The carnival sprang up like an exotic weed overnight at the edge of town, while the good folks of Zachariah were sleeping. The tiers of its brightly hued tents crept up right between the rusty water tower and the long-abandoned grain silo of Banter's Farm. In the chill hours before dawn, up went the symmetrical mechanical glory of the Ferris wheel, the daunting curvature of the Night on Bald Mountain and the serpentine metal fingers of The Angry Cobra. From out of nowhere, vendors wheeled in cotton candy stalls and hotdog stands to feed the hungry mouths of babes. By the time the first rooster began its throaty dawn call, the "One Night Only" signs were up and the show was ready for business.
Amidst the bright noise of the fair, it was easy to lose oneself. As fire twirlers danced to pounding rhythms, flashing lights zoomed along roller-coaster tracks and criers endorsed freakish glimpses of astonishing physical peculiarities in the freak tent, the guileless citizens of Zachariah were drawn in to feast their eyes on an undiscovered world of untold pleasures. Wary husbands clandestinely lined up to get a view of the infamous Caribbean Mermaid whilst their wives congregated outside the tent of the Mysterious Madame Szabo, who advertised her rather dubious talents with an illustration of an eye on the palm of a hand. During the daylight hours, children ran amongst the stalls screaming with hyperactivity, feasting on corn dogs and lining up impatiently to gain entry to The Haunted House. Rarely did the townsfolk get to experience such wondrous delights, and as the good people of Zachariah anticipated their annual day of revelry, other less upstanding characters prepared themselves as well, for their greatest night of the year, the night that the spirit world hung closest to the world of flesh.
For the local youth, The All Hallows Eve Fair was the event of the year. You didn't have to ask a kid from Zachariah if she was going to The Fair. It would be like asking the preacher if he was going to be at church on Sunday or asking Farmer Starch if he was going to be out in the fields come harvest time. You'd have to be crazy or just plain dumb to ask a question like that, because everybody knew that everybody went. It was the one night a year when there was no curfew, when you could eat as much candy as you wanted and when you didn't have to be in bed before nine. It was a time of freedom, leisure and perfect, unspoiled joy for all the children in town. At least, it should have been.
On one such crisp autumn carnival afternoon, Cassie Davis was having a less than perfect day. Roughly dragging her younger sister by the hand, she strode away from the ferris wheel simmering with rage, her black braids swinging jerkily with every angry step. Her cheeks had flushed red and her lips were tightly closed over her teeth. She ignored Rose's bleating protests, which only made her determined to walk more quickly. She sucked in her breath and turned to the youngster. "I'll have you know, you ruined my life!" She growled. "Chris Sharpe was gonna ride with me! But you had to come along and whine and spoil it all! Hell, you're eleven years old. It's not like you're a baby. You could have left me alone for five gosh darn minutes!"
Rose was unapologetic. "Ow! You're hurtin' me! I'm gonna tell Mama you used the 'H' word!" She threatened, her eyes filling with tears of indignation under her thick wire spectacles. "'Sides, you promised you'd take me to the Haunted House. You promised!" She dragged her bad left foot jerkily as her furious sister yanked her forward.
Cassie was too busy delivering her diatribe of teenaged righteous fury to notice the tall gentleman with the gold-tipped cane walking towards them. Still yelling at her sister, she was startled out of her discourse when she slammed up against the stranger, tripping in the mud and soiling the knees of her jeans. Suddenly trembling in embarrassment, she peered up at the man, whom she judged to be as old as her father.
The stranger wore a dark wool suit with a starched collar and a black silk cravat. Atop his dark curly locks he sported a top hat. He had a thick black moustache that looked like it had been shaped with wax. His anachronistic appearance would have been bizarre in Zachariah on a normal day, but on Fair day, such things were expected.
The man tipped his cap politely. "Oh, goodness me. Please forgive me ladies. I didn't see you coming this way." He put forward a gloved hand to guide Cassie to her feet. He talked like a Yankee, but there was a trace of a foreign accent as well. She couldn't quite place it.
"Seeing as I have inconvenienced you, I would be most humbled if you would accept a wish as a token of my most sincere apology." Before the girls could query his odd proposal, he had removed a shiny object from his left breast pocket and placed it in the eldest's hand. Before she could ask any questions, the gentleman had swiftly gone on his way, swinging his cane.
"Can I see?" Pestered Rose, grabbing at the object, which revealed itself as a gold ring encrusted with red stones. Cassie snatched it away. "No, he gave it to me, stupid." She slipped it on the middle finger of her left hand, and noted with pleasure that it fit perfectly.
Rose continued to grab at the ring. "He said it was a wish. You should make a wish Cassie!"
The older sister snorted. "I wish you would disappear!" She chided. Of course, her wish was unanswered and, grumbling, she said, "Come on, let's go to your stupid Haunted House." The girls walked on, holding hands.
The Haunted House revealed itself as rather tame. A slow moving rail car moved through a cobweb-adorned tent in which ghostly sounds played from the dark. The occasional masked actor would jump out in front of the car as it moved past. By the end of it, the girls were giggling with derision.
Their venture to Madame Szabo's showed more promise. Although bedecked in paste jewels and a turban like a common huckster, she displayed a promising shrewdness when she remarked that Rose was destined for the stage. The younger girl was always singing at home, and she was the star of the church choir, after all. When the clairvoyant perused the palm of Cassie's hand and clucked her tongue and asserted obscurely, "You haven't even begun to use your powers yet." As the sisters turned to leave, the fortune-teller yelled out. "You, with the dark hair. I'll be seeing you again tonight."
Cassie mumbled, "C'mon Rosie. I reckon we've been gypped." The girl had been disappointed to hear no mention of Chris Sharpe in her future, and she dismissed the elderly lady as a charlatan.
After a ride on the Annihalator and a couple of bellyfuls of cotton candy, the girls were slowing down. The hour was getting rather late, but they were far from ready to return to everyday life. Needing to ease their overworked feet, they ducked into the smallish Magic Tent. The show, showcasing a certain Baron Kronos and His Astonishing Menagerie of Peculiarly Clever Creatures was just beginning.
They gasped and turned to each other as the curtain was drawn to reveal their mustachioed stranger from earlier. When the magician flashed a grin, a gold tooth twinkled in the dazzling stage lights. Cassie unconsciously fingered her new ring, which seemed suddenly to have grown tighter on her lithe finger.
The Astonishing Menagerie turned out to be a goose, two rather mangy cats and a trained lizard. As the enigmatic Baron waved his wand, his creatures walked upside down, disappeared and reappeared in the handbags of astounded ladies and even, in the case of the Learned Cats, danced a waltz. Although Cassie, having reached the venerated age of eighteen, felt that she had seen better in her time, young Rose was delighted. As the cats began to step gracefully to the tune of The Blue Danube, the younger girl gave out a squeal of excitement and clapped her hands. When, as the crescendo of his performance grew near, the Baron asked for an audience volunteer, the kid shot up like spit on a griddle. Cassie tried to yank her sister down by the shirt collar, but it was too late and she had already hobbled her way to the front, limping and jumping as fast as her one good foot could take her. Resigned, the elder sister slid down in her chair, hoping that none of her schoolmates were there to see her younger sister make a spectacle of herself.
Cassie figured it was going to be a disappearing act. Those shows always ended in the same old way. She rolled her eyes as the magician waved his wand over her sister and said some words that were either gibberish or Latin, she couldn't tell which. Then suddenly, Rose was gone and there was a squirrel sitting on the podium where the girl had stood. The guy was quick. She didn't know how he had done it. It was literally as if she had vanished. He must have used a trap door, but it had been so fast, there was a collective gasp from the audience. Cassie waited for the pay-off, when the girl would suddenly reappear behind the table or some such nonsense, but before she knew it, Baron Kronos had smiled, there was an explosion of gunpowder, and he had vanished off the stage. The curtain went down. There was no sign of Rose anywhere.
The bulk of the audience was noisily moving on to the next amusement, but Cassie was still left blinking and waiting for her sister to re-materialize. She began to feel slightly nervous, but told herself the magician must have led the girl outside at the end of the show. She left the tent and walked around the back. There were no doorways, secret or otherwise. Traversing the circumference of the tent, she inspected the ground carefully to check for any loose earth that might signify a hidden trap door.
Filling with dread, she went back inside the tent and crawled up on stage, which was now, curiously, completely devoid of any props or furniture, although only several minutes had passed and there had been no sign of any carnival crew entering or leaving. She picked her way over the stage on her hands and knees, feeling for any irregularities where there might be a door. She began to truly panic, and she ran out of the tent calling her sister's name. Rushing out into the still busy carnival thoroughfare, she nearly slammed into a couple of unicycling fire jugglers in her frenzy. "Take it easy, kid!" One of them yelled.
She called out to them. "Have you seen my sis-", but before she had finished her sentence, the performers had cycled away.
I wish you would disappear... Her own cruel words rang in her ears. Could it be her terrible wish had come true?
She craned her head around frantically, hoping to catch a glimpse of a ponytail, a flash of gingham skirt. "Have you seen a girl go by? Blonde, short, walking with a limp?" She asked a middle-aged lady in a drab brown coat. The woman shrugged, and kept walking. She stopped an entwined young couple and asked them if they'd seen her sister, but they just giggled and wished her good luck. No one that she met offered her any help, and she began to think she might even cry, although she never cried. Just as she was turning to go back into the Magic Tent one more time (because she had failed to come up with a better option), a bejeweled hand clamped down on her shoulder with force. "I told you we would meet again, eh, my child?" A voice whispered in her ear.
An hour later, Cassie was making her way into unknown territory. She terrible knowledge that had just been revealed to her weighed on her heavily, but she walked with determination. The old lady had been right about so many things, she thought, she trusted this was the only way.
The trailer was on the far edge of the camping ground, slightly away from the other traveling vehicles. It would have been difficult to find in the dark without the aid of the soft red glow seeping from its windows. Its outer walls were covered in elaborate paintings. From the faint light of the half moon in the cloudy October sky, she could make out a smiling sun, an angry moon face and a bevy of constellations. There were also scattered symbols placed at various intervals between the stars. They might have been Greek letters, Celtic Runes or Sanskrit, for all Cassie knew. What she did know was the she was determined to get her sister back, whatever it would take.
She realized that her legs were shaking so hard she could scarcely stand up straight when she knocked on the door of the menacing abode. She was shivering, but not just from the crisp autumn air. As the door swung slowly in, she nearly ran away from the fright, but she held her ground. She was slightly relieved to find that the stranger was much less intimidating in his nightclothes. He wore a red silk smoking jacket with a matching tasseled cap and he cradled a sweet-smelling cigar in his left hand. His luxurious moustache was still perfectly groomed. "Good evening, miss." He boomed. "I suppose you've come to give me your wish back. Do come in from the cold."
Cassie had not expected him to be so accommodating, so her planned speech was flustered. "Sir," She asserted. "I think you did ... somethin' ... with my sister and I demand that you give her back to me right now!"
The gentleman chuckled, moving his cigar to his lips. "I see. Sherry?" He proffered, uncorking a crystal decanter from a low table and motioning with his head. "No? I think I'll take a snifter myself, if you don't mind." From inside, the cabin of the trailer appeared ten times the size it did from the exterior. It must have been a trick of the shadows and the low, red lighting. Suddenly, she gasped when she noticed a squirrel in a gilt cage on the other end of the room. As it moved to and fro, it appeared to be limping, as its left paw was malformed. Following in the direction she was looking, he abruptly moved to the end of the room and threw a throw rug over the squirrel's cage. "Poor little dear. She gets so excited when she sees visitors. Please, take a seat."
She couldn't trust him, but perhaps if she cooperated he would help her. She accepted a plush red oversized pillow and he plunged his muscular bulk across from her.
She noted that the room was fit for an Indian prince. The low ceilings were hung with swathes of burgundy and yellow silk, with a miniature electric mock-chandelier for the centerpiece. The floor was strewn with rich oriental rugs and pillows of various shapes and colors. There was a mahogany bookshelf along one wall, full of dusty antique texts. Candles were nestled about the corners of the room, casting moving shadows against the walls. In any other circumstance, she would have been enchanted.
"Now, to the case at hand." Drawled the trickster, chewing on his cigar. "My dear, I would like to help you, but really there's nothing I can do. If I went around taking wishes back after I'd given them out, I wouldn't be very good at my job, now would I? I'm afraid that was a one-wish only offer that I gave you, and I can't give away another one free. Think of my reputation!"
Cassie stared down at her hands and chewed her lip. "Madame Szabo warned me you wouldn't take it back." He raised his eyebrows when she mentioned the clairvoyant's name. "But she said ..." The girl gulped, and then went on in a lowered tone of voice. "She said that maybe you might be willin' to bargain." In the hour between her sister's disappearance and her arrival at the trailer, much had been revealed to her.
The magician put down his glass of sherry and inched minutely closer to her. "Oh, she did, did she?" He twisted his lips into a smile. "Would you care to elaborate, young lady?"
Her voice began to shake as she continued. "She said that it .. that ... for a wizard, it could ... uh ... increase ... his powers to ... to take a virgin."
The Baron's voice lowered an octave when he spoke again. "Did she?" He growled. He took one of her hands playfully in his own and began to stroke her palm. She didn't resist. "I assume that you would be willing to ... ah ... make that transgression, in exchange for the restoration of your female sibling?" The teenager lowered her eyes and turned away from his gaze, but nodded silently.
She shivered as the loutish conjurer brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the inside of her blue-veined wrist. His mouth was strangely hot and his moustache tickled her skin. Goosebumps spread over her bare arms. "Why don't you come over here, love, and sit on my lap?" He suggested. She felt a certain constriction of her internal organs as she obeyed him. She nestled her buttocks against his thighs and leaned back against his silk dressing gown. He stretched his legs out, one to either side of her, so that he could more easily press her fresh young body against his. She could smell tobacco as he breathed hotly against her cheek. His enormous hands slowly began to work their way up her thighs, his thumbs stroking the fabric of her well-worn jeans in tight circles. He pressed his face against the side of her braided hair and breathed in the sweet scent. She flinched as his hands briefly lingered at her crotch, and she began to feel a spreading heat emanating from that area.
She watched a black moth determined to come to it's inevitable demise in the flame of a candle across the room, and noticed that there was a mirror there, reflecting the flickering lights and the lascivious scene at hand. Suddenly, taken out of the situation for a moment, seeing herself in the mirror, she found it hard to believe that this was she, being fondled by a strange man in a place she had never been before. She watched in the mirror as his hands crept up beneath her loose cotton blouse and pulled it over her head. She watched as he undid her braids, letting her hair down her shoulders. She watched him bite into the brown flesh at the nape of her neck as he unhooked her plain cotton bra. She could just make out the shape of her nipples as they hardened in the cool air of the cabin. As he slid her jeans down her hips, she saw the dark triangle of hair where her legs met. Then, she lost sight of the mirror as he spun her around and pinned her against the cushions with his full weight bearing down upon her.
She felt a foreign hardness pressing against her naked crotch as his silk-clothed groin ground into her. He began to breathe sharply through his nostrils as his sweaty dark face bore down upon her and he forced his tongue into her mouth. She accepted the acrid flavor with curiosity, but surprisingly no disgust. Never having experienced a kiss before, except in her fantasies, she was surprised to find the occurrence oddly arousing, as his slick saliva mingled with hers. Prickles of excitement welled up inside her belly.
Grunting, he leaned back on his knees for a moment and released the sash of his robe. As the sides of the gown slipped back, they exposed the thick nest of black hair that covered his torso from his neck all the way down. Since the age of fourteen, she had wondered what a naked man would look like, but she had never known until now. She was frightened by what she might see, but she couldn't help looking down. Her eyes widened as she saw the thick, fleshy growth at the crest of his legs, visions of which she had tried to conjure in hushed conversations with girlfriends in the past. Nothing could have prepared her for this.
It was nowhere near what she would have expected. Instead of the thin, smooth tube she had imagined this hard bundle of flesh was strangely mottled by veins, thick as a table leg and pointed like a devil's tale. There was a small aperture at the top, like the blowhole of a whale, and tiny drops of liquid overflowed from the head. Knowing the relative size of her tiny opening, she was certain that it would kill her to have it driven into her tender insides. She shrieked and backed away. All of the reassurances that she had received by more experienced friends, that her woman's parts were quite stretchy and could accommodate the most surprising lengths and sizes, suddenly were meaningless to her when confronted with this monstrous prospect.