XXIV - From the Lost World
THE BLaYLOCKS, IT MaY BE SaFE TO SaY, WENT DIRECTLY TO jail. They did not have a Get Out of Jail Free card, they did not collect two hundred dollars, and their mean monopoly was smashed. I understood that they were as tight-lipped as clams at first, but then the family ties began unraveling as the state investigators drilled them. Wade learned that Donny had stolen a large chunk of his moonshine profits, Bodean found that Wade was skimming the gambling den's money, and Donny suspected that Wade had put some arsenic in his bottle of moonshine and that's why he thought he'd seen a ghost. as the Blaylock brothers began spilling their guts, Biggun decided to take the high road. He fell on his knees at the arraignment and professed, sobbing to shame Shakespeare, that he was Born again and had been duped into following the paths of Satan by his own misguided sons. They must take after their mothers, he said. He vowed to devote his life to being a minister, if, by the grace of the Lord above, the judge would offer him the cup of mercy.
He was told he would have a very long time in which to practice his preaching, and a nice secure place to catch up on his Bible reading.
When they dragged him out of court, kicking and screaming, he damned everybody in sight, even the stenographer. They said he threw so many curses that if those bad words had been bricks, they'd have made a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. The brothers went before judges as well, to similar results. I didn't have any sympathy for them. If I knew the Blaylocks, they'd soon be running the prison store and making a killing off every cigarette and square of toilet paper.
One thing, though, the Blaylocks refused to divulge: what was in the wooden box they'd sold to Gerald Hargison and Dick Moultry. It couldn't be proven that any box even existed. But I knew better.
The amorys left town. Mr. Marchette gave up being fire chief and stepped into the role of sheriff. I understand Sheriff Marchette told Mr. Owen Cathcoate anytime he wanted to wear a deputy's badge it would be fine with him. But Mr. Cathcoate informed the sheriff that the Candystick Kid had gone to roam the frontiers of the Wild West, where he belonged, and from here on out he was just plain old Owen.
Mom was in a zombie state for a while, as visions of what might have been careened through her mind, but she came out of it. I believe that deep in her heart she might have wanted Dad to stay safe at home but she respected him more for making up his own mind about what was right. When my lie became obvious, Dad debated not letting me go to the Brandywine Carnival when it came to town but he wound up making me wash and dry the dinner dishes for a week straight. I didn't argue. I had to pay the piper somehow.
Then the posters began appearing around town. BRaNDYWINE CaRNIVaL IS ON ITS WaY! Johnny was looking forward to seeing the Indian ponies and trick riders. Ben was excited about the midway, and the rides lit up with pulsing multicolored bulbs. I looked forward to the haunted house, which you rode through on rickety railcars while unseen things brushed your face and howled at you in the dark. Davy Ray's excitement concerned the freak show. I never saw anybody who got so worked up about freaks as he did. They gave me the creeps and I could hardly look at them, but Davy Ray was a true connoisseur of freakdom. If it had three arms, a pinhead, crocodile-scaled skin, or sweated blood, he went into giddy fits of delight.
So it happened that on Thursday night the park area near the baseball field where we'd had our Fourth of July barbecue was empty when the last Zephyr light went off. On Friday morning, kids on their way to school witnessed the transformation a few hours could bring. The Brandywine Carnival appeared like an island in a sea of sawdust. Trucks were chugging around, men were hoisting up tents, the frameworks of rides were being pieced together like dinosaur bones, and the booths were going up where food would be sold and Kewpie dolls not worth a quarter would be won for two dollars' worth of horseshoes.
Before school, my buddies and I took a spin around the park on our bikes. Other kids were doing the same thing, circling like moths in expectation of a light bulb. "There's the haunted house!" I said, pointing toward the bat wings of a gothic mansion being hinged together. Ben said, "Gonna be a Ferris wheel this year, looks like!" Johnny's gaze was on a trailer with horses and Indians painted on its side. Davy Ray hollered, "Looka there! Hoo boy!" We saw what he was so excited about: a big, garishly painted canvas with a wrinkled face at its center and in the center of the wrinkled face a single horrible eyeball. FREaKS OF NaTURE! the words on the canvas said. IT COULD'VE BEEN YOU!
In truth, it was not a large carnival. It was short of medium-sized, too. Its tents were patched, its trailers rust-streaked, its trucks and workers equally tired. It was the end of the carnival season for them, and our area was almost its last stop. But we never thought that we were getting the leftover crop of caramel apples, that the Indian ponies and trick riders went through their routines with an eye on the clock, that the rides clattered in need of oiling and the barkers were surly not to add flavor but because they were damned bushed. We just saw a carnival out there, aglow and beckoning. That's what we saw.
"Looks like a good one this year!" Ben said as we started to turn back for school.
"Yeah, it sure-"
and then a horn blasted behind me and Rocket zoomed out of the way as a Mack truck passed us. It turned onto the sawdust, its heavy tires crunching down. The truck was a hodgepodge of different-colored parts, and it was hauling a wide trailer with no windows. We could hear the suspension groan. On the trailer's sides, an amateurish hand had painted crude green jungle fronds and foliage. across the jungle scene was scrawled, in thick red letters that had been allowed to drip like rivulets of blood: FROM THE LOST WORLD.
It rumbled away, toward the maze of other trucks and trailers. But in its wake I caught a smell. Not just exhaust, though of that there was plenty. Something else. Something... lizardy.
"Whew!" Davy Ray wrinkled his nose. "Ben let one!"
"I did not!"
"Silent but deadly!" Davy Ray whooped.
"You did it yourself, then! Not me!"
"I smell it," Johnny said calmly. Davy Ray and Ben shut up. We had learned to listen when Johnny spoke. "Came from that trailer," he said.
We watched the Mack truck and trailer turn between two tents and go out of sight. I looked at the ground, and saw the tires had smushed right through the sawdust and left brown grooves in the earth. "Wonder what's in iti" Davy Ray asked on the scent of a freak. I told him I didn't know, but whatever it was, it was mighty heavy.
On the ride to school, we formulated our plans. Parents permitting, we would meet at my house at six-thirty and go to the carnival together like the Four Musketeers. Does that suit everybodyi I asked.
"Can't," Ben answered, pedaling beside me. He spoke the word like a grim bell tolling.
"Why noti We always go at six-thirty! That's when all the rides are goin'!"
"Can't," Ben repeated.
"Hey, you got a parrot stuck in your throati" Davy Ray asked. "What's wrong with youi"
Ben sighed, blowing a wisp of steam in the morning's sunny chill. He had on a woolen cap, his round cheeks flushed with crimson. "Just... can't. Not until seven o'clock."
"We always go at six-thirty!" Davy Ray insisted. "It's... it's..." He looked at me for help.
"Tradition," I said.
"Yeah! That's what it is!"
"I think there's somethin' Ben doesn't want to tell us," Johnny said, swerving his bike up on the other side of Davy Ray. "Spit it out, Ben."
"It's just... I can't..." He frowned, and with another plume of steam decided to give up the game. "at six o'clock I've got a piana lesson."
"Whati" Davy Ray had fairly yelled it. Rocket wobbled. Johnny looked as if he'd taken a Cassius Clay roundhouse punch to the noggin.
"a piana lesson," Ben repeated. The way he said that word, I could see legions of simpering pansies behind legions of upright pianos while their adoring mothers smiled and patted their beanies. "Miss Blue Glass has started teachin' piana. Mom's signed me up, and my first lesson's at six o'clock."
We were horrified. "Why, Beni" I asked. "Why'd she do iti"
"She wants me to learn Christmas songs. Can you believe iti Christmas songs!"
"Man!" Davy Ray shook his head in commiseration. "Too bad Miss Blue Glass can't teach you guitar!" Git-tar, he pronounced it. "Now, that'd be cool! But piana... yech!"
"Don't I know it," Ben muttered.
"Well, there's a way around this," Johnny said as we neared the school. "Why don't we just meet Ben at the Glasses' housei We can ride on to the carnival at seven instead of six-thirty."
"Yeah!" Ben perked up. "That way it won't be so awful!"
It was settled, then, pending parental okay. But every year we all got together and went to the carnival on Friday night from six-thirty until ten, and our parents had always said yes. It was really the only night kids our age could go. Saturday morning and afternoon was when the black people went, and Saturday night belonged to the older kids. Then by ten o'clock on Sunday morning the park area was clear again except for a few scatters of sawdust, crushed Dixie cups, and ticket stubs the cleanup crew had left like a dog marking its territory.
The day passed in a slow crawl of anticipation. Leatherlungs called me a blockhead twice and made Georgie Sanders stand with his nose pressed against a circle on the blackboard for smarting off. Ladd Devine went to the office for drawing a lewd picture on the inside cover of his notebook, and the Demon swore she'd fix Leatherlungs' wagon. I sure would've hated to be in Leatherlungs' clunky brown shoes.
From my house, as the blue twilight gathered and the sickle moon appeared, I could see the lights of the Brandywine Carnival. The Ferris wheel was turning, outlined in red. The midway sparkled with white bulbs. The sound of calliope music, laughter, and joyous screams drifted to me over the roofs of Zephyr. I had five dollars in my pocket, a gift from my father. I was wrapped up in my fleece-lined denim jacket against the cold. I was ready to roar.
The Glass sisters lived about a half mile away, on Shantuck Street. By the time I got there on Rocket, near quarter before seven, Davy Ray's bike was parked next to Ben's in front of the house, which looked like a gingerbread cottage Hansel and Gretel might've envied. I left Rocket and went up on the porch. I could hear piano notes being banged behind the door. Then the high, fluty voice of Miss Blue Glass: "Softly, Ben. Softly!"
I pressed the doorbell. Chimes rang, and Miss Blue Glass said, "Will you please answer that, Davy Rayi"
He opened the door as the banging continued. I could tell by his sick expression that listening to Ben try to hammer out the same five notes over and over again wasn't good for your health. "Is that Winifred Osbornei" Miss Blue Glass called over the racket.
"No ma'am, it's Cory Mackenson," Davy Ray told her. "He's waitin' for Ben, too."
"Bring him in, then. Too cold to wait outside."
I crossed the threshold into a living room that was a boy's nightmare. all the furniture looked like spindly antiques that wouldn't bear the weight of a starved mosquito. Little tables held porcelain figures of dancing clowns, children holding puppies, and the like. a gray carpet on the floor appeared to indelibly remember footprints. a glass curio cabinet as tall as my dad held a forest of colored crystal goblets, coffee mugs with the faces of all the presidents on them, twenty-odd ceramic dolls clothed in lace costumes, and maybe another twenty rhinestone-decorated eggs each with its own brass four-footed stand. What a crash that thing would make if it went over, I thought. a green-and-blue-streaked marble pedestal held an open Bible as big as my gargantuan dictionary, the type in it large enough to be read from across the room. Everything looked too frail to touch and too precious to enjoy, and I wondered how anybody could live in such a state of frozen pretty. Of course, there was the gleaming brown upright piano, with Ben trapped at its keys and Miss Blue Glass standing beside the bench holding a conductor's baton.
"Hello, Cory. Please have a seat," she said. She was wearing all blue, as usual, except for a wide white belt around her bony waist. Her whitish-blond hair was piled up like a foamy fountain, her black glasses so thick they made her eyes bug.
"Wherei" I asked her.
"Right there. On the sofa."
The sofa, covered in velvety cloth that showed shepherds playing their harps to prancing sheep, had legs that looked about as sturdy as rain-soaked twigs. Davy Ray and I eased down into the sofa's cushiony grip. The sofa creaked ever so slightly, but my heart jumped in my throat.
"Now! Thinkin' cap on! Fingers flow like the waves! One, two, three, one, two, three." Miss Blue Glass started motioning up and down with her baton as the pudgy fingers of Ben's right hand tried to play the same five notes with some resemblance to rhythm. Soon enough, though, he was pounding those notes as if trying to crush fire ants. "Flow like the waves!" Miss Blue Glass said. "Softly, softly! One, two, three, one, two, three!"
Ben's playing was less wavy and more sludgy. "I can't do it!" he wailed, and he pulled his hand away from those frightful keys. "My fingers are gettin' all crossed up!"
"Sonia, give that boy a rest!" Miss Green Glass called from the rear of the house. "You're gonna wear his fingers to the bone!" Her voice was more trombone than flute.
"You just mind your own beeswax now, Katharina!" Miss Blue Glass retorted. "Ben's got to learn the proper technique!"
"Well, it's his first lesson, for pity's sake!" Miss Green Glass walked out of a hallway into the living room. She put her hands on her skinny hips and glowered at her sister from behind her own black-framed glasses. She was wearing all green, the shades varying from pale to forest. She made you feel a little seasick just looking at her. Her blondish-white hair was piled higher than Sonia's, and had a vague pyramidal shape about it. "Not everybody's a musical genius like you, you know!"
"Yes I do know, thank you very much!" Swirls of red had crept into Miss Blue Glass's ivory cheeks. "I'll thank you not to interrupt Ben's lesson!"
"His time's about over, anyway. Who's your next victimi"
"Winifred Osborne is my next student," Miss Blue Glass said pointedly. "and if it wasn't for your magazine subscriptions, I wouldn't have to go back to teachin' piano to begin with!"
"Don't you blame my magazine subscriptions! It's your own self at fault! I swear, if you buy another set of dinner plates, I'm gonna go straight out of my head! What're you buyin' all those dinner plates for when we don't ever have anybody to dinneri"
"Because they're pretty, that's why! I like pretty things! and I could ask you why you went out and bought a collection of First Lady thimbles when you can't even sew a stitch!"
"Because they're gonna grow in value, that's why! You wouldn't know an investment if it crawled up on one of those dumb dinner plates and begged you to eat it with a biscuit!"
I feared the Glass sisters were going to come to blows. The timbres of their voices sounded like a duel of slightly off-key musical instruments. Caught between them, Ben appeared about to leap from his skin. Then something went crooaaakk from the rear of the house. It was the kind of noise I would've imagined the tentacled Martian in the bowl could make. Miss Blue Glass jabbed the baton at her sister and snapped, "See therei You've upset him! are you satisfied nowi"
The door chimes rang. "It's probably the neighbors fussin' about your hollerin'!" Miss Green Glass predicted. "They can hear you all the way to Union Town!"
Johnny stood there when Miss Blue Glass opened the door. He was bundled up in a dark brown jacket over a black turtleneck. "I'm here to wait for Ben," he said.
"Lord have mercy! Is the whole world waitin' for Beni" She made a face as if she'd bitten into a lemon, but she said, "He's still got five minutes! Come on in, then!" Johnny entered the house, and he saw our edgy faces and realized he had stepped into something that was not a pile of roses.
Crooaaakk! Crooaaakk! the thing in the back room squawked.
"Would you see to him if you aren't too busyi" Miss Blue Glass told her sister. "Since you've stirred him up, at least see to him!"
"I swear I'd move out of here if I could find a cardboard box worth livin' in!" Miss Green Glass groused, but she stalked into the hallway again and the ruckus was over at least for the moment.
"Lord, I'm worn out!" Miss Blue Glass picked up an old church bulletin and fanned herself with it. "Ben, get up and I'll show you what you can be playin' if you'll do your exercises like I've told you."
"Yes ma'am!" He jumped up.
Miss Blue Glass settled herself on the piano bench. Her hands with their long elegant fingers poised over the keyboard. She closed her eyes, getting in the mood I guess. "I used to teach this song to all my students when I was teachin' piano full-time," she said. "Ever heard of 'Beautiful Dreamer'i"
"No ma'am," Ben said. Davy Ray elbowed me in the ribs and rolled his eyes.
"This is it," Miss Blue Glass explained, and she began to play.
It wasn't the Beach Boys, but it was nice. The music swarmed out of that piano and filled up the room, and Miss Blue Glass swayed slightly from side to side on the bench as her fingers rippled across the keyboard. I have to say, it did sound pretty.
Then a terrible screech intruded. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and strained at their roots. The noise felt like jagged glass hammered into your earhole.
"Skulls and bones! Hannah Furd! Skulls and bones! Cricket in Rinsin!"
Miss Blue Glass stopped playing. "Katharina! Feed him a cracker!"
"He's goin' crazy in here! He's beatin' at his cage!"
"Skulls and bones! Draggin me packin! Skulls and bones!"
I didn't know if those words were what the thing was screaming, but that's what it sounded like to me. Ben, Davy Ray, Johnny, and I looked at each other as if we'd walked into a nuthouse. "Hannah Furd! Crooaaakk! Cricket in Rinsin!"
"a cracker!" Miss Blue Glass yelled. "Do you know what a cracker isi"
"I'll crack your head in a minute!"
The screaming and screeching went on. Over this tumult, the door chimes rang again.
"It's that song, I'm tellin' you!" Miss Green Glass hollered. "He goes insane every time you play it!"
"Crooaaakk! Draggin me packin! Hannah Furd! Hannah Furd!"
I got up and opened the front door in prelude to running out. a middle-aged man and a little girl eight or nine years old stood on the porch. I recognized the man. Mr. Eugene Osborne was the cook at the Bright Star Cafe. "We're here for Winifred's piano less-" he began, before the caterwauling started up again. "Skulls and bones! Crooaaakk! Cricket in Rinsin!"
"What in the world is that racketi" Mr. Osborne asked, his hand on the little girl's shoulder. Her blue eyes were wide and puzzled. On Mr. Osborne's knuckles, I saw, were faded tattooed letters. a U.S. on the thumb, and on the following fingers a, R, M, and Y.
"That's my parrot, Mr. Osborne." Miss Blue Glass came up and shoved me aside. She was mighty strong to be so thin. "He's havin' a little trouble lately."
Miss Green Glass emerged from the hallway, carrying a bird cage that contained the source of all that noise. It was a fairly large parrot, and it was fluttering at the bars and shaking like a tornado-spun leaf. "Skulls and bones!" it shrieked, showing a black tongue. " Draggin me packin!"
"You give him a cracker!" Miss Green Glass put the bird cage down on the piano bench, none too gently. "I'm not gettin' my fingers snapped off!"
"I fed yours all the time, and I sure risked my fingers!"
"I'm not feedin' that thing!"
"Hannah Furd! Draggin me packin! Skulls and bones!" The parrot was a bright turquoise blue, not a speck of any other color on him except for the yellow of his beak. He attacked the bars, blue feathers flying.
"Well, then get him to the bedroom!" Miss Blue Glass said. "Put the night cloth over him and settle him down!"
"I'm a slave! I'm just a slave in my own home!" Miss Green Glass wailed, but she picked up the bird cage by its handle again and left the living room.
"Skulls and bones!" the parrot shrieked in parting. " Cricket in Rinsin!"
a door closed, and the noise was thankfully muffled.
"He has a little bitty problem," Miss Blue Glass said to Mr. Osborne with a nervous smile. "He doesn't seem to like one of my favorite songs. Please come in, come in! Ben, that finishes your lesson for this evenin'! Remember, now! Thinkin' cap on! Fingers flow like the waves!"
"Yes, ma'am." Then he said under his breath to me, "Let's get outta here!"
I started out, following Davy Ray. The parrot had quieted, perhaps calmed by its night cloth. and then I heard Mr. Osborne say, "First time I ever heard a parrot curse in German."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Osbornei" Miss Blue Glass lifted her penciled-on eyebrows.
I stopped at the door, and turned to listen. Johnny bumped into me.
"Curse in German," Mr. Osborne repeated. "Who taught him those wordsi"
"Well, I... have no idea what you're talkin' about, I'm sure!"
"I was a cook for the Big Red One in Europe. Got the chance to talk to a lot of prisoners, and believe me I know some foul words in German when I hear 'em. I just heard an earful."
"My... parrot said those thingsi" Her smile flickered off and on. "You're mistaken, of course!"
"Let's go!" Johnny told me. "The carnival's waitin'!"
"Wasn't just cursin', either," Mr. Osborne went on. "There were other German words in there, but they were all garbled up."
"My parrot is american," Miss Blue Glass informed him with an upward tilt of her chin. "I have no earthly idea what you're talkin' about!"
"Well, okay, then." He shrugged. "Don't matter none to me."
"Boys! Will you close that door and stop lettin' all the heat outi"
"Come on, Cory!" Davy Ray called, already astride his bike. "We're late enough as it is!"
a door opened in the back. Miss Green Glass said from the hallway, "He's quiet now, thank the Lord! Just don't play that song again, whatever you do!"
"I've told you it's not that song, Katharina! I used to play it for him all the time and he loved it!"
"Well, he hates it now! Just don't play it!"
Their squawking was beginning to remind me of two squabbling old parrots, one blue and one green. "Close that door, if you please!" Miss Blue Glass yelled at me, and Johnny gave me a shove onto the porch to uproot my feet. He closed the door behind us, but we could still hear the Glass sisters clamoring like buzz saws. I pitied that poor little Osborne girl.
"Those two are loony!" Ben said as he got on his bike. "Man, that was even worse than school!"
"You must've done somethin' to make your mom awful mad at you," was Davy Ray's opinion. "Time's wastin'!" He gave a whoop and took off in the direction of the carnival, his bike's pedals flying.
I lagged behind the others, though they kept yelling for me to catch up. German curse words, I was thinking. How come Miss Sonia Glass's parrot knew German curse wordsi as far as I knew, neither of the sisters spoke anything but Southern English. I hadn't realized Mr. Osborne was in the Big Red One. That, I knew from my reading, was a very famous infantry division. Mr. Osborne had really been there, on the same war-torn earth as Sgt. Rock! Wow, I thought. Neato!
But how come the parrot knew German curse wordsi
Then the happy sounds of the carnival drifted to me along with the aromas of buttered popcorn and carameled apples. I left the German-cursing parrot behind, and sped up to catch my buddies.
We paid our dollars at the admission gate and threw ourselves into the carnival like famished beggars at a feast. The strings of light bulbs gleamed over our heads like trapped stars. a lot of kids our age were there, along with their parents, and some older people and high school kids, too. around us the rides grunted, clattered, and rattled. We bought our tickets and got on the Ferris wheel, and I made the mistake of sitting with Davy Ray. When we got to the very top and the wheel paused to allow riders on the bottommost gondola, he grinned and started rocking us back and forth and yelling that the bolts were about to come loose. "Stop it! Stop it!" I pleaded, my body freezing solid to offset his elasticity. at that height, I could see all across the carnival. My gaze fell on a garish sign with crude green jungle fronds and the red, dripping words FROM THE LOST WORLD.
I paid Davy Ray back in the haunted house. When the warty-nosed witch jumped out of the darkness at our clanking railcar, I grabbed the back of his neck and wailed to shame the scratchy recorded gibberings of ghost and goblin. "Quit it!" he said after he'd come down onto his seat again. Outside, he told me the haunted house was the dumbest thing he'd ever seen in his life and it wasn't even a bit scary. But he sure was walking funny, and he hustled himself off to the row of portable toilets.
We stuffed our faces with cotton candy, buttered popcorn, and glazed miniature doughnuts. We ate candied apples covered with peanuts. We packed away corn dogs and drank enough root beer to make our bellies slosh. Then Ben wanted to ride the Scrambler, with results that were not pretty. We got him into one of the portable toilets, and luckily his aim was good and his clothes were spared a Technicolor splatter.
Ben passed on entering the tent that displayed the big, wrinkled one-eyed face. Davy Ray almost chewed his way through the canvas in his hurry to get in there, but Johnny and I went with him against our better judgment.
In the gloomy confines, a dour-looking man with a nose as large as a dill pickle held court before a half dozen other freak aficionados. He went on for a while about the sins of the flesh and the eye of the Lord. Then he drew back a small curtain and switched on a spotlight and there in a big glass bottle was a shriveled, pink and naked baby with two arms, two legs, and a Cyclops eye in the center of its domed forehead. I winced and Johnny shifted uncomfortably when the man picked up the formaldehyde-filled bottle, the Cyclops baby drifting in its dream. He started showing it to everybody up close. "This is the sin of the flesh, and here's the eye of God as punishment for that sin," he said. I had the feeling he might get along famously with Reverend Blessett. When the man paused in front of me, I saw that the eye was golden, like Rocket's. The baby's face was so wrinkled it might have been that of a tiny old man, about to open his toothless mouth and call for a sip of white lightning to ease his aches. "Notice, son, how the finger of God has wiped clean the means of sin," the man said, his baggy-drawered eyes glinting with a spark of evangelical fever. I saw what he meant: the baby had neither male nor female equipment. There was nothing but wrinkled pink skin down there. The man turned the bottle to show me the baby's back. The baby drifted against the glass, and I heard its shoulder make a soft wet noise of collision.
I saw the Cyclops baby's shoulder blades. They were thick, bony protrusions. Like the stumps of wings, I thought.
and I knew. I really did.
The Cyclops baby was somebody's angel, fallen to earth.
"Woe to the sinner," the man said as he moved on to Johnny and Davy Ray. "Woe to the sinner, under the eye of God."
"ah, that was a gyp!" Davy Ray ranted when we were outside on the midway again. "I thought it was gonna be alive! I thought it could talk to you!"
"Didn't iti" I asked him, and he looked at me like I was halfway around the bend.
We went to a show where motorcycle drivers raced around and around a caged-in cylinder, the engines screaming right in front of our faces and the tires gripping disaster's edge. Then we went to the Indian pony show, under a large tent where palefaces who wouldn't know Geronimo from Sitting Bull jumped around in loincloths and feathers and tried to spur some spirit into horses one hay bale away from the glue factory. The finale came when a wagon with cowboys on it circled the tent with the pseudo-Indians in pursuit, and the cowboys shot off their blanks and the white redmen hollered and ran for their lives. alabama history was never so boring, but at the end of the show Johnny gave a wan smile and said that one of the ponies, a little tawny thing with a swayed back, looked as if it really could gallop if it had half a field.
By this time Davy Ray was freak-hungry again, so we accompanied him to see a rail-skinny red-haired woman who could make electric bulbs light up by holding them in her mouth. Next was the al Capone Death Car, the display of which showed bleeding bodies sprawled on a city sidewalk while leering gangsters raked the air with tommy-gun bullets. The actual car, which had a dummy behind the wheel and four dummies standing there gawking at it, was a piece of junk Mr. Sculley would've scorned. We hung in with Davy Ray, as he worked up to speed. The Gator Boy, the Human Caterpillar, and the Giraffe-Necked Woman lured him from behind their canvas folds.
and then we rounded a corner, and we caught that smell.
Just a hint of it, drifting down at the bottom below the reeks of hamburger grease and doughnut fat.
Lizardy, I thought.
"Ben's messed his pants!" Davy Ray said. He should talk.
"Did not!" Ben ought to know by now not to invoke this vicious cycle.
"There it is," Johnny said, and right in front of me was the huge red LOST with THE and WORLD on either side of it.
The trailer had steps that went up into a large, square boxcarlike opening. a dingy brown curtain was pulled across it. at the ticket booth, a man with greasy strands of dark hair combed flat across his bald skull was sitting on a stool, chewing on a toothpick and reading a Jughead comic book. His small, pale blue marbles of eyes flickered up and saw us, and he reached drowsily for a microphone. His voice rasped through a nearby speaker: "Come one, come all! See the beast from the lost world! Come one, come..." He lost interest in his spiel and returned to the cartoon balloons.
"Stinks around here," Davy Ray said. "Let's go!"
"Wait a minute," I told him. "Just a minute."
LOST filled up my vision. "I might want to see what this is."
"Don't waste your money on this!" Ben warned. "It'll be a big snake or somethin'!"
"Well, it can't be any dumber than the Death Car!"
They had to agree with that.
"Hey, there's a two-headed bull over yonder!" Davy Ray pointed to the painted canvas. "That's for me!" He started walking off, and Ben took two steps with him but stopped when he realized Johnny and I weren't following. Davy Ray glanced back, scowled, and stopped, too. "It'll be a gyp!" he said.
"Maybe," I answered. "But maybe it'll be-"
Something neat, I was about to say.
But there came the sound of a massive body shifting its weight. The trailer groaned. Boom! went the noise of bulk hitting wood. The entire trailer shivered, and the man behind the ticket booth reached down at his side and picked up something. Then he started banging on the trailer with a baseball bat studded with nails. I could see where countless nail points had scarred the huge red T of LOST.
Whatever was inside settled down. The trailer ceased its motions. The man put the baseball bat away, his face an expressionless blank.
"Whoa," Ben said quietly. "Mighty big critter in there."
My curiosity was raging. The swampy smell seemed to be keeping customers away, but I had to know. I approached the ticket seller.
"Onei" He didn't even look up.
"What is iti" I asked.
"It's from the lost world," he answered. Still he stared at the comic book. His face was gaunt, his cheeks and forehead pitted with acne scars.
"Yes sir, but what is iti"
This time he did look up. I almost had to step back, because simmering in his eyes was a fierce anger that reminded me of Branlin fury. "If I told you that," he said, sucking noisily on his toothpick, "then it wouldn't be no surprise, would iti"
"Is it... like... a freak or somethin'i"
"You go in." He smiled coldly, showing little nubs of chewed-down teeth. "Then you tell me what you saw."
"Cory! Come on!" Davy Ray was standing behind me. "This is a gyp, I said!"
"Oh it is, is iti" The man slapped his comic book down. "What do you know, kidi You don't know nothin' but this little blister of a town, do youi"
"I know a gyp when I see it!" He caught himself. "Sir."
"Do youi Boy, you don't know your head from your ass! Get on out of here and quit botherin' me!"
"I sure will!" Davy Ray nodded. "You bet I will! Come on, Cory!" He stalked off, but I stayed. Davy Ray saw I wasn't coming, and he made a noise like a fart and went over to a concession stand near the two-headed bull.
"One," I told the man as I dug a quarter out of my jeans pocket.
"Fifty cents," he said.
"Everythin' else is a quarter!" Ben had come up beside me, with Johnny on my other side.
"This is fifty cents," the man repeated. "Thing's gotta eat. Thing's always gotta eat."
I slid the money in front of him. He put the two quarters into a tin can that sounded all but empty, then he tore a ticket and gave me half. "Go up through that curtain and wait for me. There's another curtain on the other side. Don't go through that one till I come up. Heari" I said I did, and I climbed the steps. The lizardy, swampy odor was terrible, and under that was the sickly-sweet smell of rotting fruit. Before I reached that curtain, I was debating the wisdom of my curiosity. But I pushed through it, and I stood in near darkness. "I'll go, too," I heard Johnny say behind me. Then I waited. I reached out and felt a rough burlap curtain between me and whatever else was in the trailer.
Something rumbled, like a distant freight train.
"Move on in some," the ticket man said, speaking to me as he came up the steps, herding Johnny and Ben. When he pushed the first curtain open, I saw he was holding the nail-studded baseball bat. I gave the other guys room to stand between the curtains. Ben pinched his nostrils shut and said, "That smells sick!"
"Likes ripe fruit," the man explained. "Sometimes it goes over."
"What is this thingi" Johnny asked. "and what's the lost worldi"
"The lost world is lost! Just like it says. What's lost is no more and can never be again. That get through your skulli"
None of us liked his attitude. Johnny probably could've punched his lights out. But Johnny said, "Yes sir."
"Hey, I'm comin' up!" It was Davy Ray. "Where's everybodyi"
The man moved onto the stairs to block his way. "Fifty cents or forget it."
Of course this caused an outburst. I peered through the curtain to watch Davy Ray wrangle with the man. Davy Ray was chewing on a Zero candy bar, the white kind with chocolate nougat in the center. "If you don't shut up," the man warned, "I'm gonna charge you seventy-five cents! Pay up or take a walk!"
Two quarters changed possession. Davy Ray squeezed in with us, and then the man entered muttering sourly. He said to me, "You, boy! Go on through!"
I pushed aside the rough burlap. as I entered, the smell almost knocked me out. The guys filed in behind me, then Mr. attitude. Four oil lamps, hanging from ceiling hooks, afforded the only light and it was murky at best. In front of me was what appeared to be a big hogpen, enclosed by iron bars the thickness of pythons. Something lay in that pen that was so huge it made my legs go wobbly. I heard Ben gasp behind me. Johnny gave a low whistle. In the pen were piles of rotting, moldy fruit rinds. The fetid decay lay in a soup of greenish-brown mud and, to be delicate here, the mud was adorned with dozens of brown chunks as long as my father's arm and twice as thick. a dark cloud of flies whirled above the pen like a miniature tornado. The smell of all this at close range was bad enough to knock the stripes off a skunk. Little wonder Mr. attitude's tin can was empty.
"Step up there and take a look!" he said. "Go on, you paid for it!"
"I'm gonna puke!" Ben wailed, and he had to turn and run out.
"I ain't givin' no refunds!" Mr. attitude hollered after him.
Maybe it was the man's brawling voice. Maybe it was the way we all smelled to that thing in the pen. But suddenly it started heaving itself up from its mud bed, and the huge bulk just kept getting bigger as more of it shucked free from the liquidy mess. The thing gave a single snort that rumbled like a hundred bassoons. Then it lumbered over toward the far side of the trailer, its wet gray flesh glistening with mud and filth, a universe of flies crawling on its hide. With a shriek of shocks and stressed timbers, the entire trailer suddenly began tilting to that side, and all three of us yowled and hollered with the conviction of fear we'd never felt in the haunted house.
"Hold still, you shithead!" Mr. attitude stood up on a wooden platform. "I said hold still 'fore you throw us over!" He lifted that baseball bat and brought it savagely down.
The sound of that bat smacking flesh made my stomach lurch. I almost lost my carnival feast, but I clenched my teeth together. Mr. attitude kept hitting the beast: a second time, a third, and a fourth. The creature made no noise, but with the fourth blow it staggered away from the trailer's wall toward the center of the pen again and the trailer righted itself.
"and stay there, ya dumb shit!" Mr. attitude yelled.
"are you tryin' to kill it, misteri" Davy Ray asked.
"That sonofabitch don't feel no pain! He's got skin like fuckin' armor plate! Hey, don't you be tellin' me my business or I'll throw you outta here on your ass!"
I didn't know if the creature could feel pain or not. all I knew was that I was looking at a big slab of wrinkled gray flesh with dots of blood welling up out of it.
The thing was half the height of an elephant and about as big as our pickup truck. as the thick muscles of its haunches quivered, flies rose lazily into the air. In the murky lamp-light, as the creature stood motionless in its mudhole with its stumpy legs mired in rotten fruit rinds and its own excrement, I could see the stubs of three horns rising up from a neckplate of bone covered with leathery gray flesh.
I almost fell down, but I feared what might be on that floor.
"This here's an old thing," Mr. attitude said. "You know how some turtles can live for two hundred, three hundred yearsi Well, this thing's so old he makes them turtles look like teenagers. Older'n Methuselah's pecker," he said, and laughed as if this was funny.
"Where'd you find himi" I heard my voice ask, my mind too stunned to connect.
"Bought him for seven hundred dollars, cash on the barrel. Fella had him on the circuit in Louisiana, down in Cajun land. Before that, guy out in Texas was showin' him. Before the Texan, fella in Montana trucked him around. I guess that was in the twenties. Yeah, he's been around some."
Davy Ray said, in a quiet and uneasy voice, "He's bleedin'." He held half of the Zero candy bar down at his side, his appetite vanished.
"Yeah, so whati Gotta smack him some to make him pay attention. Hell, he's got a brain 'bout the size of a walnut, anyhow."
"Where'd he come fromi" I asked. "I mean... who found him firsti"
"It was a long time ago. I don't remember what that Cajun fucker told me. Somethin' about... some professor found him. Either in the amazon jungle or the Belgian Congo, I forget which. Up on some plateau nobody can get to or find again. His name was... Professor Chandler... no..." He frowned. "Callander... no, that ain't it." He snapped his fingers. "Professor Challenger! He's the one found it and brung it back! Know what it isi It's a tri... a tri-"
"-ceratops," I finished for him. I knew my dinosaurs, and that's no lie.
"Yeah, a tricereytopalis," Mr. attitude said. "That's just what it is."
"Somebody cut his horns off," Johnny said. He, too, had recognized it, and he walked past me and clamped his hands to the iron bars. "Who cut his horns off, misteri"
"Me, myself, and I. Had to. You shoulda seen them fuckers. Like spears they were. He kept bustin' through the trailer's walls with 'em. Tore right through sheet metal. My chain saw broke all to pieces 'fore I was even half through, had to use a fuckin' ax. He just laid there. That's what he does, just lays there and eats and shits." Mr. attitude kicked at a white-molded watermelon rind that had somehow been shoved out of the mudhole. "Know how much it costs to keep that old fucker in fruit this time of yeari Man, that was the dumbest seven hundred dollars I ever spent!"
Davy Ray stepped up to the bars beside Johnny. "How come he only eats fruiti"
"Oh, he can eat most anythin'. Once carnival season's over, I feed him garbage and tree bark." Mr. attitude grinned. "Fruit makes him smell better, y'see."
The triceratops's small black eyes slowly blinked. His massive head moved from one side to the other, searching for a thought. The pen was hardly large enough for him to turn around in. Then he exhaled a long breath and eased down into the mud again, and he stared at nothing with tendrils of blood creeping down his flank.
"awful tight in there, ain't iti" Davy Ray asked. "I mean... don't you ever let him outi"
"Hell, no! How would I get him back in again, geniusi" He leaned over the iron bars, which came to his waist when he was standing on the wooden platform. "Hey, shithead!" he yelled. "Why don't you do somethin' to earn your fuckin' keepi Why don't you learn to balance a ball on your snout, or jump through a hoopi Thought I could fuckin' train you to do some tricks! How come you don't do nothin' but sit there lookin' stupidi" Mr. attitude's face contorted, and its anger was ugly. "Hey, I'm talkin' to you!" He smacked the beast's back with the baseball bat once and then again, the nails drawing blood. The triceratops's watery eyes closed in what might have been mute suffering. Mr. attitude lifted the bat for a third blow, his nubby teeth clenched.
"Don't do that, mister," Davy Ray said.
and something in his voice meant it.
The bat paused in its descent. "What'd you say, boyi"
"I said... don't do that. Please," he added. "It's not right."
"Might not be right," Mr. attitude agreed, "but it is fun." and he whacked the triceratops across the back a third time with all his strength.
I saw Davy Ray's hand clench as he mashed the remaining half of the Zero candy bar.
"I've had enough," Johnny said. He turned away from the pen and walked past me and out of the trailer.
"Let's go, Davy Ray," I told him.
"It's not right," Davy Ray repeated. Mr. attitude had stopped beating the beast, and the nails were slicked with red. "Somethin' like this shouldn't be caged up in a mudhole."
"You had your fifty cents' worth," the man said. He sounded drained, sweat glistening on his forehead. I guess it was hard work, whacking those nails in and pulling them out. The act of violence seemed to have sapped some of his anger. "Go on home, country boys," he said.
Davy Ray didn't budge. His eyes reminded me of smoldering coals. "Mister, don't you know what you've goti"
"Yep. One big fuckin' headache. You wanna buy himi Hell, I'll cut you a deal! Get your daddy to bring me five hundred dollars, I'll sure as shit unload him in your front yard and he can sleep in your fuckin' bed with you."
Davy Ray was not suckered by this spiel. "It's not right," he said, "to hate somethin' just for bein' alive."
"What do you knowi" Mr. attitude sneered. "You don't know shit about nothin', kid! You live twenty more years and see what I seen of this stinkin' world and then you come tell me what to do and what not to do!"
Then Davy Ray did a strange thing. He threw the mashed-up Zero candy bar into the mud right under the triceratops's beaky snout. It made a little plop as it went into the liquid. The triceratops just sat there, its eyes heavy-lidded.
"Hey! Don't you be throwin' nothin' in that pen, boy! Both of you just git!"
I was on my way out.
I heard a great gobbling sound and looked around to see the triceratops opening its mouth and scooping up the Zero and the surrounding mud like a living bulldozer. The beast chewed a few times and then he tilted his head back to let all the muck slide down his throat.
"Go on!" Mr. attitude told us. "I'm shuttin' down for the-"
The trailer trembled. The triceratops was standing up, dripping like an ancient swamp oak. I swear his rust-colored tongue, which was as big as a dinner plate, emerged to lick his gray, mud-caked mouth. His head with its three hacked-off horn stumps tilted toward Davy Ray, and he began lumbering forward.
It was like watching a tank build up to speed. and then he lowered his head to collide with the iron bars, and the thick plate of bone made a noise like the popping together of two giants' football helmets. The triceratops stepped back three paces and with a snorting grunt he crashed his head against the iron bars again.
"Hey! Hey!" Mr. attitude was yelling.
The triceratops shoved forward, his feet or paws or whatever they were sliding in the mud. His strength was awesome; muscles rippled beneath the elephantine flesh, and flies fled the quake. The iron bars groaned and began to bend outward, bolts making a squealing noise as they came loose.
"Hey, quit it! Quit!" Mr. attitude started beating the triceratops again, and droplets of blood flew from the nails. The beast paid no attention, but kept bending the bars in his effort, I realized, to get to Davy Ray. "You sonofabitch! You stupid old fucker!" the man hollered as the baseball bat rose and fell. He looked at us, his eyes wild. "Get out! You've drivin' him crazy!"
I grabbed Davy Ray's arm and pulled at him. He came with me, and we heard more bolts breaking loose behind us. The trailer started rocking like a demonic cradle; the triceratops, it seemed to me, was throwing a fit. We got down the steps, and saw Johnny standing upwind while Ben-a perfect picture of misery-was sitting on an upturned soft-drink case with his face buried in his hands.
"He was tryin' to get out," Davy Ray said as we watched the trailer shake, rattle, and roll. "Did you see thati"
"Yeah, I did. He went crazy."
"Bet he never had a candy bar before," he said. "Not in his whole life. He likes Zeros as much as I do, huhi Boy, I've got a whole boxful at home he'd like to get into, I'll bet!"
I wasn't sure the taste of a candy bar had done it, but I said, "I think you're right."
The trailer's rocking subsided. In a few minutes Mr. attitude came out. His clothes and face were splattered with gobbets of mud and dookey. Both Davy Ray and I started shaking trying to hold in our belly laughs. Mr. attitude drew the curtain, pulled a door shut, and locked it with a chain and padlock. Then he looked at us and exploded. "Get outta here, I said! Go on, before I-" He came at us, waving the nail-studded baseball bat, and we let our laughter go and ran.
The carnival was closing for the night, the midway's crowd dwindling, the rides shutting down and the freak-show barkers hanging up their superlatives. The lights began to go off, one by one.
We walked to where we'd left our bikes. The air had gotten frosty. Winter was on the march.
Ben, his load somewhat lightened, had returned to the land of the living and was chattering happily. Johnny didn't say much, but he did mention how neat the motorcycle riders were. I said I could build a haunted house that would scare the pickles out of people, if I had a mind to. Davy Ray, however, said nothing.
Until we got to our bikes. Then Davy Ray said, "I wouldn't like to live that way."
"What wayi" Ben asked.
"In that pen. You know. Like the thing from the lost world."
Ben shrugged. "ahhhhh, he's probably used to it by now."
"Bein' used to somethin'," Davy Ray answered, "is not the same as likin' it. Numb nuts."
"Hey, don't get mad at me!"
"I ain't mad at anybody." Davy Ray sat on his bike, his hands clenching the grips. "It's just... I sure would hate to live that way. Could hardly move. Sure couldn't see the sun. and every day would be just like the day before, even if you lived a million days. I can't stand the thought of that. Can you, Coryi"
"It would be pretty awful," I agreed.
"That man'll kill it real soon, the way he's beatin' it. Then he can go dump it on a garbage pile and be done with it." Davy Ray looked up at the sickle moon, his breath white. "Thing wasn't real, anyhow. That man was a low-down liar. It was a deformed rhinoceros, that's all it was. So, seei It was a gyp, like I told you." and he started pedaling away before I could argue with him.
That was our visit to the Brandywine Carnival.
Early Saturday morning, sometime around three, the civil defense siren atop the courthouse began yowling. Dad got dressed so fast he put his underwear on backward, and he took the pickup to go find out what was happening. I thought the Russians were bombing us, myself. When Dad returned near four o'clock, he told us what he'd learned.
One of the carnival's attractions had escaped. Broken right out of its trailer and left it in kindling. The man who owned it had been sleeping in another trailer. I later heard Dad tell Mom it was a trailer occupied by a red-haired woman who did strange things with light bulbs. anyway, this thing had gotten loose and rampaged down the midway like a Patton tank, tearing through tents like they were heaps of autumn leaves. This thing had evidently run right down Merchants Street and smashed into several stores, then had turned a number of parked cars into Mr. Sculley's fodder. Had to have done ten thousand dollars' worth of damage, Dad said Mayor Swope had told him. and they hadn't caught the thing yet. It had gotten into the woods and headed for the hills while everybody was still jumping into their boots. Except Mr. Wynn Gillie had seen it when it had crashed its head through the bedroom wall of his house, and Mr. Gillie and his wife were now being treated for shock at the hospital in Union Town.
The beast from the lost world was free, and the carnival left without him.
I let it wait until Sunday evening. Then I called the Callan house from Johnny's, and we used the telephone in the back room while his folks were watching TV. Davy Ray's little brother andy answered. I asked to speak to Mr. Callan.
"What can I do for you, Coryi" he asked.
"I was callin' for my dad," I told him. "We're gonna be takin' Rebel's pen down this week, and we were wonderin' if you might have... oh, a chain cutter we could usei"
"Well, you'll probably need wire cutters for that job. There's a difference."
"There's some chain needs to be cut, too," I said.
"Okay, then. No problem. I'll have Davy Ray bring it over tomorrow afternoon, if that'll suit you. You know, I bought that chain cutter a few years ago but I never use it. Down in the basement in a box somewhere."
"Davy Ray'll probably know where it is," I said.
Mr. attitude had slinked away, most likely because a seven-hundred-dollar loss was cheaper than a ten-thousand-dollar vacation in jail. Many mighty hunters went out on the trail of the beast from the lost world, but they returned with dookey on their boots and their egos busted.
I have a picture in my mind.
I see the park after the carnival has packed up and gone. It is clear again, except for a few scatters of sawdust, crushed Dixie cups, and ticket stubs the cleanup crew has left like a dog marking its territory.
But this year the wind blows Zero wrappers before it, and they make a sound like giggling as they pass.
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