JOHN JASPER OWENS
The virgin, the slut, and the brain are all best friends—why is that? Wouldn’t you think they’d flock with their own kind? The jock, the leader, and the nerd are best friends as well.
The new family (with the new kid) can always find a suspiciously good deal on the Victorian with the wraparound and the eyelet attic windows, alone on the hill. The realtors try to show it in the early morning, when the walls are less likely to bleed. Horrortown is a hard sell for parents, as school’s always out, or getting out soon, minors have no trouble finding alcohol, Halloween is once a month, and it’s twilight two-thirds of the day. On the upside, parents are rarely killed.
Things To See In Horrortown: the abandoned insane asylum, the abandoned summer camp, the abandoned mansion (sold), the abandoned circus, the abandoned stables, the abandoned hospital, the abandoned castle. This message brought to you by the Chamber (of Commerce).
The graveyard here looks abandoned, with many tombstones a-kilter, but it actually receives a surprising amount of foot traffic. It is never locked, features cold iron gates with gothic spires, continual ground fog, and a limping caretaker somewhere deep inside. The realtors wish they could sell it. The busiest store in Horrortown is Frank’s Butcher Knives, Chains, and Masks. Open 24/7! We Deliver! Look for their ad in the Sunday circular. Horrortown gives the illusion of containing a great many cats, but there are really only a few, greatly adept at hiding, leaping out with a yowl at inopportune moments, or whenever a teenage girl says, “What was that?” “It’s just a cat,” says the boy, pulling the girl closer into his letterman’s jacket. It’s been voiced that the cats and the boys are in cahoots.
Dogs bark savagely at nothing in Horrortown, then slink away.
The virgin says, “No.” The brain asks, “Why?” The slut implies “yes” through her talk, actions and dress, although it will be late in the evening before anyone sees her breasts. Parents are conspicuous by their absences, locked sensibly at home (they didn’t get to be that age by accident) waiting for the phone call that lies: “I’m staying at Mary’s house tonight.” The new kid, upstairs in the Victorian, is the first to notice something strange. From his window he sees a shuffling figure, one arm dipped low, moonlight glinting on a plastic mask. The man(?) moves off, headed toward the sound of hip-hop, the smell of beer.
Never be in a group when you could be off in a pair. Never be in a pair when you could be alone, waving a piddly flashlight in a wide, low attic crowded with dressmaker’s dummies, saying “What was that?” just before the cat leaps out. At this point, remember, do not relax. This is the most dangerous part of the evening, when someone/something is certainly still lurking, just out of sight. To your left.
The slut is lucky in a way, as her last memory on earth is the jock on top of her, the happy sound of slapping flesh. The jock is less lucky, as he misses out on telling his friends about screwing the slut behind the weeping seraphim vault, where they stopped their quite sensible shortcut through the graveyard on the way to get help.
Nights last a long time in Horrortown. Phone lines seem to slice themselves, and the power for a whole house is cut with one flick inside a fuse box. The cops are somewhere else, and anyway, she isn’t missing until she’s gone 24/48/72 hours (depending on your surety that she wouldn’t just vanish).
You know how kids are.
Cell phone reception is intermittent at best—crows build elaborate nests in the towers.
The eyelet windows in the mansion glow red.
You’d think the combination of the brain and the nerd would be too much intellect for whatever-it-is to handle, but that’s not the case. The nerd gets it right in the pocket protector with a corkscrew (symbolism) and is hung (symbolism) on the bedroom door (symbolism) for the brain to discover when she comes out of the bathroom. They were about to have sex (symbolism), and as she screams, her throat is slashed from behind. Blood sprays her glasses (symbolism), and she falls to the soaked and tacky carpet, just one more corpse in sensible shoes. The lesson here is Don’t Be Too Smart For Your Own Good. It’s also a review of the previous lesson Never Have Sex, both of which are correlations for Stay In The Pack. Horrortown is forced to educate its young in unconventional ways, since school is so rarely in session.
The new kid dresses quietly and moves out into the hall. The house around him is still only in the manner of a sleeping tiger. His bedroom door, untouched, closes behind him.
Another popular shop in Horrortown is Simon’s Crosses, Silver Bullets, and Lamps Conveniently Within Reach When You’re Being Strangled That Never Snag On The Extension Cord And Are Guaranteed To Shatter Dramatically Against The Head Of Your Attacker. This shop is closed at night. The virgin and the leader rush past its plate glass window, holding hands, glancing over their shoulders. Her flats clop on the pavement; she’s gasping; he’s all but dragging her now. They stop, alone on the street. The lamps paint their shadows on the brick. “I think we’re safe,” he says, “nothing could survive that.” And, quite sensibly, they duck into a deserted alley to discuss it. The virgin’s pretty dress is slashed with other people’s blood, and she’s crying. Her best friends are dead. The leader holds her. Attempts to comfort her. Attempts to kiss her. The virgin says, “What was that?”
A shadow moves behind the eyelet windows in the Victorian’s attic. It’s the new kid. He’s discovered a photo album, long believed lost: the sins of the town pressed in yellow newsprint. It’s quite a collection. A retarded man dropped in a well, a witch run out of town, a little girl—ugh, he can’t even read that one. The full moon attacks of ‘43, the blood-drained victims of ‘81, the morning of February 23rd, 1992 when the graveyard was discovered empty, the graves burst open from within. Hundreds of footprints that headed north until they faded to untrackable shadows near the county line. Closer to today, he finds the picture he was hoping for—a man(?) with one arm slung low. He ignores the creaks from downstairs. He does not think, “What was that?” because it’s probably the cat.
The shuffling figure, one arm dipped low, moonlight glinting on a plastic mask, can survive an amazing amount of damage. He’s been shot, stabbed, electrocuted, dropped from a great height (twice), struck by a cement mixer, shoved into a shark tank—he hung for a few moments by the virgin’s hair until she (symbolism) cut through it and sent him down—immolated, struck by a different cement mixer, and left for dead more times than he(?) can remember. Being left for dead is great—it gives you time to regroup. There is a city ordinance mandating “Left For Dead” in Horrortown.
The virgin shows a fair amount of indestructibility herself. She’s been punched, slashed, tossed down stairs, caught in a garrote (thank you, lamp from Simon’s!), struck by a bat with enough force to break a lineman’s elbow, and has even also been dropped from a great height. The man(?) is confused. He’s like a Grandmaster stymied by a prodigy. The leader is much easier, sacrificing himself so the virgin can make it over a chain link fence. It is a rousing display of leadership, and the man(?) slams into him so hard that, as the virgin drops to the ground, she is sprayed with diamond-carved chunks of the leader’s body. His disembodied lips fall on her breasts and she pushes them away, chaste to the end.
The new kid sees the bigger picture, the arc, as he rides his bike through the streets, stopping at each intersection to listen for a scream, alone but for the hidden cats.
Well, that’s it, thinks the virgin. I’m done. She certainly is trapped, near unconsciousness, slumped in the back of a closet, blood in her hair, missing a shoe, butt on the floor with her legs, for once in her life, splayed. The man(?) raises the golf club—time for a pithy remark if the mask didn’t cover his mouth—and no one is more surprised than the virgin, not even the man(?), when his arm flies off his body and the new kid steps forward with an ax. As the man(?) spins, blood paints the cramped space, and he loses his other arm, all vorpal-blade-like, as the ax goes up and down, up and down. The virgin is beyond screaming, each inhalation bringing in with it a mist of blood. The new kid starts on the man(?)’s knees. “He has to be dismembered,” he says. There’s a folded yellow news page tucked in the kid’s jeans.
The teenagers stumble through the streets, covered in blood (symbolism) until they reach the hill, atop which is the house with the glowing eyelet windows in the attic. The new kid holds the virgin’s hand in his right; in his left he carries a backpack pulled down by a spherical weight. He drops it on the porch. The front door opens, untouched, and the teenagers enter. The door closes behind them. A cat rockets out of the bushes, and if you, at that moment, pressed your ear against the rusty-stained backpack, you would hear a papery voice ask, “What was that?”
John Jasper Owens has two new stories in ISSUE 3 of A cappella Zoo. He lives in the South, and was not named after the painter, although thank you for your concern. When not fending off satire groupies, he shamelessly attempts to raise enough money to get married by offering unpublished fiction and humor at low, low prices.