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Kristen Lee Knapp
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Enchanto

 

Kristen Lee Knapp

 

 

 

          BEHOLD A SPECTACLE NEVER BEFORE WITNESSED ON EARTH!

THE MAGNIFICENT ENCHANTO WILL PERFORM HIS INCREDIBLE HYPNOTIC ABILITIES FOR ALL! YOU WILL BE SPELLBOUND.

 

 

          The surging masses herded into the rainbow pinstripe tent. I shuffled through the brown muck and trampled straw, my sweating palm clasped tight in my girlfriend’s fingers. We entered the big top together.

 

          An overweight clown in a white and yellow jumpsuit wheeled by on a unicycle, cackling stupidly as he juggled a trio of bowling pins. I froze and sucked a terse breath through my teeth.

         

          “We don’t have to do this, Stan,” Dianna said in my ear. The surging tide of circus-goers flooded past us. “Come on.” She tugged at my hand.

 

          “No,” I said. I smiled, not a forced grin but a learned one, my only weapon against my crippling coulrophobia. Different psychologists could probably attribute it to an uncaring, workaholic father or to an emotionally inattentive mother, but I knew it sourced from a late night viewing of the TV special for Stephen King’s It, imposed by my older brother. Countless sleepless nights followed over the next years.

 

I forced myself to laugh for her. Not the eyes, I told myself. Don’t look in their eyes. The big buttons, the smile, the bowling pins, the big shoes. Don’t look at the eyes.

 

          “Only if you’re sure . . .” Dianna began. She looked at me with those grotesquely huge eyes that belonged on a Japanese manga. “I mean, I don’t think we should rush something . . .”

 

          I squeezed her hand. “Let’s get a seat.” While we’d paused, most of the front row seats had been taken. We filed into line and were ushered up the grandstands by clowns in different color jumpsuits.

 

          At the very last row, a big clown with a shiny red nose and a striped yellow jacket stopped us. “In order to best enjoy the show, we ask you turn off your cell phones and pagers.”

 

          With a goofy smile, Dianna shut off her cell.

I found nothing amusing about a man in stupid clothes and makeup. “Why’s that?” I asked. Not the eyes. Don’t look in his eyes.

 

          The clown’s dull black eyes looked at me. “Enchanto requires utter silence in the crowd to perform his spells,” he said.

 

          “I’m expecting a call,” I replied.

 

          Dianna looked at me. “You left your phone in the car. Remember?”

 

          Of course I did. “Let’s go sit.”

 

          The clown stopped us again. “In order to partake in Enchanto’s spells, we must insist you two sit separately.”

 

          “No,” I said.

 

          The clown’s eyes changed. His face changed. Dianna didn’t see it, but I did. The light was gone from his eyes, and the muscles of his jaw clenched and released.

 

          “Stan,” she began, trying to placate me.

 

          “No,” I said, never looking away from the clown’s face. “No, I can’t. I have to sit with you.” I feigned terror, squeezed her hand.

 

          She nodded. “If it’s okay, we’ll just sit together.” Dianna smiled for the clown. “Thanks.”

 

          We moved off and found two empty seats at the back row. My back was turned, but I could feel the clown’s gaze following us as we sat.

 

          The lights fled. A hushed, expectant silence dominated the waiting crowds.

 

          “Are you okay?” Dianna whispered, feeling my forearm.

 

          She saw I was sweating, damp pools spreading beneath the armpits of my white T-shirt. The air felt tight in the big top, compressed, closing, closing.

 

          An immensely loud gong shattered the hush. The rattling sound ended all whispers and ceased the last few murmuring conversations. As the noise drifted away, people began to talk excitedly again.

 

          Another gong, this time louder, more forceful. The crowds silenced again, this time more quickly, more expectantly. The sound made me shield my ears with my hands. I glanced at Dianna, but she was staring down over the crowds and into the darkness.

          A third gong. The lights flashed on, intensely bright, searing beams that singed my eyes. I cringed and looked aside.

 

          A midget clown sat next to me. His face was painted ghastly white, his blue lips pulled into a huge grin. A tall white birthday hat with red stars patterned across it sat on top of his head. His eyes were livid blue crystals. I leapt away in my seat, knocking into Dianna.

 

          I saw there were other clowns, scattered through the crowd, sitting or lounging amongst the normal spectators. Nobody in the crowd was laughing.

 

          My lungs seized. I sucked for oxygen. The air caught midway in my chest and stopped dead. I gripped the steel bench beneath me and prayed for this to end.

 

          The lights vanished again. I clamped my eyes shut and rocked in my seat.

 

 

          BEHOLD THE GREAT ENCHANTO. BEHOLD THE MAGNIFICENT ENCHANTO.  YOU WILL BE MESMERIZED. YOU HAVE BEEN MESMERIZED. BEHOLD THE GREAT ENCHANTO.

 

 

          The gong crashed again. Against my will, my eyes opened. The lights exploded on, and a shower of blue and red and yellow confetti showered down on the crowd.

Rivulets of multi-colored silk spun from the ceiling. Clowns flew through the air, leaping on trampolines and swinging from trapezes. A rewarding storm of trumpets and fanfare sounded. The crowd cheered wildly, madly. I didn’t.

 

          Dianna clapped and hooted with the rest of them, like an amused toddler. I touched her shoulder, but she didn’t even glance at me.

 

 

          YOUR WORLD IS A LIE. THE FABRIC OF YOUR SOCIETY EXISTS ONLY BECAUSE OF THE UNSEEN THREADS OF MAGIC. ENCHANTO IS THE WEAVER. ENCHANTO IS THE MASTER. ENCHANTO IS YOUR MASTER.

 

 

          I struggled to breathe. The lights went out once more. Purple-blue splotches danced wherever I looked, and the shadows around me were impenetrable.

 

          Two spotlights flicked on. Enchanto was lowered down from the ceiling by an unseen wire. He was tall and fey, wearing a purple velvet shirt and black pants. An ebony opera cape hung over his shoulders, and a grey top hat sat comfortably on his head. Thin glasses with circular, red lenses concealed his eyes. But I knew he was looking at me.

          The crowd roared senselessly. I thought of standing up and walking out, but my legs had fallen asleep. I shook my knees and wriggled my ankles.

 

          Enchanto produced a sleek cane from the folds of his cape. From the back, I could see the glint of gold from the cane’s tip. He waved his wand in a slow, sweeping arc in front of him. As if caught in some silence-inducing spell, the masses silenced at once.

 

          More lights flicked on. A dozen clowns were knelt in a circle around Enchanto, like sworn knights before their noble king. A scream bubbled up from my throat, but my lips would not open to emit it.

 

         

          YOU WERE AN INSECT. YOU EXIST NOW AS A HUMAN. ENCHANTO HAS GIVEN YOU YOUR MIND BACK. THE SHACKLES YOU FEEL ARE THE CHAINS OF YOUR SOCIETY. ONLY ENCHANTO CAN BREAK THEM.

 

 

          I heard a mechanical sound below. Something made me lift my feet. Iron rings looped out from beneath the stands and locked shut. They clasped Dianna’s ankles tight, but she didn’t move.

 

          A heavy safety bar slammed down on my lap, on all our laps. Pushing with my legs, I started to slide out from beneath. This is just part of the show, it has to be part of the show, I told myself. But something else screamed, Get out, get out, before it’s too late. This isn’t a show.

 

          The clowns began to chant. The chorus of their voices was like a dreary, murmuring nightmare. They sang unintelligibly, their throaty voices joining, growing in volume and pitch.

 

          Enchanto tilted his head back and raised his hands slowly, with great strain, as though deadlifting an immense weight. When at last his hands reached their maximum height, he lowered them.

 

          The safety bars lifted. The leg shackles retreated back into the unseen machinery beneath the grandstands.

 

          “ENCHANTO!” The crowd roared. “ENCHANTO!” Dianna screamed.

 

          I stood.

 

The big top looked at me. I felt the weight of all their eyes fall on me like bricks. Dianna stared, her eyes two black voids.

 

          I ran on sleeping feet and jumped off the back of the grandstands, landing hard on the muddy, straw-laced ground. My ankle had rolled inward when I landed, sending twisting aches up my leg. I crawled away, dragging myself by my arms.

 

The grandstands thundered as hundreds of feet descended the stairs in frantic, fervent haste. They were coming for me. Dozens of hands and arms grabbed me, held me, dragged me back under the big top. I thrashed.

 

The clowns held me down at the center stage, before Enchanto.

 

          “Well now,” Enchanto began in a delicate, lilting tone. “I see we have another,” he said, to no one in particular. He smiled down at me and pressed his glasses back up the slope of his nose.

 

          “Let me go!” I screamed.

 

          Enchanto fiddled with the end of his cape, paying no heed to my wild screams. “At one point, I believed that it was merely strength of will that prevented my complete success in enchanting my audiences. But after many years, I have finally come to realize the truth.” His lips twisted into a knowing smirk. “You’re afraid of the circus, aren’t you?”

 

          I didn’t answer. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.

 

          “Clowns, animals, freaks. The circus can be a rather dreadful place.” He sighed, lifting his cane and examining the gold-wrought serpent’s head at its end. The eyes were black rubies. “The truth is, irrational fear, or phobias, prove to be a distraction to my techniques. A nuisance, but a correctable one.”

 

          Enchanto thrust the serpent’s head toward my eyes.

 

         

          YOUR FEAR BECOMES YOU. YOUR FEAR BECOMES YOU. YOUR FEAR BECOMES YOU.

 

 

I carefully apply the red lipstick over the gossamer face paint. My big orange buttons are shined. My floppy hat is crooked, a water-squirting flower poking from its brim. My baggy pants are ballooned out like parachutes. My outrageous shoes squeak when I walk. I adjust my spotted bowtie and step out of my tent.

 

 

The show is starting now.

 

 

Kristen Lee Knapp is an author/student living in Jacksonville Florida with his girlfriend Kaity. He writes horror, fantasy and science fiction, in no particular order. He has stories published at Allegory, Aphelion, Moon Drenched Fables, Silver Blade, and will soon be appearing at Bewildering Stories. Check out his blog here. http://www.thelifefromtheslushpile.blogspot.com/

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