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Fiction #412
(published December 11, 2008)
How to Survive Madmen
by Brian Beise
Too bad not many kids showed. I guess none of the teachers made it compulsory, which is alright. I don't want anyone forced to listen. This auditorium looks purple without lights on.

Rule number one: Never get into a car with a stranger. And if someone forces you in, and you're ten years old and it's a hot Halloween night and the strangers drive away with you confused in the backseat with your Batman mask lopsided and your friends step off the curb, not sure if they should wave at you, don't just sit quiet and hope nobody gets hurt. Tell them to let you out. Try the door handles. Try the windows. Bite the upholstery. And definitely don't do what I did. You should know that night, the sky was the color of dead cheeks and on the wind was the scent of sugared bread and rotting road kill. My best friend was dressed as Robin, my sidekick. But he didn't do a thing. My little brother was the Joker and he just laughed. Or he should've been the Joker; he was dressed as Superman.

"Don't cry or anything," The mask from Scream (this one was glow in the dark) loomed at me from the passenger seat. I looked down into my plastic pumpkin bucket and found a Milky Way candy bar as a defense mechanism.

"He's not crying," the Stormtrooper mask answered from the driver's seat. "He knows everything's fine. This is no big deal. Right, Batman? Hey let me see your mask."

"I recognize your voices," I lied, with half the Milky Way in my mouth. Don't ever do that. Don't say you recognize them.

"You don't know us," the Scream corrected me.

"Let me see your mask, buddy," the Stormtrooper reached out his ungloved hairless hand.

My parents put me through a safety class just like this one, guys. I was bored but I remembered they told me to make a fence with my hands. I put the rest of the bar in my mouth and waved my hands in front of me. In my head, behind my mask, I thought about my body being my own space. I hoped this meant my mask was my own space too, like my hair, like my soul, that's what they said in the safety class. My soul is my own.

"My mask is my own space like my soul," I said, even with a full Milky Way in my mouth.

The Scream looked at the Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper's helmet didn't move. His eyes must have, though, and I know his mouth moved, because he said

"Get his bleeping mask," of course he said something else, but we're at a school here, guys. You can imagine it.

The dead-cheek sky got worse. Showed its teeth a little; lightning that made the Scream look heartbroken and made the Stormtrooper look like stone.

"He said something about his soul," said the Scream.

"You get that mask, check his pockets, get it over with."

"He said something about his soul. You know what time of year it is."

They started arguing, which was great, I think. Always make your captors argue. The Scream seemed to think I was a kid who was murdered in the basement of a church. They never found the killer. The Stormtrooper said he was wrong, but don't be too sure. Ghosts can grow up, they can get married and be unfaithful and they can lose it one night and punch the wall and when his wife tries to calm him down a ghost can push her away and she can fall and hurt herself on the counter and the ghost can spend the rest of his life drinking guilt on the rocks with a dash of confusion. A ghost can haunt an auditorium without any people in it.

Don't try and get away from your captors. For all you know they might be playing a big joke. The Stormtrooper might be your older brother. The Scream might be his friend. Don't panic and jump out of the car when they slow down at an intersection. Your pumpkin full of candy will go everywhere and your skin will get sandpapered. Your captors will stop but another car will hardly see you. In the middle of the street, green lights here and red lights there, headlights at eye level, you'll wander what place you'll haunt if the car doesn't manage to stop.

See the scars from the concrete? Here? The light's bad, maybe you can see where the fender got my head? The lights aren't great; I'm sure we could get them on.

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