Late afternoon sunlight drenched the balcony, counteracting the cool air that brushed lazily over the lone figure sprawled on the bench, eyes closed and arms outstretched. Blond hair riffled in the breeze, and the figure didn't stir an inch even when the door nearby opened and an intruder entered her space.
Dar sat down on the bench and extended her legs, crossing them at the ankles. "So."
"Shh." Kerry hissed softly. "I almost got the sound of the data center out of my ears."
Obligingly, her dark haired companion remained silent, wriggling her shoulders into a more comfortable position against the wall, blinking into the warm golden light.
After a few peaceful minutes, Kerry folded her arms over her chest, and turned her head to face Dar. "You know what?"
Dar chuckled softly.
"I'm not kidding. I got to the point today that I wanted to walk into the server aisle with that shotgun I've got and just start blowing those little suckers away."
"And when I was done doing that, I wanted to get a chain - saw and start in on the circuit demarc." Kerry went on. "Vvvrrrmmmm . . . " She held up her hands. "Whack whack whack.. Take out every freaking circuit in the whole damn room."
Dar patted her on the shoulder.
"I want to chuck my pager and my cellphone and my palm pilot over the rail."
"Those poor people down in the parking lot." Dar clucked her tongue.
Kerry sighed. "What a day."
Dar leaned over a little, pressing her shoulder against her partners. "So I guess you don't want to go to Dave and Busters with the crew and play video games, huh?"
Kerry let out a sound that was half groan, half whine. "Noooooo . . . " She moaned. "No beeps no blorps, no flashing LED's . . . can't we go watch crab racing or something?"
"Hmm." Dar regarded the sky thoughtfully. "Crab racing. I can check the paper.. Maybe we can go watch mudbug racing. Not sure if they do crabs this time of year."
"Nah, they never race those here. You have to go to New York for that."
Kerry let out a little snort of laughter, and closed her eyes.
Dar pondered further, enjoying the breath of cool air from an agreeable weather change, the first of the season. "Tell you what." She said, after a period of silence. "Let's go to the haunted house."
One green eye opened and slid in her direction. "What?"
"Haunted house." Dar repeated, a little more slowly. "My dad's accent creeping in again?"
The blond woman turned her head and opened her other eye. "I heard what you said. I just have no idea what you mean. A real haunted house? Other than the one on the island? Been there, done that, remember?"
Dar got up and wandered to the rail, leaning on it and peering down from it's fifteen story height across the foliage encrusted landscape of greater Miami stretching away from her. "I remember." She said, pointing as Kerry got up to join her. "Over there. See?"
Kerry peered dutifully at the never - ending stretch of Mediterranean rooftops and elegantly sculpted yet curiously empty skyscrapers that surrounded them. "What?"
"Tropical Park." Dar put her hand on Kerry's head and turned it slightly. "They do a big haunted house this time of year. You can see the lights."
"Oh." Kerry could, in fact, see them. "You mean, it's like a theme park sort of thing."
"Guys jump out at you and everyone screams?"
"No high tech?"
"Maybe a fog machine." Dar allowed. "And they have rides." She added. "If the haunted house doesn't scare you enough, twenty year old carnival rides run by gremlins should do it."
Kerry leaned on the rail. "Do they have terrifyingly unhealthy carnival food to go with that?"
Dar put her arm across her partner's shoulders. "Let's go change and go over there." She said. "I think they even have little beer trucks."
"You mean, bad American beer in plastic cups?"
"Now I am terrified. Let's go." Kerry led the way inside, glad enough to leave the headaches of the day behind them.
"Yes, we are." Dar slid out of the driver's seat of her SUV and took a breath of air filled with recently cut grass and axle grease. She zipped up the front of her sleeveless fleece vest and flexed her toes inside their hiking boot covering, looking forward to a moderately interesting evening.
Kerry came around the back of the car and joined her, rolling up the sleeves on her blue flannel shirt. "Are you sure you're warm enough in that, Dar?" She gave her partner's bare arms a doubtful look. "It's kinda chilly."
"Where are you from again?" Dar queried. "I'm fine. If I get cold, you can buy me a tacky tshirt to wear under this." She stuck her hands in the pockets of the fleece and led the way towards the gates of the park, already hearing the combination of carnival music and mechanical screams wafting out of them.
The park was large, and it was Friday night. There was already a decent size crowd heading for the opening, and Dar and Kerry joined them in a leisurely stroll across the uneven grass.
"Ah, carnivals." Kerry was quite ready to indulge herself in the blessedly low tech smarm. "Dar, they have the baseball toss. Win me a snake?"
"Sure." Her partner agreed. "But only if you agree to put in in your office and tell everyone I did."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?" Kerry snickered, pulling her wallet out and edging ahead of Dar as they got to the ticket booth. "Two please."
"Only to my reputation." Dar observed the roaming ghouls, waiting for her partner to obtain their admittance chits and then following her through the gates and into the park. The well used midway area had been transformed with fake nylon webbing and plastic tombstones appropriate to the Halloween holiday just as it would be transformed as soon as November arrived into a Christmas theme.
Two rows of carnival games stretched towards an area of rides, and at the very end was the large concrete block building currently kitted out with a black exterior and emitting various sounds of the screaming, moaning, and diabolical laughter kind.
Dar immediately steered towards the row of food booths. "First thing's first. Dinner."
"Ah." Kerry amiably followed her. "Oo.. I see dessert. Deep fried twinkies." She bumped Dar with her hip. "Have one of those, a funnel cake, and a couple of arepas and you're all set."
"Protein first." Dar stopped at a booth. "Gimme." She pointed at a turkey leg. "Want one?"
"Just a wing for me." Kerry accepted the bronze colored fried item, giving the gothic vision behind the counter a smile in response. "Thanks."
They strolled down the row together. "You know what?" Kerry dodged a pair of running ghosts. "I'm glad we didn't have a party this year. I wasn't into dressing up and doing the whole corporate bs thing."
A large Frankenstein's monster advanced on them, extending it's arms as it lurched forward. Dar ducked behind Kerry and cowered in mock fear, and the creature waved it's hands in triumph. "Augh! Save me, Ker!"
Kerry brandished her wing at the monster. "Back! Back! Or I'll rub this grease all over you!"
The monster retreated, suitably repelled, and they sauntered on towards the haunted house. "I'm glad too." Dar continued the discussion. "I wasn't in the mood for fake spooks. Too much stuff going on."
"Let someone else do the dressing up." Kerry detoured to rid herself of her turkey wing and wiped her fingers on the tattered napkin. "I'm just not into it."
Dar munched in silence as they passed various booths of carnival games, all skewed towards the holiday. She paused in front of a tall structure topped with a bell, and gave the skeleton standing next to it a speculative look. "Hold this?" She handed Kerry her drumstick.
Kerry got out of the way of the crowd and stood to one side, watching her partner hand over a ticket to the skeleton and receive the mallet he'd been holding in return. The idea was, she supposed, you hit the platform as hard as you could, and see how far up the little metal nugget went towards the bell. "You don't really have to win me a snake, you know."
Dar ignored the comment, hiking the mallet up as the garish lights flickered over her bare and well defined shoulders. She reviewed the platform seriously, then she flexed her body and leaped up in the air, adding her downward momentum to a powerful swing as she smashed the mallet into the landing pad.
The skeleton jumped out of the way, startled by the motion, and the metal nugget whizzed up the pole and struck the bell with a satisfying clang.
The skeleton looked suitably impressed, and passed over a chit to Dar. "Pick your prize, lady." He pointed at a rack filled with excellent representations of Chinese manufacturing in a kaleidoscope of colors.
Dar took her drumstick back and handed over the chit. "G'wan." She said. "Unless you want to try it yourself."
"No thank you honey." Kerry reviewed her choices. "One of us fulfilling a stereotype is more than enough for tonight." She spotted a stuffed black panther and pointed at it. "I"ll take that one there." She tucked the stuffed animal under her arm and they continued walking.
"That's not a stereotype, is it?" Dar rid herself of her drumstick bone and looked around for more entertainment. "I didn't spit on my hands first."
Kerry chuckled, feeling her body relax as she walked along, the tension of the day easing. It felt good to be wearing the soft flannel cotton and denim jeans and have nothing to worry about except the possibility of a sugar rush on the way out. "I"m glad it's Friday."
"Me too." They joined the line waiting to get into the haunted house, and listened to the screams coming from the building, as a group of younger children went pelting by, eyes bugging. "Looks like they did it up good this year."
"Hm." Kerry watched the kids disappear. "Have I mentioned my hyperactive imagination lately?"
Dar chuckled. "Don't worry about it. They hire mostly kids to do the scaring in there. Just remember that."
Her partner turned, and walked backwards. "Sure you want to go in?"
Kerry waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "Yeah, no, I'm fine." She squared her shoulders. "We just never . . . um.. They didn't do this sort of thing back home."
Dar cocked her head. "Halloween?" Her eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"Christian school?" Kerry mimicked the tone of her voice and the eyebrow. "C'mon, let's go inside. I'll get over my upbringing." She nudged Dar as they came up to the gates. "Turn around before you knock over the Addams family there."
With a grin, Dar obediently turned, as they reached the archway guarded by a gaggle of attendants in white face paint and gothic inspired clothing. She waved amiably at them as they wafted around.
"Beware! Beware! The dead are rising!" One of the young gate wardens intoned dutifully. "The dead are rising, and want to trap the living!"
Kerry handed their tickets over to the witch at the door, and followed Dar between two rows of tall tombstones with blinking eyes towards the building. As they passed, ghosts darted up on strings and she felt her body jerk a little.
Dar seemed unaffected, walking over to a tombstone and examining it curiously before she returned to Kerry's side and they walked together through the cob - webbed door and entered the dark interior.
A gust of air hit them, and Kerry wrinkled her nose at the musty, strange scent. The door closed behind them, and she felt a slight pressure change, then she almost hit the roof when a voice chuckled evilly inches from her ear. "Yahhh!"
"Easy." Dar's voice counteracted it. "Don't freak out."
"I'm not freaking out." Kerry felt a little embarrassed. "It just startled me." She moved away from the speaker and followed Dar as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she could see shadows all around them.
They walked through a narrow space, and a blast of cold air hit them, and she sensed motion to her right turning her head just in time to see a ghoulish face appear and a pair of disembodied hands reaching for her.
Heart pounding, she ducked past the figure and bolted through the narrow spot, slamming into Dar's back and nearly sending her partner sprawling. "Oof.. Sorry."
"Yow." Dar hopped forward. "Careful, Ker."
"Yeah, sorry, I tripped." Kerry edged closer to Dar as they continued forward, towards a set of swinging chain curtains. She could hear screaming ahead, and she steeled herself as Dar parted the chains and they entered a larger space, and were bombarded with flashing strobes from several directions.
It was a disorienting sight. The rapidly flashing lights beat against her eyes, and made her want to close them. "Oh, yow." She groused. "I hate this. It makes my head spin."
"Blink your eyes in the same pattern, Ker." Dar told her in a placid voice. "Its not that bad."
"Easy for you to say." Kerry muttered. "Blink your eyes in the same pattern? Where do you come up with this stuff, Dar?"
"Legacy of my clubbing days." Her partner told her. "Watch out."
Things were moving. Kerry saw a figure in black and white zooming towards her and she stopped, as it sped by, then another popped up from nowhere, waving it's hands in her face as she backed up and shielded her eyes from the strobes. "Hey!"
The strobes abruptly stopped, which was a relief, but the dark around her now was absolute, and she stopped moving, reaching out in confusion as a sense of disorientation closed in on her.
A scream came from nearby, and then her wrist was gripped hard, and she was being pulled to one side, so fast all she could do was yelp as her shoulder hit a hard surface that moved inward, sending her offbalance.
She tumbled down a shoot and a yell erupted from her as she flailed her arms out and tried to stop her fall. The shoot ended and she fell a short distance, landing on a hard, dusty platform in absolute pitch dark.
Her heart felt like it was coming out of her ears. "Dar!" Kerry called out, listening hard for any motion around her. She could no longer hear the sounds of the fun house, and there was no sign of her partner either. "DAR!"
There was no answer. Kerry got up and felt behind her, her fingers touching a thin line in the wall she tried to get her nails under to pull open. It didn't budge, and after a moment, she began to hear sounds around her and she turned, putting her back to the wall. "Who's there?"
In the darkness, she heard a shuffling sound, and she looked towards it, she thought she saw a bit of fog in the air, or a shadow. She kept her eyes on it, as she felt along the wall with her hand, hoping for a door. Her logical mind reasoned that she'd just detoured into a closed area of the attraction, but the clammy atmosphere of the dark space was rapidly giving her imagination purchase over rationality.
She heard a soft clanking nearby, as though someone were shaking heavy chains. She strained her eyes against the darkness, but it was pitch black, and even putting her hand up in front of her face got her nothing.
Okay. Kerry tried to clear her mind. Think.
A soft noise brought her head around and she took a step back, as the sound resolved itself into whispers, voices that buzzed and murmured, but nothing that she could decipher. "Hello?"
The whispers grew louder, and she could almost catch words. "Hello?" She asked again. "Is anyone there?"
Air moved against her, and she caught the scent of newly turned earth, with a rancid tinge on it's edges that made her heart start racing as it reminded her of the smell of death. She backed away from the smell and found herself in a corner, the walls feeling cold and clammy as she pressed her back against them.
She was scared. There was no way around that, and she felt her legs start to shake as the darkness closed in around her. "Dar!" She yelled again. "Help!"
Dar whirled in a circle, startling one of the ghouls and nearly knocking him into a wall. She stood in the middle of the room and pushed off the milling people around her, looking intently for her partner. "Ker?"
The strobes fluttered back on, and she quickly searched the room, sure Kerry could not have gotten ahead of her. There was no sign of her, and Dar could feel a strange tickling deep in her guts as she kept moving and Kerry didn't appear.
Was she playing a joke?
Dar frowned. If it was a joke, she didn't think it was funny, and as she circled the room and didn't see Kerry, it was getting less amusing by the moment. "Ker!"
With a shake of her head, Dar strode determinedly through the strobe room, shouldering aside ghouls and goblins silly enough to get in her way as she went in search of her partner.
The fog swirled, and as she watched, it formed into a face, floating across from her that started out vague and sharpened into something horrifyingly familiar.
Her father's face.
"Oh my god." Kerry whispered. "Get me out of here." She pressed flat against the wall and continued feeling along it, staying as far away from the floating head as she could. The sounds of scraping, and breathing increased, and she saw the head start to move towards her.
A filament of something touched her cheek. Kerry stifled a scream and brushed it away, then gasped as something touched her leg. "This is not very damn funny!" She yelled, in the vain hope it was more of the usual setup of the attraction. "You're heading for a lawsuit here!"
A cold chill suddenly came over her, as though she'd stepped into a freezer. She pressed back against the wall as the face drifted towards her, now the eyes focusing on her with definite, visible intent.
Kerry froze, and her heart hammered so loudly, it made her body shake. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out and she slowly sank down as the figure came closer and closer, eyes boring into hers.
Dar burst out the back of the haunted house and looked around, hoping she'd find Kerry there waiting. But the crowd, though thick, did not include the blond woman and she turned around again and stared at the exit, feeling a sense of panic overtake her.
"Shit." Dar cursed, starting back for the exit again.
"Wait, that's the wrong way!" A guide tried to stop her. 'Wait!"
"Not for me." Dar felt a vague sense of familiarity at the tone, but she pushed past the robed, hooded figure who was undoubtedly doing their best to keep the crowd in line.
"Wait." The hooded figure hung on. "Are you looking for your friend?"
Dar stopped and swung around, peering at the figure. The hood obscured their face completely, but the girl motioned her to follow. "Wh.."
"I saw her go this way. C'mon." The hooded figure started around the side of the building, through thick trees and dark shadows.
Dar hesitated, then she followed, the voice naggingly familiar to her, and the girl's walk, athletic but light, even more so. She chased after her, and found herself shoving through thick branches as the screams got louder, and the fear in her guts became more clear. "Hold on!"
"Hurry!" The figure ducked through the branches, motioning her forward faster and faster as the leaves whipped by Dar's face and she bolted after her. She rounded the corner of the building and skidded to a halt, as the hooded figure disappeared before her eyes and left her in a small opening in the trees, with a closed door in front of her. "Hey!"
"In there!" The woman's voice floated back. "Go on!"
Furious, Dar whirled around and looked for the woman. "Son of a bitch!" She started to turn, and head back, when she noticed a light above the door flicker on, pulsing a little as it outlined the entrance. She hesitated, then she grabbed the door handle and yanked on it.
Kerry was in a ball, her arms held over her head as the barrage of sounds and smells crashed over her, overwhelming her senses. She was too afraid to even cry, as she watched the ghostly figure become more solid, and advance on her, the anger in it's features chilling her to the very core.
Her heart was beating so fast she couldn't count the thumps, and as the sound of chains suddenly rushed over her and the fog started wrapping it's tendrils around her body, she opened her mouth to cry out, the breath stopping in her throat as the fog, and the sounds, and the little light there was abruptly vanished, behind a dark, moving shadow that appeared between her, and the rest of the room.
The smells stopped, and the noises stopped, and the air in front of her was filled with something that was all shadows, and shifting motion and dark, potent energy, and then the sounds started again, washing over her like ice cold water.
She heard a strange whispering sound, then a thin, silver line appeared, it's tip pointed at the head and giving off enough light for Kerry to see the outline of a tall figure, and a hand, and the hint of wings.
"Back off." A voice filled the room, strange and deep, and almost, somehow familiar to her.
The hissing increased, and the thin, silver line flashed, and after a long, breathless moment the head faded back into a wisp of fog, and the noises faded into the thumps and clanks of ordinary mechanics and before Kerry could think what to do next, the dark figure turned and looked at her.
She couldn't see it's features, only the outline of a sword and a hand that gripped it and she realized at the same moment that she felt no fear at it's presence. "Thanks." She whispered.
The figure somehow gave the impression of a smile, then in a blink it was gone, and she felt the surface behind her shoulders moving unexpectedly and she was unable to catch her balance before it opened wide and she tumbled out onto a sidewalk into the glare of lamplight and Dar's intense, frantic grip.
"What in the hell was that?" Dar demanded, her arms full of a white faced, still shaking Kerry. "How in the hell did you end up in the garbage compactor room?" She spluttered. "And how did that.. " She looked around. "Where did that . . . "
Dar found no sign of her guide, and her eyes narrowed. "That better not have been a damn prank."
Kerry let her head rest against Dar's thigh, and her eyes drank in the normalcy of the safety light, and the street lamps beyond, and the shape of her partner's face over her. She turned her head and regarded the door she'd tumbled out of, reading the scraped, half missing letters with a sense of unreality as her heart slowly settled back down into it's normal rhythm. "Holy shit."
"You okay?" Dar asked.
'Yeah." Kerry looked up at her, the tension around her lips belying her words. "I"m fine."
"You suck at lying." Dar awkwardly gathered Kerry up in her arms and gave her a hug. "You scared the crap out of me."
Kerry slowly felt the terror leech out of her, and the sounds of the park just as slowly filtered back in, the music from the midway, and the sounds of the haunted house echoing through the trees. She looked up as the light over the door flickered.
"Did you say the garbage room?" She murmured. "I guess that explains the bad smell and the mechanical stuff." She reached up and scrubbed her hand across her eyes. "And the steam. I thought I saw steam."
Dar studied her. "Imagination get to you?" She hazarded a guess. "Mine did, when I couldn't figure out where you were."
Now that it was over, she felt pretty silly. "Yeah." Kerry paused, thinking about that last vision, and wondering. "And maybe there were some funny spices on that turkey wing."
'Yeah." Dar exhaled. "We should have stuck to fried twinkies."
They both blinked, as the light over the door flickered again, then went out, leaving them in moonlit dimness. Dar shifted, then she gave Kerry another hug. "You okay to stand up?"
"Yeah." Kerry got to her feet. "But no more haunted houses, okay?"
"You can go get me sick on frozen custard and the merry go round."
"No ghouls, no spooks, no skeletons, no scary clowns. I don't even want pumpkin pie."
"No problem." Dar put her arm around Kerry's shoulders and they headed off away from the building, back towards the midway.
Silence reigned outside the doorway for a few minutes, then a soft glow of light returned, coalescing into a hooded figure who perched on the railing and waited, watching as the shadows gathering among the trees collected themselves into a tall form that sauntered up and leaned on the metal rails alongside her.
"Mortals." The dark figure sighed. "I don't get it. They invite a millenium's worth of dead into their world and then are surprised to see em."
"I don't think they think that's what they're doing, Xe." The hooded figure replied. "But I"m glad we were here for those kids of ours."
The dark figure held up something. "Speaking of, she left this."
"Oh, it's cute." Her companion raised slightly glowing hands and took the stuffed animal, examining it. "It's got your eyes." She gave the tall figure a poke with her elbow. "Let's go give it back."
"And freak them out again?"
"They'll get over it, Xe. Besides, it's theirs isn't it?"
"You're just a troublemaker." The taller figure sighed. "Two thousand years, and that just never changes."
"Pfft. C'mon. How often can we just walk around like this. Besides, they've got those cakes there."
"Ah.. So that's your reason. Figures."