Theresa Jacobs

The February Featured Writer is

Theresa Jacobs

Please feel free to email Theresa at: theresajcbs@gmail.com


by Theresa Jacobs

Christopher kept to the back of each ride, sure to stay out of sight of the carnies. Twilight lay a blanket of darkness to the shadows where he hovered. Behind the constant whir, bang, hum, loud rock and roll, along with kids hooting and hollering, he never had to worry about making a sound. Tonight, marked his third night spying on the traveling carnival, and he hoped his last.

Following the Ringmaster was easy. The man had to be near seven-feet tall; he wore black silk pants with a blazing red stripe down the outer leg, and he was never without his top hat. The oddest thing was he was never without sunglasses either, even at night. His attention was drawn from his mission as two teenage girls, leaning into each other giggling, moved to the counter at the ring toss. He pressed between the concessions, careful not to trip on the thick rubber wires, as he tried to hear what was being said.

“Ah, lovely young ladies!” A carny working the book had greased back hair, too toothy of a grin, and wrinkles for days. “Step up, try your hand and catch a prize!” With a wink and smile, he placed the rings in the one girl’s hand.

Even from Christopher’s nook, he saw the young girl flinch from the carny’s touch. Crouching down to his knees, he leaned against the booth, aiming to see the thin, blonde girl’s face as she tossed the rings. He hadn’t yet been able to sort out how people approached the games: normal, laughing, happy, having a grand ole time, only to walk away in a dumb state. As though their heads were empty of self-thought.

The teen’s hand rose and the yellow ring left her fingers; it floated across the space, hit a bottle, tinged, bounced and rolled away. The carny gave a low tsk, but didn’t shout out or entice her to try harder. He was watching her eyes. Even the waiting friend had grown quiet. Around them, lights flashed, danced and sparkled as darkness grew deeper. With the last ring tossed, the girls turned, dumb-struck now, and walked away.

Christopher watched them go, then looked back to the ring toss. The carny gathered up the errant rings, returning them to his pouch, and sat. Not needing to see more—he’d already watched the exact same oddity transpire countless times over the last three nights—he moved on.

What he needed were answers. What were these guys doing to people? Could he find any authority that wouldn’t lock him up and think he was crazy? Was there a way to reverse it? Whatever, it, was?


Four days prior, the carnival had come to his town of Blue Springs. On the night of the family outing, fifteen-year-old Christopher was feeling under the weather. His family had traipsed off to enjoy the thrills, take in the junk food, and play games, leaving him behind because of his illness.

But when they came home, they had changed. They continued to go through the motions of life, but in a quiet, zoned-out state. They didn’t talk, or interact with each other, or him. He’d yelled at them and even went so far as to punch his older brother in the stomach. Only a short time ago this would have elicited a good beating. But now there was no reaction, not even a raised eyebrow.

At any time in the past, he would have said his family was a nuisance; his brothers were mean, his father demanding, and his mom too emotional, he longed for those people back. Fighting back tears—no fifteen-year-old guy in his right mind would cry—he stalked the carnival instead, looking for answers.


He blended back into the shadows, searching for the Ringmaster again.

Glancing up and down the midway, looking beyond the naïve marks, past the calling carnies and ignoring the tanned, leggy girls, he spotted a tall shadow disappear into the fun house. Eye on the prize, he took considerable strides after the man, avoiding people like a pinball down an inlane, when a sandpapery grip jerked him to the right and nearly off his feet.

“Where you rushing off to, sonny? You look like a strapping young man. Why not try your hand at the ten-in-one.” The carny chewed out his spiel, still holding Christopher’s arm while rolling three baseballs in his other mitt of a hand.

For the briefest of moments, he thought, And what if I did? It’s one way to see what happens. I can pull away before my mind gets melted.

He looked into the carny’s dark eyes and didn’t like what stared back at him. There was something not right about the man. He had no whites to his eyes, at least none that could be discerned in the darkness. They appeared as blind pits of tar.

Christopher  pulled back. “Sorry, my sister is waiting to go on the teacups. I’m already late.” He was surprised at how easily the lie tumbled from his lips.

The carny’s nose crinkled oddly and his eyes narrowed as if he was sniffing out the lie. “Just three tosses boy. Ya sis can wait I’m sure.”

“Nah, I’m already in good with my ma, but thanks for the offer.”

As another unsuspecting mark took up the carny’s attention, Christopher spun and took off at a light jog. Sweat dripped down his back as the funhouse grew closer. The attraction was set up off the ground in what appeared to be tracker-trailers lined up in rows, with metal stairs leading to a giant, open clown mouth.

Turning and looking back at the raucous carnival, this end of the field had an abandoned feel to it. There were no overhead lights. No crazy, pumping music, and it was a good twenty feet or more away from the rest of the games. He checked to ensure no one was watching and hurried into the darkness under the iron stairs.

“What am I doing here?” he asked himself, not for the first time, as he waited to make sure no one was coming after him. After a few minutes on his knees in the grass, he decided what he must do. Go inside the funhouse.

His heart picked up the pace as he moved from under the stairs and tiptoed up them. The large round O of a mouth did not appear fun. The clown’s eyes were downcast, staring in a peeling royal blue at all that entered. The lips, once red, had dulled to salmon pink, and he felt like they’d close around him the minute he stepped onto the red-carpet tongue. Knowing that he had to follow through, he gulped and took a fast leap into the attraction.

The door remained open behind him, as he knew in his mind it would, but his clenched sphincter still told him otherwise. The hallway was one person wide and lined with small, round pot lights along the floor. From this angle, they cast long, dancing shadows around him.

All the hair on his body stood on end. Despite the heat of the July, chills ran up his spine. He walked slow and quiet, listening for any sounds from within, and wondered what direction he should take. He had never been in a funhouse before and had no clue what to expect. What was so fun about it anyways?

Suddenly the floor beneath his feet tilted. Stretching out his arms, he teetered like a drunken sailor from side to side, and inadvertently cried out. He braced himself from tumbling over when the floor tipped the other way. The next section was convex and as he stepped down it began to spin beneath his feet.

“Shit!” The idea of sneaking in was lost to his unexpected reaction. As he staggered off the rolling barrel, puffs of air shot out with loud, compressed bursts. He realized that each section was like an obstacle course. Passing the skirt blowing portion, the next ten feet were oddly shaped mirrors. As he moved, they distorted and contorted his features.

Seeing himself all misshapen gave him the willies again. He heard loud voices echoing from ahead. Finally seeing a t-off in the hallways, he paused, listening.

Turning left, he followed the voices to an open room. His heart fluttered again, his stomach churned in knots, and his palms grew cool with sweat. There was nowhere for him to hide and watch. He bent down to his hands and knees, stayed tight to the wall, and crept quiet as a mouse along the hall until he could see partially into the room.

It appeared to be a makeshift office, with a single person wood desk upon which the Ringmaster half perched. A younger man, his face pale and tight with fear, sat in one of the two worn purple guest chairs, the Ringmaster hovering above him.

“I’mmm sssory, Vasilica I…” the young man stuttered, wringing his hands red in his lap.
“Sorry? You sniveling rot! I expect at least two feedings a night. You’ve been here three months. Three months!” The Ringmaster seethed, hissing through his teeth.

Christopher’s heart went out to the guy who appeared to be only a few years older than himself. He looked away as a tear fell from the man’s eye, and wondered how long this dressing down had been going on for. But he didn’t have to worry because it didn’t last much longer.

“Really Vas…no! No! please…”

The Ringmaster lifted the young man from his chair.

The man's legs flailed ineffectually against the Ringmaster’s shins as he was lifted effortlessly into the air. The Ringmaster’s lips pulled back in a wide, face-splitting grin, revealing row after row of tiny, pointed teeth stacked one upon another. With his free hand, he reached up, sliding his dark sunglasses down his nose. The young man writhed side to side, gurgling nonsensical noises but not speaking, or screaming. His own eyes fixated on the Ringmaster’s. The young man’s bladder let loose and his jeans darkened with wet.

Christopher bit his tongue as he held back a cry of his own. Even from his vantage point, he could see the voluminous round eyes of the Ringmaster, bulging outward as though too big for their sockets. They shone, illuminated from within, and altered colors, akin to a kaleidoscope. They turned from all shades of blue to light brown, to green, to grey, to hazel, to white, to black, to dark brown, to violet, and altered faster and faster.

As the young man went limp in the large man’s grip, Christopher couldn’t restrain a gurgle of fear from escaping his lips this time.

The Ringmaster’s head swivelled to the hallway to spot Christopher, a clear form cowering on the floor. He released the young man, who fell into a catatonic heap on the floor.

Christopher didn’t hesitate. He pushed himself up, turned back the way he came and bolted. Praying that the speed of youth was on his side, he dared not look back as he took the turn back into the funhouse.

He jolted at the sight of himself when he stepped into the mirrored hallway, then realizing it was his own refection, pushed on. Before he reached the last mirror, the Ringmaster’s reflection melded with Christopher’s, creating a grotesque amalgamation of the two. 

“What are you?” Christopher screamed as he ran on.

Air puffed at him in the skirt blowing lane, but it would not slow him. He hit the barrel roll at such a high rate of speed that the barrel barely spun. He had a thought that if he could turn his foot as he hit the end, he could get it spinning, slowing the Ringmaster down.

But that was a childish thought; there was no time for any tricks. The man, or beast, or demon—whatever the Ringmaster was—with his crazy long legs would be on Christopher before he could hit the outside. And sure enough, as he entered the tilting hallway, the Ringmaster came right behind.

As he tilted right, the weight of the other man began the tilt left, jarring him across the short hall and bouncing him into the left wall. Now with both their weight holding the floor down, they were rammed up on an angle.

“Hold up! Stop,” a deep voice called out. Multiple forms darkened the hallway.

Christopher’s legs gave out, and he fell forward, landing pinched between the wall and the tilted floor. His breath came in short hyper gasps, his heart pounding like a snare drum in his chest.

The Ringmaster shuffled up to Christopher’s feet. “How’d he get in here? Get him up. To my place, now,” he ordered.

Whether from extreme fear or plain exhaustion, Christopher didn’t have time to ponder as he passed out cold.


In the darkness under Christopher’s eyelids, he imagined he was curled in his bed, dreading the new day. As he moved to stretch out, his length was impeded with a clang, only then was he aware of being balled up in a small space. Suddenly recalling he’d been captured by the Ringmaster at the carnival, his eyes flew open.

“Well, it lives,” Vasilica chuckled.

Christopher gasped, taking in his predicament. He was locked in a cage that might be large enough for a Rottweiler, but certainly not large enough for him. He pressed against the back of the cage, stretching his legs out as straight as he could to relieve the cramping. He said nothing, only glanced warily from carny to carny. Four of them surrounded him, and he avoided the alien gaze of the Ringmaster.

Vasilica leaned over the open wire cage, plucking at the bars as a musician to a guitar. “And just how long were you following us, boy?” he cooed in a soft, eerie voice.

Christopher stared at the cage door, already trying to sort out an escape rather than give in to the intimidation of the creeper.

“Oh.” Vasilica straightened, holding his excessively long arms out to his sides. “We caught ourselves a toughie here, fellas. Why, just look at him concentrating on that lock.” His lips peeled back revealing his pointed, glistening rows of teeth.

Moving faster than his large frame should allow, the Ringmaster darted back over the top of the cage. Now above Christopher’s head, Vasilica’s hot, fetid breath washed over the boy's downturned face. “Well then, perhaps this will entice you to talk.” The Ringmaster spun and grabbed the arm of the carny that had mesmerized the two girls at the ring toss earlier and brought him closer to the cage.

Christopher didn’t want to look, but curiosity was his Achilles’ heel. He wished he’d never come to this infernal carnival. He wished he’d stayed home with his placid zombie-esque family and did his own thing. He could have too. He could have quit school and lazed around the house all day. He could have had any life he wanted. 

The Ringmaster tore open the carny’s plaid shirt, revealing a horror worse than the sights Christopher had seen as of yet. The man’s stomach—although there was no possible way this thing was a man—was a cavern that traveled to a distance farther than human eyesight. The gaping hole roiled blood red with countless souls trapped and screaming inside.

Christopher could not look away even though his mind was screaming at him to. He watched as people clawed at the opening, their screams echoing around the room. Their faces and sex were indiscernible. He pissed his pants, then leaned forward and vomited between his legs.

The Ringmaster closed the carny’s shirt. He knelt before the cage. “Look at me.”

Christopher looked up and stared into the eyes that shifted colors. As a soft blue rose to the surface, he knew they were his mother’s, they blended to black, and she was gone. Tears formed in his own eyes and he began to cry in earnest, whether from hunger, exhaustion, or pure terror, he no longer cared.

“You have a choice here, boy. You can be fed to Ungunnolth here and live eternally in that hell. Believe it or not, the souls I eat, while tormented, are not as much so as those are.” Vasilica clicked his teeth and waggled his tongue.

The rest of the room remained silent, either they knew not to interrupt the Ringmaster, or they were eagerly waiting for a bite of Christopher.

The Ringmaster resumed, “We always need regular men like yourself to run some of the rides. As you saw, I had to dispose of one such boy earlier.”

Christopher gulped and nodded. “H-h-h,” he stuttered, cleared his throat and tried again. “How do I take the souls from the marks?”

Vasilica tossed his head back, a deep, rumbling laugh erupting from his gut. His chest rose and fell, causing the silver buttons on his vest to flash blindingly. Then, just as abruptly, his laughter ended and he leaned close to the bars, his teeth bared in warning. “This is the real-world, boy. Not some fantasy novel, or action flick on the big screen. You will work for me behind a booth. You’ll eat and sleep in this cage! You’ll be my slave until you get old and feeble. Or anger me and I eat you. No hero is going to ride in and save you.”

Vasilica angled his head so that one eye bulged its prismatic dance at Christopher and then he continued. “You’re still young enough to believe in tripe. But guess what, buddy boy, we’ve been doing this carnival for thousands of years.”

Christopher began crying. His eyes darted from man to man—or demon to demon. He didn’t know what they were, but they weren’t men. He knew the Ringmaster was right, he was too inexperienced in life to know anything. He was surprised that he’d gotten as far as he had without being caught. Now his life, if it would be a life, was in the hands of evil. He had no options. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled.

Vasilica clapped and stood. “Ah, I knew you’d choose my way over the tortured soul highway. Tomorrow’s a big day. We tear down and move to a new spot. Sleep now.” Finished, he led his troupe out the door, flicking off the lights as he went.

Plunged into darkness, Christopher pulled his legs up to his chest away from the vomit. “What am I going to do? I can’t work for him. I just can’t.” He broke down and cried harder. When the tears dried up, he tried shifting to a better position and felt his belt buckle dig into his stomach. As he pulled to loosen it, the tine jabbed his finger.

“Ohh,” he gasped, as a thought came to him. He wriggled around painfully as the cage bars dug into his back and butt. With little elbow room, he unlatched the buckle, yanking the belt out of the loops. Belt in hand he squirmed, maneuvering himself to turn around. He knew the cage was backed up to a wall, now he could only hope it was near an outlet. He had to squint and focus his eyes up close in the dark. At least the walls were white, and that helped to pick up shapes. He made out a dark cord, draped from an end table a mere two feet from him.

Now he had to figure out how to shift the cage. The bars were already killing his knees, but he had to try.

Pressing himself as far right as he could, he bounced up. The cage rattled louder than he expected and his breath caught as his heart leaped into his throat. He sat, holding his breath for the count of ten, then waited silently ten seconds more. When no one came bolting through the door, he bounced again, and again, and again.

The cage moved a few inches at a time. But it was moving. This gave him hope. He paused to rest, but not too long, and began bouncing again.

Eventually, the cage butted up to the plug in the wall. He reached through the bars, feeling the outlet with his fingers. Sure enough, the only thing plugged in was a single lamp. The bottom was clear.

Not wanting to lose where the outlet was in the dark, Christopher prayed this would work. Taking his belt in hand, he held the buckle tight and pressed the tine between his thumb and index finger.

“I’m sorry, Mom and Dad. I thought I could save you somehow. I hope someday, someone smarter and braver than me can. I love you.”

He hocked a wad of warm spittle on the belt tine and his fingers. Gripping the bars tight with his left hand, Christopher leaned his forehead against the cage. Using his free fingers, he felt for the plug, then below it, the receptacle. Thinking ‘god, I hope this works,’ he rammed the wet metal tine into the open socket.


Outside the huddle of carny trailers, one of the electrical poles sparked a flash of blinding white-blue, popping the transformer. All the trailers whirred to silence as they lost power. If anyone had been looking at the Ringmaster’s trailer at that exact moment, they would have seen the inside light up orange as the interior caught fire.

But at that moment, everyone was busy shutting down the midway for the night. They didn’t suspect anything until plumes of acrid, poison filled smoke billowed towards the moon. Everyone, including the demon-kind, rushed forward with fire extinguishers.

The Ringmaster's trailer was lost to the fire, all other trailers survived.

The next morning when the ashes cooled, the Ringmaster pulled a still hot belt buckle from outside the locked, melted cage.

Vasilica tipped his hat to the pile of blackened bones and gave a bow to his first-ever escapee.

Theresa Jacobs shocks her readers with her versatile style, from kids’ books, to horror, to crime, she’ll never let her creativity be stifled, and after writing eleven books in six years, nothing will stop her now.  She still works full time in the real world and spends every free moment either writing new stories or binge watching popular shows. She lives in Canada with her handy husband and goofy dog, both of whom vie for the rest of her time.