The drive to the old flea market wasn't normally bad. It's located on a rural part of Dundas Street in Hamilton, Ontario, that, at this time of night was almost completely abandoned. Of course, the weather tonight wasn't particularly helpful. Yesterday it snowed heavily. Today, the temperatures rose significantly above the freezing mark. That had been the theme for most of this past winter. The result this evening, however, was a fog thick enough to leave a liquid residue on the windshield just messy enough to require the wipers to run on a low speed.
I was close now. It's probably a good thing that there isn't a lot of traffic this evening. The entrance way to the flea market wasn't well lit and even in the best of conditions could be a little tricky to find, if you didn't know exactly where it was. A GPS helped in that regard. A woman's voice came on, “Your destination is on the right.” I made my jeep slow to a crawl. My head jutted forward over the steering wheel. I need better vision. I narrowed my eyes to a squint under the strain of trying to find where to turn.
Aha! I found it. I had been there many times before of course, but, the long unpaved lane still reminded me more of something you would find leading to an old farm rather than a business. That, of course, was part of the charm of this flea market, at least during the day.
The parking lot was somewhat of a rectangular shape surrounded by different buildings. Each one housed the wares of vendors who were present only for daytime Sunday shoppers. The only light on at the moment was one mounted atop a tall pole.
The fog inside the lot was different. It stuck low to the ground unlike the mist that engulfed my jeep on the road. A chuckle escaped my throat surprising even me. It was more of a nervous reaction than a laugh. As a writer, my mind tends to wander to the outer limits of the imagination. It didn't take much for me to envision the dense mist on the road being one of four walls forming a barrier around the property. The question ringing through my head was, 'Is it there to keep people out or someone in?' I fumbled for a notebook and pencil in my bag. This is good stuff I need to remember.
“Darn.” My shoes hit the ground splashing slush all over the bottom of my pants. The fog clung to me about half way up my calves and anywhere there was a puddle was bound to be hidden. There were probably a few pot holes that needed to be fixed as well. Considering the up and down temperatures the past three months had brought, it was to be expected. There was no choice. I would have to stumble my way to under the light and wait for him to arrive.
The air wasn't so much cold as it was crisp this evening. That added to the already eerie atmosphere. Above the light post, the a full moon glared down at me, but at the same time gave off very little light. As a child, I always loved staring up at the sky at night. Finding shapes in the stars was a fun way to pass the end of a summer day. This evening, however, there seemed to be an absence of stars. Just the moon was staring back at me. If the man in the moon did exist, he, at that moment, reared his face. I swear I saw one eye wink at me.
The trance of the moon's power vanished, replaced by something more unsettling. A howl cut through the silence. It was close. How close, I don't know, but too close for comfort. And, it isn't stopping. At first, I was almost convinced it was an animal, perhaps a dog, a wolf or a coyote. But no, it isn't quite any of those sounds. There was almost a human quality to it, as if a man was being tortured but couldn't form words from the pain. That must be my writer's imagination again. At least, that's what I am telling myself. Another sound. This one, I know. It's a chainsaw. First firing up and then cutting through something. Who would be out on a night such as this cutting wood? The other noise, the one of a living creature, faded away. It simply ceased as if it hadn't existed at all. What could have caused its silence?
Goosebumps began popping up on my arms at the base of tiny hairs, that, were now standing straight up at attention as if awaiting something sinister to happen. They didn't wait long. The light above me began flickering before extinguishing altogether.
“Great! Just what I needed.” My hand dove into my bag, pulling out my phone. Anyone who knows me also knows technology is not, has never been and never will be my strong point. I'm not sure how long exactly it took, but I am positive It took several minutes of fumbling around with buttons, to make the flashlight work.
I let out a sigh shining the light right into his face. My body flew up what, I imagine, was at least two feet from the ground. Of course, it was just my luck, I hit another puddle of cold messy slush on the way back down.
“Careful,” he said. “I wouldn't want you to have an accident.” His voice seemed to linger on accident just a little too long.
“Charles Bizarro?” I already knew the answer to that. I had, after all, spent my weekends in October last year at his haunt signing books when it was open. Of course, my memories of him were all from a distance. Up close and personal was very different.
“In the flesh.”
Something about that answer left me with an uneasy feeling. I wish I could put a finger on exactly what it was. Reflections of the moon against his pure black eyes stole my thoughts away as I stood there. I must need glasses. There are no white parts to his eyes, just black. Contacts! That had to be it. He was after all a performer, although, I'm not quite sure why he needs them on a night like this. I guess I should be flattered he took the time.
A chainsaw fired up again in the background. “Perhaps.” The word was still dripping from his lips as a coy smile crept across his mouth just wide enough to expose some sharp teeth. “We should head into my office.”
Following him was about the only choice I had right now. The sight of those teeth stuck in my brain like gum to the bottom of a classroom chair. Fake! They had to be part of his costume.
“Here we are! Right up these steps and make yourself at home.”
At home! I let out a fake cough covering up a nervous giggle. I could feel the heat building in my cheeks. He must have noticed. Thank goodness the lighting inside was all different colours, especially the reds.
“I extend an apology. The air in here can get ... a bit stale.”
“Mmmm.” I have no idea how to reply to that. Not to mention, I am now walking through a trailer filled with the most absurd items I have ever seen. A shrunken head! Wow that's a squirrel moment.
“It's my museum of oddities, normally an attraction for the haunt. When we are closed it doubles as my office. Oh, and I wouldn't touch that if I were you.”
Okay, so he must have eyes in the back of his head as well. He never turned around, but, still knew what I was doing. Great! I could be defiant and take my time catching up to him. I wonder if that would anger him. I suppose finding out why he called me here is a better idea.
Mr. Bizzaro was already sitting down at ... wait ... “Is that a coffin? You use a coffin for a desk?” This guy is beyond Bizzaro.
“Actually, I sleep in it.”
“You sleep in it? Really?” I like spooky stuff as much as the next girl, but you wouldn't catch me sleeping in a coffin. That's just wrong.
“It's quite comfortable. Would you like to try lying down?”
“I'll wait till I'm dead, thanks.” I regret saying that already. I hope he doesn't take that as an invitation to murder. There goes that over achieving imagination again. Grab a grip girl. He's just a business man with an unusual business. “You didn't call me here to discuss your furniture I take it.”
“No, of course not. I want to discuss our contract.”
“Our contract?” Yikes my voice cracked. “You mean from last year?”
“Last year. This year. Next year. Time is irrelevant to such matters.”
“Actually, it isn't. We are dealing with a document that has time specific terms.” I really hope he doesn't take that the wrong way. “I brought a copy of it just in case we needed it.”
“Pull it out then! Read the fine print.”
“It's right here. As you can see, there is no fine print Mr. Bizarro.”
“It's Charles. Formalities have never been my strong suit. As long as I have lived they seem far too impersonal for my taste.”
As long as he has lived? He can't be more than mid twenties. Although the greyish tone to his skin might indicate something different. That has to be the lighting though.
Just humour him and put on a big smile. My hand shook. Tiny words were forming at the bottom of my contract before my eyes. “That wasn't there before! The words are too small to read.”
One blink and the paper was gone from my still trembling hands. There it was held tightly in Charles' grasp now ... My contract. He has it and now he is crumpling it up int a ball. Great.
“No worries. I can tell you what it says.”
“Huh.” Great response. That's the best I can come up with? My contract is flying through the air towards a garbage can and all I can say is, 'huh'. Oh, even better it burst into flames. Wait, how did he do that?
“Basically, it says I have the right to keep you on for another year. Use you for a bit of promotion. Lurk around at a few events ... yadda yadda yadda.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda? Who says that anymore?
“Here take this.”
A piece of paper. Wonderful. Maybe it's a new contract or worse, perhaps a my own will and burial instructions.
“Relax muffin, it won't hurt you. Well unless you are prone to paper cuts.”
I am not sure what sort of laugh that is coming from this guy, but it doesn't sound funny at all. Oh well, what's the harm in reading whatever it says? “Codes? Please tell me that these aren't launch codes and you want me to blow up a bunch of people.”
“Ha. Now what good would that do me. I want some fresh meat to come through the haunt. Generally, that means they need to be alive when they arrive.”
“So what are they?” I probably should have run rather than asking. Too late now.
“They are codes to my ticket site. I want you to give away some tickets as promotional gifts to your readers.”
Wow guess I have been way off base. I never saw that coming. “Why me?”
“Writers hold a special place inside me. You are the ones who create the monsters. That's why I have you at the haunt with your books. The only thing better than a writer, is a reader. They are the ones who breath life into the things that go bump in the night. They can take a single scenario and make it more terrifying than it already was. Take, for instance, you and your friends are watching a horror movie. Something makes one girl scream. What happens to the rest of you? You all jump and scream too. Your one friend multiplied the original effect. That's what I need. That's what you are going to provide for me.”
“You want me to scream?” I can of course scream but I'm no Jamie Lee Curtis. Shouldn't he be looking for a professional screamer?
“No. Well you can if you want to, but that isn't what I am aiming for. I want your readers to come and let their imagination run wild. Where you want to document and write about everything you experience, your fans want to live it.”
Oh look at that I have a notepad and pencil again. Guess he might be right about writers. “Okay so each of these codes are for free tickets to your haunt.”
“Now you have the idea muffin. I knew you wouldn't let me down.”
Right. Glad he has faith in me. “You want me to make up promotions and give them away. Something maybe on facebook or twitter?”
One thing I can say is that Charles definitely had his drama classes down to an art. I might have to duck if his arms flail about any closer to me. Talk about eccentric. The clothes he is wearing just makes it worse. Something from a cheesy vampire book, set in the eighteen hundreds, complete with ruffles and stains.
“I assume you want to be a part of the process?” Of course he did. He was too flamboyant not to want attention of any kind.
I wonder if he's clapping his hands for my idea or himself. I guess it doesn't matter. He seems happy and nothing creepy has happened in the last five minutes. “Perhaps on YouTube, I can have you do live draws weekly or biweekly from all the names entered. That way you can announce to the world the lucky recipients of your generosity.”
“YES! Who knows we could offer a little sneak peak into the world of Charles Bizzaro as well.”
“Okay. You are leaving the detail of the social media promotions to me so I can write up whatever I want for the giveaway?”
“The weekly giveaways are yours to play with. In addition to those, I will also being giving away tickets on my own at your events. You can promote that however you see fit. But wherever you go this year I will be lurking as well. Anyone can visit with me and fill in a ballot for daily draws anywhere you make an appearance. I might even scare up some business for you!”
Way to wait for an invitation. Oh well, I suppose he is an attraction. “You'll be at the comic cons, meet and greets, word on the street, everywhere?”
“Everywhere! We are going to be spending a lot of time together.”
At least it will be in the daylight. “And how many draws will you make?”
“As many as I feel like. Let's say at least five per day but no more than ten. Each will be good for two free tickets. The winners, when they enter their lucky codes, can pick the day from any we are open in the 2016 season. Then the standard fine print garbage. Prizes are as awarded and have no cash value. You provide your own transportation to and from the haunt. We aren't responsible for loss of limb, decapitation or death, yadda yadda yadda. All information can be found on my website, http://www.bizarroshaunt.com or https://www.facebook.com/bizarrosfactoryoffear”
Again with the 'yadda yadda yadda.' I can't believe the crypt keeper has social media. I guess everyone does now-a-days. “Wait! Loss of limb, decapitation or death?” That hit me like a tonne of bricks.
“Strictly for insurance purposes muffin. Don't get all emotional.”
Insurance. Of course. I guess that makes sense. A haunted house would need to cover their butts with an insurance policy. People have, after all, died from being afraid.
“So, do we have a deal?” His hand locked with mine in a firm shake.
“Yeah, I guess we do.” Yuck. I hadn't noticed his nails until now. They have to be two inches long, slightly curled and razor sharp. I have never seen that putrid a shade of yellow before mixed with some black and reddish tones. If I was writing a book I would describe them as having a colour of being stained as a result of having handled meat and blood for years without gloves.
I wonder, did I just make a deal with the devil? This was definitely going to be one of the more unusual years in my writing career. I will have to be sure to make as many notes as possible. It could end up being a fascinating addition to my memoirs down the road.