“That’s low, Spence.”
“You’re the one that threatened a poor innocent animal and traumatized your sister over a piece of gum,” she defended.
“And you were the one worried that I liked Glen.”
Her eyes darken.
Oh, this game is so on…
And it’s my turn.
I purposefully wait until she is at the apex of another sip of hot chocolate before I lay my card on the table.
“Factory of Terror.”
She totally just snorted cocoa out of her nose.
And I totally just grinned.
Two years had progressed in a blur. We’d settled into a comfortable routine. But a lot changes in a year, let alone two, especially when you’re fifteen.
First and foremost, Spencer and I had changed physically. I hadn’t been sure if it was chance, some cosmic alignment of the planets, or maybe even a cosmic joke, but puberty had descended on both of us with a vengeance.
And at the very same time…
God, it was a nightmare.
In all honesty, I had been thankful not to have to go through it alone. I’d also lamented the timing because, well, there were a billion obvious reasons from embarrassment to cramps, but the worst part had been that we were both unreasonably bitchy with one another. However, we’d quickly learned that a carton of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie, a destroyed box of kleenex, fuzzy wuzzy pajamas, a shared green hoodie, scalp tickles, and an endless supply of Kevin Smith movies would pull us through most anything together and relatively intact.
That miserable seven day stint had been just the first domino to fall though. As it turned out, bleeding for seven days and surviving would give you things like breasts.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you ‘A cuppers’ out there hole yourselves up somewhere and start making shallow cuts. It doesn’t quite work like that. Besides, all you really need is a good handful. And all of you, sizes A to double Z, can relate with the fact that blossoming breasts hurt no matter the size. I had kind of felt like Gizmo when he got wet: all rolling around in pain, parts of my body bubbling until one day, pop – the minions had finally arrived.
Spencer’s were bigger than mine, but I had been pretty proud of how I filled out my clothes, and I had flaunted it a little – a lot – more than she did.
I’ve mentioned that I was an attention whore, right?
Okay, just checking.
We’d also acquired curves in our hips and thighs, and a soft little bump had begun to ever-so-slightly protrude on our lower bellies. At first, I’d been pretty upset about the stomach bump, but then I’d realized that it would look pretty ridiculous to have a super flat stomach with all of the other select parts filling out. My body become rounder, softer, and more feminine. I not only grew to be okay with it, but to like it, especially on Spencer.
That was something else that had changed, at least for me: I wasn’t just seeing the changes in Spencer’s body, but I had begun to like, really notice them. I found that I enjoyed just looking at her and hugging her and smelling her. That wasn’t all that new really, but it hadn’t affected me the same as before. Then, I’d just been desperate for contact. It had filled the voids inside and helped me to feel wanted. But now, it was as if she’d filled the inside up so completely that it was spilling over to my outsides and leaving them achingly wanting.
I had begun to notice how fabric clung to her in certain places, and found myself looking when a move would expose some innocuous expanse of smooth skin. I’d also found that she made me more nervous than she’d used to, but in an addictive sort of way, like a cliché moth to an open flame. But for all that had been changing, some things stayed exactly the same. Most people are masochistic adrenaline junkies and enjoy a good scare. Now, I’d never known Spencer to turn down candy, but, as you know, she didn’t like scary things at all. So when Halloween rolled around, she was happy to sit at home watching movies with a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
And that just wasn’t going to change.
Of course, I was the exact opposite. I not only wanted to dress up, I wanted to look utterly disgusting and scare small children. The more gore, the better: that was my motto.
And that was never going to change either.
So what were two best friends to do when they were at such an important impasse?
Compromise, of course.
We’d figured this problem out rather quickly when we were younger, and so we’d agreed to alternate years. One Halloween would be my choice and the next would be hers. Of course, my Halloweens had been spent reveling in devilish delight and mayhem – as it should be – and Spencer’s had been spent vegging out on the couch watching the cutesiest, sappiest movies in the human collective.
Either way, it had been torture for one of us.
Well this was my year, and we wouldn’t be dressing up. Oh no, not us. That was for pussies and children. This year, Mr. C would be driving us down to Canton to the Factory of Terror. It was the largest haunted house in the world, and it was only about an hour away.
I had been preparing for this for years. All of those nights spent staying up late in front of my television watching cannibals, sociopaths, and mutated beasts rip through their victims had given me all of the education that I would need.
I would finally test my mettle, and I was ready.
Bring on the psychos…
When I’d first informed Spencer, she’d flat out refused, but I now had the ammunition of friends, and they were on my side. She was outnumbered. Everyone she knew was going: Clay and Chelsea, Glen and Madison – gag, Aiden, and, of course, me. And if she didn’t come, not only would she be labeled a monumental wuss for the rest of her life, but she’d break our agreement and have to spend the night with her mom or Christine and a brooding Kyla.
That just wouldn’t do.
She was trapped, and she knew it.
So, she came along. She had no other choice.
I was already pumped and anxious and ready to face my destiny before the eight of us crammed into Christine’s suburban – she was kind enough to loan it so that we could all ride together. But when we pulled up at the gate and I saw that huge Factory of Terror archway, I thought that I might pass out. Spencer was considering it as well. She was hyperventilating and hadn’t released my hand for the last half hour. I got the sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t for the rest of the night.
This was perfectly fine by me.
Better than fine…
Like, almost better than the horror house fine…
The six of us left Mr. C in the van with a thermos of amazing chocolately goodness, and we placed ourselves in the long line to wait with anticipation. This murderous playland was supposed to take more than an hour to get through.
I wanted to laugh maniacally, and if it wouldn’t have gotten me arrested, I’d have been wielding a machete. But, while I did enjoy torturing Spencer, I wasn’t a complete asshole. Instead, I just looped her arm through mine and held it tight. She looked over at me, nervousness pouring out of her as a cold sweat, and I felt something pang in my chest.
Maybe torturing her wasn’t as fun anymore…
But, I still smiled reassuringly at those frightened eyes and made her a solemn promise: “I won’t leave your side, not once.”
Oh the implications that I wasn’t even aware of…
She nodded, bouncing a little in the chilly November air, but relaxing some all the same.
“This is going to be a joke,” Glen postured, puffing out his chest for Madison’s benefit, I was sure.
Aiden scoffed. “For me maybe, but you…” Aiden looked Glen up and down. “I bet you twenty bucks that you’ll be screaming like a girl before the night’s out.”
“Hey,” Spencer was indignant.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
There was nothing wrong with being a girl…
They ignored us.
Glen scoffed and held out his hand to seal the deal. “You’re on.”
Madison began to flirt and kiss Glen shamelessly, swiftly bringing his attention back to her, while the rest of us tried to keep our dinner down and eyes elsewhere. That was okay though, because I could look at Spencer for hours.
She was wearing dark, tightly fitted jeans with brown, mid-calf boots made of a soft sued and a fur liner. The baby blue of her thin sweater offset the color of her eyes stunningly, while a thick, fur-lined vest kept her warm. Her long hair was styled in loose waves that rolled over her slender shoulders, and everything about her made me feel like I was resting beside a gentle fire.
My look was a little more severe: rocker but still feminine. I opted for black, skinny jeans, leather boots, an off the shoulder blouse, and a short-cut leather jacket.
Spencer found me looking at her, and I noticed an attractive blush creep up to her cheeks. I looked away and smiled, though I wasn’t even sure why.
It didn’t take too long to get to the front of the line. They were sending in groups of around ten with a five minute pause between each.
I laughed when I saw the sign by the door that read, “We’re out of adult diapers. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
This made Spencer more nervous if possible, but the rest of us thought that it was hilarious. I somehow managed to force her to pose next to it for an infamous picture that would forever be one of my favorites.
“Too bad for you,” Aiden said to Glen pointing at the sign.
Glen shrugged. “They would have been too tight in the junk anyway. I need quite a bit of room…”
“Ugh, Glen…,” Spencer lamented with a shove at his back.
“Besides, nothing’s bigger than your ego,” Clay added.
Everyone laughed and Glen made a show of grabbing his zipper. “I can prove it…”
“NO,” everyone chorused, even some strangers in the back.
“Okay, next group,” the attendant called out.
There was a collective sigh of relief at the interruption. And oh man, I was going to explode. I pulled Spencer to the very front with me and bounced with anticipation.
This was it, my manifest destiny…
The teen counted us off and then called out for three more from the back of the line, but everyone was in groups of five or more.
“Cool, just us,” I said, beaming a grin at Spencer.
She tried to smile for my benefit, but it came out as a grimace.
I chuckled but she must not have been amused because I felt something dig into my rib. The attendant then took the tickets that Mr. C had purchased for us at the gate, and finally moved out of the way so that we could go in. We found ourselves in a cramped, dark room. Spencer’s grip tightened so much that her nails were digging into my arm, and I rubbed my free hand over hers to loosen her up a bit.
It wasn’t enough to return circulation, so I leaned in close to whisper, “Remember, I’m with you.”
I felt her nod in the dark space, my arm tingled with relief, and that’s when an ungodly tall and wispy form appeared from nowhere in a shredded, black cloak. His face was totally obscured by his deep hood and he carried a large, sharp-looking scythe. The make-up was great. In the dark light, his hand looked like it was entirely bone.
His voice was deep, gravelly, and otherworldly. “Ah, new souls, fresh from the mortal coil.”
He paused to bow deeply. “Welcome to your fate. My name is Azreal, but you may know me as death, and I am here to welcome you. It may take some time, but I hope that you’ll find your new home… comfortable.”
He then laughed darkly and stepped aside, flourishing his hand back toward the door that seemed to appear out of nowhere, just like him.
“After you,” he said and I felt a thrill run down my spine.
“I can’t do this,” Spencer whispered.
And to be honest, I was beginning to wonder if I even could.
But there was no time for that now. We were here and there was no turning back. Besides, she was stronger than her fears. I pried my arm from her grip and draped it over her shoulders, tucking her snugly into my side. I felt her arms tighten around my waist.
“You can do this,” I disagreed.
She blew out a breath.
“Ready,” I asked.
“As I’m gonna be…”
I smiled, letting my nose linger a little near her temple before pushing open the large door. It creaked ominously and Azreal laughed maniacally behind us. That was all the incentive that I needed to step through and take Spencer with me.
This area was deathly quiet but for random screams in the distance, no doubt other souls that Azreal had claimed. We were in a long, narrow hallway, and as we walked, random scenes began to pop up in little rooms on each side. One man was being eaten alive, another sawed in half, some were just twisted tableaus of grisly deaths, and others were just crazies rattling in their cages. To be honest, it was a little bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, the artistry and the acting was awesome. Some of it looked truly real, and while that was disturbing, the fact that I knew in my rational mind that it wasn’t, sort of ruined it.
I wanted a real thrill that wouldn’t actually get me killed, and it felt sort of safe in our little hallway where the nasty stuff was securely locked away from us. We got through the area rather easily, and Spencer had relaxed quite a bit.
That was unexpected.
I looked over to find that her eyes were shut tightly and laughed.
She pinched my side in response.
Hey, whatever helps her sleep at night…
Personally, I had to resign myself to just enjoy it for what it was: macabre shenanigans, and ultimately, Spencer cuddling.
I was just too hardcore to be fazed.
As we approached the end of the macabre scenes, I whispered to Spencer, “You can open your eyes now.”
She peeked one eye open and exhaled sharply.
“This is lame,” Glen said in a bored tone.
“Yeah, I thought this place was supposed to be the best in the whole World, Ashley,” Madison agreed in a snotty tone.
I glanced back at her. “I said biggest, not best. That would be Universal Orlando’s Fright Night.”
Spencer grinned sweetly at her. “But feel free to leave at any time.”
I squeezed her a bit in reflex. She made me so proud sometimes.
Madison scowled, as if affronted that Spencer had even dared to address her. “I don’t remember asking you.”
I gestured to the miniskirt that was barely covering her nether regions. “You seem to forget a lot of things, like underwear.”
Everyone snickered – well, all but Glen.
“Really,” he asked excitedly, bending to get a good look.
Madison smacked him hard in the chest before grabbing his hand and pulling him past us.
“Let’s move ahead of the riff-raff,” she said.
“Good riddance,” I murmured.
With a round of snickers, the remainder of our group continued forward, and that’s when things started to go downhill. A bend in the hallway led us into another hallway that was washed in a blood-red light, and the rooms along the walls were replaced with large industrial pipes. It sort of reminded me of Freddy’s boiler room. It was even uncomfortably warm, and I’d swear that I could hear scraping sounds.
We progressed forward without care, the last area having lulled us into a comfortable sense of false security. Fog slowly started to fill the space and small spatters of blood began to appear in random patterns. The corridor seemed to go on forever, and to be honest, absolutely nothing was happening.
The scraping got louder, shriller even – it actually kind of hurt my ears – and where before it was in front of us, I’d swear that it was now behind us.
“Ash, what is that,” Spencer whimpered, her hand fisting the shirt at my waist in a white knuckle grip.
Just as I was about to tell her that I wasn’t sure, Aiden decided to be a douche. “BOO,” he shouted while jabbing Spencer in her side.
Her resulting jump made me jump – hell, it even made Clay and Chelsea, some four feet away, jump – and we all whirled on him angrily.
“You’re so easy, Spence,” he laughed.
I was about to kick his ass, but then I saw it: there, behind us, was none other than Freddy himself, his melted face screwed up in a twisted smile and his razor-sharp claws wiggling in a mocking wave. I took a deep breath. I was better than this. That wasn’t Freddy and this actor couldn’t hurt us.
It was still creepy though. I mean, how long had he been following us?
Everyone else turned, and Freddy moved forward slowly, grating his claws against the pipes in a sound that rivaled nails on a chalkboard.
He cocked his head and looked right at Spencer. “Hey, Spence, let’s trip out!”
I would have laughed. I mean, that scene in the movie always cracked me up, but how did he know her name? And then, he lunged forward, an insane cackle escaping his mouth as he came barreling towards us.
Clay grabbed Chelsea’s hand, a sharply murmured, “Oh, hell no,” reaching my ears as they shoved past us.
Aiden, now closest to Freddy, yelled, tripped, and fell flat on his face. Freddy wasn’t fazed. He jumped right over Aiden and came straight for me and Spencer. I fumbled to get ahold of her so that she wouldn’t get left behind, but my hands found nothing but air.
She was already long gone.
I looked to Aiden’s frightened eyes, debating with myself for about a split second. “Sorry, Aiden,” I shouted as I turned and ran like a bitch.
“ASHLEY,” he called after me, but I was undeterred.
Freddy was giving chase, his laugh and shrieking claws having forced the rational mind right out of me. The corridor just kept going and going and going, the fog getting chokingly thick, and I kept running, occasionally checking over my shoulder with supreme paranoia. He was hot on my heels, laughing and insane, and it sort of pissed me off. I thought that I might actually die because I couldn’t catch my breath, or see very well, and he was just so damn fast.
I checked him again, shouting at him angrily, “Get a life, fucker!”
I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going when I burst through several small strips of plastic and found myself screaming and flailing my hands to get them off of me. When I finally realized what they were, I felt embarrassed and checked my surroundings to make sure that no one had seen me.
I was alone, thank God, but I was in a poorly lit maze of blood spattered sheets.
I checked behind me again to be sure that Freddy was gone, and put my hands on my knees to catch my breath while I attempted to locate that AWOL rational mind hiding in my skull. This wasn’t exactly going as planned. I mean, I’d already lost Spencer.
“Spence…,” I breathed out worriedly.
There was no one here, and no sound but my heavy breathing and racing heart.
“Spencer…,” I tried a little louder, nervously pushing forward.
There was nothing.
Where had they all gone?
I looked back one last time, hoping to see Aiden, but it was too late, Freddy had his soul. I turned, swallowed, and refused to be frightened any further.
Horror was my domain.
With head held high, I pushed forward through the maze, alert and wary, but confident.
“Spencer,” I tried again.
My head snapped to the right. I could have sworn that I saw…
That was probably the worst part, the waiting…
I started forward again, but only got about five paces.
“Spencer,” a high pitched voice called mockingly.
I stopped, a drop of cold sweat tickling at my temple.
Whatever it was, it was close…
“Spencer,” it said again, this time followed by a laugh that reminded me of Krusty the Klown.
I closed my eyes.
I hated clowns.
It laughed again and my eyes snapped open, turning again to the sheet at my right. The demented clown came bursting through the sheet and I yelped, stumbling back into yet another sheet which caused more flailing and embarrassment.
But this time, someone had seen.
Glen and Madison laughed and high-fived each other.
At least it truly was a demented clown…
Two of them in fact.
“You should have seen your face, Ash!”
The two of them chortled but my indignation scattered on the wind, because silhouetted on the sheet behind them was the unmistakable form of a clown.
Glen laughed harder, pointing at my face. “Yeah, just like that…”
I watched the clown silhouette lift a giant knife in the air over his head. At first, I was panicked, and I was about to say something, but then that rational mind finally kicked in. And then turned sadistic.
They were still laughing, so instead, I pulled out my cell phone and quickly set it to record. They regained their calm when they noticed this and stared at me confusedly.
“Ash, what are you-“
That’s about the time that the knife tore through the sheet and a killer clown came spilling out in a rage of insane giggles. I enjoyed the sound of Glen’s girlish scream, forever captured on my phone, and watched in amusement as they took off again, the clown hot on their heels.
It was about this time that Aiden came rushing up from behind. I was on the defensive and nearly clocked him one before recognizing him.
His eyes were slightly crazed as he said, “I-I heard screams…”
I rolled my eyes, carefully stowed my phone, and grabbed his arm. “Come on. We need to find Spencer.”
He gulped and nodded, but stayed with me as I continued onward. We got through most of the maze unscathed, and I could only assume that it was because the clown had been preoccupied.
I hoped that Glen pissed himself.
I supposed that it was true that when the zombie apocalypse happens, you only need to be faster than your fastest friend.
Eventually the sheets dissipated and the walls became solid again, but the lighting began to grow darker and darker until it was completely pitch. I couldn’t even see an inch in front of my face. I kept moving though, using my hands to guide me. The further that I went, the more that I felt as if the walls were closing in on me. The space narrowed and narrowed until I was almost completely bent over and the walls were only an arms span apart. This went on for a while and I thought that maybe I was going the wrong way, when suddenly the space opened up. I could stand, but I still couldn’t see a thing. Aiden was still behind me. I could tell by the death grip he had on the back of my jacket.
I wasn’t sure what to do, or what was lurking in this room, but I could hear breathing and whimpering, and it wasn’t just me and Aiden. I was too afraid to speak, lest it belong to something trying to kill me. So, carefully and quietly, I found the wall to my right and continued to use my fingers to guide us slowly.
My foot bumped into something solid but soft, and it screamed – or all of them screamed, I wasn’t sure, because something had just nailed me hard right in the face. I staggered back onto Aiden and we went tumbling to the floor. My eyes were watering, my nose was stinging, and my mind was reeling.
“FUCK,” I shouted.
Her voice was small and her timbre terrified, but I’d still know it anywhere. Before I could respond, the sound of a chainsaw filled the air and a maniac burst through a door, strobing light spilling in around his massive form. I rolled to sit up and locked eyes with Spencer. She, Clay, and Chelsea were huddled and cowering on the floor next to me. I scrambled to my feet as the madman rushed us, and hauled Spencer up. Clay grabbed Chelsea, who grabbed Aiden, who accidently yanked on my hair, and like a train of linked sausages, we hightailed it through the door just narrowly avoiding the chainsaw that swiped at us.
From there, if you can believe it, things only got worse.
The area we’d entered was filled with cages and chains, and ungodly demons tried to grab us from within as we hurried forward.
The scene kept morphing into equally horrendous scenarios: asylum patients ambled around us, demented hillbillies laughed and swung axes at our heads, corpses were nailed to the walls and hanging from the ceiling, and pits of body parts and sharpened spikes were narrowly avoided.
Pinhead hung a girl on his gallows, and endless scenes of pain and torture filled every corner, even the very air, with insanity.
And all the while, chainsaw man kept coming.
It seemed like it would never end. I could barely breathe and I was beginning to wonder what I’d been thinking, but there was no way that we could slow down.
We were all screaming so much that I was certain we would be hoarse later. Finally we came to a dead end where we found Glen and Madison huddled together in trauma. There was no way out but for a small hole in the wall, and there no way any one of us was going to look in there, especially not me.
No way, no how.
We turned to see the madmen pressing forward and forcing our backs to the wall. Closer and closer they came, and just as they were about to descend on us, a hidden door burst open to our left revealing the outside, the end, freedom, life…
Of course, that’s when a giant fucking dragon-snake thing came screaming out of the hole behind us and something inside of me just snapped.
I’d had it and I was pissed.
I swung at the thing, cursing and hitting it in its stupid, plastic mouth, and it took the combined efforts of both Aiden and Clay to drag me through the door. The cool air iced the sweat on my skin and I pulled away from them roughly.
Adrenaline was coursing through me with nowhere to go, but it was over.
Holy hell, I was never doing that again.
I didn’t want anyone else to know how terrified I was though, so I readjusted my jacket, and tried to adopt an air of casual indifference. When I looked up, I realized that everyone was staring at me.
They didn’t move, they just gawped like fish on a shore.
Great, they were going to tease me for being frightened.
My shoulders slumped.
“Oh my God,” Spencer said breathlessly.
“I’m sorry, I was just… fed up,” I said, trying to play it off.
It didn’t work.
“It was just a stupid, plastic snake…,” I tried again.
I mean, sheesh. Come on, guys…
Still no change. Well, Madison was chuckling.
“Glen screamed like a girl,” I said on impulse, hoping to drop some of the negative attention.
That wiped the smile from Madison’s face, and Glen glared at me. I instantly felt better. That is, until Spencer started to cry. She covered her mouth with her hands as fat tears rolled down her cheeks, and I felt like a piece of shit.
“Did you guys have fun,” Mr. C asked brightly as he approached, at least until he saw Spencer. He came rushing up to her and took her in his arms before turning to Glen with accusing eyes.
“What happened,” he asked sharply.
Glen got offended. “Why do you automatically assume that I had anything to do with it?”
After a few moments, Glen just sighed and nodded. “Fine, it’s normally my fault, but I didn’t do it this time. I swear.”
Then he pointed at me.
I glared at him.
Mr. C took one look at me, released Spencer, and suddenly I was the focus of his worry.
He took my arms and crouched in front of me. “God, Ashley, are you okay?”
I eyed him, completely confused.
“Yeah…,” I said, the word somehow three syllables.
What was wrong with everyone?
Madison rolled her eyes, walked up to me, and casually retrieved a compact from her purse. She smiled when she opened it and I finally understood what all of the fuss was about.
My face was dripping with blood.
I mean, I looked like one of the actors.
And that’s when I finally remembered that I’d been hit in the face, but I’d been so panicked that I’d totally forgotten. I looked over at Spencer who was still crying and it finally made sense. She’d hit me. No, she’d straight up decked me, on purpose, in the face…
Because she thought that I was a villain.
I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t hurt her like that.
“Spence, it’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to.”
She swiped at her eyes but she wouldn’t look at me.
“Okay,” Mr. C said, “We need to get to a hospital.”
No one moved so he clapped his hands loudly.
Everyone started to follow him and I approached Spencer. She still wouldn’t look at me.
“Spence, it doesn’t even hurt,” I tried to console.
She sniffled and I smiled. It sent a sharp twinge through my face, but I didn’t let on. I just put my arm around her shoulders. I felt her hand secure around my waist, and all pain was forgotten.
We followed the group and I watched with amusement as Aiden turned down the twenty dollar bill that Glen was holding out to him.
“Keep it, man,” he said. “In there, everyone’s a frightened little girl.”