Randy leaned toward the girl and
positioned his elbows on the counter. He felt the muscles in
his biceps grow taut. It was a move he’d practiced many
times in front of his bathroom mirror.
“Meet me later and I’ll show you around
town,” he said. “How about it?”
“My, but aren’t you the bold one?” the
Her eyes lingered on Randy’s arms. She
bent forward, bumping into bags of pink and blue cotton
candy. Her hair dangled in grease-stained paper plates
filled with fried elephant ears. A blush spread across her
cheeks, and she fluttered her lashes, so pale they were
almost invisible. They mirrored her equally washed-out eyes.
Running her hands over her skirt, she smoothed the apron
against her hips.
Randy had her now — he knew the
symptoms well. This time the mark for his summer game had
been too easy, not the challenge he usually enjoyed.
Behind him someone shouted, “I won. I
“Step right up, folks, everyone’s a
winner here,” a carnie bellowed.
Children shrieked nearby, and a Ferris
wheel, its white and red paint a cheerful contrast against
the darkening skies, tore into the clouds. Thunder rumbled,
followed by a humid breeze, then complete stillness. The air
felt heavy on Randy’s skin.
He picked up the girl’s ordering pad,
letting his fingers brush against hers, and fanned himself.
“If it rains,” he added. “We’ll find a cozy place to hole up
until the storm passes.”
“You go on now, luv.” She giggled.
“Quit messing about.”
Her English accent was the only thing
attractive about her. A smattering of pimples flourished on
her forehead with a few blossoming into whiteheads. Sweat
stains tattooed the armpits of her t-shirt.
“Hey lady, how about some cotton candy
for my kid here?” a man yelled. And the girl waddled off to
Randy held back a shudder. Anyone
watching them, he thought, would wonder what a good-looking
guy like him was doing with such a mutt. People often told
him he should model, what with his bone structure and
height. Well, maybe it had just been the one person who had
said that — his last mark — but still she was probably
His brother Kyle called him “the snake
charmer.” Kyle, though, didn’t like women. He thought of
them as vipers, always ready to bite, but to Randy they were
He liked to think of himself as a
modern-day pied piper, leading women astray. This one,
though, was only a temporary preoccupation, resulting in a
few minutes entertainment and maybe some quick cash. If only
Kyle would get a move on. Where was he?
As the thought flashed
through Randy’s mind, he caught a glimpse of Kyle’s shaggy
head towering a few inches above the crowd waiting next to
the Tilt-A-Whirl. For such a large guy, Kyle’s hands were
small and quick, perfect for what they were planning.
Kyle winked at Randy and stopped at the
neighboring booth — a balloon and dart game.
The man running the game said, “Ready
to try your luck, sir? I’m sure you’ll be a winner.”
Kyle mumbled something and examined the
prizes, hesitating over a stuffed elephant.
It was Kyle’s way of telling Randy he
was ready to make his move. Their own carnival game was
close to its finale.
The girl rang up a customer and turned
back to Randy. “You still here then?”
“Trying to get rid of me?”
She shook her head, releasing a smell
of fried food. A shy smile spread across her lips. “So you
were serious, all this about meeting up later?” Her hands
shook as she arranged boxes of caramel, taffy, and licorice
— a sugar addicts’ fantasy.
But Randy only had eyes for the jar
stuffed with cash that the girl kept in a cubbyhole below
the counter directly behind her. All someone had to do was
slip their fingers — fingers like Kyle’s — beneath the tarp
and grab it. It would be so easy, as long as the girl was
Randy took one of the
girls hands and squeezed it. Come on, Kyle, he thought, take
the cash. This is your moment.
The girl licked her lips.
“Why, aren’t you a charming lad?”
“You don’t know the half
of it,” Randy said, watching a pair of hands slip underneath
the tarp and snatch the jar full of money.
“I’ll be back in a few
hours when the fair closes,” Randy said, squeezing her hand
one more time.
She nodded, eyes downcast.
Someone said, “How about an elephant ear, miss? I’ve been
Randy slipped into the
crowd. He walked with purpose, but not too fast, not wanting
to call attention to himself. He’d meet up with Kyle in
about 15 minutes.
He’d only gone a few
paces, when the girl from the booth called out, “Help! Help!
I’ve been burgled.”
Randy stepped up his pace
and held back a smile. Burgled? Sometimes those Brits didn’t
seem to know the American language.
He replayed the
back-and-forth with the girl in his head. Most guys he knew
went out for baseball in the summer or swam on a team, but
Randy and Kyle’s sport was Carnie Con — their name for the
tricks they pulled at summer carnivals and fairs. They had
come up with the game after putting a few dollars too many
into the Basketball Toss to win a stupid teddy bear for
Randy’s then-girlfriend. He couldn’t even remember her name
A raindrop hit Randy’s
arm, followed by several more. Dark clouds enveloped the sky
with a touch of dusky rose on the horizon, a hint that night
was falling fast. The con had taken longer than Randy had
anticipated. He sped up. The crowd closed around him, a
barrier between him and his crime. It was as if it had never
Yet, he felt eyes upon him. Whipping
around, he caught a shadow slink behind a canopy. Was
someone following him? He hurried along and bumped into a
“Watch where you’re going,” the man
said. “You almost ran over my daughter.” He swung a girl
into his arms and trudged toward the Merry-Go-Round, its
white horses gleaming..
Randy flipped the man off behind his
He was sure the English girl was
probably surrounded now by the other carnies. What a bunch
of losers, he thought. They deserved to be robbed for taking
advantage of carnival goers.
Still, the feeling of being watched
came again. He spun around. Someone stood just inside the
door of a gypsy wagon. Painted balls of yarn in every color
imaginable, from fuchsia to turquoise to cream, decorated
its black exterior, and knitting needles in the shape of
golden dragonflies outlined the door. Above it, a carved
sign read, “Ye Olde Knit Shop.”
The person at the door turned and spoke
to someone inside the wagon.
“Him” and “the one” was all Randy could
He froze. Were they talking about him?
Of course not — he was just being paranoid.
“Ye Olde?” he muttered. “How
Children whooped and a vendor yelled,
“Get your fresh lemonade.” The voices seemed to come from a
distance. The muttering from the wagon, however, grew
louder. But Randy still couldn’t make out all the words nor
could he clearly see the people.
His legs felt heavy, like they had
grown roots. He wondered what was wrong with him. Why
couldn’t he move? The heat intensified as black clouds
swarmed the sky, followed by thunder echoing across the
fairgrounds. The sound broke through his trance and he ran.
Randy passed a booth
jammed with leather jackets. A man with tattoos
crisscrossing his arms covered his wares with a plastic
sheet. The rain thickened, and people scrambled into booths
or ran for their cars. Carnies propped up signs in front of
rides that read, “Temporarily closed.”
Splashing through a
puddle, Randy sprinted across a dirt road and into an alley
behind a convenience store. Kyle’s Lexus — a hand-me-down
from their father — waited where they’d left it. But where
Hail combined with the
rain and dug into Randy’s bare arms and legs. He continued
around to the front of the convenience store but it was
closed. Damn! He looked back at the fairgrounds, where
rivers of hail and rain already flowed along the roads and
walkways. Blood trickled from a cut on his calf. The hail
felt like shards of glass.
All of the booths were
shut tight and the tarps tied close. A man, holding down his
baseball cap, sprinted across the deserted fairgrounds and
scrambled into a trailer. He slammed the door behind him.
Randy looked up and down
the street. A garbage-strewn field stretched around him —
there was nowhere he could hide. The
hail quickened, making Randy wince. It felt like thorns from
a rose bush, and blood blossomed on his arms and legs. He
had to find shelter and fast.
Out of the corner of his
eye, he noticed the door of the gypsy wagon was still open.
He saw it as an invitation and sprinted across the field.
Half-blinded by the rain and hail, he sloshed through mud
puddles and hesitated when he reached the steps. The day had
grown darker than the hour warranted, yet inside the wagon
it was even gloomier. Who was there? Why hadn’t they shut
the door? The hail bit into his skin, and Randy decided it
didn’t matter. He sprinted up the wooden stairs, the wagon
swaying with each step he took.
“Hello?” he called out.
“Come in and escape the
storm,” a woman said.
Her voice held a lilting quality, which
drew him forward. He bounded up the steps, bumping his head
on the doorway.
The woman stood next to an eating nook
with a built-in booth. Her black hair blended into the dusky
light. She struck a match and Randy caught a glimpse of
ivory skin before she bent and lit a lamp on the table.
“Electricity’s out,” she
said, moving around the space and lighting two other lamps
that were built into the walls.
“Now, that’s better,” she added,
lowering into a mock curtsy. “Welcome to Ye Olde Knit Shop.
I thought that name up all on my own. Pretty original, huh?”
She laughed, her cheeks dimpling.
Her t-shirt didn’t quite
reach her low-slung jeans and revealed a tan midriff. Red
lipstick covered full lips, and the same shade decorated her
fingernails and toenails. She looked to be in her late 20s,
maybe about ten years older than Randy.
Hmmm, he thought, not at
all what I’d expected. He’d have some fun with this one and
pass the time just the way he liked too.
Balls of yarn, arranged by
color, covered the shelves and bins built into the walls,
and knitted scarves and shawls hung from the ceiling.
Buckets contained knitting needles with their sharps ends
The woman eased into a ladder-back
chair. “Have a seat,” she said, gesturing to a stool about
an arm’s length away. She picked up golden knitting needles,
which were decorated with dragonflies, and a ball of
intertwining yarn, the colors of thunder and angry clouds.
The needles clicked together with each stitch she made.
“I’m Esme,” she said.
Randy plunked down on the
stool, mesmerized by how the yarn flew through her fingers.
The needles followed an intricate pattern seemingly on their
own. He’d never seen anyone do anything that fast.
“Cat got your tongue? Or
should I say knitting needle?” Esme asked.
“No. I mean, wow! You’re
good… Oh, I’m Randy.”
He leaned forward with elbows on his
knees and shoes hooked into the base of the stool. I’m
gushing like some little kid, he thought, straightening up.
Be cool or you’ll get nowhere with this one. He crossed his
arms and checked out the muscles in his biceps from the
corner of his eye, making sure the position displayed his
body to his advantage.
But he felt strangely exposed propped
up on the stool, blood drying on his arms and legs. He
shivered. It seemed so cold in the caravan. But how could
that be? Even with the rain, it had been hot and muggy
“So tell me about those
knitting needles.” he asked. “Why dragonflies?”
She finished the row she
was knitting and lifted the now-free needle in the air and
studied it, almost as if she’d never seen it before.
“Sometimes I forget,” she said. “I’ve had these forever and
a day. They belonged to my grandmother and her grandmother
before that and… you get the idea. So you’ve never heard of
the old fable that calls dragonflies ‘the devil’s knitting
Randy shook his head.
“Must have been because of their shape.
The fable claims that dragonflies visit naughty boys at
night and knit their — . Oh my, look at your legs and arms.
Haven’t seen a storm like this in eons.” Esme winked at him,
obviously enjoying herself.
Randy nodded, unsure how to respond.
“There’s a towel in the wee bathroom
over there, just behind that door, next to the sink.” She
gestured at the tiny kitchen, consisting of a sink,
microwave, and cooler.
Randy smiled. Wee? Where was she from?
First the English chick at the cotton-candy booth and now
Esme. America really was getting overrun by foreigners. It
didn’t matter with this one, though, she was truly a babe,
foreigner or not.
“Thanks,” he said and strolled over to
where she had pointed. He walked slowly, letting her get a
good look at his body.
She was right — wee didn’t even begin
to describe how small the bathroom was. He left the door
open and used the hand towel to wipe his face, arms, and
legs. As he dried his hair, he glanced in the mirror and
almost dropped the towel. The beautiful woman he’d been
talking to a few minutes ago was no longer there. Instead,
an old woman with a crooked nose, beady eyes, and bent,
arthritic fingers sat in her place.
She met his eyes in the mirror and
Randy spun around. Everything was how
it should have been — the beautiful woman watching him, her
needles flying, not even paying to attention to what she was
Just the light, he thought, hanging the
towel on the rack.
Hail beat a rhythm on the roof of the
caravan as he sat again on the stool. “What are you making?”
“This and that,” she said. “That and
“Come on? A scarf?”
The knitted product now cascaded down
Esme’s lap and rested on her feet. Silver in the yarn
glittered in the lamplight, and the grays and blacks swirled
Randy, unable to control himself,
stroked the material.
“I dye it myself,” Esme said, dropping
her knitting and touching his hand.
Randy froze. Was she making a move? Be
cool he told himself. Don’t startle the lady.
He gave her a lopsided smile. “This
storm sure seems to be hanging on. Is there anything other
than knitting you’d like to do to pass the time?”
Esme intertwined her long fingers in
Randy’s and turned his hand over, running a fingernail
across his palm and tracing the lines that crisscrossed
“My turn for questions.” She raised her
He nodded. “Shoot.”
“Tell me, Randy. Why are you so far
from home?” Her voice teased as she continued to stroke his
palm with whispery soft movements. “Why come to this
small-town fair today? What brought you here?”
“Come again?” he said, trying to pull
Her hands closed around his like a
steel trap. “Nothing to keep you closer to home? No
entertainments?” She released him.
“Hey, have I met you before? What makes
you think this isn’t my home?”
Esme shrugged. Standing, she wrapped
the now-finished scarf around her neck. The grays matched
her eyes, which Randy now realized were as stormy as the
weather he’d escaped.
He ran his hand down her bare arm. She
shivered and wrapped the scarf around his neck, tying them
together. It’s going to happen now, he thought. She’d kiss
him and then anything could happen. He’d play it by ear. She
might be a little crazy but those ones were sometimes the
She leaned forward on her tiptoes until
her forehead rested against his. “See no evil,” she
whispered. “Hear no evil. Speak no evil.”
Randy’s heart raced with each word she
spoke, and the room spun. Bile collected in his throat. What
was going on?
Esme slipped out from under the scarf
and tied it loosely around his neck. “For you,” she said.
“It’ll lessen the pain.” She bent her head, and Randy
noticed white strands among the black locks.
“What?” He suddenly wanted to escape
this beautiful, riddle-talking, crazy lady.
Esme nodded at the door. Her eyes
looked blacker now, reflecting the night.
Two of the lamps had gone out, and
something shifted in a shadowy corner, followed by a sigh.
It reminded Randy of the shadow he’d seen earlier that day.
“Go,” she said. She lifted a wrinkled
hand to her face. She spoke in a monotone, the lilt and
Randy hurried to the door, glancing
back when he had reached the first step. The last lamp had
been extinguished, and quiet descended over the caravan. He
sprinted down the stairs. At the bottom, he bumped into the
English girl from the cotton-candy booth.
“Where have you been, luv?” she said.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” She twirled her hair in her
fingers and chomped on gum.
Too stunned to speak, Randy hurried
away. The girl giggled and climbed the steps of the wagon.
Did she know Esme? Doesn’t matter, he thought, they couldn’t
connect him to the robbery and after today they’d never see
Only a few stragglers remained at the
fair, even the beer tents seemed deserted. A country-western
band sang from a bandshell, “I loved him and lost him at the
state fair.” A solitary woman swayed to the music.
Randy ran to the convenience store.
Headlights blinded him as he dashed across the street.
Kyle rolled down the window. “Where the
hell have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Randy scrambled into the car. The
lights of the fairground slowly blinked off, except for a
solitary light hanging in front of the gypsy wagon. Randy
could just make out the words, “Ye Olde Knit Shop.”
“Nice scarf,” Kyle said. He flicked one
of the tassels into Randy’s face. It felt soft against his
cheek and smelled of Esme, cinnamon and… spoiled milk. Sweet
yet sour — how appropriate.
“Let’s get out of here,” Randy said.
“And I’ll tell you all about it.”
Kyle grunted and jabbed down on the gas
pedal. The Lexus peeled out of the parking lot in a spray of
rocks and gravel.
Randy staggered to bed well after
midnight, leaving Kyle snoring on the couch. Beer cans
littered the carpet around him. Their parents were gone for
the weekend, some kind of conference for his Dad. He and
Kyle had refused to go with them and their parents had
seemed relieved when they left.
“Screw ‘em,” Randy whispered. “Who
Although he wouldn’t have minded having
his mother around tonight. He remembered how she used to
stroke his forehead when night terrors forced him awake.
He’d lay in bed whimpering, too afraid too move, convinced
that if he’d stay put, the thing in his closet — vague and
shapeless — couldn’t get him.
Somehow his mom always heard him crying
and she’d soothe away his nightmares. What had happened to
that kid? Tonight he felt a little of that boy return, like
something evil really lurked in his closet.
The house seemed too quiet, except for
a branch pushed by the wind that scraped his window. His
mind wouldn’t relax and replayed the events from the day
over and over.
The girl’s cash jar had only held 50
bucks, but they’d never done the robberies for the money. It
had always been about the challenge and the thrill of
getting away with it.
Now Randy wondered if it was worth the
risk. And there was something else. A gentle pricking on his
palms, a phantom memory of Esme’s fingernail. It also
reminded him of the English girl. How had she felt? Pretty
lousy he guessed and tried to laugh it off. What a fat loser
anyway, but a part of him didn’t find it so funny. Maybe
these kinds of things had happened her entire life. Why did
he want to add to her problems?
A creaking sound came from just outside
his door. Kyle staggering to bed? He’d tell him in the
morning that Carnie Con was over. For some reason, it seemed
distasteful to Randy.
As he drifted to sleep, his door swung
open. Light from the street glowed softly in the hall, yet
he couldn’t see anyone there.
“Kyle?” Randy said. “Go to bed, quit
A tall shadow filled the doorway..
“Who are you?” Randy sat up. “Get the
hell out of here before I call the police.”
The shadow floated into the room, the
door swinging shut behind it. A heaviness hit Randy’s chest
and stole his breath. Gasping, he fell back into bed.
The scraping sound against the window
grew louder and it burst open. The wind billowed the
curtains like tarps at the fair while buzzing filled the
Three golden dragonflies flew above him
and landed on the headboard.
The shadow crawled into Randy’s bed,
pinning him down. He felt smothered and tried to scream but
no sound came out. The dragonflies again took flight,
fluttering closer and closer to Randy’s head. Their shapes
changed, and he recognized the golden knitting needles from
earlier that day, yet the points of these ones were sharp,
more like sewing needles. A fine silvery thread was attached
to the eye of each needle.
He flailed but the shadow didn’t move,
and Randy was only able to turn his cheek. It rested on
Esme’s scarf, which he didn’t remember bringing to bed. As
the needles dug into his ears, lips, and eyelids, pain
searing through his body, the scarf caressed his skin. He
thought of Esme and what she had said, “It’ll lessen the
When the first stitch was finished and
the needles drew back, he heard her voice, as plain as if
she had been in the room, “Hear no evil. Speak no evil. See
no evil.” A scream erupted in his mind, but the shadow
resting on top of him and the golden needles digging into
his flesh kept it from reaching his lips.