City of Freaks
Without a doubt, my favorite holiday to celebrate is Halloween. Every year since I was four, I have been dressing up in ill-fitting costumes to trick or treat with all the other free spirits of the night, searching for free candy and avoiding the houses with fruit and toothpaste for all of those foolish enough to inquire. I have long since grown out of my days of vandalism and candy binges, but every year I lazily pick out some kind of costume, which for the past five years has been Wayne Gretzky (nothing but my street clothes and an old hockey mask) and walk around the city with total anonymity.
Even as a kid, the thrill of roving around in familiar settings surrounded by tiny demons and monsters high on glucose, and sometimes other chemicals, was enthralling. Through the narrow slits or floppy eyeholes, I could hold my head high and walk freely knowing that no one could separate me from the others. I was just another freak among countless droves of freaks roaming the streets with no prejudice, only a lust for sweet things.
Unlike Christmas or arbitrary fake holidays like Valentine's Day or Father’s Day, Halloween holds a special narcissistic quality without nearly the amount of family participation. I love my Mom and I know she loves me, but Christmas and the other family function holidays always felt sad and forced when I was younger. I never expected Mom to buy me a hundred toys to make up for Dad leaving, and she never did. The gifts were secondary to the fact that my Dad bailed on us when we needed him most. Christmas only serves as a yearly reminder of poor decisions made far too long ago to be reversed.
This year, I am lucky enough to share this love of Halloween with Harper, who — in fact — loves all things dark and scary even more than I do. When I semi-casually brought up a costumed stroll of the city together, already expecting her to have made plans elsewhere, she practically tore my arm off in excitement to go. I told her about my lame Wayne Gretzky costume, but she refused to tell me what she had planned for hers. We made plans to meet in front of her apartment around sundown that night. Donning my mask (I should really start saying that I’m Jason Voorhees since Gretzky didn’t play goalie) and my festive black hoodie depicting a cartoon Gallagher taking a dump into the open top of an angry jack-o-lantern, I drive over to Harper's place and wait on the sidewalk.
When she finally comes out, I barely recognize her. I do a double take at the bizarre creature walking towards me out of the dull, paint splotched door. Her costume consists of nothing but her regular clothes and hideous movie style makeup that, upon first glance, is frighteningly realistic. Her lips are torn off and both her eye sockets excrete thick, dark lines of purplish blood. Her pupils are jet black and a huge, pulpy gash along her right cheek exposes a bright pink jawline and yellowing teeth. I feel sick at first looking at it, but once she comes closer, I can still see how beautiful she is underneath the appearance of a mangled corpse and my stomach relaxes.
I start to feel stupid for not putting more effort into my outfit until she laughs and says, “Great costume. I love how you don’t even care enough to wear a jersey or anything. Very cool.” She smiles at me, exposing tiny white teeth completely unlike the sick yellow ones painted onto her cheek. She rubs her tiny, gloved hands together while huddling up against me between the cool gusts of ocean wind. She turns her gruesome face up to mine and says, “Ah, it’s so butt-fucking cold this time of year! We better start walking before it gets too late.” And with that, she leaves my arm and starts to walk away. Numbly, I follow.
As the Earth’s fiery mother star sinks beyond the hollow slabs of steel and stone, acting as a curtain against the slow, rolling ocean waves, the streets gradually start to fill with the pitter patter of werewolves, robots and slightly intoxicated loose women dressed poorly for the late October weather. While I enjoy this part of the holiday, I always find myself laughing at the expense taken to use the “dress like a movie prostitute for a night” pass that every girl gets once they turn the respectable age of eighteen. Don’t get me wrong; if a girl fresh out of college wants to walk around in a sexy nurse or mouse (cat?) costume that consists of underwear and maybe a tiny hat or wire tale, that is completely within her right to do so. Halloween should forever be a day of complete aesthetic freedom for everyone; no person should be told what to wear or not to wear. With that said, maybe wearing a coat or a light sweater wouldn’t have been a horrible idea for the poor group of women huddled together across the street. They screech and cluck at every gust of freezing wind that comes whipping at their exposed thighs and chests.
Harper and I exchange laughs about this as we start to get into the more populated part of the city with all the nightly themed bars and clubs. Weaving our way through the neon lit crowds of hooting drunk guys in crudely made Darth Vader costumes and flabby Magic Mike doppelgangers, we stay closer to the road to avoid the throngs of party goers lining the buildings eager to dance and drink.
As we are walking along the curb talking to each other about the correlations between G.G. Allen’s baby dick and people who believe flat-earth theory, a guy dressed as Hulk Hogan (had he abused heroin and not steroids) crossing the sidewalk collides with Harper. The collision knocks Hogan to the ground while tossing Harper off the lip and onto the side of the road in front of a parked car.
“The fuck, bitch?! Watch your fuckin’ step!” he yells at us in an angry, redneck slur while adjusting the tassels on his costume. I hurry to pick Harper up off the ground to make sure she is okay. She shakily stands up, and for a second I am afraid she might be hurt. I am relieved a little once I see her smile up at me. She stands up, brushes the loose gravel off her mud stained blue jeans, and calmly says back, “Suck my ass, Hogan. And judging by the headband and sunglasses, I wouldn’t doubt it was the first ass you've sucked tonight, either.”
Hogan scoops up his shades from the curb before a fat, Latino Bart Simpson could accidentally step on them and says, “That right, slut?” He puffs his chest out in a primal reflex after putting his fancy, bright red shades back on his even redder scowling face. As he balls his shaky hands, he approaches us in long swaying steps. His steel toed, snakeskin boots clicking and rawhide tassels swaying in a hypnotic zigzagging pattern across the sidewalk.
Using the curb as a four inch boost, he tries to tower over us as he rants. “If you weren’t already a corpse, I’d punch you in the suck hole then rape you dead. A stupid cunt like you deserves nothing less than the best, right Freddy Krueger?” He gestures to me with one fingerless, canary yellow, leather glove. My patience with this asswipe is growing thin. I soon notice random people stopping to survey the scene. A loose half circle forms, slowly becoming a crude ring for a much anticipated impromptu WrestleMania show. Already I see people with their phones raised, waiting for a chance to get some of that sweet, copyright free YouTube cheddar.
As I am about to step in and end the conversation, Harper boldly says, “This is the reason why you’ll die alone, Mr. Hogan. In a way I feel bad for you, but in a more humanitarian way, I’m glad that your rotten seed won’t spread and further pollute the world with more thoughtless bullshit. You’re alone tonight and will probably be alone every night for the rest of your miserable life. You want to know why? Well, big surprise, no one wants to be with an inbred cock sneeze who wears sunglasses at night.” The surrounding crowd roars with laughter then slowly hushes. All attention is now on bizarro Hulk Hogan.
Hogan sways on the lip of the curb as he absorbs what has just been said to him. He then blurts out, “Say another fuckin’ thing to me again, whore, and I’ll kill you.” He has time to raise one spindly arm out to Harper, as if to grab her, before I reach up to grab him by his bright red cutoff shirt with my left hand and slam his nose with a hard right. Not expecting my blow, he stumbles back down to the sidewalk and once again loses his shades in the crowd of spectators.
From outside of myself, I am amazed at how accurate my reflexes are. Apparently, all those years of karate and boxing lessons at the youth center were still very deeply ingrained in my brain. Every day after school from fifth to eleventh grade was spent enrolled in mixed martial arts or self-defense classes, always by my mom’s force. I know she probably just wanted me to stay out of trouble while she was busy pulling a double shift at the hospital. You would think that after ten years of not having to use these skills that I would have pushed them out to make room for trivial things like Seinfeld dialogue or Stephen Lynch lyrics. My concern for Harper must have triggered this involuntary reflex and set in motion a tactical autopilot system of sorts. I can feel my muscles tightening and stance widening as I go into self-defense mode. Even through the bulky mask, my eyesight sharpens; I view everything in a vibrant, slow motion reel as I wait for his next move.
Hulk quickly scrambles to his feet. He squats into a runner's pose before letting out a guttural war cry that sounds like a dying moose, and then he boldly charges. Why he would warn me he was coming is beyond my comprehension. I brace myself as he lumbers forward.
With hot, rapid breaths fogging my face and eyes, I quickly whip off my mask and toss it to the ground by Harper's feet. The cool night air tickles at the tiny beads of perspiration on my nose and cheeks, and all at once I am aware of him gaining ground fast. Even with my delayed reaction, I see him coming from a mile away. I quickly side step to the right. Arms flailing, he dives headfirst into the parked car behind me. The car's alarm springs into life with horn blaring and lights flashing. Hogan seems to have impaled himself into the side door like a spray tanned harpoon until seconds later he falls limply to the curb, exposing a basketball sized dent in the side of some poor guy’s minivan. The crowd goes wild. From all around me, I hear odd chanting and people yelling, “World Star! World Star!” over and over again while dozens of tiny cell phone cameras spotlight Hogan as he rolls around collecting gum and cigarette butts while clutching his undoubtedly sore head. Not wanting to fight this guy any more than I have to, I give him space to get up as I face him, waiting.
“Sucker punch me, you fuckin’ pussy!” he screams through a red beard of blood flowing from his crushed nose. Thick drops of blood are dripping off his chin as he props himself up again. His teeth are gnashed together in an expression of pure hostility and embarrassment. Surely, the real Hulk Hogan would be very disappointed to be represented this way. I don’t think this is lost on bizarro Hogan. He dramatically spits a bloody tooth into the gutter and makes a lazy attempt to wipe the drying blood off his face with his forearm, but he only smears it more. With his demented clown make-up, his eyes glow with morbid rage. I can feel his stubbornness to admit defeat and walk away like a man. I know now that if I don’t knock this guy out, he will follow us around until I do, or hewill maybe take out his aggression on someone else who can’t defend himself (or herself) nearly as well. Once he picks himself up, he charges at me — his fists raised. As he shuffles forward, he screams, “After I beat your ass I’m gonna rape your…”
That beautifully crafted sentence is interrupted by a left hook and a right elbow to the throat that sends him folding to the curb, twitching and choking. His veiny, pink eyes bulge out of his skull and his breaths become gurgled and short. I crouch down to ask him if he is done, and the look of immense pain and fear that I get back is enough to tell me yes. The rowdy crowd around me explodes in chanting and mocking laughter as I stand back up and dust myself off. From all sides, I have cardboard Ninja Turtles giving me sloppy high fives, Walter Whites fist bumping me, and various Deadpools of all shapes and sizes taking questionable selfies with the pulpy, disoriented mess that used to be the bronzed god of Worldwide Wrestling. I had half expected this and took the onslaught of loud admiration as patiently as I could, not wanting to have to repeat this whole testosterone fueled monkey match over again with some other tanked up idiot. I probably broke this guy’s larynx without warrant, but I really don’t think anyone would blame me for that after talking to him for more than five seconds. This may have been in the best interest of everyone. I step over the fetal remains of Mr. Hogan and approach Harper, who is still by the roadside where the altercation started.
“Are you okay, Harper?” I ask slightly out of breath, but still full of adrenaline. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Her face is blank and even through the corpse paint, I can see the warm glow of her now rosy cheeks in the blinking neon and passing headlights.
“I’m fine,” she finally says, still a thousand miles away. “Let’s get out of here before he gets up.” She bends down and picks up my mask. Her hands tremble slightly as she passes it to me. I wipe the sweat out from the inside with my shirt before sliding it back on. She then grabs my hand and leads me through the crowd of gawking onlookers and noisy street traffic.
Once again, her demeanor has changed. Good job, dumbass. You managed to fuck up another perfectly avoidable situation. I probably embarrassed her, but I never would've hit that guy unless I thought we were in danger. I know I could have subdued him without breaking his nose, but that disrespectful shit coming out of his stupid pie hole was too much for me to tolerate. To be honest, I wanted to smash his face in when he called her a whore. As soon as he started threatening to kill her, I knew I had to take him down. I don’t regret doing it even if it did make Harper upset. I firmly believe that some people deserve to swallow a few teeth now and again. We circled the block without any conversation and made our way back to her apartment building.
She stands outside her front door, facing me but looking down at her feet as if trying to think of something to say. Suddenly, she grabs my mask and tears it off of my face. With cold, grey hands, she pulls me down by the front of my hoodie and lands a plump, wet kiss firmly on my cold, slightly chapped lips. Our cold noses touch momentarily and, after little thought, both sets of lips graciously open and our tongues meet for the first time. The cold numbness of our lips slowly melts away against the frictionless heat steaming out of our mouths. All feeling leaves my body as I explore the inside of her mouth with my warm, slippery tongue as we talk and hum our silent language of lust.
The deep kiss ends mutually, and we stare at each other — stunned — for several moments. Harper says, “Thank you, Nick. That was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” Being a dazed moron, I respond with, “Am I that good of a kisser?” She laughs, taking my floating hands in hers.
“No, Fart knocker. Beating up Hulk Hogan was one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen in my life.” She then lets go of my weightless hands and they drop limply to my sides. “I want to see you again next weekend. I’m a cheap date, so don’t worry about renting a limousine or any fancy dinner reservations. Meet me here around eight on Saturday if you’re interested. See you later, Nick. Thanks again for a great night.” She steals another kiss before turning to walk inside, leaving me frozen on the moonlit curb.
A rigid statue misplaced in the city of freaks.
The Heart of the Hydra by A. Mangina was Fluky Fiction's first publication. It's available on our Etsy story, Kindle, Amazon, and other major retailers.
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Nick is a lonely introvert with a deep, dark secret. His jock physique, curly locks, and steely blue eyes only cover so much of the hideous truth that he keeps hidden from everyone around him. His seemingly normal outward appearance provides him the ability to blend in effortlessly with the rest of the beautiful people of South Harbor, a bustling seaside metropolis where warm sand and water border cold concrete and steel.
He meets Harper: an overly sarcastic, emotionally damaged girl who has moved to the city after the tragic loss of her mentally fragile boyfriend. They soon embark on a weird and wonderful journey of self-discovery, odd social norms, and love. The deep inner truths and boundless soul attraction that they soon share for one another becomes a constant struggle of not only the heart, but of the flesh as well.
The Heart of the Hydra is a story of forbidden love cradled in the strong arms of philosophical merit. Examining various psychological nuances while remaining satire to its intended genre, The Heart of the Hydra is an edgy romantic-comedy that dares to ask the question: Are two heads really better than one?