Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Fair

        A robust scream split the heat-addled air. The trio of rookie police officers sitting at their leisure leapt up as their companion in the middle of the street, whose job it was to direct the road-enraged erstwhile Fair-goers toward a lane that would not result in the untimely demise of the hordes of pedestrians that crossed the equally busy street, halted all traffic, causing a cacophony of angry 4-letter metaphors amid ill-intended horn-bleats.
        A young woman in short-shorts with a prodigious muffin-top beneath an almost indecent bikini ran into the street and fell into the befuddled officers arms.
        “Alive!” she screeched in a perfect imitation of a horror-movie victim but with twice the cellulite. “They’re alive!”
        The heavyset Fair-worker in the Indiana Jones-style hat and prescription sunglasses rolled his eyes, lifted his hat from his balding pate and rubbed his stubbly sweat-soaked hair. Heat plus alcohol plus fried food on a stick apparently meant crazy. Or so he thought until, at that very moment, a morbidly rotund woman on a scooter came rambling down the Fair avenue across the way, screaming in jelly-filled terror as an eight-foot-tall anthropomorphic beaver topiary in jaunty haberdasher bore down on her in a woefully small golf-cart.
        The creature roared its leafy-green rage as it caught up to her and with razor-sharp buck-teeth of the finest oak bit off her head. Gouts of cholesterol infused blood sprayed the creatures maw, giving it the briefest look of a Merry Bloody Christmas.
        The quartet of officers reacted immediately, drawing their sidearms and aiming at the gore-soaked leaf-monster. “DOWN!” screamed the traffic enforcer and fired off a round harmlessly into the air to drive the point home. He was immediately mowed down by a panic-stricken wall of motorists, along with the pedestrians who had dropped to the street per the officer’s instruction.
        Several things happened at once: Two of the remaining officers unloaded their magazines at the creature while the third pointed his firearm at the next wave of oncoming car-panic and ordered them to stop by screaming in unintelligible rage. The car he aimed at floored the gas and the officer fired twice. With the second shot, the back of the driver’s head blew out, spraying the two children in the back seat with gray matter. The car swerved wildly and slammed into the officer, pinning him against the sign by which the heavyset Fair-worker had been stationed.
        The volley of lead went largely wide of the evil topiary, and those that struck home whistled through its leafy body. The flying lead did punch several large-ish holes in the beaver’s hat, however, which caused it to fly into an uncontrollable rage.
        It aimed its golf cart at the revolving exit gate and opened the throttle. While it charged the gate, the Fair-worker moved into the street, dodging fleeing vehicles and swearing prolifically at the top of his lungs. When he reached his goal, two terrified children, both under five, he scooped them up under his beefy arms and straightened in time to catch a glancing blow from a swerving Lincoln Towncar. He flew back and landed hard, but managed to shift the children so they impacted his prodigious tummy. He stood almost immediately, coughing and retching but still moving until he reached the side of the road. He dropped the kids and vomited all over the ground. Chunks of apple and corndog floated in a sea of frothy red goo.
        The underpowered golf-cart rebounded off the steel gate and flipped. The beaver regained its feet with only a few broken twigs to show for it. It pulled itself atop the rotating gate as the two remaining officers slammed home another magazine and prepared to fire.
        “No!” the Fair-worker called hoarsely. “Fire! Use fire!”
        “What?” the female officer asked as her companion opened fire.  The Fair-worker limped to her.
        “It’s made from branches and leaves,” he shouted over the report of the male officer’s gun. “Not much to shoot at, but plenty to burn!”
        “It’s coming,” screamed the cop.
        “It’s not like we come equipped with flame-throwers.” The female officer screamed.
        The angry beaver bit down on the male officer’s arm as he tried to fend it off. The Fair-worker ripped the female officer’s pepperspray off her belt and pulled a Zippo from her breast pocket, as the creature, whose mouth was filled with cop arm, turned on them. The Fair-worker flipped open the Zippo as the beaver grabbed the arm from his maw and slapped the female officer across the face with the wet end just as a huge gout of flame issued from the Fair-worker’s makeshift flamethrower.
        “It should have taken awhile to catch = wet wood often refuses to burn, but the evil topiary lit up like a stoner on 4/20. Shrieks of rapidly evaporating water leaving through microfractures in the wood filled the air like an inhuman scream as the thing burned fast and hot and then out.
        An elaborate metal framework that served as the creatures skeleton clanged smoldering to the ground. The female officer picked herself up and rushed to her companion’s side. His arm was gone just above the elbow.
        “How did you know that would work?” she asked as she prepared a tourniquet. The male officer was conscious but unblinking as shock took him.
        The Fair-worker glanced around at the devastation caused in only a few second, and he answered honestly.
        “Dungeons and Dragons,” he said. “Plant monsters always hate fire.”
        Gunshots from inside the Fair precipitated more screaming.
        “Sounds like there’s more inside,” she said. “What happens if they don’t hate fire?”
        The Fair-worker smiled grimly. “My pregnant wife and kid are in there. They don’t hate fire now, they will learn to.”
        The gates the beaver had previously failed to bust down burst at the seams as the 40-foot bus slammed into it and crunched over the fat woman’s corpse and scooter.
        “Jesus Christ!” the female officer, whose name, we have learned, was Laura. “Are you fucking blind?”
        “Yes ma’am!” the Fair-worker said somewhat gleefully. “Legally blind since 2006!”
        “And why are you driving?” asked Mike, the one-armed officer through gritted teeth.
        “’Cuz you guys won’t give me a gun!” the Fair-worker said cheerfully. “And neither of you were listening when the driver gave the crash course.”
        “This is stupid.” Laura said as the bus bounced over a curb. “We should wait for backup.”
        The Fair-worker slowed as a batch of Pronto Pup employees ran past and accelerated into the rampaging merry-go-round toad that pursued them. They screamed and tried to wave the bus down, but the Fair-worker kept accelerating.
        “Kids and preggos only!” he yelled out the open window as they shot past. The two officers did not argue – they had all agreed to this ahead of time. The bus swerved and clipped a roaring plastic 9-foot-tall gopher.
        “Are you trying to hit every one you see?” Mike gasped through the stabbing pain from his severed arm.
        “Hell yes,” the Fair-worker answered and swerved hard to catch a bunny topiary that appeared to be gnawing on a child-sized human arm. “I am driving a 14 ton tank and I’m gonna’ use it!”
        A small group of children, all under 10, shepherded by a tall woman with no hips and huge breasts came into view ahead. The Fair-worker pulled the bus alongside them and opened the door.
        “You pregnant?” he asked. The top-heavy woman blinked.
        “No,” she replied automatically. The Fair-worker nodded.
        “Kids only then.” She stared at him as the children filed on.
        “What am I supposed to do?” she asked as the last kid stepped on. The Fair-worker shrugged.
        “Head for the edge and hop the fence. Don’t go to the exits, some of the bigger bastards have congregated there and are having a smorgasbord as folks try to leave.” He closed the bus door and stepped on the gas without another word.
        Not everyone was so amiable. The Fair-worker had to forcibly remove two redneck Iron Rangers who used two kids as a pretense to get the bus to stop. The Fair-worker ended the confrontation by dislocating and resetting one of their arms.
        “That’s assault!” the man wept. Laura smiled at him sweetly.
        “I’ll arrest him later.”
        There were plenty of children and several more encounters as they enforced their rules. When the bus was filled, the Fair-worker grudgingly brought them out the gates they had smashed and released them into the waiting custody of the SPPD who were busily establishing a perimeter. Mike disembarked too, and the sergeant tried to force the Fair-worker to give up his search. He refused. The sergeant pulled his sidearm, and the Fair-worker just laughed.
        “What’s the difference? Yu shoot me here, or I get eaten in there. At least in there I can do some good.”
        “Don’t be stupid,” Laura snapped, and turned to the sergeant. “Sir, he has proven himself more than capable, and I will go with him.” The Fair-worker grinned and the sergeant lowered his weapon. He glanced at the Fair-worker sidelong.
        “You licensed to carry?”
        The Fair-worker shook his head. “Wouldn’t matter anyway,” he said. “But I have a few ideas… think you can hook me up?”
        The sergeant frowned. The Fair-worker’s grin widened.

        Half an hour later, the bus trundled through the gate. Two rose-festooned woodchucks leapt out of hiding and charged. The bus slowed and the door opened. Twin sparks of light flickered into existence and a moment later twin streams of flame doused the attacking evil in cleansing cleansing fire. In moments, twin piles of ash smoldered ineffectually at the Fair-woker and Laura. The Fair-worker snapped the Zippo affixed to the end of the gas-filled Super Soaker closed. He blew across the barrel.
        “Works like a charm,” he snarked. Laura glared at hi m.
        “Just drive the damn bus.”
        He did so.

        As the bus circumvented the Great Big Sandbox (which a monocle, top-hatted cat the size and temperament of a Buick had turned into the Great Big Litterbox – burying great steaming piles of partially digested manflesh with the OCD fastidiousness that represented his nature), a quiet hum could be heard below the roar of the decades old buses engines. Confounded, Laura, the Fair-worker, and several of their young passengers glanced about for the source of the noise. Even the cat who had been eying the bus boredly, twitched its traffic-cone sized ears at the noise.
        Around the bend just ahead, a lone scooter driven by a man in his late 80’s in a tan military uniform adorned with stripes, ribbons, and medals. On his head, he wore a blank VFW ball-cap and in his right hand he carried a wooden cane whose end was sharpened to a wicked point.
        The cat, seeing smaller, weaker prey than the bus, shifted into pouncing position. The veteran urged his scooter forward, pointing his makeshift sword at the cat.
        “What the hell is he doing?” Laura asked.
        The Fair-workers put the bus in park and grabbed the tire iron he had borrowed from the back of the sergeant’s squad car. “The bravest thing I’ve seen all day. We should help him.” But even as these words were uttered, the cat lost his patience and bounded forward. Just as it was almost on the vet, the pervasive hum intensified… and a veritable cavalry of scooter-riding octogenarians putted around the corner behind the lone vet. Most wore aging military regalia, and all were armed with bits of cane, walkers, or wheelchair. The cat skidded to a halt and spun to flee the oncoming geriatric scooter horde, but instead met with the descending tire iron of the Fair-worker, as well as the sneering insults of a dozen or so children on the bus. The cat went down hard in a blaze of rage-colored glory. When it was all over, young and old stared at each other across the field of battle.
        The leader of the 1st Battalion Scooter Brigade, the first man they saw, spoke first. “You savin’ kids?”
        The Fair-worker nodded. “You kicking ass and taking names?”
        The old man laughed. “I didn’t spend 50 years in the Marines for nothing. Where’d you serve?” The young man laughed. “Nowhere. I’m a civilian, looking for my wife and kid.”
        The vet snorted. “Crazy bastard.”

        Other forces in the Fair conspired against anthropomorphic evil as well. The firefighters proved handy with flamethrowers, and the Farmer’s Union fired up a row of threshers on Machinery Hill. The farmers formed a loose alliance with the lumberjacks who had mounted the World’s Largest Working Chainsaw on top of the Ronald McDonald House pale pink Cadillac convertible. The State Fair Police had mounted a defense near the Grand Stand, but were suffocated by a cadre of plastic inflatable Marvel, Disney, and Dreamworks characters, which the Knitter’s Union then defeated with the copious application of needles. All told, when the dust settled, the smaller creatures were defeated, but the larger monsters… Fairborn and Fairchild, the 12-foot-tall beavers – concrete replicas of the very topiary that had brought the Fair-worker and Laura into the mess, seemed immune to fire and most kinds of damage. They had parked themselves at the main gates and were slowly picking off anyone foolish enough to flee the main entrance.
        The North Gate was guarded by a dozen or so 5-foot-tall concrete Peanuts characters. They seemed less keen to eat people, though instead they mashed them into a sticky paste, which they mixed with partially digested cheese curds and corndogs from the stomachs of their victims and wore as sticky gore-crowns.
        The South Gate was held by the police (armed with the Fair-workers makeshift flamethrowers and batons) and the East Gate was held by a sixteen-foot-tall Fiberglass Hartford and a Giant Cow. They only ate one in four fleeing Fair-goers, feeding the rest to three bovine heads mounted on a billboard on the southeast corner of the Fair.
        A Fiberglass Angus and Black Angus Bull, both roughly 12-foot-tall wandered the grounds in the company of a trio of topiary stallions.
        The Fair-workers and Laura ran afoul of the latter more often than not, to the point where the Fair-worker would curse vilely when they spotted them, and the creatures would drop whoever they were chewing and charge the bus.
        After the fifth such encounter, the quintet of evil caught the bus from behind. The Fair-worker cursed and accelerated. They, he spotted something that made him blanch.
        “Hold on!” he yelled.
        “What are you doing?” Laura screamed as he slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel to the left. The old bus screeched, skidded and swerved to a halt, rocking on two wheels to the right, then all four, then teetering on two wheels on the left, just as the Black Angus Bull slammed into the side, knocking it back onto four wheels. The side panel crumpled and the plexiglass window spider-webbed but one of the bull’s horns had snapped off, and its head had an oblong concavity to it.
        The Fair-worker grabbed the 20-pound sledgehammer they’d pulled from one of the Fair work-crew trucks. “I’m sick of this shit,” he growled. “I’ll distract the bovine brigade, you light up all the pretty ponies.”
        “What can we do?” asked one of the older kids, name of Mickey. He’d seemed eager to fight, but neither Laura nor the Fair-worker had allowed it.
        “Stay on the bus!” they said together Once out the door, the Fair-worker gave the sledge a practice swing.
        “What the Hell was that with the bus?” Laura asked. Their foes had not figured out that the door was on the other side of the bus and were trying to find a way inside.
        “Saw it in a movie once,” he replied.
        “With a BUS? And we agreed only to attack if we had to!”
        He shrugged. “Same physics, bigger numbers. And trust me: We have to.” He stepped around the bus.
        She grimaced. “That might be one of those things we should, y’know, discuss,” she flipped open her Zippo and ignited it.
        As soon as the Fair-worker stepped around the bus, the Fiberglass Angus and the Black Angus Bull turned and the Bull roared. Being that it had no breath and its cranial cavity was partially caved in, it was a broken sound made of pure malice. It was a terrifying sound to someone who had not experienced what they had experienced, but the Fair-worker just screamed back. His scream was high-pitched but no less terrifying – for while the creatures were made of malice, the Fair-worker’s scream tapped into a visceral well of hate and anguish that connected every living thing that had ever experienced the soul-wrenching ache of fearing for a loved one’s life.
        All men break, but not all men break the same. Many shatter and spend the rest of their days picking up the pieces, but some break off with sharp edges that can be focused into a razor sharp weapon.
        Women tend not to break – they react and move on.
        The Fair-worker charged before the fiberglass monsters had a chance to. He was reckless but not stupid however, and brought the 20-pound steel head with adrenaline augmented strength down on the left shoulder joint of the Black Angus Bull. It easily smashed through the thick fiberglass, but merely bent the chicken-wire mesh beneath.
        The topiary stallions descended, but Laura lit one up and the other two scattered. The plastic barrel of the Super Soaker melted under the intense heat (not for the first time) and she ripped the Zippo off the jury-rigged weapon and sloshed the cartridge against her ear – maybe three-quarters empty.
        The Fair-worker reached into his back pocket and froze when his wire cutters were not there. He got the head of the sledge up just in time to mitigate the bulk of the impact from the charging Fiberglass Angus. It was still sufficient to knock him into the side of the bus, however, which knocked the wind from his lungs.
        Laura cursed and pulled her fully-extended, cloth-wrapped baton from her belt and soaked the cloth with what remained of the gas. The remaining two stallions were drawing closer as their companion burned down, and with the Fair-worker pinned down by the Fiberglass Angus, the Black Angus Bull was lopsidedly heading her way.
        She flicked the Zippo twice with no result and glanced up to see the Black Angus Bull bearing down on her. She bit her lip and flicked it again and this time the makeshift torch lit. She brandished the burning brand just in time to see Mickey, armed with the Fair-worker’s wire cutters, leap off the top of the bus and slide into the hole created by the Fair-worker’s hammer. The cutters disappeared into the hole as Laura swung the torch back at the charging stallions. They both caught, but collapsed into her as the Black Angus Bull’s front left leg buckled and collapsed. Laura screamed in pain as Mickey rode the bull down.
        Meanwhile, the Fiberglass Angus was grinding the Fair-worker against the bus. The heavyset man’s prodigious waist shielded him from the worst of it, but he felt more than one rib crackle under the pressure.
        When Laura screamed, the Fiberglass Angus turned her way, allowing the Fair-worker to bring the sledge up. He fought through the agony in his chest to take the hammer in a two-handed grip just below the head, with the handle pointed to the sky. He brought it down on the back of the bowed head of the creature, which cracked a hole in the brittle fiberglass, but jarred the hammer from his hands. The mesh beneath snapped, smashed between the hammer and the Fiberglass Angus’ steel frame spine.
        He reached in and grabbed the things frame where its head joist connected with its body as it bucked. He could feel ragged metal under his palm where the joint was weakened from unaccustomed movement. The wire fragments from the broken chicken-wire bit and tore his flesh as he reached his other arm through and braced himself against the creatures back with his feet. The thing bucked and roared as he put pressure on the joint, ignoring the pain of his ribs and the mesh digging into his arms, but before long, the tortured metal gave out and the Fiberglass Angus’ head fell away from its body, and it’s unnatural life-force escaped its body. It did not so much collapse as stop moving, but the Fair-worker did.
        He crawled to his sledge and used it to stand. The Black Angus Bull was still twitching but seemed immobile as Mickey helped Laura to her feet. The stop, drop, and roll method had saved her life, but her left arm as black and raw and badly burned. He hobbled over to the Bull and brought the hammer down on the same joint that killed its Fiberglass brother with surprising strength considering how much pain he was in. It stopped twitching. He pushed his Indiana Jones hat further back on his balding head and put his hand on Mickey’s shoulder.
        “From now on, your name is Short Round.”
        “…why?” Laura asked.
        “Is it because  I’m Asian?” Mickey asked. Mickey wasn’t Asian. The Fair-worker tried to laugh, but coughed instead.
        “Go back to the bus,” he croaked and turned away.
        “Where are you going?” Laura inquired. He pointed to the wreck of a State Fair minivan which had run headlong into a steel lamppost.
        “Just over there. I want to check something out.” He walked over, using the sledge as a cane. It was evident what had happened: A wooden statue of a bear had attacked the driver through the side window, the driver had crashed into the pole. Whether by design or by accident, it was hard to say, but she had hit the pole at great speed and the bear had not survived – its splintered head still lay in the driver’s lap. The driver moaned as the Fair-woker drew near. She was alive. He breathed a painful sigh of relief.
        He carried her onto the bus, his eyes leaking with pain and exertion. She was maybe ten years his junior in her early twenties, a slim full-breasted brunette. She did not wear a State Fair shirt, but wore a State Fair badge on a State Fair lanyard.
        “She your wife?” Laura asked incredulously.
        “Nope, she’s a friend,” he replied, setting her into a seat. Laura considered confronting him on this for breaking his own rules, but quickly recognized the futility in it. What he had done just now, facing the Angus’ had been for her.
        Without another word, he climbed into the driver’s seat and turned on the bus. It squealed in protest, but turned over. He aimed the bus south and back to the relative safety of the police.

        The Fair-worker had three fractured ribs and lacerations practically shredded his forearms, but as soon as he was bandaged, he was seated next to the young woman. He did not move until the EMT declared her stable. Both of her legs were broken and she had a nasty bruise on her head, but she would live. When he heard this, he stood and squeezed her hand and started to leave, but she gripped him hard and spoke his name. She pulled him close and whispered in his ear. As she spoke, he aimed his gaze north over the trees, directly at the Space Tower.
        He kissed her forehead and straightened, heading for the bus, but Laura, her arm freshly bandaged, cut him off.
        “Paramedics said you refused painkillers,” she said.
        “Yup,” he replied. “Dulls the senses.” He moved past her.
        “Sarge said you were done after that last stunt,” she fell in step beside him.
        “Still haven’t found my wife and kid,” he shot back. “Not done yet.”
        “Who is she?” Laura asked, gesturing back at the girl. “Your mistress?”
        He did not even slow. “Nope.”
        “You need to stop,” she grabbed his arm. He whirled.
        “Then stop me. You have the training. I have no doubt you can put me down. Why don’t you stop me?”
        She just stared. He was right, big and strong as he was, injured as she was, she could stop him. But she had only ever met one other man as stubbornly determined as he was, and that was her husband. And she found she did not want to stop him.
        “Sarge has the keys,” she said lamely. “Maybe I can-” she stopped as Short Round sidled up to the Fair-worker and dropped the keys into his hand. The Fair-worker grinned.
        “You coming?” he asked, and headed for the bus. Laura looked at Short Round.
        “I suppose he already told you to stay here,” she said. Short Round nodded enthusiastically.
        “I told him to fuck off,” he scampered after the Fair-worker. Laura sighed and followed.

        “She texted me before she left in the van, probably ten minutes before all this started. That’s how I knew sort of where to find her.” The Fair-worker explained. “She was going to meet my wife and kid.”
        “What did she say to you before we came out here?” Laura inquired.
        The Fair-worker grimaced as he veered around the Haunted House. “She told me she thought they were safe. And then she asked me why the Space Tower ride was still aloft.”
        Laura peered out the buses window. “Those poor people…” The Fair-worker shrugged.
        “Maybe,” he said. Laura shot him a sidelong glance.
        “I got to thinking,” he said. “This kind of attack is too random for specific revenge, and too localized to be a terrorist attack, did you notice how they don’t leave the Fair? And too… specialized to be anything but personal.”
        The Fair-worker sighed. “If it were me? It would have to get pretty damn personal to do something like this, and if I had the power to pull something like this off, I wouldn’t want to just do it… I’d want to see it.”
        “And what better view than the top of the Tower…” Short Round supplied.
        “What if you’re wrong?” Laura asked.
        “Then we save a bunch of scared people that really have to pee.”
        “Who could pull something like this off?” Laura mused. There was a long pause.
        “Voldemorte?” Short Round asked. The Fair-worker laughed.
        “Or Sarumann,” he added. Laura scowled.
        “Oh come on!” the Fair-worker cajoled. “It’s funny!”
        “It would be,” she retorted, “if you were wrong. But what can a one-armed cop, a badly injured civilian, and a kid do against a full-on wizard.”
        There was a pause.
        “Remember that gun you haven’t gotten to use?” Short Round smirked.
        “They don’t like it when you shoot at them,” quipped the Fair-worker. “I worked that one out myself.
        “Oh shut up.”

They stood at the base of the Space Tower, just outside the bus. The compartment remained aloft, rotating slowly.
        “Think it’s guarded?” Laura asked.
        “Doesn’t look like it,” Short Round replied.
        “I would think so,” the Fair-worker added. “If only as an early warning system.”
        But it wasn’t. They climbed the spiraling walkway to the Tower itself unmolested. Even when Laura leapt the boundary to the control booth and the Fair-worker stepped gingerly over, there was nothing and no one to challenge them. A pool of coagulating blood greeted them at the door.
        “Keep a weather eye, Short Round,” the Fair-worker instructed in a passible pirate patois. Short Round rolled his eyes but did as he was told.
        Laura drew her sidearm and took up position next to the door as the Fair-worker took up a spot across from her. She counted to three silently with her fingers and he yanked the door open on “3.” All that was there was a slightly mortified corpse with maroon-colored drying blood at each of its orifices. It was wearing a State Fair shirt.
        The Fair-worker gave the corpse a once over and then shouldered it aside. Laura winced.
        “Doesn’t that bug you?” she asked, stepping in. He was scanning the instrument panel.
        “What, the corpse?” he replied distractedly. “Not really. It’s weird, cat vomit and dog poop makes me gag like crazy, but human remains doesn’t bother me.”
        “You are a sick man. Do you know how to use this thing?” she asked.
        “Not really. I was kind of hoping for a big red and green “up/down” switch.”
        “They really overcomplicate things, don’t they?” she said sarcastically.
        “Engineers these days,” the Fair-worker sighed.
        “So if the operator is dead, how did it get up?”
        “Maybe the wizard killed the operator once they were up,” the Fair-worker posited.
        “Okay, but our arrival was far from subtle, big banged up bus and all. If the wizard can kill from a distance like that, why aren’t we dead?” Laura reasoned.
        The Fair-worker conceded the point.
        “Hey,” came Short Round’s voice from the open door, “if that dude’s dead, how come he’s still pushing buttons?”
        Laura and the Fair-worker looked down. The corpse’s hand had moved from where it had fallen to press and hold a red button. They jumped back and Laura put two rounds in the corpses head.
        “I hate zombies,” she growled. The Fair-worker grumbled as he shoved the hand away.
        “Make one Indiana Jones joke and it’s lost, but thanks to one romantic comedy about zombies, and suddenly everyone is an expert.” The button was red with worn engraved white lettering. “HOLD” it said.
        “Hey guys,” called Short Round, “it’s coming down!”
        “Oh shit,” the Fair-worker moaned. “I just remembered that there are two exits to the compartment – on opposite sides.”
        “You couldn’t have mentioned that before?” Laura pressed the HOLD button and held it.
        “It’s stopped now!” called Short Round.
        “Think I could drive the bus up to block one of the doors?” the Fair-worker mused.
        “Not without bringing the walkway down on my head,” Laura shot back. The Fair-worker thought a moment. Then a huge grin split his bearded face.
        “Don’t move,” he said. “I’ll be back.” And he ran out. Laura glanced at the button, the re-dead-ified zombie, and then up at the ceiling, imagining the slowly rotating compartment above.
        “Where else would I possibly go?”

        Twenty minutes later, a low rumble invaded their perception. A moment later, Short Round laughed.
        “What is it?” Laura called. Short Round came in.
        “You gotta’ see,” he said and took over holding the button. Laura flexed her fingers and stepped out. The Fair-worker had found a two-wheeler handcart and was just setting a handicap-sized port-a-potty in place in front of the door. As it dropped into place, she heard a decided slosh and splatter. He grinned tiredly at her.
        “Now we let it come down. Station Short Round here to shout if they manage to get past the port-a-potty while you and I cover the other door.”
        Laura shook her head. “You are a sick, twisted, brilliant man.”
        The Fair-worker tipped his Indiana Jones hat. “Accept no substitutes.”
        Five minutes later, they were in position, watching the compartment slowly descend. Laura glanced at the Fair-workers profile.
        “What do you know about wizards?” she queried.
        “Real wizards?” he asked. She nodded. “Less than nothing. You?”
        There was a silence. She felt him sway on his feet.
        “What’s up?” she said, not looking at him. The compartment had almost settled into place.
        “Adrenaline wore off,” he replied tersely. “Tired. Hurt.”
        “Pissed?” she prompted as the compartment came to a stop.
        “Furious,” he replied. The doors slid open…
        An elderly woman with a walker stumbled out, weeping.
        “Thank you!” she cried. “Thank you so much!”
        Several more filed out, espousing their gratitude. The Fair-worker and Laura started to relax, when Laura spotted something that made her smile. She called the Fair-worker’s name.
        “That your wife and kid?” she asked, pointing out an obese pregnant woman and an equally pudgy little girl. The Fair-worker’s smile could have lit a room. The girl broke free of her mother’s hand and ran toward the Fair-worker.
        “Daddy!” she cried. Tears slipped from the corners of the Fair-worker’s eyes as he dropped to his knees.
        “Hey Little Man!” he exclaimed, opening his arms. Laura’s grip tightened on her sidearm. Little Man?
        The gun snapped up to point at the fat child. Laura called his name, her voice taught with sudden strain. “STOP!”
        The little girl screamed and ran back to hide behind the fat woman. The Fair-worker whirled on Laura.
        “What the Hell are you doing?” he snarled.
        “Do you have a son or a daughter?” she asked tersely.
        “What?” he screamed.
        “Do you have a son or daughter!” Laura screamed back.
        “A son!” he roared. “A little boy who is slim like his Momma and blond like me you crazy bitch!”
        Laura’s gun remained trained on the fat woman, but she could see that she had visibly slimmed and the child was now an equally slim little blond boy.
        “That isn’t your family,” Laura told him. He looked as if he was going to argue, but then turned.
        “My wife is deathly afraid of heights, If you are truly her, tell me again what you said when I suggested you take our son on this ride.”
        The miraculously slimming fat woman smiled nervously at him and eyed the gun.
        “You wouldn’t ever suggest it because you know I never would in a million years.”
        The Fair-worker smiled, but there was hate in his eyes. “Wrong,” he rasped. “I suggested it as a joke and my wife said that you couldn’t pay her to go on that ride.”
        The slim/fat woman sighed. “I hate glamers,” she said. “So unpredictable. You see what you want to see, and she sees only her perception of what she thinks you see.” The guise around the woman and child shimmered and faded. In their place stood a tall, broad-shouldered man and a waifish young girl.
        “What do you see?” Laura asked.
        “Tall woman and a dog.”
        “Stop fucking around!” Laura shouted. The wizard’s shoulder slumped.
        “Very well.” The guise shimmered again. In place of the fat/slim woman and tall man/woman stood a short, pock-faced man in his thirties, and behind him stood Fairborn the Beaver in all his 15-foot tall glory.
        “Beaver?” Laura asked.
        “Beaver. RUN!”  The Fair-worker whirled and scooped the elderly woman up in a princess carry.
        “KILL!” the man screamed and Fairborn charged, but Laura had already pulled the trigger. A ragged hole appeared in the man’s chest, and he crumpled to the ground… but Fairborn never slowed. His maw opened and Laura threw up her uninjured arm in a useless gesture of defense. The giant teeth came down, but suddenly an aluminum walker was jammed into its mouth.
        “Run!” the Fair-worker bellowed as Fairborn chomped down, rending the walker to pieces. Laura turned to run as Fairborn lurched toward them again, but then the bus slammed into him. The concrete beaver flew several dozen feet and slammed into the bondshell, shattering on impact.
        “Last stop, everybody off!” Short Round screamed happily from the driver’s seat.
        Laura, in spite of herself, laughed.

        The plague of anthropormorphic animalia did not last long. The wizard died at 7:52 pm that evening, ten minutes after getting shot. That same moment, everything that ought not be moving, stopped.
        Not long after encountering the Fair-worker and Laura, the 1st Battalion Scooter Brigade happened upon a pregnant woman and a 4-year-old by holding off a host of life-sized stuffed Minions from a popular Dreamworks movie with fry grease and kabob skewers. They asked them along and the boy had an insatiable love of things that scoot, so at around 7:30 pm, this woman and boy were deposited safely into the hands of the police at the South gate. They were reunited with their husband and father a little after 8 PM.
        The Fair-worker, Laura, Mike, and everyone else involved in the State Fair Massacre were debriefed by the Federal government and made to sign an ironclad confidentiality agreement for which they were richly compensated in a payout the government called “recompense for physical and mental damages.”
        Laura and the Fair-worker were both awarded medals which they could never show anyone ever. The Fair-worker and his family moved to New Zealand, 10,000 miles away from anything resembling a State Fair. Laura accepted a super-secret government job and went completely off the grid.
        The news called the “incident” an act of domestic terrorism which basically meant a US citizen flipped his shit and killed a bunch of people. No accurate account of what happened was ever taken.
        Of course the man responsible little was known and it was unlikely to be discovered as he was killed while attempting to escape. His true motivations are still under investigation.
        The State Fair opened its doors two years later with a brand new, somewhat remarkable policy: “No artificial representations of people, animals, or characters of ANY kind.” While the reason for this was much debated, it was enforced with draconian efficiency. Within, n statues, topiaries, or anthropormorphic animals could be found.
        The Space Tower has been torn down and a memorial stands in its place, citing all the names of those who lost their lives in the massacre, and a very nice commemorative plaque thanking the nameless heroes of that day.

        And as for Mickey “Short Round” Bowen? Well who else would write this shit down?

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