I’ve actually been working on this story, off and on, since August (when I took a trip to Quebec City). I’ve always disliked amusement parks myself, mostly because of how many people there are and how loud they are, but on my last trip to one I got a little idea for a story involving them, which eventually turned into this story, with the addition of a bit of a fifties-style pulp scifi kind of style.
Music this time is Science Fiction, the final album by Brand New. I’m surprised that I hadn’t posted this before, actually.
A comet – comet? it seems to twinkle more than usual – strikes across the sky brilliantly. A small piece dislodges, a tiny spark flying off it down to earth.
There is no one around where it lands. But if there was, they would see the most perplexing thing. The comet fragment lands with a dull thud and a minor shake and all is silent and still, for a moment. Then the hole the fragment created deepens of its own accord. No comet – if that had truly been a comet – is visible at all any more.
All is silent and still again. But there is a tenseness in the air, a feeling that something is happening, something is charging up, something is straining to get free.
Then, with a loud slurping and slapping noise, ten slime-covered tentacles burst out of the hole and flop onto the surrounding ground. They writhe for a moment, finding the right place, then lay completely still. And the thing begins growing.
I was just driving through. That’s all I meant to be doing. Point a to point b. But it was never that simple, was it. How much, truly, must our childhoods affect the rest of our lives, for better or worse? I had never cared for fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, and the like. They didn’t scare me, but they had no attraction for me either. It just wasn’t my kind of thing.
But there, on the side of the road, a sign for “The Traveling Carnival of Glitzheimer-Kitch”. It was suitably ordained with expressive lettering, reflective paint, and so on. My legs were simultaneously tired and longing for use other than pressing a pedal, and I figured I may as well check it out. It had been years, decades, since I had last been to one and, despite my long-time disdain of them, I felt like it was worth giving them a second chance.
So I went in. No ticket charge, no charge on anything, which I found suspicious yet also nice. I wasn’t in the mood to spend money at a fair, and that made things easy. But it seemed strange nonetheless.
The fair seemed to have an overall theme. Like aliens and space travel and that kind of thing, but like fifties aliens and space travel. Those cheesy laser blasters, green skin paint and aluminum-foil clothing. I didn’t do much, didn’t play any games or get any food (even that was free) or anything like that, but I enjoyed my time strolling through the fair and watching the people who were doing so. Strangely enough, or perhaps not given the lack of monetary charge, there didn’t seem to be any people running the carnival. All game booths were open to whomever wanted to play them, and all food was “serve yourself”.
A popular treat seemed to be the “Cosmic Pop”, a popcorn drizzled in butter dyed green, with purple cheese sprinkles. Nearly everyone I passed seemed to be eating some. It smelled good, but not good enough for me to bother getting some.
The screams of those who were riding the more intense rides, like the ride that’s slowly hitched up a hundred-foot tower and let loose at the top, letting gravity take control – which appeared to be in the middle of the park, easily visible from most other places – echoed throughout the whole carnival. And when they did scream there was a slight shift in the air. It seemed more tense, the air heavy and dense around me. It was as though the park responded with a cold heat, electrifying the entire area. It unnerved me, solidifying my childhood dislike of amusement parks.
Before long, I was back on the road. But I had wasted too much time, it was late enough to start considering lodging for the night. And as it happened, I felt in the mood to give myself a bit of a break, which meant finding a hotel at the town nearby to the fair.
I found that without much trouble, fueled up my truck, stopped by at a diner for a quick dinner, then went up to my room and passed out in a matter of minutes. I had strange, vaporous dreams. Mist-filled and murky, I remembered the dreams with detail but it was difficult to make out anything that took place in them. It was as though they were taking place on a bog on some alien planet, toxic and stinking fog concealing everything – well, almost everything – that took place behind. I could just barely make out vague figures and movements, neither of which belonged on earth. Too large, too… I don’t know. Their movements were jerky, yet also smooth. Calculated, but also animalistic.
My sleep was restless. But upon waking – early, of course, as required by my job – I got dressed, ate a quick meal at the diner (which was staffed by only one or two people), and headed to my truck. But the area, which had been so lively the night before, even late into the night, was utterly dead. A morning fog hung over what seemed the entire town, which took on an eerie glow in the early light. Despite the heat being on in the truck, a shiver ran down my spine. The indistinct shadows of buildings and signs in the fog echoed back to my dream in a way that made me uncomfortable.
As it happened, I needed to drive back past the carnival to get back on the highway to continue my route. The closer I got, the thicker the fog – and the stronger the greenish tone that I had previously just imagined that I saw. When I passed the sign, I looked over at it, and nearly drove the truck off the road in the process. A tendril, a spiky plant appendage, had grown out along the ground toward the sign, and wrapped itself around it. But it didn’t just look like the tendril appeared there, it looked as though it had burst out of the ground, the soil around being disturbed and upturned.
I needed to get on my way, but my curiosity took control. I parked the truck by the side of the road, climbed out, and headed down the path to the carnival, next to the sign. I looked at the vegetative tentacle. It was bloated and fat, like a tick after it has had its fill of blood. It was gluttonous, done feasting.
The fog took on a stench the further I walked down the path, and the green hue deepened. I pulled my t-shirt up over my nose to try to block the smell, at the expense of smelling my own body odor. The denser the fog, the more I noticed a vague stinging on every part of my skin that it touched. A few minutes later, my skin was red and hot, like it had been covered in an acidic compound.
A few minutes later, it was beginning to blister. I pulled my arms back into my shirt, to shield them from the fog, and further covered my face, leaving only my eyes exposed.
I had originally thought the park deserted, but before long I began noticing figures, their details hidden by the fog, moving in the distance. I tried to get to one, but as fast as I ran I was unable to catch up with them, even though they didn’t seem to be running, or even walking at anything more than a crawl.
I noticed something laying on the ground before me. It seemed completely immobile, so I approached it. Before I was even close enough to discern its details, I could tell that it was a human form, but in a sort of twisted fetal position.
Once I stood above it, I could see everything. Its – I say “its”, not “his” or “hers” – skin was cracked, blistered, and torn, green as broccoli. Its eyes were swollen to the point of being unable to close, and its fingers were bending in ways that are, in normal situations, physically impossible.
I should have turned back then, but I needed to know more. I needed to know what had happened. I walked further down the path, towards the center of the carnival, and a looming shape emerged from the fog before me. The heart-in-your-throat tower. But what had previously been the metal structure supporting it was now twisted and wrecked, with some pieces completely dislodging and falling to the ground below. Bursting out from the tower, now, was a thick, hundred-foot trunk. But not a tree trunk, more like a trunk made of rose twigs, spiny and threatening. And at the top, a huge, disgusting flower had bloomed. The fog was thickest around this, so I could see it only vaguely, but I could tell that’s where the fog, and likewise the stench, had originated. Unlike other flowers, this flower was not turned to face the rising sun, it faced nearly the opposite direction, towards the now-setting moon.
As I stood looking at it, the ground beneath me groaned and another tendril pulled itself out of the ground, this one connected to the Cosmic Pop stand. In its movement, it lifted the stand and upturned it, spilling the remaining popcorn – if that’s what it was – onto the ground. Almost instantly, the kernels began sinking into the ground with a fizzling sound, like acid burning through metal.
I turned and ran. I ran the entire way out of that hellish carnival, got into my truck, and drove. I had always hated carnivals, and now I always would. I had given them one last chance, and I regretted it.