By David Court
They say that if you listen hard enough on a dark windless night, you can hear the screams of laughter over the distant echoes of a discordant carnival calliope.
But not tonight. The only sound tonight is that of relentless rain, the occasional crack of thunder slamming through the firmament to break the monotony. It thumps against torn and decayed tarpaulin and clatters against rusted corrugated iron roofing.
Marlowe’s Fair has been closed for the best part of two decades, a graveyard of abandoned skeletal structures hurriedly left behind. Abandoned booths and faded novelty bins – anthropomorphic jungle creatures with ragged toothed mouths agape – dot the landscape like funeral cairns.
Larry pressed his back against the boarded-up door of the haunted house, hugging himself tightly as defence against the torrential downpour as he sheltered in the doorway. He wasn’t alone – an assortment of crudely airbrushed life-size wooden figures – each portraying a classic horror character – stood there in the mock graveyard that lay in front of the rotting façade of a building. A barely recognisable rendition of Lon Chaney’s wolfman stood there, staring at him.
A loud voice pierced the white noise of the rainfall, inches away from him. It was all Larry could do not to shriek out in surprise.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
Larry emerged from behind the wooden figure. He had a wild-eyed and savage expression, bared teeth and fingers curled into claws.
“That was zombies, not werewolves.” sighed Larry, fear replaced by burgeoning annoyance as his heart-rate slowly returned to normal.
“Oh well,” shrugged Mark, gesturing to Larry. “Come on, walk with me.”
Larry straightened his jacket and walked to join Mark, who had already started slowly heading towards the centre of the fairground. Larry felt uneasy, although he was unsure why.
“Where are we going?” he asked, finally caught up with his colleague. Mark strode purposefully and that, combined with the man’s preternaturally long legs, meant Larry had to move at a half-jog just to keep up.
“The old coaster.”
Larry froze, an almost overwhelming sense of dread locking him to the spot. Mark stopped as well but didn’t turn around. Mark’s shoulders slumped with resignation, as thought he’d expected it.
“I… I don’t want to. Do we have to?”
“You know we do. Come on.”
Without turning, Mark continued onwards. Despite his better judgement, Larry followed.
The old wooden coaster loomed up ahead. It looked more like a massive scale art installation now than a ride, huge metal supports bearing broken and dangling track. Almost on cue, thunder cracked across the heavens and illuminated the massive decayed structure for the briefest of moments. Stalagmites of wood and steel, piercing the heavens.
The two of them walked past the sun-faded “You must be this tall” sign, zig-zagging through the tangled and toppled rusted barriers. Every time Larry hesitated, Mark tenderly took his hand and urged him on. It was only now that Larry realised that, despite the rain, he was bone dry.
With every step they took, the scenery was replaced. A pitch-black night of rainfall became a grey late autumn afternoon, empty lines became crowded with laughing and excited children.
None of them cared as Larry and Mark pushed their way to the front of the queue. A bright red train pneumatically hissed to a stop in front of them, and they clambered in. No sooner had the metal harnesses locked them in place when their train – already packed with crowds of children – began to clatter its way up the first slope, the rhythmic click click click of thick metal chains strained to their maximum.
“I know what’s coming,” sobbed Larry, “You need to stop this.”
“Can’t stop now, Larry. We’ve already started.”
The slope in front of them seemed to stretch upwards forever, extending even as Larry watched.
Larry turned to look at his colleague, tears filling his eyes.
“I remember, Mark. There’s not a day I don’t remember.”
“But you didn’t remember to check the roller-coaster track that day, did you, Larry? You didn’t send the test cart around like you were supposed to, did you? Your hangover took precedence. If you’d sent that empty train around, you would have seen what happened to it and… well, I guess you know the rest.”
“Twenty years I’ve had to live with that, Mark. Twenty years.”
“That’s twenty more years than any of the children got, Larry. Ironic that in the end though that you went the same way as your rollercoaster – death through neglect.”
The top of the slope was nearing now, the train slowly righting itself as they reached the summit. Anticipatory children’s screams filled the air but all Larry could see was the track ahead – that one metal support that had rusted and cracked, the wooden tracks just twisted enough that the cart would be sent hurtling towards the ground.
“Same time tomorrow, Larry.”
That sense of weightlessness, the pressure contorting Larry’s face, the knot in his stomach.
They say that if you listen hard enough on a dark windless night, you can hear the screams.
Fifty Shades of Carousel
Mike L Lane
Broken down and abandoned, the carousel’s shoulders slumped and she stared at the cracked pavement in shame. Her life had been picked clean by vultures and her gears glistened with rust stained tears. The storm had washed away the love she had known and most of the secrets she kept dear. Gone were the days of happy passengers, spinning around gleefully with no destination in mind and no reason to want one. Gone were the intoxicating smells of the midway permeating the air, seductively luring in marks to her charms. Gone was the intoxicated barker that pushed her buttons like an abusive lover and sent her whirling into the night with a head full of emotions, both fearful and aroused. She loathed the ride jockey, but she missed him, too.
He had always been the one to keep her engine running. Whenever she felt out of sorts and longed for rest, he was the one with the magic touch who could get her to do things no one else could. When one of the passengers dropped their half-eaten caramel apple in her lap, the barker cleansed her and made her feel new and alive. When plush animals found a way beneath her tracks, it was the barker that slid his hands beneath her and removed the foreign object with care. She missed the whiskey on his breath as he leaned over her burst safety valve and tinkered her into submission. She longed for his rough hands beneath her chassis. They had a bond like no other and though he often cursed her, she knew the barker loved her.
He had not always been faithful, though. There were times when he would bring one of the other carnies onboard for a late night romp, forcing her to watch. She knew it got him off, having sex with someone else while she suffered in tearful silence. He acted as if she weren’t even there, but she knew better. He wanted her to see. He wanted her to hurt. She didn’t understand why he could be so callous, but she never protested. These were just flings, of course. A man being a man she supposed. Someday he would stop all of this foolishness and love only her.
On the night of the storm, he had forced himself on one of the marks and ravaged the slut inside of the carousel’s housing. The woman had screamed and fought in vain to escape the clutches of her beloved barker, but he had only flipped the music switch to drown her out. He continued his debauchery without a second thought, bending the woman over her engine and having his way. The maddening polka waltz blared into the night air and the girl’s screams mingled in like violin strings plucked by a child. She remained a silent witness to this atrocity for as long as she could in hopes that he would stop and send the unworthy woman on her way. But whiskey controlled her man and he bobbed on like the horses on her platform. Anger bubbled up inside her and she made a decision. She would show him that this was wrong and that he loved her more than this ungrateful woman ever could. Careful not to harm him, she set herself in motion and slammed one of her pistons down on the girl’s head, silencing her screams forever in one blunt, bone-crunching stomp. The barker jerked back in horrified astonishment, splattered with blood and chunks. The body twitched and shuddered before collapsing into a heap, caught in her mechanics and gumming up her works. Her motor cursed in protest and she patiently waited for her love’s caressing hands to set her right again. Instead, he fled into the pouring rain, never to be seen again.
It had taken a long time for her motors to stop running, but the heartbreak of her abandonment by the only man she had ever loved was enough to seize her engine. Sorrow weighed heavy on her heart, but she knew she would have her revenge. Someday someone would come along and discover the rotting corpse within her housing. Someday they would drag that stinking mess out of her and find the barker’s nametag clutched in its cold, dead hand. He would be sorry for abandoning her. She would see to it.
Carousel of dreams
It was a child. It always started with a child. The end of life was wanted by the time the child reached adult hood. The playground faded into memory as death played the role of mother, maiden, and crone. Visions never sought began to invade like vampires to blood we remember everything. The old carousel faded into second hand photographs of empty yesterdays. while it started with a child it ended with an old shell of a body that never knew, never cared, and sadly never tried.
The Undead Fair
James Matthew Byers
The carnival had lain in waste,
An empty husk of trash.
Departed long ago, the taste
A rank decaying rash
Within the lining of each booth
As ghosts and ghouls alike
Enlivened up the sunken roof-
A carousel and pike
Around and round with no one seen
As horse and pig at play
In motion routed king and queen
And spirits on flambé
Engaged in eating popcorn hulls
Remaining in the mind.
The sounds of laughter never dulls,
Residual and blind.
For all the long departed come
And join the festive flare,
Remembering where they are from-
Alive, the undead fair …
By Briana Robertson
A sinister silence looms over the abandoned park, keen and unyielding as the blade of an executioner’s axe. No critters creep. No crickets chirp. The wind itself won’t risk the barest whisper.
Nothing stirs. The equine figures that once danced merrily ‘round and around lie in collapsed ruin, their joints buckled and broken, their eyes wide in eternal tortured agony. Wooden tracks, once the blazing trail of thrill-seeking shrieks, are now nothing more than splintered shards that threaten to skewer any foolish creature who dares come too close. Dull remains of once-bright awnings hang in lifeless tatters, the unwilling victims of unrelenting time.
Heavy clouds crawl across the sky, blocking out the stars, and drenching the place in a pervasive dampness. The cloying scent of rotting things permeates, seeping into every hidden nook and cranny; it assaults the nostrils and causes the stomach to roil.
Just beyond a warped and errant Ferris wheel, a solitary figure stands in shadow. A malignant aura enshrouds him, poisoning the air he breathes: an admonition that warns life has no place here. But life isn’t what he seeks.
A single tear slips down his cheek, a lonely tribute to this place; to what it once was, and what it will never be again.
A shot shatters the silence, the echoing sound waves ricocheting off the forgotten rides and attractions. The figure crumples, an accursed corpse left to decay in this barren graveyard of forsaken dreams.
Moments pass. Heavy silence returns. On the far north end of the park, a sliver of moonlight breaks through the clouds and glints off the face of the funhouse. The windows gleam, and the doorway gapes; the building seems to grin. And whatever grim presence lurks there, gloats.
by Daniel L. Naden
The carnival grounds were empty.
They’d been abandoned for as long as Martin could recall, a decrepit collection of rusting rides and rotting buildings that extended beyond the end of the boardwalk, and they were still abandoned as he stepped off the sea-blanched planking onto the dirt paths. He didn’t know anyone who had ever seen the carnival in operation, but neither did he know anyone who came here. Which, in a way, was kind of odd.
He’d come to the grounds to settle a score. His gang, the Bars, was on the way. They’d been trailing behind as he went ahead to meet up with the head of the Walkers, the gang who controlled the boardwalk and beach. the Walkers ran drugs, and pimped out a few girls, but mainly, they were there to serve as the eyes and ears and on-the-ground muscle for the mob guys who ran the restaurants and casinos on the boardwalk. It was primo turf, to be sure, but the Walkers weren’t going to have it after tonight.
A week ago, a group of Walkers took a stroll, bold as hell, through Martin’s turf. They walked into the little convenience store that served as a front for the Bars’ own drug trade and robbed it. Kicked the shit out of the guys who were there and swiped a good chuck of their supply.
Ordinarily, Martin would’ve loaded up a couple cars, gone over to where the Walkers hung out, and shot it, and as many Walkers as the could find, full of bullet holes. Martin didn’t mind playing hard when he needed to. And he didn’t mind killing a bunch of those Walker pussies, either. But the Walkers were connected to the mob, so Martin had to be careful. Turf wars are one thing. Mob wars, something else.
So Martin went to talk to the mob boss, first.
Jako Czernik was known for being a brutal bastard, but he was also reputed to like ambition. When Martin explained, both his need for payback against the Walkers, Czernik looked bored … dangerously so. But when Martin hinted that he’d been looking for a way to take over the boardwalk and beach from the Walkers, Czernik had become interested in a hurry. Martin had left with Czernik’s blessing to face, and fight, with the Walkers … but with the warning that it had to stay out of sight.
Czernik suggested the carnival grounds, which was weird because, until that moment, Martin had forgotten the grounds existed. He’d been on the boardwalk plenty of times over the years; played on the beach as a little kid. Often enough, one would think, to have noticed an abandoned carnival at the west end of the beach and boardwalk. And yet, the place defied description. It was a hard place to think about … at least it was until he got here and started looking around.
All around him were silent shopfronts with vacant windows like dark eyes, weak shadows cast gray by overcast skies. Rides everywhere were falling apart. A fiberglass climbing attraction was treacherous with rotting ropes and sun-splintered holes — especially in the three-story slides. The legs and framing of the wooden roller coaster leaned drunkenly, causing the track to warp crazily in some places, fracture in other. In the center of it all stood the carousel. Pieces and panels hung askew and at some point, a tarpaulin had blown to be tangled over the roof. The horses, however, were gone. Martin thought they’d probably been sold off when the carnival closed down.
So certainly, the whole place was falling apart. And yet, at a glance, nothing had been vandalized. As far as Martin could see, there was little trash, no broken bottles or used rubbers or any of the usual leavings of the druggies who would ordinarily have loved a place like this.
There were no tags or other graffiti painted on the barren clapboard walls … as if even the gangs didn’t come here or want to claim the grounds as their territory. Weird.
Martin took a glance over his shoulder. His guys should’ve been there by now.
Martin took a step toward one of the booths, reacting to a noise he heard, or thought he heard, when a voice came from behind him.
Martin turned slowly to see Fazio, standing with his Walkers right at the edge of the boardwalk. Fazio’s face was split with a shit-eating grin.
“You here all alone?” he said.
“What’s it to you?” Martin replied. He gestured at the Walkers. “You must be scared of me to bring so many. It ain’t enough.”
Behind Fazio, his guys bristled at the comment, but Fazio waved them back.
“We’re not here to fight you, Martin,’ he said. “We’re here to watch.”
“Jako called me today and told me an interesting story,” Fazio’s smile grew even larger, but looked far less genial. “He said that some jerk wanted to horn in on our turf.”
“So he sent you here and asked us to come here and watch you.”
“Watch me what?” Martin asked.
“Watch you here,” Fazio said. “At sunset.”
“What happens at sunset?”
Fazio darkened, as if a cloud passed over his face. He pointed at the sky behind Martin.
“Watch and see.”
Through the overcast, last of the setting sun cast rays over the edge of the horizon. Then, it was gone.
As if in response, Martin felt the ground shudder and heard distant sounds like something was screaming. He turned, trying to locate the source, then spun the other way, but couldn’t find where it was coming from.
The thudding sounds grew closer.
Rather than wait for whatever it was that Fazio … and Czernik, apparently … had set him up for, Martin decided to run. To find high ground.
He sprinted between the shopfront and the carousel, aiming for the climbing structure, but stopped, frozen in place, at what he saw.
Horses. Carousel horses, along with a variety of other creatures: panthers, an elephant and a rhino, several unicorns, among others, lost in the rising cloud of dust.
They thundered up the dirt path on the other side of the shopfront — still painted with gaudy colors and carved, seemingly, with the same dramatic features. Their eyes, though. Those were alive, glowing as if lit afire by the setting sun’s rays. Their eyes were focused on Martin. On the intruder in their realm.
Martin changed his tack right away. Amid the shock of seeing carven animals come to life, one part of his brain was screaming at him to find high ground — like the climbing structure. Another part, a cold, rational part, whispered through the panic, telling him that to climb was to die. That height couldn’t be trusted to keep him safe from whatever fucked up magic animated those animals.
Instead, he turned back the way he came. Back to the entrance to the grounds. To the boardwalk where Fazio and the Walkers waited. He didn’t figure they’d let him escape — not since this seemed to be an execution — but he liked his chances better with them than any of the crazy shit chasing him now.
His path back, however, took him closer to the horses. He could feel the heat from their eyes; could hear faint hints of panted breath; could smell the sweat and froth from their mouths, a smell that reminded him of roadkill gone bloated under the sun.
A unicorn was closest to him and it swung its horn as it lunged, carving a ribbon of fire across his back. Martin stumbled and almost lost his footing, but somehow was able to spin away and find extra space to start running again.
Back throbbing, he sprinted toward the entrance. Behind him, a cat yowled, like a lover’s whisper in his ear, but he didn’t dare glance back. In front of him, Fazio and the Walkers locked arms, getting ready to bounce him back, like the world’s most fucked up game of Red Rover.
Right before he was caught behind, right before he would’ve crashed into the Walkers’ line, Martin played his last gambit:
He dove to the ground.
He was almost certain he was committing his last act, a fatal one. That the carnival monsters would close on him and rip him to shreds. Or that they’d bounce off the entrance and back into the grounds … and then rip him to shreds.
What he didn’t count on was the dust.
He face-planted into the ground and, in his slide, scooped up a lot of dust. His momentum carried him painfully up over the planked edge of the boardwalk, to land at the feet of Fazio. He saw Fazio raise a foot to kick him back in…
But at that moment, the thudding thunder passed over Martin — to fall on Fazio and the Walkers. Their screams started right away, as did a sound of carnage that Martin was never able to later describe.
Martin dragged himself painfully up to his feet, still half-expecting the animals to turn on him. But when they finished with the Walkers, leaving behind a smoldering, bloody arc of viscera, the sprinted down the boardwalk — past the restaurants and the night ocean glittering with the nearby lights. He saw the carousel animals turn into the final casino on the row; the ritziest one; the one owned by a certain Old World mobster.
He hoped Czernik was ready for visitors. Martin didn’t think the animals would be returning to the grounds for most of the rest of the evening.
DON’T FORGET! You can join in by commenting!