You’ve dared return to the Dark Carnival. How brave, yet foolish! Today, I can’t guarantee you’ll make it out alive.
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It was a dark and stormy night, complete with eerie wind and rustling leaves.
How repulsive a cliché it was. The clouds looked heavy, pregnant and ready to burst, glowing with the pink tint of the sun’s nighttime atmospheric rays. Perhaps the sharp knife of this wind would be enough to cut into them and release me from my misery?
I needed this date to end and not because of him; it had everything to do with his choice of date venues. At first he had made it sound like the kind of place that would offer a first date plenty of options outside a bar; a fun public place to meet a guy and have a good time… right up until we parked outside this particular carnival. Now I am not a fragile flower that wilts in shyness far from a scary movie, nor do I pussy out when things get weird or scary, but even I have my limits.
The entire place looked like it was stolen off an abandoned horror movie set. A strange mixture of the grotesque and gaudy, where primal colored lighting with its stark florescent bulbs only enhanced the decrepit scarring on side of the neglected vendor’s stalls. Flaking paint chips added their contribution to the debris congregating in groups all over the site.
Those working the carnival seem to be in a perpetual state of blank sorrow; eternal zombies that continue to endless work the rides for time everlasting: The Performance in Purgatory.
I was ready to leave within moments of entering, and would have if I had thought I was safe in walking out alone. The feeling that this place was damned would not leave me and my trepidation continued to rise, despite my date’s constant reassurances to the contrary.
To placate me, my date steered us toward the only ride that remotely looked safe to get on: the carousel. A softly-lit beacon within this dark carnival, it brought to mind the beautiful carousels of old. Gold leaf trim and brightly colored animals almost looked comical against the silent desperation of its neighboring rides. Beautifully intricate mirrors lined the interior, and showcased the very realistic seats of animals to choose from. Getting onto the platform, my proximity seemed to emphasize the sheer size and grace of each of them. Choosing a gorgeous unicorn, I climbed aboard and waited patiently for our slow jaunt around.
My saddle, with its old worked leather that softly creaked beneath me, felt cool against my jeans but the unicorn it restrained did not. A slow sweep of my hand over the soft bristles of the neck made it seem that I could actually feel the poor animal’s inner warmth. Slightly freaked out, I began to get up when the ride began to move. Settling rather uncomfortably back, I became impatient for this farce of a ride, and date, to be over.
The slow and steady up-and-down motion of the carousel made it hard to concentrate on any one place; the lulling of the movement made me complacent. The combination of the mirrors and lights became a hypnotizing rhythm, which called me deeper into myself and away from the world outside of this little stage. The dreamy feeling it inspired lasted until I glanced over at my date and his chosen steed, a gorilla-shaped monster with a look of insanity frozen on its face.
Turning quickly away from its expression, somehow fearing to meet the eyes attached to such a creature, my eyes cast their way down to the dark and gritty flooring. What I thought was a pretty color of cherry wood covered with the careless spills of countless patrons was, in reality, stained with something much darker and less uniform. A turn of the mirrors and perfect shaft of light exposed its source to my horror-frozen mind; a stream of blood and other bodily fluids seeped slowly down the pole that impaled the animal and pooled around the base.
Frozen in indecision, my eyes were the only thing left that seemed to still have the capacity for movement. A slow sweep of the next animal, a rider-less zebra, showed the slow and tortured expansion of its sides, an animal struggling to breathe through its flight instinct. And its eyes, oh gods its eyes, still rolled back and forth in sheer terror. The whites around the irises were almost cartoonish against the yellow and black of its hide, and the bile in my stomach began to rise. This poor creature set up on display for the masses, ridden and abandoned, while it lay unnoticed in the thralls of death’s merciless grip.
Gripping the pole, I threw up all over the side of my seat; the riotous color of pink cotton candy, brown half-digested dinner and yellow bile mixed to create my own morbid Pollock. Resting my head against the shiny brass pole, a cold and comforting weapon, I slowly closed my eyes and began to pray for it all to be a terrible dream, a night terror that I could awake from in sweat-soaked sheets at any moment.
The now inappropriately happy tune playing over the loud speaker seemed to be just a little off beat, a whirl of noise that kept no real tempo. Focusing on anything other than throwing up again and the buzzing in my ears, I tried to place the instrument. An oboe? Cello? What was it?!?
Finally steady enough to move, I found myself sticking to the sap-like coating along the pole. Immediate panic set in and I began to pull and thrash. Yet the more I moved, the tighter the adhesive on the pole became, in the way a web works for the waiting spider. I screamed my fear, a vocal plea against my predicament, but was drowned out by the other calls for help. We became the screaming percussive beat against the morbid melody of the carousel’s cheerful dirge.
There, in a creepy parade of victims, the few of us on the ride called out in shared agony as the top of the poles sprayed out a fine mist of molten wax over the entire ride.
As the ride slowly came to a stop, the lights were switched off and we cooled in the autumn air: the newest attractions forever riding the carousel.
Sheila Hall ©
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