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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Wait for the Wheel
Come on, it’ll be fun.
Famous last words.
For Sara Nichols, it was a demented phrase on repeat in her mind as the fog drew closer.
The rolling thunder in the distance snapped her back to her current reality.
Was it thunder? Or was it… something else…
She opened her eyes and looked around the deteriorating room. The walls were corroding with something too dark to be rust.
I have to move.
She blinked a few times, willing the words to stop. If the words stopped, maybe the fog would too. Maybe everything would stop… maybe…
Come on, it’ll be fun.
She had said it a day earlier as she and her boyfriend, Darren, were packing to catch a flight back home.
The two of them had been visiting friends in New Orleans. Sara- a photographer with a flair for adventure- was itching to investigate the Six Flags theme park abandoned since Katrina hit in 2005. Years of urban decay was calling to her.
“I don’t know,” Darren said. “I read that they will arrest you if you get caught trespassing. Kids have been vandalizing the place and getting hurt.”
“It’s because they’re doing stupid shit,” Sara argued. “We will hit it up in the morning. No one will be out then. No one will care. It’s not like I want to climb on the old rides or anything. I just want photos.”
Darren still looked unconvinced.
“Come on,” Sara threw out an adorable smile. “It’ll be fun.”
The smile always worked. It was a mixture of coy and sticky sweetness that put emphasis on Sara’s doe eyes.
Darren sighed and shook his head.
“You have to make sure it’s okay with Matt,” he said. “He’s the one driving us to the airport.”
Matt had been their friend since high school. Now, seven years later, Sara and Darren were considering moving their life from Southern California to work with Matt at his thriving graphic design firm.
This trip had solidified the idea for the both of them.
New city and new starts… and best of all, new neighborhoods to take photos of.
Sara loved grabbing her camera and getting lost in new places.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine with it,” Sara shrugged. “I’ll ask him.”
By seven am the next morning they had the car loaded with luggage and were on their way. Matt wasn’t exactly thrilled but he knew once Sara got an idea in her head, it was hard to stop her.
Truth was, he’d do just about anything for Sara. He kept it to himself.
Darren was his best friend, and he had no intention of messing with that fact. However, it didn’t stop his building feelings he’d had for her since their sophomore year at Marina High.
“Just remember,” Matt said as he pulled off the side of the road near the desolate front entrance. “Don’t climb on the rides.”
Sara got out of the car and focused on the front gate. It didn’t connect to anything and did nothing to keep people from walking past the blaring “NO TRESPASSING” sign. Her eyes rose up to beyond where she could vaguely make out the park across the deteriorating parking lot. Beyond that, approaching storm clouds were making their way towards the ninth ward.
Her good mood seemed to be sucked up into the clouds in that instant. She blinked, wondering what happened. A heavy feeling began to weigh on her chest.
She didn’t move, even when the boys did.
“You okay?” Darren turned back to her.
Sara swallowed and shook her head.
“I just suddenly don’t want to go any farther,” she said.
“Nerves,” Matt chuckled. “Don’t worry, I was kidding about getting arrested. As long as we aren’t destroying property, we will be fine.”
“No, I just,” Sara took a few steps back. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
The wind picked up, making Darren’s shaggy brown hair fall over his eyes.
“Are you kidding?” He frowned. “You put up the biggest fuss to do this, drag us out here and now you are getting cold feet?”
Sara let out a shaky breath.
This is stupid. What’s wrong with me? Of course I want to be here.
She clutched her Canon 5D tighter and bit her lower lip.
“Hey,” Matt walked up and put his hand on her shoulder. “You’ll regret it if you don’t go in. You have been wanting to see this place for months now. Let’s just go in and take a look. If you’re still freaked out, we can leave.”
Sara managed a smile. Matt was always pretty good with logical suggestions.
“Okay,” she said. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”
Darren rolled his eyes at the both of them.
“The sooner we get this over with the quicker I can be asleep on a flight back to San Diego.”
The three of them began their walk across the parking lot. The plants had begun to take the area back the moment the flood waters receded. There were large cracks in the asphalt where the bushes were invading. Some of the plant life was so high, it was beginning to hide the park from view.
In the distance, Sara spotted the focal point of the park- the massive ferris wheel. It was accented by the twisting roller coaster metal on the outer edges of the park. The structural bars were still white and the cars still held their cheerful colors. The darkening clouds behind it made it seem that much more vibrant. Sara should have been comforted by the sight of the ride- it was her personal favorite in any park- but the heavy feeling was just getting worse.
“It’s weird,” Darren spoke up, as they were approaching the front gates. “There’s no sound.”
“How do you mean?” Matt walked up to the ticket booth and peered in.
“Amusement parks are supposed to be so happy,” he said. “Full of life, music and laughter. But there’s no sound here.”
Sara tried not to let his words get to her as she lifted the camera up to her face and took a picture. She snapped a couple of Matt before turning the camera on Darren. He was staring up towards a caved-in roof of the main entrance building.
“Definitely not up to code,” he muttered.
Sara kept walking, putting herself in front of the others. She wanted to just get in and see this place. Maybe once she was inside, the bad feeling would go away. She wanted to feel excited, not scared.
“So the park just makes one big loop,” Matt said. “Like most parks. We will head left towards the Zydeco Scream. It’s the coolest looking coaster. Then keep going around.”
Sara looked at the abandoned buildings on either side of her. It was a small, cheesy looking remake of Bourbon Street. The buildings, once colorful shades of yellow and teal, were now dirty and decaying at a slow rate. The walls were decorated with graffiti and the windows were all but shattered and there was various debris littering the ground.
“Sounds good,” Sara said, squeezing her fingers around her camera.
“You gonna be okay?” Darren placed a hand around her shoulders.
“Yeah,” she responded. “I guess I just got more nervous that I expected.”
“Typical girl scared of the unknown,” Matt made a goofy face. “There’s no Boogey Man here, kid. Just birds and the occasional transient.”
Sara clenched her jaw and tried not to look up at the glaring ferris wheel. It stood there like a un-welcoming committee. Now she could see the bad shape it was in. The reason it had looked so bright was because there was a reflection on the broken lights that adorned every inch of the spokes.
Now the sun was quickly disappearing behind the clouds, making the wheel look as dull and lifeless as the rest of the park.
Darren suddenly buzzed by her, running left towards the roller coaster.
“Hurry up before we have to deal with rain,” he called.
Sara lagged behind the boys as she reminded herself she was there to take photos. She would stop, periodically, and snap a few. Broken lockers, graffiti, rusted doors… there was no end to the ruin. She felt herself begin to relax into her craft.
She made her way towards the boys’ chatter while taking a quick look behind her.
There was now a mist creeping into the park from the opposite side. The storm clouds were closing in, bringing the fog with them.
Alarm began to ring through Sara’s body once more. The park was getting darker and it felt like she was under some sort of observation.
She quickened her steps and caught up to the boys.
“I think the storm is coming in too fast,” she said. “Maybe we should go?”
Matt looked beyond her towards the clouds.
“This weather happens here,” he shrugged. “Don’t focus on it. If the thunder gets louder, we will start heading back but I can barely hear it in the distance.”
“Hey look, guys,” Darren called out. “No hands!”
Sara and Matt turned towards Darren who was sitting in a broken car of a smaller ride with his hands up in the air.
“You’re going to get tetanus,” Sara rolled her eyes.
The wind picked up, rustling the dead leaves on the ground. Sara looked back towards the oncoming storm. There were weak groans of protest coming from the other rides in the distance. It echoed through the empty park, sending a shiver down Sara’s spine.
“That sound,” she muttered.
“Better than the silence,” Matt jumped off the ride. “Come on, let’s get to looking.”
They made their way down the weathering paved path. It was still trying its best to look cheerful with wavy teal patterns baked into the surface. However, the facade was slowly deteriorating.
This world was broken. Long forgotten by the crowds of people who used to inhabit it on their days off, the park was a skeleton of wood and metal.
Sara methodically took her photos, her eyes always catching something worthy of remembrance. She kept her eye to the black box, and looked at the park through her camera. It was somehow easier that way.
She stopped to snap a photo of a splintering wooden bench that had the phrase “unfuck my world” scrawled across the top.
“Kinda poetic,” Sara said.
Darren and Matt didn’t respond.
She turned around towards the main path they had been on. She couldn’t see either of them.
“Hey, guys,” Sara called.
She walked back out onto the pavement and looked around.
“Where did you two go?” she tried to keep her voice calm.
Sara started walking forward, stopping when she still couldn’t see or hear anyone.
“This isn’t funny!” her voice carrying into the park.
A low rumble of thunder was her only response. She lifted her eyes towards the storm.
If she stayed on that path, she would have to walk right by the Ferris Wheel.
Fear began to cling to her legs and inch its way up into her brain. Darren wouldn’t pull a prank- he wasn’t that kind of guy. Maybe Matt talked him into it…
The damn wheel was just sitting there, seemingly smiling at her.
I need to get out of here.
“Fuck you guys,” she called out. “I’m going back to the entrance. I’m not playing your stupid games!”
Sara turned quickly on her heel and began to backtrack to the front of the park. She expected Darren or Matt to give in to their joke, but the park remained silent.
Sara couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.
The wind began to pick up again as she made her way back by the dilapidated Sponge Bob ride. Sara stopped, and surveyed her surroundings once more. The graffiti was now mocking her with its cruel messages.
She fastened her camera strap over her shoulder, secured the camera behind her, and kept walking. She’d deal with her emotions once she was safely in the parking lot.
Ahead of her, the fog was beginning to hide Main Street from view. To her left, the “Cool Zone” roller coaster was also starting to take on the mist. The area was slowly being engulfed in the ominous cloud.
This isn’t right, she thought, breaking into a jog.
She neared where she thought the main entrance broke off, only to see more empty buildings in her way. The fake rendition of Bourbon Street seemed to stretch on forever.
Sara quickly followed the building until she got too close to the mist.
I must have passed the entrance.
She turned back around only to be stopped dead in her tracks. The fog was now behind her as well. It was closing in, slowly hiding the large Zydeco Scream from view.
“Darren,” Sara instinctively called out. “Matt! Please answer me!”
Sara made her way back towards where she thought the front entrance was. More fog. More looking buildings blocking her path.
She tried to keep her breathing normal while she tried to find a way out.
A low grinding of metal began to sound from the center of the park.
Sara crept along the side of the building, her hands scratching the rough stucco surface. She kept her eyes away from the sound.
What’s happening? She swallowed, and pushed further. I just want to leave.
Sara’s hand finally reached a broken door frame. She took a deep breath and pulled herself into the building. It was a better option than being outside. She had the thought that she could go through the building to reach a park exit.
Once she was inside, she turned to look back out into the park.
The Ferris Wheel was turning. It was a very slow movement, making the cars dangle and shift ever so slightly. The metal was grinding in protest. It was a nerve wrecking sound.
Sara swallowed and began to back away from the door. She turned and focused her attention on the dark interior of the building. It wasn’t much more comforting than the outside.
The floors were strewn with dirt and debri. There was a large stage adorned with a metallic circle.
Just find a fucking exit, she told herself. She made her legs walk across the room to the opposite wall where there was another door off its hinges.
“I’ll be laughing about this in a few minutes,” she said, to no one in particular. “Just you wait.”
A lightning flash and quickly following thunder answered her. It did little to boost her confidence.
She reached the other door and pushed the rusted metal open.
Out in the open again, she felt her whole body go cold. The building had seemed to shift into a different place. The Ferris Wheel was still in front of her. She had no place else to go but towards it.
“That’s impossible!” she yelled into the air.
She felt the tears of fear and frustration surface as the sky began to open up with rain.
She was overcome with the feeling of being watched.
Sara pushed herself away from the door and ran to the opposite building.
She climbed through another open doorway and collapsed against a dirty counter. The walls were black and painted with horrible neon images of distorted faces. It was a grotesque mardi gras.
The grinding metal wasn’t giving up. The sound of buckling tension cables was vibrating into the building. Sara brought her face up to her hands and backed up against the far wall.
She brought her camera back around and hugged it to her chest as she sank into the dirty tile.
A low groan sounded up from somewhere outside the park. A gut wrenching animalistic sound. Sara closed her eyes tight and tried to cover her ears as the vehement call got louder and louder until it infiltrated everything, mixing with the grinding metal and thunder.
Then there was silence. Sara opened her eyes.
Deafening silence wasn’t comforting in the least. She could still feel eyes on her.
Sara’s breathing became strained. She didn’t know how to process what was happening.
She raised her eyes towards the glassless windows. Forcing herself up, she walked to the front of the building and peered out into the storm.
The Ferris Wheel began to turn again.
Impulsively, Sara brought the camera up and snapped a photo.
She turned her back and let herself sink back down to the ground once more.
With shaky hands and her breathes still coming in short gasps, she turned on her viewfinder.
The structures that adorned the outer area of the park, where partially hidden by the fog.
But something was there. It was watching her.
Sara zoomed in on the shadowy figure that was right across the way.
There wasn’t much to make out that was human. It was tall and lanky, hunching over from its height. It had long fingers that stretched into needle-like points.
A feeling of dread overcame her as she looked upon the figure. It didn’t have much of a face, but from what she could see, it was angry. Its mouth was stretched wide in a frozen scream.
She backtracked into her images… it was always there, watching. The lens could see it.
She turned off the camera and closed her eyes again.
This park was home to something other than abandonment. It had taken Sara to a place she couldn’t escape. It was now tormenting her.
Why did I want to come here? Her despair was hugging her chest. I just want to leave. I thought it would be fun.
Come on, it’ll be fun…
I was so stupid.
More thunder, shaking her from her thoughts.
I have to move.
She blinked a few times, willing the words to stop. If the words stopped, maybe the fog would too. Maybe everything would stop… maybe…
She crept towards her left to get out of the building. Clearly this park wanted her to go to the Ferris Wheel. If she gave it what it wanted… would it set her free?
She emerged from the building and the cold rain began to dot her face. It was a moment of relief.
An ear-splitting shriek from behind her made her turn instinctively.
She cried out as movement seemed to slice into her arms, making her drop her camera.
It landed on the ground with a crack.
She didn’t see anything… but she sure felt it. Sara looked down to her arms, that were now sliced cleanly open by four long cuts. Blood began to gush out and fall to the ground.
The stench of a rotting corpse invaded her nostrils.
“Oh,” she uttered, in disbelief.
I’m cut, she thought. It cut me. I’m bleeding!
Incoherent thoughts began to rush through Sara’s head. She tried to piece together what was happening, but couldn’t. She could only think about her camera.
Leave the camera, she willed herself. Just go.
She took a few steps back as the shriek began to permeate the area again.
Sara took off running, leaving a trail of blood behind her.
“Please let me leave,” she yelled out in front of her, trying to stop the bleeding with each hand, hugging her arms to her chest.
Sara was now soaked with rain, and running back into the depths of the park.
There was one clear path… towards the slowly turning wheel engulfed in fog.
Maybe that was the out.
Maybe if I ride to the top, I will be able to see Darren or Matt.
How she wished so fiercely to hear their voices one more time…
All she could hear was the angry cries of whatever was chasing her. It seemed unable to fully pursue her for some reason. She didn’t want to stick around to figure out why.
As she approached the massive wheel, she felt herself grow drastically weaker. She looked down at her arms and was surprised to see her shirt and jeans were saturated with blood.
I need to rest.
She could smell the rot again. It was close.
She stumbled through the rusted bars of what was once a line formation for the ride.
The wheel came to a halt as she reached out to steady herself on the broken car.
One more screech made her turn again. This time, she saw it. Her eyes locked with the horrid creature’s as she felt a searing pain tear through her abdomen.
She stumbled back into the car, struggling to catch her footing.
The figure seemed to dissipate into the air with another wail, taking the fog with it and giving way to another sound…
The sound of someone calling her name.
As Sara slowly lowered herself into the car, she brought her hands down to her stomach. Something didn’t feel right.
She glanced down and tried to make some sort of noise. The lower portion of her shirt was shredded and stomach had been sliced open. Her hands were doing their best to hold her insides in.
“Sara!” the voice was now closer.
“Darren,” she managed a weak call. “Help me.”
The fog was now dissipating as Sara’s eyes focused her boyfriend running towards the ride with Matt fast behind him.
“Where the hell did you go?” Darren sounded angry.
His face became alarmed as he focused on his girlfriend.
“Jesus Christ, Sara,” he sputtered. “What happened?”
The boys were quick to surround her.
“I was too late,” Sara’s breath gurgled with liquid. “Too late.”
“My God,” Matt said. “How… what…”
Darren tried in vain to stop the bleeding from his girlfriend’s abdomen.
“Somebody help us!” Darren screamed into the storm. “Anybody. Call someone, Matt!”
Matt couldn’t move. He was frozen in shocked terror.
In the end, Sara was beginning to understand. She had been able to see it in her camera. She had crossed over into its domain and the Wheel had tried to warn her. She should have listened. The Wheel was her saving grace. She had let her fear drive her away from it. Maybe that’s what this thing wanted.
Darren struggled to pick her up and carry her away from the Wheel.
Sara felt her body go numb as she noticed the fog begin to circle back into the park.
Matt helped carry her back around to the other side of the park and back to the entrance.
“What did this to her?” Matt asked. “There are wounds on her arm, too. It looks like she was attacked by an animal.”
“My camera,” Sara managed. “It’s in my camera.”
Lightning zig-zagged across the sky and thunder was soon to crackle and boom into the open area.
“Darren,” Matt choked. “Her stomach.”
“Please stop,” she cried. “It hurts.”
Darren and Matt laid Sara down on the cracking pavement.
Matt struggled to pull out his cell phone. His hands were shivering violently, but he managed to dial for help.
“I need an ambulance to the Six Flags theme park,” Matt said. “I know we aren’t supposed to be out here but my friend was attacked. She’s losing a lot of blood.”
Darren cradled his dying girlfriend in his arms.
“You’re going to be alright,” he looked down on her. “Everything will be fine. Help is coming.”
Behind him, Sara could see the advancing fog.
“You should go,” Sara whispered. “Before it gets you too.”
About the author C. Elizabeth Vescio: Jack of all trades and stereotypical black sheep, Cara has been writing somewhat dark and morbid since that teen angst hit somewhere in the early 90′s- probably because her dad was a mortician. After pursuing a degree in English, she changed gears to photography and design in 2006… although she kept penning stories for fun while reading the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde and Hemingway (whom she adores even though he was a huge douche canoe).
In 2009, her life shifted considerably and she found herself writing Elegantly Wasted- helping her sort out a bunch of stupid feelings and other lame stuff. She enjoys cynical debates, cupcakes, making her mother-in-law sew her aprons that she never wears, zombies, the Fifth Element and Tomb Raider. She gathers her life inspirations from Neil Gaiman, Julia Child and Paul Simon. When she isn’t out photographing her next project, she’s studying color, concept and design or writing stuff down in hopes it makes sense one day… or she’s on Pinterest.
Cara lives in Las Vegas with her husband, John and their three genetically altered dogs all of which have personal vendettas for the guy who cleans the pool.
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