Give us your dreams the man had said, such innocent words at first but now he realised the cost of what those dark lips promised. The things he had seen within, the tricks of the mind, the dance of the shadows that were his thoughts. They had promised to show him wonders beyond his imagining, but within there was only a reflection of the things he didn’t want to see.
Give us your dreams and we shall show you your nightmares echoed the voice of the man, a truth that echoed through his mind as the darkness surrounded him.
* * *
Blackwillow twirled his dark moustache as he watched the wooden caravan moving slowly across the dew covered field, pulled by two big horses that looked like they were dragging the weight of the world behind them, and in truth they were.
It was early morning in the Carnivale of Delirium, and the usual collection of freaks and artistes were already milling about the tents and side-shows, preparing for the night ahead. But none of them paid the slightest attention to the caravan that was approaching. Not a peek from the stilt-men or a glance from the bearded lady, and not even the jugglers missed a beat in their juggling as it drew near. They had seen many a sight arriving here in the Carnivale over the years, but if they had known what was in that caravan on this cold, frosty morning then they might have taken a moment to pause, and reflect on what was to come.
Once more he looked at the letter in his hand, reading the stylish script. The message had been delivered just over a week ago, and he still couldn’t believe that the object was being brought to his Carnivale, even though the caravan containing it was now actually being pulled across the field in front of him. Blackwillow was still a disbeliever of the truth of what was contained in that caravan. He had heard numerous legends about it from the Four Corners of the Earth, many a tale of the wonders and dangers of what lay within. But until he saw it with his own eyes, and got to finally touch it, he would not believe that it was here, and that it was going to become a part of his Carnivale of Delirium.
The caravan came to a halt a few feet in front of him, the skinny, dark man who was controlling the horses not moving from his perch up front, as the door at the back of the caravan opened. After a brief delay the Arabian gentleman, who Blackwillow had been expecting, emerged. A tall slim man dressed in a fine, dark green suit that the Carnivale owner found very stylish, but not how he expected this man to be dressed.
The letter had been an elegant introduction to this gentleman and what he had to offer, and of course had been more than complementary to the Carnivale itself. And now here he was in the flesh, a fellow master of the incredible and exotic; a man whose journey had taken him to many a strange land, and not all of them apparently of this world, if the tales were to be believed.
“Ah, Mr Wuzralam,” said Blackwillow, smiling at the Arabian as he walked towards the Carnivale owner. “It is so good to finally see you here.”
“It is a pleasure to be here, sir,” said Wuzralam, bowing slightly and giving Blackwillow a pleasant grin as he regarded him with those dark eyes, eyes that had witnessed the fall of many a great civilisation; most from what he had offered them, and a few from what they had denied.
“Do you need some of my chaps to help you unload it?” said Blackwillow, looking expectantly towards the caravan.
“That will not be necessary, sir,” said Wuzralam, snapping his fingers in the air. “I have all the help I need, but thank you for the offer, of course.”
“No problem,” said Blackwillow, watching the two huge, ochre skinned men that now emerged from the caravan. “I expect they are used to carrying it around.”
“Indeed they are,” said Wuzralam, as the two men removed their burden from the caravan. “It is a weight that we have grown accustomed to over the years.”
“I’m sure it is,” said Blackwillow, unable to now draw his eyes away from the thing the men carried. “I have set that tent over there aside for you; I trust it is of a suitable size?”
“Indeed,” said Wuzralam, looking over towards the large tent, and then signalling for his two men to proceed.
The box was made from what looked like a very dark wood, or even a black stone. It was hard to tell exactly, and Blackwillow believed it might have actually been changing its appearance slightly as he watched it being carried towards the tent. As the two hulking men moved past him he cast an appraising eye over the item, and it did seem to be the genuine article, this box of legends. He was so intrigued by it, as despite all his knowledge he had never seen markings like the ones carved into the box’s surface. They looked like runes or some other ancient symbols, but were unlike anything he had witnessed before.
“So my offer to you was acceptable, sir?” asked Wuzralam, as the box was carried into the tent; his words a seductive charm that had tempted many a great man into his grasp over the centuries.
“If it does what you say, then it is most acceptable,” answered Blackwillow, grinning. “It will be most acceptable indeed.”
“Would you like to look in the box, sir?” said Wuzralam, gesturing to the tent; obviously making an offer that was no doubt of second nature to this dealer by now.
“Look around you, my dear chap,” said Blackwillow. “These are my dreams you see before you, and I don’t think even your box can handle all of this.”
Wuzralam looked across the Carnivale of Delirium, at all the strange attractions and sights laid out before them, and a sly smile spread across his face. “I think you are right about that, sir.”
“But I always like to check out the attractions first, you understand?” said Blackwillow, moving across the grass towards the tent. “So I think it only fair that we get someone, on my behalf, to see what your box of wonders has to offer.”
“Of course,” said Wuzralam, looking a bit cautiously at the owner of the Carnivale. Had he ever had to deal with someone of the likes of Blackwillow? Could any of those he had promised so much to before have a chance of measuring up to the man he was dealing with today? Blackwillow doubted that very much.
“Ah, Dumpken,” said Blackwillow, grabbing a sad looking clown who had had the misfortune of passing by at that moment. “You will do perfectly for this little matter.”
“What?” said the clown, looking shocked and surprised, which for most clowns in the Carnivale was their normal expression; but for Dumpken a rare thing. “I didn’t do it, boss. No not me, not little old Dumpken. It was the other ones, you know how they like their silly pranks, and well it just got out of hand, and before you know it… well they said they would clean the mess up, but knowing them, I doubt it.”
“Yes, I’m sure that is what happened, but enough of all that,” said Blackwillow. “I have a little job for you.”
“Really,” said Dumpken, still looking very surprised. “A job for little old Dumpken, are you sure?”
“Yes, yes. Now this gentleman would like you to go and have a look in his nice box, which is in that tent over there. Do you understand?”
“You want me to go and look in a box?” said Dumpken, looking over at the tent with trepidation creeping into his eyes. “It doesn’t have one of them jackamaboobs in it? Does it? As they scare the willies out of me, boss.”
“No, no, no. It will be fine,” said Blackwillow, patting the clown on the shoulder. “It is a box full of wonderful things, and I would just like you to check it out for me.”
“I see,” said Dumpken. “Well if you are sure, then alright I will have a look for you. Have I got to fill out a questionnaire after, as I am not very good with all those difficult questions, and I am sure they leave the correct answers off the multiple choice ones when I do them.”
“Don’t worry,” said Blackwillow, looking at the sad clown, and wondering if this was the right person to try the box on, “there won’t be any questions.”
“So what do I have to do then, mister?” said the clown, as he was led over to the tent by Wuzralam.
“It is very simple, sir,” said Wuzralam, giving the little clown a dark smile. “Just look in the box, and give us your dreams.”
“My dreams?” said the clown, pausing in front of the tent. “Oh my dreams are so boring, nothing interesting there.”
“I am sure that is not the case, sir,” said Wuzralam, leading the clown inside. “I would think there are many wonders inside your mind.”
Blackwillow watched the two disappear from view and he did really wonder now if it had been fair choosing Dumpken for this test. He knew that if the box did what the whispers had told him it did then that clown would never be the same again.
* * *
A crow landed on one of the posts holding a tent rope, and expressed a screeching protest at the Carnivale owner, as was its daily routine. Blackwillow ignored the cursed complaints of the black bird and wondered what was going on inside the tent, with his clown and the box. An hour had passed since the strange Arabian man called Wuzralam had taken Dumpken inside, and there hadn’t been a sound heard since.
He wondered if this was indeed the right attraction for his Carnivale of Delirium. Did it have the qualities he was always looking for, or was it all just a case of smoke and mirrors? He had seen too many acts like that before, but once they had arrived at the Carnivale he was quick to destroy any hopes they had of joining his quality establishment. Everything here was real, and he had no time for fakes, a fact that many had been painfully made aware of over the years.
The Carnivale owner began to now get impatient, and was tempted to go and see what was going on inside, but as the urge began to take over he could hear a sound.
Laughter could now be heard coming from the tent, and then Dumpken emerged from within, with the biggest grin you have ever seen a clown wear, plastered across his face.
“Oh my, that was funny,” said the clown, laughing in a maniacal way. “Most hilarious that was, we enjoyed that.”
“Well that seems to have gone down well,” said Blackwillow, walking over towards the two men. “So the box was entertaining then?”
“Oh my, oh yes, indeed. Oh the things he has in there,” said Dumpken, still laughing in an uncontrollable way, “Very, very, funny.”
“Then it looks like we have a deal then,” said Blackwillow to Wuzralam, as the clown walked away while continuing to laugh hysterically to himself.
“Thank you, sir,” said Wuzralam, watching the clown with what looked like a puzzled expression.
“So, you can start tonight,” said Blackwillow, “and we can sign the agreement, that is acceptable?”
“Indeed, sir,” said Wuzralam, and Blackwillow noticed what looked like a glimmer of concern creeping into the Arabian’s eyes. “But there is one thing I would like to stipulate, if I may?”
“Oh, and what is that?” said Blackwillow, frowning.
“No more clowns, sir,” said Wuzralam, shaking his head. “Please, the box wants no more clowns.”
“Of course, my dear man,” said Blackwillow, chuckling, “There will be no more clowns looking into your lovely box.”
“Thank you,” said Wuzralam, relief now returning to his eyes.
The Carnivale of Delirium had added another fine attraction to its collection on this day, and in a small way this mysterious box had helped one clown see the funny side of life again. Blackwillow was also very happy today, and when Blackwillow was very happy the world had to be very afraid.
Copyright (c) 2011 Stephen Winterflood