It has been well known for several years now that a man in a clown costume, flanked by two feral gibbering adolescents in dirty rags, with limbs twice the length they ought to be, held on chains held by the gloved hands of the clown, dances through a multitude of small towns in Georgia and Alabama, on their side streets and their playgrounds, their parking lots and their back yards.
In each of these towns, the vision decked in off white face paint, a dirty pink spherical nose, green flickering bloodshot eyes, blue and green and red flapping material, electric blue tufts of hair, enters with these two disfigured figures, lets them smell the warm Southern night air, then lets them off their leashes, wherein they scuttle off into the night – over fences, clinging to drain pipes as they scramble up walls, through open front doors.
At the end of each night, two adolescents with limbs twice the size they ought to be sheepishly crawl back like beaten dogs, and sit with their heads facing the dry grass as the clown places the collars back around their necks. He throws back his head and chuckles, then off he goes, before the dawn can touch him.
Each of these nights in which the clown comes to town, two young teenagers will vanish from their rooms, from their walks home, from their back yards, and each of these nights two stretched and inexplicable skeletons will be found in shallow graves in the Georgia or Alabama soil. They’re never identified.
BIO: Stephen Kerr is an early 20’s grave riser from Scotland with a passion for urban legend and the bizarre. Twitter: https://twitter.com/Phil_N_Stine.
Jackson’s sledgehammer whirled, driving the stake deep into dry red dirt. Stepping back he was disappointed to find that the sign leaned slightly to the left. The normally ghoulish clown whose salacious wink promised ‘Clownish Delights’ looked queer to him, yet it’d have to do. Time was short judging by the sounds of the local folk congregating at the fence.
Behind him he could hear his brothers rushing to get the final bits of preparation for tonight’s BBQ complete. Inevitably Herc cried out, his clown make-up distorted, as he held aloft a hand crimson with blood, ‘Gawd sake Billy Bob that’s ma hand ye gone cut.’
‘Hush now boys, stop yer messin!’ Ma bustled into view, the white paint on her face juxtaposed against the charred black joint of meat on her shoulder. ‘Ye done with that sign J-boy?’ Jackson nodded, his hand waving apologetically as the sign shifted further left. ‘Well, ne’er mind that now son, take a plate to the new act, he’ll need some comfort I reckon. An’ I need more meat fer the BBQ.’ Jackson nodded as he sliced thick cuts from the joint, pink juices coating the plate. Hefting his sledgehammer onto his shoulder, Jackson ambled down towards Freak Avenue, glad to escape Herc’s wails. His yellow clown shoes raising clouds of dust as he walked.
It hadn’t taken the family long to get used to the death of the circus. When O’Keefe had announced that the big top had to go Jackson had thought Ma was going to hang him from the nearest tree, such was her rage over the copious moonshine she guzzled that night. The stars had shone down as Ma had lamented how they were true zanies, each born under canvas, blessed by God himself to be part of this chaotic wave that rolled endlessly between cities, towns and unheralded places in-between. Under that big tent Ma and the boys had been masters of their canvas universe, playing devilish tricks on wide-eyed spectators. Buckets of water transformed by painted messiahs into glitter, custard pies slammed into flesh with bone crunching ferocity. Yet times had changed, the world drowning in dust and sorrow. Now they were reduced to serving BBQ to voyeuristic idiots salivating over the freaks that had replaced the circus folk he had grown up with.
Jackson despised the new performers; they lacked no skill or talent just an abjectness that, unlike the paint he applied each morning, couldn’t be removed. Yet O’Keefe had been proven right, for though the usual carnie diversions, rides and stalls, still parted money from owner as easily as Moses did the sea. It was the freaks that drew these southern folk out from their homes, purses laden with shiny coins. For the first time in a long time they weren’t struggling to exist.
He found O’Keefe sat on the wooden steps of the Tattooed Man’s caravan. Judging by the trembling hands of the newest tattooed addition to the avenue the moonshine in the jar he clenched was yet to kick in. ‘Now looky Benjamin, here’s Jackson with what looks like a plate to get you rarin’ to go! How goes it J-Boy?’ Jackson shrugged, handing the plate over to the tattooed man who sniffed suspiciously before quickly devouring the greasy slabs of meat. As the man ate Jackson examined the intricate and colourful markings that covered every inch of his being. Though he would never tell him he reckoned this was Billy Bob’s best work yet.
O’Keefe gently removed the plate from tattooed hands, wiping a finger around the edge, before letting his lips smack at the BBQ sauce that clung to his skin. ‘Showtime brother, now up into the wagon and earn your place, else, well there’s always someone else wanting a job these days, understand?’ The tattooed man nodded, slipping into the caravan, becoming a shadow behind the frosted glass. Around them the rest of the attractions were taking up their positions, a constellation of monstrosity. Enticing silhouettes that for just a single dollar one could inspect at leisure. Only Billy Bob’s posters that hung beside each shadow hinted at the unimaginable horrors that lurked within. Oswald the Penguin Boy! Saladin the Human Snake! Yin & Yang The Double Headed Child! Agatha The Bearded Lady! The Painted Man!
The cries of the Hawker welcoming in the punters cut through the night. ‘Promising devilish delights and delightful devils is what we do,’ O’Keefe said to no one in particular as he languidly raised himself, ‘I’ll return the plate to Ma J-Boy, that taste got a hunger fired up somethin’ fierce in ma belly.’ Jackson nodded farewell, hustling to leave Freak Avenue before it filled with voyeurs. He slipped past the booths of rigged fortune, heading for the larder wagon that lay within the darkness of a copse of trees on the edge of the field.
The wooden frame creaked under his weight as Jackson mounted the steps. The oiled bolt sliding easily. Opening the door Jackson paused, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness within. There were still three left, enough for this and the next show in all likelihood.
As he stepped inside they began to writhe, the ropes that bound their limbs had rubbed their flesh raw. Jackson ignored the muffled pleas that filled the interior as he hauled the nearest one out of the door and into the long grass. In the dim light cast from the freak show he could just make out the inked tableaus that writhed and crawled as muscles strained against rope.
Another bout of muffled pleas barely discernible over the noise of the show. Jackson raised a finger to his lips, letting his wide mouth split into a malevolent grin. He stooped down retrieving his sledgehammer from the dirt.
The one thing about freaks Ma had quickly realised was that some were very easily replaced.
He licked his finger, testing the gentle breeze, enjoying the fear in his victim’s eyes.
Then his sledgehammer whirled.
BIO: Andrew’s flash fiction has featured in With Painted Words and Flash! Friday. Later this year his short story Thirst will feature in the anthology, Happily Never After from Fey Publishing. He would mention he’s working on a novel but prefers to keep that bit secret.
This story has been published in two previous fiction magazines.
“Step right up ladies and gentlemen,” yelled the carnival barker, “and see Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes. See the greatest show on Earth for just a dollar. Step right up and see Herbie, the only zombie who ever performed for European Royalty. Show starts in five minutes. Hurry, hurry.”
The barker didn’t have to convince Wilma. She couldn’t wait to see the zombie after reading about him in the newspaper. The part that really caught her eye described Herbie as tall, dark, and exceptionally handsome.
Once inside the tent, she noticed one end of the stage was blocked from view by black curtains. She figured the handsome zombie was probably behind them preparing for his performance. The idea of being just feet away from a famous celebrity gave her butterflies.
At the other end of the stage, a man sat facing a machine loaded with dials, switches, and flickering lights. Wilma thought it looked like something from a mad scientist’s laboratory.
The barker appeared onstage and said, “What you’re about to see will amaze you. But before we begin, I have a few announcements. First, that bouncy accordion music you heard when you came into the tent is from Herbie’s latest CD album, Herbie Plays Polka Greats. It’ll be on sale after the show, along with Herbie T-shirts, and photos. Herbie will sign every photo you buy. Finally, if you look toward the back of the tent, you’ll see bright yellow exit signs.”
“Is that where we’re supposta run in case the zombie goes nuts and attacks us?” yelled a drunk.
The audience giggled nervously, as two carnival bruisers dragged the drunk toward an exit.
The barker blew a whistle to draw attention back to the stage. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, Doctor Zangara’s Amazing Traveling Shows is proud to present Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world!”
Everyone applauded, as a spotlight illuminated the curtains. The barker opened them to reveal a zombie in a yellow jump suit sitting in a steel chair. Steel cuffs bound his wrists and ankles to the chair. Wide chains pressed against his chest. His bald head was bowed, as if he were in utter despair.
“Why’s he tied up like that?” somebody asked.
“There’s nothing to worry about. He’s very comfortable,” the barker replied.
“Aren’t those chains hurting him?” asked Wilma.
“No. Zombies don’t feel pain. Nobody feels pain when they’re dead. And Herbie’s dead as a doornail. That’s why we tie him down—so his lifeless body won’t fall outta the chair.”
“How did Herbie get to be a zombie?” asked a little girl.
“He useta live in Haiti. One day He got sick and died. After they buried him, a witch doctor dug him up and made him a zombie. Somehow, Herbie wandered into the jungle and got lost. Dr. Dumont of the Haitian Zombie Institute found him. Dumont invented a machine that could bring Herbie back to life, but for only six hours a day. The doctor taught Herbie how to sing, dance, tell jokes, do magic tricks, and play ten musical instruments. Herbie was so happy to be alive for six hours every day, he became very friendly. Dumont was trying to find a way to bring Herbie back to life forever, but he died before he could make that happen. I’ll take one more question, and then we’ll get on with the show.”
“I don’t get it,” somebody said. “Did Dr. Dumont bring Herbie back to life in a way that you and I have life? Or does he have a different kinda life?”
“I don’t know. What does it matter, if he’s friendly and can put on a terrific show? Okay, now we’ll bring Herbie back to life for six hours like Dr. Dumont did by using a Renticular Renificator. It’s a special machine Dumont invented to animate zombies. So let’s get started. First, I’ll put this headset on Herbie. Then I’ll ask James, who’s sitting in front of the machine, to send an electrical signal through the headset.”
When the barker put the headset on the zombie’s bowed head, he said, “James, set renticular renification to zero point three, and press start.”
James twisted some dials and pressed a button. Suddenly, the zombie’s head jerked upward, his eyes popped open, and his face broke out into a brilliant smile. “Hi everybody,” he said in a rich, bubbly voice. “I’m Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. Welcome to my show.”
The cheers and applause were deafening.
“I can do lots of things,” Herbie said. “I can play the Beer Barrel Polka on my accordion. I can dance, or sing Jingle Bells and a hundred other songs. I can ride a motorcycle while standing on my head. And lots of other things. What should I do first?”
The crowd shouted a hundred different requests.
“Let’s make it Herbie’s choice” the barker said. “Well, Herbie, what do you feel like doing?”
“I’m in the mood for ballet. James, would you please play that CD I love so much—the one with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?”
“Sure thing,” James said, inserting a CD and pressing a green button on the Renticular Renificator to release the zombie’s restraints.
Herbie sprang from the chair and donned a pair of hot-pink ballet slippers. “How do you like my slippers, boys and girls?” he asked, standing on his toes and twirling.
The kids screamed with delight.
The zombie ran behind the black curtains, removed his jump suit, and slid into a hot-pink leotard.
While Herbie twirled and danced on his toes, Wilma felt a flutter unlike anything she’d ever experienced. As he pranced across the stage, she noticed his pouty, fleshy lips, his muscular arms and thighs, his tight glutes. She found herself staring at the bulge below his stomach and how it strained against his tights. Fanaticizing about holding him close, she could almost feel the bulge pressing against her. In all her forty years, Wilma had never felt so wicked.
“That’s very nice, Herbie,” said the barker. “How about showing us how Elvis Presley used to move his pelvis.”
James played raunchy music, and pressed more buttons on the renificator. Herbie went into a frenzy of gyrations that brought squeals from his female admirers. Mesmerized by his frantic pelvic thrusts, Wilma found herself lightheaded and gasping for breath. When sweat broke out on her forehead, she realized Herbie was the man for her.
After the spectacular show, Wilma raced to the back of the tent so she could buy a souvenir photo. Dozens of women had the same idea.
Giggles and flushed faces greeted Herbie when he arrived at the table. Wilma thought he looked like a dashing, fairytale prince.
“Ten dollars, please,” Herbie said with a charming Caribbean accent, when Wilma selected a photo.
“Would you autograph it?” she asked.
“That’ll be five dollars extra,” he said, flashing a gorgeous smile that turned her insides to mush.
As she paid Herbie, his fingertips brushed her hand. Though they were ice cold, Wilma was too overwhelmed to notice.
“What would you like me to write on the picture?” Herbie asked.
“Whatever you wish. But please sign it, With Love, Herbie.”
“What’s your first name, Dear?”
The zombie scribbled across the top, “To Wilma. You’re a sweet, Southern gal. With Love, Herbie.”
She thought she’d faint when he squeezed her hand and said, “Thanks for coming to the show, Sweetie.”
She wanted to tell him how handsome he was, but he’d already turned his attention to the next woman. When he made flirtatious comments to the woman, Wilma felt a jealous flash. She reminded herself that he was just conducting business. All handsome celebrities flirted with fans. It was part of the fame game. It meant nothing. How could it, after the way he squeezed her hand and called her Sweetie with such intensity?
Wilma attended the rest of Herbie’s shows that night. Sitting up front, she waved every time he turned her way.
Herbie did something different in every show, which increased Wilma’s fascination. But she was alarmed during the last show when he sang, I Gotta Be Me. His voice was weakening. Her wrist watch showed five hours and fifty minutes had passed. It was almost time for Herbie to die again.
Right before Herbie’s time ran out, he sat in his steel chair and waved goodbye to the audience. When his head dropped abruptly to his chest, the barker closed the curtains, James threw a switch to activate the chair’s restraints, then turned off the renificator.
Wilma ran from the tent weeping.
On the way to her car, an inner voice reminded her that Herbie wasn’t gone forever. They’d revive him again tomorrow, and she’d see him again.
She decided to attend every show while the carnival was in town. She’d buy mementos after every show. That’d give her three opportunities every night to shake his muscular hand, look into his passionate eyes, hear his glorious voice. Soon, he’d remember her, perhaps even look forward to seeing her. And maybe he’d even want her.
Soon the carnival would move on to other Southern towns. Wilma, an affluent spinster, decided to follow no matter where it went. Realizing nothing could stop her from seeing Herbie three times nightly gave her a deep sense of peace. She fell asleep thinking how he’d succumb to her charms when he recognized her inner beauty and unlimited ability to love.
Next day, she went to the carnival early, hoping to find the barker. She found him at a hot dog stand. She sat at a table facing the barker. “I wanted to tell you how impressive your zombie show is.”
“Glad you like it. I noticed you were at all the shows last night. Are you from the Herbie Fan Club?”
“No. I love the show. Herbie really is the friendliest zombie in the world. He’s also the most handsome and entertaining performer I’ve ever seen. Have you ever thought of having him try out for a Broadway musical?”
“I don’t think that’d work.”
“I can’t imagine why. He does everything remarkably well. He’s extremely talented, and he’s the most dynamic performer I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, he does come across that way. But there’s lotsa complicated stuff involved to make that happen. More than you’d ever imagine.”
“How complicated can it be?” she asked. “ James throws a switch on that machine of yours, and off he goes. Look, I’d like to make you a proposition. As a patron of the arts, and considering how talented your zombie is, I think he needs someone who has the means to sponsor him and lead him to higher things. Plays. Musicals. A concert at Carnegie Hall. Perhaps he can even play his violin with the New York Philharmonic. Or sing with the Metropolitan Opera. Frankly, I can offer Herbie a better life than a traveling carnival. I want to buy Herbie. How much do you want for him?”
“He ain’t for sale.”
“Not even for a million dollars?”
“You wanna pay a million dollars for a dead zombie?”
“For goodness sakes! You make it sound like he’s lower than a maggot. I’ll pay you a million for Herbie and that ugly machine that James operates. Of course I’ll need an operator’s manual, the restraining chair, and whatever else is necessary to make everything work smoothly.”
“Like I said, Herbie ain’t for sale.”
“How about renting him?”
“I never heard of renting out a zombie. Come to think of it, we shut down the show from Thanksgiving until mid-January. Money gets pretty tight. If I agreed, you’d hafta set up a place for his special equipment, and get a backup generator in case of power failures. You’d also hafta sign papers promising that you wouldn’t use him in any public performances. Let me think about it. How can I reach you?”
“I’ll be at every show from now on.”
That night after the last show, the barker approached Wilma. “Herbie ain’t for sale or rent. I like things the way they are. Besides, if we lose control of him, there might be trouble.”
Wilma cried all night.
The next day, the carnival departed Charleston for Atlanta. Wilma checked into Atlanta’s best hotel. For the next week, she waved to Herbie from the front row and bought his autographed photos.
By the time the carnival reached Birmingham, Herbie was used to seeing Wilma at every show. He acknowledged her presence by asking her to stand and wave to the audience.
When the carnival played Chattanooga, Herbie called Wilma to the stage, put his arm around her, and introduced her to the applauding audience. When he told them she hadn’t missed a single show for two months, they clapped louder.
Herbie autographed the photos she bought after every show with a different caption every time. The messages had grown warmer. One evening, he wrote, “Wish we could meet and talk.”
Wilma wept with joy.
The next day, she spotted the barker sitting alone at the carnival’s pizza stand. “How’s it going, Tom?”
“I’m fine. I gotta say, you sure are one helluva gutsy woman. I never figured you’d go to such lengths to be around Herbie. Why are you doing this?”
“I’m in love with Herbie.”
“Geez, Wilma. Are you gonna spend your life pursuing a zombie? He’s dead. He was buried over fifty years ago. Dr. Dumont’s journal says Herbie doesn’t even have a heart. All his internal organs are gone. He’s filled with embalming fluid to keep his body from collapsing. When he waves his arms, and you’re standing close enough, you can hear fluid sloshing inside.”
“But he has charm, and spirit, and gusto and—”
“That was all programmed into the electronic gadgets Dumont put into his skull after all Herbie’s brains were sucked out. Do you know that the top of Herbie’s head has hinges? James has to open his skull once a week to blow compressed air through all the electrical equipment in there? If James didn’t do that, we’d never be able to rouse Herbie from his death trance. Think about what it is you love. Herbie’s a dead man who was turned into a zombie by a witch doctor. He’s a cadaver that doesn’t rot, because of high-tech embalming fluid. He’s got no heart. No lungs. His head is full of electronics. A head that has hinges. A head that needs to be cleaned every week with compressed air. How can you sit there and tell me you love such a thing?”
“You don’t know what love is, Tom!”
“Not the kind you’re talking about. What if I told you I was in love with a vampire? One that sucked blood from little kids. What would you say?”
“I’d say that vampires need love too. Just like zombies. And werewolves. And ghouls.”
Figuring Wilma for a harmless loon, the barker never mentioned her actions again.
Wilma followed them to New Orleans. Then Miami. That’s where she discovered Herbie had a dark side.
During the final show on closing night, Herbie was doing a handstand on a bicycle’s handlebars. A teen threw an egg that smashed against Herbie’s head, throwing him off balance. He fell off the bike and hit the ground hard.
Wilma screamed. The barker tried to help Herbie to his feet, but the zombie roughly shoved him aside. The barker yelled to James, “Reduce renticular renification to seven point nine.”
James turned switches and pressed buttons like a madman. Herbie’s growls were so unnerving the audience rushed to the exits screaming.
Wilma ran to the stage and threw her arms around Herbie. His behavior changed instantly. He smiled and called to the audience, “Hey, y’all. C’mon back. It’s all part of the act. Don’t be alarmed. Everything’s cool.” He kissed Wilma’s cheek. Eyes twinkling, he said, “Thanks, Wilma. You’re a sweetie. We oughta hug more often.”
The barker couldn’t thank Wilma enough for what she’d done, though he wasn’t sure which had calmed Herbie: Wilma’s embrace, or renificator signals. Even James was uncertain if he’d completed the calming sequence before Wilma hugged the zombie.
As a reward for preventing a potential disaster, the barker included Wilma in Herbie’s act. At first, she did little things: passed him juggling balls, setup tables for his magic acts, rolled out the bicycle on which he performed acrobatics.
Wilma was never happier.
But after a year, Wilma felt that something was still missing in her relationship with Herbie—something she couldn’t articulate. On one hand she wanted to find ways to get closer. On the other, she wasn’t sure how to bridge the chasm that separated them. When the answer came to her in a dream, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it sooner. After careful consideration, she explained her plans to the barker.
“Are you sure, Wilma?” he asked.
“Positive. I can’t think of anything I want more.”
“Wilma, you’re one helluva a gutsy woman. In fact, you have more guts than any ten men I know.”
“It’s not guts, Tom. It’s love.”
Wilma disappeared the next day.
Months passed. Few people remembered Wilma had ever existed. But Herbie didn’t forget. Her name was the last word he uttered every night, before he dropped his head and died.
* * *
On a beautiful Spring evening in Biloxi, Mississippi the barker stood outside the zombie show tent. In his proudest voice, he called out, “Step right up ladies and gentlemen. Step right up and see Herbie…and Wilma…the friendliest zombies in the world.”
BIO: Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 150 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.
The entrance door slammed, echoing down the long hall of mirrors in Death’s Funhouse. Running away from the packed crowd, fear gripped me. Strobe lights flashed psychedelic colors. Wildly, they splashed across the backdrop of the distorted reflections of the troupe of clowns slashing my friends’ throats.
Looking around the funhouse at the other college-aged girls, frozen in place and screaming, I vowed not be that girl. Hearing more shouts behind me, I shoved myself through the horde of onlookers that had turned to watch the macabre scene play out around us in twisted images.
The sweet scent of cotton candy filled the funhouse. I shuddered, wondering if it was a ruse to form a false sense of security. Glancing to my left, I watched two clowns take out the head cheerleader at our college. My stomach churned as a spurt of red splattered across the mirror. Its liquid streaked down in jagged lines.
Sticky beads of sweat oozed down my back. Its sickening feel, drove me harder to escape. Frantically, I searched for the exit. No reprieve was to be found. Heaving, I forced myself forward.
In the screams bouncing around the tight corridors, I heard my best friend. Turning, a loud groan escaped me. A tall clown, with a blinking red nose, held a knife to her throat. I wanted to run back, but I knew death had tagged her. She had lost.
Ten feet away from me, an exit sign blazed victory, but six clowns stood ready. I stopped. My heart raced, pounding in fear. Sensing safety in numbers, I waited for others to join me. The clowns stared back.
“Little girl, come here, little girl,” the largest clown teased, his deep smoker’s voice rasped. He threw his head back in laughter. Then his cold eyes danced, locking onto mine. Opening his arms wide, he dared me to try and escape.
A group of ten frat boys darted past me. I squatted, duck walking. Hidden below the dancing strobe lights, I held my breath for fear of being detected. Beneath the cover of darkness, I pushed forward as player after player were eliminated.
Inches away from the door, I felt my hair yanked. My head stretched back, exposing the tender crook of my neck. The large, glaring clown had captured me. His breath stank of garlic as he whispered in my ear. “No one escapes, Death’s Funhouse.”
In horror, I watched his hand rise above my throat.
Instantly, I dropped flat to the floor, breaking free. I rolled the last few feet, ignoring the grit and grime, digging into me. Jumping up, I slammed against the steel door as its hinges moaned, releasing me to emerge victorious into the daylight.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we have a winner.” The old carnival barker hollered, looking me up and down, searching in vain for fake blood.
I collapsed, gasping. My stomach knotted, threatening to heave up my funnel cake. Yet, I grinned. In five seasons of operation, I was the small town’s first winner.
The barker sulked over and hurled a $100 bill at me. I stared at my sweet reward for making it through Death’s Funhouse without getting my throat slashed by a fake blood squirting knife.
Whooping in triumph, all my friends gathered around me. “Come on, Bloody Mary’s on me,” I shouted. A fitting end to celebrate a bloody profitable night.
BIO: I have been published in various venues such as Free Flash Fiction, The Old Red Kimono, Danse Macabre, Infernal Ink, and Black Petals. Also, for two years, I was editor of The Old Red Kimono, an award-winning literary magazine. For the last six years, I have run a Romance Enhancement Party Business…aka..toy parties sorta like Tupperware, but with batteries.
It’s a carnival of steam
joy and screams
when the circus shows
its new exciting
knife throwing machine
downtown New Orleans
Come closer, come closer!
come and see, tonight all is free!
come and visit our bizarre circus team!
The crowd sits tightly packed
when the machine
with chrome and pipes and steam
starts with a roaring scream
Thousands of knives per second
a lightning of steel in the dark
a sound of chopping thunder
when the visitors falls
as sliced cucumber to the ground
Crazy clowns and fat ballerinas
filling their buckets
with bloody meat and guts
in the spotlight of the circus ring
the manager smiling satisfied
when starved people, animal and beasts
once again can feast on meat
BIO: Mathias Jansson is a Swedish art critic and horror poet. He has been published in magazines as The Horror Zine Magazine, Dark Eclipse, Schlock, The Sirens Call, Apehlion and Trembles Horror Magazine. He has also contributed to several anthologies from Horrified Press, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Source Point Press and other publisher. Homepage: http://mathiasjansson72.blogspot.se/ Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathias-Jansson/e/B00BTDBYBQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4?qid=1366806658&sr=8-4
Went against the grain with this one. Unlike most stories in this collection, this does not take place at a Freak Show…but it is freaky and has enough southern flavor to make the cut. Excuse the pun. If the story had been set in a carny or circus, it would have been perfect. Nevertheless, I’m sure readers will agree that marriage can sometimes be enough of a freak show for anyone. At least anyone unlucky enough to have a marriage like this one. Yikes.
Jimmy had every PEZ dispenser imaginable. He had the rare ones, the semi-rare ones; even the common ones found a place the shelf of his collector’s case. He did not see them as collectibles; they were more like his children. Not that he didn’t have real life flesh and blood children, it’s just they did not bring him the same pleasure that his ones crafted of finely injection molded plastic. He loved the feeling of them in his hands, the sound the spring makes when they are pulled back the first time revealing the sweet candy within. He loved watching the hard pressed, dry, straight edged, curved corner blocks of candy slide out with near flawless perfection. He loved the feeling all 15 mm long, 8 mm wide, 5 mm thick taste pop into his mouth each morning when he awoke. “A Peppermint after breakfast!” He would chirp to his long suffering wife. “Some Lemon at lunch!” he declared to his coworkers (who mostly ignored Jimmy’s habits and well Jimmy in general) At dinner he would espouse all of the wonders that Eduard Haas had created in his fashioning of the first PEZ candy. “Did you know that PEZ is actually a play off the German word for peppermint?” he asked his dentist for the 343rd time. There was nothing that Jimmy would not give in life as trade for his PEZ collection, but then again no one would ever ask for it now, would they?
It was a warm summer Tuesday morning when Jimmy awoke at his normal 5:47 AM sharp. He took his time getting showered, dressed and getting ready for his day before taking his normal trip down to the den of his 3 bedroom Cape Cod style home to visit with his “family” but when he arrived he noticed the door was slightly ajar. Rushing quickly to make sure that his daughter’s bitch of a mutt Meg (I mean who names a dog Meg?) had not gotten into the room again and damaged the original tin that held one of the retired flavors (he was never a fan of the “flower” flavor anyway, but it was the principle of the thing!) but what he saw was much worse: the collection was gone! Someone had “broken into the house during the night and kidnapped his children” he cried on the phone to the police department, who sent no less than 11 squad cars to his house. Less than 2 minutes later, 10 cars filled with angry police officers left the residence leaving a rookie patrolman behind to fill out the report and take statements for the insurance company. Jimmy had the entire collection insured for $500,000, which was less than what he paid for them but all the insurance company would allow for, which was also coincidentally $450,000 more than he had on his own policy in case of his accidental loss of life. He cried and bemoaned the loss of his children, his prized collection and watched as the overworked and underpaid beat cop took down as much info as possible just to get himself out of the sight of the weeping 49 year old man. “If anything turns up sir, we will call you.” the cop said to Jimmy, who was busy blubbering into his handkerchief “And if the thieves… I mean the kidnappers call you, please do us a favor and call the non-emergency number and we’ll send someone out. Maybe” he said under his breath with a chuckle as he walked out the door.
Jimmy was inconsolable. There had to be some explanation for the theft, some sign that the thieves had left, some ransom he could pay to get his precious collection back but after three days of laying in bed and crying until his eyes were red and sore and his nose had begun bleeding around the edges from too much wiping, Jimmy had nothing. His work called, they said if he was not back in the office tomorrow they would have to let him go. “Fine” he thought to himself “The bastards wanted me out anyway, they wanted Jimmy to fail” His wife and his daughter tried to get him to eat something but he said that life without his PEZ was not worth living. They tried to get him to talk to a grief counselor (first they tried a regular counselor, but he did not need therapy, so they switched to someone who would just appease him) but he saw through it and quickly dispatched them with a huff. “Why does no one understand me? Why will no one allow me to just have my time and mourn the loss I have suffered?” He shambled around the house like a zombie. He barely slept, rarely ate, and never went out. He showered only when his wife insisted that he smelled like rancid garbage left in the Charlotte sun behind a Bo Jangles and spent most of that time in the hot water trying to burn away the memories of his beloved. One day his wife left him taking their daughter and Meg with her. She said that Jimmy never cared about them and that all he cared about was his “plastic trash”. She even said she never liked the taste of PEZ, that it all was the same. He did not argue with her, to him the memory of the sweet flavors only brought to mind bitter ashes in his mouth. He did not fight back when his wife filed for divorce and requested full custody of their daughter without visitation. In his mind he had already lost the children he loved the most, so why not one more? The utilities, once in his name but moved into hers when he lost his job, were turned off. The house went into foreclosure and had to be put up for auction. He heard the sheriff tape a sign to the door that the house was to be sold as short sale to cover the growing debts that Jimmy had accrued in lawyer’s fees and bills to private investigators he hired to locate his lost collection. None of it mattered anymore.
Two days before he was to be evicted from the house that once held his darling beauties; there was a knock at the door that he did not answer. He heard the mail slot in the door open and closes with a familiar sound of papers falling to the dusty floor of the foyer. Jimmy summoned all of his pitiful willpower left in reserve for possible good news and walked to the door and saw a plain Manila envelope lying on dust. His name boldly printed on the outside in a thick black marker with a heavy underline. “It must be important” he thought, the serious penmanship gave no clue to what was inside so he peeled back the tape and out fell 4 pictures. Each one was of a different item in his collection: Betsy, Danny, and Paul from the Bicentennial edition. His “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” were on the next one, followed by one of the cast of the “Wizard of Oz” (even his ultra rare duplicate Dorothy where Judy Garland’s eyes were two different colors), and the last one was of his ex-wife standing over a trash bin with a large bag that looked vaguely like it was filled to the brim with his collection! No! His mind cried out. NO SHE CAN’T! He screamed out loud before dropping all the pages to the floor. She wouldn’t do it, She COULDN’T DO IT! He hollered louder than he had ever before (even when that bitch dog ate the coffee tabs), he would not let her…
He fell to the floor in his dirty pajamas; filled with such murderous rage like he had never felt before was liberating, but is was also tiring to someone who has gone without proper nutrition for the past few months. His mind began hatching a plot to get back at his wife for all she had done to him and his collection. All the years he wasted trying to make it work with her. All the sessions to the marriage therapist, all the hours he listened to her cry and complain about him loving the PEZ dispensers more than her, more than their daughter, more than his own life. She was right about one thing though: he did not love her, at least not anymore. Sure there was the faint glimmer of hope when she bought him all 22 of the NASCAR™ themed dispensers that were only sold in three states, including the ultra rare Jimmie Johnson commemorative 6th Sprint Cup™ win edition that glowed in the dark, but even that was gone. He gathering the last of his meager possessions into a Lowe’s shopping bag, took one last look at the house that he once called a home, and then tossed a Molotov cocktail into the living room. The cheap, matted down carpet caught fire quickly and within minutes the whole house was ablaze with white hot flames. The flames burned it to the ground and rising from the ashes like a phoenix of vengeance was Jimmy.
It took him 9 days to track down his wife (maybe he should have checked some of those papers he was served with?) but when he did he set his plan in motion: he was going to wait until his daughter was at school, and then he was going to get her to tell him where she put the collection. Then, he was going to make her pay. At 7:45 in the AM the school bus picked up the little girl he used to call his daughter and took her off to school. His ex-wife stood in the doorway waving her hand and blowing kisses to the happy blond child who reciprocated the same god awful actions to her mother as the bus pulled out of sight. “She never did the same to me” went through his thoughts “that little bitch was probably in on it too” but he quickly dismissed it from his mind as it only caused him to lose focus from what his task was. He bolted across the street as soon as his ex turned to walk back into the house. He threw open the screen door and rushed her with a full body weight thrust of his shoulder, as she fell to the floor with a look on her face that was a mix of shock and pain, he quickly covered her mouth with his gloved hand to prevent her from crying out. He quickly mounted her and held her pinned to the floor while he bound her hands and feet together with duct tape, and then gagged her with a strip of the same. After a few minutes of struggling, Jimmy’s adrenaline had worn off and he was weakly shaking and breathing hard on the floor of her condo next to her prone form. She was crying and trying to inch away from him but the initial blow and the subsequent bounce off the floor had left her in no condition to crawl let alone fight back. Jimmy tried to sit up, but he started to feel dizzy when he moved and then passed out in a heap. When he woke up he half expected it to all be a terrible dream but there she was lying next to him; still held fast with silver tape, tears running out of her red eyes, snot draining from her nose, and a puddle of cold piss under the both of them. Jimmy jumped up, started that he had fallen unconscious and a quick search around the living room showed him that it was almost 2 hours since he arrived according to the clock on the wall. “Time to get to work” he said looking down at her, and then reached for her bound legs.
Jimmy dragged her into the kitchen and propped her up in one of the white wooden chairs she had at her farmhouse style table. “I always fucking hated your taste in decor” he spat venomously at her and then turned his attention from the distressed cabinets to the butcher block on the wooden counter top. In one fluid motion he moved to the counter, selected and drew a large blade from the block and returned to his captive. “I am going to ask you this only once” he said in a calm voice that was not unlike the one he used to speak to her in when they were first dating all those years ago, “where are they? And please note that if you scream I will cut your lips off.” He then slowly peeled off the tape as to allow him to savor the pain he was inflicting on her raw and delicate lips (and also so he could reseal it if she did try to scream) and when he was satisfied that she was not going to shout, he stepped back and waited for her reply. “YOU FUCKING PSYCHO PIECE OF SHIT! I FUCKING ALWAYS KNEW YOU WERE CRAZY BUT THIS IS FUCKING INSANE EVEN FOR A DIP SHIT LIKE YOU! MY MOTHER SAID YOU WERE GOOD FOR NOTHING AND IF I HAD NOT BEEN KNOCKED UP I WOULD HAVE FUCKING LEFT YOUR LOSER ASS YEARS AGO! I MEAN PEZ? PEZ!!! WHAT FUCKING GROWN MAN IN ANY RIGHT FRAME OF MIND COLLECTS PEZ DISPENSERS? I’LL TELL YOU WHERE THEY ARE; I FUCKING BURNED THEM AND THEN PISSED ON THE ASHES! AFTER THAT I WENT AND FUCKED FOUR TEENAGERS AT ONCE BECAUSE YOU HAD NOT TOUCHED ME SINCE THE NIGHT I GOT DRUNK AND SLIPPED YOUR LIMP, PREMATURE EJACULATING LITTLE PRICK INSIDE ME SO YOU COULD MAYBE ENJOY SOMETHING ELSE COMING OUT OF A SLOT THAT WAS NOT SUGAR COATED! Stunned, Jimmy dropped the knife to the floor and began backpedaling from the verbal assault of many years of pent up rage that his ex-wife seemed to have built up inside her. He turned and staggered towards the door, unaware that she had quickly used the knife that had lodged itself into her hardwood kitchen floor to free her legs and then hands from the duct tape bindings. Without a second thought she pulled the knife free and ran after Jimmy, grabbing him by his thinning hair and pulling his head back before pulling the knife across his throat. An angry, deep red gash bisected his neck and an arterial spray of crimson blood sprayed the walls of the living room. Jimmy had but a few seconds to gasp out two or three feeble attempts at drawing air before he collapsed on the floor. As his life began to flash before his eyes, he was assailed with a myriad of images of his lost children in their assorted colors and flavors passing before his mind’s eye. The last thing he heard before everything went totally black was her voice screaming: “YOU LOVED THEM SO MUCH, I MADE YOU INTO A FUCKING LIFE SIZED PEZ DISPENSER YOU SICK BASTARD! HAPPY NOW?” and then she walked off to call the police to report an intruder. When they arrived she told the harrowing (and mostly true) ordeal that had befallen her over the past few hours, leaving out the part where she fucked the teens and had stolen and burned the collection that ended her marriage of 17 years. The police decided that she had suffered enough and no charges were filed in the case. Jimmy’s body was turned over to the state and buried in a Potter’s field as no one came forward to claim it. Maybe it was better that way…
BIO: Hailing from the small college town of Newark, Delaware, Edward A. Taylor splits his time between writing and raising his two shoggoths with his thankfully understanding and patient wife Kelley. He has appeared in Morpheus Tales #’s 21-22-23 – The Were-Traveler #11 & 12, and Rivets and Rain – A Steampunk Anthology. Tales of his exploits and other stories can be found on his blog: http://mylongroadoutofhell.blogspot.com.
Shy Heahrug, the tallest clown midget on Earth, usually wanders around the Bridge City circus with a hand stuck in his pocket to cuddle his precious red camera, and dangling from the right ear he has a rose, from which he surgically removed petals with a gluttonous eating satisfaction. Thus, Shy Heshrug could, at first glance, be labeled as a weirdo; at a second look, we must conclude that he could have suffered from a head blow; to the third blink, nothing can be noticed – he will take a picture and the curious will be blinded by the camera flash.
BIO: Paulo Brito, he lives in Barcelos, Portugal. He writes since the age of 15 poetry and short stories as a matter of mental hygiene. Loves reading Rhys Hughes and David Soares. His influences are immense, because he was has always been a drinker of books.
BIO: Paulo Brito, vive em Barcelos, Portugal. Ele escreve desde os 15 anos poesia e histórias curtas por uma questão de higiene mental.
Brad and Lynn set up the miniature circus tent in the center of the living room. A blue flag topped the red and yellow striped canvas cylinder. Scallops and dags dripped in cheer, adding to the festive feel.
Adam clapped his chubby hands as he jumped and laughed. “I wuv it, Momma! Fank you, Daddy!”
Proud parents grabbed hands in a silent congratulations. The gift pleased their three-year-old son. Adam climbed through the door, blue to distinguish it from the rest of the tent, and vanished from site.
The interior was large enough for Adam to stand. If he reached up, he could not touch the spire. The light filtered through the material cast zebra stripes of gold and gray. His parents knelt at the entrance, enjoying Adam’s delight. He took his peanut butter and marshmallow whip sandwich inside, chatting to imagined companions.
“I swear, I smell roasted peanuts,” Brad said.
His wife pointed out the sandwich, raising her eyebrows at him. As she walked to the kitchen to tidy up the lunch dishes, he patted her rump. She giggled. However, he distinctly caught a whiff of fresh-spun cotton candy.
“Yippee!” Adam’s voice accompanied a thudding sound from inside. “I wuv horsies!”
Dad turned on the local afternoon news on the television, ignoring his son’s boisterous exclamations. An herbal scent, almost like alfalfa hay, drifted through. His wife must have lit a candle.
A phrase uttered by his son registered on his distracted parental consciousness. “Uh oh, she is naked.”
His boy was backing out of the tent, eyes covered with sticky hands, his tongue sticking out in a “yuck.”
“Son, what are you doing?”
“I don’t want to see the naked lady, dad. I am going to go to the baff room.”
The boy rushed down the hall to relieve himself. Under his arm was tucked a small clown stuffed doll that Brad didn’t remember.
Naked lady? His son possessed an active imagination, certainly. Still, Brad bent and pushed aside the blue door to looked inside of the tent.
On the canvas floor rested the plastic super hero plate, mostly-eaten sandwich and corn chip crumbs atop. He collected the lunch left overs and straightened, feeling the gentle caress of the canvas against his cheek as he stood. A whiff of jasmine and sandlewood made him think of belly dancers. He closed his eyes, picturing a bonfire around which swayed tanned hips barely clothed in silks and tinkling bells.
“Daddy, you are in my way!” He snapped out of his reverie, stepping aside to allow his son access to the tent’s interior.
“Did you light a fire, darling?” His wife inquired, taking the plate and kissing his flushed cheek.
“No, I thought you did.” She looked over her shoulder, head cocked to one side, but said nothing.
“I want an elephant ride!” His son voiced with enthusiasm from within his new play area.
Dad shook his head and reclaimed the comfortable position in his brown leather recliner, taking in the news. It was not long, though, before he dozed and dreamed of feather and sequence-clad beauties whipping lions until they obeyed each command. He woke aroused, hearing his wife and son playing a game. He looked at the tent and saw his wife’s pale legs sticking out of the entrance.
With a mischievous smile, Brad stepped over and ran his foot up the fleshy curves to the base of her pink shorts.
“Ahem, I will be right back, Adam.”
Her face appeared between the tent flaps. “May I help you?”
Smile crooked across his face, he leered, wagging his finger to entice her to follow.
She sighed, disappeared once more to kiss her son loudly (“ah, mom!”), then emerged to grab her husband’s hand. He guided her to their bedroom, then lavished kisses on her eager mouth and delicate neck. She gasped and responded, met kiss with passion, until they collapsed, spent and tangled in sheets no longer neatly upon their queen-sized bed.
She deposited little kisses like pops on her husband’s cheeks and forehead while he admired the pert bosom jiggling beneath her white cotton t-shirt.
“Lynn, we haven’t taken Adam to a circus. How do you suppose he knows so much about them?”
She stopped to consider. “I don’t know. What do you mean?”
“Well, he was talking about tigers and trained puppies and tightrope walkers. How does he even know the word trapeze?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Adam is such a clever child!” However, her brow knitted.
A voice interrupted the short silence that followed. “Momma, Daddy? Watch what I can do!”
Dad wondered how long Adam stood in the bedroom doorway, but more startling were the three kitchen knives in his hands.
“I can juggle. The cwown told me I can.”
Mom reacted first, her voice quaking with concern. “Honey, you know that you are not allowed to touch knives.”
“I know, but watch. I am a circus p-former!”
The child threw the utensils into the air. Garnet splattered the white sheets and tan carpet as he attempted to catch the blades. Mom sat up and screamed. Dad lay frozen, propped on his elbows.
BIO: Kerry E.B. Black enjoys spinning story webs like a spider, waiting for prey. Other published works can be found in “Shades of Fear” and “Postcard Poems and Prose.” Follow at twitter BlackKerryBlick and http://kerrylizblack.wordpress.com/
holds the throttle
like a sword, smiling.
most teeth missing,
oh, and maybe a missing link,
he wants to execute someone,
has for weeks.
the dark carnival goes
town to rural Southern town,
with Midway in tow.
he is “The Tilt-O-Whirl” master,
making people cry out
in fear, sometimes in joy,
sometimes simply to vomit.
for so long it was enough,
till Gloria, “The Snake Girl,”
broke up with him.
he can’t kill her,
much as he wants to.
too many know about them.
so in every podunk hollow
he smiles his blank grin
and tries to decide which
young, happy couple in love
should be sacrificed.
his fingers are twitching.
he is aroused now.
each car is filled with young love.
he can taste the sex.
he lets loose the throttle
full speed, watches the cars
one by one
fly through the sky,
every thud a blessing.
BIO: Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His photographs can be seen in his gallery – http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/