RLS -Smile



by - Isha Chauhan

She had heard of it, of course. Everyone had. In a town as small as hers, every bit of possible entertainment was believed to be public property, and people would be damned before they missed any of it. So, in large groups, they all marched to the once vacant field on the outskirts, now covered with lights, tents, and laughter, occasionally broken by screams. Anne found herself in a group of high schoolers, pushed into the carnival entrance. Her friend's arm was intertwined with hers as the air filled with buzzing chatter. She had reluctantly come. She wasn’t fond of rides, but she didn't want to be the odd man out. So yes, she would like to go, too. “How many tickets?” asked a gravelly voice, scratching against her ear. She looked up at the man in the large red booth, his thin face stretched into a too-wide smile. Feeling lightheaded and realizing she was at the front of her group, she forced out, “Ten, please?” Her voice came out hoarse. He didn't… feel right. Nothing felt right. People passed her the money, and soon she held a string of sparkling red tickets. The man bowed his head, his hair partially covered by a tall top hat. Anne wondered how it stayed upright in the wild wind of the night. She smiled back politely and wrapped her arm with her friend’s, who dragged her inside. “Well,” said Cecilia. “This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!” The lights hanging from everything spilt through Anne’s old, scratched-up glasses, almost blinding her. But even nearly blinded, she couldn't help but agree with her friend. It was beautiful. Too blue, though. So blue that almost everything but the grass and the night sky was washed with it. She took a hit of her inhaler as her eyes fell on the roller coaster, feeling her lungs being tied with a phantom rope. Just a roller coaster. Stop being such a wimp. She glanced over her shoulder at the entrance, half-minded to walk out. Her eyes collided with the man's. He was passing tickets to some kids, but his gaze was on her, the smile stretched on his lips like a promise. His one eye dropped in a wink, almost doll-like. “It's a character he does,” Cecilia assured her. “I heard about it. They call him Smiley." She glanced at Smiley. "He really needs lip balm, if you ask me.” Cecilia gave her a sweet smile that Anne returned. They made their way through the carnival, avoiding rides for Anne’s sake. But she knew Cecilia’s restraint would soon snap. Pausing at beverages, Cecilia passed her a drink, a sparkling blue liquid. It wasn't alcohol. Yet, she drank two more, and then felt the urge to scrape the stickiness out with something. At some point, she was eating cotton candy, tasting the burnt fluffy thing. It was blue too. Everything they ate was blue and sparkling. Everything they saw was blue and sparkling. Still munching on some blue candies, she found herself in the House of Mirrors. One showed her tall. One showed her small. One showed her inflated. One showed her smiling... one showed her smiling too wide. Were mirrors supposed to do that? She dropped the candies, feeling the familiar panic return. She took one too many hits of her inhaler. “Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!” She was somehow out of the House of Mirrors. The cheers roused her from the daze. Cecilia’s fingers were digging into her arm, dragging her. Her friend was still munching on the candies. Anne could not breathe enough to ask her friend to stop. She could still taste the cotton candies “Let’s whack some moles!” Her friend almost screamed. Her blurry eyes focused on the boy whacking the moles, the hammer looking like metal instead of soft rubber, bringing it down with such force it sounded like he was shaping iron. Anne glanced at the moles… they didn’t look like toys. No, they were screeching. They were struggling to get out with their tiny hands. The hammer raised again. “Stop!” She screamed. People turned, frowning at the intruder. “You’re killing them!” She blinked. The hammer was rubber. The moles were stuffed animals, their embroidered eyes looking at her. She swallowed, tasting a bit of the sticky sweetness. It chased the madness away. She removed her glasses, allowing the sight to blur. She saw people’s teeth. Everything was fine. She blushed deep red. “I am sorry, I thought-” All of them laughed at her. Cecilia’s giggle was the loudest as she grabbed Anne’s arm with her sticky fingers and dragged her away. “Let's whack them later - I want to go on the roller coaster!” Anne was blinking slowly, feeling her feet start to drag. Not the roller coaster. Everything was wrong. Bloody moles. Too big a smile. Too big a smile in the mirror. Burnt candy. It had tasted like sweet coal. No. No. No. No. She focused on the blue lights. It had tasted sweet. Just sweet. Anne took another hit of her inhaler, feeling her heartbeat rise as she struggled to get the cap back on with her shaky fingers. She was okay. She could do this. She would drag Cecilia out after the roller-coaster. She blinked slowly, and before long, she was sitting beside her giggling friend in the front. She looked down, intending to see the framework of the ride…but there was nothing. Nothing was holding the dreadful roller coaster. She rubbed her eyes, messing up whatever she had worn on her eyelids. She looked down again. There was nothing. Just grass fluttering in the wind, shining blue in carnival lights. Sparkling blue. “Cece…” She whispered. Her throat was closing up with panic. Air couldn't get to her lungs. Where was her inhaler? “There…It’s…” “What?” Her friend snapped, as if displeased she had to pause her giggling. “Is there a dying mole?” She giggled. Was Anne hallucinating again? She focused on the carnival lights, feeling them as if they were penetrating her skin. Of course. She looked down. A strong metal structure held up the roller coaster. It reflected all the lights. “All set, eh?” Large hands with large nails came to check her straps. She looked up. A smile greeted her. Blood now covered his lips, trailing down his pale chin. It looked deep blue. “All set, eh?” He asked again. She just nodded. Why had she feared this man, again? She couldn’t remember. She smiled back at him, trying to make it as big as his until her own lips split. The lights were in her, colouring her blue. The candies and the drinks were in her. They coloured her blue. He walked away. He had not checked anyone else’s strap. It started. Anne was still smiling. She did not wipe the blood off her chin. She didn’t scream. The speed of it ripped into her skin as if trying to get it off. She kept smiling. The next day she was back at the ticket booth. But it was her up there, smiling too widely at the visitors and wearing the too-tall top hat. “How many tickets, eh?” The blue was in her, sticking to her insides, making her happy. She was Smiley now. Always happy.

Isha Chauhan

Isha Chauhan, an emerging horror, thriller and fantasy writer, studies English at AMU. Her stories, rich with suspense, promise to haunt readers.