Be Afraid

You recognize their stiff shuffle, their coated eyes. The oozing and groaning. You're paralyzed by the realization that you are in lower downtown -- and it's after last call! You begin to sweat, searching for an escape. But it's too late. They lurch out from the doorways of Polly Esther's, the Celtic Tavern and B-52. Zombie mobs of popped collars and slut skirts stagger into the street. Their faces sag. They grab and pull at any warm body within reach, driven solely by the need to feed their hunger...for living flesh!

You would scream except it might draw them toward you and away from the bad street burritos. Then you recognize one of them as a good friend from high school. "Gary!" you yell. "Hey, Gary!" He hangs on a parking meter, mouth gaping and drooling. You realize he is one of them. Gone forever. "Gary! Noooo!"

Who needs Halloween haunted houses or eerie graveyards? Denver is scary enough already, thanks to such everyday freakouts as these:

Lion's Lair
2022 East Colfax Avenue
The walls of the men's bathroom look blacker than usual, despite the naked bulb blazing above the beat-up toilet. The doorway seems to retreat as you step toward it. Just beyond, a severed mannequin head with a Mohawk made of hypodermic needles dangles above the tattooed female bartenders who are fighting over the new issue of Juxtapoz. Behind them, a sign declares "She-Hobos Welcome." This ain't no place for scaredy-cats. Despite the buck PBRs sitting in your stomach, you can't help but remember your friend's story, which replays in your mind like a bad slasher flick.

It was 1999, and he was standing in the same spot where you're standing now, next to the rusted condom dispenser, when the infamous Wesley Willis stepped through the doorway. The six-foot-five, 350-pound keyboardist from Chicago had his Walkman on full blast, playing speed metal. Your friend tried to pass, but Willis's gut crushed him into the wall. Willis, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia shortly after making his first album (his brain was possessed with "schizophrenia demons" that put him on "torture hell rides"), then looked your friend in the eye and yelled, "Get the fuck away from me!" But before your friend received a head-butt of death, Willis released him and apologized for "these damn voices in my head."

But Willis is dead now, you remember. A chill skitters up your spine. Just like him and the fragmented psyche that was his genius, you are trapped in a small, stinky hellhole, unable to get out. Rock on.

Federal Indoor Flea Market
830 Federal Boulevard
How an entity as powerful and all-knowing as El Místico ended up wedged between an ATM and a candy machine in the entryway of the Federal Indoor Flea Market is as mysterious as the fortune teller himself. The machine's grime-caked casing is printed with the mantra "Que te espera tu futuro" and features a cartoon picture of a bald-headed, mustachioed soothsayer whose dark hands caress a crystal ball punctuated by small, blinking bulbs. Nobody knows how he came to be here. Not the Vietnamese T-shirt sellers nor the Spanish-speaking beauticians; not the Northsiders nor the rival Sureños gang members who dare to scrawl their tags on the wall near El Místico. There's an unspoken deference to his unearthly omnipotence. He shares his electronic home with El Doctor de Amor, who can diagnose you as "Incendiado," "Hirviendo," "Ardiente" or "Helado," but the muy importante questions are reserved for the great El Místico: Does she really love him? Will my grandchild grow up strong? Will my truck last through the winter?

Insert 25 cents and place your palm on the tray. Press the tips of your index and middle fingers into the small metal discs. El Místico can see your energy; he can hear the mariachi music of your soul. The pupils of his eyes awaken with an otherworldly green glow. "Omar sabe tu futuro!" he proclaims. The lights in his crystal ball flash a cryptic response. A message.

El Místico has spoken.

Duck Lake
City Park
The Harpies are perched high in the gnarled and twisted branches of the suicide trees that stand at the center of the river of blood. Well, it's not really a river, but a lake. And though it might not be filled with the clotted plasma of assassins and tyrants, Duck Lake still bears a freaky resemblance to Dante's description of Circle 7 in the nine levels of hell. The stench from the flocks of night herons and Canada geese assails you when you pass its shores. Here your intestines will be picked away by beaks of fire for eternity, a violent end to your violent life. The ferocious minotaurs and centaurs that guard the Inferno are transformed into the gorillas and chimps at the adjacent Primate Panorama of the Denver Zoo, except that instead of shooting arrows at the naked bodies of sinners who dare attempt escape to Purgatory, the monkeys fling poo and piss into the hair of tourists lamenting their life's decisions -- namely, that they didn't go to Six Flags instead.

Listen to the haunting howling of the zoo's wolves. That's the sound of blasphemers and sodomites writhing in agony, their tongues endlessly lashed by Geryon's scorpion tail. To the bottom of your shoe the goose turds shall stick, heinous reminders of your wicked deeds, never to be removed.

Diamond Lil's Adult Emporium
1215 20th Street
"Live Ladies Live." What demons have been discharged onto the fake wood paneling and slightly sticky floor over the eons? How many exorcisms will it take to purge the ungodly spirits from this kiosk of debauchery?

More important, how much will it cost?

"Twenty-five dollars for ten minutes," answers the Corpse Bride from behind her large plastic window. She's reclining in her raised mausoleum, ready for some type of sexy autopsy. Her bleached hair is pulled into small pigtails. She wears skimpy terrycloth-like undergarments that immediately fall away as the act begins. She shifts from her back to her knees to her side, utilizing all the space in the small chamber. The walls are decorated with flower-printed drapes. "Do you need lotion?" she asks. She is surprised at the answer. Rarely do men decline lotion. "You sure?"

Still, she rubs, she slaps. Shake, flip, rub, pinch. Next to her on the mattress is a copy of The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx, which she reads between shows. It's been slow since the lunch rush. Literature is strangely fitting here. Since Shakespeare's time, an orgasm has been used as a metaphor for death. To die is to find release.

In the next room over, there are sounds. Eerie, spectral sounds. Knocking, wraithlike moaning. Sex meets death in so many ways. Some die more often than others.

This is the last show for the Corpse Bride, the last show ever. She says this smiling, her hands pressing down across her torso. She is moving on to someplace warmer, the coast, ascending, leaving this place. You can see it in her eyes; she's already gone. She moves in close to the window and lifts her ass in the air. On her lower back is a tattoo of a gargoyle, some kind of demon dog with wings.

"Time's up," she says, vanishing already. "Leave the door open on your way out."