Arriving at the gates with her mum’s hand in her right, and her dad’s hand in her left, a little girl craned her neck up to see the full scale of the entrance in front of her. A large archway was framed by a red and yellow striped banner wound around the wiry frame. A matching canvas sheet spanned the distance left to right between the archway and the walls that contained the park where the carnival was set. These banners announced the name of the carnival in big fancy letters, placed diagonally across the material.
“The Shadow Carnival”
To the right of the entrance was a thin man, with a bowler hat and curly mustache who was pedaling in place on a unicycle. The little girl thought he was dressed far too grandly for such a trick, in a striped coat and tails, colours to match the striped banner, long black trousers and black oxford brogues. His face was red with effort and his constant smiles to the crowds piling into the entrance. He would lift his hat to the ladies as they passed and offer a wink to the children.
The crowd surged forward, sweeping along the girl and her parents through the entrance and into the carnival. They were spat out in the middle of a junction. Four pathways lead out from where they were standing without any real indication of what lay ahead. They looked immediately around themselves. Small lights were strung up above them, lining the walkways with multi-colored orbs and leaving a faint glow on the ground, like ghosts of themselves. Each corner had a stall planted there, bearing the same striped canvas as the entrance. Yellow light spilled out from the windows onto the path, inviting people to investigate. Cheers and laughter came from the people who surrounded these tents, unwilling to move on and explore further. Smells of candy floss and hot dogs wafted over to the girl, embracing her with its familiarity.
The family trio spun on the spot, looking in all four directions to decide where to go. The parents decided to take the less travelled route, the one that went to the right from the entrance. They traipsed down the gravel pathway until they came across another stall. It was quite a distance from the entrance and the crowds. A weathered woman’s face appeared out of the window and she plastered on a smile.
“Round up! Round up! Come feast your eyes on this!” She called, beckoning the family over with her equally weathered hand. The parents gave each other a look, as if to confirm whether they should or not, and exchanged a brief nod. They wandered over to the stall to see what was to be feasted on. The little girl drifted along with them, still holding the hand of each parent. She had noticed the moths that had been drawn to the multi-coloured orbs and were bashing themselves up against as many orbs as they possibly could. She couldn’t help but wonder why. She could understand why they wanted to be near the light, beyond the light there was darkness. An ominous darkness that hid the rest of the park and was keen to smother the light coming from the carnival. She too wanted to remain near the light.
Her parents turned to face the stall, and so she turned with them. She was faced with the material of the stall, rather than the old lady. She jumped, and jumped but could not see above the bottom of the window. She looked to her parents, one at a time, to ask for help. To ask if they could pick her up or put her on their shoulders. They stared unblinking at what the old lady had on display. She tugged at her mum’s arm which made the right half of her body wobble, but she kept staring ahead. She tugged at her dad’s arm which made the left side of his body wobble, but he kept staring ahead. She looked between the two of them.
“Mum! Dad!” she called. But they still did not look away.
“Mum!” She shouted, as loud as she possibly could. Her mum did not respond, as if she were frozen in place by invisible magic.
So the little girl let go of her parents hands. She waited for their concerned faces to turn towards her, for them to tell her off for letting go in such a busy place.
So the little girl ran, ran further down the pathway. Looking for someone else to help. She ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. Her blonde hair and purple coat created a streak among the lights. She passed several stalls which looked deserted. The crowds had not yet come down this way. She looked at each stall as she passed and saw the workers. Each one stood to the left of the window, bolt upright and staring ahead. They stood very still with a blank expression on their face. It was only their eyes that moved. Their eyes followed the little girl that ran in front of their stall.
At the end of the pathway, a house stood there waiting for her. The little girl craned her neck to look at the sheer size of the house. It had three rows of windows and at least twenty either side of the door (as that was as high as she could count). The wood looked like it desperately trying to hold the house together, with its weathered and bending panels.
She came to a stop in front of the large red door. She stopped because of its oddness. She had never seen a door that was bigger in the top half than it was the bottom half. Before she could get a closer look, the door creaked open as if by itself. She took a step back.
“Hello?” she asked in a small voice. There came no reply other than the faint sound of music, coming from somewhere deep in the house. She listened, and realised it was one of her favourite songs from school. The one about the rainbow sheep and the many bags of wool. She couldn’t help but smile at the realisation and gently pushed the wonky red door a little further open.
As she stepped inside, she had to wait a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the dimly lit corridor. Lining the walls were an assortment of mirrors. Intrigued by this, as the little girl loved her reflection, she went and stood in front of one. Her eyes widened in horror as she saw her reflection, distorted and stretched. Quickly, she moved onto the next mirror where she was suddenly short and stumpy. She looked down at her legs, brought her arms up in front of her and then patted her middle. She looked like normal, felt like normal. She didn’t understand what kind of magic this was. The little girl continued past the mirrors, no longer wanting to look at how they contorted her small body, and came to another door. This door was a deep purple and was diagonal this time. She pushed it open and was greeted by the music getting louder. It was on repeat but the beat was slightly off. As if it were starting to slow. This put tendrils of fear up the little girl’s spine, despite it being her favourite song.
She entered the room, which was now brightly lit, and in the centre of the room was a man. He was sitting on a wooden box with his back to the girl and his hands on his knees. His bright orange hair stuck out from the sides of his head, as if it had been stretched and hadn’t bounced back. He didn’t stir as she came in.
“Hello,” the little girl said, hoping he might say hello back. But he did not. He did not move. So she put herself against the wall to her right and went to walk around to face him. As she worked her way to the other side of the room, she couldn’t help but notice the smell. It was clogging up her nose and her throat with a stench she had never smelled before. It was sweet but foul all at once. She didn’t care how much her mum told her it was rude, she had to hold her nose!
She turned to face him. His head was bent down to the floor but she could see how deathly pale he was. How his eyes had sunken in, leaving dark rings around them. His lips were blue. But the round nose was still cherry red. The little girl’s eyes filled with tears, she could sense something was terribly wrong. If she could read she would know this for sure, as the dripping writing on the wall read “Meet Chuckles. He’s dying to meet you!”
Her eyes scanned the room, desperate to get out. She found the next door, a few big steps away from her and started towards it. As she did, Chuckles let out a groan. She froze. She looked over her shoulder and saw he was slowly rising from his seat. He lifted his head and met her fearful eyes. She let out a scream. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing! She begged her legs to take her to the door but they were frozen in fear. All she could do was gape at this terror of a man, coming ever closer.
It was only when he reached out a shaky hand towards her that the spell broke and her legs carried her quickly over to the door. She ran through it and slammed it in Chuckles’ face. She heard him groan from the other side of the door, followed by retreating footsteps.
Leaning her back against the door, she breathed heavy as she surveyed this next room. It was a wide staircase, leading upwards to a door-less frame. Her favourite song played so loudly in this room that she had to press her hands hard against her ears. It no longer made her smile, instead it made her want to run to her bed and hide under the covers until it stopped.
The steps ahead of her were deep and each step was lit with a sky blue light. Cautiously, the little girl made her way up the steps. She had to take two steps on each stair as her legs were so small. She would check behind her every few steps to make sure Chuckles was not following her. At last she reached the top and found that she was on a balcony. It oversaw the path that brought her here.
The path was now overflowing with people. The crowds had finally found their way down here. She spotted her parents in the crowd, along with the weathered old woman. Hundreds of people stood bolt upright in place.
All had their eyes on the little girl.
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