The screams and laughter echoing about her had her head spinning. It had been Daniel’s idea to come to the fair, and he’d roped several of their friends into the party. She hadn’t wanted to go, tired from a day of studying facts and figures for her presentation, but he’d insisted. He’d brought up the old argument about her having no time for him lately, always buried in her papers and shutting him out. She couldn’t summon the will to argue and had caved in.
They’d arrived to find the funfair heaving; the last night always drew the biggest crowds. Everywhere they went they had been jostled and pushed and her feet hurt from being frequently stepped on. The final straw had been some punk barging by and leaving a sticky mass of candyfloss attached to her hair. She’d lost her temper, screaming at Daniel to take her home and he’d dumped her. He’d told her he wasn’t leaving but it was fine by him if she did. She’d stormed away, ignoring her friend Karen’s warning that it wasn’t safe for her to be alone in the crowds.
She’d headed to where she vaguely remembered the entrance being and become hopelessly disorientated. Now she stood by the concession stands, staring about her with wide eyes, picking relentlessly at the candy in her hair as she tried to find a landmark that would guide her. She wasted ten minutes trying to find a hawker who would help her but they were too involved in fleecing punters who were throwing hoops, shooting pellet guns and throwing darts to even look her way.
“This is ridiculous” she muttered to herself, wiping sticky pink fingers on the cuff of her jacket, “It’s a damn funfair and it’s not endless. If I walk in one direction I’ll eventually reach the perimeter and then I can find the car.”
She set off determinedly, weaving her way through the faceless crowds, voices coming at her from all directions. She looked up, trying to see over the heads of the people in front of her and spotted the Ferris Wheel. She had an unreliable memory of it being central to the fair and turned slightly, aiming for it as best she could. The queues were always long for the wheel and surely someone in the line could point her toward the car park.
As she gained a moment of open space she looked up and uttered a tiny shriek of frustration. The Ferris Wheel lights blinked out as she watched and there was no queue. She kept moving and stopped by a rusted metal barrier, seeing several workers moving purposefully about the contraption. One of the looked up, his face as brown as a nutshell, deep blue eyes twinkling at her, the epitome of the gypsies of her childhood; the ones her grandmother had always warned her would carry her off if she ventured near them.
“Too late to ride, pretty one. Ferris takes longest to pack up, see?”
“Yes. Perhaps you can help me?”
He rose to his feet, wiping his oil-blackened hands on his trousers and, as he grinned a gold-toothed smile at her, she felt a panicky urge to run away. She forced herself to hold her ground.
“Aye, sure I can. Always ready to help a lady.”
She took an unconscious step back as he moved toward her, and caught something predatory in his eyes.
“I can’t remember the way to the car park. Can you point me in the right direction?”
He leaned on the barrier, hands dangling over it, just short of touching distance and she took another step back. He chuckled and winked.
“I’ll walk you over.”
He made to leap the barrier and she held up her hands like a warding shield, shaking her head.
He grinned again, now this side of the barrier. She struggled to keep her voice steady, calm.
“I mean, thank you but no. Someone is waiting for me. If you direct me I’ll be just fine.”
He cocked his head, his lust blatant, then shrugged and turned away, his voice filled with laughter as he called over his shoulder;
“Left, go by the tunnel and the ghost train. It’s at the end of the kids amusements.”
She breathed out in a rush and turned quickly. She headed left and realised the crowds were thinner, passing no-one for several minutes although she could hear voices coming from deeper into the maze of the fair. Lights were going out along the path. Many of the bigger rides were already shutting down, ready to be packed for the next town.
She almost ran to a couple that appeared before her, desperate to walk with someone. She realised she would look like an idiot if she accosted them; she was lost, not in danger. Instead, she quickened her pace as the last couple left the Tunnel of Love, following as close behind them as she dared. The darkness about her seemed too complete with the sudden absence of gaudy lights and flashing signs on the fringes of the fair.
Her heart sank as the couple turned off between two stalls and headed for the centre of the fair, leaving her alone. Her unease grew as she walked on. She found herself clutching her purse to her chest, her shoulders hunched as if expecting a blitz attack. The sensation became so intense that she stopped, spun around, convinced someone was creeping up on her, but the way was clear. A laugh had gone up to her right, ringing out of the darkness and she began to tremble, but it was not repeated.
“Get a grip!” she admonished herself, and then stiffened. She was sure she had seen a tiny movement from the same direction as the sharp laughter. She froze, wanting to scream but not having the breath to do so. Something rustled and she took off. Her mind didn’t enter into the equation as her body went into flight mode and she ran blindly.
She fetched a painful blow to her ankles, sprawling over steps she hadn’t seen whilst looking back over her shoulder. Despite seeing nothing, terror had her and she crawled up the steps, shallow and wooden, a splinter catching under her nail and causing her to muffle a shriek of pain. Her purse tumbled out of her hands as she stuck her fingers in her mouth to ease the throbbing. As she bent to retrieve it something touched her hand.
She was running again. Whatever had touched her hand in the darkness had been feather light. As she hurtled along the walkway her brain tried to cut through her panic, telling her it was likely just an insect, but she wasn’t listening.
The darkness became impenetrable, almost thick enough to touch. Something banged behind her, echoing off the black wall before her, and she tripped, pain flaring in her hand as she flung out her arm to steady herself. She lost her balance and landed on her knees, arms clutched around her chest and a thin whimpering beginning in the throat. Metal dug into her shins and it took a moment to gain enough control to tentatively reach through the darkness, expecting someone to grab or wrist.
The metal ran away from her in two straight lines about three feet apart and she sat back, realisation hitting her. In her blind terror she had fallen up the steps of the Ghost Train and run inside. What she could feel were the rails for the carts. The bang had to have been the doors falling shut behind her, disturbed by the wind of her passage.
She climbed shakily to her feet, nursing her hand and carefully edged along the tracks. She held her other hand before her and it met resistance within a couple of minutes, the familiar feeling of a door under her fingers. Heedless of her injured hand she slammed both palms against the doors but they refused to budge. She hammered with her fists and screamed for help but only silence and stillness greeted her efforts. Sinking down against the doors she felt the first prickle of tears, dashing them away with the back of her hand. She gripped the rails firmly and spoke sternly to herself’
“The doors only go one way. The second set of doors must open outward. All I have to do is follow the rails until I come out the other side.”
At that moment lights appealed. The thought of working her way through the dormant, lightless ghost ride caused panic to rise again and she shoved herself upright.
“Slow and steady. There’s nothing here to harm you. It’s all fake.”
She shuffled her foot across until it connected with the rail and began to edge forward, keeping the contact as her guide. Something brushed the top of her head and she stuffed her sleeve into her mouth to prevent a gasp. She gingerly put her hand up to her head and then laughed. Her hand was sticky and something fibrous and white came away with the remains of the candyfloss.
“A fake web” she exclaimed and wiped her hand on her jeans.
She negotiated the first bend and began to move faster as her confidence grew with her night vision. A shape dangled before her, some sensor setting of a hanged man.
“Just hanging around, huh?”
The dummy turned mournfully at the end of its rope and she was grateful she couldn’t see its face. As she continued, ignoring a witch that shot out at her, she wondered why the darkened ride had not been completely switched off. Why was no-one working on packing up the Ghost train?
“Perhaps they only do a couple at a time” she muttered, cheered slightly by the possibility that someone might turn on the light and commence the job at any moment. Time seemed to stretch and she began to wonder if she’d become turned around in the dark. It felt like she had walked a mile already.
Then she heard a footstep; the faint thud of a heel followed by the whisper of a toe. She didn’t waste time looking back, simply kicking out of her heels and running. A vision of the man at the Ferris Wheel crossed her mind. He could have sent her the wrong way, followed her, driven her into the ride in the hopes of…
She put a clamp on that thought as she came up against a barrier. She battered at it with clenched fists and then she was fighting nothing, falling to her knees in the failing light of evening. She barely registered the doors slamming shut behind her as she scrambled to her feet and pelted along the exit ramp, close to tears as she saw a wire fence some twenty feet away. She clung to it desperately and stumbled along, her fingers becoming numb from the harsh grip she kept on the wire. She felt a change under her fingers, realised she was standing at a gate in the wire fence, the metal post under her hand. She was positive it would be chained and padlocked to prevent her escape but it gave under her push and she was running across open grass.
She came to a shivering halt, bent double as she struggled for breath and a thought hit her. Her mobile, car keys and money lay with her purse on the steps of the Ghost Train. She glanced back at the fair, few lights now visible. There was no chance of her going back to look. The fair was closed. Her brain tried to make her see something but she was too tired and scared to listen. She reached the edge of the car park. Standing beside her car she wondered why Daniel hadn’t looked for her.
“He assumed I’d already gone. Just took off with his mates.”
She slammed a frustrated hand on the car roof and winced, the sore hand complaining loudly. Her only choice was to walk. A couple of miles would get her home and even if Daniel wasn’t there, Mrs Davies next door held a spare key. As she walked her brain again tried to talk to her but physical and mental exhaustion were overtaking her. By the time she reached the apartment she was on autopilot, barely able to summon an apologetic smile for waking Mrs Davies, mumbling about Daniel having her key, and finally letting herself in. She shot the bolt, dropped the key on the hall table and could have been sleepwalking as she headed into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed.
In the limbo between true sleep and waking her brain finally caught up and posed a question. How long had she been inside the Ghost Train? There had been people and lights when she’d fled inside, but by the time she had stood beside her useless car in the lot, there had been silence, lights were out, the lot empty. She was too tired to answer and fell into an uneasy sleep.
She shot awake, her hands tangled in her duvet, clutching it with all her strength, only slowly releasing her grip. She’d been dreaming; no surprise after her ordeal. She swung her legs off the bed and sat for a moment, the question of her lost time preying on her mind. Maybe she had lost track due to her panic, her fear, and had sat between the tracks longer than she’d realised.
“Whatever happened, it’s behind you. Forget it and get some sleep.” She told her reflection in the mirror as she cleaned her teeth. She slid between the covers with a sigh of relief. Daniel wasn’t home but he regularly stayed with friends if they had an argument. He’d be back, penitent and showering her with gifts in the morning. She snuggled down and let sleep take her once more.
She struggled against the dream as it took her inexorably back to the fair. When she looked down, trying to stop her foot coming into contact with the steps of the Ghost Train, it was bare and slightly blue. Her brain shouted at her as she attained the wooden walkway and paused. Why are you feeling cold? Surely you weren’t supposed to feel physical sensations in dreams?
She had no chance to answer as a cart hurtled out of the exit doors and screamed by. She barely got her feet off the rails in time and stood shaking with her arms about herself. Her skin felt chilled and the same chill was sinking into her bones.
“Wake up!” she screamed again and felt the raspy quality of her voice. A voice already abused by her earlier experiences. She spoke into the silence following the entry doors slamming.
“It’s a bloody dream and I won’t let you convince me otherwise. And I’m not going in there!”
She looked toward the doors which were slowly opening despite no cart to activate the sensor. Her feet were frozen in place though she wanted desperately to move, certain the gypsy was going to fly out of the doors and grab her, bear her to the gnarled planks beneath her feet and…
She ran, a part of her mind paralysed by fear whilst the rest tried to wake her sleeping body. She fled down the steps and into the maze of alleys between the stalls, certain she could hear quick footsteps behind her. She leaned against the side of a stall, the smell of cooking fat a sharp tang in her mouth, and she listened.
“Nothing. I’m scaring myself” she muttered into the night and pushed off, walking now, head up and trying to stay calm.
“I can’t wake up so I have to get to the end of this.”
It seemed surreal to be talking to herself, conscious of the fact she was awake within her dream. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, being trapped and only partially in control. She had no idea if she could affect her surroundings, or the course of the dream. She shivered as a light wind blew around her, hugging herself in her thin nightclothes. Silence descended again, an expectant thing and she hurried on. Perhaps she could reach her car and maybe this would end.
“Your keys are in your purse back at the Ghost Train. Fancy going back to get them?”
Her voice sounded reedy, childlike in the empty air about her and she fell silent. This was a dream, merely her mind sorting out her day’s activities and filing them away. If she couldn’t change it, it had to come to a natural conclusion which surely meant that all she had to do was walk out of the fair and back to her apartment as she had done earlier. She straightened her shoulders and marched determinedly along the front of the stalls. Her brain intruded again. Why hadn’t they packed everything away?
“Because this is a dream and I never saw them packing up the stalls so I don’t remember it to add to this wonderful atmosphere!”
She realised her voice sounded bitter as well as scared and shut her mouth firmly.
Part two (here)