Grace never wanted to spend her vacation at some dusty old carnival. She despised everything about them: the large numbers of people all crowded together, the games that were impossible to win, the rides that had one too many loop-de-loops, and the horrible clown imagery that was plastered everywhere.
But she had no choice. It was summertime, and her rich grandparents organized a family trip to Sunshinesville, Florida, known for its beautiful beaches and clear turquoise waters.
The carnival hadn’t been part of the plan at all. It was her mother who had suggested it after she saw a billboard advertising Beau Bowie’s Totally Amaze-Tastic Carnival of Awesomeness. And who would’ve objected? It was the second to last day before they had to leave, and they had basically done everything that you could do in a beach town. Who wouldn’t want to have a little extra fun before heading back home?
Grace objected. Well, she tried to object, but her parents still made her come. She saw the billboard as well. The owner and spokesperson of the carnival, Beau Bowie, looked like he was cosplaying a character from some obscure anime fantasy MMO; he had wavy blonde hair and an utterly ridiculous striped suit.
As she stepped out of the car, she looked up at the huge clown-shaped gate with disgust. A single crow sat on top. It flew away as the walked closer, squawking as if to make fun of her.
Grace’s disdain for carnivals could be traced back to 2nd grade. Even though it was so long ago, she remembered it like it was yesterday.
Yes, she remembered it well. Her parents had taken her to a small carnival for her 8th birthday, and it was an absolute disaster.
The place was called Zee’s World. Their main attraction was an animatronic show, starring a clown zebra named Zee and his other robotic friends. Instead of singing a silly little animatronic show, though, the robots malfunctioned. They sparked and made a horrible screeching noise and leaked oil out of their eyes. Grace had nightmares for a long time after that.
She told herself that she had gotten over her fear, but this was far from the truth.
She looked for her cousin June. They weren’t technically cousins (more like cousins-in-law), but they got along well. They had been best friends since either one of them could remember, and they would both be high school juniors in the fall.
Grace snuck up on her. “Boo!”
June didn’t jump at all; she had been expecting Grace. “Hiya, Grace,” she replied, chuckling. “Did the clown gate scare you?”
“Har-har, very funny,” Grace said dryly. “You know, I don’t mean to sound entitled, but I don’t really wanna be here. Carnivals are kind of overrated, if you ask me. I mean, have you even heard the name of this one? ‘Beau Bowie’s Amaze-Tastic Carnival of Awesomeness?’” The sickening stench of cotton candy filled her nose.
“hey, I think you should give this place a chance. I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about it; they say it’s one of the largest traveling carnivals in the world!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Grace lied.
After getting tickets, grace’s mother handed them out to everyone. Grace and June split away from everyone else, with her Aunt Jennifer joining them. They hadn’t seen each other in a while, so she immediately greeted her with a “Is that my little niece Grace?” and a “Oh, how much you’ve grown!’
“I wanna come too!” exclaimed Donnie, Grace’s little brother, as he broke free from his mother’s grasp. Donnie loved his big sister; he followed her around everywhere and wanted to do everything she did.
Grace tried to object to this too; Donnie could be kind of a nuisance sometimes. And besides, him coming along basically meant that they couldn’t do any of the fun stuff. But, again, she had no choice. Aunt Jennifer picked him up and spun him around and cooed, which meant he had to come with them.
The first thing that they wanted to go to was a circus performance; it was June’s suggestion. They had to walk past the games first. Most of them were themed after some popular franchise, like the Five Nights at Freddy’s skee ball and a VOCALOID ring toss (whatever that was). There were also some stands that had more general themes, like a science themed balloon pop and a creepy-cute themed game where you had to knock down bottles.
Grace really didn’t want to go to the performance; she didn’t even want to think about it. But June seemed really stoked about it, so how could she say no?
The moment they stepped into the tent, she was immediately brought back to that awful, awful birthday party. She could practically hear the audience of antsy little kids, whining and fidgeting. She could practically see the absolute nightmare fuel animatronics. She could practically hear that horrible screech of death they let out as sparks flew and black oil spewed out. She could definitely remember the nightmares that followed: being chased by the animatronics and drowning in their oily tears.
But when she actually took time to look around, she realized that this performance was nothing like that day. The audience had people of all ages, not just bratty toddlers. There were no animatronics, but there were a bunch of clowns. They did all kinds of dangerous stunts; they rode on flaming unicycles and had swords thrown at them and walked on tightropes without safety nets.
After that, there was supposed to be a special performance done by Beau Bowie himself. This was probably the entire reason June wanted to go to the circus tent first; on the way there, she had gushed about his she thought Beau was cute (Grace personally didn’t see it, though). To June’s disappointment, one of the clowns came out and announced that Beau had canceled it last-minute.
There was something… off about the clown; her movements were kind of stiff. Now that she thought about it, all of the clowns moved like this. But she brushed her suspicions off; it was probably just part of their act.
After the show, Grace was absolutely amazed, but she didn’t want to admit it.
As they went to attractions, she mentally pointed out some sort of flaw with them, trying to convince herself that she didn’t actually like this place. The Zippity Zoomity Coaster was too fast. The Round-and-Round-About Carousel wasn’t fast enough. The games were rigged. Speaking of which, the toys hanging up all of the stands seemed creepy in a way she couldn’t describe. It was almost as if she was being watched.
Over time, though, her grudge against this place seemed to wind down. After all, it was a little hard to be angry when you were with people you loved. Grace stopped complaining and actually started to have fun.
The sun had turned orange, and the last thing they wanted to do was the mirror maze—or, as it was named, the Cool-Mazingly Fantastic Neon Mirror Maze. The people working there gave her plastic gloves and glasses. She tried the glasses on for a few seconds, before deciding she wouldn’t use them; they were the kind that made everything look trippy. Aunt Jennifer waited in the lobby with Donnie as they went in.
The floor inside of the maze looked like an 80’s bowling alley, and there were ambient lights that made the whole place change color. The mirrors made it look like you could walk right through the dozens of arches. Admittedly, Grace bumped into quite a few of them (not as many as June did, though). She became incredibly focused on trying to find the exit, almost as if she were in a trance.
She had been so focused on trying to find the exit, in fact, that she almost hadn’t noticed when June was gone.
She snapped out of her trance and immediately looked around. Oops, I must have accidentally gotten separated, she thought.
“June!” she shouted, “I think I got a bit lost, I’ll meet you at the exit.” There was no response
Grace had walked around the maze for what felt like hours. She was getting hungry, the flashing lights were starting to give her a headache, and she was a bit tired of seeing nothing but her reflection. No matter what direction she looked in, all she could see was herself. in every direction she could see the same heart printed tank top and white skirt. The same long braids with pink beads. The same sparkly sandals and the same heart-shaped sunglasses on her head.
There was no response when she called out for June, but she could still hear the faint sounds of carnival music and people. She couldn’t check the time or text anyone on her phone, as it had run out of battery—which was weird, since it was charged when she went in.
She reassured herself that this was all just a part of the (totally lame) carnival. Soon enough she would find the exit and get back to her family. Perhaps it was all the candy and fried food making her lightheaded, but she wholeheartedly believed this.
Eventually, she got tired of walking and decided to sit down against a mirror. She opened her mini backpack and took out a blueberry granola bar. Her parents had always insisted on packing stuff like this, and only now was Grace grateful for it. She took a bite, only to promptly spit it out. It was stale!
All of a sudden, Grace heard a noise. It sounded distant, but not as distant as the carnival noises.
It was the sound of someone sweeping. A janitor, perhaps? That’s it! If she could find the janitor somehow, they could help her get out of the maze and back to her family! Grace didn’t stop to consider any flaws in the plan; she immediately put it into action.
She ran this way and that, running into only a couple of dead ends. It was as if the maze had made itself easier, just for her. The sound got closer and closer, and eventually she rounded a corner to find the janitor sweeping the ground.
“Hey, you there,” she said, “could you help me get out if this place, please?” He didn’t respond.
“Uhh, hello? Mr. Janitor, sir?” He still didn’t respond. Rude.
But when Grace took a closer look, she realized why he wasn’t responding; the janitor was actually a robot!
If robots got themselves ready like humans did, this one obviously did so in the dark. Its hair was a cheap, faded wig, and its skin was painted on in thin, streaky coats. A little label on its arm read “Finder-Bot 3000.”
She was interrupted when the robot quickly turned towards her, its eyes glowing red. “INTRUDER DETECTED! INTRUDER DETECTED!” It screeched as the light from its eyes illuminated all of the mirrors. It dropped the broom as its regular arms changed into huge claws. It grabbed her tightly. Grace screamed and thrashed around, trying to break free, but it was no use.
To her horror, she discovered that she wasn’t alone.
An absolutely massive figure appeared in front of her. She only saw him for a split second, and couldn’t really make out any details. But one thing was for sure: he had a lot of arms. So many arms. Why would anything ever need so many arms?
He hit her over the head, knocking her unconscious.
The first thing she noticed when she woke up was how weird her mouth felt. Although she couldn’t see herself (or anything, for that matter), she knew it was in the wrong spot. It was lopsided, on the right side of her face instead of under her nose. Her body felt weird also; it felt like she was wearing three puffer jackets at once.
Her vision cleared up in a few seconds. She looked around. She was raised up off the ground, surrounded by all of the game stands. All of the toys were moving and talking angrily. The wind was blowing lightly, and she could see some of the toys blowing too. There was a plump man with small demon horns and a carney outfit walking away from her stand.
She could hear people talking right behind her, whispering as if they didn’t want her to hear. She turned her whole body to see a two-headed bear plush and an elephant with a dragon’s tail—both of which were designed to look like they were hand-stitched. They immediately shut up as soon as they saw her.
She didn’t know what was going on, and she didn’t know how to feel about any of it. Frankly, this felt like some weird dream; at any moment people’s faces could’ve started melting. At any moment the floor could have given out. At any moment that stupid zebra could have appeared to torment her once more.
“Hey, you!” Someone called right across from her. Grace turned to see a black cat plush. The cat had yellow eyes all over their face. “Are you the new one?”
Grace didn’t respond.
“Eh, it was a stupid question; of course you are. I’m Sage. I’m just gonna tell this to you straight: everything about your life from this point on is gonna change. You’re lucky I’m the one telling you about this; most of these other folks would beat around the bush, but I’m gonna tell you every detail.”
They then went on to talk about Grace’s current situation. This talk went on for a long, long time. At the time, Grace didn’t fully understand a lot of what was being said; it almost felt like she was hearing a conspiracy theorist rant. The wind picked up as they went on and on. Because she had a string on her head which was hooked loosely onto the stand’s ceiling, Grace started to blow in the wind.
When Sage was done, Grace remained silent, attempting to take this all in. After a few minutes, she started to ask questions.
“So, lemme get this straight; me and everyone around me are trapped in stuffed animals?”
“Yep,” replied Sage.”
“Because of the carnival’s owner?”
“For all of time?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
Grace didn’t say anything else. She was still quite confused and had many questions she wished to ask. Why were the clowns at the circus tents acting weird? Were they fake? Were the carnies fake too? What happened to my body? Why was Beau doing any of this in the first place?
But her confusion soon turned into anger, boiling inside of her like a lava lake on a hot summer’s day. Without thinking, she let out a scream of rage. Everyone went silent and stared in her direction. She kicked and punched the air and said just about every swear word she knew, not caring who was watching. This situation only further proved her point that carnivals were horrible. How could she ever be so stupid as to think this place was fun? Because she came here, she had died and was going to spend eternity trapped in a stupid stuffed animal!
“Whine all you want, it ain’t changing nothing, said Sage.
“Shut up you—“
Grace was silenced by a huge gust of wind.
It was just enough force to knock her off the hook.
As Grace hit the ground, everything delved into chaos. It was clear that nobody had ever seen something like this happen. Grace looked around; everything seemed so different from this perspective. So much bigger. She looked up at her stand; it was the creepy-cute game she saw earlier.
“I knew that carney was being lazy and didn’t tie you tightly enough!” yelled Sage, as if this were Grace’s own fault.
Among the noise were many people urging her to head for the haunted house at the back of the carnival. Apparently, it was rumored that a long time ago, someone was able to escape Beau by hiding there. Grace thought it was kind of strange that they had so much confidence in an old tale, but then she realized that they probably had no other hopes to hold onto. And what else could she do? She couldn’t just stay here and wait to be caught.
Grace stood up. She felt wobbly at first and had to lean against one of the stands. She took her time learning how to walk with plush legs, but everyone urged her to hurry before daytime—or before Beau came.
Her stand was at the edge of the area with games, and she could faintly see the haunted house in the very corner. She tripped and fell a lot on the way there, but she eventually got the hang of it; she was pretty sure her limbs had some sort of wire in them to make them posable, which also made them more stable to walk with.
She ran and ran and ran, twisting and turning through the rides until she made it to the haunted house.
She knew she should have found a way in immediately, but she took a few seconds to scan it. All the other attractions looked like they were made specifically for Beau, but the haunted house had the generic spray-painted art style found at normal carnivals and local fairs; it felt out of place. The sign, which read “The Scream-Tacular Haunted House,” looked like it was added on as an afterthought. There was a huge orange “Out of Order” sign on the front. Grace walked around the building and found a hole she could fit through.
She was immediately met with a room that was meant to look abandoned, but didn’t do a very good job. There were large circles on the floor that looked like they opened up. Grace was careful not to step on any of them, in case they were to activate.
She walked around for a bit, not quite sure what—or who—she was looking for. Everything seemed really cheaply made compared to everything else in this carnival. All of the walls looked like they had been graffitied with markers; it was just a bunch of scribbles, but it almost looked like some ancient language.
At some point, she passed by a mirror and was able to see herself. Her eternal prison was apparently a white rabbit plush. Just as she had suspected, her mouth was positioned entirely on one side of her face. It was full of embroidered razor-sharp teeth. her face was forced into a smile; she couldn’t frown or make any other facial expression. A red heart was stitched into her chest.
She was in the “haunted library” part of the building when she was startled by heavy footsteps from above. She immediately shoved herself into a bookcase.
Whoever was there must have heard her, because she could hear the footsteps coming in her direction. The person sounded like they were zig-zagging and spinning in circles and giggling on their way to the library.
It took a while, but eventually a little green robot toy made his way into the room. Grace was relieved to see a toy walk into the room, not a Finder-Bot 3000 or Beau. At the same time, though, she was kind of surprised that the tale turned out to be true. All of the other toys seemed like they didn’t actually witness the escape, like it was just a story passed down through history.
“Hrgh… stupid dust mites,” he mumbled. Well, it wasn’t exactly a mumble, but more of an attempt at mumbling; he seemed like he was unable to talk quietly. “I’ve already told you, dust mites, to stop eating the books!” he said a lot louder.
Grace leaned a little closer, watching him walk around and continue to scold the dust mites. She was a little unsure of how she should go down and introduce herself—or if she should introduce herself at all.
“What—WHOA!” Grace yelled as she leaned a little too close and fell out of the bookshelf, right at his feet.
“Gasp!” he exclaimed (he didn’t actually gasp; he just said the word). “Do my eye-holes deceive me? No, my eye-holes have never deceived me, so what I am seeing must be true! A new hider had joined me in this game of Hide and Seek!” He began to jump all around her
Grace didn’t know how to react. “The… what?”
He stopped jumping and said it slower, as if this would help. “Hide. And. Seek. Don’t tell me you’ve never played Hide and seek!”
Grace would have blinked at him in confusion, but her eyes refused to close.
“Okay, so, the object of the game—“
“Stop,” Grace interrupted. “Stop everything. I’m going to be asking the questions here. Are you that guy everyone told me about? That guy that escaped from Beau?”
Upon hearing Beau’s name, he seemed to get incredibly panicked. “B-Beau? Beau? Is he here? he isn’t here, is he?” His head started twitching back and forth, making a bunch of sparking and clicking noises.
Grace backed away from him, into a corner. She was terrified, but her fear was drowned out by her anger once more. Coming to this haunted house was a mistake after all; she wasn’t about to stay with someone like this, rambling about dust mites and Beau.
Right as she was going to run away, he suddenly grabbed onto her arm. “Wait!” he shouted. “Don’t go!”
His eyes had changed. Before, they were swirly and yellow; now, they were white with black pupils.
“Don’t…go. It’s not safe.”
Grace yanked her arm away. “What the hell is happening right now?!”
He paused for a bit, looking absolutely flabbergasted at the sight of her; he just muttered incoherently, as if he couldn’t believe he was coming into contact with another living being.
She felt a twinge of annoyance. “Answer the question: what is this? What’s going on?”
“How… on Earth did you escape?” He muttered, not answering the question. “How was that even possible?”
“I think I should be asking you the same question! Aren’t you the guy that escaped?”
He covered his ears with his claw hands. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, why are you yelling?” he half-whispered, as if he hadn’t just been yelling a few seconds ago.
Grace crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
He said the word “sigh” under his breath. “Well, yes, I escaped, but it wasn’t without consequence.” He began to ramble again. “That… horrible man did… something to my brain, scrambled it up like a bunch of eggs. I don’t even remember how I got to this place; I wasn’t myself when it happened…”
Grace rubbed her temples (well, she didn’t have temples anymore, so she just kind of rubbed her face). “I don’t… think I’m completely understanding everything about this situation. Who even are you? How did you wind up like this?”
He looked down at his hands, checking for something, then he looked back up at Grace. “I’m not sure how much longer I can stay normal, but I’ll try to explain the most I can. You might want to sit down.
“First of all, I’m Alistair. Although, when my mind isn’t what it should be, I call myself Asthma Man. Don’t ask; even I don’t know why. A long, long time ago, I came to this carnival and…” he trailed off, shuddering. Grace could see the sheer fear in his eyes trying to recount these events. “Well, you can probably guess what happened. Long story short, I was cursed to go kooky, and now I’m here. It’s like that most of the time, but sometimes I become normal, like this.”
Grace’s exasperation fizzled down a bit and was replaced by sorrow. She could just imagine him here, all alone, fearing that one day Beau would catch him again and torture him some more.
She decided to stop thinking about it and continued asking questions. “Earlier, you talked about ‘playing Hide and Seek;’ what exactly was that all about?”
“Well, my alter ego Asthma Man seems to think that everything is a game of Hide and Seek—we being the hiders and Beau being the seeker. Again, I can’t really give you an explanation as to why.”
“Okay. So why can’t Beau get in here?”
“There’s no way to tell for sure, but I have a theory. I’ll be right back.” He walked out of the library and came back with a roll of paper. “I found a copy of the haunted house’s floor plans in the attic.” He pointed to the manufacturer at the top, Carney & Vyll. “See? It’s not made by Beau like all the other attractions at this place. My theory is that, because it wasn’t made by Beau, he can’t put any of his magic on it. Maybe that’s why it’s always out of order—and why he seems to ignore it. But, hey, maybe I’m completely wrong about all of this; who knows?”
Alistair stopped, suddenly looking like he had made a realization. He looked down at his hands. “I…can’t remember the last time I’ve been normal for this long.” he snapped himself out of this, obviously not wanting to think about it. “What did you say your name was?”
“So, tell me Grace, how did you escape? How did you know to come here?”
“The wind blew a little too hard, and I fell onto the ground; apparently I wasn’t tied up well enough. Everyone told me to come here because they heard that someone hid here long ago.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Like I’ve said, I’ve been here for years, and neither Beau nor his henchmen have stepped foot in this place.”
Now knowing what else to say, she looked at the ground. She was still quite wary of this strange man that she would apparently be staying with.
In this moment of silence, it was like something clicked in her brain; she finally started to process what had happened today.
She was dead.
She realized that she would forever be stuck as a 16 year old. She realized that she would ever see her family again; not her parents, not Aunt Jennifer, not June, not even Donnie. She realized that she would never see her friends again; she’d never be able to hang out with them after school. She realized that she would never be able to do her favorite things again. Ever. And while her family all grew old and went to heaven some day, she would be stuck here. Forever.
How could she be so spoiled? How could she take these things for granted? She wanted to cry, but her stupid plastic eyes wouldn’t let her.
When she looked back up at Alistair, she was startled to see that his eyes had changed. They were back to being swirly and yellow
For whatever reason, Asthma man had taken to calling her Giggles. No matter how many times she had insisted that her name was Grace, he kept on calling her Giggles. After about two months of fighting against it, she had finally given up.
Most of the time, he was wacky and loony and blathered about things that didn’t make sense to her. He broke open batteries and drank the liquid inside. He scribbled incomprehensible stuff on the walls. Occasionally, though, he would snap out of it and become Alistair again. It would happen at a random point in time a random point of the day. Sage had told her that toys couldn’t move during the day, but Grace found this wasn’t true in the haunted house; perhaps Alistair was right about this place not having Beau’s magic in it.
He gave off the feeling that a fun uncle does—the kind who brings you random presents and tells you stories that are probably half-true, but are entertaining nonetheless. The two talked about all sorts of things; most of the time, though, he would just ramble on and on about his favorite shows (like a nerd).
Like Alistair’s theory about the haunted house, Grace made theories about what had happened on the day of her death. She theorized that the clowns at the performance were just pawns being controlled by Beau. The carnies were a different story; they seemed real enough. However, she could not think of a single reason why Beau would hurt so many people, or what may have happened to her body. She let it remain a mystery.
Although Alistair made Grace feel better about her situation, living with Asthma Man had proven to her just how powerful Beau was. Her stubborn and confident nature had devolved into anxiety. She jumped at every bump and creak the haunted house made; she hid in fear at every footstep that came near the haunted house, no matter what time of day; she had panic attacks at the very thought of Beau, knowing that she could possibly meet the same fate as her robotic roomate.
(Bonus: This is a picrew of Beau. Obviously I drew the clothes over it)
- S2E5 of Gravity Falls
- Creepy animatronic shows irl, most notably Showbiz Pizza
- “5AM at Freddy’s: The Prequel” by Piemations (Warning: they swear a lot in this video, so I won’t put a link)
Next chapter: Chapter 3