The carnival had come to Howard County more than one or so times everyone said. He himself had been there ten to twelve times, he thinks. Pretty much as long as he had been with the carnival, so not long after he got released from juvenile and was supposed to go back to school. He had a week between getting out of stupid fucking kid jail and the start of school, when the carnival came to town. [Now?] He knew other guys agreed to go to the army to get out of the detention center, but he wasn’t interested in that. He didn’t want to march in straight lines with all that “yes sir, no sir” shit all day long.
[He needs to slow down.]
He wanted adventure, but he wanted to get high too. Also, he knew he would end up in jail again at some point, and being in regular jail where they let you sleep it off a little bit seemed like a better option than having some MP yelling at you about how big a fuck up you were at five in the morning, when you were still half-lit. It didn’t seem like something he would be down for, [Please.] so he would probably just end up in the pokey for longer, when he put his hands around that MP’s throat.
[I can tell he has his finger on the trigger. I felt him cock the hammer.]
He wanted to be called Robin Marx, because he said that was the name all carnies use. He started as a 24-hour man, posting the signs up and down the curvy roads in Howard County, as part of the advance work crew. [Why now?] He got lost more than once when he was a First of May, and it took him forever to get back to the carnival. He was afraid they would leave without him, since he was so new he wasn’t even sure anyone would notice if he was gone. They would come looking for the signs though. By the time he became an A&S man, [Please not now.] he knew those roads as good as anybody else. Don’t say like the back of your hand though [Why?], that ain’t no kind of ballyhoo any self-respecting talker would use.
[My head hurts.] Back to what he was saying, Howard County had always one of the best stops during the travelling season, and only a crazy man would burn the lot there. [I’ve always hidden my hangovers well.] It was high grass, but it was more than worth it. He suspected not much came there, so the Clems always came out like crazy, [This one is intense.] and it seemed to him those folks spent damn near every dime they had made all year in one night at the carnival. The girls were easy too, but he ain’t no Chester. They never had one blank; not a single time they were there.
All the carnival people knew it was where the two of them fell in love.
[There is something about him. Something reptilian in his eyes.]
He was The Man, and everybody – from caller to 50-miler – knew it. You did what he told you to do. You could give a little lip to the Concession Manager, [I can’t explain it, but I can feel his heat.] but you better not say a cross word to The Man or you would be the center piece of a torture show getting all the color drained from your veins. They called her Aunt Sally, but she wasn’t one. She had started as a key girl, since every mark that saw her wanted her to be waiting when they opened the door, but now she run the girl-shows. Some folks say she start as a lot lizard when she wasn’t much more than a girl, but anyone in the carnival would kill you dead if you said that out loud. [It’s filling the room.] One carny said they first got together in a notch joint, but nobody ever saw that fucker again. [His heat is making me sweat.]
Word was they had got together in Gibtown over the winter. He heard one carny say it wasn’t going to be a carny marriage, but that it was going to be a real marriage. He didn’t believe it himself, until they said they was going to have a ceremony and everything in front of the freaks and callers and benders and everybody. [That look in his eyes. If he’s not blind, he is illiterate.] He knew it had to be true when they said they was going to say their vows in Howard County after everyone had put in their nelson and the girl-shows was over.
That’s where the trouble started. [I should have been able to overpower him. He’s thin and frail looking. He’s obviously dying, so I didn’t expect him to be so strong.]
They weren’t planning some little thing that wouldn’t add up to some flukem and something from the cook house to chew on and they sure weren’t going to throw some candy floss at the troupers and tell them it’s cake. [Even the steal in his hand is burning the back of my neck.] The lot man was going to run the show and oversee the vows, so nobody was talking about a little thing. Someone said they even put an announcement in Amusement Business but said no one but the troupe was invited.
[The first one was the girl with the birthmark — like she did it herself.]
[But I didn’t have the stomach for that anymore.] Here’s the thing: carnies ain’t a romantic bunch.
[I couldn’t kill them after her.] They like to fuck as much as anybody else, but it ain’t much more than that.
[I sold them to the highest bidder after the first one.] There are those who get carny married, and that is just to say these two are going to just do each other for a while, but it ain’t nothing serious.
[There were plenty of bidders, and the prices soared higher and higher.] I could end at any time and nobody would think much about it.
[I was done. I am retired, as long as I find my way out of this.] No point for a carny divorce.
[Now paradise awaits, if only I can get out of this.] It’s just over.
[I know my name: Estill Salyer. I want it to be forgotten.] They could both be carny married to someone else the next day, and you wouldn’t see a drop of jealousy out of either of them, like it never happened.
[There were ten of them. Ten big pay days.]
Carnies just don’t work that way.
That wasn’t all of it either. Word had it The Man had a shoebox full of ABA’s in his trailer. They said he would spread them out all over his bunk at night, and he and Aunt Sally would fuck on them to make sure they were blessed. [He saw the money in my case. It’s enough for me until I die.] The story passing around was he was going to cash them in and the two of them was going to retire to Gibtown with enough C‑notes to last them until the day they died. [I want the wife, and I want the kids. I want it all. It’s waiting in South America in some distant place.]
The lot man or the concession manager had supposedly bought the carnival off The Man, and one of them would be the new Man. Nobody knew for sure, but most were pulling for the concession manager. He was easier to get along with, but everybody figured it would be the lot man, since he hadn’t ever taken lip from anybody.
[They say paradise is in South America. A place where they know the cure. A place where you can be safe and clean. I am going there. I’ve met a man who can give me passage. He’ll be expecting me soon.]
As it goes, the new sheriff in Howard County got 86’ed from the show back in the day, and hadn’t set foot back on the lot since. He was just a kid then, and he’s full grown now. For some reason, he just never got over it. They said he gave the advance man ten tons of screaming hell when he went to the county clerk’s office. What they said was that the sheriff told the advance man that he’d be coming in to check the annex and if he saw one sign of a blow-off he’d take every fucking carny there to jail.
[There has to be a way out of this.]
Here’s another thing: when that sheriff came in he wasn’t the only thing the rubes in Howard County voted on. They also turned the county dry. Nobody had ever heard of that. Usually dry counties go wet. It sounded like one fucking hell of a mess for a county to go from wet to dry, but that is what went down in Howard. Everybody was figuring the Clems would be coming for a drink of something, but the advance man said to tell them you don’t drink nothing but virgin flukem. He also said the sheriff told him he’d arrest any carney with even a drop of liquor on his breath or person.
Word had it The Man, the lot man, and the concession manager was all on the same page: this was going to be the last trip to Howard County, [I have to figure it out.] at least until that sheriff was out of office, so make it count boys – take them marks for all they got. They said to GTFM and don’t let these cake eaters leave with a penny in their pockets.
You would have thought that night was magic. There ain’t no way around that. He said you would have thought every carny there was a heat merchant. Every caller, inside man, outside man, and jointee made sure to jo every game they were running. He said they made them all look like lugens. There wasn’t a mark that left the carnival that night who didn’t have a beef, and, you could definitely say, that the lot had been burned. [He has to be burning up. I feel like I am standing next to the sun.] The Man knew he would never be allowed back in Howard County. There wasn’t a KB all night, no matter how much they hollered. The whole damn night, the carnies promised girl-shows and nudist colonies and key shows, but not a one of the Elmers got laid. He didn’t drop the awning because everybody had put in their nelson, he dropped the awning, because all the mooches were spilling out too much heat. The carnies had their money, now it was time to have some real fun. [My head won’t stop killing me. It may kill me before he burns me alive.]
As soon as the last emby was gone, they had the 50-milers set everything up. There were bottles of booze in buckets of ice stashed all over and good floss that looked like it came from an actual grocery store. They set guns out everywhere too. Some of them guns were older than anybody knew. [I have my own gun, but he caught me outside.] Some looked like they had just come out of come carny’s poke.
“Carnies may not pay a dime in taxes, but they are American’s just like the marks. God damn it,” he said.
He said he had never been to any kind of wedding before. His parents weren’t even married, and he didn’t know what to expect. He thought it was the prettiest thing he ever saw. [I’ve seen so many beautiful things.] The Man and Aunt Sally said they loved each other and promised to stay together for all times. Some of the people in attendance said what the lot man told them to say to each other came from the bible. Others said he was just making it up as he went along, but that lot man had polished more cracks than anyone else in the carnival – so much that a lot of the carnies said he was the only professor who came about that title honest. [If only I had someone. One person who cared about me.]
He said he had been carny married more than a few times, but watching The Man and Aunt Sally get hitched almost made him want to do it himself. He said he was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen.
As soon as the lot man said “man and wife” The Man dropped his drawers and Aunt Sally started going down on him right in front of everybody. Some trouper grabbed one of them pistols, and shot it in the air. Somebody else yelled out, “Al-A-Ga-Zam” and the fucking party was started with the only friends Robin Marx had ever had. [I have Foster, but he is so far away. He probably thinks I am dead already.]
All the carnies – from the newest 50-miler to the most elder trouper – was screaming loud enough to blow their pipes. If there was music playing, no one heard it. The girls from the girl shows and the key girls all started dancing and getting naked. It wasn’t long before they were giving it out for free. Even the key girls and they never gave it out, but they all had two or three carnies going at them at once. It made him so hot he couldn’t stand it, so he grabbed him a gun and a bottle of liquor and went look for a place to bury his hard-on. That didn’t take long to find. He had never had a better time in his life.
That’s right when it went to shit, before he could even come. That motherfucker sheriff had been as good as his word. He and all his deputies came in a shooting guns and cracking skulls, before the first carny could say “B.C.”. That’s how he knew it was all over, when one of them deputies took a nightstick to the key girl he was fucking. Neither he nor any other carny was going to take it. They all had guns, and that was their people the law was fucking with.
[He’s so far away.]
He wasn’t sure if he was the first one to get a shot off, but he’s pretty damn sure his found his mark, the same way his bally always found its mark. The cocksucker went down hard grabbing at his chest and screaming something awful. He walked on over there and put another bullet in the asshole’s face, not even bothering to put his own dick away. The key girl was just lying there on the ground naked, her eyes were wide open but she wasn’t breathing. [I remember the last one struggling to keep her breathing calm.]
All the other carnies were shooting and fighting, and the police were fighting back. More of them kept coming too, except the new ones were wearing different colored uniforms. He lost count of how many of them there were, but he knew some of them were state boys and everybody knew the state boys don’t fuck around. He ain’t smart by any measure, but he can count like a son of bitch. Every goddamn carny in the country can count. They may not be able to say his alphabet all the way through, but he’ll be fucked if he can’t count.
They just kept coming.
[There may be a way out.]
He looked up at the flatbed trailer where The Man and Aunt Sally had just got married. There were a few key girls hiding in the possum belly. There were two of the cops holding onto The Man, wrestling with him. The sheriff was behind Aunt Sally. He’s pretty sure that sheriff was fucking her. [She was staring up at me; her tears holding back her breakdown. I wish I could go back to her.] Not only can he count, but he can shoot too. He’s got an aim like a motherfucker – it only took him three shots to put those deputies down.
He took the pistol and threw it to The Man. The sheriff was too busy giving it to Aunt Sally to notice as The Man walked up to him and buried one right between his eyes. It was something to see. The sheriff fell down on top of Aunt Sally and The Man threw him off quicker than shit. Then, The Man grabbed onto Aunt Sally, and just started holding her. [That is how I feel now. I deserve this. I am the runner cut in half by the ribbon as I cross the finish line.]
He looked around and he saw one of them rifles like they give you if he had joined up so as he could get out of juvenile. He grabbed onto that son of a bitch and started thinning the crowd, but seemed like – no matter how many of them he put down – more of them kept coming.
He saw the lot man come his way. He was dragging the concession manager. One was dead the other looked like he was dying.
“Go on now, get,” the lot man said to him. “Ain’t nobody got any friends left here.”
He looked back at The Man, because he wasn’t doing anything without his permission. The Man was still holding Aunt Sally, but she had taken a bullet. He wasn’t sure if it was The Man who gave it to her, but it didn’t matter. The Man looked him in the eye and said, “Save yourself.”
That was all he needed to hear, he said “Al-A-Ga-Zam” one last time and he was off. Like he said, Howard County was tall grass, so it didn’t take long before he was in the woods. His ears felt all muffled over, but he could hear the shooting and carrying on, so he kept running. [This is less than I deserve. I should have to suffer more than this, but I think I know the way out.] It was dark and hard to see, but that is when he felt something funny come over his eyes, and he had to stop running because it felt like he was breathing up something sweeter than the candy floss.
The next thing he knew he woke up in the forest. He could tell by the dew it was early morning, and there was a rooster in the distance. He was hungry enough to eat that rooster. He thought about trying to find his way back to the carnival, but he suspected they wasn’t much left there, so he headed towards the rooster. [I need to figure him out. There has to be a way. He is the evil I have delivered being returned.]
The forest opened up to the clearing. He could see an old farmer spreading feed for some chickens and a mess of doodles. He still had a rifle in his hand and another pistol in his belt, and he wasn’t in any mood for conversation. He took one shot from the tree line. He took his second shot when an old woman came out the front door with her hands waving in the air, like she was in some weird posing show. He walked down the hill and to the house.
[I’m afraid his story is almost over. I’m confident my story ends, when he’s done with his own, but I’m still writing.]
Somebody behind the door was trying to keep it closed, but he was stronger. It was a girl plenty old enough. He finished the job he started with the key girl and he felt much better. [I can feel him getting closer. His breath hitting me like hot welding slag. That sweetness in his breath, and another smell like cooking meat coming from inside him.] Once that was over, he made her give him the money in the house and the keys to the trucks. He put her down, too.
[I chose this. This is my fate. It is all I have done and all I will do.] Then he started driving. He knew the main roads well and the back roads better, so he just kept driving. Those farm folks must of not like banks. Who can blame them? So he just kept going, stopping for gas and some cook when he needed it. He traveled south and west, the opposite route the carnival had been taking, and he said it felt like many days from the past when he had been hauling a pig iron. [But I think I know a way.]
[He said to call him Robin Marx. I am calling him “sir.” I have to keep him talking. As long as his story is going, I have more time to figure this out.]
Then he saw the motel and he pulled into the parking lot. He’d never stayed in a motel before, and he wanted to give it a go. He needed to stop too, he thought, something about his insides was hurting. They just felt hot: hotter than the key girl had made him. Something just wasn’t right and he knew it.
[I’ve heard it called the ghost of Ginny Dare; it must be haunting him. I spoke of it with the last one. She was running from many things. I think she was running from Ginny, too.]
He hadn’t taken a bullet or a blade. Maybe the food was poisoned and he was the only one who lived long enough to know they had all been lied to [I started so honest, but so many things led me here and nothing will lead me back to the place where I began.]. Maybe that booze was rotgut and that was what was going wrong with his eyes. Maybe that key girl or the farm girl had some primal case of clap, and it was working him over. He didn’t know. Despite the heat [I need something cold. His heat is burning me up.], he felt strong – stronger than he had ever felt. Strong enough to take on a whole kayfabe.
[I would have done good things. I would have done so much good when I made it to South America. I have been an instrument of something dark, but I wasn’t escaping to live. I was escaping because I wanted to be good. I wanted to be more like Foster, because I know he is good.]
The motel took cash and he had enough left to pay them for two days. He went inside the room, once he figured out why he got a card instead of a key. He took a shower and rinsed out his clothes in the tub. He left them hanging from the shower rod, and he laid down naked on top of the bed. He slept for a long while. It was daylight when he went to sleep and daylight when he woke up, and he was pretty sure a whole day had passed, since his clothes were as dry as Howard County. [I wanted to get there and send for Foster. I wanted the only family I have left to be safe.] The room was just too fucking hot to live, so he went outside. He was out of money, and he didn’t know where he was going. In truth he didn’t know where he was, and that was a dangerous thing. [Direction comes with danger, too.] He had to figure his way out of this thing.
[Maybe I could have found those women or at least what was left of them. I could have brought them south and found them help. I could have made sure they were healed.]
Then he saw this mark. There he was: pleased with himself like he had education. He wasn’t sure if he left his pistol in the truck, but he knew he would find out. [Killing doesn’t bother him. There is no way he will let me live.] He went back into the room and took the pen and paper from the night stand, and went back to the truck. Sure enough, the pistol was there. [I was there too, as I am here now.]
He walked up to that mark who was struck on himself and told him not to make a goddamn sound. He told him to get his suitcase in get in that fucking room. [I just have to find a way out. Then I’ll be good.] Once they got inside, he told him to open the case. That son of a bitch was full of money, and he knew, if he could just find a way too cool himself down, he would be okay. He’d take that money from this stupid fucking Clem who thinks he is better than everyone else, and he’s get his ass back to Gibtown. One of them old snake oil guys was bound to have an elixir that would calm this heat. [It has to happen.]
There was another stack of paper and pen in the mark’s room too. There was a little desk in the room as well. He told the mark to sit his ass down. [The barrel is digging into the place where my skull and spine meet. He’s finished talking, but I am still writing.] He took his pistol up to the back of that motherfucker’s head and told him to start writing.
[He’s getting closer.]
He told that dumb mark he was an Elmer like all marks were Elmers and he didn’t give a fuck if he lived or died.
[He knows I am just stalling.]
He told him he better write down every fucking word just like he said it.
And he told him he better have a prayer ready for when it is all over.