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Chapter 16: BODY PARTS

“‘There is something wrong with his appearance, something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so dislike, and yet I scarcely know why.’ That is from – Vic?”

Jekyll and Hyde.”

“Give the man a cigar – or at least a severed finger!” The Fear Master, seated on a neglected grave, dressed as the Mummy, smiled beneath his bandages. “Isn’t that the true face of the monster – someone who can pass for normal, but underneath, isn’t? whether it’s a man with a mundane job and a body tank in his bedroom, or a doctor who gets up to all kinds a capers not intended for the betterment of humanity, it’s the same werewolf, staring out through human eyes, just waiting for full moon, yearning to get out.”

In the pause that followed, Betty found herself saying, without intending to, “Who are you?”

The Mummy scratched his chin. “Anybody else wondering that?”

“It crossed my mind,” said Keith.

Stevie laughed.

Vic nodded.

Debbie studied her shoes.

“If you must know who I am, and you can be a little more patient, I fully intend to tell you. Not just tell – show and tell; by next Wednesday’s meeting, you will know who I am. All of you. That’s a promise.”

Keith didn’t believe a word of it, but he smiled all the same. He had arranged with the others to have everyone leave their cars at home and walk to St. Sebastian’s. That way, Mr TFM666 could give them all a lift home, and an unintended opportunity to check out the hearse for clues that might reveal who he was. Not who he might say he was … who he actually was.

TFM666 had turned out to be a dead end. There was no such registration – the plate was a fake. As no doubt was the number plate he had on the hearse tonight: MUMMY1.

Funny guy. But soon the joke would be on him. For a while, Keith had been unconvinced by Debbie’s melodramatics about guns on phones and bullets in beds; but the photo he’d received of himself with the eyes missing, and Betty’s hanged toy cat – it all added up to one thing: The Fear Master was not a good guy. But he would make a good story – and not just for the school paper; this was big enough for the Baker’s Hill Herald.

“FEAR LEADERS FIASCO!” “WHO IS THE MAN BEHIND THE MASKS?” “THE CASE OF THE STRUNG-UP KITTY!” It might get Keith a start there – he could work as a junior reporter while studying at night – and turning out the odd bit of Salmonesque horror fiction. He was going to be a busy boy. If he could parlay this experience into something. Because that’s what The Fear Master was – an opportunity. All Keith had to do was unmask him. No matter who he was. No matter what it took.

“You’re very quirt tonight, Miss Dawe. What’s the matter – zombie got your tongue?”

“I have a question too. But it’s not about who you are. I already got my suspicions about that. I want to know what you are.”

The Fear Master locked eyes with her. Hers were hard and demanding. His were bright and shining.

Great question, thought Keith.

“That too,” said The Fear Master, “will be revealed in the fullness of time. By this time next week, I promise, you will know me.”

Debbie wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. DD LOVES TFM did not describe the way in which she wanted to get to know him. The thought of it made her skin crawl.

“And to help you get to know me, I’ve devised a little game. Not one of my own. It’s a classic. So I’m going to ask you to douse your lanterns and snuff your candles while I tell you the story of an old woman who lived in a house by the cemetery – that house, in fact.

“As you can see, nobody lives there now. But the old lady – let’s call her Mildred – she had a horror---which you might find odd for someone who chose to live next door to the boneyard---of death. Well, not so much of death as the necessary processes that happen after death. So she made arrangements to have her body frozen after she died in the hope of one day being brought back. No funeral for Mummy Mildred. A nice freeze-dried afterlife in a sanitized cryogenic can – that’s what she wanted.

“But Mildred’s children – they had other ideas. Because the didn’t like their mother and didn’t want her back. Especially since she was rich and they’d lose their inheritance if she returned and started controlling their lives all over again. So, remembering what their mother had been most afraid of – putrefaction – they decide to thaw out the old girl and … and here she is! Betty, please have a good feel of these, and pass them along. You see – though she can’t – they’re Mother Milfred’s eyes!”

Betty chuckled in the darkness and took the two round objects The Fear Master handed her. They felt like springy grapes, but bigger – more like plums, but not so perfectly round. Cool to the touch, they did feel horribly real. Betty passed them to Keith.

“Mother Mildred, having lived to a great age, had started to lose her hair. Here is a lock of it given to me by her not-so-loving offspring.”

Betty giggled as she accepted the “lock of hair.” Nothing creepy about that. It probably was hair, and could have come from any wigmaker or beauty salon; The Fear Master might have even cut it off his own wig.

“And this … is the finger she used to wag at her naughty children. It was easy to break the brittle bone right off her frozen hand. Of course, it isn’t frozen now; don’t worry if it drips on you!”

“Yuck,” said Betty, accepting the desiccated sausage or whatever it was he was handing her.

“But as much as she liked to wag her finger, here’s something she liked to wag even more – her tongue---”

“Oh my God,” said Betty, touching the slimy triangle of meat he was handing her – as Stevie, who had just received the hair – got to her feet and ran, making it only three steps before she crumpled to her knees and vomited voluminously.

“I hope you enjoyed tonight’s discourse on explicit as opposed to implied horror,”

chortled The Fear Master as he put on a bowler hat and sunglasses over his bandaged visage. “If one of the local constabulary stops us, I’ll simply explain that I am the Invisible Man! Keith, hand me that jacket in the back. All in all, it was a lovely session, Fear Leaders. I mean, it’s not like we were out scavenging body parts like poor old Victor Frankenstein, is it? Much more civilized. Come, Keith – the jacket, please. Now, who am I dropping first?”

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