Amira was lying in her bed, the threat of a history exam tomorrow preventing sleep from happening. She was going through the origins of the Battle of Hastings when she heard it. Faint music coming from the direction of the woods. Amira froze for a second, not daring to move as she strained her hearing to work out what it was. It couldn’t have been a car driving by, it wasn’t drifting away and there had been no engine sounds accompanying it. It was strong, consistent, and close. After what seemed like eternity listening, it clicked. It was fairground music. The annoying songs that play during the ride and then stay in your head for weeks afterwards; but there had been no signs for a fair. Amira kicked the covers back, the cold air hitting her legs and making her feel less groggy then she had been. She went to the window, threw open the curtains and looked for the source of the noise but couldn’t see anything. Closing the curtains again, Amira put some cotton wool in her ears and tucked herself back into bed; it didn’t take long for the pull of sleep to catch up with her.
Amira felt drunk when she woke the next morning, the lack of sleep making her head thump and eyes sting. She scraped her brown hair back into a bun, securing the stragglers with hundreds of little bobby pins. Covering the dark circles of her hazel eyes with foundation and concealer, she barely made herself look human before giving up. She dragged herself to the kitchen and flicked the switch on the kettle. While the aroma of coffee filled the air, she got her phone out. No fun fairs in town, none planned and no reports of music. Frustrated, she typed
‘Did any1 hear the music l8 last night? Since when is the fair in town?! #Fuckedoffandtired’.
She fired it off on all her social media, put her phone down, grabbed her study cards and quizzed herself while downing way too much coffee. She barely had a chance to say explain everything to her mum before she grabbed a burning hot pop tart and ran out of the house to meet the bus to college.
Four hours and an exam later, Amira came out of the hall. She had failed; there was no doubt in her mind. She couldn’t stop thinking about the fairground music last night. Checking her messages, she was amazed to find comments from her friends. “No music. Were you pissed again?” “I live by Stringholm Woods. There was nothing last night: S” ” Left the TV on downstairs” “Dreaming again? Gone crazy?”
Pissed off at herself for letting herself get distracted, and confused that she had no one else seemed to hear it, she headed home. She wasn’t crazy, she was sure of it. Her mum had cooked mac n cheese, her favourite as a treat for working so hard. Amira tried to not let the guilt eat at her as she tucked into garlic bread slices. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her mum she had failed and had resigned herself to the fact that she would see if she could take the test again or do extra credit to bring her grade up. This wouldn’t be the end of her but she couldn’t help thinking that she shouldn’t have let herself get distracted. She had purposefully got off the bus early to walk the long way around the woods, there was nothing unusual there; your typical dog walkers and couples trying to find a secluded spot. Defeated, cold and annoyed, she walked home. She could have sworn the music was coming from there. Avoiding an awkward conversation with her mum was not easy. They had always been incredibly close and the thought of lying to her was like a hot rock in Amira’s belly. She focused on a news story about a five year old who had gone missing last night. Kelly was last seen at the local park. Her mum had looked away to do her sons shoe up and when she looked up, Kelly was gone.
She took a sip of her drink and thought darkly to herself that she was probably distracted by the fair. Her mum asked her if she was ok for the 100th time. She couldn’t bring herself to tell her; plus she didn’t know where she would start. Instead she silently got up and went to her bedroom. She could hear her mum cleaning up downstairs but she never tried to follow her. Amira felt awful as she curled up under the covers for an early night. It was 1am when the music woke her again. It was louder than the night before, and now she had the repetitive tannoy of callers to the rides. Rage encompassed her as she threw the covers back. How could people not hear it? She opened her windows and pushed herself as far forward as she could to see if she could see anything. A faint flicker of lights came from the middle of the forest, catching her eye as she scrolled the landscape. Amira grabbed her phone and took her camera out. Pointing it at the fair. The screen stayed blank, showing only the faint streetlights of the path leading to the forest. She hit record, waited 30 seconds and then listened back. Nothing. No music, no lights, nothing. It must be too far away. Amira was determined to prove to people that she wasn’t crazy. Grabbing her hoodie and trainers, she headed out into the darkness.
It took all of 5 seconds to regret her decision. The cold night air hit her body like a boulder, making her breath catch in her chest. She saw what little air that managed to escape float in the air before her. She done the hoodie up and went into a light job, her phone firmly in her hand. The music changed to a faster tempo as she approached the edge of the woods. Looking towards the enveloping darkness before her, Amira hesitated for the first time. She strained her eyes to see anything moving, her love of horror movies throwing her imagination into overdrive. The forest that seemed so friendly from her bedroom window now seemed to breathe, an entity waiting to devour her and not release her. But what option did she have? People were sniggering in the hallway, making comments about her being crazy at lunch. She had to prove that the fun fair was real. She whispered ‘Lumos’ into her phone, turning the torch on and temporarily blinding her. For a second, even with the comfort of the white light guiding her way, Amira thought about turning around. The music boomed through the air, eliminating the sound of traffic roaring past the gate, and reinstating Amira’s determination. Swallowing her courage and trying to encourage her determination, she set into the woods, constantly looking over her shoulder and trying to ignore the feeling of being followed.
Her feet throbbed and cheeks stung with wind burn, she had been walking for hours. Her phone, which once had full signal, was now showing no signal and a dangerously low battery. Panic started to build up in her stomach at the thought of being stuck in the middle of the woods without a phone to call for help. Ignoring the background noises of the woods which, in reality, were twigs snapping but in her head were murderers coming to chase her, she kept trekking forward. She probably walked another thirty minutes before the funfair appeared before her. Amira was stunned; it had come out of nowhere but was huge. How did people not know it existed? How had it taken her so long to find it? She took her phone out, snapped some pictures and put her phone in her pocket. She approached the large gates; there were no signs about opening times or prices. Before she had a chance to peer inside, the gates swung open and the music surged again. Taking a few tenuous steps towards the entrance, Amira jumped as a man came out of the shadows. He was sharply dressed in a red tail coat, with embellishment on the collar, and a top hat.
Chuckling he opened his mouth; although he spoke quietly, his voice boomed in the night air “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump”
“Well, not coming out of the shadows is a good first start” Amira didn’t know why but her body screamed at her to run away as fast as she could.
“I was just wondering around my grounds, it was YOU who found us my dear. You entered the gates and I am so glad you did. As you’re here, why don’t you have a go on a few rides?”
He moved to one side, the fairground lights got blindingly bright as if calling to her.
“They are free”
The fairground seemingly came to life around her, youngsters of varying ages appearing around her at such a rapid rate she questioned if they had been there the whole time. Amira walked slowly, stiffly and scanned everything like a robot. A feeling of unease was growing in the pit of her stomach, she couldn’t put her finger on it but something was not right.
She sat inside one of the oversized cups on the waltz ride, taking advantage of the relatively easy ride to clear her head. A few rides, to be polite, and then she would go. As the cup started to spin around; a child, no more than eight, came round to help spin the cups faster. Amira watched as the child appeared and disappeared. She gasped, her breath stuck in her throat as she watched a slit slowly spread across the child’s neck and blood trickle down onto her dress. As the cup spun, she watched the girl lose so much blood, while still standing there as if nothing had happened. The little girl’s mouth opened as if she was going to try and say something but, before she could, the groundskeeper came up behind her and whispered something in her ear. The little girls eyes widened in fear before she ran out of sight. The ride came to a stop, Amira walked straight up to the groundskeeper.
“What was that? Who are you? What is this place? How…”
“Slow down my dear” the groundskeeper chuckled “catch your breath”
Amira ignored him and kept going, more to herself than anyone else.
“That little girl; there was blood….her throat…it was cut”
“Ok, clearly this is not working” the groundskeeper cleared his throat, clearly trying to hide his agitation.
Grabbing Amira by the shoulders, he lowered himself to her height. “My name is Spector. I run this fairground and keep all the machines running. We travel from town to town, whenever we are called, and stay a little while before moving on. Our time here is almost up but, when you arrived at our entry gates, we decided we had to stay a little while longer”
Spector held his hands in the air and clicked. A boy, no more than 14, came running immediately. “Get our guest a drink from the vending machine. Amira, any preferences?”
“No thanks.” Amira tried to smile but the world was spinning to fast around her. “I think I would like to go home”
She started towards the entrance gates again. The music around her became louder and louder, until she could barely hear the people around her. The lights became brighter and brighter until the whole grounds was flooded with light and Amira couldn’t see around her. She looked towards the ground, an old trick her mum taught her for when she was being blinded by car headlights. It didn’t help, she couldn’t see. Even when she blinked, patterns appeared behind her eyelids. She stumbled forward, loosely in the direction of the main entrance. Spectors booming voice seemed to surround her.
“I knew it! I knew it was you! You have no idea how long I have been waiting for you to arrive and now you are here!”
“W…What are you on about?” Amira tried to remain calm, to think logically but it wasn’t working. Panic was setting in.
“Can someone dim the lights and cut the music, please? I know she is here but I can’t hear myself think” The lights immediately dimmed. Amira opened her eyes and blinked ferociously until the flying spots stopped blurring her vision. Once it was clear, she picked someone in the crowd and focused until her eyesight became clear. When she could see properly, she screamed until her throat was raw.
All around her were kids of all ages; smiling and giggling, eating hot dogs and burgers, drinking and having a great time. Except these weren’t normal kids. There were slit throats, gunshot wounds, bruises so dark you couldn’t see the faces beneath them, burns, lips on some so blue it was like no oxygen was going around the body. Amira felt the world beneath her spin and, no matter how much she focused; she couldn’t stop herself from hitting the floor. She took deep gulping breaths to keep the vomit down.
“It’s a dream, just a dream” Amira repeated to herself. Slowly she gained the confidence to open her eyes and take another look. The moment she did, the scream escaped her lips again. She turned towards the entrance and ran as fast as she could. Her lungs burned, acid sat in her throats and tears streamed in her eyes but the entrance stayed the same distance away. She couldn’t escape. Spector appeared beside her, seemingly amused at her efforts.
“You done?” his eyebrows raised a smirk across his face.
“What have you done?” Amira managed the sentence after six attempts of breathlessness
“Me. I haven’t done anything my dear. You came to me, you entered my funfair. All I did was waiting for the guardian to arrive.”
“The what? Guardian who?
“I never thought they would choose someone so young but the only person who can hear the music, that can see the reality of what happened to these poor children is the one destined to spend their life looking after them.”
“Look buddy!” Amira was getting angry. “I don’t know who you are? Or what the hell you are on about but it’s not me. I’m no-one and I like it that way. You are going to let me go or I am going to call the police”
She pulled out her phone and waved it in Spector’s face, hoping he wouldn’t spot the no signal sign and call her bluff.
“I can’t let you go. I’m physically unable. The gates won’t open for you as they were made to contain you”
“How many ways can I say this? YOU. HAVE. THE. WRONG. GIRL”
“Oh but I don’t. Look around you look at all the children and you see their wounds. The evidence of how they passed. That’s the sign that you are who we are looking for. Each of these children died in violent ways at the hands of another. Alisha was shot in the head by her dad whilst in his custody, Johnny was picked up by a predator and left bleeding to death in a bush and Charlie was locked in a flat when the block went up. All these children are dead, none of them can move on until their bodies are found and laid to rest. We travel the world, following natural disasters or being summoned by an act of unexplainable violence. I’ve been watching over these kids since time began and I’m over it. I was starting to think we would never find you but then you just walked in.”
“Do they see each other?” Amira held back the tears but she wasn’t sure if it was fear or pity.
“They do see each other but not the wounds. As far as they are aware, there is nothing wrong. They are just hanging out at the fun fair. They know they are dead but it is really important NOT to tell them how. If, and when, they are found they will move on”
“I can’t watch over them. I’m alive.” She smiled brightly, apparently smug at the feeling that she had won. Amira was so intent on celebrating her victory and walking towards the gate that she didn’t see Spector bend down and pick up a log from the fairground floor. As she turned to walk away she felt a burning start at the back of her head and spread to the front while a warm trickle ran down her back. The kids came in and out of focus as her knees buckled beneath her; she took a look at Spector who leant down to meet her eyes. Before the world went black she heard him say “…for now!”
When she next opened her eyes, Amira found herself looking up at Spector from the ground. She took a second to assess her surroundings. It was bad. The older of the kids had grabbed her hands and legs, forcing her body on the ground despite her struggles. They were deceptively strong, never loosening their grip while she struggled until her wrists burned.
Spector spoke, his voice was calm but there was a clear edge to it. He was pissed.
“Did you really think that would work? That you would say your piece and then just saunter out of here like you were in some kind of fucking movie. I told you it wouldn’t work, the gates were designed to keep the guardian in. To keep you in.”
He took a breathe, composing himself before continuing. As he spoke, Amira got the feeling he was talking more to himself than her.
“You did make an interesting point though. Normally the Guardian is dead. It can’t be a mistake, all the signs are there. You ARE her. But you can’t watch over these for eternity if you are living. It would mean the next guardian wouldn’t be chosen when your body is found”
‘Body’ Amira took a deep breath. A few really as she tried not to panic. A strange calm of inevitability came over her. Surely she knew this was going to happen. She was never leaving here after seeing the little girl with her throat slit. Tears silently fell down the side of her face, pooling in her ears and tickling a little. Her mum would be beside herself.
Whilst her life flashed before her eyes, Amira failed to notice Spector picking up the log again. He knelt beside her, held it in the air and simply said “this will sting a little”
As the log hit her head for the first time, pain seared through her eyesocket and brought black dots into her vision. She felt the warm trickle of blood flow, she could just see Spector bringing the log down again before her body gave out.
…. Weeks later….
“Kelly….Kelly….Kelly!” Kelly opened her eyes and tried to take a deep breath. Her chest felt tight and burned whenever she breathed in. Before her was a girl with large hazel eyes and chestnut hair that framed her face, Kelly felt immediately more peaceful. She looked around and saw nothing familiar. Scared, she put her hand on the ground and felt a something soft and silky. She looked down and saw a suitcase, why was she in a suitcase. What happened? She started to cry, she was confused and wanted her mum.
“Hey, shhhhh. Don’t cry. We are going to have so much fun” the strange girl smiled as she spoke “my names Amira. I know this is strange but you are going to need to come with me.”