By Tiffany Cole
“Welcome to Hell’s Circus!” announced a voice that I instantly recognized as Samuel’s.
Somehow his voice sounded a lot louder than the music.
“Friends, let’s play a game! Goal: Get to the end of the circus, that’s where you’ll find me. Rules: If both of you don’t
reach me together, I will free the person lagging behind if they are still alive and destroy them myself. Otherwise,
there are no rules. Please aspire to lose; it puts a smile on my face.”
I turned to Doceon, who appeared to be just as tense as I was.
“This game...” I started, and then, I paused, trying to organize my thoughts into a logical question.
Than I realized, from looking at Doceon’s tightly clenched fist, there was no point in me asking any questions. This
game was a matter of life and death.
Welcome to the Realm of Nightmares...
* * *
All of the chair’s flimsy wooden legs broke once they hit the ground and I ended up tumbling to the side. Fortunately,
my body suit was still in good enough condition to protect me from the fall. The acid shock I received earlier when
trying to imagine a weapon hadn’t torn through enough of the suit to leave me completely vulnerable. That was one
good thing. I was sure I would need some type of protection from Jingles and I knew I wasn’t mentally strong enough
to imagine another suit.
I watched the last bit of light disappeared with my only visible route out. The floor (that was now a ceiling) slid back
together. I groaned. I was alone in a pitch-dark, mirrored room with a thing named Jingles, tied to a broken, wooden
chair. The scenarios just keep getting worse.
Frustrated, and mostly afraid, I pulled at the rope. I didn’t expect it to unravel and fall to the floor with such ease. It
felt good to be able to move again. I spent a few minutes stretching and just generally moving around. When I no
longer felt stiff I walked forward, trying to get a general idea of the way the room felt. I hadn’t prepared myself for so
many lights to abruptly flash on. By reflex, I quickly looked away. Silent music that sounded similar to a lullaby hummed
in the background.
What was this; I didn’t need a theme song to die to.
“Alecia, must you be so pessimistic?”
The voice was only in my head. It was evidently Doceon, but I hadn’t realized that until after I screamed. I quickly
covered my mouth, terrified at what I had done. There was a quiet stillness in the room that made me feel safe. My
scream interrupted that stillness. Somehow I knew I screwed up.
A deep, guttural laugh built up from somewhere in the mirrored room. I couldn’t tell if the voice was close or far away.
“Little bug, Jingles hear you. Fly around forever, you’ll never get away.”
I stumbled backward into a mirror. Besides the sound of the lullaby, the room was once again silent. I couldn’t help
dreading over the fact that Jingles may not be that far away. Sound wasn’t right in this place.
“It has begun.”
I screamed again. Inhale-exhale; I had to get a hold of myself! It was just Doceon
“Would you stop that!?” I whispered.
He ignored me.
“You are in a maze. Don’t look for the exit; it’s too dangerous. Instead, look for a place to hide until I get there. One
of these mirrors is a hidden door. Focus on finding that mirror.”
I looked around me. There were all types of mirrors lined up on the wall—all of them were large and ominous, though
some were clearly ‘playhouse’ mirrors that manipulated ones’ image. Even the ceiling and parts of the floor was made
out of mirrors.
Seeing my reflection in so many different ways made me feel trapped somehow.
“But, Doceon, there are dozens of mirrors; is there some way you can narrow the
There was no reply; I guess that meant I was on my own.
I started in the mirror behind me then silently worked my way down the hallway, pulling on each mirror from the sides
and below. None of them even budged.
After awhile, I worked up enough nerve and turned the corner. There was nothing there. This was too easy, but I
wasn’t complaining. At least I could concentrate on finding the hidden door.
My safety was taken away from me the very moment I turned the third corner. It started with the music. The lullaby
began to skip, like a scratched up CD. I barely had time to react to that oddity. I could hear slow and steady
footsteps, followed by the sound of chains dragging on the floor. I wanted to ignore the sounds, pretend as though I
imagined them, but when I turned back to the mirrors there was another image behind my reflection. I turned around.
As far as I could tell, there was no one else in this area. The image behind me was horrid—even more horrid than the
demon’s maggot-filled face I saw earlier. The thing had some features that were usually associated with clowns: Its
entire face was painted white; there was a purple, puffy wig on its head; its nose, if it even had one, was hidden
behind a small, red ball. Even its clothing was a comical, one piece suit that sloppily hung off its body. But calling this
thing a clown was going too far. No kid, or adult for that matter, deserved to be in the same room with it.
There were loads of needles sticking out of its eyes, and what I thought was red makeup was actually blood—blood
under its eyes, blood all over its mouth. I didn’t have to wonder why its ankles were uselessly wrapped in chains, not
after seeing its razor
sharp teeth that could barely fit in its mouth. Its teeth made a corpse eater’s canines look harmless. I instantly knew
my body armor couldn’t protect me from that.
The image got closer. The footsteps got louder. I frantically turned around, gripping my heart, biting my tongue.
Where the hell was it?
“Little fly,” its voice echoed, “I hear you.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. I was stiff in that one position, slowly becoming consumed by fear. None of my options were
safe: standing here and waiting for either Doceon or Jingles was much too risky; running back the way I came would
take me to a dead end; and going forward would inevitably lead me right to Jingles.
There wasn’t enough time. Ultimately, I made the most stupid choice. I decided to go forward.
I knew it was only a matter of time before he was right in front of me. My brisk walk quickly turned into an aimless run
once I realized his image was following me in the mirrors, quickly catching up to me. I made random turns; I had no
idea where I’d already been and where I was going. Everything looked the same...until I ended up at a dead end.
I heard a very loud ‘click’. Startled—and somehow aware that the sound meant I was approaching more danger—I
quickly turned around, but I was too late. Running back in the direction I just came was now impossible.
The walls were...moving. The mirrors randomly switched places with other mirrors making loud clanging noises as they
did. The dead end mirror I was leaning against suddenly became another pathway causing me to fall.
It was all over just as fast as it had begun. When I opened my eyes the room seemed darker than usual. An
unnaturally tall, large figure was blocking the lights. I covered my mouth; if that ghastly...thing down the hall was
Jingles, the mirrors hadn’t given me a very clear picture. He was a lot more terrifying up close; for one, his height was
ridiculous. I had no idea he was tall enough to reach the ceiling. One step for him was like five steps for me. Every
time he got closer, my nose wrinkled at the stench. He
smelled like a rotten corpse.
I sat still and held my breath because I knew he couldn’t see me. There was no way he was walking that slowly just
to be menacing. I figured that all I had to do was stay still and maybe he’d walk right past me.
However, he was standing over me in a few seconds. I stared at him in horror. He was so close. I was so focused on
Jingles bumping into me that I hadn’t considered any other ways he could detect my presence. I had no idea when he
lifted them, but there were chains suddenly flying towards my body. I rolled away just in time, bumping into a mirror.
That was all it took.
Jingles turned to where I was, and plunged right at me. He was fast; somehow, I was faster. I scrambled to my feet
and ran down the new pathway. I was afraid that my body would collapse from the fear, but there was too much
adrenaline shooting through me. I had every intention to keep running until I escaped or died trying. The mirror he
crashed into shattered to pieces. Some of the shards got stuck in its skin, but all it did was calmly rip them out.
Jingles took his sweet time. I hoped that maybe I would lose him if I kept running, but when he did start running, I
knew my hope was nothing more than that—a hope.
Seeing him run was a comical sight, or it would have been if I wasn’t the one being chased. His legs were too long; his
head too close to the ceiling. Every step he took was like a leap halfway across the hall. It didn’t matter that I had
been given a head start.
Already, Jingles was close enough to reach me.
Doceon’s voice screamed in my head.
“For the love of god, Alecia, imagine a weapon now, before it’s too late!”
“Two daggers, two daggers, two daggers...” I chanted. Nothing happened. “Come on now. Two daggers!”
I was more than surprised when I saw a small dagger in both of my hands just in a matter of seconds. Usually, it took
a lot more concentration. I wasn’t complaining, though. I had no idea what to do with the weapons, but at least I had
Jingles was literally close enough to touch me, in fact, he did; his hands brushed against my back. Instinctively, I
screamed. I wanted to turn around and attempt to cut him, but I knew that would only slow me down. Jingles
laughed. I’m sure he knew it too.
I cursed under my breath. Not another dead end, not now!
One second I was running, trying to figure out what my alternatives were; the next I was pushed up against the dead
end mirror, struggling under Jingle’s weight. His stench nearly killed me. I screamed for Doceon in my mind; there was
Jingles began to smell me, starting from my neck to my waist. I wasn’t sure how he was able to smell through the red
ball. He smelled my hair the longest. Every time I shivered, he knocked my body up against the wall harder. I went stiff
“Bug smells really nice,” he said. “Jingles want to smell it forever, but Jingles is
really hungry. Master Autir not feed.”
This was it! Jingles was distracted by his thoughts and, as a result, temporarily forgot about me. There was now a
small space between his body and mine. I took this chance to make my move.
I turned around and stabbed the dagger through his chest. It did no good. Jingles had the dagger out of his chest
before I could find a way around him.
“Bad, bad bug,” He said, shaking his head. “Bad.”
Suddenly he had my right, daggerless arm tightly in his grip. His razor sharp teeth seemed to be protruding from his
mouth. Almost instantly, I realized what Jingles was going to do. I screamed; I squirmed; it didn’t matter. Nothing was
going to stop him from biting me.
It all happened so fast: his lunge at my arm; the connection his teeth made with my skin; the pain. It all took was a
I watched my blood drip to the floor; I was screaming. The pain was unbearable, like nothing I’d ever felt before. A
whole chunk of my right arm…gone. On the inside I was numb. This couldn’t possibly be happening to me.
Doceon was in my head again. His voice sounded like a series of unconnected thoughts to me, but I got the general
idea of what he meant.
“Dagger...finish you...blind...throw it...I’m coming...hidden door.”
Right; he wanted to throw the dagger because it would distract Jingles; than he wanted me to find the hidden door.
Jingles was just about to lunge at me again when I tossed the dagger in the opposite direction. It didn’t go very far.
At first I was sure he wouldn’t fall for something so juvenile, but he stopped the very moment the dagger hit the floor.
He was off of me and running through the hall in seconds. He ran right past the dagger.
I stared at the empty hallway, pissed and in pain. Was that all I had to do? All of that running was for nothing!
Jingles’ frantic voice as he called for ‘little bug’ brought me back to my senses. I had no time to be standing around.
I was even more pissed when I pulled on the partly broken mirror behind me. I knew I should have been relieved, if not
happy. This mirror was the hidden door. I just couldn’t get past the fact that I could have avoided being bitten some
time ago. The pain was still very unbearable. I clutched my right arm, my eyes welling up with tears and climbed into
the small, hidden room.
The hidden room was not an escape route, like I assumed. It was nothing but a cramped, dark corner with an odd
smell. I had to sit with my knees up to fit. However, I felt safer now that I was sitting in there. The room was totally
silent (except for my groaning) and it was pitch dark. Not only couldn’t I see my arm, but I couldn’t hear Jingles or
that wretched lullaby. I leaned my head against the wall, crying. The last time I felt this safe in Hell’s Circus was
earlier today when Doceon was holding my hand.
I had to distract myself from the pain in my right arm. Every time I thought about it, I relived the moment. So, to pass
the time, I started to think about other things going on. There were plenty of thoughts to keep me occupied.
There was a noise. Someone, maybe Jingles, was opening the hidden door. I started to hyperventilate. There was no
way I could escape. My arm started throbbing again, the pain returning full force. I was screaming before the door
was halfway open.
Someone’s hand was on my mouth. Instinctively, I bit the hand, pushing myself as far back in the corner as I could.
“Alecia, I need you to stop screaming. Jingles may wise up and come toward your voice instead of the distraction I set
I instantly opened my eyes. A wave of relief and sadness flooded my emotions. That was Doceon’s voice, except it
wasn’t in my head. He was standing right in front of me, large white wings protruding from his back, a blue bow
clutched in his right arm. Doceon’s glow was back and brighter than ever. It was hard for me to look at him, but I’d
rather go blind than look away. He looked more like an angel now than he ever had before.
I hadn’t realized how hard I was bawling until Doceon was squatting, gently wiping my tears away. He beckoned for
me to take his hand, but I shook my head. It seemed too surreal, too convenient for Doceon to be standing in front of
me now, just when I needed him the most. If this was all in my head, I didn’t want to leave my safe place.
The illusion took my left hand anyway. I instantly felt warmth and relief rush up my arm. I shivered.
“An illusion?” he laughed gently.
“You are out of it. After I heal your arm, you and I are going to get out of here. I’m sorry for putting you through all of
At that moment, I didn’t care if he was just a figment of my imagination or not. He gently pulled me to him, my right
arm limp, but seemingly painless.
“But the fire Doceon...I saw it burn you. You were dead.”
For a moment he looked perplexed; than he shook his head.
“Alecia, you shouldn’t worry about me. I’m a trained assistant. There’s nothing complicated about escaping a blazing
inferno. I’m an intermediate warrior, not a beginner.”
I couldn’t hear his voice over the agonizing sound of various mirrors breaking. I covered my ears, terrified. Why was it
Doceon quickly wrapped his wings around the both of us. I could no longer hear the sounds. I could no longer hear
anything but my unsteady breathing. Doceon didn’t appear to be breathing at all and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed
“These large, conspicuous wings aren’t given to us for image; they’re shields. Fire
can’t burn through them; swords break when used to hit them. There are only a few things that can break angel
“That sound?” I asked.
“Oh, I set off a nonstop, bouncy ball that won’t go past that one area. You should see how crazy it’s driving Jingles!”
He took my right arm slowly. After staring at the bite for a while, he looked up at me. There was sincere regret in his
“It’s not your fault,” I said. “Maybe, if I wasn’t so weak.”
He placed one of his hands over the bite.
A bright, white light came out of his palms.
“It is,” he muttered. I began to protest, but he quickly interrupted me. “It is my fault and don’t you tell me otherwise.
What was I thinking when I took this job as a mentor? The Council of the Arch only created me three years ago.”
I realized this was his way of saying that he was going to quit being my mentor. It’s funny how, when you’re in danger
with someone, it feels like you’ve known them your whole life. I find it ironic that that I thought Doceon was a
nuisance just this morning; now I’d probably throw a crying fit if he left.
“You can’t leave! Not after this.”
He was silent. I turned to my right arm, where his attention was at. Much to my surprise, there was no longer a
bleeding hole there. The skin was back; the pain was gone. It was as though Jingles never bit me.
Doceon pulled away.
“There! It’s as good as new.”
Hesitantly, I moved one of my fingers to my arm. I had to make sure this wasn’t some cruel trick. I laughed like a fool
when my arm didn’t fall apart.
“I came in through the exit, so I know how to get out. I also got hold of the free ride to the end. Stay as close to me
as you can. I don’t want to lose you again.”
“You played the riddle game too?”
He laughed at me.
“Never, and I mean never, play the riddle game with a demon. They take pride in their riddle solving skills. That’s all
they do for fun in hell. You die if you lose; you die if you win. It’s a lose-lose situation unless you make them promise
to stick to the rules. I just eradicated every demon that got in my way.”
My eyebrow rose. There were at least fifty demons in the audience when I played the riddle game and none of them
looked like the type that would go without a fight.
“You eradicated every single one?”
“I’m a trained assistant. I was personally taught by The Council. It really does amaze me how you’re not
comprehending this at all.”
For the first time in a while I smiled. The fact that Doceon was still able to insult my imagination at a time like this
The very moment he moved his wings from around us, everything was once again too loud. I had to struggle not to
cover my ears. The struggle was no longer hard once he grabbed my hand.
I gulped, and than we were gone. Doceon maneuvered through the mirror room like an expert. We met no dead ends
and he didn’t stop for a minute to wonder which pathway to take. It felt good to be with someone who knew what
they were doing in a place like this.
“Not now,” Doceon muttered.
The tone in his voice suggested that he was highly irritated. He had us both lying on the ground, his wings protecting
us in a matter of seconds. I didn’t have to ask what was happening by then. I could feel the floor shaking like an
earthquake. The room was reorienting itself.
It seemed to go by a lot faster when I could only hear my breathing. Doceon helped me up.
“Well, there goes my plan! I knew it was too easy to be true. Fortunately, I put a light detector on the exit. It’s
Jingles we have to watch out for.” He crossed his arms and continued, “You know what; I’ll just get rid of him now.”
He banged his hand into the first mirror and than the next. I jumped every time a mirror shattered to pieces.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“Bringing him to me.”
And did he come! I barely had time to hide behind Doceon before Jingles was running down the hall, teeth already out.
He was infuriated.
Something white shot out of Doceon’s hand and hit a mirror farther back. I hadn’t
realized how unnaturally fast and powerful he was until now. When in action, he was almost terrifying to watch.
In seemingly one fluid movement, he had an arrow in his bow. I felt like screaming at him when he shot the arrow. Not
only hadn’t he attempted to take aim, but his shot wasn’t even in the general direction of Jingles, and he only
appeared to have one arrow!
Once again, I made the mistake of expecting logical in an illogical situation. Of course it didn’t matter where the arrow
was shot; this arrow had a mind of its own. It redirected itself, made unnecessary loops in the air and went straight
for Jingles’ forehead at a speed too fast for my eyes to follow.
Jingles’ body deteriorated into black dust, his screams echoing throughout the room like a never ending wale. Then the
arrow flew back to Doceon and the bow and arrow disappeared into thin air. It was over...in five bloody minutes.
Doceon had a skill for making me feel more idiotic than usual.
After that, the maze got ridiculously easy. The light detector Doceon spoke of earlier made every hall that led to the
exit brighter than all the others. For the most part, we walked in silence. Doceon made random comments every now
and than about my horrible fighting skills, but all I did was nod my head.
In spite of the situation, some hope returned.