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There was nothing exciting about my dull gray town. Each day a repeat of the last. The next would just regurgitate the present. Yet there was one week during the year that changed everything. The routines were broken, the work put aside. Our bodies were scrubbed, our hair combed neatly. The threadbare clothing darned and pressed, all so that we might look presentable when the carnival rolled into town.
The world we were accustomed to was so void of color. Our faces pale, our lives brittle, dry and stale. Harvesting wheat, and walking on dusty roads was the trademark of our day. But when the Carnies arrived, time stood still.
I always wanted to leave with the carnival. Always wanted to know what waited beyond the town limits. Realistically, I knew it would never happen. I had no talent. Nothing that would ever gather a crowd and get them to pay attention to me. So I was doomed to grow old and die here in midwestern hell. Never leaving my mark. Never seeing the world.
The arrival of the carnival also meant that I would be seeing the woman who had infatuated me for the past fifteen years, the tattooed lady. The others saw her as a freak, but to me she encompassed everything beautiful about the world. She was different and daring. I openly admit, I found myself fantasizing about her throughout the year.
When I was ten, a bunch of the boys in town dragged me behind one of the Carnies’ tents. My older cousin, Brad, was in the mix. He told me that I needed to become a man. I had no idea what he was talking about. He barked orders at me to keep my head down, my mouth shut and my eyes peeled on the prize. Finding an area of the tent that had a tear large enough for us to crawl through, we entered the chambers of the tattooed lady.
It smelled heavily of incense, a smell I had prior only associated with church, making this intrusion feel more like a ritual with each passing second. My heart was beating fast and hard within my chest. I was certain the other boys could hear it, for it was pounding in my ears like a rapid drum. The tent was alive with the light of dozens of candles. each casting exotic shadows on the walls making the hanging fabrics dance like they were alive. Then the vision of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen swam into view.
The tension between the boys was tangible. A few of them muttered things like, “Holy shit!” and “Nice!” I didn’t feel a need to react that way, because I didn’t feel that I was looking at her naked. Her body was saturated with ink, the tattoos became her very clothing. They wove a tapestry of stories around her body painting her skin like an artist would a stretched canvas. I tried to get a closer look, and failed to see the rope that my foot haphazardly had gotten intertwined with. The section of the tent that we were spying from came crashing down.
The boys began to curse louder as they scattered, my cousin leading the pack in a sprint toward the woods. I was still somewhat tangled in the rope, and had just pried my foot loose, ready to follow their lead. That’s when I felt the searing pain coming from the crown of my head as the tattooed lady grabbed a fistful of my hair and dragged me deeper into the part of her tent that was still standing. She let go of me, and I fell to the floor, my head screaming from where she had twisted the hairs on my scalp. The candle light caused her skin to glow, the faces of dozens of people twisting all over her skin. What seemed beautiful only moments before was now frightening. I swallowed hard, prepared for her to call security.
Walking slowly behind a dressing curtain she soon emerged with a stunning red and gold kimono robe on. She looked like a phoenix rising from the ashes ready to strike. Instead she pulled up a chair for me, and laid down on her cot. Rolling over to one side, her head resting on the palm of her hand, she looked at me intently. With her body now covered, I was able to concentrate on her face for the first time. She was beautiful, skin pale like porcelain. Short black hair cut to a bob at her chin, bangs falling like a curtain to her brow. Her eyes were such an interesting color, a pale green that was almost a translucent gray. They were made even more appealing by her eye makeup, which was dark and dramatic, the lines pulled out on the sides like Cleopatra. We had just watched clips of the film in history class, and she very much reminded me of her, at least from the head up.
“So tell me, do you make it a habit to spy on others?”
“No m’am. Never.” the words stumbled out of my mouth.
“What is your name?”
“Joshua.” I said swallowing hard.
She stared at me for a minute, making the fear in my stomach spin into a tight ball. My hands were sweaty, my heart was racing again. Finally she spoke.
“My name is Amanya.” I’m not sure why, but hearing her speak her name made me very calm. In fact the calm washed over me, reassuring me that the worst of this night was over. She lazily allowed a leg to slide out between the slits of her silky covering. It was like she knew that I needed to see the tattoos once more.
“You can look.” she said with a smile. Cautiously I made my way closer and allowed my eyes to run over her leg. So many faces, all adorned with intricate and elaborate details to make each one unique. They were distinct in their own way so that they didn’t become one massive colorful blur. Some seemingly famous people from the past that caused me to smile. One on her back calf, I was easily able to recognize due to my mother’s obsession, as Mozart. He was wrapped in frames of sheet music. Looking into his eyes, I could almost hear the familiar violins.
There were two young children playing hop scotch beneath a stern faced man with the red and bronze headdress of a Roman soldier who rested on her knee. My eyes traced the colors down to a serene looking woman who lived forever on her ankle. She was wearing a high white wig and a fancy pink dress while holding a rather restless looking poodle. There were so many more. I wanted to see them all, but I dared not ask.
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m sorry.” I said, and I was. I couldn’t imagine having all that pain, but it only caused my admiration for her to grow in my eyes. She sat up on her makeshift bed and looked at me thoughtfully. Then, pealing her robe away slightly she revealed a naked patch of skin where her heart beat beneath the flesh.
“This I’m going to save for you.” She said sweetly, although she sounded very serious.
“What do you mean?”
“One day, you’ll understand. Go home now, I’ll see you again, of that I am certain.”
* * * *
After that I became a bit of a legend around the school boys. The rumors of me being trapped with the tattooed lady spread around our dusty town. The fact that I wouldn’t embellish on our time together only further spread the tale of the boy who escaped the demon. I knew they meant it as a joke, something to entertain themselves. I never found it funny. She was exotic. She was powerful. She was everything I never knew I wanted, and that’s when my obsession began.
Each year, I’d stop by her tent and exchange a shy hello. She was happy to point out the patch of her skin that remained unscathed by ink. The patch that waited for me. I was changing. Childhood had slipped away. Adolescence took hold of me and threw me on a wild roller coaster ride then left suddenly. A man was what remained.
I was twenty-five now, I felt confidant and strong. I was so different, yet Amanya looked exactly the same, as if time held no meaning for her. Even now, years later, she captivated me like no one else.
The day the carnival arrived, I woke up two hours earlier to make sure that all my work would be done no later than midday. By two o’clock, while the rest of the town was still immersed in their chores and laborious activities, I was lending a hand to the carnival workers, helping them drive spikes into the ground and pitching tents. I had been doing that since I was sixteen, most of the guys knew me and no one was going to turn down free labor. It was exciting to feel like I was part of the team, but mostly I did it to get a peek at Amanya before the welcoming parade that would tear down the main road at five o’clock that afternoon.
Sure enough I saw her clad in her trademark black fringe bikini walking arm in arm with the bearded lady, holding an ivory umbrella over her head to shield her precious skin from the sun’s rays. I knew she was just protecting her tattoos from fading. They looked as fresh as they did years ago, the colors so vivid, the images crystal clear. She looked over in my direction, but I wasn’t sure if she saw me, because just then one of the men pulled me over and had me help him assemble the tracks on the haunted house.
* * * *
I watched her on the stage entertaining the crowd of lewd and vulgar men, dancing in front of a mirror to showcase the tattoos that covered the back of her. You would never know that just hours before she was sitting with the children who, armed with crayons, giggled happily as they pretended to color her skin. Her ability to become a chameleon fascinated me. This was just the act. This erotic figure that wound her way around the stage wasn’t who she truly was. I could see the real her. She was an artist, performing her pain on the stage, and all they saw was skin. It made me sick that they couldn’t see her like I could. She was a person, whom they treated her like an animal.
“Still following her around like a puppy, I see.” It was my cousin, Brad who had pulled me into the tent those many years before. “You don’t actually think you have a shot with her, do you?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” I said embarrassed that he could see right through me.
“No, you don’t understand. Listen to me, and look at me when I’m talking to you.” I reluctantly pulled my eyes away from Amanya and turned to face him. He hadn’t shaved in a few days. His baseball cap was hiding his balding head. He still had his work uniform stained with milk from the dairy on. Basically, he looked like shit. Everyone else was so presentable, I was embarrassed to even be seen socializing with him. I felt myself whither against the wall, I didn’t want Amanya to see me like this.
“That chick is fucked up beyond recognition.” He said a little louder than I would have liked. “Just look at her, from her neck to her toes, every inch of her is covered with that shit. Not to mention all the people on her body, some celebrities, some no names, her decisions seem so random. You don’t want to get involved with a freak like that.”
As if my fingers had a mind of their own they clenched together into a tight fist, then my bawled hand hurled itself at my cousin’s jaw. He went down. Hard. The audience gasped. I knew all their eyes were on us, but I refused to look at them. The silence was deafening.
“What the fuck, Josh?” Brad asked feeling his teeth to see if they were all intact.
“She’s not a freak.” I growled. He was just like the other men, he didn’t understand her. Why didn’t anyone understand her?
Brad forced himself up, pushing away the men that tried to help. Stumbling in front of me he grabbed me by my clean shirt and got in my face so only I could hear him.
“Yes, she is. Sure she’s entertaining once a year, they all are. But this is their life, having the public gawk at them because they’re good for nothing else. Don’t fall into her trap.”
“There is no trap.” I said through gritted teeth.
“You think I’m stupid? I know you work here for free. I know if they asked, you’d jump on that train. But you’re not like them. I’m trying to save you, man!”
“Well lucky for you I don’t need to be saved.”
When I looked up at the stage, Amanya was smiling at me.
* * * *
“So are you still saving that spot for me?” I said to her six days later as I entered her tent that night after her show. She was still in her fringed black bikini, but tonight she wore a black sequenced headband across her brow with a bright blue feather plume.
“Always.” she said with a smile. I had visited Amanya every night while she was here, but we never spoke about anything that I wanted to discuss. She handed me a glass of whiskey, I hoped it would give me the confidence I needed.
“Train pulls out tomorrow.” She said, stating the obvious as she took a slow sip from her own glass.
“This week always goes by so fast. I hate that.”
“We always come back.” she said casually.
“I know. I just wish I could go with you. See the world, know what it’s like to be on the road, to see the things you see.”
“All you have to do is say you wish to stay with me.”
“It’s that easy, huh?” I scoffed.
“It always has been. You hold the power in this decision, not me.”
“You know that’s all I’ve ever wanted.” I related sadly. It hurt to openly admit this to her.
“So, you’ll come with me? Live the infamous Carnie life?”
“Are you serious?”
“I wouldn’t offer it if I wasn’t. But, I do need to hear the words.”
Knowing I’d never get another chance like this, I slammed back the whiskey and embraced the moment. “I want to stay with you.”
“Forever?” She pursued.
“Forever.” I confirmed.
“You have just made me very, very happy.” She carefully set her glass down on a folding table and took a seductive step toward me. Placing her tattooed hand tightly over my chest, I could feel her dark painted nails pricking at my skin through the shirt. As if sealing our fate by some intimate ritual, she raised my hand up to the bare space on her own skin. The spot she had always said was saved for me. It was the first time I had ever touched her, and my fingers were trembling. Her skin was warm… no hot… blistering hot! I wanted to pull away from her fiery flesh, but found myself unable to. It felt like I was melting into her.
“I am sorry my love, but this is going to be very painful for you. I told you once before, it hurts every time.” She said with a twisted grin, her eyes wild with the satisfaction of obtaining what she had waited so patiently for. I could hear myself screaming, the pain traveling through my veins extending to every atom of my being. The sight of the blue feather swaying calmly was the last thing I saw as I felt myself falling into her.
* * * *
It was dark. Pitch black. I felt stretched and tight, like I was pressed up against something. I tried to blink, but I couldn’t. I tried to scream, but no sound escaped my lips. Then suddenly a spot light was shone in my face. I heard the muffled sounds of someone making an announcement. I felt like I was being projected forward, but I couldn’t feel my limbs, so how was I moving?
My eyes began to adjust to the harsh light. They were locked in place unable to turn away from the horrors that stood before me. A crowd of people staring at me. Gawking at me. I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. Why were they pointing, and shouting at me? Why wouldn’t they look away?
Then I felt movement again, like I was being spun around. A mirror came into my view, and the reflection that it held was Amanya. Wearing only her fringed black string bikini, it was easy to see the artwork that was scrawled across her body. Something was different though. That spot she had always kept bare. The spot she had saved for me was finally occupied.
My eyes bore into the mirror, and my face upon her skin looked back at me.
Kat Daemon is the author of the Taming Darkness Trilogy, the story of the world’s most infamous fallen angel, and the one woman who was able to hold temptation over him. Book one of the trilogy is due out in early 2014 by Entranced Publishing.
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