It had been the third time he had been late to work. His boss waited outside for him, told him not to come in, and gave him a check for three days' worth of work. Matthias wanted to argue and explain why he was late, but "the man" didn't want to hear it. So he took the check and walked to the nearest diner. The place was empty; dirt-stained walls and the smell of burnt coffee filled the area. The walls were covered with old pictures, hunting game, and a cross above the kitchen. Matthias sat at the counter, took out some change, and laid it next to him. A heavy woman caked in beauty products came over to him. She smelled of cheap hair spray. "What can I get for you, hun?" =
"Coffee, cream, and sugar, please." He said.
She quickly took his money, "You okay, hun?"
"No, I just got fired." He coughed.
Her eyes saw sorrow in his face, but he didn't look up at her. Instead, she walked away to bring him coffee and a handful of cream and sugar. Then placed his money next to him. "It's on the house. I'm sorry."
Two men came in silently, standing behind Matthias. He turned to him. They were just big, but Matthias was muscular. "Can I help you?" he asked.
"This doesn't concern you." One of them said. Matthias turned back around; it was too early to get into too much trouble. "Woman, you seem like a nice lady. We don't want no trouble. Tell us where the girl is."
"I don't know who you're talking about?"
"Ms. Ann, I—"the younger woman stepped out of the kitchen. The two men hopped the counter and ran after her.
Ms. Ann looked at Matthias, "I'll give you a hundred bucks if you help her."
"Call the cops, lady."
"Cops don't help women like her."
Matthias took his coffee and walked to the kitchen. The woman heard punches and the cook shouting. Then eggs flew out of the door. One man tried to run, but Matthias caught him and pulled him back into the kitchen. A few more punches, a thud, and the sound of flames. The smell of burnt flesh came from the window. She peeked to see the gruesome sight. It was her business but not at that moment. She waited until it was over. The younger woman came out first, the color in her skin was gone. Matthias stepped out next. "Are you all right, little lady?"
The younger woman nodded.
He turned to the older woman, "I'll be taking that hundred kindly, miss."
"There's more where that came from." A man said. He was standing at the entrance with a red cane planted in front of him and a bowler hat covering his face. His voice was high-pitched for a man. "We're hiring and can use some muscle like you."
The woman took the hundred out and gave it to Matthias.
'Lake, darling, get in the car." The young woman did as the man instructed. Slowly she limped to a mysterious car. Matthias watched her get in the passenger seat and keep her head down. The man sat at the counter and smiled. He wore a multicolored patched suit, black gloves, and black boots. His face was white, except for the red eyeliner he wore. Matthias noticed his lips were cracked and dry. And the man's eyes were tinted yellow, and his pupils had a red ring around them. "The name's Lucifer, and I'd like to hire your services as muscle, big boy." He squeezed Matthias's bicep.
"I'm sorry, I'm not interested in—"
"I'm afraid, Matthias, you have no choice." His voice turned deep and dark. He tapped his cane on the ground, and the door opened. "You need a job, right? Don't ask how I know. I'm offering. All you gotta do is be strong."
"It depends on how much we make that night. But muscle makes more than Limp Lady." He pointed to the car, "a lot more."
"Sure. When do I start?"
"Tonight. Come, my boy." He got up and danced to the door. The cross fell as he exited. Matthias followed. Lucifer held the back passenger door open and bowed as Matthias got in. He looked back and gave Ms. Ann a devilish smile.
She made the sign of the cross while saying a silent prayer over Matthias. Lucifer got in the car laughing and said, "Buckle up. It's going to be a hell of a ride."
With the clown and Limp Lady, Matthias was right to assume he was headed to a carnival. They drove far out to the desert of California, and cars began to line up and park next to the carnival. Lucifer parked out front, and everyone stepped out of the vehicle. He ran around, pushed Matthias back in, shut the door, and opened it again. "Matthias, welcome to Carnevil." A grey cloud hung low over the area, and a sense of darkness and fear struck Matthias. He got out and followed Lucifer. Above the entrance was a sign that read:
ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER
"That's not ominous," Matthias said to himself.
"It's very ominous, can't you tell." A woman said. She was fragile, dressed like a ballerina with strings attached to her limbs. "Victorian," she stuck out her hand. Matthias shook it gently. His eyes followed the strings, they went up to the clouds. He pointed up, and she looked up too. Her smile was mechanical, and her face looked wooden. Lucifer tugged Matthias along.
"Matthias, your job is simple, help set up and break down the tenets, collect tickets at the main entrance, and make sure no one goes in our private area and make sure no one causes trouble. Got it?"
"Good. Come, let's get you checked in, my boy."
In the back of the carnival was a small office where the Limp Lady was working. She was writing down Matthias's name. "What's your last name?" she asked.
"Oliver. Matthias Oliver." He answered.
"Everyone gets a nickname when they start here. What's yours?"
"Mo, that's your name," Lucifer said. 'Your new name is Mo,"
"The boss said so," the Limp Lady smiled, "Mo it is then. Clothes are in the back."
Lucifer guided Matthias to the back trailer full of clothes. First, he found old army boots and black pants that fit. Then a white button-down shirt with a mustard-colored vest that was obviously too big. When Matthias was dressed, they walked passed the LImp Lady again. "How do I look?" he asked.
"Like a carnie." She said.
They walked to the enforcer's tent, where all the others like him took breaks and slept during the day or night. There were always two at the main gate, two at the private quarter's area, and four patrolling the carnival.
Nightfall came sooner than expected. The lights were on but dim, and a thin layer of fog covered the carnival. Heaters were placed strategically to attract customers. Matthias patrolled the Carnival grounds after listening to a lecture about what to do and what not to do patrolling. He walked around watching some of the acts but tried to focus on doing well on his first day. He wanted to impress his boss and hopefully be offered a raise.
Matthias eventually came to Limp Lady's act. She stood on stage and then fell utterly limp; someone else twisted her body into a pretzel as if she had no bones. Staring at her, he noticed she was prettier than the other women he'd seen. She saw him in the crowd and winked.
"Most guys in here just fantasize about her flexibility in bed," someone said to Matthias, "Hell, even I sometimes do."
Matthias turned to him, hoping the guy wouldn't be causing any trouble.
"The name's Ivy." He—She—it said. Matthias couldn't tell the gender. "I'm a palm reader. You're the new guy, Mo."
"Indeed I am, Mo."
"I'll read your palm, free of charge for employees. My tent isn't far."
Matthias nodded, following them. They led him to a tent not too far. Inside were all the tools and materials needed to align your chakra and tell the future. "Come sit," they said. Matthias sat across from them. They took his hand and massaged it gently. "Ah, yes, I see in your near future, realizing that most of the stuff here is fake." Then he slapped Matthias's hand.
They laughed. "How long have you worked here?"
"Longer than you can imagine, almost since eternity."
"What do you know about the guy who calls himself Lucifer?"
"Oh. Him? The child who fell from grace. Let me tell you about Alexander Candy."
Reverend Candy led a small church outside of Los Angeles. He and his wife had a set of twin boys, Alexander and Benjamin Candy. Years later, reverend Candy and his wife had conjoined twins at the hip down, born with two left legs and one right. Their names were Hannah and Ariel Candy. Unfortunately, during childbirth, Reverend Candy's wife died.
At first, the congregation would help Reverend Candy with food and money. Some even tutored the kids after school. Reverend Candy believed God had blessed and watched over them since he led his people. But soon, members moved away, seeking better jobs in the city. It forced Reverend Candy to get another job on the side. He'd use that money to buy food and liquor. He felt as if God had abandoned him, and liquor became his new idol. The kids stopped going to school, and the community became concerned. Reverend Candy drank daily at his wife's grave until he passed out. Alex and Ben would carry him back to his bed in the church's attic. They'd each grab an arm and drag him through the grass. The Reverend would drunkenly gain consciousness and pray to God.
"Heavenly Father, I come to you as" hiccup, "as I know how. Why have you forsaken me with my daughters? Why curse me with children I cannot care for? Do you hate me? Your word does not speak to me as it did before…."
"Alex, I'm getting tired of this," Ben said. The Reverend continued to mumble his prayer. "Alex, it's been two weeks of us doing this. We need to do something."
"I know, Ben. If mama were here, we'd be fine, but—"They looked at the church. They all slept in the attic. Their sister watched as they dragged him in.
"They took mama away-"
"Ben, don't say that."
"But it's true. If mama didn't give birth to those damned girls—"
"Hey!" They stopped, "I said quit it."
"Shut up!: Alex got quiet, and they kept pulling.
"They are our sisters."
"They're murderers. They killed mama and needed to pay for their sins.
After school, Alex and Ben put on a talent Show. They did small magic tricks with sleight of hand and some schemes to con kids out of money. But the main show was showing off their sisters. Ben had convinced them it was the only way to help their father. What was first an innocent talent show quickly turned and discreetly became a freak show. Just next to the church, about a quarter of a mile down the road. Alex and Ben hosted the carnival.
People set up small booths every Saturday night to show off or sell stuff. Of course, Alex and Benn made sure they got a percentage of whatever they earned. By the end of the summer, Ben was running a full Freak Show next to the church. Alex and Ben became the Wonder Twins, dressed up as clowns, one happy and one sad.
It wasn't until the school year was about to start that Alex assumed it was over. Their father was better and confronted them, "Now boys, I'm happy you got to work to help the church and me, but you can no longer do this. It has to end. Our congregation is back."
"It's not back!" Ben said. "The congregation are drunks unable to go home on Saturday nights."
"And I'm them with God's word. Convicting them of their sins. And collecting money again—"
"I pay them to put my money I make in the church so we can survive!" Bens stood up, throwing money at his father."
He picked it up, and without looking at his sons, he said, "This Saturday is the last Saturday." He left.
The boys planned one last show like no other. It was amazing. Hundreds of guests came, and even old church members came back to see. To see Reverend Candy's sons do this was prideful and concerning. Towards the end of the night, a wealthy man spoke to Ben in private. Alex watched the door as they spoke. Later Ben stepped out and told Alex to get their sisters. He brought them, and Ben led them to the man before stepping out of the tent himself. Both of them waited there in silence. The noise from the carnival drowned the noise from the tent. Alex turned to look, but Ben ensured he kept Alex's eyes away from the inside. Moments later, the man came out, fastening his belt, and gave Ben an envelope full of money.
Their sister spoke about this to their father. That morning, he preached about the devil in disguise, cursed his sons, called ben Lucifer, and excommunicated them from his church. The carnival moved across the road from the church and changed its name to Carnevil: The Devil's Freakshow. Both Ben and Alex dressed as clowns and called themselves Lucifer. No one knew who was who after a while. Alex would leave sometimes and go out in town for a weekend but come back. In the carnival, Ben and Alex were one and the same.
Ben planned for the carnival to stay open all week when Halloween approached again. However, he and Alex remained in character all week, lacking sleep and grueling working hours. By the end, both of them had forgotten who they were. They were Lucifer the Clown, and no one knew which brother was which.
On Halloween night, their father and sister came over to visit. He demanded compensation for the mental trauma he caused. Unfortunately, it was too late; he should have done something earlier. Both brothers and their father argued and began to fight. One of them killed their father, but their DNA was all over their father's body. It was up to the sister to point out who did it. She pointed, and the police took one away. As he got in the cop car, he shouted, "Continue our legacy."
The employees asked who was who, but no one could tell, not even him. Lucifer smiled. "Let's get this show on the road."
Matthias turned to Ivy. "So, how do you know it's Alexander?" Ivy shrugged, "Rumors from the police report."
"What happened to the sisters?"
"Last we heard, they moved to LA."
"And how ago was this?"
"Two or three years ago. I think."
"Thanks," Matthias walked to the nearest pay phone and dialed a number. It rang for a few moments before it went dead. Lucifer knocked on the glass and waved his index finger.
"No personal calls during working hours," Lucifer said.
Lucifer kept eye contact as he opened the booth. He took the phone from Matthias and placed it on the hook. Mattias tried to leave, but Lucifer kept them in the tight space. He was shorter than Matthias, but his presence consumed the booth. It made Matthias feel small and weak. His heart raced as the thought of him dying crawled in his mind.
"Mo," he said intensely. His breath reeked of rotten flesh. Matthias gagged. "Let's talk, shall we. Whoever you were trying to call and whatever you were trying to do, don't let it interfere with your career opportunities here. Understand?"
"Yeah, you know, working it hell has its benefits. Stay out of trouble, Mo. It's for your own good…or evil." Lucifer let out a loud cackle of a laugh as he stepped out of the booth, still keeping eye contact. The crowd began to laugh too. He faded in public, Matthias lost him, and the laugh faded with him.
Matthias continued to walk around. Hours seemed to pass by, he patrolled the area, silently observing everyone. The sky was slowly getting darker, and he couldn't see the strings of Victorian anymore. The thought finally occurred to him of when everyone would go home, and the carnival would close.
While walking around, he found the Limp Lady again. He made her way to her and kept an eye out for Lucifer. She smiled when she saw him, "Matthias—I mean, Mo."
"Hey, when does this place close?"
Her smile disappeared, "It doesn't." She explained that guests come and go, but employees stay. Suddenly they'll look up, and it'll be noon again the next day.
Matthias shook his head and sighed. He'd had enough of the place already. "How do I escape?"
"There is no escape." She said.
"What if I walk out the same way I came in?"
"If you find it." She stopped her work and turned to him. "Tell me, where is the entrance."
"It's right over—" He started to point, but the entrance wasn't there. "I just—How long has it—" Matthias caught his head and leaned against the booth.
"You've passed me at least ten times this week."
"Week?!" His stomach sank. His face turned pale, and his knees trembled. "A week…" he sat next to the booth window. Then he remembered, "How did you leave?"
"I'm the devil's daughter. You should probably get up. He's walking over here."
"Lucifer stepped out of the crowd walking over to Matthias with a disappointed smile. "Mo, Mo, Mo. This is strike two. Three, and I'll have to punish you. No sitting on the job unless you're on break. And this isn't the break room."
Matthias stood up. "I'd like to work the entrance, sir."
Lucifer got close to Matthias and sniffed him. "You smell disloyal. Let's not have another conversation, okay?" He growled at him, showing his sharp teeth and smoke coming from his mouth. Matthias closed his eyes until the growling stopped. Lucifer was gone, and so was the LImp Lady. She left him a note. It read; WALK AROUND FOR A BIT AND FIND ME LATER :)
Matthias sighed, leaning against the booth. Ivy passed by him, touching his shoulder, "God willing, you'll find her again. On his time, not yours."
He turned to speak to Ivy, but he was gone. Then he heard a scream from the crowd, a mass of people gathered nearby, and he was urged to check it out. The people gathered around a woman in a traditional kimono and traditional makeup. She laid on the ground in a pool of blood. He knelt next to her and asked what had happened. Someone shouted, "Her back!" Matthias and a few other rolled her over to her side and pulled her kimono down, exposing her back. She was slashed twice. One light going down her spine, and the other horizontal, about a quarter up from the bottom.
"Who did this to her? Who saw what happened?"
No one answered. Matthias picked her up, and she jerked in pain as he carried her to the infirmary. The nurses took her inside their tent and told him to go away. He waited awhile to see if they would come out with any update. They ignored him until he asked about her. She was taken away but not specifically told where to. Matthias grabbed the nurse with a firm grip and shook her for answers. Her face began to melt, revealing a black skull behind her mask. He backed away, bumping into Victorian.
"You should go. I'll take care of this."
Matthias knew not to ask any more questions. The mission was to escape now. In the distance, he saw the booth again, and Limp Lady was sitting smiling, waving, and watching him. The crowd became thick as he moved toward her, but nothing was going to stop him. He pushed people out of the way, knocked over a kid, and nearly killed an elderly person getting to her.
"You're bloody." She said. "Go change clothes, don't worry, I'll still be here when you come back."
He looked at the trailer, then back at her, and shook his head.
"You better hurry, He'll check up on me."
Matthias shook his head again.
"I won't speak to you like this."
He grunted. But he knew time was not in his favor. The trailer was the same as before. He changed into black pants with red suspenders, boots, a white blouse, and a glittery gold jacket. He came back out with willfulness and sorrow, glaring at her. "Help me."
He followed her through the carnival for hours before asking if she knew where she was going. She only nodded. First, they came upon a red satin tent guarded by two men dressed in gimp suits, "Through here, it's quicker." She said.
"We can't just—" She stepped inside. “…go around…”
Inside there were naked men and women aimlessly walking around. Bumping into each other, the other running head-on to each other. But no one having sex. Limp Lady kept walking. It was hard for Matthias to keep up. People's bodies were greasy and wet. He twisted and turned, dodging naked strangers and avoiding letting his eyes drift or his hands wander. Then he started to wonder what LImp Lady looked like under her dress. He reached out to touch the end of her skirt and raised it up, but she stopped him. "Don't fall for the muse." She said. She pulled him in front of her and pushed him along, using him as a shield against the naked strangers. He became one of them, letting her push, and his body was used as a force to penetrate through the crowd. Bellies hung low, and breasts sagged as he went through. Something flew in his eye, and he reached to wipe his eye, but they burned. He got a whiff of his hand; the smell was deathful.
She pushed him out the back of the tent, and he fell to his knees, vomiting. Matthias needed a moment, and the LImp Lady understood, though she was disappointed in his lack of self-control. "If you can't handle yourself in there, how do I know you'll make it to the end."
Ahead of them was a field of iron half buried in the ground. Smoke seeped from the cracks and a small barred window on top.
"Come along." She said, "We're not done."
"Where are we?" he stood up, eyes still burning and the smell haunting him.
"When customers and employees are injured or die in the carnival, we bring them here. Burn their bodies as a source of fuel. And over there," she pointed, "Our furnace." Men and women shoveled feces in a furnace. "The coffins are designed to turn their bones into something like coal, and we use it."
"How does no one see these things?"
"My father has his ways.
As they walked through the field, someone cried out, "Hello? Is someone there?"
"Yes!" Matthias touched the coffin, but it burned his hands. He pulled them back, fighting the urge to do it again. "I'm here. Are you alright?"
"Matthias, They cannot be saved. You hear their spirits. They're all already dead." She touched his shoulder to console him but knew they needed to keep going.
He thought, "I'm not really…in…no…."
They walked past the field towards the people shoveling feces. He saw the nurse he shook. Next to them were people on the ground with plastic bags on their chests. "Do I even want to know?" he asked.
"Greedy thieves. And no."
Matthias shook his head. They made it to another section of the carnival. It seemed normal enough for Matthias to regroup his thoughts and process what he'd been through. The smell was fading, and his eyes were feeling better. He looked horrible, snot ran from his nose, and his eyes were bloodshot read. She pulled him into the bathroom to wash his hands.
"We're almost there." She said. She turned on the water and rinsed his and her hands first. They both ignored the fact that they were in the women's bathroom.
"Where am I?" He asked. She squirted a lot of soap on their hands and lathered them up to the elbow.
"A carnival." The water was hot, but it gets the germs.
"It's not a carnival." She washed them off roughly to get everything off.
"A freakshow." Next, she wiped their arms.
"It ain't that either." Then she wiped his nose. It annoyed him. He felt like a child.
"Blow." He blew his nose in the napkin she held up to him. Then cleaned his nose.
"I'm going to ask again, where am I? And I want an answer." She wiped his face with a damp napkin.
"Carnival…the Devil's Freakshow…a vacation to others." She stopped. "Hell to others. Wash your eyes out."
He did as instructed, then looked up at her. Their eyes met and locked on, "Let's leave here together."
She smiled. "It'll take a miracle to get me out of here." Her eyes drifted away, but he made eye contact again.
"Or a little bit of faith."
"We should get going." But neither of them wanted to leave. They didn't want to lose the moment they had together. But to save him, they had to go.
The surrounding attractions outside the bathroom were familiar; he saw them when he came in. Victorian waved as they went by. In their path now was a black tent. Behind them was Lucifer. They ran in with him, following close behind. It was another tightly packed tent. This time it was people fighting each other recklessly and fighting anyone. She pulled Matthias to a small boat propped up against a pole. Matthias picked up the boat and put it on top of the crowd. Both climbed in, and he used the oar to row on top of them. The fighting was ruthless and violent. Matthias tried his best to avoid confrontation.
Behind them, untouched, Lucifer was in the mist, walking toward them. The boat rocked in the red sea of bloody people. Matthias hit the people and rowed. LImp Lady guiding him on where to go. He kept looking back to see where Lucifer was, and she warned him not to look back but keep going. Someone grabbed her and started to pull her into the crowd. Matthias took the oar and beat the man. Instead of rowing, he joined the fight above them, protecting her. Anyone could have a piece of him. He let out a war cry as he fought. LImp Lady shouted for him to stop, but his mind wasn't there. The oar swung in swift motions. Anyone who was in its way was bound to be hit. She jumped on top of him to get him to stop and focus on his mission, but he hit her off. Once he realized what he had done, he dove in after her. He fell straight to the floor and lost her. They carried her way as she screamed. Matthias tried to get up but was beaten by anyone and everyone. Just like his hands, theirs were rated for everyone too. Lucifer watched until he was knocked unconscious.
Matthias woke up in a wheelchair feeling the aftermath of all the punches and broken bones everywhere. Two men dressed in black stood next to him. There was no point in trying to break free. Then, in the cracks of a small curtain, he saw a crowd sitting and watching someone at a podium.
"By the power in me, I will heal a member of our selected congregation. Bring him out!"
One of the men pushed Matthias out, and the other escorted them. The congregation jumped for joy. The tent was decorated as a church but something more tainted. They stopped the wheelchair in front of Lucifer. He bent forwards and whispered in Matthias's ear. The noise of the crowd deafened but was still there. Matthias and Lucifer were in their own bubble.
"I knew your every move before you thought of it. You work for me now. And you have to know now that you've broken our rules. I have to punish you. Pay your debt to me, and that will not come cheap. You didn't think this would be private and easy now, did you? No, no, no, I need people to know you were saved by me—at my church—I'm going to heal you publicly in a painful way. And bring you to my salvation."
"If this is salvation, I don't want it. God help—"
"That's right, call on him." Lucifer shouted to everyone but whispered to Matthias, "He can't save you now."
"I'm gonna need more power with this one! He's got the devil in him."
Lucifer placed his hand on Matthias's head and spoke Latin. Painfully his bones were snapped back to place, and the bruises healed. Scars sealed as bitterly as they were cut. Matthias stood up, screaming in pain and crying. Everyone else saw him crying, assuming it was tears of joy, but the pain was unbearable.
After Matthias received his "Salvation," he was again put in a room with the two men. All week people came by to beat him and torture him. Sunday came again, and Lucifer healed him in the same painful way. Again and again. Matthias was beaten and painfully saved. This was his salvation.