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 Pendour Cove Siren
My throat burned and bones ached. As I tried to reach the surface I felt my limbs go weak by the second. The sounds around me were muffled as the pressure in my ears built cracking my skull. My legs and arms started to slow, I could no longer control them, as I opened my eyes I saw the faint glow, but it wasn’t coming from the surface, it was out in the deep darkness of the lake. The light danced before me as it grew bigger and brighter. And then I was floating, moving upwards faster and faster, my heart beat hard in my chest I was going too fast, panic grabbed me and I opened my mouth; water trickled down my throat filling my lungs. My ears stung and the numbness gave way to a familiar sound…
“Wake up, wake up.”
I opened my eyes grabbing my chest coughing through the burning pain and breathed in air. My lungs tightened, chest rising and falling with each new breath. I hadn’t dreamt of the lake in a long time. My brother jumped on my bed rocking me out of slumber.
“Wake up, wake up.”
“I’m up.” The croaky voice in my throat managed.
The unmistakable sound of the travelling carnival rolling into town yesterday had my little brother giddy before six this morning. He hummed the tune wherever he went through the house, watching TV, playing with the puppy, even whilst he was cleaning his teeth. I was exhausted from my late night shift at Haley’s bar and all I wanted to do was sleep.
“Pancakes,” he said jumping on my bed.
I cringed and stayed under the covers keeping as still as can be hoping that he would just leave. The bed started to bounce and his legs connected with my own on top of the duvet.
“Pancakes and syrup and butter. Pancakes and syrup and butter,” he chimed over and over again. Well, at least it wasn’t that god-awfulcarni tune.
I pulled the covers back and looked into the wide eyes of my sibling. His toothless grin, unkempt hair and gormless expression used to annoy me, but since our parents left for their charity work in Cambodia we had grown closer. I was his mother and his father now, and he depended on me. My ratty big sister days were long gone; I prayed the eight months would be up soon.
“I’m up,” I said with a long yawn.
He jumped from my bed and ran down the hall.
There are days in your life that you hope would just fly by, this was one of them. Succumbing to his incessant pleas to take him to the carnival tonight was going to make it a very very long night. I even tried to drag out household chores, just to put it off as long as I could, but there was no escaping my doom.
As we passed the ticket seller I wondered how long it would take to get around the rides, hoping that he was too short to go on most. It seems carni rules were a little different… anything goes. It was relaxing in a way, their carefree attitude, live life for the now, no responsibilities. No responsibilities. I wish. I looked down to my brother chomping on his candyfloss, his eyes sparkling under the fairy lights around the cart, as he took in his surroundings with an awe I wished I could recall.
“Get you anything Miss?” asked the lady behind the stall.
The candyfloss did look rather enticing, but both of us with a sugar overload simply a recipe for disaster. I respectfully declined.
We walked amongst the flurry of activity along the stands; the mix of music, chatter, chimes and laughter was overwhelming. The booming sound of a bell rang out to our right, children cheered as the strong man let them hang from his biceps, his enormous frame was freakishly out of proportion for any human I had ever seen. I grabbed Peter before he could run and join in with them.
“Lets see the rides first, then you can come back,” I said with only the slightest hint of dread. It was an empty promise, but he didn’t have to know.
He pouted at first and stomped his foot, one look but from me, and his head lowered, I’d mastered the ‘give me shit and we’re going home’ look rather well lately. It avoided the pleasantries of screaming and shouting.
The enormous big top tent filled most of the field, yellow and red stripes reaching to the stars lit with roving floodlights. I could hear the sounds of clowns inside, and promised myself that was one tent to avoid at all costs, so I made a detour hoping he hadn’t noticed as he happily chomped away on his candyfloss.
“Tell your future Miss?”
His closeness made me jump, but when I looked at him, my heart started to calm. He wore an oversized tall black hat, long white dress coat and pocket watch tucked by his waist. He smiled flashing straight white teeth, and my eyes fixed on his plump lips.
“Go on sis,” Peter said elbowing me in my side.
The fortuneteller held my hand and try as I might to protest, I found myself walking into his cosy tent, but when I saw the crystal ball and tarot on the table I stopped.
His arm slid to my shoulder. “What are you afraid of?” He purred.
My legs stopped moving as though I had hit an invisible force field and my heart started to beat a little faster. He turned to me and smiled and I felt myself waiver.
“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I stammered.
I turned to leave; as we reached the opening to his tent the fortuneteller grabbed my arm in a firm grip. His face close to mine, eyes as black as night.
“Beware the light,” he whispered.
Peter pulled me away and we continued our tour of the carnival.
The large illuminated sign above the red tent flashed Freak Show, one of the bulbs was out and buzzed above our heads as it tried to repower. Pulling the entrance to one side we joined the gathering of people pointing and laughing. A young girl with long blonde hair, seashells covering her modesty and false fish tail bobbed up and down in the rectangle tank. She was perched on a false rock with seaweed and plastic crabs and lobsters at her feet. I smiled to myself and wondered why I should be disappointed. These were carni folk, what you see wasn’t what you get, it was all smoke and mirrors, scams and tricks and I needed to keep my wits about me. Peter pointed to the lady propping herself on the edge of the tank.
“Look, her boobs are huge, bigger than yours.”
I shouldn’t have expected anything less from my little brother, probably the first time he had seen a buxom bosom in the flesh.
“Yeah, well mine are all homegrown.” I muttered.
He looked up at me with a frown and curl of lip. “What does that mean?”
I shook my head. “Never mind.”
The crowd moved on.
Standing looking at the tank reminded me of my dream and my throat began to tighten.
“Dolan, can I have my break now,” the young girl shouted to the small man I hadn’t noticed lingering in the corner.
Peter began to pull me backwards towards the exit, I turned to see the man pull the curtain around the tank, and he looked at me with a grimace and licked his lips. A shiver ran through me.
My little brother had pulled me around most of the stalls, insisting on going on everything and when we’d circled the big top for the tenth time he stopped and looked at me.
“Can we go in here now?”
I looked through a gap in the tent and saw the clowns riding bikes and trapeze artists flying above their heads. I shuddered.
“Do you really want to?”
The look he gave me was pitiful, I guess I should do my duty and let him have his way, just this once.
“Pete, you didn’t say you were coming.” The little girl said running towards us. I recall seeing her at the school gates when I’ve picked Peter up, and assumed she was one of his classmates. Her family walking slowly behind her gave me a nod and we exchanged sympathetic looks to one another. It was the ‘you got roped into this too’ look.
“Can we go in Jo? Pleeeeeeeease,” he said looking at me with wide grin.
“He can come with us if you like.” The tall man said patting my brother on the head. “Violet was hoping to see Peter anyway.”
He smiled at his daughter. “Get yourselves a toffee apple and sit there at the front, we’ll be there in a tick.”
I breathed a sigh of relief masked by brushing hair from my face. “Really? You don’t have to.”
“Nonsense.” When the children had run to their seats he leaned towards me. “Besides, no point in us all suffering.”
I watched them filter into the tent and shouted. “I’ll be out here.”
A lot of people came and went, the chatter now a low hum in the back of my head and I found myself staring down at the floor letting my mind wander.I was surprised at how many of our neighbours were here tonight, and didn’t realise how popular the carnival was. Or maybe that’s because nothing actually happens in Zennor.
A clattering noise came from my right and I turned to see the commotion. The small man that I saw in the freak show tent rolled out across the floor. The fortuneteller stood above him and shouted something in a tongue I had never heard before. The small man cowered and whimpered, and eventually got to his knees bowing down before him. I stood to get a better look and then I locked eyes with the fortuneteller. His scowl slowly released and his lips turned into a smile as he tilted his hat. The small man grabbed his legs and pleaded with him, the fortuneteller patted the man on the head and told him to leave. It was purely for my benefit, that much I could tell, whatever had happened, he wasn’t going to get off lightly. The fortuneteller walked away and disappeared behind a group of giddy teenagers.
Curiosity getting the better of me I walked towards the freakshow tent. The lights had been switched off and no one was inside, the red curtain still in place. I thought of that poor girl and whether she had fallen victim to something or another, I just had to check if she was still inside. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being trapped in there all night unable to move. Pulling the curtain to one side I was shocked that the tank was no longer there. Walking down to the bald piece of grass I stood looking down at the flattened blades wondering how on earth they could have shifted it. A chime sounded from the other side of the curtain to my left, which I assumed, must be the changing area for the young girl who was playing mermaid. I stepped around the curtain and sucked in my breath. A tall cylindrical tank illuminated by blue light stood on a metal plinth in the centre, but I could tell there was something inside by the dark shape. I stepped closer for a better look. There appeared to be some sort of materials bobbing about inside, maybe seaweed, the sweet smell of the sea wafted towards me, but there was another smell underneath, something sweet.
My nose was almost touching the glass, and I could feel the coldness coming from inside, as I slowly walked around the tank looking at the various coloursthere was a splash and the material inside slightly bobbed from side to side.I stopped and moved closer; two bright luminescent pink eyes were staring back at me. Shrieking with fright I fell backwards and lay on the grass looking up at the tank. Two webbed hands touched the glass; a grinding squeaking noise filled my ears as they slid down the length. I watched on in amazement as she pulled herself upwards, dark hair flowed around the tank seeming to consume most of the space, around her face and shoulders, pale tight muscular skin reflected in the light, a stark contrast to her tail which was tattered and dull, the scales were cracked and some missing.
A soft humming noise came from inside the tank; the glass started to vibrate and the metal plinth it rested upon rattle, the ground beneath me shook and then it stopped. I looked at her looking at me tilting her head from side to side examining my human form. Her eyelids closed vertically, or was it a second eyelid, I couldn’t tell. Standing I took in her expressionless features hard and unfeeling. The closer I got to the tank, the brighter the light inside glowed. She placed her webbed hand to the glass and opened her mouth. Looking at the palm I pressed mine to hers, the buzzing sound in my head cut all sound from outside the tent and now I could concentrate on my other senses. The smell of fresh sea air, salty seaweed and earth encased me we were connected. My palm became warm and now it was burning, I tried to pull away but I couldn’t move she let out a shriek that pierced my ears, blood trickled down my lobes and then the images of the lake came back to me.
Darkness. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or unconscious or in a coma. But the sound of muffled voices became clearer as they reached out to me from the depth of my slumber. I was cold, and frightened and didn’t know where my little brother was. The familiar sound of a chime and then a bell, laughter and that bloody tune Peter was humming earlier. I was still at the carnival, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see anything.
I shouted as loudly as I could that my voice became raw and I began to sob. Then the light began to fill out before me. Faces were blurry I couldn’t make them out very well, but it was their expressions that worried me. Children ran behind their mothers for protection and men stepped closer, their mouths agape. Closing and opening my eyes I tried to get a better look, but it was as though I was looking out through murky glass. And then it hit me, it wasn’t murky, I was looking through water through glass. I opened my webbed hands, the translucent skin between my fingers like rice paper, and my long nails sharp as knives and my tail danced a rainbow of colours under the blue light.
A figure in white walked between the crowd and towards the tank. Now that he was closer I could recognise the fortuneteller. He seemed sad as he looked down at my frame, then he leaned forward and whispered softly to me. “Beware the light.”
With a passion for wildlife and the paranormal, it is not surprising that Ruth immersed herself combining both worlds. Since an early age she has studied the ancient world mythology engaging in research and personal experiences along the way. With 9 cats, 1 wolf and a vivid imagination, there is much to explore in her writing.
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