The Carnival of the Goat Man
and the Last Minotaur
by Doug Hiser
part 1 of 2
A carnival had set up tents and rides in the vacant lot across from the Lady of Tide Church. I had been to a carnival once, a few years ago, in Centerville, with my Paw Paw and Mee Maw. I was little and only remember riding airplanes in a circle and a two-headed camel in a dark tent that scared me.
I was about to become a teenager in six months and I was over my fear of two-headed camels. My friends, Markus and Joey, were excited about going into the Haunted Castle and the Maze of Mirrors. Markus was the tallest and the skinniest and Joey looked like a gymnast with jet black hair full of grease. We sat under the old oak tree next to the church and watched the Carnies moving about the carnival, getting ready for the opening later this evening.
Joey was tossing pebbles into a ring drawn in the dirt, saying, “I heard from old man Dinger that this carnival has been banned from half the cities north of Waco. I heard him tell Mrs. MacRaken over at the drugstore that they have some obscene things in their tents. He said that they got things in there that no human being should want to see. Mrs. MacRaken said she was going to tell Mrs. Shire about it and she and the church ladies were going to do something about shutting the place down. She said they might have to get Sheriff Toaff to run them out of town.”
I felt excited about the carnival but Joey’s interest in obscene things wasn’t on my list of things to do at the carnival. I wanted to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl and play all the games. I liked popping balloons with darts to try and win goldfish in plastic bags.
My favorite game was the one where you get a big rubber hammer and smack a lever with a fat rubber bullfrog on it. You’re supposed to knock the bullfrog onto a lily pad or something to win a prize. I hoped the prize was a goldfish in a bag and not some dumb stupid fluffy stuffed bear.
Markus interrupted my thoughts about bullfrogs and goldfish by punching me in the arm and saying, “Look at that. They got a freak show here.”
Two men in overalls and no shirts were nailing up a big colorful sign in front of a faded yellow and red striped tent. The sign read, “Freaks, Odd Creatures, Wonders of the World! Come In If You Dare!”
Markus whistled, and exclaimed, his red hair almost standing on end, “I bet this is the carnival that my dad was talking about that has the lady with three boobs!”
Joey smiled, exposing his two large buck teeth and laughed, “Three boobs? No way, man, we got to see that!”
Markus smirked, replying in a low voice, “I bet they got an age limit. We ain’t ever going to get inside that tent.”
I chimed in, “We don’t need to get in there. If she has three boobs, you know they’re fake anyway. There’s plenty to do without going to see a freak show. I still want to try and find Darla and ride the Ferris’ Wheel.”
Joey grinned at Markus and they both laughed, as he said, “Darla? Darla! You’re always following around after that girl like she was your best friend or something. She never even talks to you. Do you think she would even ride the Ferris’ Wheel with you? What are you going to do then? Hold her hand? Get a grip, Butch. She ain’t holding hands with you and you might as well set your lips on somebody else. Maybe you can get a kiss from Thelma Anne Haskett?”
Markus sniped, “I heard Thelma Anne kisses like a big mouth bass and she even let Danny Mathas feel one of her boobs!”
I punched Markus in the leg and got up. Turning away from their laughter, I said, “Yeah, well, whatever. I’ll see you guys tonight when the carnival opens. You go ahead and look at the freaks and I’ll be riding the Ferris’ Wheel with Darla.”
I left them snickering under the tree across from the carnival. I trotted down the road towards the duck pond by Major Whistler’s farm. I climbed the tall bank and sat by the water, watching mallards swim and splash.
I thought about Darla’s blonde hair blowing in the breeze like silky fire. Her blue eyes were like gem stones and I always stared too long at her pretty face. Markus and Joey were right, Darla never even talked to me, but I couldn’t help but think about her all the time. Those two guys were silly to be thinking about freaks and ladies with three boobs. I had more important thoughts. I was thinking about how to get Darla to ride the Ferris’ Wheel with me. I thought if I could get her alone up there, high in the sky, something special could happen.
A carnival coming to our small Texas town was a big deal. About half of the people couldn’t wait to play games and see the acts put on in the big tents. The other half of the people, mostly the church ladies’ group, thought that carnivals were the entertainment of the Devil. I knew that tonight there was going to be some kind of showdown between the carnival and the church ladies.
This was the most exciting event in my town since the Harlem Globetrotters bus broke down and the Veteran’s VWF Post 183 tried to lynch a few members of the team. They accused the Globetrotters of loitering and jaywalking Main Street.
Actually Dickie Crannit, head of the local Elk’s Club, Social League of Men, President of the local Mason’s Lodge and MC of Thursday Night Bingo, decided that the black strangers in our town were members of the United Black Panthers Terrorist Organization. He convinced Terry Smythe and Jimmy Waggins that they must be patriotic and stand up for America and lead the Veterans by stopping the terrorist Black Panthers from corrupting the white women of our town.
Luckily Sheriff Toaff and Deputy Eric Mylie stopped the hanging and got Bubba Slimm to fix their bus for free. I got Meadowlark Lemon’s autograph and I kept the rope with the hangman’s noose that had been around his neck.
The carnival opened at five that evening and a group of church ladies were out in front of the Lady of Tide church with homemade signs. Most were painted red, black and blue with the words, “Satan’s Carnival Leave our Town to Jesus!’ and “Don’t go to the Devil’s Playground!”
Mrs. MacRaken shook her fist and her sign at the closest carnival worker, an old man with clown paint on his bulldog face. He was shouting at kids to try their luck at throwing a bean bag at a stack of milk bottles. The clown face man ignored Mrs. MacRaken and it just made her yell louder that Jesus would deliver his soul if he would just come to church!
I saw the crowd of women with the signs and noticed that my Aunt Wilma was with them, carrying her own crazy sign, so I avoided them by cutting through the back of the carnival, behind the many old tents, stepping over ropes and tent stakes.
I heard some voices and noticed movement in one of the tents. There was a rip in the tent and I could sneak a peek at the inside. I saw a tall man with a tuxedo on and tattoos covering his face. He reminded me of one of those island cannibals in the pirate movies on Saturday afternoon television. He was a weird tattooed cannibal in a penguin suit. I thought that maybe he was some sort of magician.
He was speaking to another person in the tent. I could see her sitting with her back to me on some big cushions. I heard the tuxedo tattoo man say, “We could make a killing off these hicks if we just get rid of those bitchy Jesus old ladies. They might keep too many people away tonight but I got a special present for them later. Tomorrow night we’ll have a big crowd and no more sign-waving grammas.”
I saw the female get up and she seemed too small for her voice, as she said, “Croan, what present do you have? Don’t be doing something to get us in trouble with the law again.”
He smiled like a crocodile that had just eaten his own young and then burped satisfactorily afterwards, chuckling as he replied, “Don’t you worry your pretty head about my present to the old bitches, Dorothy. I got a great foolproof plan for them.”
I saw Dorothy turn around and walk across the tent. My eyes went into shock when I saw that she only wore white gloves and white boots, nothing else. It was my first time to ever see a woman or girl completely naked, unless you count the time I accidently opened the bathroom door and saw my sixteen-year old cousin, Cecilia, on the toilet. I didn’t see much but I got to see Cecilia turn about as red as a cooked crayfish and heard some bad words stream out of her mouth.
Seeing Dorothy nude in the tent was much more informative and exhilarating. She was shorter than I was but she was older, maybe thirty. I saw her pierced belly button and the curly blonde triangle below that. Her breasts were as large as cantaloupes, which I thought tasted nasty, unlike watermelons which were sweeter.
Dorothy was beautiful and she was a dwarf. She picked up a horsewhip and snapped it playfully across the tent at Croan, saying, “I bet you do, but I’m warning you, we need to stay out of trouble. Next time we could get shut down for good and Mr. Oberscuncher won’t like that. We don’t need to get our asses killed, Croan. Be careful.”
Croan grabbed the whip and pulled Dorothy over to him. Her eyes came to his belt buckle. He started to unzip his pants and then he looked up and saw me. I bolted like a jackrabbit being chased by a coyote. I jumped over tent ropes and stakes as if I wore a red suit with a yellow lightning bolt on the front. My heart hammered in my chest and I turned and I ran serpentine around every tent and walkway I came to.
I ran right by Joey and Markus. They were throwing darts at balloons. They hollered at me, “Hey, Butch, wait up! Come here!”
I stopped running. I thought that maybe they never came after me. I tried to slow my breathing down and walked back to my friends, searching the way I had come for signs of the tattoo islander cannibal tuxedo man, Croan. That name scared me. His eyes scared me when he saw me peeking into the tent.
I told Markus and Joey that I had been looking for them. I wanted to say more but I was afraid. I hoped the man didn’t come after me and I thought that maybe he hadn’t gotten a good look at me. I wanted to leave the carnival right then. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be safe in my own house.
Joey said, “Hey, Butch, I saw Darla already. I told her that you were looking for her. I also told Thelma Anne that you might like to hang out with her later tonight.”
Markus laughed and said, “Yeah, Thelma Anne got so excited that she started giggling and told her two fat friends that she might ride the Ferris Wheel and later go out to the duck pond with you.”
I was still too shaken up to even punch my friends in the arms. I looked across the carnival by the popcorn booth and saw Darla. I took one last look behind the tents for any sign of the tattoo cannibal, Croan, and then walked fast towards the object of my desire. She saw me coming and turned to her three friends and began talking to them.
I knew her friends, Sheila, Stephanie, and Willow. Sheila and Stephanie were cheerleader types and Willow was shy and liked to read a lot. I think the only reason they let Willow hang out with them was because she was Darla’s neighbor, the only other house on her dead end road. She reminded me of a cute mouse.
I just felt brave after seeing Dorothy, the nude dwarf, and meeting the eyes of a tuxedo maniac cannibal magician. I walked up and said, “Darla, you want to ride the Ferris’ wheel with me?”
She looked at me with those incredible blue eyes and said, “Not really. We are going to see the Freak Show.”
Sheila and Stephanie walked past me and Darla followed them without another word. Willow looked over the edge of her cute little glasses and smiled with only one side of her mouth. She tucked a long strand of brown hair behind her ear and sort of jump-trotted past me to hurry and keep up with them.
Markus and Joey ran up to me and asked, “Well? What’s the verdict, Butch?”
Without thinking clearly, my soul had been thoroughly damaged; I said quickly, avoiding their eyes, “We’re all going to the Freak Show.”
Darla and her friends were already buying tickets to enter the tent so I guessed they didn’t have an age limit. I looked at the signs and color paintings of the many strange sights that were supposed to be inside.
The paintings looked like they had been done by Mrs. Samp’s 4th-grade art students. I saw a two-headed snake and an alien baby in a jar. I wasn’t afraid of a two-headed snake after experiencing a two-headed camel. There was a painting of a bearded lady and Siamese Twins. There was a strange painting of a wolf boy, growling and clawing.
The weirdest thing painted was the Porcupine Man. He had nails sticking out of his skin all over his body. I gave Markus my money and he returned with our tickets. We quickly followed the girls inside.
I could hear girls screaming ahead of us somewhere deeper in the dark tent. It was set up something like a maze with fabric walls separating each enclosure. I heard Darla say, “Yuck.”
Copyright © 2009 by Doug Hiser