I know Halloween has been over for weeks, but I thought I’d go ahead and post the scary story I wrote for the Come Dine With Me edition of the Irvine Valley Writer’s Group. We met at Jolyn’s house for dinner on 6th November and all brought “scary” stories. Mine is a ghost story. You may recognize the setting.
It needs work. I know it needs work. I think it’s a pretty good start, though. Tell me your opinion! Oh, and I don’t have a title. Any suggestions would be welcome!
As always all work published on this site is the sole copyright of me. Do not steal, it’s not nice.
It all happened the summer I turned sixteen, when I went to visit my father. That was the first time I heard them. Of course, I didn’t know then what I was hearing; I didn’t know what it meant. If I had known, my story would undoubtedly be different.
The house he was renting backed directly up against the chain link boundaries of the abandoned amusement park, and my father took great care to warn me away from playing there. It was far too dangerous – nearly falling down, a kid could get lost in there…
These warnings did not stop me. I was reckless, fearless. Every morning, being careful to avoid the poison ivy, I would lower myself to the ground behind the sycamore tree and stomach crawl under the fence. Once on the other side it was only moments before I was swallowed up by greenery and impossible to spot.
I would spend hours there in the park, wandering aimlessly. I doubt there was anyone, in the end, who knew the place better than I did. From the broken turnstiles at the entrance, to the rusting hulk of The Coaster which towered high above, wooden planks rotting and nearly engulfed by the searching branches of trees.
The ferris wheel stood sentinel over the scene, an oak tree as spinal column, blanketed by thickly twisting vines. There was a popcorn stand, complete with popcorn machine long abandoned but still plugged in. There were the remains of the hotel which had burned down many years before, looking like nothing more than a gaping mouth with rotted and broken teeth. The outdoor stage, nearly hidden behind new growth, with graffiti scrawled across the hastily painted and horrific face of a clown: “The Old fortune TELLeR Lies dead ON The FLooR, NoBoDY NeeDS FoRTUNes ToLD aNYMore”. Smouldering in the brush was the remains of a baby grand piano, white keys still shining in the gloom, impervious to the filth of decades.
The ballroom was my favourite place. In its time it had undeniably been magnificent and it stood as a reminder of summer nights spent dancing into the small hours of the morning. In the drawers of the desk at the ticket booth I found maps of the park and brochures advertising “Come Dancing at the Starlight Ballroom”. In the basement was the canteen, trays stacked neatly at the end of the stainless steel service line. A mess of mouldy paper cups advertised the park’s 100th anniversary.
On the wide, shadowed dance floor a mechanical floor polisher stood menacingly, it’s perished electrical cord snaking to the socket in the wall. Anytime I came across a light switch I would flip it on, half expecting the park to come alight and back to life.
On one sultry day in July I was taking shelter inside the picnic pavilion, dangling my feet over the edge of the water, watching raindrops rippling over the surface of the lake. Suddenly behind me someone laughed, the noise ripping through the quiet afternoon. No, not someone, it was a girl – a little girl, laughing. My head turned so fast the muscles in my neck screamed protest. Yet even through the gloom I could tell that no one was there.
My pulse beat hard, rushing in my ears and my tongue tingled with the taste of a new penny. Had I imagined it? I stood and glanced around, peering as hard as I could into the thickness of shadows upon shadows. With the innocence present only in the very young I was completely sure that there was a little girl hiding from me in the darkness. After all, I had heard her laugh.
I didn’t stay long in the pavilion, preferring a fast run in the rain toward my house to the lingering fear of waiting for something to appear. When I reached the carousel I heard her laugh again, just behind me, and turned around fast, slipping in the mud and falling to the ground. This time the taste in my mouth was blood and I could feel the heat of it on my chin. Spitting and cursing I stood, not bothering to look around – I knew there was no one there. There couldn’t be.
I shouted into the rain and then again the sound of laughing, giggling. Fear coursed through me. What was that? Beside me the lights of the carousel went on and I could hear the swell of music coming quietly from rusty speakers. I backed away as quickly as I dared, blinking, unbelieving, stumbling over debris on the ground, until I came up against the cab of a decaying orange pickup truck. The door was open and, as I turned to look inside, the radio flashed on, playing the same song that came from the carousel. And still the little girl, laughing. Without thinking, without pausing, I turned and ran, stopping only long enough to throw myself beneath the fence, ignoring the scratch of thorns and finally, dripping mud, I ran into the kitchen and locked the door behind me.
A few days passed before I dared return, but not out of fear. The poison ivy I contracted from my careless slide beneath the fence combined with a fierce summer cold kept me confined to the house. I was old enough to convince myself that nothing had happened. Still, the image of a lit carousel devoid of horses haunted my dreams, along with the sound of a laughing little girl.
Going slowly through the undergrowth, scrupulously avoiding every green leaf, I walked, head held high, back into the grounds. Above me a bird took flight from the coaster turn, wing beats rustling the leaves, and I jumped, adrenaline rushing through me. Shaking my head at my own cowardice I continued. I thought, first, that I would go straight to the carousel but I found myself walking the familiar path to the ballroom. Taking the shortcut by the hamburger stand I began to forget my momentary fear and started whistling softly, swinging a dead branch at the tall grass. Ahead of me I saw a brief flash of pink and white amongst the green, rushing between trees and along the old midway towards the arcade, and once again I heard the laughing.
When I got to the junction of the midway I turned, and in the glare of sunlight reflecting off the surface of the lake I finally saw her, standing in a pink dress, with a crisp white bonnet covering her blonde pigtails, smiling and beckoning me to follow her.
“Where are we going?” I asked, but she did not answer. As we walked past the carousel the music started softly. In the periphery I could see exquisitely carved wooden horses rising and falling in time to the music, sun glinting off their golden paint, but if I turned to face the carousel head on they disappeared.
As we approached the old arcade I grew wary – this was the one building I had not yet explored. The roof was sagging heavily and the wide doorway bowed in the middle; it looked as though one stiff wind would bring it crashing to the ground. The ghost of the girl sensed my trepidation and returned to me, reaching out and taking my hand. Her touch was cold as ice, raising goose bumps on my arm. She walked ahead, gently pulling me, but I resisted.
I could smell the delicious scent of freshly popped corn and from behind me I could hear more laughing. I looked over my shoulder toward the ferris wheel, it’s metal skeleton hidden now not by vegetation but by the ghost of sparkling lights. Between its empty frame I could see the swinging form of passenger cars brightly painted in primary colours. And still the carousel turned.
Ahead of me from the darkness of the decaying building came the sound of coins dropping and the mechanical whir of arcade games coming to life. I looked into the pale face of the girl and followed her silently, carefully.
I walked slowly, fear pulsing in my veins. I glanced constantly over my head waiting for the beams to give in to the ravishing years and come crashing down upon us, but all was still.
We passed a skee-ball gallery, the tilted surfaces beckoning us to play a game or two. We passed penny peep shows and ancient pinball machines covered in layers of dust. In the remotest corner, where the light from the entrance was barely visible, sat a wizard fortune teller; the lights within were lit, casting a menacing shadow onto the cobwebbed floor. Inside the glass case the papier-mâché wizard’s head rotated back and forth, back and forth, it’s red eyes gleaming. The fingernails on his wooden hand scarped a well-worn path on the dusty velvet of his table.
The noise of the midway faded completely and in the silence I could hear the crackling hiss of a phonograph record going round and round. Behind me I felt the suffocating crush of years and a frightened glance over my shoulder revealed a hundred pale faces waiting, watching. I was so far beyond fear that I could barely breathe.
I heard the hum of wheels turning and then, with a sound so final my heart leapt, a yellowed paper rectangle dropped into the metal slot at the front of the machine. Shaking, I reached forward and lifted the fortune. The edges crumbled to dust between my fingers. As I turned it over, terror driving my actions, I realised that I could smell smoke, but was unable to comprehend what it meant. Printed on the card in bold black letters were the words “Can we keep you?” and scribbled beneath it in a child’s frantic scrawl, one single word, “RUN”.