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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House of Horrors
It may have been a haunted house, but with Tony holding my hand, each step towards it made me giddy.
“Malory wouldn’t even come into the park with me last year.” Tony stopped just outside of the house of horrors and squeezed my hand. Malory Wick was the whole reason I had agreed to sneak into the park after dark. She was the reason I had pushed past the fear of getting caught trespassing and followed the beautiful Tony to walk through his favorite ride—because Tony had asked me this year and I didn’t want to be disappointing.
“It isn’t all that scary.” I said, observing the building in front of us. It wasn’t even a building, but a large construction that sat atop hundreds of little rollers all locked in place but ready to move when the carnival needed to leave to another city. It was a walk-through ride that, on the outside, was made to look like an old mansion—aged by time and ghouls aplenty. The opening was covered in store-bought cobwebs with plastic spiders trapped in its grip while the exit was a simple doorway left without decorations. The faux windows that lined the front of the ride had different pictures of ghosts, vampires, and man with a mask.
“Don’t let what’s on the outside fool you, babe.” He cooed, close enough that my heart began to thud erratically. “It’s the inside you have to be afraid of.”
“Whatever.” I said with a laugh. “I bet it’s all cheese and clichés.” He didn’t seem perturbed by my remark instead he followed without hesitation as I made my way up the four metal steps and into the mouth of the beast.
Despite the carnival being closed for the night, the low neon lights of the house of horror buzzed on. They lit the hallway in pockets, showing four doorways along the length. Excitement filled me like air in a balloon. I had never been one to shy away from the jeepers creepers or a good horror flick. The unknown, whether good or bad, was an intriguing topic I didn’t mind exploring.
“Those two doors lead to a funky old parlor and a kitchen.” Tony said, pointing to the ones on our right. “They have tanks where they keep stuff that feels weird in the bottom—you know, like meatballs for eyes and cooked noodles for worms.” He grabbed my shoulders and gently turned me to the first door on the left. “That’s my favorite room.” He didn’t elaborate, just started to walk through its doorway.
I hung back, hesitating when a chill wrapped around me. The hallway was also decorated with fake cobwebs and spiders, plus the additional plastic paintings and pictures that had glowing eyes or a stare that followed you as you walked past. When the ride was operational during the day, I’d bet there was a carnie who suited up and got his jollies from jumping out and scaring those who dared roam the halls. However, there was no carnie there now. Just the two of us, without a care in the world.
Tony was lounging on a worn out couch in a room I had to guess was staged to look like a living/dining area. He patted the empty seat next to him without even batting an eye at the masked figure looming over his side—a stage knife in hand. I liked Tony, a lot, but somehow I hadn’t thought he was into me as much as his stare suggested.
“Come over here, let’s talk.” He said, his voice filled with grit. My excitement at breaking the rules turned into a ball of nerves. I was 18 and, even if Tony was oblivious, had been with Granger the night after my sweet sixteen. I wasn’t as experienced as him, sure, but I knew my way around.
Though, that way hadn’t included the house of horrors.
“Don’t you want to go explore?” I tried. “I’ve never been in here before.”
Tony waved the idea off. “I’ve been here tons of times. It isn’t that good.” I stopped.
“But that’s why you said we should come here…”
“Honestly? I just wanted some alone time with you. See, I’ve always liked you, Larissa.” He stood when I stayed still. “You’ve changed so much from junior year.” I didn’t know how to take that. Was it a compliment? Or an insult? I’d lost some weight, it was true, but had that been the only reason Tony had taken interest? “I thought coming here would be a good time to get closer.”
Tony was good-looking, popular, and had been a long-time crush. There was no doubt that I had dreamt about being alone with him like that. However, the way he said it—the way he looked—made every red flag I had inside go sky high. Inadvertently, I took a step back. He noticed and the perfect smile faltered.
“What’s wrong? Don’t you want to be with me?”
“It’s not that, I just-well, isn’t it too soon? We haven’t even really been on a date.”
“You worry too much. I just thought it’d be fun to play around.” He grinned. It sent a chill through me.
“I don’t want to.” I said, sternly. “I think maybe we should leave.”
He dropped his nice guy act at that. “Jesus, Larissa! You’re such a lame bitch.” Before I could get properly mad, he closed the distance between us and grabbed my arm.
“Let go, Tony!”
He tightened his grip and lunged for my face—his lips hit mine so hard it was painful. I pushed against him and when he didn’t budge I threw my knee up into his crotch. He howled but didn’t let go.
Then I was standing at the entrance of the ride, on the metal steps facing the opening. Tony was gone and I was thoroughly confused.
“Larissa…that’s such a lovely name.” A woman walked up to the doorway. She had silver hair piled messily on her head and wore bright pink sweats. She was smiling—it eased my confusion a fraction.
“Who are you? Where is Tony?”
She reached out and took my hand. Her skin was warm and reassuring. Like Tony, she guided me into the hallway of the ride.
“It’s okay.” She said. “You’ll like it here.”
Another person walked out into the hallway—he looked a little older than me with long, shaggy black hair and intelligent green eyes. There was anger in him—it was rolling off like waves. Again, I took a step back.
“Oh, don’t worry about Charlie.” The old lady said. “He’s just upset he couldn’t save you.”
“Save me?” I snatched my hand back. “What do you-”
“Oh shit!” Tony’s voice floated out of the living area. I followed it with numbed nerves. He was bent over someone lying on the ground.
“You shouldn’t look too long, dear.” The old woman called, but I had already recognized the body on the floor. “He probably didn’t mean to kill you.” She tried to assure.
“He threw her to the ground and kicked her face.” Charlie appeared at my side, but kept his eyes on Tony. “You can’t say it was an accident.”
The woman sighed.
“He does seem to have a temper. At least we’ll have someone else to keep us company. I know James has been itching to talk to someone about how those cellular phones work.” She once again grabbed my hand, pulling my attention away from the horrible scene before us. “You do know how they work, don’t you?”
I couldn’t find my voice—shock cut through me like a knife.
“Leave her alone.” Charlie growled. “She has to process first. It’s not like she’ll leave before he can ask. You know as well as I do that we have all the time in the world.”
“You’re right.” She sighed again. “I do wish this house was bigger. We’re running out of room.”
They kept on with their conversation but I didn’t listen. All I could do was stare down at my bloody face and the awkward way my neck was resting. Tony was trying to tug off my jeans.
Confusion and terror fused and created a rage so hot it blurred my vision. Tony’s words played in my head on repeat.
“Don’t let what’s on the outside fool you, babe. It’s the inside you have to be afraid of.”
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