Anita Marie Moscoso has opened a Curiosity Shop within the walls of Soul Food. Anita Marie passion for the curious and ghostly is adding fresh colour to Soul Food.
So what shall it be tonight? A ghost story? Maybe a twisted tale of revenge or longing or greed? What? My story? Why not? It's a good one, if I don't say so myself. Take a seat and listen to her stories.
The Chamber of Horrors
A tunnel from Soul Food leads to the Chamber of Horrors which is actually an abandoned Victorian Era Medical School. Anita Marie Moscoso presides over this region, providing a page from the Chamber of Horrors History. Enter at your own risk.
In the Lemurian Abbey Catacombs
Searching for Eldorado
The Amazing Benandanti performs at the Chamber of Horrors Sideshow at a Marina in a town called Lawton Ridge.
The Sideshow has been in the same building for over 50 years and its star attraction has performed there since the first day the doors opened.
Over the years other performers have aged and died, moved on or disappeared.
All except for the Amazing Benandanti.
It was SUPPOSED to be sideshow secret along the Marina; the original Amazing Benandanti had a look- a-like daughter who in time took over the act. Of course, she's billed as an Immortal who learned her magic secrets from the Egyptians or Druids, or sometimes she was supposed to have been a student who studied Magic under Merlin himself.
The Amazing Benandanti is a Death Defying Escape Artist...tie her in chains, put her in a tank of water and watch as she escapes from a watery grave; she also performs a routine she calls " Chasing the Rabbit” which involves an Electric Chair once used in the most infamous now abandoned Prison in the state of Washington: Maplewood.
The Chair is her favorite part of her entire act because as she will tell you, there's no such thing as going over the top when you're suppose to be getting electrocuted. It appeals to her sense of theatrics, which are after all in the true spirit of the Sideshow.
Her eyes roll, her body convulses, blood trickles from her eyes and ears, wisps of smoke make their way from her slightly parted lips and then her blood red eyes change back to dark brown, she turns her wrists, the straps snap off and she stands and then takes a deep bow.
Among her other acts are the Escape from the Gallows and the Revenge of the Condemned.
Some nights as a treat for her self as much as for her audience The Amazing Benandanti summons ghosts, demons and other strange creatures that are part animal, part human. They are vaporous images but solid enough to touch.
That part of the act is always somewhat unpredictable and because of that The Amazing Benandanti doesn't like to perform it very often because one night a creature that was part horse and part crocodile nearly took her head off.
She will tell the crowd, as she prepares to open the doorway to not talk to the apparitions. They will ask you a question and if you answer...she won't be able to guarantee what happens next nor will she be able to guarantee your safety.
Sometimes because it's a simple pleasure and she enjoys it The Amazing Benandanti sits out front and performs little slight of hand tricks for people walking along the Boardwalk before her first show of the evening. She gives lessons and patiently explains how to make coins disappear and reappear again. There are magic scarves and dancing rope tricks that she can teach you to perform. She keeps all of these props in a well-worn, heavily stickered travel trunk.
Reach in, pull out a prop and the Amazing Benandanti will teach you magic too.
The Amazing Benandanti, like all good Sideshow performers does have her secrets. One is, she's never in over 50 years surrendered her billing to anyone. Her ego would never allow that. There has only ever been one Amazing Benandanti, which is more then enough as anyone who knows her will be glad to tell you.
The second is The Amazing Benandanti isn't really a Magician.
Kincross Benandanti is a Werewolf, but like a lot of us she has her talents too. And one of those talents involves seeing into the next world.
That's how she came to see the riders camped on the railroad tracks. Not by, but on the tracks themselves. They were phantoms of course but that didn't mean they couldn't cause damage. The grass and shrubs along the tracks were starting to die and the air started to smell a bit stale and old.
Not that anyone noticed, these tracks ran below street level and were not exactly the type of place you paid attention too even when you did look down. The tracks were littered with trash and pigeons and crows roost wherever they can land. It wasn't pleasant to look at and the smell coming up to the sidewalk above was foul.
For nearly a week Kincross had been watching the three of them as they appeared at each sunset. Earlier in the evening they were almost transparent and as people above walked by they reached to the back of their necks or pulled their jackets a little closer to their bodies. Some of the people even stopped suddenly and turned around, like they expected to see someone following them.
By the time the moon raised the Riders were as real and solid looking as nightmare creatures made flesh can get.
One evening, as she stood on the bridge that looked down onto the tracks she watched the three riders come to life with more speed then they had on previous days and she wondered, what exactly were they?
She was puzzled and wondered how to satisfy her curiosity about these things. In the end she took her years of predatory experience, considered several options she learned in thousands of years of war experience, reached down, picked up a bottle and threw it at the head of the tallest figure.
It made contact with a thud that made Kincross wince and she said with genuine feeling " that has got to hurt "
Then the tall one looked up at her, directly into her eyes and hissed, it opened its mouth wide and thick yellow green mucus oozed out from the corners of its thin-scarred lips.
It was drooling.
That's when she ran.
Kincross was so distracted by what she had seen that earlier that evening she managed to make herself look like an amateur at her 10:00 show.
When her executioner pulled the lever on the trap door of the gallows and the very real hangman's noose tightened and yanked up just behind her ear, the language she used as she was snapped back up was not good. “
Hey, " she said to loudly " you’re suppose to nod before you do that so I can make myself ready…” Her friend Clara the Alligator woman said, from under her executioners hood, " mouth Danti! "
" Well, I'm sorry Clara " she croaked the rope is pulling my shirt up for Pete’s sake and something is tearing in my neck. "
" It's supposed to be breaking your neck stupid! " Clara said starting to loose her temper " for Pete's sake shut your mouth and start choking! "
So before the act fell apart The Amazing Benandanti kicked, choked and struggled for air...she was giving a very good impersonation of not only a dieing woman, but a dying woman in agony, much to the delight of her audience.
She went rigid, and then limp and the rope creaked and sounded as loud as gunshots as she swayed back and forth from the end of the noose.
Very slowly as if she were in slow motion on film, the dead woman twitched, kicked and seemed to slither up back up through the trap door. It looked like an invisible hand was pulling her; rope and all back up towards the scaffold's arm. Then while she seemed to be hanging in midair facing the audience her eyes snapped open.
And flamed red, red as coals in a fire. "
Ladies and Gentleman, " cried Jesse the Cyclops from the side of the stage " the death defying Amazing Benandanti! "
Kincross lowered back onto the scaffold and worked the rope away from her neck and took her bow and when the curtains snapped shut on the stage Jesse gave her a thumbs up. "
Good work ladies, I really liked the part when you vomited all those four letter words when you're suppose to be dieing at the end of the rope Danti. Are you going to make that a permanent part of your death scene?' "
" Hey it's that touch of reality that makes the act "
" Sure, sure. " Jesse the real life Cyclops said, " Like this place has anything to do with reality.
That's the way it was at the Chamber of Horrors, which was part of a permanent Sideshow act down the street from the Guzman Curio Shoppe.
Reality was only a theory here on the Marina.
Jesse really was a Cyclops, all 7 feet and one eye in the center of his forehead of him. He was a friend of Kincross' from the very, very old days. He had been living in Olympic Peninsula in Washington state for several years when Kincross found him...and offered him work.
He wasn't sure exactly who set up the Sideshow, but it was a good place to be if you wanted to hide in the open. Which was a relief from hiding in the shadows. Ask anyone who’s tried it. It’s enough to make you crazy.
So mixed among the fakes was Jesse, Wintra and Summer the Conjoined twins who's real talent was seeing into the past, but for the Sideshow they performed Victorian parlor music on violins and other stringed instruments, and Clara the Alligator Woman. There was nothing supernatural about Clara's skin condition, but at east she had a job and could walk around in the open.
Among the medical curiosities displayed in glass cases, the human oddities and artwork a woman with scaly skin was hardly noticeable. Which is why she worked so many acts. She in her 45 years went from living in a mental institution to being a stage performer. Clara had always wanted to be an actress and as far as she was concerned, her mission had been well accomplished.
Now we come to The Amazing Benandanti.
Kincross was a faker of sorts, nothing she did was magic...exactly.
In fact she couldn't tell you if she was human or monster, she couldn't tell you how old she is. She came from the Mountains, but she's not sure which ones. None that are standing now, that she's sure of.
Then in one evening in less then 10 minutes her life changed...at last.
Kincross was watching the Sunset yet again and the sight of it going through the same old routine almost cost her sanity when she was captured and forced into a place where all she could do was sleep and dream.
It was a relief really.
After she was rescued from the Catacombs by the Franciscan Monks who discovered her sleeping beneath their Abbey where she had been imprisoned by a rogue witch and her vampire companion she promised herself more then a new life. She promised herself to become something else altogether.
That's why she ran away and joined the circus, that's why she almost ignored the Riders at the Railroad Tracks.
But old habits die-hard and that's why she threw the bottle...
Only these Riders, as she was about to learn were about to create some changes of their own.
When the Moon was full three days later on Halloween Kincross was going to find that out exactly what it was they were about to change.
The last week of October is a very big thing on the Marina.
The Guzman's Curio Shoppe displays its newest finds at Halloween, it's a tradition.
Their stock, things like shrunken heads, exotic plants and mummified remains of all sorts are spiffed up and their cases draped in orange and black crepe paper streamers. Akela, Ignancia’ s Guzman's sister, could not only be counted on to bring back treasures and curiosities like the Mummy of the Egyptian Priestess that made the entire Marina famous, she could tell the best stories and could entertain people for hours in the Soda Fountain in the front of the Curio Shoppe.
That included the performers from the Chamber of Horrors.
Wintra and Summer, Zymo the Missing link, and sometimes Jesse would sit among the tourists and locals and listen to Akela tell stories about a city made up of immortals who's souls died leaving their corpses to wander their city in a dream state for all eternity, a town called Leaning Birches where Death itself lives, an Insane Asylum haunted by a demon doctor and her husband, who as Akela tells the story was still haunt the Sixth floor of the abandoned Hospital that still stands in the town of Resolution just outside of Lawton. Akela also tells stories about Headhunters and witch doctors, curses and hexes.
Only Akela’ s stories are much more then simple scary stories and they are always more fact then fiction and she leaves no doubt about that as she spins one tale after another.
She also tells stories about Werewolves when she's sure Kincross isn't around because she can't get halfway through them before she hears a gravelly sounding voice go into hysterical fits of laughter and say, " Kade, you are SO funny! Come one, tell us a good one. You’re holding out on us, you know you are. “
A few doors down the restaurants; souvenir shops and art galleries display pumpkins, offer free candy and some host costume parties. The Arima's Amusement park, famous for it's hand carved exotic carousel horses, mermaids and other fantasy animals are polished, the normal carousel music is replaced by recordings of funeral music and the electric lights are replaced by lanterns giving the friendly animals of the carousel a darker look.
Their eyes seem to follow you as you walk by and their wooden muscles seem to ripple under the half cast light.
The vendors selling treats along the Marina replace their usual fare with candy corn, orange cotton candy, as well black cat, bat and pumpkin shaped cookies and confections like black and orange popcorn balls. The soda pop is replaced by Devil's Blood, Nightmare Ambrosia and of course, Witch's Brew. There is an endless supply of caramel apples coated in not only in caramel but marshmallow, exotic chocolates and then all of this is rolled in nuts or candies in the shapes bats and ghosts.
But something was happening those few days up to Halloween; there was an unfriendly bite to the night air, the fog that rolled up from the Duwamish Bay wasn't a fine mist, it was heavy and smothering and seemed to extinguish anything unfortunate enough to end up in it’s grasp.
On these evenings as you walk down the boardwalk or along the brick and cobblestone sidewalks and streets your footsteps seemed to echo to loud and for too long. No matter how fast you walked it seemed to take forever to get from one short block to the next.
One night, after the Sideshow had closed for the evening Clara and Kincross decided to walk down the boardwalk to the Curio Shoppe to visit with their friend Ignancia. Her sister Akela was in town and both women were anxious to hear some of Akela’ s new stories...before she took to relaxing with her wine and thin cigars that had been soaked in rum and began to change the stories to more fiction then fact.
Which left the listeners with a pale imitation of what really happened.
Akela’ s stories were best told by candlelight and tea and before her mask of bravado hid whatever she may have been really feeling at the time her adventures were happening.
Halfway down the street it was Clara who asked Kincross, " Did you hear that? "
Of course Kincross had heard it.
Heavy footsteps in almost perfect timing with their own. "
No. " she lied.
Clara stopped and demanded, " you did too hear that! "
Kincross grabbed Clara's hand and started walking " of course I did and there’s more than one back there...so keep walking and shut up. I'm trying to think."
" What abo..." Clara felt something press against her chest and shove and she was pushed over a rail and into the black night waters of the Duwamish Bay
When Clara broke the surface of the icy waters she could hear the sounds of a terrible storm.
The winds howled, there was the sounds of thunder and lightning and the sounds of voices lost in the middle of the storm. Then she saw a terrible figure standing on the rail above her, it held out it's arms and it howled against the night sky. Then it turned it's misshapen head towards her and pushed away from the rail and then it was coming down towards her.
The force of the figure hitting the water pushed her back and then under the water. A heavy clawed hand grabbed her by the back of her jacket and lifted her dead weight straight out of the water and swung around like a rag doll.
After it had turned her around she was peering down into a pair of blood red eyes and jagged teeth so white they gleamed blue. The face was a shadowed by a heavy brow bone, and In the fog shrouded night down here in the water it was hard to tell if it was a human face or an animal’s face but you knew it didn't belong in this world.
" Danti! " Clara cried in relief " you're alright! "
When they got to the Curio Shoppe Akela handed Clara a towel and a flask of something. When she put it to her lips to take a drink the alcohol seemed to disappear as it hit the space between her mouth and the flask's opening.
The fumes wafted up and burned Clara's eyes.
" What is this? " Clara asked raising the flask a second time but careful not to have her eyes open this time as she drank...or inhaled. "
Who knows, but it'll get you drunk fast. "
" Amen to that " Clara said and tossed the flask to Kincross.
Ignancia plucked the flask from Kincross' fingers and threw it back to her sister, " We need them sober, and we need to know what it was they saw. "
" Grave Robbers " Kincross said yanking the flask back and taking a long hard swig " three of them...nasty brutes too. I tried to finish one off. He must've just eaten. " She took another long swallow and snapped " this isn't working. "
Ignancia went to her cabinet and pushed at the latticework along the top. After she pushed in and pulled a drawer came of the center of the scrollwork. Without looking in she reached in and pulled out a small blue bottle and that smelled faintly of curry powder. " Here, sniff it. "
Kincross shrugged and did as she was told.
Then she ran out the door and the sounds of her getting sick into the Bay were brutal. When she came back in she said through clenched teeth and narrowed watering eyes " gee thanks."
" You have to kill those germs, you don't know what those things have been getting into. " Ignancia told her.
" I do, I could smell it and taste it I'm afraid. And we have a problem, a big one."
Akela laughed. " It looks like Ghouls have infested our Cemetery and are probably robbing them for food. And it can’t be good news for you or Jess because technically you count as the.... not of this world too, so you're on the menu and anybody else who has...how can I say it; were born of exotic heritage...like the Twins and I don't know, what could be a bigger problem then that? "
" It's what they ate for their last meal. "
" Which was " Akela said through a line cloud of blue cigar smoke.
" Vampire "
So the night before Halloween Kincross, Akela, and Clara went out to Leaning Birch Cemetery to meet newest residents of Lawton Ridge.
Leaning Birch Cemetery is a well-known place on the entire West Coast; it's famous because of its size and somewhat notorious history. Leaning Birch had started out as a graveyard for suicides, the executed and the poor. Babies who only lived for a few hours or days are here as well as the deformed and defectives.
This is where the forgotten were laid to rest.
It's a maze of graves, marble and stone mausoleums and crypts dug directly into the hillside.
The Cemetery was built in the forest and in time it had become a city and more then once hikers and the curious had gone up there and been lost for days. Some where never found.
These three women were very familiar with this place and getting lost here wasn't something that concerned them.
" Why do we have to come out here at night, " Clara was whispering to herself, " why not during the day when there are people around and you can see where you're going if you have to run."
" Because last shows at our last show is at 10:00... you know that. " Kincross looked over at Akela and rolled her eyes heavenwards. Sometimes it was all too apparent to Kincross that Clara had been in an institution. At times when Clara started talking out of her head like this it was all to painfully clear that being locked up in that asylum had damaged her, poor thing.
They came to the first section of the Cemetery just as the Moon came up.
Akela waived the Lantern from one grave to the next, " what do you think? " she asked Kincross.
" This Graveyard is dead. " she shook her head and grabbed the lantern from Akela. She began to walk up and down the rows. She walked briskly past new headstones, old weather worn headstones, past mausoleums then up the brick path to the Oak Tree Columbarium. And you could tell from the tilt of her head she was trying to catch sounds and was finding nothing. "
What do you mean it's dead? " Clara asked, " it's a graveyard. "
Kincross was over the top of the hill and Akela was running to catch up with her " Akela, what did she mean? " Clara had a horrible feeling in her middle and her head was starting to pound because Danti was scared and that was something in twenty years Clara had never seen her friend affected by.
The graves near the Columbarium, where the cremains were housed was the oldest part of the Cemetery. Here in the center of the Cemetery were the oldest graves, the most ornate mausoleums and statues of angles, children, lambs, benches and hooded figures. All of them hand crafted and after all this time they had not cracked, or been worn away by the elements.
A barrier surrounded this part of the cemetery; you could feel it when you came here. This place was the heart of the cemetery.
" There's nothing here..." Kincross had dropped the lantern and it rolled down the brick path towards Akela. " There's nothing here...” her voice echoed like it would in a tomb.
Akela saw Kincross stop under a giant twisted tree. Only one side of it seemed to have grown and the other looked stunted. From a distance it looked as if it were reaching over to the ground beneath it. " Oh no." Kincross whispered.
Then she called out, " come here, but not to close. You have to see this. "
Clara and Akela came up to the tree where Kincross was and on the ground was a dying Vampire. Its face was a twisted mass of cuts; its head was split open from the bridge of its nose to the back of its skull.
Kincross knew that unlike her self this creature could feel pain and she also knew that something intended for the Vampire to suffer.
" Here to finish me off Benandanti? " it asked through it’s ruined mouth " execution right? Will you break my neck and trap my putrid soul in my eyes forever? Or will you leave me here to suffer until the..."
" The expression is, until the cows come home. " Kincross shook her head " we didn't know you were here. We had no idea. "
" It would have stayed that way Benandanti, you may not believe that, but it's true. You can only stand Death for so long, understand?
" Kincross nodded, " I do. "
Akela shone the light into the vampires face. Under normal circumstances the Vampire is no oil painting. By nature their faces are ruddy and red and a little bloated. They're eyes are milky white and their hair dull and dry. It's their teeth that look good, they have sets of them, and like sharks and they're so sharp they can go through bone. Those teeth shine so white they glow.
The Vampires don't spread their sickness or curse like you hear in the stories. They're regular people who die and for some reason that no one knows...they come back as this.
When they do the Benandanti come.
They always have.
Akela was surprised to learn, after seeing more then one fight that these creatures knew each other by name. They understood each other’s language...knew each other’s histories. There was a balance between them and if Akela had to live to be 500 she intended to understand it one day. "
Who did this, who destroyed this place? "
" I forgot, your family used to guard the Cemetery in Kincross...for centuries. I can see why you're fond of this place. It's quite beautiful. "
" Yes, yes, tell me who did this. "
" You saw the Ghouls, right? "
" Yes, by the tracks. "
" That's where the gate is, that's why you saw them there. But they're not Ghouls anymore. They're not robbing the graves for food, like before. They're not hunting the living dead for sport or trophies even. They've been changed, something has happened to them. "
" What? "
" They're turning human.
" Kincross motioned Akela and Clara back and leaned forward. " I can help you, maybe I can fix this...what's happened. I studied in the House Of The Dead. I know what to do.
" The Vampire shook its head. " Just do what you do Benandanti, just...no execution. Do you swear? "
Kincross nodded. " I'll...put you to rest, when we're done. "
" Thank you Benandanti "
Kincross drew her fist back and slammed it between the vampire's eyes. Because it's face was so damaged already the skull almost split in two and from the center of the forehead where the soul lives a mist leak out, it crept from the corner of it's eyes and felt it's way to the ground and was gone.
" Shovel " Kincross choked " get me a shovel.
" The sun was just starting to rise when they got home to the Marina. Clara put her hand on Kincross’ s arm and Akela thumped her a few times on the back. " You did alright Kincross "
" What do you suppose he meant, they're becoming human? " Kincross demanded.
" I don't know but I bet it ain't for love. And the cemetery, are you sure it's dead? "
" All those ghosts, the things that live there...they've gone. Where could they go Akela? Do you know what happens to spirits that wander forever? They go nuts. No offense Clara. "
" None taken "
" Something scared the dead from their graves and drove them out of the only place on Earth they're safe. They're risking their sanity. They are willing to risk oblivion because of what? Ghouls who are turning human? What the hell happens when a ghoul becomes human? "
Akela was the one who noticed the trees that lined the hill above the Marina. The smile she always seemed to have on her face and the light from her deep brown eyes dimmed.
Every green thing up on the hill was dead or dieing. There wasn't a bird in the sky, and the air smelled stale and old even though there was a constant breeze coming off the Bay. It was like walking into a long closed room in an abandoned house.
The Sun was shining bright; it was going to be a beautiful autumn morning.
Only to the three women standing on the Pier, it felt like the darkest hours after Midnight.