The portrait of Bob Marley was becoming hazy behind the smoke that was filling the room. I was beginning to zone out when I felt Mario tap me on the shoulder. He held out the bong and the lighter and was blowing huge smoke rings while filling them with smaller ones. I was grabbing them from him when Tim suggested a plan for the night.
“Dudes! What do y’all think about going to the Haunted Circus tonight? I’ve been hearing some crazy shit about that place. It’s Halloween. I don’t want to spend it cooped up in this place.”
Mario responded as I took my turn in the rotation.
“Yeah, man. That sounds like a good time. Unless Steve here is gonna wuss out on us.”
Mario slapped me lightly on the back as he mentioned my name. I blew out a cloud and passed it on to Tim.
“Nah, that sounds like a blast, man. I have been hearing good things about that place as well.”
Tim took his turn on the bong and then set it down with the lighter on his coffee table. He pulled out the keys to his dad’s Lexus and dangled them like a trophy.
“Well, let’s get goin’ then.”
Mario looked a bit paler than he did before the keys came out. Tim noticed and mocked him for it.
“Ah, what’s wrong, bro? You didn’t think I had a way to get there, or what?”
We laughed for a moment before Mario joined in himself.
“Nah, it’s gonna be fun. I’ve just never been to one before, that’s all.”
I reassured him as we began to get up and head for the door.
“There’s nothing to worry about, man. I have been to a few. You just gotta remember that it’s all a show. Most of the time, they aren’t even allowed to touch you. Not sure if this one is like that or not.”
Tim laid it on thick as we made it out the front door.
“They’re not allowed to touch you. Unless they’re ripping your guts out or bashing your brains in. Otherwise, touching is totally off-limits.”
Mario punched him in the arm as he hopped in the passenger seat. I slid into the back, and Tommy took the driver’s seat and started her up. His dad loved that car, so either this Haunted Circus must be a special occasion or Tim was using it without his knowledge. I think I knew which it was.
We made it to the haunt and pulled into the crowded parking lot. The lines were like nothing I’d ever seen. There were lines at the ATM, lines at the ticket booth, lines to get in, lines leading to the lines. I didn’t even know if we would be able to make it through before they closed.
Tim took out a fat stack of cash and flashed it at us when we made our way to the front of the line at the ticket booth. He smirked as he asked the lady at the front for three tickets as well as three fast passes to go with them.
Mario and I slapped a high five as we heard this. The last thing we wanted was to waste our buzz on a line that took hours to get through. As we began to make our way over to the line, we were interrupted by the cackling of a man dressed as a clown with a giant set of razor-sharp teeth.
We all jumped a bit, then quickly made fun of each other for doing so. The clown waved to us menacingly as we strolled past. We made our way up to the fast pass lane, and the guy taking the tickets was really hamming it up near the entrance.
“Step right up! Come one, come all! All those who enter can abandon hope and learn to cope. The Haunted Circus is not liable for any mental anguish or physical reactions resulting from the horrors that are contained within these cursed walls.
What awaits you boys is a dark carnival. One that’s so dark and demented Bradbury himself would become faint of heart at the sight of it. Now you boys don’t really think you’re ready for something this diabolical, do ya? Why don’t ya take yourselves back to the house and watch a little bit of Sesame Street with your mommies?”
We laughed at his insult and assured him we were ready for what awaited us. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head sullenly.
“Well, if you kids insist, then I guess I got no choice. You can’t come out on that other side and try to say I didn’t warn ya.”
He paused and looked behind us in shock before continuing.
“Well, it looks like we are ready to get things started.”
He stepped out of the way, and we slowly looked up and behind us in the direction that he was looking. Three of the most sinister-looking clowns were towering over us and holding giant hammers. We went barreling through the door as the clowns followed us slowly and deliberately.
The first stop was the maze of funhouse mirrors. When we turned the first corner, we were met with our reflections, only they were stretched in all kinds of strange ways. We stopped to marvel at this for a moment. Tim was getting a kick out of it.
“Haha, look guys! I’m a string bean, and Steve is an Oompa Loompa.”
Mario laughed and pointed until we saw the clowns approaching us again from behind.
“We got company! Let’s keep going.”
We found our way to the end of the mirror maze and were met with jump scares courtesy of two giant strong men who screamed at us then continued curling what appeared to be severed torsos while taunting us to come back for more.
The next section was one that looked like it was going to be a tight fit. There was a giant clown face with the middle teeth missing. It appeared to be the entrance, but it was low to the ground. We had to duck down to get in. We continued like this for a while and then reached an area that was tight from the sides.
“This must be the claustrophobia section.”
Mario said, looking a little bit flustered as he did. I noticed something that I found a bit unsettling as we began to waddle into the hall. A man was crawling through the section that we just went through. We continued through and eventually made it out of the tiny cramped spaces. As we did, the man came out just a little bit behind us.
He was staring at the three of us with a strange smile on his face. Not sick and demented, not like he was part of the act, just strange. We walked past some guys who were dressed up like they were part of the freak show, and I leaned in towards Mario and Tim.
“Guys, have you noticed that weird guy following behind us?”
Mario nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, he kind of looks like a creeper or something.”
Tim was dismissive.
“You guys are letting this place get to you. He probably just works here and has to make sure that people don’t get stuck in that claustrophobic part.”
I shook my head.
“Nah, man. I don’t think so. He doesn’t look like the rest of the staff people. They all have shirts with the logo.”
Tim waved me off.
“Yeah, ok. Well, maybe he just wanted to come to the haunt because he didn’t have anything better to do. I’m sure some people come to these things alone.”
2 girls dressed up as harlequins jumped out in front of the path scaring Mario back into my chest.
“Crap! Oh man, is this thing ever going to be over?”
He said in a whimper as we pushed past the high-pitched smack-talking girls. The man fell out of sight, so I began to convince myself that maybe Tim was right. I mean, they had to have someone walking with people through that part, didn’t they? How else would they make sure that everyone got through safely? I still felt a bit uneasy, but we became so engrossed in the haunt that eventually, it was the last thing on my mind.
We stepped outside to the sound of loud air cannons as a few clowns squirted us with water and taunted us as we walked by. A lion tamer was cracking a whip loudly over to the side and a squeaky old merry-go-round that was turning and playing unsettling music.
As we drew near to the exit, there was another large and imposing character. I almost couldn’t tell if he was real until at the last second, he jumped towards us, sending us fleeing around him. The exit was had curtains draped, and we couldn’t even see the final clowns who cranked up their chainsaws until they were right beside us.
This sent us running out into the parking lot while screaming and laughing with each other as we did. We were overjoyed and pumped with adrenaline. It was an incredible Halloween night and would definitely be one to remember.
We made our way over to the Lexus and hopped in. Tim cut the engine on and began to take off. The car bumped hard as it moved. Tim sighed and backed it up into the spot.
“Oh no, dude. That didn’t feel good.”
He hopped out and looked at the tires.
“Guys get out here! There’s something wrong.”
We undid our seat belts and began to get out of the doors. As we did, Tim was running around and looking at each tire. He was panicked. He grabbed his head and slammed it down onto the hood as he pulled on his hair.
I looked towards the tires to see what he was making such a fuss about. They had been slashed. It must have been a large knife because big flaps were hanging open on each of them where the hole was cut. I began to understand the gravity of the situation, and panic began to rise in my chest as well.
“What are we going to do, Tim? Your dad is going to lose his shit if he finds out we are in his car, and this happened!”
He shot up from the car and shoved me in frustration.
“You don’t think I know that?”
Mario spoke in a wavering voice, and he was pointing towards the woods that were near the parking lot.
“Guys… It’s that guy. The one that was following us in the haunt.”
My heart skipped a beat as I looked to where he was pointing. It was indeed the same man who was crawling close behind us in the claustrophobia section. He was standing there by the woods with that same strange smile. He held a large knife in his hand, but he made no motion. I made a call to action as we were all officially beginning to lose our shit.
“We gotta get help. I’m gonna call the cops, let’s head towards the front so we can try to find someone up there.”
I typed 911 into my phone and looked back to where the man had been standing.
“Guys, he’s gone.”
I shoved Tim to start running towards the front as I held up the phone to my ear. It wasn’t until we were halfway to the front that I realized that Mario wasn’t right behind me. I turned around and saw the man dragging Mario into the woods.
“911, what’s your emergency?
“No, no, no, no. Mario!!!”
“Ok, just calm down. We need to know what is happening so we can send someone to help you.”
I was crying now and trying to fight through my tears to make a coherent sentence.
“Th…The… The Haunted Circus. My friend, he just took my friend!”
The operator sighed.
“That haunted house? Are you calling me from inside of it and freaking out because you’re scared of the monsters?”
“No! My friend. A man took him into the woods. He slashed the tires on our car. We need police now!”
I was so pissed that she would imply I would call in such a state because of some actors in clown masks that I just hung up after this statement. I looked towards Tim, who was pushing to the front of the ticket line. He was frantically waving his arms around and pointing towards the woods.
I don’t know if it was the adrenaline if I was pissed from my phone call with 911, or it was just plain stupidity. Whatever it was, though, I took off running. I was running straight towards the forest. I had no way of defending myself and no idea what I was going to do when I got there.
I heard Tim calling from the ticket booth for me to come back and asking what the fuck I was doing. That didn’t stop me, though. I was barreling full speed ahead. I couldn’t let Mario die out there with that sicko. If he wanted to hurt my friend, he was going to have to take on the both of us.
I made it into the trees and had the flashlight of my phone on. I started to call out to the man angrily.
“Where are you, huh? You think you can just come and do this to us? I’m gonna find you, you freakin’ pervert. You better let Mario go, the cops are on their way, and everyone knows that you’re over here.”
I went deeper and deeper into the woods, but I couldn’t see or hear Mario anywhere. I was just about to go on another tirade when I felt a crack against the back of my head. Just as I felt it, everything went black, and I fell to the ground.
I woke up in a daze. There was dirt on my face. I shook it off and realized that my hands were bound in front of me, and something was tied around my mouth. I was surrounded by dirt walls, maybe 5 or 6 feet tall, with a plywood roof. I saw Mario bound up at the other end of the room and was excited for a brief moment.
I tried to let him know through my facial expressions that I was thrilled to see him. He was hardly able to keep his head up. There was only dim lighting from a gas lantern on the side of the room. As I was considering maneuvering onto my knees to shuffle over and check on Mario, the wood was moved from the top letting sunlight in.
Sunlight? How long had I been down here? As the wood was moved, leaves and sticks fell on Mario’s head. He hardly acknowledged it at all. The man who trapped us down here through a black trash bag in and made his way down before sliding the wood back over the top.
He held a bundle of aluminum foil in his hands, and he sat down cross-legged in the middle of the room. For a moment, he just sat there with that same smile that he had at the haunt. It wasn’t sinister, it wasn’t sexual in nature, it was just… off.
His gaze didn’t leave mine for what felt like an eternity. My stomach began to growl. The pangs of my hunger were beginning to manifest. I had been out for at least a day. I dare not think that it could have been longer than that.
He set the foil down and reached over to pull down whatever he had in my mouth. I thought about asking him something… or screaming… I even considered spitting in his face. I just sat there, though. I guess it was a mix of not knowing what to say or do and just plain being paralyzed with fear.
The man spoke. His voice was feeble, and there was an odd cadence to it.
“Hello, my boy. You must be hungry. You’ve been here all day, after all.”
Hearing him call me that set me off and helped me to break my silence.
“I’m not your fucken boy. What did you do to Mario? Why do you have us down here?”
He smiled and paused for just a few beats too long as he looked me in the eye.
“Eat, my boy. Eat.”
He opened the foil and presented me with what looked like some homemade barbecue. I was determined not to eat it. My resolve proved too weak as he dropped the meat covered in sticky sauce in front of me, though. I devoured it and was sucking the sauce off my fingers.
As I finished, I looked up and saw Mario looking at the empty wrapper longingly. I instantly felt terrible for not thinking of how hungry he must have been and saving him some. My thoughts were interrupted by our captor.
“Oh, don’t worry. Don’t worry my boy. I brought some for your friend here, though it is quite a bit more… fresh. Yes.”
He reached over for the trash bag that he had tossed in earlier and tore it open. Within the bag was the body of a dismembered young boy. The man grabbed the leg, which was cut off at the knee and shoved the bloody stump into Mario’s face while laughing in a disjointed and breathless manner.
“Eat, eat, eat, eat. Yum, yum, yum, yum.”
Mario was crying and turning his face away from the bloody stump. I began retching and vomiting violently as I realized what I had just eaten. I put my hands on my face as the level of danger that we were in was beginning to dawn on me.
Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a group of people approaching above. I looked up and saw the shock on the man’s face. He threw the bloody stump onto Mario’s lap and hopped up to his feet.
“Goodbye, boys… Until next time.”
He pushed the wood to the side and took off somewhere above. We could hear shouting in the distance. They were rapidly approaching our location. Within moments the whole piece of plywood was pulled back, and police officers were poking their heads over to see what was inside.
Their faces ranged from shocked and disgusted to concerned and empathetic. As I realized that we were saved, the tension left my body. I looked over to Mario, and he looked back at me with an empty stare. Blood was smeared across his mouth and cheeks, and his eyes were wet with tears.
At the hospital, they let Mario and me stay in the same room. Neither of us had been badly injured, so they figured there was no harm in letting us stay with each other for emotional support. We had been going over the events for hours and had finally reached a point when we had nothing left to say. Re-runs of game shows were playing on the TV in the room, and we both were just kind of zoning out for a second.
Tim’s voice came as the door creaked open. He approached us with his head down and looking guilty and disheartened.
“I’m grounded for the foreseeable future, but my dad said it was alright if I came to see you guys first.”
As he neared the edge of my bed and walked over between the two of us, I could see that his lip was quivering as he fought tears back.
“I just wanted to have a good time on Halloween. I… I never in a million years would have thought… I’m so sorry.”
Mario had the remote control that was attached to the bed by a chord in his hand. He swung it around and clocked Tim right in the nuts with it. Tim doubled over in pain but soon was laughing and punched Mario in the shoulder. Mario laughed and responded.
“Looks like we’re even now.”
I chimed in at this point as well.
“There was no way that you could have known what was going to happen, bro. Neither one of us blame you one bit.”
Tim appeared to loosen up a bit as I said this and picked his head up a little higher. He recounted what he had heard about the man who almost killed us.
“They said there were multiple disappearances that they will be linking to that guy. They weren’t able to catch him when he went running. He knew those woods like the back of his hand. I just wonder how long he has been doing this.
Since they couldn’t catch him. I don’t know if he will try to do it again. Skulking around in those woods and preying on innocent kids who are out trying to have a good time. I’m just so glad that you guys are ok.”
The door swung open as he said this. It was the staff bringing our lunch to us. As the lady pushed the table up to me and took off the lid, it took everything I had not to puke on the plate…
Barbecue… No, thank you…