Happy Halloween! As a spooky treat I have decided to release a very special all ages version of my latest tale “Low Bodies” here with my friends from Three If By Space. Feel free to check out the full messed tale here. – N
He might have been handsome once. It was all there, hidden beneath the sweat and residue. The gnarled locks and thrift shop wardrobe. A ridiculous necklace hung around his neck, some cheap tribal themed hunk of bone jewelry that was almost edgy. Everything about the Almost Man screamed almost. Almost was the extent of his existence because anything more than that required effort and effort was beyond the Almost Man’s particular skill set.
He was, by nature, a user.
He used men, women, anyone who would give him the means to maintain his almost life. He almost had success. He almost had fame. He almost had friends.
Almost. Almost. Almost.
It was just a matter of time and circumstance really, for his failure most certainly could not be of his own weaving. That would require him actually lifting a hand to put in effort somewhere and as mentioned effort was not his strong suit.
Both successes and failures require a bit more than almost, so far the Almost Man had pretty much almost succeeded though. (As much as he had almost failed.)
“it is just so boring.” The creature vacationing inside of him muttered aloud. “How do you live like this? No hopes. No dreams. No soul.”
He sighed, standing up and checking his watch. The Almost Man was waiting for the 11:15 bus from Chicago. Like the loser whose body it currently inhabited the creature was also a user. It found lost human vessels and tried on their lives like shiny new threads and took a walk in them. Lately the creature had tired of the designer life, so much upkeep and maintenance, and had decided to take check out the more laid back options on the vintage rack. Slumming it. Goodness help him, the centuries old wanderer was slumming it.
He knew the moment he saw her she was the one. Her smile just didn’t quite meet up with her eyes as she walked the curb. Her hair was wavy and unkempt but slick with oil from her lack of hygiene. Her clothes hung off of her too frail form, calling out proudly some band no one had yet to hear of and probably never would.
She desperately longed to be seen as edgy, but only really came off as looking desperate.
He loved desperate.
Her eyes were blue and they lingered on his for a second, sizing him up. He loved those eyes, a desperate twig of a thing like her could do a lot in a town like this with eyes like that.
He followed her to the bathroom. The shift was simple, now that there was a suitable corpse within range he merely had to shed one skin and slide into the other.
And so he…
… became she.
The carnival was her favorite place in town. She would hop the fence and pick pocket the faces with her friends. Carnival friends, of course. Almost friends. Often they would fight like hyenas and break up, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time. Tonight, however, they were happy. Taking mad cash, blowing it on cheap thrills and hurling crass insults. The workers naturally hated them. Everyone hated them. They hated them, but they loved how they looked in selfies.
“Try your luck?” A female carnie called. She was tall and had a poised put together sort of cold beauty, her dark hair pulled back in a long tight braid like a little whip. Her eyes were equally dark and sharp as they took them in with a small cunning smile that didn’t quite match up to her tone. “On the house, of course.”
“But if we don’t have anything to bet, how will you know what to pay us?” Big Bill asked, draping an arm around the Almost Woman he knew as Rebecca and drenching her in the pungent order of his unwashed pits and clothes.
“You don’t have anything actually of your own to bet anyway.” The Dealer countered. “We know. We’ve been watching you.”
“Sure we do.” Bill laughed, shoving Rebecca forward. “We bet her.”
“Yeah!” Came the chorus of cat calls and assessment.
“Yeah, right.” The creature snorted.
“Come on, Becks.” Bill growled under his breath. “It will be fun. Besides, you owe me.”
“Get lost.” She cried, kicking him hard in the shin as he tried to push her onto the massive steel plate before the Dealer’s booth. “Come on Bill, I said –”
Bill covered her mouth with his hand, smothering off her protests and grinning wide at the smirking carnival woman. “There. See? Our bet is placed.”
“Quite.” The Dealer purred, directing her hand to the large wheel beside them. “Now throw your spin, and call out if you are black or red once it has begun.”
“That’s it?” Bill blinked.
“That’s it.” She replied. The creature frowned behind Bill’s palm, a growing instinct of unease overtaking her.
“What do we get if we win?” She asked as Bill released her and stepped up to the wheel.
“Something free.” The Dealer said.
“All right!” The group cheered. Free stuff was their favorite stuff.
“And if we lose?” Bill laughed, his hand on the wheel, already dismissive of the outcome.
“Well then someone will have to pay the toll for your friend here.” She smirked.
Bill laughed tossing the wheel. “So nothing to lose then!”
“Black!” He called and the Almost Woman watched the spokes tick by with an apprehension she had never known, that budding sense of unease seeping through her and taking hold in her core.
The irony that she used to be Bill was not lost on her. Would she have offered Rebecca up on this literal silver plate like this when she had been him? She thought of the way she had snapped her own future neck back in that dingy stall and knew that yes, yes she would have.
“Red.” The Dealer declared with a soft unreadable grace. “The house wins.”
The gang groaned and the Almost Woman felt her human heart grow faint.
“Now tell me.” The carnival woman asked, looking from face to face with a probing and knowing smile. “Who will pay for this woman?”
“Sorry, Becks.” Bill called turning away. “You’re on your own. Wash dishes or something, we’ll be at The Diner.”
The others laughed, chortling their own agreements and platitudes as they took Bill’s lead and left.
As they abandoned her.
“Some friends you got there, sugar.” The Dealer smirked, watching them go.
“They aren’t my friends.” The creature whispered,
“No,” The beautiful cold carnie agreed, nodding to another just out of Rebecca’s disdained sight. “They aren’t.”
Then everything when Black, just like Bill had called.
The slab was cold and her restraints leather. She blinked, looking up the masked faces of robed figures looking down at her. Their robes were a dark midnight blue and their masks strange, a mix of man and beast with long protruding noses and tall pointed antlers with undefined sneering gashes at the mouths.
“How now, brown cow?” The familiar purr of the Dealer called out from behind the mask of the robbed figure at her feet. Her braid was now undone, long brown locks flowing gracefully to either side of her velvet garb. “Welcome to the toll booth.”
“We won’t take much at first.” She promised, gently fingering the glinting blade of a scalpel as she looked her up and down her scrawny form. “Not that it seems you have that much anyway. Just a little here and there. You know, ease you on into it.”
“Wait!” The creature breathed, thinking fast. “What if I was willing to make another bet?”
“What could you possibly hope to offer in your current state?” The Dealer laughed.
“Oh…” The Almost Woman chuckled, sizing her up with a cool glance. “You will be surprised sure enough should you win, and if even if you don’t I suspect the wager may just be enticing enough on its own.”
“Go on.” The Carnival Maiden offered, intrigued despite herself.
“If I can make it three days without so much as a single tear, or any cry or notion of my own weakness no matter what you all do to me, you will allow me five minutes alone with you.” The creature smiled daggers at her would be prey. “Just you, sweetheart.”
The Dealer chuckled, fingering the blade with delicate and derisive ease. “And if we do make you scream?”
The creature smiled with perfect calm. “Then I will show you, and only you, the very last thing I have to offer.”
“Deal.” The masked woman agreed, oblivious to the now utterly stacked deck as with a glint of blades and a rustle of cloaks, she and the other animals dug in.
The Almost woman was no stranger to torture. Sometimes it inflicted it. Sometimes it asked for it. Being human was a full, glorious, and versatile adventure of feelings and Rebecca could turn off and on whatever senses she chose. She could dull or heighten any experience. While effort was not its strong suit it felt a sense of renewed motivation and three days later the Almost Woman awoke to a single unmasked face peering over her slab.
“Remarkable.” The Dealer stated, her hair now once again tied back in its cold braid as she took in the sad yet utterly unbroken sight if her. “Alright. You win.”
For the first time in three days Rebecca’s face smiled.
“So.” She whispered raspily. “Now that it’s just the two of us tell me, do you want to see something cool?”
Bones snapped and cracked in unnatural contortion as she forced them to break and twist free from her restraints, everything snapping back into place as the Dealer gaped and the Almost Woman lunged at her, choking the life from her throat as the Dealer struggled in vein.
“Why?” She choked. “If you could have gotten out at any time.”
“Because.” The creature hissed, their faces now so close she could drink in the Dealer’s last dying gasps. “I don’t want out, I want in.”
The Almost Woman straightened herself up, all dolled up with her tight new skin on as she tucked back an errant strand of hair that had escaped her new prefect braid in the fray.
She would have a hard time explaining her old corpse to her new friends, but they would understand and forgive her. They were her friends after all, and that was what friends did, right?
Friends. The creature had never had friends before, and what very interesting games these new friends of hers seemed to love to play.
“I always knew I loved the carnival.” She smiled.