Monsieur Quincampoix Finds a Mentee

Like so many white suburban-raised children of the 90s, Fiona developed a hyper-enthusiasm from an early age for the increasingly revered (thanks to its commercial cachet and potential) holiday of Halloween. Though she nor her closest friends, Alwyn and Caroline, could not understand why, as a holiday, Halloween didn’t get its proper due in being declared a national day of celebration for all, commemorated by the closure of schools nationwide. Hell, internationally (then again, they were too young at that time to think so globally). Fiona expressed as much regarding her confusion as to why school wouldn’t be closed on the 31st to her father, Henry, as he prepared her a midday snack before heading to his hotel management job at Le Tigre Vert.

It was an “economy” sort of place that often appealed to businessmen looking to take their call girls there for a night. The Frenchness of the name, it seemed to Henry, was merely a way to obscure its true nature to those rare few families that might actually be passing through Fairfield for a vacation. For there was no doubt in his mind that the mysterious owner knew précisément what type of clientele his forty-two room hotel was attracting. Still, Henry did his best to keep it refined, adding flourishes of “civility” where and when he could (he was the one, after all, who had implemented nightly turndown service with a chocolate mint on each pillow).

Fiona could see how hard he tried whenever she would be forced to spend time there, for occasionally he would have to take her after picking her up from school instead of going directly home. She would sit at the front desk, pretending to do her homework, but all the while appraising her father’s interactions–including a particularly memorable one with an overt “lady of the evening.” She was trying to not so delicately explain that her erstwhile client had skipped out on her before paying both her and the hotel bill. Bedecked in a dirty white fake fur coat, fishnets with a glaring rip down one side, a low-cut black dress and red high heels that looked slightly too large for her feet, she implored Henry to let her leave without giving him the money that was owed, assuring him she could make it worth his while in some other way as she needlessly straightened his collar.

Growing increasingly uncomfortable as she pressed him both figuratively and literally, he side-glanced at Fiona to make sure she wasn’t watching. She, of course, looked away just in time as she returned to feigning engrossment with her homework. It was on this day, in this very moment, that Fiona knew she could never have a job that involved face-to-face interaction with people. It was too arduous, too painful. That her revelation happened to occur in the early days of October seemed all the more portentous for the ultimate fate of her “career.” One that would be cemented for her not only a couple weeks later when she and her friends paid for the first time ever to get into a haunted house, but also in her junior high years, when Amélie first came out. For it was obviously Monsieur Quincampoix’s gently delivered ooos into Amélie’s ear that spelled some sort of prophecy for Fiona’s own meet-cute with a shy boy who would keep her back to her for fear of seeing a ghost. Or so she told herself as she wistfully replayed that scene over and over again when her father made the mistake of giving her the DVD for Christmas the following year. Yes, her imagination instilled many fantasies of what working in a haunted house would be like.

Of course, as most are aware, imagination and reality rarely align when it comes to attempting to enact the former in a real world setting. Something Fiona realized when she confessed her long-held desire to work in a haunted house to her father (looking evermore haggard thanks to his own job), who retorted, “And what will you plan to do for the rest of the year? You know, when it’s not Halloween?”

In all honesty, Fiona hadn’t thought about that, but she knew that there was such a thing as the year-round haunted house, even if the only truly scary aspect about those was how corporate they were (Disneyland type of shit, Fiona shuddered). She would seek to be a paid-by-the-hour ghoul (instead of the unpaid kind that most already were) at one of those establishments when she wasn’t performing for more terrifying niche ones during the month of October. The truly rewarding in their creep factor kind–your Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine varieties. The sort of haunted house (the Winchester mansion in San Jose) she visited for that first time with Alwyn and Caroline. Alwyn and Caroline who never really seemed the same after that night when Fiona played the cruel trick of pretending to swing from the rafters, complete with self-smeared fake blood she had bought at the costume shop earlier that week, along with assless chaps to perfect her Christina Aguilera in the “Dirrty” video aesthetic (long before that poseur Kylie Jenner did).

She had opted to save the costume for Halloween night rather than wearing it more than once, for she wanted it to have the optimal effect on Alwyn, who she would only learn later that day, right before they made their way to the haunted house, that he had feelings for Caroline. And was therefore seeking advice from Fiona on how to confess them in an “adorable” way that would protect him from embarrassment should she not return the sentiment. But of course she would. Fiona already knew that, for they had made a pact long ago that one of them ought to end up with Alwyn. He was encoded in their DNA. No other boy would ever know either of them like he did. So it was that she performed the selfless friend act of encouraging Alwyn’s confession, and not to worry about a rejection for it wouldn’t come.

All the while, something like rage brewed within Fiona. A hot boiling in the pit of her stomach that demanded, “Why wasn’t it me?” What was so special about Caroline? With her wisp of a name to match her wisp of a body and persona. Fiona supposed she hadn’t been docile and dainty enough to catch Alwyn’s notice in that way. No, he instead saw something marriageable in Caroline. She was the type of woman he wouldn’t dread coming home to over time. She would never bother him or speak out of turn–not in the “vocal” and “expressive” way Fiona could. The way she was about to passive aggressively express herself by pretending to be dead in front of them in order to see if Alwyn would love her then. He didn’t. Loved her even less, in fact, after apprehending that it was a sick joke, guiding a sobbing Caroline away from the scene like a scarred doll.

The sight of them in this pathetic pietà form augmented her disgust with them all the more. She thought they at least had the goddamn gumption to endure one of the greatest emblems of Halloween. At the same time, the success with which she carried off scaring them fortified her belief that this was her only career path, the only profession that could thrill and titillate her for life.

As she again tried to explain this much to her father, he balked before changing his tune to complete contempt as he shouted, “I didn’t make a lifetime of sacrifices for you to become a fucking haunted house worker, you understand?!” Pausing to take a deep breath, he added, “Why don’t you just go join the circus with your mother at that rate?”

And it was true, Fiona’s mother, Beverly, had abandoned them to become a traveling trapeze artist with what was left of the circus. She didn’t make the correlation that her desired occupation would serve as such a trigger for Henry, prompting her to grow quiet about the matter as she reconciled that if she was going to do what she wanted, she would simply have to do it in silence.

So she left one day after packing a bag that she stored underneath her bed so that she could return during the lunch period to claim it and flee. It was the end of September and she had found a haunted house in Beacon that was hiring. It seemed tailored for basics that would be horrified just by stepping into her hometown of Fairfield, where she had fled from, let alone a haunted house there. Still, the prospect of working as a ghoul to creep out basics meant she could really enjoy the art of her scaring craft. Could get the kind of satisfaction that most people only dream of. But could never attain under the preordained circumstances of a society that dictates all employees should be miserable. Well Fiona refused. If she was going to be another underpaid stooge, she was at least going to be a happy one. Or as happy as one could be in life with the aid of built-in job satisfaction. A kind of satisfaction that Fiona gradually came to understand could be heightened tenfold by giving people heart attacks as a result of her fear-building talent.

Capitalizing on the exact moment she knew someone was in the midst of missing a heartbeat, she would pounce, transforming it into an outright palpitation that would escalate as she made her signature wailing sounds. So signature that they became a selling point of every haunted house she inhabited. Branded as the “ghastliest ghoul” in the world, Fiona even managed to get a pay increase about five fall seasons in. Five falls without having seen her father or her former best friends, who, she had heard, recently tied the knot. A turn of phrase Fiona had always relished for its appropriateness. What she hadn’t heard, however, was that they were planning to surprise visit after unearthing where she had ended up after disappearing. Henry, naturally, knew all along where she had absconded. But it was only now, with the offer of Alwyn and Caroline’s company that he was finally ready to see for himself. See his precious only daughter in action as a haunted house worker despite the fact that he had held much higher hopes for her.

She was intelligent and attractive, how could she relegate herself to such work when she could have been capable of something great? He decided he would not ask her these things when he at last saw her again. Instead he would exude the aura of love and support that he hadn’t before. The love and support that might have incited her to stay. Maybe the same went for his long gone Beverly as well.

Alas, Henry truly had no idea just how gifted his daughter was as he boarded the doom buggy (a term blatantly ripped off from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion) after signing a waiver with Alwyn and Caroline. And though the latter two certainly had some awareness based on the antic that had originally driven a wedge between them, they didn’t feel the proper level of fear before it was already too late, and Fiona could manipulate it to her will. Of course, in her defense, she had no idea that the trio she was scaring before her very eyes consisted of the only three people she had ever really been close to.

Yet still, she felt no remorse as they were all wheeled out of the haunted house on stretchers. She was only fulfilling her destined role as a better haunted house worker than Nino Quincampoix was. Because she didn’t let love–or emotions of any kind for that matter–hinder the efficacy of her work.

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