The three of us began down the hill. I spoke. “My name is Killian. My older sister is Rory. We grew up in Westchester, New York.”
“I’m Riley,” said the man. “My husband, Ian and I are soldiers. We died on the battlefield not even an hour ago. At the gate, Ian was turned away.”
“I’m Hailey. My daughter is Amelia. I waited for her, but she never came. I asked later that they tell me when she passed, so they did. When I asked where she was, I heard she was down here. I couldn’t leave her.”
“Try not to lose your mind. Not just for you or your loved one,” I said. “You don’t want to become one of hell’s imps, urging souls into madness with a—!”
“Step right up!” shouted a man at a game tent as they entered the carnival. “Try to get a ring around a bottle!” smiled the man. He had wild white hair and bright red eyes, grey skin. He seemed middle-aged and dressed like a salesperson with a bad tie. His name tag said Frenzy. “Get the ring around the right bottleneck. Because whatever bottle you catch, is the one you have to drink!” he sneered.
“What all is there to drink?” I asked suspiciously.
“Oh, we have soda, liquor, antifreeze, and lighter fluid. The works,” Frenzy answered with a snide smile. I stared at the bottles. The screams of people on the rollercoaster to my left shot right through me. The sound grew and then faded as the coaster came round the bend and then left again. They weren’t the familiar screams of fright and fun, but of horror and pain. The reality of the situation began to dawn on me as I turned pale. I would have to endure torture to play games that would kill me…over and over and over again….
“How many do we have to drink?” I asked as anxiety built up inside me.
“You hand me one ticket, and you get as many rings as you need to drink as much as you can. Then when you’re finished, I tell you your score,” Frenzy explained.
“So we just keep drinking, until we can’t anymore?”Hailey asked.
“Yep!” the carnie smiled.
‘But we don’t want to waste our ticket,’ I thought, eyeing the bottles. There were so many colors, some were warm, and some were cold. ‘We’ll want to make it worth every bang for our buck.’ “Alright,” I answered quietly and handed my ticket to the carnie.
“Fantastic,” he took the ticket.
“Really? You’re going to waste your ticket so quickly?” remarked Hailey.
“It depends on how many bottles I drink whether it was a waste or not. I can’t get scared of being poisoned or killed by a bottle when there’s worse to come,” I replied as the carnie sat a small fry basket in front of me full of little rings. I took a deep breath as I twirled the rings in my fingers. “You two ought to figure out what you want to do,” I said to them.
“Good luck, young man.” Hailey gave my tense shoulders a squeeze. The two of them walked away, knowing that I was about to kill myself and I didn’t want them to watch.
I flicked one of the hoops out and it tapped over several bottlenecks before it stopped. The game-man watched and then grew a wide and bright smile. “Arsenic,” the carnie chuckled and reached over the large table of bottles. It was then that I noticed that his arms were long and spider-like. The carnie took the bottle off the table and handed it to me. “You aren’t timed. You just have to finish it.”
I grimaced as I took the bottle, my heart racing. “Alright,” I exhaled and put the bottle to my lips, raised the bottom up, and began to chug. My eyes clenched shut as I forced myself to find a memory of my sister: something to keep my mind off the pain and the taste of it. Several people on the thoroughfare paused to look at me. I could barely hear the Carnie announcing that I was chugging arsenic.
“What a champ! What a chump!” laughed Frenzy as I was snapped back. I stood and looked over at the carnie in charge of the game. I swerved a bit as I stood and leaned on the bar. I took another hoop with a shaky hand and tossed it lazily. It tapped against a few bottle tops and looped around one’s neck. The carnie picked it up out of the field of bottles and I grimaced. “Oooo, this stuff is what drove Mr. Hadder off his head,” Frenzy murmured with a wink, setting it down. “Mercury.”
“A bottle of mercury?” I whispered, sick to my stomach again.
“Yep. Drink,” said the carnie, looking more serious at me.
I hesitated, staring at it.
“You wanna tip, kid?” smiled a blonde girl with curls and a blue dress. She had such lovely soft features, nothing like most of the people that worked there. Most of the carnies looked like demons. She looked like some kind of angel. “Stop being afraid of dying. You’re already dead. Sure your soul dies over and over again, and it’s painful, but it’ll come out the same in the end. You die, and it’s a peaceful quite black for a few seconds, then you’ll wake up again…right back here.”
“Alice! Stop talking to my customers!” snapped the carnie at the lovely girl. The young woman giggled, waving to me, and walked away. I blushed a little.
I looked from Alice, back to the bottle. “Who was she?”
“Oh, that’s Alice. Now drink up, kiddo.”
“Alright,” I muttered and took the drink in my hands.
“Alice is right about death being the only peace you get here. Until that black falls on you though, you still have to deal with the pain. And trust me, you’ll experience every ounce of Mercury poisoning before you actually die,” smirked Frenzy.
My eyes watered. I tried not to be intimidated and began to chug the bottle of liquid.
I awoke to my organs failing, my skin feeling as though there were thousands of little bugs crawling under it, and as if my face were melting. I was on the ground again, but this time, I woke myself up from panic, into a world of agonizing pain. I gasped and began to sob, grasping for life again. I was struggling before I remembered what Alice had said. I wondered, if I were to survive, would I end up like this “Hadder” person the carnie had mentioned. I knew if I died that the mercury poisoning would end and I would wake as though nothing had happened. ‘Let yourself die,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s okay to die…’
The pain lasted thirty long seconds before I tasted that obsidian peace. When I woke I felt no pain; I was just covered in dirt. I stood again. “What the hell?” I breathed, leaning against the bar again.
“Another hoop?” asked the carnie, offering me another plastic piece.
“Yeah,” I breathed, taking it.
“Seriously?” chuckled the carnie, impressed. “Usually people stop by there second poison.”
“I don’t care where people usually stop. I love my sister. I’m doing this,” I tossed the hoop. I rubbed at my face in exasperation, and then shakily put my hand back down on the bar as the hoop chose another drink for me.
“Heineken,” Frenzy sighed, “Dang. So close to the antifreeze.”
“Not the best beer, but I’d take it over bleach or gasoline,” I muttered, a relieved sigh on my lips as the glass was sat in front of me. I chugged the bottle, enjoying the taste in comparison with my last few. I finished it easily and looked at the man. “I’m heading to the next game, thanks,” I said and began on my way.
“Alright buddy!” the carnie chuckled. “Do you wanna know your score?”
“No. Just send it to whoever’s in charge,” I answered, too afraid to know if it was good enough or not. I had thought about chancing another, but knowing I had pushed it just a bit further than the others made me feel more comfortable. As I walked away, I wondered if he said that to everyone and that made my stomach roll.