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Michael Jackson's Thriller was blasting on the car radio as they raced down the street on the last leg of their journey. The local alternative rock station was having some fun with some Halloween classics that night.

They were enjoying the brisk breeze of the night air with the top down that unusually warm late-October night. Kel was glad she could finally comfortably go out haunted house-hopping in her disco queen getup: the vintage gold dress accented with dangling tassels, big gold hoop earrings, and the afro wig. It was a perfect night to have some holiday fun with friends.

Vicky, the vampire of the night, pulled the car into the parking lot near "The Asylum," the best-reviewed Haunted House in the area and the next one on their list to hit that night. Piling out of the car were Kel, Vicky, Jessica – Kel's best friend since third grade – and Rachel.

"This is supposedly the scariest," Rachel said, looking down at her List. She was always the coordinator and navigator for their Halloween romps. Kel smiled as Rachel fiddled with the fake ax in her head. She was so weird. It was no wonder that she was the biggest promoter of the annual event.

"So far they've been mostly lame," Jessica said as she took her witch's hat off to. "It'd better scare the shit out of me."

"Just enjoy it, Jess!" Kel said. "You're not letting yourself get scared!"

"What's the theme for this one?" Vicky asked.

"A cult, ritualistic killings, some shit like that," Rachel replied. "One of the guys working behind the scenes, like, supposedly used to work in Hollywood or something."

What immediately struck Kel once inside the haunted house was the screaming. There were no horrors at the very beginning – just some spooky foam tombstones – but she could hear a sea of them ahead at various distances. Some of them were very piercing. Just the shrill shrieking alone was enough to begin disturbing Kel, let alone the actual theatrics of the place.

She and her friends would find out soon enough that some of them actually were part of the show.

After slowly muddling through an area of pitch black where Kel and the others only got a sense of direction by gripping the person in front of them somehow or bumping into the walls, they were suddenly rattled by a high-pitched scream to their right. Everybody squeaked and yelled in surprise. As their eyes were yanked in that direction – their bodies in the opposite – a bright greenish light revealed a young woman hanging from the wall in a roped-off enclave. Two bloody metal spikes jutted out of her abdomen.

"That looks soooo real!" Jessica said after catching her breath.

"Help MEEEEEE!!" the woman screamed.

Kel shivered. She wasn't expecting the woman to actually plea for help… and sound convincing. "That, like, so freaks me out!"

"Another thing about this place," Rachel said, raising her voice to be heard over the screaming up ahead, "is that they hire actors with actual experience! But usually just smalltime plays or local commercials or whatever!"

"But still…" Kel trailed off. She noticed how hot the place had become. It must have been all the warm bodies in the small, enclosed places. She wiped some sweat off of her brow.

While bumping and grabbing through another claustrophobic hallway of total darkness, Kel's phone rang. She fumbled into her purse to retrieve it. When it was out it emanated a small, soft blue glow in the otherwise lightless hallway.

"Hey I'm at a haunted house," Kel said, plugging a finger into her other ear. She dimly noticed Vicky, ahead, saying "hey that's a good idea," and getting her cell phone out to partially light the way ahead.

While Kel tried to hear one of her other friends describe the haunted house she was at, she was surprised by a loud scream just to her left. It caused her to jump and drop her phone. The plastic device tumbled to the wooden floor with hollow th-thumps! and a skitter. The suddenly brightly-lit display next to them was a masked man lifting a bloody ax from a young woman who looked like she had just been cut in half by the scary psychopath.

"Jesus!" Jessica said. "Now, THAT looks real!"

"Lookit those guts!" Vicky said.

"Like I said," yelled Rachel, "Hollywood!"

Kel, after calming down, stooped down to retrieve her wayward phone. The others forged ahead into more total darkness. The masked psychopath looked curiously at her as she slipped her phone out of her hands a few times before getting a firm grip on it.

She tried to turn it on. It was dead. That's when she felt the sharp edges of the phone's empty back. "Shit!" she yelled as she stooped down again to find the phone's battery as the light dimmed down, quickly fading into total blackness again. Fortunately she spied it just before it went completely dark. She felt around in its direction and found it.

After she stuck the battery back in a dim light came on. Another masked man wearing flannel wielding a big knife was behind her, growling and trying to frighten her and a few other approaching strangers. She knew it was just another actor but let herself get a little freaked anyway. She quickly began moving ahead again.

While trying to catch up to her friends in the next black hallway, one of the people behind her accidentally bumped into her back. It felt like it was a fist or something. "Watch it!" she whined, turning her head, seeing nothing but total darkness behind her.

It was a weird little punch, she realized, as she thought about it more. It was odd but she couldn't figure out exactly how. There was sort of a coolness after the bump, like a breeze had blown on it. She just shrugged and continued on faster, trying to follow Rachel's voice way ahead saying something about the special effects.

As the next gruesome display lit up she realized she had fallen hopelessly behind her friends: they were already moving into the next dark hallway. She probably wouldn't catch up to them until the end. Still, she put more spring in her step as that display's light dimmed down. When she did so the area where she'd been accidentally punched throbbed in pain a little.

"Ow," Kel said as she squirmed, "did they have a wring on or something?"

She looked at the people behind her as it became dark again, no time to really see their faces. She thought she saw that masked, flannel actor again, though.

Man, it's getting hotter, Kel thought. She wiped more sweat off of her brow. She even noticed that her back was sweating. She was definitely going to have to take this costume to the dry cleaners afterwards.

"Heeellp meeee!" screamed another young woman in the dimly lit hallway ahead. She was lying in an enclave with knives sticking out of her belly. She looked so convincing, especially considering that she was the only real person in it, the ominous but stiff-looking robed figures around her were obviously statues. The redhead was dressed as Arwen, complete with pointy ears. Odd that this actor was in a Halloween costume.

She suddenly got up and tried to lunge over the plush rope at Kel, screaming for help again. She got some fake blood on her disco dress. "Ew, get away!" Kel said as she pushed the woman away. She collapsed back down to the floor as the impatient strangers behind went ahead of Kel.

"Definitely dry cleaners now," Kel mumbled. The masked psychopath suddenly went ahead of her, too, no doubt trying to catch up to the others.

When Kel realized that she was alone, no other customers behind at the moment, she shivered a little. She quickly forged ahead.

"It's real!" the woman with the knives yelled in realistic anguish as Kel plunged into total darkness again.

"Yeah right!" she said, chuckling a little.

The place where she was accidentally punched really began to hurt. Sharp pains began to shoot up her back starting at the injured area. The leg on that side also began to hurt. "What the hell?" she said. She reached back to feel it. It was soaked with sweat.

Or… was it sweat??

"Holy shit, I think I'm bleeding!" Kel said as she felt the wetness on her which was now dripping down her backside. She quickened her pace. She had to get out of the darkness to assess the damage. Why was she bleeding?!

"Guys!" she yelled to her friends. They were so far ahead she couldn't hear them anymore. "Come back! I'm like hurt or some-!"

She bumped into somebody directly ahead. They were standing rigid and it caused her to rebound backwards a little. She felt another weird punch in her stomach. She flipped her phone up to use its light to see ahead. It was the actor with the knife, looking extra frightening with only the dim blue glow of her phone on the psychotic, Joker-like grinning mask.

Panic started to grip her as she looked at the bloody knife he was holding up. Her brain began to put two-and-two together as her stomach began to burn.

She had been stabbedagain!

She began to scream, just as other screams sprung up ahead and behind. It was then that she realized the enormous danger of the situation.

With all her might, Kel shoved the man aside. As she pressed on she fumbled with her phone, three numbers flashing in her mind. Her damn phone slipped out of her trembling hands!

"NOOO!" she screamed. When she heard the man growling right behind her she decided to leave it and run on as fast as she could. Surely she could get help with all the other people around!

She heard the loud footfalls of the psychopath behind her, rapidly coming closer. Suddenly she was rammed in the back, pushed forward. The brief cool sensation followed by a shooting, hot burning near the middle of her back just to the left of her spine indicated that she was stabbed yet again!

"HEELLLP!" she screamed as she stumbled ahead, her body burning and bleeding from three areas. Her legs were completely soaked. The thick, overwhelming, sweet metallic smell of her own blood assaulted her nose. She'd never been near so much blood to smell it like that. "This guy's REALLY STABBING ME!!"

She heard people laughing ahead. "Oh, I'm being stabbed, too!" said a strange woman's voice, dripping with snarky sarcasm.

Kel began to feel weak and sick. She was using all of her energy to stumble-run ahead. She ignored the next display completely, only focused on getting away from the madman and getting to help. She wished her legs could move as fast as her thumping heart. The strongest feelings of fear and dread she had ever felt gripped her. She yelled for help again, again only humoring those ahead of her.

As she went into total darkness again her stomach suddenly clenched up, immediately causing her to wretch up everything in it. She tasted salty blood in the vomit. She continued ahead, almost slipping in her lunch.

There was so much screaming everywhere, she realized, as she screamed again. She wondered if any others were real. The image of the anguished redhead flashed in her mind. Fleeting guilt washed over Kel when she thought of what she'd said and did to her.

A new feeling, hopelessness, began to creep into her mind as the room began spinning. She couldn't keep up this pace much longer. Was this it? Was she going to die, there, in that haunted house??

That's when she was stabbed again, a fourth time! She cried out in pain as she was pushed ahead by the violent assault. All the hope she still had began oozing out of the wound along with more of her precious blood.

She could not distinguish four separate wounds now. Her whole body felt like it was burning and shaking and cold and bleeding. She did have a feeling that that one had hit something vital. Her whole insides felt wrong. She thought she could feel the blood swishing about freely in her body cavity.

No, no no! She wasn't going to die! Not here, not now! She had to say something that didn't sound like a line from a horror movie! It had to be real!

"I'm Kelly Flaherty!" she screamed as she stumbled ahead as fast as her broken body could go. "I'm not an actor! I'm really being killed! This dude here is really stabbing me! CALL 9-1-1!"

What her confused mind didn't realize was that all of that actually came out sounding like "AhmKellflirty, ahm-nodd-an-a-tor, ahmrullybeinkull! Thishdoo-eere-ishreally-shtubbinme! Cull nie un un!!"

As Kel heard the man behind her laughing in twisted glee, the floor suddenly came up and attacked her, smacking her in the face.

Still burning, still aching horribly everywhere, Kel awoke, lying in one of the enclaves, her own blood surrounding her. Two knives, not stabbed very deeply, were sticking out of her chest. She didn't know how she was still alive, much less awake. Onlookers gawked at her.

"Help me," she squeaked from her burning throat, too weak to say it any louder. Pure hopelessness hung between her and the chuckling people. She tried to say it louder, but only more laughs followed. She tried to move, to get up, but she had no strength. It was all gone, gone in the blood around her.

"I'm dead," she sighed as the world around her began to go dark again.

"Where's Kel?" Rachel said, checking her phone for calls. They were standing outside, at the other end, where they had been for about ten minutes. Another nearby group of people, two girls and a guy, were loitering, too. They, too, were wondering about a lost friend.

Some crickets sung as a cool, autumn night breeze floated by them.

"She must've really fallen back," Vicky said, rubbing the goosebumps on her arms.

"Maybe she really got ahead and is waiting at the car or something," Jessica suggested.

"Melissa, hello, where are you?!" one of the guys in the other group yelled into his phone. "We're, like, out here waiting! Call when you get this!"

"This always happens!" Vicky said. She crossed her arms and scoffed. "Somebody always gets behind!"

One of the masked actors walked out the back door, wiping some fake blood off of his knife with his long, black robe. His mask kind of looked like The Joker with its wide, sinister grin. Not the one from the movies, but more like from the Batman comic books. Only it was all white, no red lips.

"Hey dude, do you remember seeing a, like, girl in a disco get-up back there?" Rachel asked him as he strolled by.

He chuckled as he raised his mask, his face out of their view. "I stabbed her to death!" He laughed some more as he stuck a cigarette in his mouth. He stopped giggling, flung his lighter open, and lit the cigarette. He clanged his metal lighter shut and took a long, first drag. The acrid smell of the burning tabacco immediately invaded the night air.

"Whatever, dude!" Jessica said, rolling her eyes. "Just go back to your smoke break or whatever!"

"Asshole," Rachel mumbled.

The man began chuckling and walking into a nearby alley, puffs of white smoke trailing him.

Vicky sighed. "Oh well, let's go check the car."

"I'll try calling her again," Rachel said as she flipped up her cell phone. Slowly they trudged back to the parking lot.

For Necronodecon: The 2008 Halloween Horrorquest

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