The thing held onto Jonathan, spiders crawling out of the voids of it’s eyes, leaping forward to skitter across the victim’s body. With a howling voice it cried, the thing’s breath sounding like dried skin rasping against dead tree bark.
“I’m a barbie girl, in a barbie world-”
Jonathan grinned, gently patting the thing’s cheek. “Fucking awesome, Jess. Let me guess, these spiders are only active based on distance?”
“Distance, and cameras in my mask also track your eyes.” The thing rasped, turning a dial on it’s wrist to start spewing out spiders like a fountain. “They only exist as you look at them, then dissipate once you look away. Also, check out this ridiculous volume-”
As the thing turned the dial up, the spiders went from a fountain to a full on fire-hose, a spray of arachnids shooting out from the evil creature’s eyes in an arc that crossed the entire room.
“That’s fucking ridiculous, and I love every moment of it.”
“Thanks-” With another audible pip the voice modulator was turned off, and the thing now had the voice of a 30-year old girl. “We got this modular and standardized! So each spook’s mask is different and we can cycle through them, and as long as you’re wearing the undersuit you can pick up any role and play it.”
Jonathan held Jessica’s arm, turning it this way and that – the hanging, stolen skin that made it’s mottled hide feeling totally natural. “Amazing. So this means not only will each actor be in a different outfit on the fly-”
“-but we can finally spook those fuccbois!”
“Jess. Our alien coworkers are not fuccbois… but yeah. They’re fuccbois.” Jon said, grinning. “At least as far as the skellington war is concerned.”
“You’re damn right!” The thing nodded, pumping it’s bloodied and gnarled fist in the air. “For once, we’re going to scare the shit out of them.”
“Seriously. Like, if I didn’t see you suit up and that came at me, I’d be shitting myself-”
“Right? I’ve had nightmares about this suit and I built it.”
“So, anyway. Glenn was ok with the Haunted House idea?”
The thing’s head twisted sickeningly before dimming, being replaced with a non-descript gray facemask with a thin wire frame. “Yeah, considering each time we try to do a normal Halloween party they come in and hug us halfway through, Glenn thought this was a good idea. Get back into the spirit of things, eh? Eh?”
“That was a terrible pun and you should feel bad. Anyway. We’ve cleared Deck 7 for this; as long as you keep them going right you won’t run into the cargo bay-”
“But what’s spooOoooOookier than boxes, Jon? They could have anything in them-”
“Please. I’ve got the doors auto-locking from 6PM – 2AM every night this week to create your ‘maze’, and code to get out is “2Spooky”, which will be posted on every keypad on the off chance someone needs to bail. Other than that, from a logistics standpoint do you need anything from me?”
Jessica shook her head – both in response to Jon and to free herself from the mask. “Nah, we’re good bruh.”
“Bro, did you just Bruh me?”
“Bruh, did you not be bruh’d, bro?”
“Y’all are idiots, we’re starting in 5 hours, and we still have setup to do.”
The two friends turned to a melting human, body bubbling from a heat only it could feel. “Also, I need help being put in lava, if you have the time.”
“Ben? You got hell duty first night?! Lucky bastard-”
– – – – – –
“[Hmm mmm, Mmmmmmmm~]”
Shpressnrek hummed to herself, rocking her body back and forth to the tune of a lively sky shanty from the middle-nebula colonial period. The marniers’ songs always had a bit of a pop to them, and although some other Jornissians would call her old-fashioned, she enjoyed the crescendoing choruses. If anything it at least helped kill the time for this new attraction to open up.
A haunted house. How wonderful!
“[Mind if I join you?]” Rgrezneh-of-Hrzgarenm grunted, unceremoniously taking a seat next to her friend.
“[Of course not! I’ve started to charge for staying in my presence-]”
“[So that’s why the hallway’s empty-]”
“[No, we’re just early! But the price of admission is a conversation. How are things going with you?]”
The Dorarizin snorted, rolling her shoulders. “[Eh. After the …incident with the Dirt [pony], it’s military-grade cybernetic resurrection and subsequent escape, [Mike] just hasn’t been the same. Sure, he’s working harder now – which I do appreciate – but at the same time I think he’s working himself too hard.]”
Shpressnrek smiled, patting her friend on the arm. “[Well, I was talking more about work, but it seems that this is on your mind! So what do you mean, too hard?]”
Rgrezneh smirked, pinching her friend’s hand playfully. “[Mmm. More just, he seems to want to carry his weight and then some. I have more GRC put away than he will ever make in his life, and that’s not counting once we get a few more packwives in the mix, yet, he’s working as if we’re destitute.]”
Rgrezneh’s ear swiveled back as the third to their trio happily trotted forward, camera drone hovering nearby, tacky belly-pack stuffed full of… whatever it is Tr’Grakz felt was going to be useful for this event.
“[Hello [Tr’Grakz]]” The two girls droned playfully-but-kinda-not-playfully as the Karnakian sat down on the other side of the Jornissian, the trio now complete.
“[What brings you here? Just getting ahead of the line like me, or you wanting to get a sneak peek behind the curtain?]” Shpressnrek said, performing the Jornissian equivalent of quirking her eyebrow.
“[Yes! As far as I know, cameras are allowed, so-]” Tr’Grakz motioned towards the drone, who let out a helpful beep. “[-I figure this will be a good thing to document for all of history-]”
“[If we’re in-frame we want a cut.]”
“[Hey now. This is an important and priceless cultural artefact that we’re about to witness! There’s no way that I could put a value on this, let alone redistribute this to various sectors within Karnkakian legal jurisdiction-]”
“[20%.]” Rgrezneh said matter-of-factly, leaning back to look over her snakelike friend.
“[Ladies, you wound me. I am only taking a fraction of a fraction of a percent-]”
“[Please.]” Shpressnrek laughed, leaning over to tap at the drone. “[You’re making infinite copies of this and selling it for what, 300? 500 a pop?]”
“[Well yes, but that’s not counting my tithe-]”
“[Well we’re non-profits.]”
“[Could’ve fooled me.]”
The three aliens turned as one – which in and of itself was a bit creepy – as a human stuck his head out a side door. “Can I help you all?”
“[Yes!]” Shpressnrek said, batting the floating camera drone down and out of the way. “[We’re here for the Haunted House!]”
“But it’s like 2PM.”
“[We can wait!]”
“I uh… alright.” The human shrugged. “We’re getting things ready, so we should be open by 5 at the earliest, 6 is on-time. You all… good?”
“[What is good, though?]” Tr’Grakz pondered, arching his back up to tower over his friends temporarily – and to get a good look at the new friend he was about to make! “[Can we, with limited knowledge, understand what actions and thoughts are truly good? With our lives intersecting with so many others, threads intertwinin-]”
“I’m gonna take this as a yes.” The human said, and unceremoniously shut the door.
“[. . . 20%. Each.]”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The bay doors opened, slowly, stuttering in intermittent power, to the intrepid (and quite unnervingly patient) trio. Flickering LED light strips hung loosely from the ceiling – seemingly ripped out, the framework behind them rotted with rust and something else. Something foul. There were gouge marks made in the ceiling, walls and floor, indicative of a battle. From somewhere the overpowering tang of blood, fresh and rotten, assailed the nostrils. Desks, carts overturned, covered with the dents of battle and death, and a fungal rot that seemed to ooze from the very wounds in the walls. The air had a cool chill to it, wet and damp, and if one wasn’t careful it would soak into your bones.
Standing still in the center of all this was a lone human, emaciated, it’s skeletal visage twisted in pain and grim determination. It’s clothing – rags, really – blew in a breeze only it felt, a tempest that seemed to push what was left of the creature’s self out of it’s body, if only barely. Hollow, empty eyes stared at the new visitors, whatever spark of humanity that had once lit them long ago extinguished.
“Welcome, fools.” It rasped, it’s voice long since hoarse from screaming itself raw. “Turn back now, or suffer the same torments as I.”
“[HI! I’m [Tr’Grakz]!]” The Karnakian so helpfully chirped, padding forward and giving a little bow. “[What’s your name? Are you going to be our shepherd into the other world?]”
“So you have chosen… death.” The guide said, as the doors screeched slowly shut behind the aliens.
“[Well Hello, so-you-have-chosen-death.]” Rgrezneh-of-Hrzgarenm grinned, slowly walking forward as she looked at the craftsmanship of the opening scene. “[It’s a pleasure to meet you.]”
The guide, a tormented soul stuck between the world of the living and that of the dead, said nothing, and simply floated away from the group – silently, softly, keeping a perfect distance from their inquiring minds.
“[Oh! Be careful!]” Shpressnrek said, helpfully curling her body to get a phenomenal (and almost non-euclidian) vantage point, “[You need to make sure you’re notifying everyone around you if you’re backing up!]”
“…Fools……” The apparition said, softer, as it disappeared into the dark. There was the sound of a door opening, slowly, and a sickly pale light illuminated the way.
“[Ooooo I’m so excited!]” Tr’Grakz said, wiggling his whole body back and forth in barely-suppressed glee. “[Time for cultural enrichment!]”
– – –
Jessica was sweating.
Jessica was sweating bullets, and not necessarily because she was precariously perched on a high ceiling rafter and holding that position took some effort.
No, Jessica was sweating because as soon as the first group entered the Haunted House, they all turned to look right at her. Unblinking. Unmoving.
Every so often Keisha would do her “fools” speech or try to get their attention, but nothing. The Karnakian was the first to notice her, it’s head tilting and eyes blinking in rapid and uncoordinated fashion before it’s eyes became fixed on hers. Unblinking. The Jornissian followed the first one’s gaze, and bore a hole right through her hiding position. The creepy thing about that was, although it was a staring contest she was losing, it seemed like the Jornissian was somehow closing the gap. Whether or not that was an optical illusion, Jessica didn’t know. It just… it just felt like a giant boa was looking at her, as prey, and was unimpressed.
The Dorarizin, though. That one was a special type of fear. Everyone at the Haunted House agreed that assaulting the senses was just as important as spooking the locals, so every effort was made to dampen sight, dampen sound, dampen smell – all the senses that one would rely upon, and force all visitors to use the “guide” who, of course, would betray them at the end once they reached hell.
All in all, it was supposed to be a slow descent into madness, and it seems to have worked in some capacity. However, when faced with an overwhelming stench, the Dorarizin apparently try to clear their nose – and no, not with a giant hanky.
By opening their maws slightly and rippling their teeth and doing something with circular breathing. Jessica had no idea what it was, only that the giant fuck-off space werewolf was directly under her, with it’s mouth wide open, and all those teeth just… waiting for her to fall. The noise it made…
That noise. That noise was gonna be in her nightmares tonight, she just knew.
“[So what’s it gonna do?]” Shpressnrek asked, lowering herself after getting a good look at the human crouched up on the platform. “[I can’t make out the costume from here.]”
“You would dare mock the skinwalker’s killing field-”
“[Well, it’s just, that can’t be comfortable for her – him? Her? Him?]” Shpressnrek tried to get a read on the guide’s reaction, but it just stayed stony-faced and floating.
“[Do a Flip-]”
“[[Tr’Grakz]! Let’s be kind and enjoy this experience without demeaning-]”
“[You’re just mad cause I’ve spotted 12 so far and you’re at 10.]”
Shpressnrek scrunched up her nose, biting her upper lip lightly. “[Hmm. Well. Still. Who’s up there this time?]”
The guide, now realizing after 5 rooms that she had totally lost this group, sighed. “Jessica.”
“[What? Jessi- DO A FLIP-]”
– – – –
“And so, uh, this is Hell.”
There were a few appreciate “oohs” and “aahs” and a very out-of-place flashbulb from the floating drone went off as the intrepid explorers, now museum-goers, were ferried from horrifying exhibit to horrifying exhibit. There was much appreciation of the craftsmanship that went into each set piece, and each actor had their picture taken and were thanked for their service.
“Um. Do you want me to… pop out and grab them, or?”
“Nah. Everyone, this is Ben. Ben, The first group.”
The melting-human sat up in the “lava” floor, his skin blistering and peeling off in the intense heat. “Uh. Hi?”
“[Hello! How are you today?]”
“I’m… fine. Was… this at all scary to you?” The melting damned soul said, waving at everything in general.
“[I mean… it was very well done!]” Tr’Grakz said, nodding appreciatively.
“[Yes! You’ve obviously put in a lot of effort here.]” Shpressnrek added, smiling softly.
“[Have you had a chance to take a break? Stretch your legs?]” Rgrezneh asked, kneeling on the ‘sinner’s path’ between lava flows, reaching out a hand to help the human up. “[It’s important to take breaks yanno.]”
“Yeah, I’m… fine. We’re fine.”
Rgrezneh frowned. “[You don’t sound fine-]”
“I’m fine.” The human said, crossing his arms in defiance. “And I’m going to stay right here in hell, thank you very much.”
“[Men.]” Rgrezneh sighed, standing up. “[So, what’s next?]”
“Uh. Well. Ben was to try to pull y’all down into the fire with him, you escape over there -” Keisha the death-guide said, waving her hand to illuminate the way out. “And then you’ve survived. Um. The end?”
Tr’Grakz chirped with glee, the flash-bulb on the drone going off once more. “[Oh! Thank you very much! This was so informative – you know, when I first stepped in—]”
The two humans shared a look with each other as the alien droned on.
Surely this group was an outlier.
– – – –
“Fourty groups, and not one of them gave a fuck.” Ben growled, slamming down his drink onto the table. It had been a grueling shift, all the moreso when the staff realized that nothing was landing.
Fear, though sharing some universal traits, did not always connect universally. Though isolation was terrifying to everyone, it’s hard to get into an alien’s head when deep down they know that they just need to go 15 feet to the right to be surrounded by other people. Pain, though something every organism wants to avoid, is hard to get across when the implements of torture to your race are mild inconveniences to others. And death? Universally feared, yet accepted with grim determination, but when the visage of death stands so tiny before you….
Look. The whole thing bombed from the get-go.
“Aww, come on. They cared! They wanted to put all our fucking work on the fridge and coo over it.” Jessica mocked, interrupting herself by shotgunning another beer. “S’ not like we didn’t spend a full fucking week putting that together, nooooo. And my rig was the scariest!”
“Fuckin’ spider-eyes, what’s scary about that. I drag people into hell-”
“That’s what women call dating you, yes-”
“Oh fuck you, Jess, you didn’t even come off your post you coward-”
“Fight me li-”
There was a sound of a stein being slammed against a table, breaking the argument before it could begin. A room full of dejected eyes looked towards the man in the corner.
“Amateurs.” He said, before taking another sip.
“What was that? U wanna fukkin go, mate?” Ben yelled, liquid courage and the adrenaline of failure roiling through his veins.
“AMATEURS!” Roared the man, spinning around in his seat. “You went through all this – all this – When you needed NONE of it.”
“Glenn, fuck right off.” Jessica spat, crushing her can against the table. “You don’t fucking even know-”
Glenn stood up, crossing his arms. “Tomorrow. You run the Haunted House, and the last right becomes a left.”
“Oh what, and that’s going to fucking spook them?!”
“Do it. Stand for something, even if it costs you everything.”
“What? That quote makes no sense in this conte-”
“Shutup, Jessica. Just do what I ask, and I promise you-” Glenn smiled and opened his arms in a half-shrug. “-they will be terrified. I guarantee it.”
And the crew agreed to do what the boss-man asked. Not because he was the boss, no.
Because there was nothing nice about that smile.
– – – – –
“And this is hell again – that’s Jerry, sup?”
“Salright.” A spot in the firey pit of hell replied, a melting arm popping up out of the lava to wave at the group. “You the same first group from yesterday?”
“[Yes!]” Tr’Grakz chirped happily again, following the small limb with his entire head. “[We were told you had made this a truly terrifying experience! Also, how’s Bill?]”
“He’s fine. Exit’s to your left this time.” The guide said, nonchalantly waving his hand to open up the left door – which, if the trio had been paying attention, they would have noticed was not dressed up in any fancy way.
“[Oh! Well thank you very much for the second run-through; it was a lot of fun!]” Shpressnrek said, giving a little bow.
“[Mmm.]” Rgrezneh grunted noncommittally, as the exit door opened. “[Thank you again.]”
“[What’s wrong with you, [Rgrezneh]?]” Shpressnrek hiss-whispered, bumping into her friend purposefully. “[Be nice-]”
“[It’s just that… I could be spending time with [Mike] right now, but he was called in for a late shift and I’m doing… this. Again.]”
“[Well, cheer up friend!]” Tr’Grakz smiled, trotting slightly ahead as the corridor became brighter and brighter. “[We’re almost through, and then you can go visit your beau! Hah! Did that rhyme? I don’t know if the translator worked right- Go and Almost should have the same harmoni-]”
The trio passed by a viewing-window of the supply dock as they made their way down the corridor. Nothing was off about the whole scene; cargo stacked neatly, drones doing their job, various volatile materials out for assembly, Mike alone at the controls for a nanofabricat-
The three turned as one, witnessing Mike – a human not trained for a full industrial nanofabricator – began do dump ingredient after ingredient into various hoppers. Liquid-only chutes became clogged with dust. Ore-only caskets were filled with non-newtonian fluids. A gas inlet became attached to a water main.
“[No – no honey! No!]” Rgrezneh banged on the glass, her dull thump barely even resonating.
“[Hold on, let me just call someone up real quick.]” Shpressnrek sighed, speaking subvocally to her implant. A few moments passed by before a shudder went through her spine.
“[I… I can’t.]”
“[You can’t what – Honey, no, Radioactive Material doesn’t go there-]”
“[I can’t call anyone. My implant’s being suppressed.]”
The trio shared a look with each other, and as one began to fling themselves against the window.
“[Please don’t do that-]”
“[Look at me! Over here-]”
“[Honey! HONEY! NO-]”
But Mike continued, unphased. Their pleas became louder, more insistent – but to no avail.
And as they began to scream and tear at the very walls themselves, far away, watching on cameras recording the entire ordeal, Glenn smiled.