by Kathleen Valentine
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The day of the party, while Darby decorates the Pub with orange and black crepe paper streamers and bunches of cornstalks, his friends hold a pumpkin-carving contest down on the beach leaving a mess for the gulls to squabble over. I brew up gallons of spiced cider to serve laced with rum and make up little treats—candies in black net bundles tied with orange ribbons. The pumpkins are hilarious and, with a candle in each, they make festive decorations for the party.
I tease my hair into a seventies-style mass, stroke on gobs of black mascara, and shimmy into my fabulous dress. It fits as though it’s made for me. Looking at myself in the mirror I think I was born in the wrong era. I would have made one heck of a Disco Queen.
I have no idea how many people attend, I’m too busy fixing drinks and trying not to fall off my platform heels. The Geezers all arrive, each of them wearing Groucho Marx-type glasses with an attached nose and mustache, but otherwise dressed as usual. Each of them tell me how beautiful I look. Joel escapes to his writing room at the first opportunity.
It is Turtle who first notices the new reveler when he enters. He nudges Norb, Riley, and Geezer #1, whose name I have learned, is Clay. They all turn and stare for a minute then swivel back around to their drinks.
“Asshole,” Norb mutters.
Even without the half mask covering his eyes, I doubt I would recognize the new guest. At first I think he is the horny roustabout from a few weeks back, but when he gets closer I realize that, though he is tall, the width of his chest, shoulders and arms are the result of padding, not muscles. His head is shaved and his face is further obscured by a huge handlebar mustache that is waxed to points on either end. He wears a tight-fitting, long-sleeved shirt that has tattoos drawn on the sleeves in magic marker. Over it is a muscle shirt with “The Great Hercules” stenciled across it. In one hand he carries a dumbbell made of foam. A few people laugh and he joins one of the tables near the jukebox. He clearly belongs to the bungalow crowd.
“What’s the matter?” I ask as I place a fresh whiskey in front of Turtle.
He shakes his head. “Nothing. Dumb kid probably saw one of the posters in the arcade and copied it. Probably don’t know nothing about it. No harm done.”
Norb snorts and raises his glass but says nothing.
“Was The Great Hercules a local?” I ask.
Riley reaches across the bar and pats my hand. “It was a long-time ago, honey bunch, long before you was born. Don’t pay these guys no mind.”
I wait for more but no one says a word as customers line up for drinks.
By midnight the crowd is fully inebriated and I’m afraid they’re going to stay all night. When I ring the bell for last call Darby—whose hair is dyed red and is wearing a painter’s smock, a straw hat with one side of his head bandaged, and carrying a painting of a sunflower—jumps up and begins cleaning up the tables and bar.
“Drink up,” he says as he passes the last cocktails, “everybody out. It’s All Saints Day tomorrow, I know you don’t want to miss Mass.”
Darby always makes me laugh.
Psychological horror / suspense / ghost story – When Layla’s professor husband has an opportunity to spend the winter at an old motel in a seaside amusement park resort, she reluctantly agrees to run the pub attached to it while he works on his book. The arcades, food stands, souvenir shops and tattoo parlors are boarded over for the winter but the bungalows tucked in the dunes are occupied by artists and transients looking for cheap rentals. She faces a long, cold, lonely winter but a bunch of old guys she calls The Geezers soon begin regaling her with stories about the “old days” and about an ill-fated romance between the beautiful wife of a Boston mob boss and The Great Hercules, a sideshow strongman. She is also increasingly fascinated by an elusive roustabout who flirts with her and shows her the secret spaces in an old beachfront ballroom. As winter gets darker and deeper Layla’s husband is both struggling with his writing and becoming suspicious of her behavior. What Layla doesn’t know is that nothing is what it seems and her options are growing fewer every day.
About the Author
Kathleen Valentine is the award-winning author of four novels, many novellas & short stories, books of knitting patterns, & a cookbook/memoir about growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. She has been listed as an Amazon Top Selling Author in Horror and in Mystery/Suspense. As a writer her primary interest is delving into the psychology of her characters. Her stories are sometimes mysterious, sometimes funny, usually romantic, and frequently frightening. Her characters range from lost children and grumpy old folks, to mysterious men and women who are not to be trifled with. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport.