A/N: A great big shout out to the guest reviewers who have been commenting on the new one shots. Since I can't thank you individually, know that your comments make me smile. :)
This is for "054 Air" of the 100 fanart challenge (see FanArt100 on DA). I've made references before to Slappy's cameo in Escape from the Carnival of Horrors (although there's some debate on whether it's indeed Slappy and not Mr. Wood), but I'm glad to be able to do something with that idea at last.
"Karru marri odonna loma molonu karrano," a woman's voice said in the darkness, and at once Slappy found himself staring at that dark-haired fortune teller, Madame Zeno.
Ordinarily, the dummy would have kept a low profile by not moving an inch, keeping tabs on his latest slaves and observing how to torment them in the future. However, everyone who worked in the Carnival of Horrors knew about magic and talking dummies, so he felt confident enough to raise his head and glare at the elaborately dressed woman.
"Where is he?" he growled.
Madame Zeno gave him a hard stare. Her red dress, covered in brightly colored gems, sparkled even in the dim light of the carnival tent, and jeweled rings adorned her bony fingers. Her black curls tumbled to her shoulders. She had a few more wrinkles on her olive face since the last time he had seen her.
"Your revenge on Big Al must wait for now, andreíkelo," she said softly.
Slappy sat up in his chair as quick as a jack-in-the-box. "Don't get in my way, Zeno," he warned, raising both his fists. "Slappy doesn't forgive easily."
Zeno folded her arms, burying her hands inside the folds of her robes. She didn't say anything right away, rather studying him with a look like she wondered if she should put him back to sleep — and since she knew the magic words to wake him up, she could probably do it in a blink.
That realization made Slappy lower his arms, but his pale wooden hands remained clenched. The first time he had met these carnies, the ancient words only brought him to life; the words of sleep had been lost to the sands of time. However, thanks to a certain college dropout who got his sweaty palms on important magical documents, the dummy had been cursed to fall asleep whenever the words were said a second time.
Unfortunately, when Slappy had been handed over, kicking and screaming, to his former boss at the haunted carnival, Big Al had indulged in some schadenfreude at the puppet's expense, bringing him in and out of consciousness in the middle of undesirable situations. Evidently, the carnival manager had grown bored and put a sleeping Slappy back in the midway with the rest of his collection of dummies.
Slappy averted his gaze from the fortune teller, and he scanned the tent. Puppets in various costumes from all over the world sat on chairs, illuminated by the tall lamp in the corner. The chairs sat on a wooden platform and lined three sides of the tent, ready for shows to lure the unsuspecting tourists further into the traps of the Carnival of Horrors. Aside from Slappy's insults, the show proper was innocent enough, but sometimes a puppet was added to the mix who resembled an erstwhile audience member.
"Al's got some new toys in this sandbox," he observed. Then he flicked his dark-gray suit, forming a smug smile. "And even after all these years, I'm still the best looking one here." Even without a mirror, he knew his brown hair, blue eyes, and wide, if slightly damaged, smile could not be matched by anything under the sun, and his red bow tie and carnation gave him a style which these other dummies couldn't match, not even the geisha or the one with the monocle and top hat.
Zeno didn't laugh at his half-joke. She continued to watch him quietly.
"If you're trying to start a staring contest, you're going up against the master, Zitt-no. Speaking of eyes, you got a lot more crow's feet, baklava. I guess when they asked you to test some reverse aging cream, you were in the placebo group."
Her eyes rolled upward. "So, you escaped the carnival once," Madame Zeno began, "and now you're back."
"Oooh, learned that from your crystal ball?"
Zeno blinked slowly at him, but instead of responding to his sarcasm, she gave him a look bordering on reluctant pity. "Big Al was quite joyous to get his andreíkelo back," the Greek fortune teller continued softly. "He put you to sleep the way the two-faced man and his Horror friend showed him."
Slapp glared at her sharply. "Don't even mention that backstabber in my presence," the dummy snarled, curling his fingers until his knuckles creaked.
Madame Zeno shook her head. "Shame that someone you finally trusted planned such evil against you — although I'm wondering what you would've done in The Menace's place," she added flatly, fixing her serious eyes on him.
"I said don't mention him, Zeno," he retorted, swinging his arm and toppling the puppet on his right. "I'm not afraid to knock some manners into that wrinkled face."
She snorted. "Interesting choice of words." Then she uncrossed her arms and stuck a hand into a deep pocket. "I have a reason for waking you up, andreíkelo. I saw you in my crystal ball this evening."
Slappy paused. He tilted his head, watching her with curiosity as she withdrew a crystal the size of a baseball. White smoke swirled inside.
She held it in front of his nose. "You have the gift of divination, yes?"
"I tinker on the weekends," he replied, squinting at the fist-sized fog. In truth, most of his ability to prognosticate occurred in his sleep. A dream once predicted that his former ventriloquist, Jimmy O'James, would try to use a different dummy to replace him. That very dummy had appeared in their dressing room mere minutes after Slappy had awakened. However, Slappy had never tried to channel his abilities the way Madame Zeno did. Between finding slaves and fighting slaves (and getting put back to sleep by slaves), looking for auguries inside snow globes hadn't been high on his list of priorities.
Although ventriloquism had been originally used by the Greeks to contact the dead and tell fortunes, he reflected. Perhaps he could devote a few hours to studying soothsaying — once he got his revenge on Big Al and escaped these haunted fairgrounds.
He touched his chin, studying the ball. "Hmmm, I see a lot of pain in your future if you don't tell me what this is all about."
"Patience is a virtue," Madame Zeno replied. She waved her other hand over the crystal, making her rings glitter. The fog inside swirled faster, and the white wisps slowly altered to a glowing sky blue.
Slappy watched carefully, but aside from the color show, he saw little of interest. The confined fog briefly made a few shapes, like objects in clouds, but they vanished and shifted in random patterns before Slappy could discern them.
The sibyl spoke softly, "The crystal says you will be touched by destiny tonight. It's up to you whether you embrace it or reject it."
Slappy tore his eyes off the fog. "What destiny?"
"You will know it when you find it," she said. "But your future happiness relies on what you choose to do."
The dummy leaned forward. "And what else?"
She pulled the ball back and returned it to her pocket. "That is all the crystal says you need to know."
Slappy blinked, then narrowed his eyes. That's IT?!
He felt an urge to yell at her for wasting his time with this nonsense, but he quickly remembered that he needed to keep a low profile so that Big Al didn't learn he had been wakened. He settled for a derisive snort.
"Thank you. I needed the laugh, you hack."
Zeno raised her stenciled eyebrow. "You doubt the Second Sight?"
"Not at all," he replied. "I doubt your Second Sight. If you had any real psychic powers, you would've gotten yourself outta this carnival instead of being Big Al's crone."
Her wrinkled face grew somber. "I stay for those who will need me," she said quietly.
"And speaking of need, thanks for waking me up, Zeno," he grinned. "I'll be sure to enslave you last."
Madame Zeno shook her head, looking grim but exasperated. She waved a jeweled hand at him.
"Remember," she instructed. "Destiny. Antio sas, andreíkelo."
"Gesundheit," Slappy returned, waving.
Zeno returned to the midway outside, and Slappy considered his options. Last time he escaped, he had forced three slaves — Brad, Patty, and one whose name escaped him — to take him to the exit, which had been in that little choo-choo train. However, Big Al could have switched out the exit for a different attraction in the years since Slappy had last been here. It was imperative to leave the carnival by midnight.
Find the exit — then double back and kill Big Al, he decided, slapping his fist into his open palm. Chuckling over the multitude of images which flooded his mind of the carnival manager's final (painful) moments, Slappy wiggled to the edge of his chair. However, the toes of his leather shoes had barely touched the panel floor of the tent when he heard screams of young laughter.
"Let's try this tent next!"
"Katie, wait for us!"
Slappy jumped back into his seat, leaning against the backrest, and he stared vacantly ahead as two preteen girls and their mother strolled into the tent.
He had a brief flashback to the Powell twins as the girls entered. One wore a ponytail threaded through the back hole of a Dodgers baseball cap, while the other kept her hair short. Instead of blondes, they had black hair, and instead of round blue eyes, they had green. Both girls wore loose T-shirts (a blue Old Navy one for the ponytail girl; gray tabby kittens on pink fabric for her sister), and they both peered excitedly at the collection of puppets.
"Look at all the dummies!" the girl with the ponytail exclaimed. "I need my camera!"
"Mary-Ellen would've liked to see this," the twin with short hair said. "Can we grab her from the car?"
The brown-haired mother offered a strained smile. "You girls are really getting a little too old for dolls, don't you think?" she said gently. "Are the other sixth graders still playing with their dolls?"
The one with the ponytail snorted. "Mom, we told you. We want to take photos of Mary-Ellen for our new hobby."
"Yeah, Katie takes the pictures, and I make Mary-Ellen's costumes," her sister said.
"And Amanda had the idea of getting a shot of Mary-Ellen at a few booths, like getting her fortune told and stuff," Katie added. "We can make a whole portfolio out of it."
Now what? Slappy wondered. He didn't know the time, but if he was going to search for the exit, he needed to find it before midnight. Did he wait for these clowns to beat it? Or did he try a few tricks to discourage them from hanging around?
Amanda's eyes swung to him, and she walked over. "This one has a sign by his chair," she observed. The puppet then noticed his head rested against a laminated square of paper.
Amanda leaned over him. "'Slappy the Rude Dummy.' Wonder what he does?"
Pennies from Tophet, Slappy thought. He abandoned the option to wait them out and decided to try to driving them out instead.
"If you're dumb enough to ask, I weep for your species," he taunted.
Amanda squeaked, pulling back, and her sister and mother started.
"Oh, it's a puppet show!" the mother realized.
"And apparently I.Q. is hereditary," Slappy observed. "The lifeguard should've let you drown in gene pool, lady."
"I gotta remember that one!" Katie laughed, slapping her thigh. "This guy's funny!"
"Hmmm," said the mother.
Slappy smiled, satisfied with his progress. If the mother hated his show, she wouldn't hang around. He turned to the girls.
"You guys are twins, huh?"
Katie nodded, but her sister rolled her eyes.
"Actually, we just met in the parking lot," Amanda said, deadpan.
"Oh, look. It thinks it's funny," Slappy retorted. "You two look like rejects from a Doublemint commercial. I bet your slogan's 'Double your displeasure. Double your DUMB.'" He threw back his head and laughed scornfully.
Still got it, he congratulated himself.
The twins cracked smiles, but their mother furrowed her brow. "Girls, let's try a different tent. We're not paying to be insulted."
"Actually, I work for free," Slappy riposted.
"It's okay, Mom," said Amanda. "Jillian and Harrison are always watching that Jeff Dunham guy, and his dummies are a lot more intense."
"That's just how ventriloquism acts go," Katie chimed in. "Otherwise he'd be called 'Slappy the Considerate Dummy.'"
"Hey, my show has no equal, dipstick," Slappy said. "Somewhere there's a tree making oxygen for you. You owe that tree an apology."
Katie laughed, then practically bounced to the entrance. She stuck her head out and hollered, "Dad, Jillian! Come look at this dummy!"
"That's not a nice thing to say about your own twin sister," Slappy said, "but I gotta admire your honesty." He inwardly groaned at the girl calling more in. Perhaps he should change tactics, either amp up the insults or make earsplitting noises until they sprinted out. But then, if he did that, Big Al might find out he was awake and come over to put him back to sleep.
I just need to get to that dumb choo-choo or find a different exit, he told himself. Maybe he could trick these knuckleheads into carrying him over there.
He had just consider this option when a broad-shouldered man with a receding hairline entered the tent — Jackpot! Slappy thought, tempted to unleash his arsenal of bald jokes — followed by a tall girl with long black hair and round green eyes.
Slappy suddenly forgot everything he wanted to say.
"He's a riot," Katie grinned at the newcomers. "Go on, Slappy! Say something to Jillian and Dad."
Slappy stared at the eldest sister. Her fair face had gentle curves, and a content, curious expression rested upon her pretty features. A red headband sat atop her black hair. She had a slender frame, clothed in a red Minnie Mouse shirt and denim shorts for summer weather — Jillian, they called her. Jillian. Jillian…
"He was working a second ago," Amanda said, puzzled.
"Maybe the puppeteer needs time to think up some more 'hilarious' jokes," the mother said.
Jillian crossed over the wooden platform and leaned down to inspect the dummy. Slappy didn't spy even an acne scar on her smooth skin. She smelled as though she had taken a shower before the family left to enjoy the seemingly innocent carnival. Jillian read his sign aloud like her sister had done.
"'Slappy,' huh? He's kinda cute," she decided, "but his eyes are so cold and angry."
Something sprung to life inside Slappy, and he grinned up at her. "Are you hitting on me?"
Jillian jumped back in surprise, laughing. "Whoa!"
Her giggles sounded adorable.
Slappy leaned forward, gripping the chair. "Hey, Jillian, were you adopted?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
She shook her head, still smiling. "No. Why?"
"Because," he said, nudging his head toward where her parents stood, "I can't believe these two monkeys could bring somebody with your looks into this world."
She snorted, shaking her head. "Is that the best pick-up line you could come up with, pal?"
"Is that a challenge?" he returned roguishly.
"No!" she cried with a self-conscious giggle, but she seemed just a little pleased to be singled out by an invisible puppeteer. She twisted a strand of black hair around her thin fingers.
She will be my slave — but I'll let her command all the other slaves in my domain if she always laughs at my jokes, he decided, admiring the spark in her green eyes.
"Looks like Noodle's got an admirer," her father grinned, nudging her arm.
Jillian spun away from the puppet. "Knock it off," she murmured.
"Mary-Ellen always said you'd marry a dummy," Amanda remarked, and her twin snickered.
"You knock it off too," she retorted, less kindly.
"The puppeteer's probably looking through a hidden camera," her father continued, glancing about the tent. "Sorta like when we went to Disney World and saw the talking trash can. The puppeteer was somebody in the crowd, talking into a hidden microphone."
"His mechanisms are certainly realistic," his wife put in. "I could almost believe he was real."
"Thank you, Mom," Slappy said and added, "in-law."
The mother shook her head, even less amused than before. "Must be a nice job. Just speak into a microphone and improvise."
Slappy felt tempted to make a joke then — I'd rather have your job: I hear being the village idiot pays well — but he looked at Jillian again. She had moved to a different section to examine the dummies who had formerly been children from South America. He experienced a sudden urge to make her look at him.
"Hey, Jillian," he rasped at her.
She looked over her shoulder.
He searched his memory banks for something clever. He could conjure up insults and falsehoods on the fly, but sincerity existed in the rarely used parts of his psyche.
"You… like the carnival so far?" he tried.
"We haven't seen a whole lot yet, but it looks cool." She paused a second, self-consciously adjusting her Minnie Mouse shirt, and added, "The rides area looks fun."
"Have you been to the hall of mirrors up in the House of Horrors yet?" At the shake of her head, he said, "I'm not allowed in there anymore."
"Because the mirrors cry when I leave," he grinned. "I'm the best-looking thing they've ever seen."
The twins laughed at his joke, but Slappy ignored them, more interested in the small smile Jillian gave him.
"So," she said slowly, her green eyes beginning to dance with playfulness, "what you're saying is that they pine for you?"
He blinked at her. He had heard that kind of joke from previous slaves who had insisted on using outdated tree jokes in their ventriloquist routines — but somehow he liked her saying it.
"I'll go out on a limb and say that pun was oak-kay," he returned. The twins laughed. Her father smiled while her mother rolled her eyes. "You like roller coasters?"
Jillian leaned forward, her features becoming playfully serious. "I love roller coasters. I'm a speed junkie."
"Ever been to HorrorLand?"
"It's on my bucket list."
"I was there as a V.I.V. — that's 'Very Important Villain'," he said. "As a V.I.V., I got to go on any ride I wanted, when I wanted. I once made them close the R.I.P.P.E.R. Dipper to the public so that I could ride it two days in a row." A flare of anger ignited inside him as he remembered that it had all been part of The Menace's plan to use him and betray him. However, right then it also gave him something to keep the conversation going.
Jillian shook her head, grinning.
"You don't believe me," he observed. "When you finally get to HorrorLand, ask about Slappy."
"I will," she promised. She pushed back her bangs shyly, her soft eyes swinging about as if in search for a hidden camera. Then she spun from him to address her father. "Speaking of coasters, ready to try the space one, Dad? It's so high, the drops are gonna be sweet."
Her father held up a thumb. "Let's jet, Noodle."
Wait? The roller coaster? Slappy sat up. Wasn't the roller coaster the ride where they turned you into…
His eyes lit up, but he said nothing. He fought down the snicker that rose to his lips. All he had to do now was wait and let the carnival workers help him claim his new slave.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow, folks," Slappy sniffed, but inwardly a wicked grin danced in his mind. "Enjoy the carnival — especially you, Noodle."
Jillian's eyes sparked with mild annoyance, but she still flashed a sweet smile as she headed toward the exit with her father. "See you around, buddy."
"You will," he promised in dulcet tones and she averted her eyes, flattered. If you only knew — but you will. Soon.
"The twins wanted to win some prizes in the midway," the mother told her husband. "Let's meet in an hour for some snacks, Johnny."
The family agreed to this plan. Jillian and her father went their way while the twins headed for more tents with their mother. Katie gave the puppet a wave as she left.
"Bye, stupid," he returned.
Once the tent flap dropped behind them, the dummy chuckled to himself. Oh, this could work, he thought, tapping his fingertips together gleefully. You can't spell 'wood' without 'woo,' and Slappy's goin' a-courtin'!
The cool night air hit his face as he peeked out, providing a contrast with the tent. Buttery popcorn, hot dogs, and other carnival foods sent their fragrances on the breeze to tempt the unsuspecting. He glanced both ways for any signs of carnival workers wandering the midway. The carnival split in the middle, with games and booths on one half and rides on the other. The Supersonic Space Coaster stretched high into the sky, guiding the dummy's course. Once he was sure the coast was cleared, he scurried to the opposite row of tents and squeezed in between two. He shuffled sideways until he spilled into the alley behind them, now facing another row of tents.
He smiled and crept down the alley, keeping low to avoid detection. The walkway had abandoned, mildew-covered cardboard boxes and stinking, filled-out trash cans, beckoning a legion of rats. He avoided these as best as he could — a disgusting effluvium would not woo his lady.
A yellow-striped tent rustled in front of him, and Slappy realized this one had a back exit. He tensed, intending to hide in between two tents — or kill whomever came out if he couldn't make it in time.
However, just as Slappy shuffled for his hiding spot, Madame Zeno's dark head emerged. The crystal gazer turned, not surprised to see him. She gave him a somber look and pointed toward the other side of the alley, where a wooden fence stood between two large tents.
"If you cut around the Reptile's Petting Zoo, you'll reach your girl faster." Then she waved a finger. "Remember, your decisions will determine if you get your happiness tonight."
"If you saw that girl, you'd know she'll make Slappy very happy," he replied. He dipped a quick nod at the fortune teller and shuffled toward the fenced perimeter. "You're still a fraud," he called over his shoulder as Zeno vanished back inside her tent.
The roller coaster started up before he had even left the midway. The twin cars, shaped like space shuttles, climbed to the first drop as he ducked to avoid two workers at the bumper cars. By the time the staff entrance of the exit area came into view, the space shuttles zoomed into a dark tunnel, and the heavy doors closed with a nasty crunch which reverberated down the lane of rides. When Slappy finally reached the door, used his magic to pick the lock, and snuck into the tunnel, the hissing started.
The sickly sweet scent of perfume wafted through the air, perilous to anyone with lungs. Fortunately, Slappy had nothing so fragile in his body. He advanced down the dimly lit hall as fast as his legs would allow him and hid behind some crates as a pair of workers in overalls and gas masks appeared and headed through a door for the victims trapped inside the tunnel.
"You get the bald guy. I'll take the girl," said one worker from within, who Slappy vaguely remembered being named Sam or something.
"She's a pretty one," said the other, who might have been Eugene. "She'll make an excellent astronaut for the RealLife Space Display."
"I can't wait to see what kinda costumes Cassie makes for them," Sam chirped, as if discussing a summer blockbuster he hoped to see. "She wants to try a space monster this time, and Baldy would be a great guinea pig."
"You like more than her costumes, you sly dog," Eugene ribbed him.
Slappy kept his head down. Sounds followed of them fiddling with the safety harnesses in the space shuttles, echoing in the aromatic tunnel. When Slappy dared to peek, he watched them carry Jillian and her father into the hall and through a door that led to the storage facility. Sam held Jillian bridal style. Eugene, a large man, had hefted the father — Johnny, Slappy remembered — over his shoulder as if he weighed no more than a sleeping bag.
Both of the prey remained rigid in their arms, unable to twitch a finger. The paralyzing perfume worked fast, or so Slappy had heard.
With the coast clear, Slappy tiptoed into the storage facility. Jillian and her father had been placed on a low, wide bench, stuck in the sitting position until Sam and Eugene reworked their limbs to whatever they thought the RealLife Space Display needed.
The puppet crept in front of the fragrant statues, entirely motionless except for their shallow breathing. Jillian's windswept hair now hung around her like a messy willow tree, and her fair face stayed in an expression of fearful confusion — both would be adjusted by her future handlers had Slappy possessed any intention of leaving without his property.
He touched her warm, fleshy knee, watching her face. No movement, but her green eyes shot down to look at him. Her pupils dilated, and her breathing grew shallow, but she could only blink at him. From what Slappy had heard of the paralysis perfume, it had affected even her vocal chords, so she didn't have the luxury of screaming.
He waved a hand in front of her eyes. "Anybody in there? Does your brain work?"
Her eyelashes fluttered at him rapidly. Slappy had no doubt she would have bolted from a talking puppet if she could. While that would've been funny with somebody else, he didn't need her fainting on him. He had no clue when Sam and Eugene would return, and he planned to be outside in less than five minutes.
"I know what you're thinking. You just got paralyzed on a carnival ride, and seeing such a dashing puppet standing before you is still the most amazing thing you've seen today," he grinned. "Rest your mind. I'm willing to help you, if you're willing to help me."
More blinking, pleading now.
Please, don't faint. Then an idea struck him.
"Listen. Blink twice for yes, thrice for no. Do you understand?"
Her eyes stilled. Then two blinks.
"Good." He took her hand, imitating some of the parents who had comforted the children he had tormented. "We weren't properly introduced before. I'm Slappy, and I'm very pleased to meet you, Jillian. Do you want me to help you?"
He nodded, his grin stretching. "Right now, honey, I'm the only one who will try to rescue you," he told her. "Your mama ain't gonna find you way back here. But I don't do my services for free. You gotta give me something in return — and fortunately I know exactly what I want."
He released her hand and climbed onto the bench, standing on her left. With the boost, he now stood a little above her, and he swiveled her head to face him. It moved easily, adjustable like a mannequin.
"See, when you're this handsome and this powerful and this intelligent, the world is at your fingertips, but there are some things I still need." He tapped her nose. "Some slaves would be nice for a start."
More rapid blinks — those frantic irises were such a pretty shade of green — and she looked sickened.
He patted her cheek. "Trust me, if I save your life, the least you can do is obey me," he pointed out. "If I leave, they'll put you in the RealLife Space Display, and they won't feed you. You'll die of starvation — or maybe dehydration." He cocked his head, lifting his eyes in a thoughtful expression. "I always forget. Which one happens first?"
He released her face. "Do you want me to leave you here, Jillian?"
She stared at him. Then three blinks.
"Will you obey me if I free you?"
She averted her gaze and squeezed her eyes shut. Her breathing quickened through her nostrils.
"Starvation or slavery, Jillian."
She didn't open her eyes.
Slappy touched her shoulder. "I'm not all bad, sweetheart. Actually, I'm a whole lot worse," he snickered, pushing her messy hair off her red shirt. "But I'm pretty nice to my family, if I had one. And maybe you can help me there."
The green eyes snapped open. She looked at him in alarm.
"Oh, right. I forgot to mention." He adjusted his suit, bowed slightly, and gave her a sweet expression. "If I free you, you're not just gonna serve me. You're gonna marry me."
Three quick blinks.
"Fine," he said casually, taking a step away. "Stay here. Enjoy the agony of your last days on earth. It'll only take, what, less than a month before you're dead? If you prefer death over a desirable husband, maybe you don't have the smarts to be a good bride. So long, Jillian. At least we'll always have Paris."
He spun around and sashayed deliberately to the edge of the bench, glad he had turned Jillian's head so that she could watch him. Then he stopped and spun his own head 180 degrees.
Her eyes bulged. Even though her face was frozen in one expression, her skin had blanched.
Slappy chuckled. "Do you want me to leave, Jillian?"
She winced, but after a long breath through her nose, she gave three blinks.
Slappy turned the rest of his body. "And do you agree to my terms?"
Another pause. And two blinks.
He closed the distance between them. He took her left hand.
"Then, let's go, my bride."
He focused his magic, channeling it. Then he pointed two fingers at her.
Her whole body jolted as if electrocuted, hard enough to tilt her forward. A soft crackling sound snapped around her as the spell entered her body. She slid to the ground, landing in a heap. Slappy pointed at her again. Her head began to change: her fleshy face became smooth, stiff. Her black hair lost its natural sheen. The puppet pointed again, and her torso followed. A fourth time altered her arms and legs.
Slappy watched, satisfied, as her whole body, clothes included, shrank until she was about the same size as himself.
Jillian pushed herself to her elbows. She touched her head, disoriented. Then she froze and lowered her stiff hand to stare at it. She bolted to her knees, gawking at her tiny limbs. Her sliding jaw dropped wide to scream — but nothing came out. She clutched her throat, clicking her jaw, trying to make a sound. Then she spun around to look up at him in horror.
Slappy snapped his fingers. "Oh, did I forget to tell you there's no cure for the paralysis perfume? Best I can do is turn you into a dummy. But you look cute this way too. At least you won't wrinkle in a few decades."
He hopped off the bench to join her. If there was one thing The Menace had done right, it was to teach him that spell — and his new lady was a lovely sight in puppet form. He held out his palm to help her up.
She pushed his hand away. Still on her knees, she pointed at him, glaring, and her jaw jumped up and down in her silent screech. Her arms gestured wildly at him, at her face, at her chest, at him again. She shook her little fists and tore at her synthetic hair. Then she buried her face in her hands, unable even to sob.
Slappy snickered. Oh, this would be fun.
"You don't have lungs now, darlin'. I literally just took your breath away." He made a snake-like snatch at her elbow. He pulled her into his arms, steadying her against the ground, and he held her close. Her clothes still had that fresh-from-the-shower smell, and it now mingled with the scent of perfume and pine wood. He peered into her round green eyes — pretty, scared, angry and entirely his to gaze into.
"Hey, Jillian," he grinned. "Are you pining for me now?"
She pushed against his chest, and he giggled.
"Do you want me to change you back into a paralyzed mannequin?" he asked innocently. "Or make a noise so that those guys catch you?"
She stopped struggling, but she twisted her head away.
"You'll learn to adore me, my pet. I'll teach you to talk properly once we're safe," he said, drawing back and taking her hand. "It's more speaking from your soul rather than organs, if that makes any sense." He tugged her arm. "Let's be quick before those goons get back."
He started to pull her toward the exit, but suddenly she slapped her palm against his wrist. She pointed to her father, imploring him with her eyes.
"Forget it. He'd slow us down."
She tugged him back. She pressed her palms together.
"No." Slappy yanked her into his arms, intending to sling her over his shoulder if he had to. "You're my bride now, Jillian. Your job is to love, honor, and obey your groom."
Her eyes narrowed, then she closed them tight in concentration. Her lips trembled, and then — so soft he almost didn't hear it — a sound croaked from her mouth.
Slappy raised his eyebrows. "Have you figured out how to talk already?" he asked, impressed. He had been born with the ability to speak, but the fact his own bride could figure it out made him grin. "Figures the girl I picked for myself has some brains behind that beauty."
She didn't smile at the compliment. She shook her pinned clasped hands against his chest. "Plea...se," she asked again, a little stronger.
Slappy glanced up at the balding man. Johnny could probably hear every word they said, not that it helped him a lick. Slappy had no desire to waste time on him, but it'd easier for his escape if Jillian didn't fight him to save her beloved daddy.
"Oh, very well," he decided. "He's my future father-in-law after all, but he fends for himself, got it?"
Her face fell at that last declaration, but Jillian nodded quickly. Slappy removed one arm from his lady and concentrated again. Like with his daughter, Johnny jerked as the magic coursed through him. Then his different parts changed until he was entirely wooden and tiny, but still taller than both Jillian and Slappy. The former human toppled to his side, clutching his throat and moving his jaw.
Slappy saluted him and grabbed Jillian's hand. "Thanks for making me this woman, Dad. Don't let the carnies catch you." He spun away, taking his stumbling fiancée toward the exit. By the time Johnny would learn to walk, Slappy would already be outside the carnival, enjoying his freedom and his marriage.
Scraping came from the bench, and Slappy swiveled his head to see Johnny on his knees, pulling himself along the seat. His new wooden face wore a smile as well, but murder glinted in his green-eyed glare.
The dummy snickered at him. "Oh, gimme a break—" But that was far as he got.
Johnny placed the sole of his dusty, off-color sneaker on the bench — and used the force of his wooden limbs to spring himself forward, right into Slappy.
Slappy tumbled back, releasing Jillian, and his back connected with the hard ground. He could only raise his arms in defense before his attacker straddled him, and Johnny's fists pummeled anything he could beat.
"Gah! Stop! I saved your life!" Slappy cried out against the assault. He tried to swing, relying on his own magic-enhanced strength, but for every blow he landed, the enraged father dealt three more.
"St-op!" Jillian cried, grabbing Johnny's arm. "St-t-top!" She managed to drag him off Slappy, nearly losing her balance.
The dummy scurried to his feet. "Didn't hurt at all," he taunted, rubbing the new scratches on his chin.
The balding puppet struggled to stand on his legs, using the nearby bench for support. He contorted his face, moving his features similarly to his daughter's, and a sound managed to work its way out, but Slappy wasn't going to stick around to listen.
"It's rude to mumble, Chrome Dome," Slappy said dryly. "Now, the clock's ticking. You go look for your own wife while I take mine away."
Johnny put his arm in front of Jillian. "N-No," he rasped quietly. "N-Never."
Slappy glared. "She agreed," he reminded them, "and you can't escape from the Carnival of Horrors without Slappy."
Johnny raised his fist and lurched toward him.
Slappy covered his head. "Ack! Uncle! Uncle!"
Johnny's jaw slid and rattled. With great visible effort, he forced out, "No… one… gets my g-girl… unless h-he's... good… enough."
The dummy lowered his hands, frowning. "I'm your best chance at survival. Doesn't that count? Besides, you have two other daughters. You can spare one."
The man staggered forward.
Slappy scrambled away. "It was a joke!" he protested. "I tell jokes! That's my job, Daddy dearest!"
Johnny hissed like an alligator, perhaps forcing air out from his hollow torso. He stepped forward — but Jillian grabbed his arm.
Her green eyes peered at him imploringly. "M-Mom," she whispered. "Tw-Twins."
Her father hesitated. Slappy jumped on the opportunity his fiancée provided, nodding his head violently.
"Yes! Excellent point, Jillian. Your wife and the other girls are in great danger. You can't escape unless I help you." He gave a small bow. "It'd be easier for a puppet like myself to face all the traps and violent surprises of the carnival if I knew I was helping my future mother-in-law and my little sisters."
"No!" Johnny hissed, raising both fists.
"Need help," Jillian pleaded, holding onto him.
Slappy placed a hand on his chest. "I promise I'll never let your daughter starve. She doesn't even have a stomach now," he quipped. "And besides, you both owe me a life debt. Only thing I want is Jillian."
Johnny looked from Jillian to the dummy. His fingers twitched with indecision. Then he wrapped his arms around his daughter and pointed at Slappy.
"Save them," he glowered. "And I don't hurt you."
"We'll negotiate later," Slappy amended. "But I warn you, the roller coaster isn't the worst thing this haunted place has to offer."
Jillian placed her hands on her father's chest and pushed herself out of his hold. She stumbled up to Slappy and pointed at him. She narrowed her eyes.
"Save them… and we… can have… a date," she said, not able to hide all her distaste.
He put his hand to his ear, not sure if he heard right. "A date?"
She nodded. "Get cof...fee."
That's right. Humans went on dates before marriage. He'd never been on one, but it could be fun. Especially with the right company. He took her hands.
"A date or two could be just the ticket while we get ready for the wedding," he said, wagging his eyebrows playfully.
Jillian turned away her head. "Save them," she repeated firmly.
Rescuing his in-laws might mean he wouldn't have time to kill Big Al. However, if Mama and the girls hadn't already been horribly mangled in the midway or sent into outer space — or added to the freak show — or eaten by a giant vulture or a furry monster — or whisked away by a purple tornado — or given to the local alligator as a pet — or struck by lightning — or shot out of a cannon — or eaten by sentient hotdogs — or decapitated by Norwegian elves, then they had a good chance of escape. Their three pairs of human legs would be helpful for getting the three puppets to the exit before midnight.
And if he couldn't find them, he could at least find a way to ditch Johnny and take his fiancée to freedom.
Slappy nodded at this plan and grinned at his lady. "Sure. Like I told you, I'm nice when it comes to my family, Jillian."
Johnny grunted, flexing his wooden fingers, but Slappy jabbed his head toward the exit. Still holding one of his bride's hand, he started for it.
"C'mon, those guys who captured you might be back soon."
A/N: While Madame Zeno isn't described as Greek in the book, her surname is evidently of Greek origin, so I wanted to add that to her character. In the book, if the reader picks the red card, she gives you a number (132), and that's how you escape the dummy. Since she deliberately foils Slappy/Wood enslaving you, I thought having her interact with Slappy in this fic would be interesting.
(Headcanon time: if you prefer the interpretation that Mr. Wood is the dummy in the book, maybe he's been permanently living in the carnival.)
Somewhere there's a tree making oxygen for you. You owe that tree an apology. — Got that one from Reddit on a thread where someone asked for clean insults, haha.
You can't spell 'wood' without 'woo...' — If you think Slappy wouldn't make a pun that bad, then know that in Slappy's Nightmare, Slappy justifies killing a little girl by telling himself, "Evil is live spelled backwards."
Alley — In the book the carnival has an alley in the midway, ergo I feel okay mentioning one in my fic.
While in the book, the perfume causes the player character to lose the ability to blink, I'm okay with not strictly adhering to that fact because a) Jillian needed to communicate with Slappy somehow and b) one of the carnival works says, "Looks like the perfume worked." That implies it doesn't always work or even that some people are affected differently than others. Since the reader character is just one person in how ever many victims/test subjects that had encountered the perfume, statistically somebody could have a different reaction. Artistic license — you're allowed to use it, even in fanfiction!