He spent his time in Delaware drinking impossible amounts of vodka, taking Seconal, and acid, living in a semi-comatose state. All the controls were gone. It was shocking to see how fast he unraveled; no one saw it coming this fast. The death of Sammy pushed him, but there were still flecks of his humanity holding on. Back then, he did spend a few hours every day not drunk; almost killing Billy took him a step further. After the death of John Quarry, it was not unlike watching a building collapse. Whatever foundation he had underneath him just fell away and the entire structure that was Frankie simply fell apart.
The acid was an interesting addition; most of the time—almost all of the time—Frankie was barely conscious. Sometimes I wondered if he could even feel the acid. I always thought he did it to please Katrina. I think he was scared to death of the stuff. The night in the woods was never far from his mind. At best the acid kept the coma at bay. Those were not good days.
The carnival life bored Frankie. He fought with Katrina constantly. He tried to keep her from having a “date” in every city and tried to not get her and the rest of the crew arrested for murder. He kept her from doing anything murderous in Delaware, but now, they had rolled into West Virginia and he knew she wanted to kill again. Each morning when he woke, he was actually a little surprised that she hadn’t killed him in his sleep. Not necessarily grateful, or even caring, just surprised. That was the beauty of Frankie’s new lifestyle—just getting through the day alive was a surprise, not a big deal either way.
A very real part of Frankie wondered how long and how far he could take all this. He was sure one day he would push it just a little too far and he would die. Again, he didn’t really seem to care. It was as if his life has become some kind of perverted experiment. Frankie had become part of the show in the House of Horrors. He stopped shaving. His hair grew long and ratty, and he didn’t bathe very often. Unintentionally, he fit right in. At times, he would sit in a corner while Katrina ran her show and her scam, and she would whisper to her patrons that Frankie was to be her next victim.
He started to believe it was only a matter of time; again, he didn’t care. He was slowly progressing to a vegetative state. Frankie saw her next lover come through the show. He was a good looking guy, a young local hillbilly. He almost wanted to say something to warn him, but then it dawned on him: why should he give a fuck? The young man acted kind of nervous when he saw Frankie. Frankie said, “Have fun! Just remember—I looked a lot like you when I met this crazy bitch.” Then he laughed, took a couple more Seconal and a shot of vodka straight out of the bottle, and sat there very still.
She closed up that night around eleven and started off down the street to meet her date. It was in a sleazy motel not far from where the carnival was set up. Frankie walked along with her, stumbling occasionally. He’d taken acid earlier in the day. He’d forgotten his new and quickly ignored rule about no acid the night before moving day. It seemed to have almost no effect on him at all. He stood outside the victim’s door, who had a light on inside. Katrina told Frankie she’d be back before dawn, and he turned and left.
He was passed out in the rack when she came in, at about 5:30 a.m. The sun was already coming up. She was very quiet, uncharacteristically so. She softly said, “This one put up a fight; it wasn’t easy. He fought dying, too. He was a strong kid. He made a lot of noise, too. Not a great kill. We should get out of here as fast as we can.” Frankie got up and tried to find his legs. He looked out through a vent and saw the guys were almost done stacking the crates. Frankie took a long drink and stood up, pulled on a shirt, and walked down the trailer and outside.
Katrina went to get washed up. She wasn’t that bloody. It wasn’t a good kill. Frankie suddenly started puking violently. All he could think was, “This is new; probably a bug or bad food.” He wiped his mouth with his arm and he started to load the boxes. He had about three boxes left to load when he heard a siren approaching fast and loud. He looked out toward the road and he saw the cars heading for the motel up the road. Frankie threw the rest of the boxes in the trailer, locked the doors quickly, and ran for the tractor. After jumping in and starting it, he ran to the showers, went in, grabbed Katrina, threw a robe around her, grabbed her bag, and the two of them ran for the truck.
He saw the Engineer watching everything; Frankie only knew the next town in South Carolina by name. He told the Engineer, “We’ll meet you on the road. We’ve got to get the fuck out of here.” He ran back to the truck, threw it in gear, and they slowly took off. More cop cars were on the way up the highway. Frankie and Katrina and the House of Horrors were moving, now rapidly, in the other direction. The cards were quickly becoming stacked against Frankie. It seemed he couldn’t deal with one thing before he had another disaster to contend with.
Late that afternoon, they were set up in South Carolina. The next morning, Frankie was sitting out in the back of the carnival, under a Cabbage Palm tree, on an old milk crate. The carny boss had been about 150 feet away, watching him. Frankie was shaking and puking. It was not a pretty sight to watch from any distance. The carny boss walked over to him and sat down. “You look pretty sick,” he said to Frankie. Frankie could hardly speak. Everything was spinning in a blur.
The boss took out a cigarette and lit it and put it in Frankie’s mouth. Frankie’s hands were shaking so much he couldn’t even hold the smoke. The boss asked him if he wanted a drink. Frankie just shook his head and replied, “I’ve got to detox; I’ve got to get my shit back together. I can’t do this anymore.”
The boss had been an army officer in Vietnam. For whatever reason, when he got home he decided he just couldn’t participate anymore. He left the army and did a lot of drugs, and through a complex set of circumstances that he never made very clear, he stumbled onto some money and bought a partnership in this traveling carnival. It was his way of just not being in society anymore, but still making some money.
“You have to love these people,” he said, “They’re interesting and they’re twisted and they’re broken and they all have some bizarre stories to tell, but none of them matches Katrina.”
He told Frankie that he had liked him ever since he met him. No matter how fucked up Frankie would get, he always did his job, and no matter how fucked up he got, he always seemed to be an honest guy. The boss just sat there and smoked a cigarette, and drank a beer. He told Frankie he needed to ask him a favor. His family was in Florida, but there was a woman in New Orleans who was very special to him. He gave Frankie an envelope.
The boss said, “I know when we end the season in a couple weeks in Alabama, you were planning to head further south. If I were you, I’d head for New Orleans. There’s not another place in the world like it, and I’d very much appreciate it if you would take this envelope to this girl. We were very close at one time. I love her deeply, but life and situations sometimes get in the way and you can’t be with who you really need to be with. At the end of every summer, I like to send her some money, but I have a couple other things I want to send down to her and I’d like them hand-delivered. Just so you can call me and tell me how she’s doing and how she looks; I’d really appreciate it if you’d do this for me.”
Frankie took the envelope and promised the boss that he would hand-deliver it within the next month, as soon as they were done in Alabama. He planned on heading down to the Gulf Coast and probably into Texas. His friend Jones had told him about a guy he should call there to get some work smuggling people over the border. It seemed like anything with the word smuggling in it had a good feel to Frankie.
Frankie asked the boss, “You were in the war; I wasn’t. I’m not used to this girl and her killings. I’m not comfortable with my own killings. I don’t know how I got here.”
For a second, Frankie thought he’d said too much, but the boss looked at him, and then at the ground. “I know, Frankie. I’ve had my suspicions for a while now. She took the job, and it became a fantasy, then it became her reality. I thought you were good with all this, too.”
Frankie said, “I am. I was. I hate it. I hate everything now. I can’t even find my way back; I’m losing my mind, man. And this girl, she is evil on a whole new level. I never wanted to kill, but she does it for a deeper need. It’s not fun to her—it’s a need, it’s a bloodlust. That first night, I thought I’d found magic, a witch, like my grandma. I’m comfortable with witches, but she’s not one. She is purely evil. It’s these moments, right here, right now, when I’m too sick to drink, when I have to sit here puking and shaking, that’s when I connect to what’s left of my own reality. I can’t even process the evil I’ve done, because her evil is so strong. It’s all I can do to hold her at bay. That is when it all comes down, the voices and the faces. We’ll leave here in two nights and then we’ll roll into Alabama and that’s a two-week stay and then we’ll be done. I know she will kill me; it’s in the cards. Save yourselves.”
Then Frankie went on. “I’ve killed, boss. I’ve killed in anger and rage and I’ve almost killed over jealousy and I’ve killed for revenge. I didn’t start out this way. I want to undo the weight of these acts. The only way I think I can is to kill myself, but I’m a coward. I can’t, at least not consciously, so I drink and I take these pills and every morning when my sickness somehow awakens, I’m sad and disappointed that I didn’t succeed, but that’s okay. I know that if I don’t do it, she will. But you guys, all of you guys need to be extra cautious. She won’t stop at me.
“You’ve seen the killed bodies, in the war; you’ve seen death piled up in towers of bodies. Did you ever stand at those piles and just think that these are lives gone, real lives: fathers, sons, children? They were alive; they had problems and worries; they got sick and they got happy and sad. Good men and bad men, many better, none worse than me. Why should I live? I’ve no more right to this life than my kills did, your kills, her kills.
“I’ve seen life go now, twice. I’ve watched it go away, like a light fading. It doesn’t go out quickly. Life lingers, agonizingly slowly; if you watch their dying eyes, you see the movie playing out, the moments that make up that life, and then when the movie finishes you see the eyes change. It’s impossible to see and it’s impossible to miss. I’ve seen that moment too many times when life ends. When Death rushes in and claims one more soul. Then it’s just like it never was, all the power and joy and anger and rage and worry and laughter, all gone except for the ghosts. I think all men who die a violent death are destined to walk the earth, from the other side, possibly forever. Every man we’ve ever killed, you and me, every single one has died a violent death. Men like us, we are the ghosts. We became the ghosts long before our time and our turn; before we knew who we were, we knew we were to be the ghosts.
“I knew as a child I would never die. I’d walk that other side forever. I accept my place in the other world. It can’t hurt worse than this one. I don’t want to be drunk all the time anymore. I feel so sick and old and exhausted. I don’t want to have these nightmares. I don’t want to be who I’ve become. I used to laugh at the men who killed themselves and thought they were cowards. Now I see how and why. It’s the faces and the voices of the dead: I see them when I wake and I see them when I sleep. I was never set up for this kind of work, this kind of life. I need to die, like those piles of bodies in your war.”
The boss reached into the small cooler he brought with him and handed Frankie a beer. The day would start coming together now. Frankie lifted his head up from the sand and looked out at the boiling and angry ocean. On a perfectly sunny day, he could tell a storm would soon be raging. He leaned back against the Cabbage Palm and slowly drank the beer, the much-needed alcohol now entering his system, fighting the ever present urge to vomit. The first beer stayed down, so the boss offered him a second, and things started to get back to normal.
Frankie said, “We have to stop her or she’ll bring this whole dog-and-pony show down. Too many of us don’t need the cops looking around here.”
The boss agreed. “She’s been fairly calm since that night in Virginia. I think that close call scared her a little. Part of me thinks we should just leave her here. I’ll pay her what she’s owed and just move on. You can stay on until we reach Alabama—we still need to bring the House of Horrors with us. I’m sure we can find some local talent to take her place.”
Frankie agreed. Whoever or whatever this girl was, she was pure evil. He didn’t need to share this with the boss. The boss stood up, handed Frankie another breakfast beer, and said he was going to go over to talk to The Mechanic and The Engineer about Katrina.
The boss found the Engineer and the Mechanic outside the shower trailer. The discussion was brief. Everyone agreed. They would just cut her loose tomorrow and move on. She was a liability and she scared everyone, including Frankie. They didn’t realize that Katrina had overhead the conversation. The Mechanic saw her walk around the corner of that trailer. She was walking away fast, her head down, her hands in the pockets of her jeans. The three of them looked at each other and then back in her direction. The boss said, “Come over to my trailer. Go get Frankie, too.”
They found Frankie still sitting under the Cabbage Palm, looking out at the roiling Atlantic, drinking the last of his beer. They yelled out in unison for him to come quickly. Frankie stood up, less wobbly than before. The boss’s beers had helped. He walked over across the sand and stepped onto the beach grass and followed them to see the boss. The three of them walked in some kind of lockstep, the conversation low. A tension seemed to permeate across the entire carnival site. They arrived at the boss’s trailer and walked in. The boss seemingly had switched back to military mode. He was very serious and somber. There were four pistols on the table; he motioned at them and asked each man to take one. He said, “I know none of us want the cops here, for various reasons, but when we let this girl go I don’t know what to expect.”
Frankie knew, but he also knew this was one of those life moments where there was just no choice. Every option was bad. He said, “Let’s do it now; let’s just go get her and tell her to pack up and do it now.”
Frankie had this thing about him all his life. It was why he’d never go near the edge of a cliff or a roof. He had this compulsion to jump, a strange feeling; not that he wanted to die, but it was not unlike someone behind him pushing. And the more dangerous and twisted the situation became, the quicker he was to want to just jump. He always jumped, and always landed on his feet. He knew that was the work of the witches; there was someone, somewhere watching out for him. He was a pathetic, self-destructive mess, but every time he jumped, he always landed on his feet.
Frankie walked out of the trailer to go find Katrina. He found her in the House of Horrors and asked her to come and talk to the boss. Things had been very tense between Katrina and Frankie for the past few weeks. He’d been avoiding her and rejecting her sexually, just staying completely wasted on Seconal and vodka and acid. He once hoped she’d be gone from his life, that the need to be in this state constantly would pass.
He’d started spending the nights alone in the sleeper of the tractor. The night in Virginia was the last time he spent the night in the House of Horrors with her. Her evil was so pure and complex and complete that it almost made Frankie wonder if somewhere deep inside him there might be some fading, still hiding, spark of redemption. She was a beautiful and hideous and deadly mirror, reflecting back everything about himself that he denied. When he looked in her ice cold, empty eyes, he saw what he had become. It terrified him. It left him in a cold sweat and pondering how he could ever have gone this far down this dark road.
There are roads we take, journeys we embark on, full of promise and amusement, but somewhere in the journey everything can become twisted. Our compass breaks and slowly, insidiously we change, never for the good, never for the better. It permeates our fiber and changes us in ways we can never untangle; from some decisions there can be no safe walk home.
These are the dark and twisted dreams we’ll never awaken from. That moment when we realize every option is a painful, dangerous and ugly dead end, and we realize yesterday’s worst scenario looks good now by today’s comparison. That is exactly how it felt when Frankie looked into Katrina’s eyes.
Frankie walked up to the liquor store. The girl behind the counter commented that he was becoming their best customer. He bought a half-gallon of vodka and walked back to the carnival grounds. Katrina sat in the later afternoon sun, her face expressionless. He told her that they had to go talk to the boss. Her reply was, “Fuck that and fuck you,” as she continued to stare off in some meditative state.
Frankie climbed into the tractor and sat in the driver’s seat, drinking straight vodka and chain-smoking cigarettes. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a couple Seconals, and washed them down with the cheap booze. Hopefully, in a few minutes he would pass out. It seemed the only way he could get any sleep at all was to become completely numb. He sat there and guzzled a few more long drinks off the bottle and smoked more cigarettes. Then he crawled back to the sleeper. It was still hot outside, so Frankie turned on the air conditioner and fell asleep.
Sometime about 10:00 p.m., Frankie heard noises, gunshots, and yelling and screaming. He sat up and looked out the windshield. People were running in all different directions. He heard two more gunshots and screaming, and saw more people in panic. He looked across the field and saw the boss’s trailer. It looked like it was on fire. He looked around quickly. He saw other fires, small ones, growing rapidly. He heard a banging on the door, so he slid over into the driver’s seat and looked down. It was The Mechanic and his shirt was soaked with blood.
Frankie opened the door and jumped down. The Mechanic yelled, “Get your gun!”
Frankie told him that he’d lost it. He hated guns. He had his Bowie knife. He finally asked, “What the fuck?” The carnival area was abandoned now and most of the lights were out. They walked quickly. The Mechanic was in no shape to run and he was still bleeding heavily. Frankie was only mildly hungover. They ran to the boss’s trailer. It was fully involved in flames and the boss lay in the dirt just outside the door. Frankie knelt down to check on his new friend. No pulse. He was dead. They ran to the tents in back of the trailers, set up under a tall stand of Loblolly Pine. Looking inside, they saw nothing but carnage. Frankie turned to his friend and just said, “What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? How could she do this?”
The Mechanic stood there, shaking. Frankie grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the hideous sights in that tent. He asked if he was okay. The Mechanic just looked at him. “I mean physically; are you going to pass out?” They heard sirens, cops, fire trucks, ambulances. Frankie just muttered, “Cops. I’m fucked,” as they walked quickly back to the trailer that the Mechanic shared with the Engineer. They opened the door and the Engineer sat at the little table by the door, dead; a can of beer in front of him, and a stab wound right through the neck.
Frankie turned to the Mechanic and told him to go to the ambulances; he was going to find Katrina. He walked quickly toward the tractor. His eyes darting everywhere at once, he walked half-hunkered down, not knowing where the next gunshot would come from. He opened the tractor door and slowly climbed in, not knowing or remembering if she had a key. The sleeper was empty. He sat in the driver’s seat, grabbed the big bottle of vodka, now half-empty, and took a drink. He watched the fires burning. Now knowing his friends were dead, he watched the flashing lights and listened to the sirens. The entire grounds were active now; firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and police were everywhere. He took another long drink and climbed down out of the truck.
He walked around to the back of the House of Horrors trailer and went inside. She was there on the rack, totally nude and covered in blood. She saw him and sat up. “I’ve been waiting for you, lying here, masturbating, and imagining how I am going to kill you,” Katrina said as she reached for a bloody knife laying on the bed next to her.
Frankie screamed, “Don’t make me do this again!” She lunged at him, the knife slashing his shirt but missing his heart, causing a deep cut down the left side of his torso. He swore her eyes were blood red, glowing in the darkness. He held her off with his hands as he hit her hard to the temple, hoping that would kill her. She just came back harder. He still didn’t reach for his knife. She cut him again, another stab at his heart, another miss. Frankie got his hands around her neck as she landed the knife deep into the muscle of his back. He choked her and thought she should be passing out; it felt like he was breaking her neck. She kept stabbing him. He heard footsteps behind him, and then a shot; it was The Mechanic. The shot missed; she clipped his back with the knife again. Another shot rang out, this time connecting right through Katrina’s forehead.
Frankie stared into her eyes. They didn’t change. He felt her body go limp. He felt the weight of her body as his hands supported her. Her eyes continued to stare at him, but she was dead as if she’d always been dead. He wiped the spattered blood from her forehead off his face. More footsteps, police. He heard them talking to The Mechanic. Frankie dropped to his knees and screamed. He knelt there for a long time.
From the cops came ten thousand questions, rapid fire: whose gun, who are you, who was she, where, why, who, why, when. Frankie just blanked it all out. He turned to the Mechanic; he reached out his arm as the police continued to ask questions and they hugged each other. They were both a bloody mess. Another cop entered and informed the two of them that the ambulance was just outside the door, and asked if they could walk. They walked out together and over to the ambulance.
The ambulance doors shut and a different flurry of activities began: needles put in their arms for IVs, drugs pumped, more questions, the same questions from different people, sirens wailing, bumps in the road. Through the window, they could see the fires were now extinguished for the most part. The Mechanic asked one medical technician how many died there; does anyone know? The tech just shook his head, “A lot: too many, both customers and carnies. A lot. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I was in Vietnam.”
At the hospital, Frankie considered using a fake name, but he figured they would tie him to the truck and figure out who he was anyway. He had no idea if he was wanted for the death of John Quarry. He just muttered under his breath, “I guess I’ll find out.”
Emergency room, recovery room, back to the emergency room, medical discharge, prescriptions, cute nurses, grumpy doctors, cops, and ten thousand questions. None, thankfully, were about the murder of John Quarry. Just about this girl: how well did he know her? Frankie pretty much just played it off as, “I’m just a truck driver heading south, taking a little break from the road.” They seemed to buy it. Both the Mechanic and Frankie said they thought the girl was a little crazy; their stories seemed to jive. Frankie just hoped the Mechanic didn’t mention he’d been fucking her for a few months. Frankie said he passed out drunk in his truck, woke up to this shit storm, went to check on the girl, found her, and she attacked him. He thanked the Mechanic, via the cops, and hoped there were no more questions.
The investigators came back to his emergency-room bed, said they had no more questions for now. Then the usual—Don’t leave the area. They would be in touch if they had any more questions. Frankie’s only thought was how fast could he get out of South Carolina. There was a broker in north Alabama that would give him a load south, somewhere near New Orleans. He would go find the boss’s friend and head on into Texas.
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