The Provenance of MonstersBrian S. Wheeler / Fantasy / Science Fiction
The Provenance of Monsters
Brian S. Wheeler
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Copyright © 2017 by Brian S. Wheeler
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Rise to grasp new worlds, and fall with the tragedy of human and alien frailty. These ten stories underline the potential seeded throughout the galaxy, while never denying that humankind’s flaws will surely tarnish the stars. With the vain and the foolish, buckle into the rocket seat and hold a breath while the cosmos unfolds.
Chapter 1 – A Sinking House of Horrors
Chapter 2 – Nourishments
Chapter 3 – The Unicorn
Chapter 4 – Hope and Mockery
Chapter 5 – Provenance
About the Writer
Other Stories at Flatland Fiction
The Provenance of Monsters
Chapter 1 – A Sinking House of Horrors…
Anton and Bora gazed into the blue arc flashing from the tip of the welder’s electrode, no matter that such brilliance would later throb behind their eyes and pulsate within their teeth. Their carnival’s house of horrors sunk deeper into the soft ground, and the men’s anxiety focused too intently upon the consequences that might be unleased should that cart’s frame buckle and collapse to let them worry about whatever pain might come from looking too long into such light.
That light extinguished in a wink, and a helmeted welder crawled out from beneath the wagon.
“How bad is it, Buzz?” Anton’s hands rubbed at his swelling stomach, making small, circular motions to appease the discomfort brewing in that carnival owner’s guts.
Buzz removed his helmet, and the face behind the visor belonged to a very young man, whose cheeks lacked the shadows and furrows of weathered men. “I reinforced all the joints, Mr. Finnegan.”
“Will it hold?” Anton’s wet cigar bobbed between his fleshy lips.
Buzz shrugged. “I don’t know. I’d being doing more with my life than taking tickets and pulling the levers of your Tilt-Master if I could calculate how much weight this wagon might hold. I suppose I could add some more steel to the frame.”
Anton’s yellow teeth chomped on the cold cigar as he considered the suggestion. The short man at Anton’s side suddenly made an ugly, wet noise with his throat to catch the carnival keeper’s attention before pulling a stainless steel box out from one of his vest’s inner pockets. The short man with the exotically dark and deeply wrinkled face then pressed that box to his throat, and through that device emitted an alien language of electronic static and hum. Bora refrained from speaking English. The old man spoke in his old tongue that he had taught Mr. Finnegan – so that they might share a language of secrets whenever they needed to discuss the monster in the presence of other company. Anton nodded, and the heavy man’s hands rubbed still quicker across his belly.
“It’s no good, Buzz. There’s too much steel as it is.” Frustrated, Anton ripped the cigar from his mouth and cast it to the ground. “It already takes the largest truck I can muster to pull that wagon from one town to another. If we added more steel, I’d have to find something more powerful to pull that house of horrors, and I don’t have the money to add another truck to the fleet.”
Buzz shrugged. “I just don’t know how many more welds I can keep adding to those joints. That frame’s feeling the stress. I swear I heard it snapping while I was under it. I suppose you just can’t abandon it here when the carnival leaves for the next town.”
Anton frowned. “I certainly cannot.”
Bora lifted his chin, and that stainless steel box returned to his throat as more foreign noises murmured from the device. Buzz watched the eyes of both men and attempted to guess at whatever opinions might’ve been shared between the carnival’s owner and that strange assistant that moved at Anton’s side like an oily kind of shadow. Buzz knew that shadow of a man spoke simple English well enough when he needed to. Yet Buzz could guess scant meaning from the noises that echoed from the box Bora pressed to his throat.
Buzz slowly lifted a hand to catch Anton’s attention. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, boss man, but what’s inside this wagon? Everyone working the carnival wants to know. Everyone’s curious why you keep your house of horrors closed to the public when a wagon filled with good scares attracts lots of paying customers.”
“You don’t need to know,” Anton growled.
Buzz betrayed no further curiosity towards the wagon’s contents and departed to find his nightly post in Anton Finnegan’s carnival. The public would soon arrive to fill their bellies with funnel cakes and lemon shakeups before braving the carnival rides to generate a bit of breeze to dispel the summer night’s humidity and heat. The carousel organ would soon fill those muddy fair grounds with the jangling notes of an organ grinder’s melody, and soon so many of the citizens who inhabited the tiny villages of that county would come to gawk at curiosities and to compete for carnival prizes. Anton Finnegan knew those people would come, regardless of how that thing kept within that sinking wagon swelled. They would come for distraction, entertainment and thrill, and Anton Finnegan, like his father and his grandfather before him, dedicated himself to the magic those visitors craved. He gave his life to provide it, and he risked everything to grow it.
Anton turned to Bora after watching Buzz vanish deeper into the carnival grounds. “Now I know why you insist that I replace my carnival’s entire crew at the end of every summer. We could never keep what grows inside that wagon a secret if we let anyone remain for very long. Their curiosity would become too strong. The creature would only grow more quickly if more people knew of it.”
Anton’s boots squished through the mud as he stomped closer to inspect the horror wagon adorned in airbrushed images of buxom witches and gore-dripping zombies. He pressed his palm to the wall and held a breath. He listened for a heartbeat.
“I can hear it moaning now, Bora. I can hear it above the sound of the organ, and I hear it in my sleep.”
Bora sadly nodded.
“I know. Only the two of us know that creature growing in our wagon, and so no one else can hear it cry. I know it would swell over the horizon if I did so, but I wish I could unlock this wagon and let it roam free. I know our monster would grow so large on all the envy, hate and cruelty, but I wish we could release it from its cage. There are nights now when I sleepwalk to this wagon. In the morning, I awake in the mud, and my heart stops to think if I might’ve let our monster free to devour the world.”
Bora pulled a silver case from within his vest, and his slender, root-like fingers tapped a cigarette held within against the box. Anton watched closely, but he again failed to see the flash of a lighter, or the striking of a match, that carried fire to that cigarette perched between Bora’s lips. Anton suspected that nicotine and tar must’ve coated every inch of tissue held within Bora’s cracked skin. The cigarettes had already claimed Bora’s voice, and Anton could hear the wheeze in his friend’s breath each time Bora lifted that voice box to his throat. He expected Bora to fall at any moment from the cancers Anton shuddered to imagine multiplying in his friend’s tissue. Yet Bora never missed a duty in the carnival. Bora was the first to wake in the morning after the Ferris wheel turned late into the night. Anton hesitated to guess at Bora’s years, all those furrows and wrinkles across Bora’s skin suggested the man must’ve been ancient, and yet Bora continued to work the carnival with energy even the young struggled to match.
“You tried to warn me, Bora. You told me three summers ago when I had the last chance to put that creature out of its misery. But I couldn’t do it. My girl needs to see her horse grow. I know we can’t have one kind of magic without the other. I know that to kill this monster means to kill that unicorn. You so often remind me of that truth. We’re going to have to figure out what to do with our friend in the wagon if my Marcia doesn’t nurture her pet’s magic. What do you think, old man? Does the world still hold enough good to help a unicorn grow instead of a monster?”
Bora drew long and deeply at his cigarette before shrugging.
“Sometimes I wish you’d never come to my carnival,” Anton sneered.
Bora tossed what remained of his thin cigarette into the mud and left to attend to whatever job the carnival would that night require of him. Anton leaned a little harder against the wagon of horrors. He feared he was so desperate for magic and miracle that he would risk more than he had any right to wager to make his small Marcia healthy and happy. He feared his heart suffered no less than did that organ which pumped blood through that creature swelling within the wagon. None of those who visited the carnival yet heard that monster crying, and that gave him a little hope. For as long as carousel wheel turned, as long as its wooden frogs and grasshoppers helped make the visiting boys and girls laugh, Anton knew there was a chance a tiny horse might transform into a splendid unicorn.
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