Thursday, October 29, 2015

MYSTERY HOUSE



MYSTERY HOUSE


A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story.

Suitable for children.


by Chris Tannhauser


START HERE

The moon oozes into a starless black above the peaked and jutting roof of the place, the inky-windowed bulk of it squatting in the mist, leaning almost imperceptibly away, as if gathering itself to strike.  It's not quite what you expected, being so much more.  Like something out of a bad mid-century horror comic, dilapidated even then, but with 70 more years of decay on top of that.  Gables and gambrels and garrets, sagging shit Lovecraft would have recognized as the parts of a place people once lived, but now only where something Beyond Evil lurks.  A wrought-iron-prickled container for Things That Should Not Be, looking for all the world like the frozen head of Walt Disney sucked off the French Quarter.

They said not to come, everyone knows better than to come, but having finished that awful business with the vibrating mummy—God rest the souls of the fallen—here you are.  Recovered, mostly, except for a slight limp and the odd blackout moment, but full again with hate and a terrible resolve.

You grimace and make a crackling fist.  A rivulet of blood drips from your knuckles.

It ends tonight—the Mystery House is done.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit


Do you:

WALK UP STEPS
or
CHECK AROUND BACK



You have chosen:

WALK UP STEPS

This is the kind of protesting, rotten-wood portico that could snap an ankle upon hasty retreat—just the sort of non-diabolical hero-killer that witches aren't known for, but should be.  You'd imagine it's all black magic and demon familiars and hideous transformations but it's much more likely to be shit like this, a Halloween prop shaken vigorously in the face, the backpedaling, the snapped ankle and then a quotidian monkey shanking.  Or, like that one time in Prague, an electrified bed frame suspended over a window, a bit of real-world magic that kills one while shattering the minds of everyone else within screaming and smelling distance.  You make a mental note to jump the steps should it come to that.

You take a step or two toward the door—a mildly luminescing tangle of angles that seems interested in meeting you halfway—your hand is on the baroque knocker before you realize what you've done.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit
mental note


Do you:

KNOCK
or
GO TO LIQUOR STORE FOR TEQUILA AND COUGH SYRUP



You have chosen:

GO TO LIQUOR STORE FOR TEQUILA AND COUGH SYRUP

It's a well-lit and suspicious place, midnight stragglers hustling personal demons, furtive, judged and judgmental.  No real eye contact, just lots of glances.  The dude by the dumpster makes your hand itch for the Glock in your witch-hunting kit—you did remember the Glock, right?  Or was it the sawed-off?  Or was the sawed-off just the truncheon, similar in the hand and mind?  Shit shit shit.  You stand between the aisles of stuff shaped like want-holes, frozen, and what you want is to rummage the duffel and put that itchy hand on the Glock or the sawed-off and not the truncheon but there are at least six eyes glancing past you repeatedly, slashing at your equanimity, and an array of CCTV cameras that can probably see your thoughts like closed-captioning.  You take a breath and a swig of cough syrup.

"Hey, man," says the cashier, "You gonna pay for that?"

"I always do," you reply.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit
tequila
cough syrup


Do you:

TALK TO CASHIER
or
GET ON WITH IT ALREADY




You have chosen:

TALK TO CASHIER

The look on his face is one you've seen before, too often, so you hit him again.  He goes down, taking the folding chair he's duct-taped to with him to the cracked basement floor.  He coughs teeth and wails.  "I told you I don't know anything!"

"So you admit you're a mindless pawn."

"What?  What pawn?!"

You give him an extra-hard boot to the tummy.  Rookie move—it's gonna take him a few minutes to recover, and in the meantime you'll get nothing useful out of him.  Just sobs and fluids.  The single bare bulb is swinging—must've bumped it with your head—making shadows lurch and pounce.  Furniture and old machines, some covered with ghost-shrouds, some naked, a mirror framed in light wood carved like bones, your face, hovering there, in terrible recognition—you've been here before.  So many times, before.

You grab him by the hair and yank him upright.  The chair's fucked, not rated for this, won't sit up straight.  "The house," you hiss, "and the witch."

The bulb gutters like flame.

His face twists.  "This place?  You're the one who brought me here!"


Inventory

slight limp
witch-hunting kit
horrible realization


Do you:

GET THE FUCK OUT
or
GET ON WITH IT ALREADY




You have chosen:

GET THE FUCK OUT

The hallways are long and dark and full of senseless furniture that's only good for architectural spreads that never show people—or for tripping intruders.  The passages twist, but not in the usual way, everything's turning on its long axis.  Three steps on the floor, a weird hop to the wall, careful not to put a leg through any doorways, then bootprints on the ceiling while dodging dead light fixtures.  You hit the front door floorwise at full steam, knocking it open and hurtle onto the porch, where you put a boot right through the middle step.

You wake on the damp ground, nightsounds all around, having pissed yourself.  Your head and ankle throb in synchrony.  The house squats, immobile, front door hanging open like a dumb mouth.


Inventory

pronounced limp
witch-hunting kit


Do you:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY
or
GO TO BARCELONA



You have chosen:

GO TO BARCELONA

Of course, you don't really intend to go to Barcelona.  That's just code for a broken arrow situation gone FUBAR, an emergency exfil to a safehouse, probably somewhere in the Balkans.  And then a general call for reinforcements.

The flight, while at the marginal safety of 35,000 feet, does nothing to calm your nerves.  You're gonna need something to keep your head in the clouds.


Inventory

pronounced limp
jangled nerves
keister-stashed fiberglass shiv


Do you:

TROUBLE STEWARDESS FOR SLEEPING AID
or
HIJACK PLANE



You have chosen:

TROUBLE STEWARDESS FOR SLEEPING AID

Dear Penthouse Letters,

I never thought it could happen to me, but it did.  Airplane lavatories are tiny and you'd swear there wasn't enough room to cram two people together in there—let alone have enough space to disrobe sufficiently to snizzle—but you'd be surprised.  It probably has something to do with the unconscious needs of evolutionary pressure and how we're genetically inhibited from making a public space where two people can't fuck or designing pants that can't be popped, flopped or twisted quickly into a configuration that allows for genital contact.  No matter how hard we try, the ur-chemistry in our blood will always steer us back to a bang-closet and long zippers.  Even the most devout ascetic in his "don't touch it" closet, dingwallace safely mortified in a chastity belt, can get shocked erect when a servant of indeterminate gender wriggles into the space buck naked with the key.  Turns out in the deepest, darkest sub-basement of the soul there's always water on the floor, seeping, seeping.  Her hands on mine, she showed me what she liked, so we did a bunch of that.  It didn't make me as sleepy as cough syrup, which would have been nice, but it did make her wink at me for the rest of the flight.

Sincerely,

Name Withheld By Request


Inventory

pronounced limp
keister-stashed fiberglass shiv
mile-high club membership
chlamydia


Do you:

RIDE IT OUT
or
NO, REALLY—LET'S HIJACK THIS MOTHERFUCKER




You have chosen:

RIDE IT OUT

After three confusing weeks in Barcelona, you're back.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
plucky sidekick


Do you:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY
or
TRAIN SIDEKICK



You have chosen:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY

You stand before the night-house in the semi-protective glow of the full moon, panting and wiping the plucky sidekick's blood from your eyes.  You told him to run.  You told him to run but he had to turn and look.  They always do.  Unless you train them not to.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel


Do you:

WALK UP STEPS
or
CHECK AROUND BACK



You have chosen:

ENTER GRAVEYARD

You're only halfway down, like three feet under the headstone, when the shovel hits a lead plug with an inscription.

THINK ABOUT IT, it says.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel
doubt


Do you:

DIG IT UP
or
JESUS CHRIST JUST DO WHAT THE PLUG SAYS



You have chosen:

DIG IT UP

Fuck plugs.  Besides, the grave contains some dude buried head-down with a baby-skull wedged in his mouth.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel


Do you:

REMOVE SKULL
or
NO NO NO DON'T TOUCH IT



You have chosen:

REMOVE SKULL

You could sell this shit on eBay—the plug, the bound bones, the baby skull, hell, even your underwear "worn by a grave robber during an actual grave robbery; cleaned to eBay standards".


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel
bundle of bones
baby skull


Do you:

SELL ON EBAY
or
CALL IT A NIGHT



You have chosen:

SELL ON EBAY

Your roommate's home—still hasn't done the dishes—says he called the police.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
bundle of bones
baby skull
rage


Do you:

WAIT FOR POLICE
or
CASTIGATE ROOMMATE



You have chosen:

CASTIGATE ROOMMATE

No matter how hard you look, you can't find the parasite.  Probably shoulda laid down some plastic first.  Red and blue lights dance through the thin curtains. 


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
parasite


Do you:

KICK THE DOOR BEFORE THEY DO
or
FEIGN INNOCENCE



You have chosen:

KICK THE DOOR BEFORE THEY DO

You gun the engine of the Rhino Industries Trampler XL police vehicle and three of the six South African riot tires get air off a startled Prius, neatly crimping it in a cloud of sparkling glass.  It handles like a pig, the driver-side door is missing—which is annoying—and the radio doesn't get anything but some weird, right-wing talkshow about places you've just been.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
parasite
police hat
sucking chest wound


Do you:

TAKE A LEFT ON EUCLID
or
HOLY SHIT VIBRATING MUMMY



You have chosen:

TAKE A LEFT ON EUCLID

More than anything you want that hard left, away, away from what is, impossibly, him.  Popping and locking and doing his weird vibrating dance across the street, his millennia-wormed vestments snap-fluttering in a cloud behind him.  In that awful, sickening moment you realize that all those months of investigation and globetrotting, that burning swath of ruined lives you wiped from the map like so much dust, all culminating in that single, hard night beneath the pyramids, Inishka whispering in your ear "Make it count," and then she was gone, no time to scream, Doc Ambrose rising then, pages of the Book of the Dead in his fist as he barked impossible syllables you could feel in your guts and nuts to bring the whole mass of centuries down upon the Dread Pharaoh's head—all of it, all of it a monumental waste.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
parasite
sucking chest wound
regret


Do you:

SWERVE
or
THROW TOMAHA—AW SHIT IT'S GONE



You have chosen:

SWERVE

You haul on the wheel hand-over-hand and the beast groans with inertia as the shocks on one whole side compress, tires fattening with the load but keeping the road as you punch it again and bear down on the flickering thing pinned in the banks of blinding lights.  Seconds are sectioned as they swell, the ticking of every clock let out logarithmically long—longer—and then into the silence between worlds where the vibrating mummy dances his blasphemous dance.  He steps—and is gone.  He steps—

—and the grille has him for lunch, then vomits the other half into the hungry wheels where he pops into a cloud of spicy dust.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
parasite
sucking chest wound


Do you:

DRIVE UNTIL THE SNIPER TAKES THE SHOT
or
DRIVE THE BREACHING VEHICLE TO THE MYSTERY HOUSE



You have chosen:

DRIVE THE BREACHING VEHICLE TO THE MYSTERY HOUSE

In the glare of the 18 halogens it looks like the kind of place kids go to drink and have formative experiences that'll color their first marriage, the kind of place heroin addicts go to get found dead.  Light washes evil to banality, and you realize you just shoulda burned the place down in the first paragraph.  But your reflexes are failing you—the last thing that always happens just before the end.

There are no brakes, just an aching right foot holding pedal to the metal, and at least one of choppers tethered to you by silver spotlights is live news—and man, are they ever gonna see something when you kick this hive over.  You got what you couldn't get in Barcelona, an entire sting-crazy and heavily armed cavalry riding in your wake.  Whatever boils out of that house will go straight into their teeth.  It might get you first, but what the hell, that's the end that was destined for you when you first stepped upon the path.

The light makes the whole fa├žade a million shades of gray, everything dull but for the yawning black mouth of the doorway, an undulating deadspace that seems to shift with every jounce of the Trampler's riot-worn shocks.  The engine roars—and the house answers—slapping your blood cold, the steering wheel like ice in your fists.  Eyes frozen wide you hit the portico at speed, disintegrating it into a twin-tailed fountain of wet kindling as you plunge into the heart of the house and the darkness folds over you like a thousand nights up to no good.  No good at all.

And now you know the door was never the way in—it was the way out the whole time.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The part where we're done.



Part I —  All-in on alien.

On the screens above their rainbow heads it's all tentacle sex, gaping and surging, eyes wide and watering, what happens, perhaps, when your culture gets gut-punched by two nukes.  Below it's all human-enough—people-shaped, smells unfamiliar but not outright wrong, sounds like laughter, anger, need—it's just that it's not coming through on the right channels.  The faces mean the same things, they're just unfamiliar to my uninitiated gut.  So I keep my head down and suck my noodles alone.

Barking syllables, repeated, give me the he means me jolt, repeated again because you never look up until you're sure, and when I do the other face is clearly pissed off, same family after all.  His body language is a giant sneer, and he repeats himself, this time with a two-finger poke into my shoulder that twists my skeleton.  My hand wants a gun like a prayer wants God, but they don't let you fly like that around here and my contacts were all head-shakes on the weapons part.  I decide to play dumb until I have to hit him.

I turn in my seat to free a boot from the bar rail and line it up, all sneaky-like, with his inseam.  That's when I see the tats and know this isn't random.  He barks again and I think about a chain of events that doesn't start with me getting shot, but does have me rabbiting through an Orwellian panopticon, built to prevent pretty much everything I might think of to escape.  There's a ludicrous car chase that ends with a hostage I don't want and a cartoon sniper taking the shot—

Through the super slo-mo of brains-blood-teeth-single-flapping-eye I see her step forward in the unusual direction and engage him with hot gibberish.  His face does this thing like he's been asked to fuck a three-headed dolphin and he turns with comic leisure, the leading edge of him a barely contained backhand slap.  They trade sounds and faces and postures that ratchet ever upward and finally he hits her, spinning her hair into a dark shining spiral.  She puts a hand to her face and withdraws.  He turns to ignore her and perhaps give me some, then folds his arms with the arrogance that comes from living with a tribe of thugs at your back, feet wide in genital-wagging bravado.  And then she's back with a stick produced from nowhere, the first crack across his skull almost quiet, then magnified on the second shot by his open mouth when she breaks it over his head, grabs him by the hair and pumps the jaggy end into his gargling neck three, four times.  He hits the floor and curls sideways like a gill-sprung fish where she takes an athlete's windup and kicks him in the brain hard enough to make the rest of his passing painless.  The whole thing is almost refreshingly familiar, human, humane.  Comparatively speaking.

She eyeballs everyone in the joint and they give her a radius like a force field.  "You," she says to me, "he will see you."


Part II — In through the out door.

We didn't fuck in the car, though it smelled like we might, with all the unbuttoned humanity freighting the air.  That came later at the coffin hotel where she went at it with the workmanlike enthusiasm of a bucket-list tick, all business and taking care of herself, my own orgasm slapped out of me at the last moment like a half-forgotten ellipsis dot dot dot.

"You need a better hotel.  Another driver will take you to one."  She slid into her pants and to the hatch, popped it and sat on the edge, a wilding shape.  "Clean yourself and wait for the call."

Her walk away, pulling her scent with her, was that ancient, ultimate ad:  This way to the eggs.  Loud enough to tell from the other side of a roaring river whether or not it was worth the swim.

Later.

Cigarette smoke and a ringing in my miserable head that comes from having a firearm discharged too close, these are the things they leave me with.  Instead of a finger I have the object of interest, grasped in a half-hand and bloody towel.  It's a cylinder of quartz with the top taken off at a funny angle, fine silvery-white tracings inside that hint at puzzle pieces, constructed, not flaws.  If they knew what I know, they wouldn't have left it with me, traded it for the puffs of nothing that are promises, information, gold.

When I move my mind a certain way and regard the object just so I am lopped and hollowed, sectioned, an exploded view of myself, and the shame at so few moving parts is one of those parts, making it an embarrassingly large percentage of what I am.

Time passes and I fall through places chasing understanding, ejected from the penthouse within 24 hours, then a week at the coffins, a month in an aptly named hostel, the better part of a year in the streets where no one really lives.  When understanding finally dawns in fullness, it's because I've become extenuated enough for the caverns of darkness to shine through, those dense overhead miles encompassed by my smeared gaze.  I'm the only thing that reflects anything in here and I can see that I'm done.

When it comes it's like a migraine tear, space-time jabbed and pressed into and nothing I can say can describe it—it struggles with an earnestness we would call "rage" but that doesn't even come close.  We are thin in a way it is dense and the pull of its gravitational emotion smudges the edge of what I am, permanently.


Part III — It'll come to me.

One outrageous act, it's all I can afford, all I'll have—I almost said "time for", but of course that's meaningless where I'm going, where I am.  Too many open doors showing the trajectory of my life, points connected in a neat spiral with a sudden, paper-tearing pulse off the table.  It will find me, it's only a matter of—"time" is wrong, again.

And so I open doors along the curve of the harbor, looking for that summertime past, through the uprights of the dragon-tailed torii, traditional thresholds delimiting the sacred from the profane—which side is which cannot be determined here.  I push against a current of time, following the regression of modernity, everything bulking, simplifying, steel and concrete curling into wood and paper, clothing losing the conqueror's twang for something more authentic.  

I follow a rising wind that hums with the attenuated shades of once-people, it grows to choking with their ashes as I cross into a stain upon the world, a graveyard convulsed and inverted, its underside crawling with smoking ghouls.  The air growls and grows ever hotter until it ignites into screaming tongues of flame that recede toward a mad point in the sky where they compress themselves into a sudden apocalypse of light.

It is the summer of 1945, and children play in the park.

Everything stops when they see me, their headmistress calling to gather them back across the sward.  The children's faces are unafraid, observant at the sight of me out of nowhere, my flesh a door to forever, a beacon that calls to the thing beyond for whom time itself is meat and drink.

There's a little girl ahead of the group, an outlier with a red bow at her neck, and we both run for her.  I scoop her into my arms and she is light and calm until her headmistress screams and the girl turns her little head and begins to cry, infected with terror.

"I'm sorry," I say, and let the torrent of time drag us back.


My stuttered self sets her on new grass with new children and she has only just left my hands when I am consumed