The Crier

Short Story

The man suddenly stopped. A sound arrested his focus. He spun looking for the source while behind him lay a trail of impressions spaced by a brisk and determined walk. A walk now alienated by the pull of soft crying, barely audible over the gray rain and disconnected merriment.
The man strained his hearing and looked amongst the derelict tents, but saw nothing more. This corner of the grounds seemed abandoned and clashed against the full Ferris wheel spinning apathetically in the distance.
Once he established the direction of the sound, the man made his way through the lonely tents toward it. The gloomy canvas that surrounded him was stretched taut by pools of rain and stained a light tan from years of sun and mud. As the crying grew closer the man disheartened; he knew the crier was not the one he sought. The final corner forfeited the game and revealed what the man had expected. There, kneeling in the wet grass, was not his son, but a man. He wept into his knees with his back arched over exposing the small of it to the rain. After some contemplation the father offered a nervous “hello?” which broke the sobbing immediately. The crier sat motionless and mute for a moment before slowly unfurling his back.
He belonged here, this crier; he was a dirty, folded up tent of tattered and weathered canvas soaked eternally by the rain. An unkempt tangle of crimson fiber obfuscated the back of his lumpy head. It stuck out in all directions unlike the hair of the father now flat from rain. The crier paused for a moment staring at the empty wall of the tent he faced. He sniffed and ran a finger under his nose composing himself. Finally he turned to face his hailer.
The crier gazed through a thick facade of white paste that covered his face with messy black spots around his eyes and running down his cheeks. His red-raw eyes betrayed his melancholy even more vehemently than his namesake. They were the only red color on his face, save the lopsided spot of paint on his nose; even his lips were hopelessly wanting color. They forcedly parted as if to respond but only an airy struggle spoke out. “Excuse me,” the father weakly mustered, “I’ve lost my son. Have you seen him? He’s wearing a blue shirt and…” The father stopped upon noticing that the crier had been eerily still. He sat there on his old muddy shoes, staring back at the father with slight bewilderment. His unmoving eyes concealed any acknowledgement which unnerved the father. “Sorry, are you okay?” The crier continued to stare as the makeup on his face quietly thinned in the rain.
The father, now quite uneasy, began to relieve the morose clown of his company. But as he did so the clown erected himself violently and wheezed an indistinguishable plea at the father who took flight as immediately as the clown had stood. After tearing through puddly grass and the maze of tents the father stopped to catch his breath. The clowns face burned in the back of his head: the afterimage of an unperceivable blink of the eye. His face was disgustingly ambivalent as if his mind had malfunctioned under it’s own caprice. His eyes displayed a painful longing, yet his mouth wore a casual, almost charming, smile and his cheeks twitched spastically where the two emotions met.
The father set off to distance himself from the abhorrence while continuing the search for his son. He turned on the spot to get his bearings but saw no indication to give any. Not even the faithful Ferris wheel was within sight. How could he be that far from it? How big are these grounds? He found himself lost in a sea of tents. Tents of varying sizes, shapes, and colors, but all bearing the same familiar signs of weather; their wash mixed with that of the sky giving the whole place a soft, enveloping gray. The shining brown-and-green ground provided the only solidity in sight, and even it grew hazy over distance.
He stepped forward in a direction he thought might lead to anything but empty tents, but as he did so a speck of red caught his eye. It’s bright chroma contrasted the grayscale environment and was hard to miss. The crier peeked out from behind a tent but quickly disappeared in chagrin at the father’s notice. The father, relieved to see another face, slowly made his way toward to the crier. Slowly the red presented itself again, and then the white of his face. They made questioning eye contact that seemed to linger longer than was comfortable.
Finally, the crier stepped into the threshold that had concealed him. He held himself awkwardly, but showed a familiarity with the place. He looked at home between the canvas and touched familiar places as he moved. The father, now aware of his own bodily reservation in response to the place, considered seeking the crier as a guide. Perhaps he knew the secret of this maze. The crier’s face still showed the agony from before, but there was also something new now. There was a very subtle but unmistakable desire to share something. The crier turned and walked into the tents in the warmest way he could muster. He was no longer crying, but he seemed to be unfamiliar with doing anything else.
Nevertheless, the father felt like he was wanted to follow and did so. The crier looked back occasionally as he made his way through the tents, but never waited so the father stayed back at a distance as they went. He could tell the crier knew his way and was growing more comfortable with his new companion but still seemed timid.
After turning corners, ducking in and out of tents, and trudging through mud the pair arrived at their destination. The crier now appeared almost excited, but unable to express it properly. He lifted the flap of an unremarkable blue and white tent and stood to the side wearing and unintentionally sadistic smile. The father, slightly shaken by his guide’s gaffe, resentfully assumed he was invited inside. He cautiously obliged the crier and found himself in a black void as the flap closed behind him. The crier fumbled around in the dark for a moment before striking a match. The stark white makeup on his face commandeered every lumen from the small flame and reflected it in a macabre display. His face glowed except for the mouth, nose, and eyes where the darker makeup still wanted for light. The spurious skull floated until a new object twinkled the solitary lick of fire. It caught the twinkle and grew to illuminated the room.
The crier stood across the room holding an old glass-cage kerosene lamp. His face was solemn and displayed comfortably now that it had received a familiar request. He set the lamp on an uneven wooden table and began to dig through a chest. After some time he produced the wrinkled outfit of a small boy and presented it to the father. The father grew livid upon seeing his son’s empty clothes in the hands of this deranged clown. He began screaming violently demanding to know where his son was. The clown responded with a confused and hopeless silence. Now enraged, the father swung wildly at the stunned creature and made painful, repeated contact contact. The clown reverted to his original form: curled up in the mud sobbing uncontrollably, now with the addition of numerous bruises and a slight twitch.
The father soon noticed the effect he was having and fell to his knees mid-punch. He, too, began crying, but for no reason he could perceive. The outburst and mood swing exhausted the father who then finished his fall to the ground to wallow in it’s solidarity. After he regained the ability to think he sat up and looked at the crier who gazed back terrified and hurt. He then desperately asked no one ion particular, “What happened to my son?” The crier studied the ground, palpably thinking, then stood up and held open the tent flap again. He stood nervously and flinched slightly as the father passed him, but he did give off a pithy air.
He led the father through more twisty tents until they reached a rather large tent. It was once a bright orange and yellow, but now the stripes were barely discernible shades of tan. It bore an old sign that read ” all of M rrors”. The crier stopped short of the site and just pointed at it. The father had mixed feelings about this new development, but felt that he knew what he had to do. He bravely stepped toward the entrance to the tent when the crier grabbed his arm. He looked back to see terror on the disheveled clown’s face. They struggled for a moment before the father broke free and fled into the tent where he knew he son must be imprisoned. On his ways in the crier again attempted speech in his despair, but none came.
Inside the tent was musty and dim, but the mirrors carried the light from holes in the canvas quite far and rendered the space navigable. The distorted sobs of the crier echoed eerily through the reflective walls of the maze. His crying was different this time. It was louder and more violent than before, hysterical and shameless. The father quickly became lost in the mirrors. He called for his son over and over to no reply. He found nothing in the mirrors but the array of his own reflection. Eventually he came to a tunnel better lit than the rest. Around the corner he found the exit which he embraced hurriedly hoping to find his son waiting on the outside.
The area outside the exit contrasted the entrance in every way. The sign above now read “Hall of Mirrors” and the tent beamed vibrantly in the warm sun. The father looked through the crowd now shifting through the tents and found no sign of his son. Peculiarly though, the father noticed that the people were wearing strange clothes he’d only seen in pictures. Now thoroughly confused, he looked for any indication of what was going on. Unfortunately all he found was a fresh newspaper dated mid summer of a year even  earlier than his own birth. The father made the realization that he had been wrong about many things that day. Most of all, he realized he had been wrong about the crier from the very start.
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