The Devil Wore Greasepaint
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by Teel James Glenn
Description: A millionaire haunted by a demon consults a fortuneteller, a sideshow performer is captured in a horrible spell, a Hollywood producer cheats the wrong man, a cuckolded husband is invited to an odd dance and then there is that strange clown by the side of the road in Kansas? To many people, the experience of theatre is akin to the mystical experience of religion--the transformation of the human being into a deity--all occur as much with the smell of greasepaint in one's nostrils as with incense. This collection of stories runs the range from love stories to horror tales, from trickster demons to wizards who warp human form for their own purpose. And in each tale, the smell of greasepaint and the sulphurous odor of the other side combine to make a heady mix of fable, fantasy and fright?.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [370 KB]
Reading time: 234-327 min.
E.J. was scared and he was running for his life. He kept looking over his shoulder as he propelled himself awkwardly down the dark street, his footfalls splashing noisily in a maze of puddles.
IT had attacked him again only three hours ago, blowing his car to smithereens, barely missing him. Since then he'd seen glimpses of IT in the shadows, ITs great fangs gleaming in a perpetual and hideous smile, but he'd managed to elude IT time and again.
This time he hadn't even tried to go to the authorities, as if any human agency could have authority over that. They would only have laughed at the pathetic, obviously insane, fat man and maybe even confine him for observation like they had done before. That would only give IT a chance to zero in on him again. No, there would be no outside help against IT. He knew he was alone.
Now E.J. was tired: tired of the endless running, tired of fighting. He just wanted a moment's true peace, a moment of certainty that IT was gone forever. He stopped to catch his breath in the shadow of a doorway, his eyes scanning the deserted street for any sign of movement.
For a long minute he half stood, half leaned against the doorway, panting like a cornered animal. Maybe I've given IT the slip, he thought as his fatigue ebbed and his confidence grew, maybe I out foxed'm! He caught sight of himself in the glass of the door and almost laughed at the caricature he presented: prematurely bald at thirty-five, he was still overweight enough to be called by his grammar school alias 'butterball.' His thin tie was askew, his white shirt dirty, and yet somehow he still wore the bowler hat that had been his grandfather's. Losing that would have really upset him.
To add insult to injury, his nose was red and running as a result of his shirtsleeve flight in the misty night air. His jacket had gone the way of all flesh in the car explosion.
"E.J.," he said to his image, "you are a mess." He straightened his tie in a little attempt to right his world. "Something has got to be done!"
He was suddenly aware of the softened consonants of his mild speech impediment made crisper in the evening air.
"What would you like to do?" A voice from behind E.J. almost startled the man into running again save that it added, "Would you like to find peace, my son?" The voice was deep and somehow reassuring. E.J. felt compelled to answer.
"Yes, I want peace."
"Then come in and we will talk," the voice said.
E.J. looked around at the empty street once more to be sure he was not being followed and then up at the now dark neon sign which hung above the doorway. Madame Kooney, reader and advisor! the sign read.
Anything to help, he thought as he stepped through the door. Inside, the storefront was a throwback to the carnie tents of old, complete with beaded curtains over the doorways, fake Persian rug wall hangings, and a miasma of incense which wrapped itself around E.J. like a python. Nonetheless it was warm, dry, and oddly calming.
The figure who led E.J. into the room was taller than he, but all other details were obscured by a billowing maroon velvet robe. The long grey hair which topped the figure told nothing; even the calming voice was neutral and might have belonged to a man or woman.
"Sit, have some tea," the figure said. E.J. pulled up two oversized pillows that smelled like his grandmother's living room. He sat down across a low table from his host.
"Now, tell Madame K of your troubles," she said after he had rested a moment.
"I don't know rightly where to begin," E.J. said, accepting a cup of tea from her white-gloved hand.
"What are you afraid of?" the old reader said. "To see a solution we must first clearly see the problem." E.J. nodded at the wisdom of that. He enjoyed the warmth of the tea a moment before he continued.
"I don't know what IT is," he said, "except that IT's big and covered in fur and IT's made my life hell for years."
"Since what time?" Madame K asked in a school-marm tone, adding, "You must be precise; I cannot make bricks without straw!"
The old reader smiled broadly at her own humor and it encouraged E.J. to search his memory more exactly.
"Years ago I was on a camping trip alone out west and IT destroyed my camp," E.J. began, "for no reason. And IT nearly drove me mad with tricks and torments. And when I tried to fight IT, IT laughed that hideous high pitched cackle. I always hear that cackle now, even in my sleep."
E.J. was sobbing now, glad at least to have someone to tell his story to. "No one would listen, no one cared," he said. "They said I was crazy. They've put me away twice." He looked up at the silent mystic with the pleading eyes of a wronged child.
"I don't know what to do. It's not that I don't have resources; I'm actually quite wealthy from my camping and hunting supply business. I own homes, yachts. I've fought IT myself and hired others, men who know how to kill, but their guns and bombs were worse than useless, turned back on them until there were no witnesses." By now E.J.'s tone had become that of a prayer for deliverance. "Sometimes I wish IT would just kill me and be done, but IT won't let me die."
"IT cannot, E.J.," Madame K said in a hushed voice, "for IT feeds on your misery and torment like maggots on a carcass."
"You...you believe me?" E.J. almost fell across the little table when the grey haired mystic nodded a silent 'yes.' The little man's tears became tears of joy.
"You know what IT is?" he almost yelled.
"I think so," Madame K said. "I think it is a Poohka: an animal demon, a mischievous spirit whose sole purpose and pleasure is to torment the living. It is from this torment and suffering that this creature derives both joy and sustenance."
"But why me?" E.J. asked, afraid for the first time in all the years IT had pursued him that perhaps he was insane to be even listening to the old reader's words seriously...
"I think you were picked at random," the mystic continued. "Perhaps your campsite so long ago disturbed some special place, some burrow or temple sacred to the demon."
"Why doesn't IT just finish with me?"
The old reader's smile was an ironic and a cold one. "I believe the demon is fond of you--" She held up her hand to silence an outburst from E.J.. "--Not perhaps as you would like or even in a way you can understand, but fond as one might be of a dog that did tricks or a certain vintage of wine. Or else how would you explain IT's constant return to you."
"Yes, return," Madame K said. "Surely you do not believe your misery is unique? Such creatures as the one you describe would mischief and plague many; you, I believe, are ITs 'private stock'."
E.J. hung his head in quiet despair and whispered," It's hopeless."
"There is always hope," Madame K said. A white gloved hand placed a yellowed piece of parchment on the table. On it were inscribed complex diagrams. "This is a powerful spell of banishment which has worked against such demons in the past."
E.J. took the paper with hands atremble. "How...how can I repay you--" he began.
"My payment," Madame K injected, "will be ridding the earth of such a pest. It is part of my journey along the path."
E.J. sat a while, stunned into silence by his good fortune. At last he rose, almost forgetting grandfather's bowler in his excitement and headed for the front door.
"No." Madame K stopped him with a hushed tone. "Simple caution is still called for. Leave this way." The old reader gestured to a door set in the wall at the back, all but hidden by a wall hanging.
"Here," E.J. said, pressing his business card in Madame K's hand as he opened the door. "If you ever need anything at all, call."
He sniffled once, smiled, and stepped through the doorway to Nothingness.
E.J. was still screaming and falling when Madame K began to change into the form IT had been most comfortable in for the last two hundred years. Long gray hair became ears, leathered skin grew a downy gray fur, eyes widened into a perpetual startled expression, and two front teeth grew to frightening length.
The Demon looked down at the card in its white gloved hand which read, E.J. Fudd Wilderness Supplies, and cackled to no one in particular. "I do this to him all through the millennium. Ain't I a stinker!" The card fluttered down into the now silent pit.
That's all folks...