Carnival of Terror

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John Beal “Funhouse”


Everyone loves the fun fayre. I’m not speaking of amusement parks, the traveling carnival has no permanent fixings or fittings but instead moves from town to town settling only for a limited time. All rides have wheels mounted, food stalls are towed behind trailers and the entire show is ready to take on the road the moment the lights dim down. They fascinated me as a child and still did now so, when I heard about the infamous O’Malley’s coming to my home town, I almost coughed up my Cheerios. The Ferris wheel, helter skelter and a rollercoaster aptly named Plunge were all renowned and its reputation preceded it but, dig a little deeper beneath its garish veneer, and there was folklore attached which suggested this was one carnival not to take lightly.

It had originated back in the 1970s and controversy had followed it wherever it traveled. The authorities had tried in vain on a number of occasions to have it shut down after numerous disappearances, all of which remain unexplained to this very day. No bodies were ever recovered and it calls to mind what I learned as a child. Never fuck with a traveler. If, indeed, personnel were responsible for these disappearances then nobody would ever find the carcasses. Moving from one location to the next offers up numerous exclusive advantages for concealment and police could never form any lasting connection so the carnival continued. The show must go on after all.


I’d be lying straight to your face if I suggested that there wasn’t a degree of trepidation attached and I had done my homework, a thesis to be precise, on the anomaly of O’Malley’s. On one hand, I would play their games of chance, consume their toffee apples and marvel at their freak show, one of the most extensive in existence anywhere in the world. However it was the Funhouse which intrigued my darkness most as it is here where the atrocities are reported to have played out. Some Intel suggests that the bodies of those tortured souls inside are, in fact, the hollowed cadavers of the forgotten patrons although such claims of such a blatant display surely held no real weight. It was all just urban legend, cruel Chinese whispers which followed the great O’Malley’s around like a noxious gas cloud.

Curiosity can be lethal for felines and is culpable for snatching at least half a dozen of their lives in most cases but I was ready to lap down my dish of milk and play with the ball of wool presented me. It seemed uncanny, a real happy accident, and far too tempting an opportunity to pass up so I just had to satisfy my whim. I decided to leave my visit for the final night as a fireworks display was planned that signaled the end of the carnival’s festivities. Not only that but their prize-winning burlesque show was apparently unlike any other and I planned to be there for its encore performance. I would leave the Funhouse for last knockings as that was what I was really going there to see. However, I sure as shit scoops, wasn’t making this pilgrimage alone.


Actually I was. I called upon a number of dear friends to escort me to the Carnival and all of them had plans for the evening so I had no choice but to do this solo. If fear is, as has been claimed, the mindkiller then my brain was on a hiding to nothing. It’s funny, as much as my twisted innards forecast misery ahead, each of my receptors felt as though doused with popping candy. My mind was alive with the prospect of realizing this, the most macabre of my aspirations. So I used the fear see, allowed it to transmogrify into intense fascination and headed off to the ordinarily vacant sandlot which tonight, and for one night only, played host to the theater of my dreams.

The place was bustling on my arrival; news had spread both wide and far and there had to be a thousand in attendance. Pimpled adolescents were crammed into dodgems like sardines, attempting to cop a feel and put it down to turbulence. Fathers were frantically doing their very best alpha, attempting to win that elusive cuddly toy for their bairn and failing to sink that ball in the misshapen hoop. There was enough candy floss on exhibit to provide a hair looming service for a thousand balding harlequins. It was just as I remembered it, only massively augmented from anything I witnessed as a child. The big twister alone was hefty enough to pad out most theme parks. O’Malley’s had come to my town.


I grabbed a ticket for the twilight performance of the burlesque show and whiled away the time people watching, one of my favorite endeavors. There was such an overwhelmingly jovial vibe to proceedings and most of these folk had no idea of the dark heritage of this particular traveling carnival. O’Malley was of Irish origin and reportedly fixated with necromancy and the like. He was supposed to have died shortly after the show took to the road and apparently he had been squeezed out of any equity by unscrupulous fellow investors even though the show retained his branding. There was talk of a gypsy curse but more interesting is the fact that his body was never recovered. Smart money said that he was still very much alive and, knowing travelers and their illusionist skills, I had always considered this remote likeliness as the most intriguing explanation.


The burlesque was even more debauched than expected. Several buxom Irish beauties of delectably curvy physique performed their Can-Can and it was off the chart. There is something fiercely teasingly erotic yet respectful about this dance and those fishnets, heels and flashes of red velvet were enough to unbalance my body mass considerably. They knew they had me hook, line and sinker and seemed to play on that knowledge, almost as though the performance was for my bulging peepers only. As the lights died down, it was time for the encore and this is where lines started to blur. The freak show had packed up an hour ago but the Bearded Lady still had time for her swan song. I’m the dude who lost his battle to remain flaccid when watching the video to Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker for the first time so a little facial hair was likely to be overruled by those supple curves and come to hell eyes.


Consequently the hall of mirrors had also been dismantled and the hired hands wheeled in a number of these full-length props, assembling them around her like a peacock’s fanned feathers. This in itself intoxicated as they penned her in heightening the intimacy, while opening her up through a multitude of contorted images. There were no fake breasts or cleverly concealed tuckaways, this wasn’t drag but instead something of simple beauty. I’m not suggesting for a second that I wish to see Ringo Starr in a body stocking, heaven forbid, but when in Rome it is only customary to do as they do and her self-assurance came through in every twist and turn of that plump derriere. As arousing as it was disturbing, the burlesque was well worth the paltry entry cost.

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There was only one place still to visit and I had to cut old Whiskers’ performance short so as to arrive at the Funhouse for its ultimate send off. The vendor took my coinage and admitted me with a knowing grin which I found instantly unsettling to be frank. I looked around for the reassurance of safety in numbers but most of the crowds had already filtered out and only one carriage appeared taken. I made sure I sat close and, as it revolved around, I was relieved to see two friendly faces. It was Gayle and Desiree, two beloved friends who had shared my fascination for O’Malley’s during our tenure at college. Both were as intrigued as me by the grotesque and couldn’t pass up such an exclusive opportunity to take the last ride. I exhaled with palpable relief and Gayle smiled.

“Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now…and we’re glad to see you too” she said, as eloquently as ever. “There’s room for one more in here you know” added Desiree who was coming to regret ever stepping foot beyond the forbidden threshold and shared my philosophy on bulking up the numbers. Alas, it was too late now to readjust as the bumper cars began to spin and we were whisked away behind the blackened curtain. The moment we passed our first waypoint, any chill in the autumn air suddenly intensified and the most disturbing audio filled the winding maze of passageways before us. As we were hoisted forth the last illumination bled away from behind and the show was on the road. No turning back, crying for mommy wasn’t going to help us here, we simply had to grin and bear the Funhouse’s best shots.


Flickering lights alone were giving me both a glut of heebies and a fair dose of additional jeebies, none more so than when they revealed medieval torture instruments hanging precariously just out of our reach. There were, of course, the obligatory screams of despair and a number of those were emanating from the ladies in front as they were clearly horrified by the life-like reenactments on display. Jack the Ripper was there, Sweeney Todd too, and both appeared frighteningly authentic. Being an Irish gig I was hoping, nay praying, for Leprechaun just to lighten things up a tad but there was no sign of his pot o’ gold. Just countless disturbing vistas, each more realistic than the last.


“Welcome to O’Malley’s Funhouse, our very own Carnival of Terror. You will find your stay here most enlightening and will become part of our fine history before the ride ends. I can personally give the O’Malley guarantee that the three of you will find the answers you crave.” That last part took the air straight out of my lungs. I glanced forward and, as Gayle and Desiree rotated before me I caught the look of mortification on both their faces also. As it spun again, I caught Desiree’s glum observation. “What the hell did he mean the three of us?” she asked and none of us knew the answer. It felt as though this twilight ride was in our honor entirely and, whilst generous, I think all of us would agree that a little more stinginess wouldn’t have gone amiss on this occasion.


“Allow me to introduce the unholy executioner. We call him Tortured Soul on account of his tortured soul. Be careful now kiddies, this one bites.” Another bulb buzzed into life and it revealed a hulking juggernaut, brandishing a halberd and cleaving his intent as we approached the recess. He didn’t advance, or at least, not with those bloody bare hands which were riddled with calluses. His elongated blade made its introduction, glancing each carriage as it tuned and, between the expose of strobe-like lighting and the guttural screams of my friends, I knew it had made contact. Another revolution confirmed this as both Gayle and Desiree were bleeding from their faces. This had not been intended to maim but purely to crank up the noise and their shrieks added limitlessly to the consternation I was feeling.


“Our Tortured Soul is indeed most tortured. Try not to scream too loudly as our next exhibit doesn’t take kindly to such pitiful displays of whimpering weakness. Now you see him, now you don’t. Silent Shadow is our very own thief of the night.” This time there were no lights to guide us, only that of occasional rigged lightning bolts which illuminated our terror intermittently. It was crazy to think that Gayle and Desiree’s howls of discord gave me comfort but at least it meant we were all still alive. You don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone and, in a split second, their cries became muted. Frantically, I attempted to acclimatize my eyes but soon wished I hadn’t as the next bolt struck, highlighting their now vacant carriage.

“Believe your eyes as they cannot lie. It is time to meet the maker.” On the plus side I would finally have clarity to this great unsolved conundrum but that was counter-balanced somewhat harshly by the fact that my two dear friends were soon to be merely myth and I was about to join them. The ride then ground to a sudden halt. “It’s the end of the line. Thank you for showing such fervor over our modest craft. We trust we haven’t disappointed you.” With that, a row of lights blazed a few feet in front and there stood old man O’Malley. There were precious few photographs of him in circulation but I had seen enough to confirm that this was indeed my man albeit far less than lustrous and looking as though long since embalmed. “Am I what you hoped Keeper?” Questionable, if I’m honest.


Not a soul would have been any the wiser as to my anguish as the din of the traveling circus dismantling drowned out my sorry screams. O’Malley’s was soon to be gone, to pastures new. Its imprint on this land would fade over time but the legend would only gain momentum. I only ever wanted to be a part of something totally exclusive and this night I had gotten exactly that. Note to self, be careful what you wish for.


Click here to read The Ice Cream Van From Hell







  1. May I join you on your carnival visit next time? Sounds like its right up my alley. I liked it very much Keeper. Thank you for sharing 🙂
    By the way, I’ll get you for the clown…:)

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