“Since I’ve been in Carnival Town, I’ve noticed nobody goes near the Egyptian Exhibit.”
“What do you expect to find there?” Jeremy asked.
“Possibly a portal that will take us to Old Hollywood. Was The Pharaoh the only movie theater playing The Black and White Horror Show?”
“No, there was another in an abandoned mine shaft, but The Black and White Horror Show is one of a kind.”
“We must steal it and burn the film so it’s magic cannot influence another audience.”
“And what about the people stuck in Carnival Town? Shouldn’t we make an effort to rescue them?”
“If we figure-out how to destroy the magic that keeps Carnival Town in business, we’ll know how to rescue the lost souls who’ve been trapped here. I suggest we find your friend, the theater owner, and shadow Ignatius until he leads us to an exit.”
Jeremy thought Harvey’s plan was too simple, but he couldn’t think of a better one.
“I can see you’re exhausted from being chased by clowns. Get some sleep while I iron out the details.” Harvey said.
Everyone agreed, shuffling off to the four corners of his shop where he had benches pushed against the walls. Harvey kept his light burning, working out the finer details into the evening.
Jeremy fell to sleep without realizing it. He was a mouse running through a maze with a cat fast on his tail. Just as he made it to the exit he was pinched. Waking, he couldn’t sit up for a few seconds. Part of his mind wouldn’t let him, but gradually the dream wore off. His friends were huddled around Harvey, talking in low voices.
“I was thinking of a suitable strategy all night when “suitable” caught my attention—a stray word with incredible significance. Ignatius used a disguise before he left Carnival Town to revisit The Pharaoh and The Black and White Horror Show. We can borrow clothes from Maurice’s Costume shop. Then we’ll sneak into the wax museum and assume the form of characters in Carnival Town.” Harvey was only halfway through his plan when Jeremy interrupted him.
“Your idea sounds like it could work, but what do we do once we have our disguises? Don’t you think the characters we choose to impersonate might take exception if they see us?”
“Most of the people in Carnival Town become automatons, unable to think for themselves. They shouldn’t give us much trouble.” Harvey said. He gave each of them a blueberry muffin before they left. It was unnerving to walk onto the cobblestone streets in the middle of the afternoon. The air smelled intoxicatingly sweet, like cotton candy and French fries at the state fair and the sky looked like an enormous soap bubble with yellow light shining through.
“Look at the man over there.” Jeremy motioned to a midget with a pink face and no mercy in his cold eyes. “That’s Morton from Better Banks. Bernie tricked him to sit in seat 13.”
Morton didn’t look happy selling salted pretzels. He was searching for anything out of place.
Harvey led them behind a traveling salesman advertising hats for all occasions.
“Why aren’t you brain-dead, when everyone in Carnival Town is empty headed?” Sissy asked him. Harvey was about to answer when the lunch bell rang.
“I don’t eat lunch,” Harvey said matter-of-factly.
Without warning, roaring engines erupted from all sides and the crowd scattered. “Jump for the Sewer!” Harvey shouted.
Above them an engine sputtered, choked, and died. A black helmet leaned over the manhole, looking inside. Satisfied, the rider gunned his engine, leaving them in a cloud of exhaust.
Everyone came up for air, choking on the stench.
“A two minute breath hold,” Max remarked. “Remind me never to do that again!”
“What happened to Harvey?” Sissy asked. Her curves were bulging through her wet clothes.
Jeremy dove under the water. It was difficult to see without a light, but he noticed the pipes running under the town and something glowing at the other end. He almost reached out and touched it when a spout shot him upward. Jeremy emerged into a circular room girded by columns.
Harvey sat on the edge of a pool waiting for him. There was a glow-in-the-dark monkey hanging from his keychain. “We’re in the basement of the Egyptian.” He said confidently, not the least bit surprised to see Jeremy swimming toward him.
Suddenly, everyone else erupted from the pool, coughing and confused.
“We jumped into a bit of luck,” Harvey said. “We’re in the basement of The Egyptian.”
“How can you be sure?” Brandon asked.
Harvey pointed to the unloading dock. A red sign in white letters read, Flush Worthless Artifacts.
“It’s a toilet, Sissy theorized. Water flows into the bowl. Then someone pushes a lever and the artifacts get flushed out! Look for a handle.”
Brandon noticed it first; a red lever sticking out of a stone.
“Yank it down,” Harvey encouraged.
Brandon obeyed and deep gurgling came from the bowels of the sewer.
Sissy slipped into the whirlpool as the water rose, like a waterspout, then washed through the drain in two seconds. Luckily she didn’t fit inside the hole. Something shiny was at the bottom. Jeremy knew he’d seen it before; it was the flash camera
“How did it get here?” Sissy asked, holding the camera like a bomb. She didn’t want to drop it because if it went off, it could trap them in black and white film forever.
“Maybe Ignatius tried to destroy it.” Brandon suggested. “The camera might be our only chance of getting rid of him.”
Sissy tried to climb out of the bowl, but it was impossible. The sides were too slick. She unzipped her sweatshirt, handing a sleeve to Jeremy. He pulled her out of the pool, looking at her with a smile; she quickly zipped it up.
Harvey’s eyes were on the floor where a crooked paving stone caught his attention.
“I’ve found it!” He yelled.
Suddenly Jeremy fell through the wall he was leaning against. He was in a lit corridor at the base of a hidden stairwell.
“When I put my foot down I always get results,” Harvey chuckled.
Sissy led them up the stairs, holding the flash camera. It shook in her hands. There was a door at the top of the stairs with a sign painted in red letters, Artifacts.
“We must be in storage,” Jeremy whispered. He peered through the keyhole, noticing wooden boxes stacked to the ceiling. He gripped the doorknob, half-hoping it wouldn’t open. It did and they entered an enormous room. The only way through was across stacked boxes haphazardly arranged like a poorly played game of Tetris. There was a stale element in the air, like the room hadn’t been opened in centuries.
“Watch your step,” Harvey warned. “Many of these boxes could be rotten. You don’t want to step onto a mummy.” Odd scratching came from inside many of them. “Probably mice,” Harvey said unconvincingly. They didn’t want to announce their presence and they certainly didn’t want to disturb the dead. Soon they were near the loading dock and a voice, cold and intelligent, broke the silence, chilling them to the bone.
“The owner of The Pharaoh will make a nice addition to my collection…Load the remaining boxes and return to my office. We have another arm-wrestling contest to plan.”
Footsteps retreated; then there was an odd clicking sound, and a hydraulic crane lifted a coffin over the side of the loading dock. A cable detached and it retreated three stories to the platform. Muffled words erupted from the plywood box. Brandon used his hands to tear off the lid.
Bernie looked grim, stepping out of his wooden prison. “After arriving in Carnival Town I tried to blend in so I went to Maurice’s Costume shop,” he said. “She measured me for a grey flannel suit. When I tried it on it fit like a glove, but I was paralyzed. Maurice was on the phone in seconds and Mr. Specter darkened her door not a moment later with a wicked grin on his sallow face…Where do we go from here?”
“The landing—I’m Harvey by the way.”
Bernie exchanged introductions. “How do we reach the landing?” It was a good question and Jeremy had the answer.
“BOXES…We can make stairs by stacking them against the wall.”
The loading dock was deserted when they reached it. An exit sign led them into the wax museum. If they were scared by discarded artifacts, they were terrified of the specimens on display. It was a house of horror; not a place to take children and certainly not a room for amusement. Everything looked alive; as if music had stopped and each creature was waiting for its favorite song to play.
“Stay close and keep your distance from the figurines,” Harvey warned. Nobody had to be told twice. Jeremy walked past a vampire clutching a human skull, its eyes focused on the detached skeleton lying at its feet. Brandon almost swore its pupils moved. A stone sarcophagus lay open on the floor. It was impossible to see the mummy inside as its body was covered in cobwebs. They were near to the center of the room when Harvey stopped. Strange music was playing. It erupted from a nearby Victrola and the still museum came alive.
“Run!” Sissy screamed. Hands and claws grabbed at them like gropers at a rock concert. Everyone rushed for the exits except Max. He had the good sense to remove the needle from the record player. When the music stopped, the figurines quit moving. Bending to the floor, Max realized why the Victrola began playing. A tripwire was broken, leading to a door with a red sign in white letters, Film Studio. “Ignatius knows we’re here,” he said.