Authors: Randy Ryan C.; Chandler Gregory L.; Thomas David T.; Norris Wilbanks
But I was just getting going good. The vile thing in the covered-up jar put the pictures in my head and I acted them out. With a shard of broken glass I sliced Jasper’s jugular and caught the blood spurts in my mouth until they stopped. Kneeling like I was saying my prayers, I relished the taste of dead man’s blood on my lips and the oily feel of it in the soft fur of my face. As an afterthought I used the same glass shard to saw off Jasper’s pecker. Then I yanked the feed sack off the monster’s big jar, unscrewed the metal lid and dropped the dead pecker into the cloudy soup with that evil head. Those tentacles fluttered, then whipped out to grab the dead man’s dick and flipped it into those evil squid teeth. The thing’s eyes blinked and I pissed myself.
I panicked. I’d killed a simple clem and was stuck with his corpse. Evidence of my own evildoing. My first impulse was to run. Run out of the tent and off into the night. Like the wild child I was supposed to be. I was heading out of the tent when a
tink tink tink
stopped me. I turned to face the thing in the jar that had called me back. I looked into its black eyes. Its tentacles lifted and waved slowly like they were trying to hypnotize me. Or give me some dark blessing. I right away went calm. And I knew what to do. I went to find Theo the talker and took him back to the scene of my crazy-ass crime. He disposed of Jasper’s body and cleaned up the bloody mess.
The monstrous god in the jar had its first sacrifice.
Sadie the fortuneteller was also a jackleg artist. When she wasn’t gazing into her madball to see the future, she drew still-life pictures and painted portraits of other carnies. I didn’t think she was all that great but she did have her own style. Everything she did looked like it came from some other world where real people were turning into cartoons. She knew I liked to go into towns with Zelda and that I always wore a black veil when I did so the townfolk wouldn’t think a werewolf girl was on the prowl, so she painted me a mask to wear on our outings. Compared to her other works of weird art, the mask she did for me looked almost natural. Zelda said it made me look like a little dead girl walking around. I reckon it did have the look of a child’s death mask, but it did the trick. Put a floppy sunhat on my head, and I could walk the streets without riling up the townies or calling out the dogcatcher.
The mask was painted on thin cowhide and I scared myself every time I caught a gander of me in a mirror or a shop window. It was spooky seeing myself that way. It was me but it wasn’t. It was so spooky I would never wear it in the mirror maze cause I knew if I did I wouldn’t come out with my right mind—if I came out at all. Can’t say I wasn’t tempted though. Those funhouse mirrors fascinated me.
Seeing through to another world, that’s how it was. A crazy world where nothing was normal ’cause those distorted mirrors couldn’t reflect any normal thing. They made everything strange and turned everybody freakish.
Funny how a simple thing like a mask can change a body’s life. Thanks to the painted cowhide face Sadie made me, I found my first love. Or it found me. Whichever one it was. It was love. Puppy love. And it wasn’t meant to last. Oh the carnival road, nothing lasts but the dust.
It was a place called Jerusalem. New Mexico. Dustbowl shit hole if ever there was one. (And you can take it as Gospel the world is full of such shit holes. Our carnie caravan never missed a one.) Zelda and me rode into Jerusalem in the flivver we’d inherited from the whorehouse robbers. The Tommy gun was still in the trunk. The automobile sputtered and backfired a lot. When we rode into town the backfires made folks look up to make sure bank robbers weren’t blazing into town. Back when we first left Mama Rose’s, we tossed the old license plate in the bushes and slapped on a stolen one in case the cops were looking for the car. So we weren’t really worried. There were plenty of flivvers on the roads back then, beat-up rattletraps choking down dust and running on fumes.
We parked in front of a drug store and went inside to the soda fountain for a drink. Zelda ordered a cherry phosphate and I had a black cow. I was in a foul mood because on the ride into town I wrote out on my little chalkboard about feeding Jasper’s pecker to the monster head but she didn’t believe me. “That thing ain’t alive, hon,” she said. “It couldn’t eat nothing, let alone a man’s pecker. You must’ve imagined it.” So I wrote: “Then where’s it at? I dropped it in the jar and it’s gone.” She said, “Theo probably fished it out.” I sulked and wrote that I knew what I seen, and I seen the thing eat his thing. Zelda just laughed. But she didn’t think it was funny that I’d killed a rube and blamed it on a thing in a sideshow jar. She said I should give up whoring and stick to my Wolf Girl racket. I could tell she was worried that killing Melvin Locust had given me a taste for it and that I might be as wild and dangerous as a real wolf.
So now, sitting at the counter and sucking down our sodas, I chalk-talked: “It ate it.” Then underlined it.
“Whatever you say, hon,” Zelda said, her brow wrinkled up with worry.
About this time I noticed the soda jerk staring at me and remembered I had on my mask. He was just a kid, no more than a couple years older than me, but cute as a button. Had a button nose, as a matter of fact.
“Ain’t Halloween, is it?” the soda jerk said.
I shrugged my shoulders. My shirt collar was buttoned and I had on white gloves so none of my Wolf Girl hair could be seen. Then I shook my head. I reckoned it wasn’t Halloween.
“Then why you wearing a mask?” the kid asked.
Zelda came to my rescue. She said, “She’s famous. She don’t want nobody to recognize her.”
I could tell by his face that the boy didn’t believe it. But then he smiled and said, “You got pretty eyes. I can see that much.”
I grinned real big behind my mask. I’m sure he could see the grin in my eyes. He plopped an extra cherry on my black cow and winked one of his sparkly blues at me. I winked back, still grinning like a fool.
“Well ain’t you a nice one,” Zelda said. She elbowed me. “Ain’t he a one?”
I nodded, picked up the cherry by its stem and sucked it through the slit in the mouth of the mask. I swallowed the stem too, but I didn’t care. I was in love. Or something a lot like it.
The boy went to wait on somebody else and I whipped out my little chalkboard and wrote him a message. When he came back a few minutes later I shoved the board at him and he looked at it a long time before he picked it up, and I started to wonder if maybe he couldn’t read. But then he said, “Is that right?”
And I nodded. What I’d written was this: “I’m the carnival Wolf Girl. I am hairy but I ain’t no freak.”
“I had me a pet wolf when I was a kid. Raised it from a pup.”
Zelda chuckled and said, “Kid, you’re just a kid now. Though a big strapping one.”
The kid smiled. “I loved that pretty girl. Hunter killed her before she was three years old.”
I wiped the board clean and drew a frowning face, a circle with two dots and a frowning line, then held it up for the boy. The boy flashed a sad smile. Then he suddenly brightened and said, “I’d give a nickel to see under that mask.”
Zelda said, “Come to the carnival tonight. You can see me dance the cooch too. You ain’t hardly old enough but you’re big enough to pass as a grownup.”
I chalked: “See now?”
He puzzled on that for a long time and then nodded. He reached in his pocket and pulled out an Indian head nickel and put it on the counter by my drink. I pushed it back, shaking my head. I wrote real fast: “Out back.” He said, “All right.”
Zelda said, “Wait now, hon. You don’t even know this boy’s name.”
“Jerry,” he said. “Jerry Ezekiel Conner.”
“A wonder they don’t call you Zeke,” Zelda said. “My old sweetheart’s name was Zeke. Zeke and Zelda, we were the talk of the town. But he got killed in the war. Some godforsaken trench in France. Things woulda been different if he’d lived. I surely wouldn’t be in this Podunk town with a brokedown carnival.”
I wasn’t sure why Zelda was all of a sudden worried about my honor, or why she pretended to be. Maybe she was worried for the boy, afraid I’d kill him like I done Jasper. I wanted to tell her she needn’t worry but I was too eager to get out back with my new beau to do anymore writing right then. I got up, gestured for Jerry to follow, and headed outside. He followed. Looking real cute in his soda jerk apron and paper hat. We walked around the corner and stopped in the narrow dirt alley behind the store. My heart was going ninety miles an hour.
I took a deep breath, took off my floppy hat and lifted the mask off my head.
Jerry’s eyes got real big, like they were going to pop out of his skull. Then a huge grin scrunched up his face and he said, “Gah-lee, girl! You’re a wonder!”
Nobody had ever called me that before.
. I stared at his face while he stared at mine. His lips were full like a woman’s. But he was all man. He looked like a young Clark Gable, ears and all. Except he didn’t have a mustache.
“Can I touch it?”
I wasn’t sure what he wanted to touch but I nodded my head. He reached out and gently touched the soft fur on my cheek and forehead. I tingled all over. I got a funny feeling in my belly. I wanted to take his lips in my teeth and bite them. Make them bleed just a bit. Make him mine. But I didn’t. I didn’t do anything to tip him off that I’d been whoring before I was old enough to bleed myself. A man might forgive you for being a freak but not for being a whore. It would take Jesus Christ to do that.
“You’re worth a whole lot more’n a nickel,” he said. Then he blushed and stuttered, “I—I—I . . . didn’t mean
, like that. What I mean is—”
I touched his lips with my fingertips to quiet him. They were as soft as they looked. And I wanted to know what it felt like to kiss them. To have them kiss me. He did kiss my fingertips. I think he did. It happened so fast, I’m still not sure. But I’ve always believed he did.
Then he said, “I’m coming to the carnival tonight. Sure as God made green apples and pretty girls.”
I melted. On the inside. On the outside I was the cute little Wolf Girl but on the inside I was a full-grown female with raging needs. A she-wolf in high heat. I couldn’t wait for the night to come.
Night came. So did Jerry Ezekiel Conner. At the last minute, I balked. I didn’t want him to see me do my Wolf Girl act. He already saw me as his cute little pet and I didn’t want to collar up and do my growling, snapping and pawing routine like a wild animal on a leash—which was exactly how the talker presented me every night. For the first time in my tiny little life I cared how somebody saw me. And I wanted him to see me as a young lady, not as a low belly-crawling mutt. I wished then that I’d told Jerry not to come to the carnival. Sure, he was smart enough to know my wild Wolf Girl was an act but I didn’t want him to see me that way at all. What difference it would make in the long run didn’t matter. I was just a kid with a crush on a townie I’d probably never see again. But that was why I did care. I cared with the heart of a kid.
So I faked being sick and refused to do my little show. Boss Bizzle made me stick out my tongue and felt my forehead to see if I was feverish. Of course, he couldn’t tell, what with all the fur on my face. But he wasn’t a slave driver so he let me off and sent me to bed. All I really had was a severe case of puppy-love fever.
I got Zelda to bring Jerry to our trailer before he bugged out for the night without getting to see his little pet. He came in timid as could be, hat in his hand and walking like he had feathers in his shoes. Nobody had ever treated me with such regard and I nearly made a puddle of melt right then and there.
“You ain’t really sick, are you?” he asked.
I shook my head. Smiled real big. I sat on the bottom bunk and patted a spot beside me. He slunk like a trained bear across the creaky floor and sat, hat hanging between his legs sort of like a shield.
I already had two words on the chalkboard. I gave it to him so he could read them: “Kiss me?”
He grinned shyly. All but said, “Aw shucks.” And he leaned over and kissed my lips. Just a quick smack. But I grabbed him and pulled him back for a more serious kiss. Things went the way I wanted them to from that point and the love we made was the sweetest you can imagine. The only sour note came when I picked up the mean message from the monster in the jar, telling me I should claw Jerry’s eyes and rip out his throat with my teeth. It was a dirty voice in my head, all whispery and deep, bullying me to bloodshed. The thing was brutal in its commands. But I was strong. I didn’t give in to those urges. It was shocking to find out the thing could reach me as far away as my trailer but the tender sex greased and eased the shock and I soon put the evil jar-thing out of my mind.
We lay together a long time after we were done. It was then that the evil thing slipped back in and whispered the wickedest things to me. It told me that Jerry was nothing but a cow-fucking farmboy who fucked sheep and pigs as well as his own cow-eyed sister, that I was just another piece of creature ass and nothing more. It told me I was foolish to think this was anything like real love because it wasn’t and I didn’t deserve to know real love and never would on account of I was just a dumb animal, God’s own freak. Something God made for laughs when He got bored with sending angels to smite the shit out of stupid evildoers.
, it said.
Pure evil is smart enough to have its way and live another day