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Tabby Tiger: A Short Story

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“This is where you’re going to get your award winning photo?”  Reid asked doubtfully. He turned the car into the long driveway.  The ride was bumpy, as the area had long been neglected. Branches and trash littered the ground.  The trees that cast dark shadows onto the path, seemed long dead, the bark black and decaying.

    “If I get this shot I could definitely win the competition.  Margo won’t know what hit her,” replied Annette. This year, she was determined to wipe the floor with her rival.  Annette could not wait to see the smug smile of Margo Petterson dissipate as Annette accepted her certificate.

    She played with some settings on her camera, imagining angles for the majestic architecture, picturing the sun bouncing off the marble.  “The manor is supposed to be hauntingly beautiful,” Annette added.

    Reid scoffed.  “Beautiful or not, it’s on abandoned property.  Abandoned amusement park property at that.  Everything about it is… unsettling.  What if we find a dead princess that was never able to escape before Walden closed down the park?  What if adorable Tabby Tiger is really a flesh-eating demon?”

    “May I remind you that you asked to come with?”

    “I am your protector,”  he said and sat a little straighter.

    Annette laughed and drew her thumb across his scrunched eyebrows.  “My knight in shining armor.” She peered through her camera and snapped a picture of Reid’s timorous expression-  it was amusing to see his usual confident demeanor diminish as they drove further into the woods. The sudden flash made him swerve sharply and crash into a nearby tree.  

Annette and Reid waved their arms to clear the smoke pouring from the engine as a tumultuous serious of cracks echoed throughout the forest.

    The tree fell in slow motion, but the couple, slower still.  Their limbs were heavy and their minds were sluggish. They could only stare at the thick trunk which became larger and larger, and crashed onto the car, splitting it down its middle.

    Annette coughed from the debris and scrambled out of the car.  She fell onto her hands and knees, hissed in a breath, and brought her stinging palms close to her chest.  She’d fallen into a black bramble patch, just as dead as the trees. She looked to her left, her camera lay in pieces on the car floor.

    “Reid?”  she shouted.  He replied with a groan.  She jumped to her feet and rushed around the back of the car to the driver’s side door.  “Reid, are you okay?” Broken glass lay on his lap and the airbag hung deflated from the steering wheel.  The tree had cut through the roof and made a jagged slash across it. It lay across the gear shift and cupholders, where they always put their phones, so they wouldn’t get distracted while they were driving.

“Reid, help me.  The door is stuck.”  He looked at her dismally and lifted his left arm to help push the door, while she pulled from the outside.  The tree had distorted the shape of the vehicle’s roof and part of the aluminum was blocking the door.

    Annette screamed in frustration and kicked the little blue car. “Reid you’re going to have to come out the window.”

    “Annette,”  he panted, “I can’t.”  She noticed then his wet cheeks and bloody twisted arm pinned under the thick trunk.  “Go on ahead and find help. Hurry.”

    She hesitated for a moment, before nodding.  It was a dreadful thought to leave him all alone in the state that he was, but their options were limited.  There were pay phones at the manor, perhaps she could call for an ambulance. She grabbed some change from under her seat and set out.

    Annette proceeded cautiously through the woods, the brambles tore at her exposed legs and arms.  She wished she had worn more substantial clothing on their excursion today. The air was uncharacteristically brisk for Florida in the heat of summer.   Annette found herself rubbing her arms in a meager attempt to stay warm. She told herself it was just because of the cold, not the chilling silence of the woods.  Her goosebumps were from the wind, not that movement in the shadows.

    After hours of walking, Annette came upon a thick metal gate with a large curling W in the center of it.  This sight looked something out of her childhood picture books.  The manor in the back was tall and elegant, like a castle, the grounds were large and extensive with stone statues erected sporadically.  It would have been breathtaking if it were not for the dead leaves and vines twisting around anything it could get a hold of. There were more of the brambles, their sharp thorns reaching everywhere.  The setting sun cast long shadows across the dead ground.

    It would have been the perfect shot.

    The gate was deadbolted, so she climbed over it.   At the top, she sliced her leg on one of the spokes when she swung it onto the other side.  Once her feet hit the ground she tentatively examined the wound. It was not deep, nor was it shallow, blood had already begun soaking into her shoes.  Nothing to be done now. She turned around to begin her search and started.

She could have sworn the statue had been a handful of feet away when she had been on the other side of the gate.

    She looked around at the others, in pieces, with old paint chipped and streaked, moss and plants growing across their once friendly faces.  She recognized Barry Bunny in front of her, one ear missing and his paint nearly gone. Barry had been her favorite growing up. Now she nervously stepped away from him to the manor.  Annette looked nervously to the other statues. They all faced towards her. She tried not to think of this as she started on the stoney pathway to the manor, occasionally checking over her shoulder.

    Magic Manor had been announced when she was a kid, but within a week of its opening, everything was mysteriously canceled.  Nobody knew exactly why. There was speculation of course, of Walden on the edge of bankruptcy having no choice but to cut the hundreds of paychecks he would have dispelled to the park employees.  Though, that never made much sense to Annette. Wouldn’t opening the park make far more money? And why not open it again once he had the funding?

    The ghost stories, however.  Those had made a lot more sense to her.  And walking up the crumbling steps, brought back the same flutter in her heart as when Joey Palono told her of the cabalistic deaths from the abandoned Magic Manor.  They were stories. They were only stories.

    A padlock and chain, twisted and battered, lay at her feet.  Clearly, she was not the only one who’s tried getting in. She gently pushed the heavy door ajar and peered inside.  Waning light filtered through holes in the dilapidated ceiling, old ratted sheets littered the ground, exposing the nice marble counters and expensive furniture they had once been protecting.  Wooden pieces and fabric scraps painted a picture of crazed visitors destroying everything in sight. Probably kids, to complete a dare or to entertain their boredom.

    Annette slid the rest of her body through the crack in the door and scanned the room for something to prop it open.  It was far too heavy to stay by itself.

    A loud clash resonated through the building and Annette instinctively dropped to the floor and covered her head.  The door slammed behind her and a lock slid into place. She forgot the noise for a moment, and stood, staring wide-eyed at her only known escape, only to be pelted in the back of her head by a cloud of spooked bats.  They slashed at her arms and face, and she struggled to fight against the screeching sea of wings. She knocked something over which sent another loud crash, scaring the bats off in the opposite direction.

    Annette stood and brushed herself off.  “Winged rats,” she muttered. She felt the door for the lock but found nothing.  She would have to find another way out.

    She crept through the crumbling building, avoiding places that looked too dark.  The walls were covered in remnants of torn images that sparked distant memories from her childhood.  It was a peculiar feeling to be reminiscent in a wretched place like this.

    The smiling cartoons failed to ease her nerves.  Every scurry of a rat, or jingle of her coins made her jump from her skin.  The only thing that kept her feet moving was the sight of Reid’s contorted arm, tethering his body to the wrecked vehicle.  Horrible images of birds swarming the car and pecking out his eyes flashed across her imagination. Perhaps a pack of wolves would ambush the vehicle.  Wolves didn’t live in Florida, but something told Annette that these woods were different. Rules and reason didn’t exist here.

    She took a turn and found herself in the old kitchens.  The floor couldn’t be seen under the dark mass of food, abandoned here to decompose.  Skeletons of small animals, attracted years ago to the scent of food, crunched under her feet.  She wouldn’t find the phones here, yet there was this, unexplainable and unyielding pull, that drew her further into the kitchen, to an intimidating metal door that took up much of the back wall.  It was ajar and took only a brush of Annette’s fingertips for it to drift open. The metal hinges screamed. Her searching palms trailed across the smooth metal wall inside and found the light switch.

    It was a freezer, no longer running.  Fluorescent lights were suspended above, but only one was still working.  Metal hooks hung from the ceiling all across the room, as far as she could see- which wasn’t much considering the flickering light barely illuminated a ten-foot radius- as did the piles of discarded skeletons of hogs and cows under them.  It was curious that Walden supplied this place with as much food as he did, and yet he never opened the doors. He was so close and so prepared. What stopped him?

    The door suddenly swung shut with a loud clang.  Annette tripped, slamming into the concrete floor.  She groaned and tried rolling to the side, but something hard and round hindered her movements.  She hopped up to the balls on her feet and investigated. It was a skull. Human.

    She fell backward and pushed herself away, kicking the skull in the process.

    The light gave out and darkness overcame the room.  Annette scrambled to her feet and rushed to where she thought the door of the freezer had been.  She ran into something hard and furry. A scream ripped through her throat and she spun back around, panicking in the obscurity.  The light flickered, like a dying ember fighting for its last breath. Behind her stood Peter Puffin. The costume that was surely once soft to the touch, was caked in dirt and blood.  The light went out again, but the burning of its yellow eyes appeared in flashes whenever Annette closed her teary ones.

    All at once every fixture in the freezer turned on.  Annette blinked and adjusted to the harsh light, looking over her shoulder as her vision cleared.  The eyes were gone, but in their place hung a corpse from one of the hooks. The metal pierced through the back of the man’s skull and protruded through his open hanging mouth, it’s arm was bleeding heavily, appearing as though it had been torn from the cadaver with brute strength alone.  Reid’s body swung slightly.

    Blood pounded through Annette’s ears.  She was distantly aware of someone screaming.  She was not certain if the agonized sound was in fact from herself or another unknown victim.  She decided not to stay long enough to find out.

    Her legs moved on their own, pumping as hard as they could.  The palace was suddenly like a labyrinth. Annette struggled to remember the way she came.  She noticed a faint yet fresh blood trail on the ground and Annette let out a sigh of relief.  Her wound from the gate might just save her life.

    It led her down hallway after hallway, and even though she had been down them before nothing looked familiar.  Even if it did, what was her plan? The front door was now locked.

    There was a squishing noise approaching behind her.  The sound of duck feet. Her heart thundered in her chest.  She figured Dennis Duck was no more affable than his friend she had just encountered.

    There was a red curtain, in pieces, over a doorway up ahead.  She came full speed and immediately fell down the flight of stairs hidden behind the tattered fabric.  At the bottom, she slowly sat up. Her head throbbed and blood dribbled into her eyes. There was a room to her right, and she was certain that was where the smell was coming from, the rancid odor of rotting flesh.

    She looked back up the stairs where a duck shaped silhouette appeared.  It was still, like a hunter waiting to get the right shot. Against her better judgment, the cornered Annette entered the rotting room.

    It had been an employee locker room, that much she could tell.  The lockers and cubbies were in smithereens, only five still stood.  They were labeled, Tabby, Dennis, Barry, Cassie, and Peter, after Walden’s five original characters.  They had no doors, however- she would have to find another way to conceal herself.

On the far wall, written hastily in drying blood, wrote:  WE ARE ONE.

    Annette gulped.  Papers were strewn across the ground, covering most of the floor.  She lifted some, along with a rather large piece of an old locker, to reveal an abandoned costume.  A minor character, she could no longer recall the name. Unlike the two she had encountered so far, this one seemed rather lifeless.  Its yellow eyes had lost their glow. It was also the source of the smell, maggots and flies swarmed around it. Whoever was inside couldn’t have died too long ago.  She picked up more papers and wood to clear a path and found another body, Tabby Tiger himself.

    Its fur had been torn to shreds, flesh and fur were tangled around its claws.  Someone had tried to claw themselves out but killed themselves in the process.

    She looked again at the message on the wall.  Annette could feel the blood rush from her face.   She gulped and peered closer to the body. There was no point which the blue fur of what had once been an innocent costume stopped, and where the human who was once inside it began.  They were one.

The employees.  The characters had consumed them.

    Her hair prickled on the back of her neck.  Annette turned to see four of them behind her.  Barry, Dennis, Peter, and Cassie stared at her with their heads cocked.  The crowd looked wrong without Tabby. He had always been their leader in every movie, show, spin-off, even picture.  Annette remembered her plush figures of them when she was a child. She always put Tabby out front. They had all looked so sweet then, a far cry from the monsters that stood before her now.

    Darkness swallowed the room as the lights suddenly burst.  Annette barely had time to register what had happened before the four sprung to action and pinned her to the floor.  Despite her violent thrashing, she couldn’t move. They were strong. Strong enough to tear Reid from his pinned arm.

    She thought of him as they placed their leader’s head atop her own.

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Tabby Tiger: A Short Story