Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Carnival

by David Ames




Words have a funny way of transforming themselves into tapestries onto which our mind can paint anything we imagine. Whispered phrases uttered in the corners just out of earshot can transform into conversations denouncing who we are as individuals and despite what the truth may be, paranoia almost always wins out. The fear that those we are associated with may be harboring ill will and resentment toward us is something that can weigh on the soul and turn someone from happy and cheerful to downright tormented, constantly searching for that acceptance and understanding which no one is asking for but the party in question still requires.


It is the same for almost anyone and those whispered words can cause someone to go insane if they drone on too long … too far from our relative perception.


Words are both gifts and weapons, which when used in tandem can be together fully rewarding and devastating. The carnival was both of these things and so much more ...


As a child I remember hearing those words spread into conversations among my friends whose own ideas about the use of words were far less impressive than my own. I saw things in the language of life interceding with action and spoken word to determine a future that was as of yet to come. My friends on the other hand only saw things as they were. They never took into account how the words might shape the situation and color their personal opinions of a subject with preconceived notions and forethought.


This was a gift and a curse and I was at times left behind to overthink situations while my friends wandered off into the sunset, unaware of the possibilities the night could hold for them.


The carnival was a change in this balance of friendship and overthought.


A bold change … One with which things would never truly be the same.


***


It was autumn when the carnival first arrived. I was twelve at the time and although I remember thinking that the arrival of a carnival mid-fall was strange, I avoided thinking further into the subject. Instead, I hung back and allowed those around me to discuss the attractions that might be offered. One young boy, Thomas, I believe, stated that he saw a few of the cars roll in and that there were creatures aboard that were not to be toyed with. His shaggy brown hair shook with fervor as he wove his story, his bright blue eyes becoming alive and filled with fire. Thomas had a penchant for exaggeration and while most of the other children were drawn into the story he weaved, I settled back and picked apart his argument mentally.


I didn't need to question him about the matter because he was going into great length about what it was that he saw. The carnival arrived in great numbers and on the backs of huge diesel engine trucks whose smell could be sensed for miles around. The trailers were painted red and black, all bearing the symbol of Bobkov's Family Carnival and Amusement.


The name was the first clue. Bobkov sounded of Slavic origin if I was placing that correctly, and therefore the people of the carnival must also be from that area. I remembered from some personal readings the stories of gypsies who dressed in fanciful, colorful clothes, sported amazing hair and mustaches, and earrings and jewelry studded their bodies.


This is almost the exact description Thomas waxed on about so I naturally threw away his prognosis of the situation and decided on my very own, much more believable theory.


Thomas began to taunt the younger children, telling them about the hairy men who would be perusing past their windows later in the evening, looking for the flesh of children to feed their stomachs. Some listened intently, waiting for the clue that just might save their lives. Others, the weaker of mind (as I could tell from their speech patterns), broke down into tears and sobs while Thomas played them like a fiddle with his story.


This was all I could take and although I was silent most of the time, I stood up and approached the gathering of youngsters. I immediately set out to quell any fear of the carnival goers with a quick education on the life and styles of the gypsy folk who frequent the areas of Eastern Europe from which the Bobkovs must have emerged. Thomas gave a small snort, said something under his breath, and wandered off into the crowd pouring into the town square from church.


The words he uttered were not audible to me, but they began to take shape in my mind and build up into an almost palpable threat.


Thomas was not going to let my insolence stand. He was coming for me. He was coming for blood.


As soon as those thoughts took me, I remembered what I had read in an old magazine of my grandfather's. Until you know for sure that the offending party is at fault or is truly plotting something, there is no need to worry. Why waste valuable energy on worry when you can delegate that energy to something more productive?


I felt better instantly …


Thomas, I found out later, would never feel better again.


***


A shrill cry rang out early the next morning. Our small town of Dutch Hollow was only four streets, a general store, and a grain lift, and everyone in the town heard that scream. The words echoed through the streets and while I was roused from my bed, only the whispers of my parents kept me from jumping out the window to discover the source.


I heard the words my father said … dark, unflinching, descriptive words that we all have felt one time or another snake their way into our very being. I couldn't hear all of what was said but I did make out struggle, blood, and claw marks which would all lead me to the likely conclusion that some sort of animal had done something terrible.


Only later that day would I discover that Thomas had gone missing. My father's words had been mere echoes of what the neighbors had told him.


Thomas' mother opened the door to her son's room only to find the window open wide and the curtains shredded beyond recognition. There was blood everywhere and claw marks caked in blood were embedded into the drywall, leaving a macabre roadmap of slashes that traced their way to the bed. There, in the center was a larger pool of blood, a gaping hole in the mattress, and one, single, solitary finger.


A pinky, if I remember correctly.


This is what started the hysterics which would eventually awaken the entire town. Thomas had, from all indications, been devoured.


The implications of what had happened were not lost on me, and as I made my way to the town square where I would meet with my friends every morning, I had an apprehensive feeling that this was the first of many such atrocities.


The word was out and as I walked through the classic downtown, small brick shops shooting up around me as I traversed the pseudo-urban landscape, hushed conversations broke out from every open window … from every quiet alley.


All sorts of rumors had begun to spread concerning Thomas. Some believed it was a wolf but as I knew at the time, wolves didn't frequent small, northwestern Virginia towns, at least not to my immediate knowledge. Others spoke of a killer … someone who would continue this macabre practice until he was apprehended. Still more said that it was the wrath of God and that the end times were soon to be upon us.


None of these stories held any water with me. The words didn't speak to me as they did to others and so they fell as flat, misdirected worries told through childish tales. Only one thing that anyone said stood out. It was what had been repeated in every story that I had overheard … the blood.


There was so much of it.


In the town square my friends had begun to gather and although some still talked of Thomas, our attention spans were immediately pulled away from the tragedy by the onset of the carnival. No one else had seen or heard anything from the travelers as they had set up. They were left to their own devices to bring entertainment to our lives which, being young in a small town, were in great need of such a thing.


When we finally made our way to the entrance, it was midday and people had stared to gather around the makeshift fence that had been erected to house the carnival. Chain-link was all that stood between us and anything that we could imagine.


The nervousness and need to get inside was palpable and the children, myself included, were waiting with bated breath for any sign of movement on the other side of the fence. The images swirled through my head as the words of those around me painted pictures in my mind of possible sights we would soon encounter.


The day passed without incident and we became restless for the gate to be opened. Near seven, a short fat man with a mustache that connected to his sideburns waddled to the gate with a broad grin spread across his face. His bowler hat and strange brown suit harkened back to another time far before my own and his eyes, set back deep into his pudgy face appeared as black voids.


The gate was opened and without a word, the short man waived us inside, hanging a sign on the now open gate stating Free admittance for the first night. As soon as we passed the threshold, children spread out in all directions, running off to different corners of the carnival to partake in any number of curiosities. I headed toward the middle, to a small tent which seemed to be made out of a glorious, flowing red and yellow fabric. When I reached the entrance, I touched the fabric which appeared to be heavy velour or velvet. Moving the cloth aside, I stepped into what seemed to be some sort of shop.


An old woman stood behind the counter, so incredibly skinny that at first I figured her shop was made out of such heavy fabric because if the wind would pick up, she would be carried off with it. Her skin was wrinkling in all the visible areas and liver spots were very prevalent up her arms. Her dark eyes seemed to belong to someone much younger and her heavy brow was pulled back into a smile which looked more like a sneer from where I sat. A large mole accented her face but not in the picturesque Marilyn Monroe fashion … this blemish was large, about the size of nickel, and fell directly on the edge of her ancient chin. Her long, flowing hair was red with salt and pepper specks throughout and I couldn't help but think that it was the most beautiful mane that I had ever witnessed.


The shop smelled heavily of incense and something else, but I couldn't quite figure out the foreign smell at that time. All around were jars and containers holding any number of oddities and talismans. Sticks woven together into bundles were hanging from the ceiling and walls, all of different shapes, and all had tags which showcased their purpose. On small, rickety shelves sat jars which held polished stones with markings I couldn't read. Below those stones sat what appeared to be mummified eels. Across from the shelves sat a huge oaken barrel which appeared to hold some other things. I leaned over the edge to look in when finally the women spoke. Her voice was gravelly, yet held the smallest semblance of elegance.


"That, m'boy, is something ye not want t'examine."


I leered over the edge just in time to see that it was filled with water. There was a small rippling and bubbles which were growing more and more violent as I looked on. Suddenly there was a huge splash as something broke the surface for just a second. I jumped back protectively and the woman let out a slight giggle.


"Wh…what is it?" I stammered, still trying to catch my breath.


"That be something that is not meant for th'eyes of someone such as yourself. Com'ere and I shall give you something a little more to your liking."


She leaned behind her little counter as I approached. An alarm was going off in my head, warning me that no good could come of this but my twelve-year-old curiosity was easily drowning out my paranoia so I pressed on.


She disappeared for a moment and I could hear her rummaging through some things hidden near the ground. Next, I heard the clattering of wood and string and she emerged from behind the counter holding a doll. As I got closer, I noticed that it was a marionette. The craftsmanship was immaculate and the small blue dots painted for eyes shone through the dimly lit shop. The slightly shaggy hair appeared to be made out of horse and the limbs were all two pieces of wood connected in the middle with metal hooks and string. The outfit it wore was that of a clown, white and ruffled with a large collar, but the face lacked any real emotion.


The puppet began to make a clattering sound and suddenly it was up and dancing around. I let out a small scream as I jumped back from the counter but just as quick I realized that the old woman was pulling the strings to make the marionette dance.


I'll never forget that sound as it is one that will be burned into my psyche for all eternity.


I turned from the old woman without another word and broke out of the shop into the brisk dusk evening. Weather had been mild at best that day and as evening had begun to fall, so had the temperature. I rubbed my arms to warm myself, not from the outside but from some irrevocably poignant feeling inside myself.


As I regained my bearings I heard someone scream.


A young boy was being carted off toward the entrance by the small man who had let us in originally. I made my way that direction and just caught the end of the pudgy man's words.


"…and if ye thinks this be over, ye have a lot to learn about carnival folks. I'll be contacting someone about this. Y'hear me, boy?"


He chucked the young one face first out into the gravel lot and turned on his heel to head back to the carnival. With the lilting music and quiet laughter of the carnival behind me, I made my way out the gate and helped up young John, who was picking himself out of the dirt.


"Damn Gypsy. I don't understand what the big deal was. I was only looking at it."


John went on to recount his story, how he was looking at a jewelry shop and had picked up a gold bangle to examine it closer. Just as he had, the pudgy man grabbed him by the collar and drug him away from the tent and into the night, screaming about thievery and honor.


John looked at me smiling as he wiped the gravel off of his pants. He reached up to shake out his short blond hair and reached into his pocket, retrieving a small golden earring; a hoop with braided metal tracing the shape and a small jewel near the clasp.


"Let's see the old bastard get me now," John said laughing.


I caught him with a hard right cross, hitting him square in the wrist and he dropped the earring.


"What the hell was that for?"


"You don't steal, John, and you know it. Especially not from travelers. They depend on these trinkets to survive and you steal the food from their mouths because you felt like it?"


I leaned down and picked the earring out of the dirt, dusted it off and shook it toward John.


He just shook his head, rubbed his wrist and headed in the opposite direction. His words echoed back to me that it was all in good fun, but they were false. I could tell by the subtle nuance of his timbre and speech pattern.


He was full of it.


I turned my attention to the carnival and ventured back inside to track down the pudgy man and return what was taken.


***


I made my way through the maze of tents, deeper into the labyrinth of the carnival. The lilting, haunting music of the carnival wound its way through the air to me, echoing innocence with a sense of something sinister. Carnival music had always seemed that way to me.


After what seemed like hours, but through retrospect was probably only twenty minutes, I emerged into a clearing, empty and void of anyone, and across from me stood a single, large tent. It was black as pitch, almost escaping into the shadows in which it was hiding. From the inside I could hear muffled talking and so I made my way across the emptiness to see what was inside the void of life and light.


As I reached the entrance, something caught my eye off to the left. There was the pudgy man, speaking quietly with Mr. Jacobs, the town sheriff. The man wore a large smile and spoke jovially but with a hint of sadness while Mr. Jacobs appeared to be stoic and stern.


I eased myself to the edge of the black tent and peered around to hear what their words would paint for me.


"…I assure you Jacobs, that my people have no idea what had happened to the young boy."


"You were the last to see him last night, am I right?"


"Of course you're right sir. You were the one who picked him up."


I was astounded at how clearly the pudgy man spoke, with just a hint of the accent that the old woman had exhibited. He was eloquent and polite, but not too polite. The man's words carried weight with them, the weight of someone who felt threatened but wanted to show no sign of that emotion. Mr. Jacobs did not sense it but it was not lost on me.


"And tell me one more time, what was he doing here at 11:30 in the evening, Mr. Bobkov?"


"As I've told both of your deputies and yourself numerous times, the boy was trespassing. He jumped the fence near the entrance and when I snared him, he was spying through the tents. You were the first people that we called. Now sir, if you'll excuse me, I have some things to attend to in my business here. If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask."


"I understand, Mr. Bobkov, and I thank you again for your time. Enjoy your stay in Dutch Hollow."


With that, Sheriff Jacobs headed off in my direction. I turned the corner after he passed to find the pudgy man but when I searched the area he had been previously, it was empty. Impossible, I thought. He had been there a few seconds ago. I turned quickly and there he was …


"Can I help you with something, son?"


"No sir, I … I … I just wanted to bring this back to you."


I held up the earring and the man plucked it from my hands so delicately that I wasn't entirely sure when it left my grasp. He examined it closely, and then looked up with dark, ominous eyes.


"Where did you get this, boy?"


"From John, sir. He was showing it off and I knew that he was not privy to purchasing things so I retrieved it from him and thought to bring it back."


"Quite honorable of you, young sir. Honor, as it were, is a staple custom among my people. You are quite well off with words, are you not?"


I nodded my head, not sure where he was taking the conversation but glad that someone had finally noticed my gift for language.


"I thank you for your kindness, and if you would follow me, I'll show you something that very few your age get to see. Even less would understand, but from what I can tell, you are an intelligent boy."


He placed his hands behind my back and led me toward the entrance to the black tent, the muffled talk still emanating quietly from inside. He swept his hands across the entrance, barely touching them, but enough that the curtains parted and I entered into the candlelight.


***


Inside the tent, there were hundreds of candles, all of different sizes laid throughout. Some were on the ground, some singular in their brilliance were in tall candlesticks, and yet others were placed into huge candelabras which framed a small stage.


Wooden benches were set out in a pattern that was akin to the church sanctuary in the town square, with one long isle down the middle. Four rows of benches were sporadically filled with people who were transfixed by the action on the stage. I recognized my neighbor, Mr. Johnson, and the librarian, Ms. Penelope. There were other faces too but I could not focus on them.


My attention was drawn to the stage as well.


There he sat … legs crossed atop a stool, naked but for a strip of cloth across his groin and a pair of black gloves, but that wasn't the shocking sight. The shock was that every visible inch of skin was covered with tattoos. From pictures that I had seen, I could tell they were tribal, probably Maori, as I had seen a special on National Geographic about such things.


In the firelight, the tattoos jumped and danced and seemed almost alive themselves, but as I focused on what was truly happening on stage, I understood why the audience was so transfixed.


He was talking … truly talking to them and his words spread throughout the tent like pastels covering a canvas, filling my head with wonderment and beauty. I could see everything he was saying before even hearing it. The darkness he described … the piercing yellow eyes … the coldness … the bright, orange blossoms. It was as though I was there.


I had finally found a place where someone understood and used words the same as I. It was amazing.


Before I knew it though, he was stepping off stage and I had missed the end of his story, overanalyzing once again, thinking about how lucky I had been to finally find someone who understood what I went through every day.


There were random claps as the man exited through the back of the stage. I clapped and turned my head to look at the pudgy man who was staring intensely at me with just the hint of a grin on his face. A shiver went down my spine and I began to recoil toward the door. He reached out to me but I was able to just avoid his hands. I stumbled into a bench, apologized to the nameless face that resided there and quickly turned around to see where my pursuer was but he had disappeared. I made my way immediately toward the exit and as I fled through the curtains, I heard a small chuckle. Just outside the tent, to the left of the entrance, was Mr. Bobkov.


"Leaving so soon, m'boy?"


I couldn't answer, just stared at his quickness … his catlike grace and deft movement which seemed to constantly keep him one step ahead of me. He licked his lips and leaned two fingers up to stroke his mustache. He reminded me of a cat grooming its tail. Not a cat … something far more dangerous …


"Just remember that you are welcome here anytime. Smith is not our only storyteller and I could see by your reaction that you are one and the same as he; a wordsmith; someone who understands the power of the word and all of its intricate nuances."


I turned and fled toward the exit of the carnival with his voice seemingly carrying over the music with me.


"Come back at any time and see more, m'boy. Plenty more."


***


I awoke late the next morning, sure that what I had experienced was a dream. I was about to call to my mother when I heard her and my father talking quietly through the wall. As I had seen on some second rate detective show, sound carried through walls so I picked up an empty glass, placed the open end against the wall and put my ear up to it.


"What do you mean he's gone?"


"Gone, gone," my mother squealed. She was trying but failing to keep her voice down. "It is the same as that poor Harmon boy. Johnathan Way's room was a mess, blood everywhere. All they could find was his pinky."


My father let out a very audible sigh and was silent for quite some time. "What do you think?"


"I don't know, Mark, but it terrifies me to think that something like this could happen to us."


Something had happened to John.


Something terrible …


There was a killer on the loose, and from my perception, I could tell that the adults in the town were too incompetent to figure it out.


I, on the other hand, was not.


***


It was near midday when I arrived at the gate of the carnival. There was no one manning the front so I placed my dollar on the table, a rock atop to keep it from blowing away, and entered. I made my way past the first row of tents but lost myself among the maze that stretched out behind.


This was the first and only place I felt I needed to search. John didn't really have any enemies and this was the only place where he had caused trouble in the last few months. I knew that this was where he would be, could feel it in my gut.


Just then, I saw the pudgy man approaching. I did not yet want to be seen so I ducked into the first tent I could find. The first thing I noticed was the familiar, heavy smell of incense. I turned slowly to see the old woman from before smiling down at me.


"Ah, young boy, I see ye have come back. Not for the clown I hope, as it has been taken already."


I shook my head fervently but she raised her bony, skeletal fingers and gestured me forth. I wanted to run but I could hear Bobkov outside and I knew that I stood a better chance in here.


I approached her counter and she pulled another marionette from a burlap sack. It was once again crafted beautifully with dark brown eyes and blond hair, looking to be from a sheep this time. The outfit was different though, that of an old world bank robber. The black and white stripes were painted unevenly and were chipping off from years of wear. The black mask was the final touch. The wood clinked together yet again and the sound sent chills through my body. I nodded at the puppet as I slowly, carefully backed out of the tent. When I was outside, I turned quickly and …


Nothing …


I expected to see Bobkov staring at me in that feline way but there was just empty air. Empty, heavy air which seemed to swirl around me.


I stopped myself immediately. Once again, I was letting my imagination take hold of what could logically be explained. Storm clouds were beginning to roll in from the west, bringing the humidity with them. The wind was picking up because of those storms. I chuckled to myself, not one to let my fears get the best of me.


That was, until I surveyed the landscape and realized that somehow, someway, I was back at the clearing. Ahead of me stood the pitch black tent which even in daylight seemed to absorb the light around it.


At its entrance was the pudgy man, twirling his mustache in one hand and holding open the dark cloth for me with the other.


I approached, unaware of my actions and entered again the sanctuary of story and word.


***


It was empty aside from the numerous candles, pew seating, and the stage. Only myself and Bobkov were in this sanctuary. I turned to see him staring intently at me.


There were no words that needed to be spoken. I looked at him, he saw into me, and I slowly made my way into one of the pews. It was firm against my body but comfortable at the same time. I let myself be absorbed into the seat, rolled my eyes back into my head and relaxed every part of my body. My mind was completely free to wander …


… and wander it did.


I have no idea how long I was sitting but when my eyes finally readjusted to the world around me, I was alone in the pew and Bobkov was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the pews around me had become sparsely populated with patrons. On stage, there was a beautiful woman, naked but for small areas of fabric covering below her waist and a set of black gloves, dancing to the stool in the center. She was also covered in tattoos, much like the man before, and as she ascended her seat, they began to move in the firelight. I had awoken just in time.


The woman settled herself into a cross-leg position, for all intents and purposes floating on the surface of the stool. She closed her eyes, opened them widely, and closed them again. Fingers traced her mouth, which was sewn shut with dark colored twine. I hadn't noticed it before but it begged the question as to how she would perform her stories for the audience. Her fingers danced slowly, back and forth across her mouth until it appeared as though the twine was sliding through the holes in one, continuous cycle.


Suddenly, I could see the world painted in those bright pastels again. It was marvelous. I could hear her speaking although of what she was speaking, I was unaware. The world began to spin right before my eyes and I was lost in its wonder. The watercolor kaleidoscope of images passed before my eyes and I was in awe. I could see images of flowers blooming with the most intricate details imaginable. Majestic landscapes over sweeping cliffs and long, extended lakes made my heart sing and I wanted nothing more than to dive into those blue waters and swim in the beauty that resided within. A tear fell from my eye …


It was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.


When I finally snapped out of the daze, I looked around to see that the other people in the crowd had felt the same immense, moving experience that I had just witnessed.


People rose from their seats slowly and began to make their way from the tent. I stopped for a moment and turned my attention back to the stage where I could swear for the briefest of moments that the woman was staring directly at me. We locked eyes for a fraction of a second before she stepped gracefully down from the stool and danced off the stage.


I made my way toward the exit where, holding the curtain aside, Bobkov was smiling quaintly at me.


"I hope ye have enjoyed a real taste. Mishka can bring the world to heaven with a word or crash it down to hell with a glance. She is quite the prodigy."


I couldn't speak, was still struck by all that I had witnessed, and so I slowly slipped through the curtains and emerged into the late evening sun.


***


The visions were like a drug and I needed to have more, but at the same time, the experience was so jarring that I couldn't help but escape. The light wasn't blinding, so much as dull in the west. The sun was just past the horizon so the entirety of the carnival was shrouded in a dusty, red haze. It sat in the air in a thickness that was almost palpable.


I stumbled along in a daze, not really watching where I was going, and ran headlong into a tall, dark figure. At first, the low cut, violet gown didn't register, but then I saw the arms and I knew who it was.


"Mishka … " I whispered to no one in particular. She stared down at me with questioning yellow eyes. The tether in her lips shifted into a strange, grotesque smile. She nodded once, reached out to my shoulder, and with her touch, I felt an overwhelming sense of welcome. This must be how she communicates I thought, but before I could say anything else, a different feeling began to set in.


Dread …


Although the feeling she was pushing into me was warm and inviting, something crawled along the inside of my eyes, snaking its way into my brain in a sudden warning, much like one receives when standing too close to a cliff.


It was as if nature itself was telling me to be wary of this woman.


I mumbled something incoherent and backed away slowly until my blind side bumped into something rather solid. I turned and looked into Bobkov's stare, seeing for the first time how ageless his eyes really were.


"I wanted to say thank you again, son. You have been most interesting to watch." He laughed heartily, but still, there was something in his voice that I did not trust. Something wasn't registering as correct with him.


"You are very welcome," I answered in a robot-like drone, moving away from the two figures and back into the growing evening hustle of the carnival. I needed to think, needed to reason, needed to find some logical understanding of today's events.


"You are a seer. Your talents are to be envied, boy. Do not waste them," Mr Bobkov called back after me as I hurried into the midway. The night overtook the carnival and in a matter of minutes, the entire area was plunged into darkness aside from the fluorescent and neon lighting up the various rides and games.


I slowly made my way toward the gate to exit when I heard something which sounded like a scream. I couldn't be sure but it reminded me of my sister's voice; the nasal, high-pitched scream of a small girl. I moved toward it instinctively, forgetting about my escape for the moment. I didn't hear the sound again and started to reason that it must have been someone from one of the rides when off to my left, I heard it again, this time, much closer.


This time I was sure it was a scream.


It was coming from a very familiar looking tent. I couldn't make out the color in the night but the fabric gave away the identity of the makeshift building. This was where the old gypsy's shop was. Suddenly, another scream followed by a splash of water.


I snuck to the entrance and cracked the curtains slightly, hoping that the absence of light outside would stop any noticeable trespass into the tent. I peered into a scene much out of the nightmares of numerous children. The old gypsy, for the first time looking more than able to move, had a small blonde girl that looked strangely familiar to me. She was holding her by the head and shoving her into the barrel of water that I had seen earlier. The girl was screaming but her screams were constantly covered by the wall of water to which she was repeatedly being pushed.


I wanted to move but for the first time, fear took hold of me and I was stationary. Only able to take in the horrifying scene before me, I sat and watched. The girl rose again from the murk to scream but the gypsy gripped the back of her head and slammed it into the side of the barrel, leaving scalp, blood and hair on the rim. The angelic face of the girl, now relaxed and unafraid, sank beneath the surface of the water for the last time and the only thing left were a few bubbles, rising to the surface like futile cries for help.


I lit out.


I ran as fast as I could through the maze of tents, to the gate of the carnival and on toward home. I didn't not stop running until I reached the safety of my house, slamming and locking the door behind me, finally shutting myself off from the madness of the world outside.


I searched the house for my parents whom I found sleeping lazily in the living room.


"Wake up, Dad!" I shouted, jostling him into consciousness. He shook his head groggily and stared at me.


"Yes … " he said, barely aware of my presence or the lack of patience in my voice. "What is it?"


I shook him slightly until he was more awake than before and began to regale him with my story. The black tent, the visions, Mr Bobkov's feline eyes, and lastly the little girl.


He questioned me as to who she was and I said that I could not remember but that I would recognize her if I saw her again. My father told me to get some sleep and we would talk about this in the morning.


I slipped into my bed, feeling as though I would never fall asleep again. But as young minds work, I quickly drifted off into the safe haven of my mind.


***


The next morning I awoke to the smell of sausage. I made my way to the kitchen and saw my mother preparing breakfast as usual. As I sat down at the table, my father turned to me and with his best fatherly voice chuckled, "You had the strangest dream last night. Something about gypsies and little girls dying. You had me spooked, son."


"That wasn't a dream dad. That was reality."


My father laughed heartily again, shaking off my suspicion as childhood nightmare and went about reading his paper.


A loud, quaking bang on the door pulled us all out of our morning stupor and I rushed to answer the noise. At the door was Sheriff Jacobs, a somber look plastered across his face.


He asked for my parents who were nearly at the door, and then asked me to go to my room for a moment. I reluctantly made my way to my door but stood just outside to hear the conversation. I didn't catch much but what I did was shocking, even for me.


He told my parents that a third child, a young girl named Debbie Rawlson, had disappeared the night before and her room was in much the same condition as the two previous disappearances. Blood and marks everywhere and nothing left except for the pinky.


I sprinted into the living room and before even I could stop myself, I vomited up the story of what I had seen the evening before. My father looked embarrassed and asked me to shut up but the Sheriff took an interest, asking poignant questions and paying attention to every detail of the story. When I was finished, he pulled me in close, getting down to my level, and looked me directly in the eyes.


"Can you show me where this happened?"


I nodded roughly and ran to my room to get dressed. The detective told my parents that the department had been wary of the carnival from the start but now they could raid with impunity as there was probable cause. The sheriff led me outside and into his cruiser. Once inside, he switched on his CB and called in a request for backup to meet him outside the gates of the carnival.


He looked over at me with a slight grin …


"Wanna turn on the siren?"


***


We arrived at the carnival in about ten minutes. There, two more patrol cars and their four officers were standing outside, awaiting the sheriff and myself. When the sheriff nodded, the four men entered the gate and pulled the keeper aside, cuffing him instantly. He was about to push back when Bobkov appeared out of the maze of tents and angrily marched toward the gate.


"What is the meaning of this, Jacobs?"


"We have cause to believe that a small girl, age 7, named Debbie Rawlson went missing here last night at approximately 9:30 pm."


"I do not know what you are talking about but you are welcome to search the area. Please release Jacoby though. He is harmless." Bobkov gestured toward the gate and the police obeyed reluctantly, uncuffing him but not letting him move about freely. I emerged from behind Jacobs and starting leading the way toward the old gypsy tent. Bobkov locked eyes with me for only an instant, but in that moment I saw fear, anger, betrayal, and something else of which I wasn't quite sure flash through him. I think it was … hurt.


I led the party directly to the tent, heavy fabric curtains moved and inside, the familiar scent of incense washed over us. In the corner, the barrel where Debbie had been killed sat, an ominous warning to myself and no one else. The gypsy behind the counter looked up unassumingly, saw me, and smiled.


"This is where it happened, sir." I motioned toward the barrel and to the old woman behind the counter. She stayed perfectly sill watching the men invade her space and inspect her things.


They questioned her about the young girl and she said that she had seen nothing, heard nothing. A smile once again crossed her lips but her eyes were much more telling … the pupils had all but disappeared and her eyes fell back completely into her hooded skull. She looked grotesque and friendly all at the same time.


Jacobs looked at her angrily but spoke softly and patiently. "Ma'am, we have a witness who believes they saw you drowning a young, blonde girl in this tank of water. Now, I need to know exactly what you did last night and why someone would think that."


"Ohhh, see, see. I see." She laughed an almost cackle and moved slowly to the burlap bag of marionettes behind the counter. From that bag she removed a doll, bigger than the ones before, but with blonde hair and an angelic face. The doll was wearing a beautiful blue sundress and aside from a large scrape across its scalp, it was beautiful.


"I vas making this. Your vitness must have seen me rinsing the puppet off into the water." She said and lazily pointed her hand at the barrel.


"I watched you smash her face into the side of the tank!" I screamed angrily. I ran to the barrel and showed the sheriff the spot where there was still hair and blood. "It's right here!" I shouted.


"Oh that? That vas just where I dropped her. Poor little dear, she smashed her head." She pointed to the marionette's scalp and to the hair. It all seemed to match up but it didn't make any sense. My mind began to overflow with reason and thought and for a moment I forgot where I was.


The sheriff looked down at me angrily and then apologized to both the woman and Bobkov, stating that they would remove themselves from the premises immediately. Bobkov went on to shout about lawyers and lawsuits and constitutional rights but the sheriff assured the carnival owner that they would leave him be from here on out. As the adults piled out, I noticed the hand of the marionette… .


It was missing its pinky finger …


I looked hard at that hand but before I could say anything, the woman leaned forward and picked up a small piece of wood.


"There is that missing finger." She looked at me without a trace of a smile and winked. Her lips spread out over her teeth and for the first time, I noticed that they were all sharpened to points. I stared in horror and before I could tear my stare away, she hissed quietly and smiled again, laughing hauntingly to herself.


I slumped and walked out of the tent, defeated and enraged at myself for the foolishness I had just caused. I must have been hallucinating. It had to be a doll. The screaming must have emanated from one of the rides.


As I exited the tent, there was Bobkov. His smile was present but only below his nose. His eyes peered into me and he said through a hushed voice something that I cannot describe. It was almost like a curse but it appeared to be in a different language.


He didn't stop staring, following me menacingly as though he was stalking me through tall grass on some African plain. He stopped at the gate as I passed through but his eyes followed me until I rounded the corner and the carnival was out of sight.


***


When I got home, my parents chastised me for being immature and told me that I needed to leave this sort of thing to the adults … that I was just a kid … and for the first time in a while, it actually felt right to agree.


I drug my feet into my room and once the door was closed, I collapsed into myself in a mix of fear, shame, and embarrassment. I stayed in that room for the rest of the day, refusing to come out to play with my friends or to partake of lunch and dinner. I didn't want to be seen today.


Not today.


Tomorrow would be different, but today, when all of those careful constructs about intelligence and tact which I had built around myself came tumbling down, I needed isolation to recover.


I dozed off around 8 that night, lying face up on my bed, staring into the plaster ceiling, feeling as though, like my self-perception, the ceiling had gotten dramatically lower. In my dreams I was being chased by something, a giant cat perhaps, through the mountains which surround Dutch Hollow. I couldn't quite make out what it was but I saw the yellow eyes. Just as the creature's claws reached out, I awoke and shot straight up in bed, only to be flung back down onto my back, a hand covering my mouth and nose.


I heard a dull scrape as something tore at the walls of my room. A sharp piercing pain shot up my leg as though someone was scraping the skin away. I felt four points and a warm, sticky flow of blood erupt.


In a panic I began to writhe and kick but it appeared as though I was being restrained. From the dim moonlight filtering in from my window, I could see golden rings lining the hand which covered my face. I smelled the faint scent of incense and just when I understood who it was, there came a shimmer of light off to my left.


I saw two blades, joined together at a fulcrum point, with the moonlight refracting beautifully off of them. I couldn't see who was holding them and as I jerked, I felt the hands on my limbs and head tighten. In my ear I heard whispering in a different language and my eyes suddenly began to grow heavy. Just before everything disappeared, I felt a horrible shear of pain in my left hand.


Then there was nothing.


***


When I awoke, I was surrounded by the smell of incense and of trinkets. My head was swimming but I found that I could not talk. I knew where I was though, the incense and the jars of oddities gave that away. I saw Mishka and Bobkov talking to the old woman and then, when I made a sound, they all slowly turned my direction.


"I see you have awakened finally. How is the hand m'boy?"


I looked over to my left hand and saw it bandaged, with heavy seep-through of blood on the outside. I felt sick … felt as though my stomach was going to turn inside out and try it did, but I hadn't eaten anything all day and so dry heaves are all that I could muster. I moved the fingers of my left hand in a rolling motion inside the hand bandage and they all responded …


All but one …


I guess that I already knew before I checked but when I hurriedly unwrapped my hand, I saw to my horror that my pinky finger was missing.


"Have to keep up with the common trends," Bobkov laughed.


Finally, I could muster my words and they tumbled out of me before I could stop them. "Please don't turn me into one of those dolls. I'm sorry … I'm so sorry. I should have left well enough alone. Oh God I'm sorry." I descended into hysterics and Bobkov watched, as if he was calculating what I would do next.


"Oh no, son. We have something much more important in store for you. Mishka, my darling ... would you please help our friend to relax. He is after all, going to be your progeny." He laughed a low grumble and stepped out of my line of sight.


I tried to move but was frozen by the sight of her. Her tattoos danced in the candlelight and her completely naked form moved in a slow rhythmic flow until she was just behind me. She wrapped her hands around my eyes and in my ear I could hear the thread of her lips begin to move. Her long delicate fingers now uncovered by the gloves were gorgeous, all except for the stump on her left hand. Her smell was intoxicating and her words flowed out of her throat and into my ears; I was their slave.


The colors flew across my vision and as beautiful as they were, I tried to fight it … tried to stay in the here and now. I felt weight on my stomach as something heavy sat down on my diaphragm.


"Just ye relax," I heard the old gypsy whisper. "This won't take but a moment of ye time."


Then, I felt the needle pierce my skin and the thread which followed closely after, forever sealing my lips to the world.

THE END


© 2015 David Ames

Bio: I am a 29 year old English teacher at Ada High School in Ohio. I live in Delphos with my wife and daughter. You can follow my ramblings at davidmames.wordpress.com

E-mail: David Ames

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