Be Afraid II: Sorry About The Boob Grab
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Suicide"
Originally featured on 12-05-2008
As part of our series "Holiday Fiction Drive (The Things Holidays Drive People To, The Things Holiday People Drive)"

For you it won’t be about causing me nightmares. Losing control of my bowels is not the point, although it is a very possible side effect. I see your posture thicken like a tree trunk, year after year. I know where you store them, the screams: in your spine. Our screams belong to you, and your body somehow converts them to calcium. There is only one rule, and everybody knows it.

You can never touch us.

Because of that, people think they are safe. You and I both know I’m not, and that is the reason I return every year.

Last year it was the chainsaw with the compressed air hose to simulate what a chainsaw sounds like when wielded as an assault weapon. The year before your face was buried in makeup to give the appearance that you had three faces and all of them were peeling off and the one underneath was oozing. I will always recognize you by your anger.

You were behind a window that only became a window when we walked by it. The panel dropped with a clink of wood against wood, like a gavel. Your face lashed forward, even though it didn’t have any distance to move forward. My lungs darted forward in my chest to meet that face, as the rest of me scrambled back. You attacked with a guttural roar that was both a battle cry and a desperate request for something unintelligible to both us and yourself. I will always recognize you by your smallness. At barely five feet tall, it looks as though a slight breeze would knock you over if you were standing still. I cannot imagine you standing still. The smallness of your body is a flimsy cage containing something fierce, inscrutable and much larger that needs to break free and rampage. When you hear us approach, it becomes personal.

We want to give you what you need, none of us know what it is, and because of it, you want to murder us. You are not allowed to touch us. Complete strangers pass you in the dark, and — as the forward springing motion in your torso and your grimace and eyes the size of hard boiled eggs manifest — you honestly and whole-heartedly want to murder us, in the moment that we see you, and that is a beautiful work of art.

Each scream is a work of art. You’ve tasted enough of them to know their uniqueness. You cannot stop collecting them, or you would starve.

There cannot be a tangible danger. The fire marshal has toured the attraction numerous times. All floorboards and set pieces are structurally stable. All ostensibly sharp objects or electrical hazards are theatrical illusions. The attraction does not employ any convicted felons. The live performers lead normal lives outside the haunt. There is no possibility of a tangible danger.

I’ve seen you five times in five years, and I see your hunger mutate. There will come a point where it will no longer be sufficient to make us scream. I doubt you have any idea what your limits are and when they will be tested. I did not come here to be safe.

Some of them are not scared. They don’t show it in traceable ways, if they are. The timing is off, maybe. Or maybe they’ve just seen it all. You see them coming, tall, burly, swaggering, clean-shaven young men wearing baseball caps and talking loudly. They jerk back a hair when you jump out, but their surprise is extinguished before it enters their throats. Instead they reach out like they’re about to turn a doorknob, and that doorknob is your breast in their palm as they turn to scuttle off to the next corner of the maze, never pausing to look you in the eye after the stolen squeeze, because they are at least that much afraid of you. They hold it for a fraction of a second, just long enough to feel your flesh shift inside their grip like a sandwich piled too high. Unfortunately for you, the rule does not work both ways.

You will murder them. Each time your face jumps out of that window shrieking at us in the synthetic fog, you’ve murdered a little piece of them.

I see you every year, for only as long as it takes for you to make me stumble back into the fake wall, knees circling each other. How can I love anybody else?

You never needed the chainsaw, or the makeup.

I shall never learn your name. And if I pass you on the street at another time of year — as I can be sure I unwittingly have on numerous occasions, on line at the movie theater, exiting the library, eating at a restaurant, even riding an elevator in awkward silence, the thought of which makes my bones scrape against my muscles like screeching chalkboards — I will not know you, and you will not intimidate me. You will not cross my mind.

Or maybe that presumption is a false comfort. To think that you exist the other eleven months of the year is like asking what a bolt of lightning does in its downtime when it’s not a bolt of lightning. I think of you as a demon, and not in the sense of the word as it’s ever been used.

I think of you as an apparition, you might say, one that has no flesh of its own, but borrows a little bit from each of us: that’s what that skin-membranes-slithering-on-skin-membranes, electric-jolt-to-the-arm-hair feeling is that we get in that instant where the scream gets stuck in our chest. How many thousands of shivers have you harvested?

You will never have the appearance of one who is particularly nourished. You have no distinguishable facial features. In between scares, I wonder what you think about, perched in the dark, if your calves ache from standing, if you get thirsty. I wonder what makes you laugh. But these aren’t the things I really wonder. I want to know when it is that you will murder me.

Because this is dangerously sacred, and we know it.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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