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The Clown's Game
My first thought was that I had reached a cave with huge stalagmites and stalactites marking its entrance. In the dusk darkness, I unfastened the key chain flashlight from my jeans and pushed on the switch. A diffused light illuminated the ground ahead and proved my assumptions frightfully wrong. The sinister eyes of a carnival clown stared back at me from high above, its wide gaping mouth leading the way into an abandoned funhouse. I approached slowly and cautiously, squeezing inside through the giant clown’s long, gory teeth. Stepping lightly onto the chipped tongue, I discovered a seemingly endless hall with spiraling lights that faded into a faraway emptiness. I took a step forward, and felt my foot sink into the spongy floor. Uneasy, I laid a hand on a wall for support and shivered at the touch of velvety dampness. I pulled back and the floor beneath me seemed to shift. A dull, rhythmic breathing sound echoed off the walls while a warm, gentle breeze played on my skin. A viscous mass plopped on my head, and I cringed at the feel of my hair. Yanking my hand away, an opaque guck hung suspended from my head to the fingers on my hand. As I recoiled, the slimy surrounding walls contracted, forcing me further down into the unknown.
In the blackness I heard a distant voice. “Hey, wake the hell up.” I groaned and opened my eyes to see a toothy grin. There was a pale towering figure looking quizzically into my face. “What do we have here?” asked the stranger, his large green eyes curiously examining me. I could now make out a teenage boy holding out his bony hand, which I took reluctantly, noticing his ice cold touch. “My name is Andrea,” I introduced myself, while being lifted from the cold floor. “Thank you for your help,” I added.
“I am Alucard,” he replied with a smile. Rising to my feet, I could see multiple reflections of the young man and myself extending endlessly into the oblivion. Countless clones, mimicking my every move, stretched into an infinite vortex of mirrors.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“The first level,” he promptly answered.
“Of what?” I pressed.
“The clown’s game, of course” he replied.
I watched him playing with a strand of hair, but could not tell if I was being tested.
“What?” he asked innocently. “You think I’m lying or…” he suddenly spun around, motioned me to follow and added “….that I’m an illusion!” I went after him out of fear of being left alone, but remained silent, trying to make sense of it all. While we walked, I looked at our images reflected in the mirrors, and was taken back by what I saw. I barely recognized myself in the sooty face of the teenage girl with mangled hair. “And I thought I was the narcissist,” Alucard observed, full of sarcasm. I tried not to seem bothered and instead focused on my single concern. “So, how can I get back home?” I asked. “The clown’s funhouse has several levels,” he replied “and one has to defeat each level to find the way out.”
“How many levels are there?” I questioned
“I don’t know. I only made it to the fifth. If you are killed, you are sent back to the beginning. That’s what happened to me many times and I eventually gave up.”
“So you’ve been stuck here for how long?”
“Not sure. Years, maybe. But you don’t age in the funhouse. If you stay for too long, however, you might begin to…loose your mind.”
He stopped in his tracks, and continued to speak in a whisper “I know how you beat this level. It’s easy—just find the cracked mirror.”
“And how many mirrors…,” I began, “are there?” I looked around and saw I was alone.
“Infinite,” came a whisper in my ear.
“Infinite?” I asked myself, laughing in disbelief. “How is this easy?” I began to walk. And walk. And walk…I looked at every mirror —not a single crack on any of them. “This is impossible!” I finally screeched. “It’s crazy! Sheer lunacy!” I screamed furiously punching at the nearest mirror. I drew my hand back glaring at the bloodied knuckles. I peered at the mirror and wiped the red streak from its surface. Grimly I asked “What now?” hoping Alucard would answer. He did. “Just step through.”
The air was thin, and I was having problems breathing. I felt a wave of panic coming over me and closed my eyes hoping it would go away. “Alright, Andrea, this level will be a bit hard to beat with your eyes closed.” I opened them grudgingly, not wanting to follow orders. We were standing on a small wooden plank, hundreds of feet off the ground. There was a hair-thin wire attached to it, taught, stretching towards a twin platform at the far side of an insurmountable chasm. Without warning Alucard began his walk across, whistling joyously to himself. He lifted his arms up like a bird for extra balance, and seemed to have no problem at all making it across the wire. I secretly wondered how many times he had fallen to his death before perfecting his skills. When my turn arrived, I took a deep breath and looked up from the ground. No looking down…no looking down. I inched my foot forward onto the string and took a step, then another. Not so bad, I thought. As I picked up my trailing foot, I felt myself slip to the side. I flailed my arms, a scream escaping from my lips. I heard a low chuckle, and felt rising anger as my eyes made contact with Alucard’s. He was flashing his teeth, apparently amused by my spectacle. I averted his gaze and concentrated on keeping my grip. Just then, my skin started to tingle and I realized the metal wire was turning red like hot embers. I felt my skin searing and thought this was the end. Alucard spoke “I suggest you hurry.” I nodded instinctively, and tried to return to the start. “Wrong way,” he shouted “if you do that, the string will incinerate. You will drop into the void and die from the fall, having to start from level one again.” I moved frantically across the wire towards him; hand over hand trying to ignore the painful burning. As I got closer, he reached out and pulled me up onto the platform. I examined my aching hands, they were gashed and torn, but I was safe. “It’ll heal,” he told me. Alucard put his hand on my shoulder in what I thought was a comforting gesture and suddenly everything went dark.
I was standing at the steps of a crumbling structure with faded, peeling letters spelling out “Tunnel of Love.” I spotted a red gondola floating in the quay. Inside sat Alucard with a set of oars resting on his skinny legs. In my desire to go home, the only option was to continue playing, so I climbed onto the boat next to him, our shifting weight rocking the boat in the lifeless waters. He placed one oar to each side and steered us into the tunnel. Now, in absolute darkness, we were guided by a faint scent of roses
with an occasional whiff of a strangely familiar scent which I could not quite place. Reaching into the water, I could tell it growing increasingly warm. I lifted my hands from the water and could see in the dim light that they were crimson red. I peered over the edge of the boat with apprehension and realized we were being carried by a river of blood. A nauseating feeling overcame my stomach and a sudden stench gave me a pang of dizziness. “What is this?” I screamed. Alucard gave no reply and continued to paddle with a purpose. I gazed around fearfully, unsure of what awaited us ahead. I was shaken by a blood-curling sound behind us. I turned to see a wretched thing rising out of the blood river, which was rapidly becoming darker and viscid. The beast fixed his hollow eyes on me as it extended huge, webbed wings; while large drops of blood splattered everywhere. I took a step back and fell over the edge of the boat. The black river came alive, grabbing at my wrists and ankles, trying to drag me under. I pulled away with all my strength but was too weak, and overwhelmed by the gore, blindly began to sink to my doom. Moments later I felt a strong tug on my arm, and found myself being pulled upward with enormous strength. My head broke the surface, and my heaving lungs were relieved by a gulp of fresh air. Alucard pulled me onto the boat, his stained arms dripping in blood. “You can’t die on me now.” He said, grinning sheepishly. The boat abruptly lurched forward and my stomach lightened as we plunged downward.
The music and muffled voices forced my eyelids open. I was in a lavishly decorated ballroom with hundreds of people in elaborate masks and Victorian dress. Women in flowing dresses danced deftly with partners in a spinning rhythm making their
gowns flutter freely through the air. I was looking from above at myself and could see that I was dressed for the occasion. I wore a laced Lolita dress paired with beautiful red shoes. “Andrea,” said a strange woman across the table, laughing and drinking champagne. I perceived her crudely applied makeup beneath a colorful peacock mask. “The dance contest will begin soon. You better go to Lermontov, he doesn’t like to be waiting.” I looked over to the dance floor, and saw an imposing figure wearing a long, curved beak mask. He motioned me to approach, and I could not resist a strong desire to obey. I laid my hands on his black velvet shoulder and waist, mirroring his actions. The piano began playing itself, softly at first as we started swaying gently side to side. Soon, however, it seemed our dancing became more brisk and hurried. The piano jumped from key to key, and I struggled to keep up. Lermontov suddenly let go of my hands. I swerved and stumbled before steadying myself and continued to dance unwillingly. My feet moved wildly and uncontrollably to the music. I looked down, saw the red shoes and then I understood. Of course… the shoes were cursed. I saw Lermontov grab something off a table . In his hands the object had a distinctive shine and I recognized a knife blade. I could not move away as he slowly strolled towards me. Come on I willed, and swung my leg out like a ballerina, squarely hitting him in the face. A small crack was left. I spun around, striking him with my elbow, and watched as the man’s guise fell to pieces to reveal his hollow eyes.
The next second I was alone, staring into a vast, vacant space. Sharp crystals lined the walls of this colossal ice cavern, shining like precious jewels bathed by the pale light
of the moon. I studied the ice around me and tapped the floor to check its stability. Satisfied, I took a step towards the center of the cavern, where the ice seemed to darken. I surveyed the room as I moved cautiously towards my destination, and upon reaching it, I peered down. At first I couldn’t tell what I was looking at, so I knelt down, finding myself face to face with a pair of wide, dead eyes staring back at me from their icy prison below. The look of terror was still present, and the eyes seemed to drain the color from the world around them. The bleached face I saw could have once belonged to a teenage boy, his black hair fanning outward like an evil crown. The cadaver’s mouth was gapping wide, small fish picking at his gums and rotten skin. His hands were spread open against the ice, as if he had struggled to escape until that last moment when the water had rushed into his lungs and frozen the blood coursing in his veins. I covered my mouth to suppress a shriek of horror. Suddenly, his skin began to ripple, as if millions of bugs wriggled under it. Elongated teeth tore through his gums crookedly, and his jaw jutted out repulsively. The cadaver’s fingers grew long and his fingernails hooked into the ice. I hurriedly pulled myself away. The floor began to crack, and as shards of ice exploded everywhere, I slid across its surface until slamming into a far wall. An icy dagger tore through my shoulder, and smaller splinters from the explosion stuck deep into my skin. I turned to see the soaring body of a boy, staring at me with a mixed expression of sadness and rage. He let out an unnerving scream and demanded my answer “Why did you do it?” his voice sounding like the wrath of a thousand men. “Why did you leave me here to rot?” He slowly
approached me, viscous blood pouring from its rotten limbs. “I—I don’t know who you are!” I shouted, my voice cracking with fear. “I don’t know who did this to you.”
“Yes… I remember now…HE KILLED ME! We were both trapped here, and he did this to me.” I sobbed and covered my eyes. “He was scared of death....so was I, but I couldn’t do it. No….” His loud voice was replaced by mournful moans of grief. “He thought it would free him, but he was wrong. He’s still trapped in this accursed place…forever. I can still feel his presence.” I hated it. I hated whoever did this to him. I looked up and asked the boy his name. “Ren,” he replied. “Ren,” I repeated back. A tingling sensation spread from my injured shoulder until it covered my entire body, and soon I fell into a profound sleep.
I woke up in a small, gloomy room. I could see Alucard standing by a table, a cruel grin upon his face. “What was all that about?’ I pressed him, referring to what I had just experienced. No answer came. I approached him quizzically and stared in disgust at his lips, which were stitched together. Unexpectedly, I heard Alucard’s voice within my head “Andrea, the time for you to make a choice has arrived. If you want a chance at going home, you must kill or be killed.” I was in shock at the realization of what had happened in the funhouse. Ren and Alucard had gone through this before. I had found Ren’s murderer. I stared at Alucard in loathing, and saw for the first time just how sick he really was. “You horrible, cruel monster!” I screamed at him “How dare you take a life which wasn’t yours to take. You were using Ren, and using me too! That’s why you saved me in the Tunnel of Love, that’s why you helped me along the way. You snake!” I smacked him as hard as I could. Suddenly, I noticed a dagger upon the table and lunged
at its handle. My grasp on the knife tightened, but then eased. “No. I can’t. I would be just as bad as him.” I mumbled to myself while dropping the blade to the floor. I turned away. I didn’t see Alucard reach down for the weapon, but I felt it when he viciously drove it into my back.