Once every century The Circus Diabolique rises from the shadows... As dusk settles over the carnival, the once-festive midway, now begins to exude an eerie sense of menace. Pale light emanates from somewhere in the distance, where the murmur of voices echo amidst haunting music and other, more unsettling sounds. Dark rumors of missing children and drifters have followed the carnival from town to town, and though you are well aware of the dangers of trespassing here, you cannot resist the temptation to explore the circus grounds after dark.
Heavy chains are padlocked around large cages and thick velvet curtains are secured with ropes to prevent onlookers from seeing the abominations that dwell within. Low feral growling sounds can be heard coming from the unknown monstrosities held captive inside. As you pass by, the cage bars rattle violently and an arm reaches out. Ape-like but without hair, the huge white arm is covered with scars and crude stitches. Long claw-like nails extend from the beast's fingertips and clutch at the air only inches from your throat. You narrowly escape the creature's grasp and hastily make your way further along the midway.
A strange curio cabinet of glass and wood holds the torso of a life-sized marionette, fashioned in the likeness of a gypsy soothsayer. It is an antique arcade game, a fortune telling machine. Gold letters painted across the top of the cabinet spell out the name "Madame Endora." The glint of shiny metal catches your eye and you discover a strange coin half-buried in the dusty earth beside the cabinet. You pick it up to discover a carnival token, the exact price for a fortune from the gypsy automaton. You drop the token in the coin slot and strange music begins to play. Green lights illuminate the interior of the cabinet in an eerie glow, and the gypsy witch comes to life. She passes her hand over a Tarot card spread that lies before her, then utters a dark fortune to you.
"Step closer, allow me to show you the path of your destiny. Your future is in the cards. The hand of fate has cast a shadow over your life. Your horizons are bleak, and darkness fills the path before you. A storm is coming... Beware."
With that, Madame Endora passes her hand over the cards once more, and then waves her other hand over an ornate box beside the cards. The box opens, revealing a miniature coffin inside. Endora removes the coffin and places it before a small tombstone on the other side of the cards. She makes one final gesture and a hidden panel slides open beneath the coffin, causing it to drop into a depository on the front of the cabinet. With that, the automaton closes her eyes and the cabinet goes dark once again. You pick up the coffin and open it to discover a small, golden antique key inside.
Menagerie of Living Dolls
You seek shelter in an ornate trailer wagon behind Madame Endora. The door to the trailer is locked, so you try using the golden key that you received from the fortune teller. You turn the key in the lock and the door creaks open. As soon as you step inside the darkened trailer, a strange chill comes over you and you suddenly get the sensation that you are not alone in the small room. You hear faint whispers surrounding you. You light a candle, and as your eyes slowly grow accustomed to the dim light, you begin to notice dozens of strange porcelain dolls lining the shelves of the trailer. Their eyes follow you as you move. No two are the same. Crackled porcelain faces painted with harlequin designs peer out from amidst more innocent-looking dolls with somber gazes. An antique desk holds a large book that contains occult symbols and strange diagrams on its ancient yellowed pages. Again, the whispers begin. You reach to pick up one of the dolls- a sad-looking little girl in a scarlet dress- but before you touch her, a tear forms in her eye and her lips curl up in a smile, exposing a row of pointed teeth. You quickly draw your hand back, now noticing that sinister grins are forming on the faces of the other dolls as well. The whispers begin to form faint words... "Stay with us..." Ignoring their bone-chilling pleas, you slowly back away.
The Spellbound Puppet Show
The sound of an old-time phonograph draws you to a darkened tent. Inside you discover a small stage. The curtains draw open to reveal a marionette adorned in the guise of a sinister clown. The clown's arms and legs are attached to puppet strings by barbed fishhooks. The maniacal marionette holds a piece of tattered parchment that displays the lyrics to the song that is playing on the phonograph.
The witching hour's drawing near,
And my tragic fate is clear—
I'll take your secret to my grave,
For evermore, I'll be your slave—
Because I'm spellbound—
The record spins down and stops halfway through the song and as it does, the clown slumps into a lifeless pose. You step forward to examine the miniature stage and discover several similar clown puppets behind the curtains, each bound with fishhooks and chains. A chill creeps down your spine as you realize that no puppeteer is to be found anywhere inside the tent. with an uneasy shudder, you quickly leave the puppet show.
The Haunted Carousel
As you draw near the magnificent carousel of fabled beasts, the calliope music begins and the carousel starts to turn. Antique horses whisk past alongside dragons, griffins and other mythical creatures that have been carved and painted with unearthly detail. A dark, swirling mist forms above a black stallion with eyes of blazing hellfire. As it passes before you, a sinister rider materializes in the beast's jeweled saddle. A darkly regal woman draped in flowing black tresses commands the demonic stallion. The shadowy wraith turns her head to cast a wicked smile in your direction. Another beautiful female phantom appears atop a pale horse that seems to be no more than a cadaverous skeleton. The carousel spins wildly and other ghostly spirits appear and vanish as the horses rise and fall.
The Sultan's Serpents
Strange sounds draw you to a dark tent adorned with Arabian symbols intertwined with snakes. Exotic piping music accompanied by rhythmic drumming casts a hypnotic spell and beckons you to venture within. A man wearing a jeweled robe and turban sits on a silken rug in the middle of the room and plays a dark melody on an intricately carved pipe. Three large woven baskets sit on the ground before him.
The music is mesmerizing and holds you in a trance. You are unable to move as you watch two serpents, black as night, slowly rise from the end baskets. The enormous snakes begin swaying rhythmically to the strange melody, then emerge from their resting places and slither across the ground to encircle the piper. They wrap their serpentine bodies around the man, who takes no notice of them and continues to play his strange melody.
The snakes hiss loudly and their forked tongues lap at the air. Their tails rattle in perfect rhythm with the music and are soon joined by a louder sound as the tail of a third snake emerges from the central basket, rattling in unison with the others. This tail is much larger and, in contrast to the solid black serpents entwined around the piper, the third snake's scales are mixture of ivory white and glistening gold. Now another form begins to emerge from the central basket. A beautiful woman sways seductively as she slowly rises. She raises her arms in a flowing motion and begins to play finger cymbals to the rhythm. As she rises higher you see that her torso changes. Her amber flesh gradually fades into scales of gold and white, and further along her body, her voluptuous form becomes smooth and elongated. The snake queen beckons you to come to her, and you are barely able to resist.
The Nightmare Parade
The sound of drums breaks the calm and warns you that a parade is approaching. You conceal yourself in the shadows as the music draws near. Nightmarish shapes emerge from the mist. A troupe of life-sized marionettes, painted in the likeness of maniacal harlequins, lurch and stagger along as they play a sinister refrain on trumpets and drums. Four black horses pull a wagon that holds a covered cage, and frightening sounds emanate from the captive monstrosities within. The Ringmaster follows the wagon and cracks his bullwhip to quiet the savage beasts. A pair of hulking clowns clumsily juggle a human skull and two large bones between them as a devilish looking man donning a tophat and scarlet cape waves several flaming daggers high for all to see. Finally, a snake charmer wearing a jeweled turban plays his hypnotic melody on his pipe, followed by two black vipers and a larger white serpent. The parade enters the large circus tent at the farthest end of the carnival.
Distant rumbles of thunder mark the approach of a coming storm. You enter the main event and take a seat among strange people who are dressed in old-time clothes. The audience sits silently in anticipation of the show that is about to begin. The lights dim, the band begins playing, and the Ringmaster enters the spotlight.
"Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to direct your attention to center stage where you will bear witness to terrifying sights that will haunt you till the day you die. Behold the Circus Diabolique, and let the nightmare begin..."
The Devil's Daggers
The main attraction is a death-defying act called Diablo & The Devil's Daggers. The master showman steps into the spotlight, followed by his beautiful assistant. The scantily-clad girl steps to the center of the stage where she is strapped to a large wheel, bound by her wrists and ankles. Diablo points a gloved finger at his tethered assistant and the wheel begins spinning. Diablo throws back his crimson cloak to reveal 13 razor-sharp knives lining his jacket. He raises the first dagger high and it bursts into flames. The crowd cheers wildly and Diablo hurls the dagger at the captive beauty. The blade finds its mark right beside the girl's throat. He produces another knife, then another, and launches his deadly daggers with masterful precision. End over end, the fiery blades soar toward the wheel, hitting their marks dead center. As more and more flaming daggers hit the target, the wheel spins faster and the assistant becomes engulfed in a mass of swirling fire. When the last of the devil's daggers has been thrown, the wheel grinds to a halt and the flames die down to reveal a charred skeleton strapped to the target that, only a few moments ago, held the lovely assistant. The crowd roars and Diablo raises his arms, then is himself consumed in fire. The walking inferno steps to center stage where the flames die down to reveal a skeleton, still wearing Diablo's costume. The skeletal figure removes his top hat and takes a bow, then crumbles to dust in one final blaze.
A storm is brewing outside. The tent shakes violently, lightning strikes the main tent mast and sends a bright green jolt of arcing electricity down to the ground. The crowd shrieks with terror as one by one, the audience members turn to spectral forms then fade from sight. The ringmaster battles against the wind and makes his way to center stage then holds his cane high in defiance of the raging storm that surrounds him. The top of the circus tent is torn away exposing the occupants to the savage elements. With a deafening crackle, a tremendous bolt of lightning strikes the ringmaster's cane causing a blinding light. You watch in horror as the rain melts away everything around you. The circus and its sinister denizens deteriorate before your eyes and melt into the earth. When the storm passes, no trace of the carnival is left, leaving you to wonder if it ever really existed, or simply a strange and terrifying nightmare.