The remorseless villains are holding a parade. It’s been months since they’ve hatched a major plot against our fair burg, so we attend, our children firmly mounted on our shoulders, miniature flags awave, hopeful the villains might view our compliant gesture as communitywide recognition of their evil genius.
Their marching bands drone from Holst to Wagner, as if orcs needed a soundtrack for heavy attempts at jazzercise. Their floats range from the terrifying to the banal. An animatronic three-headed Satan chewing sinners follows a flotilla of suited men with million-dollar smiles. Armed robbers compete with terrorists to fire the most bullets into the air, while an ice cream truck with squeaky wheels makes feints at small children as though it might run them down or, worse, stop and slide open its creaking side door. Rumors of ninjas throwing stars instead of candy at the crowds have already passed into legend once they stride by the review stand— or, rather, skulk by it, their eyes alert to any false moves.
The grand marshal is merely some wide invisible power, at whose passage our noses run, our chests constrict, and vapors, swoons, and head swims ensue, while children cry, balloons deflate, dogs scrabble to get away, and one lone idiot claps, arrhythmically, his flattened senses touched at some frequency we cannot appreciate, nor conceive, nor ever desire to know.
No one points out to the beat cop with the boxer’s nose pushing children back to the curb that Lefty Loogan, wearing an obviously false mustache, has broken from the city jail again and is flaunting his freedom with a flagon of spirits and a showgirl on each arm.
No one points and proclaims, Hey, that’s the kid who stole my bike! tricked out as it is with plastic neon spoke guards and an ace of spades clothespinned to flap staccato against the rear wheel.
No one condemns the cheat who collected down payments on nonexistent appliances and cascades IOUs upon the fawning crowd.
No one decries the virgin’s dishonor shamelessly hoisted atop a pole.
No one exposes the con men, the dragon ladies, the high-stepping femmes fatales, the abusive orderly, the doctors of death, the rake, the seducer, the exploiter, the vote-rigger, the man who yells fire in the two-screen theatre every other Friday, the woman who abducted your daughter for three days, the arsonist, the girl who blamed it all on witches, the other who bore false witness against the innocent father, the twin boys who beat a wino senseless. No one says a damn thing about any of this because, truth to say, our whole, oh, our whole wholesome town is guilty, guilty, guilty.
John Joseph Ryan
John Joseph Ryan’s work has appeared in River Styx, McSweeney’s, and Suspense Magazine (U.S.), and in international publications such as Mystery Magazine (Canada), Channel Magazine (Ireland), Grievous Bodily Harm (Australia), and A-Z of Horror: ‘L’ is for Lycans (U.K.). John’s collaborative noir short, “Hothouse by the River,” was published by the University of Iowa Center for the Book. He is also the author of a best-selling crime novel, A Bullet Apiece (Amphorae Publishing Group, 2015), and he contributed a chapter on Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln’s relationship to the textbook Teaching Lincoln: Legacies and Classroom Strategies (Peter Lang, 2014). John lives in St. Louis, Missouri.