Paul Wallace wasn’t sure that he believed his eyes.
Being as careful as he could, he took the object that had caught his gaze off of the shelf and held it up to get a better look at it. He felt a stir of excitement. It was exactly what he had thought it was.
He was holding a small statue, roughly the size of a shoebox. It depicted a small carnival. In the center was a red and white circus tent. Its flaps were open, and standing just inside of it was a smiling clown holding three balloons. To the right of the tent was a platform with a dog dressed in a black suit and tophat, and to the left was a fortune teller booth with a woman seated inside. The entire statue was in superb condition.
He looked up as he saw a man approaching him from the corner of his eye. It was the person that had been hired by the estate to sell off the remaining property for the deceased. The man smiled and nodded once.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the man said in a pleasantly deep voice. “My name is Silas Pembrook. I’m the manager of the estate.”
“Oh, yeah, hi, I’m Paul,” he replied.
“So good to meet you, Paul. I see that you’ve found something of interest.”
“Yes, I think so. Do you know if this is an original or a replica?”
The estate manager smiled slightly. “Oh, it’s an original, sir. The gentleman who owned this home was something of a collector. What you are holding is an authentic Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza statuette. It was produced in 1974, and it is one of only ten made. Do you know the story behind it?”
Paul nodded. “I’ve read that it was because of a mistake.”
“Indeed. As you can see, the statue depicts the three original characters in the show: Bingo the Dog, Bango the Clown, and Poe the Fortune Teller. However, it was also supposed to feature a recently introduced fourth character, Leo Lion. Less than a dozen were produced before the mistake was caught. The ones before the correction are extremely rare, not to mention expensive.”
“That’s what I’ve heard, yeah.”
Paul felt his excitement fading. He had hoped that the man wouldn’t know what the statue was worth so that he could get it for a bargain price, but that obviously wasn’t the case. Its actual value was well outside of what he could afford.
“Were you a fan of the show?” Pembrook asked.
“A big fan,” Paul answered. “I used to watch it every morning with my father before I went to school and he went to work. They’re some of my earliest memories.”
“I see. I have to say, it’s rare to find a fan these days. It wasn’t nationally televised for most of its run, and half hour cartoons were already starting to replace the children’s variety shows when it finally was. Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza sadly never reached the same heights as, say, Bozo or The Muppets. A number of television historians believe it was superior to both of those shows.”
Paul blinked in surprise at how well the man knew the history of the program. “It really was a great show.”
“Indeed.” Pembrook smiled again. “Well then, down to business. If you’re interested in purchasing the statue, I have it priced at $6500. I’m sure you agree that is a fair price.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.” Paul sighed and placed the statue back on the shelf. “Maybe some other time.”
“I understand. It is a high price, but it’s also below market value and I do need to consider both the sellers and my firm’s percentage.”
“Yeah, of course, I get it.”
Pembrook regarded him for a moment. “Tell me, Paul, would you be interested in the same statuette but in a lesser condition?”
“You’re serious? There’s a second one of these here?”
“There is. I found it as I was going through a number of boxes in storage. I haven’t put it out due to the condition, but I’d be happy to retrieve it for you to take a look at. I’m sure that we could come to some sort of arrangement on the price if you like it.”
Paul felt his previous excitement returning. “I’d be very interested.”
“Then please excuse me for just a moment.”
Pembrook went through a door leading into the garage and closed it behind him. While he waited, Paul slowly wandered around the house. He was a collector of sorts, mostly things from his childhood that had some sort of meaning to him, and because of that he had attended many estate sales looking for bargains. This one was somehow different. Usually these sales were a bit cluttered or simply not organized, but everything here was neat and separated into categories. He appreciated the effort that had gone into the setup.
Pembrook came back in from the garage with a cardboard box in his hands. He set it down on the kitchen counter and motioned for Paul to come over. He carefully opened the box and lifted the statue out of it.
Paul leaned down and looked it over. While it was the same statue as the one he had originally looked at, this one was definitely in worse condition. The colors were faded, and there were a number of small dents and chips. There was also a large brown stain on the base. Still, it wasn’t missing any pieces, and overall it was in fine shape for its age.
“As I said, it’s not in the superb condition that the one I have displayed is,” Pembrook told him. “I apologize if you don’t find it acceptable.”
“No, it’s still great,” Paul assured him. “Even with the issues, it’s much better than the ones that I’ve seen online. How much are you asking for it?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” The store manager considered it. “I don’t have any particular instructions from the family when it comes to selling the damaged items. Why don’t we say, oh, fifty dollars?”
“I’m quite serious. Obviously I could sell it for far more than that online, probably in the thousands even in the condition it is in, but between you and me I would rather that it end up with someone that will truly appreciate it. What do you say, Paul? Do we have a deal?”
“Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much, Mr. Pembrook.”
“Please, it’s Silas. Let’s fill out some paperwork.”
After leaving the estate sale, Paul put the box containing his purchase in the trunk of his car and headed over to the local hardware store. He bought a wooden shelf and the brackets needed to hang it. With that done, he headed home.
An hour later he was making the final adjustments to the shelf. It was larger than the others that he used to display the pieces of his collection, but he had been worried that the weight of the statue would have been too much for those smaller floating shelves. When he was finished, it occupied a spot right in the center of the wall. He carefully took the statue out of the box and placed it onto the shelf. He took a step back to get a better look and nodded to himself in satisfaction.
Something caught his eye. He stepped back up to the shelf and took a closer look at the statue. Just to the right of Bingo’s platform was a black post with a clock hanging from it. He hadn’t noticed it back at the estate sale, and he didn’t remember it being in the pictures he had seen of the statue online. He distinctly remembered it being on the show itself, however, so he must have simply overlooked that particular detail of the statue. That, or he was in possession of an even rarer item than he had thought.
Paul sat down on the couch and sighed as he closed his eyes. It had been a long day. Before he had gone to the estate sale on a whim, he had worked for hours on a client account at his small accounting office. A tiny mistake on the client’s part had caused an avalanche of document requests from the IRS, and he had spent the day preparing and sending them to help the client avoid a full audit. Originally he had intended to work a short day, but that obviously hadn’t been the case.
Hours later, Paul woke up with a start. He hadn’t realized that he was nodding off, and it took him a moment to gather his thoughts. Wiping the crust out of the corner of his eyes, he looked out the window and found that it was dark outside. He took his cell phone out of his pocket to check the time, but the phone was dead. He frowned. He would have sworn that he had fully charged it the previous night.
He reached over and turned on the small lamp next to the couch. Now that he could see better in the gloom he was able to locate the television remote. He used it to turn on the television, and the time that was displayed at the top of the screen told him that it was just past ten. He had been asleep longer than he thought.
“Are you ready to have some fun?”
The sudden exclamation from the television drew his attention to the show that was playing. An overhead camera shot was showing a large carnival down below. As he watched, the shot changed to one at the ground level. A striped circus tent was in the middle of the frame, with a blue platform directly in front of it.
From behind the platform, a puppet popped up into view. It was a black and white dog with blue eyes, likely a Siberian Husky, wearing a suit with a bowtie and tophat. Children cheered from off camera as the dog bobbed around excitedly.
“Hello, boys and girls!” the fuzzy puppet said. “Welcome to Bingo’s Circus! I’m Bingo, your master of ceremonies!”
Paul couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza. He hadn’t seen an episode of it in decades, and yet here was one being broadcast the very same day he had bought a piece of memorabilia from the show. The odds of that were astronomical.
“Today we’re going to play a really fun game, kiddos!” Bingo was saying, calliope music playing in the background. “We’re going to play tag! Won’t that be fun?”
The children cheered again.
“Great! We have a very special guest today to play the game with us. Let’s give a big circus welcome to Paul Wallace!”
Horns blared on the show as Paul stared at the screen in confusion. Had Bingo actually said his name? He shook his head slowly. He must have misheard.
“Oh, you heard right, Pauly Boy,” Bingo said as the camera moved in closer to the dog’s face. “You’re the lucky boy that gets to take part in our little game. Would you like to hear the rules?”
“No fucking way is this really happening,” Paul said to himself.
The puppet sighed. “It’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it? Look over at your new shiny statue, Pauly. Go on, take a peak.”
Still not believing what was happening, he turned his eyes towards his collection wall. At first it appeared that the statue was the same as when he had last looked at it, but something wasn’t quite right. His eyes widened as it clicked. The Bingo figure was missing from his platform.
“That’s right,” the Bingo on the television said. “I decided to go out for a little stroll so that you and I can get to know each other better. Don’t worry, Bango and Poe will be along soon enough to give you their regards as well.”
“How is this possible?” Paul asked.
“Doesn’t really matter at the moment, Pauly. What does matter is the rules of the game we’re all about to play. Like I said before, we’re going to be playing tag. It’s a very special kind of tag, though. If we catch ya, instead of it being your turn, you die a horrible death!”
He felt a chill run through him. “Wait, what?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll make it fair. Only one of us is coming after you at a time, and we each get, oh, I dunno, let’s say half an hour each. We’ll even give you little breathers in between. That’s a pretty sweet deal there. The clock on the statue will chime to start the round, and it’ll chime a second time when it’s over. What do you say, ready to get this show on the road?”
“I’m not playing your game,” Paul said firmly.
“Kiddo, we’re not giving you a choice.”
The television turned itself off.
Paul stared at the black screen as he tried to process what he had just experienced. He was so stunned that he barely registered the loud ringing that filled the room. Still trying to collect himself, he turned his head towards the noise. The clock on the statue had chimed.
As the chime faded, there was a different sound from the kitchen. Something or someone was rattling around in the drawers. Fear pierced through the haze in his head, and Paul instantly decided that he wasn’t going to stick around to find out what happened next. He gave one last glance towards the archway leading into the kitchen before bolting for the front door and pulling it open.
He had made it onto the porch before he realized what he was seeing. The house and yard were surrounded by some kind of cloth. It was red and white striped, just like the circus tent on the television show. He looked up and found that he could just make out the top of the tent high above the roof of the house.
Swearing loudly, he ran down the walkway to the sidewalk and pressed his hand up against the tent. It didn’t budge. Whatever it was, it wasn’t made of cloth. He tried pushing harder and it had the same result. He was trapped.
“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” a voice called from the house.
Paul turned back around. Standing on the porch was the Bingo puppet from the show. There was no puppeteer, but the dog was still able to move around freely. The white and black fur was covered in dark brown stains. His right paw was wrapped around the handle of one of the knives that had been stored in a block on the kitchen counter. He tilted his head slightly as he stared back at Paul.
“What the fuck is happening?” Paul yelled at the dog.
“I already told you,” Bingo replied, the puppet’s mouth moving perfectly with the words. “We’re playing a game of tag. Let’s get this show on the road, big guy. I’ve got twenty-four minutes left, and I plan on making the most of them.”
With surprising speed, Bingo sprinted towards him with the knife extended outward. Paul swore violently and went to run in the opposite direction, forgetting for a moment about the impenetrable tent wall that separated the property from the rest of the world. He ran along the edge of the grass instead as he tried to put as much distance between himself and the puppet as he could.
Paul heard Bingo laugh gleefully as he ran around the side of the house. He wasn’t really thinking about what to do or where to go. Panic had fully gripped him, and in that moment he wasn’t capable of rational thinking. Too much had happened too soon.
He reached the backyard and risked a glance over his shoulder. Bingo was no longer behind him. He slowed his pace for a few seconds before coming to a complete stop. Breathing heavily, he tried to figure out where the dog had gone.
There wasn’t much light in the yard, with the only illumination coming from a single security light mounted on the roof. Large sections were dark, making it impossible to see what they contained. He was just barely able to make out that the back door of the house was open. His eyes widened. While he had been blindly running in a wide track around the yard, Bingo must have simply returned to the house and gone out the back. That meant he was definitely somewhere nearby.
The grass was brown and dying, a casualty of the late fall season. It was still long, however, as Paul had never gotten around to doing one last mow. With Bingo being only about a foot tall, he could easily crawl through it without being seen.
He felt a sharp pain in the side of his leg. He gasped and looked down. Bingo was standing next to him, the sharp knife clutched in both paws as he pushed the blade into Paul’s leg. It was caught in his jeans, and just the tip had managed to penetrate the material.
Paul spun around and kicked the puppet, sending the dog flying across the yard. The knife pulled free of both his leg and Bingo’s grasp, and it struck the ground with a clang. The puppet laughed from where he had landed.
“Oh boy, Pauly, now this is a good time!” Bingo shouted. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages!”
Kneeling down, Paul felt around in the dark grass, trying to find where the knife was. He heard a rustling sound nearby as he searched. There was a flash of pain from his hand, followed closely by the warm sensation of blood. Bingo had returned and located the knife before he could. Paul scrambled backwards and nearly fell as he hurried back to his feet. He managed to regain his balance at the last second.
His footfalls were strangely loud in his ears as he hurried across the yard. There was no wind under the tent, and no sounds from the outside world managed to penetrate it. All that he could hear were his feet stomping through the grass, his heavy breathing, and his heart pounding in his ears.
When he reached the front of the property he had to stop. He was out of shape, and his lungs were screaming for oxygen. He leaned against the mailbox and gulped in air, his eyes constantly moving as he searched for any sign of Bingo.
“We’re in the home stretch now, buddy boy!” the puppet called out. “Let’s turn things up a notch.”
Because of the strange acoustics, Paul wasn’t able to tell what direction the voice was coming from. It definitely sounded close. Ignoring the pain in his leg and hand, he hurried up onto the porch and closed the front door. If Bingo was going to attack him, he wasn’t going to be able to sneak up on him to do it.
There was a laugh from up above. Paul was barely able to move out of the way as Bingo leaped at him from his hiding spot in the corner of the porch roof. The knife came so close to his face that he felt the air shift against his skin as it passed by. The puppet hit the wooden planks and thrust the knife at his leg.
Paul had shaken off the momentary surprise, however, and this time instead of panicking he got mad. Moving out of the way of the attack, he knocked the knife out of Bingo’s hands and off of the porch with his foot. He reached down before the puppet could recover and scooped it up by the neck. Bingo struggled against his grip, but Paul ignored him and pushed him onto an old nail that was sticking out of one of the porch pillars. He had been meaning to hammer it back into place for quite a while. For once his procrastination was coming in handy. The nail pierced into the dog’s cloth skin and deep into the fluff within it.
“Oh ho!” Bingo said as he flailed about in a desperate attempt to free himself. “Aren’t you Mr. Smartypants.”
“Fuck you,” Paul spit out.
“No thanks. I have a certain type, and you’re not it. You understand.”
“Tell me what’s going on right the fuck now.”
“I would, kid, but I’m afraid our time is up.”
From inside the house came a loud chime.
“I gotta tell ya, I didn’t think that you had it in you,” Bingo told him. “It’s not very often someone goes the full thirty minutes with me. My hat’s off to you. Well, it would be if it wasn’t sewn on. So we’ll just say that my metaphorical hat is off to you.”
Paul didn’t know what to say. This was all so messed up. He paced back and forth on the porch, making sure to keep his eye on the trapped puppet the entire time.
“I would save your energy,” Bingo advised. “Remember what I said when I was giving you the rules? You’ve got a little bit of time before the next round. Rest your legs, maybe get a glass of water. Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.”
“You just tried to murder me, and now you’re giving me advice?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, you know what? That’s fair. I’ll shut the ol’ yapper now.”
Paul opened his mouth to respond, but he was cut off by a loud screeching. He covered his ears as the high pitched squeal dug into them. It was the same noise that rusty gears made when they ground together, but at the volume that was assaulting him they would have had to have been huge. The porch began to shake beneath his feet.
The tent wall started moving inward. At first Paul thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him, but he could see it tearing up the lawn and concrete as it slowly pressed in towards the house. As it drew closer he feared that it was going to crush everything in its path. It stopped moving when it reached the front steps of the porch, however, and the deafening noise ceased.
There was a long moment of silence, followed by another chime from inside the house.
After checking to make sure that Bingo was still stuck on the nail, Paul opened the front door and went into the entryway. He paused and listened intently. When he didn’t hear anything, he went into the living room and looked at the statue on the shelf. While Poe was still seated at her fortune teller booth, Bango was no longer standing behind the open circus tent flaps.
He caught a whiff of a foul stench. He turned and found that the room was still empty. There was, however, a faint trail of gray smoke leading out of the room and into the back hallway. After a brief hesitation he followed it through the archway and flipped on the light.
Standing at the end of the hall was a mountain of a man. He was at least seven feet tall, extremely overweight with a balding head. The few hairs that remained were dyed a bright green. His face was painted white except for the area around his lips, which was instead a bright red. The man was dressed in blue overalls that covered a yellow shirt with a white frilly collar and a red bowtie. A flower was pinned to one of the straps. He was chewing on a large cigar.
“Evening,” Bango said in a low gravelly voice.
He took a step forward, and Paul could feel the hallway floor vibrate as he moved.
“Been a while since I’ve been out. Feeling… hungry.”
The clown smiled, revealing yellowed teeth behind his painted lips. He took a second step forward, and then a third. As he drew closer Paul could see that there were brownish stains around his mouth and on the front of his shirt, the same kind of stains that were on Bingo’s fur. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought that it looked a lot like dried blood.
With the tent pressed up against the house, there was no way that Paul would be able to run out the timer the way that he had with Bingo. He had to figure out how to stay away from the clown’s reach. As he backed up into the living room, he realized that the archway was going to be too small for the massive man. As long as he didn’t go into the hallway, he would be safe.
Bango grunted as he came to the archway, but he didn’t stop moving. Instead, he pressed forward without breaking stride. The wood and plaster creaked for a split second before breaking away and creating a wider opening. The clown laughed as Paul moved further away.
“Nice try,” Bango taunted.
Thinking quickly, Paul grabbed the wooden chair from his nearby desk and swung it as hard as he could. It collided with the clown’s chest loudly before shattering. He picked up the desk lamp and hurled it into the man’s face. It broke and fell to the floor. Neither improvised weapon had any effect.
“Makin’ me hungrier,” Bango said. “Might have to eat you raw.”
“You know that tartare plays havoc with your digestion,” Bingo called from the porch.
“You’re no fun when you’re like this.”
“Okay, okay, fine.”
Paul’s initial thought was to make a break for the stairs and get up to the second floor. The stairs weren’t wide enough for Bango to get up them. The clown seemed to anticipate this, however, and he moved his bulk in such a way as to put himself between Paul and the stairs. He wouldn’t be able to get around him.
His eyes fell on a door to his right. It led down into the basement. If Bango could follow him down there he would be trapped, but the doorway wasn’t large enough for the clown and the walls of the stairwell were heavy concrete instead of wood. It would be able to take much more abuse than the archway had. It was his best bet, and he would just have to hope that he would be safe.
The problem was that the path to it was also blocked. Unlike the stairs, however, it was near the front door. If he could figure out a way to get out onto the porch, he could run back into the house and hurry down into the basement.
Bango lunged forward just as he turned to run. The tips of the clown’s fingers caught him in the shoulder for just a moment before he managed to pull away and get into the kitchen. The window in the room looked out onto the front porch. He hurried over to it and disengaged the lock before trying to open it.
It was stuck. No matter how hard he tried to push it up, the window just would not slide on its track. It was an old house, and this type of thing was a constant issue. Giving up, he opened a cupboard and took out an iron skillet. He swung it as hard as he could and shattered the glass.
He heard Bango smash through the kitchen doorway but didn’t turn around. Knowing that he didn’t have time to clear away all the pieces of glass still in the frame, Paul gritted his teeth and shoved himself out of the window. Shards dug into his right arm and both sides of his body, tearing clothes and skin alike as he slid out onto the porch. The clown’s arm followed him through and attempted to grab him, but he managed to barely keep out of its reach.
The arm retracted back into the kitchen, but not all the way. Instead, the fat fingers plucked a few shards of glass from the window frame before retreating back out of sight. There was an odd crunching noise followed by a satisfied grunt.
“Nothing like fresh blood,” Bango said from inside. “Bits of skin, too.”
Paul got back to his feet and went to the still open front door. As he did so, he saw that Bingo was no longer on the exposed nail. The puppet must have torn itself free. He didn’t have time to worry about it. He needed to hurry.
He went through the doorway and into the living room. Bango emerged through the ruined kitchen arch just as his hand wrapped around the knob on the basement door. He flung it open and rushed down the stairs. He had only gotten a few feet down when his arm was grabbed and he came to a halt. The clown had caught him.
Bango grinned down at him, licking his lips as he did so.
Paul attempted to pull away, and to his surprise his arm slipped out of the clown’s grip. The blood from his cuts had made his skin slick. He fell backwards down the stairs, landing hard at the bottom and slamming his head on the concrete floor. The air whooshed out of his lungs as stars filled his vision.
He wasn’t sure how long he laid there before he started breathing regularly again. Sitting up on his elbows, he blinked a few times as his head slowly cleared. He could see Bango at the top of the stairs as he attempted to force his way into the basement. The door had been ripped off of its hinges and the walls just inside were heavily damaged, but the enormous clown couldn’t push past the concrete to descend any further.
Paul moved further into the basement and hid beside the washing machine, praying that the walls would hold.
After what seemed like an eternity, he heard the chime come from the statue clock. He waited for a few seconds before standing up, winching in pain as he did so. He hobbled over to the stairwell, wondering when he had hurt his leg. Looking up, he saw a small shape standing at the very top.
“You can come up now, Pauly,” Bingo called down through the open door. “You heard the chime. You’ve got yourself a few minutes before the final round of our little game. Come get yourself a drink. You’ve earned it.”
Paul stared up at the doorway, but he didn’t move or answer.
“Use your noodle, kiddo. If we were going to break the rules, I would have just come down and gutted ya when you outsmarted Bango.”
“Watch it,” the clown’s voice came from the living room.
“Just calling a spade a spade here. He got you pretty good. Hell, he got me, too. Come on, Pauly. Let’s talk.”
Not really sure what else to do, Paul did as he was told and slowly ascended the stairs. His multiple cuts and lacerations burned as he moved. He reached the top just in time to see Bingo sit down in one of the chairs. Bango was seated on the long couch, his body filling the majority of it as he took a long drag on his cigar. The murderous hunger was gone from his eyes, and he nodded once to Paul.
“You want to pour yourself something stiff?” Bingo asked.
“Uh, no,” Paul replied, keeping his distance.
“You don’t have to stand all the way over there. We don’t bite.”
“Liar,” Bango said with a deep chuckle.
“You know what I mean.” The puppet motioned towards the shelf with the statue on it. “Poe will be along in a few minutes. You might have gotten past the two of us, but I’m sorry to say that your good luck is about to run out, kid. I mean that, too. Both parts, the part where you’re going to be finito and the part where I’m sorry.”
Bingo fell silent. He seemed to stare off into the distance blankly, but it was hard to tell if he was thinking about something or if it was just because the puppet’s eyes couldn’t close. Bango was looking around the room curiously, as if he was seeing it for the first time.
“All we wanted was our big break,” Bingo said suddenly. “We worked long and hard to make Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza the best show on television, and dammit, we succeeded. After all that work, though, the only thing kids wanted to watch was unoriginal cartoon trash shoveled out by toy companies. We would offer them fresh and new entertainment, and they picked the glorified commercials every single time. Well, what can I say, kids are morons.”
“Amen,” Bango grunted.
“You’re obviously a fan of the show, Pauly. Do you know about anything that happened after it ended?”
“Um, no, I don’t,” Paul said, still not quite believing that this conversation was happening.
“It wasn’t pretty.” Bingo shook his head slowly. “We showed up on set on a Tuesday morning and were told that our services were no longer needed. The production company had pulled the plug on the whole show. We knew the ratings weren’t what everyone had hoped for, but we hadn’t known that things were that bad. It was like getting slapped in the face with a brick. Everything was just suddenly… over. Gone in a puff of smoke. You sure you don’t want a drink?”
“I would kill for a scotch. Doesn’t work well with the whole puppet thing, though. No digestive system. Anyway, I knew that I was screwed. There wasn’t a lot of work for a puppeteer. The big studios that used them for stuff like Star Wars and The Muppets weren’t even taking applications. They were all about who you knew, if you catch my meaning.”
Bango made an indelicate sound.
“As bad as things were for me, they were even worse for old Bango here. Clowns were already losing popularity, but then Stephen fucking King decided to write that damn book.”
“It,” Bango supplied.
“Yeah, that’s right, fucking It. Suddenly everyone and their mother’s afraid of clowns. I’m here to tell you that Bango is the best clown show business has ever seen. Incredible comedic timing, and that goes for both jokes and physical comedy. Fuck Bozo. This guy right here is the top of the damn mountain.”
“Thank you for that.” The massive man seemed genuinely moved by the compliment.
“It’s just how I feel. It was and still is an honor working with you. And then there’s Poe.”
The puppet fell silent again. Paul looked back over at the statue, afraid that Poe would be gone from her booth, but the figure was still present. He noticed that both Bingo and Bango were staring at the same place.
“I found Poe working at Coney Island in a sideshow,” Bingo continued, his voice a bit quieter. “Telling fortunes, reading palms, that sort of thing. I had her read tarot cards for me on a lark. I’ll be damned if every single prediction she made didn’t come true by the end of the week. None of that vague stuff, either. She gave me specifics that couldn’t be misinterpreted. I had just started putting together the show, and I knew that I wanted her on it.”
He sighed. “I think the show being canceled hit her the hardest out of all of us. At Coney Island she had been seen as some kind of freak, but on Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza, she was loved by thousands and thousands of children. More than her fair share of parents, too. For the first time in her life she was happy. Being told that she wasn’t going to have that happiness and acceptance anymore… I can’t imagine what that felt like. It was a lot more than just a silly television show to her. It was a lot more to all of us.”
“Dark days,” Bango put in.
“You ain’t whistlin’ Dixie.” Bingo looked up at the ceiling. “Dark enough that we made a deal we never would have considered otherwise. Poe isn’t just a bunch of parlor tricks, you see. She’s got a real connection with, well, something. Call them spirits, or demons, or gods. I don’t know exactly what they are, but when she called on them to help, they heard that call and came. They offered to make it so that Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza lived on forever with us as the star players, all for one low low price.”
“Can you believe we jumped at the chance, Pauly? Said yes without even thinking about it. Turns out we should have read the fine print. We got put into that statue so that we could live on forever. It would be a pretty funny punchline if it hadn’t happened to us. The only time we get to come out is when there’s someone new to kill. Those shadowy friends of Poe’s enjoy that sort of thing. They get off on these kinds of games. We don’t get to say no, either. Turns out owning someone’s soul gives you a whole lot of control over that someone.”
“There she goes,” Bango said.
Paul returned his attention to the statue. The small figure of Poe was indeed gone from the fortune teller booth. His heart began to beat harder in his chest as he looked around for any sign of her. The clock chimed again, but it was oddly muted, like it was underwater.
“Looks like our time’s up,” Bingo told him. “It was good talking with you, Pauly. It’s been nice. If I can give you one bit of advice, it’s this: enjoy your last moments as much as you can. At the end of the day I’m just a talking dog puppet, and Bango’s just a big clown. Poe’s so much more than that now.”
“What?” Paul demanded. “What is she?”
The puppet looked up at him. “She’s one of them now.”
A loud chime sounded throughout the house, and Paul felt the room grow cold as the lights went out.
Both Bingo and Bango turned their heads towards the stairs leading to the second floor. It took a moment for Paul to process that he could see them in the darkness. With the tent surrounding the house and no lights on it should have been impossible. There was a faint, almost unnoticeable glow coming from upstairs, and just enough of it was making it downstairs for him to see their silhouettes.
“It’ll be worse if she has to come to you,” Bingo informed him in a voice barely above a whisper.
Paul knew that he was right. Some instinct that he didn’t know that he possessed was telling him that the only course of action was to go confront whatever was waiting for him upstairs. This wasn’t a threat that he could run or hide from.
He took a moment to retrieve a knife from the kitchen. As he did so, he noticed the empty spot on the block where Bingo had removed one of them. He figured that he should be worried that the puppet might have retrieved it, but he was sure that it didn’t matter. Bingo’s turn had come and gone. The dog was no longer a threat.
All that he had to do was get through the final turn. Poe’s turn. If he did that, there was no one else left on the statue, and he would win. He had to assume that meant that he would be free of this horrible trap. There was no way to know for sure that was the case. It was the best guess that he had, however, and he’d take a faint hope over no hope any day.
Now armed, he went back out into the living room and walked up to the foot of the stairs. From this position he could see more of the light emanating from the second floor. It was a pale, almost sickly white, and instead of being steady it pulsed like a heartbeat. He gripped the banister with his free hand as he squeezed the knife’s handle tightly. Before he could talk himself out of it, he began to climb the stairs.
She was standing at the far end of the hallway when he reached the top. Poe was wearing a long black dress, with a matching veil hanging in front of her face. Her hands were cupped in front of her. They were holding a small crystal ball, the same one that she had used to read fortunes on the old television show. The light was coming from the orb. There seemed to be movements inside the ball, like fog churning in the wind.
Paul could just barely see her face through the veil. Her skin was nearly translucent. It was both beautiful and terrifying.
He jerked his head to the side when someone whispered in his right ear. There was no one there. The same thing happened to his left, and once again when he looked in that direction there was no source. As he turned his attention back to Poe, more and more of the whispers became audible. Within moments he was surrounded by them. They made it hard to think, and even though he hadn’t thought it was possible he felt his fear growing even more. Confronting Poe had been a mistake. He needed to run.
When he spun around to go back down the stairs, however, he found that they were no longer there. No, he corrected himself. They were there, but they were covered in blackness. It was like a solid shadow was laying across them. He tentatively put a foot out towards where he knew the top step should be. As he did so, the darkness shifted and extended a tendril out towards him. He quickly pulled his foot back, and the tendril retracted back into the black mass.
The whispering became louder. He was almost able to make out individual voices in the strange chorus, but the sounds weren’t quite clear enough for him to do so. The tones the unseen speakers murmured in were simultaneously inviting and sinister.
Paul took a deep breath and turned back to face Poe. She was still standing where she had been when he had taken his eyes off of her, regarding him silently through her veil. The temperature in the hallway dropped further, and he began to shiver.
He glanced at the two doors, one on each side of the hall. One led into the bathroom, and the other into his bedroom. Before he could take a step towards either of them, the same blackness that blocked the stairs crept over them. She was systematically taking away all of his escape routes.
There was only one option left. Turning his attention to the ceiling, he located the short string hanging down from it and jumped up to grab it. As he pulled it down, the hatch it was attached to opened and an old wooden ladder lowered to the ground. He expected Poe to try to stop him, but instead she continued to remain still. With one last glance at her, he hurried up the ladder and into the attic, pulling the steps back up and closing the hatch behind him.
Feeling around with his hands in the dark, he crawled over to the wall and sat back against it. He took a number of deep breaths and tried to calm himself. All that he needed to do was stay in the attic until time ran out. He had won.
A pale white light flared in the far corner of the attic. Paul jumped and started hastily scurrying away from it as Poe stepped out of the shadows, the crystal ball still held in her hands. She began to slowly advance. She glided along the wooden boards like a spirit, her dress trailing behind her. He kept backing away until he reached the end of the wall. There was nowhere else to go.
She raised the orb and extended her arms towards him. He screamed, the knife forgotten as it slipped out of his fingers.
Moments later the house was still. In the living room, on a shelf in the middle of one wall, was the statue Paul had purchased earlier that day at the estate sale. Bingo stood on his platform as if to welcome guests to the festivities. Bango was just behind the open flaps of the tent, a grin on his face as he readied himself to make both children and adults laugh. In her fortune teller booth, Poe sat in front of her crystal ball with an enigmatic smile at the edges of her lips. There was no black pole with a clock attached to it.
From the television came the sound of a calliope, and a man’s voice excitedly announced, “Welcome to Bingo’s Circus Extravaganza! Are you ready to have some fun?”
Credit: Tim Sprague
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