It was dusk when the boy climbed up and over the chain-link fence, jumping down into the overgrown lot filled with rusted bumper cars, broken Ferris wheels, and other abandoned rides and attractions. He looked around, then at the locked gate behind him, suddenly very aware of his surroundings, and of being surrounded. He took a tentative step forward as the last wash of blue chased the last light of day to the horizon. He shivered and rubbed his arms against the chill. The day had been warm and sunny, requiring no more than a t-shirt, but unlike many nights that summer, when the heat of day far outlasted its light, as the sun went down today, it took all the day's warmth with it. The sky was purple by the time he was halfway across the lot, the first stars of the evening casting little light on his gloomy surroundings. He began to reconsider the worth of this short-cut. After all, he still had the train station to cross before he reached the back fence of his apartment complex, and it occurred to him that perhaps it wasn't his best idea to try this for the first time at night. It was as he was considering just turning around, hopping back over the fence, and taking the long way around to the front of the complex, that he heard the creak.
It was a loud creak. Deliberate. It had a sound that made it impossible for the boy to pretend it was just some loose metal swaying in the wind, or some pile of rusted metal settling. No, this was--
He heard the creak again, this time louder, and much closer. He spun around, willing to leap the fence in a single bound if necessary to escape this creepy old junkyard, but found the way blocked. The battered remnants of three separate tilt-a-whirls lay strewn across his path. To either side, towers made of rotting wooden gaming booths loomed over him. There was another creak behind him, and as he turned, a pile of metal tent-poles clanged and clattered to the ground, forcing him toward the only open space left, a gap between the gaming booths and the tent-poles just large enough for a man to fit through. He moved toward it, coming up short when a tall, thin man in a top hat and tails appeared in it. The man walked silently toward the boy, a cold grin on his face, dead eyes meeting the boy's terrified gaze. The boy shrank from the gangling dandy, backing into a woman.
He cried out in shock and jumped away. The woman's main face smiled, the shriveled and dessicated infant face on the side of her head hummed and drooled and grinned stupidly.
"He's the barker," she said. The boy jumped again, not sure if speaking made her more or less disturbing. "You've probably never been to a carnival with a barker, have you?"
The boy shook his head.
"No. Well, he won't talk," she said. "Used to talk all the time. Hell, that was his job, to get the rubes in front of the games or into the freak show. I bet none of the carnivals these days have proper freak shows, either."
Another shake of the head.
"Right. Anyway, the barker here, he never used to shut up. Now, since he's here, he doesn't make a sound."
The barker loped up and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. The boy began to shake, cold sweat breaking out across his forehead.
"Oh," she smiled wider, "he likes you." Her dead infant face said, "buh" and giggled.
A magician stumbled out of the shadows. He was drunk, with old sick and dried blood crusted on his filthy tuxedo. He staggered over to the boy and vomited up a great number of colored handkerchiefs, which then hung there, tied together in long fluttering ropes all extending up and back down his throat. He looked up at the boy and tried to speak, managing only guttural noises. The boy's shaking intensified.
The barker put his other hand on the boy's other shoulder. The boy felt something warm spread out from his groin and trickle down his leg. It cooled quickly in the chilly night air and an acrid odor wafted off him.
The deformed girl laughed and her infant face giggled. The magician laughed as much as he could with a mouthful of handkerchiefs. The boy felt the barker shove him, and then he was face-down on the hard-packed earth of the lot. The girl stood over him and pointed down to where he huddled in the dirt.
"You stink, pisspants!" she yelled. The face of the dead infant cried "pisspants!" The girl shoved him with her foot and he flinched. "Don't be scared, pisspants," she said. "There's nothing here to be scared of."
The barker walked over to the space between the old tent-poles and rotting gaming booths and held out his hand to escort a ragged, aging whore over the threshold. A troupe of jugglers followed, dressed in torn, fraying tights and tossing a set of cracked bowling pins back and forth. After the jugglers came the tumblers, three young girls and an older man. The girls all had sunken eyes filled with fear and bruises on their arms. The man wore a soulless grin and track marks.
"This is the Carnival Graveyard, boy," the girl explained, "filled with castoff entertainments and unwanted amusements. We are dead and undying, eternal detritus of a faded era," she leaned over him, "from which we can never leave." She smiled as the others gathered round. "And now," she said, "neither can you."
"Well, look at that," she laughed and her dead infant face cackled, "it seems there is something to be scared of after all."