Home > The Contortionist (Harrow Faire, #1)

The Contortionist (Harrow Faire, #1)
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley

1

 

 

Human souls are worthless.

If souls are the currency of hell, then the devil himself has become the victim of inflation.

Souls carry no value. It isn’t the fabric of the animation in which a person is borne. A soul is merely the gangue around the valuable ore in the rock. It is that personality that the soul carries like a basket of eggs to the market, trudged there by a vessel of flesh.

Seity.

That is where power is to be found. In memories, in choices, in the uniqueness to which the soul bears witness. The smell of grandmother’s cookies. The order in which one puts on one’s socks in the morning. The memory of exchanged vows at an altar. These are what carry true value.

It’s a shame people are too foolish to value these things. Is it not the tragedy of the elderly when they can no longer remember who they once were? Do we heed these warnings of loss?

No.

Humanity is too eager to toss away that which they deem ordinary without ever realizing what it was that they had. Surrounded by ourselves, we think such things are commonplace. Worse yet, we think of our memories as monotonous. Not simply abundant, but boring.

It makes the job of taking it all away so much easier.

Welcome to my Faire.

The fee won’t be too high for you, I promise.

You won’t even notice when it’s gone.

-M. L. Harrow

 

 

Harrow Faire sat neglected and abandoned.

The dilapidated towers of wood scaffolding stabbed at the sky like bony fingers reaching out of the dirt. Broken and burnt bulbs sat in rusted sockets and had not illuminated the night sky in decades. Rafters and structures were tilted and bent, collapsing under age, and rot, and time.

It was the skeletal remainder of a carnival—a reminder of the laughter and joy that once was. Carriages with flaking paint that once bore colorful swirls, smiles, or terrifying faces had not budged in decades. No music had come from the abandoned hurdy gurdy machines. No air had pumped through the pipe organs.

Harrow Faire sat neglected and abandoned.

Right up until the moment that it didn’t.

Sitting on the edge of a large lake in New Hampshire, it had been called the Coney Island of the North. Which was kind of insulting, seeing as it had been there first. But for a long time, located on the old railways that ran up to the mountains and through into Canada, it had been just as popular as the boardwalk attractions of New York City.

But the bizarre combination of the traveling circus and a permanent fairground attraction had long since lost the war with time.

Cora had been driving past Harrow Faire for as long as she could remember. She grew up in the area, and now she passed it every day on the way to work and back. Before that, as a teenager, she prowled the skeletal remains with her friends. She had even come with her father from time to time to explore the urban ruins. He was always encouraging her to get into “safe trouble.” Whatever that meant.

But those days of adventure had long since passed. Her life was far more mundane now. Nine to five, she sat at the counter at the local bank. She was a teller. A standard, boring job in a standard, boring town. The most interesting thing that had happened in the past few years was a sinkhole in the center of town that had eaten half a hardware store.

That’s what passed for entertainment in Glendale, New Hampshire.

A freaking sinkhole.

Working at the bank wasn’t a fun gig, it wasn’t an interesting gig, but it paid the mortgage on her little condo. There were two kinds of homes one could find dotted around the lake that bordered the town. The multi-million-dollar summer mansions owned by the rich, and the crappy places where everybody else lived. She was firmly in the latter category.

She had driven past the Faire a thousand times. Because of that, she made it a clear mile down the road before she realized something was out of place. It was a solid two minutes before her mind processed what she had seen.

Wait.

What the fiddly-fuck did I just see?

She pulled over to the side of the road. Checking the clock, she had half an hour before she had to be at the bank. She was always early, and she figured she could skate in a little closer to nine, just this once.

Cora used the front of someone’s driveway to turn around and head back toward the Faire. Sure enough, when she approached, the Faire was no longer the one she recognized. Her eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on her.

Not that she understood what she was looking at, however.

The gate to the parking lot, with its three wooden swords stabbing upward, holding the sign that declared its name in scrolling hand-painted text, had always been locked. A sign dangling from the doors had always boldly professed that trespassers would be prosecuted.

Not that it had ever kept the teenagers out. There wasn’t much else for the local kids to do, except drink, get high, or bum around abandoned places. Or all three. It was generally both. Cora never really partook of the drugs or alcohol, but she loved the abandoned places. And since the nearby mills had all been shut down in the early part of the twentieth century, there were plenty to explore. She would take her dad’s camera and head out into the darkness or early morning hours and come back with some amazing photos to show for it.

“Locks only keep out the honest” was a motto her dad always used to say to her, usually while he was cutting the padlock on some abandoned building so he could take her in to look around. Poking around old places made for a weird father-daughter hobby, but it was still bonding time.

Besides, he was a famous photographer—well, as famous as a photojournalist could be, anyway—and she had always planned to follow in his footsteps. People knew her father’s photos, even if they didn’t know his name, and she wanted to make him proud. He had taken her into the abandoned Faire many, many times, teaching her how to shoot in low light and how to frame the shot just so.

And how to dodge the local police.

Sadly, she grew out of the age where it was acceptable to get chased out of some long-empty church or institutional building by the cops. Not to mention, she wasn’t as bouncy as she used to be. She always used to sprain her ankles, twist things, or what-have-you. But as a child, it didn’t lead to days or weeks of pain, physical therapy, or time on crutches.

She hated crutches.

But as she aged, even just into her twenties, the idea of climbing through a window was far more daunting than it had been before.

Since her chronic illness issues had started, she had to give up most of her hobbies and her job as a photographer. Oh, she could still wander around a park and take photos of flowers, or architecture, or things like that. But her real passion and her specialty had been covering more dynamic things. Live events. Concerts, weddings, or even better—news. Most people never would have suspected that photographers had to do a lot of running and ducking and crouching to get into the right spot at the right time. But it was part of the gig.

Now she sat a desk all day instead. She missed picking up gigs for the local newspaper or heading down to Boston and Portsmouth to cover big events or parades as a freelance stringer.

But the fond memories of ducking behind old tents or hiding in the bones of a ride, laughing and giggling alongside her father, played through her head as she pulled into the large parking lot of the Faire. She stopped close to its open gate. She could see well enough from there, and something made her nervous to go any closer.

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