Picture copyright: ©Jeff Hagerman Photography
Being a photographer, Erin loved capturing the dark side of nature. Old and abandoned things that once held some importance always fascinated her. Rainbows, colourful flowers, oceans and green lush landscapes were not her thing because their beauty was obvious. Anybody could see that. Bringing out the hidden beauty of the things that were found often discarded and useless was what motivated her to pick her DSLR every day.
Erin’s friends called her pictures gloomy. But she didn’t care. Some of her best pictures were that of a giant distorted tree, a wrinkled hand holding a cigar, withered flowers in a yard, a trail in dark misty woods, a huge and old rusty gate with climbers here and there on its bars, a broken swing set, and then her favourite one, a crow on a grave in a cemetery. Yeah. Talk about gloomy.
It pleased her that unlike beautiful pictures of nature, her pictures bursting with darkness and pessimism always made the viewer think about the story behind them. She didn’t know why she found the darkness appealing. But every time she came across such things, she couldn’t help but feel the tug towards them. That was the reason why, on her way back to home from college, Erin always found herself drawn towards the decades old and abandoned carnival setting in her town. She always wanted to capture it on her DSLR but she didn’t get a chance. Now looking at it from outside made her wonder what stories this place had to tell.
How a place that once must have been full of liveliness and glory could turn into something eerie after years of abandonment and neglect? She thought.
Loud thunder brought her out of her stupor and made her glance towards the sky which was blanketed by dark clouds. The lightning cracked and another loud thunder followed. Seemed like this evening worked in her favour. She had no extra classes in college today and the weather was just perfect. She knew the pictures would look stunning with background of dark cloudy sky with rusty old carnival rides in front. And if somehow she could just capture it with lightning cracking across the sky, it would be an icing on the cake.
Looked like it would start pouring after some time and if she didn’t want to get drenched, she would have to start her work now. Erin pushed the gate of the carnival with one hand and it opened with a creaking sound. As soon as she entered she started clicking.
She didn’t know how much time had passed. Everything seemed worth capturing and she didn’t even had an idea exactly how many pictures she had clicked. She was just excited that her pictures were going to turn out great. So when she was done, she couldn’t stop herself from sitting on the ground near a carousel to examine all her recent pictures on the DSLR.
When she finally raised her eyes from the DSLR, she realized that it was dark. She was so engrossed in the pictures that she didn’t even notice that night had already fallen. After slinging her DSLR across her neck, she got up and made her way towards the gate while brushing off dust from the backside of her jeans with her both hands.
“Leaving so soon?”
Erin had taken only a few steps when those words spoken in a male drawl that almost felt like a purr made her stop. Goosebumps broke out on her bare arms and her breath hitched. She glanced over her shoulder and then faced the source of that voice.
A sudden gust of wind made the carousel groan and rotate a little, but she was too scared right now to notice the movement that wind was instigating in the rides around her.
A shadow flickered behind the carousel. The dark was making it hard to see the face of the figure but Erin could make out the silhouette of a man wearing a hat and lanky outfit. The man took a few steps towards her but still his face was not visible. He tilted his head to one side and it was quite clear that he was taking his time observing her. His movements were slow, but seemed full of purpose.
“Curiosity, my dear, works in our favour sometimes but at times it becomes our biggest mistake,” the man spoke again in that lazy and arrogant tone. Though Erin didn’t know what he meant, his words felt like a physical touch. Instinct told her to run and never come back, because she knew she was in some trouble. Everything about this man screamed danger. But her feet felt like they were stuck to the ground.
“There was a time when this carnival used to bring so much happiness and pleasure that people wanted to stay here forever. You leaving so soon is not doing it any justice now, is it? Everything was full of sparkles, laughter and delight,” the man continued and then chuckled in a way that made Erin shiver with fear and her heart started jack-hammering against her ribs. “Glory days they were. I still remember how aroma of cotton candy made the air smell sweet, even hours after the cessation.”
“Wh-what…what do you want?” Erin asked in a jittery voice. She was trembling and though his words were not making any sense to her, they were enough to intensify her fear. She didn’t know anyone in this town who remembered the time when this carnival was active. It was a long time ago. Even her grandmother didn’t remember much about this. Then how the hell this man claimed to know such thing? She was sure that he was some psycho murderer who was planning on making her his next target.
The man straightened and pushed his hands inside the pockets of his trousers. “That should be my question to you, dear Erin,” he said and cocked his head again. “Don’t you think?”
She thought she was scared before but she was wrong. Now after hearing her name from his mouth she almost forgot to breathe. It felt like her heart was going to jump out from her chest. She tried to speak but couldn’t make any sound. It was an effort to even stand still.
Lighting cracked again revealing the face of the man for a fraction of second, enough time for Erin to take in the chalk white face, yellow eyes with slit pupils, round red nose, orange hair peaking from bottom of hat, and the wide and bright red smile revealing jagged teeth. That was all she noticed and without giving it a second thought, she turned around and broke into a mad sprint towards the front gate. She saw the gate getting nearer but slowly it began to close on its own. She tried to run faster and was out of the gate but the gate closed with her DSLR stuck on the other side. The belt was still around her neck and she was trapped. She thoughtlessly tried to pull it out with all her might but it was all in vain. If she didn’t want to put her life in danger and make it out of here alive, she was only left with one option. Removing the belt from her neck, she left the DSLR, one of the things she loved the most in her life, dangling on the other side of gate with its belt stuck between the closed panels. After getting into her car on the curb, she ignited the engine and got the hell out of there.
Perhaps the dread of what she just confronted today was making her mind play twisted games with her, because on her way to her home she couldn’t get those words out of her mind that she had heard in that familiar drawl after removing the DSLR belt from around her neck.
“You were just lucky.”
©sakshi~the escapist, 2017