Friday, 11 March 2011

Friday Flash - The Painted Man

This is written for Write Anything's [Fiction] Friday Challenge #198 - Set your story in the 1880s, in a mid west, tumbleweed town. The doors of the bar open, the piano stops playing and all eyes are drawn to the figure in the doorway…… Now keep going.

I walk along the street, my ornamental spurs jangling at my heels. I do not use them for riding, as I do not believe in the mistreatment of animals. I have suffered more than enough at the hands of human cruelty myself over the years. I shan't put a beast through the same.

Yonder lies the tavern, looming from the darkness like a blessed port in a storm. Yet I must not call it a tavern in these parts. I must remember to refer to it as a saloon. It would not do for the local populace to realise I am not from the area, although I am sure that one look at me will tell them that all the same. I would not imagine that these people will have seen many men covered in so many tattoos that their skin glows a luminescent blue. Indeed, I daresay few people in this entire country have seen such a man. Why else would they flock to see the Painted Man in a travelling show?

Our wrangler approves of my visit to the town. In polite company, he calls himself our manager, but away from the crowds, he treats us as cattle. Mr Virgil Soames is far from genteel. He calls our small fair a medicine show, yet he refers to us as freaks. We are used to his mindless chatter and pay him little mind.

He has sent me into town to drum up business for the show. The conjoined twins loiter elsewhere, papering the walls with handbills. The bearded lady will pay a visit to the barber in the morning. We hope that the townsfolk will be fascinated or appalled – either way, they will pay their pittance to gawp and we shall afford to eat until the next town. It is a wretched way to earn a living, but for folk such as ourselves, we have little else to recommend us, save our difference.

I push open the swing door. The pianist stops hammering out his tune. A bartender stands behind the bar, his mouth hanging open. Each of the patrons stops and turns. Every eye in the room is upon me, and I feel as though I might buckle and fall beneath the weight of their stares. I face this claustrophobia on a nightly basis, yet I suffer all the same for it.

“Hey fella, you ain’t welcome here,” calls a man. He stands near the bar, swaying from side to side. He peers at me through a drunken haze.

“Relax, friends. I mean no harm,” I reply.

“You, er, you sure do look a little, er, different, fella,” says the bartender.

“He’s bluer’n a pecker in a snowstorm!” cries the pianist. A ripple of laughter circuits the saloon. I shift inside my jacket.

“I mean only to tell you fine folk that the Virgil Soames Medicine Show has arrived in town,” I tell them.

I walk across to the wall opposite the door, and paste a handbill to a wooden beam. Virgil’s face beams at me in sepia ink.

“You one of them circus freak types then?” asks the bartender. He stares at the handbill.

“I could scarcely be a county marshall with an appearance like this,” I reply.

The saloon’s patrons laugh again. My discomfort lessens; they are laughing with me, not at me. The pianist scowls at me. He raises one arm and points across the saloon. A young woman sits in the shadows at the back. Alarm spreads across her face and she shuffles in her seat.

“You should take her, she can join your band of freaks,” shouts the pianist.

I walk across the saloon to where the young woman quakes. I smile down at her, and she offers me the tiny ghost of a smile in return. I hold out my hand to her. She gingerly places her small hand in mine, her skin so normal in a sea of blue. She looks down at my fingers, and notices the tiny painted fauns that frolic in the forest around my thumb. She gasps with delight.

“On what grounds would you have such a delightful creature admitted to a medicine show?” I ask.

“She’s the daughter of a witch. Stands to reason she’s evil too,” says the drunk.

I turn back to the young woman. She stares at the floor, and I feel her hand trembling in mine. She is terrified of these people. I know that kind of terror, and empathy plucks a melody on my heart strings. I lean in close to her ear.

“My dear, you’re clearly no freak, but my employer could use an assistant. Would you care to join our motley crew of artists?” I ask in hushed tones.

Her other hand skates across her belly as her eyes dart between me and the townsfolk. If I’m not much mistaken, I am on the verge of hiring two new people for our travelling show. She nods at me.

“Ladies and gentleman! I am proud to announce an addition to our show!” I roar, turning to face the patrons with a flourish. I hold the young woman’s hand aloft. The townsfolk cheer, thinking their young woman is leaving to become a freak. She gives a nervous smile, and allows me to lead her to the door.

“I hope we shall see you all soon?”

I reach into my pocket and draw out a knife. I flick it with practiced ease, and it sails across the room. The blade hits the beam with a thud, and it holds the handbill in place. The townsfolk gasp, staring at the knife in stunned silence. I leave the saloon with my new friend, confident that we shall do a roaring trade in this town.

* * *

This story acts as a teaser for the next Choose Your Online Adventures tale, set in the Old West! I've been handling the story's "freak show" contingent, and figured I'd introduce you to one of them...

26 comments:

~Tim said...

I really enjoyed this and now I'm looking forward to reading more in the CYOA tale.

M. Tate said...

Well done Icy. I'm looking forward to the CYOA and seeing what you can do with it.

Carrie said...

Like! What really brings it home is the description of one of his tattoos in great detail. Wonderful work Icy.

Chuck Allen said...

Great job, as always, Icy. I don't read a lot of western fiction, but I love the stories you've been crafting lately with this setting. I'm looking forward to more.

Annie said...

beautifully crafted.. as always Icy. love it..

mine sees Daniels first introduction into the town.

http://annieevett.blogspot.com/2011/03/welcome.html

Tony Noland said...

I love the impact of the tattoos. Pity he had to leave a good throwing knife behind, though.

Bev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bev said...

I want to know more about the mystery of 'the witch's daughter' and her unborn child...

flyingscribbler said...

“He’s bluer’n a pecker in a snowstorm!”

Love it! This line works so well and changes the tone instantly.

Your ideas always seem to ring true, Icy. In this instance, I was totally transported to the saloon.

ganymeder said...

I love this! Can't wait to read your contributions to the CYOA project!

John Wiswell said...

I'm out of the loop on whatever CYOA is...

Regardless, enjoyed this. Prickly entry and a lucky audition.

Scott said...

Reading this certainly makes me want to read more. Great work.

wolfmama said...

Ooh yes want to read more!

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

What an interesting character. I wonder how he got his tattoos.

Steve Green said...

Rich with imagery, I liked the knife-flick at the end, such a show of deadly skill can speak volumes to a crowd of strangers.

mgideon said...

You have completely won me over with your pieces of late, and I didn't think making me a fan of Western stories was possible. So much fun!

FARfetched said...

I'm not much of a Western reader, but I do like the way your Victorian characters stumble (or glide) through the Old West in your stories. You keep posting 'em, I'll keep reading 'em!

Mari said...

I'm with Maria. We could certainly see more of him, and the girl. :)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tim and Michael - Yay! I'll post up links when it's live and such.

Carrie - I knew you'd appreciate his tattoos. ^_^

Chuck - Glad you're liking them then! Seems funny a girl from the north east of England would write Westerns but I enjoy doing them all the same.

Annie - Glad you liked it!

Tony - I'm sure he has plenty more where they came from.

Bev - It's all explained in CYOA!

Justin - Good! I'm glad. I don't know why I included that line, it just popped into my head. Says a lot about me, doesn't it?

Cathy - Glad you liked it!

John - CYOA is Choose Your Online Adventures. You know, you read a passage then you make a choice for the character and follow the thread elsewhere.

Scott - Thanks!

Wolfmama - I'll post the link when CYOA goes active!

Mazz - I doubt he did it with a school compass and a bottle of Quink!

Steve - He had to do something to prove he was more than just a painted man. I figured knife throwing would be a good skill!

mgideon - I'm glad!

FAR - I can't help it, I have to keep squeezing my Victorians in somewhere!

Mari - Oh you will, you will...

pegjet said...

I'm late to this one! Great tone, you nailed the atmosphere and I want to see more of what's painted on the narrator.

AidanF said...

A great introduction, I'm intrigued by the painted man. Some great lines in the dialogue, I particularly liked “He’s bluer’n a pecker in a snowstorm!” cries the pianist. Really feel for the woman in this piece and glad she gets out of town.

afullnessinbrevity said...

Got a great laugh out of the pecker line, and was fascinated by the detailed tattoos on his hands.
Lots of fun and great atmosphere. And such gentleness from the main character. Beautiful.
Adam B @revhappiness

Stephen said...

An interesting character, this painted man. The setting is well done, and I enjoyed the flavor of your dialogue. A finely crafted piece, Icy.

Harry said...

The Painted Man is cool Icy! You have a very captivating style that I'd like to read at length. Please expand on this.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Pegjet - I'm considering doing more with him so maybe you'll find out!

Aidan - Writing rude dialogue is often the most fun!

Adam - I'm tempted to use him again, actually.

Stephen - Thank you!

Harry - I might just do that!

John Xero said...

Really interesting character and a good build to the scene. Very well-handled, by you and him... ;)

And, like everyone else... thought the 'pecker in a snowstorm' line was excellent! =D

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