After the Carnival
by Nathan Tyree
The carnival had already left town, and Wilson was beginning to worry. It was one
of those soft moments when August has silently faded away, and September has simply appeared out of nowhere. Summer wasn't
really over, but autumn was poking in everywhere. Wilson was sitting on his front porch, drinking a beer and concentrating
on the little tendrils of sweat working their way down his forehead and neck. He was thinking that he should have smeared
some sun block on his head. Since the last of his hair had abandoned him, his scalp burned without warning.
The carnival had messily pulled out two days earlier. It had just slipped away
leaving a waste of beer cans, bailing wire, used condoms, cotton candy wrappers, and various garbage in its place. It was
like this every year. The excitement, the rush, the lights all swept in like some mad storm. Then it was gone. And when it went, something changed. This was when things always went wrong. After the carnival.
Wilson had hoped that this year would be different. He knew though, that what was
coming was inevitable. It always came. He just waited. And worried.
As Wilson watched, some of the neighborhood kids congregated on a lawn. The sun
was rolling low in the sky, and soon darkness would be upon them. He could see them grouped together like crows. They were
discussing something in hushed tones. Wilson didn't want to overhear.
Tim Johnson was the oldest of the kids. He was ten, or maybe eleven. Wilson was
sure. But watching them it was clear that he was in charge. He was giving the other kids orders. He was indicating and motioning
with his hands. The other children, seven of them ranging in age from about six to about ten from the look of them, watched
with rapt attention and nodded as he spoke . Wilson emptied his beer in one shaky gulp, stood and walked in the house. It
was hotter inside. His air conditioner had finally given out a few days earlier. It had died with a final whimper, this time
beyond repair. Wilson hadnt bothered to call for a new one. Summer was well on its way out, and he could wait. He made it to the refrigerator, and found another can.
By the time he walked back out onto his porch, the children had disappeared. Maybe,
he thought, he had been wrong. Maybe they were just playing a game. He could have misread what he saw. This year, Wilson assured himself, would be different.
Wilson sat in the cool of the oncoming evening and drank his beer. Despite what
he told himself, he was very worried. After a bit he realized that he was hearing something. It took a minute for his mind
to connect the sound with something real. It was the phone.
He rose from his place and made his way inside. He found the phone, and answered
"Hello... Yeah... No, I don't think so. What do you mean? Well sure, but not this
time. .. No, it's going to be different.... Yeah. I Know... Yeah... Later...Okay, bye." He put the phone back in its place,
and sat down in the old brown chair that dominated the room. In a few minutes he was asleep.
The pounding was overwhelming. It pulled Wilson from his sleep. He opened his eyes,
and could see that it was still dark. Someone was at his door. He rose, and stumbled to the door. He opened it slowly, peeking
Janice Freelander was standing on the porch, a worried look in her eyes. Her left
hand was buried up to the knuckles in her long brown hair, twisting it around nervously. Wilson looked at her, surprised.
Janice never came to see him any more. Not since he had called off their engagement. That had been six years earlier, and
Wilson assumed that she had spent those intervening years hating him.
"What do you want, Jan?"
"I need to talk. Can I come in?"
Wilson stepped back from the door, and motioned for her to enter. She brushed past
him and walked to the center of the room. She turned at looked at Wilson, who closed the door, and faced her. He purposely
kept some distance between them.
"What is it, Jan?"
She absentmindedly rubbed her hands together, and looked intently at the carpet.
After a moment she began to speak. "It's mom," she said. "I can't find her. Her front door is standing open, and a lot of
things are knocked over, and... and she's gone. I've looked everywhere. She's just gone, and... and... and..." She was hysterical.
She was shaking out of control, and Wilson was afraid that she was going to shake apart, just shatter into a thousand pieces.
He stepped closer and put his hand softly on her shoulder. She shrugged it off.
He sighed lightly. "What do you want me to do?"
"Help me look for her."
"What good would that do? You know what's happened. The carnival left."
Her eyes were wet, and wild with fear and anger and something like shock. Underlying
everything else in her eyes was the look of utter and complete disbelief. Wilson could see it clearly. Despite everything
she knew, despite everything she had seen over the years, she could not, would not believe this. She refused to accept that
the children had taken her mother.
Janice was one of those wonderfully naive people who always expect and see the
best. She couldn't believe the truth about the children. Most of them had been her students. She lived and worked with them
Wilson tried again. "It happens every year. You know it does. Every year it's someone's
mother, someone's husband, someone's friend. This time it's your mom. There is nothing we can do about it." He tried to be
as cold, as precise, as logical as he could. He had to make her understand that they were powerless.
It was no use. She was set. They were going looking for her mother. She was going, and Wilson had no choice but to go with her. Fools errand or no, they were
going to do it.
Wilson found that he had given in. "Where do you want to look?"
"I don't know. What do you think?" She was better. It seemed that just knowing
that they were trying to do something had calmed her nerves. Wilson took her by the hand, and pulled her close to him.
"We'll need a few things," he told her. He walked out of the living room and into
the bedroom. When he returned he was carrying two flashlights. Janice couldn't see it, but he also had his old .38 tucked
into the waistband of his pants. his shirt hung down to cover it, which was fine with him. Wilson hadn't fired the gun in
nearly fifteen years, and wasn't at all certain that it still worked. He had checked to make sure that it was still loaded,
and found that it was. He wondered for a moment if gun powder went stale. He supposed not.
He looked steadily at her and said: "Come on." And with that they moved out into
The streets were quiet and empty. Small towns like this literally dried up after
dark. When Wilson had been a boy, there had been more people here. The businesses had fled years ago, and many of the people
had gone with them. The ones who stayed were incapable of leaving. Each for their own reason was tied permanently to this
place. No matter how bad things got, they would never go.
Janice stayed very close to Wilson. Despite the relative warmth she was shivering
just a bit. He didn't blame her. This was bad. Very bad. They were asking for trouble, and without good reason. He knew that
Jan's mother was already dead. They couldn't help her. They couldn't save her. And if they did manage to find her, they wouldn't
be able to save themselves.
Wilson decided that he had no idea where to look. They would, he thought, wander
about the dark streets a bit, then give up. He could walk Janice home, and tomorrow she would feel better. Or, if not better,
at least resigned.
He led her several blocks, then Janice seemed to be leading him. He realized that
she had turned him toward an alley. Wilson couldn't see into the dark recess, but he thought he could hear something. Whatever
it was, it sounded light distant laughter. The sound was high and sweet, like a child. It made goose flesh break out all over
Wilson's body. He felt a chill work its way up his spine, and the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention.
They stopped at the mouth of the alley, and Wilson squinted against the dark. He
shot the beam of his flash light into the dark, and for just an instant he thought he saw movement. Something hunched, scurrying
quickly out of the pool of light. Wilson did not want to go into that alley. Everything inside him shouted that he should
turn around and go home. But she was pulling him in the wrong direction. Janice
had her hand around his left wrist, and she was forcing the two of them into that alley.
"Come on, Will," she whispered. "Down here, I heard something."
He wanted to say no. He wanted to turn and run. He wanted to shove her ahead of
him, use her as a shield and flee. But he couldn't do that. She was going down that alley with or without him, and he couldn't
let her go alone. He looked at her for an instant, and suddenly he realized something that he hadn't been certain of before.
Despite everything, he loved her. He had always loved her. And, even if it meant walking into his own death, he would go into
the darkness with her.
They began carefully. Moving slowly, trying to be silent. Wilson could hear his
heart thudding in his ears. His breath sounded, to him, like a freight train rushing by. His hands were shaking, and his mouth
was dry. Jan seemed very composed, especially considering how close to hysteria she had been just a bit earlier. Wilson supposed
that she was just tougher than him.
He could no longer hear the sound he had taken for laughter. It occurred to him
that the thing he had seen moving was most likely a stray dog looking for food from a dumpster. It wasn't big enough, he told
himself, to be a child. Just a dog. There was nothing in this alley to be afraid of. Nothing at all. They were completely
That was when he felt it. Hands on him. They had come from behind, and they were
all over him. They pulled him to the ground, and he felt the gun being tugged from his pants. The light fell from his hand,
and rolled away. The sound of children laughing was all around him. Something struck his forehead, and the world filled with
tiny pinpricks of light. Then he felt it again.
The darkness slipped in. It was deep, and warm. Then he was gone. Wilson didn't
know how long he had been out. His skull felt like it was packed full of cotton. Thoughts kept slipping just out of his grasp.
Every time he thought he had a grip on where he was, or what was happening,
it just slid past him. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
His eyes began to open. They were
sticky, and blurred. He tried to move and found that he could not. He was flat on his back, and his hands and feet were bound.
He seemed to be lying on some sort of table. The room was mostly dark. He was surrounded by little, round smiling faces. One
of the little girls giggled. Wilson gulped.
There were maybe fourteen or fifteen of them. Attractive children, each with a
knife or a cleaver, or some other sharp instrument. They were circled around him. Tim Johnson was there. He seemed to be in
charge. Tim touched the edge of his knife blade to Wilson's bare arm, slicing easily. "Just a little cut. Just a nick." It
was then that Wilson thought of Janice.
"Where is she, you bastards?" He shouted at them. The oldest boy, Tim, laughed.
"She's right here, old man."
Janice moved out of the shadow to stand next to Tim. She placed her hand gently
on his shoulder. She was smiling easily. Her eyes were alight with joy.
Wilson exhaled very slowly. He looked up at Janice. He asked: "But, your mom?"
"Will, she's at home. Asleep in bed."
"Because, Will, this is the way it has to be. The way it's always been."
Then the children were upon him. Their blades moved swiftly. They jabbed, and sliced,
and stabbed. They hacked, and chopped. Wilson was still very much alive and awake when they began to eat him.
Copyright Nathan Tyree 2004
Nathan Tyrees work has appeared in a variety of literary journals, including Flesh and Blood, The Shallow End,
Star Crossed, Coffee Faucet, Doorknobs & Body Paint
and The MiniMag. In addition I write a monthly column for an alternative
newspaper called Edge3d. Ive also had opinion pieces in several magazines, and e-zines. For moreon this author visit the website: