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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The Hallow Fest Queen
A golden-painted carnival crown, rubies on its spikes, glowing blood red as if they were taken from the eyes of a demon, was found.
It was like any other Hallow Fest that year. They had the most creative costumes from zombies to farmers; princesses to dancers; gypsies to witches; werewolves to vampires. They had the annual pumpkin contest, the pie eating contests. A traveling circus of magic and trickery.
People say legends are just fairy tales; hogwash, they don’t mean a thing. They entertain and frighten.They are told in many forms, nothing more.
That all changed; the night she became Queen.
∏ ∏ ∏
2 days earlier
Pastor Rochesterlooked outside one of the many stained glasses windows that ordained his lovely Ashfield Church, one of the oldest in town.
Hallow Fest was two days away; the annual Halloweengathering. The carnival rides towed by trucks across the county came to assist in the set up. The scent of caramel being stirred so apples could be dipped lingered from the slightly open front door. Bleeps from goats being pulled by their owners on string budged and were stubborn while being led to their cages for the petting zoo. Swords were polished. Cotton candy machines loaded.
Hallow Fest was a smaller venue compared to bigger, and much more popular spotslike the Big E in New England. It didn’t have fried Oreos or get much attention, but Hallow Fest had one thing that still managed to bring the masses in.
The King and Queen of the Carnival.
That main source of income nerved Pastor Rochester this year. In past years, he had never felt so nervous, so uneasy, as if his gut was warning him of something evil. He knew the Lord worked in ways that could not be understood, and in this world of free will where evils existed, he knew God would provide for him always.
“Pastor?” a young woman’s voice squeaked.
He turned slightly and half-grinned. A young girl, about twenty, with auburn hair and stunning blue eyes, stood by the altar. She had a dark ruby red shawl tucked under her arm.
“Olivia,” he says. “How nice to see you. I thought you were helping Marta get ready for Hallow Fest.”
“I snuck off when she went to the coffee shop,” she chuckles. “I couldn’t handle trying on one more dreaded fairy princess outfit.”
Pastor Rochester chuckled to himself. “Understandably so my child. Come, sit,” he gestures to the pew near where he stood. Olivia sat down. “What brings you here?”
Olivia grows quiet. I hope he believes me. “I…I wish to ask you a question.”
“Please, go on.”
“Is…the legend true?”
Pastor Rochester was taken aback by her words. “I don’t believe I understand your question Olivia.”
“About the King and Queen of the Carnival.”
The local rumor that ran around Ashfield was during the King and Queen of Hallow Fest being crowned, a scarred young being who endured a horrible death and hid his appearance amongst the fog, would take the Queen as his own, never to return her again. Some said he would get rid of the King and enter himself in the running. Some said he would be runner-up when the King fell ill, and some said he would turn everyone to stone. One part of the legend was true: the Phantom of the Opera was his inspiration for his tricks and seductions, the girls fawned and the guys were inspired.
As the years dwelt on, the legend became less and less of a possibility and more of a joke and scary story among teenagers and children. Olivia, however, was always frightened by the tale, believing it would happen one day, even when told by friends and family it was child’s play.
But Olivia was smarter. She loved myths and believed some of them. She spent many hours in the library when not working at the book desk reading on these tales; the stories of Persephone, Cupid and Psyche, stories about pirates, mermaids, and dragons.
But this one—and others like vampires and werewolves— left her frazzled.
Olivia stared at him. “I’m frightened Pastor. I’m not quite sure why I am, but whatever the feeling is…I know something’s coming…I’m Queen of the Carnival this year. Shawn’s the King…but I’m worried.”
The Pastor nods. “You do not have to be afraid for you have God, who protects you in times of trouble. I too understand your worry…I myself have felt an evil presence.”
Olivia’s mouth fell open. “You believe me?”
“I do child. In all of my years of teaching the Word of God, I have come to believe in the supernatural. They are dark…but they all have one thing in common.”
“They suffered a horrible fate. Some have, but not all. Some were mistreated, abused, unloved, and were framed. I believe the legend is true…I’ve said so for decades. It can be stopped, but no one will listen.”
“Help him or her cross over.”
“So you believe…something bad is gonna happen this year at Hallow Fest, don’t you Pastor?”
He sighs, glancing at a stained glass window of Jesus on the cross during His final hours. “I’m afraid so.” He stands up and walks to the baptismal pool in the far corner. He takes a small flask, blue glass with tints of green and white, and dips it. The pastor hears the young woman’s footsteps come towards him. He turns to her. “Take this,” he places the bottle in her hands. “When all seems lost, this will protect you. I will have more for you before Hallow Fest.”
“Thank you Pastor.” She clutches the bottle in both hands. “If the legend really is true, what does he want?”
“Olivia, you should never have sympathy for the devil, but I believe he just wants love; we all can’t survive without it. Jesus never judged the adulterous woman when others wished to stone her, so you should try to show pity, but if worse comes to pass, love him, teach him about God, and you will be okay.”
“I agree.” Olivia nods. “Once again, thank you Pastor Rochester…I just pray the legend is false after all.” She walks away, a little more relaxed.
When the door shuts, Pastor Rochester stares at the window of Jesus once again. “Lord, protect Olivia, a much darkened man is coming…and he wants her…there’s no more time.”
∏ ∏ ∏
One day earlier
Marta was going through the costumes at the dress shop while Olivia sat down on the cushion, looking down at her ruby red shawl. She hoped the King and Queen would go without incident; but that twinge of fear existed.
“Ugh there has to be something regal here somewhere. You can’t run for Queen of the Carnival if you’re not dressed like one!” Marta complained, her red hair bunched in a messy ponytail. “The best thing they have here are discounts—and those are gone already!!”
Olivia couldn’t resist a small snicker escaping her lips. “Come on Marta you know how silly this is? I don’t even like Shawn!”
“Haha very cute Olivia,” Marta rolled her eyes. “Just because you could care less doesn’t mean I should either. Besides, you gotta be pretty! Ugh,” she picked up a sexy Marie Antoinette costume. “Who in the right mind would wear such an atrocity? There’s gonna be kids seeing this!!”
Olivia shook her head. “Marta where would I be without you?”
“Great question sister,” she chuckles. “I can’t believe you’re even complaining! I never get picked!”
“I know but…” she trailed off.
“Olivia,” Marta huffs, hands on her hips. The Marie Antoinette costume dropped to the floor. “You know that’s some silly deal our parents told to make us believe in the supernatural. Besides, they made us behave!”
“But Marta I have a bad feeling about this year. Maybe it’s just me—”
“More like those books you keep reading. You know the Greeks and Romans made up those myths right? They still didn’t disprove the existence of Atlantis did they?”
“Marta come on!”
“Stories like The Phantom of the Opera or The Hunchback of Notre Dame are fake too!! Speaking of Hunchback, I think Kenny will be dressing up like him this year—”
Olivia slammed her palm against her forehead. At least Pastor Rochester believes me. The myth reader also struggled with her parents telling her to go have fun at the Festival this year and take her crown.
Not only that, but every time she heard the word, that chill came back. She dealt with it weeks prior and after the announcement of the King and Queen, her nerves shot up sky high. Whatever was out there was looking for something, and it wanted her.
Marta’s squeals of delight brought Olivia back to reality. “I found it!! This is SO you!!” She held up a purple faire maiden gown with gold strips.
“Come on Olivia the other ones are out! You’re too nice to be an evil queen anyway!”
Before Olivia could object, a scream burst out. Everyone browsing the dress shop froze in place. Olivia glanced outside to see a small crowd gathering near the festival grounds. The chill crawled up her arms again, giving her excessive goose bumps as cold as ice.
One of the shop employees decided to open the door and go outside. Everyone else followed in hot pursuit. Marta dropped her purchased costume, a Huntress, and ran. Olivia remained inside. Marta came back out of breath; red-faced. “Something terrible has happened!!”
When they got to the grounds, they saw nothing amiss. But when they followed the crowd, they discovered the capes the King and Queen of the Carnival were supposed to wear were slashed to bits, pieces of cloth scattered on the floor. The scepters were a huge loss, broken into a million pieces like glass. The crowns were cut in half, pieces of paint missing, an ominous smell filling the air.
At the stage of the Fest was Shawn’s body, stiff, lifeless it seemed, knocked out, the chandelier above smashed to pieces over his torso, glass everywhere.
Everyone gasped in fright. A paramedic checked Shawn’s pulse and saw he was still alive. “He must’ve slipped,” he said. People whispered.
The mayor assured everyone after the discovery the festivities would continue. They dubbed it an accident and will find who’s responsible. Security measures will be increased.
For Olivia, after returning to the dress shop, she knew the worst was coming. She could feel it. Marta tried to put the matter behind them by discussing the carnival. “Anyways…if not purple, what?”
Olivia looked through the dresses, and found one. She held it up to Marta. “Wow. I like it.”
It was indeed beautiful. A full-length renaissance maiden gown with drape sleeves and outside part of the dress gold, the bust silver, and the entire rest including the drapes, red. Ruby red, just like her prized shawl.A much innocent red.
It was the last thing she would ever wear.
∏ ∏ ∏
The Night of Hallow Fest
Olivia reluctantly walked down the steps of Ashfield Church after receiving more bottles of holy water from Pastor Rochester. Her parents, dressed as an angel and Caesar, told her to go have fun and assured her again nothing would happen.
Walking towards Hallow Fest, she observed some fog beginning to form around her feet. That’s odd. Why would there be fog at this time of night?A chill crawled up her spine. She began scampering towards the grounds while holding up her gown.
All around her, little kids with trick or treat bags ran past. A hay ride led by donkey and scarecrow slowly went through the maze. People were bobbing for apples, playing games, riding the Ferris wheel. The parade soon came around the corner; the local high school’s dance team performing in various outfits.
Throughout the night, it was the same as every year prior. Minor issues due to underage drinking and rowdiness, the occasional lost kid in the maze soon found. Teenagers making out and telling scary stories by campfire. Adults pranking each other and watching juveniles trying to teepee nearby buildings.
But something was off this year. There was a lot of whispering among the townspeople, children being held tighter by their parents, teenagers and college students laughing saying nothing would happen. Ever since Shawn’s near-death by chandelier, everyone was whispering about the Hallow Fest legend. Rumors spread and people began to think the King and Queen were cursed this year; hoping Olivia didn’t suffer as well.
The mayor however was unfazed by the gossip. The drama brought in even more droves which lured in the biggest attendance ever. As people drove in, Pastor Rochester was speaking with some old friends, preparing a possible exorcism.
Marta was recanting the rumors to Olivia, who kept glancing around at everyone, paranoid. A young Huntsman was with them, flirting with Marta, making her giggle with delight.
“Marta did you notice before me, other women who were gonna be Queen mysteriously quit?”
“Yeah…I remember hearing about that. Simone was in before you. She got food poisoning. Isn’t that funny everyone else was poisoned to some degree? Luckily no one died!”
“Yeah…you see why I thought the legend’s true?”
“Funny you mention that,” Marta fixed her bow and arrow. “When I was getting dressed this morning, some guy in a black cloak and fancy shoes was staring outside my window. He told me to not be alarmed by tonight’s events…and that you would be in good hands. Freaky…”
The Huntsman explained his thoughts to her while Olivia’s nerves skyrocketed. I knew it…the legend is true…Olivia clutched her shawl close, another chill suddenly enveloping her being. I have to get out of here. Before she could take off, the townspeople soon gathered around the stage for King and Queen, the small group getting mobbed and pushed the opposite direction.
Onstage, traces of Shawn’s near-death experience and the damage from the vandalized props were erased. Pastor Rochester led the crowd in a short prayer. His friends were standing behind him, waiting. When he finished, his eyes landed on Olivia’s. He could sense her growing terror and said another prayer for her.
The mayor introduced this year’s queen. Olivia slowly walked on stage, the crowd applauding her. Marta accompanied her; slipping something into her arsenal of holy water. She stood to the side, as if regret was taking on her features.
Two women dressed as an evil queen and Maid Marian came on stage and placed a replacedcape over Olivia’s costume. A newly repaired crown with blood red rubies encircled her head.
From behind Olivia, a man around her age poked out from the shadows; his shiny black shoes softly touching the floor. Pastor Rochester’s friends whispered to him. They got their holy water and Bibles out. Marta saw him before Olivia did but got silenced, landing among a pile of barrels.
Suddenly, the fog returned. Everyone glanced at one another whispering to themselves. The rides suddenly stilled; a silence took over the grounds. Light bulbs exploded. Wisps of the undead slowly rose from the ground, emitting screams from the townspeople. The gates to the fairgrounds soon locked, rusted shut. The undead blocked all the exits. Attractions toppled over and soon burst into flames.
The mayor called security and to have everyone evacuate the scene. The King’s crownlanded on the being’s head as he stepped forward.
Olivia stood stiff, frozen in fear. She tried to run away but felt herself stuck in place as if glued to the floorboards. The being smirked at the crowd, his face concealed by his black cloak. Strangely enough, he was gently smiling at Olivia, which perplexed her.
Before she could blink, the floor opened below her, fire erupting and surrounding them. Olivia screamed as the being’s arms encircled her in protection, his gentle touch easing her fears. People cried out, realizing the Hallow Fest legend was true. Others tried to save her, but the heat of the fire and the undead army held them back.
Pastor Rochester pleaded with the being to spare her as they tried to help him cross over; but the being looked at the Pastor as if he too regretted what he was about to do. The being asked for forgiveness; and the Pastor reluctantly forgave his sins.
“Please take care of her, don’t hurt her.” The Pastor begged. His friends tried to exorcize him but failed.
Guns suddenly went off, the bullets melting on contact. A part of Olivia’s prized shawl caught on fire, but before she could put it out, she shielded her eyes as the fire consumed her.
The last thing she ever heard were the screams of her parents and Father Rochester’s hands in prayer, her crown and fur collar falling away.They vanished beneath the floorboards as she blacked out, the undead following suit.
When the smoke cleared, the crown and fur collar remained. The Huntsman helped Marta. Olivia’s parents ran to the stage and saw a piece of her shawl, burnt, left behind. They fell on their knees, sobbing.
Pastor Rochester stood in his place, heartbroken. “God help us all.”
∏ ∏ ∏
A while later, Olivia stirred. She sat up in a bed of red satin sheets, pulling back the black laced curtains. It reminded her of the Phantom’s lair in Phantom of the Opera with lit candles, mirrors, extravagant clothing in the closets, and a place to rest. It just had no cage, lake, boat, freaky monkey music box, or masks lying around.
She slowly stepped out of the bed, holding her gown as her feet touched the marble floor. Olivia quietly walked around the small place she was brought to, amazed and in awe of how lit and intimate it felt. If she really were brought down to Hell, this could’ve been some fluke to deceive her, so she recited the Lord’s Prayer for strength.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps. She froze in fear and slowly turned around to see the man who brought her here. Olivia lost her footing and fell back against the floor, backing in a corner like Christine Daee. “Please don’t hurt me,” she begged in fright, her headpiece falling off. She had her holy water in hand.
The man walked back to the bed, puzzling Olivia. He came back with her shawl. “I believe this belongs to you my dear.” He said kneeling at her feet and handing it to her. Olivia reluctantly took it, clutching it close to her. “I don’t wish to harm you.”
“Then why have you brought me here?”
The man brings down his cloak from his face. Olivia’s eyes widened in fright at the dead man before her.His eyes were tinted gray, black hair in a ponytail, a gashed scar where dried blood remained from his cheek to the side of his head, numb grey hands, white button-down shirt with black coat, fancy pants and shoes. Olivia reached out to touch his scar but recoiled. He grabs her hand and brings it to his face, touching the dried blood.
“…You won’t hurt me?”
“But the legend is true though…about Hallow Fest.”
“Yes. It’s been true for centuries.” He helps her up and leads to a table with a stack of books. “You seem to believe in it.”
“Yes…I spend my time reading myths. You remind me of the Phantom.”
“You’re familiar with the tale.”
“Yes, very much.” He brings her a glass of tea. She declines.
He chuckles. “So you have read of Persephone too? Do not worry you will not be imprisoned like she was.”
“Then why am I here? Why me…uh…?”
“Casper. Call me Casper my dear.” He pours more tea. “I was King of the Carnival in Ashfield many years ago…but my queen was poisoned by a jealous lover. I was blamed and burnt alive, this,” he points to his gash. “Was a mark they gave me before death. Like the S in The Scarlet Letter. I got stuck between worlds and been here since. Before you judge my dear I am no demon, no vampire, no werewolf. I’ve spent my days here in solitude, waiting…and yearning.”
Olivia felt compassion stir for Casper. “Pastor Rochester told me all you ever wanted was to be loved.”
Casper nods at her words. “His words are true Miss Olivia.”
Olivia froze. “How do you know my name?”
“Your friend, Marta. I shouldn’t have flung her; I knew she’d interfere.”
“I knew before you even came this was going to happen…but why?”
Casper sighs. “My heart aches for you, truly. The time came—you remind me of my queen—thus why I took you. I poisoned the other women before you the same way my queen was. That chill you felt was me beckoning to you, to take you from those…people. The same ones who ended me.”
“I am. I could not survive without my Queen, so every year during Hallow Fest, I would wait, and when I saw you…I had to have you. I’m afraid I cannot bring you back.”
“Am I in—”
“No you are not in Hell. This is my kingdom where I rule over other lost souls. Do not be afraid of them, they won’t harm you.” He then added, “It seemed Pastor Rochester was the only one who believed in you…but Marta seemed to have believed you, too late. If those townspeople were so concerned for you tonight they would’ve stopped me when I even arrived. It seems they weren’t.”
At that moment, Oliviadiscovered Marta slipped in her pouch a note that proved Casper’s words. It said how she too the morning of Hallow Fest joined the Pastor in convincing the townspeople to try and save her; but when they realized the truth, they decided to take their chances and not do a thing. Angry at the people using her as some human sacrifice, she burned the note. She wept, anger filling her body. “They knew…but because they thought it was some fairy tale…they let it go…they let me pay the price.”
“I didn’t wish to take you, but I had no choice. I was bound. I’m truly sorry.”
Olivia’s tears dried. Her fate was sealed. “Then I must be your queen. I only have God…”
Casper’s heart ached for her. “My dear…tell me more about this God you worship…”
So she did. She taught him and his people all that Pastor Rochester taught her about God. Olivia grew to love the undead man who treated her with kindness and kept his word. He made her his Queen and loved her. The morning after becoming his Queen, she was of the undead. Greyer skin; a fate she knew wasn’t of her own. As time passed, she forgot everyone and her former life except for Pastor Rochester, Marta, and her parents, who she blessed every day with the holy water he gave her.
After her disappearance, Ashfield was a ghost town. Hallow Fest never happened again. Olivia’s parents moved away and died of a broken heart months later. Marta too moved away; joining Pastor Rochester.
Olivia cursed the town who betrayed her to the undead, having the selfish mayor run out of town and the townspeople stricken by hauntings. Some say her apparition returned every year to attack her former neighbors and friends. No one dared to set foot there ever again; fearing the Queen of Hallow Fest’s revenge.
Some legends are real.
Ashfield’s came true the night she became Queen of the Carnival.
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