Open Your Eyes

Originally published in Voluted Tales in May 2014 (link)

Elliott sneaked another chocolate candy in his mouth and chewed it quickly.
He loved the crowded state fair— people swarming, loud music, cotton
candy, and deadly reptiles in cages.

If only his mother would agree. It took Elliott a week to convince her to
visit the fair, and her stiff grip was a sign she still wasn’t happy about

She pulled him slightly to go faster.

Elliott smiled. He knew she wasn’t really mad, just annoyed.

“Can we go there, mom?” he said pointing toward the Rocket Spin ride,
twirling above their heads.

His mother threw him a stern look. “What did we talk about?”

He felt red in the face and grinned back at her. “No dangerous rides,” he
repeated. “But, moo-om—”

A red clown leaped in front of them and Elliot jumped back, startled. The
clown blew in a plastic trumpet and a tiny flag popped out. “Do you want to
see the clown show, little man?”

Elliott walked around him, striking a pose, keeping his eyes on the clown’s
orange nose. “No, thank you. I don’t like clowns.”

Once they left the clown behind them, his mom chuckled. “Why did you lie?
You love clowns.”

Elliott shrugged. “I just didn’t like that one.” He peered back but the
clown was gone.

“It’s so crowded today,” the mother complained, “I told you, we should only
come here on weekdays.”

“But the Circus is only opened on the weekends.” Elliott skipped a few
steps, hoping to cast some of his joy onto her.

She rolled her eyes and stopped in the middle of the stream of people. “I’m

“Can I have cotton candy?” Elliott asked.

She exhaled loudly and wiped her face of sweat. “You can have any food you
want as long as I get to rest for five minutes.”

“Hello, hello,” a voice yelled behind Elliott.

The boy turned around and faced a skinny man, so tall that it looked as if
someone stretched him out like a rubber figurine. He wore a yellow tuxedo
and a top-hat, adorned with red stars and crescent moons.

“Hello, my friend,” he said, bent from the waist, “do you like to be

The man lifted his arms and wiggled his fingers in the air. He dropped a
“Booo” and laughed.

Elliott’s mother pulled the boy closer. “No, thank you.”

“But, mom,” Elliott said, widening his smile, “I like scary stuff.”

The man straightened his back and looked at Elliott’s mom. “Ma’am, here’s a
ticket for a free trip to the Inferno, the scariest ride in the whole
world! It’s an entertaining event no one should miss.”

The man spoke loudly and after every few words he would tilt his head back
and stare at the sky, arms wide open.

Elliott glanced at his mother. “Can I go, mom? Can I?”

She looked back at him through slit eyes.

“You can rest there, mom. I am sure there’s a bench.”

“You sneaky little—”

Elliott jumped and clapped. “Yes, yes!” He looked up. “Where is he?”

The man in yellow tuxedo was gone.

“That’s odd,” the mother said, “did he just leave? He was supposed to give

She lifted her hand and looked at a square yellow ticket between her
fingers. “How—”

“Did he give it to you?” Elliott asked, trying to get higher on his toes.

She continued to stare at the ticket, her mouth half open. “I… I guess he
did give it to me,” she said, after a pause, and peered through the crowd.
“I see the ride. It’s that way. Let’s go. This music is driving me crazy.”

Elliott darted forward pulling his mother’s hand.

About five minutes later, they stopped in front of the Inferno— a house on
wheels, painted with cheesy monsters and covered in wooden puppets, some
with broken limbs swinging freely in the wind. A four-rail car was waiting
for passengers at the front of the ride, ready to enter the tunnel of

The yellow tuxedo man was there, walking from one end of the track to the
other, waving his hands and screaming for customers. “The scariest ride in
the world. Come see the Inferno. Don’t be afraid, at least not until you go
inside. Ha, ha, ha!”

Elliott’s mother squatted next to him. “You’ll be okay in there, right?”

He nodded fast. “I’ve been in the haunted tunnel before. It’s never scary,
just funny. I like to hear the other kids scream.”

She laughed and gave him a kiss on the right cheek.

Elliott looked at the train— two of the railcars were already filled-up.
“I have to go!”

He grabbed the yellow ticket from his mother’s hand and sprinted toward the
train. He climbed the stairs in two jumps and stopped near the yellow
tuxedo man. The man bent over and looked Elliott in the eyes.

“Hello, hello! What is your name, my good boy?”

“Elliot, sir.”

“Very nice.” With an over-zealous gesture, the man motioned his arm toward
the train. “Have a seat over there and enjoy the ride.”

Elliott jumped inside the rail car, his hands tickling with excitement. He
closed the security lock, just as his mother taught him, and hoped no one
else would sit next to him.

A bell rang three times and the train jerked forward, accelerating and
hissing slowly. Elliott scanned the crowd for his mother. She was there, on
the bench, waving her hand at him. He waved back and then grabbed the bar
in front of him and held tight with both hands. He felt an electric shiver
on his back, and his feet and hands started to itch. He laughed and pushed
his back against the seat.

Monsters, monsters, here I come. He closed his eyes tightly and listened to the screeching of the train
wheels, rolling against the metal track.

“Open your eyes, you’ll miss the show,” a voice came from Elliott’s left.

Startled, he opened his eyes, the hairs on his arms prickling like needles.
The red clown with the orange nose was in the seat next to him, staring at
him in silence.


“I said open your eyes,” the clown said and leaned his face toward him. The
makeup was wrinkled and cracked in places; some parts even started to peel
off. “You are missing the show.”

Elliott felt a knot in his stomach and turned his face forward, trying to
ignore the clown.

His heart started to pound and his blood dropped in his feet. As he turned
forward he noticed all the rail cars in front of him were empty. All the
other kids were gone.


He couldn’t even think. The rail cars were wiggling up and down the tracks
through the dark corridor, rattling louder and louder. The tunnel was just
brick walls and a lamp every ten feet, dangling from the ceiling, the light
alternating in red and blue.

Elliott peered left from the corner of his eyes. The clown’s eyes were
fixated on him, wide open. The boy started to whimper and his hands
trembled on the rail.

“Open your eyes,” the clown said, this time louder, and Elliott’s knees
turned into water.

He squeezed his feet closer and tried to scoot sideways as much as he
could, but the clown’s body was pressing against him, heavier with every

“Open your eyes and watch the show,” the clown shouted, close to his ear.

Elliott turned his head, shivering. The clown’s face was five inches from
his, eyes big as apples and mouth in a toothy grin. The clown’s hands
traveled slowly, one over the rail and one over the car’s seat, closing in
around Elliott, like a noose.

“Open your eyes and watch the show,” the clown screamed, directly in
Elliott’s face.

“My eyes are open,” he whispered.

“Not open enough,” the clown screamed and the train dived into a vertical
fall, dropping through a well shaft that appeared out of nowhere.

Elliott screamed as the wind rushed around his face, the train dashing into
the depths like a rocket. The lights passed by him, like a never-ending
rainbow of red and blue, swirling in circles as the rail cars twisted in
the air.

In the distance, a white wall appeared, far below, illuminated by a beam of
light, and the train darted straight towards it.

“The wall, the wall!” Elliott screamed and looked at the clown, who was
laughing, hands in the air and head tilted back.

“Open your eyes!” he screamed.

Elliott held his breath.

There was a loud boom and Elliott’s body was thrown forward. His chest hit
the security rail and a sharp pain crossed through the back of his neck as
his head whiplashed. He lost his grip on the bar and screamed as he was
waiting to be crushed into the wall.

The next moment, everything was quiet.

Elliott opened his eyes just as the train came out of the tunnel. The sound
of the cheerful county fair music filled his ears and the sun light hit his
teary eyes.

He looked forward, panting. The kids were back in their seats, laughing and
screaming. He peered left— the clown was gone.

The train stopped abruptly.

Elliott checked the crowd, trying to calm his breath down. His mother was
no longer on the bench.

With shaking knees, he got out of the seat and walked away from the train.
The man in the yellow tuxedo was down the stairs, trying to get other
customers to come in.

Elliott descended one step and scanned the area, his chin shivering. “Mom?”
he whispered. He looked in all directions, and the entire fair spun in
front of his eyes.


His mom’s voice was a wave of fresh air. He looked in the direction of the
sound and saw her waving one hand, holding a cotton candy in the other.

“Mom!” he screamed and dashed toward her.

He got to her and hugged her as hard as he could.

“Mom, you’re never gonna believe—”

His mom handed him the cotton candy and leaned over. “Hey, I got a surprise
for you.”

Elliott took a deep breath. “What is it?”

“Next week, for your birthday—”

“Yes?” he shivered with anticipation.

“You know how I am a bit short on cash and I said we can’t do anything

Elliott nodded.

His mom opened her arms wide. “I got a clown, for free!”

Elliott’s jaw dropped. A clown?

His mom moved sideways and the red clown appeared behind her, staring at
him with beady eyes. Elliott froze. The clown wiggled his fingers in the
air and smiled.

“Hello, little Elliott.” He winked. “I’m gonna have a good show for you
next week. What do you say?”

The boy stood motionless, his mouth open. He nodded slowly, his heart small
as a pebble.

His mother laughed. “Thank you, Mr. Krono. Now I’m glad I didn’t say no.
Look at him. He can’t believe it.”

The clown smirked. “Nobody says no to a clown, ma’am. Ha-ha-ha. I’ll see
you all next week. I hope you have a sweet dream, tonight, Elliott. And
remember— if you get scared, just open your eyes.”

The clown waved and vanished into the crowd.

The rest of the visit at the fair was short. Elliott just wanted to go
home. He held on to his mother’s hand all the way to the car.

“Let go now,” she said with a smile.

She put her other hand in her pocket, playing with the talisman she got
earlier from the Witch’s Hut. She glanced at Elliott. The boy was quiet,
trying to get in the car, a little bit of color starting to come back in
his cheeks.

She closed the car door and looked away. She knew this was going to be the
last time he’ll ask her to go to the state fair.

Finally. She smirked with satisfaction and drove away.