Jim shouted. Will shouted.
They traveled half a year in slithering orchard-warm dark before Will seized Jim’s arm tight and dared to leap from so much promise, so many fine tall-growing years, flail out, off, down, pull Jim with. But Jim could not let go the pole, could not give up the ride.
Jim, half between machine and friend, one hand on each, screamed.
It was like a great tearing of cloth or flesh.
Jim’s eyes went blind as a statue”s.
The carousel whirled.
Jim screamed, fell, spun crazily, on the air.
Will tried to break his fall, but Jim struck earth rolling. He lay, silent.
Charles Halloway hit the carousel control switch. Empty, the machine slowed. Its horses paced themselves down from their trot toward some far midsummer night.
Together, Charles Halloway and his son knelt by Jim to touch his wrist, to put ear to his chest. Jim’s eyes, skinned white, were fixed on the stars.
”Oh. God,” cried Will. “Is he dead?”
“Dead … ?”
Will’s father moved his hand over that cold face, the cold chest.
”“I don’t feel …
A long way off, someone cried for help.
They looked up.
A boy came running down the midway bumping into the ticket booths, falling over tent ropes, looking back over his shoulder.
”Help! He’s after me!” the boy cried. “The terrible man! The terrible man! I want to go home!”
The boy flung himself forward, and grabbed at Will’s father.
”Oh, help, I’m lost, I don’t like it. Take me home. That man with the tattoos!”
”“Mr. Dark!” gasped Will.
”Yes!” gibbered the boy. “He’s down that way! Oh, stop him!”
”Will—” his father rose—”take care of Jim. Artificial respiration. All right, boy.”
The boy trotted off. “This way!”
Following, Charles Halloway watched the distraught boy who led him; observed his head, his frame, the way his pelvis hung from his spine.
”Boy,” he said, by the shadowed merry-go-round, twenty feet around from where Will bent to Jim. “What’s your name?”
”No time!” cried the boy. “Jed. Quick, quick!”
Charles Halloway stopped.
”Jed,” he said. The boy no longer moved, but turned, chafing his elbows. “How old are you, Jed?”
”Nine!” said the boy. “My gosh, this is no time! We—”
”This is a fine time, Jed,” said Charles Halloway. “Only nine? So young. I was never that young.”
”Holy cow!” shouted the boy, angrily.
”Or unholy something,” said the man, and reached out. The boy backed away. “You’re only afraid of one man, Jed. Me.”
”You?” The boy still backed off. “Cut it out! Why, why?”
”Because, sometimes good has weapons and evil none. Sometimes tricks fail. Sometimes people can’t be picked off, led to deadfalls. No divide-and-conquer tonight, Jed. Where were you taking me, Jed? To some lion’s cage you got fixed and ready? To some side show, like the mirrors? To someone like the Witch? What, what, Jed, what? Let’s just roll up your right shirt sleeve, shall we, Jed?”
The great moonstone eyes flashed at Charles Halloway.
The boy leaped back, but not before the man had leaped with him, seized his arm, grabbed the back of his shirt and instead of simply rolling up the sleeve as first suggested, tore the entire shirt off the boy’s body.
”Why, yes, Jed,” said Charles Halloway, almost quietly. “Just as I thought.”
”You, you, you, you!”
”Yes, Jed, me. But especially you, look at you.”
And look he did.
For there, on the back of the small boy’s hand, on the fingers, and up along the wrist scrambled blue serpents, blue-venomed snake eyes, blue scorpions scuttling about blue shark maws which gaped eternally hungry to feed upon all the freaks crammed and stung-sewn cheek by jowl, skin to skin, flesh to flesh all up and down the chest, the tiny torso, and tucked in the secret gathering places on this small small very small body, this cold and now shocked and trembling body.
”Why, Jed, that’s fine artwork, that is.”
”You!” The boy struck.
”Yes, still me.” Charles Halloway took the blow in the face and clamped a vise, on the boy.
”Oh, yes,” said Charles Halloway, using just his good right hand, his ruined left hand hanging limp. “Yes, Jed, jump, squirm, go ahead. It was a fine idea. Get me off alone, fix me, then go back and get Will. And when the police come, why, you’re just a boy nine or ten and the carnival, oh, no, it’s not yours, doesn’t belong to you. Stay here, Jed. Why you trying to get out from under my arm? The police look and the owners of the show have vanished, isn’t that it., Jed? A fine escape.”