THE FEAR MASTER

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Chapter 24: MORE MAP

“I don’t care if it’s all poisoned!” announced Betty, tucking into the fresh sandwiches and cold lemonade with gusto.

The map had led to a cave, where, as if set out for guests at a garden fete, two card tables covered with brightly-coloured paper were stacked high with triangular sandwiches on clear glass plates, a bowl of fruit, paper cups and three jogs of lemonade. Four lawn chairs had been provided, but no further clues. The cave was where the line on the map led; where they went from here they had no clue.

“Nothin’ like a good lunch!” said Debbie, digging in.

“A catered funeral,” said Stevie grimly.

“What do we do now – after this?” asked Keith, biting into a banana.

Betty shrugged. “We could stay here – we could even stay the night. Get some wood, build a fire in front of the cave. I’ll take first watch, and I’ll be damned if he’ll creep up on me!”

Stevie shot Betty a sour look.

“Sorry – you know what I mean – there’s only one way in, so he wouldn’t have a chance to …”

“Of course, if this is poisoned, it won’t matter anyway,” said Keith cheerfully, slurping lemonade down his chin.

“He’s watching, isn’t he?” said Stevie. “This is all fresh. He can’t be far away.”

“If he wanted to bump us off,” said Debbie, “he could have done it a hundred times on the way here, and we haven’t even seen him.”

“Vic didn’t see him,” said Stevie bitterly.

Keith grabbed the last sandwich off the glass plate in front of him. “So all we have to figure out is, where---ooh, looky-looky!” He lifted the plate and grabbed what was lying underneath it, plainly visible now the food was finished. The next piece of the map! Keith placed it down on the table, flush against the first piece. The two together still did not make a complete picture, but the hand-drawn line directed them to keep heading west.

“Where to?” Betty asked Keith.

“Looks like we’re off into the real Frankenstein’s Forest.”


They reached a fork in the track.

“Left or right?” asked Keith.

“Left,” said Betty.

“Who put you in charge?” asked Debbie, who was sweating freely and longed for a cool shower and a soft bed.

“Why, Betty - why left?” asked Stevie.

“The left side is sinister. He’s The Fear Master. Of course he’s going to want us to go left.”

“Then what do you think that means?” asked Debbie smugly, indicating a white tree trunk with a red handprint on it less than a hundred paces to the right.

Betty glared at Debbie, who gave her a so-there smile and turned away.

“Right,” said Keith.


“I’m not gettin’ undressed,” whined Debbie, looking at the towels and swimsuits laid out on the bank of the beckoning lake.

“Small mercies,” quipped Betty, pulling her sweaty T-shirt over her head. “I’m going in, and I may never come back!”

“We wish,” muttered Debbie, watching in delighted indignation as a naked Betty skipped down to the edge of the pristine lake and dove in.

“Maybe he’s down there done up as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, waiting to drag us under,” said Keith as he stripped down to his underpants.

“This is so good!” yelled Betty, bursting out of the water in a triumphant splash. “Come on, Keith – you chicken – take those off!”

Keith kept his underpants on (at least until he got in the water), and Stevie changed into a dark one-piece suit while Debbie primly announced while rubbing a chubby hand across her sweaty forehead: “I’m not gettin’ undressed for that prevert’s pleasure! That’s what he is, ya know – preverted!”

“Keith’s all right,” said Stevie, appearing from under a towel and looking like a rail-thin model.

“Not Keith – I meant the Filth Master!”

“Well,” said Stevie, “you can stand guard.” Then her face darkened with sorrow and she turned away.

“I’m gonna sit here an’ read somethin’ intelligent,” Debbie announced, pulling out a copy of Jude the Obscure. “I’ve switched from horror to Hardy – so should you, if you wanna be more like me!”

“Thanks, Deb, I’ll try to remember that.”

Ten minutes later, Debbie was asleep.

And when the others found her, she wasn’t sitting on the bank with Jude the Obscure in her lap.

Everyone assumed she’d just walked off in a huff, which seemed to be a typical Debbie move.

“Big girls do cry, you know,” Betty had said.

Then Stevie saw through the trees a strange-looking figure lying prone on the forest floor.

“Debbie!”

She wore a plastic clown mask (which concealed the red mark the syringe had left on her neck), had a photocopy of a picture of John Wayne Gacy (the killer clown) pinned to her shirt, a compass in her hand – and attached to the compass, a note:

BY NOW THERE CANNOT BE A SHADOW OF A DOUBT THAT IT REALLY IS FOR THE BIRDS NOT TO FOLLOW MY INSTRUCTIONS, SO YOU’D HAVE TO BE PSYCHO NOT TO TRAVEL NORTH BY NORTHWEST TO WHERE VIC AND I WILL FIGHT OUR VERTIGO TO OBSERVE YOUR ASCENT FROM BEHIND THE TORN CURTAIN. CHOP CHOP, TFM.

“Hitchcock movies,” said Keith. “I knew this was all leading up to something.”

“What?” asked Betty.

“Vic’s alive!” said Stevie. “Just like Debbie is. We’re all going to get out of this. Then we’re going to bust The Fear Master wide open!”

“That’s the spirit!” said Keith.

“Let’s get Orca on her feet,” groaned Betty, taking one of Debbie’s arms. “Soon we’ll be losing the light.”

They were losing the light, their fighting spirit and their feisty senses of sarcasm by the time they reached the foot of the hill and looked up at the cabin perched atop it.

Debbie shivered, rubbed the needle mark on her neck, and looked t the others. “Do we have to?”

Yes,” said Stevie grimly.

They climbed for fifteen minutes; nobody spoke until they reached the cabin.

“Home sweet home,” whispered Keith.

“Or house of horrors,” said Betty.

“Welcome to the Bates Motel!” declared Debbie. She pointed to The Fear Master’s hearse, partly hidden in the undergrowth beside the cabin. The number plate read: PSYCHO.

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