Sharon’s note: Romance is a complicated genre. Romance means lots of things to different people. As a reader, I prefer romance to be either a subplot or at least diluted with something else because most of the time, straight drama is boring. Something else needs to be going on, and that means the lovebirds need to spend a lot of time apart. Warning: This might be as close to the author gets to a third act breakup.
“Is it just me, is the haunted house bigger and scarier than it was earlier today?” Jim couldn’t say exactly what the difference was, but what had seemed cheap and ramshackled in the light of day was sinister in the dying light.
“I don’t remember what it looked like earlier, so I couldn’t say.” Wendy closed her eyes and licked her lips. “Multiple people bleeding. We have to move.”
She pulled away from him and raced inside, a long staff suddenly in her hand. Jim chased after her, and the second he crossed the threshold the sound of screams assaulted him. It took everything he had to keep up with Wendy as she took each turn at an impossible speed. The cardboard ghost sprung out in front of him and he staggered back.
“Wendy! Wait,” he called, flinging himself forward and punched the ghost as he passed, ripping it off the post and sending it to the floor with a slap. A roar drowned out the human screams. Jim couldn’t hear the clatter of the animatronics for the cacophony, and the smell of blood and rot was strong enough to gag him.
In the room of hanging chains, a man and a woman were huddled together on the floor, an unattached pair of legs lying in front of them. A crack exploded through the air. Jim fumbled for the cleaver on his belt as he turned to face the noise. Half obscured by the chains, Wendy’s staff collided with the head something that was the shape of a man, but was far too large to be human. Whatever it was toppled backwards and crashed into the floor, shaking the building.
“That was an ugly sucker.” Wendy pushed her bell over her shoulder, making it chime cheerfully.
Jim crept closer, and caughts a glimpse of something between a man and a toad before it dissolved into a black puddle that reeked of rot and made him wretch. “God, what is that thing?”
“I don’t know. Some kind of squamous thing.” She petted his back while he heaved. “I don’t think it used to be human, not if it dissolved that fast.”
He wiped off his mouth. “Do they do that a lot?”
Wendy shrugged. “Sometimes. Are you good to go? I bet there are more of these things around the carnival.”
“What about them?” Jim gestured to the people huddled in the middle of the room with his chin.
“Oh, right. See? That’s why I need you around.” She grinned at him before strutting over the couple, dragging her staff on the ground behind her. “Are you folks okay?”
“Ron is dead, and my arm. . .” The man held out his arm, and Wendy glanced at it.
“Oh, yeah, that looks like it hurts. It won’t kill you, and most likely you won’t lose the arm. You need to get to a hospital though. You are going to need a lot of antibiotics. Make a run for the exit. There’s about to be a huge commotion, so you’ll probably make it.”
“Wendy, that guy’s like, really hurt. We can’t just tell him to run and hope for the best.” Jim straightened up and stumbled over. “We have to help them.”
Wendy bit her lip. “The thing is, while we stop everything to help them, who are probably going to be fine, other people are going to die.”
Jim watched as the woman helped the man to stand, both of them pale and shaking. “I’ll take them then. You can go on.”
Her eyebrows shot up and she inglined her head to the rancid pile of goo. “Do you really think you can take one of those on by yourself?”
He stiffened. “I think I’ll do alright.”
Wendy shrugged and wandered in the direction of the exit. Her staff clattered over the floor. “Suit yourself. Be careful, and come find me when you’re done. Just follow the noises of battle.”