*I submitted this for a short story contest last year on September. The results would come in last month. I didn’t win, but I really like this story, so I’m posting it here. Gacha Club character designs are on my wall. Enjoy!*
Matilda stared at the broken down, rickety carnival. It was painted in splashes of red, yellow, green, and many other bright colors. The brown rust clawed at the edges of the attractions. The night sky didn’t darken her surroundings enough, because she could still faintly tell what the colors were. She wasn’t complaining, though. It wasn’t even her decision to be here. It was Beatrice’s decision. Beatrice, her best friend who often got them in trouble, wanted them to go to the haunted carnival, the carnival said to hold the clown ghost with the creepy face and the screeching laugh. Legend had it that if one brought a small child with them to the carnival and shouted at the top of their lungs; “FREE FOOD!”, then he would appear.
So Beatrice decided to bring her little sister, Annie, with them. Matilda tried to persuade her not to do it, but persuading Beatrice was like persuading a rock. You wouldn’t get anywhere. The three girls made their way to a dirty, yellowing tent which had seen better days. Beatrice smiled. Matilda didn’t. Annie looked confused. “Let’s just get this over with.” Matilda said.
“FREE FOOD!” Beatrice yelled.
Something opened the tent flap. The girls turned away and found a tall clown. His clothes were stained with blood. His face had these big, artificial eyes. They were more noticeable than the scars and the fact that he had no lips.
“What’s with all the yelling?” He asked. His voice sounded raspy and weak. They couldn’t help but back away in fear. Matilda swallowed hard. Here he was, the clown himself, standing in front of her. He was real. He existed. She couldn’t stop staring at his fake, big, horrible, unnatural, doll-like eyes-
“Are you going to talk?” He asked. He was looking at Matilda.
“We brought this child here for you. To eat.” She responded, suppressing the urge to run away.
Annie looked up at the girls in alarm. The poor thing was completely oblivious. Beatrice lost all expression on her face. The clown only attempted to smile.
“I don’t eat children, but it’s nice to have company.” He replied. Annie sighed in relief. Beatrice still seemed scared. For the first time, Matilda wasn’t afraid. She was curious. Who was this clown? Why was he here?
The clown sat on the dirt ground. He pointed to the three of them and then back at the ground. So he wanted them to sit with them? Alright then.
Matilda was the first to sit down. Beatrice, not wanting to look like the scaredy-cat, followed suit. Annie hesitated for a moment. She decided to sit with them.
“A long time ago, back when this place was still functioning, I performed here. Not every day, because I had schoo-”
“You went to school?” Matilda asked. She always assumed that the clown was an adult.
“I was a teen, just like you. But that’s important. I used to perform here. I used to have real eyes. There were others here, too. Other people who performed. There were even animals. There was a ringmaster, obviously. There’s no circus or carnival without a ringmaster, is there?”
He gave a bitter laugh after that. His artificial eyes seemed angry, frustrated, and sad at the same time. That should be impossible, right? His eyes weren’t even real. They wouldn’t be able to show emotion.
“Anyway, the whole circus flock was there. We did our thing. Everything was fine and dandy. Until..the ringmaster..he kept looking at me strangely, like he was jealous or something. I tried to ignore it, but it still bothered me. See, I was supposedly a very handsome boy at my school. All the girls said so. I never even thought about it. Now that I think about it, that could have been why the ringmaster did what he did.”
“Was he a teen like you?” Matilda asked. Only teens could have that kind of jealousy, she figured. An adult would never act that way.
He shook his head.
“He was an adult? Jealous of a teen?”
“Yes. I was the only teen there. To this day, I still don’t know why he would be jealous of me. Maybe it was because he wanted to be the only nice looking one. I’m not sure. As I was saying, everything was fine until one Tuesday. I was in my tent, this tent, actually, doing my tricks. The crowd went wild, like always. Until…until..until..”
He swallowed hard, much like Matilda did when she first saw him. He seemed to have this overwhelming sense of dread, like the world was ending, like he was about to die.
But he was already dead, so he only had the pain to keep him company, forever and ever and ever.
“The lions…he unleashed the lions…into my tent..he had lions! I saw him..in the shadows of the crowd…laughing at me! They destroyed my face, turned me into this! The audience did nothing. They thought it was a trick! All of them! One big funny trick.”
“Really? They did nothing?”
“Absolutely nothing. They didn’t realize it until weeks later. By then, my body was hidden by the ringmaster himself. He even sewed these eyes on me. This place-”
“He sewed eyes on you? Why?”
“As a last hurrah, I guess.” He murmured. It was as if he were trying to bury the memory entirely, to not go further into detail, to blur it away as something casual, something normal, like buying stuff in a grocery store. Maybe then it would go away entirely.
That wouldn’t work. It never did.
“This place closed down. My ghost still lingers here. Nothing shines anymore.”
“But what business do you have here?” He asked them.
Matilda laughed. It all seemed ridiculous now. Search for an evil clown? Give him a child to eat? Incredibly ridiculous!
Nevertheless, she told him the entire story. He seemed to have found it amusing, the stories. The lies people came up with about him. All of it, amusing.
“Well, we must go now.” She said. Their parents were probably worried about them. Beatrice was probably thinking of a way to spin their experience of meeting the clown to make it seem like Matilda was the scared one. That’s how it always was. Beatrice was brave and Matilda was scared. Not the other way around.
And Annie was furious with both of them. Matilda could feel the child’s fury from a mile away. Something told her that Beatrice would feel her wrath that was known as temper tantrums when they got home.
But Matilda didn’t care. It was Beatrice’s own fault, after all. Beatrice brought this upon herself.
The girls stepped out of the tent. The night sky still darkened the world around them. The first seams of morning light hadn’t yet shone. They still had time to get home and make it look like they never left.
“What are your names, ladies? I never asked.” The clown said, words breaking through Matilda’s thoughts.
They turned to look at him. The clown was now standing outside the tent. “I’m Matilda and this is Beatrice and Annie. What is your name?”
She probably shouldn’t have shared their names, but he seemed like a nice guy. Even if he wasn’t, who cared? He was something interesting to have in their lives.
“My name is Percy. Visit sometime soon?”
He didn’t look at the other girls. Only Matilda.
For the first time in her life, she had nothing to fear.