A R C A D E
We entered the Magic Show just as the Magician ordered a slender, pensive brunette to step into the box. The Magician swirled his cape. The woman inserted a leg nervously into the casket. In the spotlight he hovered over her like a giant vulture.
There was a tear in her skirt!
I gasped...the mime raised a finger, like a small white bird, to her lips.
Eyes glistening in the lights as the Magician surveyed his audience "The illusion of a woman cut in two." His voice was hypnotically detached and metallic like a voice synthesizer.
He positioned a large blade. "The guillotine is still alive!" With a flick of his wrist the blade crashed through the box.
A geyser of blood spewed up.
The brunette screamed.
A lady in front of us fainted.
"Something's gone terribly wrong," someone yelled.
Screams from the audience.
The mime pulled me outside, where strollers stared curiously at the crowd rushing from the Magic Show. A siren started in the distance.
The mime laid a hand on my chest. She --I was sure now-- led me into the sawdust and pungency of the Animal Show where a few lions slept fitfully in cages. Three elephants plodded in a circle as a ballerina skipped and tumbled nimbly from one to the other.
The gang of six industriously worked the ring, raking the sawdust, tossing food at the lions, and following the elephants, shovels at the ready. Periodically a heaping shovel would be deposited in a large burlap sack by the rear door.
The audience turned to stare as I laughed. With thumbs up and a smile the mime led me outside. Our smiles faded at the sight of the ambulance angled at the entrance of the Magic Show, light flickering, doors thrown open, paramedics carrying a stretcher.
The mime held up crossed fingers then rushed me to the Gladiator's Tent. In subdued light a muscular torso with broad shoulders postured as if just risen to lead. But clutched in the crook of his arm like a football was the Gladiator's head.
"Thought I was to be king," His eyes rolled.
"I was deceived," he said. "Look out for the Magician!"
The eyes rolled out of control.
I wanted to reach out and reassure him, but how?
The Gladiator got his eyes under control. "There were times I wanted to escape through the Forest of Darkness. But I never liked the idea of going through it. Besides I believed the Kingdom was here, and I would be its ruler."
The eyes looked at me from the crook of his arm.
"If you should try the forest you'll need a guide. Men of war know that at night you must not follow a single luminous spot. You'll hallucinate...the spot will move...you'll wander off and be lost. In the Forest of Darkness that means forever. So whoever you follow, make sure there's more than one luminous spot."
The Gladiator closed his eyes to rest. In repose the soft lights reflected from his surfaces as if from a granite sculpture.
The mime hurried me past the rest of the booths to the Arcade's end where a sign on the gate read, "DO NOT GO THIS WAY." Without hesitating she pushed through.
Thump..thump..thump...the Barker came after us.
"Can't you read?"
With a commanding sweep of his arm the Barker pointed to the Arcade where the crowd milled among brightly lit booths. The mime continued along a path leading into the forest.
"There's nothing that way but darkness," the Barker said. He stamped a stilt on the pavement.
I turned to go.
"What kind of job can you get in the woods?" the Barker yelled. "What kind of home? How can you carry a conversation with a mime?" Agitated stamping of stilts. "What kind of medical and dental benefits?"
I continued after the mime.
A tremendous crash.
I ran back to find the Barker sprawled on the pavement, stilts a kilter like a fallen skier. Carefully I turned him over.
The Barker breathed heavily. Gasped. Short breaths. His eyes opened wide, staring as if into a horrible abyss, then rolled back, one eye springing wildly to the side in his last
The mime waited for me, her white sections fusing into a luminous speck in the darkness. Except for the spec of light it was darker than anything I'd ever experienced. As we walked only the three luminous sections of her body, as the Gladiator had predicted, kept me from total disorientation. And I had to concentrate on her moving patterns to keep awake. After hours of trudging through complete blackness the hallucinations came...or were they illusions contrived by the Magician?
We came to a ridge above steep ravines. Far below I heard the slithering of legs and tails...the ravines crawled with millions of scorpions. Yet even while walking past them I dozed.
I awoke with a start to discover that the mime was gone. She'd fallen into the ravine on my right. Only the torso remained... legs, arms, head had been eaten away by thousands of scorpions. I started to run back to the Arcade. No matter how oppressive, it was better than this. But the mime reappeared to pull me ahead. Later we passed through a zoo that was so quiet I heard the big cats breath in their sleep. The snort of a rhinoceros. The moon came out to shine on the lions' cages. One door was ajar....
Paws thumped behind me. I looked back into two yellow eyes.
Guttural breaths moistened my ankles. Claws reached for me. Only a few steps and the first prick of jagged teeth....
but nothing happened.
The mime and I ran far off the path into a landscape of dunes...variegated humps, phantasmagoric shapes highlighted by the moon. Every direction looked identical. I was lulled to sleep. I awoke at dawn to find myself at the forest edge looking over fields of wild wheat. Patches of fog hovered like steam in the hollows.
The brunette stood beside me.
"You were the mime all along!"
"The only way I could escape."
Dark eyes picked up highlights from the sun.
"How could you be in the box and by my side at the same time?"
"What people see as an illusion is often reality."
A warm voice edged with pain.
We walked up to stand on a knoll. I looked back beyond the forest where the Ferris Wheel, the roller coaster, the diving tower were like the spires of a distant city. Fireworks speckled the sky but we'd gone too far to hear their explosions.
"Now you know the six were stealing elephant manure for their garden."
"How can you laugh after all you've been through?"
"Because I'm free."
Then I laughed.
"And I'm innocent."
The sun had evaporated the fog. A Monarch butterfly fluttered up in front of us. We started off through the wheat to follow a speck of zigzagging orange.
Ray Torrence's writing has been a journey out of terrors and dark dreams into the light. He has been published in SLIPSTREAM, OXALIS, ASH, POTENT APHRODISIAC and has taught short story courses at the Writers Center in Bethesda Maryland. He has also published a non-fiction book, a video and many articles on writing.
Copyright ©1995-1997 Circuit Traces Communications. All rights reserved.