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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Adults are so easy.
They think they know everything, so they don’t see what’s right in front of them.
Kids see everything. Even the things we aren’t supposed to see. That’s caused some awkward moments for me with the parentals, but that isn’t the point of this story. This is a warning. ‘Sides, you wouldn’t thank me for sharing anyway.
I’ve always loved the carnival. What 12 year old doesn’t love rides, fried food on a stick, and cotton candy? At first going to Darque’s Carnival on Halloween sounded like a great idea. Usually I’m stuck at home handing out candy cause I’m “too old” to trick or treat. I can’t even hang out at a friend’s house, cause Mom and Dad both have to take Lilly around the neighborhood. She shares her candy with me, though, so we’re even.
Anyway. Like I said, it sounded like a great idea.
“Max! Come on. We’re ready to go!”
“I’m coming!” I thundered down the stairs, pulling on the jacket that I knew Mom would remind me to bring in three, two, one…
“Don’t forget your jacket!”
See? Totally predictable.
I knew something was wrong as soon as we got there. It wasn’t the carnival that usually came to town. Everything was dark, like it was all in shadow. Which is totally impossible, cause they were in the middle of Mr. Johnson’s field and there are no trees for like a couple of miles. The workers looked a little weird too. You know that fake smile you have when your great-aunt who smells like medicine wants to hug you? Like that.
“Hey, buddy. Since Lilly’s asleep, Mom and I are going to wander around and play a few games. Here’s some tickets, so you can do your own thing. Meet us back here in an hour, okay?”
“Sure. Thanks, Dad.” I pocketed my tickets and headed for the Ferris Wheel. I wasn’t feeling the whole carnival thing anymore, but I didn’t want to sound like a baby. It was probably nothing and I just needed to suck it up.
As I walked, I saw a bunch of kids from my school. Which makes sense. It’s a pretty small town and a carnival is a big deal. I waved, but didn’t stop to talk to anyone. I kept getting that crawly feeling up my back like someone was watching me, but every time I looked around, all I saw was parents dragging kids around.
I couldn’t bring myself to get on the Wheel. It looked like it was ready to fall down any second. The rest of the rides were the same. Plus, all the kids stepping off them looked like zombies.
Dad would have said that I was psyching myself out. Who even talks like that anymore? But maybe I was. I’d just come off a 12 hour horror movie marathon and it was Halloween. My mind was probably just stuck in that mode.
All the same, I stayed away from the rides and played a few games instead. I managed to score Lilly a stuffed bear on the Ring Toss and called it good. Time to meet back up with the family, anyway.
I found them back near the front gate. Lilly was still out cold.
“Hi, sweetie. Did you have a good time?” Mom had a half-eaten candy apple and held it out to me. “Want some?”
“I got Lilly a bear and played a few games.” I took the apple and sniffed it. Mom rolled her eyes. She’d been trying to get me to stop smelling my food for a couple of years. The smell of salt and metal filled my mouth. Up close, it was obviously blood. Gross. I was officially smelling everything before I ate it for the rest of my life. “Ya know, I had a lot of cotton candy. Thanks, anyway.”
Mom shrugged and reached to take it back. I couldn’t let her eat any more of it. My stomach rolled just thinking about how she’d already had half. I let it slip through my fingers just before she got hold of it.
“Max! How many times have I told you to be more careful!” She could yell at me for the next week, just as long as she didn’t eat any more blood apple. Mom dropped it in the trash nearby. “Oh well. Do you two want to visit the Haunted House? Looks like Lilly is gonna be out a little while longer.”
“Sounds good. What d’you say, buddy?”
More than anything I just wanted to leave. I was about to say so when I saw it. Walking straight toward us.Giant red shoes that flopped when he walked. Baggy striped suit. I didn’t like clowns on the best of days. They’d always creeped me out. It didn’t help that I watched that one movie with the clown that came out of the shower drain yesterday. He was the scariest thing I’d ever seen. Until now.
I know how the clown heading toward us was supposed to look. Rainbow wig, big red nose, painted grin three times the size of his actual mouth. I know that’s what the adults saw. I saw snakes slithering against each other, straining to snap at anyone who got close. Instead of the bright cheery smile, I saw blood smeared all around his mouth.
Forget being brave. I was done.
“I’m actually really tired. Can we just go?” I grabbed Mom and Dad and tried to pull them to the exit. “This carnival is kind of lame anyway.”
“Leaving so soon, folks? Hope you had fun.” His voice sounded like nails scratching on chalk board. The jolly laugh was the sound a bunny made when my dog Shadow caught it in the backyard last month.
“The kids are tired, but we had a great time. Thanks so much.” Mom actually giggled. Proof that adults are nuts.
“How about some balloon animals before you go, folks?Compliments of the house.” Before we could get away, he was twisting balloons into shapes and handing them over.Horse, giraffe, dog, butterfly. It would have been cool any other day, but all I could think about was that we needed to get out of there, like right now. I was looking anywhere but at the clown. He’d been busy. Everyone I saw walking out the gate had a balloon animal of some sort.
I’d given up all thoughts of dignity and was ready to start whining like I used to when I was a kid and wanted something, when Lilly woke up. She took one look at devil clown guy and started screaming like she was being murdered. Thank God for Lilly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! This is her first time. She’s never seen a real clown before.” Mom tried to distract Lilly from her screaming fit with the balloon butterfly. She wasn’t having any of it and slapped it out of Mom’s hand to the ground.
“Not to worry. It’ll all be over soon and in a few hours she won’t remember a thing.” The clown thing grinned and waved. Mom and Dad headed for the gate and I looked back. Huge mistake. It winked at me and tapped its wrist like we had a date later.
We hustled back to the car, leaving the balloon behind. Lilly didn’t stop screaming until the car was running and we were pulling out of the makeshift parking lot. I could have kissed her and vowed that we would watch as many episodes of Dora as she wanted for the next year.
“I just don’t understand what got into her,” Mom was saying in the front seat.
“Clowns are creepy, Mom.”
“Don’t be silly. He’s just a man in a costume. And look how nifty these are! You can have the horse.” Mom passed it back to me.
I’d already decided that anything out of that place had to be bad and dropped the bear I’d won in the garbage on the way out. I’d give Lilly one of my old bears. She loved them anyway and I knew they hadn’t come from an evil carnival. As I “accidentally” popped my balloon horse getting Lilly out of the car, I tried to figure out how to get rid of the other two.
It never happened. Mom took the other two balloon animals into their room while Dad put Lilly to bed. I waited til I could hear Dad snoring, then went to get Lilly. I had a bad feeling and figured at least I might be able to keep her safe.
I’ve barricaded the door and started posting this online to try and warn the rest of you. The screaming started a couple of minutes ago. I don’t know how much time we have left or if the door is going to stop it from getting in. I can hear screaming from the Thomas’ next door and across the street from those new people I can’t remember. There it is. I can hear the squeaking at the door now.
I’ve got scissors ready in case they get in…
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Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Dark Carnival, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy!