As soon as they got inside the House of Horror, Tyler raced ahead, leaving Lennie on her own to crawl, slide, or bounce through the twisted passageways. The ten-year-old's shouts and shrieks floated back to her, and she was glad he, at least, was having a good time. A green florescent skeleton swung to within inches of Lennie, then shot up into the blackness above her. After several deep breaths, she slowly moved on. Around a dimly lit comer and she was confronted by three witches bent over boiling muck in a black iron pot. Foul smelling smoke and classic cackling surrounded her as she moved into a red-lit tunnel. Squeals came from the floor and she looked down to see she was stepping on squishy, disembodied heads.
I hope Tyler never realizes what a coward I am. God, I hate this.
Lennie had a moment of walking on solid ground, but in the next she was sliding on slimy rubber. She heard chains rattle and a heavy door shut behind her. When a hissing snake dropped in front of her nose, she screamed.
Oh get a grip! All that was twenty years ago.
Lennie was eight the last time she'd been in a funhouse. She'd had a ball until she got separated from her family. When she realized her brothers weren't near-by, make-believe terror became real. Panicked, she ran into a large, wavy mirror that blocked her path. Knocked to the ground, she looked up and saw a black-bearded pirate looming above her reflection. Lennie jumped up and whirled around, but no one was there. Screaming, stumbling, she ran, convinced she was alone in the dark with a ghost. When she finally burst through the exit, she didn't stop until she could jump into her father's arms, the way a small child would. Her father had carefully explained to her that the man was an illusion, but Lennie had nightmares for years about the funhouse.
Her fear of crowds began the next time she went to a county fair with her family. Even though she held her Dad's hand, she got shoved to her knees by someone in the pushing, shouting crowd. After that, bad dreams included a weaving, shape shifting pirate closing in on her from a mob of strangers.
"Finally," Lennie gasped as she flung aside a cobweb curtain. Her fiance waited with his son just beyond the fence.
"Hey! What happened to you? Are you okay, sweetheart? Was it that bad?" Dennis asked.
"Bad?" Tyler said before Lennie could answer. "It was great, Dad! Almost as good as the one in Orlando." His face red with heat and excitement, Tyler bounced with impatience, ready to go to the next ride. Then he took a good look at Lennie. "What's the matter with you? You look white. Are you sick? Don't be sick, okay? We haven't done the Cyclone yet. We're still gonna do it, right? We don't have to go home, do we? Not yet, right?"
"I'm fine, Tyler." Lennie said and moved out of Dennis's arms. "You and your father can ride that stomach churner three times if you want. I'll wait on this nice, solid bench. You two have at it."
"You don't want to go on the roller coaster? Jeez. My mom loves roller coasters. That's lame."
"Hey! Watch yourself, Ty. Lots of people don't like roller coasters. We'll do the ride, then we're going home."
Dennis kissed her on the cheek then he and Tyler headed for the Cyclone. Tyler threw Lennie a scowl over his shoulder.
She heard the boy saying, "We can't go home yet, Dad. We still have lots of tickets. Why doesn't she like county fairs like everybody else?"
Great. Perfect. Strike three! I'm a mathematician and math is "sucky." I write poetry, whch is even suckier than math. And now I'm a roller-coaster-hating wimp. He'll be going back to his Mom in a few weeks and I don't think I've scored a single point with Tyler. He probably thinks I'll ruin every summer of his life if his Dad marries me. Jeez Louise.
Lennie bought herself a lemonade and returned to the bench holding the icy paper cup against her cheek. She ached for the quiet of her bedroom. One of the brutal headaches she'd been getting lately drilled deeply, and with it came nausea, and some fear. Her doctor had scheduled her for an MRI later that week when she'd told him that she'd never been bothered by intense headaches.
Soon. We'll be leaving this noisy, smelly, scary place soon. But Tyler will get his full time at the fair first, even if it kills me.
From her spot in the shadows, she watched the crowd swarming under the bright lights of the midway.
Tattoos all over that teenager's body. Ugh. Why would anyone want Medusa on her chest? When her boobs jiggle snakes move all over them. A swastika on her back! Her guy's a damn skinhead and he looks forty. Covered with tattoos, too. Good grief! A Harley on the back of his head. That must have hurt. People can just walk around here with knives hanging from their belt? Jesus.
Oh, poor kid! That man is going to pull his son's arm right out of its socket if he doesn't ease up! No wonder the little guy's screaming. He's getting dragged so fast his feet are barely touching ground. Bastard.
She's dressed like a streetwalker! What is she, eight? Maybe ten, tops. Make-up, pierced eyebrow, the works. Could that be her mother? Don't you give me a dirty look, lady.
That guy must be seven feet tall! He's twice as big as his girlfriend. She's gonna perish in all that black leather.
Oh,yuck! Loser! That bully tripped that boy on purpose! God, that ugly gang he's with is loud. Everyone is so loud!
Uh-oh. Now I'm really nauseous. Don't worry, Tyler. The smells of all this greasy food, sweaty people and trash are not going to tum me green. I'm sticking this out, kid.
That little girl's hair is stiff with dirt. Her mother looks so depressed. She is. She's crying. I wonder what happened to her? Probably just being married to that slob in his grimy undershirt. You'd think he'd want to cover his hairy back, not show it off. Looks like fur. What's wrong with me? Everyone I see looks weird or mean.
Old, crusty, blood on that girl's belly. Pierced navel. Maybe someone pulled her hoop.
That woman must weigh four hundred pounds. And her poor son's acne! Blackheads, whiteheads, fat, red, pimples, pus. He'll be scarred his whole life.
It's so hot. Should be cooling off by now. I'll find another lemonade stand without such a line. Wish they'd turn down the music. Deafening. Different song from every ride. Crazy. So many people shouting, screaming. Babies crying. Camey hawkers. Wish they'd all shut up for a second. Lights keep getting brighter. It's like everything keeps getting brighter and louder. Why?
Those people are skeletons!! Vietnamese? She's way too old for this kind of thing. Gotta be in her nineties- bent over so far she's looking at the ground-she must be in pain, walking like that. God! Why the hell did her family bring her to this crowded, horrid, place? What if she gets lost? So frail and slow. I'm going to say something to those people-this just isn't right. So many people here need help! How can I help all of them?
What's that? Who's screaming?
Lennie screamed when a strong hand grapped her upperarm.
"Lennie! Where were you going? Hey, it's us-we didn't mean to scare you."
"Were you going to talk to that man, Lennie? Tyler asked. "You don't know him, do you? I don't think you should go after him. He looks like a bad guy in a video game."
"Oh, thank God, you're back. We have to find that old lady and help her get away from her family! They don't care about her! And we need to help the little girl dressed like a hooker and the other one who's so dirty and the toddler who's going to have a dislocated shoulder if his father keeps yanking him like that and we have to stop those bullies who are tripping everyone and there's a guy here with a knife and we have to feed the Vietnamese family and ... " as Lennie rushed to tell them everything, she spotted a man dressed head to toe in bright purple. He grinned lasciviously at Lennie and she saw that his yellow teeth were long and pointed. Her knees gave way, her eyes rolled back in her head, and she would have hit the ground, if Tyler hadn't seen her going down and stepped behind her to break her fall.
Lennie woke up and saw Dennis talking to an Hispanic in a Red Cross uniform. She was lying on a cot in a brightly lit tent. She felt a cool, wet cloth on her forehead. Tyler stood next to her, his green eyes wide and serious. He held her hand and gave it a squeeze when she looked at him.
"Dad, she's awake."
"Hey, sweetheart. You're back. How do you feel?"
"My head's killing me. What happened?"
"We found you tearing through the crowd on the midway., You looked wild, talked about all these people we had to help, and then you fainted. I'm sorry. We shouldn't have pushed you to come with us. You really don't like county fairs, do you?"
"You would have fallen, Lennie, but I caught you," Tyler said. "You sure were acting crazy. Good thing Dad and I were there, huh?"
The medic broke in. "Miss, Mr. Carraway here says you're having an MRI done next week. That sounds like a good idea. You need to get checked out, okay?»
"Yes, okay ... .I will. Can you take me home guys? I want to go home. I'm so sorry, Tyler, for spoiling things."
"We've already talked about it, Lennie. Tyler thinks you should stay at our house, tonight. He thinks we should keep an eye on you." Dennis said and grinned.
"Yeah, Lennie. You can sleep in my room and I'll sleep on the couch. Okay? You can watch my TV or listen to CDs if you want."
On the way to the car, she scanned the people on the mid-way, and for a few minutes she just saw a typical crush of people wandering through the fair. But she stumbled when she saw a man with a black empty eye-socket holding hands with a plump woman with an angry baseball-sized boil on her neck. She was sure the boil was moving. Lennie's knees buckled, but she managed to stay upright.
"Dad, can we come back before the fair closes? There's still two more nights and you could do the House of Horrors with me. It wasn't really scary, just freaky."
Lennie shuddered, tucked one arm around Dennis's, then reached down and took Tyler's hand firmly in her own.