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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Def Leppard’s “Mirror, Mirror” seemed to blare even louder in the car’s bright interior light. As if the two agreed to ban together against her. Then again, that’s how it usually felt on days like these.
“For God’s sakes!” Madison cursed, muting the volume, “How can he even listen to that?” In the background she could hear the noise of the State Fair. Typical carnival music and kids screaming into the late of night.
She sighed as she looked into the vanity mirror on the passenger side, to see her two different colored eyes staring – today her brown eye was sparkling. Her grandmother used to say that on wild days Maddy’s green, left eye sparkled and on darker days her brown, right. Green made her daring and confrontational. Anxious and lethargic when brown.
“Fuck!” She cursed and rubbed her eyes repeatedly, still her brown eye sparkling.
All this time she’d waited for the perfect chance to make a move on him – Harrison. Regardless of her swinging moods he accepted her as she was. She considered him her best friend, but a little more would be nice.
“Alright Maddy, don’t fucking blow this! You’ve waited all year for this!” She cursed at herself, “…Damnit! I should’ve brought my colored lenses!”
A tapping on the window, “Hey, Maddy? You alright?” It was Harrison, holding a empty, plastic cup of beer.
“Yeah – no! I’m fine!” She said trying to smile.
“…You sure? It’s okay, we don’t have to stay long if you don’t want to?”
“Ugh! No… Don’t be silly, I’ll be there in a second!” She insisted, quickly applying some make-up. After fashioning her thick, curly brown hair she stepped from the car smiling. Or trying to.
“Right-eye day, huh?” He said.
“I know. I’m sorry. Fuck…” She covered her eyes momentarily. “I’m fine – I promise. We call it ‘Brown-eye day’ though.”
“What’s the difference? Your brown eye is always your right eye, isn’t it? Or have they recently been switching positions?” He joked.
“Heh… I guess not.” She replied staring at the thousands of colored lights ahead, glowing almost hypnotically in the night sky.
He grabbed her by the hand, not harsh but gentle and encouraging. Her hand easily disappeared in his, even though his hands were large, they were warm and soft.
“Where are we going first?” She asked, as the carnival noise became louder.
“Shoot some ducks!” He called out over the cacophony of merry sounds. “I want to see how you can shoot, Maddy!”
As they reached the stand she had interlocked their fingers. He had said nothing of it, but to her the world changed. Her heart raced, butterflies in her belly. The whole nine yards.
The stand seemed old, weathered but meticulously restored, with little wooden ducks going around and around on a somewhat jerky moving chain.
“Wow, how old is this thing?” She mumbled.
“1912! Little Missy!” The stand operator called, “Young men who were sent off to both great wars have played on her!”
“Hey there, mister! How about you show your lady how good a shooter you are, huh!?” He called to Harrison.
“Oh, uhhh – Yeah, why not?” He replied without refuting she was his ‘lady’, for a moment Maddy felt like squealing in excitement but quickly controlled herself.
“I didn’t even know it was legal to have such old carnival attractions.” She whispered to Harrison.
“You betcha!” The operator said, giving her an odd deep, dark look. “She isn’t even the oldest, we value the history of ’em. It takes a special kind of crowd to feel it.”
Maddy gave Harrison a look, but he was too busy loading a BB gun.
“Lets see it, mister! Are you as good a shot as the many generations of young men before you?!” The operator called, keeping his eyes on Maddy. It began to unnerve her.
“Don’t worry – I can do this.” Harrison said, “My brother’s in Afghanistan.”
“I don’t think boot camp is hereditary…” She replied as the operator nodded at her.
“You’re dead terrorists.” Harrison whispered to himself and began firing in rapid succession. All but one shot missed.
“That’s too bad, sonny! Good thing we didn’t send you to kill Osama, huh!?” The stand owner called out. People around chuckled, Harrison blushed.
“I think you did great, Harry!” A voice called, Cynthia.
“Oh, hey Cyn. I guess I could’ve done better.” He replied embarrassed.
“Awww, don’t be sad…” She said dragging out her words for effect.
Maddy never liked Cynthia, the kind of girl attending drama classes just to spread it everywhere. She too had an eye on Harrison even though he seemed oblivious to it. The two exchanged a deadly glare. Like two hungry lions fighting over who could grab the baby gazelle unaware of them both. But the stand owner was aware.
“How about the ladies compete, huh!? What do you say, folks!?” He called grinning. Bystanders clapped. With her depressed and negative mood this was the last thing she wanted, but couldn’t back down. Not from her and certainly not from him.
“Lets do this…” Cynthia said with a provocative head move.
“Booyah!” Maddy called and gestured the operator to throw her a rifle, grabbing it in mid-air worthy of a marine going through his rifle drill.
“Alright! If the ladies are ready, the ducks are swimming! Remember, girls: A gun’s not a blow dryer, don’t go pointing them at yourselves now!” He called, the crowd laughing at his sexist joke. Madison hardly took note, she had one mission and one mission only – show that bitch up.
The two shouldered their rifles and took aim, the operator waved his arm to encourage the crowd.
“Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” The crowd chanted and the young women opened fire.
In a barrage of loud pops and clunks the battle between the two was being settled before an enthusiastic group of on-lookers that cheered as if gladiators were fighting to the death. The operator stood comically jumping between the two shooters, riling them up even more.
Things went quiet and the crowd silent as the score was being counted, the stand owner carefully inspected his ducks and turned around. Like a show master he built tension, looking from Maddy to Cynthia and back again. Suddenly he shot forward and grabbed Madison by the arm.
“We have a winner!” He called, the crowd cheered.
“You did it, Maddy!” Harrison applauded and gave her a hug.
“Bitch…” Cynthia whispered at her.
“Whore.” She mouthed back.
“How did you do that!?” Harrison asked impressed, wrapping an arm around her.
“I’m from North Dakota, my daddy took me duck hunting all the time.” She said proudly, squeezing herself tighter into the hollow of his arm, giving Cynthia a look.
“That is so cool! I never knew you could be so bad ass!” He said looking at her different from ever before.
“So… What ride are you guys going to now? …Maybe I can hop along?” Cynthia asked desperate to still hang around him. The defeated lion hoping to get some leftovers.
“Well what about the Crazy Fun House!?” The stand owner called, “Every mirror in its maze is said to have come from an 18th century state asylum. Maybe, if they’re willing, you’ll see in their reflection the madness they have witnessed.”
The story and stand owner’s dark, piercing look made goosebumps rise all across her skin.
“Or are you scared…?” The stand operator taunted her further.
“Yeah, you scared – Madison?” Cynthia jumped to the opportunity like a vulture.
“You’re not scared, are you Maddy?” Harrison added further to the pressure.
“Uhhh, I guess not?” She replied nervously.
“Well, lets go!” The stand owner called, waving a young employee over to take his spot.
“You’re coming with us?” Maddy asked unnerved, he grinned devilish.
“I’m always willing to make some time for the young folk… So they can learn how to appreciate the classic fair attractions. Besides she hasn’t been open in a while, I’ll be glad to be giving her something to do.”
“Wow! You’re opening it up just for us!? That’s awesome!” Said Harrison.
“You’re such a sweetheart! ” Cynthia said to him. Madison felt like scratching her eyes out.
The small group walked across the fair, everywhere stood crowds of people. Eating cotton candy, corn dogs, snow cones or winning prizes. Everywhere the squealing of teenage girls in wild rides flared up in the wind.
But as they walked across a small field, things gradually became darker and seemingly colder.
“So, about that insane asylum – is that really true?” Harrison asked the operator.
“It sure is… It’s one of the oldest fun houses in the nation. She’s all wood, which comes from the same institution.”
“Wow, how did that happen?”
“Oh, the asylum had been around for a long time. After many controversies she closed down and she was sold for scraps. A clever fair owner bought her and took what was useful. The rest of it weathered down, she’s a ruin now but in the years she was active a lot of things happened, sonny.”
The group remained quiet for a moment.
“…What kind of things?” Cynthia asked.
“Back in the day people weren’t too nice to people with mental issues. Whether they were handicapped or just plain crazy, they stuffed them away like animals. Abuse and suicide were all too common.”
“So that’s what they did that to people with mental issues! Lucky you didn’t live back then, huh – Maddy?” Cynthia said.
Countdown to cat fight.
The operator turned on a flash light under his face.
“You youngins wait here…” He said with a creepy smile.
“So excited!” Harrison said to Cynthia. Maddy rolled her eyes.
After a short waiting, the lights flicked on. It looked like a large stately house, colored lights began to flicker on and off. From afar people noticed and came walking.
The operator appeared in his booth, wearing a doctor’s coat.
“Next patient!” He called, the three approached.
“It looks like a real house!” Said Harrison.
“That’s because it was modeled after the warden’s house.” He replied. “Feels like home, doesn’t it?”
“How much for the ride?” Harrison asked as people starting forming a row. The operator smiled.
“For you three? Nothing…!”
Harrison and Cynthia cheered, Madison smiled painfully insincere.
“Ready, Maddy!?” Harisson said, pulling her in by the hand.
“Don’t let the fun drive you crazy!” Said the stand operator.
The wide front doors creaked as they swung open, the three stepped into the main hall. Three paths: Straight ahead into the hall of mirrors, into the basement or up-stairs. The lights flickered every few moments.
“I’m going up…” Harisson said and stepped onto the stairs, they wobbled left and right. “Woo! Careful girls! Wait till I’m at the top!” He called back.
Someone pulled on Maddy’s sleeve, spinning her around. Cynthia.
“Just so you know… This battle isn’t over…” She hissed.
“Bitch please, this shit was over before it started.” Maddy growled back and gave her a push into the basement. With a loud rattling Cynthia disappeared into the basement down a roller slide.
“…Bitch!” Her voice echoed from afar.
“That’s right you ska-!”
Suddenly the lights went dim, above her she heard stumbling and the noise of gongs.
“Shit, Harry!?” She hollered.
“Ow! Dammit! I’m fine!” He called back down, “Where are you!?”
“I’m still at the start!”
“Alright, well… Don’t try getting up those stairs in the dark, you might sprain your ankle!”
“Kay!” She said disappointed.
“You and Cyn take another path, I’ll see you outside… Hopefully!”
“Sure… Me and ‘Cyn’ will do that.”
“What!?” He called back, moving further away.
“Nothing! Good luck!” She said and looked around the darkness.
Going downstairs was not an option, as surely Cynthia would jump her. Harrison was right about the stairs, if she hurt herself the fun was over and so were her odds at him. Straight ahead was the only option, into the mirror hall where a dimly shining chandelier reflected a thousand times into the mirrors. A wind blew softly from its maze.
“Maddy….” She faintly heard in the wind, chilling her to the bone.
“Fuck that!” She cursed and tried to walk back out the front, but the doors wouldn’t budge.
Over and over in her head repeated the story of the asylum. For a moment she considered banging on the doors. But it would make her so seem uncool in front of him.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” She stomped her foot on the ground and stared into the mirror hall. “You can do this, Maddy! You’re a bad ass!”
Slowly she approached the mirror hall and took a deep breath. One step at a time she shuffled into the seemingly endless maze. Around her she reflected so many times it was impossible to count. The chandelier seemed almost like a universe of small stars.
“See… You’re doing it. You bad ass mofo…”
A cool wind glided passed her, “Maddy…”
Her knees turned to jelly.
“Oh God! Oh God!” She cried softly and spun around.
After just ten steps she could no longer tell where she had come in.
“Okay! Stop!” She said to herself, “You’re making yourself believe shit because of some troll at a duck shooting stand! Chill the fuck out and get your act together.”
She closed her eyes to concentrate on her breathing – happy thoughts.
“Puppies. Dogs. Wolves. People being eaten. Cannibals. Cannibals locked up in an insane asylum… Shit!” She opened her eyes. It was calm and quiet around.
“See… Nothing to worry about.” She said looking in all directions trying to orientate herself.
As she turned around fully, what seemed like a person stepped out of view around one of the mirrors. She let go of a short, muffled shriek.
“Harry!?” She called – no answer. “Better not be that bitch…”
She backed up, looking around suspiciously for any movement, sound or vibration. A growing ominous feeling of someone, or something, watching her.
With baby steps she moved further down into the mirror maze, her hands out in front, the wooden paneling smelled like old books. Musty. The floor boards creaked with every step.
Dust particles passed her as if in a dance to unheard music. Followed by a breeze that appeared to be endlessly traveling through.
As she turned another corner, the most peculiar noise came to her, coming and going in surges. She listened for it to come back again.
Carried by the ever wandering breeze it was there once again, more clear and obvious. Every muscle, even her heart, cramped in fear. A woman, young of voice, weeping quietly.
“Hello!?” She called out, her voice breaking in angst.
The sound stopped, just long enough for her to gather the courage to walk closer. Again the wind swept by and brought back the sound, this time closer and with soft weeping. A sudden guilt fell over her.
“Cynthia? Is that you?”
It sounded so familiar, as if she’d heard it before. Then again everyone had heard Cynthia cry at one point or another, always a drama ready to be acted out.
“Cyn…” Using her abbreviation made her sick inside, “If that’s you – I’m so sorry I pushed you… I shouldn’t have done that. You didn’t hurt yourself did you?”
The crying continued, no longer fading, a constant nearby. She could find her now, all she had to do was walk over.
“Are you okay? Do you want to walk out of here together? Harrison’s upstairs. Okay? Cyn?”
Through the glass paneling she could see into the next row, there sat someone, a young woman in modern clothes. It had to be her and Maddy sighed with relief.
She turned the corner and froze. All fearlessness she had ever ascribed to herself dissipated into a gut wrenching agony. She recognized her, it wasn’t Cynthia, it was she herself. Her reflection sat weeping in the mirror. Terror paralyzed her as the reflection slowly looked up.
“Nobody likes you!” Her own reflection shrieked at her, the deafening screech echoed through the dim maze.
“Oh… Oh God…” Madison whimpered, tears rolling down her face. “What are you?”
“Everybody hates you!” Her doppelganger growled and pressed up against the inside of the mirror. “Look at you! You’re pathetic! Every other day you switch personalities! You ruin my life! Your life! You schizo! Why don’t you just kill yourself!?” She screamed before breaking out into tears again.
Maddy screamed and began running as fast as she could, bumping into mirror walls all around. Her heart pounding with the power of a church bell, adrenaline burning through her system like rocket fuel.
One turn, then another. Across the straight path, dead end. Everywhere the maze seemed to be but never where she expected. At least the crying had faded.
She collapsed on the floor and rolled up into a ball, crying uncontrollable. Perhaps Cynthia had been right, maybe she was crazy. Seeing things, hearing things, feeling things.
The wind swept by again, within a fraction of a second she sat up straight, it seemed a messenger of sinister things.
“…Maddy.” It echoed in the wind again. She ground her teeth and clenched her fists together.
“Leave me alone!” She screamed.
“But I like you…” It said in sweet, gentle tone behind her.
Maddy turned slowly, another reflection. The same though different, green eye sparkling.
“No, please! Just leave me alone!” She said “I just want to go!”
“Why? It’s so much fun in here…” Her reflection replied, pressing its hand up against the glass as if trying to reach out for her. “I like that; Fun.”
Maddy screamed as hard as she could but it seemed her shrieks were swept away by the wind that still blew around.
“You should have more fun.” The reflection said, “Why didn’t you fuck Harrison yet? You know you want to.”
“Are you scared to fuck him? I’ll fuck him for you! Take me out of here so I can have fun, Maddy…”
“Get the hell away from me!” She yelled smashing her phone into the mirror.
As it broke into pieces a horrible wail echoed through the halls and the reflection darted away as if in pain.
Madison jumped to her feet and hurried off again, corner after corner she turned, just to get away. Around her flashed the silhouettes, the reflections of her, in every mirror. As she sped on another reflection doomed up in the mirror in front of her.
“Look at that anger!” It called enthusiastic. “Did it feel good breaking that mirror?!”
“I’m sorry! Please! Just let me go!”
“Why didn’t you kill Cynthia?! You should’ve killed her, that bitch!” Said her alter ego.
“No! I’m not listening to you!”
“That’s because you’re scared… Scared of your own evil. Afraid to see who you are.”
“I know who I am! And I am not you!” Maddy yelled and spit at the mirror.
“Coward! You’re a coward, Madison! A weak coward!” It said with evil eyes.
“Fuck you!” Maddy yelled and with all her strength pulled the mirror off the wall.
With a loud crash it shattered into a thousand pieces as it hit the ground.
“Eat that, you bitch!” She cursed as another wail echoed through the halls.
The wind swept by once more and she fled again, aware of how it worked now.
The boards underneath her feet moaned as she ran as fast as possible, determined not to give up.
“Maddy. Maddy, please.” Another voice said. “Are you sure this is the right to do?”
“What the fuck are you talking about!?” She called as she spun around till the reflection approached her in a mirror to her side.
“Don’t you see? You belong here, Madison. Right here, in the asylum. You were meant to be here. There’s no way out, can’t you see?” Her double insisted. “We’re all here. And we’re all you.”
A story up above she heard the shuffling of feet, Harrison.
“Maddy!” He called out, “I’m here!” His voice echoed as if from another world.
“Don’t listen to him, Maddy…” The reflection said, to her side joined a hundred more. speaking in perfect unison “…Stay here with us, Maddy. Be complete. Be you.”
“Maddy, I’m coming!” She could hear Harrison call.
“Stay here, Madison. We’ll do the living for you.”
“Never!” She yelled and looked around, vaguely in the distance she could see what appeared to be a dimly lit Exit-sign, just behind the mirrors and reflective glass.
“No, Maddy!” The reflections called.
With all the energy left in her she ran towards it, bracing herself. As she passed mirror after mirror, the doppelgangers appeared.
“No, don’t do it, please!” Her depressed alter-ego begged. “Don’t leave me here!”
“You bitch! You filthy bitch, you think you can escape!? We’ll always be with you! We will never let you go!” Said her angry double.
“Maddy, it’s only for the best if you stay here. Think of the damage you might do.” One of her reflections tried to reason with her. Closer and closer came the mirror wall.
“I just want to have fun! Be happy! I just want to live! Take me out there!” Another called popping up inside of the mirror right in front of her.
Maddy closed her eyes and shielded her face. She jumped and threw her full weight in.
With the loudest crash and screaming of a thousand souls the mirror exploded into countless pieces. It followed by the noise of a roller slide, the old wooden wheels turning at top speed.
“What the fuck!?” A young female voice called startled.
A harsh bump on her head, doors flying open. Impact on grass. Everything turning, blacking out.
“Jesus! Maddy! It’s me! I’m here!” Harrison’s voice called, he held her. “Cynthia, call 911!”
“Relax, Harry… She’s just being a drama queen.” She replied. “She’s fine, it’s just some cuts! God!”
“Shut up! You’re just jealous because I love her!”
Everything was peaceful, people gathered around in chaos. One man said he was a doctor, assessing she might have a concussion and called for an ambulance.
After a restless night of sleep, she had woken up, in the hospital. Her bed strewn with ‘Get better’-cards. Puppies, flowers, monkeys and internet Meme-inspired pictures welcomed her.
“Hey.” Harrison smiled and brushed a few strains of hair away from her face
“Hi…” She said with dry throat, “I’m so happy to see you.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Is this real? Am I really out of there?”
“Yep. No more creepy fun house for you…” He assured. “You kept talking in your sleep and everything. ‘No! No! Don’t get me!’ and ‘They want to take over my life!’” He chuckled.
“Incredible. I feel so amazing. Can we leave?”
“Leave!? Wow! You’re in a hurry, huh!?” He gave her a kiss on the forehead. “I guess since you’re so full of life, I suppose it must be left eye day, huh?”
“Green eye day… Yeah.” She insisted, looking through all the cards. One was from Cynthia, an apology.
“Oh, right.” He said as he pulled back and looked into her eyes. His face changed suddenly, his hand trembling. “So uhhh, do you want to see yourself?” His voice shivered.
“I guess!” She replied, smiling from ear to ear, hugging the card Cynthia had sent.
Harrison reached for a small mirror on the bedside table. Carefully he placed himself behind her, looking into the reflection together and turned pale.
Maddy looked at herself and smiled. Harrison dropped the mirror onto her lap and backed out of the room.
Her eyes had switched positions. Left eye brown, right eye green. She turned to him with sinister grin
“…I’m just so happy to be alive.”
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