THE HAUNT by Adam McOmber

Ohio, 1994

Yellow lights at the county fair. Tilt-a-whirl and Ferris wheel. A fried and sugared elephant ear. And you are in love. Bright and shining love. But you are in high school too. And those things do not go together very well. Not when you’re gay. Not when you live in a dusty little farm town in the middle of nowhere at all. Still, you walk with him down the crowded midway, and you glance at him from time to time. And how handsome he looks in his blue polo shirt and stone-washed jeans. And he talks to you. And he’s funny. He’s your friend after all. Your best friend. And he doesn’t know you’re in love with him. He doesn’t know how your heart beats when he sits with you at the cafeteria table all doused in drugstore cologne. He doesn’t know how much you like the way he looks in his red soccer uniform. And how you dream about him calling you late at night just to ask a question about a class or talk about some show on television. You walk with him in the bright lights and carnival music, and you glance at his broad shoulders, his dark hair. And part of you feels so good to be with him. But another part feels sick. Honestly sick. Almost like you’re dying. What you don’t know (and I’m so sorry to tell you this) is that you’ll always carry some of that dying with you. You’re going to feel like you can’t breathe sometimes even when you’re 40 years old. You’ll be so dizzy and your hands will go numb. And you’re not going to know why any of it is happening. You’re going to think you have all the worst diseases in the world. But right now, you’re at the county fair. And you’re walking with him past the games of chance and the dunk tank and the little shack that sells pink ice cream cones. And finally, he stops there on the midway beside a funhouse called The Haunt. He turns to you. He looks at you with his dark eyes. Sometimes you can’t stand it when he does that. It’s like you’re on fire and you’re burning. And he says, “Shall we?” in a funny, scary voice from an old movie. And you know The Haunt is nothing more than a double-wide trailer painted to look like a crumbling castle. Flashing lights and a bunch of steam vents and the recorded sound of creaking doors. But right now, you’ve never wanted to do anything more in your whole life. So he pays for the tickets. Because sometimes he does things like that. Like you’re on a date or something. And you walk side by side over the painted drawbridge into the darkness. And somewhere in there, when a ghost jumps out at you (a pale old man…sunken cheeks and a mournful look…terrible sad eyes), you almost think you could grab your best friend’s hand. You could hold it for just a minute in the dark and feel how warm he is and alive. But you don’t grab his hand of course. You’ll never do that. Instead, you’ll graduate from high school and move to some city and try to make up for all of this. For now, you just keep walking through the narrow dark halls. You laugh sometimes as if The Haunt is so funny. And, eventually, you pretend to scream.

Photo by Matt Perich, used and adapted under CC.