The Dark Carnival
Once upon a Halloween night, when all the spirits roam free the night streets, people wearing scary costumes go trick or treating, wind softly blowing autumn colored leaves causing them to fall in what feels like leaf snowing , there was a Carnival, unlike any other.
Clowns, acrobats, flame eaters, magic tricks, accordion players at every corner, singing monkeys, games for all ages and booths that each have something different to say and show, give the Carnival an eerie feel.
Children running happy asking their parents for candy and animal balloons, and teenagers choosing spooky houses with labyrinths and mirrors, some even going for card readings, curious to know what future held for them. The smell of caramelized apples and cotton candy wafted through the air.
Lots of illuminated pumpkins diverse forms and shapes were lined up on each side of the alley. Trees all around made it all seem a living fairy tale. It was magical. Perfect even.
There’s a legend going on about the forest. Some locals say it’s haunted by the evil spirits of an ancient family that had lived there centuries ago. People say their home was burned down in the middle of th night for they were accused of using dark magic. Ever since, they never left. Bound to the earth. Seeking revenge every time on Hallow’s Eve. Once the clock announces midnight, an invisible cloud full of dark magic casts itself upon the party, covering it like a black velvet cloak, transforming everyone and unleashing madness.
Others say the terrain where the forest is now, a cemetery has long ago existed. But either way, what went down in this place is downright horrifying.
Only a few managed to escape…How ? Still remains a mystery.
“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.” – Colette
The bell rang for it was announcing the end of last period. Final class on a Friday meant weekend was on and we all but jumped out of our seats at the sound of it, though teacher was still in.
Can’t wait to get home. I said to myself.
“Before we call this class off, please take back your seats and listen.” Mrs. Sinclair told the students. “As we know,” she paused for a minute, “tomorrow night marks the 2 year anniversary since the dreadful accident at the Carnival.”
For a teacher she sure cared about her pupils a lot. Has no children of her own though, but indeed showed us how caring she can be. Not once did she rise her voice at any of us. Each time we did something wrong she stood by us, helping each and every one see where they went wrong and repair the mistake.
“Tomorrow’s also Halloween,” a student says.
“Don’t believe it was really an accident, Miss,” another shouts.
“Yes. We may not reckon that, Jaden,” she says. “This is why I’m telling you to not go there. Some of you may not believe the legend might be true – that’s when her eyes land on me, and I wish the floor could swallow me whole, just like that cosmic Black Whole – , but there is a small truth hidden in it.”
“Those are just a bunch of stories meant to scare kids. Just like the ones with the monsters underneath our beds and the witches hiding in the pantry waiting to grab the naughty kids.”
“No, Josh, you’re wrong. A lot of bad things have happened after the event too,” she said, a hint of angst in her voice.
What my classmates do not know about Ms. Sinclair is that she was there. In the Dead Forest as people call it, since they find almost every year the lifeless bodies of people declared missing. I am aware because she told me so one day. I remember it very clear. But how she managed to escape is beyond me.
Locals say that whoever dares trespass the Forest, will be doomed for life and the spirits will haunt them down to take their souls, sometimes even trying to posses them.
She said to me, “Mary Kay, I know you want to find out the veracity that’s beneath the legend of the Carnival, so I’m going to tell you a short story. One nobody has to find out. Okay.”
“Okay.” I agreed, swallowing the lump already forming in my throat.
“When I was your age, I went to the Dead Forest on a Halloween night with a few close friends. We were driven by curiosity just like you. The unknown was attracting us akin to candy bars a child.”
Anticipating what was to come, I open my mouth to ask, but continues and gets me by surprise.
“Once we stepped into the forest, strange whispers and mad laughs were heard as ghostly shapes started to appear in front of us. We took off running through the woods, only to find that we were running in circle. At some point, one of my friends stumbled and fell on the ground…wanted to go back after her…”
Horror seeps into me, hair on my neck raises and heart pounds so loud in my ears. I feel like it’s about to burst out of my chest. Sure enough I’ve heard it all, lift up from the chair all set to head out.
“…she was nowhere to be found. On our way back, bloodstains marked the path. It’s horrifying. I know, trust me. Not long after that, another friend of mine has been declared missing, only to have his body found hanging from one of the trees in the Forest.” she says, pain etched in the tone of her voice and tears glistening in those honey brown eyes. “I wish to warn everyone to stay out of that place. It is cursed, of that I can assure you.” she says while sniffing her nose and whipping away the fallen tears off her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” I ask. No more curiosity left in me, now.
“Traumatized. Shocked. Lost two of my best friends in those cursed woods. Couldn’t sleep for months. Kept having same ongoing nightmares. I went to a specialist. Didn’t help much. Truly sorry if my story scared you, but it is true. All of it.”
Since that day, I swore never to go down there – unless I have suicidal thoughts, which won’t make the case – nevertheless with my friends.
At the lockers, Jamie grabs my arm and pulls me away.
“Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night,” he asks a huge grin plastered on his
face and sparkles in his eyes.
Jamie is not a bad guy, in fact he’s anything but. Smart, funny, handsome and
always helpful. I’m lucky to have him as my best friend.
“Nothing special. Why?” I say, a hint of a smile appearing on my face.
“Thought we…I mean…You, me, Claire and Chris could go to that abandoned place everyone’s talking about.” That look in his eyes tells me everything I need to know. He’s always been this way with me. Talking through our eyes made it easy, it was like we were telepathically speaking to each other, sometimes approving others strongly against what he wanted to do. Today it was all about danger, adventure and change. A change that doesn’t feel so good.
“You mean The Dead Forest? The one where the Carnival was held like about 100 years ago and bodies were found?” I ask, though I already know the answer. A cold shiver curls up my spine.
“Yes. That one,” he answers. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of going there.”
“No, I am not. It’s just…” I can barely form words at this point. My head began to spin and the palm of my hands are sweating.
“No point in hiding beneath that armor of yours, I can see the anxiety in your eyes.” he says. He knows me better than anyone else, better even than my own family does. Truth is, I am scared of that place. All the legends and myths that flow in and out about what happened in the Forest and at the Carnival 100 years ago and after, are fear and shiver inducing. No sane person would dare go there. But then again…Who is sane these days anyway?
“To prove you I’m not as chicken as you consider me to be, I’ll come.”
“Very well. Let’s go talk to the others,” says holding hands with me.
“You haven’t told them about your big plan for the weekend?” I ask unease lacing my voice.
“Figured I ask you first,” says grinning at me.
A sigh escapes the same time as my reply. “Right. Cause I’m the one who makes the right decisions when no one else can.”
“Something like that, and we need to do something….” he says rubbing the back of his neck unsure of what to say next.
“Dangerous, outrageous and utterly stupid.”
“Look at it as an adventure.”
“You are such a buzz killer sometimes, you know that?”
I give him a sarcastic smile, since I can’t bring myself to give a proper ironic answer like always. I am not very fond of this, but what can I do. Took the bull by its horns and there’s no way of going back now.
“Hey, guys,” Claire says full of joy. “What’s with the grumpy face, Jamie?”
“Nothing, he’s fine.” I say waving her off.
“You guys want to explore the Dead Forest with us?” Jamie asks.
“Wow, that’s some way to attract people into doing what you desire,” I ironically add.
“What’d you expect me to do? Give them flyers? Tell them: Hey, come by the Dead Forest with us. We’ll have cookies and camp fire. Heck we’ll even roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories. It’ll be fun.” he comments.
This is how a conversation usually goes between us. The school named us “The Happy Group” as we always seem to be joyful and entertaining – rather said Clowns than Happy Group if you’d ask me.
“Won’t lie to you. I am a little curious about it,” Chris says. If anyone else senses the fear that’s laced in his voice they’re either hiding it very well or they don’t, because I sure do. Chris might want to appear like he’s tough and all, but his just as scared as we all are.
When I got home later that day, all I could think about was whether this was a stupid idea. One that I will strongly regret someday. Something deep inside me said I should not be doing this, while the other said I have nothing to lose. Well, considering everything was true and all the unfortunate deaths are tied to the Forest then I guess I should not. However, not all legends are true – at least not until they are being proved and since this one has not, I do not see any harm in it. It may only be the cold feet and nothing more. Or the fear of unknown. Or maybe both.
Since I couldn’t bring myself to do any productive work, I set on the windowsill and look up at the horizon, a hot cup of tea beside me and Alice In Zombieland in hand. The cool October air fills my lungs and helps clear my mind – if only a little – but then something sparkly coming from the heart of the forest catches my gaze. Pulse raises and I can’t help wondering what’s going on.
The same instant, my cell buzzes with an incoming text from Claire:
C: Turn on your TV.
Me: What’s so important that can’t wait?
C: It’s about Ms. Sinclair.
I read that last message twice just to be sure and bring myself to turn on the TV. The line says “Breaking News: Teacher of Newville High found dead in her car about a mile away from the city. None of her belongings are missing, whatsoever. Police are still investigating. We will be back with news. ”
Gasping, sobbing and shaking I instantly drop the cup down on the carpet spilling the hot content all over it. I collapse face down on the pillow after turning it off.
A soft knock on my door makes me sniff, and through hick-ups I manage a broken, “Yeah.”
“It’s mom, can I come in?” As usual, she doesn’t wait. She’s from a far one of my favorite “hurricanes” as I like to call her sometimes. “Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry, I know how you all loved Ashley. I don’t have any words to describe…” she can’t bring herself to finish her thought as hot tears start falling down her cheeks. We close ourselves in a crushing hug and sob together.
I do not remember falling asleep. The sun beams into my room and lands right on my face making me squint my eyes at the brightness. Mom is nowhere in sight. Stifling a yawn and struggling to get my ass out of bed, I see my phone gleaming from down my bedside.
Five missed calls from Claire, a voice mail from Dad and a message from Jamie. I choose to open the message from him first, knowing Dad would say nothing other than he’s sorry for Ms. Sinclair. That is all he ever says to me whenever something bad happens.
J: Hey, bumblebee. You okay? Please answer your phone. I’m worried about you.
Sometimes I think that there is more than just a simple friendship between us, but neither of us dares say anything. I guess it is better this way. I don’t want to lose what we have over something else – like a relationship. Sometimes they don’t work out and mess everything up, leaving you empty and hollow inside.
Me: Hey. I am fine. How about you?
J: Stop lying. I know you’re not okay. I’m coming over.
Me: No need to. My mom’s home. She can look after me…besides, I’m not a child anymore.
J: Be there in 5.
God, how I hate when he does this. I know he cares for me, but sometimes it’s just…
After a while, a soft knock at the door tells me Mom came to check up on me,” I’m up, decent and okay.”
“Quit playing sarcastic, baby. Is of no help,” she says, entering the room holding a plate in her hand. “Brought you breakfast. I know you may not feel like eating right now, but you have to.”
“Thanks.” I say, getting off the bed and rush toward the bathroom.
“By the way. Jamie’s here,” she adds, sparkles lighting up her eyes.
“Oh. Tell him I’ll be down in a minute.”
“No need, bumblebee.” He says grinning from behind Mom. “How are you?”
“Still trying to figure whether this is some sort of bad dream I will soon wake up from,” I say with a heavy sigh. “But all in all, I’m fine.”