Disclaimer: I know I was supposed to write a flash fiction but once I got into the story, it took on a life of its own and grew into a true short story. Presented here is the first part of the two part tale. — Jason
Sure clowns are scary – I’ve read that Stephen King book – but they’re not the ones trying to the end the world. Uh uh. It’s the twisted, evil ringmasters you’ve gotta worry about. That guy in the Marvel comics with the hypno-hat and all the circus ‘freaks’? He’s bush league compared to some of the ones I’ve taken down.
The wind was October chilly and whirled the brittle leaves up the block in a swirl of orange, red and yellow as I took my morning walk. I had my hands in the pockets of my jacket, jingling some change and my collar turned up. The rubes were probably still in bed that early, and I could smell the warmth of fires in fireplaces or stoves. It’s one of the things I love most about fall . Anyway.
It was the police cars halfway up the block that really had my attention. Three of them, none flashing their lights, with a couple of officers standing in the driveway. The neighborhood was pleasant and probably forty or fifty years old. I mean, it’s pretty obvious which houses were built in the ’70s if you pay attention.
“Excuse me, sir,” one of the officers said as he crossed the street toward me. I pulled out my earbuds and gave him a look that said I wasn’t expecting him to stop me. “Do you live in the neighborhood?” Leonard, his nametag said.
“No. I’m at the Barrow Square Hotel a couple blocks over.” I showed concern. “Something happen?”
“Can I see your ID?” He was all business and his partner in the driveway was poised to help him if I got physical.
I nodded and pulled my wallet out, handed the whole thing over. See? Nothing to hide.
Officer Leonard examined my driver’s license (fake, by the way, from two states away) and leaned his head over to speak into the walky on his shoulder. “Central.” He gave them the number and then turned away from me so I couldn’t hear the response. I gave his partner a little wave and then shifted my weight from one foot to the other, trying to look slightly uncomfortable. Officer Leonard turned back around. “Roger,” he said and stood straight.
“What are you doing in town?”
A momentary pause, not too long, should convince him. “What? Oh. I’m here to buy some antiques I spotted on the internet. I’m a dealer back home.”
The officer handed me my driver’s license back and nodded. I’d confirmed whatever he’d been told over his walky. “When did you leave your hotel?”
“Yeah,” I said, “about fifteen minutes ago.” I replaced the card and pocketed my wallet.
“Appreciate your cooperation,” the cop said. ”Have a good day.”
“Thanks. Hey,” I said and stuck my chin out at the house. “Someone run off with the circus?”
“What do you mean?” Officer Leonard’s eyes narrowed, his body tensed.
I put up both my hands and laughed. “Just a question, officer. Meant no harm.”
He looked at me sideways. “We’re downloading the video feed from the hotel. How long were you there before you left?”
“I went to bed at 11:30,” I said. Keeping my cool was going to be the best way to get me out of this. People who get hysterical always get into more trouble, even if they’re innocent. Best to add a touch of it wasn’t me. “Did something bad happen?”
“We have your info,” Officer Leonard said. “We’ll be in touch if we need you.” He returned to his partner in the driveway and I walked up two blocks before making the turn that would take me back to the hotel.
What Officer Leonard and his partner didn’t know was that I knew exactly what was going on. I’ve been trained to listen and talk at the same time. By listening I mean that I could hear the conversation in the house while I turned over my (fake) information. Two little girls had been abducted. The two little girls I’d been dispatched to check up on. No one had briefed me on a Spider being around. This was a wrinkle the Bureau would have to deal with.
I work for an agency that polices potential so-called ‘supernatural’ phenomena. We make sure psychics are psychic and that hauntings are really dead souls and not just some kind of shenanigans. It’s called the Bureau and if there’s anything more to the name they don’t share it with anyone. We work for the Bureau and that’s all there is to it. I don’t even know who the Big Boss is. Talk about secret organizations. Anyway, a Spider is someone who hunts sensitives – people who can tap into the supernatural – to use for nefarious purposes. I mentioned ringmasters earlier, Spiders work for them.
The two girls were whirligigs according to my briefing. If the ringmaster can convince a Porter to reach through, all kinds of Hell can be unleashed with a single whirligig. Two of them at his disposal is End-of-the-World bad.
So I made my way to the fairgrounds and saw the encampment. The carnival must have rolled in while I was sleeping, a day ahead of schedule. The sheriff here was easily bribed and the carnival would have no trouble with the law. I moved in, keeping myself downwind. You never know what assortment of characters these places will have. The sign read:
RAETH’S Carnival of Wonders!
Open tomorrow at noon!
Big Top show at 8 PM sharp!
Sometimes the ringmaster is obvious. Sometimes not. The obvious ones have been the most dangerous to me so far. They fought harder and had more skills. Every one of them thought that they were too powerful to be taken down. The last thing they saw was my face as I ripped their souls out. This one using a name that riffs on a ghost was probably going to be dangerous. That’s good to know.
I walked on past the fairgrounds and pulled out my phone, used it to look up their website. As I swiped through the pages, I chuckled. “This ought to be easy enough,” I said to no one. I smiled, turned off the phone, and when I was out of sight of the carnival, I climbed a tree to wait.
According to their website, Raeth’s often opened up special for private fundraisers and such. That’s what was happening when I walked through the rather crowded parking lot at dusk. I could see the money spent on cars and feel the electricity in the air. The Ten-in-One was open and the Big Top. They had a tilt-a-whirl and the Ferris wheel was turning. The show itself was big enough to have an elephant, a tiger and a couple of horses. I told my clothes to rearrange themselves and I straightened up a little. This face would get me through the gates.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said.
“Councilman,” the lady ticket-taker said with a smile. She wore heavy mascara and a deep red lipstick that offset her china-white skin. A Goth girl with an easy smile, inviting, tempting. Her costume was tight and didn’t do anything to hide her cleavage. I made sure my eyes lingered there. “Your office had told us not to expect you.”
“I didn’t think I’d be able to make it,” I said and was obvious about making eye contact, then stealing one more quick, wolfish look at her chest. I patted my own chest and fished in my pockets then gave her a helpless look. “It appears I’ve misplaced my invitation.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, wiggling a little and leaning forward on the shelf of her booth. “You can go right in. Most everyone is here and the main event is about to start.” Her eyes twinkled and there was a promise implicit in them. “I’ll be here afterwards if…”
I returned her knowing look. “Well, I may just stop by then. What’s your name?”
“Carolita.” She winked.
The flimsy boards surrounding the ring inside the big top were nearly full of all sorts of luminaries and dignitaries from four or five counties. I stayed near the back and waited.
The show itself was pedestrian but that wasn’t what I was here for anyway. I needed a look at the ringmaster. Another lady. Tall, beautiful, red hair. “Shit,” I said under my breath.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and children of AAAAALLLLLLL ageeeeeesssss…”
She wore a mic that was hidden by the lighting and the shadows from her top hat and the speakers were placed under the bleachers all around the ring as well as up above. She purred, her contralto voice as inviting as a soft summer breeze. I hadn’t made the connection before but now I did: this was the daughter of Atlas Oliver, the third ringmaster I took down, god, a hundred years ago.
I was the one being hunted.
Well, I wouldn’t back down. I had to figure out what Raeth was after, why the private show, the whirligigs. Who was the Porter here? There was a lot to do.
She made eye contact with me during her spiel and nodded. Not only was I being hunted, I’d been spotted. Time to disappear.
I ducked under the bleacher and slid into the shadows coming out the back of the big top. I shifted my appearance so that a t-shirt with suspenders and cargo pants matched my new face. I hoped it was close to the one I’d seen in Carolita’s mind. In the dark I should be able to get away with it until someone called me by name.
“Dunk,” someone said behind me, a man. “What’re you doing here? I thought you were out there putting the tracers on?”
“Finished,” I said. “Came back for more.” I turned and of course it was the strongman. No time for subtlety. I kicked him in the balls and he doubled over enough that I could spin-kick him in the jaw. He fell into a cart that was loaded with juggling clubs and the clatter was way too loud.
I ran for the far edge of the fairgrounds. There were shouts of “Hey, RUBE!” behind me but that didn’t stop me from running. Carnys are protective by their nature and this carnival’s ringmaster was the second-most powerful in the country. I had to assume they were more loyal to her than to anyone else. If I hadn’t run I wouldn’t have had any chance of coming back to fight another day.
The shield I ran into was physically and psychically hardened. A shock of electricity tore through me and I collapsed in a heap.
The story’s not over! Read the conclusion at JasonArnett dot com.