It lit at the feet of Will Halloway, his son.
Charles Halloway choked on cigar smoke.
Two shadows there, yes! And the eyes, terror gazing up out of the dark well under the street. He almost bent to seize the grate, yelling.
Instead, incredulous, he only blurted softly., with the crowd around, and the weather clearing:
“Jim? Will! What the hell’s going on?”
At which moment, one hundred feet away, the Illustrated Man came out of Ned’s Night Spot.
“Mr Halloway — “ said Jim.
“Come up out of there,” said Charles Halloway.
The Illustrated Man, a crowd among crowds, pivoted slowly, then walked toward the cigar store.
“Dad, we can’t! Don’t look at us down here!”
The Illustrated Man was some eighty feet away.
“Boys,” said Charles Halloway. “The police — “
“Mr Halloway,” said Jim hoarsely., “we’re dead if you don’t look up! The Illustrated Man, if he — “
“The what?” asked Mr Halloway.
“The man with the tattoos!”
From the café counter, five electric blue-inked eyes fixed Mr Halloway’s memory.
“Dad, look over at the courthouse clock, while we tell you what happened — “
Mr Halloway straightened up.
And the Illustrated Man arrived.
He stood studying Charles Halloway.
“Sir,” said the Illustrated Man.
“Eleven-fifteen.” Charles Halloway judged the courthouse clock, adjusted his wrist watch, cigar in mouth. “One minute slow.”
“Sir,” said the Illustrated Man.
Will held Jim, Jim held Will fast in the gum-wrapper, tobacco-littered pit, as the four shoes rocked, shuffled, tilted above.
“Sir,” said the man named Dark, probing Charles Halloway’s face for the bones there to compare to other bones in other half-similar people, “the Cooger-Dark Combined Shows have picked two local boys, two! to be our special guests during our celebratory visit!”
“Well, I — “ Will’s father tried not to glance at the sidewalk.
“These two boys — “
Will watched the tooth-sharp shoe-nails of the Illustrated Man flash, sparking the grille.
“ — these boys will ride all rides see each show, shake hands with every performer, go home with magic kits, baseball bats — “
“Who,” interrupted Mr Halloway, “are these lucky boys?”
“Two selected from photos snapped on our midway yesterday. Identify them, sir, and you will share their fortune. There are the boys!”
He sees us down here! thought Will. Oh, God!
The Illustrated Man thrust out his hands.
Will’s father lurched.
Tattooed in bright blue ink, Will’s face gazed up at him from the palm of the right hand.
Ink-sewn to the left palm, Jim’s face was indelible and natural as life.
“You know them?” The Illustrated Man saw Mr Halloway’s throat clench, his eyelids squinch, his bones struck vibrant as from a sledgehammer blow. “Their names?”
Dad, careful! Will thought.
“I don’t — “ said Will’s father.
“You know them.”
The Illustrated Man’s hands shook, held out to view, asking for the gift of names, making Jim’s face on the flesh, Will’s face on the flesh., Jim’s face hidden beneath the street, Will’s face hidden beneath the street, tremble, writhe, pinch.
“Sir, you wouldn’t want them to lose out…?”
“No, but — “
“But, but, but?” Mr Dark loomed closer, magnificent in his picture-gallery flesh, his eyes, the eyes of all his beasts and hapless creatures cutting through his shirt, coat, trousers, fastening the old man tight, biting him with fire, fixing him with thousandfold attentions. Mr Dark shoved his two palms near. “But? — “
Mr Halloway needing something to excruciate, bit his cigar.
“I thought for a moment — “
“Thought what?” Grand delight from Mr Dark.
“One of them looked like — “
Too eager, thought Will. You see that, Dad, don’t you?
“Mister,” said Will’s father. “Why are you so jumpy about two boys?”
Mr Dark’s smile melted like cotton candy.
Jim scootched himself down into a dwarf, Will crammed himself down into a midget, both looking up, waiting.
“Sir,” said Mr Dark, “is my enthusiasm that to you? “Jumpy?”“
Will’s father noted the muscles cord along the arms, roping and unroping themselves with a writhe like the puff adders and sidewinders doubtless inked and venomous there.
“One of those pictures,” drawled Mr Halloway, looks like Milton Blumquist.”