Not all carnivals are evil, but when they are, seeing really is believing—and a whole lot worse.
The sun dropped below the horizon, leaving the carnival bathed in the eerie glow ofneon lights. Josh tugged on Stephanie’s hand, pulling her toward the World of Wonders exhibit. He grinned at the pictures of the unbelievable wonders promised inside.
“I can’t wait to see how they pull that one off,” Josh said, pointing to the Cyclops.
Stephanie tugged on his bicep. “None of this is real. It’s just a waste of money.”
“Oh, it’s real all right,” said a low voice from inside the ticket booth.
Stephanie jerked her head to the right and met the stare of a greasy-looking man with dark hair and a beard that came to a point about six inches below his chin.
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Sure it is.”
“A disbeliever,” the man said. He tapped his finger on the booth as he looked Stephanie up and down. He leaned forward, pressing his nose against the thin glass and speaking through the circular opening. “Perhaps this isn’t the right exhibit for you…yet.”
“Try never,” Stephanie said, tugging on Josh’s arm again. “Can we please go?”
Josh smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re not curious.”
Stephanie nodded her head slightly to her left. “He gives me the creeps.”
Josh laughed. “He works the ticket booth for the freak show. He’s got to play the part and get people spooked enough to enter the exhibit, right?”
Stephanie shrugged and glanced at the man again. She jumped when she saw he was staring back at her. His lips curved in the most sinister smile she could imagine. “Yeah, well he’s a little too good at his job.” She turned away. Over Josh’s shoulder, she saw the sign for the House of Mirrors. “Let’s go there instead.”
He followed her gaze. “You probably just want to check your reflection in all the mirrors.”
Stephanie playfully lifted one shoulder. “Maybe.” She took Josh’s hand and pulled him across the parking lot. They walked through the archway at the entrance to the House of Mirrors and heard a cheerful voice over the loudspeaker.
“Step inside and see yourself in a way you’ve never imagined.”
“Is this a maze or just a lot of crazy mirrors?” Josh asked as he took his wallet from his back pocket.
“Both actually,” the man in the ticket booth said.
Stephanie squeezed Josh’s arm at the sound of the man’s voice. It sounded exactly like… No way could it be the same creepy guy from the freak show.
Stephanie peered through the dirty glass. The booth was dimly lit, but she could make out the shadow of a pointed beard. Her nails dug into Josh’s arm as she squeezed him tighter. “It’s you,” Stephanie said. “Did you follow us?”
He laughed again. “You must be thinking of my twin brother. He runs the booth at the World of Wonders exhibit.”
Stephanie turned away, trying to shirk the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Enjoy,” the man said, pressing a button that unlatched the door.
Stephanie practically ran through it, wanting to put as much distance between her and the ticket guy as possible. The door slammed shut behind them, making Stephanie jump.
“Why are you so jumpy?” Josh asked.
“You didn’t find that guy the littlest bit—?” She shuddered. “I can’t even describe it.”
Josh smiled. “Look around. You’re surrounded by mirrors. This is like heaven for you.”
Stephanie turned in a full circle, watching her reflections twirl with her. “You’re right. And I could use a touch-up on my lip gloss.”
Josh walked over to a mirror that made him look pregnant. “Hey, check this out. I think I’m going into labor.” He turned sideways and rubbed his belly.
Stephanie walked over to see. “Yeah, you definitely look like you’re going to pop.”
“You try it.” Josh pulled her in front of the mirror.
“No thank you.” She waved him off, without even looking at her reflection, and continued through the maze.
A voice came over the intercom and Stephanie had no doubt whose voice it was. The ticket seller’s. “In every mirror find a different way to play. But be careful not to lose yourself along the way. Because we’ve saved the very best mirrors for the end. And your opinion of the exhibit just might bend.”
“Creepy,” Stephanie finished.
“I was going to say cryptic, but I think it means they save the really cool mirrors for the end of the maze. I wonder what they’ll make us look like.”
Stephanie didn’t really care. Coming here had been her idea, but now she just wanted to leave. “Maybe we should turn around and get our money back. This doesn’t seem like a good idea after all.”
“No way. I want to see those mirrors at the end of the maze. Maybe I’ll look like I grew boobs or something.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes, but Josh took her hand and pulled her through the maze. After a few turns, Stephanie stopped. The hair on her arms was standing on end. “I really think we should go back.”
Josh turned all around, looking for the open space indicating where the path was leading them. “That’s weird. I guess this is a dead end.”
“Good, then let’s head back.”
The lights went out, leaving them in darkness. Stephanie screamed and hugged Josh.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Power outage, maybe.”
A low humming sound, like a bunch of buzzing bees, filled the air. After a few more seconds, dim yellow lights came on from above.
“Must be a backup generator,” Josh said.
“Let’s find the exit,” Stephanie said, the terror on her face reflected in the mirrors all around her.
Josh turned around, trying to retrace their steps. “Isn’t this the way we came?”
“I think so.” Stephanie gawked at the row of mirrors blocking their path. “How can that be?”
“I guess we got turned around somehow when the lights went out.”
“But we didn’t move.” Stephanie swallowed hard. Something was wrong with this maze. Something was wrong with this whole place.
“Well, there’s no use standing here.” Josh took her hand and headed back the way they’d just come.
“We know this path is a dead end. We were just—” Stephanie couldn’t finish. The path wasn’t blocked anymore. One of the mirrors was gone. “No.” She stabbed her finger at the empty spot. “There was a mirror there.”
Josh let go of her and ran his hand along the sides of the mirrors. “They must move. You know, change so that people going through the maze more than once don’t know which way to go.”
Stephanie wasn’t convinced. “Why would a fair attraction go through all that trouble? How many people actually go through the House of Mirrors more than once?”
Josh shrugged. “Beats me, but at least we aren’t stuck here anymore.”
Stephanie couldn’t argue with that, but she couldn’t help getting goose bumps as she walked through the opening and followed the path. After about twenty feet, the maze turned to the right, and there weren’t any more mirrors. “Where are we?”
“Looks like a maintenance entrance or something. The power outage must have made the sliding mirrors go all screwy. This passageway probably opened by mistake.”
They followed a long narrow hallway to another door. Stephanie sighed. “Oh thank God! I’m never stepping foot in another House of Mirrors. In fact, I may not look into another mirror for a long time.”
“Oh, come on. This is you we’re talking about. You’ll be adjusting your lip gloss in the car on the way home.”
Stephanie playfully smacked his arm. “Just open the door.”
Josh turned the knob and found himself looking into another room. “Huh?”
A crackling sound came from a speaker above the door. “Things look different in the dark, and monsters come out to play. But if you find yourself once more, you might be back on your way.”
Stephanie bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling.
“I thought that thing was off,” Josh said. “Do you think the lights shutting off are part of the exhibit?”
“I think that guy is seriously deranged. He knows we’re trapped in here. He’s probably watching our every move.”
Josh looked around for hidden cameras. He waved his arms above his head and yelled, “Hey, we’re a little lost. Some help would be nice.”
“He’s not going to help us. He’s trying to scare us, and he’s doing a really good job.”
Josh stopped waving his arms and grabbed Stephanie by the shoulders. “You need to calm down. I bet that’s a prerecorded message that plays on a loop.”
Stephanie took a deep breath. Josh was probably right. She was overreacting. She hated being lost, and her fear was getting the best of her. “Okay, let’s keep moving.”
They stepped into the room, which was empty except for a group of sheet-covered objects in the middle.
Josh grabbed one end of a sheet and lifted it. “It’s just a normal mirror. Nothing funny about it.” He raised the sheet on the one next to it. “This one’s normal, too.” He turned around and pulled the sheet off another mirror. This one was different. “Now we’re talking. A goofy mirror.” He uncovered the last one. “This one, too. Nice.” He positioned himself in front of the second mirror. “Hey, try that one.”
Stephanie moaned. “Then can we please leave?”
Stephanie stood in front of the other mirror. Her reflection was ridiculously tall and skinny. Without even realizing it, she laughed.
Josh glanced at her reflection. “We need to fatten you up. Better get you some ice cream with all the toppings.”
Stephanie smiled and looked at Josh’s reflection. He looked like a short round blob. “Whoa! No ice cream for you!”
As they laughed, Stephanie couldn’t help feeling silly for getting so scared. This was kind of fun after all.
“I’ve got to get one of these for my living roo—” Josh’s face twisted in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Stephanie reached for him, but she felt like her arms were being stretched and pulled right out of their sockets. Her eyes flew to the mirror again as she felt her body being pulled in two directions at once. She screamed as her muscles tore, shredding into paper-thin strips. She struggled to stay on her feet, and if something wasn't pulling her upward, she was sure she would’ve toppled over. Her skin stretched, leaving long purplish-brown lines running up and down her limbs. She tried to talk, but all she could manage were screams. The pain was unbearable. She felt herself rising higher in the air and wondered why the mirror seemed to be getting smaller.
Finally the pain died down. She forced herself to look away from the mirror. Her legs were wobbly, and she had to reach her arms straight out to keep her balance. When she finally managed to turn around, she found herself facing the mirror behind her. The regular mirror. Only, her reflection was exactly the same as it had been in the distorted mirror. Her body was stretched and bone thin.
Her head whipped to the side, searching for Josh. Her eyes dropped to the blob on the ground next to her. Josh’s body was short and fat. His face was lopsided from the waves of rolled skin and blubber. He was nothing more than a blob, exactly how he’d looked in the mirror.
And then everything went black.
Stephanie was vaguely aware of the cool cement floor on her back. She knew she’d fainted. She opened her eyes and tried to focus on the room. The almost shapeless form next to her wasn’t moving. Josh. That was Josh. She remembered everything. Somehow the mirrors had changed them. She and Josh had changed so they resembled the images reflected back at them.
A door slammed, and the glow of a streetlight filtered into the room. Stephanie saw a figure in the doorway, but the light was to its back and she couldn’t make out who it was. She waited there, not knowing if she should call out for help. But the figure turned slightly, and she was able to make out the shape of a pointed beard. The man from the ticket booth! But which booth?
He stepped into the room, and suddenly the doorway was filled with another figure—identical to the first. Stephanie struggled to sit up. Her head pounded from the fall, and her muscles ached from being stretched well past their limits. Still, she did her best to scoot away from the two men. She nudged Josh’s shapeless body with her foot, but he didn’t budge.
“Easy there,” the first twin said. “You’re liable to get your foot stuck in all that blubber.” He laughed as he and his twin dragged Josh out of the room.
“Where are you taking him?” Stephanie yelled. “What have you done to us?”
The door slammed shut behind them. Stephanie awkwardly pulled herself to her feet, using the mirror to help her. Every part of her body was in pain, and she could feel warm blood tricking down the back of her head. She tried to walk, but her long legs were completely foreign to her. She stumbled and fell forward, crying out in pain.
The door opened again, and the twins stepped inside. “It’s going to take some time getting used to those new legs,” the first twin said.
His brother laughed. “Oh, she’ll have plenty of time to get used to them. Plenty of time indeed.”
“You did this to me!” Stephanie said, her voice laced with hatred.
The men walked over to her, grabbing her under her arms. She didn’t want to go with them, but she didn’t have the strength to fight back. They dragged her out the door and into the night. The fair was deserted. Not a person in sight as they pulled her across the street. In a moment of horror, she realized where they were taking her. The World of Wonders.
“Stop! Please, stop!” She tried to fight them, but it was no use. She didn’t have control over her body. Stephanie gasped when they dragged her past cage after cage of creatures that could only have been created the same way her new form had been. Each person—thing—was more hideous than the one before. “You used your mirrors to make these people for your exhibit!”
They threw Stephanie into an empty cage and slammed the door shut. The freak show attendant smiled and said, “Are you a believer now?”
This story is most like Kelly Hashway’s Touch of Death series.
Kelly Hashway fully admits to being one of the most accident-prone people on the planet, but that didn’t stop her from jumping out of an airplane at ten thousand feet one Halloween. Maybe it was growing up reading R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books that instilled a love of all things scary and a desire to live in a world filled with supernatural creatures, but she spends her days writing speculative fiction for young adults, middle graders, and young children. Kelly’s also a sucker for first love, which is why she writes YA and NA romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. When she’s not writing, Kelly works as an editor and also as Mom, which she believes is a job title that deserves to be capitalized. She is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency. For more information about her works, visit her website: www.kellyhashway.com.