FAMILY LORE by Kat Nove
The lean man covered in blood smiled at the busty blonde zombie. “What scares you?”
The light cast by the campfire appeared to devour Jo Jo's ravaged face. She giggled. “Getting drunk and forgetting I’m wearing granny panties. You know…in case I feel the urge to remove my pants.” She winked at Lore, who sat directly across from her. He grinned.
Clappie groaned. “Ho Jo, do you ever think about anything but sex?”
“Sometimes I think about astrophysics and what shade of nail polish to wear.” All the zombies laughed except Clappie, who sniffed and took a swig of beer.
Hunter said, “We all know you wear thongs, Jo Jo. Answer Lore’s question. If you dare.” He gave his best mad scientist laugh.
“Okay. I’ll answer his question if everyone else does. But first he has to answer a question for me.”
“That’s fair. What’s the question?”
“How old are you, do you have a girlfriend, how did you end up running a haunted hayride, why are you named Lore and did you know you have the sexiest green eyes I’ve ever seen?”
Clappie snorted and said, “Why don’t you ask him the results of his last herpes test while you’re at it?”
Hunter sprayed a mouthful of beer into the flames and started choking. Dusty pounded him on the back. When Hunter could breathe again he said, “Damn it, Clap, you almost killed me.”
She shrugged and turned back to Jo Jo. “Seriously. I can’t figure how you make such good grades when you act like a stereotypical blonde bimbo.” She looked at the older man and said, “She’s been my roommate for nearly four years and being circumspect isn’t in her DNA.”
“It’s cool. I don’t mind sharing. I’m thirty-two and don’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t realize mine are the sexiest green eyes you’ve ever seen, Jo Jo. Thanks for the compliment, but perhaps you should get out more.” Lore waited for the half-drunken laughter to die down before continuing.
“There’s a line from Aleksandr Puskin’s poem The Gypsies. We are wild and have no laws. That line could have been written about my mother Serena. I grew up in carnivals.”
Jo Jo whispered, “A carnie.”
“Yeah, Serena gave birth to me on the Falling Star ride.”
“Holy shit, dude. Isn’t that the one shaped kinda like a tube which swings back and forth?”Dusty said.
“Give that man another beer. He knows his carnival rides. According to Serena, I was also conceived on the Falling Star.”
Dusty shook his head. “Man, don’t take this the wrong way, but your mother must have been a nutjob. That ride is killer. The only time I ever caught the Falling Star, the last thing on my mind was sex. I did consider pissing myself though.”
“If you knew how unsafe some of those rides are, you’d have done more than consider it. Serena’s quite a character. She claims to be a gypsy and is still telling fortunes and putting curses on the marks. Usually only those who don’t give her a tip though.”
“Do the curses work?” Jo Jo asked.
“I can’t swear they do, but one night after the carnival closed a drunk carnie Serena couldn't stand tried to cop a feel. Most men probably wouldn't blame him. She joined some of us at a local bar for a few beers and wore her most flamboyant outfit - gold bracelets, purple and green satin dress, and high heel, lace-up boots. Serena wasn't shy about her breasts either. The bodice on the dress revealed as much as the law allowed.
"She walked over to the juke box and deposited her quarters. A wild and haunting song began to play. Later the bartender kept telling anyone who would listen that the song wasn't on the play list. My mother began a slow and erotic dance which mesmerized not only the carnies, but the rest of the men in the bar. The music got faster and she began to spin in circles - her skirt twirling and her dark wild hair whipping about her lovely face. The song ended and as she stood there, breasts heaving, the carnie she loathed approached and stuck his hand down the front of her blouse. He seemed to be in a trance. She kicked him in the nuts and after that night his nose hair kept growing so fast he couldn’t keep it trimmed.”
“That’s a weird curse, but I kinda like it. Do you know any others I could use at the restaurant?" asked Hunter, who had worked his way through college as a waiter.
“Best not to tempt the gods, Hunter. Just keep spitting in your customers’ food.”
Hunter laughed. “Man, I don’t do that. What I do is…”
“Stop!” Clappie shouted. “I’d like to enjoy fine dining someday without worrying about your bodily fluids in the risotto.”
“It won’t be my fluids, now will it? Aren’t we all going to be famous actors?”
“Hell, yeah! No more minimum wage jobs for us. No offense, Lore.”
“None taken, Dusty. While I’m not as psychic as my mother, I have been able to predict things at times. Since you four are the most realistic zombies I’ve ever employed, I have a feeling your stars are on the rise.”
“That gives me goose bumps,” said Jo Jo, as she batted her eyelashes at Lore. The firelight played on her gruesome face, but even fake rotting zombie flesh couldn’t stop the college senior from flirting with an attractive man. “Now finish answering my questions. Please.”
“Life as a carnie gave me a severe case of wanderlust. I couldn’t stand being tied down forty hours a week working a regular job. I saved up until I could afford the RV over there. Then every Halloween I lease a few acres in the woods of whatever state I happen to be in. Ticket sales pay for advertising, renting the flatbed trailer and actors’ salaries. What’s left over usually lasts long enough to get me through until the next Halloween. If it doesn’t I take on odd jobs wherever the road takes me. It’s not the life for everyone, but it suits me.”
“So, what’s with your name, dude?” asked Dusty.
“Serena wanted a girl and her favorite name was Lorelei. The German legend fascinated her.”
“What German legend?” said Jo Jo.
“There’s a gigantic rock located at a dangerous curve of the Rhine River. A siren named Lorelei waits there until a boat approaches. Then her singing lures the sailors to their deaths.”
Clap said, “And your mother wanted to name you after a psychotic killer siren?”
A gust of wind stirred the flames and a mournful howl from deep in the woods highlighted the long pause following her question. Lore gave Clappie a piercing look which sent shivers down her spine. She closed her eyes and when she opened them again, the congenial man she’d worked with for the past month smiled at her and said, “Apparently. But remember Serena claims to be a gypsy. Things like that intrigue her. She wanted a mythical daughter and got me instead.”
“That takes care of me. Now back to the original question. Jo Jo, what scares you? And not something silly. It’s Halloween and time to probe the terror deep within us all.”
This time the young woman’s giggle came off nervous and strained. “I’m afraid of stalkers.”
“Oh, give me a break, you narcissistic piece of work,” Clappie said. “Nobody’s stalking you.”
“I know, but I’m trying to answer his question seriously. There’s a reason they scare me. About fifteen years ago, while I played hopscotch on the sidewalk in front of my house, a man pulled up in a car. He leaned over, opened the passenger door and said he lost his puppy. He needed help looking for it. He seemed nice and so sad. I really wanted to help him, but remembered that stupid slogan they taught us in elementary school. Stranger-danger.
“When I told him I couldn’t help, he got out of the car and came for me. I ran screaming to the house and as he grabbed my ponytail my dad opened the door. The man turned and ran. They never caught him.”
“You never told me that story. I’m sorry about being such a bitch. That’s awful.”
Jo Jo gave her roommate a shaky smile. “I’ve never told anyone that story. It freaks me out too much to talk about it. I don’t know why I told it now. I should have said I’m afraid of spiders.” She looked into Lore’s eyes and shivered. He’s not smiling, but he still looks positively gleeful. She turned away and said, “Who’s next?”
The remaining three college students looked at each other. Dusty sighed. “I’m afraid to drive.”
“Really?” Clappie asked. “I knew you never drove, but assumed it was because you didn’t own a car.”
“I used to own a car. A present for my sixteenth birthday from my parents. A restored ’68 Mustang. Man, I loved that car. I hated going to the grocery store, but started volunteering to pick up shit for my mother so I’d have an excuse to get behind the wheel.”
“So what changed all that?” Hunter asked.
“A car crash.”
“You were in a crash?”
“No. I witnessed one. A big rig carrying a load of huge metal pipes jackknifed on the Interstate about a quarter mile ahead of me. The car following it swerved and at first it looked like everything would be okay. But the chain holding the pipes snapped and one of them rolled off the truck and bounced right into the windshield of the car.
“It happened so fast. I slammed on my brakes and dialed 9-1-1. By the time they answered it was over. I pulled up near the car and jumped out to see if I could help.”
“That was brave of you.”
Dusty snapped, “No it wasn’t, Jo Jo. I wish I’d never done it. The driver was a girl who looked about my age. I found out later she was eighteen. The kind of girl I used to imagine marrying someday. Gorgeous. Long blonde hair and blue eyes. Her eyes.” He shuddered.
“What about them?” asked Clappie as she gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
“They were pleading with me to save her. But I couldn’t. The pipe had not only gone through the windshield, but also the steering wheel. It had impaled her to the seat. No blood at all that I could see. I guess she was in shock. She didn’t say anything. Just looked at me. I took her hand, held it and told her everything would be alright, but I knew it wouldn’t. Not ever again. I watched her eyes die like the bulb in a flashlight which gets dim as the battery wears out. And then she was gone. I stood there crying and holding a dead girl’s hand. Her name was Melanie.
“When the cops and ambulance got there a few minutes later I couldn’t even go sit in my car. One of the cops moved it to the side of the road and I walked about half a mile into the middle of a field to get away from the highway. I called my parents to come pick me up. They sold the Mustang.”
Clappie leaned over and gave him a tight hug. As he buried his face in her copper hair she could feel him trembling.
Lore said, “Maybe we should quit this. I had no idea it would be so upsetting to you. It’s always been a fun tradition at the end of the hayrides. I feel terrible.”
Clappie looked up and said, “No. That’s not fair to Jo Jo and Dusty. It's my turn and I’m afraid of fire.” She stared into the flames dancing in the campfire. “Well, maybe not so much fire as being burned alive.
“I also had a traumatic experience when I was a young girl. My sister, brother and I stole some candles and matches from the house and snuck out to an old panel truck that belonged to my grandfather. The seats were ripped up and some kind of white stuffing stuck out like bloated, half-melted marshmallows. We kept lighting and blowing out the candles, pretending it was our birthdays.
“We had so much fun until I held a match too long and it burned my finger. I dropped the match onto the stuffing and it immediately flared up. We all turned to run. I remember thinking if we could get to the hose and spray the fire we wouldn’t get in trouble. But I was in bigger trouble than getting a spanking.
“The flames caught my hair on fire. My brother turned back and saw what happened and tackled me into the dirt. Poor little guy. He burned the palms of his hands trying to put out the flames. It only took a few seconds for most of my hair to burn off and the back of my neck got burned.”
She lifted her hair and leaned over for her friends to look at the puckered skin. “I never put my hair up and this is why.”
Clappie took a deep breath and immediately did what she always did best – make them laugh. “So, Mr. Lore Meso, that’s why Smoky the Bear is my bestest friend in the whole wide world.”
After the somewhat hysterical laughter died down, Hunter said, “I guess it’s my turn. I’m afraid of love.”
With the exception of Lore, the others began to laugh until they saw he was serious. Hunter shrugged. “Yeah, pretty lame. My mom used to drink – a lot. My dad finally couldn’t take it and left us.
“The night he left was horrible. My mother howled, cried and pleaded with him. It was like a scene from a bad reality show. She even fell to the ground and threw her arms around his legs. He had to drag her along the floor to get out the front door.
“The entire time she kept screaming how much she loved him. After that she was always drunk. Dad never forgot to send child support, but he did forget to come see me. About a year later he remarried and the day after we heard the news, I came home from school to find my mother dead. She hung herself from a light fixture in the living room. I was fourteen.”
“I went to live with my father and his wife. They had a daughter and I could tell they resented me intruding on their happy little lives. Dad couldn’t stand me being around because I look like my mother. My stepmother seemed to think insanity is catching and avoided me. I couldn’t wait to leave for college.”
Hunter’s laugh contradicted the bitterness in his eyes. “Love’s not for me. Love will fucking kill you.”
Everyone stared into the flames until Clappie couldn’t take the silence. She looked at Lore and said, “You were absolutely right. That was a fun tradition!” She held up her bottle of beer in a mock toast. “To fear!”
As one, all four students rose and clinked their bottles together. “To fear!”
Jo Jo looked at Lore, who remained seated.
“What scares you?”
“You do. All of you.” He smiled and said, “Now get out of here and go break a leg, or whatever you’re supposed to say to theatrical types. It’s been a pleasure working with you. I’ll see you on the big screen someday.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Clappie examined her naked body in the full-length mirror, leaned in and peered at her face. Damn it. Look at those crow’s feet. I really should quit smoking. And my boobs seem to sag more every day. My agent’s right. I’m going to have to make an appointment with a plastic surgeon if I want to keep working. That sucks. I’ll bet Bette Davis never had to get a boob job.
She pulled on the robe provided by the luxury hotel, walked back into the room and picked up the script she’d tossed on the bed. She had time to memorize a few more lines before the driver would arrive to pick her up for the premiere.
She propped four pillows up against the headboard and got comfortable. She grabbed the pack of smokes sitting on the bedside table, lit one and took a satisfying drag. Opening the script to a page marked with a post-it, she began to read the words out loud, but after a few minutes her thoughts began to wander to the upcoming event.
The Halloween release of Global Swarming was being hailed as one of the few fall blockbusters. She hated the hoopla associated with movie releases, but tonight would be special because her three co-stars – her family – would be joining her at the Halloween bash after the premiere.
She put the script down, lit another cigarette and thought about Jo Jo, Dusty and Hunter. They’d all made it, just as Lore predicted. None of them even had to struggle. In the spring after they worked together as zombies at the haunted hayride, they collected their diplomas, marched off the stage and into successful film careers. She often considered it downright spooky how easy it had been for them. And now they’d made a zombie movie together. “Life imitates art,” she mumbled, closing her eyes.
Clappie softly snored as the lit cigarette held between her fingers dropped onto the script on her lap. A dirty brown circle began to form and within seconds flames engulfed the pages.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dusty loved being an actor, but hated the celebrity involved. He never went anywhere without one of his many baseball caps and a pair of sunglasses. He searched the backpack he’d carried onto the plane for the third time and once again failed to find his minimalist disguise.
This is crazy. I was wearing them before I took a shower. Could a housekeeper have come in and taken them? Great. I won’t have time to replace them before the premiere.
In the elevator Dusty stared at his shoes and tried to ignore the stage whispers of the other passengers. The doors slid open and he held back to be the last to exit. He couldn’t stand the thought of the others whispering behind him – wondering if it was really him. If it weren’t for Jo Jo, Clappie and Hunter, he would have skipped the premiere and stayed on his ranch in Texas.
He gave the cab driver directions without making eye contact. He noticed the man staring at him in the rearview mirror. Dusty turned his head and looked out the window, hoping the man would take the hint.
Please no. I need to be left alone.
“Aren’t you the guy who played Johnny Depp’s son in that movie…what was it called?”
Dusty sighed. “Shutterbug.”
“Yeah! That’s the one. Man, you were great. You won an Academy Award, right?”
“No, I only got nominated.”
“Man, you got robbed! What’s it like working with Johnny Depp? My wife loves the guy. Wait until she hears you’re my passenger.”
The cabbie pulled his cell phone out of his shirt pocket and began entering a text message.
“Dude! Don’t do that while you’re driving.”
“It’s cool. I do it all the time.” The cabbie turned and looked back over his shoulder.
“I’m serious. Put the phone…watch out!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Naked, Jo Jo dove into the pool and swam underwater to the shallow end. She burst out of the water, still as lovely as a Greek goddess thanks to studio money and plastic surgery. With her arms balanced on the edge of the pool, she treaded water and gazed into the woods which bordered her property. She closed her eyes and thought about the upcoming premiere.
They’ll be shocked when I show up wearing the Vera Wang zombie wedding dress. Screw the majority vote. This is Halloween. We’re supposed to dress up. I suppose Clappie will give me shit, but after all these years I can take it. This is going to be fun!
She opened her eyes and screamed. An enormous man stood above her. In her vulnerable position he seemed to be ten feet tall. He wore black pants and a gray silk shirt. His slicked back dark hair glistened with gel.
Mindful of her nudity, Jo Jo quit treading water and placed the balls of her feet firmly on the side of the pool.
Maybe he can’t swim. If I have to, I can stay in the middle of the pool.
Trying to sound authoritative she said, “Get off my property! I’m calling the police right now.”
The man slowly brought his right hand from behind his back. In it he held what looked like a machete. “Diablo,” he whispered.
Jo Jo didn’t wait around for further introductions. She bent her knees, shoved off from the side of the pool and twisted her body to be face down in the water.
I can get away. I have to.
Her head snapped back out of the water, her hair tangled between his massive fingers.
This time I don’t think my father is going to open the door and save me. This time...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Hunter opened the door and a dark haired young woman with a bruise on her face stood behind the rolling cart.
“Thanks. Please put it over there on that table.”
She looked around the room in confusion. It finally dawned on Hunter she wasn’t wearing a hotel uniform. He sighed.
“You don’t work here, do you?”
“No, but I…”
He held up a hand and said, “Please don’t say anything else. Just leave.”
“But I need to tell you…”
“No you don’t. You don’t need to tell me anything. This kind of thing has happened before. I want you out of my room and if you don’t go right now I’ll call hotel security It’s their policy to arrest trespassers.”
"Cops,” she sneered. “Cops are good for nothing. Did they help me with this?” She pointed at the bruise on her face. “Or this?”
She ripped open her blouse with such violence one of the buttons flew right at Hunter. He reflexively ducked.
Aww, shit. Here we go. I can see the tabloids tomorrow. I’ll be accused of raping this bitch and she’ll only back down when the payoff is at six figures.
“You’re not paying attention to me!” she screamed. “I love you and you didn’t do anything to stop him!”
Hunter looked in horror at the woman’s breasts. Not only were they mottled with fist-sized patches of purple and yellow, he could see open wounds and scabs which could only have come from the embers of a lit cigarette. His stomach churned and bile began to rise in his throat.
“Listen, lady. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but let me get you some help. I’m going to call the front desk and ask them to send up a medic for you.”
“Stop!” She leaned over and fumbled underneath the white tablecloth on the rolling cart.
I wonder how she got that cart? Where's the real server?
She straightened up and pointed a gun at him. “Suicide pacts are romantic, don’t you think? I love you.”
Love will fucking kill you. Where did I hear that?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“…and Officer Brady told me there were no signs of foul play at all. Those students up at the university looked like they died in their sleep. Brady’s a regular here, just like Arnie over there. Right Arnie?” she asked the man wearing a grubby shirt with a patch above the pocket identifying him as Arnold.
“Right as rain, Suzy Q.” Arnie continued cramming fries into his mouth with one hand, while the other kept brushing away the dangling construction paper spider attached to a fake cobweb left over from Halloween.
“I’m telling ya, I never saw Brady shook up about anything, but he was shook up today. I told him they should test those kids for drugs. That’s what I think happened. All the kids up at the university use drugs. That’s a fact.”
Suzy poured the customer seated in front of her another cup of coffee as she wiped down the counter. “It’s a shame though. I heard all four of them planned on being actors.” She shook her head. “So sad. The poor parents.”
Despite the melancholy pronouncement, the green-eyed man observed her face was flushed with excitement. He raised the cup of steaming coffee to his lips. As he gently blew to cool the molten liquid, the corner of his mouth twitched in what might have been a smile.
Kat Nove is the author or co-author of
Kat Nove is the author or co-author of
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ENTER HALLOWEEN FUN GIVEAWAY HERE
ENTER HALLOWEEN FUN GIVEAWAY HERE