Hank slowly rose to his feet as though a large Cobra lifting its head from the shadow of Death. He could see the midway behind Susan and Kyle and the heartbroken faces of the show. All the years that he’s spent living and working in this world, he had never felt is as heavy as the weight that was suddenly upon his chest.
Mustering all the strength that resided in reserve, Hank could only whisper, "What happened?"
Replied Susan, "They killed Jake" She had no concern to tell him what had been done to her, she only cared that Jake was now gone. She knew that she would have to reveal to Hank what had happened last night as she would know what happened to him. Was it a gang? Vigilantes? Why the sudden grief to the carnival?
He wanted to run more than anything. He wanted to run from the hurt and scream and kick and punch. He wanted to pick a fight with every man in town and dare them to fight back. Nothing made sense any more. The great cobra moved its dark eyes across the horizon and glared at each metal sculpture against pinned against the sky. Its hood was extended and was ready to cast its shadow of death upon the land. Then, Hank thought of his friend Jake. That man wouldn’t hurt anyone. Jake was a great man and townspeople never granted him that benefit of the doubt. They saw a man like Jake as a monster that escaped some government experimental lab testing the boundaries of the human soul. Everyone was mourning a great man, a fine husband, an excellent worker and most of all...a friend.
"Oh God..." choked back Hank, "...how?"
Kyle quickly answered, "We don’t know. The sorry bastard tossed Jake’s body beneath the shop trailer wheels as though we’d find it humorous in a way. Mary found him...Hank, Mary’s gone. The ambulance had taken her away and its sirens went silent shortly after pulling out. No one’s informed us officially, and likely never will, that she has passed." No one liked to deal with carnival workers. They were seen as a pile of dog shit on a public street. If no one ever bothered to pick it up, it would eventually be eroded away by passing tires and wind up in some other city. Kyle wondered if Mary would receive the respect that she deserved and be returned to the carnival.
Still reeling from the shock of the loss of his best friend, Hank decided that it would be best to return to the arms of the carnival versus his instinct screaming "Run! Run! Run you damned fool!" He sent a faint smile in Susan’s direction and wondered what hell she had been put through. Woe to the person responsible for her bruises if Hank ever met him.
Sighing as though a teakettle release it’s pent up aggression, Hank commanded, "Let’s get back to the lot.". He’s a little more sure of himself. His head is still swimming from his injuries, but it’s from a fight that he had survived. He lived and oh, was he ever so grateful to see Susan again. He had thought that she was lost forever. He was glad that she was alive. He didn’t know what his reaction would ever be if he was to lose her. She was the one special girl in his life and she accepted him for who he is. Being a carnival worker doesn’t ensure that you’ll have the finest pick of fish from the sea, but there are many seas to explore. With Susan by his side, he had felt like Odysseus when he finally returned home. What a selfish thought that this time, he thought to himself. Two of his best friends are gone and he can only be happy that Susan is still alive. Hank made a silent promise to himself at that moment, "I will not leave this town without the life that has robbed ours."
In a clumsy trio of pain and grief, all three strode back toward the lot. Back to the land of metal monsters and yellow caution tape. Back to the land of horrors and wonders. Back to their lives.
Keith, who had just days before been wired with energy, seen the Ferris Wheel looked gray against the blue morning sky. The news of Jake’s untimely death rocked him to a depth of newfound resentment toward the "normal" life. It could have very easily have been him, he realized. He was at that party with Jake. What if he had walked out that door before him? What if he had walked out that door with him? Keith hated himself for not walking out with Jake.
He paced back and forth over the trampled grass wondering if he could have saved Jake’s life. They were always supposed to stick together, no one should be alone in any town. No one. Jake had run the Tilt-o-Whirl and now that beast looks as though it is mocking rather than inviting. It was time to do the daily ride inspections. Each ride would go through its daily routine save for the Tilt. Not this time. The remainder of this spot, its ebbing and rolling cars would remain silent so as it can grieve its operator.
It was his duty to find a large, black cloth. Hank and Susan were cleaning up their wounds back at the houses and Kyle was getting his game joint ready. He had always heard rumors of carnival folklore and superstitions, but he had never been a part of any of them. This one was solemn. He found Christy at her food joint getting it ready for the day’s rush, should there be one. Her movement seemed to be exaggerated while she tried to hint at normalcy. It was clear where the tears had dried and left salty kisses along her cheeks. Keith almost regretted having to disturb her and freshen those salted monuments.
"Hey, Christy" interrupted Keith while sticking his head into the opened door of the food joint. "Do you happen...um, that is...do you have a black table cloth or a sheet?"
Christy was startled by the interruption at first. Her blonde hair appeared to be straw sticking out of the ponytail that she was wearing. The look on her face, at first, was one of confusion. Then she realized that he was referring to Jake’s last ride. "Yes, actually I do." She walked out of the food joint and came face to face with Keith, "There are some spots that I put out tables by my joint. I have a variety of colors, and I happen to have one black one that came with the bunch."
Together, Keith and Christy walked back to her Dodge Ram dually crew cab. She unlocked the back door and dug around behind the front seats. "Here you go" she said while stretching out a large cloth.
"Thanks" whispered Keith.
Keith walked the cloth over to Hank’s Ferris Wheel. When power comes up, it would be placed over the number 9 tub. No one will be allowed to ride in that tub tonight except for the ghost of Jake.
Darkness fell all too soon over the bustling town. News of the carnival worker's death brought out all types of personalities. Each one, though, held the same view of the "nameless carnie." They viewed this as though a stain washed off the face of the earth. Deep down, they all admired the murder, even if only on a subconscious level.
Sad that this is what it had taken to increase attendance at the county fair.
It was as though some lingering spirit lured them as though a beacon. Also, it appeared as though most of the police force was working a double, or triple shift, and all headcount was present and accounted for. All had that same dead expression on their face...they didn’t want to be here.
The crowd mixed and swelled to a point that sight was limited to only the heads around you. Each ride was vibrating with life and sound. Each light stretched horrifying shadows across exaggerated faces - further illuminating their screams. It was a somber sight though...the carnival had a wounded soul. Still, the show must go on and each worker was there.
Susan sat in a trance-like state at her counter. Her various wounds were still throbbing and her head swimming in so much confusion and fear... The name Kira Black danced at the back of her head as though a phrase said in a lullaby when she was little and safe. It was familiar to her.
More people stopped at her counter... She had become an instant celebrity in the word-of-mouth of a small town. Some had looked at her accusingly while others just looked at her. Such a young girl who appeared to be born straight from hell and was now only a few minutes old on this Earth.
Just down the midway, Hank was leaning against the fencing of the Ferris Wheel. He had just paused to rest after working on the ride. He kept himself busy on the ride as though it were troubled and the ride was silent for the night.
I knew that the Ferris Wheel wasn't suffering any ailment; however, I continued to walk by and leave him at his peace.
By now, you must be wondering who I am. I'm familiar with the events of Jake's death and what happened that night. I also know that fake police officer, Craig Henderson. What a joke of humanity that one is. He's had choice words for this carnival for months on end. He's been waitin for it to return.
I am but a ghost to this story. In fact, I'm but a ghost to this world. Some say that I am alive, but so lonely, that I'm literally invisible. Others say that I died some time ago unnoticed by the world.
Onward...I continue onward through the various gawkers and hawkers of the carnival atmosphere. Most do not even notice me. Most just consider me a shadow upon a shadow while others sense me as a chill. Still, there are those who do not even notice me at all...how typical. People are nothing more than frightened sheep. Baa Baa Baa Baa - they corral themselves in these many fences of carnival. Their real lives and miseries are laid to rest forgotten while they flock to this site for a night.
I watch each and every one of them for familiar faces. Names were something that I had a hard time remembering...but faces...I can remember every one.
Jake, Jake, Jake. Ha, what an end he did meet. His eyes sparkled with a distant memory when his last breath rattled from a broken spirit. There will be no warning issued from his lips. He was nearly to his trailer when he crossed my path. What a drunken fool. He never even saw me until the fog was rising in his eyes. Quick. What luck that I had that he was walking alone.
All around me, the people continued to baa and flock, baa and flock. I was tired of hearing their constant chatter and even more tired of hearing those damned calls from the games. This world...it lives within a crystal ball that is occasionally shaken for someone else's amusement. On this occasion, mine are the hands to shake this world. Mine are the hands that hold this world. I am the unseen puppet master who will control the fates that linger here.
The full moon was lit in a dusty, orange halo. It appeared as though drenched in watered down blood. Perhaps, that is just my own wishful thinking and romanticizing.
After all, the carnival had turned its back on me. It cast out one of its own and left me between worlds. Like a dog biting off his own tail, I was sliced from this life.
Now, I walk these rows smiling and enjoying the flock. Baa baa baa...a growl reverberates in my soul...I shall be that wolf in sheep's clothing.
I've reached the end of the midway and continue forward. Into the darkness, I fade. How nice it was to see some familiar faces again.
Craig Henderson found himself in a strange location. When sight finally found its way back into his eyes, he learned that he was kneeling at a grave. A dropped pack of crumpled cigarettes stared back up at him from his right knee. He picked up the pack and the cellophane let out little crackles as though a firecracker symphony. Tucking the pack into his left shirt pocket, Craig looked back down at the cold stone before him.
His mind and memory were now bitter enemies and he struggled to remember the face behind the name. Had his known this person? Why was he here?
That strange animal within him began kicking again and wanted freed. It wanted to run again. It wanted to tear the world up with its teeth and shred the stars. Exhaustion found its way into his spirit. His body felt as though the odometer was ready to crack and this was his final mile, ever. He could not remember the past few days. How long had he been left to darkness? Why was his body sore? Why did he feel like running on all fours back into the woods?
Looking down at the engraved name, he whispered it countless times over and over again. "Heather Dietzen"
As soon as he was able to comprehend the name, darkness returned.
The night air held a bit of an autumn chill for midsummer. Crickets and locusts were replaced by the mechanical songs of the carnival. Happy faces flowed through the midway as though a wave of Picasso paintings. The smiles appeared distorted and exaggerated.
Hank watched as the Cheshire Cat crowd moved past him. He did not want to be there at this moment. All he wanted to do, was to walk back to the bunkhouse and just forget the world for a night or two. To see the solace of a quiet night and forget the heckle and bustle that he now contends with. His head swooned with a pain that intensified sporadically and dulled. It didn’t feel right to him that Jake is gone and he’s stuck having to stand in this spot. God, how the news effected him when he learned what had happened. Jake was like a brother to him. As close as best friends and family at the same time. It’s something that’s just hard to explain. A part of his family was gone and a part of him wants to seek justice. In fact, he knew that the happy overtone of the carnival was masking the sinister undertones of hatred and vengeance-hungry hearts.
The Ferris Wheel was lit up for the night but Hank made sure that it never turned. Jake’s Tilt-o-Whirl had been shut down for the night to observe one night of mourning for it’s lost operator. A cloth was draped over a tub on the Ferris Wheel to allow for Jake’s spirit to watch the carnival one last time while hovering between midway and Heaven. Hank knew that he would have to start the ride and allow it to turn. He fought with himself to finally step away from the fence and return to the brake handle.
He hadn’t realized that half the night had slipped by before he finally started the great Wheel. A few nearby paused and smiled when they realized the Wheel was finally making a revolution behind the fence.
Hank was slightly irritated with these people. Surely, they had all heard, by now, what horrors happened here last night. Then again, if it didn’t effect the people of this town directly, they would not care. Had Jake been drunk inside a local bar last night and jumped by guys from the town and left for dead on a public street...they’d be screaming for blood! They’d want the show to shut up and leave town immediately. God forbid they have to think of the carnival workers as real people and not as the soulless robots who run the rides.
Swaying open the safety bar, Hank tilted the Ferris Wheel tub forward to allow the foot rest to come to rest atop a small, wooden platform. He held this seat as a young mother climbed in with her daughter. The girl had appeared distraught; however, it was none of his business. He closed the safety bar, tugged on it a couple of quick times and allowed the ride to carry them to the very top of its reach. Once there, he stopped the ride to allow the next riders on. Often, people were irritated when they had to wait a few extra seconds to be seated on this ride. Of course, they knew nothing of the need to balance out the ride with weight. Instead, Hank disconnected his thoughts from this world momentarily and allowed to remember only the good that had been in that world. He could feel the tears behind his eyes as though a great dam was ready to burst. At that moment, he allowed himself to look away from his ride and looked over in Susan’s direction. She had definitely been put through Hell and her sanity was a delicate web spun by the most delicate spider. She should not be out here tonight.
Susan appeared full moon pale beneath the spasming Turbo Lites of the awning. If a person could be haunted, she fit the appearance perfectly.
Once again, he closed the safety bar and tugged on it a couple of times to make sure that it was completely latched. Ever since a little boy had managed to stand up on a Ferris Wheel in the Midwest and fell to his death, Hank always made sure that each rider was aware that he had checked the bar and made sure that it would not unlatch. He knew that if something so horrible were to happen again, and to happen on this particular Ferris Wheel, that he would be held guilty in any court despite his best efforts to demonstrate the locking feature. No one wants a fatality on their ride and no one wants even a minor injury on their ride. Regardless how people looked at him, he regarded this job with the utmost urgency toward safety.
Finally, the Ferris Wheel was full and Hank slowly released the brake one more time to allow the ride to continue in its spin. Every face had a different smile of happiness and fun painted. Hank watched the ride as it made revolution after revolution. The usual creaks and moans were issued from the Wheel.
Suddenly, he heard a noise that he was unfamiliar with. Just as he was ready to trace down the faint pings and taps, the ride let loose a horrible wail as the great Ship Titanic surrendered when it finally broke and slipped into the darkness. The lights along the spokes of the Wheel went off...came back on...blinked and then fell to darkness. Once danger was sensed by the riders, screams replaced the smiles. Hank reached for the brake lever and tried to halt the ride. The brake lever proved to be useless as the ride continued to spin and spin and spin. Another great moan and then tiny screams that the ride was letting out itself. One side of a tub came unpinned and three children were hanging on desperately to the safety bar...which was still locked. Gravity wanted to pull the children downward. Their wills wanted them to hang on. The ride continued to spin... Another tub came unpinned, this time, both sides broke free. Thank God, that this was the one empty car on the ride...Number 9...Hank’s... It fell and bounced off of the spokes of the ride and the black cloth tangled within the works of the Ferris Wheel. More screams... The number 9 tub came crashing onto the platform of the ride after striking another tub that was just passing the platform. The three children were still hanging on to the safety bar...though it was not possible for them to hang on. Adrenaline is a life saver.
Finally, the Wheel crumbled. Hank almost considered it to be without warning; however, losing one tub and a partial tub could hardly constitute believing it to be "without warning." It fell completely in on itself. The scene was reminiscent of the Twin Towers falling in on themselves. It was a quick downward motion that seemed eternal and silent. The crowd stared at the carnage in shock. Hank had been tangled up in loose metal and was now crumpled beneath the wreckage. The three children who were hanging on for dear life had fallen just as the ride was coming down. Nearly thirty people lying dead or dying in a spot where their last moments were filled with joy and then sudden horror. The Ferris Wheel had fallen as though every major bolt had been removed.
Hank felt the pain disburse before it returned to him full throttle. Darkness was all that he could see. He knew that he had opened his eyes...he had felt himself open them. But, it was as though he had opened them in a vast and dark room. His thoughts were jumbled and distorted. He had thought that it was almost time for the alarm to wake him for school. He was grateful that it was still dark and that he’d have more time to sleep.
Pain would not let him sleep longer and he decided to open his eyes. Had he fallen asleep in a fun house somewhere? What were these strange shapes in front of him? No, had he fallen asleep in a Dark Ride? Faces painted in horror came into focus. Surely, it was almost time for him to go to school...
Almost as though a bolt of lightning had flown down from the Heavens and struck him, Hank suddenly remembered where he was and what had happened. He tried to stand up; however, the weight of the ride...and the world...forced him to continue lying on his stomach. The left side of his face was against something sharp...torn metal from one of the spokes. There was weight against his legs and lower back. He was sure the most of the ride was on top of him. At about that same time, he could hear as the shock faded from the riders... One by one, new moans would issue from the wreckage. Good...that meant that there were survivors somewhere. Almost immediately, people ran to the aid of those trapped. Roger Whitely, the man who ran the Kamikaze, stopped his ride to let the passengers off immediately, and ran to the aid of the Ferris Wheel. One by one, other rides were stopped, passengers let off, and the operators ran to help those injured.
Hank was thankful that he could feel the weight being lifted off of him. Grateful because that meant that he still had feeling. Moans were replaced with loud sobs which gave way to wails and screams. Then...then, there was only silence.
All he could think about was "Why?" Why had this happened? This surely had to have been an act of vandalism. God, why did innocent people have to be affected? What point was this supposed to prove?
With a headache large enough to kill the devil himself, Hank closed his eyes and wept in his dreams.
Heather Dietzen didn’t want to go to the carnival. She couldn’t shake this sense of dread ever since awakening from her nightmare the previous night. All that she could think of, was the skeleton of the Ferris Wheel crumbling. Certainly, that had not happened; however, she had seen this with her very own, waking eyes. She had awakened from sleep, walked to the window and had seen the horrific sight.
Early this day, she had walked around the carnival before it opened. She wanted to see for herself that the ride was still there. Once there, she was met with yellow caution tape and loud sobs. A man had been murdered there. Of all nights, why in the hell would her mother choose tonight to bring her to the carnival? Had she thought that the lines would be smaller and it could be a quick in and out event? The opposite was true . The park was crowded. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of mortality as though it was a sideshow exhibit. One thing’s for sure, she was not interested in walking through a sideshow.
Walking past the various games and kiddie rides, she and her mother arrived to the ticket booth. The ticket booth was a small tomb-like device with windows. It was approximately four foot wide, three feet deep and tall enough for an average size adult to stand. There was a foggy plexiglass window at the front with an oval cut out for people to pass money and tickets through. There was also a little, round opening with a wire mesh screen to allow speech to pass through. Heather felt like jumping up and begging the ticket person not to sell to her mother. She felt as though she were being sent off to her doom. Is this how the final moments of life are to be spent on Earth...we each unknowingly or knowingly purchase our one way ticket? She watched in despair as the light blue tickets were passed through the window along the small counter.
The tickets were plain save for a carousel horse printed on the right side of the ticket and the name Rhinehardt Amusements on the left. She looked at the book of tickets intently after her mother handed them over to her.
"What would you like to ride first?"
"How about the car? I want to go home" Heather pleaded
"I know, let’s get on the bumper cars!" her mother, Kara, shouted.
"I don’t want to."
Kara was getting frustrated with Heather by now. She had not known that she had snuck out earlier this morning to take a look at the midway. She didn’t know that true horrors lurked in the well lit park... The only thing that she new, Heather had asked this morning to go to the fair.
Reluctantly, Heather gave in and she and her mother trotted over to the bumper cars. The man running the ride appeared tired and older beyond his years. He couldn’t have been much past the age of 30; however, grief and hate have strong ways of molding a body. He lowered his right hand with palm side up to take the tickets from Kara as they walked up the entrance gate of his ride. Just two more faces to him, Heather knew.
Her mother walked to a car that was parked angled into the far right corner of the platform and Heather chose to hop into the nearest, empty car. Once everyone was settled and buckled, the power grids were activated and the cars shot forward.
The first time Heather was struck, it was by a little boy who appeared to be no more than ten years old. His head was cocked back in squeals of laughter and he quickly jerked the steering wheel to the right to head for the next casualty. Heather could feel herself start to relax on the ride. A smile was creeping across her face. Almost as though mother’s intuition had kicked in, Kara spun around and came face to face with her daughter and each were bent with laughter.
Each little impact started to feel like little quakes to the world. Each collision rattled her body.
After about two minutes had passed, the power was cut to the ride and every car coasted to a gentle stop. Everyone unfastened their safety belts and clamored toward the exit ramp. Heather’s legs felt sort of weak as soon as her feet met the floor.