Family Day at the Fairgrounds, aka Carnyland
By Casie Blevins
Crowl stood in the late afternoon sun, his hair and brow grimy with sweat, his face soured permanently into a look of contempt. Behind him roared the Tiltawheel, and the screams of fairgoers rose and fell in the air. To Crowl, they were a river of marks flowing around him, laughing, crying, bleating out their stupid inane mark chatter, all of them ignoring him. He couldn’t stand them. All of them exactly the same as every other city he had ever stood in.
He’d spent the whole afternoon staring up at the banner prominently displayed in his eyeline: Tulsa Fairgrounds. Most of the time he forgot what city he was in just as soon as he was there. Today it was Tulsa, tomorrow, who knew? Every city was the same anyways; full of big fat stupid slow mouth-chewing marks.
He spotted Tode across the fairway, nodded at him, and received a tip of the hat back. He and Tode went way back, he was both brother and snake charmer to Crowl. Tode was the one who convinced him to come along, to join the carny circuit four years ago. Back then Crowl had been the mark, a green kid spending his birthday at the fair. He shook his head thinking about the stupid kid he’d been, hoping for an adventure and throwing his whole life away, on a bet.
He’d definitely found adventure. Too much of it. Every weekend a new girl in his camper, hell, for a while there’d been two or three every afternoon, girls so loose they just fell out of their panties. Thinking he’d been some kind of big man, a real player.
Now, he knew better.
Crowl the Wonder Hump, he’d been. Just another ride, a cheaper one than the metal beasts that surrounded him: The Ferris Wheel, The Whipperwheel, the Bumper Cars. No tickets required, step right up.
Empty fun at best, and after a while he’d gotten bored with it.
He shifted his weight to his other foot, opened his mouth wide in what he hoped was a big toothy grin and hollered, “Three throws, just three dollars!”
He was shouting to the wind. Nobody gave a crap about knocking over a bunch of bottles anymore. Not when the Xbox One was at home in their living rooms. He was sick of this booth.
It was his own damn fault–he shouldn’t have pissed off Tode last month. Now he was stuck on the bottles for the foreseeable future, the bottom of the crap pile in carnyland.
A little boy approached him, maybe ten years old. The boy didn’t say anything, just stared at Crowl like he was some kind of interesting bug.
Crowl returned his look. “Hey, kid you got any money?”
The kid continued to stare at him, his eyes dull but unavoidable and just as Crowl was beginning to feel a little freaked out–what was wrong with the kid? The kid held up a fistful of dollars.
That’s more like it.
“It’s three bucks, kid. Hand it over, or scram back to Mommy. This ain’t no charity.” He liked to toss in some vernacular, the marks loved it. The truth was he was a college kid–or had been once upon a time but nobody’d ever had an adventure carrying a science book around.
The kid narrowed his eyes at him, then carefully set down three dollars. Finally the boy spoke. “Gimme the balls already.”
“Alright, kid. Calm your jets.”
He pulled the balls out of a basket under his counter, then stepped back. He’d learned the hard way that some marks mistook his head for the target. On purpose.
The kid threw his first two balls rapidly, not really aiming, and not hitting a damn thing either. A little girl interrupted him, chattering happily in his ear, probably his sister. He shooed her away, not looking at her, and took careful aim for his final shot. He leaned over, balancing on one foot. Crowl was distracted by the little girl, thinking that this little kitty would be a looker some day, when he heard the crash of all the bottles falling.
Crowl’s eyes frowned, but his lips gave a big toothy grin. “Way to go kid! Choose a prize from the left side.” He turned back to the little girl. “You wanna turn, little girl? Three bucks gets you three throws. Where’s your mom, huh?”
She turned her own big toothy grin at him and stuck her tongue out at him, but it was cute and he found himself charmed, not annoyed. She reminded him of his own little sister.
“My mama likes you. I can tell.” She danced away from his counter and Crowl watched her join up with a woman that was the spitting image of her. Crowl hadn’t been wrong. The woman was a looker, a real babe. Chestnut hair, tied in a ponytail that bobbed as she looked down at her daughter, a green spaghetti strap top filled to distraction with pillowy breasts. Crowl chewed his tongue, then noticed her hand fitted comfortably in the hand of a tall man.
“Don’t pay any attention to her,” the boy beside him said, pointing at a stuffed pig. “She just says stuff. She’s eight.”
Crowl handed him the pig. “Try again, three tries for two bucks this time.”
“Nah,” the kids said, looking sideways at him.
“One buck. Final offer.”
A smile crossed his lips, but it wasn’t a carefree little kid smile. It was gone before Crowl could figure it out and he shook it off.
“Deal,” the kid said throwing down his dollar and collecting his balls. But instead of throwing the first ball he turned slowly and yelled to his mother. “Mama! Mama, come watch me throw the ball!” Then turned slowly back around and stared keenly at Crowl, smirking.
Crowl frowned at him.
“Bradley’s gonna knock ‘em down,” said the little girl, standing hand in hand with her mother. “He already won a pig, see Mummy?”
Up close Crowl could see the faint lines on the woman’s forehead. She was at least ten years older than he was, maybe fifteen years but she was such a hottie that he stepped back a bit into the shadows, uncomfortable.
Her eyes sought his in the darkness and she smiled a row of perfect white teeth.
“Can I have a turn next, Mummy?”
The woman nodded, keeping her eyes steadily on Crowl.
Crowl felt the gooseflesh crawl across his arms. “One dollar,” he said. “For the little girl.”
The woman reached into her top, fingers dipping into her bra and pulled out a few dollars. She slowly slid the rest back into place.
Crowl’s gut clenched, ached. What was he, in high school? He glanced around quickly but saw no sign of the man she was with. She narrowed her eyes at him, and smirked.
He reeled, lights danced in his eyes, he was dizzy and disoriented. One moment he was staring at the woman, the next he was together with her in the darkness of the booth; he and the woman grappled. Her fingers gripped his hair, his neck. She hung off of him, her legs wrapped around his waist, her skirt pushed up around her waist, her breasts and her sweat all over him–
Crash! The bottles knocked to the ground and he was rocked out of the vision. He wiped his brow, blinking rapidly, wondered idly if he was going crazy, feeling like his heart was trying to stampede out of his chest. The woman stood as before, smiling. He took a deep breath, letting it out slow. Get a grip, man.
Then noticed her nipples were hard, pushing against her top.
It was the little girls turn, and Crowl was so unnerved that he handed her four balls instead of three. She squealed with delight and chattered happily at him but he heard none of it. He couldn’t hear anything except what he was sure was the woman’s breathing.
That was crazy. He couldn’t hear her breathing, not here, not in the middle of the Fairgrounds with the whirl of the rides and the screaming–
But he was sure he was.
The little girl was done and she turned to her mother and said, “We should invite him for dinner. Can we invite him for dinner, Mummy?”
The mother frowned, appeared to think about it and then nodded. “We’ll have to ask your Daddy, but sure, Claire. That was very nice of you to ask.”
It took him a moment to process it and then he stammered, “Oh no, I’m working. I can’t–I mean–”
“Sure you can. We insist.” Crowl had the insane feeling that it was her breasts that had just spoken to him.
He was losing it. But he heard his mouth form the words, “I’d love to. Just let me get my hat,” and then his legs were in motion and he had joined them.
Screw the job, he didn’t like it anyways.
When he travelled between cities, he always rode with Tode’s crew, he’d never had his own car. The camper was a rental and Tode towed it. So when the Phillips offered him a ride back to their house he’d had to graciously accept.
They pulled up to a large ranch style house, gray on the outside with brick along the bottom. Bushes covered most of the front window and a large tree shaded the back.
“It’s nice,” he murmured.
“Thanks, Crowl.” Lora Phillips–that was the hot mom’s name– rubbed her husband Warner’s arm affectionately. “He picked it out for us on a business trip. We moved here just two months ago.”
Crowl didn’t know what to say. He nodded.
She leaned toward Crowl whispering loudly, “What’s your favorite kind of meat?” and then she winked at him. “We can have whatever you like. Chicken, pot roast, fish. You look like a man who’s past due for a home cooked meal.”
They had a pool in the backyard.
“Closed for the summer, of course.” Warner Phillips said. “Speaking of water, how do you feel about a shower? You can use our bathroom at the end of the hall. My wife can bring you some towels. What do you say? You’ll feel like a shiny new car afterwards.”
“Sure.” He figured that was their polite way of saying don’t dirty the couch, but he was okay with that because a real shower sounded nice.
Lora showed him the bathroom, brought him a stack of towels, then sat on the sink. She was still wearing the long flowing skirt and it pulled upwards showing thigh through the slit. Crowl forced his eyes away from her, looking instead in the mirror at his own face. His eyes were too large, dilated wildly. He looked away from himself and down at the tiled floor.
“Take as long as you want in the shower. Dinner will be at least an hour.”
“You weren’t born to the life, were you?”
“Of a carny.”
“Oh. No. I joined up later.”
She pulled off her sandals tossing them to the floor. “That feels better.”
Crowl wanted to rub her feet but forced himself to be still.
Her legs thumped against the cabinet doors. Awkwardly, Crowl said, “So, I guess I’ll just…”
“I’ll bring you some of Warner’s clothes. Tshirt and sweats, okay?”
“Um, yeah. Thanks.”
“How old are you?” she asked.
He was taken aback, answered reflexively. “Twenty-four.”
“I remember twenty-four.” She smiled at him, her eyes turning dreamy. “Those were the fuck or fight years.”
“Nevermind. Enjoy your shower, darling. I’ll leave the clothes on the bed, K?” Then jumped down and strolled out the door.
He turned the water as hot as he could stand it, practically parboiling the skin on his back. He washed his hair three times and found himself sighing deeply in contentment. His camper water was tepid at best, and it was a rare treat to rent a motel room. He smelled the shampoo, inhaling the strawberry scent into his nostrils. This was probably how she smelled. He closed his eyes, savoring it wondering what her other scent was like, the heady woman scent unique to her.
Dammit, he couldn’t go there. It wasn’t right. It was a weird situation, no doubt about it, but they were nice people. He’d had quite a few girls invite him back to their apartments but never a family. Most families treated him like a diseased rat, avoided him. He had to admit he often smelled like one, but the Phillips had welcomed him, openly.
Nice, almost like home. He hadn’t been home since he joined the carny circuit. He’d called once, at Christmas. Heard all the laughter and talking in the background and figured he hadn’t been missed too much, had hung up quietly, his sister saying, “Hello? Hello?” in his ear.
He’d cried, but only a little. After all, he was a free man in the circuit, nobody to tell him what to do after he graduated, dictate where he had to work, what was good for him. It was all his decision now, his choice. A bad choice maybe but how was he supposed to have know that back then?
He missed his family suddenly, his whole body swerving under the weight of the memory. He missed his parents and his little brothers, his sister. He missed college, and a girlfriend, and love.
He missed it all.
He got out of the shower, his body aching from the weight of loss. He was so tired that he put on the clothes Lora had set out for him and then laid down on their bed. He felt finished. Lost. His eyes closed and he slept.
He dreamt of her, of course. How could he not?
Her hair was down around her face, brushing his chest, and he felt her kisses on his neck, the press of her breasts on his arm. He could just feel her tongue, lightly licking his skin, her breath cooling it, drying it. He moved to reach for her, found he couldn’t, sighed, and drifted away again into another dream.
He woke to giggles in his ear.
She was smiling broadly at him, poking his belly with one finger. “Dinners ready!”
Their plates were half empty.
“We let you sleep. You were so tired.”
“Oh, uh, thanks. Sorry about that.”
Warner Phillips winked at him. You look like a new man. Just like I said.”
Crowl nodded. “I was dreaming about–” he snuck a look at Lora. “Home.”
“And where is home, Robert?”
Crowl’s stomach twisted. He hadn’t told them his first name. Warner saw his discomfort, nodded. “I peeked in your wallet while you slept. Sorry.”
Crowl nodded curtly. “Then I guess you know where I’m from then.”
“I guess I do. But Lora and the kids don’t.”
Crowl shrugged. It wasn’t some kind of secret, after all. “Kansas.”
“Whereabouts? I have family in Kansas.” Lora asked.
“Little town you’ve never heard of.”
She nodded, smirked. “Oh, that one.”
He changed the subject. “Dinner is delicious.”
“Thank you, Crowl. My pleasure.”
Crowl watched the others push food around their plates but eat very little, and wondered about it. The boy looked annoyed as if he wanted to be somewhere else, doing something else. Crowl couldn’t blame him. The boy was probably tired of sitting at the table for all that time while Crowl slept.
Claire kept a steady eye on him while he ate. “Mummy, Mummy I’m hungry.”
“Then eat your food.”
“Settle down, Claire.” Her father stared her down until she sat sullenly in her chair. Still, she didn’t do more than push the food around her plate.
Crowl ate like it was his last meal, eating way more than what he had intended, having seconds and then feeling embarrassed, accepting thirds. When finally he sat on the couch, sated, his eyes felt heavy, his limbs tired. He yawned.
He didn’t have to return to the fairgrounds; there was no hurry. He was tired of that life, anyway. Maybe it was time to go home. His eyes slowly closed.
“You can spend the night, you know,” he heard Lora say, and opened his eyes to look into her face. “You can sleep in my bed.”
His head jerked up and he was looking at the TV, not Lora. The room was empty, the rest having gone to bed. A pillow sat beside him, with a blanket on top. He stretched out on the couch, and covered up and dreamed.
It was Lora again. Her hips straddled his, wedged in next to him on the couch. She was wearing a chemise and the gauzy fabric draped across her full breasts. He could see the darkness of her areolas.
He could feel the soft scratch of her pubic hair. She was moving on him, he wasn’t inside her yet but he could feel the slickness of her down there, the heat. The head of his penis slipping between her labia.
She was teasing him.
“Lora,” he whispered.
She reached down, pressed the head of his penis inside of her, popped him out again. Then in again.
He reached for her but couldn’t move his arms, his hands, his legs. He could only move his eyes, and he was terrified suddenly. “Lora?”
“Shh,” she whispered. “Just close your eyes.”
He closed them, feeling dizzy. Passion mounting, but pain too.
He could feel needle like pressure all over his body.
Had she drugged him somehow?
“Mummy, I’m so hungry.”
He opened his eyes again, an effort because his eyes were so heavy, like ten pound barbels hung from his lids. Through the blur he saw their faces, all of their faces. The Father, hair all over his face, grunting, making pig-like sounds. The boy, claws out, slashing his skin. The girl, tiny shining teeth gnawing and gnawing on his arm.
He was covered in blood, his own blood.
Where was Lora?
She loomed over him suddenly, still dressed in her long skirt and green top. Her face closer and closer to him, was she going to kiss him? Her eyes were dark, but smiling and he parted his lips, wanting her kiss, wanting her taste, but her mouth missed his own and her lips kissed his throat instead and then he felt her teeth and realized he was never going home, he was going to die, right here, right now. This moment was to be the end of him.
He opened his mouth to scream.