Karter Cane
rating: +4+x

No one in my all-American city could quite state the point when the circus arrived in town. I myself could not. In my mind, the circus did not arrive on any Earthy day. Instead, it slowly ebbed its way over the town like a rising tide of tents, poles and neon lights. In between the old new England masonry of my town, colorful canopies sprouted like obnoxious weeds. During the small hours of the night, the bright lights of the carnival danced around my bedroom. Shutting my eyes had little effect, for when I did, I found that the strange sounds filled my ears. It seemed that there was no escaping the omnipresent clutches of the circus. But as bad as the circus itself was, it was the men who made it up that provided the real feelings of terror. In amongst the men of my town, the men of old British blood, stalked strangers from foreign lands. Like beasts of night, they never stood in the light of the sun or the crowded street. Instead, they dwelled in the darkness, the damp alleys that wove like veins through my city. I saw them with my own eyes as I went about my daily business. I felt their strange eyes follow me wherever I walked. My body became prone to shivers, even as I walked under the warmth of the sun. I could always tell when I was walking in a foreigner’s presence. A feeling much like a frozen hand touching the base of my spine became all too common. But whenever I turned my head to search for the source of the chill, I found only empty space. Quickly as snow in the sun, these strangers had a manner of disappearing before any eye could catch more than a fleeting glance.

I was far from the only citizen shaken with these strangers. Speaking to other men who worked in the same factory as me, I found that other men would whisper things to each other as they worked. Things were whispered that men would rather forget. Things of espionage, spies, and above all, communism. And men who heard these whispers would dare not repeat them, or even dwell on them in their own minds. For a time, the arrival of the circus was all that anyone had words for. Men spoke about it as they worked. Women spoke at tea gatherings. Children would regurgitate rumors that their parents had half-heard. And with each spoken word, the feeling of terror only grew. A sense of real danger was added in amongst the political shifting. Men no longer felt safe when they walked alone late at night. The silhouette they saw prowling beneath street lamps turned into Russian spies. The newcomer they met in the bar became a communist sleeper-agent. Even the stars could not be trusted. Who was to say that the blinking light that dashed across the night sky was not a satellite? A man-made eye of metal and glass, gazing down on Earth below? So, parents told their children to stay inside and never stray out of sight for long. Those that listened were just as fearful as those who paid their parents no mind.

Now, no man has ever made the claim that my city was perfect. Far from it. My city is one of numberless crime and sin beyond measure. But the crime in my city always felt like it was our own crime. The criminals were people born and bred in my city. Growing up, they had walked the same streets as I had. They might have been criminals, but they were our criminals. It was our laws that they were breaking. They were ours to punish as we saw fit. Now, the arrival of strangers had warped that understanding. What power did American laws have over such men? Who would punish them, when they were not ours to punish? Such questions where dwelled on with great deliberation. More often than not, no answer was found. When an answer was found, it often proved too weak to stand under scrupulation.

All the while, as fear hung over the town heavy as a blanket. The terror was palpable as summer heat. It mingled with the autumn heat, creating a tension that could make skin crawl and sweat at the same time. While no one would ever say it, there was a sure feeling that the arrival of the circus was the root cause of fear in the town. At the time, I dismissed such ideas as village gossip. It is well known how people in a town such as mine created stories out of only a few scraps of rumor. It was not until I saw that horrid thing that I became worried about more than communism.

One night, I awoke during the small hours to a faint sound, like that of a dog in the yard. For a long moment I lay in the twilight between dream and waking. Barely audible over the strange sounds of the circus, I could not say why the sound captured my mind as it did. I lay still, tuning my ears to the sound. Elusive as a shadow, I could not tell where the sound came from. One moment I thought I heard it in the roof. The next, I could hear a faint clawing in the walls of my room. When eventually I pushed off the covers to search for the sound, I could no longer hear it. Turning to the window, I saw nothing more than the shadows created by the full moon, fat as a silver dollar. The night wind gently moaned at my window like a lover long lost. Over the tiled rooftops, the big top of the circus stood like a pyramid from a forgotten age. Strange lights, of every color comprehensible, came from within. Thrown onto the side of the fabric was a horrid fresco, of more colors than I can name. Like fire, they danced around on the side, ever-shifting pattern and ever-changing color. In the same moment, I was helplessly hypnotized and deeply disturbed by what I saw. Unable to look away from the dancing shapes, I let them assault my mind. Abruptly, I felt a cold hand brush the base of my back. The shiver shook me free of my trance. Rubbing the sandman's dust from my eyes, I returned to bed.

But tired as I was, sleep refused to take me. When I shut my eyes, the insides of my eyelids had been imprinted with the colors I had witnessed. Try as I might, they invaded every inch of my mind.. Each time I managed to divert my attention to anything else, the glow returned. Swirling like fireflies, ridding myself of them was impossible. If sleep did ever come for me, then I did not recall it dong so. When I was next aware of myself, sunlight was streaming in. The rising sun was coming up over the big top. The streamers of the circus whipped in the wind. I looked out the window for a long time. Eventually, I left the big top to its own devices. The day would not stop for me, regardless of what I had seen in the night. At the time, I do not think that I properly remembered what I had seen in the night. Even now, I can't be sure that what I wrote was what really happened. Instead, the memories seem to be boiled together into a rough approximation of my night. What I can be sure about was the colors from hell I saw on the side of the big top. All through that day, I had a headache that felt like a bonfire in my brain. Many and more times, I had to remind myself of where I was. My surroundings became the landscape of an alien world. It was one I had never seen in my life, despite the fact I had worked in the factory for my entire career. Workmen I had grown up with became unrecognizable and foreign. The day had drifted by, as surely and slowly as a river. I had let every action wash over me. When one man made a joke, I laughed half-mindedly at it, without fully understanding its meaning. As I worked, it was with only one eye on the machine I operated. And on my way home, I was driving without paying any attention to the road in front of me. That was a mistake. From some unseen curve in the road, another car sprung forth. My mind had wandered so far that it took me a long second to get it back. By the time I had, the other car had already swerved to avoid me. With a hideous crash, that sounded like a skyscraper imploding, I saw a red shape dash off the wall. Quickly as my body would let me, I stamped down on the break. My tires screamed as I forced them to a stop. Leaping from the car, I dashed to the other vehicle. It had ended up in the shrubbery that clung to the side of the road. The vehicle itself was a piece of art. A red Ferrari F40, it was every car enthusiasts dream. A quick glance at the registration plate told me what I had suspected from the moment I saw the car. That this was a car from out of state.

I was not sure who I expected to come out of the car. Judging from the car, I knew whoever it was must be richer than anyone who lived in my town. Few people in town could even dream of renting a car, let alone owning one. Perhaps it was some rich banker. Perhaps it was some wealthy earl, enjoying his holiday until I had ended it with a crash. Whoever it was, could already imagine the contortion of anger on their face. The rage brewing in their eyes, boiling like water in a kettle.

Instead of what I imagined, I found the face on the man to be perplexingly calm. Cool as ice, he opened the side door as if he had just parked. When he looked at the damage, he merely laughed. I apologized for my careless driving, fretting over the money I must have cost him. With a laugh that came naturally as speaking, he told me that all was forgiven. I insisted, and he said that if I wanted to make up for the car I could show him around town. He told me he was new to town, and need a guide. I said that I would be more than glad to do so. It would be preferable to paying to repair the car. I gave the man my name and hand. Introducing himself, he told me that his name was Alexander Cane. This first meeting between the two of us set the tone for all our later interactions. Cane was charming, cunning and cheerful. Around him followed an aura of mystery. I could not help but be drawn magnetically towards this stranger. Compared to the other strangers in my town, he was the far more preferable choice. At a glance, any man could tell that Cain was of old, new England stock. He had blue eyes and brown hair. Built like a quarterback, I was sure he could have pursued a career in the NFL.

Cane was staying at a motel in our town. I knew through convoluted means that he was here on work. Of his work, I knew very little. He had told me once that he worked in the grand maze that is the American Government. When I had persisted, he dismissed me. He told me that his job was too obscure and plain to be of any interest. I accepted that.

The arrival of Cane captured the attention of my town for a short while, but could not compare to the effect that the circus had. Men advised themselves to see it. They said that inside that big top, they had seen feats that could only be imaged in dreams of the night. They witnessed magic performed before them. Magic, they said, that had no place in the world of today. I confided in Cane my suspicions about the circus and the people it brought with it. Doing so had made me feel almost silly. When I finished, I expected Cane to make some light joke. To laugh at my fears, and dismiss my suspicion. He did no such thing. When I finished with mild suspicions, he urged me to speak more of my mind. Soon, I was spilling all my theories about the circus. Words came from my mouth like a running river. As Cane pressed me to speak more and more, the lines on his face grew deeper. His bright blue eyes dimmed until they looked like chips of dirty ice. Still, he urged me on. And it was then that I recalled to him the tale of that horrid night. That night where I had seen shapes and colors that there is no earthy word for.

When I was finished telling my tale, Cane had lost any trace of humor. Solemn as a gravestone, his face was lined with concern. The two of us sat in thick silence for some time. Without saying a word, I knew that Cane was deep in thought. Behind his icicle eyes, I could see the thoughts rolling around. When he did speak, it was in a low, joyless voice. He told me that he shared my concerns for the circus, and what it was bringing to my town. He reminded me of my ancestors who had founded this town. It belonged to me. These strangers who came threatened to take it from my hands. They had no right to do so. And as Cane spoke, I found that the calm state of my mind grew turbulent. I felt the anger rise and bubble away. Cane continued to speak of stolen things, people invading places that were mine. But his words no longer mattered. It was the effect that they had. A burning rage that was the hatred of hell enveloped both my body and mind. Swallowed by blind anger, I was over run with the sudden urge to drive these side-show freaks from my town. Caine shared my urge, but told me that I would not go alone. Instead, he told me to wait until evening. And when evening came, he returned to my home. True to his word, he was not alone. Behind him stood a mob of my fellow townsfolk. Many of them I knew or worked with. Their faces were misshaped with the same rage that I felt. Seeing them only increased my rage tenfold. Walking onto the evening street, I watched as Cane made his way through the crowd. Where he walked the townsfolk thinned, parting like the Red Sea. He walked to beside me, standing tall on the porch.

And I had never heard such a speech as the one I heard that day. Cane crafted his words, each one chosen carefully to compel. Like oil on an open fire, his words filled the townsfolk. He asked us if we would stand to have our town invaded. I screamed along with the others that I would not. He asked us if we were brave enough to drive these invaders out, or if we would sit idly by. Again, I screamed aloud that I would never let these people invade my town, so long as I lived. This statement hung a dry smile on Cane's face. Lastly, he asked us if he needed to tell us what was to be done. The crowd roared like a fearsome beast. It told him in one voice that came from many, that we knew what we would do. And then, before any of us knew what was happening, we were carried away by the tide of anger. No one could say who drove the tide. We seemed to be of a single mind. A mind driven solely by the urge to protect what was ours. So, like a beast with a thousand legs, we walked along the dusky streets I had grown up in. Under the light of the sinking sun, they looked very different to how they had looked during my boyhood. I remembered them as safe spaces, with green grass lawns and white picket fences. Now, they had been invaded as no place had been invaded before. It was not an invasion fought with guns, bombs, and tanks. It was not an invasion fought in battlefields. It was fought in the streets of central America. It was not a war fought with soldiers. It was a war fought not with soldiers, but with everyday men and women. That was how we saw ourselves in our mind, as we walked the twilight roads. As a new kind of soldier.

Our destination was clear in our minds. The big top. The abhorrent pyramid of cloth and rope. The hellish fortress where our enemy dwelled. We could only picture the horrors committed inside. And we were afraid. With no knowledge of what was to be found within the tent, we all invited the worst to take a shot at us. Come what may, we stood together just as our forefathers had done on the fields of Gettysburg. In an improvised formation, carrying what weapons we could find, and without a commander. Nothing could break us. No man, beast or nameless horror. We spoke only a few words as we marched. In the sea of rage that was our troubled minds, words of reason had no place. Instead, simple and precise action came. Action remembered only by our cells. Memories from the dawn of our evolution. We relied on thoughts and behaviors that humanity had carried with them since they first came out of the ocean.

And when we finally reached the big top, we saw the home of our enemies. An encampment of smaller tents had been thrown upon the village green. A colorful, confusing maze. A mess of hemp rope and fabric had been spewed around the big top. They stood like sleeping watchdogs, lying obediently at the feet of the big top. Any man who wished passage to the big top must first fight his way past these lesser tents.
And fight we did. As my crowd drew nearer, a group of circus dwellers stood in our way. With angry faces, they told us that we had no right to be here. We replied with the same statement. When they tried to stand in our way, we pushed them down. They were few, and we were fueled by a force none of us fully understood. That same force pulled us, like an invisible rope, towards that accursed center of all that was wrong with the world. That big top, that loomed like an apocalyptic fate above all else.

When my troop and I arrived at the base of the big top, the horrid sounds coming from within there were almost deafening. A storm of a crowd that roared like fire. Sounds of exotic beasts mixed with the human sounds. From just a moment of listening, I could tell that the big top was in full swing. Overall, it created a jungle of sounds both more than human and less than beast. For only a moment, my group stood still. The sounds within had quelled the fires that only moments ago had burned so bright. But our pause was only for a moment. Cane led us forward, wordlessly. We followed behind, through the canvas flaps that where the doors to unknown hell. We pushed on thought, fear and bravery filling our minds in equal measure.

Inside, we were first greeted by the overpowering scent of manure, sweat and other such things. Darkness held domain over the room. Spotlights darted around, lighting up the faces of spectators ensnared in the magic of the show. Like flies of harsh yellow light, they darted from space to space spastically. They never stood still for a single moment.

At the center of the big top, on a sandy area, a group of acrobats threw themselves into the air. Creating human catapults, they launched each other upwards. But perhaps more impressive was how they caught each other. With nothing but their own bodys, they built structures, cities, and skyscrapers of flesh and bone. For a long moment, my fellow Americans paused in our rampage. We took the time to gaze in awe at the acrobats. Then Cane reminded us of a true fact. These spectacular feats we saw before us were not those of dancers, but of demons. Demons who, if we did not stand against them, would invade our homeland. Cane reminded us of this, and it took only a second before we knew what to do.

What actions I took that night under the big top, I do not remember. The memory has run like a painting in the rain. The colors had not changed, but they had been ruined beyond recognition. All the sights and sounds turned were thrown together to form a horrid recreation of a night. Words were shouted in both English and other languages I could not name. But while the words sounded different, all the cries sounded the same. In the hot air of the tent, my head was thumping. I seemed to remember wrestling a dark figure. Shadows and dirt obscured his face from recognition. I could pass him on the street this very day and be none the wiser. While I may not remember his face, I remember the raw strength he carried with him. At the time, a somewhat calmer part of my mind speculated wildly that perhaps he was the circus strong man. How I managed to fight him off, I do not know. There is a blank space in my memory. What I next remember was the horrific red dancing of flames. I do not know who started the fire. Whether they were on my side, or the other, it didn't matter. The big top caught like dry wood. Before I realized that the fire had started, it had already caught on most of the tent. Like a hurricane of yellow, red, oranger and gold it surrounded me. Flames as slender as knives licked at me. The air was hot and any confrontation was forgotten in the confusion. Screams in a thousand languages filled the air. To my sweat-soaked ears, they sounded like a symphony of fear. The cries crescendoed as the flames grew ever fiercer. I found it hard to keep my balance. People, both audience and circus performers and my own townsmen scrambled like ants as they attempted to get out of the big top. A hand pushed me from behind and I stumbled to the ground. The dust was hot beneath me. When I pushed myself back up, I heard a peal of laughter that was mad. It cut above all the screams and cries. It made my bones hum with cosmic energy. It was a cackle from the depths of cold space. It was a snicker from the hottest hell. Flames forced my eyes into an obedient squint. But even squinting, I could see a shape in the flames. A man, sitting atop a melting throne. The flames played around him, but he paid them no mind. They were as faithful to him as servants to a king. As my eyes better suited to the light, I realized with a shock that the man on the melting throne was Cane. I saw him, his features thin and wax-like. But I saw more than a man I knew as Cane. I saw a vision from the darkest depths of the dreamlands. A prince of hate, and the king of rage. A wolf of night, who stalked the early hours of mourning for these he could turn against their own. I saw Cane, but at the same time, I saw something maddening. The muzzle of a cosmic wolf. Jaws that had shaped the world. A flaming wolf, who inspired rage where he went. Not the rage built of reason that all men know from time to time, but a blind rage that was maddening as the blinding sun. Both were real, Cane and the Wolf. Both where one being. Cane was the Wolf, and the Wolf was Cane. Cane licked his lips, and at the same instant, I witnessed the Wolf wet its muzzle. As Cane saw me, the Wolf raised his head as if alerted to an intruder. He looked at me, eyes black and eyes evil. Black as jet, I realized that I was gazing into the void just by looking to those eyes. Cane was no man. He was a dark thing. The inspiration for hate, rage, and fear against one's fellow man. Frightened beyond words, and fighting back at shapes in the dark, I ran for the exit. Amongst the fire, dust and humid air, I fought my way out. Breaking out into the night, I welcomed the cool air that embraced me. Underneath the stars, on the village green, a crowd had formed. In hushed whispers, they talked about what happened. The sudden wale of fire engines cut through the cool night. LIke disturbed flys, the crowd evaporated. returned to their homes, putting what they had seen behind them as best they could.

In the weeks that followed, my home town did the best it could to forget about the events that occurred on the village green. A black mound of charred, dead earth rose like a tombstone where the big top had stood. Solitary, solemn and sad, it reminded anyone who passed of things that they would rather forget. The local council made vague promises about covering it up, and replanting grass. Each time I passed, I felt as if my skin was not my own. Shame hung around my neck like a mouse. The shame of what I had been driven to do was heavy. When I walked past that black mound, my legs felt stiff as if I was wading through sin. The sin belonged not only to me but also to men I had lived my entire life with. With nothing more than suspicion and fear, Cane had driven them to things that they would have vowed that they would never do.

No one from the circus was ever seen in my town again. Without a trace, they were gone. Like sand in the wind, they went their own ways. I would have thought that the departure of the circus men would have given me some peace of mind. Instead, it left me without comfort. Often, after dark, the night would be too still. Too quiet. Too void of a light, which had pestered me to no end when it was there. Now that it was gone, I missed it. There was an empty spot in the skyline where the big top had been. It was like a missing tooth that I could not help but run my tongue over. I would often wonder what had happened to those circus dwellers. Those strangers, who I had judged too harshly. Those strangers, who I had believed wanted nothing more to invade my hometown. It was almost ironic. They had been too late to conquer us. We had not been invaded by foreign strangers, but by fear itself. We had let paranoia creep into our lives until we were afraid of every man different to us. Battle lines had been drawn, and we had never questioned why.

I never saw Karter Cane again in my life, but I meet men like him. Men who sowed the seeds of distrust, and fear of the proverbial "other". I do not think that there are any men like Cane though in truth, for I am sure that he was no mortal man. He was some beast from beyond. I was so sure the strangers I saw where the monsters, I never once considered that the man who stood beside me could be anything but my ally. Cane eventually disappeared from the memories of my townsfolk. Like a shadow under the light of the sun, he became nothing. Those who did remember that smooth-talking approximation of a man did not speak of him aloud. But while they may be able to ignore Cane, no one would ever forget the acts that he inspired. And while it may be easy to pin the blame on him, I would never claim that I was an innocent party.

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