Robby told himself they weren't real. He told himself over and over again as he gazed into the broken mirror, surveying his waxen skin and elongated cheek bones, but that didn't make them go away. He could still see them crawling over his face like a living mask; a living knot of muscle tissue that expanded and contracted with every breath, slipping over his exposed skull as if it were greased with pig fat. He could literally feel it moving - throbbing under his eyeballs - but every time he tried to pry it from his long, apish face, it moved, attaching itself to another section of chalk-white bone.
Under any other circumstance, such a strange occurrence would be fascinating. Hell, it would be damn near magnificent, but not now. Not six stories above the ground, stranded in a roller coaster car with his putrefying grandfather perched beside him.
All Robby wanted to do was get down from this god-forsaken track, leap over the steel railing, and haul ass out of town. But he couldn't. Not with those things on the ground, waiting for him, licking their pearly white incisors, skullfucking the corpses of those unfortunate carnies who dillied and dallied their way to quick and grotesque deaths.
He could hear them now - the distant squish squash of muscle being forced deep into facial cavities. They'd been going at it for hours now, searching out new victims, and sucking the fluid from their heads. Every time they seemed to run out of new meat, another carnie popped up. They all reacted the same, too. They would shed their cover slowly, edging across the dusty carnival grounds until the creatures caught their scent, and then they would take off, burning rubber like it was the end of the world.
Unfortunately, none of them got very far. Once the creatures caught their scent, they reacted like a group of Mongol warriors, encircling their prey with a series of concise maneuvers. But that's when all human resemblance ended. Their attack was unlike anything Robby had ever seen. It was fast, ruthless, and completely depraved. They swept upon their prey like a group of rabid banshees, first debilitating the legs, and then going to work on the head.
Strangely, only the females seemed to possess the gizmo necessary to drain the head of its supple cream filling. They would grasp the victim's head with their long, gnarled fingers to keep him from struggling, and insert their female member into one of the eye sockets. Needless to say, the initial sound was the most gruesome - when the eyeball popped and gushed clear, gooey liquid over their coarse pubic hair. Then came the screaming, but even that was civilized compared to the initial action.
Robby shook his head. He had no idea where the creatures had come from, but then again, it didn't really matter. He was stuck atop a deserted roller coaster with his grandfather moldering beside him. And to make matters worse, he couldn't even get high to calm his aching nerves. He'd left his last joint in the car, just outside the north entrance, because he thought their jaunt around the carnival would be over in a matter of minutes. But no. His grandfather had to go on the roller coaster. He couldn't just eat his cotton candy and shut the fuck up.
Stupid old prick.
Then again, without his grandfather's bitching, they would probably have been on the ground when the creatures attacked. So, in a way, his grandfather's persistence had saved their lives. Or, his life, at least. He didn't know whether a slightly decayed corpse counted as a living being.
Stretching his arms toward the heavens, awash in purplish-blue brilliance, Robby appraised their situation. The sun was rapidly receding into the west - into a ridge of angry looking mountains - but he still had enough light to see across the carnival grounds. Some stagnant pools of bile and blood were beginning to mix into the twilight, but that wasn't altogether a bad thing. He'd witnessed enough grisly decapitations and disembowelments to last a lifetime. The last thing he needed was a mosaic of remains to remind him of the slaughter.
"You know that cotton candy girl?" he said, turning to his only companion. "I think she liked me. Did you see the way she looked at me when our hands touched? The way she batted her eyes? If we get through this, I'm going to march over there and get her phone number. Nothing like an apocalyptic experience to put things in perspective, right?"
Unfortunately, his grandfather didn't have many nuggets of wisdom to bestow upon him at that moment. He just stared into the distance, shriveled eyes reflecting the last wisps of sunlight, lips pulled back in a harrowing postmortem grin.
"I mean, I know she's probably dead; that her brains probably got drilled straight out the back of her head, but you never know. She could be alive, serving those things pink cotton candy and strips of licorice like a good carnie, right? She can't be all dead."
Once again, his words were regarded with morbid silence. Only this time, his grandfather's mouth fell open slightly and a dusty centipede emerged between a pair of yellow incisors.
Robby rolled his eyes - eyes which, until a moment ago, had been trained on the red and white striped big-top on the horizon. "Sure, be that way," he said tersely. "You never answered my questions while you were alive, and it's worse now that you're dead. You won't even talk to me anymore. Is it because of my drug habits? Huh? I know you didn't like them. You were always talking behind my back, trying to get me in trouble with the cops, spreading rumors about me. But you know what? I got the last laugh. That's right. It felt good when I plunged that screwdriver into your neck, and even though you might be angry for a while, I think we can really start to bond now. We can be best buddies again. We can laugh and play and ride bikes together - just like when I was a kid!"
Robby took a deep breath and edged closer to his grandfather, gently laying his head on the man's tattered sweater. He smelled like moth balls and beef jerky, but Robby didn't mind. The cologne he used to wear made Robby sneeze.
"Hey. Hey you. Big eyes."
The voice came out of nowhere, and made Robby jump with surprise. He looked up at his grandfather - all stiff and taut like a stone sentry - but his lips remained immobile. Someone else had called out to him.
"Y … yes?" Robby asked cautiously, not sure whether those things on the ground could talk.
"Could you help me up? I'm fuckin' dying down here."
The voice was thick, and carried a distinct east-coast accent. The kind he heard in cheap-ass Hollywood blockbusters and Indie action flicks. Yet, somehow it was strangely familiar.
"Wh … where are you?" Robbie stuttered, casting glances back and forth nervously like a cornered kitten. The stretch of tracks behind him was completely desolate, and ahead, about ten yards, the track made a sudden drop, winding around in a circle before plunging upward again. Nothing could approach from either direction without him noticing.
"Down here, you dumbass," the voice returned. "Climbing is kinda tough when you only have an antenna and three foot cord, you know?"
For a second Robby didn't know what to say. He was caught between asking another question and peering over the edge when a thirteen-inch black-and-white television appeared beside him, using its dual antennae to haul itself onto the track. It must have scaled one of the support beams to escape from those creatures, he thought. But he didn't say that out loud; the television seemed angry.
"Thanks a lot for the help," it growled, brushing itself off with its battered cord. "Next time you need help, don't come running to me."
The television's screen jumped with static, and then gradually cleared, revealing a single, oblong face, surrounded by darkness.
"Chuckles?" Robby asked, regarding the deep-set eyes and fleshy lips with instant infatuation. "Chuckles the Happy Clown?" He could recognize that sallow complexion anywhere. He used to watch his show as a young boy, all curled up on the couch on Saturday morning, laughing hysterically at the clown's hair-brained antics. But he looked different somehow; older; as if the years had gradually reduced him to the chain-smoking booze hound he was today.
"How you doin', Robby?" the clown asked, hefting itself onto his grandfather's lap with some difficulty. "I haven't seen you for a while. Ten years, I think. Whatcha been up to?"
"Not much," Robby replied, stretching his legs in a futile attempt to keep them from cramping. "I dropped out of high school during my junior year and became an electrician's apprentice, but nothing too exciting. What about you? What have you been up to since your show was cancelled?"
"Meh, same old same old," the clown grunted, pushing out his lower lip. "I went back into show business for a while, did the whole circus thing, but booze and drugs got in the way. After that I moved to Florida and got a gig with one of those singing birthday card places, but that didn't last long. So I decided, the hell with it, and that's how I ended up here."
"In a television?" Robby asked with a hint of amusement in his voice.