John Colings is the author behind the submission, Behind the Painted Face. He is also the author of the book, Hell, and God, and Nuns with Rulers. Those who take time to visit his website will find a featured post that explains what he hopes to have with his site. It’s an interesting site and he does have some great content. I will say not as good as mine, I could not resist (Sorry John just kidding), but it’s worth the check to get into the mind of the man who brings us the below story.
Behind the Painted Face
(An Envouter’s Traveling Carnival Story)
By John Collings
Amelia stood in the middle of the circle of boys with tears carving canyons into the thick white makeup she used to paint on her clown face. The tears created a strong contrast to the big red smile painted around her mouth. Amelia wanted to be a happy clown, but interaction with other people her age always caused her to become a sad one. Quinn didn’t care though. The tears just made him feel more powerful as if he joined Amelia in the center of the circle of his friends and continued to barrage her with one of his favorite insults, “Carney!”
The rest of the boys laughed at Quinn’s taunt. “Good one, bro. She never saw that one coming.”
The word wasn’t the thing that hurt Amelia the most. It was the sentiment behind it. The boys, especially Quinn, were correct that she was a carney, but it was the negative connotation they applied to the word that hurt her the most.
Quinn reveled in the attention from the other boys. “When they told you about kids who ran away from home to join the circus, they didn’t mean for you to actually do it.” The boys in the circle laughed even harder at the insult.
Once again, there was truth in the boy’s statement, but if he had to go through what Amelia went through, he might have considered running away from his family and find a new one with this traveling band of brothers she now called her family. They had given her a chance to be herself, and she found joy putting on the makeup every evening, making the little boys and girls laugh at her antic on stage. It was always the boys her age that always found her after a performance and made fun of the choices she made in her young life. It caused more pain swell up even more in her heart.
Quinn could see the effect he was having as new tears started to well up in Amelia’s eyes. It gave Quinn the courage to take it take to the next level. He started to ruffle the folds of Amelia’s rainbow tutu. “Who decided to dress you? You know they have real clothes that you can wear.” He snapped the shoulder strap of her purple polka dot dress to emphasize his point. “Only a freak would feel comfortable wearing this getup.”
The word freak had been thrown in her direction before, and it hurt every time. Even with the derogatory remark, she still felt more comfortable in her clown costume than she did in the clothes her parents bought for her to wear.
Quinn yanked at the bright red curly hair that stuck out from the top of Amelia’s head. “Oh my God, that’s really your hair. I thought it was just a wig you were wearing.” This brought the most laughter from Quinn’s audience. It gave Quinn the incentive to pluck the rubber red ball that acted as Amelia’s nose and throw it against the oversized shoes she wore. It squeaked as it rolled down the pathway underneath a nearby canvas tent she called home. “You are the biggest freak I have ever met.”
There was that word again. No matter where she went that word stuck to her like a badge she was ashamed to wear. It stung more this time because she had to bear the brunt of that word now that she was no longer able to hide behind the comfort of her clown disguise. She had no way to defend herself, so she just stood there taking the abuse as tears rolled more liberally down her cheek. The effect was priceless to the boys, especially Quinn, who just pointed at the injured creature and laughed.
“What is going on out here?” The booming voice stood at the entrance of the tent, asserting itself over the situation. Amelia looked up to see her savior, Madam Envouter. Her large black eyes pierced through the boys’ souls and they immediately stopped their taunting to stare down at their feet. This wasn’t the first time Madam Envouter had saved Amelia. When Amelia had escaped the tortures of her biological family’s screams and bruises, she had hid herself in a culvert in a large field thinking that the end of existence would be better than all the pain she endured over the past few years. Unknown to the little girl, Envouter’s Traveling Carnival had selected the same spot to set up for their next extravaganza. As the workers were unloading the rides, and setting up the spectacles, the kindly woman noticed the girl crouched by herself trying to look inconspicuous. It didn’t take too many encouraging words to coax Amelia out of her hiding spot, and she soon found comfort in Madam Envouter’s tent. Amelia soon found security in her savior’s protection, and even though she never told Madam Envouter about her problems about her father, the woman who took her in ensured her that she would never have to worry about that man again. Though it went against all logic because Amelia knew her father would never let her run away from home so easily, she had faith that what she was being told was the truth. She never looked back and joined the carnival. There she found herself among the people like herself. It was only moments like these where boys like those from her past would come to torment her that she felt that Madam Envouter wouldn’t be able to solve all her problems. But then there she was, and the boys had quit taunting her just at the mere sight of this mysterious woman.
Amelia ran to her side, hugging tightly to the folds of Madam Envouter’s thick skirts. She hid her face into her savior’s hip, and muttered the words, “Madam Envouter, the boys, they were being so cruel.”
The imposing figure patted Amelia’s curly red hair as she continued to stare at the boys. Even Quinn couldn’t face the accusation. “It is okay dear. There is always somebody out there that won’t understand who you truly are.” The boys started to cluster together as they made their way to the exit of the carnival. Madam Envouter turned away from them as well. She led Amelia into her tent with her. Amelia turned back to look at the boys one last time and caught the eyes of her worst tormentor, Quinn. He noticed the connection that had been made and mouthed the word, Freak, before he also turned around to chase after his friends. The moment was made even more painful by the fact that Madam Envouter didn’t seem to notice the slight.
Inside the tent was more inviting than the coldness that could be felt outside of it. Silvia, Madam Envouter’s cat, turned her black head to see who was disturbing her sleep from high up on a shelf containing bottle, vials, and boxes filled with various spices and powders. Other odds and ends littered the side tables and desks that occupied the room. Amelia was always surprised at how much furniture, and space could exist in Madam Envouter’s tent. It looked so small from the outside, but looks could be deceiving. Something much larger could come out of something so small.
Madam Envouter took Amelia to the large comfy chair sitting in the middle of the room next to a well-lit floor lamp. As the girl sat in the chair, she wondered where the electricity came to light the lamp because she was sure to have heard the generator used to supply the room with light, but couldn’t hear the presence of one anywhere. Madam Envouter didn’t seem to mind the irregularity. Instead, she was busy picking up a large book from beside her bed and flipping through it. “How old are you, Amelia?”
The question took Amelia by surprise. “I’m sorry Madam.”
Madam Envouter continued to flip through the pages with the delicate whisk of her fingers. “You are approaching the age of ten, are you not?”
Amelia knew Madam Envouter knew exactly how old she was. “I turned ten last month, Madam.”
The questioner found the page she was looking for and started to look around the room. “Do you believe that being ten years old is an important age?”
The directness of the question bothered Amelia, “I do believe it indicates I am getting closer to adulthood.”
Madam Envouter started to sweep about the room picking up a brown burlap bag and stuffing it with various objects. “And what would you think it means to be an adult?”
The true meaning of the conversation became clear to Amelia. “I guess I should be able to take care of myself.”
The head of the carnival picked up a roll of thread, some discarded clown clothes, face paint, and red dye while stuffing all of these contents into her bag. “I would tend to agree with you. There comes a time in every young lady’s life where she should be able to stand up for herself, and bullying like I saw this evening should not be allowed to continue.”
Amelia bent her head in shame. What she thought would be a moment of comfort turned into a lecture she wasn’t prepared for.
Madam Envouter could sense the disappointment in her pupil as she picked out various vials from the shelf that Silvia rested on. “Don’t worry, honey, I am not mad at you. It is not your fault that these boys are vindictive and cruel, but it is time that you learned how to handle them.”
The encouragement made Amelia look up from her disgrace. “Would you be willing to teach me how to do that?”
The teacher came over to the coffee table in the middle of the room and spread out a map of the surrounding area on to it. “It would be my pleasure, dear.” With a kind smile in Amelia’s direction, Madam Envouter picked up some dirt from the ground and started to rub it her hands together as she looked up into the sky and started to mutter some words in an incomprehensible language Amelia had never heard before. She could care less about the language though because she looked down at where the dirt collected on the map below her. It seemed to glow lightly on the ratted page as it swirled around in search of something specific. The spectacle amazed Amelia causing her to wonder if there wasn’t something more to Madam Envouter than what she was led to believe. All of the dirt ended up on the map covering up the lines and markings. Madam Envouter looked down at her handiwork. The light glow from the dirt was even more perceptible as it illuminated the edges of Madam Envouter’s delicate face. She bent down closer to it and blew on the dirt. It all scattered away except for one larger piece of gravel that lazily plodded its way down one of the roads. It took a sharp right, followed by another one before stopping at a spot right at the corner of an intersection.
Madam Envouter watched the piece of gravel to see if it was going to move again, but after a while it remained rooted to the spot where it stopped. “He appears to live very close. Come along Amelia. Tonight could be one of the most important lessons you ever learn.”
Amelia was enthralled with the piece of gravel, but she tore her eyes away and followed Madam Envouter to the exit. Right before they left, Madam Envouter stopped. She stooped down and picked up something that had found a place on the edge of the tent wall. Amelia looked up to see her red rubber ball on the tips of her mentor’s fingernails. “I think I have a very special for you,” she said to the ball. Madam Envouter snatched it tightly in her grip and threw it into the brown burlap bag. The two ladies walked out into the night air as the full moon rose over the horizon.
Quinn’s mom had cooked his favorite dinner, spaghetti with meatballs covered in a spicy marinara. He finished it quickly, forgot about his homework that was assigned before the start of the weekend, and instead settled down to his favorite video game. Barely a thought was given to the girl who he had taunted earlier in the evening. There had been so many kids he had left in his wake after crushing their egos that every new victim he taunted would blend in with the others. It wasn’t the girl he thought about. It was the woman that had come out of that tent to save the girl that haunted Quinn’s thoughts. Her gaze seemed to be able to see every secret he held in his heart, even the dark ones he kept hidden from his friends and his own mother. Just thinking that this woman could look into his inner thoughts made him face them again, and that was the most disturbing part of the encounter. It wasn’t disturbing enough for him that a few hours of blasting away zombies couldn’t quiet the troubling thoughts within him.
He went to bed without a worry on his mind, and was able to experience the sleep only gifted to those who could claim to be free from sin. But those who have sinned will hear the voice of the oppressed whisper in their ears to wake them from their slumber. Quinn heard such a voice around the time the clock struck three. It whispered clearly in his ear the accusing word he dreaded to hear, “Freak.” The word, yet only whispered, rang clearly in his sleeping mind, and he jolted from his pillow to see who had dared to disturb his slumber. Before his eyes could fully open to take in the dim outline of his bedroom, a fine powder, blown in his face, invaded his eyes and was sucked up through his nostrils deeply into the thick folds of his brain.
Quinn reflexively closed his eyes in a hope to avoid the foreign powder, but was unable to. A burning sensation saturated his lungs, and he tried to cough out the foreign substance. No matter how much he tried to help it escape his body, it wouldn’t and his eyes bulged open as he his throat tightened up. He moved his hands up hoping to tear a hole in his neck to allow precious oxygen to return to his body, but when they were parallel with his chest, he felt his muscles freeze up on him allowing him no movement except for the curling of his toes and fingers inward.
Quinn was unable to move. He wasn’t dead, but he was paralyzed in the horrific position of sitting up in his own bed. Even his eyes were not able to move in their sockets even though he could see everything in the dim moonlight penetrating through his blinds. Reflecting off the glow of the full moon was that woman’s dark eyes. They were inches from Quinn’s face, and he could feel his essence being invaded once again. This time he couldn’t turn away. He had to stare back and let those eyes poke and prod in any place they wanted to go. When they found everything there was to know they left, and another person much smaller jumped on the bed behind him and started to pull his pajama shirt off and replace them with other clothes over his stationary torso.
While this other person performed her task, Quinn could see the other woman sit in his desk chair in the periphery of his vision. “Good evening Quinn. You might think that during the next couple of hours, you will be subjected to some form of witchcraft, but I am here to tell you that this is not witchcraft but little bits and pieces I have picked up from various places during my extensive travels.”
Quinn tried to hear what the woman was saying to him but he was more concerned about what the other person was doing to him as she pulled a hoop of some kind over his head and position it around his hips.
“You are probably thinking that if you are not subjected to some form of witchcraft, then how come you can’t move right now.”
When the offending piece of clothing was in place, he could fell the tiniest pinprick in the small of his back right where the fluffy article rested on his skin. Another pinprick popped out of his skin a centimeter above it, and he could feel a thread entering his body and exiting through the two pinpricks.
The woman paid no attention to the activity going on around Quinn but instead continued on with her lecture. “But I didn’t cast some spell on you. Instead, you have been exposed to a fine powder from a tiny island in the Caribbean near the Dominican Republic.”
Quinn could feel similar pinpricks follow along the line of the article of clothing he now wore as the woman’s musical voice continued to tell its story.
“The locals there call it the zombie drug. Don’t worry, it doesn’t turn you into a zombie. It is just called that because those who inhale it lose control of their muscles, much like rigor mortis, and their heart slows down so much that it can only be detected by the most sensitive of equipment. To those who come across these exposed people, they often believe these people to be dead.”
The person doing her work around his waist had made it to the front and he could feel her pokes popping in and out below his stomach.
“But they weren’t dead. In fact, just like you, they could still hear, see, smell, and feel everything that they came into contact with.”
The girl was making her way to the other side of his stomach.
“The reason it is called zombie powder is because the folks that came upon these supposed dead people would bury them. Of course, this powder would wear off eventually and the person exposed to it would claw his or her way out of the grave and revisit the town that buried them.”
The girl took out another piece of clothing and was pulling that over Quinn’s head. He couldn’t quite see it, but it felt tight around his chest and was only held up by puffy sleeves on his shoulders. The girl zipped it up in the back, and Quinn could feel his stomach being pulled in as a belt like structure was being tied in a bow behind him.
“Of course, these were small towns, and they would remember who was buried and who wasn’t. So when these people that had buried previously in the week returned to town wide-eyed and dirty, the community would think they were zombies.”
The methodical pinpricks started up again but this time on the sleeve on his left shoulder.
“Hence the name, zombie powder.”
Quinn could feel the pinpricks continue to attach the fabric that stretched between his shoulder blades as the lady moved her position to the edge of Quinn’s bed.
“Now the material that my assistant is using is a different kind of material. This is a very expensive thread that can only be found in the marketplaces of Egypt, and of course, you need to know where to look. I’ve been told that they found the thread in the dark tombs of the pharaohs underneath the pyramids. It is made with a special kind of gold.”
The boy could start to suspect what was happening to him as he felt the pinpricks pop in and out of the sleeve that was on his right shoulder.
“The strange thing about this thread is that when it comes in contact with human blood it bonds to the organic material. The union becomes so strong that not even scissors can cut through it.”
The girl had moved to his chest and was starting to go through the same process there.
“The Egyptian pharaohs would use it to decorate their bodies for all eternity. We of course are using it for a different purpose but I think you’ll agree that it is for a worthy cause.”
Quinn wished he could cry as he realized what was happening to him but even his tear ducts wouldn’t obey his will as the pinpricks started to plunge methodically in and out of the belt that was tied around his waist. The girl who was working on this chore made sure that each pull of the thread dug into his skin to bond with the organic material held there.
“Of course it will take my assistant a little more time to finish the task of making sure the thread goes all around your waist, but that just gives me some time to show you this neat little bottle that I picked up in Thailand.”
The lady held up the bottle close to Quinn’s face. Even through the dim light in the room, he could still see a thick liquid swishing around in it. There was a label on it, but he couldn’t make out what it said because the letters looked foreign to him. It looked like a bunch of different ways to write the letter n lined up together. He could only guess what horror this bottle held. Before the lady even told him, she opened it up and dumped all of the contents into his hair.
As she pulled on some plastic gloves she explained to Quinn the history of the contents of the bottle. “You see the Thai people have only one genetic color for their hair, black. It doesn’t mean that some people desire to have a different hair color, and so they developed this hair dye.”
Quinn could feel the liquid seep into his scalp.
“Of course, in order to dye hair that is so thick and dark takes a special blend of ingredients. In the hills outside of Chiang Mai grows a flower that when crushed gives them the perfect potency they can use in the development of this hair dye.”
A sensation started to tingle in Quinn’s head all the way to the roots of his hair follicles. The lady moved behind him on the bed and started to rub the dye further into his scalp.
“The people of Thailand use only a couple drops mixed with a fine oil to give them a soft red hue to their hair. It lasts for almost a year. I decided to use a little more on you. In fact, I used a whole bottle and didn’t mix it with anything.”
The tingling sensation that Quinn was feeling started to burn. He wanted to reach up and swat away the lady’s hands because he was sure her deep massage was the cause of the burning sensation.
“The people of Thailand don’t recommend ever using that much especially on hair as fine as yours. When you do that, the dye actually causes so much damage to the hair the color becomes permanent.”
The pain became unendurable, but Quinn couldn’t do anything about it. He wondered if it had seeped so far into his scalp that it had reached through his skull and into his brain. He thought he felt something snap in there as he sat in that helpless frozen position.
“Apparently it also causes the hair to curl. That is an interesting side effect.”
The girl had finished with her sewing and had brought out another jar with a pasty goop in it that she started to slather on Quinn’s face as the lady behind him continued to massage the burning liquid into his head.
“Now the makeup that my assistant is putting on your face is another rare item. It comes from the labs in South Korea.”
The place where the cream was applied on his face left a different cooling sensation unlike the one that the dye on his scalp had left. The contrast was an odd mixture.
“You see the people of South Korea value a pale complexion so much that they have developed a cream to bleach their skin. They have developed a cream so powerful that not even the ultraviolet rays from the sun will allow a person who uses it to become tan.”
The cooling sensation started to become so cold that Quinn started to feel his checks go numb. The girl continued to apply it all over his face.
“Of course, being pale isn’t as valued in other parts of the world so I’ve done some tweaking to the cream in order to come up with other colors. I’m still working on green, but I have perfected white, red, and black.”
Quinn could see the girl as she carefully drew lines all over his face with the cream, and then fill those lines in with more of the substance from a different jar.
“My mixture is a little more powerful than the Koreans unfortunately. No matter how much you scrub, it never seems to come out, and as far as I know it is permanent. There is a friend of mine that used it ten years ago and the color hasn’t faded even a little bit.”
The girl continued to paint her masterpiece as the lady got off the bed and pulled off the gloves she was wearing and threw them on the ground. She grabbed a stand up mirror and placed it as the edge of the bed in front of Quinn. He could see his silhouette reflected in the dim light in it.
“Now Quinn, I know you are thinking why I would waste such rare and expensive items on such a worthless boy as you.”
Quinn was thinking about the pain he felt in his scalp, face, and all over his body and worried what light would reveal in the mirror planted in front of him.
“But I think it is important that you learn from this experience, so I wasn’t about to spare any expense.”
The girl finished with her creams as she got off the bed to leave room for Quinn to see the full effect in the mirror.
“I am going to turn on the light so you can see the product of my little lesson.”
Quinn wanted to shake his head no because he knew that the pain he was feeling now would be nothing compared to the sight that awaited, but once again his stiff body couldn’t respond to any of his commands.
The lady walked to the light switch and flipped it on. What would have been a light so blinding it would have caused anybody to quickly shut their eyes enveloped the room, but Quinn couldn’t close his eyes. Instead he had to stare at the horror in the mirror.
The clothing that had been sewn to his body was a dress that resembled one he would see his sister’s toy dolls. It went down to just barely cover the top of his thighs and he could see a rainbow tutu sticking out of the edge of the skirt. It was sparkling white in color except for the pink belt around his waist which was tied into a huge bow that stuck out of either side of his body. The puffy sleeves were also pink and popped out from his shoulders like huge balloons. The worst part was right below the low cut chest. The word Princess was written in bright glittery letters, each one a different color.
His hair was now a bright red and it had curled up so bad that it had gathered into a massive beehive on top of his head. It drastically contrasted his white face. Two perfect red circles highlighted each of his cheeks, and big red mouth was drawn around his lips so it looked like he was permanently smiling. Thick black lines were drawn around his new mouth. It also started at each corner of both of his eyes to highlight a half circle that now hid his eyebrows. These half circles were also filled in bright red.
Quinn looked at himself in horror and was unable to turn away. In the reflection in the mirror he could see the woman lean into his ear so she could whisper. “I’m glad I could clear away the makeup that hid the freak you really are.”
Quinn wondered how he would be able to live the rest of his life like this.
“I told you that you wouldn’t be subjected to hours of witchcraft,” the whisper continued, “but I do have tiny moment of it for you.”
The red rubber ball magically appeared in her hand and she clamped it down on Quinn’s nose. With her other hand, she gave it a squeeze so it squeaked and at the same time she muttered the words, “Fas sron.” As soon as she released her fingers from the ball, it started to glow. The shiny sheen started to slip off of the ball and wrap itself around Quinn’s nose. He could feel cartilage extend out and fuse with the rubber part of the ball. His nose melded with it as he witnessed the bulbous monstrosity become the centerpiece of his face. The woman reached down and gave the ball a squeeze. Air escaped through Quinn’s nostrils as it gave a high pitched squeak.
The lady backed away and looked down at her handiwork. She said, “Enjoy your new look, Quinn.” Then she and the other girl quietly left the room. Quinn sat stiff in the light of his bedroom staring at the horror that he always knew was in him.