Phantasmagoria [Short Story]

by Grant Gougler

Originally published in Under the Bed #12, August 2013 

Here’s the second story I ever published. It appeared exactly one year after the first story I published. I’m working on shortening the gap between this one and the next.

When they got off the bumper cars, Marie grabbed Jonathan’s hand.

“Come on,” she shouted. “Let’s do the haunted house!”

Jonathan froze, savoring the touch of her palm against his. Did this mean they were boyfriend and girlfriend now? Or did that only happen after they hit second base?

He was still trying to remember what second base was, exactly, when her momentum jerked him along, leading him through a stream of pedestrians, balloons, and cotton candy. So far the most “action” he had gotten was the shoulder-to-shoulder contact induced by The Himalaya’s g-forces.

The line for the haunted house ride bent around the queue ropes twice. The ride itself sat behind the cartoonish facade of a dilapidated colonial. Giant eyeballs peered from two of the attic windows. A dog sculpted in the bizarre style of Big Daddy Roth was perched on the eave, howling indefinitely at the moon.

As they made small talk about school and homework and TV, Marie had yet to let go of Jonathan’s hand. It was a little thing, sure, and Marie probably wasn’t even conscious of doing it. Jonathan, however, could focus on nothing else.

“So how long have you lived here?” Marie asked.

“Fifteen years,” Jonathan said. “All my life.”

“Get out! You’ve never even moved once?”

Jonathan shrugged. “I actually live about four blocks from here. You can see my house from the Ferris wheel.”

“I live close too,” Marie said, then she suddenly looked sad. “I move around a lot, though.”

The sun had gone down. The bulbs on the ticket booths began to chase. The amusement park would be closing soon. Which meant he was running out of opportunities to kiss her.

He’d stared at his bathroom mirror before the date began, promising himself he wouldn’t chicken out this time. The fate of the universe seemed to hinge on Marie’s lips. His brain simply couldn’t comprehend any possible future in which his mouth didn’t press against hers and their tongues met to… well, whatever it was that tongues do when couples made out. That was a whole other mystery for him to bumble through when the time came.

And the time would come, wouldn’t it? Yes. It had to.

When it was their turn to take the ride, the automated car jerked around a bend and slid to a stop in front of them. Jonathan counted off four tickets from the accordion-folded stack in his pocket and tore them off at a perforated line. He handed them to the pimply attendant who looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. Always the gentleman, Jonathan let Marie climb into the rail-guided cart first and slid in beside her, worrying about whether he was too close or too far from her.

The haunted house was kid’s stuff, sure, but his heart never failed to skip a beat when the car plowed through the plywood door and into the darkness beyond. The first thing passengers saw was a long tunnel with a stop sign at the end. It looked old, dirty, and vaguely radioactive, like something in an abandoned mineshaft. Marie playfully squeezed his arm with both hands as the car rammed through the hinged sign.

The next area was a pitch black room, which would have been silent if not for the hum of the electric rail. Somewhere a pneumatic device hissed in the darkness, the telltale sign something was about to jump out at them. Sure enough, a light shone on a ghoul as it swooped towards them, only to encounter the chicken wire that thwarted its vandalism.

“Oooo,” Marie intoned. “Scare-ree!”

The car took them through a cave which looked like something out of a Casa Bonita. Then there was a naked woman statue which spun around to reveal a gory front side as opposed to the expected full frontal nudity. Following that exhibit was a bus, driven by a skeleton, which always appeared out of nowhere, blaring its horn. Jonathan hoped he hadn’t noticeably jumped. That trick startled him every time even though he was always expecting it.

After the car ascended to the second floor it would ram through another door and cross an exterior balcony, which was in full view of those waiting in line outside. The designers had installed the interlude to prevent couples from getting too far past first base. Yet first base was just fine for Jonathan. He wasn’t greedy.

As they crossed the balcony outside, Marie waved at the people queued below. Then she hammed up an expression of horror as the car dragged them back inside. And then they were alone, her body half-facing Jonathon’s, and the smiles on their faces faded, giving way to stone cold seriousness. Her eyes, glowing eerily in the ultraviolet light, flicked down to his lips.

Jonathon’s heart stopped, then swelled as they leaned against each other with precise timing. A peck at first, then the slight parting of lips for tongue. Seconds later, he began to pull himself away so that he could read her expression. Marie wouldn’t allow that. She pulled him closer, fingers intertwining with his hair and kissing him hungrily.

Meanwhile he heard, but did not see, the car slam through another door. They had entered the part of the ride which descended beneath the beams, one of which was rigged to snap as if there had been a cave-in. As they kissed, Jonathan opened one eye and saw the door swing shut behind them, revealing a robed man standing in the corner of the tunnel, eyes hidden by the shadow of a hood. The man lifted a finger to his lips in a shushing gesture. His other hand, Jonathan saw, grasped a lever on the wall—the kind of lever they used to fry inmates in prison movies. Jonathan shot the prankster the bird over Marie’s shoulder.

People got out of their cars and joked around all the time in the haunted house. One time, Jonathan’s best friend’s brother had showed them that if you stood up and hopped on the back of the car you could make it pop a wheelie, stopping it on the rail completely. Then the car behind you would eventually come along and unwittingly wreck into you like a bumper car, which was especially hilarious if you knew the person behind you.

That was kid’s stuff, though. Tonight, Jonathan was becoming a man. He closed his eyes and continued to kiss Marie. He was so lost in the moment he didn’t notice their car had swung into a tunnel to the right when it usually went left.

Two minutes later, when the ride should have been over, Jonathan broke away from Marie and gazed at the mirror-plated tunnel they had entered. His reflection looked back at him. The UV lights on the ceiling made his eyes and teeth glow in extreme contrast to his darkened skin.

“Uh,” he said. He planned to say something in addition to this, but actual words wouldn’t form. His brain, it seemed, was broken.

“What’s wrong?” Marie asked, tugging at his shirt, but her voice was more playful than concerned.

“Uh,” he said once more. “This… this isn’t right.”

She pouted. “What? You don’t like me?”

“No, not that. This.” He gestured at the tunnel. There was no end in sight. He glanced over his shoulder and found he could no longer tell where the tunnel began, either. “Is this new?”

“I thought it was a tradition for boys to take their girls home after a date.”


Marie leaned forward and her cheek brushed his. She whispered into his ear, “This is where
I live, silly.”

“You live in a haunted house ride?” Jonathan asked dubiously.

She shushed him and placed her lips against his mouth once more. He resisted at first, then settled helplessly into his seat as she took hold of him. As he made out with her, he strained his eyes to the corners of their sockets to see what new detail had emerged in the distance. Whatever it was, it was moving… flickering maybe.

The smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes was gradually replaced by a foul odor—like a matchhead with a freshly snuffed flame. He tried to crane his neck away from Marie, but she clamped her hands to the sides of his face and shoved her tongue deep inside his mouth. Her tongue was long and pointy and, truth be told, just a little rough… like… like a cat’s tongue. It slithered deeper into his mouth to graze his tonsils. He jerked away from her and she looked back at him with a furrowed brow.

“What?” she asked.

“I just…” He swallowed. “Marie, what the fuck is going on here?”

She folded her arms and turned away from him. “Oh, just enjoy the ride, you prude.”

Jonathan began to climb out of the car. Marie tugged him back in.

“Oh Jonathan,” she said, teasing. “It’s not safe to get out.” Then she giggled and spoke in a high-pitched squeak: “Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.”

“I don’t like this,” he told her. His voice cracked, which made him feel foolish. He always dreamed of being the strong, heroic guy on the cover of his weird science fiction books: a futuristic rifle slung over one arm and the distressed damsel on the other. But his damsel was the very cause of the current distress. “Marie, how is this possibly normal to you? Scratch that—how is this even possible?

Marie lifted her shirt over her head. She tossed it on the floor of the car and said, “Shut up and touch my boobies.”


“Come on.” She grabbed his hand and jerked it towards her bra. “Squeeze it. You can even slide your hand beneath my bra if you like.”

Jonathan tried to pull his hand away. Marie had cast no magical spell, yet he couldn’t let go. After all, they were boobies.

Marie rolled her eyes. “Ugh! Use both hands, dummy!”

Jonathan swallowed. Then he was “feeling her up,” as his friends said so often. Son of a bitch, he thought. I’m on an expressway to hell and I just hit second base.

“Marie,” he struggled to say, “I don’t think—”

“Oh Jonathan,” she moaned. Her back arched and her hips gyrated. “Don’t stop! Oh, don’t stop!”

The tent he’d pitched in his pants was aching then. Part of his brain screamed at him to get the hell out of there, but he couldn’t make his body follow the order. It was simple biology: he had learned all about it in sex ed. Well, at least when he and his friends weren’t giggling.

Jonathan tried to say her name again, but he could only mutter the first syllable. “Muh. Muh-muh-muh….”

Marie slipped her skirt off in one quick motion then climbed onto his lap. When he wrapped his arms around the small of her back she shivered in pleasure. Her body was hot in more ways the one. Too hot, like a bundle of towels that’d just come out of the dryer.

This was something he had heard about, too: dry humping. Although it certainly satisfied him to an extent, the zipper of his jeans nearly rubbed his little guy raw. In truth, it hurt more than it felt good. Yet, it still felt good, perhaps better than anything he’d known before it.

It started slow, but the rhythm of it increased over time. Faster and faster… a train picking up speed. But where is the train going? a distant and subdued part of Jonathon’s mind wondered.

Minutes later, after he choked back a scream of release, Marie climbed off of him in a manner which seemed cold and clinical. She reached into her handbag and removed a pack of cigarettes. She lit one and thoroughly savored it, her free hand resting on a belly which seemed larger than it had before. She held the smoke in her lungs for a few seconds—most of the kids at Jonathan’s bus stop didn’t even inhale, but Marie sure did—then she blew it all out and rolled her eyes in Jonathan’s direction. She smiled lazily.

“Wow,” she said. “Color me impressed, tiger.”

“Yeah, uh…” He scratched his head. He felt like he needed a nap and made a mental note to do his own laundry lest he wanted his mother to find his ruined jeans. “Does this… like… mean we’re going out?”

“Oh relax, Jonathan.” She took another drag and the tip of her cigarette crackled. Smoke leaked from her nostrils and mouth as she said, “You’re always so tense. Just relax.”

Jonathan watched her wiggle back into her skirt, cigarette dangling from her mouth. He almost failed to realize they had left the mirrored tunnel and entered a cave which wasn’t made of rock, but human flesh. He leaped to his feet to leap from the car, but stopped when he saw what lay below: the walls of the cave sloped to a river of blood.

Jonathan threw himself back into the seat and clutched the arm of the car, panting.

“Awww,” Marie said, laughing. She patted his leg. “It’s okay, you stupid human.”

In between gasps he said, “We… are… in… hell!”

To which Marie laughed heartily.

Jonathan dared to open his eyes again and was reminded of those endoscopy videos he had seen in biology. The walls of flesh seemed to be illuminated from the other side; they looked the way Aaron Simpson’s cheeks had looked that time he stuck a flashlight in his mouth at camp. Either Jonathan had discovered he was extremely claustrophobic or the tunnel was indeed narrowing. Then he realized it was probably both.

The walls of flesh were sloppily stitched together with thread as thick as yarn. He saw grotesque faces stretched flat among ears and patches of hair. He saw penises and testicles dangling beneath curly nests of pubes, and spiders crawling over it all like giant-sized lice. He was surrounded by eyes, mouths, noses and appendages, hanging from the walls like the moles on his grandmother’s neck. He could see the jagged ridges of a massive circulatory system, the branching veins of which coursed throughout the patchwork of flesh and presumably kept it all alive. A single organism made of humans.

He looked ahead again and realized the rail the car had been traveling on ended—no, not ended. It curved downward, like the final climactic hill of a roller coaster. He screamed as the car began to plunge. Meanwhile Marie threw her arms up and cheered.

At the bottom the car skittered across the river’s surface like they were suddenly on the log flume. Waves of blood cascaded outwards in a big vee. As the waves settled, condoms and tampons and syringes bobbed to the surface.

Eventually the rocking car leveled out, floating onward on the deluge of nastiness. The river narrowed towards a gaping orifice in the wall of flesh ahead and Jonathan puked over the side of the car as they helplessly entered it.

The passengers wound through a curving tunnel, the fleshy walls of which were a dark red. Whatever internal light source the walls possessed was dimmer here. This was the lazy river portion of the ride, but it felt more like a trip through a giant intestine, an intestine which smelled like raw sewage and a pile of old pennies.

Jonathan slid out of the seat and crouched on the floor of the car.

“Oh God,” he said. “I want to go home!”

“Stop whining, you big baby.”

“You’re a demon!”

“Come on, get up. You want to score, don’t you?”

“I want to go home!” He was crying then. Bawling.

“But I need you, Johnny.” She bared her teeth like an animal, snarling so fiercely that crow’s feet appeared around the bridge of her nose. “I fucking need you,” she growled. “I need your fucking flesh.”

“Help!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Someone help me!”

He rose on his feet, but she slapped a hand to his shoulder and forced him back down. Her strength was inhuman. She was inhuman.

“What are you?” he cried, resigning to the situation. 

“You’re so cute.” Giggling, she removed her hand from his shoulder and caressed his cheek.

The car floated around another bend. There, at the end of the ride, was a large appendage like a bulbous, vein-laden elephant trunk with the drooping skin of a Shar Pei. Jonathan stiffened and felt Marie’s inhuman grip clamp down on his arm.

“Try to relax,” she said, shushing him. “It only hurts at first.”

“I don’t want this!”

“But you said you liked me.”

He found he could hardly look at the thing as it lifted its eyeless, pulsating head and spread open a tooth-rimmed orifice.

“If you like me let me go!” Jonathan begged and his voice carried into a nonstop scream.

He could no longer look away from his fate. The thing’s mouth was blooming wide to consume his face and head and shoulders and, eventually, his entire body. Its insides were pink and warm and slick with mucus.

“Together forever,” Marie whispered, just before the monster’s mouth closed forever.

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