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Haunted House Series- Comfort Food

J Campbell

By Joshua CampbellPublished 5 months ago โ€ข 20 min read
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"Do you have to go out tonight?" she asked, sounding plaintive as he came out of the bathroom.

George looked a little silly in his running clothes, the combination still making him look a little like a beach ball even months after he'd started running in the evening. He had been checking his weight on the bathroom scale and the news was dire, as it always seemed to be. The dial had spun around and for a moment he had been hopeful that it might show improvement. He had been running for nine and a half months, despite his mother's protests, and every time he stepped onto the scale he prayed it would show him some improvement.

When it settled on two eighty-five, however, George sighed.

In nearly ten months George had lost eight pounds.

As disheartened as he was, George couldn't say this came as much of a surprise.

He had returned from his first run to discover that his mother had laid out a four-course meal for him.

"I do," he said as he patted his belly and prepared to be stared at, "It might take my mind off the candy I see absolutely everywhere."

His eyes lingered on the bowl by the door, a bowl that would be a lot lighter two nights from now.

His mother looked at him from the couch, and with her girthy form seated on the old lime-colored couch, he felt a little guilty as he thought of her as a frog on a lily pad.

She had been this way for as long as he could remember, but these contracts were something he had only recently begun to think about.

"Why not stay in tonight?" She asked, smiling wetly as her neck grew smaller and her chins threatened to rest against her breasts, "I've got candy apples and chocolate pretzels, and I'm working on some pumpkin seeds that are almost ready to come out of the oven."

Nibble nibble, little mouse.

Come have a taste of my candy house.

That one hurt his heart, and he knew he had to go before he let these feelings worm their way to the surface.

"No, I need to be diligent about this." He said, "I'm nearly three hundred pounds, and my doctor says,"

"Oh, nuts to what he says. You're the picture of health. Those doctors get paid to fill your head with bad news. Come sit with me. We can watch a Halloween movie and nibble some snacks, just like we did when you were younger."

Yeah, George reflected, there had been a lot of nibbling over the years as they sat together.

A lot of nibbling and very little else.

"I need to do this, Mom. I need to,"

"To what?" she said, her voice suddenly taking on an edge, "So you can leave me here by myself? If you're in such a hurry to leave your mother behind, then go! Don't come crying back to me when nobody is waiting for you when you come home."

"Mom," George said, taken off guard but the shift, "it's not,"

"Just go." she said, waving her hand, "I wouldn't want to keep you from your new life."

George started to stay, started to give in yet again, but instead he kissed his mother on her flat, oily hair and left.

She would be back to normal when he came back.

She always was, and he wasn't sure why the flash of anger always caught him off guard.

He got to the sidewalk as the last golden rays of the afternoon tried to assert themselves on a city prepared for night. He popped his earbuds in and started jogging, trying not to pay attention to the people around him. He knew there was a certain amount of jiggle going on, but he didn't care. He couldn't afford a gym membership, and there was nowhere else to run unless he took a bus to the park, which was just as crowded. People would stare wherever he went, which was the other reason he hadn't lost weight.

George didn't really have a problem with eating, not really.

George had a problem with anxiety and confidence.

George had always been a big guy, but this weight gain was something that had happened in the last five years. George's father had died when he was seven, and it had nearly broken his mother. The fact that his father had died of a heart attack was irrelevant to her, and she had turned all her attention to George. George's dad had been a big guy, though George knew that hadn't always been the case either. Before they moved in together, George Senior was in great physical shape and he had been on his fraternity's rowing team and had done track well enough to go to nationals a few times. It wasn't until he got married that some of that muscle began to turn into fat.

By the time George was born, his father was pushing three hundred pounds and was a certified couch potato.

George was actually the same age his father was when he and his mother got married, and he wanted desperately to not share his dad's fate.

He saw the woman's eyes widen as she stepped out of his way, his jog becoming a run, and it hurt his stride a little. George got looks like that pretty often, and he didn't think people realized how much it affected him. George didn't want to be this large. He wanted to be able to run down the sidewalk without making people nervous that he would trip and crush them, but as he watched them step away from him and saw the looks on their faces he knew that he would stop soon and step inside the baker about half a mile from his house.

If not the baker, it would be the Belino's Italiano or the Blimpies or some other place where he could eat his anxiety away.

As it happened, it was none of those.

George had slowed to a slow jog, puffing like a bellows, when he heard a voice over the music in his earbuds.

"Hello, friend. Why not come in and see our haunted house?"

George jumped. He shouldn't have been able to hear anyone with his earbuds in, but he had heard the man as clearly as if he had been a commercial before the next song. George looked up and found a strange man in an immaculate black suit, a sharp top hat swept off in one hand, and he reminded George of a ringmaster at the circus. The haunted house he was standing in front of was...well it was a little underwhelming for the five-dollar entry fee that was posted, but the sign did say there was a money-back guarantee. The sign below was what had caught George's eye.

The sign said, "Free buffet within," and George had never turned down a chance at a free meal.

"Is it scary?" George asked, liking a good scare as much as a good nosh.

"Trust me, young man. There are life-changing scares inside, and there is something for every pallet."

That was all George needed to hear. He handed the man a ten, the smallest bill he had on hand, and walked through the crate paper streamers and right into a puff of acrid fog. George coughed as he waved it away, the smell truly awful, but it was soon replaced with the most heavenly aroma George had ever smelled. He found himself in a pub that looked straight out of a beer garden. Each of the tables held people eating from large silver trays, and each tray was filled with gastronomical delights. The people eating looked normal enough to him as well, no one was even half the size of George himself, and he took a seat in an available booth as he waited to be helped.

โ€œHi, said a woman who seemed to have appeared from nowhere, "Is this your first time dining with us?โ€

"Yeah," George said, reaching for a menu but seeing nothing, "I never even knew a place like this existed. Do I just tell you what I want or,"

"No need, sir. We know everything you want, and it will be delivered."

"How could you know what I," but she was already gone, and George was talking to himself.

Looking around at the plates heaped high with delicious food, George wondered what she would bring for him? How could she possibly know what he wanted, and what would be the cost of such a meal? There was no way that this could be covered in the measly ten dollars he had dropped at the gate. They would tally up the bill at the end, and if it was anything over ten dollars then George would be sunk.

"Your food, sir."

George nearly fell out of his seat, turning to find the woman at his side again with a tray as big as a manhole cover. She took off the lid to reveal exactly what she had promised. The tray was piled high with roast beef and mashed potatoes, both dripping gravy, the puffed and golden crab delights that his mother always made when company came over, and the steaming meat pies that she made for his birthday, the ones that never seemed to last long enough.

George had to wipe his mouth to keep from drooling, and when the tray came down, he was already reaching for the first pie.

"Is this all covered in the door price? There's no way that all of this can be for five dollars?"

He looked up at her nakedly, his eyes begging for it to be true, and that's when he really saw the woman. She was petite, thin in that waifish way that some men liked, and her brown hair was piled up in a messy bun atop her head. Had he met this woman before? She seemed familiar, but lots of people did in this town. Familiar wasn't exactly the right word, however, and George knew it.

It seemed like he had known her like she was someone from an imperfect memory who was gone now.

"You've paid the price of entry. The food is bought and paid for, and there will be another tray if you want after this one."

That was all George needed to know.

He looked for silverware, but when he found none on the table, he knew what he had to do. He dug his fingers into the pie, scooping it in with gusto as he devoured the meat pie. It was still hot, hot enough to burn his fingers, but he didn't care. It went into his mouth in handfuls, and he was soon left with nothing but an empty tray.

As he ate, his eyes glazed over as they always did. The act of scratching his itch, an itch that lay deep in his stomach, was cathartic somehow, and the more he ate, the less it gauled him. This was the main reason he was still heavy, despite his nightly runs, and it was a soothing tactic that had been there since childhood.

When he failed a test or bombed an assignment, his mother would feed him.

When he was rejected by a girl or laughed at by his peers, his mother would feed him.

When he had lost his fiance and fallen into despair, his mother had fed him.

Glinda, George thought, and a lump of meat threatened to choke him as he worried it down.

He hadn't thought about her in quite a while.

"Are you ready for more, Sir?"

George started, drawn from thought as the woman reappeared. He started to tell her that he wasn't nearly finished yet, but he looked down to see that this wasn't so. His face and hands were covered in gravy and grease and it appeared that he had finished the tray as he sat here thinking about his only real relationship, the one that had failed so titanically. Seeing his face on the surface of the gravy-caked plate, George thought he looked like a baby, but the woman seemed not to mind.

When she bent down to wipe the gravy from his face with a fresh napkin, George was struck again with the idea that he knew her.

Had he seen her in a photograph somewhere?

Had he seen her in a dream, perhaps?

"There. I went ahead and brought you a fresh tray, George. Go ahead and eat as much as you want."

She set the tray down and took the old one with a movement so fluid that it had to be magic. She was gone before he could question it, but once he had looked at the tray his questions were void. This one held eight of the steaming meat pies, the ones he loved so much, and each bite tasted like a different birthday. His sixth birthday when his mother had spent her whole paycheck on presents and had wondered how she would pay the bills. His twelve birthday when she had taken him to the zoo, and he had been allowed to ride an elephant and pet a tiger. His eighteenth birthday when he had woken up to find a car in the driveway just for him.

His twenty-ninth birthday when he had sat at the table and cried over his lost future, his mother feeding him the meat pies he loved so much until he finally passed out.

Glinda had left him the day before, but it had taken him a few hours to process it all. They had been making plans to celebrate his birthday, plans that she did not want to include his mother, but still, his mother had inserted herself. She had called him to guilt him, not believing that she wouldn't even see him on his birthday, telling him how she had been baking all afternoon, and that he couldn't have his pies or his presents if he didn't come over for the evening.

He had been looking at Glinda as he talked to her, and he could see her face changing as he progressively gave more and more ground.

Glinda had been a complete surprise to both George and his mother. He had met her at work, an intern from a different branch, and they had placed her in his project group. The two had hit it off almost at once, and their burgeoning relationship had only really been a surprise to them. It wasn't long before their dates became plans to live together, and his mother had been against it from the start.

"She's nothing but trouble, just interested in your money. Don't let her turn your head, her type are a dime a dozen."

This time, however, George hadn't given in.

A month after that conversation the two had been living together, and George had been smitten. They had gotten on well, the two doing their chores easily, and Glinda cooked almost as well as his mother. They enjoyed each other's company and enjoyed learning about each other, and when George proposed, the only one who had a problem was his mother.

"She's no good for you, Georgie! When are you going to see that you're better off without her? Well, if you marry her, I won't be there. I won't watch you throw your life away."

George had spent the next six months trying to smooth things over, and that had facilitated a lot of time spent away from home and with his mother. Glinda understood, but she was beginning to hate being the second most important woman in his life. They had been arguing as his birthday got closer and closer, and when he hung up the phone and told her they would be going to spend the evening with his mother, Glinda refused.

"No, if you go and give her what she wants, I won't be here when you get back."

George hadn't understood, but when she went to their room to pack a bag, he had finally got it.

"I can't be the second most important woman in your life, George. If you want to marry me, I have to be your priority. Your mother will never approve of me, that much is obvious, and you continuing to give her what she wants is as disrespectful to me as it is to yourself."

They had talked, they had argued, but in the end, she had left.

She had left, and George had gone back to his mother.

The apartment was gone now, George went back long enough to get his stuff but he couldn't stand to spend much time there. The wounds were too fresh, and he could see her in every room. She had been the best thing to happen to him, and he had thrown it all away.

"Don't think about that, Georgie." said a voice from his left, "She's gone now, and you are exactly where you need to be."

George looked up and saw the woman from before, though she looked very different now. She had aged a decade, her chestnut hair now lighter, more of a mud brown. She wore glasses on her pug nose, and her bun was less messy now. She was holding another tray, and as she set it down George realized he had eaten every single pie on the other one. George thought she looked even more familiar, maybe a relative or something, and when she took the lid off the smell of vanilla flan hit him like a train.

Vanilla Flan.

He had eaten it every year at least once since he was old enough for solid food. His mother cooked well, his gut was a testament to that, but she made flan better than anyone he had ever known. It was the perfect combination of solid and jiggly, the vanilla not too overpowering, and he felt the saliva slip from his mouth as he looked at the mountain of delicious dessert.

"This is all you need, Georgie," came the woman's voice, and when he looked back he saw why she had sounded so familiar. When he saw her, he remembered a picture he had seen on her wedding day, the one that used to sit over the fireplace. She had stood beside his father, looking girlish in white, and she was as removed from the toad that had sat on the couch as George was from his father.

She was leering over him, her smile wide and predatory, and when George tried to pull away, he felt the trap too late.

He looked down to find a chain around his leg, a chain leading to the leering witch beside him, and George realized he was stuck.

"Now you won't leave me again, Georgie." she crooned, lifting a handful of the flan in her witch's claw, "You're trapped now, no running from mommy anymore. The only tarts to distract you from me are the ones in my oven. Now, get back to the table and finish your meal."

George pulled at the shackle, but his leg was stuck tight. He remembered a line from A Christmas Carol, about how Jacob Marly had forged his chain in life, and George realized that he was no different. He had forged the chain that connected him to his mother over years and years, making her as dependent on him as he was on her. The two were chained together in a parasitic relationship, and neither of them benefited from it.

"No," he stuttered, his voice cracking as the chain drew taunt, "No, I won't. You can't...you can't do this to me. I'm a grown man."

But even as he said it, he realized it was a lie.

Suddenly he was a little boy, the thing he would always be to this woman, and they were standing around the family dinner table. The floor was that banana yellow tiling, the table lacquered wood with faux leather chairs. He was eight or maybe nine, his body just starting to turn into the formless mound it would become, and his mother was looming over him in her floral apron, a wooden spoon in her hand that dripped red sauce. She was offering him spaghetti, the bowl huge and oozing, and the way she towered over him made the food feel like a threat.

"Don't you dare speak to me that way," she bellowed, her voice booming as it bounced off the tiles, "You will get back to this table and finish your food, young man!"

George was shivering, the woman standing over him more a crueler stand-in for his mother than the toad analogy had ever been. She truly was the witch now, inviting children into her candy house so they could be eaten. George knew he had to get away, but the chain wasn't the only thing keeping him here. Despite her overbearing pressure, his eyes still strayed to the spaghetti that hunkered on the plate. Despite his fear, despite his horror, his mouth still gushed to have just a bite of his mother's spaghetti, and he had to wipe his mouth so he wouldn't drool on the floor.

His mother was not the biggest problem, and until he kicked his dependents on food, he would always be shackled to her.

He had never thought of it like that, but now that he was face to face with the facts, he felt a sudden rush of revulsion for the confection dripping through her fingers.

"No," George said, standing up as he faced her squarely.

"What?" she nearly hissed, the spoon snapping as she clenched her fist.

"I said no. I'm done being a slave to comfort. It's not healthy, mom. It's not healthy to gorge my feelings and starve my soul, no more healthy than it is to cling so tightly to a son who has outgrown the nest. I need to go, I need to be my own man, I need to be happy, and so do you."

He blinked and he was suddenly back in the crowded bar/restaurant.

His mother still loomed large above him, but now she seemed unsure of herself as if this was not going the way she planned.

As he spoke, he felt the shackle loosen, the links growing rubbery as they fell away.

He stood up, the two of them locking eyes as she desperately tried to transfix him again before he turned for the door.

She shrieked after him, calling him back, but George was walking out of the restaurant.

As he passed through the smoke again, he thought it might have smelled a little less acrid than before, and as he walked back onto the street, he was reaching for his phone.

"I trust you found enough to eat?" the Barker said, smiling knowingly as George reached into his pocket and dropped his remaining ten spots into the box.

"I believe I may be satisfied for the first time in my life. Thank you, sir," he said.

Her number was still on his phone, and she picked up on the second ring as he walked away from the haunted house.

"I know I have no right to ask you, not after what I put you through, but I need help, and I'm ready to accept that you were right."

The Barker smiled as the man walked away, making his plans as he put the past behind him.

"Another satisfied customer." he whispered

urban legendsupernaturalslasherpsychologicalmonsterhalloweenfiction
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About the Creator

Joshua Campbell

Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.

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