Al Bruno III
It began a year ago, on the third day of the Altamont Fair. It’s funny, we’d go to the fair all the time when we were kids but you know how it is when you grow up; you trade the merry go rounds and ferris wheels for productivity meetings and marketing reports. Timothy and I had no children. We had a hard enough time keeping our marriage and careers on an even keel, a rug rat would have been a disaster.
Considering everything that's happened I’m glad we made that decision.
Like I said, we went to the fair-, Timothy and I and our best friends Chris and Danielle. We were all in our middle thirties, our stomachs were too weak for the really exciting rides and our minds were too cynical for the games of chance. There was still plenty to do and see though. There were crafts, classic cars and livestock displays and if we stayed till midnight there would be fireworks. And of course there was the food, cotton candy, caramel apples, deep fried Snickers and gyros.
Actually only the boys got the gyros, Danielle and I stayed behind rolling our eyes. They’d just got done saying how full they were but the sight of the girl working the gyro stand fired up their ‘appetites’. She was barely legal and barely dressed. We let them have their fun, the girl wouldn’t dress like that if she didn’t want to be ogled right? Besides the look on their faces when they actually tried to eat those half burnt things was worth it.
We might have called it a night right there if one of us hadn’t spotted the black tent.
It was squat and wide with an ugly hand-painted banner that read 'Dr. Tarr and Mr. Fether's Cavalcade of Oddities' and beneath that in all capital letters was ‘FEATURING AUDIENCES WITH THE EYESTALK KID FOUR TIMES A DAY!’. Beneath that was this ugly image of a snail with a little boy’s face.
“What’s an Eyestalk Kid?” I asked.
“We could find out.” Chris said, “I’ve never seen a real freak show.”
“Me either,” my husband replied.
It was ten bucks a head to get in. The babushka-wearing woman working the ticket booth frowned when we asked her to break a hundred and asked if we had something smaller. We didn’t so she transformed the act of making change into a minor tantrum. “Does your boss know you treat your customers like this?” Danielle said.
“Ah am Docta Tahh,” she shot back, “Ah am the boss smahtass!”
We should have turned back right then, told her to take her cavalcade of human oddities and shove it but I think we all thought her performance was a put on, a part of the show. All our stories of visiting the freak tent would begin with the part about the crazy lady working out front.
The inside of the tent was lit by clusters of Christmas lights. Canvas partitions divided one part of the tent from the other. Each of those cramped fabric-walled rooms held it’s own display or performer. The first section of the tent was just displays, pictures of other sideshow displays from years gone by, taxidermied two-headed calves and misshapen fetuses preserved in jars of formaldehyde. Everything was streaked with grime.
From there we moved to an equally grimy waxworks display called ‘AMERICAN MONSTERS’. I was always a fan of true crime stories but if not for the signs beside each figure I wouldn’t have been able to tell their Lizzie Borden from their Ted Bundy. By the time we had shuffled past nine serial killers and one sitting President we were thoroughly bored.
In the next part of the tent there a banner that proclaimed ‘BEHOLD THE UNICORN- creature of legend’. The unicorn however was nothing but a deformed goat with a single horn jutting from its head. It bleated at us and glared from a single misshapen eye. None of us, or any of the other people that paid ten bucks to get in, were impressed.
The line moved forward again bringing us into the presence of ‘HUMAN ODDITIES - Howard Huge! Nora the Tattooed Lady! The Amazing Reginald!’
Nora the Tattooed Lady looked to be in her middle seventies and had to walk across the stage with the help of a cane. Howard Huge looked no heavier than the subject of your average reality show and he never looked up once from his smart phone. The Amazing Reginald scowled contemptuously at the audience as he bloodlessly shoved needles through his arms and face.
By the time the Amazing Reginald’s performance had reached the glass eating part of the show we were all feeling like fools. We’d been parted with our hard earned by the cash at the promise of seeing something grotesque up close and in person. We were rubes.
Timothy turned to say something to me, an apology I’m sure, when a frail looking man in a Hawaiian shirt stepped out from behind a hidden fold in the tent. “Ladies. And. Gentlemen.” He coughed wetly for a few moments before continuing, “I am Mr. Fether. I hope you have enjoyed our little production. I hope we have brought a little wonder to your otherwise humdrum lives.”
Danielle exchanged a glance at that, a thousand sarcastic comments on our lips.
There was another long fit of coughing before Mr. Fether could speak again, “But now you stand on the precipice of a true revelation. At this moment, in a specially prepared aerobionic chamber, the Eyestalk Kid and his hermaphrodite harem await.”
No one knew what he was talking about. ‘Aerobionic chamber’? ‘hermaphrodite harem’? It was getting warm in the tent and there was a aquarium odor filtering in to the chamber. Mr. Fether drew the curtain back revealing an empty pegboard wall. There were voices chanting behind that wall, wet whispers of “…allelujah…” repeating over and over again.
After some more coughing then Mr. Fether spoke again, “For a mere fifty dollars you may gaze upon the Eyestalk Kid, you may hear one of his famous sermons and risk his blessing!”
“Fifty dollars?” Timothy said, “You want more money?”
“The Eyestalk Kid and his disciples have specific needs that require specific payments,” Mr. Fether explained, as the ‘allelujahs’ grew louder and louder, “but you will find him worth every penny.”
“Let’s get out of here.” I said.
Danielle agreed, “We’ve been suckered enough for one night.”
“Actually,” Timothy said, “I want to see this.”
“Me too,” Chris nodded.
“Oh my God!” I shouted, “Don ’t be a fool.”
Timothy blushed again, “Honey you’re making a scene.”
And everyone was watching, the Human Oddities, Mr. Fether and all the rest of the people that had been suckered into the tent. Feeling self conscious I said, “Do what you want - I’ll be waiting in the car.”
Frowning but undaunted Timothy and Chris reached for their wallets, and, after giving me a guilty shrug, Danielle joined them.
I left them to it.
Half an hour went by, then an hour. I’d expected them to come slinking back to the car by then but I was still waiting and alone as the fireworks began and the parking lot began to clear out. Eventually, despite my annoyance and despite the fact I was sitting up straight in the drivers seat of my car I fell asleep.
The sound of Timothy scrambling into the seat beside me was what woke me up. He was shouting, “Go!” He said “Get us home!”
“Where were you?” I asked as Chris and Danielle got into the back, “What took you so long?”
“We have to go home,” he said again.
Without the rows and rows of other cars and local carnies in orange vests it was hard to navigate dark, empty field that the Altamont fair used for a parking lot. Chris and Danielle were turned around in their seats the entire way to Route 146. When speeding towards Albany, Danielle made eye contact with me in the rear-view mirror. It was too dark to be sure I she looked like she’d been crying, “We should have listened to you.”
I felt sick to my stomach,“What happened?” I asked, “Tell me what happened.”
“We can’t tell you what happened. It’s still happening.” Timothy had his face buried in his hands, when he spoke his voice was muffled, “I’m sorry.”
Chris started laughing, the sound was almost a scream, “Tim! I’m wearing your shirt!”
Timothy barely spoke to me the next day. He said he wasn’t feeling well so I let it pass. When I got home from the office I found him lying under the bed covers and mumbling. He wasn’t running a temperature but his skin was clammy to the touch.
Since I had no sick time left I decided to sleep on the recliner. The next morning I found him cocooned in the blankets and sheets, everything was soaked with sweat that had a swampy odor to it. Timothy wouldn’t speak more than two words to me but those words were, “Love you.”
I started to worry he might have gotten food poisoning from that gyro slut. He could barely lift his head off the pillow so I had to call him in sick to work. His boss was really pissy about it but there was no way Timothy could even drive himself in, never mind about actually do any work.
Four times. I tried to call him four times during the course of that day but he never answered, every call went to voicemail. I tried texting his cell phone but that was no better. Right before I headed out to my last meeting of the I gave Danielle a quick call to to see how she and Chris were doing. I barely recognized the voice that answered and the only reply to my questions was a garbled, “Go away.”
That night came home to find the refrigerator door wide open and a month’s worth of groceries either half eaten or left to spoil. Timothy was laid out in the couch, stains radiating out from him. The TV was turned to a channel that used to show nature documentaries but was now nothing but wall to wall reality shows about rednecks. I knew for a fact Timothy hated both.
He smiled thickly at me, “M’sorry. M’sorry.”
“What’s wrong?” I knelt beside him and stroked his forehead. This flesh felt like the skin of pudding, “What happened to you?”
“Had to be there… m’sorry.”
The phone started ringing. A premonition made me want to ignore it but I didn’t believe in premonitions then.
“Hello? I said.
A watery voice said back,“Tim?”
No one called my husband Tim except for me, and even then only when we were making love. He’d always been a Timothy, ever since childhood. “Who is this?” I asked.
“M’sorry Alice. M’sorry. Chris died. Didn’t want to… Face wouldn’t forgive the mirror. Shotgun. M’sorry. Tim? Almost time to go. Go home.”
“Danielle?” I couldn’t recognize the voice. I’m still not sure it really was her but who else could have been?
The voice whispered, “The Eyestalk Kid…”
Timothy gurgled a reply from his spot on the couch, “Allelujah!” Then he turned onto his side and vomited, with each heave of his stomach he called “Allelujah!”
I wanted to call 911 but my fingers wouldn’t move, not when I knew the worst hadn’t happened yet.
His stomach emptied my husband rolled himself off the couch landing on his stomach with a grunt of relief. His back was swollen and bowed outwards.
“Allelujah!” the voice from the phone said.
Then he put his face down in the puddle of his own sick and started slurping. With every slurp the lump on his back quivered.
“Stop it!” I screamed at him, “For God’s sake stop it!”
And he did, turning towards me to show a face that had become a mask of bile and eyes that were even more askew than before. “M’sorry.” he said again.
Then his eyes changed. The eyes I had looked into with love and anger and indifference so many times over the last seven years began to shift, slipping out of his skull on stems of writhing, pink muscle.
The last thing saw, before I fainted, was his gaping eyelids, brimming with tears. “Love you.” he said.
When I woke up hours later Timothy was gone. He’d left everything behind, his wallet, his clothes, his wedding ring. I called the police and found out they were already coming to see me. Chris was dead. They weren’t sure if it was suicide or foul play and Danielle was nowhere to be found.
They police didn’t want to hear about Dr. Tarr and Mr. Fether and the Eyestalk Kid. They’d already decided for themselves what had happened. It was an affair, my husband and my best friend. Chris had found out and it had driven him to suicide. I’d found out too and my broken heart had sent me into a delusional state.
Now it’s a year later and the Altamont Fair is back in full swing and this letter was supposed to reveal everything. It was supposed to tell you why the black tent might have been harder to find this year even though it has almost doubled in size. I was going to tell you what I saw when I paid my hundred dollars to see the Eyestalk Kid in his Aerobionic chamber. I wanted to write down word for word what he said and reveal to you the rites my body performed as my mind screamed for it to stop.
But now I know I can’t, it was hard enough for me just to write all this. I have to hit the keyboard of my laptop with bruising force just to make the letters appear. My fingers won’t hold their shape and my eyes can’t focus on what is right in front of me.