(NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2 – Mystery, wax museum, zipper)
Adrenaline laced her veins. The blood cells that would be first to leave her body kept up their perpetual joyride around her system, oblivious to the part they would soon play.
For us, time crept. Sleepless, yet dreamlike. A stillness felt through the skeletons and reinforcing rods that kept us upright. Kept us stable. Eyes fixed on a point across the room; ever-gazing and seeing nothing.
Yet among our cold bones and wax flesh, two heartbeats.
Her voice in speech was soft, but her scream, when it came, was deep. Throaty. Shocking. The blood was thick, unhurried now, as it pooled onto the floor, staining blonde hair red. Already adopting the pace of its new home. Its resting place.
Grace kept her arms crossed as she stalked on sensible heels down the dim hallway. Dark shapes crowded her onto a well-worn path. Glass eyes observed her progress.
The smell of dust on wax was pervasive. It reminded her of her mother’s old red Christmas candles. Unwrapped every year, placed on the mantle on either side of the stockings. Bearing witness to each holiday season’s drama and laughter and petty squabbles. After the New Year, they were wrapped in the same worn tissue paper that had cradled them for all time. Nestled in their box, content to wait out the displays of the Easter gumdrop tree, Fourth-of-July windsock, illuminated plastic jack-o-lantern.
When Mom died last year, Dad threw all the holiday decorations away. He hadn’t even asked Grace or Cara if they wanted to keep anything. Didn’t respond when they begged for an explanation.
Grace had felt the loss of those candles the most. Their cheery unnatural hue, the faded plastic mistletoe at their feet. Comfortable in the knowledge that they would always get to watch.
They would never be burned.
Grace glanced at Laurel and Hardy posed on a bench. Laurel’s vacuous smile was a crude-at-best likeness. Hardy’s face was a Halloween mask with black eyes. Beyond them, Brigitte Bardot posed in her little polka-dot underwear. It was obvious more attention had gone into her finer details. Grace couldn’t believe how different this place had seemed when they were kids.
Cara, where are you?
Cara had often joked about running away to the old shut-down Movieland Wax Museum. She’d said if she was there, she would never be lonely. Her instinct was always to run. To leave Grace holding the bag and making the explanations. But now Mom was gone. Cara couldn’t just run away. Grace needed her. The impulse to look here was silly, but Grace couldn’t put it away.
Not until she had checked for herself.
“Can I help you?” The voice seemed to come out of Gene Kelly, hanging from his lamppost, singing in the rain.
Grace, startled, suppressed a gasp. “Hello?”
A small man with pasty skin and cold eyes peeked out from behind Gene’s trenchcoat.
“Um, hi. I’m looking for my sister. I think… I think she may have come here? Can you tell me if you’ve seen her?” Grace held out a photograph, hand trembling. “Her name is Cara.”
He took it with a crooked smile, without breaking eye contact. Grace was uncomfortably aware of their two heartbeats, alone in the cavernous room with all those empty shells.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Todd’s voice was gentle.
“Yes. I’ve told you about our police force. They’re next to useless. Sarge is in his eighties. Of course they didn’t find anything.”
“And I can’t come with you?”
“You’re a distraction. I need to be focused.”
“You sure?” He brushed her thick, dark hair over her shoulder. Paused to twirl a pink-tipped strand between his fingers.
“Yeah. Thank you for driving up with me, though.” She flashed a cautious smile; one she hadn’t shown since summer started to fade and she’d started taking the phone calls from her father. She pulled her boots from the floorboard and slid a foot into each, zipping them up the insides of her calves. She stepped out of the car and scanned the outline of the rundown building. “This place looks terrible. I’ll only be a minute. Stay here.”
Once inside, she strolled slowly down the aisles of figures in the silent, dark museum. The wax faces she’d once found so charming now looked haunted. Beseeching. She smelled that dusty, waxy smell that used to recall such fond memories. Memories of candles and laughter and home. Now the scent was one of loss. Nothing but loss.
“Hi.” The voice behind her made her breath catch. She felt the adrenaline flood her body. That fight-or-flight response.
“Hi. My name is Cara. I’m, um… I’m looking for my sister?” She attempted a smile, hoping to distract from the trembling in her fingers. The wrinkled photograph she produced from her back pocket was the exact likeness of a figure that gleamed, fresh, behind him.
For us, time is dead, but still we see. Wax lends itself to hive intelligence.
We see her Cara. Our Cara.
Her loss is our loss.
Her vengeance, our vengeance.
By the time Todd had made up his mind to enter – and risk serious reprisal for not following Cara’s explicit orders – it was no longer silent. It was no longer dark.
There was a pile of quivering flesh. There was a pile of wax and metal and outdated clothing. There was Cara, screaming and sobbing, kicking at a roaring fire that burned hot with rage. Her cheap plastic boots were melting, and the metal zippers were seared into her skin, leaving marks that would remain for the rest of her long life.
The steel had groaned and the wax had cracked and the passion of a billion absorbed memories and lifetimes of love lost had animated the figures: those original to the museum, and those created by the man himself.
There was an attack.
There was a spark.
They no longer had to watch.
They would finally be burned.