Jake Plackard became increasingly worried about something he could not identify. The party around him was going great, yet now, the party felt far away. He picked up another can of Budweiser and lost his troubles, again, to its warm charm.
Music throbbed in the air, mixing in with the smoke of various cigarettes. Alcohol was the guest of honor; flirting with and mingling with every guest. The nights made up for the days. No matter how tough the day crept by, you’d always have a peaceful night. All of the screaming, greedy children and the voicefully suspicious adults were always washed away from memory.
Jake stepped outside teetering from his previous drinks. "The tworld sheems so bootiful now, if only it could shtop spinning…" he slurred to himself as he passed out onto the ground. The ground felt comfortable below him and he even thought, for just a second, that he had suddenly found himself in bed. The alcohol was taking over his body and wrapping him as though a warm blanket. Even the tall grass failed to tickle his numb face. Eyes rolling around...or perhaps the world was truly spinning in a mad race...Jake’s eyelids closed as though great curtains. Sleep eased into his brain before he even comprehended that he had fallen.
No one noticed that Jake was gone. The music kept on playing the his friends kept on drinking. At this moment, David Allen Coe’s raspy voice was singing the line "...you don’t have to call me darlin..." Everyone starts to sing along with the song. As though alcohol increased the mind’s ability to know every lyric to every song, laughter erupted as everyone sang the same words in their own pitches.
Carousel horses were running rampant through the park. Perhaps, running from the fire-breathing dragon on the roof of the Funhouse. Clouds made of cotton candy were raining blood. Screams of terror rung out from the empty rides. Blood, more blood splashing and flooding the carnival. The rides melted and then rose as granite tombstones. She found herself standing ankle-deep in blood at the center of a cemetery. Calliope music danced in the air and shrill laughter pierced her soul.
Violently, Heather Dietzen awoke from her dream. Her eyes darted around the room, looking for any evil that might have escaped while she awoke. After the carnival came to town, the twelve-year-old Heather suffered from severe nightmares. Looking over at her digital clock, she discovered that it was only 3:10 a.m. "…Somebody’s dying," she gasped, surprising her. She got up and padded barefoot to her window. Peeking outside, she could barely make out the skeletal frame of the Ferris wheel pinned against the dark sky.
"Go away!" She pleaded. "Go away and let me sleep! I don’t know why you’re doing this to me!"
Screams filled the inside of her mind and mentally, she watched the Ferris wheel buckle and collapse.
Clutching the curtains, Heather prevented herself from falling. The images inside her head were too great for her to bear alone. She tried warning her parents about the carnival, but they would not listen to her. Instead, she only succeeded in having the privilege of watching horror movies revoked. Perhaps her parents were right.
Glancing out the window once more, the Ferris wheel stood gallantly as if it were daylight. She knew that it hadn’t fallen, nor was it raining blood; yet, she still feared what lay beyond the entrance gate.
Sighing, Heather turned toward her teddy bear-covered bed anticipating sleep. Sleep was the last thing that would come to her. She wrapped herself up tighter in her blue blanket and willed herself to fall instantly into a pleasant dream. The house moaned and creaked around her as though feeling her pain. Half certain that an hour had come and gone in the darkness, Heather looked toward the small clock on her night stand. To her surprise, not even five minutes had gone past.
Heather slid out from beneath the blanket and sat upright on the edge of her bed. She could feel her blood running through her body. It was a chill that she had never felt before...almost as though a million tiny knives were flowing like mad rivers through her body. Her eyes kept darting around the room, trying to catch a glimpse of the person she felt was there. She did not feel alone. This did not feel as though it was her room.
Convincing herself that she was delusional from a nightmare, Heather walked, once again, toward the window. A smooth, velvety blackness greeted her from the other side. Peering out into its depths, she could make out the shapes of the carnival. Something didn’t feel right to her. It was almost as though a nauseating wave of deja vu had choked her.
Soft, muffled noises rose from the floor below her feet. She knew that her parents were still awake at this hour. Lately, they’ve been staying awake to hide their fights from her. At this moment, she could tell that her father was arguing about some sort of money issue or another. It seemed as though that fight would never end with her family. She clinched her eyes shut and thought of more pleasant times. Upon opening her eyes, she could still make out the skeletal shapes of the carnival.
Something was wrong. Heather spun around to face the wall behind her. She was certain that someone was in the room with her. Her heart began jumping in her chest and her mind was ready to play cruel tricks with her. She ran from the window and jumped onto her bed. Almost as soon as her body hit the mattress, she had the blanket thrown up around her body and her head tucked under its folds. She tried to control her breathing and to hush its loudness. Eyes closed, she felt as though she were finally settling down into a peaceful rest. Sleep was coming for her. The noises from the downstairs room, the eeriness of the carnival and the frightening scenes of the nightmare were all slipping from her memory. Sleep returned to Heather Dietzen.
Had she stayed awake a few moments longer, Heather would have learned that she was correct in assuming that she was not alone in her room. A low and menacing creak swelled in the darkness around her. Louder and louder the creak became as though it was a scream issued from the soul of the house itself. The closet door on the wall perpendicular to her bed had fallen open. Was it caused by a draft? Had her parents entered her room and was checking in on her? As Heather lay sleeping in her bed, a stranger appeared. A dark hand grasped the closet door and swung it open to reveal a shadowy and crippled body. Aged flesh tightened on the thing’s face and pulled back to reveal centuries old teeth that were as rotted as a corpse. This figure grinned while walking past the sleeping child. This child was the gateway of its escape. The nightmares were the sidewalk into reality.
Snorting an exhaled breath, the beast took fast to air as though a wisping strand of smoke from a snuffed candle. It disappeared. As it disappeared from this reality, Heather stirred in her sleep. Another nightmare, more or less. She kicked in her sleep and whimpered much like the family dog in the throes of sleep.
When Craig Henderson awoke, blood was dry upon his hands. He had no immediate recollection of what had happened. Dark rage began to swell inside him. The woods around him laughed and scorned. At the very edge of his mind hung the delicate and elusive memory he sought. He felt primal as though he could run on all fours through the woods. An animal was inside him gnawing and gnashing at his soul.
Had he fled the woods to seek absolution? Why had he been giving life, only to live in misery? Why had he been given hope, only to fall to defeat and despair? Why? The thickness of the August night dripped down upon him, nearly suffocating him. Wading through its dark sea, Craig tried desperately to cling to a tree for support. His lungs burned and ached and his skin was damp and sticky. Suddenly, a desperate desire arose in him to drink cold water. Yet, through the night’s cruel torture, Craig held on to one name, "…Susan…"
When she awoke, she could recall no memories. Her identity was as much a mystery to her as the Sphinx is to man. A cracking pain danced through her forehead and ropes bound her wrists together. A faint rattle stirred her gaze downward. Gliding seductively at her feet, a diamond back rattler teased her with its presence. A muffled scream found its way through the duct tape blocking complete freedom. She was lying on the ground, bound, and she knew there was no escape. Susan wriggled her body in a pathetic drag-crawl. Slither, hiss, slither, hiss, the snake slowly worked its way to her face. Before eye contact was made, the snake vanished; plunging Susan further into her new found insanity.
Searching the emptiness as though it was the revealer to all that magicians knew, she felt as though she would go mad. No doubt a snake had been before her vision, but disappeared as if the very hand of God plucked it from existence. Pain was coursing through her head, working continuously to reach all other appendages. Who was she and why was she held prisoner? Was this the torture and madness men felt while in the very womb of war- so personal and intimate with Death? On the other hand, was this just a dream and her eyes and consciousness refused to re-enter life? Her identity eluded her much like tides in their quest to forever elude commitment to the jagged crags before them.
Phantom insects began to crawl over her flesh. She knew non were there unless her eyes had begun deceiving her. Swatting at thin air, Susan knew she plunged over the cliffs of madness.
Ghostly dreams jolted Mary Plackard from sleep. Looking around the small travel trailer she noticed that her husband, Jake, had not yet returned from the party. That was not unusual. Generally, she stayed out late with him, but grew too tired for this night’s agenda. A hot bath had relaxed her and sleep followed surprisingly quickly. As far as Mary remembered, her sleep was deep and warm… until that dream. Then, her sleep grew restless and bitterly cold.
Every mirror had broken in the Fun House by unseen attackers. One by one, the psychedelic light bulbs burst in tiny flames. Zombie children were riding upon the skeletal horses of the Carousel. Sobbing replaced the happy-go-lucky music it once sang. Everyone was dead through everyone was walking. In the center of the Hellish midway stood her friend Susan White as a glowing specter.
The dream was fading now along with the fear that had seduced Mary. Glancing outside her window, Mary could see the midway. There were no zombies and Susan was gone. The rides and trailers seemed as though they were puppets to her- awaiting the puppet master carnies to revive life into them and perform before the town. Strange… she had never regarded them in that perspective before. Even stranger, she knew that another puppet master was soon on its way.
Five a.m. and sleep had yet to return to Heather Dietzen. She had never considered herself as special or took notice to the "gift" that society heralded that she possessed. Sometimes, she saw things in dreams…sometimes she didn’t. Didn’t most people? Being young when you discover the gift is very hard. People are always speculating that all were lucky guesses made within a child’s wild and over reactive imagination.
Bloodied and agonized screams still cascaded through her mind. She must learn the cause of her dreams: The carnival. Heather knew that all the answers would be awaiting her there. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she’d attend the fair.
Returning to her window, she cast one more look at the park. Through sputtering street lamps, she could see the metal arms of various rides. All looked peaceful.
Traces of last night’s dew clung to the face of a carousel stallion, resembling a tear. The morning sun cast an eerie shadow of light across the still midway. Tired men grudgingly crawled to their assigned rides to perform daily checks. "Good…good…" Craig smiled in content. Everything was routine. He watched as a concerned woman looked for her husband. "Yes…" The man who had confronted him on opening day. There’d be no more confrontations.
The animal within awakened. "Run!" it shouted. He could feel his flesh burn as though it was ready to undergo metamorphosis. Craig fought the urge to scream, remembering where he was. Back into the woods. Back into the woods where nature would embrace and conceal him. First, he had to taste the thrill again. He walked through the midway a second time this morning. The bluntness of this action was exhilarating. Soon, it would be discovered what had happened last night. This was the last time the world would see the carnival, as it is now, docile and quiet. The memory will be forever gone and fear and uncertainty will, once again, rule the darkness….
Mary searched everywhere for her husband Jake. Fury overruled worry at this moment. She huffed at the thought that he may be off with some local girl. While making her rounds through the midway, she saw someone who didn’t belong. There was a man dressed in dark clothing heavily soiled with Earth. Trying not to appear so obvious, she occasionally looked out of her periphery toward the dark figure. "The cop!" She half choked in a whisper. What was he doing here in such condition? "Oh God," she began to pray, "don’t let Jake be into any trouble…" After her prayer, the policeman disappeared into the woods behind the lot. Such strange behavior, she thought.
Something still seemed out of place…Susan…where is she? She is normally out in the mornings prepping her game. Had she slept in? That’s a rarity, because the summer sun was your alarm clock and you can’t sleep very well when it tried to smother you in the mornings. Her heart now beat in worry. People were gone.
She decided to walk back to her trailer, and chose a shortcut behind the shop trailer and generator. The hairs on the back of her next stood upright in protest for her not to go any further. Her breath seemed to be at a stalemate with life… looking down, a sharp scream sliced through her throat. It burned as if it was a thick fire, the consistency of jelly. Shaking, she fell to her knees and grabbed the earth with clinched fists. The earth felt as through it would bleed when wounded; so, she kept beating the earth, hoping for it to die.
The scream knocked a couple of hammers from hands and aroused gasps of shock. Kyle Gallagher, a jointee, followed the mournful sound of pain and came across Mary Plackard. His sight fell down to the ground, and for the first time since closing, he saw his friend Jake.
Although his eyes were closed, it did not appear to be a sleep that he entered peacefully. He was lying beneath the shop truck, his body tossed in front of the massive wheels as though the metal beast, itself, had committed the crime. Blood had painted a morbid picture on his face and had already begun to crack as through withered by age. Kyle quickly turned his head as he felt a thick, jagged lump course through his stomach.
Susan saw a man standing against the far wall…her eyes too weak to see through her past tears. A blurry specter slowly began to focus to her. She thought that she knew the man who was beginning to tower over her…so familiar… Still, she had no idea who she was, how could she know this ghostly figure? Finally, it hit her as prophecy reveals itself to the prophet.
"Jake, is that you?"
The figure stopped and a sigh was heard from its shadowed form. The phantom insects disappeared, this time, for good and Memory started calling her friend once more. Jake stood there and looked sorrowful. She had no understanding where they were or how they got there.
"You must find the wooden chest." Spoke Jake.
Confused, Susan asked, "What wooden chest? Where are we?"
"Last year, a gypsy traveled with Rhinehardt. She believed in strange spells and potions. We thought that she was misleading the public, and misleading us. In this very town, some of the locals hunted her down. We heard her screams late one night after we closed and settled into sleep. Mary told me to go out and see who it was; for fear that our lot might have been vandalized. I realized that the screams were emanating from the woods. I found the gypsy, Kira Black, lying on the ground dying. She saw me approach her. I could have helped her…I chose to walk away. Something came over me, and I just chose to walk away believing that she was dead. She possessed a trunk filled with potions and books of the Craft. The trunk came up missing the day that she was killed. When I returned to the trailer the words ‘I’ll avenge’ were written on the door."
"No one ever said anything about her to me." Continued Susan, "Why?"
"You look a lot like her and people were just too afraid to say anything about her."
"But…" cut off by her sanity, she realized that there was no one there. "Jake? Jake…?" Her voice was trembling as much as her body. Susan’s wrists were aching for freedom from the duct tape. She wriggled and pulled her hands until the tape became a very thin and tight band. Achieving that, she bent forward and gnawed at it till alas, freedom! The concrete floor felt good to her hands when she spread them out and propped herself up. Sitting up, she freed her ankles from the sticky grip of tape.
The morning sun was a welcomed sight to Heather. She knew that the nightmares could not get her in the daylight. Sleep weary, she found her way to her bedroom window. Glancing outside, she was able to see the whole rides and not just the silhouettes. The red, morning sun cast a bloody backdrop for such merriment, and she knew that something was odd.
The stairs creaked and sighed beneath Heather’s light feet. She could hear her parents talking quietly over breakfast. Looking around, Heather felt as though someone was watching her every move. Picking up the pace, she ran down the stairs with heavy stomps.
"Settle down, Heather." Richard, Heather’s father, scolded, "You’re going to fall down one of these days darting down the stairs like that.
Something didn’t seem right about him, Heather thought to herself. Her father had never scolded her before. At one time, she thought that she was invisible to him completely. This morning had been strange to her. Screams were still piercing through her imagination. "Can I go to the fair today mom?"
Kara, her mother, looked at her and only nodded, and went back to eating her breakfast.
A humbling silence befell the lot. Sobs of grief and horror slowly rose from the throat of the carnival. Jake Plackard was dead. Someone who had lived among them, worked among them, laughed among them was gone…dead. Society killed many like them, at least mentally, and cast them off as hallow shells of a person. Jake had escaped that. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he loved the gypsy life of the carnival. He was proud that it was a part of him and he was a part of it. Yet, society wasn’t pleased that someone like him had walked away with their sanity, and took his life instead. The rides were shut down from morning check and the shop truck was closed up.
Red and blue. Red and blue. The lights danced across the face of every Carny still standing around Jake. They would be the ones to blame. Statements were already being taken and police looked around only to shake their doubting heads. Mary was in shock. The ambulance crew shouted to one another as they lifted the gurney into the ambulance. An oxygen mask was placed against her face. Beads of respiration clung to the plastic mask and disappeared and reappeared with every breath that her lungs allowed. Jake watched everyone. His eyes were still closed, as if still waiting to greet the new day.
A small girl was seen walking behind the shop trailer. She looked frightened and disconnected with the world. The midway wouldn’t have been open for another six hours. It was strange that she should stumble around so early. Phantoms seemed to follow her.
Kyle watched the girl look around the midway. Too shocked to move, he quietly sat next to where Jake had laid. "Perhaps she’s just playing and her parents aren’t paying attention to her" he said to himself and rolled his eyes. He was not a babysitter so he turned his attention to the police as they questioned in their uncaring voices.
He thought of the night before. Kyle had seen Jake at the party and watched him leave. Jake had told him that something didn’t feel right… He didn’t want to be at the party any more and asked Kyle if he wanted to go over to his house to watch a movie and drink a few more beers. He wished that he hadn’t turned him down now. Jake might have shook off the alcohol-induced dreams this morning and just had a hangover. He pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around his legs. The ambulance pulled away with Mary and a hearse drove silently away with Jake.
A thick silence beat its way into Kyle’s heart. Even midst his screaming soul and mind, an unsettling feeling arose. He looked into the eyes of every pale face and noticed that there were eyes not looking back. Mind being numb to grief, it took a few seconds to realize that Hank and Susan were gone. Nothing seemed unusual about that. Perhaps they stayed out somewhere together. He knew that the two of them would eventually hook up; however, he knew that this was no ordinary day.
His mind ached and his ears kept replaying the scream that carved its way out of poor Mary. Poor Mary would probably never be Mary again. He knew that none of them would be their selves again. Kyle knew that the police would pin this on them. Would accuse that the carnies had murdered one of their own. He wasn’t prepared to deal with it. Not yet. First, he decided to slump back toward the bunkhouse and close his eyes. It was doubtful that the show would open that day and he was too lost in darkness to care. The town was now a thing with eyes and would see and judge his grief. The town would know he had possessed emotions and declare it a flaw of his creation. After all, wasn’t he one of the beasts?
Looking back at the shop trailer one last time, Kyle broke from the crowd of gathered carnies and walked through the abandoned lot. The rides seemed to be laughing at him. It was near impossible to escape the eyes of the Tilt-o-Whirl clowns. That evil grin of theirs… Something evil. Something not right. Pure evil.
Twisting, twisting. The colors were melting into the darkness and twisting into a strange collage. The moon was spinning down onto the earth and then back into the Heavens. A pain was coursing through this dark sea. Eyes rolling back and forth, in and out of sight, skeletal figures seemed to be dancing. Down into the pits of Hell only to rise up again into the Hell on Earth. Laughter and screams were one and the same now. Pain and death no longer shared a fine line in this world of gray mist. Twisting, twisting… the soul felt as though it was writhing to free itself toward the Light. Twisting, twisting…
Hank slowly returned from his catatonic dream. Lying on the ground, shoved under a bush, he was lost. A pain coursed through his head. When he reached up and touched the ailing spot, he felt warmth. He was bleeding, no doubt, but the wound was not as bad as it felt. He looked around once more at his surroundings. Hank felt like a rag doll coming to life. Stretching out each appendage, he slowly returned from his sleep. The darkness had faded into dawn, or else, the fires of Hell were escaping into the living realm.
The sunrise came as a complete surprise to him. He doesn’t remember the night. Blinking to adjust his aching vision, Hank realized that Susan was nowhere near him. Suddenly, he remembered some fragments of the night. Susan had been frightened, and suddenly, a searing pain shot through his skull. He could only let his worst fears play out the rest of the story. Not wanting to imagine, Hank pulled himself out from where his body was to be concealed. He knew he had to get out of there because the job was not done on him. Someone was crazy and would rather hide a severely wounded person. Why? Did the person or persons wish to come back and finish him off at a more appropriate time? Had they merely wished to rough him up and teach him some unknown lesson? He didn’t want to take any chances on survival.
Shaking, he slowly stood up. His head was throbbing worse than any hangover. Although, he wishes now that he had the pleasure of alcohol so that he didn’t feel that first blow. He had to regain his bearings and remember which direction the lot was. Walking through the woods, he felt eyes upon him. He wasn’t afraid; for as, the eyes felt familiar. He didn’t want to risk calling out to anyone. Didn’t know who was out there after all.
The lights and chaos were exciting to Craig. His creation. His masterpiece. Voices rung out from the wilderness surrounding him. Laughter and crescendoing fear pounded at his eardrums. His heart was pounding in rhythms never before felt.
Memories of last night returned in waves ebbing and flowing, teasing him. Susan hadn’t put up resistance. Chuckling to himself, he remembered that he had knocked her out before she could spin around. The walk had been a long one hauling her in his arms, not to mention the heat. The dreaded last breath of summer. He took her away to a safe place, a place out of the wilderness. It was fun to tape her and make her prisoner.
The blood on his hands had earlier confused him…then he remembered. In every detail. That man who had approached him during set-up. He was an easy target. Drunk as could be, the man was actually talking to himself! Thought that the world was beautiful and stumbling to find his way. Something else seemed familiar about him. Craig didn’t know what it was, but he was sure that he had met this man before. Despite the feeling of familiarity, Craig descended upon the man from the shadows and struck out with primal fury. Sort of took the sport out of killing a drunk. Terrible because the man did not realize that his life was being taken. He kept falling down and never once begged for his life. Craig didn’t like that. After deed was done, he drug the man’s body beneath the shop trailer. He wanted the death scene to be memorable.
Once again, Craig had an amazing urge to run through the woods. He wanted to run and proclaim that he was the victor. He wanted to roar like the mighty lion and declare his dominance, though he could not understand what was possessing him to want so. "Run! Run!" Still those screaming voices inside his head. Throbbing temples and racing blood only swelled the pain inside him. He must get away from the carnival now. He must hide his face tonight and not dare be seen. Craig Henderson had much larger plans and could not let this small victory detour him from them.
Spinning around, he leapt back into the woods and ran where no man would find him.
Mary fought with the ambulance crew as her strength returned. She was convinced that Jake was waiting for her back at the lot. She simply had to get out of that rolling box. She wasn’t sick. She kept trying to convince the E.M.T.’s whzo were more interested in watching her heart rhythms and measuring her oxygen count. Seems as though she had really fainted a good one and her body was going into shock as they drove off with her. Surely that was just a terrible nightmare, or a mis-remembered memory to say the least. Her eyes began to burn and she could feel her heart start racing again.
"Jake! Jake!" She started screaming. Pleading for the memory to be no good. Jake had always looked out for her, had always loved her. It is not fair that he is not with her now.
The EKG started convulsing and emitting sound after sound. The beeps started to race radically and then would pause. The two paramedics scrambled and started to give her IV’s of medication. Her heart was convulsing its way into an attack.
Mary felt the pain coursing through her jaw and down into her chest. She considered this the pain of grief. Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. Everything seemed so far away. A rising sensation overcame her and embraced her with its warmth. In this fleeting moment, Mary saw the face of Jake as he was smiling and waiting to embrace her. The lights of the midway shone brightly behind him... every ride had brilliant white lights. She ran to his arms and then the midway fell silent and dark. A single, monotonous cry was heard coming from the EKG. The ambulance shut off its siren.
The glaring morning sun seemed so distant and cold to Susan as she stumbled through the woods. She had managed to escape from the basement that held her mind captive. Her captor was nowhere to be found, nor any clues to his identity. Her memory still eluding her, she held a name on her lips. Had she spoken this name often? Bending back the thorny branches of various weeds, she slipped through nature’s camouflage.
Every twig’s failed musical attempt at melody sent shivers dancing through her like acid eroding steel. Each pop and snap sounded more like a scream than song. Surely, her captor could hear this music carried on the breeze and fly to it as though some maddened bird.
Susan could feel her mind slithering about as though a starving snake. The pressure was immense and felt as though the life in her very soul was being squeezed into oblivion. All around her, nature bowed and danced in the faint wind that would occasionally swirl. Fear teased her forgetful mind. She knew that there was a reason for the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end.
She struggled to remember what she could not imagine. Why was she in this woods? Who had brought her and why? With each step, Susan felt one inch closer to diving from the highest cliff of a brink named Sane.
Her heart was racing and spinning within its rib cage. The abandoned shack in the woods grew smaller and smaller as she stumbled from its reach. It was alluring. She found herself glancing back every other step to make sure that no one was in the shadow of the nearest pine tree. Madness breeds paranoia.
She remembered the man who was not there. The morbid angel that appeared to weave the tale of a dark gypsy. Had she once known this messenger? She realized that her mind began blocking details as she wandered further and further from that dark place. Desperate, she paused in a shadowed corner of the woods and squinted her eyes to conjure the ghost known only as Memory. Memory is an empty abyss of blackness that stores photos and small sound clips of memorable moments. Susan tried to locate a memory that matched the face she had seen in the basement. The only memory that presented itself, was a faint picture of multi colored lights. The recollection was like a dull and tattered photograph. It looked so old and abandoned, that the memory was more than likely something from her childhood’s subconscious. Still, the image of those faded lights seemed to deliver peace to her frightened self. Curled up in her mind’s room, she held that memory tight as though a worn teddy bear. It felt like home to her.
After several moments had passed, she slowly opened her eyes. She was already starting to feel light headed from having had her eyes squeezed so tight for so long. Upon opening her eyes, a million fireflies danced before her vision. A million specks of dancing white light fell and rose and twirled. However, this was no miracle nor angel wings...merely her eyes readjusting to the brightness of the world around them while sighing in relief that the pressure is gone.
She rose slowly and turned herself in a cramped circle surveying the woods around her. Where was she? She would give anything to know. A morbid sense of danger tinged the edges of her instinct. She knew that she would be caught again if she didn’t move at once and move in the correct direction.
At that moment, a shadow rustled along with the shadow of rustling leaves. It was darker than the surrounding shadows... It must be an animal. Perhaps, it is a person... Susan did not feel fear. Instead, she felt compelled to seek the shadow as it darted from darkness to darkness. Susan felt as though she were chasing a childhood friend during a game of tag. Her heart swelled with happiness as she sought her playmate. As she chased the shadow further and further, the trees began to wane. The woods was disappearing and the world was returning at last.
Finally, she a had reach a break in the woods. . It seemed a pleasant surprise until she saw what that emptiness revealed. A carnival. For some reason, Susan was overcome with happiness and grief that she could not explain. Surely, there would be someone there who could help her. Faster and faster her legs darted forth in a gallant run. Arms were pumping to and fro and her breath nearly breaking into convulsions of sighs and agony.
Into the arms of the familiar unknown, she ran.
Hank saw the lights and heard the commotion. A terrible ache of dread drenched his body and washed away the wounds of the previous night. The morning sky was a perfect blue and absolutely clear save for a single dark cloud hanging over the midway. Something did not feel right. There was something about the carnival that seemed to cast long, skeletal shadows. He stumbled toward the carnival lot to seek out what had happened. His head was still throbbing and he felt on the verge of passing out.
Soon, Hank saw the outline of a man surrounded by strangers near the shop trailer. Squinting through the blinding rising sun, he struggled to identify who the man was. Suddenly, it was all too clear to him. It was Jake. "Oh God, what had happened" he asked to himself.. Was he? Could he? Jake was dead. The pain in Hank’s temple intensified until a darkness filled his head. That was the last that he remembered...darkness. With the last shred of morning disappearing from his sight, Hank fell over to the ground still suffering from the wound to his head.
Dreams filled his head almost instantly.
Susan was waiting for him at the end of the longest midway aisle. The lights were dancing around her as though a great manmade aura. She had the largest smile that a human could posses and still reflecting a sense of genuine feeling. All of the rides were in operation though there were no riders. Suddenly, a great sense of emptiness over washed the midway and Susan’s smile started to fade away.
The carousel horses started to whinny and kick as the ride continued to spin in its eternal circles. Great breath clouds of steam started to jet forth from each beast’s flaring nostrils. Each horse dropped down from their perch and hit the ground on their feet. Poles disappeared and every horse ran away from the empty, spinning ride.
The Ferris Wheel started to spin faster and faster and faster. The lights on its side appeared to merge into one constant and steady beam. Hank was overcome with fear. He knew that the ride would buckle, it was spinning way too fast.
Susan’s image started to fade and he heard sobbing. Cries were filling the midway. In a flash of an instant, the rides stopped and shut their lights off. Hank was standing in emptiness. There was nothing there. There was not a woods, there was not a carnival, there was not life.
Kyle continued to walk until he reached the edge of the woods. He did not know what he was doing there nor where he would go from there. Amazing how the whole world can change with the lack of one's breath. Already he missed Jake.
He continued to feel eyes all around him. The lights and sirens have already disappeared from the lot and the police will be back again...he knew that was unavoidable. No doubt. A noise in the trees caught his attention and he focused his tear-drowned eyes in nature's direction. A shadowy flash was visible those obscured. No need to focus needlessly on the object for as it was coming closer to him faster and faster. The figure was running.
At first, Kyle felt the need to run away. He did not want to be a part of what ever was coming from the woods - it could only mean trouble. He didn't want to be blamed for anything that was not of his doing. Then, something seemed familiar and welcoming about the shape. He decided to stay.
Suddenly, Susan ran out of the woods looking half crazed. Her eyes were wide with fear, hair all a mess and bruises on her skin. She looked as though she had been beaten by half a town. The first thought that ran through his mind, was that she had been the one responsible for Jake's death. After all, she was a newbie and no one remembered seeing her last night and now she appears after the authorities leave looking as though she was in a struggle. He didn't want to be judgmental though. God knew they've had enough of that...profession does not brew evilness.
He welcomed Susan and called out to her. "Are you OK?" he asked, "What in the Hell happened to you?"
"Susan?" She didn't know who she was. She looked at Kyle and wondered if this was the man who had tied her up and threw her into the darkness. Nothing seemed familiar to her. The snakes within her mind started writhing and hissing again and memory became but a mere fairytale.
Kyle reached a hand out for Susan and spoke:
"Come with me. My God, you look as though you've been ran over. Let's get you back to the lot and figure out just what in the Hell is going on. Do you remember seeing Jake last night?"
That name sounded familiar to Susan. Yes! That was the name of the specter who came to her. Suddenly, a rush of memory came back as though a great river finally drowning the desert. She knew who she was and why the carnival felt welcoming - she was running to her home. This was home.
"My God!" Shouted Susan, "Where's Hank? What happened to Hank? Is he OK?"
"What about Hank? He's not with you?"
The question startled Susan and it seemed to have caught her off guard. She was sure that Hank was with them and that he was all right. This just seemed so fake to her. It was amazing how reality could suddenly become so skewed and appear scripted. Perhaps that was God’s gift to us...when things are at their worst, we’re at our most disconnected. She could feel herself straining to pull herself back into the reality of this world. Coming back into her wits, she answered to Kyle, "We were attacked last night. I was hit over the head and woke up in a small room. I can't remember much other than just going mad. I could have swore that I had seen Jake and he mentioned a gypsy by the name of Kira Black"
After she spoke that name, Kira Black, something felt vaguely familiar within her heart. She had heard that name before but could not remember. She hated that feeling of deja vu. It felt as though she had lived this horror before. Was this just a dream? Susan couldn’t be certain; but, she did know that the answer lied with the name of that gypsy.
"Don't ever mention that name, Susan. You will not be welcomed on the show any longer if you ever mention that name. You saw Jake though? What time was that?" Kyle was skeptical of Susan. How would she have ever known the gypsy’s name? No one on the show ever talked about her and he know that Jake would never have brought her name up again to anyone. What a hack. He was glad that fortune teller was off of the show, not so much that she had to meet it through death...but just that she was gone and out of their lives.
Susan thought for a brief second and replied, "I saw him about an hour ago."
The hairs on the back of Kyle's neck stood straight on end. That was impossible. An hour ago was when the first ambulance had arrived on the scene and Jake had been dead for a couple of hours before that. The feeling of something evil lurking washed over his soul again. Damn. He was hoping to make it through this town without anything going wrong. Just this one town. Perhaps the curse was true .
"Come on now, let's finish this conversation back at the lot. You've been through a lot, let's get you taken care of. I've not seen Hank, perhaps he is back at the lot waiting for you"
Together, arm in arm, they walked back to the shaken carnival lot. The other carnies were walking around in a daze...lost and confused. Loud sobs were heard everywhere.
Susan was reluctant of returning back to the midway when she heard the sobs. It sounded much like her nightmares.
"What happened here?" asked Susan, "Why is everyone crying?"
"That's why I asked if you had seen Jake. Someone killed him last night. I was hoping that you might have seen or heard something. Mary went into panic attack and was taken away by ambulance. Oh, it was such a horrible site this morning. Poor Mary."
Together, the two began to weep.
Asked Susan, "But, where is Hank? I’ve not seen him anywhere?"
Kyle knew Hank. He knew that he never disappeared off the lot. Hank always stayed with the crew. He didn’t like the idea of Susan being on the show and suddenly the whole routine of their lives were changed. He began to wonder if Susan had caused all of this trouble. No. That thought was cast aside. He knew that there was an explanation and Susan had been accepted into their world. She wasn’t the one to blame. Kyle reached his left arm around Susan’s shoulders and gave her a reassuring hug. This would be figured out. The horizon was watched almost as though Hank and Jake would be crossing its border any time. Amazing how haunted the carnival midway quickly appeared to him.
Susan was trembling. She could feel her soul rattling around inside of her. She didn’t know if it was throwing its weight around to remind her that it was still alive, or if her soul was, in fact, trying to escape. Kyle’s arm provided her with some comfort. She knew that this day was going to take a lot of comfort to get through. Her eyes kept darting around the campers and the shop trailer anxiously waiting for Hank. She was still in the fantasy world of believing hat life was normal.
When she caught a glance of the shop trailer, she realized that it was not normal. People were still gathered around it crying. The yellow police tape reminded her that something horrible had happened there. A uniform police officer remained and was trying to question a few of the carnies. She could see the coldness on that man’s face. It was almost like a thought bubble was above his head and read "Filthy carnies..." He looked uncomfortable, but continued on with his job. She could feel her heart leaping up and down, up and down, up and down. Oh God! This was all real!
Kyle and Susan walked together to the crowd at the shop trailer. Everyone’s glance caught them. No one knew how to react. Susan was bruised, dirty and looked half out of her mind. The police officer took interest to this new person and turned to her with his little notebook in hand.
"Can I get your name, Miss?" asked the police officer.
"Would you mind telling me where you were last night?"
"Hank and I were walking through the woods and we were attacked last night. I woke up in this little shack and was taped up. I worked at it and finally escaped. I do not know where Hank is." She went into the story automatically as though it was programmed in her and this officer had hit Play.
Officer Preston looked at the girl with the watered over glaze of one who’s watching infomercials. He did not believe her story one bit. This was just too much happening in their small town in one night and he found it absolutely amazing how much of it revolved around the carnival. In fact, it was all of it revolving around the carnival. They all needed to be out of this town and Preston felt as though he was on latrine duty. He didn’t want to talk to these carnies. As far as he was concerned, they were all guilty.
Officer Preston decided not to ask any more questions. He’d tag another officer to come down here to talk to these people. He had enough already and just wanted to get out of there.
Kyle gently guided Susan away from the scene. Obviously, the officer cared not of who had beaten her and left her for dead. In fact, Kyle was certain that officer Preston had secretly wished that the perpetrator had finished the deed; or, at the very least, that he, himself, could finish her off. It would be just one more scum of the earth erased from society. Yeah, that's it...Susan was the bad guy in the whole ordeal. She abducted herself and tortured herself and made sure to top it off by somehow submerging herself into the insanity that only those so personal with death could ever know.
Walking through the lot of mourning souls, Kyle felt an odd sensation. It was almost as though a ghost was touching his soul whispering "Look...look..." His gaze drifted from canvas to ballies...trucks to trailers to finally...the woods beyond the lot. A dark figure caught his glance hidden in the shadows emerging beneath the morning sun. It was a man...
"What the..." Kyle was cut off by the sound of Susan gasping from shock. He didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream and run... He almost didn’t want to know.
"Oh my god!" Exclaimed Susan, "I can’t believe it!" Immediately following her gasp for breath, Susan took off running through the midway. She darted in between a couple of green help still trying to clamor for a better view of Death, past the many fences of kiddie land and around the few food joints...across the grassy field and to the near by woods. She saw the shape and recognized it as a tombstone of human form. Hank. Hank was lying there. Please, Lord, don’t let hank be dead. That was the sole thought that kept plaguing her mind as she ran. She pumped her legs as a great locomotive convincing its wheels "Just one more turn...just one more turn..." She had to envision herself as that mighty locomotive, or else, she would have just collapsed in a mound of grief before she ever reached Hank’s side. She had to see for herself whether he was dead or alive.
She could hear Kyle closing the distance between them. He wasn’t crying nor yelling...instead, there seemed to be this hum...as though a steady hiss of sound. Perhaps it was the sound of an entire carnival’s grief humming in lieu of the generator. At any moment, she was convinced that the power of grief was going to power the rides...that any moment, the mechanical ballet and songs would come to life. Oh Lord, she’s going out of her mind.
When she finally reached Hank, she could see that he was still breathing. He had a substantial amount of blood on his face that had ran down and soaked the front of his tee shirt. She hit the ground and landed hard on her knees. Kneeling over his body, she placed her left ear just above his lips. His breath felt strong and warm. The feeling of Life caressed her ear and she was the happiest that she had ever been at that moment. She placed her hands on his shoulders and placed her chest against his and gave him a sort of hug and finally let all the tears fall that had been damned the entire night.
Kyle made it to Hank and Susan and the look on his face reflected the death that he had earlier witnessed. He had thought the worst had happened and he wasn’t quite prepared to learn the good news that Hank was alive.
During their embrace, Hank’s eyes fluttered open. The light was so blinding to him and his eyes squinted as though he was walking face first into a sand storm. Constantly blinking and struggling to find his voice, he was confused at first. He was like a newborn baby fresh from the womb and blind and vulnerable to the world around him. Slowly, the fuzziness of his vision disappeared and the light sensitivity receded. A shape came into focus and finally, his lips formed the words, "Hey, baby."
Susan cracked a smile and knew that he would be alright. Now, if only the rest of their world would be alright. Jake is dead and poor Mary...the carnies assumed that Mary had died as well. Paramedics wouldn’t go out on the limb to save a carnival worker. Mary wouldn’t have been able to last in this world without her Jake. This was going to be a very long day.