Hey, guys!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I have not yet been able to view The Devil's Carnival (sad day), so this story holds no spoilers! However, I'm not sure if I'm close to the plot or not, so if you haven't seen it either and you don't want any accidentally-close-to-the-real-plot spoilers, come back and read my story later, just in case! :)

I got the idea for this story simply by listening to Beautiful Stranger from the TDC soundtrack, which explains the title. I really had fun writing it, so I hope you guys enjoy reading it! I'll be uploading the second chapter soon!

PS: The writing in italics is a flashback sequence with a new form I'm trying out. Let me know if it works, or if it's just confusing! Thanks for reading!

She swayed as she walked, unsure of where she was going or why she was going there. She kept her cool demeanor intact, her eyes showing nothing but bored intrigue, but underneath all that fur, expensive jewels and make-up, she was panicking. How did she get here? Why was she here? Where, exactly, was here?

She guessed it was a carnival easily enough, but it seemed run down, warn out, decrepit even. But everything was still running. The eerie carnival music was the same wherever she walked, as though a live band was just around the corner. She could hear an organ, an accordion, an occasional drumbeat, but she never got any closer to the music. She looked around for the cleverly hidden band for a while, but found nothing; not even a stage. What disturbed her more than the disembodied music, though, was the lack of people. Everything was running; the shooting range was in full swing, targets swaying from side to side. The duck hunting game was lively, ducks bobbing up and down, in and out of sight; even the pie throwing booth was ready, freshly made crème pies were sitting in rows just beyond her reach. But no one was there.

Her stomach began to flip as she continued to roam the deserted carnival. It was getting harder and harder to hide her frustration. And as much as she hated admitting it to herself, the knot that was forming in her chest revealed her fear. But she wasn't one to play out her emotions for others to see, despite her lack of audience.

She slowly passed row after row of empty booths. She could hear her own heartbeat in her ears as her situation became more and more terrifying. She cleared her throat nervously and swallowed. A small shiver ran up her spine as a breeze blew wisps of her hair out of place. As she went to pin the fallen strands, she heard a sudden surge of laughter and looked to its source. A booth, decorated in red and white flashing lights, suddenly seemed brighter than the rest. She quickened her pace in hopes of finding someone. Once she strode up to the booth, there was no one there.

"Hello?" She called.

She let out an exasperated sigh and called out again, this time louder. "Hello?"

She looked around the booth and peered over it, leaning as far as she could until the diamonds on her necklace lightly touched the counter. She saw the source of the sound. It was a jack-in-the-box. She gave it a look before leaning back, wondering how a small jack-in-the-box could make such a loud noise.

'Stupid thing must be defective,' she mused.

As she picked herself back up, she felt her necklace graze something. She looked down and saw a spread out deck of cards. She stood up quickly, taking a step back. She didn't remember seeing anything on the counter when she first arrived.

She reached out a hand and gently picked one card from the deck. Nothing told her to stop as she flipped the card over.

"The eight of clubs," she said aloud. "My lucky card."

She looked down at the rest of the deck and without thinking, lightly touched the tops of the cards. She remembered the first time she played.

She was twenty, walking from a party on a busy street for the first time unattended. And as she walked, she came upon an ally, of which, there were many. So she was surprised when she watched as a man came from the shadows with a deck of cards spread out to her in his hands. She moved to back away at first, but she stopped when he asked her a simple question: Pick one? She looked to the man, then back to the cards. Her hand seemed to move on its own as it reached out and gently took one from the deck. Now look at the card, he told her. She did. Don't let me see it, he said. She clutched it to her breast. Now, he smiled, I'll bet you a dollar I can guess which card you're holding in your hands. The dollar in her pocket seemed to catch fire. She nodded her head in agreement, sure of her win. The six of clubs, he said proudly. Her eyes widened in disbelief and the man laughed as he held his hand out. No, she said. Again, I want to play again. He smirked, double or nothing? She gave him a quizzical look, but he dismissed it and began to shuffle the cards again, taking the card she held. After he shuffled, he spread the cards out for her once more. She picked one after looking the deck over, and glanced at it quickly before holding it close to her chest. The man smirked, ready? Yes. Your card is the eight of spades. No. The man's face fell. What? No, she repeated. Let me see the card, he demanded. She held the card out to him. He looked at the card incredulously. How did I-? She held her hand out to him this time. Double or nothing, she repeated. He paused for a moment before shoving his fist into his pocket angrily and pulled out a wad of dollar bills. She marveled and cocked her head as he retrieved two dollars and held the money out to her. What? He asked annoyed. Do you want the money or not? How did you get so much? she asked. By doing what we just did, except I normally win, he spat, taking her hand and placing the money in her palm. And what is it that we just did, exactly? She questioned. His brow furrowed, Haven't you ever heard of gambling? Gambling? She cried. Quiet! He whispered, you want everyone to hear? Gambling is bad, she argued, looking over the money in her hand. Not if you know how to play, he said.

She shoved the card into her pocket and started again in search of others. Her hands felt clammy as they grasped the fur around her neck, and her brow cooled with small pools of sweat. As she moved through each row of games and mirrors and stuffed prizes, she noticed the games were beginning to spread farther apart; the music would fade in and out as she walked towards and passed booths she wasn't sure she'd ever heard of. "By The Book – Do you know your Bible verses?" "By the Hook – Catch a frog, catch a prize!" "By the Rook – A game of chess for your soul!" Before long she was too curious with the booths to care much about the lack of people or the question that should have been plaguing her most: How did I get here?

As she walked up to a booth called "The Magician – magic tricks even the Devil doesn't know!" she saw a shadow out of the corner of her eye. She looked down the row and saw the very back of someone as they turned the corner.

"Hey!" She called. "Wait!"

She made a run for the corner, hoping for answers and maybe a game. As she turned the corner, she saw nothing. The carnival ended with that corner. There was no music, no lights, just black darkness. Her hand instinctively reached up and curled around her diamond necklace as she backed away. She wasn't sure she liked the carnival, but she knew she didn't like this.

"I must be seeing things," she reasoned. "There couldn't possibly be anyone out there." She turned to leave, but heard a large switch and her shadow appeared on the ground as light engulfed her. She stood for a moment, unmoving and frightened.

"Care to play a game?"