Anything Goes Anthology. This contributors perspective.

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Anything Goes book
Late last fall, a submission call came up on the Facebook page for the, Fictions Writers Group. It was for an anthology asking authors to participate in something new, a collaborative project for short stories that all the writers would work on their tales with the help of the others in the group.
 This is the official mission statement of Anything Goes:
The goal of this workshop is to give the participants an opportunity to share honest, friendly feedback that can lead to a well-critiqued and edited anthology to be proud of. Remember – Your work may never be seen by the devoted readers, agents or publishers who are looking for good writers, if their attention is lost before they get to your story. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help each other have fun and create stories the readers can’t put down.
 Now that the book has been published, I believe it was a success.
 Renee’ LaViness was our point person, den mother, hand holder, and soother of frayed egos. She did a phenomenal job keeping the 21 writers from around the world on track and informed of what the next steps were.
 We were encouraged to share our stories as they progressed from raw notes, through first drafts, collaboratively edited and critiqued, to finished book. Each of us not only responsible for completing the story we were going to have included, but for assisting with the, seemingly never-ending, job of editing and fine tuning the work of the others. I learned so much in the eight months we worked on this anthology, it would have taken me years on my own to gain the knowledge all successful authors must master. Proper tense use, punctuation basics, story flow and so many other things that I really thought I knew. It was an honor to be included in the group, I hope everyone else was able to learn from me at least one small thing in repayment for the wealth of knowledge I got from them.
Thank you FWG for encouraging new independent writers. Without the support of the entire family of talented people in the group, I wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly as I have.
 I’ll be posting my thought process on how my inclusion, Natural State, grew from the seed of an idea, to the fruition of a finished story.
Wayne Hills (Miguel A. Rueda) July, 01, 2014.
Links to the anthology:

Juggling The Apocalypse

Comments encouraged

Juggling The Apocalypse

By, Wayne Hills

“Pelt ‘im Carl!”

“What the fuck you think I’m tryin’ to do Jeb?”

An empty beer can bounced off the clown’s forehead. The rhythmic sound of the juggling bowling pins didn’t miss a beat.

“Ha. Good’un Carl.  I thought for sure he’d drop ‘em that time.”

“He the best lil’ bro. Got nerves of steel, don’ he?”

Jeb chugged the remainder of his Natural Light and threw the can in the direction of Babboo.

At the peak of his career, Babboo was a featured performer under the big-top’s many spotlights. He brought joy to thousands, children young in life and adults young at heart. Three years after his death, he stood in a shed deep in the heart of a Florida swamp entertaining a pair of redneck brothers under the light of mosquito infested fluorescent tubes.

Jeb’s aluminum missile flew over Babboo’s head, through the open side of the shabbily constructed shed, and into the murky water. The can landed next to a dozen others near the tail of their captive alligator, Gator. Simply named, by the simple minded brothers.

Their hide-out, shaped like a very large lean-to, was constructed from mismatched pieces of wood stolen from nearby construction sites. It had three closed sides with a single window cut into the wall opposite the swamp. Power for the lights, bug zapper, and college-dorm size refrigerator, came from a small generator—also stolen—sitting just below the window. The brothers built the structure primarily to have a place to keep Gator. Antagonizing the chained reptile isn’t as fun as it used to be, now that they have the undead to toy with.

Nine months ago, two years after the first reports of the dead-refusing-to-stay-dead stories were being reported, Babboo was pulled from his grave, baggy costume, flappy shoes and all. He didn’t vacate his final resting place all on his own, none of the stubborn dead did. They weren’t out for blood or chasing the living through the streets. There were no mass killings, no large scale outbreaks of the reincarnated. They just stopped being dead.

The brothers were born less than a year apart. Their mother’s affinity for sex and partying brought about their existence and played an integral part in their lives until her disappearance. A mystery to everyone except the brothers. And Gator.

They grew up in the same small town on the edge of the Florida Everglades that the, Ryerson Family Circus, used as a winter home base. Their mother worked for the family, as did the men who were the boy’s fathers and the numerous uncles that momma brought back to their double-wide trailer. The frequent extended family visits forced the boys out into the wetlands to find their own entertainment. Being the predators in the woods was far more enjoyable than dealing with the predator in their home. When they were old enough, which meant out of diapers and strong enough to carry a bucket of swamp water, they worked for the family too. Putting up tents, setting up and repairing equipment, caring for—and abusing—the animals in the petting zoo. Any odd job that the circus’s performers were deemed too talented to do.

Carl was fifteen—and mightily stoned—when he saw Babboo die of a massive stroke while trying to juggle a record, tenth club.

On his eighteenth birthday, Carl decided to snatch himself a present.

“The tee-vee said they come back doin’ what they was when they died, right?” Carl said as he fed another pilfered chicken to Gator.

“Who come back doin’ what?” Jeb answered.

“The dead’uns. They wake up and wanna do whatever they was doing before.”

“I dunno. I guess.”
“Yeah lil’ bro, they does. Lissen, I heard about one that croaked while screwing one of them hoochie girls in the back of Clyde’s bar. Middle of the remembrance service, that dead’un git out of the box and try to hump the pastor. That some funny shit bro.”

“Carl, you think that means momma will come back?”

“Doubt it, dumb-ass. Unless you see Gator’s turds crawling back up out of the swamp, I think we’re good. Hell, even if she was still in one piece, she’d just wanna go shoot up some more. And then she probly just o-dee again. Why you gotta be so dumb all the time Jeb? Geez.”

“I’m not dumb Carl. Momma always said I was slow, but I ain’t dumb. And that’s not right anyway Carl. Shootin’ up didn’t kill her. We did. Last thing she was doing was yelling at me that I didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger.”

“Well then we got the last laugh dint’ we? You pulled the fuckin’ trigger and then I helped chop ‘er up and feed ‘er to Gator. Kind of felt bad for him. Never saw an alligator refuse a fresh kill before. Meat git too old and stanky sure, see that all the time. A fresh bloody meal? That was a first.”

“He did eat her though? You told me he ate her. Carl, don’t fuckin’ lie to me. She gone right?”

“Yup, lil’ bro. She gone and ain’t coming back. What’sa matter baby brother? You  miss her didlin’ your little Jeb-bone? You want momma to come sneakin’ into our room all coked up and wantin’ to play, jerk-the gerkin sumore?”

“No Carl. Fuck you, I din’t like it any more than you did. I wouldn’t of helped you git rid of her if I did.”

“Ha-ha, I’m messin’ with you lil’ bro. Jus’ playin’. C’mon, we got my birthday present to pick up. Git the Gator stick, it’s time to go.”

Jeb picked up the eight-foot long pole of hickory wood they used to prod Gator into a frenzy when things got too dull around the campsight. Gator had learned what the stick was for and had begun to bury himself in the deeper end of the small pond that ringed the area he was chained into. Around the alligators fore-legs, the boys had wrapped a thick chain and fastened the end to a thick stump ten feet out from the muddy shore. If the boys wanted to play they were forced to wade into the water to coax Gator out. He seemed to know this and forced the boys deeper out whenever the pole came within sight.

Snatching a body from a grave was surprisingly easy. In their area of, The Sunshine State, the water table is typically six inches above ground level through most of the year, Babboo was interred in a mausoleum. Because he was a one of the circus troupe’s biggest, and most popular draws, the tomb was adorned with all the symbols of a life in front of adoring fans. Oversized flowers, balloons, al fresco fireworks frozen in mid-burst adorned the structure in marble and granite.

The duo had no trouble prying open the steel doors.  Inside the small building were three vaults built into the walls. Encased behind glass around the cover on the wall opposite the door, were photos of Babboo’s life. Most of the pictures included the faces of mesmerized strangers smiling or laughing, watching him perform the various tricks of his trade. There was juggling—of course–making balloon animals, standing on one foot on top of a large red and white ball. Only two photos were of the man sans his public attire. Even those, in some way, depicted his connection to the life he lead. One was a black and white photograph taken from behind of him holding the hand of a young girl in a leotard. They were watching elephants pulling on ropes to raise the big-top’s huge tent. The other a more formal family portrait of him and his wife; she holding a swaddled baby in her arms. The couple were standing in front of a huge, Ryerson Family Circus, sign. Prominently displayed, the typical images expected in an advertisement for a traveling carnival, was a huge cartoon image of Babboo juggling nine clubs.
If asked, he would have told you that the job, this life, had chosen him. The big shoes, the colorful baggy clothing, even the red ball nose and grease paint makeup, all found him, and gave him joy. This is the way the men found him, dressed in the uniform of an entertainer.

Using the same crowbar that allowed them access to the mausoleum, they broke through the heavy cement cover and pulled out the casket. They were surprised to hear a steady, thump-thump-thump, rhythmic knocking coming from inside the dark cherry wood box.
Jeb jumped back and held the crow-bar above his head, ready to swing. “What the hell is that? He trying to git out?”
“Don’ be a dipshit lil’ bro. They don’ try to git out. Just hold the flashlight while open the box.”
Jeb took a step back and pointed the light as his brother instructed. “Well open ‘er up. Then we’ll see.”
Carl took the tool from Jeb and broke the locks on the cover and opened the coffin.

Jeb stepped forward and looked down to see, Babboo The Magnificent lying in his velvet lined box, juggling invisible pins.

“Well Jeb, I guess we gotta stop in town and steal this boy a couple of bowling pins.”

There was no public hysteria, although initially, there were concerns. Of course there were, humans had been conditioned for decades to expect a bloody zombie apocalypse. There were some people who were genuinely disappointed when the undead seemed to want nothing more than to do whatever they were doing just before they died. The reincarnated that were terminally ill before passing on, came back without doing much of anything. Their clouded grey eyes would open, and more times than not, they were found rocking slowly side-to-side. The dead that were buried, stayed buried. None of them were clawing at the inside lid of a coffin before death, so they had no reason to try to do so after. The people who passed away while active, they were the fun ones. Those were the ones certain redneck boys looked for.

Babboo’s greasepaint makeup had faded over time, and leading him into their pickup the boys had lost his red nose. They used epoxy to glue on a new bulb they made from a tennis ball, spray-painted it red along with the white and blue of the clown’s colorful face with Krylon. Carl said at the time, “not only won’t he fade, but the sum’ bitch won’t never rust either.”

Over the next several months Carl returned to the cemetery and brought back more on the helpless creatures. Unknown to either of the boys, Carl had snatched Jeb’s father from the section of the Ryerson graveyard used to inter the more ‘common’ members of the circus family. Of the dozen helpless creatures they used as their playthings, this was the only one that Gator actually snapped at when brought near the water. Carl was surprised to learn that the dead’uns could show fear.

None of them had the same flair for performing as Babboo did, so they boys used them for target practice and then forced them out into the swamp. They were left to wander searching for whatever they needed to find. None of them went far from the small pool cleared by Gator’s chain as he circled the area bordering the shore. On Jeb’s birthday, as they were walking the familiar path down to their shack, Carl announced he had brought his brother a gift

“Jeb, I gotcha a present. You’re gonna like this one.”

“Aw hell Carl. None of them are any fun. They’re not even any good to hunt; they don’t even try to get away. Most of them just lie down and roll around.”

“Not this one bro.  This chick is still hot for one of ‘em that’s been in a box almost seven years. She was a gymnast. She died in the ring, just like the clown.”

“So she’s gonna be doing backflips and shit? Won’t she just flip over into Gator?

“No man, I got it covered. You’ll see.”

Jeb got his first look at his ‘present’ as the two emerged from the dense foliage into the clearing by the shack. Strapped to a crude trapeze, Carl had suspended a young resurrect from a branch. The cross bar was fashioned with a three foot length of electrical conduit. The thick steel pipe was tied on the ends to ropes that ran through pulleys, and then tied to the wall by the window.

“Wow, thanks man.” Jeb said.

“No problem. She’ll just keep swinging on her own once you git ‘er going. Watch this.”

Carl picked up the long pole they normally used to prod Gator out of the deeper end of the small lagoon that bordered the front of their shed. He pushed her as far as he could and pulled the stick back. As she swung forward, she began to swing her arms forward to use the momentum to keep herself swinging. Back and forth she swung in time with the swinging of the trapeze. A gap-toothed smile appeared on Jeb’s grimy face.

On the third forward swing, she tried to rock herself up into a sitting position but fell back down stopping her rocking. Jeb’s smile fell.

“What the hell Carl? You said she’d keep going.”

“No sweat Jeb. Here you try it.” He handed the Jeb the eight foot long pole. “Every couple times, she tried to sit up. That’s why I used duct tape to hold her on there. Hell first time I tried it she flipped right off and landed on her feet. Hell if I know how she did that. The tape seems to keep her in place. She’ll get the hang of it. Go on, Give her a poke.”

As the night wore on, and thunder rumbled in the background as is common in the heat of summer in this part of the country, Jeb pushed her to keep her swinging, as Carl used a sling-shot to shoot crab-apples at her breasts.

The motion brought back memories of her previous life. And with that memory, the fall that ended her life came back. She struggled and twisted as Jeb laughed as he pushed her harder and higher. Babboo squinted at the swinging girl and seemed to become agitated as he juggled. Neither of the drunken men heard the groans emanating from the abused clown.

Carl grew tired of the moving target practice. “Jeb, I’ve got an idea. Go stand by the ropes.”

Carl placed the long wood stick against the wall as he began to undo the rope.

Moving a small table to the center of the room, Jeb had Carl lower her onto it.

“Stop there Carl.” He said as her back lay flat on the surface. “We need he knees up for our next bit of fun. I’ve always wanted bang a gymnast.”

“She’s an acrobat. Gymnast is different. And she’s dead man.” Carl said.

“Either way Carl, that’s a tight body. And she’s un-dead. She’s got some warmth to her. I’m not a complete sicko.” He pushed the pipe back with his left hand as he began undoing his belt with his right.

With the girl on the table close enough to Babboo for him to recognize her. His memory, and recognition, came to his rotting brain.

Babboo the Magnificent, was born Seymour Edelson in Brooklynn New York. When he was just ten years old, he ran away and found a home traveling with the Ryerson Circus. At first he did odd jobs to help earn his keep. He met, Sylvia Vallonda, the eldest daughter the acrobatic family that worked the high-wire. They married on her eighteenth birthday and had one daughter, Lisianthus. They called her Lizzy. As she grew, she joined her mother and awed the crowds from above while Babboo made the crowd’s laugh from below. That’s where Babboo was, juggling his clubs during an afternoon matinee. Just another in hundreds of shows for small towns across the south in the heat of summer. When pocket thunderstorms could erupt at any moment, causing heavy rain and hard wind to pop up with only a moment’s notice. Weather that strained the temporary tents built for a weekend of performances. With that strain, any imperfections in the apparatus set up for the acts that depended on the integrity of the structure were tested. On this stormy afternoon, one of them would fail.

Thunder cracked outside the small shed as Carl’s grimy jeans hit the dirt floor.

“Oh shit Carl.” Jeb said. “He dropped a pin.”

“So what Jeb? Can’t you see I’m about to get busy.”

“No man. Carl, he’s looking at you. I mean like he actually sees you.”

Carl turned to look. Although Babboo’s body was still turned away from the table, he had turned his head to face the table. He continued to juggle the two remaining clubs.

“Hey, maybe the old man still got some horny left in him.” Carl turned his attention back to the acrobat. “Maybe when we’re done, we’ll give him a shot at her.”

Pushing the metal rod strapped to her knees back and up, he reached for the strapped girl’s panties.

“Carl! Fuck!” Jeb’s warning was too late.

With a slow grace that surprised Jeb, he watched as Babboo effortlessly turned, caught a pin on its downward arc, and throw it at Carl’s head.

Jeb heard his brother’s skull crack.

Without thought, Jeb grabbed the pole used to prod Gator and charged at Babboo like a Knight is some nightmarish joust. Catching the clown in the chest, Jeb began pushing him back towards Gator.

“Carl, Carl, you okay?” Jeb screamed at his brother who now lay on the dirt floor. Blood seeping from the fissure opened in his head by the impact of the bowling pin.

The captive alligator, sensing that something new was happening, crawled up onto the bank towards the shed. Towards the retreating clown being forced back by Jeb.

“That’s right Gator, come help save your daddy. Carl needs you, c’mon boy.”

Babboo swung the remaining club at Jeb who managed to keep just out of reach as he pushed the clown back towards the swamp and hissing alligator.

Babboo reached the edge of the water, inches from Gator’s maw. Gator ignored the leg that was now within easy reach, he continued to hiss at the advancing Jeb.

“Get ‘em Gator. Bite his leg.”

Gator ignored his tormentor’s command and continued advancing up the bank, past Babboo until the chains around his body grew taught.

“Shit! Fuck Gator. You’re dead too. Soon as I kill this fucking zombie.” Reaching for the first bowling pin Babboo had dropped, Jeb slipped in the mossy soil and released enough pressure for Babboo to step forward. The changed angle of the stick and shift in weight pulled Babboo’s swinging pin low enough to knock the pole away from his chest.

Dropping the pole, Jeb turned to run but was grabbed by the clown as he stumbled forward.

Babboo’s hands, strengthened by years of juggling heavy clubs, tore into Jeb’s collar bones. The dense, jungle-like, environment muffled Jeb’s screams as Babboo effortlessly lifted him from the ground and threw him back into the swamp. Into the murky water behind Gator.

The open mouth followed the trajectory of the flying boy. As Jeb’s body hit the water, Gator’s mouth hit his target. Right between the knees.

Babboo turned back to the table. Carl lay on the ground moaning softly. The girl rocked slowly on the table, trying to swing again. Her mind trying to recreate the moment right before her death.

A size 22 shoe smashed Carl’s skull. A spray of blood splattered across the white, blue, and yellow silk of Babboo’s costume, a thumb-sized chunk landed on his upper lip. Bits of grey meat, streaked with red and black oozed from the fractured skull. A thick red drop slipped between Babboo’s lips, his tongue felt wet for the first time since his death. The feeling stunned Babboo. For the first time since all feeling had stopped, Babboo experienced the sense of taste. Buried deep inside a primordial part of his decaying ID, something awakened. A yearning for more overwhelmed him. He no longer wanted to just be. To repeat the actions his mind remembered before death. He needed something more. Bending over, strands of his curly wig fell into the puddle of growing blood. He picked up a chunk of Carl’s exposed brain in his mud stained glove and placed it on his lips. His eyes, grey and sunken, began to moisten and clear.  The warm meat filled him with a fluid electricity that flowed down and through his chest. The feeling reminded of the first cold glass of milk he’d have as a boy. He’d imagine that cold feeling running through his veins filling him with jolt of power like the super-heroes he’d read about in comic books. The feeling made him happy. Deliriously happy. He wanted to fill his mouth with it, to smear it over his face and drink in the thick liquid but his jaw wouldn’t open. Babboo jammed his fingers into his mouth. His fingernails had grown long and sharp over months juggling in the swamp. He used the razors to slice through the sutures used to sew his mouth shut when he was embalmed. His lips, spray painted white by the brothers, were now shredded and crimson,  streaked with Carl’s blood.

Babboo fell to his knees and began to devour every bit of Carl. When there was no more easily picked from the ground, he ripped the skull apart with the same force that tore his own flesh just moments before.

His vision cleared. His lungs began to fill with air with short, ratcheting, breaths at first. Eventually he took a deep satisfying breath and looked around. Fully seeing the hell he had been held for, forever it seemed. He had no memory of what came before. Until he saw the table, and the writhing girl tied to a pipe. He recognized her, scraped the few remaining scraps of gore from the shattered remnants of Carl’s head, and stood.

Behind him, in the marsh, Gator spun and ripped Jeb apart. Devouring the younger brother in much the same way Babboo had Carl. The difference was that Gator remembered everything. He wasn’t eating Jeb to satisfy his appetite, the boys kept their pet  Gator well fed. Most of Gator’s mind was now inhabited by a the memories of a junkie whose body was no more, but her mind now controlled an alligator whose memories were no longer reptilian. Momma was in control.

Babboo loved to entertain the children most of all. He had a rough childhood up until he found the Ryerson’s performing in Central Park all those years before. It was the clowns that seemed to love him. To show him affection that he never got from anyone else. It’s why he hid in the trailer while they were packing up to leave for a show in Trenton NJ. That trailer is where he was found by the father of the Amazing Vallondas clan. He took the young boy in and gave him a loving home. He grew up with, and fell in love with their daughter. They young couple had a girl of their own. Who grew to join the acrobatic family and who five years earlier, was performing an afternoon matinee on a typical Florida summer afternoon. Another performance in the big-top using apparatus set up by a pair of drunken brothers. A strong gust of wind rattled the tent, jarring the ill-fitted bracing loose dropping the young girl to the hard dirt floor. Dropping her at the feet of a clown attempting to juggle ten pins. He father held her as she died, just as his own heart broke and died with her.

Inhaling a long full breath, he let out a scream, a low guttural call that echoed through the murk of the jungle, a sound that cut through the thick leaves and reached the long plugged ears of his brethren. The girl on the table stopped rocking and turned her clouded eyes to him.
He saw her looking at him. The feeling was no longer faint, he knew who she was. Reaching down, he scraped brains from the open shell of Carl’s skull and walked to her. He looked into her face, reached down and smeared the bloody remains onto her lips. Using his right hand, he gently cut her lips apart with the fingernail of his index finger as he pushed the slimy gore into her mouth. He did this gruesome task with care. Careful to not treat her her skin the easy he had his own. As her mouth opened, and she tasted the energizing meat, her mind cleared, her eyes softened and her lungs filled. She too felt the joy of her past life. She remembered being happy, joyful with her circus family. She too wanted the feeling to never end. Babboo removed her restraints, his fingernails easily slicing through the worn duct-tape used to bind her to the make-shift trapeze. He helped he up and she embraced him. Together they screamed. Their voices filled the night air with a call to others to join them.

Around the clearing, the dead that had been released into the swamp by the brothers began to come to Babboo’s call. No longer were the simply standing in the mire, growing moss and becoming part of the dreary landscape unable to fulfill their desire to return to their last life’s memory. Suddenly they had a purpose, a desire to follow the sound that woke them from their eternal slumber.

Babboo watched them coming towards him and knew what he had to do. Releasing his embrace, he walked into the swamp, to Gator. The creature had stopped mailing the younger brother and eyed the approaching clown. Gator’s death-spin had entangled him in the chains. Left on his own, Gator was hopelessly entwined in the heavy chain and would die within a week if left alone. As if Gator understood Babboo’s intentions, he allowed the bloody clown to lift his from the water remove the restraints. Gator was now free. Just as the taste of a living man had freed the clown of the chains of death.

Babboo surveyed the various chunks of Jeb that remained floating in the pool. Not seeing what he needed he felt around in the dark mud until he found Jeb’s head. He carried his treasure back to the table, stopping only to pick up the bowling pin that had stopped Carl’s attack.

Placing the head sideways on the table, Jeb’s open eyes stared out towards the swamp he and his brother had commited their many atrocities for the last time intact where they had been since his birth, Babboo raised the club and smashed open the skull. The force of the impact popped Jeb’s eyes from their sockets and they hung by the stringy optic nerves, swinging like gory pendulums.

Using his sharpened fingers, Babboo pulled bits of meat from the opening and turned towards the dead that had now gathered around him in a circle. Babboo was once again, the center of attention.

One by one he walked to each of those surrounding him, gently cut open their lips and fed them Jeb’s brain. Each  one, just as he had, experienced a joyous memory from their lives. The strongest memory thy had of the happiest they had ever felt. And each one also never wanted that feeling to end. All of them understood that there was only one way to continue to reimagine that emotion. They needed to feed. They need the fresh meat of a living brain.

So Babboo once could bring joy to others. Happiness and wonder to those around him. As they left from the woods, Babboo juggling his blood-smeared pins, his  daughter Lizzy somersaulting and jumping beside him, Babboo had a purpose again. He knew how to bring joy to the people again, and he knew exactly how to do it.

—End—

Facebook.com/AuthorWaynehills

Waynehillsauthor.worpress.com

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Babboo The Magnificent. Part 2 draft in progress

Part 2 of my work in  progress: Comments not only welcome, but eagerly awaited.

Carl was fifteen when he saw Babboo die of a massive stroke while trying to juggle a record, tenth club. Less than a year later, the dead started waking up.

On his eighteenth birthday, Carl decided to snatch himself a present.

“The tee-vee said they come back doin’ what they was when they died right?” Carl said as he fed another pilfered chicken to Gator.

“I dunno. I guess.”
“Yeah bro, they do. I heard about one that croaked while screwing one of them hoochie girls in the back of Clyde’s bar. Middle of the remembrance service he git out of the box and try to hump the pastor. That’s some funny shit bro.”

“Carl, you think that means momma will come back?”

“Doubt it, dumb-ass. Unless you see Gator’s turds crawling back up out of the swamp, I think we’re good. Hell, even if she was still in one piece, she’d just wanna go shoot up some more. And then she’d probly o-dee again. Why you gotta be so dumb all the time Jeb, geez.”

“I’m not dumb Carl. Momma always said I was slow, but not dumb. And that’s not right anyway Carl. Shootin’ up didn’t kill her. We did. Last thing she was doing was yelling at you that you didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger.”

“Well then I got the last laugh dint’ I? I pulled the fuckin’ trigger and then you helped me chop ‘er up and feed ‘er to Gator. Kind of felt bad for him. Never saw an alligator refuse a fresh kill before. Meat git too old and stanky sure, see that all the time. A fresh bloody meal? That was a first.”

“He did eat her though? You told me he ate her. Carl, don’t fuckin’ lie to me. She gone right?”

“Yup, lil’ bro. She gone and ain’t coming back. What’sa matter? You  miss her didlin’ little Jeb-bone? You want momma to come sneakin’ into our room all coked up and wantin’ to play pull jerk-the gerkin sumore?”

“No Carl. Fuck you, I didn’t like it any more than you did. I wouldn’t of helped you git rid of her if I did.”

“Ha, I’m just messin’ with you Jeb, just palyin’. C’mon, we got my birthday present to pick up. Git the Gator stick, it’s time to go.”

Snatching a body from a grave was surprisingly easy; in their area of, The Sunshine State, the water table is typically six inches above ground level through most of the year, Babboo was interred in a mausoleum. Because he was a one of the circus troupe’s biggest, and most popular draws, the tomb was adorned with all the symbols of a life in front of adoring fans. Oversized flowers, balloons, al fresco fireworks frozen in mid-burst adorned the structure in marble and granite.

The duo had no trouble prying open the steel doors.  Inside the small building were three vaults built into the walls. Encased behind glass around the cover on the wall opposite the door, were photos of Babboo’s life. Most of the pictures included the faces of mesmerized strangers smiling or laughing, watching him perform the various tricks of his trade. There was juggling—of course–making balloon animals, standing on one foot on top of a large red and white ball. Only two photos were of the man sans his public attire. Even those, in some way, depicted his connection to the life he lead. One was a black and white photograph taken from behind of him holding the hand of a young girl in a leotard. They were watching elephants pulling on ropes to raise the big-top’s huge tent. The other a more formal family portrait of him and his wife; she holding a swaddled baby in her arms. The couple were standing in front of a huge, Ryerson Family Circus, sign. Prominently displayed, the typical images expected in an advertisement for a traveling carnival, was a huge cartoon image of Babboo juggling nine clubs.
If asked, he would have told you that the job, this life, had chosen him. The big shoes, the colorful baggy clothing, even the red ball nose and grease paint makeup, all found him, and gave him joy. This is the way the men found him, dressed in the uniform of an entertainer.

Using the same crowbar that allowed them access to the mausoleum, they broke through the heavy cement cover and pulled out the casket. They were surprised to hear a steady, thump-thump-thump, rhythmic knocking coming from inside the dark cherry wood box.
Jeb jumped back and held the crow-bar above his head, ready to swing. “What the hell is that? He trying to git out?”
“Don’ be a dipshit lil’ bro. They don’ try to git out. Just hold the flashlight while open the box.”
Jeb took a step back and pointed the light as his brother instructed. “Well open ‘er up. Then we’ll see.”
Carl took the tool from Jeb and broke the locks on the cover and opened the coffin.

“Well Jeb, I guess we gotta stop in town and steal this boy a couple of bowling pins.”

Jeb stepped forward and looked down to see, Babboo The Magnificent lying in his velvet lined box, juggling invisible pins.

Babboo The Magnificent

—Working draft of a zombie clown story. Several possible submission options, but I have to finish it first. Thoughts, comments, rants… All are welcome.—

Babboo The Magnificent

By, Wayne Hills

“Pelt ‘im Carl!”

“What the fuck you think I’m doin’ Jeb?”

An empty beer can bounced off the clown’s forehead. The rhythmic sound of the juggling bowling pins didn’t miss a beat.

“Ha, good one, Carl.  I thought for sure he’d drop ‘em that time.”

“He the best lil bro, he got nerves a steel don’ he?”

Jeb chugged the remainder of his Schlitz and threw the can in the direction of Babboo. At the peak of his career, Babboo was a featured performer under the big-top’s many spotlights. He brought joy to thousands: children young in life and adults young at heart. Now, five years after his death, he stands in a shed deep in the heart of a Florida swamp, entertaining a pair of redneck brothers under a pair of mosquito infested fluorescent tubes.

Jeb’s aluminum missile flew over Babboo’s head, through the open side of the shabbily constructed shed, and into the murky water. The can landed next to a dozen others near the tail of their captive alligator. Simply named by the simple minded, Gator.

Shaped like a very large lean-to, their playhouse was constructed from mismatched pieces of wood stolen from nearby construction sites. It has three closed sides with a single crudely cut window in the wall opposite the swamp. Power for the lights, bug zapper, and small college-dorm size refrigerator, came from a small generator—also stolen—sitting just below the window. The brothers built the structure primarily to have a place to keep Gator. Antagonizing the chained reptile isn’t as fun as it used to be, now that they have the undead to toy with.

Six months ago, two years after the first reports of the dead-refusing-to-stay-dead stories were being reported, Babboo was pulled from his grave, baggy costume, flappy shoes and all. He didn’t vacate his final resting place all on his own, none of the stubborn dead did. Most of the reincarnated were discovered sitting up. They weren’t out for blood or chasing people in the street. There was no public hysteria or mass killings. They just stopped being dead.

Initially there were concerns, of course there were. Humans had been conditioned for decades to expect some sort of bloody zombie apocalypse. Some people were genuinely disappointed when the undead seemed to want nothing more than to do whatever they were doing just before they died. Those that were terminally ill before passing on came back without doing much of anything. Their clouded grey eyes would open, and more times than not, they were found rocking slowly side-to-side. The dead that were buried, stay buried. None of them were clawing at the inside lid of a coffin before death, so they had no reason to try to do so after. The people who passed away while active, they were the fun ones. Those were the ones certain redneck boys looked for.

The boys grew up in the same small Florida panhandle town, the Ryerson Family Circus, used as their winter home. Their mother worked for the family, as did the boy’s fathers and numerous ‘uncles’ their mom brought back to their double-wide trailer forcing them out into the swamp to find their own entertainment. When they old enough, which meant out of diapers and strong enough to carry a bucket of swamp water, they worked for the family too. Putting up tents, repairing equipment, caring for–and abusing–the animals in the petting zoo. Any odd job that the performers were deemed too talented to do. The menial work necessary to keep the circus going and on the road during the season.

——–

Comments welcome.

 

NYC Midnight Short Story challenge. Round 1-Group 12 1st Place story.

12_Riding the Odds

Quod, a troll working in the dangerous world of professional dragon riding, takes a deadly chance to be with the human he loves.

 

“Keep moving troll. Too close to human entrance.” The ogre’s voice made the ground vibrate beneath Quod’s feet. He eyed the giant.

“Eegah, there’s no one else here. Drop the act. We still have a deal, don’t we?”

The ogre, four times Quod’s height, leaned close.

“We do not troll. Bargain is with human. No care for your kind. Move along.”

Riding the top bull-dragon on the professional circuit was enough of a life risk; Quod didn’t need to add any more danger to his day by arguing with the dim-witted guard. He turned away from Eegah and entered the paddock under the, ‘Mythics Only’ sign.

Quod walked the stables, looking for the human Wyrm-master that held his fate, and his heart, in her tiny hands. He found Tina near Rivergard’s stall. No rider had completed the full three sequoids on the country’s number one rated dragon and lived to collect the purse, which was determined by complex mathematical formulas that set the fluctuating betting lines. The bright red dragon’s muscles–nurtured on the flesh of the fallen–rippled under his thick scales. As was the custom of the dome, he feasted on the blood of his kills. Trolls were expendable, but a top dragon was better than gold.

“Tina!” Quod called her away from the stall. Rider superstition prevented him from daring to get close. Allowing a dragon to become familiar with your scent was considered bad luck. They would need all the help they could get.

She rushed to him, scanning the area to make sure they were alone, and hugged him tightly. Her small stature allowed the lovers to stand eye level with each other.

“Quod, are you sure about this? You could be killed.”

“I hope so. That’s a key part of the plan. You just have to take care of me afterwards.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

Quod pursed his thick blue lips. “The Witch of the Wood’s instructions were very precise. As long as we do the math properly, I’ll be okay.” Even as he spoke, he wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince himself or Tina.

They needed to escape this life–both slaves to the game–if winning a fortune betting on his own demise would set them free, he had to try.

Tina reached into the front pocket of her overalls, producing a small black vial and two pocket watches. She handed the vial to him, the voice of the old crone ran in her mind.

Sixty pro through sixty post,

The time to steal life from death,

Fate suspended through love’s boast.

“Quod, remember her directions. You have to drink this at exactly the right time.”

“I’ll figure it out. Be ready for me. I won’t be able to help you.”

His part of the plan would be easy. Simple arithmetic, drink some poison, ride a fire breathing dragon, then die. What could be simpler? Tina had the hard part; place the bet that will give them the money they need to flee and then bring him back to life. No matter the outcome, she’d still be alive.

If their plan was discovered, he’d be executed and fed to the ogres, tainted and unfit for the champions of the dome. She was human, and even though she was looked down upon by her own kind–-ridiculed as a midget, or ‘dwarf’–she was still one of them. At worst, she would be banned from working as a dragon keeper. But she’d be forgiven. People would assume the troll had used an evil spell to lure her into an inter-species, relationship. Why else would a woman, even a malformed one, wish to mix with a sub-human?

“Quod, you ride last tonight. Please be careful.”

“Tina, you know I can’t be. I have to die, remember? Just hold off on the bet. It has to be placed at the last second. The odds have to be long, or it won’t be worth it. I have to make them believe I will survive the ride.”

Quod had explained it all before. The odds-makers use easily measurable factors: the speed of the flight, the height off the blood spattered dirt of the arena floor, the weights of the rider and dragon; they factor in variables of skill and experience of the pair intimately linked in a ballet of life and death, to set the fluctuating betting lines.

“I’ll make sure Rivergard and I play our part.” Said Quod

She handed one of the pocket watches to Quod. “We have to start these together, as the witch said.”

Two as one, set the hands,

Tick for tock must be done.

They embraced again, one long last kiss before Quod walked to his death.

 

The evening’s first rider, Fungl, didn’t live to see the end of the first sequoid, known as The Bucking. One foot slipped from the stirrups, allowing the flying beast full control of the flight. It was a deadly mistake. A simple full-body shiver, like a Minotaur shaking water from its back, toppled the rider. The dragon sliced the falling troll in half with his razor-sharp tail. Less than halfway through the sixty-second run, the rider’s career, and life, were through.

The second, a troll named Truot, died during the Trigon phase.

From Quod’s vantage point, a quarter of the way up the thousand-foot-high dome, he watched the event’s penultimate ride. As Truot’s run progressed, Quod thought about the watching odds-makers, and how their decisions would affect Tina’s timing for the wager on his life.

Thirty seconds in, trumpets signaled the next phase, The Rising. Quod watched as Truot drew back on the dragon’s reins, while pushing forward on the stirrups strapped around its hind ankles. Pulling the animal into itself forced it to flap wildly in order to retain flight. Quod knew the speed of the climb would determine who was in control, the rider or the dragon. Odds changed, money was won and lost. With fifteen seconds left in the match, a final horn marked the time for capture of the Trigon.

Reaching the top of the dome, Truot released the pressure holding the flying serpent in check. The result was the most spectacular moment of the event. It was also the precursor to the most dangerous sequiod, The Plummet. Regrettably, Truot wouldn’t live to see its end.

Freed from the restraints on his body, the dragon arched his back, spread his wings and spewed a geyser of fire. The heat of the flame below his open wings caused the great beast to hover high above the hard earth, near the silver triangle of the Trigon, which was suspended at the pinnacle of the dome. As the mesmerized audience watched, Truot reached up to snatch the dangling icon. And missed.

Quod knew what was happening high above the breathless crowd. He watched helplessly as the dragon felt the sudden shift in the rider’s weight, spun, and dove. Truot was too high on the dragon’s back when The Plummet began. In his match, Quod knew this would be the moment Tina would be waiting for: the final betting line would be set, for or against, the rider’s survival.

Truot’s odds fell as the men setting the betting line dropped the chances of Truot surviving into the negative. In their eyes, his fate was already decided. They were usually right.

During The Plummet, riders normally leaned forward out of the airflow until below the height of the bucking chute. If they waited too long to pull out of the dive, the dragon will flip over onto its back and slam the rider into the earth. Truot never had that chance.

The scaled beast folded his, bat-like wings flat as he turned and easily shook his passenger. As they fell, the dragon flew circles around the arena, disgorging flames at Truot, roasting him alive. The troll hit the ground accompanied by cheers from the bloodthirsty crowd.

When the elven medic held a red flag over Truot’s blackened corpse, a mixture of cheers and groans sprang from the crowd.

 

Quod watched the traditional team of six unicorns parade Rivergard around the arena. Then pegasus-riding humans guided the great dragon into the chute as tufts of smoke and yellow-orange flames licked from his horned snout. Quod studied the giant screens that showed the current odds on his death.

A fanfare sounded One minute until the gate would open, beginning Quod’s first sequoid.He pulled the pocketwatch and vial from his breast pocket.

Sixty pro through sixty post…

Two as one, set the hands.

He drank the foul contents and pushed the small button on the side of the watch. Somewhere down in the betting pit, Tina had also started the countdown to his death.

Quod settled onto Rivergard’s hard scales, secured his stubby feet into the stirrups, and wrapped the reins around his right fist. His left hand would be free, as required by the sport’s rules, in order to grab the Trigon. Quod had to put on a good show to keep the odds low until The Plummet. Timing, and danger were intertwined. The betting line for his death had to be high. He had to put on the show of a lifetime, even if his life was in the balance.

The massive wrought iron gate opened releasing Rivergard from the pen. A ball of fire erupted from the horned demon’s maw as he leapt into flight. Holding tight to the reins, Quod forced the dragon down, circling low around the ring. Allowing the animal the freedom to kick his feet, while steering his head, made for a good show. It also demonstrated that the rider controlled the flight. In the open bleachers, at the lowest level of the arena, the sub-humans screamed their wagers in a dozen indecipherable tongues. Humans watched from their comfortable box seats, enclosed to protect them from the dragon’s flames or wayward disembodied troll parts.

The second sequoid began. Quod maneuvered the beast into position in the center of the ring, pulled back on its head, and pushed forward on the stirrups. The duo rose as great leather wings pushed them upward. Tina watched the boards and saw that his survival odds had increased. Demonstrating control over the flight showed he had a better chance of living to ride another day. Quod’s every move had to convey his power over the dragon in preparation for the final drop.

The start of the third sequiod marked the last 15 seconds of Quod’s life. He had to play this final act perfectly. Sitting upright, he released the reins and reached up with both hands for the Trigon. Rivergard, feeling the pressure of the stirrups slacken, stretched to his full size and let out a blast of flame that made the crowd gasp in fear. With both hands, Quod grabbed the prizeand released it from the clasp holding it in place.

Tina watched, along with the screaming throng, as Quod snatched the flailing reins from mid-air while Rivergard tucked his massive head and dove. All those around her were yelling in unison, chanting Quod’s name. He was more than just another rider, he was a God.

As Rivergard tucked in his wings and fell, the book-makers changed the betting line one last time. Fifty to one. No rider had ever had odds this high placed on his demise. They were virtually certain he would safely land the fire-breathing behemoth.

Tina grabbed the arm of a nearby leprechaun bet-taker and placed her wager. Although he couldn’t believe the amount of human money she was betting, he accepted the cash.

Knowing his final chance at controlling the dragon was near, Quod gently pushed on the right stirrup; the diving beast rolled as Quod blacked out.

Rivergard skimmed the arena floor. Quod dropped free of the dragon’s back and rolled along the ground. The crowd fell silent.

Tina held her breath as the ogre guards waddled out to pick up the fallen troll. The pegasus team corralled Rivergard through the exit chute as the elven medics checked on Quod.

As the red flag rose on the arena floor, Tina burst into tears. She ripped the winning marker from the hand of the confused leprechaun, and rushed back to the stables.

As Wyrm-master, one of her duties was to strip the food for victorious dragons. She would be the one in charge of feeding Quod to Rivergard. She paced near the arena gate, glancing apprehensively at time ticking across the face of the witch’s watch. Eegah carried Quod’s limp body into the stable and dropped it at her feet.

“I think him really dead.” Eegah held out his fat hand.

“That will be all, ogre. I’ll take care of him. And thank you.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

“No thank. Just pay.”

The sack of coins seemed tiny in his palm. He turned and lumbered back into the arena, leaving Tina with her lifeless love.

Without bothering to ensure they were alone, she pulled the watch from his pocket.

Tick for tock must be done.

The watch was smashed; the hands bent and immobile.

Tina leaned back, remembering the final instructions the Dark Witch had given them.

     Six times fifty, the time from death.

No greater, no lesser,

Else the spell be for naught.

She studied the ancient timepieces the woman in the woods had given them; they were no longer in sync. Tina alone knew the price of their freedom. Her very soul. Quod could never know she gave her eternal life for their mortal time together.

Her working second hand ticked the minutes by. Each tiny mark seemed to take too long to pass. No longer able to determine the exact timing, at the four-minute mark by her watch, she leaned to his lips. Blackened, bloody, lifeless. She caressed his scarred and muddy face. Other humans saw him as a hideous troll, a sub-human mythical animal. To Tina, he was the most handsome man in the world.

With 15 seconds left to the five-minute mark, she closed her eyes and kissed him. The sorceress didn’t say how long the kiss should be, Tina hoped–-prayed to all the Gods of good and evil–that she would hit that magic moment of Six by sixty.

She leaned back, holding tight to his callused hand, and prayed again.

Slowly, his dark green color began to return. His chest rose. Gently at first, but as her tears fell onto his cheeks, the rhythm became stronger.

Quod’s eyelids opened. His beautiful yellow eyes began to glow.

“Quod? Are you…” Her voice choked in her throat as the words caught.

“Tina, my love.” He squeezed her hand. “We’re free.”

-End-

 

5_The Leprechaun’s Secret. NYC Midnight round 2. Group 5.

My entry for the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story challenge. I was given these parameters:

Heat 5 – Fantasy / Dancing / A repossessor.

Feel free to comment.

 

Synopsis: Eamon is a down-on-his-luck leprechaun working as a repossessor for the Great and Powerful Oz. At the risk of his own life, he must find a way to help the oppressed citizens of the Enchanted Forest.

 

“You leprechauny bastard, gimme back my shoes.”

With no choice but to comply, or be stomped into a puddle of green mush, Eamon returned the golden slippers to the dwarf.

“Aye lad,” Eamon said as he put them down. “Pay the Wizard his due or I’ll be coming again.”

As he turned to disappear into the cabin’s shadows, away from the flickering orange glow of the fire, he said with a warning, “And tell that pretty lassie you and your half-human brothers perform with, they’re all late too. Pay up or go back to working the mines.”

Eamon returned to the castle to report his failure, even though the Wizard would already know. He was always watching in a crystal ball, magic mirror, or whatever evil thing he had inherited when the Wicked Witch had died.

At first, the citizens of the Enchanted Forest had been over-joyed that she was gone. Eamon himself had sung many a verse, ending with the joyful refrain,

“The witch is dead. Which old Witch? The wicked witch.”

Unfortunately, the Enchanted Forest’s current siege was far worse than anything the late “Wicked” Witch had ever imposed.

***

Eamon had spent most of his pot of gold on rum to celebrate the Enchanted Forest’s freedom. What he didn’t drink away he’d spent betting on bull-dragon riding. He lost a bundle on a troll named Quod, but that’s a story for another day.

Because of the siege, Eamon was reduced to using his talent for stealth, and overall orneriness, in the employ of the Wizard, the great Oz. Eamon had become the Wizard’s most trusted bagman and repossessor, collecting fees and taking back magical objects that the enchanted kingdom’s inhabitants could no longer afford.

The first job was easy, Eamon snatched two pure white stallions from the Cinder girl after they were transformed back into mice. Although they weren’t all bad. There was a joyful ending when the town of Hamelin’s children suddenly returned after he repossessed a silver flute from their piper. But happy results were very uncommon, rarer than a munchkin getting up on a horse without a ladder.

As the years passed, and the jobs became more personal, he felt his soul slipping away. His tasks grew progressively harder and his skin thickened as his empathy for those he collected from grew. He took the last few coins from people and creatures trying to hold onto their dreams and if they couldn’t pay, he’d take the dreams.

Eamon blamed himself for his predicament. If he didn’t drink and gamble away his gold, he wouldn’t be forced into a life of servitude to the Wizard. Eamon didn’t have any friends or anywhere else to go, but at least at the castle, he was warm, dry, and well fed. And to a lonesome leprechaun who spent his days reclaiming the hopes of the desperate, there’s nothing that could beat passing the evening away in the company of an equally lonely sorcerer with an unlimited supply of booze, and the resolve to try to drink it all in one sitting. Eamon was sad, but content.

***

He was comfortable in his misery until the morning he was sent by the Wizard to collect the shoes of a family of dwarves.

Their entire lives the seven brothers had spent their days working in the mines. They were happy to sing their song as hi-ho, off-to-work they’d go. Until the day they rescued a young maiden whose skin was rumored to be white as snow.

She told them that they didn’t have to risk their lives underground; they could dance joyously in the sunshine and make their living as a traveling company.

The brothers were not convinced.

Possessing bodies that, at best, could be described as the short, fat, and heavy-of-foot variety, they were easily discouraged.

The Wizard heard of her plan and offered to help. For the “low monthly payment” of twenty pieces of silver, they could wear slippers, made of rare feather-gold, which would make their movements swift and graceful. The maiden convinced the dwarves to sell their tools as a down payment and accept the offer. She didn’t know that by taking his deal, she doomed them to a harsher life than any they’d had in the earth’s dark recesses.

Satisfied customers weren’t what the Wizard wanted. Desperate junkies for more magic were what kept him in power. All of his deals had side-effects. Whatever the ability acquired, it always cost more than was bargained for.

In the case of the dwarves, as long as they wore the slippers, they would lose weight. They were slowly dancing themselves to death unaware that twice the normal calories were required to fuel the magical ability.

Snow and the Seven, as they were called, were very popular. Unfortunately, their fans were even poorer than they were, so the troupe couldn’t make enough money to keep themselves fed, and pay the Wizard.

Eamon knew about the veiled side-effects. When the piper fell behind on his payments, he’d figured it out. Although the flute was originally to help the piper earn a living catching rats, the longer he played, the larger the beings that followed him became. The children’s disappearances were what gave away the hidden costs. Eventually the piper found a way to begin paying on time, but Eamon devised a way to hide this from the Wizard. Eamon would collect the silver and throw it into a deep well that he knew was dark to the sorcerer’s magic eyes. Eventually, Eamon was ordered to take back the flute. Freeing the children was the one good thing he could do. No one would ever know. No one could ever know. That secret happiness kept him alive, and had kept him hoping that one day he’d get another opportunity to make something right.

With Snow and the Seven, Eamon had found that chance. He overheard the townsfolk’s excited talk of when the Seven were scheduled to visit their small villages. Spurned by the public, his ability to hide in the smallest of shadows, even in the bright open air of a town square, allowed him to eavesdrop on many conversations he secretly wished he would be included in. And although he’d never met the girl, nor seen the brothers perform, he knew they brought hope for freedom from the Wiazard’s tyranny to those who watched them dance.

He didn’t know when or how, but he knew he had to find a way to help keep that joy coming to those dark, impoverished communities. He just needed to be patient.

The dancing brothers were uneducated pick swingers; they were followers, not leaders. He was purposely clumsy on his failed attempt to snatch a pair of the shoes from Happy Dwarf–although the name no longer seemed appropriate, as a grumbling stomach and the inability to silence it rarely left someone in a good mood. Eamon had been hoping to meet the girl. She was the key. He needed her so he could help them.

One evening he challenged the Wizard to a drinking game. They drank heavily, playing a game that came as naturally to the wee-folk of the forest as a wood-nymph leaving a trail of glitter behind as she flies through the trees. The next morning the Wizard would be sleeping off a hangover and wouldn’t be watching over his trusted repossessor’s collections. Eamon left early to try to catch Snow before she left. She didn’t need to wear the shoes to float like an angel, that left her with enough energy to work as a cleaning girl to make extra money.

His gamble paid off, she was just leaving when he arrived at her home in the woods.

“Aye lassie, you know who I be?”

Startled, she eyed Eamon suspiciously.

“Yes. I know of you, although I never wished for us to actually meet. What can I do for you?”

Eamon was taken aback. What can she do for me? Nobody had ever asked him that.

“Aye then, if you know of me, you may think you know why I’m here. Believe me or not lass, I’m here to help. Those dwarf dancers bring a lot o’ joy to the people. I don’t want to see that end because those boys waste away to nothing’”

Now it was Snow’s turn to be surprised by what was said.

“You. Want to help. Us?”

“Aye, lass. There’s something you should know about the shoes, a detail that great Wizard left out of your deal. Nobody can ever know how you found out, or I’ll be deader than that old witch who used to rule these lands.”

“Why? What do you want in return?”

“Nothing, lass. Just keep them dancing. They bring happiness to an otherwise miserable place. Now no more questions or the deal’s off and I just go in and take the shoes. Got it?”

“Please, don’t take the shoes. If they have to go back to work in the mines, they’ll die. They don’t have the strength or the tools anymore. Please don’t take them. Whatever you want, I’ll agree to it.” She dropped her bag of rags and soap. Her eyes welled with tears.

“Calm yourself, lassie. I already said I only want one thing. Nobody can know what I tell you. Ever. If he finds out, I’m done for. He’ll get an unthinking ogre to make his collections. Or he’ll bring those monkeys back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

He told her what she needed to do. She kept her word.

***

Seasons came and went. Snow and the Seven became more popular than ever. Because they no longer wore the feather-light shoes, and returned to eating as they had before, they were easily able to pay their due and still have enough left for all their needs.

The Wizard never learned the truth. They paid on time, so he eventually lost interest in them and found other poor souls to torment.

Years after Snow and Eamon had their chat on her doorstep; she received news of the leprechaun’s passing. Her friend, Happy Dwarf, asked her why she wept for the evil repossessor of dreams. She told him of their talk, of how the little man who everyone shunned was really a good man doing a very hard job.

“Happy,“ she said to the dwarf whose name now matched his disposition, “Eamon came to me the day after you caught him taking your shoes.”

“I tried to step on him, but didn’t have the strength to get up,” said Happy.

“That’s right. That was because of the shoes. Once you stopped wearing them, you all got better. We got better.”

“But we still wear them. I have them on right now.” He stood deftly on one foot, holding the other in a perfect arabesque a la seconde stance to show her.

“No, Happy. You don’t. You and your brothers haven’t for years. I made those to look exactly like the Wizard’s shoes. They weren’t magic. They were cursed. I’ll tell you what Eamon said the morning after he let you catch him.” After swearing her friend to secrecy, she told him the leprechaun’s secret.

Eamon had told her about the Wizard’s many drinking games, and of the two things that happen when two lonely drunks drink.

“First, they tell secrets and, second, they forget they tell secrets.”

The human Wizard made the mistake of thinking he could outdrink a leprechaun. Especially a lonely clover looking for redemption.

The Wizard told Eamon the story of Dorothy and her friends. How he was able to grant them their dreams by doing nothing more than showing them their desires were within them all along.

“Take away the magic shoes,” Eamon said, “without anyone knowing you’re taking them and they’ll get better.”

Then he told her the most important thing he’d learned working under the con-man turned Wizard.

“The magic isn’t the magic, it’s the side effect.”

Writer’s Weekly competition. An Unexpected Message

I wrote this for a 24 hour contest. They gave a couple of story ‘seeds’ and this is the story I submitted. Didn’t win anything other than the chance to give the $5 they could then give to someone else. Oh well. I liked the story, hope you do too.

An Unexpected Message

By: Wayne Hills

 

A message, they’ve got some nerve sending her to deliver it. Trying to bring me back, to suck me into the world I’d left seven years ago. I have the perfect cover in this little town. They love me here in my new life; I forgive their transgressions to God’s law, even as I pay the penance for my own.

Every Sunday morning, they come and listen to my sermons, who better to lecture on sin than one of God’s greatest sinners. The people are happy with my parables, the Monseigneur’s ecstatic with the extra donations, and I’m at peace with my life, a bloody perfect plan. Until today, when she boldly walked up in the town market of all places. No thought to be discrete, to maybe just send a note.

Out of the blue, she comes up and touches my sleeve as I’m greeting the townsfolk. As usual I was feigning disinterest in the women shyly stealing glances and sharing knowing nods amongst themselves as I passed by; I thought it was just another lonely housewife looking for some ‘private’ counseling. I looked down, and at first didn’t recognize her, but her unique features pulled the smile from my face.

“What are you doing here? They paid you off; you were never to speak to me again”

The anger in my tone was covered by the crowd’s chatter as they bargained with the hawkers selling goods in their crowded stalls.

Her long lashes cast a thin shadow onto her heavily scarred cheek, reminding me of the pain I caused her, and why I had to leave Her Majesty’s service.

“I know, but they sent me. We have to talk.”

She leaned close and whispered, “You see, I’m bringing a message, and you won’t listen to anyone else. More importantly, they’re pretty sure you won’t kill me. I wasn’t so positive on that part, that’s why I came to you in the open.”

I lifted my head and searched the crowd. We were seen together, so in that point she was correct. Even if the messenger had been some random lackey, I would’ve had a hard time making them disappear without questions.

“Yes my child, I’ll hear your confession, but it must be in the church to be official.”

As I led her by the hand from the town center, I hoped my voice was loud enough for the few curious faces nearby to hear and be satisfied.

 

We sit in separate booths, only the thin gold screen of the confessional separates us. I grill her, trying to get to the truth.

“What do they want? Why send you? And don’t give me bullocks about me not listening to anyone else.”

“They need you to come back; you’re the only cleric the M17 service has.”

“Had,” I corrected her. “I don’t work for them anymore, not after…” I trailed off. She knows why I left the SIS version of the American X-files division. After all, it was her fault.

“That’s why they sent me. It was my deception which caused your mistake. I’m sorry, and not just because I’ll pay the price of this hideous disfigurement for the rest of my life. I need your forgiveness, not for me, I deserve what I got. I need you to forgive yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”

“What does it matter? I’m happy here; the church and Crown are satisfied with my banishment to this tiny hamlet. What could be so important?”

“The demon is back, the one that you summoned when you performed that unnecessary exorcism. He’s got one of the princes. Your replacement tried to perform the ceremony, and now he’s dead.”

I fall silent. She’s right, it has to be me. I called that devil from the depths of hell; I’m the only one that can send it back.

She was just a lonely teenager trying to get attention from parents that ignored her. Because she happened to be the daughter of the Prime Minister, they called in the M17 to take care of the matter in secret.

Among my other duties in service with the SIS, a vicar is good cover for a spy or a hit-man, I worked a dozen exorcisms. I didn’t know she had access to her father’s private files on the work I’d done in the field of demon expulsion. She studied well and passed, or failed, all the tests for any other explanation for her condition. I had no way of knowing performing the ritual on an unpossessed person would actually produce an evil spirit.

When I tried to banish it back to hell, the demon made the votive candles explode into a napalm fire permanently maiming her. It was an unforeseeable accident.

I should have known about her, I had my doubts, but that’s part of the deal of being a good Catholic, isn’t it? But then, so is faith.

“I’ll come back to eliminate the demon with you. But then I’m done, done with you and the Queen’s, bloody, SIS forever.”

I thought it would be simple, easy to walk away from them the first time. I have to believe this will be the last time I’m needed.

I must have faith.

—End—