Monday, October 28, 2019

Overread at the Counter: #MadCarnival Draft 1


The Townfolk:

Sheriff Jerry Latham
Deputy Frankie Cook
The School teacher, Eliza Gray
Betsy Wilson - the missing girl
Billy Wilson - her brother
Mrs Wilsonher - mother
Mr Wilsonher  - father
Mayor Jacob Schiff
Farmer Talbot
Judge Roy Halbert
Florence Halbert (judge’s wife, secretary at the school)
Teen girls: Lucy Saunders and Margot Philpot

The Carnies:
Ringmaster -Deck of Cards - Sebastien
Ekate spryna – The Fortune Teller
Anais, The Fire Eater
The Pretzel Man
The Pretzel Woman
The Wolf Woman - Wulfina
The Fat Man
The Trapeze Triplets – Corinne, Coraline, Caroline
The Laughing Jester – Hanz Freilich
The Juggler
Mad Mabel and the March Hare
Simone – the Elephant Tamer

Possible alternate names, since #MadCarnival is a hashtag and is used by other writeres
The Triple-M Circus
The Circus of Magic, Mirth, and Mystery
OR(Madness, Malice, and Mayhem)


Deputy Frankie
bursts through the station door, flyer in hand,
"Look! #MadCarnival is gonna be here Friday
AND Sunday!"

"Well, shit."
Sherriff shoots chaw
into the spittoon.
"Nothing good
ever happens
when the circus
comes to town."

Luddington, Iowa

The field,
fallow in October,
an expanse of canvas
upon which we will paint

Sebastien scans with panoramic eyes, then thumbs his pack of cards, and says, "OK, Ox and Bull, put the elephants by that tree line close to the creek."

Florence Halbert puts a pie on the windowsill to cool,
as the #MadCarnival moves down the lane:
clattering carts
belching cars,
elephants blare.

But when she sees a dwarf upon
the shoulders of a bear-sized man
with ox-like horns, she

withdraws the pie
& slaps the window shut.

Florence Halbert puts a pie on the windowsill to cool. 
Then, she sees the #MadCarnival moving down the lane,
the carts, the cars, elephants even.

When she sees the dwarf atop the shoulders of a
mountain of a man with horns like an ox, she

takes the pie from the sill

and slaps the window closed.

Florence Halbert puts a pie on the windowsill to cool,
as the #MadCarnival moves down the lane:
clattering carts
belching cars,
elephants blare.

But when she sees a dwarf upon
the shoulders of a bear-sized man
with ox-like horns, she

withdraws the pie
& slaps the window shut.

Hans grips the wheel as the car hits another rut in the country lane. 

"Don't grimace," says Sebastien, "You're the Laughing Jester, remember."

"I am just so BORED with these endless towns filled with Lutheran Luddites!" he says.

"Do not fret.  Soon we will camp for winter."


Hans grips the wheel as the car hits another rut in the country lane. 

"Don't grimace," says Sebastien, "You're the Laughing Jester, remember."

"I am just so BORED with these endless towns filled with Lutheran Luddites!" he says.

"Do not fret.  Soon we will camp for winter."


Tommy and Billy, throwing rocks at tin cans.

T: I hear #MadCarnival has a wolf woman.

B: D'ya think she'll have 6 teats or just the normal 2?

T: Billy, you ain't been right since school started up.

B: It's Betty Carson.  She filled out over the summer.


Billy and Tommy stand in front of the sign advertising the Freak Show.

Billy: I don’t believe they really got a three-legged man

Tommy: Yeah.  He probably ran away.

Billy [dryly]: Haw, haw.


Billy and Tommy stand in front of the sign advertising the Freak Show.

Billy: I don’t believe they really got a three-legged man

Tommy: Yeah.  He probably ran away.

Billy [dryly]: Haw, haw.

In the back of the rocking wagon, Mad Mabel rubs March Hare’s aching wrist.
“Getting better” she asks.

“A little,” he says.

“Good,” she says.  You nearly clipped me in Burlington. Do that again and I’ll cut off your hand.”

“Yes dear.”



Eliza, the schoolmarm, to Pastor Wortham about #MadCarnival:

"I've got nothing against circus geeks, but I'm just saying when the circus came through in Summer of '14, about half the girls in town spent winter and half of spring with family in Des Moines, if you catch my drift."


Ox grunts.

Shorty: He thinks ladies shouldn't smoke.

Anais: I swallow flaming swords. I breathe fire. I am wildfire and a dragon and I will lick the tar out of any man who tries to tell me how to be a damn lady!

Ox grunts.

Shorty: He says he believes you.




The cars stop beside the open field.
Sebastien steps into the grass and turns to face the host of #MadCarnival.

Dipping low, arms outstretched, he slowly rises as he says these blessed words:

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Freaks and Geeks!
At this spot we shall once again make glorious magic!
Now, let the preparations begin!

The cars stop beside the open field.
Sebastien turns to face the host of #MadCarnival.

Dipping low, arms outstretched, he makes his usual blessing:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Freaks and Geeks, on
this spot we shall once again make glorious magic!
Now, let the preparations begin!


Hawk cries overhead.
Elephants trumpet a reply.
Mallets dumbeat drive posts into the dew-soft grass.
The ripple of unfolding heavy layers of canvas,
pushed upward by tent poles.
The murmurs sounds of ancient incantations.

The #MadCarnival prepares to be born.


Sometimes we all must
taste a bit of madness
in order
to stay

in an ever-maddening world
which tilts on its axis
and spins us wildly and

into the sullen



Sebastien holds the Queen of Hearts
between two fingers,
flipping the card front to back.

"She who navigates love's
eccentricities," he says,
"is like the One who calms
raging seas."

"She's your queen, then?" Corinne asks.

"I'm the one holding HER," he smiles.


Ekateryna’s hands smooth the surface
of the globe,
glowing pure white light,
eyes fixed on the nebulous
clouds that slither like whispers
from a dream.

“What do you see?” asks Bull.

“I see the last of a child’s cries,” she says.

“That’s nice.”

“No … no, it is not.”



Coraline dances half-mad in moonlight,
pirouette on the soft grass,
arms stretched wide to gather all stars,
while the orchestra that only she hears
echoes from her throat, and

Coraline spins, gathering the
wild abandonment of shadows,
open passion
of midnight.




Tommy runs into the station, says "Sherriff!  You better get on over to Horace's General Store!  Those folks from the #MadCarnival are stirring up a ruckus!"

The Sherriff looks at his Deputy.  "See, Frankie?  I told you there's always trouble when the circus comes to town."


The Showdown at Horace’s General Store

Years later, Tommy will recall this episode as “The Showdown at Horace’s General Store”

Sherriff Latham walks into Horace’s General Store to see two of the carnies standing in front of the counter, upon which are several sacks filled with groceries, and Horace, red-faced and puffing like a mad hen, a look that the Sherriff is all-too familiar with seeing, as Horace is well known around Luddington for being easily offended and even more easily angered.

The carnies, one man and one woman, on the other hand, are what the Sherriff would call, “unknown commodities,” and he approached them with the caution that he uses for all new situations, which is generally to consider them as unpredictable as a rabid Great Dane until he was assured otherwise.

He starts with his name.  “Good afternoon.  I’m Sherriff Latham, and this is my Deputy, Franklin Cook.  How can we be of assistance?”

“You can be of assistance, Sherriff, by having them go get me some REAL money?” Horace interjects.

“That IS real money, you foolish little man!” says the female.

“And what is your name, miss?” asks the Sherriff.

“Simone.  And this is Sebastien …”  she waves a hand in his direction, and Sebastien tips his hat.  Sebastien is smiling the smile of a man who is content to watch the penny theatre unfold before him.   Or, the Sherriff correctly assumes, Sebastien already knows better than to get in the way of Simone when she is angry, which is clear by the way her hands wave through the air as though her fingernails are rapiers in an fencing match.

“… and they are trying to pass off this phoney carny money!” Horace spits, apparently not understanding that he is almost to the point of receiving a high outside.

“It’s NOT phony carney money!” says Simone.  “It’s REAL currency of the United States of America!”

The bills are spread out on the counter in front of Horace, like cards dealt from a deck.   He holds one up and hands it to the Sherriff for inspection.    “Look at it!  It doesn’t look like a real dollar bill!  It’s says ‘ONE DOLLAR’ where it isn’t supposed to be, and the back is all wrong!”

“These are real bills,” says Sebastien.  “We got them in Philadelphia.”

“Oooh!” says Horace, mockingly.  “All the way from PhilaDELPHia!”

“Or Chicago,” Sebastien shrugs.

“Sherriff,” says Simone, “I don’t know why this son of a … hound with full paps is giving us the royal runaround, but we have good money, and we want to use that good money to buy these provisions for our company.”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” says Deputy Frankie, “but surely these can’t be the only bills you got.  Can’t you use any of your other bills?”

“It’s an hour back to where we are setting up the carnival … and then an hour back here … and then an hour back,” she says.   “We need to feed our carnies and help get the carnival set up.”

“I thought all you gypsy-types made your own food,” says Horace.

“All people occasionally like to eat something that hasn’t come straight out of the stew pot!” she snaps back.

“OK, OK,” says the Sherriff.  “Horace, why don’t we have Tommy here run over to the bank and ask Bill about whether these are real?”

“Bill’s spending the week with his wife and her folk over in Windsor County.”

The Sherriff pauses.  He looks around for the spittoon, which, for some reason, has been moved from its usual place.  When he finds it, he spits into it, and then says, “Here’s what I’ll do … I take your dollar bills that you got in Philadelphia or Chicago, and Horace, I’ll give you my five one-dollar bills that look like the dollar bills you’re used to seeing, and then these nice folks can take their provisions back to their crew so that the … show may go on.”

Sebastien grins.  “Good one, Sherriff!”

Horace sputters.  Then he fumes.  Then he says, “But!  They’re buying ALL my licorice!”

“Now you’re just being small, Horace,” says the Sherriff.

“And our biggest workers, they love licorice!” says Simone.

“But I won’t have any for the kids!” Horace says.  “Look at Tommy there!  He’s so sad that all the licorice will be gone.”

Suddenly all eyes turn on Tommy.  When recounting the story as an adult, he will say that it was the first time that adults had ever asked his opinion on anything, and he realized at that moment that there are times when a person must weigh their words carefully, because they can change the course of a situation.

“Well,” says Tommy, “I mean, if it will make the Carnival workers happy, and since they are here to put on a show for the whole town, I don’t mind waiting until you get more licorice next week.”

And thus the matter is settled.  The Sherriff takes the bills minted by the United States Treasury in 1935 and hands over bills from his own pocket.  Simone and Sebastien pick up the bags and make their way toward the door.

As Simone passes by Tommy, she says, “Thanks, kid.  You got a good heart.”  She hands him one long stick of black licorice.   Then she looks back at the Sherriff, “And you … I don’t know about you yet.  You might have a good heart.”

The Sherriff spits again into the spittoon.

Horace, as everyone sidles out of his store, looks down at the corpulousness of his girth, and then he squishes his puffy pectorals, and mumbles, “Hound with full paps?”


Sebastien knows that,
as bodies are made of
sinews and spleen,
muscles and movement,
tissues and tears,
so too

is the #MadCarnival,
which feeds upon the smiles
and the cries, the
truths and the lies,
the growls and the sighs

of all those who



Setting up the #MadCarnival:

March Hare dances knives around Mad Mabel.
Anais sets fire to her blades.
Ox, Bull, & Shorty test the sturdiness of the posts.
Jester walks the Fun House.
Simone brings a now-empty burlap bag back from the stream, stooping to wipe hands on the grass.


Sometimes we all must
taste a bit of madness
in order
to stay

in an ever-maddening world
which tilts on its axis
and spins us wildly and

into the sullen




Friday moring,
Luddington Iowa
October, 1935

Billy Wilson walks his little sister, Betsy, to school
All the way, she sings,

“We’re going to #MadCarnival!
Mad Carnival!
Mad Carnival!
We’re going to Mad Carnival!
Everybody say YAY!

… say ‘YAY’ Billy!”

“Yay,” says Billy, dryly.


Friday morning
October, 1935

Billy Wilson walks his little sister, Betsy, to school.

She's been singing this for hours:

“We’re going to #MadCarnival!
Mad Carnival!
Mad Carnival!
We’re going to Mad Carnival!
Everybody say YAY!

… say ‘YAY’ Billy!”

“Yay,” says Billy, dryly.


Friday Afternoon at the Police Station

October, 1935
Luddington, Iowa

Sheriff Jerry Latham
Deputy Frankie Cook

Frankie is reading last month's Dime Detective, while the Sheriff is reclined in his chair, which squeaks against the weight of his back.  His hat is pulled down over his eyes, but he is facing the front window, which looks out onto the street into the window of the barber shop on the other side.  The Sheriff assumes this pose so that he can rest his eyes, but can immediately open them should ever anyone step inside.

In his half-slumber on a quiet afternoon, he tries never to fold into a full sleep.  When he does sleep, he often dreams the sweet, spicy smell of horseradish.   Then, in the dream, the smell dissipates, and he is surrounded by the bodies of dead soldiers, his brothers, men he barely knew.

"What time we heading out to the Mad Carnival, Sheriff?" says Frankie.

"In about an hour or so," replies the Sheriff.  "Good to take a look around, make sure everything is on the up and up.  You know, sturdy and not going to fall down on anybody."

"Wow, Sheriff, I didn't know you were an expert on such things."

"I'm not.  They don't know that.  We'll just go out there and act like we do and from their reactions, we should be able to tell if THEY are experts on such things."

"You're pretty smart, did I ever tell you that?"

"On occasion, Frankie, yes you have."

Frankie puts down the Dime Detective and stands up and hikes up his belt higher around his waist.  Then, he walks toward the door and notices the schoolmarm, Eliza, headed toward the Church.

"School's out," he says, idly.

"We might want to get started then," says the Sheriff.  "The kids will be running over to the field to get first tickets into the circus."

"Do you think those Germans will come down?"

"You mean the folk from Lewiston?" asks the Sheriff.

"Yeah, do you think we'll have to worry about 'em?"

"What's to worry about?  The only person who ever has a problem with them is Farmer Talbot, and he's always half in the sauce and railing on about little green men from Mars!"

"Well," says Frankie, looking out the window as though expecting to see Eliza come back out of the church, "they're just strange folk, you know, they never really come down into town except about once a month or so, and they're just so ... well ... foreign."

"Frankie, their people been here since '94.  They are certainly not 'foreign'."

"You know what I mean, Sheriff, well, you fought the Krauts in the Great War, you more than anybody know what they're like."

"I know what Krauts are like and I know what the Dusseldorfs and the Niehauses over in Lewiston are like and neither group are alike in the slightest.  That's what I know."

"You're a good man, Sheriff."

"You don't have to say that, Frankie."

"I kind of think of you like a father, sometimes."

"Don't say that, son.  Half the time I don't even like talking to you all that much."

"See?" Frankie says, "You’re JUST like my father!”


"Come one!
Come all!
Come as you are!
Whether 10 feet tall
2 feet small,
On foot or in a car!

Feast your sights
On our delights,
You're bound to have a ball!
A thousand lights
Through darkest nights
At the #MadCarnival!"


And we all arrive
well before five
to look at the tents of the #MadCarnival

Triplets fold themselves into a human ball
and roll across the field,
as a woman lights a sword aflame
and swallows it whole as she
stands atop the shoulders of
the man with horns of an ox.



“Such things as these and more
await you all!” shouts the
hatter with a deck of cards,

He holds up the Ace of Diamonds,
and says, “Who will be the lucky one
Who will drink deeply of the sweet
of the #MadCarnival?!”



Tommy races down the lane.
He's emptied all his savings from his Nescafe tin & will spend it all at the #MadCarnival.

Crisp wind chaps his cheeks
and the touch of chill tells him that summer is
gone, and winter is coming, but this is autumn
& autumn is the time for

last gasps


Even before the sun dips behind the hills,
the #MadCarnival sparks eerie lights:
a shock against the mad night,
the shooting stars are here on the ground, this
night, and lightning crawls through the underfoot

& the trees themselves are rattled
into stochatic laughter.



At the #MadCarnival ...


we are pierced vellum through which shines
the twisted light of an arcane moon.

We are all shadows here.


Mad Mabel and the March Hare take turns on the spinning wheel.
Sometimes she throws the knives
and sometimes he throws the knives. 

She keeps a rabbit’s foot on a short gold chain that she
sometimes shows to the children, saying,
“The only time I ever missed, I chopped off his big toe! 
This toe, right here!
You should have SEEN him, children.” 

Then, with an impish smile, she will tell them,
“You could say
he was


Hall of Chimera

Lucy Saunders and Margot Philpot
staring at babies in a bottle.

Lucy: Are those real babies?

Margot: Naw.  Those are just dolls.

Mad Mabel puts a hand
on their shoulders. 
Her breath, faint smell of absinthe:

“But are they



The flames dance across the blade
she spins the sword like a windmill
at her side,

the crowd amazed and sigh!
as she lifts high

and pulls the fire and steel
into her throat,

a gulp,

a gasp among the crowd.

The pastor's eyes



As Anise
dances for the crowd,
a dagger in each hand,
a skirt of rippled
fire, chattering

the pastor opens his
Bible, reads:

My beloved is mine,
and I am his:
he feedeth among the lilies.

He takes a pencil & writes
She can tame the Devil's tongue!


A calliope.
A bruise.
A stolen kiss.
A walk.
A talk.
A swing and a miss.

Mad laughter from
a tilted wheel,
night slices like
a barber’s blade.

Slip a card from a
shaved deck,

a breath
a skin
the rise of the color
in the cheeks.

full house


A calliope
A bruise
A stolen kiss
A walk
A talk
A swing and a miss

Mad laughter from
a tilted wheel,
night slices like
a barber’s blade.

Slip a card from a
shaved deck,

a breath
the rise of the color
in the cheeks.

a full house




And a good night to all you denizens of the #MadCarnival

All you pixies
And trapeze swingers,
And freaks
And carnival geeks,
You mad hatters
And jesters
And barkers at the moon,

Lay down your weary heads
And sleep now and dream
Your mad, mad dreams,

Awake tomorrow



Bull awakes just before
The crisp light of dawn
Stretches, this
Is his favorite day: tents
Up, the geeks of #MadCarnival
still sleeping
Birds chirping across the quiet

After pulling water from the stream,
Bull lights a fire under the stewpot,
And begins peeling potatoes.



Tree house, back yard, Billy Wilson’s

Tommy is reading the new Shadow magazine.
Billy, sorting marbles, says, “Sucks they wouldn’t let us in the Freak Show.”
Tommy says, “I got an idea.  Tonight we’re getting in.  We go around back
and crawl under the tent.”

Billy, “You think that’ll work?  What if they see us?”

Tommy, “We just move fast.  So much stuff is going on, nobody’ll notice us.”

Billy, “Do you think they really have a three-legged man?”

Tommy, “No … beCAUSE…”

Both, “HE RAN AWAY!!”

Tommy and Billy laugh together at their new shared joke, and then Billy admits, “Whenever I see Betty Carson, I feel like a three-legged man.”

Tommy looks up from the Shadow and says, “That’s gross, Billy.  But … yeah, I can kinda understand.”

Billy says, “So I guess that means summer’s really over then?”

Tommy, “Yes.  Summer’s over and done.  But we got the Mad Carnival for one more night tonight!”


Judge Halbert’s House, Back Yard

The Judge and his wife bringing their garden for the winter.
He, with spade at one end of the flower bed
She, on knees at the other, packing manure around the perennials.

She: You should come with me to the Mad Carnival tonight.

He: Aww, Florence, you know I don’t really go for all those lights and noise.

She: You could just come with me to talk to the Fortune Teller.

He: Tell me you didn’t.

She wipes her gloved hands on her pants.  She looks up at him:  Yes, why yes I did.

He smiles wanly: and what did she fill your head with?

Florence Halbert pushes herself up from the ground and walks the few steps to her husband kisses him on the cheek: She said I have an honorable man for a husband who will love me until the end of my days on this earth.  THAT’s what she filled my head with!  Now, do you want some tea?

The Judge leans on his shovel as he watches his wife walk up the wooden steps and through the screen door of the porch.

He: Well, I would say that Fortune Teller really CAN predict the future.


At the Church of Saint Philip the Evangelist

The Pastor sits in his office at the church.
Writing his sermon for tomorrow.
Or, trying to …

images of dancing flames, the
liquid frame, her shoulders,
her lips,
her hips,
her thighs,
lit by orange and yellow

the fire in her eyes …

The Pastor feels a burning
in his lungs, he wonders if
this is how

down deep
in the deepest depths
where there is
the end of breath.


At the police station

Frankie is talking to his mother who has moved down to New Orleans, where she lives with her new husband.   He says, “… the Mad Carnival is in town.  Two nights.  It’s really wild.  They got a merry-go-round, and a lady who eats flaming swords, a juggler who juggles knives.  Tonight they are going to have a big show in the tent … elephants, trapeze artists, it’s going to be a great show … what?  … uh, no, they hardly ever come to town … no, they pretty much keep to themselves … well, for Catholics, they’re not all that bad, I mean, they’re GERMAN Catholics.  It’s not like they’re Irish, or worse: MEXICANS!”


At the Mad Carnival

Simone brushes one of the elephants, humming

But if this ditty is not so pretty
At least it'll tell you
How great you are.
You're the top!
You're the Coliseum.
You're the top!

“You’re the louver museum,” says Ekataryna, who had walked up behind without Simone noticing.

“Grab that other brush and help me get them ready for the show,” Simone says.

Ekataryna looks at the brush on the ground beside the bucket of water and picks it up, walking over to the front of the elephant.  She says, “Is this one Jules or Wells?”

Simone smiles, “You don’t know?  I thought you KNEW all and SEE all.”

The woman replies, “I do.  But I am just not good with names.”

“This one is Jules,” she says as she moves around toward the back, testing the leather strap of the blanket and saddle that is strapped to the grey torso of the creature.

Ekataryna looks into the elephant’s eyes and says, “You will do a very wonderful thing tonight.”

Simone, coming around the other side, hearing this, says, “Well, of course.  They are both going to be the stars of the show.”

“I mean after that.”

Simone puts the brush to her side and blows a waft of hair from her eye.  “You know I hate when you do that.  Just speak plain, woman.”

“I have said what I have said.  I will say no more.” 

“Well,” Simone says, “then brush more and say less.  Wells over there is lost for attention.”

Wells, upon hearing her name, tilts her head and lifts her trunk to let out one trumpet.   Then, she stomps her left foot on the ground, one time.

“Still thirsty, Wells?” Simone asks.  “OK, then, let’s go back to the stream.”



Betsy wanders through the hall of mirrors,
in one, she is a teacup,
another, she is stretched wide like a washtub,
in another,

she is tall, like Mommy, with a
watermelon tummy, &

a hand then takes her arm,
& leads her deeper into the

trick light twisted glass.


"Tommy Sneaks into the Freak Show Tent"

Tommy and Billy crawl underneath the heavy folds of the tent.  Tommy finds his way through before Billy, and lifts the material to find himself facing the back of a woman at a table upon which is propped a large mirror.  Tommy can see her see him in the reflection.

“Oh shit!” Tommy says, then realizes that Billy is gone.   Billy always knows the exact moment to run away, Tommy knows.

The girl turns around in her chair.  Parts of her face appear to be sewn together with scraps of leather and burlap.  The part of her face that is exposed is crimson, sinewed and raw meat as though her skin had been pulled from her skull.

Her one eye, electric, blue, holds Tommy in its gaze.  He has no words for it now, but years later he will  describe it as being like a bolt of lightning that lit up the night during an indigo thunderstorm.

The Patchwork Girl holds a finger to her lips, instructing Tommy not to shout, not to make a sound.


Mrs Wilson runs, panicked, through the night,
through the calliope music and the lights,
looking for her lost daughter,

missing in the #MadCarnival.

Have you seen her?
Where is my daughter?!

There is a little girl lost.
Summer is gone.

Winter has come.


They scour the grounds, the fields, the flaps of canvas, the undercarriage of the carousel,

they call her name into the obsidian night, they carry torches
and kerosene lamps, looking

for the lost girl,

who disappeared into
the shadows
of the #MadCarnival


"The Search"

Sebastien tells the triplets to climb to the highest points: the top of the big tent, the apex of the carousel.  Look around, call out, see what you can see.


Ox wanders the perimeter, Shorty on his shoulders, lamp held high, calling out the little girl's name.


Ekataryna and Bull and Billy and Billy's dad scour the steps of the fun house mirrors, because Billy last saw Betsy there.

"Why didn't you watch your sister?!" says the dad.

"I thought you and mom were with her," Billy says.

"Does it LOOK LIKE we were with her, Billy?!"

Ekataryna touches his sleeve softly.  Her voice quivers as she says, "Mr Wilson, Betsy will be found.  Before the night is though ... she will no longer be lost."

"She'd better be, you old witch."  Then, he turns, slaps the mirrored wall and continues through the maze, calling out his little girl's name.


Farmer Talbot pounds on the door to the Sheriff's house.

"Betsy is missing from the Mad Carnival!"

"Shit Hellfire Damnation!" says the Sheriff.  He reaches for this belt and holster, hanging on a coat rack just beside the door.


The Sheriff drives wildly down the road back toward the Mad Carnival, Talbot says grimly, “You know I don’t think this is the work of them carnies.  I bet it was the Dusenbergs come down from Lewiston.”

“Talbot, you miserable son of a bitch!” says the Sheriff.  “We don’t have time for your shit right now!  I suggest you shut up or crawl back home.”

Talbot opens his mouth.  Then closes it.

He is silent the rest of the way.


The Mayor and his wife link arms with Mad Mabel and the March Hare, and with Lucy Saunders and Margaret Philpot, who link arms with the Pretzel Man and Pretzel Woman, who link arms with Eliza Gray and Hanz the Jester, and others too, and other too, as they walk the grounds of the Mad Carnival, from the entrance gate, step by step, looking under the folds of every tent, scanning the shadows for any place the child might be hiding.

Tommy, from the entrance of the Freak Show tent, with Wulfina and The Patchwork Girl standing behind him, watches the human chain walk slowly through the ripples of midnight, calling out.  He will recall, in years to come, when recounting this story to his wife, that this moment was the one moment in which he knew that the names "normal" and "freak" and "regular" and "different" were nothing but words formed with hollow, empty, wasted breath.


By the waters of a babbling
she is laid down,

her feet dapple in the water
her hair mingles with the
roots of the trees,
planted by the water,

yielding this lifeless
in this dead season.


Two hours before dawn

Anise atop Wells
And Simone riding Jules,
The elephants scour the brush behind the

digging through the grasses
and the rocks and the dirt,
tusks and trunks,

carefully searching,

stone by stone,
digging in the dirt.


One hour before dawn:

Sebastien to the Sheriff: We will not rest until we find her.

Sheriff: You’re damn right you won’t.

From the line of trees, a trumpet blast scattered the night birds.
And all the people turn and run toward the source of the siren wail.


Just after dawn, the deputy, holding a blanket-wrapped bundle in both arms, kicks at Dr Tompkins' door

A 5 minute eternity later, the old man opens the door.  His sleepy eyes widen ... then slowly redden. 

"Oh dear," he says, "What cause, Frankie?"



The Pastor walks from the #MadCarnival to the grey morning mist by the treeline. 
He kneels to pray, "Father, please bring your peace upon this child, & please bring justice, Father, I beg you."

Mrs Wilson staggers to him.
falls at his feet,
wailing like a wounded animal.


And by mid-morning, the crew of #MadCarnival & townfolk who had searched through the night, all are gathered in the big tent.

Sheriff proclaims, "No one leaves town until we know who killed Betsy Wilson."

Sebastien, "We're due in Nebraska by Wednesday."

"Nobody, goddamit!"


Sunday Morning under the Big Tent

As Sunday grows into mid-morning, the Sheriff and the Judge had gathered inside all the denizens of the Mad Carnival, as well as all the townfolk of Luddington who had helped to search through the night.

Tommy and Billy sit on seats in the far back row, with a view of all the adults and the carnies down in the ring.  The Patchwork Girl sits beside Tommy, never speaking, but occasionally making a slight hissing sound of sucking saliva.   Tommy does not mind how clear liquid tends to ooze from her joints, the parts of her not covered by scraps of leather and gauze or fabric.

The Sheriff holds up his hands for the room to be quiet.  “Now listen here.  Nobody leaves town until we find out who killed Betsy Wilson.”

A murmur breaks out among the carnies, and Sebastien steps forward and says, “Sheriff, we have a compromise to be in Nebraska by Wednesday.”

“Nobody, leaves, town, goddammit,” says the Sheriff forcefully.

Bull, on the other side of the group yet still a head above them, says, “We need to start breaking down to get ready to move.”  Then he pauses.  “I really don’t see how the show can be stopped.”

“There are marshals on the way from Des Moines,” says the Sheriff.   “I’m going to need to know where each one of you was last night.   All night.  Right up to where the Wilsons noticed their daughter missing.”

Hanz says, “Most of us carnies were in here.  The freaks never leave their show.   The Fat Man never leaves the carousel.   We all have jobs here, Sheriff.”

“I don’t know,” says the Judge’s wife.  “You sure tend to look sideways at all the ladies.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” says The Laughing Juggler.

“Just an observation,” she replies.

“Could have been Ox,” says Anise.

“What?” says Shorty.

“Ox is new here,” Anise continues.  “We don’t know him all that well.  The only one who ever understands him is you.”

Ox grunts.

“He says you sound crazy,” Shorty says.

“See what I mean?” she replies.

Ox grunts.

“Now he wants to know where YOU were last night,” says Shorty.

“And how do you always have the words for him,” she asks.  “Where were YOU, Shorty?  YOU could have killed someone your height!”

Ox steps forward.

“Stop this!” shouts Sebastien.  “This is MADNESS, and it is NOT the madness of our carnival, but the madness that kills.”

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to find out,” says the judge.

“This is ridiculous!” says Mr Wilson.  “My daughter’s dead.  Who killed her?!  Which one of you sons of bitches KILLED MY DAUGHTER!”

“You did!”

There is a hush.

At the front flap of the tent, stands Mrs Wilson, the Pastor beside her, pointing at Mr Wilson.  She starts forward, one step, then another. “You killed our daughter!”

Mr Wilson sobs, “Mary … what in God’s name are you talking about?”

“Don’t use God’s name.  Not here.  Not in front of me.  Not anymore.  I heard you.  I HEARD you.  Night after night.  In the middle of the night.  You thought I was asleep.  You walked out of our room and you walked toward HER ROOM!”

Mr Wilson, quietly, “Mary, no … I didn’t kill her. I didn’t kill Betsy.  I love her.”

And there is something in the way that Mr Wilson says the last three words that Tommy will remember years later when recalling the events of these few days.  Something in the way that the words were said.  A way that he knew he would never in his life hear again.

The Pastor puts a hand on Mrs Wilson’s arm, as though to stop her, or to hold her upright.  He says to her in a steady tone.  “Mary Wilson … I think you have something you need to tell the Sheriff.”

Mary Wilson looks toward the Sheriff with wild reddened eyes and cheeks streaked with tears.  Her mouth for a moment hangs open as though in a perpetual silent scream.  She looks as though she is trying to speak while she is downing in the depths of the ocean.

Finally, her voice breaks and she says, “I – held – her – down.  She was – so … afraid.   I kept saying ‘hush Betsy, hush baby girl, the water will make you clean.  The water will make you clean’ and then, and then … she wasn’t afraid - any - more.”

Mary Wilson looks from one face to another, from the people she knows to the strangers, as though searching for some response in their blank stares.   “I had to … don’t you see?  I had to!”

And her eyes, searching
Searching …


The freaks and geeks of
The #MadCarnival
Look on in silence
As the Sheriff leads
Mary Wilson
To the front of the big tent

And in a moment,
The two are gone,

Leaving only the silence

Heavy and
Palpable in
the air of
grim October.



Monday morning rings in with a dour mist, enveloping the town of Luddington.  
The Sheriff drives alone out to the field where the Mad Carnival is almost completely torn down, packed up, and ready to roll on down the road.

The Sheriff walked past the crew of the Mad Carnival without saying a word.  Neither do they speak to him.   The morning dew wets his shoes and clings to the cuffs of his pants.

He comes upon Simone, who is putting harnesses on the faces of the elephants as their breaths puff thick clouds of smoke into the still morning air.

When she sees him, she says, “Good morning, Sheriff.  Should I ask if there is another crime you want to try to blame us for?”

The Sheriff stops a few feet away from her and crocks his thumbs in his belt.   He says, “Just wanted to tell you before you left … I heard you didn’t stop until Betsy was found.  You were searching for her the hardest of them all.  I just wanted to thank you.  That was much appreciated.”

Simone smiles, “Why Sherriff, I do believe that you have taken a shine to me.”

The Sheriff spits on the ground, “All I know is that the circus came to down and now a girl is dead.”

Simone stops fitting the harness.  She turns to face the Sheriff fully.  She says with a level tone, “ Well, if what her mother said is true, Sheriff, then if the Mad Carnival hadn’t come to town, she’d still be suffering.  Living a living hell.”   She takes one step toward him.  “We can all wonder what kind of unloving God is watching over us, but if you look at it from her point of view, her suffering is over.”

The Sheriff is silent for awhile, then says, “Take care of those animals, miss.  And take care of yourself.”

Simone smiles, “Always, Sheriff.  Always.   Because the show must go on.”


Just outside Lewiston, Iowa, Franz Dusenberg is walking the back 40 acres of his farm, looking to see where he might need to mend his fence before the winter sets in hard and truly.

He knows what it is even before he can tell who it is.
Franz Dusenberg is the one who first comes upon Bill Wilson’s body, hanging from the limb of a tree.

Coming closer, he notes how the face, how it looks somehow pained, even in the stillness of death.

Leaving it there, he turns to walk back to the farmhouse, where he will send his sons to ride into Luddington.


Monday afternoon.

After school, Tommy goes to Billy Wilson’s house.  Billy hadn’t been at school, but no one had asked about him.  No one, not even Eliza the schoolmarm seemed like they were wanting to talk about the last few days at all. 

When Tommy gets there, he knocks on the door, but no one comes.  The door is unlocked.  He opened it and calls through the house.  No answer

Tommy then goes around the side of the house, past the back yard, toward the trees and their treehouse.  He climbs up inside, where he finds a note stuck inside the latest issue of Dime Detective.

The note reads:





Character study

In the #MadCarnival
The Patchwork Girl
never speaks.

No one asks her why.

If they did, she would
tell them (by writing it down)
that she carries the pain

of all the scarred
children in the world,

and if she were to speak,
she would never stop screaming.

She says


#MadCarnival may need a soundtrack,
songs that make you slip sideways in a slick rain,
songs that reaches around from behind you with
heavy leaden arms to whisper dark secrets of all the ghosts
who play in the shadows of your mind.