Gabi Rickson rubbed her eye as she flipped the switch in the trailer turning off the carnival music. If she never heard carnival music again it would be fine by her. If she never stepped foot in another carnival trailer, that would be fine, too. Next town, Gabi promised herself as she turned out the flashing neon lights; she’d get a waitressing job in a diner or something and get away from this creepy carnival.
After a month with the carnival, she was trusted to shut up the game trailer for the night. She stepped out of the back door and locked it. Gabi shared a camper with the carnie owner’s daughter, Brianne. The bed over the cab was hers, along with the tiny storage cubby. Not that she had much—a couple of changes of clothes, her e-reader, and the electronic notebook that served as her computer when a free WiFi hotspot presented itself.
At the camper, she went inside. It shifted with her weight on the step. The light was on over the stove, meaning that Brianne was out. Gabi felt relieved. Brianne and the rest of the carnies had some sort of weird vibe. Kind of like the vibe she got from her mother’s boyfriend and the reason she’d left home. The carnie vibe, though, was something else. They seemed okay during the day, friendly enough. After dark was another thing. Gabi eyed the door. She wanted nothing better than to lock the damn thing but it wasn’t her camper and Brianne needed to get in.
She changed into the tee-shirt she slept in and splashed her face in the tiny bathroom sink. Thank goodness the camper had a toilet and shower. It would have sucked to use the port-a-pots and outside wash stations some of the carnies had to use. After she climbed up into her bed, she read a chapter on her e-reader and turned out the lights. The game trailer had to open at ten, just seven hours away.
Gabi woke, heart pounding, the camper rocking violently. She scrambled down the ladder and bolted out of the camper door, barefoot and trembling. With the dirt and small stones cutting into her feet, she saw three men rocking the camper.
Brianne grabbed her hand. “Come on! Run!”
Blinking with confusion, Gabi followed, her hand still in Brianne’s. “What’s going on? Where are we going?”
“Hurry!” The owner’s daughter dragged her past the carnie’s campers and led the nineteen-year-old at a run up the ramp of the carnival’s only tractor trailer, through a person-sized door. She dropped Gabi’s hand and slammed the door shut.
Gabi stood gasping as Brianne stood, back against the door. “What is going on?”
“Time for what?” Gabi shook her head. This wasn’t making any sense.
Brianne stood up. “Time for you to serve your purpose.” She took Gabi’s hands in hers. “Time for you to pay us back.”
Gabi tried to pull her hands from Brianna’s. “Pay you back? I do my work.”
Brianna’s grip tightened. “Of course. But we need more than that, sweet girl.”
Gabi yanked her hands, but the carnie’s grip couldn’t be broken. She didn’t like the way Brianna stared. “Let go of me!” she cried out. Panic flooded through her.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart.” Brianna smiled and licked her lips. “This won’t hurt. Not too much, anyway.”
“Let go!” Gabi shouted as her elbows were grabbed by two men, one on each side. Brianna let go of her wrists as the two men lifted Gabi from her feet. She recognized them from around the carnival but hadn’t really met them. “Let me go!” she screamed again as they carried her to the front of the trailer.
The inside was lit by purple rope lights mounted along the corners where wall met roof. The sides were lined with the carnie people, dressed in black robes, hands tucked into wide sleeves. Gabi tried to kick the legs of the men who held her, but her bare feet were weak weapons. They ignored her. At the front of the trailer was a platform that ran the width of the trailer and a table, draped in white, on it. The white material glowed purple in the light from the ropes. They lifted her higher and before she could react, two other men grabbed her feet and bound them in three turns of rope before she was placed on the white cloth. Her hands were raised over her head and tied to the corners of the table. She thrashed, her long blonde hair spilling across the table and over her face. Tears flowed with fear and frustration.
Brianne, now dressed in a black robe with silver embroidery at wrist hems and down the middle front of the robe, gently pulled Gabi’s hair back from her face and with a black cloth, wiped her eyes. “Shh, sweet girl. There’s no need to fear. You’ve been judged worthy.”
“Worthy?” Gabi tugged at her feet, they were secured, as were her hands. “What are you doing?”
“We need to feed. You’ve been chosen.”
Gabi shook her head so hard the hair flew again. “You can’t. You can’t!”
The people in the room began to chant. Brianne lifted Gabi’s head and placed a padded brace under her neck and smoothed all of Gabi’s hair to her left shoulder. “So beautiful, dear girl. You’ll feed us for quite some time.”
Gabi screamed as Brianne leaned over her neck and bit. Fear and pain flooded through her then warmth and a feeling of bliss.
The missing girl posters appeared a week later, but the carnival had moved on. A year later the body of a woman, apparent age 72 was found in the parking lot of an abandoned drive-in theater.
Gabi’s mother searched for her daughter the rest of her life.
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