Caught In The Act

     by Aidee Ladnier

I knelt in the muddy grass surrounding the fairgrounds while a wailing calliope belted out a demented tune to the evening breeze. I’d tracked the demon to the big top circus on the edge of town. The murmurs of the crowd clustering inside the tent rose in a susurration that grated against my ears. Laughter on the wrong side of hysteria echoed over the applause and the ringmaster’s booming voice.

“And now for a bit of levity…”

The thrice-blessed Antony sword, hidden by my duster, bruised my thigh as I crouched. I had to find the monster and fast, but I couldn’t see it or smell it amid the pungent stink of the trained circus animals. I strained to hear its low rumbling growl in vain. Where was it?

I’d checked the parking lot first. Ever hungry for human flesh, the shadowed area would be a logical choice, allowing it to feed while hidden. But only SUVs and trucks littered the swampy field.

I circled the rutted, water-filled puddles, searching for any sign of demonic presence.

There!

A silver streak of demon-fire shimmered in a shallow, rain-soaked depression. It led me to another track and then a third, closer to the trailers of the performers. Was it hiding among the circus folk?

I clutched the carven pommel of my blade, the metal burning my palm. The hellion was close. I skirted a group of roustabouts and peered into the shadows.

A roar shattered the silence behind me. A bright blaze lit the darkness, and the monster raced toward me.

Agony bloomed on my hip as I dove out of the way, the monster clipping me as it charged. I splashed to the wet ground, rolling. The beast plunged into the big top.

Wait. Were those polka dots on its hide?

I scrambled to my feet, ignoring the pain, limping to the opening in the canvas.

The rumble of the demon clashed with the delighted screams of the audience. I needed to get to the monster before it started feeding on the crowd. I stumbled forward and my mouth gaped as I took in the scene. It had camouflaged itself perfectly to fit the act in the center ring.

In frozen horror, I saw clown after clown climb into the small brightly colored polka dot car… five, six, ten, twelve, fifteen as it drunkenly circled the ring. The crowd’s laughter squeezed my heart into my throat.

“Hey, who are you? You don’t belong back here.” A roustabout grabbed my arm.

I had no more time. The monster would move from this willing feast to the crowd next. No man, woman or child would be left alive. I had to act.

I wrenched myself free just as the impossible twenty-third clown dove inside the demonic Smart car. Sprinting into the ring, I flung off the grasping hands of the ringmaster and plunged my sword into the rear engine of the car. Then I yanked it out and drove it in again.

Burly circus hands dragged me away.

But the magic of the sword prevailed and the tiny car sputtered to a dead stop. I turned to my captors.

“You don’t understand. Open the door.  Open the clown car door. They all went in, but they’re not coming out.”

The audience roared with laughter and the ringmaster, fixing me with a superior eye, smiled to the unsuspecting crowd.

With a showman’s flourish he opened the door, no doubt expecting his performers to roll out.

Instead a red rubber nose bounced onto the ground, and he turned away to vomit. As he staggered back a woman screamed.

Inside the car, or rather the demon, lay the half-digested limbs of several clowns, an oily ooze of white face paint, and an abundance of multi-colored glitter.

Copyright 2017, Aidee Ladnier