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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Love Consumes Us
Love was a game of chance, and like any game, you got more than one turn. But someone always loses.
The leering clown face across the stand dared me to throw my last dart, and I rose to the challenge. I always did. And something else I always did was miss.
“One more try, buddy! Three bucks and the prize can be yours! Look at her, she wants it,” the grungy carnie said, winking at Sabrina.
“Not this time, thanks,” she said, winking back at him, but with no hint of a smile. She grabbed my arm and we turned away, the smell of fried dough wafting over us with every move, blending with the peach scent of her shampoo. Things that didn’t fit together. I prayed that I would never say that about us, and knew I would.
“I cannot believe I lost at every single game I played,” I said, shaking my head. Sabrina squeezed my arm, ever soothing me, and blinked her big baby blues at me. She was a beauty the devil himself couldn’t have created. I’d seen Hell enough to know.
The glaring lights were too bright, caricatures of happy, the colors of the cardboard cutouts and cheap stuffed animals louder than the deafening music from the rides meant to mask the screams. It felt like my mind here.
“Let’s do something there’s no win or lose at.”
And the Tunnel of Love loomed ahead of us.
I didn’t think they even made those things anymore. I hadn’t seen one at one of these fairs—well, my whole life. It was something you’d only see in a fifties movie, or some old black and white photo. And like anything classy, none of the loudmouth teenagers that frequented the fair were anywhere near it. The shadows around the Tunnel of Love were empty.
I wrapped my arms around her and headed towards the dark entryway.
The tunnel seemed even more like it was dropped out of another time as we got closer to it. Two giant cutout swans with chipping white paint formed a heart with their great necks, creating a doorway into the darkness where love was supposed to flourish. If not for the dark that invited one like me in, I would have seen the marred paint and carved in hearts with random initials on the pristine white of their feathers to be a bad sign, of something lost and something ruined.
I should have looked deeper.
But the dark inside me was always there, looking for a way out. It found its way out with my last wife, but it had to stay hidden with Sabrina. It was a hole in me that always needed filling, a feeling that nothing would ever really belong to me unless I took it in the most final way I could.
Sabrina reveled in the kitschy falseness of this romantic ride, wide eyes reflecting the stars and neon. The bounce in her step was amplified, the smile on her face childlike. I envied her and wanted to own her in a way I hadn’t before.
The impending dark would have made anyone nervous, normally, but for me it was a welcome lack of sight. It smelled like must and cotton candy and the sound of rippling water could be heard, but not quite seen.
“I can’t see a thing,” Sabrina whispered.
As if the tunnel heard her, soft pink lights glowed to life above us, casting rosy shadows on the white walls, meeting the dancing reflections of the water. Green plastic vines wove up, down and around, and real water lilies floated in the manmade river. An enormous swan boat waited, empty, for us to climb in.
“This is so romantic!” Sabrina gasped, clutching me closer. Any trepidations I had were demolished with her easy way and the deadening of the throbbing lights and warbling carnival music. I smiled from the inside out. The dark became light. My dark became light.
“Come on!” she said, and pulled me forward. We were like teenagers again, but this time, maybe I had a chance.
The boat rocked back and forth as we got in, threatening to spill us into the sloshing water below. Red roses were painted on the floor, and tiny bottles of champagne were chilled in a heart shaped bucket.
“Classy,” I said.
Sabrina popped one open and handed it to me with a big grin. She questioned nothing; I questioned everything.
“Cheers!” she said, toasting me, and drinking long and deep. I watched her, then drank my own. I was consumed by her.
The boat moved forward, the babbling river the only noise aside from the whirring of the track hidden underneath. It was close and dark, damp, and warm. Blatantly sexual with a backdrop of sweetheart fluff.
“Sabrina, I love you.” I needed to keep her. Better than my wife. My fist clenched.
“I know you do, Chase. I love you, too.” Her voice had deepened. She felt this place, too.
We could still hear the screams from outside.
“It’s been only a few months—“
“Six,” she said through a smile.
“Six months. But Sabrina, you do something to me that makes me feel like the man I want to be. Only sometimes, though. And if you were with me all the time, if I woke up to you, and went to sleep to you, heard you in the next room when I went dark, maybe I could be that man all the time.”
“Chase,” she breathed, nuzzling her nose into my neck. My blood ran fire hot. “You’re the man I want already. Don’t let me take that away. I don’t want you to be someone else.”
“I am absolutely drowning in need for you, Sabrina.”
“Oh, Chase,” she moaned, running her fingers through my hair. “Don’t lose yourself because of me. I couldn’t live with it.”
“My life has been a hall of mirrors, and nothing is ever what it’s supposed to be. This is. What we have is. I want to be the right reflection for you.”
A flicker of a smile across her face, and I knew there was no way I could survive in her light. The knife in my pocket weighed against the tiny black box. A thing to end and a thing to begin.
Champagne flavored kisses urged our hands to wander, intoxicated with each other. The swan boat glided along in the water as we felt for every inch of each other, hoping the ride would never end.
But this was a place built on games, and the Tunnel of Love was one you could place bets on.
From behind closed eyes and a flood of passionate kisses, my lips barely leaving hers, I gasped, “Sabrina, marry me. Be my wife. My hunger for you will never stop.”
“Oh, Chase, yes,” she whispered into my ear, clutching me closer, as if her light would burn out if she didn’t. “I want this to never end.”
We held each other and watched the pink lights twinkle under the greenish water. It was so easy to believe in forever there, so easy to want it in that oasis from the hot, bright, loud world outside full of things behind masks.
For once, it was easy to think that my own dark wouldn’t finish me.
“We’ve been in here a really long time,” Sabrina said, her stomach suddenly growling loud enough for me to hear.
“Are you getting tired of me already?”
Her stomach growled.
“Never. But it just seems—“
The track underneath us started to groan, like it was tired of moving. It sounded like the rides outside that were ready to collapse with overuse. The lights around us flickered, but instead of growing dimmer, they brightened more and more each second. The pinks became burning cherry reds, the white a dirty yellow of an old light bulb, greens bordering a neon vomit. The vines reached down from the walls, up from below, and threatened to consume us like love itself.
“Chase? What’s happening?”
The quiet lapping of the water was overcome by the same carnival music as outside that seeped in like an ooze of underfoot ice cream, saturating the air and the breaths between us. It got louder and louder as the lights glared harder and harder.
I could see nothing as we turned another endless corner, but for a sign overhead, dangling awkwardly, squeaking louder than the warbling music. Grimy white, with cracked black lettering that I could read as clear as day:
TILL DEATH DO US PART.
And the light that I wished so hard to become mine, to take away the black things I had done and was, became my enemy. Top-of-the-rollercoaster fear sunk in my stomach and I looked at Sabrina; the brightest light of all.
The squeaking of the sign screamed in my ears, drowning out my own screams as my eyes adjusted and took her in through the blinding light. Her light pink eyeshadow that made me think of cotton candy had become a violent fuschia, her lips a shade of blood red that I only saw in nightmares, her shimmery cheeks now a smeared, hideous paint. And she held the knife—my knife—to her brilliant face, and sliced as she stared at me.
The tunnel walls shuddered and shook,the pink lights now as red as meat and the warmth now a sickening heat. Like we were in the mouth of a monster.
I screamed and screamed but couldn’t move, as I watched her slice clean strips off her cheeks, and put them slowly in her mouth, her lips forming the words “so hungry.” I wished as hard as I could that I could have the darkness claim my end, like I always thought it would. What was glaring at us from the light was so much harder to face.
The tunnel would consume us, and death would never part us.
Julie’s debut novel, Running Home, an Urban Fantasy giving you vampires with a Japanese mythology twist will be published by Books of the Dead Press July 22nd, 2013. In the meantime, the Muscle and Wildcard of the Undead Duo is working on the sequel, Running Away, and a new and fun freakshow called The Harpy. Fear not, the Egyptian sex god, The Animal, patiently awaits a second draft. Julie revels in all things Buffy, has a sick need for exotic reptiles, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie’s a black belt with an almost inappropriate love for martial arts. And pizza. And Rob Zombie. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband and two magnificent boys.
How to connect with Julie:
You can email Julie at undeadduo (at) hotmail (dot) com or follow her on Twitter.
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