A flock of bird-like creatures flapped their misshapen black wings blocking out the sun as they passed. Making an ear aching warbling sqwarking noise. Their shadows passed over the mound of garbage left by the circus caravan. As their shadows passed and their dirty black feathers fell; seven humanoid shapes started to appear. The curtain of shadow slowly rising to reveal a group of odd hooded figures picking over the mound like carrion. Their movements light and ethereal like the spirits of the dead looking for unfinished business.
“He’s not here” One of the figures said.
The figure at the front turned his head, the orange bill of a strange vaudevillian duck mask he wore protruding out. The emerald green paint was dull and faded and chipped. With what looked like deep gouges and cuts. “I can see that.”
The crowds cheering became a dull metronome in his head slowing in time with his heartbeat. He felt the warm spray of the blood on his face, the woodchips shifting under his feet. The steel biting into bone and sinew, the smell of cheap popcorn, candy floss and vomit.
The sword in his hand laughing, laughing, endlessly laughing, never satisfied. Grey flesh shifting in front of him, an endless see of grey leathery flesh. The crowd are replaced with a stampede of raging elephants coming at him from all around. His enemies replaced with grey flesh and tusks and trunks getting closer and he can’t escape.
Pookie woke in a cold sweat, he wheezed as the pain in his side came back and his hood came off. He must have made a sound because some old geezers on a table in the back were laughing at him. He quickly pulled the hood back up over his head. He must have dozed off for a moment with his head down on a table in the only watering hole in the town he just left behind. He picked up a long coat with a hood and a scarf to cover his face from a washing line on his way in and was trying to keep a low profile until he could move on.
Three old geezers were yammering incessantly to each other as they played some card game.
“Who’s turn is it again?” The old coot in the straw hat said.
“It’s your turn you old coot!” The old coot with the corn cob pipe said.
“Yeah it’s your turn and we’ve been waiting!” The old coot with the slack jaw said.
“Goddamn ungrateful sumbitches. You wouldn’t even have this place lest I built it with my own two hands” Strawhat said banging his old fist against the table.
“You built it?” Corncob said pointing his pipe.
“Is that right? Slackjaw said drooling a little and staring at the ceiling fan.
“Yeah I built this whole town after the real badness with my two good buddies” Strawhat said scratching his grizzled chin.
“We’re the two good buddies you’re talking about” Corncob said gesturing at himself with the pipe.
“Yup” Slackjaw said.
“I planted all the crops and put up all the fences with the sweat of my back.” Strawhat whined
“I planted those crops right along with ya” Corncob scowled.
“Me too” Slackjaw said.
“You was always planting crops of a different kind though” Strawhat said giving him a sideways glance through tight wrinkly slits. “To think I was a big guy on wallstreet before the crash”
“I thought it was a zombie apocalypse” Corncob mused
“Wasn’t it a solar flare?” Slackjawed dozed.
“Zambies? You see any zambies around? Strawhat said.
“I seen plenty of’em, I’m looking at one right now!” Corncob chuckled.
“I killed a zombie once” Slack jaw said. “Hit it with a shovel”.
“Nevermind about that, those damn circus folk come here every goddamn year and rob us of our hard earned food. Leave us barely enough to get through the season - and they steal our kids for their goddamn shows. It’s like those damn white haired guys from that videogame, what was it called, the snitcher 11?.
“You don’t have any kids and you don’t have any vidya games neither” Corncob said as he chewed his pipe and looked over his cards.
“Grand kids” Slack jaw said.
“Your grand kids all left for the circus!” Strawhat said.
“Little bastards!” Corncobs said staring at his cards like he wanted to fight them.
“Ungrateful little shits!” Slawjaw yawned.
“And for what?” Strawhat said thoughtfully looking at his hand.
“I don’t even like the circus” Corncob said.
“It clears out the jails I guess” Slackjaw said wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
“I bet half of’em are innocent” Strawhat interjected pursing his lips.“No trials or nothing.”
“I wish someone would come along and wipe’em all out” Corncob said biting down on his pipe.
“Yeah so someone worse can take their place I’ll bet.” Slack jaw said.
“Yep sounds about right.” Strawhat said.
“Uh huh” Corncob said.
“Yup.” Slackjaw agreed.
“Oh yeah” Strawhat said as he studied his hand. “I fold.”
“Oh goddamit” Corncob spat.
“Everytime” Slackjaw sighed.
“Shut it you old coots!” A large man with a head like bowling ball with a thin strip of hair on it shouted over a pool table.
He and a group of solid citizens wearing loose dirty coveralls were loitering around the pool table cursing and talking about women.
It was a small border town that Pookie hadn’t actually set foot in before. The circus set up further out and then carnys would put up posters telling people where and when they’d be there. No one had actually seen his face but it just made sense not to make a big song and dance about the tattoos.
The bar was laid out adjacent to the saloon style doors. Pookie had picked a spot right at the back, parallel to the bar so he could watch the door without being spotted right away.
The poker game quieted down as a tall slim young man walked cockily through the swing doors smiling like he owned the place and everyone in it. The old hag behind the bar smiled at him and greeted him like she was his nurse maid.
“Morning Pete” She said with a lilting fondness in her voice.
“That’s deputy Pete” He laughed feigning an air of formality, and then dropping his elbows on the bar like a kid about to ask for a strawberry milkshake. “Morning Ethel, hows it hanging?” He smirked tipping up his ten gallon hat that looked just a little too big for his head and a little too small for his cocky smirk.
“Lower everyday” She cackled.
He laughed as a formality but Pookie felt a crude and quick searching glance. Then he saw the light hit the sheriff star and he tensed up and lowered his head. “What’s the agenda for the day?”
“Same old, same old, pick up after these old bastards, maybe mop up some vomit and break up a fight, whoop de fucking doo.” She said with her hands on her wide hips.
“Absolutely thrilling, as always Ethel-“ He stood erect and adjusted his gunbelt. Took another shrewd but casual glance towards the back of the saloon sighed and wet his lips. “Welp, you keep me posted now.” He smiled wide and said “Just holler and I’ll come a running.”
“I’m sure you will” She said with an added withering glance.
He laughed and tipped his hat again before walking out the way he came.
Pookie knew he couldn’t stay here all day, but he didn’t know what else to do. He had to find a place to rest before he could move on and even then he had no idea where he was going or even had a reason to go. What choice did he have but the life of a wanderer?
Waiting around here made him a little too conspicuous. Even with the coat and scarf he stuck out like a sore thumb in a town that probably didn’t get a lot of visitors.
He shuffled along the booth he was sitting in, doing his best to hide the sword on his hip under the long coat and he walked out of the saloon. It was midday by the time he got to the town, so it was getting cooler in the afternoon. The sun slipping behind the rows of houses and stores along the mainstreet. The town was basically one street lined with business and the more houses on the outer sides making up the backstreets. All the houses looked like they were cobbled together from old furniture and packing crates.
Making his way through the alleys and side streets to avoid undo attention was his best bet. But apparently he’d already failed at it if heavy footfalls padding in the dirt was any indication.
He turned keeping his head dipped and saw the solid citizens from the pool game, bowling ball head standing in front still with the pool cue in his hand.
The sun seemed to shift and duck behind the houses again and cast the alley into a cool semi-shadow and for a moment they said nothing.
“Yyyou think I wouldn’t recognise you?” Bowling ball head stammered, his tongue loose and full of spittle. “Tttthhis is a small town, strangers like you stick out like a boil on a hhhhogs ass!”
Pookie looked him up and down and said nothing.
“Yyyou think you’re too good to talk to me?” He said as he squeezed the pool cue in his hands. “Yyyyou don’t look so tough without your fffreakshow pals” He looked around at the swelling faces of his hapless cohorts. “Ttten tickets say I can take him on my own”
“Yeah go for it Bully!”
“I’ll take that!
“Break his ass Bull!”
Bull smirked with a wide open half toothy grin. “I’m gggonna kick your ass!”
Pookie tossed the hem of his coat back revealing the hilt of the sword with the silly face.
“Yyyyou’re not allowed that, nnnno weapons in the city limits, ttthose the rules.” He said as he turned to look at his buddies.
“Heh, he doesn’t know anything”
“What an r-tard”
“Ggguess I’ve got to ttteach you a lesson.” he said like a basic bitch anime villain. Without turning, looking with the corner of his eye he swung the pool cue in an upward arch trying to catch Pookie under the chin. All he saw was a ridiculous clown face pommel coming at him like a freight train right between the eyes.
Pookie pulled at a decorative yellow ring attached to a string like the rip cord on a parachute, pulling it as if he was starting a lawn mower. It made a strange noise like a kazoo or some kind of wind up toy as it propelled the sword out of the sheathe. Rocketing the clown face pommel into the middle of Bull’s bowling ball head. Unleashing the cringe inducing mechanical laughing sound and sending Bully reeling backwards followed by an arc of thick red blood and snot.
He bent over and groaned with his hand over his face and said “Yyyyou broke my nose, you mmmmother fucker!”
The sword hadn’t fully left the sheathe and Pookie let gravity pull it back in with a click. The string he pulled retracted quickly back into the scabbard with a tinny mechanical noise.
Bully looked at the blood in his hand as he took it away from his face and he got redder in the cheeks and seemed to stand a foot taller. “Iiiit’s on now” He said as he took the pool cue and snapped it easily into two sharp stakes.
Pookie made his eyes into hard uncaring slits, threw his hood back and moved his sword around to the front of his draw string belt.
A loud thunderclapping sound stopped them all in their tracks. Bull with the sharp stakes in his hand and Pookie with his thumb in the ring of the pull string on his scabbard.
“Well that didn’t take long did it” The voice from behind the crowd of yokels said. “First day in my town and you’re already causing trouble, and you wonder why folks don’t like outsiders.” The deputy pushed through the crowd as he holstered his gun and walked up to Pookie and had a good look at him. ”Especially outsiders who look like you” he said jutting his jaw out and tutting.
The deputy turned around and looked at the crowd both his thumbs under his gun belt “You’ll relinquish your weapon and accompany me to the local jail.” He turned to Pookie and pursed his lips, “Well?” He put his hand out.
Pookie looked at him, narrowing his eyes and he took hold of his sword by the scabbard gripping it firmly.
After a moment of silence, only the wind and their breath making a sound. Pookie lifted the sword out of the cradle of his belt and put in the Deputies hand.
The Deputy looked it up and down and it was a strange thing to behold, multi-coloured like a lollipop with seemingly useless tassles and ball-balls hanging off the scabbard and the unusual pommel.
“Well you don’t see that everyday.” He looked up from the odd blade and then gestured with the hilt “Welp, I aint got all eternity, follow me.”
The two men passed the crowd who sniggered.
“What are you giggling like school girls for, you’re all coming too, more the merrier at this barbecue.”
“Aww come on Pete” The crowd collectively groaned.
“Wwwhat for? He the one done broke my nose!” Bull spat.
“Public assholery, not being welcoming to our new guest” Deputy Pete quipped. He gestured with the sword. “Move on now”
They all groaned and dipped their heads like school kids as they followed him towards the jail.
“Sch-a-gdm-pssy” The trapper in the dungarees blubbered “Guy-kilt-yer-kin-cnt-ebn-shoot!” He was frantically rummaging around in drawers trying to pack a threadbare suitcase, tears and snot streaming down his face.
“Is this a bad time?” A voice said behind him.
He craned his neck around to see a man dressed in a long dark raincoat with a hood wearing a dark green duck mask standing in his open doorway. He froze like a deer in headlights and then started towards his filthy stained bed which was just a dead mattress on the floor, where his crossbow lay.
The man with the duck mask watched him slowly edge towards the makeshift weapon in the dingey trappers house. Which consisted of a large dirty single room operating as bedroom, kitchen and living room all in one.
He made it to the bed and picked up the cross bow and pointed it at the man in the duck mask.
There was a thudding skiting noise on the roof. He turned to see something that looked like a big crow in the corner of his eye flutter past the mesh windows of the house.
“What are you gonna do with that?” The man in the duck mask said.
There was a sudden heaving creaking behind him, near the backdoor. The man in the dungarees turned to see a giant figure looming over him dressed exactly like the first but with a horrifying cracked and stained penguin mask. Black and white with some yellow around the rim and the same empty haunting hollow eyes staring at him. The man shrieked and instinctively fired the only bolt striking the monstrous figure in the shoulder.
But the hulking man made no sound of pain, barely reacting at all. Only lifting a gargantuan hand to snap the bolt off and the other slamming down with some sort of cudgel made of burled wood and covered in barbed wire. The blow splintered the already weakened floorboards sending the man in the dungarees down under his house.
Operating on survival instinct alone the man in the dungarees skittered under the house like a dung beetle looking for shade. Fighting for every terrified breath. He waited for a moment in the crawl space, holding it in, listening to the creaking of the floorboards.
After a moment he heard a strange whooping noise getting closer and then as it reached it’s peak he felt a stinging waft of air and then his face felt wet. But before he could inspect what it was he was shaken awake by a loud buzzing noise and a wrending of the floor boards as a slim chainsaw-like knife poked close to his face.
He flattened and wriggled away from it as fast as he could but the buzzing knife kept cutting until it had opened up a wide hole. A man with a turkey mask stuck his head through and looked at the man in the dungarees.The mask was a rich blue colour with a red neck.
“He’s here!” The man in the turkey mask said.
The man in the dungarees was breathing hard and sweating as he dragged himself to the edge of his house and out of the crawlspace.
The sun was setting and cruel twilight had descended, the sun still blinding but in a numbing darkness that surrounded the hapless figure. He touched his face and looked at his hand and there was a little blood there. He touched a small cut running down the side of his face confused, looking around.
There was a loud crashing sound as a man wearing a bright yellow and black finch mask landed on a junked car. He cocked his head to the side to look at the man as he turned and ran deeper into the junkyard.
He saw the jet black crow again in the corner of his eye hopping and bobbing on rusted out tractors and buses as he followed closely. The man in the dungarees ran frantically trying to get lost in the rusted maze he’d constructed for himself.
He quickly turned a corner around a stack of crushed cars and he saw the reflection of a slim feminine figure standing on top of them in a car window. Looking down at him with some large covered object strapped to her back, the long beak of a black and grey heron mask following him as he ran in the opposite direction.
The man in the duck mask yawned “Annnd I’m bored of this now.” He turned to a broad cloaked figure wearing a cardinal bird mask, a black faced bird with deep red spiked feathers at the top and around the edges. “Cardinal, if you’d be so kind.”
“My pleasure, Canard”.
Cardinal dropped off his perch on top of a rusted out trailer and landed right in front of the man in the dungarees who fell back onto his ass.
Cardinal laughed and let a small sickle on a chain fall out of his sleeve and land in the dust at his feet.
The man in the dungarees instantly started to scuttle in the opposite direction.
Cardinal stayed where he was and started to spin the chain over his head, letting more and more slack into it, getting faster.
The man in the dungarees was in a full sprint, going as fast as his little legs could carry him now straight in the opposite direction. Noticing more masks following him in the corner of his eyes as he went. He was seeing them everywhere and then suddenly something small with weight landed in front of him and he stopped in his tracks trying to see what it was.
Something snaked and writhed in the sand next to him. The chain growing taught and the sickle coming up and back fast cutting off his left leg and leaving him flailing on the floor in the blink of an eye.
He lay on his back still trying to crawl away despite bleeding profusely from his leg. He heard a fluttering light thudding noise behind him and he looked up and saw an upside down duck mask looking down at him holding a piece of shiny paper.
“Have you seen this clown?”