“Is your name really Electra?” he said.

The next night as the power leaped through her, she stiffened, shuddered, and clamped her lips in her teeth, moaning. Her legs stirred; her hands groped and scratched the chair arms.

“What’s wrong!” Beyond the blindfold, Johnny cried out, “What?”

And cut the power.

“I’m all right,” she gasped. The crowd murmured. “It’s nothing Go on! Now!”

And he hit the switch.

The fire crawled through her and again she clenched her teeth and threw her head back against the chair. A face rushed out of the dark, and a body with it, to press against her. The power exploded. The electric chair stopped, then melted.

Johnny, a million miles off in the dark, handed her the sword. Her limp, twitching hand dropped it. He handed it back and instinctively she shoved it far out into the night.

Someone, out there in the roaring darkness, touched the blade. She could imagine his eyes burning there, his lips parted as the power jolted him. He was pressed against the rope, hard, hard against the rope, and could not breathe or cry out or pull back!

The power died. The smell of lightning stayed.

“That’s it!” someone cried.

Johnny left her to squirm out of the leather straps, jumped off the low platform, and walked out toward the midway. Convulsively, she tore off the bonds, trembling. She ran from the tent, not looking back to see if the young man was still there against the rope.

She fell upon the cot of the trailer behind the tent, perspiring and shaking, and was still crying when Johnny stepped in to look down at her.

“What’s the matter?” he said.

“Nothing, nothing, Johnny.”

“What was that you pulled out there just now?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

“Nothing, nothing,” he said. “Like hell it is.” His face twisted. “Like hell! You haven’t done anything like that for years!”

“I was nervous!”

“Years it’s been,” he said. “When we were first married you did that. You think I forgot how when I switched the power on this same happened like tonight? You been sitting in that chair for three years like someone listening to a radio. And tonight, and tonight!” he cried, choking, standing over her, his fists tightened. “Damn it, tonight.”

“Please, please, Johnny. I was nervous.”

“What were you thinking there in the chair?” he demanded, leaning down wildly. “What did you think about?”

“Nothing, Johnny, nothing. “ He grabbed her hair. “Please!”

He threw her head down, turned, walked out, and stopped outside. “I know what you were thinking,” he said. “I know.” And she heard his footsteps fade away.

And the night passed and the day and another night with another crowd.

But nowhere in the crowd did she see his face. Now, in the blackness, with the blindfold tight to her face, she sat in the electric chair and waited while Johnny described the wonders of the Skeleton Man over on the next platform, and still she waited and stared at everyone who entered the tent. Johnny walked around the Skeleton Man, all stiffness, describing the living skull and the terrible bones, and at last the crowd rustled, turned, led by Johnny, his voice like a battered brass horn as he jumped up onto the platform with her so violently that she jerked aside and licked her red lips.

And now the knot of the blindfold was tied tighter and yet tighter as he bent to whisper:

“Miss him?”

She said nothing, but held her head up. The crowd stirred below, like animals in a straw stable.

“He’s not here,” he whispered and locked the electrodes on her arms. She was silent. He whispered again, “He’ll never come back.” He fitted the black skullcap over her hair. She trembled. “Afraid?” he wondered quietly. “What of?” He snapped the straps around her ankles. “Don’t be afraid. Good clean electricity.” A gasp escaped her lips. He stood up. “I hit him,” he said softly, touching her blindfold. “Hit him so hard I broke his front teeth. Then I knocked him against a wall and hit him again and again-“ He Stopped and shouted. “Ladies and gentlemen, witness the most astounding act in carnival history! Here you see a penitentiary electric chair exactly like those used in our biggest prisons. Perfect for the destruction of criminals!” With this last word she fell forward, fingers scratching the wood as he cried, “Before your very eyes, this dear lady will be electrocuted!”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray