Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
Henry Genflen, who was referred to as Henry Phlegm by the majority of his classmates, pushed his broomstick down the deserted runway of Fester’s Funworld and Adventures. Autumn wind licked at his pre-balding head in hungry laps. Scraps of funnel cake paper and soda cups crumpled under the oncoming plow of his stick. The rundown amusement park saddled itself on the hip of the Pacific ocean, and Henry could taste the salt swirling about the air. It left a residue on his tongue like acidic snowflakes.
As he swept, he thought: Maybe she could love me.
The “she” in question was Miranda Skychant, the most beautiful creature to have ever crested these shorelines. Her hair was the golden color of honey against cream, a white bowtie puffed on the top of her head on most occasions. If one leaned close enough to her (as Henry often did, sitting behind her in senior literature class) the smell of a July thunderstorm radiated from her pores. Once, she had looked directly at Henry while passing back an assignment their teacher had shuffled out. Her eyes were twin chips of blue ice that had frozen him in his chair. Frozen starlights were the words he had scribbled up and down his assignment in a frenzy, his heart beating faster than it ever had before. He hadn’t a clue what his actual homework was when leaving class that day.
Henry continued pushing his broomstick up the main boardwalk of the park; the echoes his sweeping made talked back to him in snake speech: shhh, shhh, shhh. During its peak, Fester’s Funworld and Adventure could be filled with up to three hundred patrons. Most of them were families that stuffed the kids in the minivan and dumped themselves upon the park. Dressed in his khaki uniform, Henry would bounce up and down the park sweeping away the vomit and
garbage that humans seemed to frequently spill. Vividly, Henry can recall having to clean up an especially steamy pile of puke that had been a vibrant shade of bubblegum pink. Floating in the midst of the mess was the paper sleeve of a snow cone. It was as if someone had eaten their frozen treat in one entire chomp. Were people that close to animals then, nothing more than flashing teeth that chewed and spit?
As Henry made his way towards the ferris wheel that sat on the edge of the boardwalk like an old watermill, he thought the answer to that question was closer to the affirmative than not. He swept, and as he did so, a foot sized rat wiggled its way out from under one of the carnival stands. It sat only a bit away from him, its whiskers shifting in the clutching hands of fall. For a moment, Henry felt as if the rat was telling him something. Suddenly, it scattered back down the way Henry had come from. It left brown pellets like popcorn kernels against the wooden floorboards. Henry swept those up, too.
The difference with humans, he realized, was that most of them had no idea what it meant to live in the dust, feeling the boot prints of those around you crush your spine on a daily basis. Unlike animals, humans used phrases like, “Snot you later, Henry Phlegm,” or “Phlegm-bag-Henry,” or “Phlegm boy,” or–
Henry realized he had come against the railing of the ferris wheel. His broomstick whacked the metal bars with every insult his mind coughed up to him. Feeling a little like a man coming out of a dream, Henry let the broomstick fall from his hands. Its spine made a feeble kick in the air when it landed. Above him, seagulls screeched in voices almost recognizable. He knew in his heart Miranda Skychant would never love him. Hell, she would probably never even know his first and last name (at least, not his actual last name). This thought of her indifference, one that has tried to plant itself many times in his brain, was yanked from the soil of his mind like a weed. He knew she could love him, he just needed to remember the frozen stars of her eyes that day she handed him their homework; remember the way the corners of her mouth had tilted upward; the outline of her breasts beneath her silk blouse.
Henry stood in a pile of human garbage, his mouth open as his fantasy draped around him like a magician’s cloak. Blood rushed down to a place that only his hand had ever explored before.
Henry whipped his head around towards the opposite side of the boardwalk. At first, he couldn’t identify what had made the sudden noise. Perhaps it had only been a wave slapping against one of the support beams down below; just as Henry was forgetting the noise even happened, his eyes fell on the splintered doorway. It was, he realized, the entrance to the attraction called Mystic Mirrors: Find Your Mystique! A ten foot Egyptian princess stoically stood on the roof of the building. Her gaze seemed to follow you around like that painting Henry had learned about in his cultural arts class last year.
The broomstick forgotten, Henry trudged his way towards the attraction. For reasons not known to him, Mystic Mirrors had been boarded up during the season. No explanation had been given, not even a heads up from his manager Steve about the matter; one day, the front had had a sheet of plywood covering its mouth.
Should he go and find Steve now?
Just thinking about his boss made Henry’s flesh feel like skeletal knuckles were rubbing up and down it. It was the feeling one has when being surveyed by the doctor. You know the doctor has something to say that, in all honesty, you don’t really want to know in the first place. That’s how Steve made Henry feel–as if he, Henry, had a secret wrapped inside of him. Some great, terrible secret that Steve could see and would soon tell others about.
No, Henry would not go to his boss quite yet. Why put this on his plate when all that really happened was a board came loose? No sweat. Henry would put the board next to the entrance and go find a hammer to put things right. With this in mind, Henry did pick up the fallen board and rested it next to the entrance. He did not go looking for a hammer, though.
Instead, Henry poked his head into the dark cavern of the entrance. He had never been in this attraction before. There was a smell to the place that he didn’t recognize; he chalked it up to wet leaves left somewhere to rot.
“Hello?” he whispered inside the entrance. Henry wasn’t what his teachers would have called a bright and attentive student. At his best, Henry functioned well at completing single-stepped tasks that required little in the thinking department. He was a plodder–a mule with harnesses strapped around him to pull through the barren dirt of society. The tool of choice for Henry would be the broom sitting a hundred yards behind him, dropped and forgotten. The smell he could not quite identify continued to seep out from the room with invisible fingers. “Henryyy…” a voice echoed from within. “Henry, do you love me?”
With his heart playing the kongo in his ribcage, Henry stepped across the threshold and inside Mystic Mirrors. Just barely, he could make out a wall of mirrors a number of yards ahead of him. The sunlight stood around him like a friend as he tried to discern more of the room. Crack!
Like blowing out a candle, Henry was pitched into sudden blackness. He backstepped like a defensive back playing football. The air around him felt suffocating now; he could feel the darkness squeezing in on him like a pack of hungry wolves.
Henry’s ass bounced off the sheet of plywood that now covered the mouth of the entrance. Scrambling around, Henry pawed at the sheet of wood. He began belaying blow after blow upon its frame.
“Help me!” he screamed. Already sweat was soaking his underwear; he could feel his balls shrivel into his stomach like frozen grapes in an autumn frost.
A silk hand brushed his neck with webbed fingers.
“Henry, don’t you love me?” The voice at Henry’s back held the same gentle cadence of waves breaking the horizon. Heat vibrated against his skin as if lips were breathing on his neck. He spun around. There was nothing.
Okay, Henry, don’t panic now. There has to be a light switch around here somewhere, he thought to himself. Slowly, Henry began to inch his way forward with the darkness as his guide. Stretched in front of him were his hands; they groped blindly, frantically, looking for a way to end the blinding blackness.
His hands made contact against the bank of mirrors he had stood facing. Dimly, the shape of a shadow man stood in various shapes and sizes. Momentarily forgetting his fear, Henry began to perform squats and aerobic stretches. Soon, his honking laughter filled the room as he watched his body transform into grotesque forms.
Reaching down to touch his toes, Henry craned his neck upward to see what shape his arched body now resembled. Standing behind him was Miranda Skychant, her pale face moon-like in the glass reflection.
Adrenaline once more paralyzed his body in place. Closing his eyes, Henry forced himself to slowly stand up.
“One,” he counted, resolving himself to turn around. His breath sprayed from him in ragged clips.
“Two,” he whispered. He hated the complete silence of the room, and wondered if not even a spider scuttled in this dank and stinking place. And, now that he thought of it, why was that smell of rot so strong in his nose?
“Thr–” he began to say, opening his eyes at the same moment.
Where Miranda’s blue-chipped eyes were supposed to be, Henry now stared into the hollow sockets of a dead woman. Maggots, bonewhite in the darkness, clung to her eye holes like leeches sucking on skin. Her cheeks looked clawed and mangled, and Henry could see her entire row of teeth on the left-hand side of her face. The remaining skin hung in tatters like rotten sails against her cheek. A black serpent sprang from her mouth before realizing he was looking at her tongue.
“My lover,” the Miranda-creature breathed out to him. His sinuses suffered in the smell of a skunk being roasted alive. A tongue stained the color of ink lapped at his neck as he stood frozen in horror. For the second time that day, Henry’s underwear became soaked as he felt his bowels let loose.
“Kiss me,” it cooed in Henry’s ear. A termite dropped from her nose and began to make its way inside Henry’s eardrum. Suddenly, he felt a flash of hot knives puncturing his neck. Before the darkness claimed Henry as its own, he could hear the mad scrambling of a termite burrowing in his head. Mostly, he could hear the suckling of his Miranda chewing at his neck.
I knew she loved me, he thought.