You’ve dared return to the Dark Carnival. How brave, yet foolish! Today, I can’t guarantee you’ll make it out alive.
You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.
Follow the buzz on twitter using the official hashtag #DarkCarnival. Oh, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a giveaway!
Katie’s gait wider than his, Jake struggled to keep up. He watched her flick her thick red braid over her shoulder, his eye lingering on her slender fingers.
He checked the deep pocket of his coat, making sure it was still there, nestled in the corner.
Good. He rolled his neck in an attempt to relax.
Jake pointed at the ride with his thumb. “Wanna go on this one?”
Her braid slid across her back as she turned to face him. “It’s my favourite,” she said, eyes dancing.
“Okay, let’s do it.” Jake took her hand and led her to the snaked line.
Katie bounced up and down, feet firmly planted.
Cold or excited? He slipped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer.
Her bouncing stopped.
He tried not to grin.
They watched as the cars swung from left to right, the platform spinning them around and around. Patrons shrieked and laughed as the music got louder and the revolutions of the platform increased in speed.
“Wanna go faster?” The operators voice boomed.
“Yeah!” the riders yelled.
“Faster,” a teenager squealed, throwing her hands up.
“You got it.” The operator smirked, pointing her finger like a gun at the teenager.
“This is the best part!” Katie watched, entranced.
Jake watched the operator push the lever up with her right hand and turn a knob with her left.
“Bang,” she whispered.
He glanced at the cars, moving at the speed of every relationship he’d ever had.
How safe is that? Should they be going that fast?
“Ever since I was a little girl, no one has ever wanted to go on this ride with me. Until you.”
The operator made brief eye contact with him, wiggling her eyebrows.
The screams of the patrons transformed. They increased in pitch, laced with desperation.
Jake studied the blurred faces as the cars flew by the gate they stood behind. Mouths opened in horror – not elation nor pleasure.
Maniacal laughter hung like smoke in the air. Barely audible, beneath the guise of upbeat music, it lingered long after the operator closed her mouth.
Jake silently pleaded with her to stop the ride.
With a wink, the operator pulled the lever, one hand against her chest. Jake couldn’t decide if it was allegiance to an unknown cause or an outward sign of the painstaking nature of this anticlimax. He didn’t care.
Make it stop. Just make it stop.
As though she could read his mind, she nodded. With deftness and disinterest, she thrust the lever up to the maximum speed. In a split second, she yanked it down, bringing the platforms to a sudden stop. The cars swung recklessly until they were stilled.
When the gate swung open, like a paroxysm, bodies, guttural noises, and cries flung themselves at the waiting crowd, forcing it to dissipate.
Katie stared, open-mouthed, as dozens of people fled the Tilt-a-Whirl, wide-eyed and crazed.
Jake studied her face.
She closed her mouth, looking at him.
“You sure you wanna go on this thing?”
“Yeah.” She drew her brows together. “I’ve never seen people react that way.”
Jake shook his head. “Me neither.”
“She ended it so suddenly. I don’t understand…”
This isn’t a good idea.
“Maybe we should find another attraction.”
“No. I like this ride. It was probably just a mistake… Right?”
The operator bellowed, “Anyone else for Tilt-a-Whirl?”
Jake shrugged. “Alright.” He looked back to see the operator watching at them, waiting.
“Step right on up!” She held the gate and motioned, with a flourish and bow of the head, for them to enter.
Katie tugged him along, racing the few other brave patrons to the nearest car.
They sat close together, legs touching.
The operator walked around all the cars, securing the crossbars. She pushed theirs in place and smiled. “Enjoy.”
“Did she wink at you?”
Jake shrugged. “I didn’t notice.”
“Weird,” Kate said. “But this is the carnival, right?”
Music cued the start of the ride, and they braced themselves.
She drummed her fingers on the crossbar.
The platform turned, starting the motion of the freely-spinning cars. Their car swung left and right, first slowly, then rapidly. In one moment they faced a young couple and in the next they stared into the delighted faces of preteens.
The operator turned the music up and increased the speed. The platform spun at a higher speed, morphing swings in 360 degree spins.
The spinning motion blurred the brilliant lights creating laser beams across the late night sky. Mesmerized, Katie looked up, pointing at the moving lights, screaming with laughter.
Jake held tightly to the crossbar, his hands between Katie’s widespread pair.
“Wanna go faster?” the operator asked.
Dozens of squeals and screams coalesced in the air.
Jake felt a sudden rush. Adrenaline? No. A high.
Is this nirvana?
“Yeah!” the patrons yelled.
Just as before, the platform rotations slowed and the car spinning decreased until they only turned 90 degrees in each direction. The spins gradually increased in speed, creating the laser beam effects once again.
Katie closed her eyes.
Jake watched as she relaxed her body, letting the cart move her completely.
The music got louder and switched from pop to electronica.
She opened her eyes, probably longing for the flashing lights. The euphoria.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, looking directly into his eyes.
“So are you.” He blushed.
The corners of her mouth turned up as she put a hand on his and looked ahead.
Jake felt her scream before he heard it. It pierced his soul.
He followed her gaze, his eyes landing on what used to be happy preteens. As the car swung around, he was forced to look at what used to be two young lovers.
Everything left him. He felt himself emptying. Joy, excitement, hope, fear. The vision sucked it all out of him.
He wanted to close his eyes. To comfort Katie. To stop screaming. But he couldn’t.
Hair had turned to garter snakes. Teeth had become swords. Eyes had been replaced by dark, hollow spaces. Insects crawled out of eye sockets, nostrils, and ears, grazing the scaled flesh around them.
Jake looked at the girl sitting beside him, but it wasn’t Katie. The scream coming out of it belonged to her, but the body didn’t.
Surrounded by creatures, Jake screamed as he fought to close his eyes.
He tried to fight it, but his head was thrown back. He unwillingly stared at the sky, still decorated by laser beams and blurs, but no longer black, dotted with stars. A reel of film played, showing the future.
The ringleader exited the train first. He beckoned and the others followed, armed with swords, whips, trained dragons, and potions from the depths of hell.
The invasion appeared to be quick, but painful. Humans overthrown, evolving once again, became diseased creatures. Slaves. Spectacles. Laughing stocks. Animals.
The carnies had taken charge. It was all over.
The spinning stopped in a split second. The glimpse into the future ended, but Jake still felt the chains. The starvation. The bruises. The loneliness. The loss.
The music stopped and the flashing lights ceased. Only darkness remained.
The crossbars fell forward, signalling the end of the ride. Sighs of relief lasted only a moment before they realized there was no going back. No one could unsee what they’d been shown.
Jake was surrounded by creatures. Katie stood open-mouthed, covered in sores.
He ran through the open gate and around the carnival grounds, screaming in the faces of patrons left untainted. Unknowing creatures.
Outside the gate, things were less horrific. No people meant no creatures.
Katie reached for him.
She followed me.
His body stiffened.
“I can’t,” he said. “I just can’t.”
He stepped back, raising his hands. “ I’d rather die.”
He turned away, determined to make his way home without looking at a single person. A single creature. He’d seen the last one he was going to see.
The long walk home became a funeral procession. He mourned his previous existence.
He wished for just one wish. He knew it would never come, as close as it had seemed to be.
Hands in his pockets on the cold autumn night, he fingered the diamond ring he’d gotten from his mother. He shook his head.
It just wouldn’t look right on the claw of a monster.
Step right up! Try your luck!
Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Dark Carnival, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy!