Fairgrounds and Harold Grover didn’t mix. He hated the
jostling, honking, ignorant people. He hated the glaring lights,
deafening, so-called, music and the stink of diesel fumes
and right now, he was in the thick of it all.
He ran a thin hand through his sparse, grey hair. As he’d expected, he
had a splitting headache. Should he mention it to Millie? She might suggest they
call it a day. Some hopes! She wouldn’t care. She loved fairgrounds, or
anywhere else, where there was noise, life and bustle.
He gave a cynical grunt. Perhaps it was because she could hide her gross, overfed
body among people too busy to notice her waddling figure. Even now, after a huge
cheeseburger and three quarter pound bars of coconut ice, she was demolishing
a candyfloss; a miniature mountain of pink spun sugar, just like the pile of
coarse, tinted hair on her head. But there again; it was pointless telling her
not to eat all that sugar. She never listened to anyone, least of all to her
Harold didn’t despise fat people generally. He knew obesity wasn’t
always due to gluttony, or other excesses, but Millie had no one to blame but
herself. Harold’s long nose wrinkled in disgust as he looked at his wife’s
vast buttocks, jiggling beneath the thin material of her voluminous skirt; like
two fat rabbits in a sack. She was also obnoxious with a high-pitched laugh that
could split a pine log. Even over the hubbub of the fair, he couldn’t shut
out her shrieking, as her fickle mind flitted from one idea to the next. Millie
was enjoying herself. Harold’s headache wouldn’t interest her. She
would only tell him to go take an aspirin. A growl rumbled in his throat. It
was a pity there wasn’t something he could take to get rid of her. One
of these days…
Where had all that hate suddenly come from?
True, he didn’t exactly love his wife any more and he’d often wondered
if he would have enough guts to get rid of her. Usually though, such ideas came
to him after a few drinks and the ensuing tirade from Millie. This feeling was
different though. He almost tasted the hate and, dare he admit it, the strongest
desire to wring her neck, he had ever experienced....
‘Come along folks! See the freak show! Genuine freaks! Nothing rigged!
Come along roll-up!’
Harold creased his high forehead again, as he heard the Barker’s voice.
How had he managed to pick up the sound? They had passed the freak-show once
or twice already, but at the moment the booth was across the other side of the
noisy fair-ground, not even in sight.
Then Millie turned towards him, her face tinted with garish splashes of colour
from the lights. ‘Oooo! Harold!’ she cooed. ‘Let’s go
and see the freak show.’ She tossed aside the half-eaten floss.
Millie’s inane laugh seemed to disseminate his headache, causing it to
spread, like a heavy-footed army over his brain. He could still hear the Barker’s
insistent, grating, voice, although, strangely enough, that didn’t seem
to bother him. Had Millie heard it too? Or was it another of her mercurial, spot
decisions? He gazed miserably at his wife. He might as well agree. There’d
be no peace until he did. He sighed. ‘Yes dear.’ He turned towards
the main aisle between the stalls. ‘It’s this way.’ Then he
wondered. He knew the general direction, but what made him so certain it was
along this aisle?
The Barker was standing on the board stage, in the light from a horse shoe of
harsh yellow bulbs. Beside him was the inevitable, bearded lady, fat, curly haired
and wearing vermilion lipstick; like some incongruous, mixed-up drag artiste.
On the facade, there were the usual pictures, brightly coloured paintings of
voluptuous females, with tails, strange, goat-like creatures with human heads,
eerie crawling things, with human faces. It all made Harold feel slightly sick
and he turned away. A load of trash! It showed how sick some minds could be!
He tasted the bile, sour in his throat. He wouldn’t go in. Millie could
go alone. Then the Barker’s eyes lighted on him.
Harold had never seen a man with red eyes before, and for an instant, he was
fascinated as the Barker stared at him. Until Harold realised it was just a trick
of the lights; making the man’s eyes glow like twin furnaces.
All the same, a shudder ran through Harold’s thin frame. He felt his very
soul had been touched and he pulled his gaze away from the Barker’s cadaverous
features and moved away.
The Barker’s voice stopped him. ‘Come on sir.’ the man said. ‘Don’t
be shy. ‘He grinned, showing broken, discoloured teeth,
‘Oh Harry! ‘Millie’s shrill voice battered his ear. ‘Hurry
up. Get the money out. I want to go in and see.’
‘That’s right sir. Step up this way’
Harold sighed, delved for change and, wearily, followed his wife into the dingy,
rather smelly, atmosphere of the booth.
Inside, Harold felt it was all a little sad. The chief attractions seemed to
be a curvaceous woman, with a twisted, hideous face, covered in huge, grey warts.
Good make-up. Or was it? Harold shuddered. In the same booth, there was a shrunken,
pathetic creature without arms, using his feet to write and draw as easily as
a normal person would use hands. They were billed as man and wife. Sick!
As Harold passed, he could hear the woman haranguing the stunted, armless man
and he felt a jot of sympathy. Maybe they were really married to each other.
Sometimes there was no justice. Well, that was one thing he and that poor creature
had in common.
There were other, minor attractions, such as ‘the world’s smallest
dwarf’ and a man with five fingers and a thumb on each hand. The bearded
lady had also taken up her place in the booth. There were no other spectators
and Harold felt a little relieved.
Millie was being her usual stupid self, giggling and cooing at every pathetic
exhibit. ‘Oooo! Harold. Look! ‘Millie was pointing at the man with
the extra fingers. ‘I wonder what he does with his other finger.’ Her
shrill laugh, sounded coarse now and Harold winced.
Now she came to the unfortunate without arms and again she laughed. ‘Oooo
Harold! I wonder how he gets on!’ The innuendo was obvious and Harold cringed,
certain that both of the people in the booth must have heard what Millie had
said. They gave no indication of it however and Harold ushered Millie past them
to the next exhibit.
The embarrassment was starting again. What would his friends think? Then he shook
his head. He was being silly. He didn’t have to tell them did he? He growled
to himself again. This wasn’t his scene at all. There was no fun in gazing
at misfortune and anyway, with the possible exception of the thalidomide victim,
he had seen even less fortunate people in the streets. Even if he’d been
inclined, he had seen nothing, so far, worth talking about.
Somehow, the Barker had appeared at Harold’s side and he whispered. ‘For
an extra pound sir, you and the lady can see the special attractions in our side
Once more, Harold got the queasy feeling the Barker had invaded his mind. ‘Special
‘Very special Sir.’ The Barker’s features looked like a death
mask now. ‘The strangest freaks from all over the world.’
His voice wasn’t grating now, but sibilant and slightly hypnotic. Harold
found himself sorting through his pocket for a pound coin, to hand it over.
Millie was eager. ‘Oooo Harry! I wonder what we’ll see in there.’ She
pushed in front of him and went through the black curtain. Her voice sounded
faraway as she shouted back. ‘Harry! This is fantastic! I’ve never
seen anyth…’ Her voice trailed off and Harold, wondering if Millie
was all right, went through himself, frowning at the strange, whooshing sound
in his ears.
His wife was all right, but she was standing, in the bluish light, gazing quietly
at the first exhibit. Millie’s face was slack, her mouth open and there
was a strange look in her eyes. She was looking at a beautiful girl in a cage.
A beautiful girl with the hindquarters of a donkey. The creature was smiling
at Millie and Harold recognised the sheer lust in the creature’s green
He knew he should have been disgusted, but he wasn’t. The thought of the
strange creature being attracted to Millie seemed to stimulate his own feelings,
and he knew he was blushing.
Dry straw rustled, as the creature moved towards the front of the cage and its
mouth opened to emit a soft, mewling sound, the tongue flicking out as it gazed
Flustered, Millie stepped back and then glanced at Harold. She gave him an uncertain
grin. ‘Weird isn’t it Harry?’
‘Just make-believe dear.’ he said quietly. ‘Come on let’s...’ He
broke off, as he had noticed the disgusting creature in the next stall. Again
it was only half human, this time a man’s head and shoulders, with the
glistening body of a lizard. Harold knew it had to be rigged, but how? God dammit!
The disgusting thing looked so real. How could everything look so real?
He looked about, panicking now. This was like a nightmare. There were small creatures
which, if he hadn’t known better, he would have classed as goblins; there
was an old crone, with reptilian claws for hands, tearing at a piece of raw meat;
there was an incredibly beautiful girl, Siamese-twinned with a large ape and
there was a man’s head with a tiny, hairy body and appendages like insects
Millie was gabbling, as she looked about her, obviously unable to accept what
she was seeing. The noise of these creatures, hissing, groaning, cackling and
moaning was playing havoc with Harold’s headache, and he couldn’t
understand why none of this had been audible from the main booth.
In the dim recesses of this chamber, there seemed to be other stalls, but Harold
had seen enough. He grabbed Millie’s arm and rushed for the doorway, almost
flinging himself through, dragging his wife after him.
Again, the funny, whooshing sound and then, like a preying mantis, the Barker
was hovering near the black curtains. ‘I presume you were satisfied sir!’ Again
the voice was sibilant, and persuasive.
Harold didn’t answer him. Still towing Millie along, he brushed past the
man, and strode out into the bright light and noise of the fair, half-realising,
that for some reason he had been unable to hear the din of the fair from inside
the special booth.
But Harold wasn’t concerned about that. He was sick of this fair. Millie
or no Millie, he was going home. Angrily, he dragged his protesting wife through
the crush, towards the car-park.
That night sleep had come surprisingly easy for Harold, but it was a restless
sleep, full of visions of the creatures he had seen at the fair. The Barker figured
rather a lot, and his gentle, whispering voice seemed to be calling Harold.
Abruptly, Harold woke. Sitting up in the dark, he began to tremble, for added
to the nightmarish visions, was the sudden idea he was strangling Millie, feeling
his thumbs sinking into the rolls of fat under her chin.
He started to perspire and his breathing became heavy and fast. There was the
vague echo of the Barker’s voice still in his ears. ‘You do want
to get rid of her don’t you?’
It was the most restless Sunday Harold could remember.
All day he fidgeted, resisting the call of the fair.
To gaze again at the fascinating exhibits.
Even to see what awaited him in the booths at the back.
All day, he was continually reminded.
He had dreamed of killing Millie.
All day he wanted to go to the booth.
Sunday night was worse again and the face of the Barker, loomed from the night,
his fierce eyes, like sections of a red-hot poker. The spectral vision was laughing,
whispering, beckoning. This time Harold’s dream was complete. The inert
form of Millie lay before him, her face distended and blue, the Barker’s
sibilant whispering in his ears...
Harold sat up in bed. Everything was all right. Millie’s obese form was
bunching up the bedclothes and she was snoring as usual. Dammit, he wished she
were dead. Trembling now, Harold knew. Tomorrow, after work, he would visit the
‘You’ve finally come have you?’ The Barker’s face looked
yellow, seamed with evil,
For a moment, Harold didn’t know what to say.
‘Strangling the wretch really isn’t the way to get rid of her you
Harold frowned. ‘You....’
‘Yes. I can read your thoughts Harold.’ He chuckled. ‘I also
shared your dreams on the last two nights.’ He chuckled. ‘Harold!
You really do have some strange preferences!’ His chuckle deepened and
then he shrugged. ‘But that’s not important. The dreams were special
in other ways.
Harold was sure he was boggle-eyed. ‘What d’you mean! How....?’
‘Your soul left your body Harold. You visited the realm of night.’ His
voice seemed hypnotic again. ‘I’ve seen you there before, but you
wouldn’t remember those times.’ he chuckled. ‘Most people visit
there at some time or another.’
Somewhat bewildered, Harold felt he had to accept everything the Barker had just
said. As though it were natural; mundane even. The Barker said so. It was so.
That’s all there was to it. He nodded towards the black curtains. ‘All
those er...things in there. They’re real?’
‘They’re real Harold,’ His smile gleamed, bright against the
dull, sallow cheeks. ‘They all had someone who wanted rid of them. Of course
no one would recognise them.’ He ushered Harold towards the curtains. ‘A
satisfactory business arrangement. I need the exhibits.’ He turned up his
hands. ‘People need help to solve a problem. My stock in trade.’ He
grinned at Harold. ‘Let’s take another look.’
Again, Harold experienced the whooshing sound in his ears, and the blue-laid
light. But this time, Harold wasn’t feeling any disgust. They stopped near
the cage with the strange donkey-woman.
The thing was looking at Harold, but now there was no desire in the green eyes.
The Barker chuckled. ‘She rather preferred your wife.’ He rattled
the bars of the cage and the creature retreated, hissing at him. ‘Her husband
found out about her strange, sexual preferences.’ the Barker explained. ‘The
lower half was his idea. Rather clever. She finally got what she had always wanted.’ Again
he chuckled and moved on.
Each of the weird exhibits was explained to him. The lizard-man had been a dealer
in alligator and crocodile skin, the old crone had kept a battery-chicken business;
the girl-ape had been a glamour model who had turned to blackmail. Looking at
the wretched girl, joined to the ugly ape, the Barker had laughed. ‘I’m
rather proud of this one. We have a woman’s mind in an ape’s body
and of course. vice-versa.’ He smirked. Subtle cruelty don’t you
Harold did feel a twinge of pity for the creature. The sad, bewildered expression
in the dark brown eyes and the ape-like movements of the gorgeous girl’s
body, told him the Barker was not lying.
If this strange man could do such things...’ Harold shuddered.
They stopped at the last booth. ‘Finally, the insect creature.’ The
Barker said. ‘He used a poisonous spider, to kill his wife.’ The
Barker shrugged. ‘His sister in law didn’t bother with the Police!’ He
turned to Harold again. ‘All very appropriate punishments for the crimes
they committed I think.’
They had reached an empty stall. ‘Here is Millie’s place.’ His
smile was cold. ‘If you agree of course.’
‘Agree!’ Harold felt hid jaw quivering. ‘What d’you mean,
‘You do want her out of the way don’t you Harold?’
Harold knew he was gabbling. ‘B-b-but I...’
‘Come on Harold. Admit it! You’d like your freedom wouldn’t
‘Yes. But...’ He barely heard himself admitting his secret desire.
Then he shrugged. To Hell with it. ‘Well... Yes... ’ He paused for
a moment, frowning, until finally he asked. ‘What will happen to her?’
‘That is for you to decide.’ He gestured towards the stalls. ‘Whatever
your desire, my little helpers will see it is done.’
‘The little goblins. You saw them on your last visit.’
Harold nodded. ‘Oh yes. The goblins.’ Nothing was surprising him
any more. He looked into the red eyes again. ‘What will it cost?’
‘Three thousand pounds.’ His tone precluded any bargaining.
Chewing his lower lip, Harold paused. Then he smiled. Millie was well insured.
He could manage that.
‘We have a bargain Harold?’ The Barker asked.
‘We have a bargain.’ He held out his hand.
‘You won’t want to shake hands with me Harold.’
Millie had followed the Barker like a lamb. Harold had waved goodbye to her back,
as the Barker had ushered her into the secret booth. Now, Harold was looking
at the freak that had been his wife. He had surprised himself with his own cruelty.
Millie was behind the glass front of an open sided, wooden box. Sitting on a
plank, which stretched across the box, she was upright, restrained by a harness.
The harness was necessary, for her arms and legs were now boneless, hanging,
uselessly from her hairy torso. Her jawbone and teeth had also been removed and
her lips had been stitched neatly back to the surrounding flesh, where they would
eventually heal. Because she had often told lies, Harold had also decided her
tongue would be split into two. He smiled at the wretched being he had helped
create. She had always wanted to lose weight. Harold opened the glass door and
leaned forwards to pat the top of Millie’s hairless head. He chuckled as
he noted the fury and hatred in her eyes, then he switched on the saline drip,
which had been inserted into a flaccid arm. He grinned at her. ‘How do
you feel now Millie?’
Her reply was just a splather of saliva.
‘Bye Millie!’ Harold chuckled. ‘Don’t eat too much!’
The insurance investigator had been friendly and sympathetic towards Harold in
his loss, but not very helpful. Yes, it was true, Millie’s clothing had
been found stacked neatly by the river. Yes, it seemed she had committed suicide.’ But
you see Mr Grover,’ he had said. ‘Without a body, er... Well...’He
had spread his arms in defeat. ‘My company feels it should insist on the
legal seven year wait, before settlement. Quite normal in the circumstances.’
‘B-b-but I thought that sometimes you would pay up in cases like this.’
‘Oh yes sir. We often do.’ Again he had shrugged. ‘But that’s
when there’s other evidence to indicate death. In your case, well... Well
you understand Sir. ‘He smiled slightly. ‘Perhaps someone saw her
near the water.’ He shrugged. ‘If you could find someone… You
understand of course.’
Unfortunately for Harold, the Barker didn’t understand. ‘Oh Harold,
YOU DISAPPOINT ME!’ His voice was an awesome, spectral boom.
Harold cringed before the onslaught as the fiery eyes burned through his mind.
The Barker was looming, his body filling the space with its overpowering presence.
Harold’s voice was a squeak. ‘B-b-but I can’t help it.’ he
protested. ‘The insurance company won’t...’
‘‘We made a bargain!’ The voice was suddenly huge. ‘When
you make a bargain with me, you keep your word. But you failed.’ He began
to chuckle. ‘And I don’t tolerate failure.’
Again, Harold had the impression the man was growing bigger. Then knew it was
so; or rather, he, himself was growing smaller!
Harold felt a crushing weight, all over his body, as though his skin was shrinking.
He could feel his hands deforming; tightening, into grotesque claws, felt the
sharp points on his teeth sticking into his tongue. What was happening to him?
He began to writhe then, as the awful agony of his metamorphosis gripped him.
Ten minutes later, Harold’s clothing lay about him like discarded sacks.
Scales glistened on his deformed little torso and his long, smooth tail twitched
backwards and forwards as he looked up to the Barker. He tried to speak but all
he could do was make a grunting sound.
The Barker chuckled and bent down to lift Harold up to eye-level. ‘Now
where did you think I got my little helpers from? Hmmm?’ He chuckled again. ‘Like
you, they were unable to pay my bill. So…’ Then he shrugged as he
looked at the creature that had once been Harold. ‘Oh yes. A nice job,
even if I say so myself… the punters will love you.’ He set the twisted
little form down again. ‘Now go and join the others. The show begins in
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Barr is 66 years of age and a retired Police Officer from the
UK. He has been writing for about twenty years and has had short stories
published, mostly in English periodicals. He also writes articles
on woodwork for craft and hobby magazines.
With fiction he usually concentrates on crime or thrillers, but occasionally
venture into the supernatural field. He is currently writing a full-length ‘mythological-based’ novel,
in the adventure/quest genre.
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