Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 13

None of the participants from the audience had resurfaced and Sam was beginning to worry.  He sought out the bouncer who had confiscated his things and inquired about Jenny.  His inquiry was met with cool disinterest and Sam had to bite his tongue or risk being forcibly ejected.  Instead, he was left standing with his mouth hanging open and no answers.  Sam stormed outside, planning to hunt down the carnival’s security officers when Jenny leapt out from the side exit, wrapping her arms snugly around him. 
            “Sam, where have you been?”  Jenny squealed.  “I’ve been dying to know what happened.  All these strangers have been coming up to me and saying what a great job I did but I can’t remember what happened after I went up on stage.  What did he have me do?” 
Sam relaxed now that she was by his side and even regaled her with the onstage antics which she and her fellow volunteers had engaged.  He had been so focused on Jenny that he had forgotten all about securing an invitation to the gold ticket show. 
            “I’m so glad he didn’t make me do anything humiliating like he did with those other girls,” Jenny giggled.  “I’m starved; let’s go grab some food before the invitational show.”
            “Invitational show, what the heck is that?” Sam demanded.
She reached in her front pocket and pulled out a golden ticket and waved it under Sam’s nose.  His eyes lit up and, though he couldn’t hear it, deep inside her trailer Tina was squealing with excitement.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 12

     After a great deal of fanfare and sycophantic cheering, Maven finally appeared on stage.  The first half of his act bordered on tedium and Sam found himself checking his watch repeatedly.  It wasn’t until Maven announced they hypnosis segment of his act that Sam started to pay attention.  Speaking in deep, soothing tones, Maven walked his audience through the relaxation techniques needed to ready oneself to “go under”. 
            “Now, I want you to imagine that I’ve tied a helium balloon to your wrist.  The more you relax, the lighter your body becomes.  The balloon is growing larger and larger until it lifts your hand into the air.”
Maven looked out at his audience, scrutinizing the masses before him.  Some were clearly faking, their hands shot straight up in the air, like an overachiever in class, trying to attract their teacher’s attention.  Others sat stoically in their seats, refusing to allow their bodies the slightest freedom for fear they’d fall under the spell.  The rest were prime candidates for the grand finale of Maven’s show.  He brought the audience “out” of their relaxed state and selected the most susceptible to come on stage.  Sam nearly jumped for joy when Jenny was selected.  She cheerfully sprang up from her seat and sashayed to the stage, enjoying the feel of all eyes on her.  She was joined by a dozen or so others onstage and in no time, Maven succeeded in putting them all into a hypnotic trance.  Once his subjects were under his control, Maven flaunted his abilities.  
     To the delight of the crowd, he had grown men sucking their thumbs and cuddling imaginary teddy bears.  Scantily clad co-eds were instructed to pick their noses, spit imaginary tobacco and scratch their butts.  The crowd erupted into laughter and cheered riotously.  Sam watched with nervous trepidation as Maven approached Jenny, fearful that she would be made to do something humiliating like the others.  Words of potential destruction were whispered in her ear to which she responded by shaking her head yes or no as the questions continued.  Eventually, Maven took the microphone and announced that Jenny believes she is in a bar and has been chosen to sing karaoke.  Sam exhaled slowly, relieved that she wouldn’t be totally humiliated in front of such a large crowd. Granted, she wasn’t classically trained but Jenny’s voice wasn’t bad either.  He even cheered along with the crowd as she belted out her own rendition of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”.  
     After a while, watching Maven play puppet-master to his hypnotized throng made the crowd fidgety and the “victims” were released from their control before being escorted backstage. Maven made his final curtain call and the audience began filing out.  Sam sat glued to his chair, wondering what was keeping Jenny so long.   

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 11

As private investigator Sam Cane locked the door to his office, he tried desperately to shake the feeling of dread gnawing at the pit of his stomach. His brain told him that his new clients had presented him with an easy paycheck but his gut said something entirely different.  He popped a couple antacids and smiled at Jenny, his part time receptionist and on-again-off-again girlfriend.  She was sporting the new earrings Sam had given her, unaware that a tiny recording device had been attached.  Considering the lengths Maven had gone to just to keep his coworkers from catching a glimpse of his show, Sam figured it was best to keep Jenny as clueless as possible.  Rumor had it that there was an audience participation hypnosis segment in the performance and Jenny seemed to be the susceptible type.  It seemed wise to keep her in the dark so, as far as she knew; they were just having a fun night out.  The whole ride there, Jenny admired her new jewelry in the visor’s mirror. 
            “These are just gorgeous, Sam.  Thank you so much!”
She planted a kiss on his cheek, careful not to obstruct Sam’s view, then nuzzled her head against his shoulder.  She chattered on happily as they wove through traffic and eventually pulled into the parking lot.  The bright and cheerful Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival sign seemed to be a direct contradiction to the picture Maven’s coworkers had painted.  Once inside the carnival, Sam and Jenny strolled around and eventually ended up at Maven’s tent. The line grew steadily as each minute brought them closer to show time.  Finally, a burly looking man removed the velvet rope in front of the door and began letting patrons through.  Sam handed over the pair of tickets and both he and Jenny were waved inside the tent.  He sucked in a sharp breath as a larger, even surlier man passed a detection wand down Jenny’s front.  The alarm sounded and Jenny took a step backward, confused and a touch fearful. 
            “Hand ‘em over,” snarled the man.    
            “H-h-hand what over?”  Jenny stammered. 
            “Recording devices, transmitters, c’mon, I ain’t got all day, sweetheart!”
Not willing to lose his opportunity to record Maven’s show, Sam stepped forward and rested a comforting hand on Jenny’s shoulder.
            “They’re not on her; you’re picking up the transmitters on me.”  Sam pulled off his baseball cap, dropped the phony cigarette pack inside and handed them over. 
The guard looked stunned.  Before his sudden shock could turn to anger or even earn them an ejection from the show, Sam turned on the charm.
            “Look, buddy, I’m a private detective,” he whispered so softly that Maven’s assistant had to lean in close to hear what Sam was saying.  “See that couple over there?”
He pointed into the broad expanse of patrons milling around looking for their seats. 
            “His wife, hired me to get proof of his…uh…dalliances.  I’m on the job but I’ll just watch while we’re here in the show and collect these from you after.  I apologize; I wasn’t thinking that it might cause some troubles inside here.  No harm, no foul, right?”
The surly man barely had his wand over the hat before it shrieked in protest, alerting its operator that there was contraband inside.
            “I thought you were taking me out on a date, you jerk!”  Jenny sneered, smacking him hard on the shoulder.  “I can’t believe you’re using me as a cover while you work!”
The bouncer laughed and allowed Jenny and Sam to take their seats with the promise that his hat and “cigarettes” would be waiting for him outside, after the show.  Sam thanked the man for his discretion and led Jenny toward his imaginary mark.
            “Wow!  Great job playing along, Jen.  I almost believed you were angry there for a minute.  You could have pulled the punch a little though…. you hit hard for a girl.” Sam laughed, gingerly rubbing his shoulder. 
            “I am mad,” Jenny answered tersely.  “I hate finding out I was just a prop when I was under the impression we were out on a date.”
            “C’mon, now.  Don’t be like that. Just because I have a little work to do doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with you too, baby.  Why can’t I do both?”
            “I suppose the earrings were just a ploy to soften me up then.”
 Before Sam could answer, the overhead lights flickered, announcing the start of the show.  Saved by the bell, he mused. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 10

True to his word, Sam’s transmitter arrived the next day.  Tina, who no longer tumbled, was nominated to man the machine since her workday would be over long before Maven’s show.  She listened patiently as their private detective walked her through, step-by-step, what to do and how to do it. She found her mind wandering; Sam’s deep, rich voice had her wondering what he looked like.  Chalking it up to hormone replacement meds, she shook the distraction from her mind and focused on the task at hand. 
            “Okay, moment of truth.” Sam laughed.  “I’m going to turn on the device on my end and I need you to put the phone down and see if you can hear it through the transmitter.” 
Tina squealed with excitement as she heard Sam’s voice clear as crystal coming through. 
            “We’ve got you now, Maven”. 

***Come back Monday, January 27th for the next installment**

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 9

It didn’t take long before the others were shut down in their attempts to see Maven’s show.  There was always a “plausible” reason but the overwhelming coincidences smacked of foul play.  With no other option, they finally decided to hire a private detective to attend and secretly record the show.  To the elder staff, the whole transaction brought to mind an old 1950’s gumshoe complete with trench coat and fedora but as Sam Cane reclined in his office, chatting with his perspective clients on the phone, he looked more like the guy-next-door.  He wore jeans, t-shirt, and a baseball cap, pretty standard attire for one of the carnival’s patrons.  As he talked the concerned staff from Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival through his standard rates and their requirements, he tried to imagine what a motley crew such as they might look like.  He patiently answered all of their questions and hoped he had even managed to set their worried minds at ease.  Ever the professional, Sam wouldn’t accept a penny until he had obtained the requested information, yet he did place a hold on the credit card they had provided. 
            “Okay, here’s how it goes.”  Sam spoke with a quiet confidence into his office phone.  “Tomorrow you will receive a package via FedEx.  Instructions on how to operate the transmitter will be enclosed.  If this guy is half as elusive as you claim, it won’t do for us to meet in person until after I’ve got everything you want.  While I’m in Maven’s show, you’ll be able to hear everything through the transmitter; meanwhile it will also be recording here at my office. I’ll call you tomorrow to make sure you’re comfortable with the machine and then again after closing time.  I’ll do my damnedest to get into that golden ticket show, or whatever it’s called, also.  I have to admit, this is an exciting change from my usual clients.  Trailing cheating husbands and wives can get monotonous.”
Sam chuckled and his new clients managed to loosen up enough to join in the merriment.
            “How are you going to get a recording device inside?”
Sam explained in detail how a tiny microchip recording device was planted inside a pack of cigarettes that he would carry in his pocket.  He also had one hidden inside his baseball cap and another would be worn by his assistant in her earrings.  The staff sounded impressed and wished him luck.  If everything went according to plan, they’d have their answers within the next few days.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 8

Jared volunteered to go first, sacrificing his day off to stalk Maven’s shows.  He even phoned an old girlfriend to tag along as his “date”. 
            “Are you sure you want to open that can of worms again?” Manuel laughed.  “Sherry has been trying to get her hooks back into you since you dumped her last year.”
            “I know,” Jared groaned.  “It just seemed like a better cover to have someone with me.  I’ll take Sherry backstage afterward and she’ll gush about how she’d been dying to see the show and junk like that.  You know how she is; she’ll be the perfect cover.” 
            “Yeah, you’re probably right but do me a favor, huh?  Don’t bring her to my show!”
Jared laughed as he playfully punched his friend’s shoulder.  He knew Sherry would hound him for months but BT was worth the headache and more.  His mind’s eye conjured an image of diving on top of a grenade to save BT.  As he walked away, Jared knew he’d even a take a bullet for the man that had become his surrogate father.  God help Maven or anyone else if they ever try to hurt BT
     That evening, Jared waited by the main gate for Sherry to arrive.  She had sent him a text message that she was running late but 40 minutes was excessive.  He paced, checked his watch, paced, and then checking his watch again, he muttered a curse.  His carefully laid plan was beginning to unravel before ever being put into play.  His phone vibrated and another text message from Sherry appeared:  “Just pulling in now” amid an overabundance of smiley faces and hearts.  Jared barely said hello as he snatched Sherry’s hand and dragged her to Maven’s tent.  She babbled on the entire way about how thrilled she was to hear from him.  Yada, yada, yada, Jared thought bitterly as her mouth continued churning out words while he pulled her along at a rapid clip.  Long before they reached the entrance, Maven’s lackeys pulled velvet ropes across the gate, signifying the show was full. He stopped short and Sherry plowed into Jared’s back, panting from the exertion. 
            “Great, we missed it,” grumbled Jared.  “What the hell took you so long anyway?”
            “Well, Sugar,” Sherry blushed.  “I wanted to look my very best so I went and had my hair done and a mani-pedi, and….well, if you play your cards right, you just might get to see what else I had done.  I can give ya a hint if you'd like.”
Bile rose in Jared’s throat.  He had a pretty good idea what she’d had done and he had no desire whatsoever to see it. He shook his head wondering why women put themselves through such brutal grooming procedures. Resigned to killing time before the next show, he stomped off to another attraction with Sherry trailing his wake.  Hours later, Jared and Sherry made their way to Maven’s tent, twenty minutes before the show was scheduled to start.  Already there was a long line of anxious patrons.  Maven’s assistants began making their way down the line speaking with each customer.  Nice touch, Jared thought.  When the two burly men stopped in front of Jared and Sherry he smiled brightly and said hello.
            “Ticket please,” they responded, as if they didn’t know Jared from Adam. 
            “We’re in line to get our ticket, guys.”  Jared laughed.
            “No,” the larger thug responded.  “The second show is always by special appointment only.  If you don’t have one of the golden tickets, you don’t get in.” 
            “C’mon, guys.  You know me. We'll stand in the back and not make a peep.  I swear, if I didn’t know better I’d say you’re deliberately trying to make me look bad in front of my date. She’s been dying to see Maven’s show!” 
            “No can do, buddy.  Those are the rules.  No ticket, no entry.”
Jared tried to sweet talk his way in but Maven’s assistants refused.  The more he pleaded the angrier they got.
            “Look, man, you’re holding up the line.  Crimony, I’d expect better manners from one of our own.  Seriously, you’re acting worse than the typical drunkards that we have to kick out.  Move along or do you want us to call Security?
Stunned, Jared stammered out an apology, trying again to explain that he was merely trying to impress his date and he hadn’t meant to cause any trouble.  The last thing he needed was to have them complaint to BT about this.
            “She just really wanted to see Maven’s act.  She’s a big fan.”  Jared insisted.
            “Aw, baby,” Sherry squealed.  “That’s alright.  I’d be just as happy to go through the Tunnel of Love ride instead.”
            “You heard the lady, she’d be happy to ride the Tunnel of Love.  So why don’t you take her for her ride and step out of line already, Jared.”  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 7

Sitting around Tina’s kitchenette, those who considered themselves BT’s closest companions discussed their current predicament. 
            “I feel like such a jerk,” Manny grumbled, adding more rum into his heavily laced cola.  “I never meant to make BT think we’re a bunch of money-grubbers.  There’s just something about that Maven guy that gives me the creeps.” 
            “C’mon, Pop.” Manuel answered, resting a comforting hand on his father’s shoulder.  “BT knows us and when he calms down he’ll realize we weren’t trying to line our own pockets.  We’re looking out for him and Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival first and foremost.”
            “I sure hope so,” Clara whispered.
The rest nodded in agreement.  They drank in silence, feelings of guilt and an unnamed fear weighing heavily on their minds.  Finally, Tina spoke out.
            “Ya know, even now… fifteen years later…I still have no idea what exactly it was that Maven did to save the carnival.  We’ve all given him the credit but what did he do?  Why the rapid turn around and how is it that we grew from a rinky-dink traveling carnival to a full-fledged three ring circus act?  For that matter, how did Maven manage to sock away that much cash considering I do the payroll and I know how much he makes?”
            “Speaking of his act,” GoGo chimed in.  “Have any of you ever seen his act?  What does he do and why does he need an entourage of body guards surrounding him at all times?
            “I dunno,” Jared muttered, “but I’d say it’s high-time we found out!” 
They all agreed; more research would be needed before bringing any concerns to BT again.  Rather than raising suspicions, they each vowed to view Maven’s show at different times and never with another staff member.  In a few weeks, or maybe a month, they would get together and review their notes.
            “Maybe there’s nothing there and we’re overreacting but I’d feel a whole lot better if we made sure.” 

            “Me too!” The others responded, in unison.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 6

           “What about Maven?” BT gasped as the coffee he was pouring sloshed over the lip of his mug and onto the table.  “Is he alright?”
            “He’s fine,” Tina assured him.  “Perhaps he’s a little too fine.” 
The old man rarely missed a cue but this time his head cocked sideways, puppy-like and perplexed.  He sat down at the table with the others and listened as they expressed their concerns.  His most trusted friends found it entirely too suspicious that when the shares first opened up to the staff, Maven was the only one with liquid funds.  Of the 20% that BT allotted to his employees, Maven snatched up most of those shares. 
            “Are you saying he cheated you out of shares?” BT demanded.  “He bought them all up and you didn’t get any?”
            “Well, no…it ain’t exactly like that.”  Manny answered.  “Maven waited until everyone bought what little they could afford and then he bought whatever was left.  It just so happens, that he still managed to buy almost 18% for himself.”
            “Then I’m not sure what you’re so upset about.” BT’s response bordered on fury, his words had a harsh bite to them that rarely, if ever, bubbled to the surface.  “I might have expected this kind of back-biting by some of the newcomers but from you?  I’m almost regretting my choice to offer a percentage to the staff.”
BT glared at his friends accusingly, his disappointment was so palpable Clara nearly burst into tears. Yet her show of remorse did little to assuage his anger, instead it seemed to feed it. 
            “Is it Maven’s fault that most of you squander your earnings, rather than saving for a rainy day?  Should he be penalized, or worse, scandalized because he doesn’t have a wife or children to support and therefore has more cash on hand? Wasn’t it Maven who came up with the plan to save our carnival in the first place?” 
BT was on his feet, wagging his finger at them as if chastising naughty children.
            “And this is how you repay him?” 
He let that last accusation sink in as he stalked into the other room and returned with a briefcase.  He popped the case open and withdrew certificates that he passed out to them. 
            “I was going to save these for a happier occasion but since you’re all so green with envy at the moment, I guess I’ll just get it over with.” BT grumbled as he thrust the sheets of paper into each of their hands.  “I knew each of you had some challenges this year and that money was tight.  For example, Clara your daughter gave birth.  Manny, you had to have surgery.  GoGo, your thieving ex wife’s lawyer took you to the cleaners.  I had already allocated shares in your names out of my own pocket so…here. I never intended this to be a competition for shares.  Truth be told, I never wanted any one member of our team to have the controlling interest once I’m gone because I want this place to be a joint venture.  Like I’ve always said, we’re all part of a gigantic machine and each cog keeps the wheel turning; each piece vital to production.” 
     Racked with guilt, his friends tried to apologize but BT waved them off.  He was in no mood to placate their feelings.  The disappointment he felt was too strong for niceties.  Instead, he ushered them to the door and went to bed.  Startled to find themselves unceremoniously shoved out in the cold, they accepted Tina’s offer for a nightcap in her trailer.  There was still much to discuss and it was best to do it in private.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 5

     True to his word, within one week BT released a memo instructing his staff the where’s and how’s to purchasing shares of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  For those who didn’t have enough savings to purchase shares at the moment, other opportunities would be made available in the future.  On the surface, the offer seemed typical of BT’s generosity but the timing had been inconvenient for most of the staff to take advantage of the offer.  There was; however, one employee who found himself in the perfect situation to buy up shares of the carnival: Maven.  After making that discovery, BT’s closest friends met him in his trailer after the evening performance.  GoGo, Tina, Manny, and Clara, were joined by Jared, and Manny’s son Manuel, the current strong man of the carnival. 
            “To what do I owe this honor?”  BT asked as he poured coffee for his friends. 
            “It’s about Maven….

   ***Please return Monday, Jan 20th for the next installment of The Freaks Come Out At Night***  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 4

Present Day

            “Okay, Okay.  Can I have your attention, please?” 
BT rose, tapping a spoon against the side of his glass. He paused, waiting for his unruly family to settle down.  At last, the murmur of conversation died down and all eyes were focused attentively on their patriarch. 
            “It’s hard to believe that fifteen years ago I was advised to close down…to take what was left and retire.  If it wasn’t for all of you, I might have done just that.  My dearest friends, words cannot possibly express my sincere gratitude to each and every one of you.  Part of the reason I wanted to have this banquet was to show you all my appreciation.  That and I have a surprise for you.”
The sea of faces looking back at him had changed over the years.  His dearest friends; Tina, Clara, Manny, and GoGo had lost their youthful glow and now wore masks of wizened wrinkles.  New kids, fresh and hopeful, had joined the crew filling roles their older counterparts could no longer endure.  These youngsters looked up to the “masters” of their craft with quiet reverence and awestruck exuberance.  The carnival had grown and expanded.  They had even more shows to wow their captive audiences.  They could no longer fit in tiny lots and moderate fairgrounds.  They commanded a bigger stage and performers came from far and wide in hopes of joining Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  They played to packed houses every evening and all day on the weekends.  BT’s company was making money hand over fist and had aspired beyond his wildest dreams.  It was time to do more for his family so that they could reap the benefits.
            “When I first started up, I had a little more than a grand illusion and a few crazy friends willing to come along for the ride.  Now, I have all of you.  When I look around and I see how large my family has grown it fills my heart with joy.”  BT began, his face beaming with pride.
            “Until he has to sign the paychecks and then he cries!” GoGo interjected, pantomiming signing his name and sobbing at the same time. 
Everyone, including BT, laughed especially since there was no truth to the gag.  BT was well known for his generosity and he paid his “family” higher wages than anyone else in the business.  Now that they were doing so well financially, BT even created retirement funds and added other perks.  He never begrudged a single penny paid out to those in his employ. 
            “As I was saying,” BT bellowed playfully.  “It is high time I gave back.  As you can tell, I’m no spring chicken.  Not that I plan on kicking the bucket anytime soon…but I want to make sure you’re all taken care of and who better to run the show than those running the show, right?  I am going to start selling shares of the company to those of you who want to keep Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival running long after I’ve become worm-food.  I’m working out the details with my lawyer and the accountant so when we’ve got it all hammered out, I will let you know.  We’ve got to keep planning for the future, right?”
            “BT’s right,” insisted Clairvoyant Clara.  “My lovely daughter just gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl and I have a feeling she’s got the gift of sight, also.  I want her to be able to tell her grandchildren that she was the clairvoyant at Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival just like her grandmother before her. 
The entire room broke into thunderous applause.  BT heart swelled with pride and the feeling was contagious.  In the back corner, Maven and his assistants grinned knowingly.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 3

At Maven’s insistence, two new staff members joined the team that very evening.  To smooth ruffled feathers and calm the nerves of his co-workers, Maven agreed to pay his new assistants out of his own pocket until the carnival was out of danger and restored to its previous glory.  Known simply as Alec and Drake, the newcomers were surly and intimidating.  Their jet black hair painted a stark contrast to their pale skin.  In that respect they mimicked their master but where Maven was lithe and mysterious, his cohorts were bulky and ominous.  From that evening forward, Maven was never seen without his two assistants in tow.  They vigilantly guarded the entrance to Maven’s tent while the show was in progress, no peeking allowed.  Sure enough, one week after that fateful meeting, attendance at Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival greatly increased.  Even when they pulled up stakes and moved to the next town, attendance grew exponentially.  Each new town brought larger crowds and, for the first time in a long time, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. 
            “BT!  BT!  BT Magill, please report to the main entrance ticket gate immediately!”  Tommy barked into the walkie-talkie.  His tone was urgent.  The collective hearts of the entire staff seemed to sink.  A call like that over the radio could only mean trouble.  BT ran as fast as his plump legs could carry him.  Panting and sweating, the owner reached the front gate and steeled himself for dire news.  Anxious patrons stood in lines as far as the eye could see, gaping at the old man and wondering if his heart could bear that kind of exertion. 
            “Tommy,” BT panted.  “What’s wrong?” 

            “We’re out of tickets!” He exclaimed gleefully.  “There’s so many people here I ran out of admittance tickets!”  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night-Part 2

     Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival was an eclectic blend of carnival folk that had bonded closer than most true families. They bickered like siblings but were fiercer than a lion when someone threatened a member of the clan.  Regardless of their station, no one believed themselves to be better than another inside the carnival.  As BT always said, they were a gigantic machine and each cog kept the wheel turning; each piece vital to production.  At one point or another BT had bailed each and every staffer out of some sort of trouble.  It was high time they returned the favor.  Admittedly, it had taken some time for the staff to work out a solution since BT was, quite literally, their ring leader but loyalty was one thing the carnival folk had in spades.  The plan was risky but each and every soul vowed to do their part to help their intrepid leader. 
            “I, for one, know I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for BT.” Jared, one of the animal trainers, declared as he rose from his seat.  “Like most of us, BT took me in when I had nowhere to go and no family to look out for me.  He taught me a trade, treated me like one of his own…hell, he’s even bailed me outta jail, but he never gave up on me.  He sat up with me as I went through detox and he helped me kick the habit.  No way am I gonna turn my back on him.  I’d steal, cheat or kill for BT to keep this place up and running!” 
If anyone had even the slightest doubt, Jared’s words won them over.  There wasn’t a single soul in BT’s employ who didn’t own him a debt of gratitude. 
            “Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Maven hissed.  “If everything goes the way I’ve planned… it will be smooth sailing from here on out.”
     Maven was the only member of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival that truly frightened the staff as well as the customers.  His little sideshow tent left patrons quivering with trepidation and it was the sole attraction that none of his coworkers attended.  He had started out with simple “mind reading” but has since embraced a darker, more spine-tingling approach.  Though BT asserted that it was merely an act, the others sensed there was more behind Maven’s mystique than showmanship.  It was that underlying fear that made the others agree to put Maven’s plan into effect without even hearing all the details.  And that suited Maven just fine.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- Part 1

August 1999

            “You can’t mean it,” Bill sobbed.  “Aren’t you the one who always says, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’?  Well, I’ve got the will so there must be a way!”
His hurt expression made him look more like a child than a man well past fifty but Bill, better known as “Big Top” or “BT” Magill’s heart was breaking. 
            “C’mon BT, don’t look at me like that.  That was my father’s favorite saying, not mine.  If there was a way, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.  You know I love the place as much as you do but, let’s face it, it’s long past due.  Kids today want a Game Boy or that Playstation.  They want to surf the web.  They don’t want to go to an olde-timey carnival like we did in the old days. They don’t stick baseball cards in the spokes of their bicycles and ride through town to play stick ball with their friends anymore.  They don’t go anywhere. Not just because the streets aren’t safe either.  They wanna sit in front of their TV’s and play video games or go on the computer.  Why would they want to watch clowns hosing each other with seltzer water when they can shoot virtual lasers and blow stuff up on the screen?  They watch their lives through Windows.”   
Mason chuckled at his play on words but he knew the old man wouldn’t catch the reference; he still thought of Windows as a pane of glass anchored in a wall not a computer operating system.  Big Top was from a different generation and the kids today just didn’t make sense to him.  In his eyes, the “kid” behind the desk was just as confusing.  It didn’t help that Mason had inherited the book keeper’s position.  The elder Mason Burke had been the one who helped BT launch his dream nearly thirty years ago.  Even with his diploma framed and hanging over the desk, Big Top still saw Mason, Jr. as a little boy not a man with a Master’s Degree in Finance. 
            “Besides, a man your age should be enjoying his golden years not slaving away at a nickel and dime carnival and certainly not squandering what’s left from a lifetime of hard work.  Retire now….before you lose every penny to the bank.”   
            “You used to love the clowns, Mason.” BT muttered sadly.  “I remember the first time your daddy took you to one of our shows.  You told me when you grew up you wanted to be a clown in my carnival.” 
Big Top’s eyes grew misty; they always did when he reminisced.  He waved off Mason’s apologies and shuffled toward the door.  His mind was elsewhere, in a happier time when his business was booming and children all over the country were thrilled to see Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival come to town. 
      That evening, BT had gathered his employees to give them the bad news.  He looked out over the eclectic gathering, sequin bedecked acrobats, painted clowns, animal trainers, amusement ride operators, ticket-takers, game managers and everyone who, over the years, had made his dream possible.  His loyal staffers looked up at him with growing unease; nervous whispers tittered through the room. 
            “I’m sure you all know why I’ve called this little meeting,” Bill ‘Big Top’ Magill’s normally jovial, booming voice sounded thin and defeated.  “I’ve just come from the accountant’s office and he said…” The old man’s voice cracked.  He cleared this throat and tried again.  “That is, he’s recommended….”
BT couldn’t go on.  His large frame shook with heart-wrenching sobs.  He’d let his family down.  His loyal friends and companions who had become closer than blood, what would become of them?  Fat tears streamed down his cheeks, inside his broken heart shattered even more.  GoGo the Clown rushed up and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.  He took the handkerchief and as he did, another pulled from GoGo’s pocket. In seconds, a rainbow of colors trailed from BT’s nose down to the clown’s pocket.  The old scarf trick brought a wan smile to the old man’s face.  He took a deep breath and relayed the sad news…the carnival would be closing but this time for good.  Time seemed to slow down and then, as if someone had pressed the fast-forward button, BT was in his trailer alone.  His only companion a bottle of Jack that he’d picked up on the way back from Mason’s office.
            “Fifteen years on the wagon and for what?” He scoffed bitterly, pouring his drink. 
His hands trembled as he lifted the glass to his lips.  Just then, his dearest companions burst through the door.  Before he could voice his objection, Tina the Tumbler snatched the glass from his hand and downed it in one gulp.  Clairvoyant Clara grabbed the bottle and tossed it to GoGo. Manny Muscles, the strong man, gripped BT in a bear hug and held him tight as the others poured what remained in the bottle down the drain.  They had been prepared to incur BT’s wrath but were pleasantly surprised when the big man sat down without a word.
            “I guess I should thank you.”  BT muttered, finally breaking the silence. 
            “You know we couldn’t stand by and let you flush fifteen years down the toilet,” Manny insisted.  “You’ve worked too hard to throw it all away now.”
            “Speaking of…”Clara interjected.  “After you left, the rest of us had discussion and we want to help you rebuild the carnival to its glory days.  We have a plan, if you’re willing to let us give it a try, that is.  Give us three months and if you’re not back on top we’ll go with Plan B, closing for good.” 
BT agreed to allow his staff, beloved members of his carnival family to ‘give it the old college try’. 
“Clown College, that is.”  GoGo quipped. 

Monday, January 6, 2014


Happy New Year!  My holiday hiatus is over and I am back in action. To get started off on the right foot, I have a short story to share. Enjoy "Inspiration"

Once again he is huddled all alone in the dark, under a worn and faded blanket.  The bluish light from his monitor casts a sickly, eerie, glow on his already pallid skin.  It is here, in the waning hours before dawn, that the fickle wench known as inspiration usually appears.  But on this night she is nowhere to be found.  The vast emptiness of a blank page is staring back at him, mocking him.  His muse, he’s concluded, has sought shelter elsewhere. Somewhere in the world, perhaps even just around the corner someone, more fortunate than he, was luxuriating in her warm embrace.  Gentle as a lover’s kiss, she is whispering words (or maybe tonight it will be a melody) into another artist’s ear.
            “Tramp,” he sneers like a jilted lover discovering his sweetheart in the arms of another. 
He throws the blanket aside and paces the floor in frustration, fury and anguish tag-team his heart strings.  A familiar, though slightly dated, quote, springs to mind.  “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”.  Though the typewriter has been replaced by a laptop, the sentiment still rings true. 
            “You’ve got that part right, Mr. Hemmingway,” he whispers“I might as well open an artery and pour out my life’s blood.” 
Glaring at his keyboard, he scoffs.  Just as he sat back down to give it another try; a strange noise catches his attention.  He slips to the window and pulls back the binds.  Out in the street, a young couple was walking hand-in-hand.  He rolls his eyes and snorts derisively at the pair as they pause under the streetlight, huddled together in a passionate embrace.  Despite his apparent disgust, he watches as their kisses become more demanding, urgent and wanton.  The same noise, louder and closer now, makes him jump.  He yanks the blinds back, scanning the street below for a car that had backfired or kids setting off fireworks. If the noise had come from outside, the amorous couple took no notice.  This time the noise is so loud it could have come from his own bedroom yet the couple outside doesn’t even flinch.  He shakes his head in disbelief.
            “Love may be blind but who knew it was deaf, as well?
The chuckle at his own joke freezes on his lips as a cold hand settles on his shoulder. 
            “Who the…”
He spins around; trying to control the fear in his voice, but the room is empty. He’s sucking in air in huge gulps, trying to quell his racing heart.  He was certain that he felt someone’s hand, cold as the grave, touch his shoulder.  Subconsciously, his own hand creeps across his body to caress the spot where he’d felt the touch.   Convinced it’s just the late hour and his mind playing sleep-deprived tricks on him, he moves to switch off his monitor.  A bony finger tap-tap-taps on the back of his skull.
            “No, there’s no one there.”  He insists, willing himself to resist the urge to turn around. 
He stands as still as a statue, waiting to feel another touch.  The clock on the wall ticks away the seconds until he’s determined that he has allowed his imagination to kick into overdrive.  Incensed that his imagination failed him when he sat at the computer, he feels his skin flush and his hands clench into fists.  He takes a step toward his desk and a force, with the strength of an NFL linebacker, slams him across the room.  Before he can stagger to his feet an invisible foot connects with his jaw.  His scream is suffocated by a gush of blood flooding his mouth.  A gurgling cough sputters flecks of red on the wall and down his shirtfront.  Globs of blood smear across the back of his hand as he wipes his lips dry.  Without warning he is lifted from the floor and hurled, face first, into his desk.  His monitor comes to life and the Word document is no longer blank.
The word continues in neat columns, filling the page.  Before he can scream, the force of impact knocks his head back and it lands with a thump on the desk.  In the split-second before he loses consciousness, pain registers in his brain like a baseball bat to the temple.  As blood pours from the gashes, it spills onto his keyboard.  “Tramp?” is erased from the screen.  Instead new words begin to form on the page, one letter at a time…..
              Once again he is huddled all alone in the dark, under a worn and faded blanket