She never could resist the lure of a carnival, a Medieval fair, a school fete. Could never ignore the flashing lights and the pitches of the carnies, felt compelled by the sweet imitations of excitement nestled deep within Sideshow Alley. The silver flash of steel in the wood chop, the plunging grace of high-diving pigs, the tragedy inherent in the army of smiling clowns. The inevitable hyperbolic promises to see the World’s Strongest Man, the World’s Beardiest Woman – the siren-song of novelty and a dream of at least a temporary reprieve from the pace and pressure of the world surrounding her.
She had seen that fluorescent invitation from the freeway, it was impossible to ignore the monolithic Ferris Wheel and the light cast by those thousand artificial suns, playing over the towering roller coasters, each boasting to be the fastest, the tallest, the longest in the hemisphere. The mingling smells of stale popcorn and the sweat of the circus animals assailed her as soon as she pulled into the dusty waste that would serve as a parking lot until the nomadic denizens of the carnival moved away. It triggered in her what felt like forgotten memories – of her parents, happy and laughing over ice-cream cones, of giant stuffed bears, doomed to be disembowelled and leaking within a week.
She wandered, as though in a dream constantly on the verge of tipping into nightmare, lingering before technicolour booths promising that “EVERY CHILD WINS A PRIZE!” Dot found herself lost in her own subconscious, seeing the doppelgängers and ghosts of happiness past, the neon ghosts of her disenfranchised present transmuted through the multi-coloured lights into a form of private terror. She came to remind herself as well as to forget, she came for the thrill that rides the coat tails of unthreateningly irrational fear.
The crone stood out immediately, an ancient gypsy obvious against the backdrop of happy families and surly young carnies. It was as though she were a mind-writer, projecting into Dot’s mind to make her presence known, as the world seemed to fade around her and she felt drawn to that old woman standing before the “THE VOID.” Its name was written, unassumingly in black pen on white cardboard, above her small ticket booth, and a toothless smile was flashed as Dot paid her four dollars. The old woman laughed, and promised that “THE VOID” – as she said it Dot heard the capitals slamming into her eardrums – that “THE VOID” would both terrify and amaze, that she would leave it irreparably changed.
Dot started to laugh, until the old woman’s voice filled her mind, with a cackling of her own. She glanced down at her ticket, at the words scrawled in that same semi-legible hand: DO NOT FOLD. Dot was momentarily filled with terror – until she reminded herself of the dozens of haunted houses that promised exactly the same.
She stepped into the airless void – never to be seen again.
This story is the introduction to a story that has (hopefully) broken my writer’s block and allowed me to keep writing. More on this tale soon…it is only a fragment, but hopefully can stand alone as well.