Illusion

I always hated carnivals, ever since I was a little kid. My dad used to work at this one circus, this traveling company, I don’t remember the name, and he would be gone for months with them. Every time he came back, my mom would get all cheerful and she’d put on his old dress she had with stupid flowers all over it and a big ribbon tied around the back, and she’d take me to the circus where my dad worked and we’d watch the clowns and the elephants and the poor old tiger without any teeth. That tiger was the only thing I liked, but he died when I was about six so after that I had no fun at all.

See, other kids loved all that stuff. They ate it up like candy, like ice-cream, like I don’t know what. They thought that it was all hilarious. But the thing is, they didn’t see how all the clowns yelled at each other inside their RVs, and they didn’t see the weird bearded lady kissing one of the skinny acrobat guys, and they didn’t see the way the elephants were prodded with these big pointed sticks, like devil’s pitchforks. They didn’t smell all the booze and the smoke and that weird rubber smell that I finally figured out was condoms but only when I was way older.

But I never told the other kids about all that stuff. Why ruin the magic for them, you know? I mean, when I saw this magician perform these coin tricks on the street once, with his hat on the ground for money, there were all these people around him wanting him to show them how the trick was done and I wanted to scream at them not to ask for that because that would ruin the magic.

I guess that’s why I never really believed in magic, though, you know, the real kind with wands and spells and stuff. I knew that everything was an illusion – even parents were illusions, really, because they weren’t always there when you needed them and they would pretend to listen to you even when they were really thinking about something else. But then one summer my dad made me come with him on the circus’s tour even though I didn’t want to, and I found out that there was stuff in the world that hardly anyone knows about, stuff that I know no one will believe me if I tell it.

But hey, I’m in prison now, with thirty other guys in my cell-block, and maybe my story will at least give them something to talk about when they work at the wood shop or the kitchens. It’s worth them all thinking I’m crazy if it’ll give me a chance to get this all off my chest.

A Traveling Business

The fairground was deserted, except for the lone figure strolling through it, swinging a cane with a curved handle. This man, who for some years now had gone by the name John Hathaway, whistled as he threw his large feet out to the sides and out. His walk was strange, everyone said so, like the rolling gait of a man who knows the swaying deck of a ship more than dry land. He peeked into the empty tents as he passed them, making sure that all the carnival workers were in the roped off area where their tents were set up. He’d heard about the sort of thing that went on after hours at other men’s carnivals, but he wasn’t going to let such indecorous and rude behavior go on in his.

He’d bought the traveling carnival from its previous owner, a Mr. Glencock, for pittance. It was true that the elephant was rather old and feeble, the tightrope walker was in her forties, and the ringmaster was losing his voice, but Mr. Hathaway had decided not to let humdrum facts get in the way of making a fortune. He’d hired the poster-makers to put gold-paint on all the advertisements and he’d dropped the ticket price quite a bit, so the crowds came in droves. If they left disappointed – well, they’d bought cotton-candy, kettle-corn and a few rounds of pie-throwing first. Fair’s fair, Mr. Hathaway thought, he wasn’t promising anything that wasn’t in the carnival. He chuckled at his pun – “Fair’s fair,” he muttered under his breath again – and poked his cane into the last tent. Empty too.

He started to stroll back towards the camp. Merry fires had sprung up in between the canvas shelters, and someone had taken up the fiddle and was playing some country melody that sounded familiar. Mr. Hathaway bounced a little bit in time to the rhythm and hummed rather tunelessly. Tomorrow he and his carnival would be opening for the third and last night in the small intersection here between three towns, and he’d be glad to get going. Already, rumors were beginning to spread about the poor maintenance of the paint in the main ring and the blind, toothless old lion that was supposed to “ROAR AND SCARE THE BRAVE OF HEART!” according to the poster. Well, Mr. Hathaway saw himself saying to the complainers, the lion may be blind and toothless, but poke him with a stick and he roared, alright. Still, he thought, better to get moving and go to somewhere new.