Abbey veered her sedan to the right to avoid making roadkill of the skunk as they zoomed along the potholed Indiana back-road, causing branches from the hanging trees to scrape side of her ride, and her friend Sara to drop her cigarette on the floor.
“What the hell, Abbey!” Sara yelled.
Peggy griped from the back, “Chill out. We’re okay.”
“Sorry, all this ghost talk is working me up.”
“We all just need to simmer down,” Abbey said, as she re-centered on the narrow road.
“Well, slow down first. It’s not like we have to punch in when we get there.”
Peggy videotaped it all with a small camera. Later she’d edit the footage for their Midwest Psychic Quest channel on Witchtok.
Sara relit her smoke. They’d been in the car over two hours after a crappy day at the salon. Her boss had flaked out again, made her go pick up product on her own dime. As general manager the only perk seemed to be extra hassle and coworkers who talked behind her back. Maybe one day their channel would take off, they’d get some sponsors, ghost hunt and legend trip full-time. It was a dream, but it kept the encroaching winter blues at bay on the dull days of drudgery.
The legend tripping videos got the most likes and comments of all their content, and the episode on schedule was a visit to the site of the brutal circus slayings in Euterpe, Indiana, where the Wallbanger Big Top had kept its winter camp and quarters; those quarters now moldered in ruins on an abandoned property behind a strip mall whose last denizens barely stayed in business. They parked their car between Indie CBD and Dollar Discounts, got out, checked flashlights, checked pepper spray, and crept behind the building to look for the hole in the fence that led into the abandoned property.
Many others had been there before them. It was easy to follow the trail of beer cans, condom and candy wrappers to the husks of empty outbuildings whose only coats of paint were decades of graffiti.
“Let’s get the story on camera.” Peggy set up her light, and prodded Abbey and Sara into place, standing in front of a fading mural of a calliope sprayed on wall that slanted with decay.
Sara began. “Before the killings, Ringmaster George Wallbanger often complained he was being driven insane by the sound of the steam calliope. It’s piercing high pitched whistle haunted his dreams. Some researchers have wondered if it was just tinnitus, the gradual loss of his hearing as he aged. Maybe. But when authorities found his journal, a darker picture unfolded.
“Wallbanger wrote page after page about the calliope being possessed. He said it’s player Alan Dennison was a servant of hell and whenever he played, the infernal instrument reverberated with the shrieks of the dead and the damned.”
“Of course the police dismissed the paranormal connection,” Abbey said, taking her turn. “But the troupe didn’t have to be convinced. The fortune teller Madame Mori had seen the tragedy in her cards. Death. The Hanged Man. The Eight of Swords. Soon this land, next to Indiana’s cornfields, was all splattered with blood.”
“Alan didn’t see it coming, despite the arguments he’d had with George over the noise. Then the ice pick was in his neck. Alan’s lover Dolores the Clown tried to stop him. All she got for her trouble was an instant lobotomy when he stabbed her in the eye.”
“George poured kerosene over the bodies slumped against the tractor tow that pulled and powered the calliope then flicked the smoldering nub of his cigar to set it all ablaze. Next he pulled out his .22 pistol.” Abbey made a gun shape with her hand, “and blammo, he blew his fucking brains out.”
Sara finished it up. “Soon the whole camp was gathered around the fire. The tattooed lady and the merman pulled Dolores to safety. She was alive, but burned, and never recovered her faculties. She spent the rest of her life at the Fort Wayne Sanitarium.”
She let out her breath. “Legend has it, that if you come here and circle these ruins three times while reciting this chant, you can still hear Alan playing his calliope.”
Sara and Abbey walked around, chanted, hands held.
“See the freaks in a snow-white tent,
See the tiger and elephant,
See the monkey jump the rope,
Listen to the Kally-ope!
Hail, all hail, the cotton candy stand
Hail, all hail, the steam whistle band.
Music from the Earth am I!
Circus days tremendous cry!
My steam may be gone,
But my sound will never die!”
They chanted as they walked, and the late fall leaves crunched beneath their sneakers.
Peggy saw a flicker of red and blue through the camera lens, then a painted face smeared with tears in the haze of moonlight and billows of steam. She smelled sulfur as an acrid taste crept into her mouth, and felt a weakness in the knees, as if she’d seen a guy she had crushed on, but now knew he was a creep, a sociopath hiding behind a charmed smile.
She glanced at the ghostmeter clipped to the belt of her jeans and the numbers on its LED display jumped up and down. As they finished a third revolution around the circle, the ether blue outline of a faded canvas tent appeared with a whoosh of scorching vapor as the calliope released its high-pitched cry.
A whirling gyre of phantasmal and miasmic shades slithered into being, spinning, as if on a carousel of sound, whose piercing tones splintered the air in a babble of laughter.
Then it was gone, and only the smell of popcorn and sawdust remained.
Sara felt sick to her stomach, and wished she hadn’t ordered the fried pickles at Diane’s Diner. As they walked back to the car, she couldn’t shake the high-pitched buzzing that rang and rang and rang in her ears, following her the whole way home.
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.