Have you ever visited or seen an abandoned amusement park or circus before?

Carnival picture by Erik Jorgensen (small)

They seem to have a melancholic aura full of mystery. It’s easy to say that they can be a bit creepy at times, but the folklore and stories behind them tend to make them all the more intriguing. I was only fifteen when I had a first-hand experience of visiting such a place myself.

I had two thirteen year-old friends, Kevin and Lisa, who lived in a peaceful neighborhood and enjoyed reading about urban legends. They were raven-haired Caucasian twins with olive green eyes that were the exact same height: 5’8” ft. They informed me through a phone call about a carnival that was hosted in their local area. I didn't want my parents eavesdropping on my conversations again, so I told them I just wanted to pay my friends a visit. I went to their house and asked them why they were telling me this, since I didn’t really care much for festivities of the sort. "A pal of mine told me this carnival lasted for over twenty-seven days, but then it was closed down without a warning or reason. We didn't even know it existed until its closure was mentioned on the evening news." Lisa nodded with agreement, looking just about as baffled as her brother. I didn't pay much attention to television, unlike them; I usually got my fill of news through online articles. What confused me the most was that such an event would’ve already spread across many news websites around the internet, and I hadn’t seen a single trace of the carnival’s closing on all of the news websites that I scoured.

Several thoughts ran through my mind as I processed this. Perhaps it was an underground operation that involved illegal activities, which is why the carnival never had publicity? Supernatural occurrences couldn’t have caused this, or else people would be talking about a haunted carnival…

“Hey, are you still here?” Lisa jokingly interjected. I stopped spacing out and let out an awkward chuckle.

“So… would you like to accompany us?” Kevin asked me. I was a bit confused, so I asked him where.

“Well, the carnival, of course!” Lisa responded for him, as if the answer were obvious. They were out of their minds. Abandoned locations never really did faze Kevin and Lisa, despite the fact that they can be dangerous. I was reluctant at first, but I hesitantly agreed just so I could keep an eye on them. They told their parents to tell my parents that I was going to have a sleepover with them, and my parents approved. The twins weren’t troublemakers, so their parents trusted them enough to not have to monitor us throughout the whole sleepover.

We quietly left the house that night around 11 o’clock sharp, while Kevin and Lisa’s parents were asleep. Lisa knew of a shortcut through the woods by her neighbor’s backyard to get to the carnival. The flashlights we carried with us shined small, dim circles of light; it was very difficult to see in the dark, even if the three of us combined the beams of our near-useless flashlights. Dead autumn leaves littered the ground. Every sound I heard that wasn’t our footsteps or our breathing would put me on edge. We all stopped when we heard the creaking of wood. It sounded as if something heavy was bending a large tree branch above us. We wildly shined our flashlights in all directions, but nothing out of the ordinary was there. I strongly urged my friends to turn around and go home, but they insisted that we keep walking.

After about ten more minutes of continuous walking, we reached a large chain link fence that surrounded a parking as big as half of a football field. Above the entrance was a large yellow sign with a few missing and faded multi-color neon letters that read “CL__A’s CARNIVAL”. The main gate’s door was locked with a rusty old padlock that simply snapped in two when we kicked it enough times. The fence door was difficult to move, but it slowly opened with an ominous, metallic squeal that sounded like someone dragging their nails across a chalkboard. That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The desolate carnival was surrounded by the woods, keeping it somewhat secluded from the outside world. The pavement was cracked here and there, and the whole area looked overgrown with plants and grass as if it were neglected for years. Rides and stands had fallen into a state of disrepair, with rotting wooden planks and rusted metal rails in various places. The nagging feeling of dread that was in the pit of my stomach when Kevin, Lisa, and I were trudging through the woods became even more intense as we stepped through the gate.

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I turned to leave, but Kevin grabbed me by the arm. “Not yet,” he muttered. His eyes looked glazed over, as if he was in a trance. I struggled to free myself, but his grip only got tighter. Lisa seemed to purposefully ignore how strange Kevin was acting because she was looking directly at me with a blank stare, and didn’t do anything about it. I cursed under my breath and stopped struggling. Kevin relaxed his grip, and gave me a strange look. “Why do you look so frightened?” he asked, seeming to be puzzled by my reaction.

Lisa turned and looked at both of us as if she never saw what happened earlier. “Scared of a few rusty rides?” she joked as we continued walking around.

This wasn’t normal for the two of them to be acting like this. They’re treating this as if it’s another casual walk in the park, when danger could be lurking in the shadows. There could be hostile homeless people who hide here or maybe even a bear. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight myself; I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Carnivals had always kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and desolated ones just make things worse for my sanity and I…

“Look! A coin toss stand!” Kevin exclaimed excitedly, pointing at a worn down wooden stand. Behind the beige counter were several bottles, some on the floor and some still upright. I just shrugged, since there were so many other stands like that around there.

“What’s so special about that?” Lisa asked Kevin as he ran over to examine it. Kevin didn’t respond to Lisa, as if he was in his own little world. I was about to go over there to see what he was doing, when Lisa put her hand on one of my shoulders. “Not yet,” she muttered.

I was about to ask her why, when we were interrupted by the loud music of a carousel that was only a few yards behind us. Lisa and I turned to see that the nearly rusted ride was slowly spinning and fully functioning, save for a few dead light bulbs. When we looked back at the stand that Kevin was at, he was curled up on the ground next to the counter in a fetal position. He was completely expressionless, and didn’t utter a single sound as if he were in a trance.

“Kevin…?” Lisa’s voice quivered as she slowly walked up to her brother. His mouth was full of small pieces of glass, and he was tightly clutching a large shard from one of the broken bottles. Lisa tried to knock it out of his grip, but Kevin roughly kicked her away and began carving into his own chest. I just stood there, watching in utter shock. I wanted to try and stop him, but something kept me from moving my legs. It was like sleep paralysis, but I was wide awake. My mouth was ajar, but no scream came out. By the time Kevin stopped carving into himself, he had already bled so much that it would be too late to save him if he were rushed to the hospital. Lisa stood up with tears flowing down her face and looked down at Kevin, who began to laugh in an inexplicably raucous manner.

Capital letters that spelled out “CLARA” were carved into his chest. “Who the hell is Clara!?” Lisa desperately asked Kevin, who responded with nothing but harsh cackles and gargling coughs as blood seeped out of his mouth. He shakily gestured toward a broken old target practice stand just a few feet by the carousel, which was still spinning with its loudly upbeat calliope music. The stand had just a single shelf with two wooden circular targets painted red and white, with a few old and broken bottles lying around here and there. The counter was completely covered with a large old tablecloth that was a dark shade of mahogany. I could’ve sworn I saw the dark silhouette of someone standing behind that counter. I hastily rubbed my eyes with my hands, and the silhouette was gone.

“Is this a freaking joke!?” I yelled at Kevin, but he had already perished; a morbid smile was the last facial expression he made.

Lisa and I slowly walked to the red stand that Kevin directed us to. She wasn’t going to leave this place until she found out what had pushed Kevin to commit such gruesome acts. When we walked up to the counter of the stand, the carousel’s music abruptly stopped playing and the ride itself came to a grating halt. Everything was dead silent once more, until I was startled by the sound of glass shattering underneath of the counter. I’ve had enough of carnival shenanigans, so I turned to run when a hand reached out from underneath the counter and grabbed my ankle. The hand began pulling backwards on my ankle, and I fell forward, landing painfully on the palms of my hands before being pulled under the tablecloth. I don’t remember much from that point, except for the fact that all I saw was darkness and all I heard was Lisa’s screams of terror.

About three hours later, I woke up next to Lisa behind the counter of the stand. She was laying face-down on the ground. I tried to shake her awake, but received no response. I continued shaking her until she rolled over to reveal a grinning mouth full of glass shards and the name “CLARA” carved into her chest. She wasn’t holding the piece of glass, this time; it was me. I dropped the glass shard in utter disbelief and stood up, shaking my head in disgust. I felt like I was in a nightmare that just wouldn’t end. I slowly stepped back, and I had the sick feeling that I bumped into someone. I didn’t want to turn around to see who it was, but I did so anyway out of sheer curiosity.

What I saw was something that would remain burned into my mind for several more years to come. It was a tall, pale-skinned woman with dark mustard yellow eyes and grotesquely sharp, piranha-like teeth grinning down at me. Her mouth and long, pointy nose were painted with red face paint, and there were small dark blue triangles painted around her eyes. Her pointed ears made her look like a creature of folklore, and her sloppily combed mahogany hair had an oily sheen that clearly reflected the full moon’s dim light. There were white gloves on her thin, spider-like hands, and she wore faded red clothes with the typical frills and eccentric red and white striped stockings one would see on someone who once worked at a circus.

Clara Painting

A digital painting of Clara herself.

Her sudden appearance made my heart sink to the very pit of my stomach. I absolutely hated clowns. It was a childhood incident that forever changed my opinion of those creepy bastards. What disturbed me most was when she held out a hand towards me. In the palm of her hand was a piece of caramel candy with little shards of glass protruding from all sides. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Welcome to my carnival.”

I turned and sprinted as fast as I could. All I heard behind me were the echoing guffaws of that freaking clown. She just stood there and laughed at me as I ran far away from her. My head was spinning as I made it through the gate and into the trees. The only word that I could think about was “CLARA”. I wasn’t paying much attention while I was running; I just wanted to get away from that carnival. I soon paid for that when I tripped over a thick tree root and hit my head on a large rock on the ground.

The next morning, I woke up back in Kevin and Lisa’s house around 11 AM. I had apparently been sleeping on the sofa of the living room. I felt like I was having an intense migraine the minute I sat up. I don’t know remember how I returned, but I let out a short sigh of relief because I had finally made it back to the house. I looked around and noticed that one of the windows next to the front door of the house was broken in one corner, and the front door itself was unlocked.

Damn it, I thought, I slept through a robbery!?

I quickly got up off the sofa and ran upstairs to alert my friends’ parents about the potential robbery. When I opened the door to their bedroom, I saw that they were still asleep. I noticed that they were lying peculiarly still; it was as if they weren’t breathing. I pulled off the covers and a small gasp escaped my mouth. They were just two life-sized mannequins with hideously painted smiling faces. I checked under the bed, but there were only old dusty books and boxes under there. I also looked around inside the bathroom, but nobody was found. A familiar feeling of dread arose within me as I went to go check their closet, and I shut my eyes as I slowly opened the door. When I opened my eyes, I was greeted by nothing but clothing and shoes. I went to check the other rooms down the hall, thinking this was all just one big prank. As expected, I found no trace of Kevin and Lisa’s parents. I went back downstairs and began searching the rest of the house.

By this time, I was desperate for answers. Why did my friends die in that forsaken place, but not me? Why is the house getting broken into now, after all these years?

That was when I heard the small TV in the laundry room turn on. There wasn’t static, but there weren’t any channels playing either. All I heard was music, familiar calliope music. I walked to the laundry room to see that the small chunky CRT television in the corner displaying nothing but blankness on its screen. I turned off the television, and the music stopped playing, only to resume playing on the living room’s flat screen TV. Letting out an exasperated sigh, I turned to get out of the laundry room when a faint, metallic, somewhat fishy smell wafted to my nose. It was coming from the washer and dryer.

I went to open the washing machine’s lid first. A horrendous odor hit me like a brick to the nose and filled the room with the stench of something rotten. It was hard to breathe in there, even when I wasn’t covering half of my face with my own shirt. The same smell came from the dryer when I opened it as well. That smell was the rotting blood of Kevin and Lisa’s parents. The mother and father were respectively stuffed into the washer and dryer in mangled fetal positions. Small glass shards protruded from their mouths, with gut-wrenchingly hideous Glasgow smiles carved into their faces. Underneath the lids of the washer and dryer was the name “CLARA” finger-painted in their blood. I got out of there as fast as I could and slammed the door.

There she was again, standing perfectly still in the middle of the living room and staring at me with wide, bulging eyes. That wretched clown from the carnival just wanted to torment the living hell out of me. Her twitchy fingertips were stained dark red with blood. “C-Clara…?” I stuttered. She nodded, her morbid grin widening in an almost inhuman manner. “Did you like my game?” she asked with a fit of maniacal laughter.

I turned and made a mad dash for the backdoor in the kitchen. By the sound of her footsteps, I knew she was close behind me. There was no fence in the backyard, so I had to make do with twisting and turning around cars and houses to try and lose her. I had finally managed to get away from her after dodging around various obstacles. I walked to the nearest payphone and called my parents so they could come pick me up. The dial tone seemed to continue forever, and nobody answered the home phone. After the 10th call, someone finally picked up. “Hello…?” My voice sounded feeble and cracked like the voice of a scared child. A raspy young woman’s voice answered after a few seconds of silence:

“Welcome to my carnival. The games will never end.”