As I was trying to deal with the revelation that Arthur had just explained to us, I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Janette rushing back toward the parking lot, her husband in tow. He was trying to get her to stay, but she wasn't having it.

“Wow,” Todd said, “Normally it takes a bit longer to convince people we’re telling the truth. I see this as a win.”

“Shut up and go get them,” Arthur said.

Todd nodded and followed behind them, his jester’s grin never fading.

As we waited, Arthur and Valorie spoke to each other in hushed tones. I thought I heard them call Janette a “hysteric.” A little extreme. Heck, I had half a mind to follow behind and hitch a ride out of here.

I didn’t expect to see them come back. Janette looked determined to be rid of this whole mess. After I heard some tire screeching in the distance, I figured they had high-tailed it out, but ten minutes later they reappeared on the road. Janette looked terrified. Bobby looked puzzled. Todd was laughing up a storm.

“The exit is gone,” Bobby said in a low tone, “The road we came on… was just gone. This convention is…something else.”


He was still clinging to the theory that all of this was part of some elaborate interactive horror convention. In a small way, so was I.

As the couple slowly made their way back to the group, Arthur continued to explain the malevolent entity known as Carousel.

"You have to be careful around town," he said. "There are a thousand different ways to get killed here, and some of them are really hard to see coming."

Valorie took over. “Carousel is a terrifying place, but it operates under predictable rules. One of those rules is that when you get here, you have to complete a storyline.”

She pointed back toward the wrought iron fence where we had seen the terrified woman. “That woman is named Samantha. She is an NPC for a storyline called ‘Permanent Vacancy.’

“It’s a medium-level storyline, so we didn’t want you to interact with her, or else you might get stuck in the story. The fact remains—you do have to complete a storyline soon. Carousel is going to keep trying to push you into one. So, we picked one out for you, one that we think we can help you complete without much trouble."


The three guides waved us further down the road. As we walked, we passed by a patchwork of crops.

“This is the wrong time of year for this stuff,” Camden whispered to me and Anna as we walked. Antoine and Kimberly walked further behind us.

I looked around. He was right. Corn, wheat, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Those are not something you would see at the beginning of summer. Those were fall crops.

The crops weren’t the only thing that was wrong. The weather was too cool. Even the sun and the sky didn't look right for summer.

I was working full time trying to rationalize everything I was seeing. This wasn’t helping.

Could this be real?

I thought about what we had been told about storylines. I pulled out my tickets. My “Plot Armor” was eleven, but it would be reduced by half when I enter a storyline.

In a movie, Plot Armor is a term that is used to explain away improbable plot points. The masked killer takes out the ex-marine like he’s made of cardboard, but the high school cheerleader manages to fight him off—that’s Plot Armor.

One character dies from getting tapped in the head, another survives three explosions and four stabbings—Plot Armor.

The bad guy is unkillable by a minor character, but the protagonist manages to get the better of them with ease? Two words. Plot. Armor.

I don’t know how it functions in Carousel, but if it meant what it sounded like, and all of this was actually real, it could only mean one thing—that I was screwed.

We walked for so long that we started to see buildings. Eventually, we came upon a large gate that read "Patcher's Family Farm." I was almost shocked to see that, unlike the rest of Carousel that we had seen so far, this place had people—in fact, it had kids running around, screaming, and having fun.

Patcher's Family Farm was an agritourism destination, you know, one of those places with hayrides, pumpkin chunking, and farm-themed carnival games.

None of the people on the farm paid us any mind. I got a very strange feeling from them. This is where my visions of the red wallpaper really started to flare up. I saw words that I couldn't quite read, but I knew something was unusual about them. I suspected that, like the bloody woman Samantha, these people were NPCs.

They also wore an aggressive amount of denim.

I don’t know which of those things made me more uncomfortable.

We were led to the back of the farm where there were no NPCs. A huge display of pumpkins was set up on hay bales. Next to them was a booth that read "Corn Maze $5." A sign on the booth said, "Open.”

As I was reading, the words “The Final Straw II" flashed into my mind.

"Where's the attendant?" Janette asked. She had woken up from her fearful hibernation.

She was right; it was clear that there was supposed to be an attendant here. There was a chair behind the booth that had been knocked over, and the cash box was sitting open and untouched where anyone could just take from it. I looked around, but we were alone.

"You have a good eye. Hysterics are very good at this part," Valorie said. "It is quite strange that the attendant is missing, and the chair is knocked over, and yet the cashbox is right here, open. Try to look at this booth and really focus on it, what do you see?"

I did as she instructed. Truth be told, I didn't see anything but red wallpaper, but it's true, something was screaming out to me from within my mind. There was something there to see, but I couldn't quite make it out. What was my mind trying to tell me? Suddenly, I got a flash - an image that appeared to be one of those old-fashioned elevator indicators you might see in a fancy hotel with a needle that would point to what floor the elevator was on while you were waiting.

But the indicator in my mind didn't have floor numbers. Instead, it had words. And while I couldn't read all of those words, I could read one: "Omen."

"It takes a while to be able to see things clearly," Valorie said. "But this is an omen. It's an ominous sign that something is about to happen. This is a storyline called ‘The Final Straw II,’ and you know it's a storyline because it has an omen right here - a sign of bad things to come.

“Sometimes omens are subtle, like an attendant being missing mysteriously. Other times, they're obvious, like a bleeding woman running up to you asking for help. But whenever you see an omen, the next thing you have to look out for is the ‘Choice.’"

Todd took over. "In this case, the Choice is pretty simple. You either enter the maze or leave. You also have the option of investigating the farmhouse over there," he said, pointing around the side of the corn maze. "But we want you to ignore that for now."

Now Arthur spoke up. "The corn maze is simple. Get to the end. That's it. That's the entire storyline as far as you're concerned. The three of us will take care of the actual plot. All you have to do is walk from the entrance of the corn maze to the exit. That's it. It’s virtually impossible to get killed permanently in a storyline like this."

I thought it was strange that he said "Get killed permanently." Does that suggest that you could be killed temporarily?

Anna thought it was strange too. "What do you mean killed permanently?" she asked.

Arthur took a deep breath. "As long as one person survives to the end of the story, you'll all come out without a scratch on you. Simple."

"I want you to look at this sign," he said, pointing to the sign above the booth. "There is a simple rule on it. You see that?" he asked.

Painted in red paint, the booth said, "Enter one at a time--do not cut through the corn."

"Carousel operates by rules. You see a rule, you follow it. So stick to the paths. We always tell people that, and we always get ignored. Don't be the person that ignores us this time."

They started to wave us through one at a time. I positioned myself so that I could go in last. After everyone else had walked or run into the corn maze, I walked in.

The word “Choice” appeared in my head. I ignored it.

After entering the maze and taking a few turns, I was good and truly lost. So much so that even when I turned around and tried to find the entrance I had just come through, I couldn't find it.

I tried thinking back to the picture of the maze that I had seen at the booth, trying to remember its turns and twists. It didn't look this complicated, but it was useless.

I won't lie; I was thoroughly spooked.

I stuck to the middle of the pathways as best I could and didn't take a turn unless I was certain that it was an actual path and not just a place where the corn had been planted thinly. The rule says don't cut through the corn, then I'm not gonna cut through the corn.

As I walked forward, I heard footsteps all around me, but try as I might, I couldn't see anyone else. I caught a glance of something orange and decided to go check it out. Whatever it might be, it was better than being lost in a sea of corn.

It took me 5 minutes to wind my way around until eventually, I stumbled back on the orange thing I had seen. It was a pumpkin display, a smaller version of what had been on the outside of the corn maze. Nothing more than 6 hay bales and a dozen or so pumpkins of various sizes, some of them had even been carved into faces like a Jack-o’-lantern.

The red wallpaper overtook my vision. This was the first clear image it had given me. I saw a movie poster of this exact scene, but it was different. In the painting, the pumpkins were all smashed. The poster’s title was, simply, “Territorial.”

As much as I desired to look away, I had to keep reading further. Beneath the poster was a brass plate like those that might be beneath a painting at a museum. It simply read:

Territorial: This killer will punish those who harm its domain