For Ages
12 to 99

In a Florida tourist trap, a summer acting job turns into a real-life horror show when a cast member turns up dead—then disappears. This nail-biting story is perfect for fans of Fear Street!

Dave is spending his final summer before college working at Frightmares House of Horrors, a struggling haunted house attraction held together by malfunctioning killer clown mannequins, a cheap replica Annabelle doll, and a lot of improvising.
 
After a particularly disastrous shift ends in an employee walkout, Dave reluctantly takes over a role for his friend, however, he makes a horrifying discovery—a real dead body, hidden on set. But when Dave returns with help, the body is gone.
 
Though the killer covered their tracks, Dave realizes they must know what he saw. Could he be their next target?

An Excerpt fromFrightmares

Chapter 1

This whole night sucks.

The second-to-last working bulb flickered in the cobwebbed chandelier, gave a final flare, and went dark, throwing the room into shadow. I stepped back and peered up at it, sucking air through my teeth as I knocked my hip against the antique dresser.

Josie Manning’s eyes blinked open. She squinted into the gloom, peering through the lock of hair caught in her smeared eye makeup. The wrought-iron bed frame creaked as I leaned over her. She shifted, her breath catching in her bloodstained corset.

“Hold still,” I hissed, tightening the worn leather restraint around her goth-pale wrist. I’d be lucky if it lasted through Sunday. “This piece-of-shit buckle--”

She opened her mouth to answer, then paused, listening. I heard it too--shrieks and clattering. Hurried footsteps, closer than they should be. Her finger tapped my knuckle: one, two, three. Ready or not.

She started screaming right before the curtain swung open.

It was reflex by now. The ax was in my grip, swinging an arc above her tear-streaked face. I brought it down hard on the clean sheet covering her legs, buried it in the mattress just below her knee. Blood welled and blossomed around the blade; the toes on her severed foot twitched, drawing gasps and laughter.

“SEE? SEE WHAT YOU MADE ME DO? TRY TO RUN AWAY NOW. GO AHEAD, SEE HOW FAR YOU GET WITHOUT YOUR LEG.”

“Dude, that’s messed up.”

The voice--belonging to some douche in a Tapout tank shirt--sent a wave of giggles through the crowd. A bunch of high school kids, most around my age, most of them grinning and taking pictures. We’d be all over the #FRIGHTMARES hashtag by midnight, swimming in well-deserved ridicule and emoji-driven mockery.

Thank God I look nothing like myself.

Josie screamed louder, pleading for help. I left the ax buried in the mattress and reached for the coiled bullwhip hanging on the wall above the bed. Even Tapout flinched at the first downswing. I cracked it again and again against her thighs, striping the sheets bloody. Striping the air with her broken wails.

The whip did most of the work. One more tweaked shoulder would derail my swim training, and I’d have nothing to offer in the fall season but weak form and a shitty backstroke, so a half-assed performance it was. No way was I going to let a terrible summer job mess up my swimming scholarship. It wasn’t an option.

The group eventually shuffled into the corridor, heading for the next scene. About a nanosecond after the door closed behind them, I was moving: smearing fresh F/X blood on the whip; coiling it and hanging it back on the wall; yanking the ax out of the mattress; ripping the stained sheet off Josie’s “legs” and stuffing it in the basket under the bed next to her actual legs. Her torso sprouted from the cutout in the mattress, ramrod straight and prickly as a pissed-off cactus. I snapped a fresh sheet over her, tucking it around her waist to hide the hole, and repositioned the severed leg so it was even with the other prosthetic. The mechanical toes wriggled beneath the sheet like trapped mice.

“You okay?”

“Well, Dave,” she answered, “I’m starving and dehydrated, and my ass has been asleep for the past twenty minutes. Oh, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this corset is a size too small, and it’s sapping my will to live. Other than that, I’m great.”

“Shift’s almost done.” I adjusted the pillow behind her back and ran a comb through her bobbed black hair. One thing we’d learned over the past five months on this set was it was way faster for me to do all this bullshit for her, rather than undoing the restraints so she could do it herself. “You still good with the lipstick?”

“It’s drying out. Water first, then another coat. Red, this time.”

I rummaged through the dresser drawer with one hand, squeezed the sport bottle over her open mouth with the other. By the time she swallowed, I was poised and waiting. A quick pat dry with the towel, a swipe of scarlet over the smeared pink, and she was good to go. I checked my reflection in the mirror: my waistcoat was straight; my cravat was dapper. My cape fell over my shoulders like a swoop of night. I adjusted the wig, smoothed the long blond locks, and dusted another layer of powder over my sweaty makeup. I looked stupid as hell. In other words, ready for the next group.

“Soon as we get out of here, I’m kicking Seth’s ass,” Josie breathed. “Every run tonight--every single run--he’s let them in early. There’s no time to reset the scene.”

“Better cover up first,” I muttered, refreshing the saline tear streaks on her cheeks and smearing them through her eyeliner. Seth Tinetti never stopped checking out our female castmates, Josie included, and made zero attempts to hide it--not in front of his girlfriend, Bethany, or Josie’s boyfriend, Ollie, or Loretta, proprietress of Frightmares House of Horrors, our boss, and his actual mother. Not much hope for a guy who has zero chill even when his mom is literally standing there.

“Oh God, you’re right,” Josie said, groaning. “I swear, I do not get paid enough to deal with this. You kick his ass for me, then, and I’ll owe you one.”

“I’ll kick it for myself. He has us in here with a broken strobe and one working light bulb. I can barely see.”

“I doubt the customers can, either. Which is for the best, since half these props are basically garbage. How’s the duct tape?”

“It’s holding fine, but it looks like shit.”

“At least it’s holding. If the ax head comes off again, just start beating me with the handle.”

“I’m not beating you for real, Jo.”

“Dude, I don’t mean actually-- Know what? You might as well. This bullshit--three years of auditions, two agencies, my freaking SAG card--I should at least be basic Disney cast by now, not stuck in a bed at goddamn Frightmares House of Horrors, being fake-tortured by a very tall child. No offense.” The racket started up outside the room. Early. Again. “SETH. WHY.”

The broken restraint fell off her wrist as the next crowd shoved through the curtain. We improvised.

 

The night only got worse. The tours piled up one after the other, until they were practically overlapping. We had no time to reset the scene, and no choice but to go off-script, which meant the entire show was just me cracking the whip, Josie screeching, and the mechanical toes wiggling endlessly beneath the same bloody sheet. Worst of all, right when I’d finally found a rhythm, an actual real wolf spider had dropped from the chandelier onto Josie’s bare shoulder, triggering a scream that would’ve been perfect for the performance had I not echoed it in both volume and pitch.

That spider ended up jumping--actually leaping off her shoulder and scurrying down her corset, over the sheet, and off the far edge of the mattress. I then spent the rest of the scene flailing the bullwhip at tiny, spidery shadows as we cleared the room with our ragged howls. We never did find the little bastard, and we never recovered our act--not that it mattered how badly we sucked once the final light bulb blew out.

By the time the crew gathered in the greenroom for postshift notes, Josie was furious beyond speech--which was just as well, since everyone else was at full volume, shouting over each other as Loretta emerged from her office. She’d been into the eighties Elvira look lately, which was a hard bar to clear for anyone, let alone a sixtysomething former B-movie scream queen who wasn’t Elvira.

“Enough of this.” She fanned herself with a clipboard, gently stirring the ends of her wig. “If your room ran smoothly apart from the tour timing issue, you’re free to go. Everyone else, get comfortable.”

She waited until the cast members from the rooms who’d held it together--Dolls Alive!, Murder Circus, Swampland Cannibals, and Demented Doctor--filed out the door before she eyed each of us, one by one: Me and Josie, slouched together on the gross, moth-eaten couch. Ollie West, a few feet to our left, shifting from foot to foot and fidgeting with his headset. Slim, long-haired Chet Perez, holding up the wall with his spine and sneers. Bethany Blake, blond and furious, fighting back tears as she kicked off her stilettos and flexed her left foot against the worn carpet. Seth, slouched on the chintz love seat, pouting like a kid beneath his messy platinum surfer hair. All six-foot-seven of Mickey Styx, broad and solid as the oak wardrobe at his back, his deep brown skin showing through his smeared gold body paint. Josie liked to say that God built Vin Diesel out of Mickey’s leftovers.

“Now.” Loretta adjusted the rhinestone bifocals on her nose and squinted through them at the clipboard, eyeliner smudged from wings to feathers. “Would anyone care to tell me exactly what in the world happened here tonight?”

Turns out, what had happened was your basic amateur-hour haunted house shitshow. In addition to our mess in Captive Countess: Chet had tripped on a severed zombie head in Undead Graveyard, rolled his ankle, and yelled the f-word in front of customers. In Vamp City, Bethany had snuck an iced cappuccino into the room and accidentally kicked it over--which had, apparently, been her breaking point. She’d burst out crying in the middle of her act, breaking character and ruining her story arc. The smoke machine in Attack of the Mummy malfunctioned, leaving Mickey blinded and stumbling around until he ran right into the sarcophagus, which had tipped off the platform and swung open, pitching the mummy straight at him. He was able to catch it and shoulder it back into place, then tried to play it like part of the scene, but the mummy’s arm flew off, taking half the bandages and the rest of the ambience with it.

It was a pretty apt metaphor for the entire night.

“I don’t understand this.” Loretta fluttered a sun-wrinkled hand over her face, shifting her focus to her son. “All these problems in one shift? Sethy, I put you on crowd control. You were supposed to be timing the tours.”

“Tell her, man,” Ollie muttered.

“You tell me, Oliver,” Loretta pressed when Seth remained silent. “I promoted you to management because I trust you, of all people, to keep me informed. If it’s too much responsibility--”

“No, ma’am, it’s fine. I found him in the breakroom about an hour into the shift. He was . . . taking a nap.”

Every eye in the room went to Seth. He sat there like a tool, arms crossed over his formal butler costume, likely not realizing he might be safer in a real-life horror house than he was with us.

Loretta’s fake eyelashes fluttered.

“Taking a nap? Timing is everything, Seth--you know that. One group goes too fast, it rushes the actors. Too slow, and you get a pileup. If this keeps happening and word gets around, I’ll have to close the doors for good. Do you want Ma to have to close the doors for good? Or spend money we don’t have on a trained tour guide?”

“No, Ma. No tour guides. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, he’s sorry,” Josie butted in. “That’s nice, isn’t it? That makes everything all better. Murder Circus gets to leave, and I get to explain all the ways in which life sucked tonight, in the lightless spider hole that is my workspace.”

“No need to shout, dear, we’re all in the room together. Now, then.” Loretta swung her gaze from Josie to me. “Davis. What’s happening with the lights?”

“There are no lights. Seth took the strobe for repair two weeks ago, and we haven’t seen it since. The last bulb in the chandelier died tonight. There was no time to fix it, so we finished up in the dark.”

At that, Chet pushed himself off the wall, shouldered his backpack, and limped across the room. Loretta gave a loud, pointed “Ahem.” When he kept right on going, she tottered after him, waving her clipboard.

“Excuse me, Mr. Perez. We’re not done here.”

“Yeah, well, I’m done. Broken sets, no lights, this guy sleeping--godspeed, lady.” He gave her a sarcastic salute and opened the door, swiping a smear of leftover zombie makeup off his face. “I’ll send you the clinic bill for my foot.”

“Chet, man, don’t do this to me,” Ollie said, groaning. “We already sold out two tours for tomorrow night. We need everyone we’ve got this weekend, and--”

His words were drowned out by a loud sob. Bethany shoved past Chet and took off down the hall, both hands pressed to her tearstained face. Seth ran after her, ignoring Ollie’s raised voice and helpless pleas for order as Chet let the door slam behind him. My mind wandered away from the chaos as I picked absently at the stray glob of F/X blood that had dried to a tacky mess between my fingers. I rubbed it on my shirt, a casual swipe that caught Loretta’s eye.

“What happened to your hand, Davis? Is that a cut?”

“Nah, it’s the fake stuff.”

“Well, your costume is not a cleaning rag, young man.” She leaned in to examine the stain, then recoiled, like she’d bounced off a force field surrounding my pants. “What is that smell?”

“Oh. Probably me.” Between prom, graduation, my family leaving town, and assorted work- and now-ex-girlfriend-related drama, my unwashed costume had spent the past two weeks of daylight hours seething in its own funk on the floor of my Honda. “I should maybe throw this in the laundry tonight, huh?”

“Please do, before you kill us all. Go wash up, and you’re free to go.”

The water in the employee restrooms ran lukewarm, but the soap was industrial-strength, and it didn’t take long to scrub away the F/X. I heard them arguing through the thin walls before I even dried my hands.

“I told you it’s over, Seth. Leave. Me. Alone.”

“Bethany, come on. I know we have our problems, but we can make it work.” Seth’s voice was low and subdued, soft at the edges like I’d never heard before. “Just talk to me. Please.”

“There’s no problem, don’t you get it? This has nothing to do with whatever we had. I don’t need to talk to you. I don’t need you.”

“But--”

“Hey there.” They both jumped as I burst through the door. Seth had Bethany backed up against the water fountains. Her eyes were wet, her mouth a quivering smear of ghoulish black lipstick. The hall smelled of sweat, and hair spray, and the faint, skunky undertone of weed. “Everything all right, Bethany?”

Under the Cover