Friday night, school finished just over five hours ago and a group of friends from the local secondary school have met up to go to the travelling carnival that had visited town. There were five in the group, each person was different in many ways and came from all sorts of backgrounds, this was what made them appreciate their friendship so much, and no one definitely passed any unwanted judgments. They all stuck with each other and supported each other, even in the hardest of times. Tonight would be the ultimate test for this bond.
It was just after nine thirty in the evening, and the autumn air was chilly, yet fresh. The night had begun to close in the hour beforehand, and the cloudless sky gave an almost uninterrupted view of the canvas of stars sparkling above them. The carnival itself wasn’t too big but was good enough to entertain the whole of the local area. The local park, large and oval in shape, was situated in the suburbs and was surrounded on all sides by black metal fencing with arrows atop each of the spokes, intersected by brick columns. On the outside a road ran the entire circumference of the park, flanked by trees and street lamps. Residential streets branched off from the park in different directions. There were four entrances to the park, located directly opposite each other, connected to each other by clean, brick paths that crossed in the centre of the park around a small fountain, which was only ever turned on during the summer months. The carnival itself was set up in the eastern half of the park, and even before they had entered the park through the opposing entrance, they could hear the sound of the music and the people enjoying themselves, and they could feel the warm, welcoming glow of the lights, spewing an attractive aurora around the surrounding houses.
“Mate, I can-not wait to get some fairground hot dogs inside me. I-am-starving!” Announced Dave. Dave was considered a city boy, with a slight cockney accent. He wore faded jeans, a baggy Tottenham Hotspur football shirt, white trainers and a black Nike baseball cap. He had an unpredictable mood, particularly with people he didn’t know; otherwise he was happy around his friends.
“You’re always starving! And the fact that you only ate a few hours ago just makes it sound even more pathetic!” countered Nick. Nick was an average lad, he had no interest in fashion and simply wore what made him feel comfortable; jeans, combat trousers, t-shirts, whatever, and he certainly didn’t let anyone pass any unwanted judgments about his personal likes and dislikes. Tonight he had gone with basic dark jeans, a t-shirt he had bought on a family trip to see the D-day beaches in Normandy, and a pair of grey casual trainers.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t much of a filling ‘dinner,’” he replied, twitching his fingers as he said ‘dinner’. “Besides that was more of an afternoon snack than an actual dinner.”
“Alright”, sighed Garth, “we’ll stop off at a burger bar, but only after we’ve been on some of the rides. I don’t want you throwing your guts all over me”. Garth was a quiet lad, but whenever he spoke, he put a smile on his friends’ faces, no matter what mood they were in. He was very well-built, very handsome with a shaved and smoothly defined face; he had well groomed hair and always wore clothes that looked so perfect he could have been a top model, if he’d wanted too. He wore smart white trainers, slightly faded denim jeans, and a very non-creased, tight t-shirt, and despite having practically every girl in the school chasing after him, he was still single - which didn’t surprise his friends in the slightest - as he was still looking out for the one girl who was perfect for him.
“I tell you now; there will be no one who can beat me at the rifle range. I don’t even care if those rifles aren‘t zeroed properly, I’m not gonna miss a single one of those targets. Do any of you dare challenge the master of marksmanship?” This was an offer from James that John definitely couldn’t refuse, not this time. The last time John had challenged James at the rifle stand he’d had his butt severely whooped, by the end of the competition James had completely cleared his targets while John was still trying to knock down his pyramid of cans. From then, John’s pentathlon training had become more intense and he had become an amazing shot with a firearm.
“Yes! I’ll give you a run for your money this time.“ announced John with a fiery glare of confidence “I, John, challenge you, James, to a shootout at the rifle range, five pellets say I’ll kick your pompous ass!”
“Five? I only need one! You’re on, mate!” James said, shaking John’s hand.
James was considered by most as a farmer boy, he had a country accent, wore tweed or leather shoes and coats, wool or even cashmere jumpers, shirts of various colours, jeans or cords. He was a generally nice person who always spoke what he thought. He had a wide rough face, with a constantly determined look on his face. He was definitely going into agriculture when he was older. John was a keen sportsman, and was on the brink of becoming an international pent athlete for the Great Britain, currently ranked second in the UK and Ireland. He was fairly small and skinny due to his dedication to sport, and he was the type of person who could eat all the junk fast food restaurants had to offer and not put any weight on. He had a slim face, patches of facial hair and a few spots. Everything about him was sporting, black and dark blue running shoes, baggy tracksuit trousers and cotton Umbro t-shirt. He wasn’t born in England, but to an American family that had moved over just after his birth. Still, he retained a strong American accent.
“Fiver says I’ll whoop your ass,” John started.
“Fiver!? I’ll raise you a tenner, mate!” James finished.
“As you wish, Jimbo! Prepare to be humiliated!”
“I just can’t wait to have a go on the merry-go-round. . .” Nick said. Everyone in the group just stopped where they were and just stared at Nick, the expressions on their faces saying, you what. . ? “Guys, just kidding!” Nick said, trying to dig his way out of it.
“Yeah, yeah, sure. . .” the others muttered as they started walking again.
“No seriously, I’m just messing with you!”
“Look, if that’s the sort of thing that floats your boat then that’s fine with us.” said Dave reassuring Nick sarcastically.
“You can all go to hell. . .” Nick muttered light heartedly under his breath, the others just chuckled.
A few minutes later they were in the bustling centre of the carnival; all sorts of colours were being thrown at them over a blanket of yellow sparkling light. James and John had just paid for their five shots each on the air rifle range; five shots to knock down a pyramid of cans. They both loaded their first pellet and closed the breach. They took their aim as their friends watched intently. James was the first to pull the trigger. He was aiming at the left pyramid, the outside of the bottom centre can. Direct hit! The can came out from under the pyramid. The pyramid itself tumbled down, taking with it one of the other cans on the bottom, but simply pushing the other one slightly to the side. He proceeded to reload. John squeezed his trigger, aiming at the top of the central can on the bottom tier, just on the side. It spun from underneath the pyramid, causing it to crash underneath its own weight, all over the shelf. He placed the rifle, breach open, down onto the table and folded his arms, a smug grin covered his face while Dave, Garth and Nick whooped and laughed both in amazement and delight. James looked at John open mouthed, and then gave him the biggest evil look he had ever given anyone. He took out a ten pound note and slapped it into John’s open hand before taking his second shot, completely missing the last can on his shelf. The Dave, Garth and Nick howled with laughter while John still stood where he was, maintaining a smug look on his. He put his rifle down without even bothering to take another shot at the remaining can, gave John one last glance, then walked off, muttering “you‘re buying my food, pal.” The others followed, mocking him.
They went round the rest of the carnival enjoying the other attractions on offer to them, with James having a mock grudge against John; they each drove their own vehicle in the bumper car arena, giggling loudly as each hard crash knocked more air out of their lungs. Dave and Garth went on a couple of throwing games, trying to win a cuddly toy. Neither of them was very successful in their attempts. They walked past the merry-go-round, mocking Nick as they went by, stopping every so often to offer him an extra chance to ‘go enjoy himself’. Dave had his fill of a hot dog, a burger, two portions of chips and even some candy floss and a toffee apple; after all of which he still complained he was hungry and kept stealing everybody else’s chips when they weren’t looking. He got caught by John as he nicked a chip, John responded in kind, reaching across to steal a chip off Dave’s polystyrene plate – only to be fended off by a sharp stab on the hand by Dave’s little wooden fork, and a menacing glare. John’s reaction was of silent bewilderment.
“I’m not sitting next to you on the next ride. . .” Garth uttered, having witnessed the amount of food Dave was consuming. At one point they smiled and winked at a group of girls as they walked by, who smiled and waved coyly back at the boys, giggling amongst themselves. They headed to the Hall of Mirrors, where they had great fun running full pelt into mirror after mirror they simply hadn’t seen. Nick was first to finish and laughed hysterically at the others as each one went face first into another mirror, mouthing shut up and go away, embarrassed when they realised he was watching them. They got their just desserts when they exited to find Nick had suffered a bleeding nose from running into mirrors one too many times.
The last ride they came to of the night was the ghost train. It looked just a cheaply enjoyable at all the other attractions, with roughly painted artwork of a zombie and Frankenstein’s monster, light bulbs thinly painted green and purple and the painted words Haunted House poorly painted to look like blood. The ticket booth was set to one side. It didn’t look very big from the outside; roughly thirty or so metres wide, ten high - including the headboard with Frankenstein and a zombie - and around another seven meters going back.
“Bet this ain’t scary at all,” said Dave.
“Yeah, you’ll be covering your eyes the second we get in there! You always do with things like this!” mocked Garth, they all chuckled.
“Yeah, shut up. . .” was all Dave had to come back with.
They all handed a ticket in to the man behind the counter and got onto a cart. The bars came down.
“There’s no escape from me this time, Garth!” Dave laughed crazily in Garth’s face as he sat down next to him.
The cart moved off into the tunnel. Although they were still moving, it was still pitch black, and it remained pitch black for a good five minutes or so. All of a sudden they turned a tight corner and came out into what looked like a bleak set-piece, on their right was a curved walled, coloured like a head stone, that looked like it was taken straight out of a station on the London Underground, there were poster frames, but no posters in them, they just had the familiar JCDeceaux at the bottom of the frames. There were also one or two Underground signs, but no name, they were just blank, not even in the traditional red and blue of the London public transport system, just two shades of grey. On their left hand side, where the platform should be, was a small grass field, more like a front lawn, with a single concrete track leading ten metres or so to a small, old looking, forties style two story house. There were no lights on. A single tree stood just the left of the house in full bloom, although the atmosphere just made it look lifeless with grey leaves and bark that looked like it had thick layers of grey paint covering it. The whole place was very dull; the sky was dark and cloudy, almost stormy. A cold breeze blew gently around the place. The grass, waving ever so slightly in the breeze, had the only colour in the place, although it was still very pale green. It seemed like a real place in a horror movie, although through the atmosphere they could still make out the borders of a room. Even the boys’ clothes looked dull and grey. Their skin looked pale too.
The cart trundled slowly to the middle of the ‘station’. The bars lifted. All five lads sat where they were in dead silence for another five minutes. It was James who broke the deathly silence;
“I don’t get it! What the hell happens now? Does this thing go off again or are we meant to get out and have a wander?” he was now growing extremely impatient. “This has never happened on either of the other times we’ve been on this ride before, the past few times we could actually tell how much the skeletons and ghosts were falling apart!”
“I’ve no idea, let’s see what happens when we get out. . .” answered John.
“It doesn’t make sense anyway, on the outside it looks nowhere near as big as this, it’s just a little, rectangular cabin. . . It definitely wouldn’t fit something like this inside it,” Nick said, pointing out the logics of it all. “Although it does seem oddly real.”
They all climbed out of the cart onto the pavement and stood around for a few minutes. They then started off towards the house. The second they set off they heard a noise behind them. They spun around to see the bars of the cart had snapped down and the cart itself sped out of the room. The boys just stared in bewilderment. They stood around for another few minutes, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did happen, other than the breeze had started to make them all feel cold. They turned around and focused their attention on the house.
“That was strange,” confirmed John with an obvious tone in his voice.
“Not as strange as the attendant who took our ticket, did you see him? He takes our tickets in complete silence, doesn’t even tell us where to go, when to get on or even point out some of the safety stuff they normally do,” Garth pointed out; “not to mention his face, it just looked so blank! Staring straight through us, it was almost like he was possessed!” he finished half sarcastically.
“Yeah, sure, possessed!” replied James, with sarcasm injected into every word. He was still annoyed with the complete novelty of this so-called ride, as well as his embarrassing loss to John on the rifle range earlier on.
They got to the door with Nick in the lead, he stopped at the door and knocked, rasping three times.
“Hello? Anybody in there?” He shouted none-too-seriously for a reply. He got no reply, so he turned around to see what the others wanted to do.
“Let’s just see if it’s open,” said Garth.
“I’ll go with that,” agreed James.
“Me too,” Dave entered.
“Yeah, let’s do it, I’m cold!” Added John.
“Alright! But on your heads be it if we actually disturb someone. . .” Nick gave in and reached out for the doorknob. As soon as he touched it he sharply withdrew his hand with a short, sharp gasp.
“What’s up, Nick?” questioned Dave.
“The doorknob’s absolutely freezing!” He whimpered, putting his hand straight into his pocket to get warm.
“Stand aside, wuss!” James burst through impatiently, quickly reaching out and grabbing the doorknob. He too quickly retracted his hand, yelping in pain.
“What’s that about wuss, mate?” Nick countered sarcastically, smirking.
“Shut up! You said it was ‘absolutely freezing’!” James was furious.
“It was. Look, my hand’s still blue and I’ve even had it in my pocket for long enough now.” Nick showed his hand quickly before putting it back into his pocket.
“Well it felt red hot to me!” He was really unimpressed right now; “look at my hand, it’s redder than a tomato!”
“Erm. . . guys! Look at the doorknob!” Garth interrupted loudly. The handle itself was glowing red with the intense heat being given off.
“THIS MAKES NO SENSE!” James exploded.
“It really doesn’t,” John agreed.
“So what are we gonna do now then, Einstein?!”
“I don’t know, but your screaming in my face is definitely not gonna make matters any better for us!”
“You got an answer for everythin’ don’t you, you f-” James had to be held back by Garth, Dave and Nick as he made a hostile move against John.
“James! What’s wrong with you?! You know he’s right! There’s nothing he can do, nothing you can do, and nothing any of us can do unless we try to make some kind of sense out of it! Please James, just try to calm down.” James relaxed a little and Garth released him. He apologised briefly to John. “Still, while we’re here. . .” Garth turned and reached out, positioning his hands two centimetres away from the doorknob, warming his hands up. The others chuckled and joined in, excluding James, who simply had to rub his red hot hand with his cold hand. This luxury only lasted a brief minute before the doorknob went cold again.
A moment later they heard a noise behind them. They wheeled round to see a cart full of girls slide slowly along the track. They had walked straight past these same girls earlier, on the way to the Hall of Mirrors. They were screaming as though they were experiencing the real ride the Ghost Train was host to. They were. They girls were experiencing the real thing, the ride the boys should have been experiencing themselves. They could not see what the boys were seeing, or even the boys themselves. They playfully screamed at what was possibly another ghost, or skeleton popping out at them from alternating sides of the track. The boys looked at each other briefly in confusion. They started running in the direction of the cart full of girls, shouting and waving their arms. The girls must have heard them because they started to look around in blind confusion. The cart all of a sudden picked up speed and rushed off to the other end of the track. The girls simply screamed in delight, completely forgetting about the random voices. The cart sped out of the far doors. The doors closed and locked themselves, leaving the room once again in complete silence.
The boys climbed down onto the track and started trying to push the doors open. They would not budge a single millimetre, even with the full weight of five grown teenage boys pushing and throwing themselves against it. Behind them they heard the entrance doors open and something speeding along the track, they turned to see an empty cart hurtling toward them at break-neck speed with no sign of deceleration. The doors at the far end snapped shut behind it.
“Get onto the platform, quick! Go, go, go, MOVE!” ushered Nick quickly. The five boys quickly scrambled onto the platform. The cart shot past them. It narrowly missed Dave’s foot as he just got out of the way in time.
The boys quickly got to their feet, checking themselves over for injuries, and then checking up on each other. They were now stood on the grassy part of the ‘platform’.
They heard from somewhere on the other side of the path a faint crumbling noise. They looked to see the ground tearing itself up, something was coming towards them under the ground, a low growling noise emitting from it. The even stranger thing was that the ground was healing itself up after the creature had moved on, as though it hadn’t been disturbed at all.
“Get onto the path!” Garth ordered, quickly analyzing what was happening. They didn’t need telling twice. They all raced to the path, reaching it just as the creature was preparing to strike. It even revealed part of its flesh to the boys. It looked like some sort of snake, yet with much tougher, bonier, and more ridged skin. As soon as the boys touched the concrete the beast disappeared. The ground healed up after it, as though it had been nicely preserved.
“What the hell was that?!” exclaimed James, breathless and weak from two sudden rushes of adrenaline.
“This place actually wants to kill us!” added Dave.
“I don’t know what that was or even where the hell we are, but I think we should head indoors, it seems like our last and only option!” Garth took charge.
“I think so too,” John agreed with Garth. All the others could do was to simply nod at each other in agreement, before heading off together towards the house once again, being more cautious than they had ever been in their entire lives.