Brian was crazy about the carnival. He went to see it every summer it came to his town and he had never missed a year. He knew every ride and attraction by heart: the Ferris wheel, the gypsy fortune teller, the shooting gallery, throw a dart and get a poster game, even the freak show – but Brian’s favorite attraction was the funhouse.
He could always spot it from the midway: a black building that looked like a clutter of giant shoe boxes of different sizes lying end to end. The weather-beaten, black exterior was decorated with garish drawings of victims being chased by all sorts of creatures into the mouth of hell. There was a drawing of a graveyard, populated by rotting corpses and other demons of darkness feasting on the rotting remains of the freshly dead. The monsters were painted in slashes of bright red, green, and orange that seemed to glow brighter than any of the midway lights. The people being chased away looked like they were screaming in horror. Brian imagined himself to be one of those people. He remembered the layout of the funhouse, and it committed to memory for some time, but this year he noticed something new had been added.
The end of the funhouse walk was lit by a solitary overhead strobe light bulb. As he approached, Brian had spied a flutter of movement near the bulb. He had nearly reached the hall’s end when he heard a loud creak, and something bulky dropped down from the ceiling. The light flared bright with shocking intensity and Brian found himself standing face to face with a corpse dangling from the end of a noose. Hands slack at the sides suddenly reached up to grab him. AWESOME! Brian thought that he might be able to convince some friends to come and see the thing before he remembered that tonight was the last night of the carnival.
At first he was disappointed, but then he thought about how cool it would be to actually steal the corpse. He could just imagine the looks on his friend’s faces when they walked into his bedroom and saw a corpse hanging from the inside of his door! WICKED! Brian was scheming so hard that he didn’t look where he was going on his way out and nearly tumbled over the man who ran the funhouse. The guy was a freak too with misshapen muscular limbs and a hump in his back that threw his whole posture out of alignment. The gargoyle-faced guy fixed him with an evil look. Brain had never saw this man before. He was as new as the corpse in the funhouse-and about as ugly! From the look the guy gave him, it seemed as though he knew that Brian was thinking he belonged inside with the rest of the horrors. Brian felt a tingle of fear until the creep turned back to taking tickets from the next group of funhouse victims.
Brian walked the fairgrounds for a few hours, killing time while he waited for the carnival to close. All the while, his thoughts were on the funhouse and how he might steal the dummy. At midnight, a voice came over the public speaker system telling the crowd that the carnival was closing down, and to please start heading home. Now was his chance. When he’d left the funhouse, he’d seen the back door: just a loosely hanging piece of black canvas. It would be a cinch to sneak inside during the confusion of everyone leaving the fairgrounds. He could have the dummy in his hands in a few minutes and take it out through the front gates with him. Lots of other people were carrying huge stuffed animals, and no one would suspect that the dummy wasn’t something he’d won at one of the games. The freaky creep that ran the funhouse probably wouldn’t know that his dummy was missing until they set up in the next town, and then it would be too late for them to come back looking for it.
By the time Brian reached the funhouse, the lights shining on the painted front were all off, and the gangplank leading up to it had chains across it. Brian made sure no one was looking, then ducked under the wires put up to keep people from straying off the path in front. With the lights off, it was darker in back than he had thought it would be. The back door to the funhouse beckoned, and Brian was surprised to discover that it was completely open. All he had to do was slip behind the flap and he was in. It was like they were begging someone to come in and rip them off. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light inside. He felt his way through along the walls, but the weird angles made him uncertain of where he was. He was feeling his way along the wall when something smacked him across the face. It was hairy and smelled disgusting as it pressed against his mouth. He spluttered and gagged against it. With a laugh, he realized it was a fake arm that had shot out of the wall. He remembered how he had dodged it during his earlier walk through. Brian felt a floorboard wobble beneath his shoe, and when he lifted his foot from it the arm pulled back. It was on some kind of spring that the funhouse visitor activated by stepping on the floor. That was probably the way all the funhouse frights worked.
A dim red light was shining down on the hung corpse as Brian groped his way to it. They hadn’t even bothered to hoist it back up after the last show. Brian reasoned that they probably just left it there so that it would be easier for the freak to take it apart when they packed up the carnival the next day. He twisted the dummy around and saw it was locked into a harness with struts that extended into the arms. So that was how they made the arms seem like they were clutching at you as it bounced at the end of the rope. All Brain had to do was lift the dummy up to free the harness from the hook that attached it to the rope.
Creaaaaaaaakkkkk! A floorboard sounded behind Brain. He instantly turned to stone. Creaaaaaaaakkkkk! There it was again. He thought about running back the way he had come. But he’d already put so much effort into getting this far, it would be a shame not to follow through. Creaaaaaaaakkkkk! It was only his nerves he thought. He was only scaring himself. There were probably lots of loose floorboards in the rickety building that were making the noise. The funhouse had scary things in it-but nothing real. Brian turned around and embraced the hanging corpse, his hands clasping just behind the harness. The thing’s bobbing head nodded down and its face rested against his cheek. He felt the icy coldness of a solid black plastic mask. The shiny surface reflected light in strange ways so that it would look like it was grinning or snarling back at you. Up close, he also realized the dummy had a rotting, musty smell to it. The hook didn’t give easily, and Brian lost patience. He gave it a sharp tug. The dummy slipped out of his clumsy hands, and as he went to grab it he awkwardly pulled on one of the arms. He heard a ripping sound and felt it wrench free of its socket.
Brian got upset after he found that he broke the dummy. The detached arm slithered out of the sleeve while the hand still snug in Brian’s grasp. It had a knob-like bump protruding from its end, and Brian held it up to the strobe light to get a better look. He dropped it as though it were red hot. IT WAS A BONE! A REAL HUMAN BONE! The dummy spun around and Brian hesitantly reached up and flipped off the plastic mask. The face behind it was mummified with gray skin the texture of leather stretched over its face in an expression of pure terror and a filthy gag tied around its mouth. Its skin was dried out and the eyes were sunken in. Brian removed the corpse’s gag and could make out its decayed, but human skeletal teeth in the gaping mouth. THIS WAS NO DUMMY!
Brian stepped back, gagging. A pair of hands reached out from the wall behind him and grabbed him! He stepped off the board, trying to make them retract and let go of him, but no matter how his feet danced over the floorboards surface, the arms held tight. Then one of them grabbed him by the hair and roughly spun him around. Staring back at Brian was the leering face of the freaky creep that ran the funhouse! The man smiled at him wickedly, and laughed. Then he brought down something hard painfully on Brian’s skull.
When he finally came to, he found that he could not move his limbs. They were bound to something hard and unyielding. His chest felt constricted, as though there were cords wrapped around it, attaching to something behind him. He realized there was a nasty tasting piece of cloth stretched around his mouth, making it difficult for him to make any noise. Brian felt himself twirled around and came face-to-face with the funhouse creep. The man stared back at him and stroked his face with the dirty fingernails of his hand.
“Such a good-looking boy, much better looking than that overused bag of bones that you desecrated, but too childish for your own good.” Said the freak.
Brian tried to scream but could muster no more than a gurgle against the wadded cloth in his mouth. He flailed his legs, only to find that he was no longer standing on the creaking floorboards of the funhouse but was instead, several feet above them. The freaky creep tugged Brian’s head roughly, forcing him to look down at the shriveled remains of the real funhouse corpse, lying on the floor. What a shame Brian was such a mischievous boy and how sad that he’d gone poking into things he shouldn’t have, just like the last mischievous boy that the freaky creep took care of. Now Brian would have to replace what he had broken. The freak snapped something over Brian’s face. Something dark and tight. Something cold and plastic that would hide his tears.
When Brian awoke again to the sounds of creaking floorboards, pure terror overtook him as he realized that the sounds came from a group of funhouse visitors. He dreaded their footsteps as they came closer and closer. He tried to struggle, he tried to scream. Suddenly, Brian heard a quick clicking sound that released a spring. Then, Brain felt the support he was standing on give way and he plummeted into complete darkness. Brian’s disappearance was a complete mystery to his family and friends. Eventually they gave up the search for him, and assumed he ran away with the carnival.
Jason Qualls from Elkhart, Indiana