Hi, everybody. I’m very sorry for the delay in the story-making. I’ve gotten very sick with some sort of chest congestion, so I’m working on slowly getting back into the swing of things. To keep things going, I’ll be posting a few bonus stories that were previously “published” on my blog, though for many it will be relatively new material. Again, sorry, and rest assured that two new stories should be posted within the week.
The first bonus is “The Bearded Lady,” which was actually my first Black Carnival tale. A slightly tweaked version of this will be in the final collection. Enjoy!
Darwin the Nine-Fingered Dwarf had never felt as enamored, as infatuated, as powerfully obsessed with a woman before as he did with Frida Barada, the breath-taking Bearded Lady.
Kauffee’s Black Carnival rolled through the cities of the South on great, rumbling wheels that chased thunder away with their deep volume, each crack of the ringmaster’s whip breaking distant clouds. Children ran out squealing in delight before their parents could grab them, expecting fantastic pachyderms on tree-trunk legs and smiling, mustached men with top hats. Instead, their wide, wet eyes were met with giant ebony-skinned men with silver tattoos, prowling women in cages with shining nipples putting out long claws through the bars.
To Darwin, the men and women – whether they looked human or bestial – were his brothers and sisters, and he loved them each as if they had known each other for years. Always with a smile on his impish face, Darwin ran about to complete his chores on round, sprinting feet, cleaning out the cages of the Oriental unicorn with its shedding scales and flaming tale or the Navagunjara with its many legs and sharp beak.
“Be careful, Darwin,” cooed one of the Angels – women with long, spindly bones that came out from their spines and twitched like grotesque wings, possibly the remains of attached twins. “You’ll lose another finger.” They giggled, a haunting sound like ceramic pieces falling on a stone table.
He shrugged his diminutive shoulders at their small mockery – after all, families have their rivalries.
“You need know woman, dwarf,” Brutus, the Russian giant told him once as he lifted one of the giant bulls from their pen and easily hefted it in his hand, his muscles glistening like beached, bloated whales. “You no speak nearly as should. Brutus will buy you beautiful Svetlana for you to make with loud groanings and such.”
It was true. Darwin never felt like he had much worth saying, and he found that over the years his tongue had grown dried and cracked like a slab of stone. “You will find much more to do with yourself by focusing on actions, my boy,” the Great Espressitus Kauffee had told him, when he was only a child and barely the size of a dog. He, on the other hand, seemed to loom over the carnival, eyes glowing in a dark, emotionless face. How he had come across so many creatures, oddities and outcasts were stories of legend, hearsay and myth. He drank huge pitchers of steaming liquid, the strongest coffee and the headiest liquors. “We are not philosophers. Leave the talking to the city people. We are what we are.”
Sometimes the wind blew new outcasts and creatures to the sheltered shadows of the great Carnival, and it was just such a twister that dropped Frida upon them. The storm dropped upon them from clouds so heavy with rain they looked like pure blue sky, and for hours it threatened to toss the caravan to the far end of the world like a wooden train set in the hands of an overzealous toddler. After the sun nervously returned to the sky, it was Darwin – eager to clean up the mess of the storm – that found her on the ground, her body bent, a crushed baby bird in the mud. And as suddenly as he came upon her, it felt like the storm had taken all the air from him.
Her cake-brown hair formed a mottled but luscious halo about her pale face, and when her eyes opened, her eyelashes made the softest sounds of a butterfly’s final flutters upon being impaled in a glass box. Her amethyst eyes glowed warmly, strangely, and then there was her beard. Its soft, luxurious fur seemed to kiss her cheeks in beautiful, tight curls. There was a stirring in Darwin the likes of which he had never felt, a tingling like the first day of winter in his fingers, in his…in his…
“Oh, my,” she breathed, her voice a gentle breeze. “I seem to have lost track of the weather. Forgive me. I must look horrible.”
Darwin shook head, smiling adoringly. When she laughed, he thought it might throw him off his feet. “You are a curious little man. What is all this?” She opened her arms, taking in the whole of the Carnival. “I have this feeling…this very strange feeling…that you are what I have been waiting for!”
Darwin’s fist-sized heart opened and closed fast and faster.
Frida became the star of the Carnival. Kauffee disappeared for days and came back with great clams stacked high in his arms. He pried them open one after the other, tossing the shells to Darwin, who watched in quiet reverence as he forged the opalescent material into a grand chamber to affix to the other carts and cages. It was decorated with lush ivory furniture and white velvet, furs and beaded pillows. Darwin was ever at her feet, polishing every knick-knack, every pole, every piece until her eyes would swirl with the myriad of white sparks.
Despite his silence, Frida was ever willing to have his company. They would take long walks throughout the carnival, tending to the fantastic creatures both great and small. She would never sing nor tell fantastic stories, but it was enough for Darwin that she was simply beautiful. Stars didn’t need to sing, right? Nor the moon. The sea didn’t have to tell stories. Nor the mountains. He wanted for nothing more than the glance of her crystal eyes and the wonderful rushing pleasure of her long, curving whiskers.
Darwin lay awake at night in his matchbox bed, dreaming of climbing up the tresses of her magnificent beard and kissing her cherry blushed cheeks. Images of running his nine fingers through it to her pert, firm bosoms made him squirm. He awoke in the morning touching his baby-bottom chin to an obscene degree, rubbing and rubbing it raw.
One day, as they readied for another show, Darwin came upon Brutus juggling the 300-pound Maria. Lucky for him, he did not have to say a word as Brutus nodded sagely. “My little comrade,” he said, throwing Maria like a giant, fleshy water balloon. “Be careful. Falling in love with freaks…it never ends well. Look at the Mr. Kauffee…no baboushkas, no little Kauffee’s running around. We find you nice whore next town over. Woman who sells herself…predictable.”
But Darwin would not hear the words of the giant, and he wandered off, immersing himself in his chores and the thoughts of his beloved Frida. He tried to pull all the thoughts of his heart and shape them into flowers, into letters, into small trinkets and affections to hide under her pillow. One night, in a desperate, long, white dream of her beard growing to an unending length and touching him in such intimate ways, he reached deep within himself and pulled out several ribs. Because he was so small, they came together to form the most beautiful bone comb, and he presented it to her in a velvet box.
“Oh, Darwin, it’s perfect,” she breathed. She still had the same, beautiful breeze of a voice, as if the storm had never quite left her. When he held it up to her, eagerly, at the curling splendor of her beard, he was shocked to see her recoil. “No, Darwin, I’m so sorry. I can’t…you can’t…not that! Please, forgive me!” She ran from him, tears falling from her eyes to the ground like broken glass.
For the first time, the Black Carnival was truly just that. Darwin would not clean, would not leave his quarters. It felt like, as his tongue had, his heart was becoming a red marble in his chest. Dust and dirt came upon the carts, and the creatures stomped impatiently at their own filth. As they moved on, the clouds were not chased away but parted in lieu of the stench. The carnival could rot and fall apart like an aged barn, for all the nine-fingered dwarf cared.
Finally, one night, another storm came upon the parade. This one was so strong, it seemed to threaten the very earth itself, promising to peel it back like the rind of an orange. Despite so much hail and wind and rock-hard rain, Darwin just heard the softest of knocks at his door. Wondering if he had finally lost the last of his sanity, Darwin chanced to open the door just an inch and felt like he had sprouted extra inches as he saw the small image of Frida standing there, his bone comb clutched in her fingers. He threw it open with all his strength, and she blew in and swept him up, kissing him over and over on his plum-pit cheeks. Her beard stroked his nose like a homesick dog, like a well-worn blanket… “I could not stand to be so alone! Even if you want…this…I cannot deny you!”
She pressed the comb to his hands, and Darwin set to work even as he still sat in her lap. He reverently stroked each portion dry with his own shirt, and marveled over how caring for the long, curling strands was as luxurious as he had always imagined, warm and wonderful. He was happy. Happy! Overjoyed! For the first time, the first time…oh!
So much so, in fact, that he did not notice at first when the whole mass of hair fell off into his hands.
So much so, in fact, that he did not stop combing until he opened his eyes and saw Frida’s beautiful, sad, bare – naked – face looking down at him, hopefully.
Darwin could just barely hear her cries, her sad, sad tears and pleading, as he tore herself from her and leapt into the coming gale of the twister. He closed his eyes as the fingers of the wind grabbed his small frame, and he wished hard and long for a land of bearded women, of love, of truth. As the winds took him, reaching into him and stealing his life away, he held tighter and tighter to his love’s lie, the broken beard in his nine fingers.