This is for the 2012 Halloween contest so please be sure to vote. This is a long one (no pun intended) but it's well worth the read. Enjoy.
"I swear man, I'm all out of creativity," I said taking another swig of beer.
Rick shook his head and laughed. He opened his refrigerator and fetched two more bottles just as I was finishing my beer and tossed the empty container into his trash can.
"No you're not, Craig," he told me. "You've just hit a wall. Every writer is supposed to hit a wall now and then, right?"
I took one of the beers and twisted off the lid, leaning against the island in the center of Rick's kitchen.
"Yeah, but it usually doesn't last six months," I complained. "Roger just called again yesterday to check on the book. I had to tell him I scrapped the whole story and started over."
"Agents are supposed to call and check on you, man," Rick said. "That's kind of their job."
Rick's two sons flew past the kitchen and ran up his stairs. He shouted something at them about not running in the house. Angela, Rick's wife, walked past the kitchen at that moment.
"Hey Craig," she greeted me as she passed. "How's the new horror story coming?"
"It's not," I replied with a dull voice. "I'm gonna retire early at thirty and move in with you guys."
"Doubtful, sweetie," Angela retorted with a grin. "I can barely handle the testosterone level in this house as it is."
Angela headed into the laundry room as she spoke. I took another drink of beer and sighed. Rick chuckled and shook his head again.
"You'll think of something, man, I know you will," he said. "You write some good shit. Like the Headhunter series you did. That was pretty freaky stuff, and I'm not just saying that because I'm your best friend."
"That's the problem, " I told him. "I've used most of my great ideas already. The last thing I wrote seemed too much like Headhunter."
"So, come up with some different ideas," Rick suggested.
"That's easier than it sounds," I said. "I've had some good ideas but I can't wrap a good story line around them."
Rick appeared to be thinking. Then his face brightened.
"I have an idea if you're up for it," Rick said excitedly.
"I'm up for anything at this point," I groaned.
"A couple years ago I sold the old Morrison Estate," Rick said. "You know, the old plantation house that was renovated?"
"Well, the guy that bought it was a pretty crazy character," Rick continued. "He was loaded with money, too. He was a really nice guy, but he was a little weird. He must have been from England or something, because he had the accent, you know? Anyway, I helped him close on the place and all that, and he told me a lot about himself. He said he used to be the head of like this crazy sideshow thing that used to travel all over the world."
I shrugged. "So write a story about a bunch of sideshow freaks?"
"Well, not necessarily," Rick said. "See, this guy, Charles, traveled all over and saw some pretty freaky stuff. He told me a bunch of stories about the places he went, and he said he would bring back all kinds of souvenirs, like shrunken heads and conjoined elephant fetuses and stuff like that."
I cringed as Rick was talking, though my interest was beginning to grow.
"Was he in the circus or something?" I asked.
"I think so," Rick answered. "For a while anyway. Look, if there's anybody you could get a good a good idea from, it's him. I still have his number at the real estate office and we had a really good relationship back when I helped him find the house. I could arrange a meeting for you two and you could pick his brain for some creepy shit to write about."
I thought for a minute about what Rick was saying. It was common knowledge that writer's always write about what they are familiar with, and what they don't know they learn from a good source. Maybe all I needed was a good source of knowledge to draw ideas from.
"Do you think he'd be willing to help me?" I asked.
Rick nodded. "This guy loves this type of thing. He never stopped filling my ear with the crazy things he'd done and the scary shit he'd seen. He's definitely gonna love you."
I shrugged and took another swig of beer.
"Sure, call him up and have him contact me," I said.
Three days later on a cold and rainy Saturday morning, I was in my car in the driveway in front of the huge old Morrison Estate house. It wasn't a gigantic mansion by any means, but it had been a large plantation home long ago, much larger than your average home. Rick was right about the house being renovated, for I couldn't see any signs of age or wear though I knew the house had to be a hundred years old.
The long gravel drive made a loop back to the road. The old steel fence that used to surround the house was gone. I could remember seeing this place as a kid when it was overgrown with weeds and vines. I used to think it was haunted like most of the other kids did. Seeing it now with it's trimmed lawn and newly planted willow trees, I hardly recognized the place.
I climbed out of my car into the cold drizzling rain. Pulling the collar of my jacket close to my neck, I glanced up at the grey misty sky above. Most people would hate this weather, but as a horror fiction writer I appreciated scenes like this that helped to get me in the mood.
I popped the trunk of my car and retrieved my luggage. When Rick had contacted this man to ask for his help, Charles Tibbord, he had called me with an answer that night. He said that he would be delighted to have a talk with me and help with a story idea. Charles had even gone as far as to ask me to stay the night in one of his guest rooms, telling me that he had a plethora of memorabilia and collections that might help with my creative process. Though I was a bit nervous about staying somewhere strange, the idea excited me as well. To spend the evening here in this old house would really help me get my creative juices flowing.
Ignoring the drizzling rain, I made my way up the concrete steps of the large house to the front door. I half expected to see a heavy iron door knocker or something like that, but I saw only a small glowing doorbell. I rung the bell and stood patiently beside my bags on the porch.
The heavy door swung open a minute later and I was greeted by a short timid Hispanic woman in a flowered dress and an apron.
"May I help you, sir?" She asked with a thick accent.
"Uh, I'm here to see, uh, Mr. Charles Tibbord," I said.
It was then I heard a voice from with the house call out to us.
"Outstanding!" The voice shouted excitedly. "Ms. Vasquez, it's alright, I've been expecting this young man."
As I peered into the house past the lady at the door, a older gentleman dressed in a casual black suit came walking briskly towards us. Ms. Vasquez, as I presumed was her name, stepped aside and the man came forward to greet me with his hand extended.
"Mr. Duncan, it is a good day indeed to meet you," he said with a bright smile. "Charles Tibbord at your service, sir."
I returned his smile and took his hand to shake.
"Hello, Mr. Tibbord," I said. "Thank you for inviting me to your home."
"Oh, please, Mr. Duncan," he said, shaking my hand fervently, "call me Charles."
He then turned to the Hispanic lady beside him and said, "Ms. Vasquez, could you be a dear and fetch us both a cup of coffee, Madam?"
Ms. Vasquez smiled warmly, albeit nervously, at Charles before turning and heading back inside.
I studied Mr. Tibbord as he spoke with her. Though he was older, probably in his early sixties, he was well groomed and healthy looking. He had a fairly full head of combed white hair and a mustache of the same color. His eyes were a bright clear blue and he had a dazzling set of pearly teeth that accentuated his cheerful smile. I couldn't help but think of how much he looked like the actor, Malcolm McDowell.
"Please, please, come on inside, Mr. Duncan," he said, motioning to me.
I walked in and examined the interior of the house. The hall was directly before us, with a staircase leading up to the second floor beside it. There were beautiful decorations everywhere. I saw exotic looking plants, fine curtains and tapestries, antique furniture and wall decor, and several odd looking paintings. I studied one odd painting on the wall in the hallway. It didn't really depict any scene at all, but was just a wild blotching of paint and confusing color schemes, as though the artist had been blind while painting it. Charles must have strange taste, I thought to myself.
Closing the door behind us, Charles motioned me to follow him deeper into his home.
"Come, let us go to the sitting room," Charles said. "You can leave your things here and Ms. Vasquez will take them to your room."
"Uh, thank you," I said, unsure what to say.
Charles guided me briskly down the long hall toward the back of the house, talking excitedly the whole time.
"I must say, Mr. Duncan, I am so delighted that Richard suggested that we meet," Charles began. "I am something of an enthusiast for your kind of work. We aren't very different, you and I. I regret that I haven't read any of your books, however."
"Well, I haven't written that many," I told him as I followed. "I used to write for a magazine. I only started writing horror fiction a few years ago."
"Then I'm very sure you'll have a long and successful career ahead of you," Charles said, turning as he walked to give me another bright smile. "I am aware that Richard has told you about some of my work, as well."
"Well, not entirely," I admitted. "He mentioned that you used to travel as the head of a sideshow."
It was then that he led me into his sitting room, a large open space with a very high ceiling. We stood on a crimson colored carpet, and looking around I saw bookcases against nearly every wall, a large desk, and two large chairs on either side of a long wooden coffee table.
Charles stopped as we entered the sitting room and turned to face me, still smiling.
"Your friend was correct," he said in his mild English accent. "Though he did not explain thoroughly, I'm afraid."
Charles spread his arms, as though presenting himself.
"You are looking at the Terrible Charles Tibbord!" He exclaimed. "Once the leader of Tibbord's Traveling Troupe of Terror!"
I was intrigued as soon as Charles said the word "terror."
"Hold on," I said smiling. "Rick didn't say anything about there being an element of horror to your show."
"Why, that was the principle theme, my friend!" Charles said, his blue eyes twinkling. "Come. Sit with me a moment and I'll tell you all about it."
Charles took a seat in one of the large chairs near the long coffee table. I followed suit and took my place in the chair across from him. I felt eager to hear what he had to say more than ever now since he obviously was an enthusiast of horror.
"My father was a strict man," Charles began, adjusting himself in his seat. "As a boy, I was never allowed to play as the other children did. He always wanted me busy, whether it was helping him with his work as a mortician, or more often at study. I used to spend hours glued to my books, fascinated by science and literature, complex mathematics and biological chemistry.
"I grew extremely intelligent at a very young age. Never was I content with any amount of knowledge that I accrued. As I grew into my twenties, my father wanted me to attend medical school to become a doctor, and so I did. At first, this occupation was very interesting to me. I spent a decade as a medical doctor and then a surgeon, enthralled by the science of medicine and the human body."
Charles paused for a moment, appearing to ponder something. I waited patiently in the silence of the room.
"I grew weary of the profession after some time," Charles continued. "Of course, I had several hobbies that kept me somewhat busy. I dabbled a bit in chemistry, and I even wrote a few fictional stories myself, though I never saw any of them through to publication.
"My father passed one summer, my only parent taken from the world. I mourned his death, but received a large inheritance from him. Finally, after I paid the expenses for my schooling, I began to seek after a profession more, eh, suited to my tastes.
"When I was young, you see, I remember the circus coming to town for an entire week," Charles went on, a smile spreading on his face. "I couldn't have been more thrilled. After much tribulation I convinced my father to take me. It was an absolute shock for me."
Charles through his head back and laughed, a contagious action that made me smile just watching him.
"I was terrified, Mr. Duncan," Charles admitted. "All the wild animals that I had only read about displayed before me, their growls and roars deafening to my ears. The strange and foreign looking performers dazzled me, but the clowns.... I was stricken with such a fear of these painted figures that I would wail and hide behind my father's legs.
"I remember the midway and coming across the freakshow. Now, it was here, Mr. Duncan, that I learned true horror. The twisted figures that they paraded upon the stage were appalling to me. I specifically recall a man with supposedly no face that haunted my dreams for months."
A saucer and a small cup was suddenly before my face, startling me from my trance of envisioning Charles's freakshow. Ms. Vasquez had brought our coffee. I politely smiled and took the dish from her, taking a meager sip of the hot beverage. It was sweet and rich, and warmed my insides as I drank. It surprised me that we were drinking coffee, for I assumed that Charles would have ordered up tea for us instead.
"Was your father angry?" I asked Charles as he thanked Ms. Vasquez for his coffee.
"To my surprise he wasn't," Charles answered, sipping from his cup as his maid left the room. "He was actually quite understanding of the affair. Though I had nightmares for several weeks after that night, I was incredibly intrigued by all that I had seen. I begged my father to take me back to the circus, and he did. He told me that he was quite impressed by my bravery, a trait that he admired.
"So began my obsession with the bizarre and the odd. From that day to this one, I have always collected obscurities from all over, things so strange or grotesque that they bend the human mind. I began to respect and adore the power that fear has over the mind. It guides us to survive, but draws our curiosity."
"Is that why you started your show?" I asked him.
"Precisely!" Charles said, his finger waving excitedly. "I left my work as a doctor to travel with a gentleman who ran a carnival that roamed the world entertaining the masses. He put me in charge of the very thing I feared as a boy, his freak show. I loved all of the strange and weird characters that I worked with.
"Soon, together with the unique individuals in my care, I formed my troupe. I added a specific little twist to my show however. People are repulsed by freaks and things of a twisted nature, but simultaneously drawn to them. I decided my attraction would wield the power of fear, and I designed it as a horror show, complete with bizarre props and freaks of nature, as well as actors that I paid to add a certain hint of theater to it all."
"So it was kind of a haunted attraction in a way?" I suggested.
"More or less," Charles said, sipping his coffee. "And why not? Why gawk at these people as though they were monkeys at a zoo? Why not give them the exact power that they had over me when I was a boy?"
Charles wore a proud expression as he straightened his collar.
"And so," he said, "I formed Tibbord's Traveling Troupe of Terror. You should have seen us, Mr. Duncan. There was a Russian man that we dressed as a spider, for he had four arms, you see. We had a Latino woman with the tail of a rat! There was a giant ten feet tall who could crush anything in his bare hands! Agatha was a gypsy woman with no eyes, that could somehow see the future. Siamese twins, tribal cannibal children, a half man half goat... you name your fear, Mr. Duncan, I had it!"
I nodded in interest, picturing the bizarre things that Charles described to me. I could already begin to think of directions in which I could lead a new story, but I hardly thought of writing at the moment. I was too intrigued by his story. I found myself wishing that I could have seen such an attraction nowadays.
"We traveled the globe, tantalizing and terrifying people of every culture with our abominable attraction," Charles continued. "The freaks and actors basked in their ability to horrify the masses. Yet, even as we served to scare and entertain, I always ran across things in my travels that were even more frightful. Sometimes I would find new recruits that wanted to be part of the show, or new oddities to add to my growing collection."
Charles set his coffee on the table between us and leaned close to me. I could feel an electric tension between us as he spoke.
"Mr. Duncan, if you could but have witnessed the burial rituals of the tribes in Africa," he said, his voice dropping to a low menacing tone. "If only you could have seen the girl in Ireland that could whisper to the dead, or the Cult of the Moon in northern China and their lewd and perverse offering to a shadow demon that they believed fed on the blood of virgins under a new moon."
The hair stood on my neck as Charles spoke, and the sitting room suddenly seemed dark and ominous around me. I felt my mouth growing dry and I took a sip of coffee, which now was beginning to chill. My eyes were locked in the icy gaze of Mr. Tibbord as he wove his tales with great and terrible skill. A smile then suddenly spread across his face.
"Do forgive me, Mr. Duncan," Charles chuckled. "It used to be my passion to speak with such suspense and morbidity. It always drew the audience deeper into the show, you see."
He paused a moment, tapping his forefinger on his chin.
"Has a horrid story idea crept into your head yet?" He asked me with a enthusiastic grin.
"I've sort of thought of a few things that I think could do the trick," I told him. "But honestly, it's a bit hard to turn fresh ideas into great stories."
Charles suddenly clapped his hands together and stood.
"Well then, Mr. Duncan," he said to me with a sparkle in his crystal eyes, "would you like to see what I have in storage then? I've still kept a few 'odds and ends' if you catch my meaning. One thing in particular is sure to spook even you, I'd wager."
A tiny shiver crawled down my spine. Even so, I was eager for whatever Charles wanted to show me. I set my coffee on the table and rose from my seat.
"I'd love to," I answered.
"Follow me then my friend," Charles said happily.
He straightened his jacket and headed for the door of the sitting room. Again he kept a brisk pace, teeming with excitement.
I followed close behind him, feeling a little nervous about what he might present to me. While it was true that I loved horror and macabre, these elements were entirely different when confronting them in person. I always used to chastise Rick for criticizing horror movies too harshly. He used to point out things that he would have done differently in certain situations, or laugh at a girl that tripped over a fallen tree in the woods while trying to escape a killer. I would point out that while you could sit on your couch in the comfort of your own home and talk about how easy these situations could be to handle, being right in the middle of a terrifying experience is a different experience altogether.
Now I began to realize how true my own advice was. I had spent the last decade writing horror stories and terrifying my audience with fictional characters. Here I was about to come face to face with whatever horrid things this man had hidden away from his travels.