My friends and I are definitely going to die here, but I'll die more times than them, I think.

I write this on my cell phone lying on the bottom bunk in a room hardly bigger than a broom closet. No one will ever see what I write, but if you do I hope you will heed my warning: stay away from the town called Carousel.

I see the red wallpaper in my mind all the time now. At first, it was only a flash like the impression burned into your eyes after you stare at a bright light for too long. Now, it’s a low burn—a glowing light in the darkness of my mind. The redness swirls in a vague floral pattern. It’s a mix of grey-red, blood-red, and a shimmering ruby color that highlights the edges of the florals. I’m finally getting used to it.

You need the red wallpaper to play the game at Carousel. Above me, my best friend from back in high school sleeps. I know he’s asleep. The wallpaper tells me. When I look in his direction, a movie poster appears on the red wall in my mind. It is encircled in yellow lights and depicts a young man with dark hair in a sweater—Camden—reading through a stack of books as a hooded figure with an axe looms behind him. The poster is titled “Camden Tran is The Scholar.”

The poster makes it seem like he is an actor in a scary movie, but really this is Carousel’s cheeky way of telling other players his name and character class (called an archetype). Beneath the poster, I can see his stats, statuses, and tropes AKA special abilities. This section looks almost like the buttons inside a fancy old elevator. Instead of room numbers, there are words and lights that activate to tell you important information.

The Game at Carousel uses five stats: Mettle, Moxie, Hustle, Savvy, and Grit. I’ll tell you more about those as I go along.

Camden’s archetype is “The Scholar.” His status is Unscathed and Unconscious. Those are the only statuses with the light next to them lit up. There are no hit points in this game, but instead a range of conditions ranging from Unscathed to Dead. So far, Camden has not died.


Around me, there are about fifty people each in their own beds in their own rooms, but since they are my allies, I can see their archetypes, stats, and the like. Almost all of them are Unscathed and Unconscious. A few remain awake like me.

My other three friends are spread out around the lodge wherever there was a spare bed. They each have movie posters that appear in my head whenever I look in their direction.

A poster depicting a pretty woman running with a flashlight from the hooded axe murderer is titled “Anna Reed is The Final Girl.” Another shows a Basketball player being stalked by the same figure as he jumps for a layup: “Antoine Stone is The Athlete.” A beautiful blonde woman stares terrified in the mirror as an axe cuts into the frame: “Kimberly Madison is The Eye Candy.”

Even I have a poster when I think about myself. A shaggy-haired young man in a red hoody is eating popcorn on a couch while presumably watching a movie. The axe-wielder approaches from behind. “Riley Lawrence is The Film Buff.”

Out of all the archetypes available, I get stuck with a minor archetype that is literally designed to die early in the film. To be fair, I do watch a lot of scary movies.

It’s crazy to think that there are people sleeping in the lodge right now that I saw die earlier today. I’ll probably see them die again.


This trip was supposed to be a chance for me to turn over a new leaf. My first real college trip after three years in university.

The car ride here seemed normal enough at first. I was in the back with the luggage in the tiny extra seat that Antoine’s SUV had. There was no legroom, but I couldn’t complain. I never got invited to things like this. I was happy to tag along. They could have strapped me to the roof for all I cared.

The radio went out about twenty minutes before we got to Carousel. Antoine flicked the scan button on the steering wheel to try to find a station. The radio searched and searched for a broadcast but only found one.

“It’s RUN 41.1 Carousel Public Radio. We’ve had a beautiful day here in Carousel. The city council has begun setting up for the Centennial Celebration so stay away from town square unless you like traffic. Our correspondent, Jeffrey Tethers, is at Lake Dyer with the fishing report, and we have Coach Boom in the studio to talk about Friday night’s game. All after this commerc-“

Antoine clicked the radio off. “I’m going to pass them on the next straightaway,” he said. He had been growing frustrated at the small car in front of us. They were creeping along the road at a measly thirty miles an hour. We had been behind them for twenty minutes but with the winding, heavily forested roads, there was no safe place to get around them.

“Just be patient,” Anna said. “We can’t be too far off.”


As she spoke, a green VW van approached us from behind. It had to slow down considerably upon reaching us. Its horn began honking almost immediately.

“Great, now we have cars behind us,” Antoine said.

Oblivious to the conversation, Kimberly interjected, “I have no signal. Does anyone have a signal?” She raised her phone up toward the sunroof to no avail.

I checked my phone. I had no signal either. Camden had just sent a picture of a sign advertising a bed and breakfast that had the phrase “closed fur renovations.” I chuckled at the typo. Must have lost signal right after that.

It had been a long time since I had been a part of a group chat with Camden. Not since high school.

As we crept around another corner, the VW van gunned its engine and quickly passed by Antoine’s SUV and the little car in front of us. That must have emboldened Antoine because he followed suit and left the slow car in the dust.

Ten minutes later, after zooming around tight forested corners, the small backwoods road gave way to a large parking lot. It was so big I thought we must have been near an airport. There was no airport though. No football stadium either, nothing to justify the huge empty lot.

There were maybe two dozen vehicles scattered about, but they were few and far between.

What’s more, there were no people anywhere. It was completely abandoned. Except for us and the VW van which had been parked in the shade. The driver, a dark-haired woman in her mid-thirties, carried a large, overstuffed backpack along with a sports duffel. She wore a brown leather jacket and distressed blue jeans.

Antoine parked next to her van in the shade. We got out and unloaded. There was only one road leading from the parking lot to Carousel and it had been blocked off. It had those removable metal poles that you might see on a college campus designed to keep cars from driving down the wrong street. They were locked into place with padlocks. The rest of the way, we would have to go on foot.

When we were invited, Antoine’s brother had warned us of this. It was because of the Centennial Celebration. No traffic allowed in. It made enough sense to me. It didn’t matter. We were there to bask in the sun at his brother’s lake house. I didn’t think we would be doing too much in town.

I had the least luggage of anyone in the group; just one duffel. As they were retrieving their things from the car, I went ahead toward the road leading to Carousel. The path was decorated on both sides with advertisements for the Centennial Celebration—apparently, this was a big deal for the town.

The woman in the brown leather jacket had slowed her pace and was taking in her surroundings. We weren’t in town yet. There were no street signs here, no people. Just off the road was a single wooden building that had no signage except for a door that said employees only. It had a covered porch on the front and what looked to be a town map hanging against the side of the building.

I debated whether I should try to speak to the woman. She didn't look like she wanted to talk to me or anyone else. She was all business. The way that she scanned the building led me to believe that she hadn't been here before either.

I turned and waited for my friends to catch up. Antoine and Kimberly quickly joined me but Anna and Camden were lagging behind staring at the cars in the parking lot. I walked down to them to see what they were so interested in.

“These cars have been here a long time,” Camden said. “The tires are dry-rotted.”

He was right. Every vehicle in the parking lot but ours had flat tires. Their windshields were covered in dust. The paint jobs were faded. I didn't know what to think of it.

We all looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders and decided to move forward anyway.

Just as we turned to walk up the road the little compact car that we had passed on the way here finally pulled into the huge parking lot. We watched as it slowly drove its way to the front of the lot and parked beside Antoine's SUV. Two people exited from the vehicle along with luggage. They were arguing.

Well, the woman was arguing. The man was just kind of taking it.

“I just don't understand why they would hold an event all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. Don't they know it's more sensible to hold it in a bigger city?” the woman spoke with a waver and a voice like a mouse whose tail had been stepped on.

I wouldn't say they became part of our group, but they definitely started moving with us as if they thought we were all supposed to be grouped together.

“You all here for the convention?” the man said. “Names Bobby Gill.”

“They don’t need to know your name,” the woman said. The red wallpaper would later tell me her name was Janette.

Camden responded, “We’re not here for that. We’re just going to the lake.”

The man started going on about a horror convention that he was supposed to speak at because he moderated a horror-themed message board online. I don't remember what he said the name of the message board was but I was vaguely familiar with it. I had never heard of the convention he mentioned, he called it “Carousel Horror Nights” or something like that. It didn’t end up mattering.

By the time I had walked back up to the building, the door that had said employees only was now open. The woman was peeking her head in as Antoine and Kimberly watched.

“Who opened the door?” I asked.

Antoine answered “No one did. it just opened.”

Inside the building was dark. Little light managed to seep in and even the open door didn't illuminate the shadows within. My heart started to beat quickly though. I could not say why.

Then the music started to play. It was old-fashioned carnival music that came out too slow like it was coming from an old wind-up music player in need of a tune-up.

Next were the lights. Orange light bulbs illuminated the inside of the room. The lights weren't hanging from the ceiling. No, they were all affixed to a machine that was about the size of an ATM. As my eyes adjusted to the orange light, I saw what the machine was: one of those old animatronic fortune tellers. You may have seen those at carnivals or on boardwalks. Every circus has at least one, and you might even find one in an arcade.

Normally, the animatronic would give you a rolled-up fortune in exchange for a quarter. It might even be programmed to tell your future out loud. Often, they were dressed like psychics or traveling palm readers. This was different.

The base was a red square box, and above that, a glass box contained the upper torso of a smiling mannequin. The mannequin was dressed like an old-fashioned usher that you might see at a movie theater. He wore a red jacket with brass buttons and a round usher's cap with a chin strap, and in his hand, he held a flashlight that flicked on and off along with all the other light bulbs attached to the machine.

Across the top of the machine was a sign that read, "Carousel's own Silas the Showman."

In the middle of the machine, right below the glass case, was a red button with a receptacle underneath.

For a moment, no one in the group said anything as the fortune-telling machine began whirring to life. I think Antoine might have cursed under his breath, and Kimberly gasped. Beside me, the woman, Janette, was pulling on her husband's arm.

After the carnival tune ended, the mannequin in the glass case began to speak. His little wooden mouth moved up and down with a slight clack of yellow teeth.

“Welcome to Carousel, the town where movies come to life. The show's about to start, and you're in the front row!"

“What the hell,” I said.

“Come on up and get your tickets. The Centennial Celebration awaits.”

No one moved.

“Are we supposed to get a ticket?” Anna asked, looking at Antoine. After all, he was the one who invited us.

“I have no idea. Chris didn’t say anything about this,” he responded.

As if to answer the question, Silas the Showman said, “No admittance without a ticket. You don’t want to miss the show!”

Antoine shrugged his shoulder and approached the machine. He pushed the red button and the gears inside the mechanism turned, releasing three large tickets into the receptacle underneath. Antoine retrieved them and began to read through them. Strangely, he didn’t say anything as he read, but a puzzled look appeared on his face.

Before I could ask what the ticket said, Kimberly had also pushed the red button and retrieved her tickets. Then the woman in the brown jacket, followed by Anna and Camden. The couple who had arrived in the small car each pressed the button after each other, though the woman absolutely did not want to from the look on her face. Finally, it was my turn, and I didn’t question it. I don’t know if this was a magical compulsion or simply human nature. We were supposed to press the big red button, so our monkey brains pressed it, consequences be damned.

I pressed the button, and three tickets slid out. As I picked them up and noted how heavy they were, how thick. They were printed on high-quality stock, and each was cool to the touch. Each of the tickets had a title, an illustration, an elaborate graphic design, and a text description.

One of my tickets was blue, another green, and the one that interested me the most at first, for whatever reason, was silver.

Still, no one said anything as we each reviewed our tickets.

My silver ticket read:

The Film Buff

Minor Archetype

You are the Film Buff—master of the unwritten rules of horror movies. You’ve seen every slasher, spine-tingler, and creature feature; now we will see if you can survive them in real life! With your help, your allies may stand a chance against the nightmarish beings that lurk in the shadows of the silver screen.

That is, if you can get them to listen to you before it’s too late…

Base Stats

Mettle-For Feats of Strength and Offensive ability 1

Moxie-To make your performance convincing 3

Hustle-To be Quick, Deft, and to always hit your mark 1

Savvy-For Intelligence, Planning, and Deduction 5

Grit-For Durability, Toughness, and Endurance 1

Plot Armor- Mastering all five aspects of Plot Armor will make you a master of horror.

(total of all stats)