Sunday, September 1, 2013

THE MESMERIZER - ONE



















Would you be disturbed to learn that the pages you now read were penned by the moldering hand of a buried man from within his own grave? Would a reanimated corpse hiding outside a house with a plan in the dark serve to unsettle, or perhaps defy all belief?
            What if I told you that: the worm which fed on the large carcass of a creature inadvertently exposed to high levels of contamination from an ancient toxic source beyond modern comprehension–that: having squirmed across wet carpet, under a sliding glass door and onto a sidewalk where it was nabbed and gulped by a bird–that: flew off, eventually landing in discomfort on the soft grassy mound of a fairly fresh grave–that: there the writhing, undying burden in the bird’s belly burst–that: the contaminated worm, which squirmed down through the mound, through a fissure in the softened casket, then poured itself into the cracked skull of the occupant, and that skull being mine?
            Perhaps had I taken the dark journey less recently–perhaps had the circumstances of my unjust demise cried less loudly for, if not revenge, then justice at least–perhaps then I would not be here to pen these mute pages with my rotting body. The grave gift I was given came as strangely and as unexpected when I returned as it did when I departed.
            The contaminated worm, you see, lodging in my rotting brain, gave me the means by which to know the course of its journey resulting in my decomposed fingers slowly scraping in the cold and the dark at the wet, mud-claimed casket’s lid.
            My name was Will Todd. I lived in a town called Fernden. Murder.
            I have to pause a moment.
            You know that space in the back of your leg behind your knee? A big fast millipede wriggled out of mine just now, right out of the tear in my pants leg. I’m sure there are lots of delightful little creatures feeding on my flesh just now. I can’t feel them, though. I hardly even know they’re there. Even when living there were always all kinds of tiny invisible bugs and things feeding all over me. I just didn’t notice.
            I didn’t have to say all that just now. I could’ve talked about my murder. I told you about the millipede the way that I did partly because I want you to understand. I want to feel as though you are here with me, alive. Mostly though, not to forget what I need to do while I’m here, I want to remind myself I’m dead. When I was alive, I always wanted to be reminded of that.
            I could’ve talked about my murder, I said. No, I could not. Not in a way that you would have understood. You see, I tried talking. That doesn’t work. But I can hold a pen. And I managed to get some paper. I don’t eat, breathe or sleep. So, I want to record my experience. This is where I will plot.
            I had a love. Her name was Mary Annette.
            I said “you see” before. But I don’t. Not with the eyes that I had when alive. The world appears in my mind darkly now. Shadowy figures shuffle. Were I to stand in front of a mirror, I doubt not I would perceive my reflection as clearly there as I see my decaying flesh push this pen across this page. I don’t fly. I can’t walk through walls. I’m not a ghost. I pass the night in this pit, my own open grave.
           Digging my way up and out had not been easy. In Fernden, the cemetery extends across the side of a forest hill which overlooks the town from the southeast end. I used to play here when I was a kid. In fact I even applied as groundskeeper here once, but didn’t get the job. I started my own landscaping business. Plus I cut wood.
            My girlfriend, Mary Annette–fiancee, really–was–is–a checker at Viscount Discount. She was twenty-eight when I died, and I was thirty-five. She’ll be turning twenty-nine this year. Probably stay that age forever. I couldn’t help myself. I had to see her.
            When I crawled out of my grave, I was aware of things falling off of me–aware in a manner which I cannot call hearing precisely, but then again, how sound traveled as vibrations into my ear when I was alive was always a mystery to me, too. I crawled out, dropping sloppy clumps, and looked around.
            Below me, the cemetery spread forward and laterally in tiered rows with a narrow road for passing cars to wind around. Beyond the headstones and crypts a spiked iron gate ran along the north and west street-sides. Roughly diagonal to the bulk of town as the crow flies my Mary Annette rented a nice apartment, and at good rent considering the picturesque Victorian architecture for which the town is justly noted.
            The hour seemed late. Snagging some roses from a vase I hopped the big gate–or rather attempted to. I caught my pants leg at the top on the tip of one of the spears. Doing that stretched my baggy dead man’s pants so tight for a second that mud and rocks, mostly, clattered down on the sidewalk a good bit below so loudly that, in frustration at botching my attempt at stealth, I groaned. I don’t know, what with all the gases of putrefaction built up inside my rotting carcass, my cadaverous innards quivered, suddenly and spasmodically heaving up my gullet and shooting out my wide dead mouth a huge wad of worms and bugs that squiggled in a puddle of guts. Desperate not to get caught, I stumbled across the road.
            In the relative safety of a tree trimmed into the shape of a big bell I hunkered down and brushed myself off as best I could while keeping an eye out, so to speak.
            I’ll tell you right now I had no trouble walking without so much as the dragging of a leg, or lolling of the head. I completely blended in, at that hour, looking I suppose a little tired, maybe. All of this of course just in passing. Up close, anyone looking at my eyes would probably see a problem, and even further away than that there would have to be the smell.
            But what did I care? All I wanted now was my revenge. Revenge on Randall Manson, the coward, the sickening coward, my murderer–that, and to somehow simply see my dear sweet Mary Annette one last time. To let her know how much I loved her, and love her, and always will. Mary Annette–sweet, sweet Mary Annette. They could try to do to me whatever they wanted. I wouldn’t care if I did get caught. But I want that Randall Manson dead, dead by my hand and him knowing it’s me when I murder his worthless damned ass right the hell back.
            So I marched myself on down the street, encountering no one, arriving at the nice apartment I found for Mary Annette myself, and marveling at every nuance of the night. But then I saw that she was gone. Her car was gone. The chimes she had hung from a hook under her little upstairs balcony were gone.
            Even though I knew that she was gone, I eased my way beneath her bedroom window, to try to peer in, just to be sure. It was a bedroom still, but the things weren’t hers. Someone, however, was sitting up in bed. I guess my scratching around outside must have woke him up. And I guess from his perspective, my reanimated corpse’s head slowly rose in the moonlight over the sill, then descended. He had the strangest look on his face.
            Anyway, I went to a newspaper box on Main Street and saw on the front page that the date was the first of May.
            “That means I’ve been dead exactly a month,” I said to myself. “Where can my Mary Annette be?” Into the garbage can went the flowers I still carried. Wilted.
            When I stumbled blindly to my house, my old house, not daring to imagine what I’d do when I got there, my heart sank. It, too, was now someone else’s space.
            My fixer car, however, was tucked away behind my old shed. I have no idea why. Someone may have said they’d come get it and just hadn’t gotten around to it. I wouldn’t be surprised. Whatever the reason, I took a look inside and found this bound notebook in the glove compartment. Completely unused. Not one word written on a single page. Somebody gave it to me for a present and I put it in the car somehow out of convenience at the time. But now it was as though I had gotten it and left it for myself just because of this. And I even left myself a pen.
            Then on the corner of Sycamore and Ash I saw something that made my jaw drop. My Mary Annette, getting into her Celica, with–there could be no mistake–Randall Manson. That sickening coward I’m going to kill. And she called him Randy.

            You haven’t lived till you’ve died.
            The wheels of what I will call my mind spun the gears of my giant revenge machine all that night sitting upright in my grave. As dawn neared I decided to creep around the crypts in hopes of forcing a door. I would have stayed in my own grave if I could, but the pile from the freshly upturned mound would call attention to a mindful eye that something was amiss. So I patted down the dirt as best I could, sort of sad at seeing my dead limbs doing this. Somehow images of Mother and the horrified expression she would have to know this would one day happen to her baby appeared before me. I would have cried, if I could, but for fear of merely excreting maggots.
            A gray tattered mist hung among the tombs. To my left below sat a large crypt notable for its intricate if crumbling masonry. Pen and paper in pocket, I strode over.
            “Anybody home?” I thought, peering through a small iron-barred window. “What have we here? A rusty lock. And look over here, an iron bar lying perfectly for me to do this–”
            Here I twisted the lock off with a snap that actually took the hinge. Gathering up debris, I shoved open the creaking door, hauled my carcass in and shut it.
            I sat there in that crypt listening to the sounds of the morning. Birds, mostly. A screen door or two. The slam of the door of the idling truck of someone with a long commute. It occurred to me that, what with the May heat, not too bad yet but not getting any colder, the crypt might almost have an oven-like effect, inviting unwanted attention from passersby with the smell of death warmed over. If I had to play dead, I supposed, anyone who nosed me out would figure it was vandals that moved me. But I really didn’t want to have to endure being handled and redeposited. What if they put me in something I couldn’t get out of?
            I looked around behind me. MANSON, said the family name. I had stumbled upon the Manson family crypt!
            The joy I felt on realizing the sheer fun now at my disposal sent a shiver of glee quivering through my rotting body sufficient to loose galvanized crawlies skittering to the corners.
            A slab centered at the far end in a recess of the wall presented possibilities. Yet when I slid the concrete slab I found not a body as I expected within, but a dark aperture. Upon closer inspection, I saw rungs descending down a wall into an interior crypt. I climbed down.
            The room was good-sized, but appeared a little smaller than it was due to the numerous boxes and crates stacked along the walls. The toxic worm fermenting in my skull’s slush wriggled. This, I surmised, must have been a bomb shelter. Private, but big enough to hold a sizeable portion of the community at the time it was built. The owner of the house, probably tired of the proximity to the graveyard and its advancing needs, must have sold his property to the city.
            So now the shelter is under that slab, possibly completely forgotten. But no matter. Because it’s all mine now. Everything in it. And that’s just for starters. Compensatory damages from Randall Manson and his dead family are going to be extremely stiff.

2

LETTER FROM CLAIRE VOYANT TO LINDSAY HEARST
May 8
Dear Lindsay,
            Congratulations on the job! That is so exciting. I want to hear all about it. I wish we didn’t have so many of our local businesses getting steadily snapped up by big chains. What they really do is drag the area down. You remember from your visit they had just put in that supermarket? There’s a chain video store over there now, too. As we talked about before, less competition means less quality and less responsibility. There used to be a great grocery store over there. I knew the couple who owned and ran it for years. Now if you have any problems, there’s no one you can talk to. The inexperienced workers hired on the cheap are rude, and barely any of the money even stays in the area. If I didn’t love the redwoods so much I’d have to move to Wales myself. By the way, I love the pictures you took in the bookstore there–and I’m touched to hear their occult section doesn’t compare to mine.
            Which reminds me. There’s a strange character who’s been coming in to the shop the last few days. He dresses entirely in black with a black hat and even black gloves. His head and face are wrapped with white gauze bandages entirely, except for a slim slit each for his mouth and nose. His eyes he keeps covered at all times with dark sunglasses. Stranger still, he’s mute. I’ve heard him grunt several times effectively enough–otherwise, when he has anything to ask of me, he does so by the use of the writing implements that he carries. He came in looking for something in the occult section, come to think of it. But since then he’s proven most interested in hypnotism, and has purchased almost every volume I have on the subject. Every time he pays it’s always with flat, crisp twenty dollar bills that smell like mothballs.
            But Lindsay, the worst and strangest part is the awful way he smells. You would not believe it. I have to go around opening all of the windows as politely as possible, turn on the fans and light some incense every time he comes in. He’s obviously been in some sort of accident. He may be a burn victim, or have some sort of disease. Which (I hate to say it) but I hope is not contagious.
            Help!
            In any event, Cyrus just finished up with seventh grade. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m the mother of a teenager! Did I tell you I’ll be setting up a booth at the carnival in July? I’m thinking I’d really like to not haul my entire back room over to Fernden Fields to go in a tent for two weeks, so I suppose I’ll just go with a little tarot and palmistry. No voodoo, though. That’s what the mysterious stranger was looking for in Occult, I just remembered. Books on voodoo dolls. Isn’t that weird?

3

CYRUS VOYANT’S JOURNAL
May 30
            Me, Shayne, Wes and Tanner went out to do some Ouija in the woods today. I brought my tape recorder and turned it on when we talked. I’m writing down everything we said that I got on tape and only saying who said it and describing other stuff when I have to, just like Mr. Brenner said in class.
            “Is it on?” That was Shayne. We’ve been best friends since third grade.
            “Yeah,” I said, “it’s on. Too bad we won’t be able to see ourselves in these bitchin’ black hooded sweatshirt dealies.”
            “So what are we going to ask it?” said Wes.
            “Ask it how I can get Felicity to do a sleepover at my house,” said Tanner.
            “You don’t ask it,” Shayne said. “You use it to contact the dead.”
            “Then ask the dead or whatever what all the winning Lottery numbers will be,” said Wes. We all agreed.
            “This looks like a good spot,” I said.
            At this point the tape gets hard to hear while it gets jostled on the way from the trail in the forest to where I pointed. We came to a mossy tree that must have fallen down a long time ago. I liked the way the other trees arched over. Close by, a trail leading to a deeper part looked like the tangled entrance to a crumbling castle overrun with vines. The Ouija board was in my pack. I got it out.
            Shayne said, “It’s overcast. Better not rain.”
            “Let’s break out the goodies,” said Tanner. Somebody said, “Let’s do it.” (I can’t tell who. I mean I would, but I can barely hear it at all.) Anyway, between all of us we had a giant Hershey bar, four Cokes, two Reese’s, one Cheetos and some Chicken in a Biscuits in a Ziploc.
            “My mom would kill me if she saw what I was eating,” I said.
            “So what are we going to ask?” said Wes. “Maybe what’s the meaning of life?”
            “Ask what it’s like to be dead,” said Tanner.
            I said the next thing: “I want to know if Carrie likes me.”
            “That’s stupid,” Shayne said, and he only said that because he just started liking her recently himself because he knows I do. But I wish he wouldn’t. I didn’t say so because that was when we saw someone standing in the trail.
            Dressed all in black as he was, with a black wide-brimmed hat tipped down so we couldn’t see his face, and standing in the dark entrance to the deeper part of the forest, we hadn’t seen him at all. Now that he was standing in the trail, he tipped his hat slowly up by raising his head and revealing a bandaged face and sunglasses. With piston-like jabs of a black-gloved finger, he pointed at either our food or my Ouija board.
            “You want my Ouija board?” I said. He shook his head and made a sort of grunting noise through his bandages.
            “I think he wants to use it,” said Shayne. This time the bandaged face nodded. He came over, slowly. I could tell he was trying not to scare us. It looked to me like he had some sort of sensitivity to sunlight condition or maybe was a burn victim.
            “You guys.” Even though it was the sort of thing that should have been said as a warning under the breath, Wes said it plain enough to come through loud and clear. I wasn’t afraid, though. I let him take the planchette to point exactly at the letters, numbers or words Yes, No and Good Bye arching on the board underneath. He could have just used his finger, but it’s more fun with the heart-shaped plastic thing with the little window for seeing what’s underneath. We all leaned over as the planchette in his black gloved hand moved, and said each letter aloud and the subsequent words they formed.
            “You–have–a–tape–recorder.”
            “Yes,” I replied.
            He spelled, “I–will–buy–it.”
            “How much?” I said, exchanging glances with my friends. They all know I’ve got way better ones at home. I only brought my cruddy one because I thought it might rain.
            He reached into a pocket and held up a twenty.
            “Sure!” I said. “Just let me keep this one tape. I have some blank ones here you can have for free.” I could see them in my open backpack wrapped neatly in a bag.
            “What do you need a tape recorder for?” said Tanner.
            Me and Shayne groaned.
            Tanner goes, “What? I’m not rude, I’m just curious.” But it didn’t matter. Behind his big dark glasses the bandaged man must have been staring at the bag that the blank tapes were in. He pointed at the logo on the side:
Claire Voyant’s
Used Books
Palmistry, Tarot, Astrology
And More
           
            “It’s my mom’s store,” I said. I remember this was when he handed me my twenty. “Just right in town.” The address was on the bag, too, only smaller.
            Tanner moaned. “What’s that smell?”
            Well, although the tape keeps running, those are the last words on it. After a few minutes it just runs out. It’s a good thing I had it on in the first place, because the funny thing is, after we stopped talking, I really don’t remember much of anything. Anyway, I’m glad that guy bought my tape recorder. I wish I could remember where I spent that twenty, but trying to kind of gives me a headache.

4

WILL TODD’s JOURNAL–  continued.
            One thing I did not want, for a plethora of reasons any one of which sufficient, was to raise the slab covering access to my new digs right when someone was standing outside looking at the broken lock–or perhaps inside even, checking to see what more is amiss, and happen then to see me rising from this crypt. Still bound to the clock, I would need to be aware of the hours to carry out my plot.
            I found a watch on a chain in a jewelry box. The hands were stopped at the twelve. I wound the watch to see if it worked; it did; and as the watch wound down, I read up. This went on repeatedly. I wanted to keep myself in the habit of remembering time. When I finished my books, I had an epiphany: I needed subjects on whom to practice. With this realization came a dry gurgle drifting through the tomb like the creeping claws of a sour mist. Yet in order to practice hypnotizing the living to do my bidding, I would need to be able to speak. True, I was closer now to approximating spoken language than when I first rose from my grave. My practice had improved; most of the bugs were out. But the prospect was dubious at best.
            Crawling out of the crypt, I found peering around that the hour was around noon. Voices floating nearby manifested themselves as children emerging from the far rock wall. Four young lads just outside the cemetery were walking the road up the hill. Incredibly, as if by order, one of them had a tape recorder in hand. I let them pass a bit, then followed.
            I spied them in the woods soon after, when lo, the four had in their midst a Ouija board. With this I made them know I wanted to buy the recorder, learning in the process that one of the kids is the son of the woman from the book store. I had lulled them into a false sense of security. Though the stench of my decay threatened to prove unnecessarily distracting, the most important factor in my favor was sheer impressionability of children.
            In attempting to loosen the bandages around my mouth in order to pull in a sufficient quantity of air, which bringing down my arms in a forceful bellows-like motion would help me simulate speech, my shades accidentally fell off.
            Now, it may well be that, as the first human being to ever literally return from death, what I impart on those who see the impossibility of my reanimation is a sort of shock-induced paralysis. Then again, perhaps the worm pumped with strange toxin beyond human ken and housed in the porous pudding rotting in my skull magnifies my will to control, and does so in some simple way which the human species as yet cannot fathom.   
            A radiance issued from my sockets. I found I did not need to speak. The primary source of communication between human beings is, after all, nonverbal. Immediately realizing they were under my spell, I communicated to the son of the book store woman, “Give me back my money.” He did. I pocketed my stolen twenty. Out of curiosity I asked why he so desperately needed the tape still in my recorder.
            “I wanted to tape record what we said hiking around messing with my Ouija board,” came the words from his own animated husk in a calm, relaxed manner.
            “Why?” I demanded with my mind.
            “To learn how to write better,” he said aloud. “It’s an exercise we learned in English class. I still keep my journal.”
            “Why the Ouija board?”
            “My mom gave it to me. It’s the first day of summer vacation. We wanted to ask questions.”
            “Ask who?”
            “The dead.”
            “All right. Go ahead.” The kid kind of faltered. Even in a trance. This I had to hear.
            “I want to know if Carrie likes me.”
            I told him no. It went against my better judgment to give him back the tape recorder. There was nothing to be gained by my not having it. What if my newfound powers didn’t work every time? I might need to fall back on my original plan of playing audio instructions with someone else’s voice and dangling the watch to facilitate my bidding. I therefore asked if any of them had another recorder. The same one said he did. I told him he was free to continue with his writing exercise, but that none of them would remember anything of our encounter. Most importantly, so that I would not have to go to the trouble of finding anyone to do my bidding again, I told the son of the book store owner, “You alone will return here at this time one week from today. You will all wake up and leave one minute after I go.”
            Taking my time, I re-wrapped my bandages with my shades back on so that they would not fall off accidentally again. Then I returned to the trail from which I had emerged, where, hiding in the darkness, I watched the four of them blink their way to consciousness and quietly depart.



5

JAY ISAAC’S JOURNAL (transcribed from audio recording)
            Now? Okay.
            Oh hey, I’m um, Jay Isaac. Right now I’m like all in this crypt with this candle, and I’ve got a tape recorder and this really trippy dude here who totally found me in the forest outside Fernden living in my tree waiting to see the Dead.
            So I’m like in there taking a little nap all cozy and everything, and I wake up hearing weird noises or something and I poke my head out of my tree–it’s this really cool old hollow tree I go to when I hear the Dead might be coming through–and there’s this like really dark dude dressed all in black with this big honkin’-on black hat–which, even though it’s June, we have had a lot of rain–and then there’s these kids, four of them I guess, not much younger than me, and they were just standing there looking at him, all together in the woods.
            It got kind of boring. I didn’t stare the whole time, mostly because I try to follow the ol’ golden rule, but also on account my feet had fallen asleep and were totally killing me after I moved and they started waking up. When I looked again, the dark dude was like fitting his hat all back on his head or something, and the kids still stood all zombied out while he actually came right over toward me.
            Oh man, I totally ducked back inside quiet as a little mouse. I knew he was just a few feet away. After a bit I could hear from sticks cracking that the kids were taking off down the hill or whatever, going the totally other direction anyway, but I never did hear the dude move off. Then in the doorway of my tree, he suddenly appeared.
            I go, “Holy shit! You just scared the crap out of me! Hey peace man! Take the tree, it’s all yours!” He sort of like fumbled with his sunglasses, except he’s also got these bandages that held them on so tight, but then he dropped this tape recorder and a bag of tapes all ka-ploop, and so while he was trying to deal with that, I slipped out the side, see? But it was cool. I didn’t think he could catch me if I had to like really split. Although now that I think about it, it would have way sucked if he had some kind of gun or something and totally wanted to kill me. Whoa.
            So anyway I go, “Dude, what’s up with you?” And then I’m all like, I’ll distract him, see? You gotta know how to control people a little bit sometimes in the certain situation. So I’m like all, “Dude, what’s with the bandages? Shouldn’t you be in a hospital or something?” I could tell he was trying to say something. And I was all, “It’s okay dude, take a breather. I was just chillin’ in a tree, no harm done, it’s okay, it’s all right.”
            That seemed to calm him down. Then he let up on the shady shades that just would not come off, and did a total double-fake, going instead for the pen and paper he had in a hidden pocket. And he writes on it, “I’ll pay you to buy bug spray and Lysol for me.”
            I go, “Dude, gainful employ! That would be way cool. Every little bit helps the cause. Yeah, I’ll help you get your stuff, no problem.” So he sent me on my mission, see, ‘cause he couldn’t really actually stroll in the ol’ Viscount Discount for his goodies on account I guess he’s not really a people person.
            So I’m all at the store and I see the manager, stately and plump as the veritable Viscount himself, and he’s all, “What? You’re not out front?” He always hassles me a little for hangin’ out and settin’ out the ol’ hat. But it’s cool. So I go, “No, not today. Just here for a few simple grocery items, sir.”
            And then I’m all at the counter, like a good little customer consumer waiting to pay, except I’m like looking at the cashier to see her name tag, which said that her name was Sharon and she was happy to serve me.
            Then I asked–and this was part of my mission–I go, “So Sharon, does Mary Annette work here or what?” And she goes, “Oh yeah, she still works here, only not so much on account she only works part-time now.” Then she looked all sly. Like she knows something, but wants not to say, see?
            So now I’m back here. With my buddy. Who wanted me to tell the tale and save it for prosperity. Just me and my new bro all camped out here. Just like Huck and Jim, talkin’ ‘bout man’s inhumanity to man. It sucks, bro. Big-time.

6

LETTER FROM CLAIRE VOYANT TO LINDSAY HEARST
June 21
Dear Lindsay,
            It would have to be the longest day of the year for me to be able to get a million things done (finally!) and still have time to enjoy writing this letter now.
            By the way (and before I forget) I heard recently about some strange things that happened in Bargerville the beginning of last month. I really don’t know what exactly happened, but it sounds like some people were killed by some wild animals running around. I think the town’s trying to keep it hush-hush. Understandably enough–said the woman with the struggling business in tourist season.
            I hope I’m not dumping on you, Lindsay, when I say I’m a little worried about Cyrus. He’s thirteen, so I guess he’s going to go through his awkward phases, but lately something seems so off with him. It really scares me. Sometimes he just acts like he’s possessed.
            One afternoon he was standing in the kitchen making a sandwich. I was sitting at the table reading the paper. He had his back to me and I had the paper held up in my hands. At some point I put the paper down and saw he was still standing there with the peanut butter on the knife sort of loosely held out at his side. Then the phone rang. Right when I went over to pick it up, he put the knife with the peanut butter on the bare counter and started marching out the back door. Turns out, there was nobody even on the phone. It was dead as soon as I picked it up. I actually went outside looking for him, but he must have gone around the other side of the house or ran off because I couldn’t see where he went. Then when he finally showed up again about an hour later, I asked him what that was all about and where he’d been, and he said he went for a walk was all. I didn’t press him on it because it did suddenly occur to me he might have seen this girl I think he’s interested in outside from the kitchen window and just been too embarrassed to tell me. But I don’t know.
            Right now I’m looking out an upstairs window and I can see swirling over the cemetery what must be at least a dozen vultures.
            Things definitely feel weird around here. (I just now had to go downstairs to feed my starving kitty crying in Art and Travel, then I read what I’ve written you so far–pretty depressing, too! Sorry!)
            Actually, I’m excited about the fair coming up in three weeks. That reminds me–I had to fill out my permit paperwork at the town clerk’s office this afternoon. You remember that mysterious man dressed in black with the bandages covering his face? Who do I see there but him (or someone else who dresses like him–and smells even worse!) But get this: he had some young man there whom I’m sure I’ve seen panhandling around town speaking on his behalf trying to get a permit for the fair. Good luck! I got the absolutely last booth. It sounded like he was trying to do some sort of hypnotism act, which is strange because I’m sure he was only just learning about it when he bought those books from me. Whatever, not my business. As long as they don’t put his booth next to mine. Please no! Lindsay, save me! Save me from...the Mesmerizer! (Yep–actual name!)
            Love you!

7

CYRUS VOYANT’S JOURNAL–  continued.
July 4
            The sun is down and people’s fireworks are going off around town. I’m sitting in the nook upstairs, looking out the window where I can see the graveyard, about to write down what I tape recorded with Shayne in the forest this afternoon.
            “You should come out with me to Whale Harbor,” Shayne said. That’s not too far from where his mom lives. His dad has a house here in town.
            “What for?” I said.
            “My uncle said we could use his boat.”
            “With him?”
            “Yeah.”
            “Well, I’ll ask my mom if I can go. I doubt it, though. She needs me to help her get ready for the fair.”
            I think I must have accidentally bumped off the switch on my tape recorder after that because it wasn’t running. This one’s buttons turn off too easy. When I found out and started recording again we were at the creek and we had already lit off all our
firecrackers.
            “Hey,” said Shayne, “did you see the voodoo dolls and new stuff at Automatons?”
            “Yeah. Mom wants those.”
            “Are you going to get one?”
            “One of those voodoo dolls?”
            “Yeah.”
            “I don’t know. I might. Unless Mom’s going to carry them. What about you?”
            “I think I might do it.”
            “Who would you do it on?” I asked.
            “Who would I do it on?”
            “You know what I mean.”
            “I don’t know,” he said. “I’d have to get somebody. Who would you?”
            “I don’t know. I guess Kurt. Or Patrick.”
            “Yeah. Kurt for sure. I’d make him lick all the school bathroom toilets clean as whistles, for starters.”
            “That’s a really good idea,” I said. “Man, I’d stab so many pins in that voodoo doll.”
            “I’d get some of Kurt’s hair to make it really work. Just sit behind him and cut some off in class. Then I’d hammer a whole box of nails into that doll so hard.”

            My head’s hurting again. It’s hard writing all this down. I have to keep stopping and rewinding to hear what we said and it takes forever. I don’t even want to. I don’t know what makes me do this. There’s no way I’m letting anybody see it.
            Carrie was at the barbeque. She walked right past me like I wasn’t even there. Hold on. Why is my alarm clock going off?
            “I am now no longer writing. I have turned on the tape recorder. It is now recording what I say. I am holding it in one hand. I am looking out the window at the cemetery.
            “I am now going downstairs.
            “I am now going into the kitchen.
            “I am taking the knife from the rack.
            “I am going back upstairs.
            “I am perfectly at ease.
            “I am now upstairs.
            “I am perfectly at ease.
            “I am in the hall.
            “I am perfectly at ease.
            “I am outside the door.”
            “Cyrus, what are doing up? Your alarm clock just woke me up. What are you doing? You’re tape recording me? Can you even hear me? Why are you holding a knife?”
            “I am perfectly at ease.”
            “Put down that–”
            Screams. End of tape.

TWO

1
           
            Fernden Field in the fall affords an endless view east and west of haystacks and scarecrows crucified in cornfields and in backyard gardens to the north. But to the south an arm of land arises well-wooded and dark with the teeming quiet lives of bird and beast and more. Locals and visitors from neighboring towns and afar will stroll down the streets in the winter on the way to a play at the theater in town, shopping and soaking the Victorian atmosphere dolled-up with dazzling lights. Then when the wet but temperate winter has left, spring brings green to the field again. But summer in Fernden sees heat in triple digits, and time out of mind when the fair comes to town the field is filled with dizzying wheels of noise and color spinning like the giant gears of a season machine.
            There are handfuls of palm trees in town, and slightly more belly dancers with pseudonyms like Moon and Maena and Star, and they put dots on their foreheads and beads in their frequently dreadlocked hair, smell of delightful incenses, and body oils, and generally jingle necklaces consisting of shiny golden coins and other things worn to adorn their waists and other parts as they move about the world.
            Do they come from India? Ecuador? Nepal? No. But they have pictures of themselves with their doctor and lawyer parents in those places holding bottles of Bud with red unnatural eyes, parents whose reluctantly received credit cards account for the otherwise inaccessible fabrics and fragrances by which they express their unique individuality, belly dancing barefoot for a couple of years before heading back down to the freeway and Mordor to take the bar.

2

JAY ISAAC’S JOURNAL–  continued.
            So I’m sitting in the woods like all six twenty-one in the morning and I look over and see there’s this old TV plunked down with the screen all busted and jagged so it looks like the mouth of a monster coming up out of the ground, or maybe the weird ruined head of some statue from a bygone day.
            I sat and looked at that dead TV for a long time. For a while there I think I must have like rose up out of my body and floated like a beamed particle into the eye of the tube, where ghosts of shows still played, all the little shows with all the little commercials jingling away the night, jingling away the day, repeating the same old stuff, over and over and over, pushing product, pushing product, keeping the people in line, do as told, do as told.
            What was that broken box doing out here now? Had somebody finally had enough? I looked again, and there was something inside. It was a snake all curled up. I guess it must have seen me see it, because it slithered right out like all, Dude, you totally found me out, now I gotta go find somewhere else! But I was all, Later! I got up and booked on over to a safety zone on top of this fallen redwood over this like dry creek bed gully deal, with rocks and whatnot all scattered and strewn, overhanging boughs so nice and green, little winding channels and cliffs draped with totally purple ferns, all droopy and soft. It’s all real nice until you look down and go, Whoa, I could so fall onto those super hard-looking rocks down there, and, Hey, what happened to all those little birds I was just now hearing sing?
            And then I go to myself, Whoa. What if it’s because the birds see more than you do? And I go, I’m just now starting to get a wee tad bit creeped out here. And then, somehow, I don’t even know, I start to see how all the trees in the forest are like this one totally talking voice, each tree just telling its own story, all at the same time, and how some of the stories, eventually, fall down totally flat, ka-boom, only there’s nobody there to hear it, and just when I start to get into this groove, I hear a car go by and I see on the ol’ watch how I was standing there for like half an hour, and then my friend the dude shows up–he’s the one who gave me a few bones for the watch so I can be a good little slave to time–and I’m like all Sancho Panzo and I go, “Whoa, dude, that was totally not cool. You just scared me so bad I almost wet myself! What’s up with that?”
            Well all I can say is, dude really needs to learn how to chill.

3
           
            A feeble glow hung in the dusky sky, and Jay Isaac was finishing his dinner.
            Wildfires pounding the state were sending prey and predator alike scattering for cover. People were reporting black bears and mountain lions as never before on roads and around homes. Hiking alone on a forest trail differed little from a dip in the ocean, and if a predator were to suddenly appear, Jay realized, his chances for survival would be about as high as if a white shark mistook him for a seal. The prospect therefore of spending the night in his hollow tree–“Even the trees around here are burned out,” he said the first time he saw one–lost to the proffered black-gloved hand of his strangely silent friend, a secret outcast like himself and possessor of a scent he could not fully appreciate, due to a near-drowning incident years before which did not eradicate, but permanently impaired his sense of smell.
            “Bitchin’ view, dude,” Jay said to what was Will Todd. He wiped the edges of his mouth and stuffed the used paper napkin into the empty Yoga Yogurt cup, then sat at the lip of the upper crypt, kicking legs dangling, looking into the interior chamber where the dark figure quietly wrote.
            “I put that new lock on the chain outside for you. Got you that hacksaw, too, just in case. Lock looks just like the one the caretaker replaced. I guess you saw the keys where I put them next to that other tape recorder, right? You might want to clean that one off a little. It’s got some kind of mud all over it. ”
            Nothing. But for the scraping of the pen in the slowly moving hand, the figure could have been a statue.
            “Makes me feel like I’m back in the ol’ school days, watching you do your homework there or whatever. All diligent and all. It’s cool. Kind of trippin’ me out though, you know? Like when there’s one of those tests, and you totally haven’t even cracked a book. You’re probably just doing some of that paperwork to set up shop at the fair I guess. Awesome, dude. Kind of the grim way to get it though, you know?”
            The bandaged face under the dark hat turned up.
            “Well, I’m just saying what are the chances that the lady at the book store with the psychic booth gets stabbed right before the fair? And by her own kid. Whoa. Sucks for her, major score for you.”
            From behind Jay boomed a stentorian voice. “Hey you! Get out of there!”
            Jay turned to see a tall, overweight man standing close to the iron gate of the crypt’s entrance. One hand was on the new padlock which gave the appearance of securing the gate. The other pulled a heavy set of keys on a retractable metal chain clipped to a belt hidden beneath the man’s sagging paunch. It was the caretaker. The glimmer in his eyes and set of his jaw told Jay the man relished catching him with the satisfaction of a man lying in bed late at night who hears a rat trap snap.
            “I got you now, buddy boy. I got you now.” The caretaker said this more to himself than to Jay, but his satisfaction quickly turned to confusion as he realized the key on his chain didn’t fit in the lock. “Get over here!” he ordered, rattling the gate in unveiled rage.
            The last rays of the sun showed Jay the man’s bad teeth. Some of them were missing, the others were crooked and stained. They almost looked like little versions of headstones themselves tilted in the man’s mouth. Jay had no wish to decrease the gap between the caretaker and himself. The man’s indignation, Jay intuited, arose less from a sense of propriety and more from a petty desire to get back at life. Probably he feared for his job. But the caretaker looked like he could tear the gate off the hinges, and catching Jay dead to rights, he acted like he was about to.
            Snapping the lock shut had only been an afterthought for Jay. He hadn’t seriously felt there was any need, and nearly didn’t bother with the pretense only half an hour before, just to avoid the hassle of having to reach through and unlock it again. Jay was on the point of explaining something to this effect when the caretaker’s attention was diverted by the slanted slab within, and the black-clad form which rose from the exposed hole.
            Jay felt like a kid whose big brother showed up just in time to bully a bully. He watched while the dude stood opposite the caretaker and calmly removed his shades. Instantly the caretaker went visibly lax. It was hard to tell–it may have been a trick of the sun’s dying light–but it almost looked to Jay like the green vaguely flickering tint on the man’s vacant face came directly from the dude.
            For a long, surreal moment the two stood opposite each other with what must have been locked eyes. Jay couldn’t see the dude’s face. It was as though nothing barred the two. So still, they could have been mirror images.
            Then the next thing Jay knew, the dude was putting his glasses back on, and the caretaker wasn’t saying a word, but just turning on his heels and walking away, as though nothing had happened at all. Jay went over to the gate and watched while the caretaker left the cemetery, got into a beat up old pickup and drove off.
            “Whoa,” he said. “That was really weird.” The dude turned around and climbed back down into the interior crypt. Neither Jay nor anyone else had any idea that when the caretaker got home, for some strange reason he cut off his left pinky toe with a pair of garden shears and ate it.

4
           
            When stores opened in the bird-busy morning on the day before the Fernden Fair, Hubie at Automatons straightened up the voodoo dolls and the dangling clang of long wind chimes outside Wide-Eye Tie-Dye provided a pleasant temple-like effect. Bed and breakfasts were getting gussied, candy-colored Victorians gleaming in the lifting fog.
            Hubie had some music going on inside, and it was quiet enough on Main Street that “The Sound of Silence” drifted out when he opened up the windows to let the morning in. Puppets on display bobbing softly in the breeze seemed to watch with painted eyes as a Celica puttered past, in which Mary Annette Reynolds sat driving on her way to work.
            Down the sidewalks, trimmed trees with foliage swept up appeared loosely in her mind like one-legged Marilyn Monroes. LIVE STAGE PRODUCTIONS, proclaimed the Fernden Theater marquee. She could not see it clearly, but caught a quick glimpse of the poster which she knew announced the upcoming show.
            Scaling back to part-time at the store had not been an easy decision for her, and she mused on this, playing the mental tape on endless loop for herself as she wound around the labyrinthine tree-lined streets with overarching limbs. Lucky for her she had Randy Manson to catch her. Without Randy, she didn’t know what she would have done. She’d always had the dream of entering the biz, and who would have thought a small-town girl like her ever could have done it? But if Randy hadn’t encouraged her to reach out and grab that brass ring, she certainly never would have tried out for “Hair” on her own.
            All through the parking lot, down the freshly fronted aisles and past the humming generator maze of pallets behind the scenes in the back of the store, Mary Annette’s mind trod the boards, envisioning her part in the play, until, clock punched and smock donned, she stood at her register chatting with Darla and Judy standing at theirs with the slanting morning sun blocked by high window blinds.
            The radio was on. Dolly wheels squeaked. Vendors stocking shelves with accustomed manic haste held conversations with voices that carried to cashiers and each other while the only customer was still just the occasional tired-looking guy with a coffee. First they talked about the fair, then they talked about “Hair.” When they got around to Claire, the energy level dropped like a cold hand on a hard slab.
            “She’s still in Egeria at the hospital.”
            “Such a nice lady.”
            “Her own son, too.”
            “They don’t know that for sure. They think it was him, but they don’t have the knife.”
            “Everybody’s still just in shock.”
            “You never would’ve guessed it to look at him.”
            “Where is he now?”
            “He’s at Oceanside.”
            “That’s out at Whale Harbor?”
            “They have some sort of mental institution there.”
            “How old is he?”
            “Thirteen.”
            “How’s she now?”
            “I haven’t been able to find out. Last I heard, she was still in intensive care.”
            “Bu the kid’s locked up?”
            “Oh yeah. They’ve got him in a padded cell.”


5
           
            Duayne looked like James Dean. That’s what he said, anyway. Al said Duayne was forty years old. “If you look like James Dean, it’s because he’s dead.” Al could run his mouth off all he damn well pleased. He’d been a fixture on the circuit since before time began. His dues were paid. But carny privilege or not, Duayne wasn’t budging. He took a drag off his Premiere, ran a grimy hand through his greasy pride and joy north of the eyebrows and squinted. “You’re just jealous.”
            Maybe his off-white t-shirt was too tight, and just a little too yellow in the pits. Maybe his gut did look kind of like a balloon left in the freezer, all flabby and crinkly. It was true that his elbows were like dried apricots, and the skin of his arm wiggled remarkably every time he pulled the crank. Still, if anyone knew how to run the Tilt-a-Wheel, they said it was Duayne, and nobody but nobody took in more at the ring toss, either.
            “You watch. I’m gonna get me a college girl. Wait and see.”
            “Because you look like James Dean?”
            “That’s right.”
            “You been smokin’ the wrong end of the cig.” Al sat down on a cinder block and grabbed the last of the day-old donuts. “This outta make a turd.”
            “I’ll bet you a pack of Premieres.”
            Al wiped white donut sugar on his pants and laughed. “You ain’t thirty-nine no more, sonny jim.”
            It was the first day in Fernden and the ten millionth in hell. A couple kids came up. Duayne took the tickets and let them through. Al finished his donut, chuckling and slapping his hands on his pants. Down past the Looky Loo, he noticed, in the position where they used to put the Corker, and years later the Go 4 Broke, the last stage booth in the line actually had a crowd of four or five standing around and listening.
            Somewhere in the perpetual din of fright- and nausea-tinged laughter, and all the rings and dings of a pinball machine the size of Fernden Field–from amid the bumper car buzz, carousel calliope and duck shoot gallery pops and clangs, unfamiliar intonations of earnest entreaty carried across the grounds.
            “So, it’s like, right behind this curtain–a curtain of mystery, if you will–the Mesmerizer awaits! Come, listen to the Mesmerizer, and learn, through powers too great to be held. Learn about the world–if you care! Learn about yourself–if you dare! Learn about...the beyond. The Mesmerizer knows all! And does all. Only seeing is believing! But don’t take my word for it. From the audience–do we have a volunteer? Yes sir, yes you, come now–perhaps you would be so good as to step up here and pay the Mesmerizer a free, yes free, complimentary consultation behind these curtains. Step right up!”
            From the growing crowd a volunteer stepped onto the platform, turned toward his friends flashing a smirk and entered beneath the black fold which Jay Isaac lifted as he waved the man in.
            “Right on, there you go. Fret not, sweet villagers! In the quiet seclusion of private consultation with the Mesmerizer, the lucky volunteer you saw with your own eyes enter the mystic confines of the infinite will totally doubtless achieve the overcoming of all manner of problems, and even achieve way greater success in future endeavors. Even now–but oh, look, check it out, yon volunteer here would appear to be all done. What sir, can you tell us of your amazing encounter with he who is known only to the world as...the Mesmerizer?”
            The volunteer looked at the crowd. “There’s nobody in there.”
            “Really?” Jay looked stunned. “Are you sure?”
            “Sure I’m sure. What the hell are you on? There’s nobody back there at all.”
            “Well then, I’m sorry. That’s quite the odd thing. Oh and by the way, your shoe is untied.”
            At these last words Jay’s perplexed and apologetic tone abruptly ceased, replaced by an expression that might have appeared to the crowd as unnerving had the attention of the growing audience not been diverted by the bizarre display of the volunteer immediately dropping to hands and knees on the stage and slowly moving about, bleating like a very convincing sheep.
            Jay faced the audience. “Nobody back there, huh? Okay then”–here he turned toward the volunteer and spoke in a firm, clear command–“pony up.”
            Instantly the man flopped over onto his back, hands and legs up in the air.
            When the laughter from the audience subsided, Jay turned once more to the man and pronounced, “You are healed.” At this the volunteer hopped to his feet and stood a few moments on the stage looking confused until Jay asked the crowd to give him a hand and the man wandered back down to his friends.
            “Come one, come all! No need to pay to believe–with the Mesmerizer, seeing is totally free! Although, donations for all the other parts of the show, could easily go in this here hat, were one to so choose. I’ll just leave the ol’ tip hat out right here. So yeah though, come on and learn the ways. You’ve all totally seen the power of the Mesmerizer on that one dude. Go on in and see what the Mesmerizer can do for you. If...you even dare.”
            “What is that?” someone called from the crowd. “Some kind of hypnotism?”
            “Oh, whoa, no,” Jay said, responding to the comment, “dude’s not the Hypnotizer, dude’s the Mesmerizer. He mesmerizes, see? Now hypnotism, that’s all about the like power of suggestion at the subconscious level, right? You can’t even make somebody hypnotized who actively doesn’t want to be. It’s like, people who watch commercials and whatever, they’re all susceptible to the trance-state of just goin’ right along with the in-group morality belief system flow, so they’re all like blank slates to whatever suggestion, say, somebody wants to control them with. But not the Mesmerizer. Nope. Totally different situation. But don’t take my word for it. Come on up for a free demonstration and don’t delay, act now!”
            The speaker in the crowd to whom Jay had addressed this speech put a hand behind the woman next to him. “Go on,” he said. “Do it.” The blushing woman initially hesitated, then gathered herself together with a few claps of encouragement and ascended the steps at the side of the stage.
            “All right, awesome, another volunteer! I’m doing pretty good at this, I must say. Okay now, and what might your name be?”
            “Make her crawl around up there and you’re dead meat,” called the man in the crowd who sent her up. “You and whoever else is back there!”
            “Oh, hey, come on,” Jay said. “We’re at the fair, dude. It’s cool. Everybody chill. Now then, let’s see. Oh, right. And what might your name be, my good woman?”
            “She’s my woman! Dead meat!”
            The woman on stage turned to the man yelling in the crowd with an exasperated look of remonstration. “Ran-dy!” In response to the question Jay had posed she replied, “Mary Annette. My name is Mary Annette Reynolds. And if you make me do anything dumb, Randy says you’re dead meat, so you better not!”
            “All right then–whoa. I mean, okay. All right then. Mary Annette Reynolds, you say? Okay then, Mary Annette Reynolds, back to the Mesmerizer you go.”
            Jay lifted the black fold of curtain exposing the darkened way within as, eagerly, Mary Annette entered.

6
           
            “You can see him now.”
            Cyrus turned to see his old friend Shayne coming to pay him a visit. The cell door, when shut, resounded through the spacious gray confines.
            “Shayne,” he said with a welcoming tone, “my old friend. I’m glad to see you. I see you brought your backpack. They let you in with that? I’m not surprised. They really are good people here. But we shouldn’t discuss such things at a time like this. I’m not completely unaware of the time limit here. No matter. So what did you bring?”
            Shayne opened the pack. “Goodies,” he said.
            “I should have known, I should have known. A chocolate bar! Now that’s a bar of chocolate! Pineapple slices! Good choice. And popcorn! Well, we don’t have any movies here, I’m afraid. But we do have a Ouija board, I see. I can’t believe you brought that. It’s okay. It’s all right.”
            “I brought some tunes, too.” Shayne produced a tape recorder.
            “You shouldn’t have. How did you get here?”
            “My uncle.”
            “The one with the boat, yes I should have known. We’ll have to take that trip together soon.”
            “Absolutely.”
            “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Where is your uncle now?”
            “He’s outside. Probably standing around.”
            “Of course, of course. I’m sorry I can’t offer you more luxurious accommodations. Fantastic! We’re listening to Ravi Shankar. Mom always did love Ravi Shankar. I see now a look of concern crossing the face of my faithful friend.”
            Shayne fell over from where he had been sitting cross-legged on the floor. “What’s happening? What’s going on?”
            “Hang on, old friend. I, ah, may have neglected to mention. This cell is something of an old ship. I’m afraid it’s breaking away right now and we’re caught in the grip of the ocean. Nothing for it, now. Hang on! It really is quite dizzying.”
            “What is all this? Where is all this water coming from?”
            Dark, seeping patches of moisture were developing in the corners of the cell and spreading out along the walls.
            “What’s going on?”
            “This cell is coming apart at the seams. I knew this was going to happen.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “The room, my dear boy, womb and tomb, the cell. It’s really cracking up under the strain.”
            “What do we do now?”
            “Nothing for it, really. I can tell you frankly now. Our chances don’t look good. I’m glad you’re here with me. I never wanted any of this to happen.”
            “I understand. It’s for the best.”
            “Look. Parts of the cell gone missing. Looks like windows.”
            “You can see into the water.”
            “That was a shark right there.”
            “Oh yes, lots of those. But there’s some good in the ocean, too.”
            “That one got pretty close.”
            “I’m up to my armpits now.”
            “Me too.”
            “Look at the size of those teeth.”
            “Just do what it says.”
            “Help. Help me.”
            “I want out of here right now.”
            “Get me out of here right now.”
            “Get me out of here.”
            “Get me out of here.”
            “Let me out.”
            “Let me out.”
            “Let me out.”

7
           
            The door to Randy Manson’s family mansion closed heavily behind him shortly after five. Having been cooped up all day at rehearsals in the hot theater, the image of strolling with Mary Annette and showing her off at the fair had sustained him working all day with her about as much as it proved a distraction.
            The wind in his face brought the patted dust scent of a recent summer downpour and he felt the studness of bell bottom cords as he hopped in his Mustang and cruised to the family rental house on Ash that he set up for Mary Annette. Sure, it was a good price now. Hell, practically a steal. Hard to tell though, costs do rise. She was, after all, on a month-to-month now. If he had to raise the rent soon, the situation could go out of his hands. Although, he might be able to put her up in the back house right there on his property. Just an option. All entirely up to her.    
            She looked so good when he saw her at the door. Although he didn’t really dig it when she said two times she could go for something to eat, directly suggesting Taco the Town. He’d just brushed his teeth. Wasn’t it enough he was letting her ride in his Mustang? The way she acted, she must have thought money just grew right on trees. Besides, too many of those tacos and she wouldn’t look so good anymore. Might have to start working out. He could dig a chick who pumped a little iron. Hated when they got all rangy, though. Like some he’d seen the summer before down at Venice Beach. Randy thought he’d like to see more of Venice. Maybe take Mary Annette down, too.
            He had a stick of gum in his pocket and gave her half when they split, while the crumpled bit of wrapper that he chucked bounced down the curbside drainage grating into the dank muck below. The bit of garbage landed in the heel portion of a shoe print, where glistening worms squirmed.
            And that was because, early that morning, before dawn broke, the reanimated husk of Will Todd had slunk hunkered with a follower of the Dead. A manhole cover down a dead end street just outside the cemetery’s crumbling weed-choked walls provided the access to the tunnels that branched below the town, even to the very theater where muffled reverberations of music played during rehearsals could be felt as much as heard. They had installed themselves in advance. No one at the fair saw the black-clad form. Jay had passed the time in the shadows of the Chair-o-Planes while strobe effects on the Ferris Wheel were tested in the lonely pre-dawn light.

8
           
            Mary Annette went into the tent. A moment later she emerged from the black fold on stage next to Jay.
            “There’s no one in there,” she said. “It smells funny, though.”
            A guy in the crowd with a ponytail yelled out as he stormed off, “Oh, come on, man! What a freakin’ joke!”
“Here,” said Mary Annette, holding a fold open and exposing the proof of her assertion.
            Jay peered in, surveying the small table and two chairs lit by a single bulb. “I guess he went out the back. Well, like they say, when you gotta go. And all that.” Returning his attention to the dwindling crowd he added, “So, um, it looks like the Mesmerizer has received an urgent call requiring the utmost limits of his powers, so if you’ll all just be so good as to return in a little bit or whatever, everything should be back up and running totally fine. Thank you, short break.”
            “Come on, Mary Annette,” Randy said as she stepped down, “he must have seen you coming.”
            “Shut up, Randy!” she returned, shaking her head and looking marvelously exasperated.
            Retreating to the tent, Jay peeked out from a thin slit off to the side. Then with everyone gone, he lifted the drop cloth and slipped out the back, half-expecting to find the dude standing outside. But the dude wasn’t there.
            Not knowing what else to do, Jay wandered around the carnival, feeling like a cave man startled by the confusing array of flashing multi-color lights and sudden jarring sounds of excited people and busy machines.
            When he’d gotten away from the barkers and the balloons, he sat on a fence at the fringes of the fair, debating whether he should head back for his stuff stashed in the crypt and try to hitch a ride to Bargerville before dark. There he could chill for however long. Except it would suck trying to find the awesome tree where he knew he could go down there, what with the hour drive, plus another hour minimum to get his stuff and hitch a ride. Most definitely he wouldn’t get there until well after dark. For that matter, taking into account the dark clouds gathering and the warm wind picking up, he might be able to head half an hour north back up to Carata and maybe just make it to his little in the community forest behind the university before it rained.
            For the life of him he couldn’t figure out why it was he helped the dude. A little cash didn’t hurt, but he didn’t get much, so that sure wasn’t it. It was more like what he read somewhere about looking too long into the abyss. After awhile, it starts looking into you.
            The roar from the crowd that coincided with this thought put a whoa on Jay’s face. Then he looked over and realized the cheers were probably for a guy in a white jumpsuit and cape getting ready to jump some trucks.

            Randy Manson stood with Mary Annette, eating a hamburger and waiting for the jump, now hastened by the turning weather.
            In the middle of talking about stage blocking for the production, Mary Annette turned to see the still and silent figure, ebon cape astir. She and Randy both caught a wince-producing whiff. Chewing a big bite of burger with a grimace, Randy spun around and said with a half-full mouth, “Frickin’ crap, what the hell?”
            The eerily lit form in the premature gathering dark seemed carved in stone before suddenly springing to life. A few steps forward with a long purposeful stride and a black gloved hand shot out, swatting the burger from Randy’s grip onto the dirt and straw where it lay open and ugly for all to see, the dead mangled meat of the patty defiled with debris.
            “Hey!” Randy shouted. “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
            The horizontally spinning Chair-o-Planes seemed to perfectly mesh with the vertical turn of the Ferris Wheel behind the black hat, shades and swathing, from which now came a labored, muffled mumbling, too horribly hoarse and garbled to be understood. A shadowy arm came up, pointing at Mary Annette. More garbled sounds followed–with increased vehemence.
            Randy’s voice, starkly contrasted, sounded unnaturally shrill. “Listen man, you’re a frickin’ nut–”
            The fist that connected with Randy’s face sent him sprawling to the ground. Largely this was from Randy’s own overreaction in trying to avoid the punch, but he got clocked jarringly enough on the side of the face that he could not say anything, and for a moment could not even see as the figure waded in.
            Mary Annette screamed as the revving engine of the carnival stunt rider’s motorcycle blared and the dead flesh fists of her old boyfriend audibly impacted on the long-haired actor’s head.
            It was a fair fight. Several times Randy tried to marshal his forces, taking on a film-inspired martial arts pose and simultaneously emitting what he intended to be intimidating screams of warning, but with his boxed ears ringing so hard, his vision blurred so bad and his balance so extremely off, he stumbled into the Test Your Strength apparatus, flailing fingers lucking onto the handle of an oversize mallet.
            Randy raised the mallet high overhead at arm’s length, summoning a desperate yell as the black-caped figure appeared in his impaired vision distorted like a cubist painting wielding the glistening blade of a sword swallower distracted by the fight. That the blade was blunt mattered little when the dark figure darted in thrusting forward like a fencer. Mallet in hand, Randy ran.
            Carnies came rushing over in increasing numbers, jacked-up and intent on stopping the attacker in black, even as Randy slammed into bystanders in his dazed dash to escape. Yet with unchecked stride the dark one struck at stumbling carnies, eluding the outstretched groping arms that came at him from all sides and gaining on Randy, who, in doubling back toward the Ferris Wheel dropped the mallet and leaped to catch an upward-rising seat, the empty bucket of which rocked and swayed as he struggled to pull himself up over the back.
        


            The Ferris Wheel operator, having joined in the attempt to intercept, lay sprawled among rigged milk bottles and softballs, unable to stop the wheel as Randy managed to pull himself into the seat just past the top of the ride in time to see the dark figure, black cape fluttering, ascend the summit with sword in hand two buckets behind and coming down like a nightmare distilled into corporeal form.


            Randy screamed for help. More carnies were coming. The figure leaped free from the descending bucket. Onlookers held in check with the wild waving of the brandished blade coalesced at a wary distance, but fell short of organized pursuit as the caped figure fled from Fernden Field in the lightly falling rain....





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1 comment:

  1. Well, that first page is a real…page turner:) GREAT opening paragraph! And as creepy as some of the specifics are, well done – quite captivating. One of our editors brought you to my attention. I'd like to include the the first part of this in the upcoming issue of the Woven Tale Press: http://thewoventalepress.net
    I think it stands well alone. Please email me at editor@thewoventalepress.net and please reference this post's url. Hope to hear from you.
    Sandra Tyler Editor-in-Chief.

    ReplyDelete