🧝‍♀️ 🤦🏽‍♀️


Laughing Jack, Beaten At His Own Games

Ameh walked up to the entrance gate, but there was no one selling tickets or passes into the amusement park, so she stood for a few moments, then made her way in through the entrance without any problems.

The park seemed completely abandoned, there weren't even any salespeople at the concession stands. Conspicuously absent were the usual fair food smells that come from these various stands, and living colour. The whole place looked as if it belonged in an old black and white movie.

The midway was silent and dark, but even in the dim moonlight, Ameh thought the rides looked too dilapidated to run. She knew nothing about ride operation and decided not to try her hand at it.

She walked on, passing dozens of empty tents, until she found some game booths. Sure enough, as expected, they had the prize stuffed animals hung with the nooses around their necks, and patchwork grins sloppily sewn to their faces.

"Well, I'll just have to win me some games and do something about you critters," She mumbled with a smirk.

The first game required her to throw a ball right between the eyes of a ghastly looking head sitting atop a pole. The trouble was the large nose and forehead protruded so much that a direct hit between the eyes was unlikely. Furthermore, the head swiveled. If that wasn't enough, the rest of the booth was mirrored. Those mirrors were the sort that created optical illusions, ensuring that players would miss the target and never win.

"Okay, first things first. Away with the mirrors." Ameh reached in, grabbed the head and pole, which, she guessed, was light enough to move with any hit, another way to keep anyone from winning. With that head and poll, she swung with all her might, smashing the mirrors. Soon, the floor to the inside of that booth was covered in jagged bits and pieces of broken glass. "Yeah, just try not to trip in that, next time you're here, Jack." Ameh sneered.

With an impish grin, Ameh put Mr. Polehead back and threw a ball at him. When the ball hit, Mr. Polehead vanished, and the stuffed animal that booth had as a prize, lost its ghastly grin, and fell to the ground, harmlessly outside the booth as if blown by an air current as the noose disappeared. When Ameh picked it up, she saw that it was a cute little black and white kitten. She held it for a moment, then it too, disappeared.

"As I thought." she said to herself.

On she went to the next game, the pea and shell booth. "Oh, right, the answer is easy, you have no pea under any of those shells, and pity the poor kids you've conned with that."

She walked away from the booth and turned back the way she had come. She ran back to some concession stands and took the time to give them a closer look. She thought they were mostly empty, but some appeared to have a few nonperishable items left.

They were all out of items except for one, and that one had small hard candies, in large bags and in small packs.

"Haha! Jackpot! Get it? 'Jack' pot?" Ameh taunted as she reached past the counter to grab a couple of the small packs, then stuffed them in her pants pockets. Then, she ran back to the pea and shell booth.

There, she opened one candy pack, picked up each shell, and deposited a candy under each of them.

The group of prize stuffed animals at that booth also lost their badly sewn grins and nooses. When she touched them, they also disappeared. But the shells stayed put.

Ameh went on to un-rig the other games, and in doing so, restored all the stolen stuffed animals to their proper appearance and sent them back  through a portal to be returned to their rightful owners.

Any posters, billboards and signs she came across, would've been advertisements and information on where and what the various carnival attractions were. But at this one, they mostly consisted of threatening messages that were barely hinted or written out directly, and accompanying these threats were various nursery rhymes or innocent kiddy song verses.

Ameh scowled at the sight of these, but immediately got to work on them as well. Because there were so many throughout the amusement park, it took her quite some time to get her handiwork done on them all. This was because she had to double back and take care of all the ones she had missed on her way in through the entrance, various empty tents, the food stands, the midway, and game booths. When she was through, every poster, billboard and sign had a very different message from those Laughing Jack had intended.

Eventually, that done, Ameh was caught up and advancing through the park again.

Suddenly, she heard the faint strains of "Pop Goes The Weasel" up ahead. She had been expecting it, and reacted with a contemptuous scowl. "Here I come, you rotten - "

Just then, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. A shadow that hadn't been there a moment ago was now almost caught up with her.

Ameh turned abruptly to see a woman walking along and staring straight ahead. "Just a second, Ma'am," she approached the woman and took hold of her arm.

This seemed to shake the woman out of her trance, and she startled, lurching backward.

"Go back where you came from, Ma'am," Ameh warned, "You don't want to have a nightmare of a bunch of misshapen kids tearing you to pieces."

"What? Is that what this is?"

"Yes. Just turn around."

The woman slowly did so, apparently struggling between heeding the urgency in Ameh's voice and the inexplicably seductive squeezebox rendition of "Pop Goes The Weasel."

"Wake up, you're sleeping in!" Ameh said as she touched her shoulder one last time, causing her to vanish before she had any time to give into the trance again.

Somewhere, safe and sound in her own bed, the woman started awake, wondering what on earth made her dream something so bizarre.

Back at the carnival, Ameh, knowing she had just spared a potential victim from the start of Jack's horrible plan, smiled broadly and continued on her way.

She headed toward the music, stopping to change a sign from "Too late to turn back… All around the mulberry bush the monkey chased the weasel" to "Your jig is up, Lying Jack, and it's 'COBBLER'S BENCH' not 'mulberry bush, you idiot!" aloud, she smirked, "But if you're going to change the words, let me help out."

And then she made up new lyrics on the spot as she went on to seek out Jack's horde of badly burned and mutilated looking children at his big top.

"All around the amusement park

The fairy trumps the clown.

The fairy knows it's all for the best,

Down with the clown!

Toys to their owners

Touch-ups to some posters,

That's the way to play the game,

Down with the clown!"

"Not bad. Not bad at all."

Ameh recognized the voice, turning to face Beth with a smile.

"Thank you very much." she said with a grin and took a bow. "So...Have a nice walk with Slendy?"

Beth chuckled, looking over Ameh's adjustments to Jack's signs as they walked. "Absolutely delightful. But he's all tuckered out, so I figured I would stop by on my way to pick up his friends." Her expression darkened, eyes glinting dangerously. "And I've got a few words for our pal Jackie."

Ameh nodded, fully understanding the venom Beth felt toward Jack. They continued toward the source of the music. Once they arrived at the big top, they waited for the music to slow, then stop, and then the light to come on.

"Watch how powerless this clarion call really is." Ameh smirked, then turned and walked away with a sneer. "See? That squeezebox thing was getting old too." she taunted.

Beth chuckled, nodding in agreement.

They didn't go very far. They ducked into a tent and peered out to see if anything would happen.

Sure enough, out from somewhere in the circus tent shuffled Laughing Jack's band of disfigured bloody children. And they found no one to attack.

Ameh winced at the sight of them, but didn't turn away.

Beth scowled, hands clenching into fists.

"That monster..." She hissed. "He's going to pay...!"

Ameh nodded emphatically, trying to keep her own fury subdued until their target showed himself.

They watched the children floundering around aimlessly, scattering, and regrouping into scared huddles. Some children who were missing eyes, held on to those who had one or both eyes but were otherwise cut up and disfigured. Because of the disfigurements, at least some of their expressions were difficult to read, but of those who had their faces more or less in tact, they looked fearful and savage all at the same time.

Presently, along came another figure, this one much taller than the children and the women.

He had plastic looking chalk-white skin that would've made his white eyes look as if they weren't even there, but for the Jeff The Killer style mad black rings around them, and shining quality which made them appear piercing next to the rest of his white skin. He had a swirly cone nose, a mop of matted black hair down to his shoulders, and normally would've sported a twisted smile.

Instead, his mouth was open in a snarl, showing his jagged sharp teeth. His arms and legs were too long for the rest of him, making him look like some sort of spaghetti ape.

His patchy clown outfit, once colourful, had turned to black and white with black and white striped sleeves and socks.

He was none other than Laughing Jack.

He tilted his head. "What is this?"

The children shuddered in fear.

Ameh scowled at the clown from her hidden vantage point.

Beth knelt to pick up a small stone, working it with small energy blasts to sharpen it to a ferocious edge.

"Why isn't she here?" Laughing Jack rasped. "You let her get away!"

"No one came." one child piped up, either out of bravery or else she was just so frightened that it came tumbling out.

"I'll deal with you kiddies later. I'm going to get to the bottom of this, if you can't get her, I'll do it myself!" Jack raged.

As he started forward, he was thrown violently back by an unseen force. He landed smack on his butt, then sprawled on his back with the wind knocked out of him for a moment or two.

"Try that again, Jack, and you'll be out a lot longer." Ameh hissed furiously.

In a little while, Jack recovered and got to his feet, gangly limbs making him look hilariously awkward. No sooner had he regained his footing than a stone, white-hot and keen-edged, burst from the darkness and lanced through his shoulder. He snarled is surprise and pain, glancing at the bloodless wound before peering into the darkness in a poor attempt to find his assailant. Finding nothing, he stalked off, presumably to inspect the rest of the fairgrounds to see what else was amiss. He would find plenty.

"Good shot." Ameh grinned.

"Thank you." Beth responded, then looked back toward where Jack had retreated out of sight. "H'm! Thought so. Even in his current form, he's nothing more than a walking doll." She nodded in satisfaction. "Perfect."

Ameh snickered, then glanced at her questioningly.

"Hanima and I have something special planned for Jack. And given his--composition--I think it'll work perfectly."

Ameh nodded, grin turning malevolent. "Oh, man, he doesn't stand a chance against you and that elf when she gets ticked off. she's wanted to tear him apart since learning of him. I've got to do something about these kids and James if he's with them, before that deranged clown gets back." she informed Beth in a low tone. Then, she turned her attention to the crowd of children.

Ameh was searching for one child in particular, but she didn't see him until a small group of severe burn victims moved away from the others, and that group was carrying another child who had a nail-pierced hand sticking up as if begging for some kind of help.

Ameh and Beth exchanged glances, confirming their suspicions. Then Ameh stepped out from the tent and approached. "You there, burn victims, carrying your friend, come here." She commanded.

They looked at her, puzzled.

"It's alright," Beth began reassuringly. "We're here to help."

Ameh sent her a grateful glance, then nodded, at the children with a reassuring smile that took some effort to produce.

One of them spoke up. "Are you our new master?"

Beth spluttered, frowning. "Certainly not!"

Ameh grimaced. "Fairy godmother, actually," she replied, "and, um, I'm not even comfortable with that title. Hold it, kids, step back a bit, I'll get to all of you in a moment." All the other mangled kids had started gathering around curiously, pressing in on Ameh and the group she was addressing. Somehow they were drawn to her.

"The one you are carrying, is his name James?" ameh asked.

In response, James waved his pierced hand that was still sticking up.

"Hand him over." Ameh directed, then checked herself. "Please." she added. She wanted them to follow directions and have all of this done as quickly and efficiently as possible, but urgent as this was, it wouldn't do to come off too forceful and frighten them any more than they already were.

All the other children moved off so that James' group could present him to Ameh, and they all watched as if they were in a trance.

"He can't talk," said one other boy with burned stubs for fingers and an ear missing.

Ameh knelt down to receive James in her arms, and her face grew pale with horror when she got a good look at him. Her mouth opened in a shuddering gasp. She had remembered reading about, and was expecting to see his pierced hands and feet, but it had been a while since she'd read the story, so she had forgotten the details of his other wounds.

James had his mouth open and was missing most of his teeth, tongue and eyes. His chest was cut wide open and a great deal of his insides had been drawn out.

"Oh, you poor thing." Ameh said, cradling him tenderly and stroking his full head of hair reassuringly with a free hand.

Beth watched in silence, a few paces back from Ameh and the crowd. Though she wished desperately to help, her own powers, manufactured as they were for this mission, were better suited to destroy than heal. Rather, she kept an eye out for Jack, ready and willing to vaporize him should he try anything.

The other children stood staring, seemingly frozen to their spot with bewilderment and amazement. 

"Try to rest, James, I'm sending you home where they'll take good care of you. Shhhh." Although James made very little sound if any, Ameh was simply reacting almost involuntarily as she tried to reassure him. The other children watched her rock James gently back and forth, some of their expressions changing from mere astonishment to wistfulness and longing. These children had forgotten what it was like to be cared about, and now it was all starting to come back.

Ameh held and rocked James for a while until he had relaxed completely. Then he disappeared from the carnival.

Ameh took a shuddering breath and spoke again. "I don't know how much of his injuries were inflicted using magic, but those that were, are now gone. Anything else, they will treat at the hospital. Now for the rest of you."

Some of the children crowded in on Ameh, but instead of trying to tear her apart, they began pleading and crying to go home.

Ameh struggled to fight tears of her own, and told those who wanted to go home to take their turn shaking her hand.

Some of them still didn't listen, a few of these just threw themselves on her to give her a hug. In turn, Ameh held and rocked them until she had them completely relaxed, and then she sent them on their way. She didn't know where they all came from, but simply undoing Jack's transport magic would put them back in their rightful homes, completely or partially healed of their injuries all depending on which had been magically induced in the first place.

Once Ameh had sent all who missed their families home, she straightened up and turned to the others with a sterner expression. "Now, what about you?"

They stared blankly at her.

Ameh figured these kids who were left, were the ones who might have taken on Jack's personality and had ultimately become his victims and slaves, though not before they had committed some sort of violence before he took them from their homes. Now, these children had become his willing accomplices. She didn't feel quite so charitable toward them.

Beth tapped Ameh on the shoulder.

Ameh turned to her.

"I'll meet up with you later. I have some unfinished business with Jackie boy."

Ameh grinned and nodded. "Go for it. And thanks for the help."

"You're welcome." Beth replied. "Later."

Ameh nodded, turning back to face the remaining children and Beth took off and flew deeper into the carnival grounds.

"Okay," she said with a slightly annoyed sigh, "I am Miss Chase, and I know where you can get candy. Do you want candy?"

This got a reaction of suddenly excited kids grouping around her, chorusing "Yeah!"

Ameh rolled her eyes and took out the two packs of candy and said "Here. Pass them around and share. Each person take one candy. No fighting! And I'll show you where there is more. But you'll have to play some games to earn it." She grinned impishly.

"Oh boy, games!" one child exulted.

The children passed around the packs and were soon noisily chowing down their candy.

Ameh winced at their lack of table manners.

In the mean time, the music had started up again, but this time it was The Gipsy Kings' "Bamboleo" projected from Ameh's iPhone.

"Oh, a new song!" one kid shouted excitedly.

The children danced and milled about as happily as they could be in their condition, and when the song ended, Ameh announced it was time to go play some games.

She lead them out of the big top area

In the meantime, Laughing Jack kept running into trouble and annoyance on his quest to find out the cause of his scheme going so wrong.

The first thing he spotted was a sign that read: "Those who don't know Jack are better off."

He started toward it when "Whoa agh!" He tripped over a large lump in the pavement that clearly wasn't there before he took a step.

He heard someone else's laughter, but couldn't see anyone around.

Jack picked himself up and kicked at the sign in frustration.

More laughter.

He glared and stamped his foot when coming across the sign where Ameh had corrected him on the song lyrics. "I'll get you for this, brat!"

Further along, Jack entered one of his funhouses, looking  for his victim there.

He found no one. "How do I get out of here?" he scurried about, this way and that, lost in his own funhouse! Laughter issued from the strange faces in the mirrors, various shadow characters cut quickly in front of him, causing him to stop dead in his tracks several times during his wanderings. He only found his way out by tripping out the door, "Aaaack!" and then got brained when a large bag of his notorious hard candies fell on him from above. "What in the world is that doing all the way over here!?"

He past more empty tents and booths where windows had been smashed in, items strewn about and broken. There were more signs along the way that said things like "Jack you're rotten, Jack you're sick, Jack, your time is running out quick." "Laughing Jack, watch your back." and "Jack the clown, you're going down."

This was starting to unnerve him. None of this had been there earlier. Neither could it have been any of his child slaves, he kept a very tight rein on them and they were all accounted for when his latest victim hadn't shown up. None of them were smart enough to compose these notes anyway, and their tone showed the person to be anything but a potential victim. This was someone who already knew about him and definitely disliked him. And it was someone he hadn't even met.

Meanwhile, Ameh and the children had made their way back to where most of the games were.

They looked at the booths in dismay. "Where are all the prizes?" one child asked.

"Back where they belong. You still get to win something, it's just not hanging up on display." Ameh explained.

"What do we win?" they started asking excitedly.

Ameh huffed impatiently to herself and said, "The only way to find out is to play some games."

So the children set about doing just that.

A few more of them had won a trip back home by the time Jack happened on the scene.

Supremely ticked off, Jack started playing the games too, particularly those in which he had just seen some of his slaves vanish from; his hope was to play the game and win them back.

Instead, the balls he tossed, ricocheted off booth walls, returning to hit him on the nose. At a dart game, the target collapsed completely, losing his dart the exact position he was aiming for.

"I'm done with these games!" Jack snarled, searching the swirling darkness for any sign of his assailants. 

"But Jackie," The hiss in his ear sent shivers up his spine, freezing him in place. "I thought you liked games."

Jack stood frozen, the absolute hatred in that voice utterly unmistakable.

“What do you want?” He managed, trying his best to mask his fear with irritation.

“Oh, nothing you’re willing to give. But do take a seat,” A sudden energy blast floored him, knocking the wind out of him. “I’m sure we can arrange something.”

A young woman appeared above him, hovering, arms and legs folded. She peered down at him in utter disgust, hatred painting her face.

“You—you’ll regret this!” Jack snarled, struggling to stand.

“Oh don’t get up. Wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”

Another blast pinned him against the wall, crumpling him in on himself.

“In fact, why don’t you just sit tight? I’ve got a lot to say, after all.”

She flicked a small black sphere at him, where it burst on contact and ensnared him much as Slender Man had been.

He struggled against the web of thick black cords, eventually giving up when he saw the futility of his actions. He still held out hope that he could frighten or at least disconcert his assailant, though if he had known the futility of that endeavor, he might have given up entirely.    

“Do you really think this pathetic trap can hold me?” He sneered, glaring at her. “I’m Laughing Jack—and by the time I’m through with you, you’ll be weeping.”

The woman raised an eyebrow at him, clearly unimpressed. “That’s the best you can do? I suppose I shouldn’t expect much, coming from some carnival-reject, grey-scale sicko.”

Laughing Jack snarled in frustration, attempting to make the sound as frightening as he could. He was about to tear into a line of what he considered vicious insults when a voice, squeaky and lilting, cut through the air.

“Here I come to save the day!”

A tiny creature, easily small enough to hold in one hand, appeared in a burst of fall leaves and candy corn. The creature had black and orange fur, and wore a lopsided witch’s hat. It floated in the air, bobbing up and down a few feet in front of Laughing Jack.

“Jack!” The woman exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t think you’d get here so early!”

“I’ve been here the whole time, you idiot!” Laughing Jack snapped.

“Not you,, stupid,” The woman frowned, rolling her eyes. “Pumpkin Jack! C’mere, you little rascal!”

Pumpkin Jack trilled happily and floated over to the woman, who scratched behind his ears.

“Hanima and the others were talking about some crazy clown guy, and I knew you’d need my help!” He chirped, looking askance at Laughing Jack. “And when I learned our names were so close, I just couldn’t stay back.”

Laughing Jack scoffed, finally realizing the small creature was a Furby.

“So some washed-up furball and a hag are ticked off at me. Ooh, I’m so scared.”

Pumpkin Jack growled, flying mere inches from his face. “You should be, Jack-in-the-Box! Beth’s gonna tear out your stuffing! And so will I! I’m going to start—here!”

With that, he flew up and landed squarely on top of Laughing Jack’s head, grabbing onto his hair with his feet to secure himself.

“Ack! Get off! Get—off!” Laughing Jack shook his head furiously, trying to shake off the Furby.

“Wee! Faster, faster! This ride is fun!” Pumpkin Jack trilled happily, Laughing Jack’s efforts to dislodge him only making the Furby hold on tighter.

“How about some stuffing—here!” Pumpkin Jack pulled his head back and slammed his beak into Laughing Jack’s scalp, pecking steadily at a patch of hair until he had managed to open up a decent sized gap.

“You little—! Get off or I’ll kill you!” Laughing Jack thrashed around violently, only succeeding in further tangling himself in the net.

Beth scoffed. “And you wouldn’t try anything if he did let go?”

“I’ll kill both of you when I get out of this!” Laughing Jack hissed.

Beth sighed. “Wow. You never learn, do you? Pumpkin Jack?”

“H’m?” Pumpkin Jack looked up at her, a sizable chunk of stuffing in his beak.

“Take the wind out of his sails.”

“Aye aye, cap’n!”

Pumpkin Jack spat out his mouthful of stuffing, releasing Jack’s hair and moving on to his arms. He continued moving, darting from place to place, yanking out chunks of stuffing whenever he landed. When he was satisfied with his work, he hovered over to Beth, landing on her shoulder. Jack’s carefully constructed appearance was in tatters. Bits of stuffing stuck out all over his body, catching in places on his shredded costume. Pumpkin Jack had even nipped his nose, putting a bit of color on that bizarre, black and white cone.

“Not so scary now, are you?” Pumpkin Jack trilled. “Just a broken toy!”

Laughing Jack took to thrashing once again, hurling out whatever cheap insults he could think up.

"So how does it feel being on the other end of it, clownie?" Pumpkin Jack taunted.

“I’d hold still if I were you. Wouldn’t want to tear a seam.” Beth commented. She held out her hand, roughly tightening it into a fist. The net tightened in response, all but eliminating Jack’s range of movement.

“Now that you’re comfortable, I think it’s time we had a nice little chat.” She continued, eyes narrowing. “As much as I just love spending time with you, I’m going to have to eliminate you.”

“What makes you think you can?” Jack snarled. “You’re nothing! Your stupid little pet, your little tricks—nothing! You’ve always been nothing! You’ve always—!”

“Shut it!” Beth snarled, flinging an energy blast directly at Jack’s face.

Pumpkin Jack purred in approval, sticking his tongue out at the tattered clown.

“I’ve had enough of your talk.” Beth added flatly.

A shimmering needle appeared in front of Jack’s mouth, a long length of glowing white string flowing out behind it.

“You wouldn’t dare—!”

Jack was brutally cut off by the needle stitching his mouth tightly closed. Its task complete, the needle vanished, leaving Jack to fume in silence.

"Ahahahaha, the Sally Stitch treatment!" Pumpkin Jack chortled.

“It’s my turn to talk. You say I’m nothing…I’d rather be nothing than be anything like you.” The hate in her voice was building, a dangerous edge that even Jack realized would only lead to pain. “You are a sick, twisted monster!” She hissed. “You butcher children for fun—you reach into their heads and you twist everything around until you have what you want—and then you chop them up! You are vile, disgusting, utterly contemptible! You’re a disease, a sore—you’re a parasite.” She paused, briefly ceasing her assault as her fury cooled into something far more dangerous. “And I’m going to exterminate you.”

“You and what army?” Jack mumbled, only just managing to get anything intelligible out. “One little girl and her Furby can’t defeat me.”

“Then it’s a good thing we’re not alone.” She said quietly, the dangerous confidence in her voice setting Jack on edge. “I think it’s time we put Jack back in his box.”

Were Jack capable of going any paler, he would have. He looked around frantically, hoping against all hope she didn’t actually have his one true weakness. When she removed a small wooden box from her pack, Jack unleashed a string of muffled curses, mercifully rendered unintelligible by the stitches holding his lips together.

Beth smiled, sliding the lid off the box. There was a flash of blinding light and a brief, strangled scream. When the light faded, the net hung empty.

“Did ya get ‘im?” Pumpkin Jack chirped, floating over to the net.

Beth nodded, placing the now full box back into her pack.

“We’ll deliver him to the others once we’ve cleaned up a bit.”

She took to the sky, heading steadily upward. Pumpkin Jack followed after her.

“Cleaned up?”

Beth nodded, halting her ascent when she was high enough to see the entire carnival.

“I have a little trick I’ve been saving…for a special occasion.”

She lifted her hands in the air, a small fireball appearing between them. The fireball steadily grew until it reached massive proportions, a huge, boiling orb of liquid flame.

“But what about Ameh—and the kids?” Pumpkin Jack questioned, glancing down at the carnival grounds.

Beth smiled. “Got it covered—there’s a reason I’ve been saving this one. It’s a purifying fire—burns away all the bad, but leaves the good. Covers a large distance, but isn’t super powerful. Wouldn’t have been able to burn away Laughing Jack or Slendy, for instance, but it can burn away their stuff. Heck, it might even help Ameh with any of the more problematic kids.”

“Oh! Nifty!” Pumpkin Jack chirped. “Give it a go!”

Beth hurled the fireball toward the carnival. It burst upon hitting the ground, spreading rapidly in waves of crackling gold and orange.

"Hey, this stinks, I haven't won anything." complained one of the more nasty kids who had tried most of the games without any success.

"and you won't with that sour attitude." Ameh replied with a frown.

"I want more candy." demanded another kid.

"Excuse me, is that any way to talk?" ameh raised her eyebrows.

"Please." said the kid.

"I think you've all had enough of that stuff." said Ameh.

"That's not fair! She got more than I did!" whined another.

"I said enough!" Ameh's suddenly forceful shout startled the few remaining children into silence. "You need to go home more than you need candy."

"I don't have a home." one girl sulked.

Ameh sighed. "Well then, we'll have to find you one. You can't stay here."

"Let's go on some rides!" a child exulted.

"Can't. They're out of order, and I know nothing about fixing them." said Ameh.

"But the more dangerous, the more fun." the kid explained.

Ameh winced. "Not."

"Sure, it's fun to see how many people get injured and killed on these things." said another kid.

"Okay, I've had it with you little creeps." Ameh said with a grimace.

"So what are you gonna do, send us to bed without any candy?" another kid jeered.

Ameh frowned, perplexed. Surely these last few kids were too far gone to impose on anyone else, but Ameh didn't want to be their guardian either.

Heaving a sigh, she said "Follow me, we'll find a tent to settle in and rest for a bit. then I'll see about getting us something proper to eat."

She had planned to leave the carnival after seeing these last few children drift off to sleep. They only wanted candy, but she wanted something considerably more substantial, and there was no food at this carnival other than the candies. She was also at her wit's end trying to figure out what to do with these decidedly nasty kids.

They walked along, with a great deal of grumbling and whining from the kids until Ameh decided on a large tent that would do for a resting place.

They scrambled into the tent, and Ameh sprawled out on a mat near a wall.

It was then that one of the kids, a little girl, got the idea to bug Ameh by lying right next to her and pestering her with tickling, bumping etc.

ameh groaned in displeasure. "Lay off."

The little girl giggled and tried to stick a finger in Ameh's nose.

"Gah!" It was then that something dawned on Ameh. As she grabbed to get the girl's hand out of her face, she realized that it felt different from any other hand she'd touched before.

The little girl's hand was like rubber or a soft plastic. Even its motion seemed more robotic from this close.

"Okay, let's just hold hands for a while." ameh said sarcastically.

The girl giggled. "I'll tickle you."

"You're supposed to be resting. Here, I'll help you." Ameh embraced the little girl and lay quietly while the girl continued trying to pester her.

"well, I'll be darned." Ameh's eyes went wide.

"What?" the girl asked.

ameh had to make a quick save so the girl didn't know ameh was onto anything. "This is actually more fun than just going to sleep."

"I know that." the little girl scoffed. "I could've told you that, Miss Chase."

"Okay," Ameh said, squeezing the girl's hand, "let's play another game." said Ameh.

"In here?" asked another child.

"Sure. It's called hospital. You are all patients, and I'm the nurse. now, pretend to be sick everyone,"

She was cut off by loud coughing.

"That's the ticket, kids, keep it up, and I'll come around and check your temperature, give you needles and all that stuff."

"Not real needles!" one kid panicked.

"Nah, just pretend." said Ameh.

They all agreed enthusiastically, and let Ameh do her rounds.

As she checked every child, those checkups revealed what she had discovered from the little girl who had pestered her on the mat.

They all had rubbery plastic skin. Beneath this skin was not flesh, but various amounts of foam or crushed fabric. Parts of them felt hollow when lightly squeezed, the hands and arms for example, but for some mechanism inside that worked them. These children gave off no body heat, and none had pulses.

They were not real. None were alive. They were all life-sized animated dolls!

Of course!

Ameh suddenly recalled reading about Jack animating and moving toys about.

This made perfect sense!

Sure, the children Ameh had helped and sent home were the real deal. But these that remained were so far removed from normal children in their behaviour and actions.

So that was it.

Ameh felt a swell of relief come over her. Now if only she could figure out a way to smoothly put them out of commission.

"Okay you sickies, you all have high fevers and need to get your sleep."

"Hey what's that!"? one of them exclaimed as something like a huge firework went off.

Ameh startled. "I don't know.

"Let's go find out!" and before Ameh could stop them, the dolls got up and stampeded out of the tent.

"Wow! That's the biggest ball of cotton candy ever! Last one there is a rotten egg!" one doll exclaimed, and they all ran toward what turned out to be Beth's purifying fire.

"That isn't cotton candy, you brats, that's a - " But Ameh might as well have saved her breath. They weren't listening and had left her behind.

Ameh's iPod dinged with a message that reassured her not to be alarmed and why.

She stood and watched the spectacle as everything that was of Jack's making was destroyed right around her, including those evil animated dolls.

Inside his box, Laughing Jack quaked in terror. He was sure he would be thrown down into the fire, so every second he wasn't just made his dread of it happening, grow stronger. It didn't help that Beth remained silent during it all. When at last the flames burned out, nothing but ash remained.

"Oh, wow, that was incredible! all we need now are the end credits. 'Carnival Inferno, starring Ameh Chase as - whoever I'm supposed to be." She grinned.

Standing on the barren land, with not even a shred of evidence that Laughing Jack's twisted carnival was ever there, Ameh checked her iPhone.

First, she wrote a note congratulating Beth on the beautiful fire work display, and laughed about how those stupid doll kids of Laughing Jacks thought it was a big ball of cotton candy.

And then, something happened that made her forget all about the messages for a while.

To Ameh's astonishment, the charred landscape gradually changed, becoming more and more colourful. First, the ground changed to a richer, brighter colour, the way a normal carnival ground should be.

Then, various translucent coloured shadows glistened all around like so many stained glass windows.

Ameh stood, awestruck. Whatever was happening now was wonderful. It was not making her afraid or angry. whatever it was, by the look of it, it had to be something good.

She watched as the see-through apparitions continued to increase. Some of them, the largest ones, stood still, the much smaller were milling about.

"Oh, wow, I could go on watching this a long time." Ameh breathed to herself. She was just about to take her smart device and message her friends about it when something else began to happen.

The strange shadows started becoming more and more defined as they took their solid, physical forms.

With that change came wonderful familiar smells and sounds too.

It was a true carnival coming back to its rightful place, rising from the ashes of the destruction of Jack's evil, perverse one.

The shadows that were thronging about were people and sometimes animals. The stationary ones were buildings, benches, food stands, little shops, midway rides, game booths, and there was laughter, chatter, music, food, everything a carnival would have.

"Oh, man, I gotta get some grub or I'll pass out." Ameh said to herself with a laugh. She began moving among the crowd until she came to an ice cream stand.

How refreshing and delicious that ice cream was, then Ameh went on a few rides, and suddenly she remembered she was supposed to be helping with Operation Noodleheads. Inwardly rebuking herself for possibly losing the others precious time, for they might be trying to reach her, she took out her phone again and checked her messages.


From: NT

Hanima, how about I bring Salt to where you are? And Ameh, how would you like to really psych him out and be Lisa Moore? From her description, you would come pretty close to fitting the bill.


From: Ameh Chase

Lisa Moore?


From: NT

Ah, there you are at last! Yeah, read this, and see what you think. The detestable piece of filth deserves a psych-out and a lot more if you ask me. Grrrrr!" NT wrote back with a copy of the story.


From: Ameh Chase

Count me in! Grrrr! He's going to get it, the disgusting - well nevermind! *Biting tongue* !@#$#@%#@#$@#%$@#$%#@$! He and Jack are SO FREAKIN' ENDED!!


From: NT

Great. I'll stay at Slender's wood, Ameh, you report to No Way House. I just had an idea. You can pick Salt up at his - er - was once his poor excuse of a home and take him to No Way. I'm just sorry I'll not be there to see the fireworks. Or maybe not. Boy will he be in for it.


From: Ameh Chase



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