“Come on, man!” Jeff shouted as he crawled through the tear in the fence. “Toss me your briefcase and let’s go!”
“It’s not a briefcase,” Colin replied, as he slipped through behind his friends. “It’s a messenger bag!”
“Your face is a messenger bag!” Jeff retorted. Lisa and Jenny giggled at the immature exchange. Jenny’s laugh made Colin forget his apprehension about being in such a dark and eerie place. He’d wanted to be alone with her for months, and tonight he had his chance. The foursome walked through the dark carnival graveyard. Roller coasters and rides that once flashed with colourful lights decayed to rusted metal skeletons. Game huts crumbled into forgotten heaps of splintered wood. Trees and weeds had taken over paths that hadn’t seen foot traffic in years. A place once filled with joy was nothing more than rubble and overgrowth. Colin had the foggy memory of riding his first coaster there on his fifth birthday. The park closed not long after.
“Come on,” said Jeff. “We’ll be able to see everything from the top!” He grabbed Lisa’s hand, and they took off toward the ferris wheel. Colin wondered if Lisa knew how many times Jeff brought girls here.
“Are we going to miss it?” Jenny asked, taking Colin’s hand in hers.
“I promise you won’t miss it,” he replied, squeezing his fingers around hers. She smiled and the crinkle beneath her turquoise eyes ignited Colin with the urge to kiss her. She held a gaze with his eyes, then with his lips. Was this an invitation? She answered with a step closer to him. Their bodies trembled and breath quivered between them. Before their lips could embrace, Jenny looked up and gasped.
“What’s that?” she asked. The indigo sky came alive.
“Hey guys, look up!” Colin shouted to the others. “It’s starting!”
“Oh, wow!” Lisa shouted. “Look at that!” White streaks zipped through the night sky and indigo gave way to radiating red, gyrating green and whirling white. The Aurora Borealis had joined in the ballet of meteors. They stood there in awe. Without warning, two meteors collided up in the heavens. A burst of light exploded and twinkling stardust rained down.
“Good thing I brought this,” Jeff said, holding up his smartphone to capture the incredible moment. “No one would believe us.” Glittering, fiery rock debris sprinkled the earth. Some appeared to land in the park behind the old snack court.
“We should get up there,” Jeff said, pointing to the top of the ferris wheel. “Looks like it’s gonna be awesome.”
“I wanna see if we can find any meteors over there,” Lisa demanded.
“Shhh!” Jenny’s gentle clutch turned to a tight squeeze. “Someone’s here!” They stopped and listened. There were voices coming from behind the snack court buildings. Jeff didn’t wait for the others to investigate.
“No, Jeff!” Lisa said as she clutched his arm. “We should go. We’re gonna get in crap for being here.”
“It’s fine,” Jeff replied, silencing her with a dismissive kiss. Colin and Jenny looked at one another and smiled. He wanted to kiss her too, but their moment had passed. Jeff pulled away from Lisa. “You coming?” he asked Colin. Not wanting to appear afraid, Colin nodded and followed. The girls remained close. They rounded the buildings and there stood a black and white, striped Big Top. Lights burst through the seams of the black and white, striped fabric and upbeat organ music echoed from inside.
“Where the hell did that come from?” Jeff asked, walking toward it. They parted the entrance curtains and peered inside. A dozen performers rehearsed their acts. A fire eater blew out a stream of flames into the ceiling of the tent. Above them, trapeze artists linked limbs and twirled through the air. Three contortionists tangled up their bodies in and out of pretzels on the ground. Two jugglers with painted faces tossed pins back and forth to each other.
“Welcome,” a baritone voice spoke behind them. The four teens whipped around and gasped. They were face to face, rather knee to face with tall, gaunt man. He towered over them, forcing them to crane their necks to see his pallid face. He lifted his black top hat in salutation, bowing his bald head which reflected the moonlight. “Cornelius Fere, Ringmaster of Shadow Circus. Pleasure to greet our first guests. May I entice you to come inside and see the show?”
“Hell ya!” Jeff shouted without a thought and he pulled Lisa into the tent. Colin and Jenny followed. For a moment, Colin thought he saw the night sky through the man’s face, as though he was transparent. He brushed it off as a trick of the lights beaming from inside the tent, and he allowed Jenny to pull him in.
“I guess they’re reopening the park,” Jenny said as they took their seats in the front row. A beautiful woman approached them wearing a green, jewelled corset and a matching flapper headpiece over her golden hair.
“Peanuts? Popcorn?” she offered. “A treat for our welcome guests.” Her smile and her voice were hypnotic. The aroma of buttery popcorn was enticing and they happily accepted the offer. Jeff also indulged in the roasted legumes. They sat there enthralled by the remarkable talents of the performers. Time slipped away as they watched the show.
“I’m happy I came tonight,” Jenny said to Colin, gazing into his eyes. She leaned in and he returned her approach. Their lips connected with a tender touch. She tasted like mint and popcorn. Her scent of peony was intoxicating. He could kiss her forever. Then their lips parted and they enjoyed the show.
“Attention everyone,” the familiar voice of the Ringmaster announced from the centre of the room. His voice was commanding as though he spoke through a megaphone. “Please take a moment to greet our first guests.” Colin squinted to see the man’s face from where he sat. His eyes seemed empty, like cavernous voids. He looked in their direction and smiled. His mouth was as hollow as his eyes. Colin’s attention turned to the other performers, who all at once stopped what they were doing and shifted focus to their young spectators.
“Why aren’t you eating?” the snack lady asked Colin. He was horrified by what stood before him. She was grotesque. The skin was gone from one side of her face. Blood wept from her gruesome wound and stained her costume. Colin felt something tickle his hand. The box of popcorn was alive with squirming, yellow maggots. His stomach heaved and he lurched forward, emptying onto the floor. When he sat back up, the performers approached them. They started to change. The trapeze artists released their swings and as they fell, horns sprouted from their foreheads and their fingers extended into talons. Grey, scaled wings erupted from their backs and they circled above the teens like hungry vultures. The paint on the jugglers’ faces melted and ran down their gruesome faces. Fangs appeared when their lips parted, offering a sinister sneer. Their eyes glowed and their irises turned red with pinprick pupils watching them. Bloody saliva dripped from their jagged teeth. The fire breather set himself on fire. As he approached them, dragging one leg behind the other, the flames evaporated and all that remained was a charred figure with pure white eyes and burnt flesh. The contortionists crawled toward them upside on all fours, bodies twisted and faces vile. Colin couldn’t move. His friends watched the creatures coming toward them with eager anticipation. Did they not see the same thing he did?
“Come on!” shouted Colin, shaking Jenny. “We’ve gotta get out of here!” His pleas woke her and she screamed when she saw the horror coming at them. The pair got up from their seats and ran to the entrance of the tent. The door was gone and the walls of the room were solid. They frantically looked behind them for another way out.
The Ringmaster appeared before them, as if from nowhere. “You can’t leave,” he said with an evil smirk. “We haven’t had dinner yet. I have a succulent menu planned for this evening.” The creatures started attacking Lisa and Jeff, snarling and shrieking as they tore away at their bodies. Jenny screamed again.
The Ringmaster took a deep breath in through the narrow slits of his nose and then moaned with his exhale. “Yes. Scream louder. Fear sweetens your flesh.” He stepped forward, erupting in a deep, echoing cackle.
“Shhh, what was that?” Dennis asked his friends as they searched for the place where the meteor landed. “I swear I heard laughing.”
“I didn’t hear anything,” John answered.
“Hey Nick!” Dennis shouted to his friend who was exploring the old snack court. “Do you see anything over there?”
“Nope, nothing here! Just a bunch of rubble. Wait…hey, I found a briefcase. It’s all torn though. There’s a smartphone here too. Damn, it’s all broken. What the…is this blood?”