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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A Seat for Every Soul Illustration
A Seat for Every Soul
It’s not every day you get asked to hide a pair of bolt cutters in your pants. Bryan looked at me with his pleading baby blues, and I couldn’t say no. That was the problem with Bryan and me. I could never say no.
“Hey Tatum, steal that pack of gum for me. I’ll need minty fresh breath when we make out later.” Or even better, “Tatum, honey, it’s okay, your mom won’t notice the twenty missing from her wallet. I’ll pay her back later.”
I wished I could say no to him. I’d tried several times, but when he slid his muscled arms around my full waist, and pulled me tight against his chest, that one tiny word flew right out of my head. I mean what other boy who looked like an Abercrombie model would date me? I wasn’t like the other toothpick girls at school with legs that went on for miles and hair that had perfect “beachy” waves. I’d always been thick like my mom, and no amount of dieting or exercising had changed that.
“Psst, Tatum, let’s go,” Bryan called.
I took his callused hand in mine and snuck around the outer gate of the fairgrounds. We weren’t supposed to be here. Rumors said a couple was murdered behind one of the exposition tents last month. Police surrounded the place for weeks and found nothing. Murmurs around town said security had to haul away four people who claimed to be possessed after spending time in the funhouse.
It was all total crap.
The truth was the owners went bankrupt and took off in the middle of the night leaving everything behind: tents, games, even the rides. The site was abandoned, and the city still didn’t know what to do with it.
Randy and Marie, Bryan’s friends since childhood scooted along behind us. They would stop every few steps to swallow each other’s faces before realizing we were too far ahead and scrambled to catch up.
“Won’t we get in trouble if we get caught?” Marie squeaked. She was so small I swore her jeans were a children’ssize 12,and her voice was one octave higher than Tinkerbell’s.
Randy snatched her by the belt loop and dragged her toward him. “Don’t worry, babe. I won’t let the cops take you.” He bent down to snuggle her neck, and I tried not to vomit.
We walked along the fence, and I stared into thedark looking for security guards or dogs with sharp teeth. Bryan claimed the guy at the liquor store told him the city was too cheap to pay for security, so they just chained and locked the gates. I didn’t believe him until now. The only things in the shadows were old napkins and cups that rolled around every time the wind blew in our direction.
“Down here,” Bryan whispered, motioning to the far end of the fence. He grasped a wide steel padlock and yanked on it several times. “Just what I thought.” An impish grin danced across his face.”Bolt cutters.” His voice was serious like a doctor asking for a scalpel. He even laid out his palm flat, expecting me to smack the heavy tool into his hand.
I edged past him and pulled the tool from the back of my pants. He growled in my ear and I pushed him back before cutting the lock.
I had to show him I wasn’t afraid. That I was the fearless girl he wanted, even though my heart was threatening to pole vault out of my throat. If I didn’t do this it was back to the Mathletes table. I couldn’t go back there.Homeschooling would be better than returning to that circle of hell.I’d climbedthe social ladder, and there was no way I was getting kickedback down.
With trembling hands, I pulled at the lock until it slid out of place. Bryan grabbed my shoulders and spun me around, my dark ponytail swinging behind me. His soft lips smashed against mine, and before I could relax into the warmth, his tongue became a fish out of water, flailing everywhere inside my mouth. Not exactly the passionate kiss I was expecting, but I’d take what I could get.
My hands reached for the back of his head, but he pulled away and whispered, “Doesn’t it feel good to be bad?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer before he pushed me aside and kicked open the gate. Marie squealed and clapped her hands like one of those annoying monkey dolls with cymbals, as Randy watched the broken lock swing with vacant stoner eyes.
We crept behind abandoned trucksthat loaded in games and heavy equipment for all the rides. Once we passed the ticket booths, we snuck past the corrals where all the 4-H kids once housed pets that would be bacon and hamburgers before the year ended. Just past the last bank of buildings,the fairground opened up into our own personal playground.
Marie and Randy disappeared into the dark on a desperate hunt for food, whispering something about “munchies.” I tried to pull Bryan in the direction of The Swings, but he dodged in between several buildings yelling something about finding a bathroom.
“Hey!” I shouted. Don’t leave me.”
“I’ll be right back,” he called.
The night stayed quiet as I roamed the grounds. Ticket booths stood like dark sentries, protecting the rides behind them. In the distance a long metal building,resemblinga two story doublewide trailer, loomed in the night. Splashes of red and black covered the side and neon-colored fangs reflected in the moonlight.I walked along the edges, examining the rough lines of the artwork. The small sliver of moon overhead disappeared in and out of the growing banks of clouds.
“It’s the funhouse,” Bryan said in a rough whisper behind me.
His sudden appearance made me jump. “Dammit, don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Oooh, you’re not afraid are you, Tatum?” He teased, knowing the rumors as well as I did.
“No,” I snapped. Really I was terrified, but I wasn’t going to tell him. I glanced at my watch. “It’s just my curfew’s at one.”
His mouth tightened, and he rolled his ocean-colored eyes. “Don’t be such a buzzkill.”He walked inside the funhouse. I hesitated and looked at my watch again. “Tatum,” he called from inside. “You coming?”
I pushed everything out of my mind except the thought of him kissing me again and went in.
The steel walkway squeaked beneath my feet. I turned right into the bottom level of the funhouse and darkness swallowed me. With each step it felt like the building came alive, groaning and swaying like a pissed off giant being woken from a deep sleep. A dull hum signaled motion lights. The walls began to glow and I sucked in a breath. Monsters of every shape and size came alive within the small space. An outline of a vampire glared at me beneath a coal black cape. The Wolfman’s claws were outlined in yellow. Glowing blood dripped off of an abstract drawing of Freddy Krueger’s leathery face and sharp blade-like fingers.
I swallowed down the knot in my throat as Bryan’s laugh filled the tight space. “It’s just black light glowing off neon paint. God, do you need to medicate or something?” I reached out to the wall and steadied myself. Something tacky stuck to my hands.
“Crap!” I screamed.
“What the hell, Tatum! What’s wrong with you?”
“There’s something sticky on the walls,” I said a little more quietly.I tried to imagine every gross thing it could be and finally stopped when my stomach started to flip-flop.
“I’m sure it’s only remnants from candy apples or cotton candy. You know how many kids probably come through here?” Bryan snickered.
He was probably right. I wiped my hands along my jeans and followed behind his dim outline. When we reached what felt like the end of the hall, I squinted into the shadows as the outline of a staircase emerged.
“Let’s go up,” Bryan said and started to climb.
My tennis shoes stuck to each step, and when I was almost to the second floor, a scream rattled through the building. I scrambled up the final steps and bumped into Bryan’s back.
“What was that?” I asked in a choked voice.
He shook his head and chuckled. “The motions sensors must have started the background music. That’s all. Can’t have a funhouse without spooky sounds.”Heat surged toward me as he pushed me back against the wall. His hungry mouth found mine, and it was only a few seconds before his tongue found the edges of my lips. This time hewas warm and gentle and my insides ached for him.His tight body pressed against mine, and every part of him urged me harder against the wall. He reached beneath my shirt and ran his hand down my back. His fingers traced the line of my spine and slid down until they danced along the waistband of my pants. A moan left my mouth, and I was grateful I’d put on the lace underwear that always sat at the back of my drawer.
My breaths came in stutters. Maybe this would be the night I’d finally join the ranks of the non-virgin club. I fumbled with the button on his jeans. He cursed under his breath and pulled back.
“What?” I searched his eyes, wondering if I’d done something wrong.
“I gotta piss again,” he growled and untangled his hands from my pants.
“Don’t leave me here,” I pleaded. A mass of ominous bats danced along one wall, glittering silver paint illuminating their wings. Next to them a life-sized image of Frankenstein glowed in the dark. His beady eyes stared through me.
Another scream shook the walls.This time it was deeper and more panicked. I clutched the edge of Bryan’s black t-shirt. “I’m coming with you.”
“Stay here. Like I said, it’s just a horror soundtrack.”
I shook my head and he pushed me back against the wall, pressing a kiss to my lips that lit a fire inside me. “Stay put, and when I come back we’ll really get down to business.” His motorcycle boots pounded against the steel floor. The echoes grew quieter until it was only me and the silence, and well, the creepy caricature of the guy from the Saw movies.
The bats continued to glitter in the light. I smoothed my finger along the paint. When I pulled my hand away, sparkling remnants stayed against my skin. My red skin. I blinked and looked at my hands again. They were still sticky and covered in a purplish-red sheen. Acid rose in my throat. Maybe it was paint? Or the sticky coating from a candy apple? Every rational explanation spun through my head, but I kept coming back to one — blood.
“Shit! Shit! I rubbed my hands up and down my pant legs, trying to get rid of the red tint. My head went light and I regretted the last shot of Tequila I’d swallowed an hour ago.
I ran toward the exit,my racing heart keeping time with my footsteps. At the end of the walkway, I scrambled down a rickety flight of stairs. My hands scoured the walls for a door. I bit my lip, praying there wouldn’t be any more blood.
When I found a handle, I pushed my way outside.My mouth opened wide as I gulped in cold, clean air. Fog coated the night sky leaving a thin mist on top of all the buildings. I ran across the asphalt and dirt, frantically searching for where Bryan may have gone to pee. I took two steps past the Tilt-A-Whirl when another agonizing scream tore through the night.
That was not a funhouse soundtrack.
A shot of ice pushed through my veins. I skidded to a stop and spun in a circle, looking for Bryan. There was nothing around but ominous buildings, looking like monsters crawling out of the shadows. I had to find Bryan. He’d keep me safe.
I ran in the direction of the sound. Each time my shoe hit the cracked asphalt, another mind-numbing scream pierced the night. The sounds rattled in my head like a pinball slamming between my ears. When I reached the center of the fairgrounds, moving shadows surrounded me. The wind picked up. Chains and rattling fences groaned. The dragon swing creaked on its own. The children’s airplanes bobbed up and down as if moved by an invisible hand.
“Alright Bryan, come out. You’ve had your fun.”
I started to laugh, trying to convince myself this was an elaborate scheme to scare me. The night stayed quiet.
“Randy? Marie? This isn’t funny anymore. I have to go home now. It’s almost past my curfew.”
An empty popcorn bag rolled between the mini rollercoaster and the Turboblaster, before the wind carried it off in a swirl. I called out again, and when none of them appeared, anger ignited in my chest. “Did they think this was funny? Leaving me out here in the cold? Were they in the shadows somewhere laughing their asses off at dumb, fat Tatum?
I walked in the direction of The Swings when a thought stopped me cold. What if they left me? Maybe they planned this all along. Pretend to be friends with the chunky girl. Spend a few hours with her, pretend to like her, kiss her even — only to set her up for the biggest practical joke of all.
Shit. How could I have been so stupid? I blinked away tears, and reached for my phone. My fingers slid into my back pockets, but they were empty. Bryan must have taken it when he kissed me in the funhouse. I swallowed back a sob as goose bumps crawled across my skin. The temperature was dropping and a wall of fog slowly rolled in from the bay.
Hunching forward to stay warm, I moved toward The Swings again. I had to find an exit. Maybe there was a pay phone around. Wait, did pay phones even exist anymore? I turned the thought over in my head and stopped when laughter sounded in front of me.
Relief flooded every cell in my body. I knew they wouldn’t leave me. I raced toward the sound andsaw the first shadow. At first I thought it was a trick of the eye. A tangle of ropes and chains hanging from the seat of the swings. I was wrong.
Randy hung from the seat of an elevated swing. He was naked except for the red noose circling his neck. “Victim #1” was slashed across his chest in blood. I screamed and fell to my knees.
This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a joke. The rumors were just a joke.
A quietwhirring began. The Swings, which were already aloft, moved. Randy’s body bobbed and swayed like a puppet as it swung forward. Metal seats slammed back and forth as the ride picked up speed.Seconds later, Marie appeared. Well, at least her naked body. Her hands were bound with the same rope. Blood-colored duct tape covered her eyes, mouth and breasts. As she spun around, I swallowed back the vomit crawling up my throat. When her body passed, the words “Victim #2” were scrawled across her back, and I lost mydinner.
My body rocked with convulsions. Every nerve ending screamed at me to run, but morbid curiosity rooted me in place. The Swings were now a writhing octopus. Bryan appeared next, tied to a chair. His dark hair shaved off.The words “Victim #3” painted across his forehead. A cry left my mouth and echoed across the fairgrounds as Bryan’s once closed eyes snapped open.
“Help me, Tatum!” he screamed.
Fear held me in place as he made another revolution. His cries for help were like knives stabbing me over and over. I scanned the area and ran behind the back of the ride. Glancing over my shoulder several times, I tried to keep an eye out for whoever was doing this. Bryan continued to scream. I stumbled over several cords until I found the power source. I hit a red stop button, before pressing a blue button,allowing the swings to descend.
Marie’s body slammed to the ground first. Randy’s bumped along the black asphalt like a rag doll before the ride finally ended. I turned away, unable to watch.My heart pounded. If I could free Bryan, we could get out of here, together. I pumped my arms and ran toward the swing. It was empty.
What the hell?
The familiar laugh echoed across the grounds banking off the open buildings,making it impossible to figure out which direction it came from. The wind picked up. An eerie howl tore along the barren fairgrounds. Empty soda cans grated against the ground. Loose edges of garbage can liners rustled in the night. Shadows wavered in the moonlight taunting me. One minute a figure appeared. I blinked and it was gone.
“Bryan? What the hell is going on? Come out now and take me home!” I shouted. He wanted to scare me. Hell, hewas scaring me, but I wasn’t going to show fear. That’s what he wanted. I tried to convince myself this was all an elaborate game. Randy and Marie weren’t really dead. This was just a set up. In fact, I was going to prove it.
I rushed back to the swings. Kneeling down next to Randy’s naked body, I felt for a pulse at his neck. He was already cold. The thin skin around his mouth a stomach-twisting shade of lavender.
The low hum in my head returned. Staying in a crouched position, I made my way to Marie. Her copper hair clung to the jagged tear in her neck. I swallowed a sob and scooted back from her body, slamming into a pole behind me.Pain shot down my spine and I tried not to pass out. If I did, I’d end up like Marie. I knew it.
The laugh inched closer. Instead of echoing around me, it rang in my ears as if someone pressed a megaphone to my head. Why had I agreed to come? Did my one stupid choice seal my fate? Who would come to my funeral? Would people cry?
My shoulders shook as fog and mist descended like ghosts from the sky. I stayed still and waited for Bryan to find me. As I lay there, listening to mysterious scratches in the night, a small voice started in my head.
You can be fast if you want.
Find an exit.
The voice got louder and my body moved on its own. Blocking out all thought and sound, I ran past rows of empty game corrals advertising water gun challenges and ping pong toss. At the edge of the basketball challenge booth, the funhouse loomed in the distance.
My heart cartwheeled in my chest. I picked up speed and ran past the back entrance of the funhouse. Each step carried me closer to freedom. The elation in my heart didn’t last long as my name rang out in the night.
“Taaaaatum,” Bryansang out in a childlike cry. “Where are yoooou?”
I searched the shadows for him. If I was going to live, I needed a place to hide. Moving again, I looked over my shoulder and around the grounds for Bryan. At the edge of the funhouse, I found a long trailer that was converted into an indoor bathroom. Bending down, I held my breath and crawled underneath. The smell of urine and other foul substances rocked my stomach, but I didn’t care. He’d never think of looking for me down here.
My breaths came in short puffs, blowing small patches of dirt across the asphalt. I wondered what time it was. Could I lay here until the sun came up? Would psycho Bryan be gone by then?
“Taaatum,” he called out in a sing-song voice. “I know you’re here. Come out and play.” His boots pounded against the asphalt toward the funhouse.
I closed my eyes and placed my hands over my ears unable to bear the sound of his voice. In short whispers I started to pray that he’d give up and go home. Wasn’t killing two people enough?
My breath hitched in my chest. I should have closed poor Marie’s lifeless eyes. Why didn’t I close her eyes?
Before I could stop it, a whimper escaped my mouth. I hunched down and started to shake. “Please go away,” I muttered over and over.
My heart threatened to burst from my chest, but I stayed still knowing one more sound or movement would give me away.The ground beneath me grew cold, yet I didn’t move. He was waiting for me in the shadows, but I wasn’t going to give in. I could wait him out until sunrise.
Hours passed and I remained still. The night groaned and rattled in a haunting song as if mourning Marie and Randy. There was no sign of Bryan. Bryan. Could he be possessed? It was the only explanation why he slashed his friends to pieces.
When the wind grew still, and the first edges of pink licked the sky, I pulled myself along the pitted asphalt. Every thought in my head focused on reaching the gate.
At the edge of the trailer, I steadied myself. Taking a deep breath, I counted down from three. Each beat pounded in my head. When I reached one, I tore across the fairgrounds, dodging trashcans, and more game booths. My arms pumped against my sides. I flew past the 4-H corrals. I was close. In the distance the exit gate beckoned. The fear crushing my chest began to lift. My feet barely touched the ground. I had to find the car and get to the police. They’d make Bryan pay for what he’d done.
The gate was only twenty feet away. Acry stuck in my throat. I was almost there. Almost…he hit me from the side like a linebacker. My world tipped from side to side as my head slammed into the concrete. My body skidded along the ground. I threw up my hands and tried to push Bryan off, but he was too strong.
“Tatum, where have you been? That was such a fun game.” He looked at the open gate and sighed. “Oh, and you were almost to home base.”
I twisted beneath him, but he pushed me harder into the ground. His weight pinned my legs down and all I had was my arms. My body continued to writhe underneath him.
A snarl left his mouth, “Stop moving. I’ve got you now.” I refused to look at his lifeless eyes — he wasn’t Bryan anymore. Instead I focused on the blood still smeared across his forehead. The crooked letters dancing in and out of the fading moonlight. He chuckled. “I’m going to love carving up all your little rolls.” He nodded to my hands. “And look, you’re already covered in my blood. What a fun way to start.”
A wide, toothy smile slid across his face and something inside me snapped. I rolled over one shoulder, pretending to cry. As I let the sobs get louder, I ran my hands along the ground.
Bryan angled his body down,pushing me flat on my back. A deep cut on his forearmhad opened up, and atrail of blood oozed down his skin. He lowered his face close to mine, making me shudder.
“Why did you hurt them?” I sputtered.
He sat back and wiped a bloody hand across his now bald head. His black pupils continued to grow almost swallowing his entire iris. He narrowed his eyes and replied in a whisper, “Because I could.” He reached for something in his back pocket. When he turned around with a knife, I hurled the sand and dirt clutched in my hand at his face.
“Shit!” he screamed,falling over and scratching at his face.
I kicked away and jumped up.The gate was only ten feet away. I was almost free. Only a few steps.He caught the end of my ponytail, slamming me backwards into the ground. Silver stars colored my vision. He brought the knife down. I dodged the blow. The tip of the knife clanked against the asphalt. He growled and brought it up again. I pulled my hand back and punched him in the groin. I was sick of being his willing victim. Rage swallowed my every thought. Now, I just wanted him dead.
As he fell back groaning, he dropped the knife. I swiped it from the ground and hurledit into the shadows of the dark fairgrounds. Hovering over him, I let fury flood my body. I kicked him in the side. My toe connected with his lower back, jamming into his kidneys and spine. For every kick, I screamed out Randy and Marie’s names.
His eyes rolled back as he slid into unconsciousness. The rising sun colored the horizon a deep orange. Sirens howled in the distance. A sick almost warning cry of what was to come.
I slammed my foot against his head one final time and crawled to the gate. Inch by inch I got closer. The battered chains marked my finish line. As I reached the broken lock, his scream echoed off the buildings. I rolled onto my back. Bryan flung himself toward me, crashing on top of my body. A gurgle escaped his lips. The whites of his eyes grew wide. A trickle of blood slid slowly from the corner of his mouth.
The police discovered us five minutes later where we’d started the night. Except this time,Bryan was pinned against me. The bolt cutters clenched in my hands were embedded deep in his body, and the same word thrummed in my head over and over… No. No. No.
Amy Trueblood is a freelance writer who spends most of her time penning press releases for her favorite non-profit. When not “chasing the crazy” dream of being published, you can find her rereading her favorite YA books, running, or gulping down her favorite mango iced tea. Her work has been featured in Liquid Imagination, as well as “The Fall” and “Summer’s Edge” short story collections.
Vanessa Henderson is a Seattle-based graphic designer, studio artist, and fiction writer. When she’s not scribbling, she enjoys being an avid-movie goer, exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog Joey, traveling, and indulging in her obsession with coffee shops. She likes to write young adult fiction and blogs from www.youngatink.com.
Follow her on Twitter @VR_Henderson
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