This is the boy. This is how he is.
He comes to the fair, uneven. Doubling forward, leaning improbably, weaving through and around. His bottle drained, he drops it. Brown glass pops and tinkles. A dozen brown moons stare up from the shards.
The boy is not yet eighteen. He’s not tall. His hair isn’t clean. He has no rings on his fingers, but bruises on the bones. He fits into spaces where nothing belongs. This is how he is, how he’s not.
It’s his town, the boy’s. The alley he urinates in. His. The greasy limestone wall he braces himself against, and the church beyond.
It’s doing something, the town. He can feel it. He never gave it permission, but it’s doing something. A congregation. A summoning.
Footfalls patter on the pavement, trickling toward Main Street. Everyone gathers. All the streets flow that way. The stream of bodies flood in, drawn to the beating drums. From the west end by car, from the east by foot. That sound, a steady lapping bassline, beckons.
The boy reaches the mouth of the street fair, where the crowd is thick, at Division and Main. A black bandana across his face shrouds a subvocalized “fuck you” to the two cops aggressing and egressing a vagrant. The boy shoulders and elbows through a bottleneck of trucker-hats, tourists, and townies. He flairs over the concrete traffic barricade, and injects himself into the pulsing horde on the other side.
A dense reek of mobbed armpits flails beneath waves of powdered sugar and candied apples. Clouds of perfume and body spray linger in the wakes of the barely-postpubescent. Their too-tight and too-baggy clothes, drenched. The boy swims through this haze, eyes drawn to that too-tight attire against his will. The flow of the crowd carries him. It thrums to the subsonic beating.
Lights bright as day stack the street. Crackling laughter cuts through the cooling air. Sharp shouts of joy. Manic cries of glee. The boy cackles, joining the cacophony, cutting the silent drone in his skull with a slash of laughter.
In his pocket, he fingers carbon fiber enforced knuckles, plastic classics that laid an inhuman beating on a subhuman last night. Busted nose, cracked eye socket. Unconscious. Cheekbone migrating to slack jaw. Blood pouring from the mouth. Broken tooth, missing tooth, swallowed flesh. A hit from a pipe. Hard in his fist.
He’s hungry, the boy, but the money’s gone. He wants more. More than he has. More than his fill.
The others mock him with excess. Cotton candy in a plastic bag as long as his arm. Roasted corn on the cob. Funnel cake dripping strawberries and soft serve. Sausage with sauerkraut and mustard. Someone gnaws on a turkey leg, like a troglodyte.
The music changes. The beating of the drums continues.
As the boy snakes farther south, the crowd thins. The gaps grow. What was pooled together is sluiced apart.
T-shirts fight proxy battles at a sidewalk stand with images of assault rifles and national flags next to a pile demanding that Honkeys Go Home.
An old man loses fifty dollars as his grown kids cheer him on in a rigged game none of them understands. Another fifty chases the first. He nearly wins this time. And again.
The boy needs to make a mark of his own.
A fountain, filled with throw-away wishes. He stares at the wavering coins, just a hand’s reach below the water. He’s thirsty.
“This one has no future.” The words are spilled behind him.
He turns. A pale woman with a sheer silk veil. Black curls whirl, astride her face. Her eyes grasp at him. A tiny gasp escapes her lips. She cocks her head. He stiffens, suddenly unsure of himself.
Again, she says, “No future for this one.”
Her eyes pour into him, bottomless seas of black. He wavers.
The boy’s hand is in hers.
The music sinks, drowned by the beating in his chest.
The circus is squared away, tucked deeply into the folds of night.
There is only her, and the thin veil that separates them.
The boy is led by the hand, led by the throat, across the pavement, across the grass and the wooden slats that line the waterfront walkways, onto the dock, and the deck of a boat floating in the black water beyond. Below the deck, she speaks silently to him.
He tells her that he wants her, but his voice floats away.
She takes him down. He drinks her into his lungs. Beneath the waves, she takes him.
This is how he is, how he’s not. Everything is beneath him now. Above, only water.
This is how she is.
Marc Fleury is a writer living in Ontario, Canada. In a previous century, he wrote comic book scripts for various anthology series.