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  • Sophia King

Welcome to the Circus

“You’ll float, too.”

-Stephen King

It was an average day. A “day like no other” as those cliche tropes would claim. She is on her way home when out of the corner of her eye, she glimpses a rustle in the blooming trees.

Despite the sunny weather that signifies the upcoming spring, the space behind the trees is dark. Concealed by budding vegetation and the beginnings of blossoming flowers. Despite the lack of wind from the warm weather that wraps around her like a nice blanket, she shudders. She could have sworn-

She shakes her head and keeps walking, reminding herself not to be irrational. It is spring after all. Isn’t the sun supposed to make people happier? Something about the serotonin it produces in people’s brains?

She reassures herself to forget it and focus on something else besides the two twinkling dots that seemed to shine brighter in the blinding sun behind the dark veil of the shadows. As she walks and pretends to ignore the chill that still lingers up her spine, she sees a dilapidated sign haphazardly propped up against a tree stump. It invites her to a circus that is open to the public “all day and every day at least until tomorrow!” With gaudy, red paint, an ornate arrow points backward towards the event. Her eyes follow the arrow that gestures towards a worn path that winds through the flower buds and green grass. In the back of her mind, a voice chirps to warn her of the dangers that might lurk in the potentially deceiving bloom.

Instead, she shrugs and finds her insatiable curiosity peaked to the point of driving her feet down the path deeper past the treeline. Birds chirp, and the fragrance of the flowers tickles her nose. The atmosphere is so perfect that she nearly misses the twig that snaps behind her ominously. She whips around and finds a bunny hopping along before it disappears behind a few trees. She disappointingly scolds her paranoia and keeps walking.

Soon, the sound of rigged circus games drifts toward her with childish memories of desperately hoping to win a stuffed animal from a cheap hoax. The smell of kettle corn and powdered sugar from funnel cake flits wafts through the air like a cloud. She inhales happily as her ears perk up and her pace quickens. She arrives at the circus, full of bright and bursting excitement, and is only partially disappointed when she finds the lot to be empty, save for the company of performers.

As she bounds into the circus, she’s temporarily blinded by the flurry of activity: the fire-eaters over to her right, the ginormous performer steadily marching on stilts, and of course, the several clowns that line the main walkway. Their painted faces are a myriad of emotions conveying amusement and grief as their hands juggle pins or twist balloons. It feels fun albeit a bit foolish, and she relishes in the giddy thrill. As she wanders through the circus and weaves her way in and out of the various tents, she nearly forgets to notice how far the sun has set since she arrived. She realizes that she has been here for hours, entertained by parlor tricks and tacky attempts at magic.

As she goes to leave, armed with half-melted and once airy cotton candy, the games’ music slows grimly. She pauses mid-stride and stares at the now flickering neon lights. Suddenly, the games, lights, music, and playful aura shut off at once, leaving her in a glimmer of the darkening sun. A voice drawls behind her, “Come with us. Come play.”

She fights off the desire to freeze and become rooted in her spot and runs instead. The cotton candy plummets to the ground as she sprints towards the trees. It feels sinister now. The once bright green grass tickles her legs like ropes threatening to drag her back. The delicate buds are trampled in her flight as any hint of the lively springtime vanishes like magic. She hears footsteps behind her and ignores the way the hair on the back of her neck raises.

She bursts out of the treeline and continues racing down the street until she makes her way home, slamming the door behind her. Her heart is pounding, and the fun that had flowed through has darkened into adrenaline-fueled fear. She takes gulps of air in gasping breaths in an attempt to calm herself down.

As her breathing just barely begins to even, she hears a scratching noise coming from the mirror in her hallway. She inches towards it and as she draws closer to the mirror, she finds words slowly carving themselves into the glass. “Ready to play?” The words are written in the same vulgar red that looks more like blood the longer she looks. As if on cue with her realization, the letters begin to drip. She shakily reaches her hand out to touch the words, and as she does, her door violently bursts open. There, at her now shattered door, stands a clown with his face crudely painted in mocking glee. She screams and shuts her eyes in a childish attempt to ignore the reality that feels more like a nightmare.

A low groan echoes from the ruined doorway, and she covers her head in a measly hope to protect herself from whatever monster is currently stalking towards her. It feels like it is getting closer and closer until she knows that it can practically touch her. As though it could reach out and…

She knows that the thing is gone from the way the air has gotten warmer, as though just its mere presence was terrifying enough to give the atmosphere a slight chill. The wind blows ominously towards the door, a sign of the monster’s exit. She opens her eyes as panic cautiously seeps out of her shaking hands. Just as she sensed, the clown at her door has left, and any signs of the haunting circus have disappeared, too. The words have vanished despite her still destroyed door. She frowns at the damage, but relief floods through her with a comforting warmth.

She slowly drags her gaze back to the mirror and finds that it has also been fractured. Although she is not entirely sure of the reason. As she assesses the object, she watches her reflection blink. Staring in disbelief, she watches the mirrored version of her blink again before its lips curl into a grin while she can only imagine the fear that is once again painted on her face. The reflection tilts its head to the side playfully while hers remains absolutely motionless. Suddenly, she feels the first tug against her face. As though the circus’s puppeteer has fastened cruel strings onto her, her head tilts, too, until she is the reflection. She wants to scream again or at least close her eyes. Instead, her eyes glimmer horror-strikingly as her frown painfully widens into an unnatural smile, fractured by the broken mirror. A smile that whispers obediently, “Ready to play?”

Hi, readers! Thank you so much for your support during my publishing debut! I hope that everyone has a wonderful Spring Break and, as you embark on your time off, that you remember the comforting words of Norman Bates from the absolute classic Psycho, “We all go a little mad sometimes.”



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