by Andrew S. Fuller
I do not know exactly when the carnival first tasted my son’s blood.
I am protective, never hovering but always watching him. So I would remember any harm coming to him on the Ferris wheel, in the big top, or in the animal petting pen. I stood by him on the carousel, as he rode his favorite powder blue unicorn, which delighted him more than any birthday. I always walked next to him, even when he stopped holding my hand last year.
All it takes, I know now, is a prick of the finger. The smallest drop of red. There were no scraped knees, no bloody noses, that I can recall. But somehow they sampled his life.
Every year since Toby’s birth, it became our family tradition to spend one October day at the traveling tents. Last year we returned to the carnival three times. I could not experience enough, taking days off work and insisting to my wife that we weren’t done seeing everything. I never told her or anyone about the deep anxious ache that pulled me. Nor have I forgotten that insatiable feeling. True, I had never seen a carnival or a circus in my own childhood, and I rationalized with a need for some absent form of nostalgia. Such traveling shows seemed more and more a dying breed, and family outings were still a schedule challenge for us in our fifth year of parenting. Perhaps it was Claire who wanted to visit on the third day.
But this year, it was Toby who insisted we attend every single day.
Every single day for the past week. He rode the carousel thirty-three times.
After eight days of the carnival, we refused him. Gently… At first.
Then he refused to eat.
He bit Claire multiple times. And broke one of her fingers.
We locked him in his room two days ago.
We brought his meals and tried speaking to him in approaches both rational and scolding, without response. He ate just enough, staring at the two of us with a loathsome glare I’ve not seen before, while mocking calliope music through his open-mouthed chewing. Then he tilted his head and screamed. He hurled plates and food, and drove us from the room.
He has been standing on the other side of his door for two days, screaming.
Exhausted as I am, I do not linger when Toby’s angry shouts melt to screams of fear.
My hands tremble so much that I have trouble fitting the key.
A massive crash in his room. Glass shatters and something heavy enters the house. Then the unmistakable clop of hooves, an agitated whinny and angry snorts.
As much as I love my son, I back away from the clamor.
Claire arrives almost immediately. She looks at me briefly, before kicking forward and breaking the latch from its frame, splintering wood.
Her punches I can handle with practice pads. I once took a full kick of hers while sparring. I blacked out and woke on the mat moments later, and the doctor said one of my lungs was bruised.
She is often my strength, and I use her now to release myself from a huddle of trepidation.
There is little blood but my eyes are drawn to it. The floorboards are charred and still smoldering. His bed is broken in two. The room reeks of sulfur.
Toby is, of course, gone.
The porch roof outside his window is burned too. In another second, I realize that the blackened patterns are hoof marks. Coming and going. I remember the carousel, the overlarge and murky eyes of the unicorn.
We turn to each other, my eyes stinging, her face locked and low. We seem to remember it at once — the purchase I made last week. The curiosity of a new hobby, and curious fascination with the deadliness of the weight in my hand, even unloaded. She nods now to forgive me for the argument we had about it, then tosses me Toby’s softball bat. She’s heads to the basement, digging in her pocket for the key to the gun safe. We’ll meet at the car.
And go to the carnival. One last time.
ANDREW S. FULLER grew up in Nebraska and other places, climbing trees and reading books. His fiction appears in Abyss & Apex, Fantastic Metropolis, The Harrow, Blood Rose, Every Day Fiction, A Fly in Amber, and Ink-filled Page. Damnation Books will release The Circus Wagon in September 2010. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, a graphic novella, and editor of Three-Lobed Burning Eye speculative fiction magazine. His screenplay Effulgence recently won the Best Screenwriter Award at the 2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Now he lives in Portland, where he climbs rocks and writes stories. Learn more at www.andrewsfuller.com.