hidden rendezvous as well, as North Rites now looked like a sudden hot spot, instead of that village you drove by in order to get where you were actually headed. Cars were parked unevenly around a stretch of grassland. For such a big deal, Verdicine’s setup looked hardly organized or official.

About as much action as this tired town has seen in a century,” Camden said, peeking out from the sunglasses he seemed committed to not taking off.

Perhaps his way of celebrating the holiday was by commemorating the death of his own fashion sense? Abigail smiled to herself, continuing forward. “I wonder if this will bring any business back to the rest of town.”

That would mean there was someplace still open to bring business to,” Camden fired back.

I mean, … we have a school,” Jamie said quietly.

Yeah, maybe someone will buy a kid or something,” Todd jested.

I would not want any of North Rites’ kids,” Camden answered again.

Although Camden was among the shortest of their small group, his quickened footsteps had him take lead among them.

The crowd was a hodgepodge of different age groups, some adults and a lot of teenagers as well. Some individuals Abigail was able to recognize, having them them around over the years, whereas others appeared not to be from the local area.

Abigail appreciated the assortment of costumes, which ranged from white foxes to brown Dobermans, from musicians to slasher villains, and so on and so forth. What it all had to with honoring the dead, Abigail neither knew nor cared, but a handful of them looked cool. She especially liked one person’s getup, depicting a large mech, which appeared to have been homemade from cardboard and foam. It must have taken a lot of dedication and commitment, and as the individual struggled to inch his way through the crowd, Abigail only hoped it was worth it for them.

The line was segmented and inconsistent, with Verdicine’s employees not offering a lot in the way of crowd control. Thankfully, word must not have spread too bad about their arrival, as it was crowded, but not unbearably congested. Assuming it was now public knowledge, she was happy they had gotten there as early as they did.

They continued walking, ducking beneath the cellphone of a young woman trying to take a photograph of her son posing with the man in the mech costume. Surely, he did not intend to enter the House of Horrors dressed like that. Although the idea of him trying to outrun a zombie in the outfit amused her, especially when thinking about how the employee would likely have to walk in slow motion to make it happen.

After an hour’s wait, they finally found themselves before the tent. Behind them, as Abigail assumed it would, a more prodigious line had formed. In front of the entrance, a man in long, dark red hair looked back at them. He wore a suit and a long, red tie, coupled with black eyeliner that helped sell the look.

When they made eye contact, the suited man flashed a tooth grin, and his teeth looked fanged, a novelty, she assumed.

Rabies and germs, come one, come all, to Verdicine’s House of Horrors. Are you ready for untold frights and sleepless nights? If you are, then, step right up, but, be forewarned, the only way out is through the exit way, marked with bright neon lights.” The man spoke fast, but enthusiastically, carrying a showman’s charisma that he had likely recited a couple hundred times by now.

At the same time, Abigail knew to take what he said with a grain of salt. Chances were that they had a mess of hidden ways out, and like any haunted house, anything too scary could be stopped by telling them as much.

This better scare the fuck out of us for all the hype it has been given,” Camden said.

His confidence had certainly improved a lot since they last saw each other, a confidence that may have come off rude to the uninitiated.

The suited man’s smile did not diminish, “I do not think you will be disappointed, Camden.”

Camden’s face dropped a little from that comment. The remark caught everyone a little off guard, recollecting their earlier conversations, wondering if the red-haired man might have been in earshot to hear Camden’s name.

Abigail laughed, offering an amused smile over to Jamie. Verdicine’s House of Horrors had evolved the scary, haunted house shtick into an art form. So much so a bout of psychological torment had already started before they even entered.

The red haired man turned his back to them, turning the doorknob, and unveiling the entrance to the House of Horrors. The entrance spoke little of the contents within, beyond the door was a long hallway, with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling by thin strings, stuttering off and on like they could leave them in the pitch black darkness by a small gust of wind.

Abigail gulped.

Her hairs stood up, and, for a moment, she wondered why she had thought this was a good decision. She had always scared easily, too afraid to watch horror movies, let alone whatever she was about to endure.

She was broken out of her trance when she saw Camden lead the way into the room, unbothered by the, admittedly, simple presentation. Something changed the very second she stepped into the hallway. The acoustics were different, where the only thing she could hear being what sounded like exhaust fans and the amplified sound of her footsteps as they echoed against the smooth concrete floor. The air was cold and wet, and, in time, they were able to see the faint fog that went up to their knees.

Good luck,” The red haired man said from outside, but before Abigail could turn to look back at him, she heard the door slam behind them.

When it did, the light bulbs overhead stuttered harsher, until, at last, going out completely, leaving them in the dark.

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