Every fall, the carnival comes to Chrystal Heights.
The carnival sits away from the city limits proper. This is ostensibly so the lights and noise doesn't bother the residents, but everyone knows it's actually so as to allow the comings and goings to remain a matter of personal business. After all, say the many, what happens at the carnival should stay with the carnival.
It's an ordinary carnival in many respects. Once you step inside the gates, you will be assaulted with a variety of noises and aromas. You will hear music, screaming children and carnies hawking game challenges. A deep breath will reveal the presence of cotton candy and popcorn stands. Lights and flashes will tickle the edges of your vision. It might be the same carnival it was thirty years previous, and it could easily be the same carnival twenty years from now. It is, after all, an ordinary carnival in many respects.
Of course, it's also an unusual carnival in many respects. One can expect no less from a carnival that travels between Chrystal Heights and Darkview on a regular basis.
Many of the more unusual elements can be found in the southern section of the carnival. There isn't as much traffic here. People tend to walk this area with purpose, as opposed to aimless wandering. Proprietors wait in tents for customers, rather than hawking passers-by. Lights and music are still present, but they simply register as background static. One might say this is a more functional arrangement within the carnival, with more business and less eye-candy. It is sometimes called The Magic Theatre, but quietly, and usually in jest.
COME SEE THE AMAZING QUINCY, ILLUSIONIST EXTRAORDINAIRE!
Adult show. No one under 18 admitted.
Carmen studied the weather-beaten, hand-painted sign. It was the only item set up that suggested there was anything at all happening inside the tent. It seemed an understated method of advertising the show and certainly not the norm for a carnival setting. At least, not in Carmen's twenty-two years of living.
Carmen had wandered the length of the fair looking for this show. Her dark, exotic eyes had taken in everything. Children licking ice cream cones and squealing in delight when they saw the bumper cars. Young couples walking hand-in-hand, reveling in each other's company. Grandparents sitting on benches while the kids ran to get in line for the rides. The food aromas that brought the fair to life- popcorn, cotton candy, caramel apples, hamburgers, hotdogs, sausages, elephant ears and so many others- permeated the carnival as a whole. Bells sounded, merry-go-round music played, sharp pops and sudden cheers when someone scored a win in the dart and balloon games...it was a festive setting. But here in the southern section of the carnival, there was a subtle difference in the ambiance. Something indefinable.
COME SEE THE AMAZING QUINCY, ILLUSIONIST EXTRAORDINAIRE!
Adult show. No one under 18 admitted.
Carmen walked forward and split the tent flaps with her hand. She stepped inside and waited for her eyes to adjust.
A bored-looking blonde stood just inside the opening. She wore a sparkling red stage outfit, complete with fishnet stockings and red high heels. The smell of cigarette smoke hung heavy in the enclosed tent.
"You're just in time," said the blonde. "The show's about to start."
Carmen's eyes swept the wooden benches set in rows in front of the stage. They were half-filled.
"Is this a big crowd?" asked Carmen. She held out her entry fee.
The blonde took the money, then shrugged. "About average," she said. "Maybe a little more on weekends."
"Perhaps you would get more," said Carmen, "if you actually set up a display outside."
The blonde stuck the bill inside a cigar box and closed it. "Probably," she said, "But Quincy doesn't want that."
The blonde set the box down and tied the tent flaps together. "Enjoy the show," she said.
Carmen smiled. She had every intention of enjoying the show. The man going by the stage name of "Quincy", however, might not enjoy it so much.
"Thank you," said Carmen. "I'm sure I will."
A redhead in a blue sparkly outfit stepped out onto the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said, "presenting...the Amazing Quincy!"
There was a smattering of applause as Quincy walked out. Quincy wore a wrinkled black tuxedo that appeared to have passed its expiration date. A threadbare top hat sat on his head and his chin was covered with grey bristles. He appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties.
"Thank you for the introduction, Caroline," said Quincy. "Say, your hair color is really pretty. But why is it so short?"
Caroline's face took on a distressed expression. "The hair dresser messed up when she was doing my hair, Quincy," she said. "She had to cut most of it off to make it look right."
"Wow, that's too bad," said Quincy, his voice deadpan. "I bet you wish you could get it fixed."
The redhead nodded mournfully. "I do, Quincy!" she said. "It'll take *forever* to grow back."
Quincy looked vaguely thoughtful. "Maybe I can help," he said.
Caroline looked skeptical. "Really, Quincy? But how?" she said.
Quincy rubbed his chin. Then he reached out and lay his hand on Caroline's shoulder.
Nothing happened for several heartbeats. Then fiery curls began flowing over her shoulders and down her back as Caroline's hair grew. Red locks soon covered her back all the way down to her waist.
The audience had gasped at the unexpected hair growth. Now they applauded as the luscious red curls reached the top of the girl's buttocks.
Caroline looked delighted. "Wow!" she said. "Thank you, Quincy!"
Quincy patted the redhead's bottom. "Think nothing of it, my dear," he said. Then he turned to face the crowd.
"Welcome to my show," he said, his voice still monotone. "I am Quincy, illusionist extraordinaire. I will amaze you with illusions so vivid, you will swear they are real."
The crowd applauded, enthused by the unexpected hair growth moments ago. Quincy gestured the blonde in the sparkly red outfit onto the stage.
"Say hello to the audience, Janey," said Quincy.
Janey smiled and waved.
"You're a very pretty girl," said Quincy, "but have you ever considered trying a different hair color?"
"Gosh, Quincy," said Janey, contriving to look thoughtful, "I sure have, but it's just too expensive!"
Quincy nodded knowingly. "True," he said, "but maybe I can help."
Janey's eyes widened. "Really, Quincy?"
Quincy nodded. Then he lay his hand on the blonde girl's shoulder.
For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then the crowd gasped as a wave of shiny black washed over Janey's long blonde locks.
Caroline brought a mirror out and Janey made a show of preening. Quincy's hand remained on Janey's shoulder, however, and suddenly a wave of red washed over the girl's head.
The crowd gasped again, then broke into applause as color after color began to trail through her hair. Janey's hair went through all the colors of the rainbow before settling back into a shiny raven black. The crowd applauded appreciatively.
Quincy listened to the applause, then held up his hand. "Thank you," he said, "but perhaps Janey needs more than just a new hair color. Perhaps she needs a livelier wardrobe as well."
There was a sudden buzz through the crowd. This was what they came to see.
A black cane suddenly sailed across the stage, tossed by Caroline. Quincy caught it one-handed in a natural-looking motion. He idly twirled the cane baton-style as he studied Janey's clothing. Then he abruptly stopped the twirling motion and tapped Janey on both shoulders with the tip of the cane.
Nothing happened for a moment. Then Janey relaxed her arms and pointed her hands straight down. Her red shiny stage coat slid down her arms and fell to the ground, split in half. The audience began to stir.
"That's certainly no coat of arms I'd want," said the illusionist. There were a few polite chuckles and several groans as well.
Quincy walked around Janey, seemingly studying her outfit. He tossed his cane from one hand to the other, then swung the tip around and tapped the front of Janey's blouse. The moment the cane touched, every button popped off her blouse with stinging force. Janey's mouth formed an "O" of surprise, as if she had never seen this happen before.
Quincy wiggled his eyebrows. "Say, Janey," he said, "It seems whatever you have in there is trying to pop out."
Burlesque music began to play and the crowd laughed appreciatively. Quincy tapped both of Janey's wrists with the cane. Seemingly against her will, Janey's hands rose slowly until both arms were pointing straight up. Her blouse parted, half-revealing the girl's brassiered breasts. The crowd began to buzz.
A drum roll sounded, building the suspense. Quincy stood next to the seemingly immobile Janey and appeared to begin concentrating. He started twirling his cane in baton-fashion as he did so, slowly at first, but then with increasing speed. Soon the whirling cane was only a blur, matching the drum roll in meter. Then, when it seemed he could go no faster, he suddenly tossed the still-spinning cane straight up.
It was an impressive display of dexterous skill. That wasn't the attention-grabber, however. What actually caught the crowd's eye was the fact that the twirling cane remained elevated about three feet above Quincy's head without coming back down.
There was scattered applause as the cane continued to spin in mid-air, seemingly held in place by levitation. The drum roll continued, however, raising the suspense even further. Then, with the crowd's anticipation peaked, Quincy glanced over his shoulder at Janey, still locked in place with her arms pointing straight up. Quincy pointed two fingers at the girl, flipped his hand palm-up and then thrust his hand straight up.
Janey's blouse leaped off her shoulders and shot straight up. A cymbal crashed and the crowd burst into applause. Janey contrived to look embarrassed as she stood in front of the crowd in her red sparkly skirt and a white bra.
Quincy, his forehead dotted with sweat, glanced up at his twirling cane. He held out his open hand and the cane dropped into his palm. The applause doubled and the illusionist doffed his top hat.
"Thank you, folks," he said. "We're not done with Janey yet, however. After all, didn't we promise her clothing with a little more pizzazz?"
The crowd cheered their agreement.
Quincy walked around Janey once again. Then he held his cane sword style, one end in his hand and the other pointed at the ceiling. He began to rotate the cane around slowly, as if he were drawing circles on the tent ceiling. The crowd gasped as Janey began to spin around slowly as well, but without moving her feet. Janey had been facing the crowd initially, but after the spin, she now offered a profile view instead.
Quincy walked behind Janey, so the girl was between him and the audience. He placed his fingers behind his assistant's head and slowly pressed her head forward. Janey's head lowered until she was fully bent over, her sparkly skirt stretched tight over her rounded bottom. Then he looked at the audience from over the girl's back and offered a deadpan smile.
The crowd clapped their encouragement.
The showman illusionist twirled his cane baton-style once again. Then he stopped abruptly. He held the cane about two feet from Janey's wriggling bottom. Then, without further preamble, he smacked her bottom smartly with the cane.
Janey's skirt rolled up around her waist like a spring-loaded blind.
The girl's mouth formed an "O" of surprise and her cheeks reddened. She remained bent over, essentially dressed only in her fishnet stockings, white panties and bra and red high heels. The crowd applauded appreciatively. Several wolf whistles pierced the cheers.
"Thank you, folks," said Quincy. He glanced at Janey. "You can stand now, my dear." He looked back to the audience. "Now, she definitely needs a little pizzazz. Let's at least get her into a matching set, shall we?"
The crowd was coming to life now. Then began to cheer and call out suggestions.
Quincy nodded. "Very well," he said. He turned to Janey, who was now facing the crowd. "Let's start off with...hmmm...let's try red."
Right Said Fred's song "I'm Too Sexy" began to play as Quincy once again made a show of walking around Janey. He stopped directly behind her. Then he reached around from behind her and placed a hand on her belly.
Janey's hair became a fiery red, followed by her bra and then panties. Then her fishnet stockings turned red, starting from the top and working its way to her toes. Quincy then switched sides, removing his one hand and reaching around with his other hand, placing it on her belly from the other side. Janey's hair turned black, followed by her bra, panties and fishnets, and then, to the surprise of the crowd, followed by her shoes as well. The crowd applauded.
Not yet finished, Quincy stepped away from Janey with a surprisingly fluid twist and twirl. He held up both hands in front of him and wiggled his fingers. He turned his head and began to wiggle his fingers in Janey's direction in a mimicry of traditional magical gestures. When he did so, however, Janey's hair turned a bright metallic blue. Her bra, panties, fishnets and shoes followed immediately after.
The crowd clapped and whistled enthusiastically as the music faded. Quincy removed his top hat and bowed to the crowd. It was another successful show so far for the Amazing Quincy, Illusionist Extraordinaire.
And that was when Carmen stood and said in a voice heard throughout the tent, "Quinn, your magic is a fraud and you are a dog bastard."
Carmen had watched as much of the show as she could. It seemed a good idea to scout one's enemy before acting. Finally, however, her anger had finally gotten the best of her.
It was difficult to believe that the man in front of her had inspired such hatred and fear among her people. His so-called illusions, such as they were, were barely adequate and even his performance was uninspiring. His flat enunciations and unmotivated announcements indicated a lack of inner fire. He displayed no power. No wonder he had gone into hiding for so long. This man was nothing.
Carmen stared at Quincy. She could have waited until after the show to take him, but she wanted to do it in front of his adoring crowd. She had known using his real name would be enough to draw his attention.
Quincy, aware of the crowd's sudden intense interest, raised an eyebrow. "My magic is a fraud?" he said, meeting Carmen's stare squarely. "Of course it's a fraud, my dear. It's but an illusion."
Carmen sneered. "It's a lie, you mean," she said.
The crowd became restless. An unseen voice said, "Hey, let's see you do better, lady!"
Carmen smiled. That was what she had been hoping for. "Gladly," she said, "but I'm sure the Amazing Quincy would never let me stand on his stage."
Carmen felt a rush of elation as Quinn's face fell. She had trapped him. He had no choice now but to let her onstage or risk losing face and reputation.
Quinn smiled, but it looked pained. "Of course, my dear," he said. "Why don't you come up and show us what true magic is about."
Carmen made her way on stage, her heart pounding. Her people didn't know she had tracked down Quinn...his whereabouts had always been a mystery. Her place in the family history would be assured when she brought back the hated enemy.
Once onstage, she locked eyes with Quinn. "And now, *Quinn*," said Carmen, "you will find out what true power is."
Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Truly?" he said.
"Yes," said Carmen. She held up an ornate glass bottle. "And, as a respect, I will tell you my true name, so you know who has bested you." Actually, she needed to state her true name to trigger the spell she was casting, but Quinn didn't need to know that.
Quinn smiled, as if humoring a child's fantasy game. "Oh, I thank you for that, young lady."
Carmen dropped her voice to a whisper. She had to state her name, but there was no way she was going to reveal her true name to the strangers in the crowd. "My name, dog bastard, is Chavi Giovanna," she hissed, "and now you will experience true gypsy magic as I capture your will!" She snapped the trigger phrase and pulled the cork from the ornate bottle.
A sudden stream of black mist swirled around Quinn. The stream circled the illusionist several times, dropping to the floor and then moving around Quinn's head. Quinn's eyes turned completely black and he seemed incapable of reacting.
There was a smattering of applause as the audience attempted to find out if this was part of the show or not. Either way, they were feeling truly entertained.
The mist finally streamed back into the ornate bottle. Carmen re-corked the bottle and exhaled as the tension from the confrontation began to drain from her. She glanced at Quinn's body. It was essentially an empty vessel now and would respond to her commands as long as Quinn's essence remained in the ornate bottle. It was the perfect punishment for her family's enemy.
"All right, Quinn, you dog bastard," said Carmen, "follow your owner now." She turned to leave the stage.
"Actually, Chavi," said Quinn, "we can't leave. The show's not over yet."
Carmen spun. Her eyes widened. "But...you're in this jar...!" she said.
Quinn hadn't moved, but he suddenly seemed much taller. His bearing was perhaps a bit straighter, his voice perhaps a tad stronger...but his eyes were no longer flat and bored. His eyes were hard and they glittered with anger and power.
"Foolish girl," said Quinn. "You attacked without knowing anything."
Carmen took a step back, her belly muscles twitching in sudden nervousness. She tried to calm her racing thoughts.
Quinn gestured and every thread of Carmen's clothing shredded and exploded into the crowd. Carmen squealed in sudden humiliation as she realized she was naked and onstage. She tried to cover her entire body at once.
Quinn offered the crowd a broad smile. "Welcome to the R-rated portion of the show, folks!" he said. "You can see why my presentation beats the juggling show any day!"
The crowd laughed, back on safe ground again. Obviously the confrontation was staged for the audience's entertainment. What a great show this was turning out to be!
Quinn turned back to Carmen. "You, my dear," he said, "aren't very nice."
Carmen looked at the ornate jar, unable to fathom how it had failed. "No!" she said. "You're in here! You have to be!"
Quinn smiled again. Then he gestured at the jar. The crowd gasped as the glass container exploded into hundreds of pieces.
"No!" screamed Carmen.
There was a scream from the front row as everyone ducked, expecting to be showered with broken glass. Then everybody realized that every individual piece of glass was stuck in place, like the explosion had been flash-frozen. Even Carmen, who had been holding the glass jar, was completely without injury.
The crowd broke into spontaneous applause. But Quinn wasn't done yet.
The glass pieces began to swirl. The swirling glass pieces merged into a flowing black mist much like the one from earlier, but this flowing stream surrounded Carmen. The black mist circled Carmen tighter and tighter until a pure black band was closing around the gypsy girl's throat. Then the mist faded, leaving a black collar encircling her throat.
Carmen's eyes widened, her hands flying to her throat. The crowd applauded yet again.
Quinn doffed his top hat. "Thank you, folks!" he said, he tone much more jovial than earlier, "but there's more to come!"
Carmen tried to leave the stage, but found herself unable to make her legs respond. She had full range of motion, but she was unable to make her legs walk off the stage.