Smile For Me

I’m not one to start believing in the existence of occult rituals, cursed beings, and demonic forces, but if there was ever one who could have convinced me otherwise, it would have been my captor from all those years ago.  I had met him at a carnival.  He was working one of the performance tents and performed illusions for a passing crowd of carnival goers.  I had gone to the carnival with my older cousin Gerald at the time.  My mother thought that since he was sixteen, he would help make sure I got home safe.  As irritated as I was at her for doubting my abilities to protect my own safety, I obeyed her.  After all, it wasn’t every day that you had a carnival like this in town. 

Gerald and I decided to walk to the carnival rather than take his worn out bicycle.  My mother had given us a little bit of money to get in and have fun.  We paid for our tickets at the front and rushed in.  I remember myself letting out screams of joy, running past the numerous booths and enjoying the glittering lights that shine bright and danced in the dark.  After a few minutes of running around and looking for Gerald, we decided to head first to the ball tossing booth.

Gerald stepped forward to go first.  “Let me have at it first, Alice!  I need to practice my throwing arm.”

Gerald paid the man a coin and was given three baseballs to throw at some bottles.  He threw the first one with the great force and knocked over all of the bottles in one swing.  He hopped up in the joy of having made a perfect shot. 

“Yes!  I got them all!”

The stand worker spoke to us before handing me a ball. 

“You both won, but you have the opportunity to get the big prize now.”  The biggest prize the stand worker had was a large stuffed teddy bear.  I wanted the teddy bear so much.  “Will you take the challenge?”

I answered up quickly to the worker.  “Yes!  I’ll take your challenge!”

Gerald pulled me aside before I could grab the baseball.  “Hold up, Alice! You can’t just rush into the throw.  You need to warm up!”

He grabbed the ball from the worker’s hand and began to show me how to warm up my arm and showed me how to throw the ball with the right amount of force and how to aim.  After warming up a bit, I was ready to throw the ball.  “I got it, Gerald.”  My mind focused as I aimed the ball.  I swung my arm back and threw the ball directly down my line of sight and nailed the entire stack of bottles perfectly.  I hopped in joy and happily took the prize from the worker.  The bear was almost as big as me, but I loved it regardless.  Gerald offered to carry it for me since I was only twelve at the time and struggled at first to handle the bear, but I held on to it tightly and refused the help.  “No!  It’s my teddy bear, and I want to carry him myself.”  Gerald put up his hands to signal that he didn’t want to fight over the bear with me and let me carry it. 

We made our way over to a cotton candy stand and Gerald paid for both of our cotton candy sticks. I told him that I had money to pay for my own, but Gerald always wanted to be the gentleman.  I accepted his offer and took the candy from him.  We continued to walk through the carnival until we came by one tent that had a sign reading “Come one, come all, to see the world famous Trickster!”  I wasn’t quite as excited as Gerald, but his enthusiasm and firm grip convinced me to go in with him. 

We paid the man a dime each for entry in, and Gerald signed for both of us.  He didn’t write my attendance name down but hurried me along with him before I could correct it.  I’m glad now that he made that mistake.  Gerald moved me towards the seats and we found our spots in the crowd to watch the world famous Trickster in action.  It wasn’t long before the lights dimmed and lights appeared on the stage.  From beyond the curtain, we could hear the announcer detailing the stage backstory of the Trickster.  “He has visited many nations and has seen the world.  Some of the things you see tonight will make even the strongest skeptics question their previous ideas of reality!  Some of you may call for help after what you witness tonight!  Some of you may still call it all an act after tonight’s performance, but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.  Tonight, for his final performance in the United States, please welcome, the world famous, Trickster!”

The Trickster did not walk out from beyond the curtains, but rather fell from the roof of the tent and landed gracefully on the stage, almost as if he was a human feather.  He spoke with a smooth and powerful voice, one that beckoned anyone’s attention.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I shall show you tricks and feats not witnessed by mortal man, and will make you question everything you once knew.  For example, your previous understanding of gravity.”  As he said this, his body began to float up from the ground.  A man from the crowd called his act out as fake. 

“This man is a liar!  He’s floating up by strings!”

The Trickster responded by reaching down into his slender throat with his long fingers and slowly removing a large saber from his throat.  “I am afraid not sir, for you see….”  He began to wave his saber all around his body, glancing the blade at imaginary lines and pretending to make slices.  “..I have no strings attached to me.  No mortal or physical strings have been applied to my person, and nothing but my desire to entertain binds me, good sir.” 

A bag of sand held up by a thick rope was lowered to meet him at eye level, even though the Trickster was suspended several feet above the stage.  “Now let’s make some sparks fly!”  He took the saber and sliced through the sack clearly, slowly parting the sand from the inner parts of the bag.  But as the sand fell, the Trickster began to swirl his saber as if it were a wand and the sand began to rotate in a ring around him as he spun it.  He mouthed out sound explosions and flicked his hand at certain parts of the ring.  “Bam! Pow!  Boom!  Pop!  Blam!  Blast!  Bang!”  Every time he said an explosion sound effect, a real firework went off around him, releasing a loud pop and fizzing colorful lights.  The Trickster had the full attention of the audience and did not plan to lose the focus he had instilled in them now.  “Now let’s have some real fun!”

The rotating sand turned into a bright blue light and formed itself into a light blue floating chair, which the Trickster placed himself in.  The trickster then began to summon in great creatures, creatures that would only exist in myth and legend.  Great dragons, battle waging centaurs, floating mermaids, and tiny fairies began to dance around on and above the stage.  Every one of them had a slight glow to them, but they all sounded and looked so real as if they existed somewhere beyond the illusion. 

After several moments of the entrancing illusion carried on, they all vanished before our very eyes.  The Trickster then began to perform miracles only spoken of in religious texts of the bible.  He formed a glass of water in his and transformed the water into wine.  He floated down and handed the glass to one of the women below.  The woman showed concern for the Trickster’s possession of alcohol and voiced her concerns to him.  “Isn’t it illegal to possess alcohol?”

The Trickster let out a triumphant laugh and smiled at her.  “Then I guess it’ll just have to be our little secret.  The woman accepted the glass and placed an index over her lips like the Trickster to indicate that she would not speak of this.  The Trickster then began to rain out popcorn from his sleeves over the audience, everyone doing their best to catch as much raining popcorn as possible.  The Trickster asked for a special object from someone and was presented a hat.  The hat was taken up and transformed into solid gold before everyone’s eyes.  The hat was slowly handed back to the boy, as the hat carried a lot of weight and would be hard to carry on his head.  After doing a few more of these tricks, the Trickster was ready for the grand finale. 

“I thank you all very much for your attendance at my final show in the States, but I’m afraid that it is time for my final vanishing act.”  And with that, the Trickster began to spin in the air, contorting his body into a ball and vanishing into thin air, dropping and revealing a coin on the stage.  But as the coin appeared on the stage, everything else around it began to fade.  The entire room began to fade away and reveal a clearing.  Within a few seconds of the room and everyone fading away, a path appeared ahead of me.  I looked around for Gerald, but he had vanished along with the rest of the audience.  I saw the trickster carrying a large bag behind him and whistling as he made his way on foot to what appeared to be an old manor house.  The house from the outside appeared to have once been burnt but had been partially repaired.  I looked around, only to see an endless wall of smoke that surrounded the path and the house.  My only option was to follow the Trickster up to his house. 

He made his way up to the porch, and right as he was about to open the door, my foot stepped on a spare branch, alerting him to my presence.  “Ah!  It appears I have one more guest to entertain this evening!”  I backed away in fear, slowly moving away as the Trickster quickened his pace.  He was within a few feet of me when my mind panicked and I raced back down the path, only to trip a few more paces away from him.  “Oh, sweetheart!  Why are you running?  We have not even had a chance to have some fun!”  He picked up his heel and kicked it directly into my terrified face, making my mind go black. 

When I awoke, I was bound to a wall by chains.  I tugged and pulled at my bonds, but was unable to break free.  I looked around through the one eye I had that wasn’t swollen shut and was met with a truly horrifying sight.  Across the upper part of the roof, long ropes of gore and organs from people were strewn across the rooftop as if they were decorations.  At the end of each rope was a face, some of which resembled the faces of some of the people from the carnival.  I looked down and saw the trickster holding and examining something in his hands.  He was facing away from me, but something I did caught his attention.  His head peeked up and he finally voiced himself.  He turned around slowly to show what exactly it was he was messing with.  “Ah!  It’s so good you’re awake, Alice!”  I shrieked in horror as the face I was looking at was that of Gerald.  The Trickster had transformed the faces of everyone from the show into masks.  He spoke slightly different and sounded a bit like Gerald and the mouth moved naturally like Gerald’s face would have.  This entire display disturbed me deeply and sent a deep chill down my spine.

“How do you know my name, Trickster?”

“Oh please Alice, please call me Tricksy.  And as for your name, Gerald gave it to me.”

My face had turned completely pale and my blood ran cold.  “How did you know me?”

“Oh Alice, every face I have has a story to tell.  Some nice and happy, some dark and oppressive, but they all share one thing in common; they were all revealed to me once they arrived in my audience!”

I couldn’t comprehend any of this.  “Where am I?  What is this place?  Why am I still alive?!?”

The Trickster now began to hush me, floating up to me and placing his finger over my swollen lips.  “Now!  Now!  It is not polite to ask so many questions all at once.  Please hush Alice so I may tell you all.”  I swallowed my fear and did my best to listen to every word that fell out of the Trickster’s mouth.  “You are currently in Ashford Manor, a forgotten paradise lost within the sands of time.  This place burned down, but after I was sent here, this place became my permanent home, neither amongst the living or dead.  And as for why you are still alive my dear Alice, you were the only one who didn’t sign the sign-in sheet.” 

My mouth fell open in shock.  Gerald’s one mistake that he made ended up sparing me my life.  “You see Alice, just like faces, the names that belong to the faces have great power, and once you have written your name down on my attendance sheet, you are forever a part of the act!”  The Trickster began to spin on his left foot laughing in glee.  “But even then, you, my dear are truly special.”  As he said this, he floated up and grabbed another mask, placing what used to be Gerald’s face, and placed the face of the skeptical man from earlier.  “You may not have signed your name to the sheet, but you were still brought here, so there must have been a particular reason that you were brought here.  Perhaps it was your desire to watch the show continue that you were naturally brought here by sheer coincidence.  No!  That couldn’t be the case.”  As he was saying this back to himself, the Trickster had begun to pace himself back and forward across the floor, slowly breaking down all of the possibilities that could have brought me here.

He snapped his fingers as he came to his conclusion.  “Ah, ha!  I think I understand now!  You were brought here by the same spell that allows me to leave the real world and enter the plane of existence that Ashford Manor exists in.  Anyone of my victims would normally have the life sucked out of them and preserved forever within a face mask, but you, you did not surrender your name to me!  This is why you were brought here and why you are still alive.  The only question now remains….”  As he was saying this, the Trickster floated up and switched out the face mask that once was the skeptical man and placed on the face of the woman who took the wine.  “…how shall I make you mine forever?”

Those words were planted deep into my mind and still haunt me to this very day.  The Trickster then began to float back up to me and caressed my face.  “I could make your face a beautiful addition to my collection.  Or, I could make you my slave to serve me at every performance forever.  No!  You shall be my queen, and together we shall rule every performance together as husband and wife!  Oh, it will be glorious!  Alice and Tricksy, the phenomenal duo!”  As the Trickster announced all of this out loud, he was performing a two-step dance in midair, floating just a few feet away from me.  He looked over to me and floated back over towards me.  “But first, before you can be my queen, we must be together in the flesh.”  What truly disturbed me the most was how, even as he changed characteristically with each mask he put on, he was always smiling at me.  I turned away from the grip he had on my face.  “Oh, come on now!  It’s no fun if you’re not smiling!”  It was then he pulled out a large knife from his sleeve.  “Smile for me my queen.  Please smile for me.”  His grin and the knife he was angling towards my face finally made me snap.

“You can’t!  I’m not old enough.  I’m only twelve, Tricksy, I can’t be your queen.”  After I said this, his grin finally broke and he stopped. 

“Wait!  No!  I can’t!  You’re too young to be my queen!”  This filled the Trickster with dismay and his mask distorted under his displeasure as he gripped his body, trying to comprehend that I couldn’t stay with him.  When he finally realized what he had planned to do, and how twisted it was, he finally let me go.  The chains that bound me to the wall crumbled and I fell slowly to the ground, the Trickster bringing me to the ground steadily.  He lifted me up to face him.    His mask was slowly deteriorating.  I could now see parts of his real face.  He wiped off the mask as if it were some residue that covered his true complexion and then I saw it; the most horrifying face I have ever had the misfortune to lay my gaze upon.  Parts of his face were hidden behind an old cracked mask with a cross drawn around his left eye, and on the right was parts of a horrific goblin-like frown that showed old yellow teeth.  His left eye that was surrounded by the cross marking was pure black, the color of true darkness.  Below his sharp nose, where his teeth should have been showing, was a permanent smiling mark that spanned across the left half of his face, forever leaving the Trickster with a fake smile. 

“I cannot have you right now, so I will wait until you are old enough to be my queen.  Until then, you are no longer allowed to stay at Ashford Manor.”  With those final words, he waved his arm above my head, quickly transforming the walls that surrounded me in the main room of the manor back into the inner walls of the tent.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief that I had returned back to the carnival.  I walked out of the tent and saw the attendant still standing at the entrance.  I went over and talked to him about what had just occurred.

“Sir!  Sir!  The Trickster!  He kidnapped everyone and-“

“I’m a sorry young lady, but I’m unaware of what you are talking about.  There is no show today.  See?”  The attendant pointed to the frame that once held up a poster showing the Trickster, only to show me now that there was no longer an advertisement for his performance there.

“But.  But.  That can’t be!  I was just in there and-“

“Young lady, I already told you that there were no shows today!  Please head on home or find your parents.”

I rushed back home, running all the way back to my house and rushing in to talk to my mother about everything.  But when I finally sat down with her and discussed everything that went on during the performance, her face showed a bit of concern.  I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that I never had a cousin named Gerald and that my uncle and aunt never had a son named Gerald.  This news seemed shocking to me, but my mother showed a deep concern for me.  She thought I was sick and sent me off to bed.  I never did see Gerald again after that night, and no one had any knowledge of his existence but me.  As the years went on and my eighteenth birthday had finally arrived, I decided to go back to the carnival to celebrate, but as I came back, I noticed outside one of the tents the same poster I saw the night I encountered the Trickster.  Under the bold letters that wrote his stage title, he wrote a message.  “I hope one day through my performances, my queen Alice will return home to me.”  This message sent chills down my spine again, and ever since that day, I have not stepped foot into a single carnival. 

There have been many places that I have lived, but the Trickster has always followed me around with his carnival, always wanting me to come back, but I never did.  My daughters and granddaughters always wanted to go, but I never allowed them to, out of fear of them meeting or becoming a victim of the Trickster.  However, my granddaughter has gone missing recently after she snuck out of her mother’s home and ran off with her boyfriend.  I’m afraid that she disobeyed her mother and went to the carnival.  I feel as if I am in my final days and that I will soon no longer be able to tell this story, but I must write it now to warn everyone about the Trickster.

My final request to anyone who reads this story is that you heed my words before I am incapable of breathing life into them.  I leave my granddaughter Candice and anyone who reads this message with this final warning.  The Trickster of Ashford Manor will stop at nothing to have what he most desires.  No one alive or dead has ever been able to defy his lure beside me, and he will stop at nothing to have his queen.  But my one warning to any who hear his calls is this:  don’t give into the Trickster’s trap because it’s only fun as long as he’s smiling.