Performance Review

With shadow and mist we slake our thirst, We revel this night in darkness and mirth For this time is ours to cheer and to sing As we drink and bear witness to what the night brings

A cheer erupted from the crowd punctuated by a bestial howl or two. A new employee had sauntered in with the procession, a spritely young blond woman who flitted about on gossamer katydid wings, taking drink and food orders amongst the patrons. Cassandra had forgotten the girl’s name.

The night seemed rather quiet with a smaller crowd than normal and she was perfectly fine with that. A larger group would have required her to lend a helping hand but on this night, it seemed perfectly acceptable to focus her attention entirely on Lily.

The Woman in Red smiled at the celebration. She hadn’t attended a Magic Hour in some time and the joyous gathering of Kin brought a smile to her tear stained visage. What a world to know, such sweet razor grins to embrace and such succulent celebration to witness. The night truly was theirs and she would want for naught. Despite everything, though, she felt herself scanning the crowd looking for a familiar young woman. No, she wouldn’t be so brash as to stay in one spot would she?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a flickering of the lights. A low murmur broke out over the crowd, vertical irises darting about nervously and blackened tongues wetting anxious lips. A sound reverberated through the room, echoes distant yet closer at hand. It was the sound of metal dragging on wood, pristine sliver scouring roughly against aged pulp. Some of the patrons knew what these signs heralded, some continued to feast, drink and talk with blissful ignorance. Lily Sangruer was well aware of these signs and she suspected the young bartender to be as well.

Lily stiffened and glanced about in a vain attempt to mask her nervousness. And then in the vacant stool next to her: the very air itself began to bubble and broil as though the stool itself was on fire. But no flames beckoned or coiled, no heat emanated, simply the warping of the very space itself. She appeared swiftly, materializing out of the vapor with just the slightest hint of shadow spiraling from nothingness into full form.

She spun around with liquid grace, her back to the bar as she took in the scene. She was grace and venom intermingled, clothed in a long black gauzy shawl and skirt interwoven with threads and spirals of gold and green. Her long dark hair hung loosely over slender shoulders, warm caramel flesh speckled here and there with tiny tattoos of eldritch script and symbols from an age old tongue. Tiny silver chains seemed to cling to her very form, dangling from her earlobes, her neck, her septum, her wrist and likely other parts hidden from modest view. They jangled musically as she turned and smiled, another flash of silver underlying her lips and dark eyes. She wore no makeup and exuded an ethereal desire of the most natural aura.

“Not much of a crowd tonight,” Talia Kandisha purred, a husky voice that seemed to reverberate on the very air itself.

Cassandra composed herself nervously and quickly turned back to the bar. “Miss K, what can I get you? It’s-so-good-to-see-you-it-was-busy-earlier-but-I-think-it’s-tapered-off-a-bit-but-it’s-OK-because-we’ve-been-taking-in-good-revenue-and-no-one-was-killed-so-I-think-”

“Hon-” Lily started.

Kandisha held up a hand, simple with no colors or adornments. Simply nails and flesh as she liked. “Everyone needs to relax. This is a good night, after all. Dear, pour me a cup of coffee if you will, black and fresh will do. That is all I desire.”

“Yes ma’am,” Cass responded nervously.

Kandisha turned towards the Woman in Red seated next to her. “Well now, Lillith Sangruer, what a delight. To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure?”

“Oh, Kandy,” Lily started with a smirk. The Chained Woman bristled but managed a smile. “It truly has been a while, hasn’t it dear? How’s the hubby?”

“Oh dear, now which one,” Kandisha replied, eyes to the ceiling as though thinking hard. “Ah yes, Omar. He’s perfectly fine, love, thank you for asking. Last I saw he still had a shred of sanity left. I fear I’ll be looking for something fresh and new soon. Speaking of which, Cassandra my dear, how’s the coffee coming along?”

Cass shakily placed a steaming white, porcelain mug before her benefactor. Kandisha smiled, sniffed exploratory at the drink and took a sip of the scalding liquid. Her tongue emerged to lap at a stray drop, thin, pink and forked as a serpent’s. “Now, pleasantries aside, you know why I’m here, yes, Cassandra dear?”

“Yes Miss K, for my performance review.”

“That’s right love, all this time under my thrall, how do you manage?” she asked teasingly. “Now, now, I jest of course, you are here strictly voluntarily but we need to talk about your future aspirations of course.” She stood up in a slithering motion and motioned to the corner towards the grandfather clock. “Join me, shall you? And bring along your little friend.”

She motioned to Lily and smirked. Cass maneuvered from behind the bar, receiving an encouraging pat from Aislin. She followed the Chained Woman. Kandisha’s gait was noticeably less graceful than before as she almost limped at an unsteady pace towards the booth as though on hobbled hooves.

Lily paused a moment to finish the remnants of a glass of water. “Bitch,” she whispered and stood up shakily to follow the pair.

Kandisha glided into the booth moving with shadowy grace once again, chains clinking and chiming with ethereal music. The light under the red lace drapes seemed to hum to life as she settled into the plush velvet. Cass followed nervously followed by Lily whom had intercepted a stray martini left on a table from a bathroom bound patron.

Cass glanced about nervously; it was her first time in this booth, so close to the clock. Within its proximity, she could feel warmth emanate from the structure, a steady rhythm pulsing from the innards of the contraption with each tick. She knew then that she hadn’t been hearing the ticking of a mechanism, she had been hearing a heartbeat. The revelation should have startled her but to Cassandra, this felt like a welcome truth. Had she any doubt about the magic of the Night-Kin world before, this night, this mighty sentinel pulsating life in the corner would have settled any doubt. This was a new world and she was excited – if mind-numbingly nervous- to be a part of it.

Kandisha ran her hands over the velvet relishing the touch, caressing it as though it were a long lost lover. She rested her elbow on the lacquered wood table, propped her tapered chin in her hand and simply stared at the bartender.

Cassandra stared back nervously as Lily sipped at the martini. Kandisha didn’t blink, speak or breathe. Motionless yet fluid as the air rippled about her and her chains chimed despite the noticeable lack of motion. Finally with suddenness that made Cass jump, Kandisha snapped her fingers.

The blond waitress fluttered over, wings beating softly in the hazy air. Kandisha smiled at her: “Good evening Morgan, I trust the night finds you well.” Morgan smiled back with thin lips and spoke with her hands. Her pale fingers danced about in practiced motion signing to the woman that all was well on this night. It was an interesting concept, the Unspoken. Those from the outside might think them unfortunate or blighted with a physical malady, but they had simply adapted to speak in a universal language, motions that required no formal training to understand for what other alternative does one have when their spoken words could shatter minds. Kandisha grinned and motioned the girl closer. Unheard words passed between parted lips and dancing fingers as Morgan flittered off towards the bar. Kandisha glanced past Cass towards Lily. “Miss Lily, young Morgan there wasn’t part of our little family when last I saw you. Tragic story she was, rescued from a hunter’s snare. The bastard wished to poach her wings but I set her free… in more ways than one.”

“So it would seem,” Lily drawled, unimpressed.

“Shall we freshen your drink, dear?” Kandisha asked. “I don’t seem to recall you having that a moment ago.”

“Call it a generous donation,” Lily smirked.

Morgan returned with a tray that she placed before the trio. Kandisha thanked the young woman and spread the drinks amongst them. Another martini for Lily, a full pot of coffee for herself and for Cassandra: a silver tin mug. The liquid within bubbled gently and shot small sparks of light. Cass had never seen it before.

“May I ask…what this is?” Cass said inspecting the mug.

“Yes, you may,” Kandisha offered as she sipped her coffee. She offered no further explanation, only an expectant look dancing about in the silver and shade.

Cassandra took a sip and waited for the expected rush to commence. 

Flim Flam

The Times they were a-changin’. Tumbleweed Tom knew this better than anyone. Of course, that wasn’t his real name but a showman needs a catchy moniker and “Tumbleweed Tom’s Ottoman of Oddities”… well, it just rolls off the sun parched tongue.

Sad to say, his dusty roadside tourist trap was falling by the wayside. Used to be a guy could solder a pair of antlers onto a bunny rabbit or a fish tail onto a mummified monkey and pass them off as “mystery beasts from the darkest side of the unknown”.  But no more. Now it was all flashy amusement parks with multimillion attractions. But then… just as swiftly as his luck turned sour, the fool fates grinned down upon him in his desert hideaway

He found *fanfare please* The Skull. Some sad soul had likely fallen to the elements but as Tom stumbled across it, he saw the shadow of the mighty sagauro cacti casting upon the bones… and they looked like HORNS.

All he needed was a pitchfork he still held from a failed farm venture. He took the skull home, soldered on a couple of rocks and placed the pitchfork alongside it in a nice sturdy display case. And thus, motorists passing down the lonely backstretch of Highway 56 would bear witness to a spiffy handwritten sign : “ABANDON HOPE BUT CONJURE WONDER ALL YE WHO VENTURE A LEFT AT THE MAILBOX AND TRAVEL 9 MILES. WITNESS THE EXTRAORDINARY DEVIL MAN PRIMORDIAL BEAST OR FORGOTTEN RELIC??”

…….he was quite proud of that sign, even if it was a tad long winded.

But then the unbelievers came as they always do to doubt Thomas and his admittedly hokey wares. Were the red lights and the scratchy Night on Bald Mountain soundtrack too much? Tom didn’t care. But he had a business to maintain and he couldn’t have naysayers driving away his patrons (there’s one born every minute, y’know).

So he did the most logical action his mind could conjure. He collected the $1 admission fee and slaughtered the naysayers with the pitchfork. Easy peasy. No muss, no fuss. Well, there was a mess but being in an isolated location made that easy to take care of. Plus he got to use the bones for more creative taxidermy.

Let’s see, what to create? Clean the bones, boil  ’em. Let’s add the spines of a cactus to the fingers and the hide of a Gila monster. Presto, instant “Reliquary Lizard Man”. Or perhaps you fancy the feathers of a roadrunner glued onto an arm bone? Obvious, indisputable proof that man once had wings!

And lo, it worked! People came from near and far to gaze at his wonders. His new Oddities proved successful enough that he was able to purchase a big, flashy billboard. His collection grew in a number equal to his number of victims. Coincidence, yes? Surely, for he was a master showman and was fortunate enough to stumble upon these rare, miraculous specimens.

I hear Tumbleweed Tom is still in business. These days he’s promoting the mysterious “Whatzit”. Whatz a whatzit, you ask? Venture about 9 miles east of route 56 and find out for yourself. I hear it has it looks like a mummified human body covered in coarse hair, sporting tusks and antlers. Don’t take my word for it. Go and see. And believe me when I say his specimens are 100% authentic. If you don’t believe, just complain and scoff loud enough for him to hear you. He always has room for more exhibits.

Tumbleweed Tom’s Ottoman of Oddities.

Well worth the price of admission….

Fool’s Night

“Fools Night! Come have fun with us and partake under the guise of prankster clowns as we feed the need for mischief! True Coulos only please.”

              The name of the event  struck a chord with Caroline and she wasn’t sure why. She felt she had fallen into a bit of a rut lately and felt like she was spinning her wheels in life. Stuck in the same dead end job for years, no real hobby or friendships to keep her occupied…this was precisely why decided to answer the invite that randomly appeared on her Facebook timeline. She had always held a vested interest in sideshow performers, showmen and the odd carny. To live the life of a journeyman, freedom to explore and entertain… But then, clown sightings were a very real phenomenon, a cultural paradigm shift that etched paranoia amongst the coulrophobes of the world.

   But what better way to begin her new path to hedonism than joining up with a gang of pranksters and frighten the odd bystander or too? Who knows, she might even make a few friends, learn the tricks of the trade

      The ad also called for only “true Coulos” and while she didn’t know what that was, she figured she could ask around and would be excited to learn the lingo.

          She arrived at the fountain in the local park at 10pm as advertised. She had selected a full body sparkling silver outfit and painted her face stark white, tying her blonde hair into pigtails. A YouTube tutorial and a bit of experimentation had yielded a white face paint design topped off with tiny black triangles below her eyes and black lipstick. She added a pair of black spirals on her cheeks for good measure.

There were five others gathered around the silent fountain. They were oddly quiet and solemn, specters abound in various shapes, sizes and colors surrounding the bare marble basin. Caroline introduces herself to the group who welcome her with open, tufted arms and explained the nights activities.

     Their plan was to split up and saunter around the city, drawing reactions from any night owl inhabitants, but avoiding the police all the same. Caroline decided to tag along with a girl about her age, wearing a corset, long green tights and green dyed perfectly straight long hair. Her makeup contrasted her outfit with an unruly, unsettling orange shade.

            As Caroline stood back to observe, Carrot Girl (as she had dubbed her companion, one whom had not yielded her true name) sauntered out of the park and confronted a couple strolling down the street. She held out her hands as if asking for a hug and the couple hurried away, noticeably disturbed. A simple prank, but effective nonetheless.

    BbCarrot Girl stood silently, perched on the edge of the wooded park, arms outstretched. Carolina observed from afar, eyebrow raised at the silent, still girl.  She simply stood there, quivering slightly as Caroline approached her, reaching out to caress her green shoulder.

Carrot Girl’s eyes had rolled back into her head and she was moaning lightly. She almost looked satisfied, fulfilled….dare say, orgasmic.

Caroline lightly tapped her on the shoulder and Carrot Girl came to with a start. She stated back at Caroline with a sheepish grin.

          “Did you get any?” She asked in a lilting tone.

          Caroline tilted her head quizzically.

          “Oh well, maybe next time,” she giggled. “Still much to learn, Goblin”

        Caroline stared back.

        Carrot Girl traced the spiral design on Caroline’s cheek with a smirk. “We do love a Labyrinth. So many places to hide, lives to Spirit away,” she giggled.

          Carrot Girl skipped off down the street, Caroline tugging behind her. Over the course of the night, she played mentor to the fledgling prankster, demonstrating to her how best to disturb and generate discomfort in their marks.

        BCaroline was having the time of her life, but found herself having to snap Carrot Girl out of her trance with each subsequent scare. At one point, she asked Caroline how long she had been a Coulo and Caroline didn’t know how to respond.

          Eventually, the group rendezvoused back at the fountain and compared the nights experience.

          “This is the best harvest yet,” spoke a midnight black clown. He had a single shock of yellow tuft on his otherwise bald head and two gold stars painted on his cheek. “Who else finds themselves completely fulfilled through the negativity and discomfort we cause in the cattle? Fun times, right?! ANSWER NOW!”

          Caroline remained silent. She was getting a bit disturbed and she found Black Star staring at her intently.

      “You, Fledgling cutie!” He pointed. “How satisfied are you? Have you fed well? Please tell me, I  would APPRECIATE IT!”

          Again, Caroline didn’t known how to answer. She gestured that it was time for her to return home, she’d call Carrot later and they could spend more time together….away from him..and the rest of the clowns.

She dipped a hand into the fountain basic and rubbed off her paint to make a point.

          The group collectively gasped. Carrot Girl clutched her chest, an exaggerated visage of  broken heart painting her bedecked face.

          ” I thought… but you were so good, such potential…”, Carrot Girl whispered in a disappointed tone.

          Caroline stared back at the collection of clowns and they simply gazed back at her silently, darkened misaligned shadows in the midnight moon. She suspected (knew) that the cleansing water would have no affect on their paint. She decided it was time to leave.

          “In all our time outside of hibernation, we only occasionally have an outsider flit amongst our hive,” Black Star said with a hint of remorse. “But.. we see something different in YOU.”

       “Truly,” Carrot asked excitedly. “My little Goblin?!”

“We can show you our ways,” Black Star spoke, approaching Caroline and running a gloved hand over her streaked face. “ In fact, we INSIST.”

          He grinned a blackened grin, one that contoured his face in an unnatural fashion and Caroline made her move.

          She spun around and collided bodily with a large, bulky, beefy male clown. He stank to high heaven, old rot from spoiled meals long past. His shirtless body was slathered in mismatched miasmas of red, white and blue paint. He gazed down at her through wrinkled, wizened eyes, sallow with age and adorned with stars painted around the exterior. His mouth was a garish gash of red and he smiled at her wetly in the moonlight.

          Old Glory continued to smile.. then smiled more, wider… even wider… wider than any human being should be able to smile. Then Caroline began to scream as his smile overtook his head and folded over his scalp. The reversed clown maw opened wide and rotten, a sallow abyss of rotting teeth and dangling flesh. Old Glory swallowed the girl in one gulp, guiding thrashing feet down his gullet.

      It was over swiftly, efficiently. He burped and held a hand to his mouth, daintily. He grinned and the rest of the Coulo Clan grinned back. Black Star shrugged, patted his girthy comrade and guided the rest of the tribe outwards into the darkness of a night lived long and mischievous.

          Over the next few nights, they continued their prankish ways. They never harmed anyone else, rather reveling in the discomfort and fear they imparted upon the city before darting back into the shadows. They preyed on the negativity, the emotions of distress, claimed sustenance from it. And they were good at what they did.

          One night, After a proper incubation period, Old Glory sat down under a tree. The rest of the Clan gathered round, recognizing the signs of the impending ritual . They grasped his beefy hands, caressed his larger head, cooed in encouragement. Then, it was time.

          He folded his head inside out again and vomited up a very human looking form, a cartoonish horn squeak emitting from somewhere deep within the confines of his body. Old Glory caressed the form, wiping fluid and sick from her slumbering shape.

The female form curled upon the twigs and dirt, curled into a twitching fetal ball, dripping with viscous fluid.

Black Star helped her to her feet and gazed back at the fledgling Coulo, one adorned with silver shiny flesh and dark spirals carved into her cheeks, birth marks of a new life

The Goblin stared back at her patriarch with blackened hollow eyes that saw the world anew…and she grinned a cracked, bleeding grin, tilting her head as the world bloomed around her. It was a funny thing, to live an old life behind forcibly and the thought of it made her giggle.

Carrot Girl approached the pair, gave Old Glory a pat on the head and Goblin a peck on the cheek.

          They grasped hands and the Clan skipped their way out of the forest, eager to find their fledgling initiate her first meal.

          For all the hell she had suffered in the belly of the beast, Goblin at last felt at home with her new family.

She felt fulfilled.

She would want for nothing more in this life, to expect anything else

well, that was simply foolish.

A Sanguine Soiree

So it began on this night, as it does on most blood tinged nights. The sky darkens to represent that which we crave more dearly than anything set upon us before. The red, the wet, the metal, the life. The moon grows plump with a sanguine song and we rejoice with jubilant throngs filling our dirt strewn streets and packing it flat with dance and merriment. On this night, much like others that came before, I stand with a bottle of unopened wine on the doorstep of my neighbor. In one gloved fist, I hold a folded parchment, an invitation in delicate filigree, ink already flaking beneath my leather grasp. I have arrived late to the celebration.
     I knock once, ready to partake in the festivities and pleasures that exist just beyond this threshold. I can hear the celebration inside, the wild cheers, the carnal moans, the cries of unbridled ecstasy. I want to be a part of it, to mingle in the red and the wet but I must receive a proper invite inside before I can partake. It’s only polite.
    I knock once more but my call goes unheeded. This does not surprise me though as the celebration is surely too raucous for them to hear my request. They started without me, but I’m certain there will be more left for me to indulge in once the initial celebration burns to smoldered embers. I stand disappointed yes, but this is a festival that rages for more than one night. The moon above will stay red for more nights than just this evening. Yet I have nowhere to go, no hearth to slumber within  and so I set my bottle down, remove my peaked cap and nestle into the alcove. There I slumber into the red night as the celebration rages just beyond my grasp.
    I awaken the next evening shivering in the amber hued cold and craving the musky heat inside. I am hungry for more than food and my patience is growing thin. I stretch my aged tendons and raise my nails towards the crimson sky, offering what little worship I can from this locale. There is a stained glass window next to the oaken door. The inlaid design depicts the annual festival, the writhing flesh and sheens of sweat depicted with starling craftsmanship. Fittingly the design is tinged red, a plume of flame blooming gently beyond.
    I knock again, the third time in two nights. The revelry has died down but I still hear the occasional gasp, the faint and irrepressible moan of worship. At my audible heed, I hear hushed whispers. A stirring beyond the window and the candlelight within is snuffed out, the gossamer curtain swiftly drawn into place.
    I have not spoken for some time; I have had no use to do so. But at this time, I part my gummed, blackened lips and call for my neighbor. They must let me in, there is no sense to this cruelty to deny me of wine, flesh and song. There is a clatter of dish ware within, a sudden and startling mad cackle that echoes of the slightest and most tenuous grasp on sanity. My cheeks bloom with want and craven urge, why should they get to delight in the sugar-sweet grasp of a madman’s amygdalan claws while I sit here in the cold, mind racked with the grotesque clarity of a lucid thought? I want to know what they are seeing, feeling, tasting. I ready the full bottle and ponder, just for a moment, to shatter the window and creep within. But no, is my desire truly so intense as to risk blasphemy of this sacred piece of art?
    Another sigh from within and the tell-tale sound of something wet sluicing across scuffed, hardwood flooring.
    I’m not that strong. Time will tell how long my patience will hold.
    One more night. One more night in the sanguine eclipse and we will see how much I partake.
    I awaken once more and this time, I decide I have had enough. I knock and call again and this time am greeted with silence. The raucous din within has truly snuffed into completion, a refractory period that will not end until another moonlit cycle. I have missed it, my own celebration and prostration denied by those I had considered strong acquaintances. Yes, I realize that I should have arrived in time for the soiree and I have no one to blame but myself, truly.
    Still, the need, the desire, the urge is real and unquenchable. At least…at least I can quench a thirst of a different type. I shatter the neck of the wine bottle against the eave of the front door and take my fill, paying no heed to the jagged edges against my lips.  If anything, it only adds to the heady flavor and I savor the rush that befalls my stricken body.
    The silence beyond the threshold tells me that the party has ended. For them, yes. But not for me. Those above, those that revel in the light of the blood moon know that all beings of flesh and blood deserve to slake their desire and offer their exaltation for their sake. The ends justify the means, or so some have said in particularly violent days of revelry.
    I take one more swig and let the wine flow down my whiskers. Never has it delighted me in such intensity and I ache for more. It’s time to take action. I hurl the remnants at the sacred window and wince for just a moment at the musical tinkling of broken glass. I climb within, savoring the sting of glass against skin and knowing the wounds will come into play briefly.
    The parlor within is quiet save the rapid beating of my nervous heart. I smell the scene before I see it, I smell the musk and the salt tinged air. They lie within, broken heaps, red, black, tan and white. A ravenous prism of limbs contorted in the throes of desire and worship. The air smells also sweetly of fruit and it is difficult to distinguish the wine from the blood.
    In their revelry, they burnt out too fast, flames of desire and hunger that wanted for nothing more until the air was sucked from their lungs and their life force extinguished in a blaze of glorious ecstasy. I weep with jealousy and step among the dead. My boots squelch in fluid and broken flesh. It makes me smile a little, a brief moment of respite.
    I make my way into the sitting room, where the fire has smoldered in the gray stones that surround it. A light haze still drifts as I sit down on a purple velvet couch. My neighbor is there or what remains of them. Their body lies in supplication, vacant eyes gazing towards the moon beyond the high vaulted ceiling, flesh pale as that which gave the flush of life lies pooled around them, soaking into the cushions. I dip a finger in and strain to remove it; it has rapidly congealed. Thankfully, this has not affected the taste, the blessing of sweet and sour and metal that dances on my tongue.
    I may have missed the party, but I can still partake in my own revelry. I am owed that much at the very least. I remove all my clothes. I lie down on the couch, dip my finger into the blood (or is it, in fact, wine? They are equal in decadence) and sup once more. I reach out and feel the spent flesh beneath my grasp and gaze at the score of broken, contorted bodies that surround me. I cannot tell where one ends and one begins and it is quite the glorious sight.
    My mind races at the possibilities unfolded before me in the silence of the house of celebration. As I gaze about, I feel the slightest twinge at the back of my mind and I know that the insanity is taking hold. And it is oh, so sweet. I prepare myself to partake in my own night of mischief and madness.
    My own, personal sanguine soiree where I can worship in whatever way I choose.
    Such delight, such revelry and it causes me to laugh at nothing in particular.
    Mirth, mischief and madness in supplication to the moon above.
I can think of nothing more delightful.
After all, I deserve to prove my worth to the ones above. And I will have a hell of a time doing so.