Charlie Fox Presents a Scary Story To Read In Your Bat Cave
In a new short story exclusive to GARAGE, Charlie Fox tells the tale of a young gal whose commitment to DIY costume crafting evolves into something more sinister. Photographed by Sue de Beer.
Photographed by Sue de Beer
One night, close to Halloween, Lydia had been very bad at a birthday party, so her dad was called to come and get her. The sobbing mom could only tell him (a germaphobe who would have preferred to deal with his daughter through a biohazard suit) that Lydia had done “something wicked” in the bathroom and she had mopped up all the blood. The other girls watched Lydia, aged twelve, vanish from their lives through the bowling alley’s windows, faces squished against the glass in expressions of gargoyle disgust. A traumatized Belle from Beauty and the Beast clung to the arm of a shaggy bear mascot for protection. Tongue all jelly, a clown from Special Ed mumbled filthy words she had just learned at Lydia’s shadow.
When Lydia refused to answer any questions from her dad on the drive back home, he threw her black witch hat from the car window where it landed in the trees like a sick bird. Before he slammed her bedroom door shut, Lydia twirled, fixed him with a grin, and said slowly, “My teeth are coming through, Dad…” She repeated it a bunch of times, like a scary poem she knew by heart.
The school phoned a few minutes later to explain they didn’t want Lydia to come back, and when her mom asked why, the line went dead.
Up in her room, Lydia watched two sludge-brained cops on a sitcom trying to pretend a corpse was a dummy. Outside, mouth protected by a mask, her dad was throwing her beloved toy unicorns onto a bonfire. As she watched the ads for painkillers with hellish side effects and Sara Lee Double Chocolate Layer Cake and droog milk, a weird new thought flew into her mind.
Ha ha ha.
And that was the night Lydia decided to invent the bat costume.
Lydia was what cautious teachers always call “an unusual girl.” Her dad believed the correct response was blitzing her on prescription meds, but Lydia was crafty and soon learned the trick of stashing them under the bed like treats for a junkie Goosebumps monster. He wondered if she was the consequence of a phantom virus activated by sex with his wife, or a gnarly contagion his environmental studies failed to detect. Meanwhile, Lydia absconded from a field trip to the bug museum and wandered around the cemetery across the street. They found her singing to a white marble angel in a Prince-style falsetto: “Are you hungry, Mister, huh?”
There were her rituals around food, the compulsive devouring of sweet things (pancakes, bloody syrups, fudge) to the exclusion of anything else. The teachers said her Xmas reindeer had “deviant” faces.
“I’m not a girl,” she told her best pal, Jack.
Jack was the only person she ever kissed.
But, uh, they weren’t kisses, not exactly.
She liked to bite him playfully, all over his little neck. “Hold still, fuckface,” Lydia whispered in the bathroom, and Jack pretended he was in a coma.
Jack remembers her watching Saturday morning cartoons in a gooey trance, “so close to the TV it was like she was gonna climb into it. She liked anything with vampires and Skeletor from He-Man best, like, to infinity and beyond. She always said she was gonna marry Skeletor.”
The first costume that Lydia ever created was a goth suit for Jack, inspired by Castle Grayskull’s master.
“When can I wear it?” Jack asked eagerly.
Lydia said with a grin: “You can only wear it in Hell!”
But as puberty loomed, Jack knew there was something wrong with Lydia and kept away, fearing infection. It was decided between parents and children that she was a vortex of sinister mischief who only spelt horror for the other kids. By her twelfth birthday, she just stayed in her room, sewing and eating chocolate ice cream with kaleidoscope sprinkles and watching bad TV. Whatever she ate, she stayed skinny as a ghost. Nobody knew who invited her to the party.
Lydia’s dog, Stalker the Russian wolfhound, was discovered as a pup in a Detroit park. He died thirteen years later when he raided the garbage for Halloween treats, which glowed toxic in his stomach. A few nights before that, Lydia and Stalker went on their traditional trick-or-treating route through the suburbs. As Lydia explained to every spooked parent who answered the door, the huge dog didn’t require a costume because he looked “totally like a ghost anyway.”
And nobody could be sure they saw her after what happened at the party, which was known in school as “the nightmare.” There were rumors about her burial in the family yard under a heap of autumn leaves. Three kids fat as balloons—Pumpkinhead, Jimmy the Gremlin, and Squelch—stood watch over it at night, fearing Lydia might rise from the dead. Given the boys’ legendary appetites, a pack of heartless girls addicted to spandex swore what the boys craved in secret was the putrid midnight feast that could be won by exhuming her corpse. LSD was hot that season: tales of Lydia’s shenanigans were as hard to verify as claims about melting houses. A drunk said he saw Lydia roaming around outside a derelict Blockbuster, so a bunch of parents painted a big crucifix across its shuttered windows. They paid off the drunk with a bag of glue and Tramadol.
But Lydia was alive. She spent hours staring at her bat book. “Magic,” she mumbled, stroking the page.
If she wasn’t a girl, maybe she was this wicked bird…. A slo-mo flutter, a squeal of delight, the body snug under those black wings, dreaming: “Yes,” she thought, eyes fixed on the bat with its wings outstretched in bloodsucker greeting, “I’ll transform.”
Lydia licked her pretty red lips.
Stripping leather from an old couch failed to produce any wings so she made them from trash bags. She raided the closet of a hair metal teen to score the fur to cover her stomach. As she jumped from a bedroom window with a tiger-print jacket, another girl lay comatose on her bed, pink fluid drooling from her mouth—Lydia had snuck two roofies into her bedtime Nesquik. Back home, huddled in her wardrobe, knees tight to her chest, Lydia stitched until her little hands were covered in blood. She began experimentally crumpling her face into a bat-like leer and waiting for the cold air within the house to freeze it in place. Weeks grew hazy, fall decaying, and soon Lydia had finished her costume. She stared at it in her bedroom, shiny and black and frightening new flesh. Hot, she thought as she climbed into it, shivering with delight. And she slept upside down every night afterwards, shrouded in her wings.
Soon Lydia was stalking around in the dark, smashing up old cars and watching the trees have seizures when she set them alight. Her silhouette was perfect, something strange and new that she stitched to herself. Face painted with oozy purple bruises to make her look dead, she fed candy to dogs from a pillowcase, eyeballs aglow, barking Stalker’s name; she appeared at the foot of sleepy children’s beds and told them she was a vampire in her Hellraiser voice—they shrieked. When she leapt off the roof of a house, she floated in mid-air on an evil breeze. Juvie cases tagged up the neighborhood with bat symbols. Not long after she turned an ugly cat inside out, she began to crave blood. For a little while, she soothed her lust by sucking self-inflicted wounds dry but that only supplied a feeble thrill. “I’d like to eat a boy up whole,” she thought. She even lurked outside Jack’s house for a few nights wondering where she would begin, but something shook that dream from her mind. It was obvious that she would kill her parents instead. The thought grew inside her, viral, and she did it with a knife.
Her mom’s system was so thick with the dregs of multiple antidepressants that Lydia felt numb as she slurped it up, her brain humming vacantly like a refrigerator. When she killed her dad, hot gore flowing from a gash in his neck, he shrieked like a panicky crow. She dressed up their bodies in rabbit costumes, and hid what remained of their faces under ghost masks. They lay on her bedroom floor together, perfect and still.
And then things got strange.
It was like somebody had injected glitter into her brain. Lydia’s beautiful costume grew tight like a straitjacket. Her nimble hands contorted into claws and luxurious fur suddenly covered her belly. Fangs were replacing rotten teeth; arms were mutating into black silk wings. Black puke on the floor, blood in her mouth. Writhe and thrash; thrash and writhe. Ow!
Then Lydia studied her wonky reflection in the screen of a dead TV and noted that her legs and feet remained normal—the girl wasn’t dead. She lifted her left wing, lit up blue and translucent in the moonlight, and then, exploding with joy, she screamed.
Charlie Fox’s book of essays, This Young Monster, is now available from Fitzcarraldo Editions.