Free Short Story!
Halloween only comes around once a year, and the Justices do it right. They turn their house into a museum of torture, sectioning off each room with a velvet rope. The exhibits are so terrifying that the local amusement park asks them for their secret. It's quite simple, actually. And four lucky--or unlucky--fans get to find out what it is first hand.
Or read it here . . .
HOUSE OF JUSTICE
The house on Bruno Lane wasn’t quite big enough to be called a mansion, but it was still pretty big. And old. Unlike its neighbors, its front was finished with wooden planks, some of them blackened with moss, others splintered. If they’d been painted, the house might not have looked so bad. But then again, it wouldn’t have looked so scary either. And usually houses that looked this scary were haunted. So maybe that was why the Justices decided to turn it into a haunted house each Halloween.
When September turned into October the Justices freed up their schedules and began converting their first floor into the scariest place in Babylon. What people loved most about it were the rooms. Unlike a regular haunted house filled with decorations and actors who wore scary masks and jumped out at you, the Justices made their house look like a museum of torture. Each room acted as its own exhibit, and everyone was allowed to spend as much time as they wanted at each. All they were asked to do was stand behind the velvet ropes that blocked them off.
The exhibits were so terrifying that a nearby amusement park had tried to replicate them a few years back only to discover that they weren’t drawing any attention. To their surprise, their exhibits lacked something that the Justices’ didn’t. And they never got a chance to find out what it was, either, for the Justices changed their rooms every year, and they were only open to the public on Halloween.
The Justices were an odd family. Michael, the father, was a dentist. He was a tall, mustached man with eyes that were slightly crossed from staring into open mouths all day. He had converted the basement into his office, and his cheap rates brought him a steady flow of patients. His wife, Gabriella, found that tending to the house while her husband worked was boring and so decided to work, too. She turned the second floor into a beauty parlor and worked one-on-one with clients. She wasn’t much to look at herself, but she did have a nice pair of legs. Samuel, their twenty-seven-year-old son, worked as a butcher, while Ariel, their teenage daughter, helped out around the house. Out of all of them, Ariel was the only one with blonde hair.
It was rumored that Michael Justice opened his house to a select number of people each year before Halloween. Nobody knew how he chose them, and anyone who asked to be included was turned down. Yet their purpose was no mystery. Just as casinos had soft openings, the Justices’ haunted house had a prescreening, and anything that wasn’t scary enough or malfunctioning was said to be fixed.
Chris Gulia found himself to be one of those select few. After finishing his donut and licking the glaze off his fingers, he produced a card from his back pocket. He held it in front of his bulging stomach and read it again:
You are cordially invited to the Justices’ haunted house for a prescreening
Please arrive between 7 and 8 pm on October 26th
He crammed the card back into his pocket, climbed the seven stairs to the porch—sweating a bit and breathing heavily as he did so—and rang the bell. The chimes were something he would have expected to hear at a church: loud, like gongs, but somehow eerie and sinister. If he had not been so excited, the music they made might have sent a chill down his spine. When the knob turned, he held his breath. He thought about wiping his fingers on his jeans to make sure they didn’t have any glaze left on them, but before he could the door opened and he was greeted by the familiar face of the butcher.
“Welcome to the Justice residence,” said Samuel. “I’m glad you could come.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” said Chris, and waddled into the house. “I still can’t believe I’m here. People talk about the prescreening but nobody’s ever met anyone who’s been to one. I was beginning to think they were lying.”
Samuel smiled. “They weren’t. And of course I chose you—you’re my best customer. You buy more meat at my shop than anyone else in town.” And without giving Chris a chance to say anything more, he added, “Come, follow me.”
He walked by a bunch of rooms, two silver poles connected by a velvet rope in front of each. Chris looked into the ones he passed. After the third, he said, “Hey, I thought this was a prescreening. Where’re all the people that are supposed to be in the rooms?”
Samuel chuckled. It sounded like marbles clacking together. “Oh, that’s what the prescreening’s for.”
Before Chris could ask what that meant, Samuel spun around. He moved so fast that Chris couldn’t see what he hit him with.
When he woke, he found himself strapped to a table. He tried to wriggle free but his efforts were in vain. He couldn’t shout either—his mouth had been taped shut. All he could do was stare at the ceiling as thoughts of what might become of him scurried restlessly through his mind.
After lying helpless for what felt like a millennium, Samuel came into the room holding a shiny object in his hand. It didn’t take Chris long to realize what it was.
“I see that you’re up,” Samuel said, grinning. “What would you do if I told you that my family needed your help for our haunted house? Would you give it?”
Chris tried to scream something but his words were muffled.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Samuel said.
He raised his cleaver high, then dropped his arm. The cleaver disappeared from Chris’s sight. Suddenly there was a burst of pain where his index finger had been. Samuel picked up what he had chopped off and held it in front of Chris’s eyes, which nearly popped out of his head. The thing Samuel was holding looked more like a worm covered in ketchup than a finger. He peeled back the tape over Chris’s mouth and shoved the finger in. Before he could spit it out, Samuel clamped a hand over it.
“Now chew it up before you choke,” he instructed.
Chris tried to scream something again.
“Didn’t your mother tell you never to talk with your mouth full?”
Chris answered by screaming as the cleaver rose and fell, rose and fell.
The next day Nettie Van Gloria rang the Justices’ doorbell. She was tall and skinny with auburn hair, green eyes, and an exotic accent. Her figure turned quite a few heads and she knew it, too. She was Gabriella’s client and had been to the house a number of times, most recently to have her skin exfoliated and her hair lightened. As she listened to the chimes, she studied her face in the little mirror inside the compact she carried around. She spied an errant eyelash and plucked it free. She was debating on applying a quick layer of blush to her cheeks when the door opened.
“Nettie, welcome, I’m glad you could help us out,” Gabriella said. She wore a black dress and heels. Despite the additional two inches they awarded her, she still failed to achieve Nettie’s height.
Nettie walked right past her, running a bronzed hand through her hair. “Gabby, listen, do you think you have time to do my eyebrows after this thing? They’re starting to grow in.”
“Oh, I think we can do something about them,” Gabriella said, “but first the haunted house. Please.”
Nettie sighed. “This won't take too long, will it? I’m going out at nine.”
“Not long at all. Follow me.”
Gabriella led her past the rooms behind the velvet ropes. They were all dark.
“Say, what gives? Don’t tell me you haven’t even started yet.” Then a more distressing thought found its way past the weaves of Nettie’s extravagant hair and into her head: “Wait, you don’t want me to help you, do you?”
Gabriella laughed. “Why, that’s exactly what I want you to do!”
That was when Michael grabbed Nettie from behind. She squirmed and kicked, but he held her tight. He dragged her into a room and buckled her into a high-backed wooden chair. When he finished he asked his wife if she would need any more help.
“No, Mike, I think I can take it from here. Thank you.”
“Oh, Nettie, Nettie, Nettie,” Gabriella said, when Michael had left. She walked slowly around her client, studying her. “You really do require so much work.”
Nettie spit on her. “Let me go, you psycho!”
Gabriella wiped the spit away. “I think I can help you out. There’s a new procedure I’ve been working on, and you’re just in time for it.” She walked over to a counter and picked up a shiny metal bowl. She brought it over and began applying the contents to Nettie’s face and hair with a special applicator. The paste smelled horrible and stung Nettie’s nostrils. Then it started to burn. Nettie felt it begin to seep into her scalp and quite possibly a little further still.
Paul Socordi arrived at the house a day later than his invitation instructed. Just like the dentist appointment he’d been putting off for the past three years, he put off the prescreening. He thought he’d pass on it entirely and just check out the haunted house on Halloween, or quite possibly the year after if he got around to it, but then decided that since the cab would have to pass the Justices’ anyway, he might as well stop by.
He raised his hand to knock on the door but then dropped it. Even though the house looked old and creepy, these were modern times and houses today usually had a doorbell. He found it and summoned the chimes.
“Ah, Mr. Socordi,” Michael Justice said, opening the door. “It’s been a long time.”
Paul offered a smile, winced at the pain in his jaw, and stuck out his hand instead. “How are you, doctor?” he mumbled, feeling a bit embarrassed. “I’ve been meaning to make my next appointment but I haven’t been able to get around to it. You know how it is with work and all.”
Michael nodded as if he did indeed know. He invited Paul in. After taking his coat, he said, “To be honest, Mr. Socordi, I didn’t think you would show. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Thank you. And thank you for the invitation. I’ve heard a lot about your haunted house. It’s just a shame I haven’t been able to get around to seeing it before.”
“Not to worry, not to worry. Today you will make up for all those lost years. Follow me.” Michael led him past the darkened rooms, to a door, and down the staircase beyond. Paul looked at each stair as if they were an obstacle and sighed. When he finally reached the bottom he sighed again. He was in the dental office.
“Don’t look so put out, Mr. Socordi. You’re already here. Have a seat. I can easily tell that your mouth’s bothering you. Let’s take a quick look, shall we?”
Paul thought about making up an excuse, possibly something along the lines of I think I hear my wife calling, but then finally gave in. Like Dr. Justice had said, he was already here. Besides, all he had to do was sit back and relax while the dentist did his job.
He sat in the chair and closed his eyes as it reclined. When he was asked to open his mouth, Michael exclaimed, “Oh my! Mr. Socordi, you should have seen me months ago! It looks as if you have several abscessed teeth and . . . oh this looks bad: osteomyelitis.”
“What’s that?” Paul mumbled.
“An infection that’s spread to the jaw bone. You’ll have to get this taken care of right away.”
Paul mumbled something again. It sounded like: Right away?
“Just relax,” Michael instructed. “I know exactly what to do.” He grabbed what looked like an oxygen mask and put it over Paul’s face.
After three deep breaths, he was asleep.
When Halloween came, Gabriella Justice opened the doors to a cheering crowd. The line this year was longer than it had ever been before. It stretched all the way to the street and then doubled back on itself like a snake trying to fit inside a small box. Gabriella collected the money and let groups of seven go in at a time, handing each patron a special vomit bag as they walked by.
Brian Maverick was among the third group. He raised his sunglasses and smirked at the first exhibit—which wasn’t exactly all that scary to him—but had to pause at the second.
Behind the velvet ropes and a sheet of Plexiglas was a fat man strapped to a blood-soaked table, his bulging stomach splitting the seams of his shirt. His arms and legs were missing, and another man, this one holding a meat cleaver, stood over him like an executioner. He even wore the black hood. Except, instead of chopping off the fat man’s head, he hacked at what was left of the stumps of his limbs, causing jets of blood to splatter the Plexiglas. Some of the onlookers screamed. But they gasped at what happened next. The executioner picked up the flesh he had just sliced off and crammed it into the fat man’s mouth. Blood dribbled down the side of his face as the executioner forced him to chew and swallow. One of the onlookers vomited into the special bags.
That was a little too much for Brian. He walked over to the next exhibit, which had been decorated to look like a bedroom. In it was a beautiful woman shackled to a dresser, running a brush methodically through her long auburn hair. Her flawless skin shined as though it was made of wax, and her dark green eyes stared into the mirror as though she was hypnotized by her own reflection. Like the first, Brian didn’t think this exhibit was all that scary. He was just about to voice his opinion when one of the onlookers cringed. The beautiful woman’s hair came away in clumps. With each pass of the brush, more hair fell out. The horror didn’t stop there. While she continued to brush, she began rubbing her cheek as though to fix her makeup. At first nothing happened, but then, like butter, it started to melt. Slowly, a hole opened in the side of her face exposing her teeth and tongue, the latter’s pinkness standing out in stark contrast against the bronzed skin. And to make matters worse, the woman behaved as if she didn’t realize this was happening. She just continued her actions as though she hoped they would fix her imperfections.
The next three exhibits were like the first—cliché—something you’d find in any haunted house. Wooden props and mechanical dummies. The last was where the money was. A dentist’s chair had been moved from the basement and secured to the floor in the center of the room. A man lay strapped to it, his nails digging into the fabric of the armrests as he struggled to free himself. A strange metal contraption clamped to his face spread his lips and pulled them away from his gums, making his mouth look three times bigger than it should.
For the first time, Brian found himself wondering where the Justices got the volunteers for their rooms. He wouldn’t mind being an actor one year just to find out how they made some of the exhibits look so real. He was debating on going up to the woman at the front door and asking for a job when Michael Justice walked in wearing his smock. Brian nudged the teenager next to him and said, “Hey, kid, bet you five bucks he does something worse than just pull teeth.”
The kid eyed Brian. After a minute he said, “You’re on.”
Michael approached the chair and sat, pulling out instrument after instrument until he finally came upon a scalpel.
“Say, ahhhhhh!” he said and laughed maniacally, revealing a set of teeth as white as piano keys.
The man in the chair screamed. Before he could finish, Michael sliced open his gums and pulled out chunks of deteriorated bone that looked like flakes of wood scorched by fire.
“Pay me,” Brian said.
The teen sulkily slapped a five dollar bill into Brian’s hand and walked away.
A young blonde girl standing on the stairs watched this exchange. She studied Brian’s slicked back hair and the way he wore his sunglasses inside the house. When she was sure of her decision, she approached him.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Ariel Justice.”
Brian lifted his glasses, letting his eyes wander over her tight figure, her baby blue eyes, and her golden locks. He tried to say something but all that came out was air.
“I was wondering if you would like to put your name into a raffle,” Ariel continued, “maybe win a chance to design a room with us for next year.”
That cured him.
“A raffle? Sure, I’ll put my name in. How much is it?” He had pulled out his wallet to put away the teen’s five dollars but now he used it to pull out a few more bills. “How many tickets can I get?”
“The tickets are free and you can only have one. That way it’s fair for everyone.”
“Oh come on,” Brian teased. “How am I gonna win with those odds? Tell you what, I’ll slip you a twenty to stuff the ballot.”
Ariel smiled. “Well . . . you’re cute, so how’s this sound? Come with me and you can help me stuff it yourself.” Without giving him a chance to reply, she walked away. Over her shoulder she added: “Maybe I’ll let you stuff a little more if you’re lucky.”
Brian followed her into a back room, his heart fluttering like the wings of a butterfly as he watched her hips sway back and forth.
The next thing he knew she was pushing him back and grabbing his wrists.
He didn’t fight her. He liked kinky girls and let her press him against the wall.
That was when he felt something cold clamp onto his arms and his legs.
“We’ve been waiting for someone like you for a while now,” Ariel said, checking to make sure he was restrained. “You’d be amazed at how long this wheel’s been sitting here.” She pulled a lever and the giant roulette wheel Brian had been shackled to rotated so that it was parallel to the floor. She pulled another lever and it started to spin. Brian’s world went round and round. “Let’s see what type of room you’ll end up in.”
Finally the wheel stopped. There was no ball but Ariel didn’t seem to mind. She just called out the number Brian’s head pointed to.
Brian swallowed, hard. “What’s that mean?”
“Oh, that’s a good one,” Ariel said. “You’ll find out next year.”
Half an hour later, Ariel went up to her mother and whispered something into her ear. Gabriella responded by telling her to make a sign that said more rooms would be opening next Halloween. Ariel did as she was told. As she staked it into the ground out front, she couldn’t help but notice that one of the boys standing in line had pulled out a ringing cell phone. She was close enough to read the name on the screen: Emily <3. The boy looked at it, silenced it, and then quickly stuffed it back into his pocket. Then he grabbed the girl’s hand he was with. She sandwiched it between hers and leaned her head against the big red L on his team jacket. The boy leaned in to kiss the top of her head but stopped when he noticed Ariel watching him. He took one look at her figure and winked at her instead, his upper lip curling. Ariel winked back, knowing that she had put the sign out just in time.