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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Guest Story: "Death's a Circus" by Mike Whitacre

Dew perspired upon Grimm Preston’s face as he awoke to the early morning. The atmosphere of his tawdry trailer was as sultry as it was unbearably musky, which was almost as horrendous as the nasty swamp he tasted in his mouth. He let out a roar of yawn then a growl of a groan while a stinging headache pierced his skull, dug deep, and jerked all around his brain, the way a butcher’s knife jerks when trying to free itself from a slab of meat. When he sat up on the flimsy bed that came with the trailer, he saw that he was still wearing his overgrown overalls, shoes, and giant bowtie. Thank God he remembered to take off his make-up before he decided to hit the sauce, last night. Feeling another hot sting, he held his head and massaged it with his finger for a good, long moment.
Even though he dreaded getting up, he did it anyway to wash his face. The sun was starting to bleed weakly through some of the window blinds. Morning wasn’t willing to give up its murky, light gray tint just yet. Grimm stared at himself in the mirror and saw the biggest, most ungrateful loser he had ever seen. He even saw it in the photograph above the mirror: despite his stage name “Grim Glum” (written on the photo), he was smiling with his fellow cohorts in comedy, and he looked genuinely happy, if only for less than a few minutes. Nothing was ever good enough for him, not even the fact that he kept breathing breathable air for all of his life. “No one to blame but yourself,” he said to mirror image, gaining a smidgen of pride knowing he never moped about his insignificant existential crisis. Then he decimated that smidgen of pride: “The only person you ever loved was Jack Daniel.”

He then picked up his kind-of-normal, black and white checkered hat off the ground, dusted it off, and fitted it onto his head. Grimm looked for his cigar box, found it, and then opened it. He immediately let out a tormented, nervous giggle when he saw only one cigar left. Taking in a deep breath then breathing out slowly, he regained his composure but maintained a sullen frown as he took the cigar. While holding the cigar, he searched for a new bottle of Jack. He didn’t have to look for long.

With his cigar in one hand, whisky in the other, Grimm went outside to the empty area, near a ball park. The circus tent was about half a mile away, which was the way he wanted it. He was never prone to full-blown camaraderie, though all who knew him trusted him and respected him, despite never asking for any of the two.
Setting the bottle down on the first step while stepping off the last of the three, he took the cigar clipper lying on the second step and then clipped the end of his cigar. Then he lit a match under his heel and placed the flame near the tip of the cigar as he bit down on the end. Puffing small translucent clouds out of the corners of his mouth, he squished the match with the toe of his shoe, upon the grassless ground.
Grimm sat on the second step as he enjoyed the cigar and the Jack Daniel’s and the peace and the stillness of the morning melancholy. He didn’t mumble, grunt, or sigh; he didn’t even think, but not-pondering came naturally anyway. He was a statue, but he wasn’t a void of nothingness, either. In a strange sense, he was praying to God in his one way, asking the silent Creator for a sign, even an unexpected one.
When he had downed barely a fourth of the bottle, a cold shiver suddenly ran up his spine. He looked suddenly from right to left, suddenly suspicious of the familiar area around him, but he saw nothing. His borne paranoia was encouraged when he saw no birds, insects, or any other animal he would’ve never noticed before this moment. If it wasn’t for the grass upon the baseball field, and a couple of trees here and there, the area before him looked more resembling to a desolate planet. Unable to trust himself with the whiskey, he poured the rest of the dark liquid onto the dry soil.
After a long moment of waiting, listening, and puffing rings of smoke, Grimm stood up and stretched his arms into the air before going back into the trailer. Inside, he went straight to his bed and pulled the Colt automatic handgun out from under his pillow and placed it on the small dinner table nearby.
He stared at his attire for a moment and contemplated.
Work clothes aren’t bad looking, he thought, but they may be a little too much.
So, Grimm placed the cigar over the ashtray near the sink before taking off his clothes. He then took a thoughtful, warm-water shower. Though a bit cramped, the process of cleaning away the grime soothed his nerves and calmed his silent, yet immense, reluctance.
After turning off the shower then drying off, he then started putting on his Sunday’s Finest: dark green buttoned shirt, with a bundle of illustrated daisies splayed all over it; a pair of black pants; black shoes; and a red and green striped felt hat, with a yellow pin wheel stuck in the right side of the head part.
Dressed, he then took the cigar from the ashtray, bit down on it, and relit with a Zippo lighter standing near the ashtray. Then he opened the windows so the trailer could air out. The smell of cigar smoke wouldn’t go away completely, but at least it would be tolerable. He then grabbed the Colt and immediately flipped the safety hatch off.
Grimm sighed a cloud of smoke as he slowly laid his legs upon the mattress and kept his back erect with his pillow upon the wall. He then held the gun with both of his hands, pressed the muzzle against his cranium, bit tightly down upon his cigar, and pulled the trigger.
The trigger stayed stiff.
He checked the safety hatch, which should’ve been switched off. However, the red dot indicated that the safety hatch was indefinitely on.
Grimm laughed.
And laughed.
And laughed.
He hadn’t laughed this hard in a long time. He couldn’t remember the last time laughter had made his chest hurt as much as it hurt now. Certainly, he had no need to kill himself after being this amused.
A female scream whaled suddenly, pulling him out of his fit of chuckles. In a second, he was off his bed and out of the trailer and immediately saw a lady running away from Dominique “The Sword Swallower,” way out in outfield and heading toward the infield. The lady was short, and Dominique was obviously a bear of a man, but he was never prone to chasing women neither with nefarious nor sexual intentions.
The Grimm’s back neck hairs went sharp and pointy. Something was wrong.
Gun held tightly, cigar still burning between his lips, Grimm found himself running into the baseball field, toward the chased and the chaser. Closing in on them, the lady went from a face of pure fear to pure relief when she saw him and his gun. He motioned for her to move out of the way. She moved and he fired a warning shot at Dominique, who halted his monster-jog and looked toward Grimm. Finally able to see “The Sword Swallower,” Grimm’s jaw opened slightly and felt heavy when he saw the cuts and gashes all over Dominique’s face, and each wound looked self-inflicted. The worst part was the blank, colorless, eyes occupying Dominique’s eye sockets, which caused sharp needles to prickle up and along Grimm’s spine, all the way to the back of his skull.
Dominique smiled at him, as if amused by Grimm’s initial horror. A guttural sound immerged from the circus performer’s throat, and out came a voice that wasn’t Dominique’s voice at all, “Mm, you look tasty, Mr. Clown.”
“Shoot it!” shouted the lady, bringing Grimm out of the sea of disbelief.
Then Dominique sprinted toward him with a hungry, animalistic expression upon his face as he let out a hissing snarl. Grimm didn’t hesitate to react quickly. He aimed his gun, switched off the safety hatch, and pulled the trigger. This time the gun worked, the bullet punctured Dominique’s skull and he fell flat upon the floor, instantly.
All went quiet.
Lowering the firearm, Grimm took the cigar out of his mouth and blew a cloud out of his mouth. He turned head toward the woman, who was still catching her breath. “You okay, Miss?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, starting to take deep breaths. Then she stood near him and held out a hand to shake. “Name’s Charlotte Itou.”
“Grimm Preston,” he said, shaking her hand. “Stage name: ‘Grim Glum.’ Friends usually just call me Grimm.” He then pointed to the seemingly dead body of seemingly-Dominique: “Looks like my coworker, Dominique, but it wasn’t. What was it really?”
“What do you think? It ain’t your buddy, not anymore, and it ain’t livin’, that’s for sure.” Her voice belonged to a Southern State, or just about any rural town in the United States. Somehow, her soft-yet-rough-yet-feminine voice complimented her short height, athletic build, mildly curvy features, medium perky breasts, long slightly-curly and slightly-silky back hair, sharp brown eyes, and a face that had charm and a glow that could make a full moon jealous. In short, she was beautiful, and even though he had just met her, Grimm knew he’d never known or seen any lady like her. “Thanks for savin’ me, by the way,” she said to Grimm.
“It was no-.” The dead body interrupted and startled him as it flailed and jerked about on the ground. It remained lying down when it halted. Then it let out a wicked laugh in perfect mocking fashion.
“No escape,” it bellowed. “You’ll all be eaten alive.”
“Well, fuck,” commented Charlotte, a bit distressed.
Grimm studied the helpless, hysterical undead body for a long moment. Then he rolled his cigar from one corner of his mouth to another. His lips curled up as his face went from serious to mildly humored. He then stepped toward the monster and stood near its head. Looking into its blank, snarling eyes, Grimm took the cigar out of his mouth and huffed a thin air of steam from his mouth. Then, without any warning, he slammed the sole of his shoe into its skull, several different times. Eventually, the skull and the face melded together and became paste, and the body no longer harbored any insatiable hunger to feed on human flesh.
Spitting on the ground then putting the cigar back into his mouth, Grimm looked over at Charlotte, who was giving him a peculiar expression, along with a cowgirl-swagger pose. “They should call you The Redneck Clown,” she said.
“I’m from Seattle,” he replied.
Her smirk went ten times bigger: “So, I have an Asian heritage. Redneck’s a redneck, sweetie.”
He shot her a smirk back then looked toward the circus and asked: “Odd, I thought there’d be more coming.”
“Just my take, but they don’t seem like your garden variety undead. Plus, panic just kind of irrupted a few minutes ago. Whoever runs your freak shows, didn’t keep the cage locked, for some reason, and when it came time to present, the ugly motherfucker started munchin’ on the presenter, then went at our friend here.”
“God damn Frank,” Grimm said, spitting on the ground. “The French bastard has to go find something authentic. We keep saying, you’re not supposed to be a real Necromancer, but no! We’re just ‘Stupid Americans’ who don’t know anything… Well, I got wheels. Want to get the hell out of here, Charlotte?”
“Thought you’d never ask. Lead the way, Grimm.”
So, he walked toward his trailer and she followed. As they walked, he said, “It’s a shame. I was kind of looking forward to tussling with some zombies.”
“Well,” said Charlotte, face keeping straight and serious, “if you play your cards, you could be tusslin’ with me before the day is through. That is, if we survive interrupting the Undead Circus. I wouldn’t mind having a gun and a cigar, neither.”
“I’ll make a pit stop for the cigars,” Grimm said, taking the cigar out and blowing smoke. Then he pointed to the cigar and continued, “This was supposed to be the last cigar before I die, but I’ve a nice Smith and Wesson revolver you might enjoy… And might I add, you don’t seem like the type to go for clowns.”
She laughed as they went around to the other side of the trailer, where the pick-up was located. “Honey, nothin’ against your sex, but all of you are clowns, in one way or another.”
They got in the car and drove toward the circus tent. Grimm felt alive, like he found his true calling, which wasn’t necessarily as a zombie hunter. In his head, he saw himself as a exterminator of supernatural evil. He just hoped the elephant couldn’t be turned into the undead. That’d be harder to kill.
Follow Mike on Twitter, and then check out an interview that he conducted with a certain author over on his blog.

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