Carnival of Riddles (Flash Fiction)

Benny stood over the disemboweled body, his facial expression unchanged.

“Sonofabitch,” he said.

He backed up against the flimsy structure of the milk-bottle toss, making the booth shake.

“Hey,” Syd yelled from the other side. “Watch it!”

Benny peered around the corner at Syd and signaled him to come over.

“Problem?” Syd flipped his sign to “closed” and jumped over the counter. He followed Benny and looked down at the body. “Holy shit.” Syd’s face remained passive, but he hopped from foot to foot, and his eyes darted around the small space between game booths.

Benny nodded. “That’s the third one this week. We have a definite problem.”

They grabbed a tarp from a nearby box and covered the mess as quickly as possible without drawing attention from the patrons.

Syd’s hands shook, and Benny gagged when his heel caught in a stray intestine. Neither of their faces reflected their distress.

“I’ll go tell the boss,” Benny said.

Syd nodded and went back to work.

Benny moved through the thin crowd, past the rickety (but totally safe) Ferris wheel, around the six out of twelve functional bumper cars to the back of the funhouse with the peeling paint. He knocked on the back door and waited.

Felicity McTavish opened the door, claws scraping against the splintering wood. Her blue eyes blinked twice, and she stepped aside to let him in. She shook out her left wing and tucked it back in. “Yes?”

“We have another problem, boss,” Benny said. He shut the door.

“Mask,” she said. She tapped an impatient claw against the floor.

“Oh, sorry.” Benny reached up and peeled his human face away, revealing a scaly countenance with two small holes where his nose had been. He took a deep breath and scratched his face, glad to be free for the moment. “Another body turned up, this time between Syd’s milk-bottles and Fen’s shooting arcade. It’s bad.”

“Shit.” Felicity paced the tiny office, frowning. “Did you hide it? We can’t have the cops asking questions.”

Benny nodded. “It’s covered. We’ll get rid of it after closing.”

She twitched her tail and sat back on her tawny haunches. “Albert’s working the churro cart tonight. Get someone to cover for him, then take him over to smell the body. Maybe he’ll recognize who’s doing this. Be discrete. I won’t have mass hysteria from either the customers or our people, and I don’t want this to look like an internal witch hunt, either.”

Benny ducked his head and went for the door.

“Mask,” Felicity said, shaking golden tresses over her bare breasts.

“Crap.” He rolled the human mask back over his scaly face, adjusted the placement of his fake nose, and smoothed out the wrinkles. “Am I straight?”

She nodded. “Go. Any more missing humans and we’ll have a police investigation out here. So far, we’ve been lucky. None of us can pass for human in broad daylight, and I can’t pass at all. Get this sorted.”

Benny grabbed Syd on his way to the churro cart. “Hey, Al,” Syd said. “I got this.”

Albert shrugged and shuffled behind Benny to the alley. He was larger than most people, but there was nothing they could do to disguise his size. For a troll, he was puny.

Benny lifted the tarp, and Albert’s eyes widened behind his smooth, human mask. He grunted. “That’s disgusting. Who would do that?”

“That’s what we need to figure out before the cops get wind of it. What’s it smell like?”

Albert glared at Benny.

“Boss’s orders. Sorry.” Benny pulled the tarp back.

Albert bent down and inhaled. “It was human,” he said.

“I figured. Anything else?”

The big man got down on his hands and knees, careful to stay out of the blood and entrails, and sniffed closer. He stood up, rubbing the goosebumps on his bulky, hairy arms. “That way,” he said, pointing.

They followed the scent trail. It led first to the popcorn stand, but moved on toward the tilt-a-whirl. When the ride stopped, they followed it to one of the seats, then had to walk all the way around to where the trail exited toward the Ferris wheel. It diverged around the ride without entering and disappeared into the funhouse.

The men exchanged a placid look. Benny stayed put while Albert went around to the side to be sure the trail didn’t come out the exit. It didn’t. The killer was still inside.

“How do we do this?” Benny asked. “Should we both go in or split up?”

“You cover the exit,” Albert said. “Whoever did this is dangerous and probably big. I don’t recognize the smell, but it could be anyone.” He scratched his leg and lumbered into the building.

After telling Gertie, the well-disguised banshee, to close the funhouse until further notice, Benny stood outside the exit watching. Two teenage girls exited, giggling and clutching each other. A few minutes later, a boy of about ten hopped down the steps, his face smeared with chocolate ice cream. His mom ran to meet him.

Twice Benny heard a scream from inside. Hard to tell if it was part of the show or someone truly in trouble.

The minutes ticked by with no movement. Benny grew impatient and climbed the steps to the exit. He opened the door to peer into the darkness.

Al’s wide eyes greeted him, and Benny suppressed a yelp of surprise.

“What’s going on in there?” Benny said, trying to slow the hammering in his chest.

“I’ve got him,” Al said in a stage whisper. “Boss isn’t going to like this.”

“Who is it?”

“Meet me at the emergency exit so nobody sees us.”

Benny heard shuffling and a muffled thump. “Do you need help?”

“No, I’ve got him. But we have to get him into her office.”

Benny jogged around the building and waited in the shadows. A minute later, Al came out the side exit carrying a limp body over his shoulder. Benny knocked on the office door, and Felicity let them in.

Al dropped the killer on the floor in a heap and kicked it with his toe. “Get up, maggot.”

The man groaned, and Al kicked him again.

“Masks,” Felicity said.

Al and Benny peeled off their human countenances. Felicity nudged the man on the floor with her sharp claws. “I said ‘Masks.’”

The man opened his eyes and stared up at the troll, the lizard man, and the sphinx.

His face contorted, and he screamed.

“Holy shit,” Benny said, taking a step back. “It’s human.”

Felicity licked her lips, revealing sharp canines. “Masks, please, boys. You can go back to your work now.” She gazed at the screaming human and licked her paw. “I hope he likes riddles.”

Note: This story takes place in the world of the Hidden from the Monster Haven series. 

Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.

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