• Chapter One: The Mad Jester
    For nearly fifty years, Urban Belmont had been bound to the Carnival of Lost Souls. Fifty years he played his part, the mad jester. But in those nearly fifty years, the act had become reality. He no longer had to pretend. He was now, quite undeniably insane. And his insanity had manifested itself in another personality taking up residence inside his head. A personality he was forever at odds with.
    “Is it possible to have five minutes of silence without you interrupting?” Urban demanded, seemingly to no one, as he perched on the sturdy branch of a pine tree.
    “Now, where would be the fun in that?” This voice came from Urban’s lips, but was rougher and had a tinge of constant hysteria to it. Urban sighed with frustration and leaned against the trunk of the tree.
    “What do you even want this time?” he demanded wearily. “There aren’t any pretty girls for you to seduce or ignorant boys to scare. Can’t you leave me alone?”
    A grin spread across Urban’s face that he had no control over. A dark chuckle escaped his lips.
    “There are plenty of pretty girls around here,” his other stated. “All the Ring Master’s living dolls. And his theatre girls. And that exquisite little harlequin. She’s sweet on you. Why don’t you go do something about it?”
    Urban groaned and closed his eyes. He couldn’t say exactly when this other personality appeared in his head. It had happened gradually. First with little whispers at the back of his mind. Then the occasional outburst. Now he had full blown conversations with the other consciousness.
    “I don’t want to do anything about it!” he cried in exasperation. “I don’t want any of the girls here. My heart is Eliza’s. It died with her.”
    “I never said you had to love the girl,” his other pointed out patiently. “An eternity of celibacy is a long time and frankly, I don’t think I can last that long.”
    At that, Urban leapt from his tree branch with a grunt of frustration, shaking his head against the mental images his other was projecting for his viewing pleasure.
    “It’s not going to happen!” he shouted as he stomped across the dirt toward the bright lights and music.
    A wooden banner nailed between two posts loomed out of the darkness. It was painted a dark, bruised purple and had large, childish letters scrawled across it in bright, glaring red. The letters spelled ‘The Carnival of Lost Souls.’
    It was past this banner that the jester trudged. The dirt path he was following widened out into a massive clearing. In this clearing was erected the strangest looking carnival ever seen.
    The first attraction Urban passed was a small black tent with fog leaking out of the slightly parted entrance. A sign off to the side read, ‘Madam Desdemona,’ in elegant, slanting script. He hurried by without so much as a glance.
    Next he came to what looked like a life-size doll house. Smaller than an actual house, of course. It was a good deal larger than the wooden play houses that children would play in. Large enough for adults to fit in. There was a porch and windows with shutters and a thick wooden front door. Eyes glinted from behind the thick window panes. Urban ignored the creepy house and moved on past a carousel bedecked with black, white, green, and red horses. All had severe, frightening expressions on their frozen faces.
    He turned left and headed down a darker path between two rows of small, off-white tents set up a short distance away from the actual carnival. He stopped when he reached the end of the path and turned to face one of the tents. Without pause, he slipped through the tent flap.
    The interior was sparsely furnished. A narrow cot sat low to the ground in one corner of the room and a small trunk rested at the foot of it. The rest of the tent was bare save for a full length mirror propped against one of the tent walls.
    Deftly unbuckling the belts and buttons on his colorful and eccentric jester’s shirt, Urban knelt before the chest and yanked it open. Inside was a heap of clothes, mostly bright jester’s uniforms. He tossed his current shirt in when he managed to pull it over his head and closed the trunk again. His jester hat, patched in bright red and dark purple, had fallen off during his struggle with his shirt. He picked it up off the ground and rested it on the lid of the trunk.
    Urban crawled into bed, his weary muscles unwinding. His back and arms ached from the effort of setting up the carnival in this new location. The Ring Master was a slave driver, literally. He made them drive all night, and then whipped them into overdrive, patrolled the new fair grounds with a demonic intensity, lashing out at anyone who slowed. Urban had gotten an earful when the Ring Master had found him lounging under the carousel. Rumor had it that he had actually killed one of the spirits who was not working up to his satisfaction.
    Everyone feared the giant of a man, and with good reason. Urban fully believed that he was a demon, if not the Devil himself.
    “He’s ruined our life after all” the nagging voice of his other growled out.
    Everyone at the Carnival was enslaved to him, they had all wanted something, and he promised it to them; and why not, what good had their souls ever done them? Quite a lot as it turned out, they had next to no free will, and some of them, like the Dolls, weren’t even human anymore.
    “He’s a devious b*****d, to be sure, but you have to admit, he’s got a good scheme going”
    “I suppose, if you call stealing the souls of the innocent, leaching the life out of towns, and being a general d**k a good scheme, then he’s right up there.”
    His other chuckled and Urban sighed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. He was exhausted. All the manual labor of setting up the carnival combined with his constant bickering with his vexing other half had left him completely drained.
    Sleep never came easy for the jester, but he prayed that tonight it would be merciful. His head was pounding furiously and his aching muscles protested even the thought of movement. His other, in a rare gesture of sympathy, fell silent. Urban sighed in relief and relaxed into the uncomfortable mattress.