"Come one, come all! See the most stupendous, spine-tingling display you're ever likely to see in your life!" Harold loved to watch the carnival barkers. He wished he could be as charming and fascinating as these skillful orators.
This barker, Melvin the monk, was his favorite. He was the smoothest, most convincing liar Harold had ever seen; his charm seemed supernatural.
"Now folks, you know you can trust your old friend, Melvin the monk, when he tells you--this is a spectacle never before offered by any other venue the world over! The shape shifting man! Is he a werewolf? Is he an alien from a far away planet? Or is he a fugitive from a scientist's laboratory--the victim of unspeakable, secret experiments? Step right up, folks, before the scientists track him down and cart him off to the lab! This may be your one and only chance, folks, to see the shape-shifter!"
Harold had already seen the shape-shifter, last year, and had been over-whelmed. It was so realistic, the way it would transform from a man into a dog, then a tiger, then a bear.
Harold's heart raced, but it was not the freak-show that excited him. Harold planned to sneak into Melvin's tent and introduce himself. He would plead with Melvin to let him join the carnival, and become a barker, like him.
When Melvin retreated into his tent, Harold made his move; he ducked under the canvas walls. It was dark, but he could see candlelight behind a curtain, and he could hear Melvin's voice.
"I'm sorry, Shazbolt," Melvin was heard to say, "I know we need a new barker! But it's hard to find a willing soul!"
"Well, find one, Melvin!" snapped Shazbolt, in a deep, croaking voice. "I need some new blood in this carnival!"
Harold's heart jumped. This was a lucky break! He wanted to be a barker, and the carnival, it seems, was desperate to find new barkers! He ran forward, desperate for the job.
"It's not so easy, Shazbolt! In order to get a new trainee, they have to agree to the contract. Few people are so anxious to become a barker that they'd sell their soul to become one!"
Harold reached the curtains and flung them open.
"Mister Melvin, I will! I'll give anything, even pledge you my soul--just please, let me be a barker!"
Harold noticed that Melvin was dressed in wine-red priest's robes, standing in a pentagram, surrounded by candles. In front of him stood Shazbolt, a goat-headed man.
"Ah..." said Shazbolt, grinning ear to ear, "new blood!" The sinister creature salivated and Melvin was over-joyed.
"Good lad!" Melvin said, "You just pledged your soul to the demon Shazbolt--my mentor! The patron demon of carnival barkers! He'll grant you super-human charms and youthful energy beyond your years! You'll be as good a barker as me! But of course, there is a period of... apprenticeship, under the master. Nothing good comes in this life, without a little bit of... sacrifice." Shazbolt began to walk up to him, eyes blazing with hunger and goat-mouth salivating. Harold froze with terror as he felt the demon seize his soul.
Harold sat in his cage, going through agony, as he transformed--from dog, to tiger to bear; each new shape-shift was a torment. Sitting behind him, invisible to the crowd, was Shazbolt. He waved his hands, using his dark magics to transform Harold. Nourished by fear and misery, he was savoring Harold's agony. After a few months of this "apprenticeship", Harold would become a barker, and Shazbolt would be obliged to grant him supernatural charm and energy--that was how the contracts worked. But, in spite of how he'd miss the flavor of Harold's misery, he smiled at the thought of having another barker. The barkers lured new apprentices.
"This one will make a charming and magnetic barker," whispered Shazbolt, "He'll attract all kinds of new blood. Yes... I can taste it in his misery. He's got potential."
About the author: Alexei Russell is an emerging writer living in Winnipeg, Canada. A believer in the maxim that a writer should try his hand at all genres, he has conquered all themes and genres, apart from Westerns--which he will get around to eventually. Alexei has upcoming publications with The Piker Press and Static Movement. View his website, at http://alexei-m-russell.tripod.com/, for a few free samples of his work, including original audio stories.