When the day had finally arrived for Dean to have a sit down with his brother, there was a small tinge of nerves that refused to sit right in his stomach, as well as second thoughts about whether or not he was making the right choice for his son. As a boy, Jon had generally been well-behaved until signs of inheriting that awful Hyde Syndrome had surfaced. Dean managed to suppress the inner demon, which had raged for months after the death of the love of his life. Over the years, he had struggled far removed from the carnival and the memories attached to it, but in a way, he knew that he would never truly give it up. After all, the way of life he chose was not one that he could simply walk away from. Damien had been kind enough to allow him to ask a small favor—a decision that Dean had come to because this was someone who opened up the opportunity for him to make a decent living. Being a hustler might not have been what he strived for when he was young, but he was a grown man with a son to care for, and living as a Carny was something necessary for both of them to survive. While other families were struggling to even feed themselves, Dean had been able to provide his son with more than the basic essentials and did his best to raise the boy right. Now that Jon needed help, there was no hesitation about approaching the one person that Dean trusted for assistance. The carnival had been the only locality where he felt comfortable in the seaside community—profiting from the marks and rubes was like second nature. That was the whole reason he had decided to work with Damien in the first place, and together they labored hard to build the carnival into a family-friendly entertainment empire. Going back to the old lifestyle had taken a few moments of adjustment, but soon enough Dean felt right at home again—it was as though he had never left, and knew that he would always be a Carny. Jon had certainly been able to easily fit in, selling bullshit with ease and even made the people enjoy giving up their money, which made the years spent away from all of that quickly disappear.
As Dean entered the midway, it was easy to notice that the rousties offered smiles or other small gestures of acknowledgement. Plenty of people filled the midway, playing games, eating food and standing in line for rides. Even a large crowd was packed around the bally stage of the sideshow tent, Ian the resident albino on the microphone and luring curiosity inside for a small fee. A grin leaked onto his face as he passed the sideshow tent and located Damien’s private quarters. Nerves swelled once again when he pushed inside, the lovely Sacha sound asleep on a bed in the corner, her father relaxed in a chair, a bottle of whiskey set on the table beside him.
“Good to see you again,” Damien said with a smile, rising momentarily to embrace his brother. “My heart shares your pain, and you will always know that. It is happy, though, that my brother has returned.”
“Thank-you,” Dean replied, easing into a chair and helping himself to a shot of whiskey. “My home is definitely here, and I am eager to come back to work.”
“How have things been for you?” he inquired, passing the blunt he was smoking.
“Well, aside from the obvious, I have a bit of a problem with my son, Jon.”
“Oh? He seems like a good boy—hard worker and a natural talent for this business. What sort of trouble could he be?”
A grim expression washed over Dean’s face, his gaze drifting to the sleeping girl for a moment as he took a deep hit. “She looks so much like them,” he absently remarked. “You are quite fortunate to have her.”
“Yes…I would be so lost without her.”
Dean brought his attention back to his brother. “How bad has it been?”
He laughed and took a shot. “Can you tell me who I am right now?”
“That is not funny.”
“Oh, but I think it is. Your brother is not here…so who am I?”
Studying him carefully, Dean had no idea what to say or why they were even engaged in such a game when there was something more important to be discussing. “The fucking bastard child of Satan for all I give a shit,” he snapped. “I came here to talk to you about my son, not this.”
“That is a good one!” he laughed. “You still have some of that fire left in you, my dear brother.”
“Is that what you want me to say, Damien?”
“No…and I am sorry. You are concerned for your boy and I am beside myself.” Damien paused to take the blunt from him. “Tell me what is wrong.”
“Jon is like us—well, more like you. This is not the first time that I have noticed it, but he was younger then and I was able to help him. Now I am less sure of myself.”
“Last night he committed murder.”
Surprise came to Damien’s face but his composure remained calm. “This is serious. How do you know what happened?”
“I caught him doing it,” Dean confessed. “Followed him after he had a fight with some kid—really do not know what it was all about, but Jon seemed fairly upset. They were having a bit of a rumble on the beach, and I just watched him pummel the boy until he was dead. Jon does not have one bit of remorse about the whole thing.”
“You realize that no one can ever know about this. We have to protect him at all costs.” Damien paused to study Dean’s worried expression. “Where has he been staying?”
“At my place in the city.”
“No, that will not do,” he said, slowly rising. “Both of you are to come live on the grounds as soon as possible. You can rotate with Ian on the bally stage, and Jon can be the Geek when he needs to, heavily costumed so that no one gains suspicion. He should have some other acts as well so that I can keep him in the sideshow tent.”
“What are we going to do about—”
Damien silenced Dean with a raised hand. “You leave that to me. While I may not fully understand why the Hyde Syndrome exists, at least I can watch over Jon to ensure that he does not get out of control.”
“Yes…I suppose that would be best. As always, your kindness is appreciated and I want you to know that I will do my best to serve you.”
“Not any more, my brother.” He paused to smile and poured them both a shot. “Today you are my partner for life, and I refuse to take no for an answer.”
“I…what to say…” Dean sputtered as they toasted.
“There comes a time when a man knows what his destiny is,” Damien solemnly replied. “Sacha is the most important asset in the whole world to me, but I am aware that someday my mind will be gone completely, and thus I will be unable to look after her. It would make me feel more comfortable if someone I trusted were around to take care of her when…” He trailed off and slowly smoked the blunt, eyes trained on his brother.
“Yes, I understand.”
“I appreciate your loyalty. Now go get your son…I want to speak with him.”
A single oil lamp flickering in the tent gave Jon enough light to figure out there was a chair in front of him, nerves swelling in his stomach so much that surely he was going to vomit. However, he could not be disrespectful to his father’s friend—someone Dean insisted he had to speak with. Fidgeting with a button on his shirt, he waited for this man who supposedly would understand the strange events he was dealing with, unsure why someone he did not even know should be trusted with that information. Dean had been quite persuasive without offering a full explanation, and Jon could not deny the request of his father. However, facing the unknown was still a bit unsettling.
“Hello, son,” a clam voice addressed as a figure entered from the rear side of the tent, an extended hand offered as a friendly greeting.
The gesture was accepted with slight hesitation. “Good evening, sir.”
Soft laughter filled the tent as the wick on the lamp was raised, casting yellowed beams across the mystery man’s face, intense green eyes almost glowing. His sandy blonde hair was semi-groomed and glistened with a bit of pomade, heavy curls at the nape of his neck that almost seemed slightly tinted red. The clothes he wore were of a high quality and well taken care of, despite the fact that they were frayed a bit here and there. Silver rings adorned each of his fingers, which were also decorated with heavy tattoo ink. “There is no need to be so formal. Please, just relax Jon.”
“Sorry…I just…that is, I am not used to…” He stumbled to find the right words, twisting that button while trying to focus on something.
“Yes, it can be a difficult thing. Here, let us begin this way.” Damien smiled and opened a silver case that had been set on the table, and then pulled out a matching lighter from his pocket that was sparked and extinguished with a single fluid movement, resulting in smoke rising from a blunt. Handing it to Jon, Damien carefully studied the young man, instantly recognizing a reflection of his own past and the confusion that had once filled him.
Jon savored the taste of weed for a few moments, watching the smoke swirl around the tent as he collected his thoughts. “Killed a boy the other day,” he said quietly. “The first time that I really got into a fight and I just…killed him. Not one thought of doing it had even entered my mind, but still it happened so easily. It is all I can think about at night.”
“Guilt can be your worst enemy.”
“No…not like that. He deserved the punishment, and a part of me just got out of hand. The desire to do it again is what keeps me from sleeping.”
“What motivates this desire?”
“How should I know?” Jon replied with a shrug. “There is something in my head that enjoys violence without reason. Having someone cry out for mercy—begging and pleading for you to stop—it should be enough to prevent a man from taking things too far. But I do not have that voice. Mine tells me to keep going, waiting for the moment where blood is shed—the reward is pure ecstasy.”
“Then you want more,” Damien whispered, slowly unbuttoning his teal blue cotton shirt. “You ache for it in a way that tears you apart. On one hand, you can feed the hunger, knowing that it will return. On the other, you can fight it tooth and nail, hoping that there is a way to conquer those feelings. Either way, you are constantly conflicting with yourself and must deal with the consequences of your actions.”
“Exactly,” Jon said, a tiny smile tugging at his lips as he passed the blunt.
“Your father does not empathize the way that I can. Sure, Dean may have given in to temptation here and there, but somehow he manages to keep himself together. To be honest, I envy him slightly for that.”
“He does not suffer the way I do, and I wonder if he ever has.”
“This is not about him,” Damien said, removing the shirt and placing it on the back of his chair. Even in the light of the oil lamp, the inked images on his skin were brilliant, covering every inch of his hands, arms, chest, stomach and neck, a few designs even scribed onto his face. “Have you ever seen tattoos up close before?”
He smiled and moved his arms forward so that Jon could inspect them. “The process is executed with a needle and ink using an electric machine. Before you know it, you have a permanent design that you can carry around for the rest of your life.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Only if you want it to,” Damien chuckled. “The pain can help your mind transcend to a place most people will never be. Of course you can feel the needle as it penetrates your skin, but in a way, you are connecting to a ritual that is thousands of years old. Every mark on your body becomes a badge of courage—proof of endurance that no one can ever argue with or take away.”
“Guess I have not thought about them too much.”
“This is a choice that impacts your entire life, which is something you must be prepared for and aware of before you even think about letting that needle touch you.” Damien paused to hand him the blunt again. “How old are you, Jon?”
“Just turned sixteen,” he replied.
“A prime age to become a man. You know, most boys are going to school and chasing girls. Here you are, working in a tough business and wanting to do the best that you can. Do you have a girlfriend?”
Slightly taken back by the question, Jon’s cheeks flushed as he downed a shot of whiskey. “No…I do not really have the time to…you know…date.”
Damien easily drank down several shots, a wry smile growing on his face with each one. “Well now that is a damn shame. I was in love once—and only once really. Lillian was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid my eyes upon, and that first moment we met, my heart felt as though it was going to explode. Everything inside of me yearned for her, and how wonderful it was the day I could call her my wife—my partner for eternity. It is an experience that will change you—one that you will never forget.”
Jon nodded slowly while pouring another shot for himself, savoring it for a moment.
“Lillian could keep the beast at bay,” Damien softly continued. “It was a gift she had that made me love her even more. No matter what, she always remained by my side, faithful to the vows we made to cherish one another. I would give anything to have that again.” He sighed and rose from the chair to pace around the tent. “Then it was all taken away from me on a day where I should have been the happiest man in the world. In my arms I held life that I helped create—every bit as beautiful as her mother. When I thought I had everything I could want, I turned to my wife and she was gone. She did not even get a chance to hold her own daughter before she died. My heart was torn in two.” He sighed again and settled on the edge of his bed. “And now? When I look at her I am reminded of the love of my life, and Sacha is just like her mother. She has the ability to see what is inside of a man through his eyes and knows exactly what is on his mind. Without her, I fear that I would be completely out of control. However, she is still young and cannot save me from the impending fate that I fear I am hurtling towards.”
Jon arched an eyebrow. “This sounds serious.”
“Indeed, my boy. While I would prefer not to admit it, eventually the Hyde Syndrome will drive me to insanity, and there is nothing that can be done to change this. Part of me knows I have inflicted my innocent child with the monstrous disease, and I have forever to hate myself for it. She deserves to be taken care of, but I cannot continue to do so.” Damien smiled as he removed his shoes. “Maybe you can though.”
“But I do not even know her,” Jon replied.
“A minor detail,” he said, flashing a smile. “There may have been a few times that you came across one another in the past, so it is not as though you are complete strangers.”
“Well, I would certainly remember something like that.”
Damien chuckled as he rose from his seat. “The mind is a very complex creature, Jon. Memories remain so long as you want them to, and when part of your brain is rotten, you have little choice over what stays or what goes.” He paused for a long shot of whiskey. “How would you like a proper introduction? “
Jon studied those green eyes for a moment, wondering if there was an ulterior motive to the request. However, Damien wanting security for his daughter and ensuring her safety seemed fairly harmless. The possibility that she could prevent him from succumbing to the same fate was also very tempting. There was certainly no room for hesitation. “Yes, that would be quite nice,” he said, resisting a smile.
“Sit tight,” Damien replied, exiting the tent.
‘Do you really believe that someone could love me?’
“Now is not the time,” Jon said quietly.
‘It is always a good time…just a simple question.’
“Love can conquer many things. Are you afraid of it?”
‘No one will be able to love me…I am a monster.’
Grabbing the half-empty bottle of whiskey, Jon eagerly drank the contents, sighing as he finished and smoked hard on the blunt. A breeze rustled the canvas walls around him, worn edges fluttering slightly and the grass swaying enough to tickle his bare ankles. There came with it the most intoxicating smell, comprised of various floral scents that blended together in the back of his nose. Soft footsteps swept across the ground, a faint tinkle of metal echoing in his ears. Light filled the tent suddenly, and a most radiant goddess entered with an oil lamp in her hands. She sat down across from him, corners of her pink lips pulled back in a little smile. The dyed hues of the layered chiffon skirts, cotton peasant blouse and crocheted shawl were a brilliant contrast to her pale skin, though she certainly shared Damien’s intense emerald eyes, a hint of gold dancing with the flame of the wick. He caught a glimpse of tattooed legs and feet—accented with silver chains that had coins attached to them—for a brief moment when she arranged herself comfortably in the chair. Her hands were also slightly inked, each finger decorated with a silver ring—some held stones while others had hand-carved details—and a thick silver band was wrapped around each wrist alongside a set of bracelets that matched the jewelry draped across her ankles. Even her ears were adorned with heavy silver hoops that visibly stretched the hole pierced through her lobes. There seemed to be scars on her face, but he dared not linger his stare upon them, feeling it would be rude. Instead he returned the smile and offered her the blunt. Charms clinked as slender fingers lifted it from his hand, casually bringing it to those kissable lips, her eyes not shy to check him out.