The Autumn People (inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes) – Old wooden book box; autumn leaves; dried autumn foliage; thorn branches; cracked pomegranate piece with seeds; pine cones; plant pods; rusted tacks; hemp twine; hand-tinted print of old-fashioned carnival/skull clouds; altered art pieces—Green Town Public Library card, paper wasp, Mr. Dark silhouettes, old typewriter quote, ticket to Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Carnivals stop coming before Labor Day, everybody knows that. They’re summertime revels—merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels and cotton candy and hot dogs and lemonade, balloons and games of chance with gimcrack plastic prizes on the midway—the perfect way to celebrate the longest days of the year, the liberation from the schoolroom, the clear, wide, sultry afternoons that melt into cooling twilights as the sun descends, then into breezy nights of glaring lights, loud tinny music, and booming fireworks.
Yes, all of that ends as soon as there’s a hint of autumn in the air. That season brings with it crisp evenings, the smell of freshly picked apples, the scents of dying leaves and chimney smoke; the days grow shorter, darkness begins its reign, and Halloween is fast approaching.
But some years, in some places, Halloween comes early.
The ear heeds it first, the rhythmic click-clack of the train as it draws near, a black serpentine silhouette in the night. Then the nose takes in the bittersweet black clouds of coal smoke. Next the eyes catch the engine’s lamp, round and white and as bright as the moon; a moon those billowing black clouds of coal smoke are obscuring. A strange, unexplainable frisson of fear runs up the spine as the plaintive wail of a calliope—a siren’s song—sounds.
The carnival is coming.
Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival.
A fair like no other.
Whereas other carnivals are sources of merriment, of jollity, of laughter and screams of delight, feeding its gluttonous attendants with the thrills and chills and spills of a more innocuous, ingenuous type, this one feeds off of you, your friends, family and neighbors until there’s nothing left but dry husks, like corn stalks left to rot in the farmer’s field.
Mr. Dark and his entourage—the Dust Witch, the Illustrated Man, Mademoiselle Tarot, even the Most Beautiful Woman in the World—know your deepest, darkest secrets.
What would you trade for the fulfillment of your fondest wish?
You there, portly matron—what would you give to be a fine-looking, svelte filly again, a feast for any man’s eye?
And what about you, the faded football hero—wouldn’t you like one last chance to prove yourself, to make that winning touchdown? All hail the conquering hero!
And you, old man—what would you offer in return for another taste of youth, of strength in those limbs, of a restoration of your masculine virility?
And you, son—wouldn’t you like to be older? Wouldn’t you like to be a man, to know what men and women do behind locked doors while the children sleep?
They can smell your yearnings, they salivate at the thought of your unrequited desires.
After all, most men jump at the chance to give up everything for nothing, and there’s nothing we’re so careless with as our own immortal souls.
So, step right up…
Visit the Egyptian Mirror Maze, constructed to trick the eye, boggle the mind, as you see yourself, your faults and shortcomings reflected back ten thousand times!
Ascend high in the Monster Montgolfier Balloon! Catch a glimpse of your town from God’s perspective; so quaint, so orderly from above—so ripe, so fetid, so foul from within!
Take a ride on the carousel! Choose your steed! How many years do you want to gain by going forward? How many years do you want to lose by going in reverse?
A flash of early-autumn lightning reveals Mr. Dark for who—and what—he is, as a bleached skull materializes from beneath the skin.
His minions scuttle in the dust, in the must, and fallen leaves, seeking out any morsel of your soul you’ve left behind, gorging themselves on your pangs of regret and remorse.
And when they’re finished here, like any good carnival, they’ll pull up stakes, pack up and move on—so, beware of the train that arrives in the night; beware of the carnival that sets up tent after summer’s end…
But most of all…
…beware of what you wish for…
…you might just get it.
Happy autumn to you all.