Authors: Ryan Craig Bradford
Tags: #YA, #horror, #male lead, #death, #dying, #humor
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.
Copyright © 2014 by Ryan Craig Bradford
HORROR BUSINESS by Ryan Craig Bradford
All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Month9Books, LLC.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Published by Month9Books
Cover Copyright © 2014 Month9Books
Dedicated to the PCHS AV Club and Christopher Maddux
Warm colors sharpen as the focus reveals an image of a boy. The boy sits patiently and stares at you. He giggles and sticks his tongue out as the image softens before settling on an appropriate focus. You recognize this boy because he looks a lot like me. A voice from offscreen tells the boy that everything’s ready, that he can begin whenever he feels like it.
Boy: What do you want me to say?
Offscreen: What’s your favorite scary movie?
Boy: Like in
Offscreen: Just answer the question.
Boy: What’s this for anyway?
Offscreen: Nothing really. Maybe a school project.
Boy: Fine. But a favorite scary movie? That’s like picking your favorite child.
Offscreen: Well, what are some of the ones you like?
Boy: I like ghost movies.
Offscreen: How come?
Boy: I think the only thing more frightening than opening a closet door and finding a knife-wielding maniac is opening up that closet door and finding nothing. If you take away all the monsters and serial killers, all we have to fear is ourselves. We create ghosts when there isn’t anything else left to scare us.
Offscreen: That’s deep.
Boy: Are we done yet?
Offscreen: Just state your name. You know, for legitimacy.
Boy: My name is Brian Nightshade and you’ve just tuned in to
What I Think About Horror Movies
The image goes black.
If we shoot a movie in black and white we use chocolate syrup. If it’s in color we use corn syrup with red food coloring.
So much sugar goes into blood.
Chocolate syrup was used for Alfred Hitchcock’s
Corn syrup was used for
The Evil Dead
. It was my brother who told me that.
Death needs to be sweetened.
I pedal past a row of shuttered buildings on my way to the grocery store. The faux-cabin exteriors only deceive the tourists that flood our town during the summer and winter months. Most shops simply shut down during the fall. Silver Creek has been dead since Labor Day and will remain that way until Christmas.
I check over my shoulder, hold my breath, and swerve into the road. A gust of wind blows a swarm of dead leaves into my spokes, some of which get shredded. The others get caught between the wheel and the fork. I enjoy the gory death of the red and gold foliage. A minivan pulls up alongside me. I make eye contact with the driver, a middle-aged woman with a sour face. She shakes her head and speeds away. I flip her off.
I cut to the left and let the momentum take me up the slight incline of the parking lot. I set my bike against the rack and leave it unlocked.
There’s a cork bulletin board at the entrance to the grocery store—a place where people can advertise yard sales, community events, or lost pets. It’s covered with brightly-colored flyers. The flyers declare their purpose with bold, 20-point font.
The parents who make the flyers use the most attractive pictures, as if that will get their children found faster. I feel bad for the parents with ugly kids. The faces look at you, smiles frozen with gapped and crooked teeth because they haven’t had the benefit of a good orthodontist yet.
Some of the kids have taken to collecting them like baseball cards. Sometimes you’ll see a grief-stricken parent replacing a flyer of their missing kid. It’s awkward.
Hot pink, neon green, electric orange. I look down to avoid them. The neon looks awful and inappropriately bright. Like they’re trying to sell something.
I think again of sweetened death.
The corn syrup is expensive. I check for a knock-off brand on a lower shelf, but it turns out I’m holding the knock-off. The higher-priced bottle’s label shows an abstract illustration of a farm and boasts 100% organic. Mountain prices for a mountain town. Silver Creek loves to spend money on products that make it feel
There’s barely enough money in my wallet to cover the corn syrup, and I briefly contemplate changing the movie to black and white. I’m sure we’ve got a shitload of chocolate syrup back at the house. It’s been so long since my family’s eaten ice cream.
But no, it has to be in color. I’m not fucking around with this one. It’s going to be my masterpiece.
I wait behind Marilyn Mackie while the cashier rings her up. Mrs. Mackie fills the aisle. Her ass grazes the gum and breath mints on the display behind her. She stares ahead until the cashier—a similarly large girl with braces—tallies the total of her groceries. The sum is humongous, and I can’t wait to tell Steve about how much the Mac Attack spent on food the next time I see him. Mrs. Mackie snaps out of her daze and notices me. The recognition makes her gasp and she puts a hand to her chest. It’s like she saw a ghost.
“Hi, Mrs. Mackie.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jason. You startled me.”
I nod and look down at my shoes. I pass the bottle of corn syrup between my hands. Mrs. Mackie pays.
“How are your folks?” she asks.
“Oh, you know.”
“That’s good,” she says. “I mean, not good, but. …” She trails off. She exhales and her entire being deflates; her chin sinks into the comfort of her neck. “I’m sorry. It’s been hard for all of us.”
The printer uncurls a receipt, and the checkout girl folds it three times before handing it to Mrs. Mackie. Mrs. Mackie pushes her cart of groceries forward while she reads the scroll of her purchases. I put the bottle on the conveyer belt and watch as it’s pulled toward the cashier. I wonder if she and Mrs. Mackie regard each other as past and future selves.
“You remind me of someone I’ve seen before?”
The checkout girl smiles at me and waits for my reaction. It’s not a question, really, but the upward pitch in her last word forces a glaring question mark. The white bands on her braces have turned yellow from neglect and she holds my corn syrup hostage while I think of a response. Mrs. Mackie looks up from her receipt. The terror returns to her face.
“Maybe it’s my brother. We’re twins.”
“Maybe. Or maybe someone famous?” She twists the bottle around in her hands. It’s disturbing the way she caresses it while she thinks. Her tongue sweeps her broad-set, braced teeth.
“Excuse me,” says Mrs. Mackie. “Are you new here or something? Don’t you
who he is?”
The checkout girl frowns and gives up. “I don’t know.” She sighs and chucks my syrup into a plastic bag. “They just tell us to be nice to the customers.”
She hands me the bag with a limp wrist. I take it without saying thanks. Mrs. Mackie, embarrassed from her outburst, waddles to the exit, and the automatic door swings open. I maneuver around her before she fills the doorframe and the electric eye senses my urgency. I jump out into the parking lot to feel the cooling-but-still-warm autumn air. I realize I’ve been sweating.
Don’t listen to her. What does she know, anyway?” Mrs. Mackie calls out to me from the entrance of the store. She reaches into the pocket of her sweatpants and pulls a yellow flyer out, folded into fourths. “Things will work out, you’ll see.” She slaps the flyer onto the corkboard and tacks it in.
The automatic door closes slowly on Mrs. Mackie like a fade out.
My brother, Brian Nightshade, was the first to go missing.
Since then, Donny Yates was second, and then a week later it was Collin Stephenson. Bobby Islo, Andy Stoner, Clint Something and the girlish-looking Sean Fornier disappeared within a three-month span. Wendy Dee was the first and only girl to go missing so far. After her disappearance, the town’s cruel irritability toward these “runaways” was replaced by a surging fear of kidnappers and child-molesters. Every recluse and old person became a target for suspicion.
It’s funny how a girl can change things.
Greg Mackie was the latest one. He went missing last week.
Nine children so far.