Welcome children, boys and girls, to another installment of the Dark Carnival!
You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.
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Oh, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a giveaway!
A New Skin
by Roselle Kaes
Falling in love before shedding my skin is always a peril. The current lover gets so confused when my old skin goes missing.
“Lila, please.” Walter takes my hand and bathes it with clumsy, sticky kisses.
I yank it from his grasp. “Get out.”
Shoulders drooping and with bloodshot eyes, my ex-boyfriend exits the tent and my life. I shouldn’t have shacked up with the Strong Man. Never date anyone at work. The equipment failed to match up. Again. Yes, it’s my fault. I got careless, but not careless enough to bite him like I did the other one.
I walk back to the full length mirror to admire my reflection. In the candlelight, flecks of my scales move under my skin, shifting and changing. The hiss in my voice I disguise with a languid purr. It drives the heart rates of men and earns the ire of their women.
“Miss Lila?” An unfamiliar voice calls from outside my tent.
I smooth my auburn curls in the mirror. “Who is it?”
The quiet assistant of Follo the Astounding. The one with the round, adoring chocolate eyes and sloping chin. Ever since he arrived, those eyes followed me like a shadow yet his trembling mouth never uttered a word.
“Come in.” I step on a nearby footstool and adjust my fishnet stockings. “What can I do for you, James?”
The sound of his name on my lips causes a bead of sweat to trickle down his brow. He shuffles his feet and fidgets with his hands. James licks his dry lips and his words tumble out in an unintelligible stutter.
“It’s okay. Take your time.” I take a seat across from him. “I don’t bite.”
James straightens his spine and exhales. “Miss Lila, it’s a beautiful night out. A full moon. I was wondering if you would like to take a walk along the river with me?”
“Are you asking me to walk out with you, James Forrester?” I ask, meeting his eyes.
Seeing my reflection in those adoring doe eyes banishes the irritation I had earlier with Walter.
“Why not?” I smile and shrug. “I should change into something more appropriate.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, Miss Lila,” James says, smiling. “You look perfect as is.”
Ah, flattery, my weakness and addiction. I snatch a black, pashmina shawl from the folding screen nearby and wrap it around my shoulders before taking his arm. As we step outside, the smell of buttered popcorn, roasted peanuts, and greasy fried creations linger in the night air. The bright moon peeks through a spiderweb of colorful bunting flags and lights crisscrossed overhead. The symphony of the midway trudges on for the latecomers, luring them to stay a while.
James buys me a cold bottle of cherry cola before we head towards the river. He hasn’t said a word since the tent but his eyes never left my face. My fingers itch to touch his short, furry, brown hair to see if it’s almost as prickly as a hedgehog’s. He reminds a meek rodent, the type I love to eat.
“How are you liking the carnival?” I ask.
“It’s interesting. I like being able to travel often,” he replies. His stutter begins to fade. “I’m originally from Asia and this is a great way to see the New World.”
“It’s Kansas.” I tip my head back and laugh. “Such an archaic term for the Midwest.”
The stutter disappears to reveal an exotic accent. “I have never been here before. From where I am from, it’s an appropriate term, Miss Lila.”
His tanned skin glistens in the moonlight. “And where are you from?”
“And the name?”
“From my British parents. I was adopted as a child.” He stops to admire the dance of the fireflies over the water. “The stutter masks my accent. It’s hard being a foreigner here.”
I was new once but it was so long ago. Listening to him brings back the painful memories of crossing the great ocean two hundred years ago. Escaping my old lives to start anew in a travelling show where I can be who I am. To hold my fellow serpent brothers and sisters in my naked arms and be admired for my gifts. A spectacle of my choice.
The trees’ dark silhouette line the other side of Smoky Hill River, an offspring of the great Mississippi. The city lights of Abilene shine behind them in the distance. A cool autumn breeze from the river slices through my shawl, eliciting shivers. James removes his pinstriped jacket and places it on my shoulders.
“Manners, flattery, what more do you have in your arsenal?” I ask, pulling the lapels forward.
“Why haven’t you talked to me before?”
“I had to bide my time while Mister Walter had your attention.”
“He was a passing fancy. I don’t think there’s anyone who could capture my interest for long.”
He leans forward, speaking into my ear. “I think I can, Miss Lila.”
“You don’t have to be so formal with me. You did lend me your jacket.” I pat his arm. “Why did you leave India?”
“My family has given me the task I must complete.”
“What is it?”
“For hundreds of years, every member of my family, regardless of gender, sets out all over the world to prove their worth and courage. I chose the savage New World.”
“Since you are still here, I gather you haven’t accomplished the said nebulous task.” I turn towards him, drowning in his wide, dark eyes. “Sounds like a vague fairytale quest.”
He smiles, exposing his gleaming, straight teeth. “The task is almost complete.”
“Oh no, I’m not your fairytale princess to carry back home.” I shake my head and return his jacket. “Marriage is not for me.”
James takes me into his arms as I push him away. His discarded jacket lands in the grass beside me. The hidden strength in his average height and build surprises me.
“Let me go.” I bare my fangs, hissing. “If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”
The sight of my fangs fails to scare him and for the first time in my long life, the strange sensation of fear seeps into my skin. With bared fangs, I launch myself forward and bite into his nape. My venom trickles into his bloodstream yet his pulse remains strong.
His dark, agile hands clasp the back of my skull, squeezing and cracking the bone. With my fading vision, his true form is revealed.
“Mungisi,” I whisper with my dying breath. “Mongoose.”
Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Dark Carnival, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy! Muahahahahaha! Ahem. I mean good luck.