Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Carnival Graveyard

It was dusk when the boy climbed up and over the chain-link fence, jumping down into the overgrown lot filled with rusted bumper cars, broken Ferris wheels, and other abandoned rides and attractions.  He looked around, then at the locked gate behind him, suddenly very aware of his surroundings, and of being surrounded.  He took a tentative step forward as the last wash of blue chased the last light of day to the horizon.  He shivered and rubbed his arms against the chill.  The day had been warm and sunny, requiring no more than a t-shirt, but unlike many nights that summer, when the heat of day far outlasted its light, as the sun went down today, it took all the day's warmth with it.  The sky was purple by the time he was halfway across the lot, the first stars of the evening casting little light on his gloomy surroundings.  He began to reconsider the worth of this short-cut.  After all, he still had the train station to cross before he reached the back fence of his apartment complex, and it occurred to him that perhaps it wasn't his best idea to try this for the first time at night.  It was as he was considering just turning around, hopping back over the fence, and taking the long way around to the front of the complex, that he heard the creak.

It was a loud creak.  Deliberate.  It had a sound that made it impossible for the boy to pretend it was just some loose metal swaying in the wind, or some pile of rusted metal settling.  No, this was--

He heard the creak again, this time louder, and much closer.  He spun around, willing to leap the fence in a single bound if necessary to escape this creepy old junkyard, but found the way blocked.  The battered remnants of three separate tilt-a-whirls lay strewn across his path.  To either side, towers made of rotting wooden gaming booths loomed over him.  There was another creak behind him, and as he turned, a pile of metal tent-poles clanged and clattered to the ground, forcing him toward the only open space left, a gap between the gaming booths and the tent-poles just large enough for a man to fit through.  He moved toward it, coming up short when a tall, thin man in a top hat and tails appeared in it.  The man walked silently toward the boy, a cold grin on his face, dead eyes meeting the boy's terrified gaze.  The boy shrank from the gangling dandy, backing into a woman.

He cried out in shock and jumped away.  The woman's main face smiled, the shriveled and dessicated infant face on the side of her head hummed and drooled and grinned stupidly.

"He's the barker," she said.  The boy jumped again, not sure if speaking made her more or less disturbing.  "You've probably never been to a carnival with a barker, have you?"

The boy shook his head.

"No.  Well, he won't talk," she said.  "Used to talk all the time.  Hell, that was his job, to get the rubes in front of the games or into the freak show.  I bet none of the carnivals these days have proper freak shows, either."

Another shake of the head.

"Right.  Anyway, the barker here, he never used to shut up.  Now, since he's here, he doesn't make a sound."

The barker loped up and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.  The boy began to shake, cold sweat breaking out across his forehead.

"Oh," she smiled wider, "he likes you."  Her dead infant face said, "buh" and giggled.

A magician stumbled out of the shadows.  He was drunk, with old sick and dried blood crusted on his filthy tuxedo.  He staggered over to the boy and vomited up a great number of colored handkerchiefs, which then hung there, tied together in long fluttering ropes all extending up and back down his throat.  He looked up at the boy and tried to speak, managing only guttural noises.  The boy's shaking intensified.

The barker put his other hand on the boy's other shoulder.  The boy felt something warm spread out from his groin and trickle down his leg.  It cooled quickly in the chilly night air and an acrid odor wafted off him.

The deformed girl laughed and her infant face giggled.  The magician laughed as much as he could with a mouthful of handkerchiefs.  The boy felt the barker shove him, and then he was face-down on the hard-packed earth of the lot.  The girl stood over him and pointed down to where he huddled in the dirt.

"You stink, pisspants!" she yelled.  The face of the dead infant cried "pisspants!"  The girl shoved him with her foot and he flinched.  "Don't be scared, pisspants," she said.  "There's nothing here to be scared of."

The barker walked over to the space between the old tent-poles and rotting gaming booths and held out his hand to escort a ragged, aging whore over the threshold.   A troupe of jugglers followed, dressed in torn, fraying tights and tossing a set of cracked bowling pins back and forth.  After the jugglers came the tumblers, three young girls and an older man.  The girls all had sunken eyes filled with fear and bruises on their arms.  The man wore a soulless grin and track marks.

"This is the Carnival Graveyard, boy," the girl explained, "filled with castoff entertainments and unwanted amusements.  We are dead and undying, eternal detritus of a faded era," she leaned over him, "from which we can never leave."  She smiled as the others gathered round.  "And now," she said, "neither can you."

"Well, look at that," she laughed and her dead infant face cackled, "it seems there is something to be scared of after all."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Man Who Broke Sunday

He appeared in the room, and it seemed he had always been there, but also somehow wasn’t there yet.  He flipped up his goggles and flipped open a small pocketwatch, studying it briefly.  With a snap, he closed it again, looking around.  “Well, I’ve done it,” he said.  “I made it as far as 1873.”  He smiled. “I made it past the 20th Century.”

“How inspiring,” a woman said from across the room.  He looked up, and saw her lying atop a made bed.  “Now please stop,” she said.


“Because you can’t travel through time,” she said, sitting up.  “Well, you can, obviously, and I do it all the time.”  She stood, though she leaned against one of the bedposts.  “But time takes things from you, when you travel through it.  It eats at you.”  She looked hard at him and he swallowed uneasily.  “But not you.  Time can’t touch you.”  She approached him slowly.  “You backflipped over an entire century and it cost you nothing.”

He cleared his throat.  “Well, I, um, I hadn’t realized that I...”

“You have a machine, I take it?”


She stood directly before him, holding his eyes with her own.  “I’ve known plenty of geniuses with machines, who ended up the way I am now, became what I’m becoming.  What’s so different about your machine?”

“N-nothing.  I mean, I...”  He looked down, then up again.  She was still staring at him.  “What... um, what are you becoming?”

She held his gaze a few more moments, then looked away herself.  He looked down again.  She was hard to look at.  She wasn’t always there, even though he knew she was.

“Living time, that’s what I’m becoming,” she said.  “I’m what’s left of all that time’s taken from me, over and over.”  She sighed, a weary sound.  “I can step from yesterday to tomorrow and exist simultaneously across myriad todays, but sometimes I forget my own name.”

“What is your name?”

A long pause, then a slight whimper followed by another sigh.  “I don’t remember.”


“I’ll tell you what I do remember,” she said.  “I remember another genius, with his machine.  From 500 years away to 1000 years ago and back again, he stomped across time like it was his backyard.  Eventually he got what was his.  Time ate his life, one year at a time, until there was nothing left of him but probability, a living deja vu, but not before his blundering about the past caused the death of my great-grandfather.  I should have ceased to exist,” she shrugged, “but instead I stepped outside of time, and when I stepped back in, I was years in the past.  I found I could move through time at will -with a bit of help, at first- and discovered the time traveler who’d caused all my problems.  I raced to the date he killed my great-grandfather, but even after I’d stopped him, time had changed enough that when I returned to my present, I found I was already there.  Though I existed in this new timeline, I also did not.  So, I left my other self alone and began to wander the timestream, each journey losing more and more of myself, until one day I’ll be little more than a living day of the week, or a sentient appointment in someone’s calendar.”  

“That’s horrible.”

She shook her head.  “You don’t get it.  Time has to do this.”  She fixed him a stern glare.  “Every time one of you idiots hops in his machine and goes wandering about outside the flow of history, time gets broken.  And the only way time can repair itself, is by using all the potential days in the life of a time traveler.”

“Which creates a sort of equilibrium.  A time traveler breaks time, then is cannibalized to fix what was broken,” he said.

She nodded.  “But you throw everything out of balance.  The more you travel, the more time will take from people like me, and once we’re gone, time will break even further, perhaps stop working altogether.  Every era in history will collide with one another.  Humanity will cease to exist, save for people like me, lost and wandering a broken timestream through eternal now.  Is that what you want?”

He rubbed the back of his head.  “Well, no.  No, not as such, but...”

“Please,” she said, “stop traveling.  Return to your era and stay there.  Time can still recover without too much...”

“No,” he said.  “No, I think I’m going to keep traveling.  I’m sorry, but this is my life’s work.  I can’t...” his face hardened.  “I won’t give it up.”  He pulled out his pocketwatch and clicked a small button.  Immediately he disappeared, though it was more like he was never there.

He rematerialized over a century later in that same room, next to the machine.  He flipped a few switches, pulled a lever and turned a few dials, reducing the whine of the time machinery to a low hum.

“Oh, I see,” she said, standing behind him.  “The machine acts as an anchor.  You stay tethered to it in your present, allowing you to remain within the flow of history, while at the same time removing yourself from it.  Clever,” she nodded.  She grabbed the back of his head and smashed his face into the side of the machine.  “A bit too clever.”  She pulled him back and took his pocketwatch, tossing it on the floor.  “Now, your tether’s been unhooked,” she said, “you should be fair game.  So, off you go!”  She shoved him, and he vanished, swallowed up by the timestream.

Only moments later, she vanished as well, and the room was quiet.  It was said that for years after, anyone attempting to spend the night in this room would be visited by dreams of every opportunity they'd ever let pass them by, and all the lost glories of their wasted potential.  

Few ever make it through the night.