The familiar smell of cotton candy and popcorn filled his nose. He stood in the shadows between the sideshow tents, watching the crowds ebb and flow through curtained doors, laughing in nervous excitement at the oddities within. The smooth handle of his mallet felt good in his hand. His pulse pounded through every vein in his body. He could feel the throb of his heart down to his fingertips. He stayed there, in the darkness, waiting for his chance, waiting for a new Luis to walk by. His patience waned more and more as his excitement grew. This ain’t workin! They never come close enough!
He walked around to a small alley that led to the sugar shacks. There was less foot traffic in the dark alley, but he could walk around in the open without drawing attention. He started to pace up and down the alley when he saw two boys leave a concession, each holding a corn dog and cotton candy. One boy was about five years old, but the other looked like he was fourteen. Their hands were so full of food that they had a hard time managing the load and taking bites simultaneously. There are two! How do I get them apart? Luis? How? Then it came to him.
Randolph started to run toward them, then tripped and fell hard on the hard ground. He let out a yelp of pain that was half acting and half true. He grabbed at his ankle then screamed again.
” Ouch! I twisted my foot!” he cried, rolling around on the ground. The two boys ran to his aid, the older one reaching him first.
”Hey! Are you all right?” he asked with genuine concern.
”Oh! My ankle! I think I sprained it pretty bad.” Randolph rolled back and forth, hoping he was convincing. The little boy came bounding up, juggling his treats and almost dropping them once or twice. Randolph looked at the younger one. ”Hey, kid!” He winced. “My folks are at the funhouse mirrors. Go get em, will ya?” he pleaded, sounding deeply pained.
”Uh, uh sure thing!” The little boy replied and then scampered off down the alley. Randolph watched him until he rounded a corner.
The older boy stood over Randolph holding his hand out, “Can ya stand up?”
Randolph reached out his left hand and took hold. The boy pulled him to his feet. He caught sight of Randolph’s shriveled arm and yanked his hand away in disgust. That’s okay; he’ll get used to it.
Randolph looked at the boy, who was now looking very cautious. The boy stepped back, his eyes adjusting to the dark, started to see details of Randolph’s makeshift bandage. Randolph’s heart quickened as he gripped the mallet. The boy looked down at the mallet with a confused look. Randolph swung out. His hand moved fast, but he controlled it this time, taking care not to hit him too hard. The mallet connected with the side of his face. The confused look on his face twisted into pain, and then his knees crumpled. He started to scream out in pain as Randolph clocked him again, this time on the top of his skull. The boy wobbled but did not make any more noise.
Randolph looked around to see if anyone saw them. Satisfied they were still alone, he reached down and pulled the boy over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The boy groaned, muffled by the awkward position. “Wha-why?” then went silent again. This trip was not as hard as the other time. It was much easier carrying the boy than dragging him, and Randolph was thankful. See that, Luis! I told ya I’m no half-wit! I’ll show ya!
The barn came into view, and that seemed to make the boy feel lighter all of a sudden. He could still feel his heart race at the excitement of it all. He almost giggled in delight at the sight of the barn. He slumped the boy down at the entrance then pulled him in. The small area was hard to move around in, now that there were three of them in there. He pulled at Alasdair. His stiff cold body proved much more difficult than he wanted, but he managed to get him out of the barn. He crawled back in, then propped the new boy where Alasdair was. He fumbled in the darkness, wishing he had thought to get a candle or lantern but found the small wooden box. Now we can be together… Now I don’t have to be alone!
Randolph unwrapped the burlap, the sticky dried blood pulled at his head and scalp, causing him to cringe. He leaned back, putting his head next to the boy’s, reveling in the familiar sensation of closeness to another. He opened the wooden box. Silver glinted in the soft moonlight that filtered in through the cracks in the ceiling, the little metal points gleaming with purpose. He picked the largest needle from the box and then felt for the thread. Only short-end pieces, clipped from countless sewing projects, but nothing long enough for his task. He pulled at the burlap, finding a strand and unraveling it from the weave. It took a few tries; in the dark, threading the large needle was difficult, and more so with his excited fingers shaking in anticipation. He lifted the needle to his head and thrust it in. He expected it would hurt, but he barely noticed the first stitch. The boy groaned when the needle pierced his scalp; the thick burlap fiber sounded like hemp rope sliding through canvas. Randolph kept the mallet at the ready in case the boy was roused. That’s okay… It will all be better very soon.
He pushed the needle in again, this one hurt a little, and he felt warm fluid drip down his head. The fluid had a putrid smell and did not feel as thick as blood. It will be all better. It will heal up nicely, won’t it, Luis? The dried scabs of blood that caked the burlap strand started to feel like razor blades slicing through his head as he did his work. His arm tired at the awkward position, but he kept at it. Almost done, Luis… Almost together again.