Bells of Warning

She was alone. In the twilight she could not tell whether it was just before nightfall or almost daybreak. Leaves crunched softly beneath her feet, and those that remained on their branches rustled gently in the cool breeze.

She was uneasy about something, but strangely could not remember just what it was. She could not even remember from where she had come. She was walking along a path in a forest that seemed to lead her nowhere, and yet she was compelled to follow it. Had she been walking for minutes? Hours? Forever?

She came across a clearing with a grand, but deserted carnival. Soft, cheerful music played, but there was no one laughing or cheering. In fact, there seemed to be no one at all. Colourful lights danced along the Ferris wheel, but she did not see anyone on it. Movement came only from dust stirred by the wind.

She turned to see a clown approaching. He was the only being in sight. He spoke no words but performed many tricks with a piece of simple string he had pulled cleverly from one of his pockets. She cautiously edged closer for a better look. He held the string out to her and smiled. She shook her head, not sure of his intentions. He pointed to the string, and then pointed at her and nodded vigorously. Still confused, she took a step back. The clown then smiled garishly and looked up. Her gaze followed his, travelling toward the treetops.

Bodies hung from the tops of the trees. For several horrible moments she was certain they were dead, but as she continued to stare, she realized that they were still alive, but very ill. Their pale white faces gave off an eerie glow that reflected the dim light of the moon. Hollow eyes stared without seeing. She looked back to the clown who was offering her the string once again.

Suddenly he was coming towards her, his hands spinning the string about furiously. Images began to appear from his weaving. Images that appealed to her. Things she had lost, things she had longed for her entire life all flashed before her eyes. She watched, fascinated by what was being offered to her. The lights from the carnival added to the splendour, and the music was dulling her senses. She saw only one thing—the string.

She grasped for the string eagerly but clumsily, and the clown bounced away. She tried again, but he continued to dance, always just out of her reach, yet always appearing so very close. Still his hands never ceased to work, quicker than the eye could see. They spun off more images: lost dreams, hidden hopes. She ran after him, stumbling many times, but she did not notice. The string! She had to have the string. She needed it. Desperately.

Clang! A bell struck. It drowned out the the carnival music and brought her to a halt. NO! it cried. She stood, very confused. The bell had such power-it commanded her to listen. Its cry lasted far beyond a natural bell, growing steadier and clearer instead of fading away. She was frozen. Her eyes flickered back to the clown and at last the toll of the bell began to fade. She wanted that string and all it had to offer. The clown turned back to her and stood once more weaving, but slower this time, giving her time to absorb the images. She reached out for it, but just as she did, the bell struck again, causing her arms to drop. NO! it urged her.

Once more the bell's ring died away, and once more the carnival music danced into her hearing. She was exhausted. When was the last time she had slept? She couldn't remember, and returned to stumbling clumsily towards the clown, for it was the only purpose she could recall having. He stepped back, not quite allowing her to reach the string. She took another step forward, and then another, but the bell rang yet again. She became alert once again and heard the ring screaming NO! yet again.

She wanted to scream in frustration. Her head, as well as her heart, was pounding. But there was the clown again—coming closer and closer, still weaving. He came so close that all she could see was the string, that marvellous, wonderful string that would bring her anything. No, not just anything! Everything! Was the bell was ringing again? Off in the distance? She ignored it. The carnival music was getting louder. She was enticed by the string and all its promises. And then finally, finally! she snatched it away from the clown with great triumph and flourish.

No sooner had her fingers touched the string when her feet were no longer on the ground. She was suddenly overlooking the entire fairground, the rides and music taunting her. She found herself strung up by the very thing she had so desired and pursued with such vigour. It had trapped her in a tree, at a height that even the Ferris wheel did not reach, among the company of the ghost-like beings. A glance at her hands revealed that her own skin had now taken on a similar pallor. Looking below, she saw the clown flash his awful grin and wave at her. He did not look so fun-loving and carefree from high above the ground. Suddenly he appeared quite ugly. Even with her now failing eyesight, she could see she had neglected to notice his cruel eyes and ragged clothes. What she had thought were shiny silver buckles on his suspenders were actually tarnished and stained. The dirty filth on his hands was absolutely impossible to hide, but she had seen only the string and the beautiful treasures it had promised, not caring at all to look at what hands had been behind it.

And now the clown had pulled out another piece of string. Before her sight faded completely, she watched in despair as he went bouncing along with a silly grin pasted on his face to greet his next victim. As darkness closed in, she knew it was too late for her—she had sealed her own fate. She could only hope whoever came next would be wise enough to heed the bells of warning.