The Bloody Thumb
Part II of III
Story by Kate Kreke
– Kate is from Chicago and moved to England to get her Masters in Creative Writing from UEA where she fell in love, procreated, and now lives in rural Devon spending her time trying to convince a four year old that she can’t have naps anymore and has to go to school now.
GIF by Sofi Naydenova
Wisconsin is shaped like a left-handed mitten. When glaciers retreated, carving the Great Lakes, Wisconsin’s jagged thumb was revealed: a beautiful rocky peninsula defying the cold Siren waves of Lake Michigan. French fur-trappers learned its name from the tribes of indigenous people cornered-up there: Porte des Morts. Its origin could be from a fierce battle between the Ho-Chunk and the Potawatomi when a storm rose and destroyed them both or because of the hidden granite fingers in the dark waters that rip open the bellies of boats making more shipwrecks than any other section of freshwater in the world. But Mikey Plum was the last person to know the true meaning of its name, Death’s Door.
Door County in the mid-1980s was on its way from tiny fishing ports and Scandinavian farming communities to a fully-fledged tourist spot. It grew in golf courses, marinas, resorts, and gift shops. Barns turned into antique shops, lighthouses into museums, and Door County into anything that could lure the Chicago dollar.
On balmy summer nights the Starlight Drive-In had more Illinois licence plates at the double feature then Wisconsin ones. Flatlanders like Mikey Plum were the whole reason Thumb Fun existed.
On a sun-hot-sticky car seat Mikey waited. Just before Fish Creek on Highway 42, when the giant Frankenstein monster appeared, he’d be at Thumb Fun. Mini-golf, bumper cars, bumper boats, Tilt-a-Whirl, an ancient carousel, scenic train rides, popcorn and cotton candy smells in the breeze; none of it excited Mikey but the clunking wood thunk of a skee ball flying up its alley and disappearing into that center hole to the fanfare of strobe-lights and the spitting out of tickets.
Chet Plum being eleven years old wanted (after the go-karts) only to go to Thumb Fun’s crowning glory – the haunted house. A two-storey gothic mansion, with seven employees running through secret passages hiding in the dark, always ready to jump out. Their motto was, “We won’t touch you if you don’t touch us!” But that wasn’t enough reassurance for Mikey who never made it past the second chicken exit.
“The worms crawl in – the worms crawl out – the worms play pinochle on your snout,” Chet sang as he poked Mikey’s nose with gummy worms. Chet liked to remind Mikey as often as possible how much he had enjoyed being an only child for four years before Mikey. In the left-hand window, the Frankenstein monster appeared. Chet promptly bit the faces off the smiling gummy worms and let out a “Whoo-hoo!” Mikey choked back the tears as he didn’t want Chet to know that he had grown attached to those gummy worms using them to tell stories and act out adventures to pass the eight hour drive up from Chicago the day before. Tears meant punches and his arm was sore enough from his suggesting he might have the top bunk at the cabin last night.
They had left Mom to explore the little shops of Ephraim and as they were about to enter the park Dad’s pager went off flashing a 312 number meaning work needed him more.
“Chet keep an eye on Mikey – don’t let him out of your sight.” He only just caught the worried look on Mikey’s face. “It’s that or you both come with me.”
Mikey weighed up what was worse – being with Chet or causing Chet delay in entering the park. His arm still throbbed.
“We’ll be ok.” Mikey tried to smile.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back, but when I am you better both be together!” Dad called as Chet dragged Mikey off to the go-karts.
Chet used his go-kart like a bumper car trying to drive Mikey off the road. Mikey’s car was the last to limp back as he dreaded what was next.
“Come on doofus.” Chet lumbered up the gravel path to the vulture-topped structure on the hill, giving Mikey no choice but to follow.
“You’re not going out no chicken exit. You’re staying with me. Otherwise Dad’ll be mad at me, which means I’ll be mad at you. So suck it up, dweeb,” Chet kindly reminded Mikey, emphasizing the point by pushing his finger into a big purple bruise on Mikey’s shoulder, and making Mikey bump into the woolly-hatted little girl behind him in the line.
GIF by Sofi Naydenova
The lights dimmed, non-skee-ball-related strobes flashed, and cotton blobs hung as spiderwebs with real spiders making their webs from them. The group of seven staggered forward into the half-dark. By the second room the little girl with the woolly hat, which she had used not for warmth but as a blindfold, was so scared of the noise of the house that she pulled her Dad out the first chicken exit. Two left the group in a flurry of laughs after their friend, who had accidently bumped into a plastic-masked dummy (really an employee) who bumped back, causing the friend to go screaming out the third and last chicken exit.
Chet prodded Mikey up the stairs to the penultimate room in the turret. The only light in the room came from the stairway behind and that was blotted out as the door automatically shut behind them. With no more glow-in-the-dark arrows to follow, they were disoriented in the absolute darkness. Slowly a dim bulb flickered to life overhead to scarcely expose a room of doors.
“Which one Chet? I want to get out.” But Chet had never been in this room before and in his frustration shoved Mikey. Mikey flew into the solid darkness of an unseen person. This person shoved back, not at Mikey but Chet. Chet flew against a door which burst open, flooding the room with daylight and a view of treetops.
Mikey ran to the open doorway which led nowhere but three storeys straight down to where a pool of crimson was starting to form on the rocky ground around Chet’s body.
Mikey only knew two things to be true: that he utterly believed Thumb Fun management when they claimed no employees were in that room when it happened and that Chet was right…
…it was better being an only child.