Every year on July 1st, people in the Archeoastronomy Planetarium vanish. They say the Trickster takes them, sucking them from their seats beneath the starry dome. None were seen again.
Today was Fenwick’s turn.
He had studied all the articles. He knew every bit of the lore of July 1st madness — which was to say, not a lot.
Fenwick was different. He would find out once and for all where the vanishers went. Many assumed that the archeological artefacts at the Planetarium were to blame for the strange disappearances. After all, the entire Planetarium itself had been excavated from an ancient buried city. It was probably filled with all kinds of voodoo.
Fenwick settled himself into a decaying velour armchair and leaned back under the domed ceiling. A piece of archaic technology called a projectator beamed light onto the ceiling in the pattern of stars that had long since shifted. He was alone in the Planetarium — no-one else dared to come on the night of July 1st. Soon the clock would strike midnight and Fenwick would finally see where the vanishers went. He imagined ancient cities, other planets, the inside of a great and powerful ship…
He did not expect a maternity ward.
Fenwick opened his eyes to stale white walls and rows of bassinets lined with pink or blue blankets. Each one was empty. Cold lights flickered overhead. As Fenwick got to his feet, he heard crying.
A loudspeaker in the ceiling crackled and a child’s voice came over the intercom.
“You have 1 hour to find me, and you may return home.”
A dashboard on the wall burst into life, red numbers flashing across its screen.
“Wait, what?” Fenwick called out. The message repeated itself. “Are you the Trickster?”
The voice just laughed.
“What happens if I don’t?” Fenwick called.
The voice returned, flat and sharp. “You never leave.”
Fenwick looked around the bleak ward. This couldn’t be right. People weren’t being taken so they could compete in some bizarre race. Fenwick came to discover ancient technology, voodoo, or possibly even meet their new alien overlords.
“Find me!” the child bellowed. Fenwick jumped and looked at the clock. 51:17.
How had he lost that much time? Heart rate starting to pick up, Fenwick dashed out of the nursery and into a white walled corridor. It stretched endlessly in both directions. Mentally tossing a coin, Fenwick turned left.
The child started crying again. Fenwick followed the sound to a junction. The Trickster wanted to be found, and there was no one else in sight. This had to be it. Fenwick opened the door to a ward and found nothing but a fluffy purple bear laying on an abandoned bed.
The crying sound came again, this time from behind him.
Fenwick spun around as two large hands grabbed for his throat. He barely managed to duck and push away from the encroaching figure. In a flash it was gone. Fenwick sucked in rasping breaths, his heart racing. The crying stopped, and the only sound in the ward was the pounding blood in his ears.
Fenwick edged back out into the hall. He checked both ways before taking a step, and was set upon again. This time Fenwick grabbed hold of his assailant and threw the figure against the wall. The man bounced off the plaster drywall and fell to the flood. Fenwick looked down at him, a grown man, wearing a strange toga that seemed to be made up of nappies.
The man rolled onto his knees, face bunched up. He let out a child-like wail that sent chills through Fenwick. Blubbering, the nappy-man got to his feet and ran off.
“Wait,” Fenwick called. “What is this place?”
The man vanished.
This time, when Fenwick heard a sound, it was laughter.
He turned to face a small girl. Her dress stained and dirty, and one of the bassinet blankets tied around her neck like a cape. She giggled again and Fenwick’s blood went cold.
“Are you the Trickster?” he asked.
The girl shook her head, copper ringlets bouncing.
“Err…do you know where your parents are?”
“Dead, probably,” she replied in a husky voice that made Fenwick’s skin crawl. “I’ve been here for sixty-seven years, by my count.”
A clock appeared on the wall above him, counting down less than ten minutes.
“Where’d all my time go?” He wailed.
“All gobbled up. If you need anything, here’s my card.” She handed him a playing card, the Ace of Spades.
“Tell me where to find…” Fenwick looked for the girl, but she was gone. The timer jumped to five minutes. Fenwick started to run. He burst into room after room, searching for the disembodied voice. He found another purple teddy bear and more people wrapped in blankets or nappies. They scattered from the light like cockroaches when he threw open the door.
Fenwick didn’t care about his story anymore. He wanted out. Whatever voodoo haunting was going on here, he’d had enough of it.
More corridors, more rooms. Fenwick checked them all, until he finally burst into a room identical to the first, with a single purple bear sitting on a bed.
Out of breath and out of ideas, Fenwick slumped on the bed and picked up the bear.
The room spun. Fenwick’s stomach tried to climb out his throat, and his eyes attempted to leap from their sockets. When the spinning stopped, Fenwick fell back into a velour armchair, staring up at a starry ceiling.
“Wha–?” He looked down at the bear. “You?”
The bear blinked and its stitched mouth twisted into a cruel smile. “I’m free,” it said in the same child’s voice. Its plastic eyes narrowed and a high pitched chuckle came from its squashy belly. “And like I promised, you never leave.”
Today was a challenge day: mashups, as defined by the community.
Promtps: Illegal race at the maternity ward and a haunted artefact (from BATTLEFAIRIES), Aecheoastronomy (from The-Inkling), An ace of spades and the planetarium (from AquaMoon1o1)