(1st draft, sorry.)
“Oh this is just torture.” Wendy sighed. Her fork pushed aside a leaf of oddly colored lettuce better suited to describe food on Mars than Earth. A sliver of carrot flew off the plate and onto the small dining room table. Not even the other supposedly healthy foods wanted to be near the weird lettuce. She didn’t blame it one damn bit.
Dieting, in theory, had seemed like a brilliant idea. Who couldn’t stand to lose a few pounds after the countless mandatory holiday pig-out sessions? She’d been forced into three Thanksgiving dinner, four Christmas dinners, and a rather drunken New Year’s brunch. All the food consumed around her mother’s dining room table could probably feed a small third world nation for six months. They’d devoured it in about a month.
The chair under her gave protest as she leaned back to glare at the salad. A pair of green olives glared back at her, daring her to try and eat them. For a salad the look was rather menacing. Great, she’d managed to pick the one sack of green crap at the store that had the blessing of Beelzebub.
A fat grey cat jumped onto the table and perched next to the plate. It licked carefully at a pink paw pad, completely ignoring the annoyed look on Wendy’s face. That was the way of living with a feline. You stayed annoyed and they did their best to ignore your existence. Except for dinnertime. Then the one with thumbs became the most important being to ever walk the earth. Aside from the cat, of course. They ruled all.
Black nose twitching in the air, the tabby finally realized her butt was inches from a plate of food. She stood and leaned closer, her confusion over the food plain and clear on her furry little face. One look back at Wendy said it all.
“No I don’t know why I’m eating it either. They promised me it was actually food. I think they lied, Isis.” The fork made another jab at a more normal piece of lettuce. Wendy raised it up and tried another taste. She couldn’t tell what was worse, the bitter greens or the low fat dressing coating it like snot on a kid’s cheek.
“This is so pathetic.” She sighed again and dropped her fork.
“No, what is pathetic is the view I have right now.” Came a cheery voice from the doorway. “First off, you are talking to the cat again. Second, that salad doesn’t have enough nutrients to feed a super model. And third,” A blood red nail pointed through the doorway and into the living room. “Must you watch vampires humping during dinner? No wonder you have no appetite.”
“How the hell did you get in here, Abby?” Wendy frowned at her best friend and grabbed the remote to turn off the newest episode of True Blood playing in the other room.
“Easy, you gave me a key, remember?” A jangling accompanied the reminder. It sounded like a brick had hit a herd of fairies. Maybe it was just her bad mood leaking through or both.
“I must have been stoned when I did it. No way I’d trust you with access to my house otherwise.”
“No, you wanted to shack up with whatshisname from work and didn’t want to leave Isis all by herself.” Abby, dressed head to toe in a mishmash of black and purple, bounced over to take up the other chair at the table. She picked up the mysterious piece of lettuce and popped it in her mouth.
“Is it as bad as I think it is?” Wendy asked, impressed that her friend would even dare to eat something so obviously not of this planet. The again, neither was Abby. “And we didn’t ‘shack up’. He had an extra ticket to a conference that I was curious about.” She added quickly.
For years Wendy had been convinced her friend hailed from a planet far, far off in space. It was the only way to explain the way she dressed and acted. The term normal had never described the kind of Goth-business wear combo Abigail favored. Every day it was a different mix of black and purple, her favorite colors. Oddly enough, they flattered her so well that unless you had a stick up your butt, you rarely noticed how out of sorts it was with the norm. It was simply Abby in all of her uncomplicated glory.
Wendy had always been envious of that.
“You rode him into the ground and came back with a stupid grin on your face that didn’t fade for a week. Call it what you will, but you ran off to get some and left me with Princess Spoiled brat here.” Another leaf of lettuce disappeared into Abby’s mouth as she talked. She paused long enough to lick the dressing off her fingers and chew before continuing a tirade that would last at least another ten minuets.
“I mean, how can you deal with it?” Abby asked, catching Wendy off guard.
“Dealing with what?” She thought they might have returned to her weekend with Clay in Colorado. The sex was great, but that was six months ago.
“Isis, dork. I fed her gourmet food and how does she thank me after? Licks her asshole right in front of me. I almost lost my dinner. Cats are beyond disgusting.” Her pert little nose wrinkled in the general direction of the cat.
“Its better than living with a guy that scratches his balls at the table. At least Isis ate first.”
“Charles has his moments. I just have to remember to turn the hose on him every couple of days to keep the flies at bay.”
Both girls giggled at the smart-assed banter. While Wendy didn’t much care for Charlie, he did treat Abby like the space-alien princess she was born to be. While it sucked to be the third wheel all the time, seeing her best friend happy made it bearable. Most of the time at least.
“Speaking of, you need to get out of the yoga pants and into something that screams, do me now.” Abby added in absently while she munched on the last piece of carrot. Her actions were so at odds with the words coming out of her mouth that it took a second or three for them to sink in.
“Oh no, I am not going anywhere. Are you nuts?” Wendy swiped the empty plate and went to put it in the dishwasher.
“You always are harping at me about getting a psych evaluation.” Abby complained from the dining room.
“Your questionable mental capacity aside, I look like hell. Mom fed me so much over the last month that these yoga pants are all that fit right.” It was a small lie, her other clothes fit fine, but she wasn’t about to tell her friend that she just didn’t want to go out. Abby’s feelings were awfully tender at times.
A sniffing sound followed her into the kitchen. Abby’s hair grazed her arm as she came up to sniff Wendy. “I smell bullshit. You don’t look fat to me.”
“So says the matchstick girl.” Wendy grumbled.
“I can still kick your ass, stick or no. Go. Get. Dressed. Or I am picking out your clothes for tonight.”
Wendy winced at the all too familiar threat. It was a good one. Their choices in style clashed. Not just clashed, but had a long-standing blood feud going on between them. All black may have been flattering on Abby’s lean frame, but a big girl covered in that much black ended up looking like the grim reaper on his way to a Jenny Craig meeting. It was not a look she wished to visit again. The one trip into darkness was warning enough. She had to either get her butt in gear or deal with snickers and stares.
“I hate you.”
“Love you too, cupcake. Now get in gear. The fun starts in an hour.” Abby blew a kiss and smiled.
“I’m not even going to ask. Try not to torture Isis while I am getting ready.” She warned.
“Then tell her not to lick her ass where I can see it.”
Isis growled in warning and chose to follow Wendy into the bedroom. At least that solved one of her problems. The other one wouldn’t go away. Abby had enough persistence to make Jehovah Witnesses look like slackers. It wasn’t exactly her most endearing trait.
Sunset found the friends on a desolate stretch of road far from civilization, and Starbucks. Fiery orange light streamed into the small silver Hyundai. Wendy winced behind her dark sunglasses. If Abby was affected by the glare, it didn’t show.
“How can you see the road?” Wendy asked, a hand thrown up to help shade her eyes.
“I told you. Goth, not vampire.” Abby shot a grin across the car at her long-standing joke.
“Not human either, if you ask me. It feels like we are driving on the surface of the sun. Didn’t anyone tell Mother Nature that it was October?”
“If we’d waited for the sun to set all of the lines would be full. Trust me, this is worth it.” Abby’s gleeful smile was not helping to sooth Wendy’s burning retinas.
“Will you tell me where we are going now?”
“Nope, still a surprise. Just sit back and enjoy the view.”
Wendy sighed and looked out her window. Acres and acres of fruit trees stretched back out of sight. She couldn’t even name half of what she saw flashing past. Her stomach took that moment to remind her that the crazed woman behind the wheel stole their dinner. The growling reminder was embarrassingly loud in the confines of the car. For a few seconds she considered asking Abby to pull over so she could snag an orange, or whatever they were off one of the trees. Then an image of some psychotic hick farmer chasing her with a shotgun popped into her head. No, food could wait.
“I’ll buy you dinner if you promise not to gnaw on the seats before we get there.”
“How did you…?”
“I’m not deaf and I’m not stupid either. You’ve been starving yourself with that stupid rabbit food diet, Wendy.” Anger turned Abby’s normally soft voice deeper. Scarier.
“But…” Wendy started.
“If I hear you defending starvation for the sake of fitting in smaller pants, your ass is walking home. Seriously, hun. There is nothing wrong with you.” Sincerity made her voice tremble around the edges.
Wendy sat there and had a hard time processing everything. She’d heard Abby complain about her dieting before but never with so much venom. The change from her normal joking, relaxed attitude to an angry, seething one took her by surprise. More than that, it made her worry if she saw the same thing her friend did when she looked in the mirror. The list of flaws she saw every morning poured into her head while they drove on. It was a long list.
Sometimes silence while in the company of someone you know and love is comfortable. There is no overwhelming need for small talk to try and ease the tension. Never before had there been a point when the two friends felt like either had to talk. Until that moment.
Wendy broke first.
“So what kind of hillbilly hell are you dragging me to?” She joked.
“By all rights I should drive you into one of these orchards and make you eat your way out.” Abby snapped.
“Ouch.” Wendy whispered and resumed her position staring out the window.
Minuets ticked by on the small digital clock embedded in the dashboard. Fields flew past the windows in a green blur. Wendy still couldn’t figure out where they could possibly be going to this far outside of the city. She trusted Abby more than some of her family, but she didn’t entirely trust this new mood her friend had sunk into.
The car bounced over a set of neglected railroad tracks and followed the road around a wide curve. Half way around the curve the few other cars in front of them disappeared into a cloud of dust. Everything started to make more sense when a large sign came into view, its painted bats looming over a wide driveway.
“A haunted house? We’re not kids anymore.” Wendy observed while the gravel road pinged and crunched under them.
“You never out grow the thrill of being scared shitless. I was out here last week and they have really outdone themselves this year.” Abby’s smile was back in full force. It was impossible not to join in her happiness.
“Fine, but if a werewolf tries to eat me, you get to explain to my mother why I was all the way out here.” Her mother never did see why anyone would want to visit, let alone live in the boondocks. Cheryl was a city girl through and through.
“The only wolves that would try and eat you are horny guys. I’m not about to beat them off if it means you get laid.”
Abby parked and jumped out of the car before the blush could finish creeping up Wendy’s cheeks. Her friend was not a fan of subtly. No, Abby was more of a sledgehammer girl, much to her chagrin. Thankfully that little quip happened in the privacy of the car and the sun had set enough that no one should be able to see her red cheeks. At least that was what she told herself as she jogged after Abby.
They walked towards a huge crowd that was gathered in front of the ticket booth. Security guards the size of small giants patrolled the crowd, paying extra attention to a loud group of teens towards the back of the line. One of the men looked over the line and gave a smile in their direction. Wendy looked behind her to see who’d caught his attention but none of the couples trickling in paid attention to the smiling giant.
“Back again, Abby? Why don’t you just put in an application already? We could use your creativity inside.” Wendy started at the depth of his voice while he checked their bags for god knows what.
“I told you, the day job doesn’t allow for a month of howling at the moon.” A maroon lip pouted out. Was she flirting with him?
“A shame. You’re all clear, head on in.” A meaty paw pointed around the corner of the ticket booth.
Wendy leaned in to Abby and whispered. “Don’t we need tickets?”
A burst of laughter met her question. Abby locked an arm around her waist and gave her a hug while they walked. “I bought the tickets when I was out here last week. Don’t worry, we’re not sneaking in.”
“Yeah, you did. Its okay. You don’t know how they run the place. I’ve been coming out since year one.” Abby leaned her hip into Wendy’s to direct her around the back end of the large ticket booth.
The weeping willows reaching down to tease at their hair were enormous, Wendy observed. This place had to be ancient. No way could Abby have been coming out here all this time. She was only twenty-six. Their surroundings were at least fifty to a hundred years old. Did people even know about haunted houses back then?
“Give me a break. This place is old, like really old.” She reached up and parted the branches of the tree overhead.
“The land is, yes. The haunt’s only been here for a decade or so.”
Distorted calliope music filtered through the trees. As the pair stepped free of the caressing branches, a hoard of kids with flashing things affixed to their heads went screaming past. Wendy’s gaze followed the trail of dirt they kicked up until she found what surely had spooked them. A gigantic rat with glowing red eyes and a walking stick bounced across the grass, his furry lips drawn back in a toothsome grin. She blinked at the sight and shook her head. Only Abby would think a place like this was fun.
“Ralph is more likely to dance with you than eat you but kids never seem to understand that.” Wendy frowned at her friend. “Yes, his name is Ralph. Don’t give me that look, what did you expect his name to be, Ben? Jeeze, Wendy.”
“Now that you put it that way, it does seem ridiculous to fuss over the name of a eight foot tall bipedal rat.” She watched the rat in question walk up to another group. This time the kids managed to swallow their fear and not run off screaming. Brave kids.
She, on the other hand, was ready to bolt. It wasn’t just the prospect of willingly walking into an enclosed space where someone was planning, plotting how to scare the crap out of her. More frightening than anything behind the walls of the haunted house was the nagging feeling that Abby was going to try and set her up with someone tonight. Wendy looked down at the charcoal grey pants she’d picked out and smoothed out a wrinkle. If she’d been told about this trip last week when the tickets were bought, she could have planned a better outfit.
“You look fine. Knock it off.” Abby grabbed her hand and led the way into the thick of the festivities.
Costumed characters roamed the grassy yard where lines snaked here and there. They weren’t nearly as cheesy as expected. One of the ghouls breathing down the neck of a shrieking teenaged girl was carrying an honest to god sword. Not a plastic flap of plastic sprayed with metallic paint. Part of Wendy was pleased to see the effort put in by the attraction. The other part screamed that meant there were worse things waiting for them once inside.
A tug on her arm sent her stumbling towards the nearest and shortest line. Abby bounced into the back of the line looking like she owned the place. Frankly, she was more at home there than some of the “monsters” lurking in the waiting crowd. Wendy smiled at Abby’s exuberance. She couldn’t help it.
“We’ll start here. Its too light out still to fully enjoy the others yet.” Abby said absently while digging in her purse, presumably looking for tickets or a crucifix to ward off vampires with.
“Haunts, dingbat. Did you really think I’d drag you out to the boonies for just a haunted house?” She handed over a black sheet of paper and pointed at the different portions. “There’s a hayride and a forest too.”
“Oh goodie.” Wendy muttered.
“No need to fret, pretty one.” Warm breath tickled the back of her neck. The small hairs rose up on end and Wendy gave a girly shriek.
“Oh my god!” Her heart felt like it was trying to dig out of her chest and run away.
“Such a sweet scream. Will she grace me with that succulent sound again?” The man said, closing in again.
“You don’t need to get any closer.” Wendy stammered.
Off to her side, Abby was nearly doubled over with laughter. What a great friend. She could have been in serious trouble with some freako trying to molest her and Abby would have just let him! Wendy tried to muster enough energy to voice her indignation, but just couldn’t. A smile crept up her face despite the galloping of her heart.
“I wish I had a camera so you can see the look on your face.” Abby gasped and straightened. “Paulie you are wonderful.” She wrapped him up in a hug. It was until he smiled that Wendy realized what he was supposed to be.
“Aren’t vampires a tad cliché, even for a haunted house?” She teased.
“Not everyone thrives on vampire shows and novels, pretty one.” He was good at keeping the thick, though vague eastern European accent. With those fangs in she would have been drooling on herself. Paulie, as Abby had called him, seemed really comfortable with the character. Wendy couldn’t help but wonder if he liked to bite during…
“Oh hell, knock it off.” She warned her libido quietly.
“Pardon?” Forest green eyes met hers, a flash of concern racing through them.
“Not you. Sorry.” Wendy apologized quickly. He was just doing his job. It wasn’t his fault her hormones chose that moment to rise from the dead.
“Hey, Paulie.” Thank goodness for Abby, she was a great distraction. “What are you doing after closing?”
“Getting out of the cold one way or another.” He held out a pale hand. At first it looked like he’d made up the back of his hands until they saw that his fingertips were turning blue. “Silk and linen isn’t exactly made for wearing out here.”
“Poor dear.” Abby cooed. “We’re going to dinner after. I think we can wait a little longer if you want to come with.”
“Abby!” Wendy gaped at her friend. She knew Abby was going to pull something like this. Suddenly the monsters waiting inside seemed like a better option than standing and listening to her friend trying to wrangle a pity date from a guy two seconds from freezing to death.
“I’d love to escort such a pretty morsel.” Paulie stepped in towards Wendy again.
She shot Abby an “I’m going to kill you” look over the pseudo-vampire’s shoulder. Abby just laughed it off and moved up closer to the entrance of the house.
“We’ll meet up after you clock out over at the stage, alright?”
“Sounds perfect.” He grinned and Wendy couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.
Paulie the vampire frowned at the sudden burst of laughter. Wendy clamped a hand over her mouth and worked really hard at breathing through her nose to control the giggle fit. She pointed a shaking finger at his mouth and coughed through another fit of laughter.
“You’re missing a fang.”
“Not again, damnit. The glue they gave me is crap. I forgot mine at home tonight.” With a smooth motion of his tongue, Paulie found the missing fang in his mouth and slid it back in place. With tongue power like that he must really…
Eat ice cream well. Yeah, that was it. Wendy refused to continue thinking about Paulie the vampire and his incredibly talented tongue.
A deafening roar of howling swept over the land. For a second she flirted with the notion that a rabid pack of werewolves were going to gobble her up in the forest later so she wouldn’t have to embarrass herself at dinner. Wendy laughed. She couldn’t be so lucky.
“The fun is about to begin. See you later, pretty one.” Paulie picked up her hand and gave it a not so chaste kiss. Wendy couldn’t do anything but blink at him stupidly until his cape fluttered behind a fence.
White Zombie’s Electric Head- part 1 pumped out of the entrance to the haunted house. Abby tugged on her arm and forced her towards the music. Wendy just ignored the bubbly girl taking their tickets, her eyes were too busy scanning the crowd for Paulie the vampire.
“We’ll see him later.” Abby hissed in her ear.
A decomposing body jumped out of a wall and ran at Wendy. Hormones would have to wait to be sated. She had fifteen minuets of hell to survive. Plus a forest and a hayride. It was the longest, scariest night of her life and the most frightening part wouldn’t happen until they left the ghosts and goblins for the night.