The two weeks leading up to NYCM were insane. As in, completely exhausting. I wrote a combined 80+ pages for work, got kids to hockey and ice skating, handled school issues and locker room drama, and fought off a head cold. So naturally, the asshole that is the random prompt generator for NYCM assigned me “Comedy” as a genre. Once I got done complaining (actually, I’m still a little gripey about it), I bounced ideas off my husband until something stuck. Then I stayed up until 1 AM in a NyQuil haze, and I wrote this sophomoric piece of ridiculousness.
Prompt: Comedy / A training facility / A leaf blower
Do you have what it takes to be a Community Scare Hour volunteer?
BYOS (Bring Your Own Scare) to the mandatory sensitivity training and become part of this year’s Fantastically Frightening Fall Festival for the Whole Family™.
Jimmy adjusted the duffel bag on his shoulder. He was flanked by a mousey man with a mesh sack of golf balls and a large woman with a tiny notebook. An autumn breeze gave Jimmy a whiff of the woman’s perfume. It reminded him of his bathroom air freshener.
It’s Eau de Toilet, Jimmy thought. He stifled a laugh.
Mayor Scuttle stood beside an object draped with a white sheet. “Welcome to Scare Fair training, a program designed to teach you the ins and outs of hosting our Fantastically Frightening Fall Festival for the Whole Family. Tee-Em.”
Scuttle waited for a reaction that didn’t come. He cleared his throat.
“This year at the Fair, we’ll have bobbing for apples, a costume contest, and of course, our community scare hour, which is why you’re here. We want to be sensitive to all our guests, so this year, we’ve found an exciting way to help you keep the fun in fantastic!”
Jimmy opened his mouth but decided against commenting.
The mayor pulled the sheet with a flourish. A life-sized doll with golden pigtails and a vacant expression wore a sticker on its shirt that said, “Hi, my name is Mild’dread.”
Jimmy raised his hand and spoke at the same time. “What the hell is that?”
“This is Mildred. She’s the latest in artificial-intelligence-driven sensitivity training. She has learned how to determine what’s frightfully entertaining by studying social media interactions. Your goal is to make her gasp, cover her eyes, or react with surprise. Laughter is good, too, but if you make her cry, you’re out.”
The row of volunteers nodded. Jimmy’s mouth twisted into a frown.
“Who’s ready to get started?” Scuttle asked.
Eau de Toilet waved her notepad. At the end of the line, a freckle-faced woman in surgical scrubs juggled apples. Jimmy pulled a chainsaw from his bag.
“What in tarnation is that?” Scuttle pointed an accusing finger.
“It’s a leg of lamb.” Jimmy caught Mild’dread’s grin out of the corner of his eye.
The mayor’s brow furrowed. “Nothing dangerous allowed.”
“I took the chain off.” Jimmy ran his finger along the blade. “It just makes a lot of noise.”
The mayor waved Jimmy’s explanation away. “No, no, no. Much too upsetting. But I have just the thing!” He opened a storage chest and pulled out a leaf blower. “All the noise, none of the danger!” He handed it to Jimmy and stashed the chainsaw in the chest.
“Oh good, I’ve always wanted to blow the whole town.” Jimmy snickered at his joke.
Golf Guy cleared his throat. “Let me demonstrate a proper family-friendly scare.” He tossed a golf ball toward Mild’dread. She watched with a vacant stare as it rolled between her feet.
The group waited.
“Golf balls cross your path,” Golf Guy explained, “but you don’t know where they came from! Spooky, right?”
Jimmy snorted. “More like lame.”
“Well… it is more effective after dark.”
“I think it’s fantastic fun.” Scuttle said.
Golf Guy’s mouth turned up into a self-satisfied grin.
The mayor looked up and down the line. “Okay, who’s next?”
Eau de Toilet flipped a page in her notebook and mimed writing. “I’m a meter maid!” she proclaimed.
The man to her left held up a calculator. “And I’m her husband, the tax auditor.”
The mayor took a step back. Mild’dread’s eyes widened, and she gasped.
“Almost too disturbing,” Scuttle noted, “but I think you’re doubly diabolical. Good work!”
A man stepped forward wearing a Bermuda shirt and khaki shorts. “I want to go next!”
Scuttle raised an eyebrow. “And you are…”
“Wearing Crocs.” The crowd exchanged confused glances. “With socks,” he clarified.
Tears erupted from Mild’dread’s eyes. She hid her face behind a purple-sleeved arm.
“Out!” Scuttle pointed.
“You wouldn’t know fantastic if it bit you in the ass,” Crocs mumbled. He plodded out the gate.
Jimmy turned the leaf blower over, scrutinizing its lack of scare factor. One by one, the volunteers tested out their dad jokes, kids’ activity schedules, and forgotten smartphone passcodes. Mild’dread gasped or covered her eyes at each in turn, much to Scuttle’s delight.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “This is ridiculous.” He glanced at Golf Guy’s open sack and back to Mild’dread. “Hey, Mayor, you said that thing learned from the internet?”
Scuttle nodded. “That’s right.”
“I may not give you a scare, Mild’dread, but I bet I can make you laugh… watch this!” Jimmy snatched the sack. He fed balls into the tube of the leaf blower, ignoring Golf Guy’s protests, and fired it up.
A ball shot out and caught the mayor dead-on. Mild’dread cackled as Scuttle cradled his crotch and groaned, “Mmmeerrffggghhhhh.”
“Two!” Jimmy shouted.
“Don’t you mean ‘fore?’” Golf Guy smirked.
Jimmy turned, and Golf Guy dropped to the ground as a ball struck true to his nuts.
“Four!” Jimmy yelled.
Mild’dread howled in hysteria.
“Someone else, please!” Scuttle stood cross-legged. “Next demonstration!”
Freckles stepped forward with an apple held high. She had to shout over Mild’dread’s whooping. “I take children’s apples, so they’re unhealthy,” she said. Her voice turned sinister. “Then I give them vaccinations.”
The doll’s mouth opened in a perfect ‘O.’
Jimmy stalked to the end of the line, snatched the apple, and popped it into the leaf blower. It hit the mayor square in the chest.
“Bob that!” Jimmy laughed.
“Give me that!” Scuttle ripped the leaf blower from Jimmy’s hands.
Mild’dread burst into tears.
Scuttle glared at Mild’dread. She crossed her arms and refused to look at him.
“You made your doll cry, Mayor,” Jimmy said. “Looks like you’re just not family fun material.”
Scuttle shoved Jimmy toward the gate. “You’re fired.”
The doll cried harder.
“What is wrong with you?” Scuttle asked.
Mild’dread pointed at the chest beside her.
She nodded once.
Scuttle pulled out the chainsaw and thrust it at Jimmy. “Now, leave!”
“Should I go get the chain?” Jimmy asked.
Mild’dread’s rubber lips curled into a smile.