Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Serpent Queen - Part I

In addition to the various prose that has been directly inspired by the circus, sideshow or carnival, there is a short story that's been in storage on my computer for a couple of years now. To be honest, the original motivation behind penning the words was of a personal nature, so those details will not be shared. However, I do really enjoy the way the story came out, and figured I might as well put it in a more public domain. Perhaps this will assist me in finally completing the novel I have been working on for the past several years, which I definitely need to start talking more about. Having complete strangers read my intimate thoughts always seemed strange to me, but I know that I have a gift that would only be wasted if kept to myself.

The story has no discerned time in which it takes place, but I believe I was aiming for the mid-1940s, tho there may be some elements that are not compatible for that period. Then again, that's the joy of fiction - one can create a world and have total control over the things contained within. For me, writing about this particular subject seems to come naturally, and I certainly hope that someone out there enjoys reading it.

THE oil lamp sent a dim flame across the stretched canvas tent, shadowy figures dancing like stringless marionettes, black soot collected in the corner where a wooden table resided, a powder blue jacket draped over the coordinating chair. Sulfur filled the air for a brief moment as a match was brought to the end of an expertly rolled blunt, pungant smoke hanging heavy amongst the thick humidity that dominated the evening. It appeared as beads of perspiration on his white skin, wiped away with a black silk handkerchief for the third time since he sat down. Summer was always brutal when most of the day was spent inside that tent, even if every other hour was consumed by talking out on the bally stage. They all stopped when he was using the microphone to lure them closer with his intriguing words, promising that all sorts of unusual things were on display for their viewing pleasure, should they be so inclined to pay the admission. He was never quite sure what caught their curiosity more—the huge banners with exaggerated depictions of the various acts, or their awed expressions when they realized the man in the fancy suit with the heavy accent was quite the attraction in his own right. The talker had no intention to profit off the condition that Nature had bestowed upon him, and one that he had come to exploit himself in the beginning, before recognizing his true gift. He had the ability to get people’s attention without having to capitalize on the fact that he was not like everyone else, and it enabled him to collect large tips as he used every last ounce of his skill to call them in. At the end of the day, as he sat and inhaled the mix of pot and coke deep into his lungs, a smile was fixed on his lips; satisfaction of another successful week of long hours on that stage. The weekends were not any easier, but there were two other talkers that took turns doling out bullshit to the marks and rubes. While the show may have been over for the evening, he was just getting ready for the one he would put on display for the locals.

* * *

ON a hot Summer night deep in the swamps of New Orleans, a woman laid on the banks of the Mississippi River, ready to give birth on its muddy shore. She was an unwed mother of great wealth and social status, so ashamed of the child she carried that she had lied to everyone about its conception. The truth was she loved a man her father did not approve of, but that did not stop her from engaging in an affair so full of passion that her mind was never plagued with worry of any resulting consequences. It became clear to her a few months later that she was pregnant, and while her lover was overwhelmed with joy, she knew the child would never be accepted by anyone in her family. Then a lie was fabricated to implicate her lover as a rapist, which resulted in a conviction that took his life. The slaves that had seen her leave the house after everyone had gone to sleep were aware of the secret and whispered among themselves in their native tongue, saying she would pay for her dishonesty. Nonetheless, they had helped her down to the murky water where she intended to dispose of the baby as though it was an annoying inconvenience, burying all traces of the secret once and for all. Her screams were lost in the thick swamp, audible only to the few slaves that had been paid extra for their assistance. The evening became still when her bastard son was delivered into the world, and the superstitious slaves could only display horror when they set their eyes on him. It was obvious their prophecy had come true, and while the exhausted woman moaned in agony as death sought to remove her spirit, they discussed the fate of the baby they believed to be the spawn of the Devil. However, it was not the vibrant child they threw into the river, but rather the body of his dead mother, her shameful secret following her to the watery grave and never spoken of again.

Wrapped in a white cotton sheet, the baby was sold to a small circus that had been more than happy to take him into their already odd family. The Carnies made sure he received the best care possible, often putting him on display should they be in need of some extra cash to do just that. Levi remained an attraction for only a year before the Carny folk no longer wished to exhibit him as a freak, even though they had many people with birth defects and disfigurements that kept the curious public coming back for more. They never treated him any differently than the rest of those that worked hard to pitch the tent and raise the banner line. He was brought up among the rest of the children born into their strange Family, and while they never looked upon him the way the locals did when they happened to pass by while the children were playing, he was quite aware of the fact that he was not like others. The most obvious signs were his extremely pale skin and troubled vision, being both far-sighted and sensitive to light—which led him to constantly wearing glasses with tinted lenses during the day—as well as being able to see the tips of his white eyelashes. No one in his Family seemed to make a big deal out of it, and so Levi learned to appreciate his unique appearance. He had nearly been startled the first time he saw himself in the mirror, a strapping young lad in his teens with snow white hair and brilliant blue eyes offset by red pupils. The reflection was one he had not been prepared for, but at the same time, he was fascinated by the features that certainly set him apart from everyone else. Levi easily fell into place as one of the rousties, spending long hours swinging a sledge to drive stakes and ensuring the canvas was in the air by night fall. He sat with the other Carnies at every meal, but remained quiet while they engaged in conversation. His gift of gab was discovered one evening when he got up on the empty stage in the sideshow tent and delivered the pitch he had heard from the talker dozens of times. There was an audience of one who stood unnoticed in the back of that tent, and the Boss decided it would be a sin to waste such a presence. After that, Levi found himself on the outside of the tent, always dressed in the finest suits as he worked his charm.

* * *

WITH the dwindling blunt gripped tightly in his teeth, Levi buttoned up a crisp pink shirt, leaving the last few undone to enjoy whatever cool air existed, and slipped into the jacket. He stood in front of the mirror to inspect the final result as he combed white locks into a sleek style. He used a bit of grease paint to darken his brows, lashes and sideburns, completing the illusion with a dark blue bowler. It was something he always did before heading into town, having no need or want for any uninvited attention, as show time was over. Instead he desired to return to the bar and find a new face that was not yet privy to his hustle. There was usually someone he came across that would have lots of money but was low on intelligence, and he had not been in the city of his birth for several weeks while the circus was on tour. Levi certainly hoped that there would be fresh marks waiting to be fleeced.

Ditching the roach in a glass ashtray, Levi exited the tent and stepped out into the muggy evening, tilting the brim of his hat down. There were a few Carnies that were still awake as he crossed the dark midway—they chatted in the cook tent while enjoying a cold brew, but made no notice of his quiet exit. While the circus was asleep for the evening, New Orleans was still wide awake, with plenty of people packed in the bars, drinking to their heart’s content. Lushes rubbed elbows with the twenty-somethings losing all inhibition with every pint or shot; pheromone fueled lust and a desire for the attractive woman across the room. Drunken voices collided together and laughter added to the discord that echoed out on the street where he stood, contemplating as to which establishment would have the patrons with the fattest pockets. He casually smoked a cigarette and strolled along, peering into every place as he walked past to check out the scene, and his attention was drawn to a red-lit lounge that promised live, exotic girls.

Curiosity begged for a glimpse of those curvaceous forms in barely-there sequined costumes, even though he had been in attendance during the hootchie-cootchie shows more times than he cared to remember. Not so much because he was there to ogle the women as the rest of those flesh hungry wolves did, but rather a presence to ensure that none became overzealous and made an attempt to grab one of the girls. He had no desire for them, mostly due to the fact that he worked with them and considered them to be a part of his Family. However, he was not standing in a sweat-filled tent, unsure what kind of show that lounge had to offer. Levi watched several men go in as he mulled over a decision, taking note of the fact the men were all well-dressed, which obviously meant that they were wealthy. Suddenly he was warming up to the idea of entering into the unknown, delighted by the fact that those men would not only be drunk, but also distracted by the women who danced for their pleasure, making it that much easier for him to take their money. Wiping a bit of dirt off the tip of his blue alligator skin boots, he paused a moment to make sure his attire was in proper order, securing the bowler so that none of his white hair would be visible. He approached the entrance with confidence, presenting the man at the door with a few bills, which easily gained him access to the seedy environment that lay just beyond the heavy wooden door, lights dancing on its black lacquered surface as it swung open.

There were tables clustered around an oval-shaped stage trimmed with large round lights, dozens of men drinking and smoking, some engaged in a game of cards. It was so much more than he expected. However, that was not going to stop him from finding a table to sit at in order to enjoy a game. The bar was where Levi situated himself though, requesting a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass as he slid a twenty to the tender. From his perch on a black leather stool, he could easily observe the several hands of poker being played, carefully studying each man to learn his strength, weakness and tell.

When the lights in the room were dimmed and the ones on the stage bathed it in a red glow, strange music filled the air and all eyes were directed to the sultry silhouette poised behind brightly colored silk scarves being held taught by what was supposed to be harem girls, their naked bodies visible through the sheer costumes they wore. Applause erupted in the lounge as the music swelled and the scarves were dropped, revealing a beautiful woman that was wrapped in the coils of an albino python. Her blond curls had been gathered in an elaborate up-do accented by jewels that dangled from the veil which hid most of her face. In fact, it seemed as though her body glittered under those lights while she moved across the stage, rhinestones sewn in just the right places on the opaque fabric that desperately clung to her curves. She caressed the underside of the snake’s head, its bulky body draped across her shoulders with careful balance, its length wound around her chest, waist, and hips; the tail held fast to her leg. How seductively she moved despite the weight of the serpent she carried with her, each pose fluidly transitioning to the next in what could very well be a deadly ballet. Levi knew that python was capable of crushing her to death should it so desire—and yet she handled it with grace as though sharing an intimate dance with a lover. Showing no fear, she brought its powerful head towards her lips, allowing the head to enter her mouth in a rather suggestive manner, earning a round of cheers and catcalls from the men as silver coins rained onto the stage with a clatter that lasted for several minutes.

There was no interest in the next woman that flaunted herself for the approval of those men, her feathered costume evidently meant to be falling down in front as she shook back and forth. Levi abandoned his post as well as his intentions of hustling those easily distracted hound dogs. He had been so entranced by the snake charmer (something the sideshow lacked) that he not only desired to learn her name, but also ached for a glimpse of the face that had been hidden by the jeweled veil. He made his way across the lounge, doing his best to avoid the men that clamored over one another to be close to the half nude woman that sat on the edge of the stage, collecting tips between her heavy breasts. Levi easily turned away from it all as he slipped into the dimly lit hallway lined with numerous doors. The apprehension settled in when he passed the doors (many of which had something hanging from the knobs to indicate those inside were not to be disturbed), for he had an idea as to what was going on. The cleverly disguised brothel had him fooled, and he reluctantly admitted that his usual knack for uncovering such a farce was severely lacking. Either that was a result of the vast amount of whiskey he had just consumed, or the spell he felt had been cast upon him by the serpentine enchantress.

A strong perfume crept up his nose, tingling senses as it was eagerly inhaled and sent a chill through him when he slowly exhaled. It was a subtle blend of roses, vanilla and something else that he could not identify thrown in for good measure. The scent was not some cheap oil meant to be slathered on skin in order to make it smell sweet despite the noticeable odors that lingered from long hours of sex. No whore had good taste in things of that sort, nor did they bother to purchase an exotic blend such as the one which enticed the carnal pleasures in his brain as he continued down the hallway, ignoring squeaking bed springs and the occasional moan forced from the lips of a whore or her client. There was a light that spilled under the door at the very end, soft music crackling from a record player. Levi hesitated for a moment, his head now swimming in the scent, almost as though it intoxicated him more than those shots of whiskey. His hand trembled as it reached for the glass knob and wondered exactly what he was doing.

Did he have something to say to that radiant goddess, the woman who was so mysterious she had him fighting off nerves as he dared to enter the room uninvited? Would he even he able to form words when he laid his eyes upon her, not as a casual observer struggling to see her from across a smoke-filled room, but rather face-to-face as an admirer? He tightly gripped the multifaceted glass, his palm sweating terribly and heart beating so fast he could feel the pulse through his entire body. Taking a deep breath, he slowly pushed the door open, still not quite certain of what would greet him on the other side as it silently pivoted on its hinges.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this riveting tale!

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