“Oh, Horace, isn’t this just splendid?” Candice said and hooked her arm in his.
“Indeed,” he said, referring only to the pleasure of her company.
“Step right up, and behold a sight guaranteed to send even the most stout-hearted man running home crying for his mama!” shouted a carnival barker standing on a soapbox, and sharing Dratch’s lanky frame. “Witness the blood-curdling, dread-inducing, heart-palpitating terror of the Ozarks, the famed Mississippi Mangler, the Sidehill Gouger or as it’s known in more the esteemed circles of learned men, the Gyascutus”
A small crowd gathered as Dratch and Candice strolled by.
“What about you, Sir?’ he continued, turning his attention to Dratch. “You look like the kind of man with the courage and fortitude to face such a fearsome beast. Only a paltry two bits for the pleasure of staring a veritable hound of hell in the eyes and living to tell the tale.”
“No, I think not.” said Horace and continued to pass.
“What about you Miss? You seem like a lady with a keen sense of adventure. Care to give your heart a jolt?” said the Barker
“I do love a good fright. What do you say, Horace, shall we?”
“Alright then,why not.” said Horace, and glowered at the Barker as he gave him a half-dollar.
“It’s two bits a piece,” said the Barker with a sliver of malice.
Horace gave the man two quarters and did his best to ignore feeling cheated. Afterall he was with Candice he reminded himself. He had wanted to ask her out on a date longer than he’s care to admit, but had yet to work up the nerve. The two had been tap-dancing around the prospect for some time. In the end it was Candice who suggested they go to the carnival after the two passed a poster posted in town.
“What other brave souls out there would dare face this ferocious fiend?” shouted the Barker.
The loitering crowd, only needing to wait for someone else to buy the first ticket, one by one parted with two bits of silver a piece.
Horace and Candice passed the time, waiting as the line grew, in silence. Her arm still tucked tight in the crook of his. On occasion they would turn to each other and smile. Her eyes glowed with a warmth that seem to grow from the very depth of her heart. Never one to crack anything even resembling a grin, Horace felt his cheeks burn as he flashed a crooked toothed smile in return.
“Ladies and Gents, the show is about to begin. Tickets please,” the Barker said.
“Oh, this is so exciting,” Candice said and gripped Horace’s arm even tighter. Horace felt a swell of pride about the prospect of being Candice’s protector, even if was against what he thought be nothing but some Carnival grift. He suspected that the so-called Terror of the Ozarks would in actuality be a dog in a costume or some monstrous stuffed dummy. Of course he had the good sense enough not to ruin it for Candice by mentioning any of suspicions. In fact part of him hoped she did believe it if it meant she might hold him a little closer.
Horace handed his tickets to the Barker, who waved them towards a tent. As Horace and Candice walked over a burly man burst from the tent. His eyes were wild, his clothes shredded into tatters and he had fresh cuts on his face.
“Joe!’ he screamed, “ Joe, get ‘em outta here!” Candice gasped at his sudden and ghastly appearance. The man shoved in between Horace and Candice, breaking their arm-lock.
“Excuse me,” Horace said more startled by the man’s rude behavior.
“What are babbling on about, Sid?” said Joe
“Wait, what? Slow down.”
“It’s out of its cage. The Guyscutus, it’s escaped.” Said Sid, and grabbed Joe by the lapels. “We gotta get everybody out of here before it’s too late!”
“Get a grip, man,” Joe pushed Sid off of him. He turned to the crowd and put on a professional smile. “Nothing to worry about folks, I promise.”
Not swayed by Joe’s reassurances, Sid pushed through the crowd screaming. “It’s not safe. Everybody run for your lives!” and disappeared into the night.
A murmur rose up through the crowd as they weighed what they had just witnessed.
“Please folks, again I promise you there’s nothing to worry about,” Joe said, “ Sadly, Sid’s got a bit of a drinking problem,” He rolled his eyes and mimicked knocking back a shot. “Probably saw a pink elephant is all. My sister’s cousin. Family business and all. What are going to do?”
The joke earned a few nervous laughs from the crowd.
“Listen everybody, my apologies, please wait right here while I make sure my sister’s idiot cousin didn’t do any real damage,” said Joe with a nervous grin and step inside of the tent.
“Maybe we should go,” said Candice and clutched his arm.
“Nonsense,” replied Horace, growing frustrated with the whole spectacle.
“Oh, God, No!” Joe cried from inside the tent, which was followed by a beastly howl.
“That’s it. I'm out of here,” said a man in the crowd and made a hasty exit. Several people follow after him.
Horace’s was watching the crowd start to thin out when Joe fell through the opening of the tent, looking as ragged as his sister’s idiot cousin. Candice screamed. Joe looked up at Horace and Candice and with a faint dying breath said,
Run.” His body was yanked back inside by some unseen assailant and the tent began to shake violently as if caught in a windstorm.