He’s thinking now, contemplating, his brows furrowing.
“I just wanted to touch it. I’m not really interested in art all that much,” he says and turns away.
He stops and glances back.
“It’s an unusual canvas, rare. The paints are hand-made. Maybe you’d like to talk to the artist? Find out her secrets? See all the works?”
He shrugs. “Might be interesting.”
He moves very close to me now, squinting into the spider webbed shadows. I toss a small white card onto the floor. “Hand the Tattooed Lady that card and she’ll let you in for a private viewing.”
He crouches, picks up the card: One Free Admittance. Good for this night only. “What’s the catch?” he asks.
“No catch. A carnival giveaway,” I say.
I see wonder in those eyes. Maybe I have him. He nods and wanders away. I’m pleased.
* * *
I wait inside the Tattooed Lady’s cramped trailer, crouching anxiously in the corner shadows between a haggard cot and musty box. Her place stinks of stale smoke and burnt fat. Canvases hang frame-to-frame on the shabby walls, lean in lines against sparse weathered furniture, and heap haphazardly in stacks on the floor. Pickle jars of fine dust cover almost every surface. The Tattooed Lady, a big manly woman with large pea green eyes and short black hair, stands by the door, grinning through red lipstick and tobacco-stained teeth. I return my best smile, stretched with pointed teeth and wagging tongue. She laughs at my attempt.
A soft knock at the door propels me into motion. I rest my clawed hand against the wall. The canvases alight bright neon red, pulse, then settle.
The Tattooed Lady opens a slot and my card slips through; she takes it, tosses it into an overflowing glass bowl on a small paint-peeled table. She unlocks and opens the door with a rattle and a squeak. “Come in,” she says.
The man nods and passes her into the room. I can see that doubt, that suspicion etched into his features. I’m pleased.
His gaze moves around the room, lingering here and there. “Can I touch them?” he asks.
“Sure,” she says and smiles at the man.
I see the glint of fear in her eyes and watch her lower lip as it trembles. I’m pleased.
He looks for a few moments longer, eyes darting, widening.
I watch intently, adrenaline shooting through my veins as cold as ice water.
He reaches with trembling fingers, hesitates, and looks at the Tattooed Lady. I can see the sheen of sweat glistening on his round face, drizzling through his dark five o’clock shadow.
She nods, smiling reassuringly, her hand arcing toward the canvases. “Help yourself.”Fingers again stretch; fingertips make contact with a canvas on the wall and brush back and forth. “This feels like … skin,” he says.
Her smile flattens. “Human.” She moves to the small tattered couch and clutches the arm.
The trailer rumbles. The lights flicker. A red glow pulses deep in the canvas. The man’s face twists in panic, eyes darting from the
by Connie L. Sherwood
Children are the most vulnerable, but too small for my needs. Teens tend to run in packs, making them a bit more difficult, like finding the weak specimen in a herd of prey animals; on days when I’m feeling a little feisty I might weed out an older one of these. Adults, on the other hand, are generally good-sized and are the most rewarding and challenging because maturity inevitably leads to doubt and suspicion. I know, for instance, that children’s imaginations lend fairy tale-like wonder to strange or unusual exhibits and teens tend to make up the worst scenarios, yet remain fascinated. With adults, though, I can see the array of grotesque possibilities, doubtful and suspicious, written into their features: darting eyes, furrowed brows, plastic smiles. These doubts and suspicions present themselves either as doubts that exhibits witnessed are real or as suspicions of carnies’ backgrounds and intentions. I prefer rewarding. I prefer challenging. I prefer adults.
Anonymity is also important. Carnival life is perfect in that respect — runs are short and locations temporary. Carnies act like a family: eating, working, playing together and, yet, not one really knows another. These places, these carnies, teem with secrets. I’m no different. What would the world think if they knew for certain creatures like me existed? People would go lose their grips on reality, their already perilous foot-hold on this plain. Life would surely cease in all its wonder and diversity. Better to leave these ideas to imagination, to speculation, and to faith. Of course, there are those who can see us for what we are and we avoid those, shall I say, “sensitives” as much as possible. We can, though, choose to let people see us, if it suits our purposes. These people help us to carry out our duties, to fulfill our needs. In the end, though, they must be absorbed, and so they are and this pleases me very much since so much power can be harnessed this way.
Standing now in the shadows beside the Strange and Unusual exhibit, I sniff the air and watch the people waiting to get inside. I glance at the Hall of Mirrors across the fairway — movement in the shadows, a glimpse of shining eyes. Next to that amusement is the ride through the Wax Museum and near the carousel is the Fun House. I can’t see anything, but I feel something deep in the bowels of those make-shift buildings. Many like me exist in these places. I edge around the back of the Strange and Unusual tent, slip through a concealed back flap, and crouch in the heavy shadows near the Tattooed Lady’s art exhibit. The place reeks of must and mold, a smell like old hay and rotting meat. The crowd moves from one station to the next, dipping in and out of harsh yellow pools of light. Adults make faces of repulsion, teens giggle and gag, and children gaze in wide-eyed awe. A lone man stops near my position, ignores the sign, “DO NOT TOUCH THE EXHIBITS,” and reaches tentative fingers toward the stretched canvas. He’s tall, overweight, and bald. I’m pleased.
“Hey, mister,” I whisper.
He snaps his hand back and glances in my direction. I can tell by the quizzical look on his face that he thinks he’s been caught.
“Hey, mister,” I whisper again.
He turns in my direction. “Really, I only wanted to —”
“Over here,” I say and allow just the tips of my fingers into the light, beckoning.
He takes an unsteady step toward me. “Who’s there?”
I scan the crowd; no one’s paying attention. “Think of me as a curator of sorts. Do you like this piece?”
He comes closer. “Sure. The canvas is unusual and I’m not sure that’s paint. I just wanted to —”
“Yeah, sure. Very unusual. Not paint,” I say. “But, if you’re really interested, you could see all the pieces in the collection; you could touch them all.”
canvas to the Tattooed Lady as he tries to pry his fingers away, but it’s too late. He struggles, cursing. The red travels from the canvas, creeps up his fingers to his hand; he screams. Red crawls up his arm to his shoulder, divides, picks up speed, runs like a lit fuse up and down his torso and legs, but it’s not until it reaches his mouth that the screaming finally stops.
The trailer stills; the lights steady; thin reddish smoke corkscrews from the canvas on the floor. The Tattooed Lady shakily collects the new six by four foot blank canvas.
I leave the shadows, sniffing the air like a needy dog. She thrusts the canvas in my direction and I touch it; it glows. As I breathe in the glow and the red smoke, emptying the canvas of all its humanity, a fine gray dust drifts to the floor and settles thickly. I’m very satisfied and very pleased.
Before I head back into the carnival, I send my split tongue in a long stroke up the side of her face. A rumble passes under our feet and a red spider web briefly appears where my tongue met her flesh. She freezes, her eyes wide with terror. I must contain myself. She will come later, when I tire of her or move on to another such place. I slip passed her and out the door. I glance back to see her collect the dust into a prepared and labeled pickle jar: Adult Male. I am pleased.
Eyes In Night by Connie L. Sherwood
by Connie L. Sherwood
Raven spreads sinister wings
murdering color, mutilating condition.
Escape to safe, warm hideaways,
in rooms lit with comfort and care
ahead of shadows flitting in corners
or disbursing like ink under chairs.
Candle burn until lids droop; until
under cover, false in solace, swoops
shade and phantom determined to
dislocate, haunt crowded passageways.
Run through stretching halls and closing walls,
shearing cliffs and silent screams.
Dare to sleep and leave the light–
engulfed, adhered to Raven night
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