The Shadow Man's Game
The moon sat high and bright in the sky the fateful night Ahlia the Aisha wandered upon the carnival. She hadn’t been intending on traveling there, far from it actually. Ahlia had been looking for her beloved brother Sam as she always did on nights like this. It was 3 years ago that same night, with the shining moon high in the sky that he disappeared into The Haunted Woods.
It all happened so fast, they were playing on the outer edge of the imposing forest trying to soak up the last few minutes of the warm sunset before their mother was sure to call them for dinner. Sam threw the ball they were playing with just a little too far and it was swept away into the darkness of the forest. They gave each other a brief terror-stricken glance before he assured her that it would be fine. Ahlia weakly smiled back her brother and saw him for the last time.
No one thought that Sam could still be out there. They said if he had not made it out of those woods within the first few hours then he never would. Ahlia however never gave up hope, she was certain that she could find him and with each trek into the crumbling forest she felt she was getting closer. She saw so many terrifying things on her journeys into the darkness, but she would not rest until she found her brother. She navigated dark abandoned castles, spooky old houses, gypsy camps, and once even swore she saw a slimy monster who looked her dead in the eyes and spoke in riddles. Of course no one ever believed her tales, but none of that mattered to Ahlia now.
It had been a few minutes - or was it hours since she walked into the woods? Ahlia was losing track of time, and her stomach began to growl ferociously with hunger. That was when she saw the lights. They were dim but they were certainly there, colorful and flickering. She reached the break in the old, dying trees and saw the immense fairgrounds come into view before her. It was clear immediately to her that no one had maintained this carnival in some time. The broken down rides were covered in mossy overgrowth and the stand's once colorful striped overhangs were now stained and ripped beyond repair.
It was eerily quiet, that was one of the first things that send shivers down Ahlia's spine. The second was the fact that there was no wind, it was like everything here stood completely still. She started to wonder if this wasn't all just a strange dream. She traversed the stands until she saw it - one booth with a gentleman standing, and staring right at her. Gripping the straps of her backpack tightly, she approached and found one ornate black dish sitting in the middle of the counter. She eyed the bowl which she could now see was full of apples almost too feverishly, all too aware of her empty pockets. Ahlia could barely see the man standing at the booth, his face hidden in shadows. He did not speak, simply pushed the bowl toward her with one long finger. She began to reach out for a particularly shinny apple, and that's when she saw him.
Just past the food stall stood Sam. He was in a trance, looked nearly like zombie she had seen in scary films. Ahlia ran to him, suddenly no longer aware of her aching stomach. She wrapped her arms around him but felt a cold response. Looking him in the eye she could see he was not conscious she was even in front of him. Fighting off her growing fear, she grabbed his hand "Let's go big brother, I'm getting you out of here!"
Sam did not move, and before she could ask him why, something ripped their hands apart. It was the man from the booth, tall, thin and shrouded in shadow he spoke with a voice like a snake's hiss, "He works for the carnvial, you can not take him."
Ahlia gulped, "No, he's my brother and I'm taking him home. You have to let me!"
The shadow man paused in thought. He outstretched one long finger, "If you win, you can take him."
Ahlia looked across to see something she somehow missed before. A large, propped up wooden wheel stood before her. Like everything else in the carnival it looked dilapidated, but she could see there were some drawings carved into each section of the board. "How do I play?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
So mustering all the strength she had, despite her exhaustion and hunger, Ahlia spun The Wheel of Misfortune. She looked back on the shadow man nervously, was this all just a game? Was he simply toying with her? She couldn’t be sure, but she knew she had to try. Click click click. Finally, the wheel stopped and it pointed at an icon. “What is that?” she asked aloud, staring at the strange drawing.
When he hit her, he hit her like a ton of bricks. She fell back onto the ground and tried to catch her breath, what just happened? Ahlia looked up and saw a terrifying sight. He was large, shapeless and powerful. She saw two pointed horns glistening in the moonlight. She saw long, clawed fingers curling tightly around something, and the last thing she saw was his unforgettable smile. The sharp teeth and jeering grin sunk her (heart into her) stomach as she realized she was face to face with The Pant Devil.
“You’re not supposed to be real!” She screamed, clutching her bag to her chest, “Just something our parents tell us to make us behave!”
He vanished nearly as abruptly as he had appeared, and it wouldn’t be until a later time that Ahlia realized that her favorite book which had been snuggly tucked in her backpack would never be seen again. She sat up quickly and ran to the shadow man, “No please, let me spin again. I beg you!”
He paused again. Never one to miss a chance to cause misfortune, the shadow man tipped his top hat and nodded.
So once again, Ahlia gathered all her strength, and she spun the wheel. She watched each icon spin past her, fearing what she could be risking. Each moment it spun felt like years, but eventually with one final creak the wheel stopped. She eyed on the board a crudely drawn present box and turned to the shadow man. "I got the gift! Does that mean I won? May I take my brother home, please?"
The shadow man hissed his words once again, "You have won. Leave, and never return here."
Ahlia exhaled with relief, and grabbed her brother's hand once more, slowly pulling him along out of the fairgrounds. She never dared to turn back around and look at the shadow man, lest he take back his offer. When they finally reached the edge of the forest she saw the light return to Sam's face. He blinked several times, "Ahlia? Where am I? Did I make it out of the woods?"
With a smile, Ahlia pulled him close, "Yes! We did, I saved you big brother!"
Sam smiled back, "Thank you, I missed you so much. I don't know how long I was gone."
"Why didn't you ever try to leave?" Ahlia asked. It was at that moment that Sam reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out. Ahlia gasped in shock and strange relief, in his hand was a glowing rotten apple - nearly identical to the one Ahlia had just nearly eaten.