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Reno and the Fantastic Killing Machine
Welcome! the flyer read as it flapped in the wind. I pulled a strand of coarse sandy-brown hair from across my face, and tucked it behind my ear. Carefully, I scrutinized the boldfaced letters of the red and white flyer. I couldn't take my eyes off the black and white picture of a young woman with long dark hair standing next to a big box. My hands trembled against my dress in the cold wind coming straight off the lake. After recalling all the letters known to me from reading bits and pieces of newspaper, I gave up and took the rattling paper with me.
My shoes softly drummed on the pavement as I walked along the wharf. Rats scattered once I got near them and a few fisherman and dock-workers called out to me, "Hey, Myra!"
I smiled and waved back at them, not saying a word. A window shutter smashed a few houses down, and I was filled with the wind. I took off running, my fading once-royal-blue-now-sky-colored dress trailing behind me. And I laughed. I giggled as I tore down the uneven roads and the little dark alleys, a stranger passing by could probably see my whole leg. In that moment I didn't care. I ran. I sprinted. I leapt. I flew.
I arrived at my house not a moment too soon. The sun was just setting over the sky-scraper-ed horizon. I flung open the door and sang into the nearly empty house, "Grandma! I'm home!"
My elderly grandmother puttered into the den. Her pinkish-grey slippers were in tatters and her skin was lined with wrinkles.
"Good, good." she mumbled, "what'cha got there, honey?" She pointed an arthritic finger at the bright flyer in my hand. I looked down at it and looked back up, smiling as sweetly as I could.
"Well, I was hoping that you could tell me." I said. She nodded and sat down in her straight-backed chair. I handed her the paper. It was silent for a minute as Grandma focused and re-focused her old eyes. She set the paper down on her lap and looked blankly at me, "Reno and the Fantastic Killing Machine."
I looked at her, blinking. She continued, "This is a traveling sideshow."
I knew that much. I smiled again, looking hopefully at her. I wanted to see the Fantastic Killing Machine and I wanted to meet Reno with her beautiful, exotic name.
"You know the kinds of people at these things! They're no good, no good at all. I don't want you around such bad influences. Why can't you just go to Barnum and Bailey's circus?" Grandma was shaking in her seat. I reached over and held her wrinkled hands. All the while, I was glancing at the photograph in Grandma's grip.
"We've been to the Barnum and Bailey circus. I just want to go somewhere new. This will be a one-time trip. I'll just go and come straight back. I won't even stop and chat with Beverly." Grandma looked forlornly at me, "I can wear my nice Sunday dress, the pink one, and my silk stockings, and I'll even wear my bonnet. Please, Grandma, can I go?"
She looked out the window and turned to look back at me. She smiled.
"Oh, you'll be fine, I just know it." she said. Grandma pointed at the wobbly stool next to her, I sat down. "Myra, you know this city and you know the people of this city. It's just that, I love you and I want of to be safe."
We were quiet for a moment as she fondled the gold locket that hung from her neck. On one side was a picture of me and the other of my deceased mother. Grandma looked down at the tiny smiling pictures. Her eyes twinkled and she grinned as she said, "Yes, you can go."
I jumped up from my seat and squealed with joy, knocking the stool over. I hugged Grandma and did a little dance. Grandma laughed at the sight of it. As soon as she stopped laughing she snapped, "Now go get ready for dinner!"
I held a straight face on the outside as I washed up, but on the inside I was bursting with joy.
Dinner came and went in silence. Not too far away a ferry could be heard tooting its horn. I shivered with delight under my bedclothes and I knew that sleep wouldn't come easily tonight. Tomorrow is the day I get to see the Fantastic Killing Machine and I can't wait.
It was light and daytime flooded my room. I yawned, sighed, and started getting dressed for the show. In all pearly light pink, I looked surprisingly nice. My smile was wide and my eyes were even bluer than they've ever been. I stepped into the kitchen; Grandma clasped her hands in front of her and muttered, "Wow,"
I beamed back at her, giving a slight curtsy.
"Myra, you look beautiful." she said, eyes sparkling. "You look just like your mother."
I thanked her, and skipped out the front door. On my way out I saw Grandma's Sunday hat resting on the table. I quickly forgot about it and ran down along my block until it met with the bustling 14th Street. A sea of people stormed by. They were people with places to go, others to meet, money to make. The crowd looked eerily grey despite each individual's own pop of color. Tenaciously, I stepped into the current of bodies.
I was carried by the sea of people until Wabash Avenue. The second I saw the sign, I wormed my way towards the fringed edges of the crowd. Running down Wabash, the never ending echo of the crowd surrounded me and the mostly empty warehouses. I stopped in the middle of the road. And I realized, I was alone.
Not just by-myself-alone but no-one-in-sight-alone. My breath caught in my throat and I frantically wrenched my neck around, searching for someone, anyone. I heard a door slam somewhere but the sounds echoed everywhere. Scared beyond measure and close to tears, I ran from warehouse to warehouse knocking on doors and yelling. In total panic I ran towards the first door that opened. I lifted my skirt to the ankles and sprinted, panting heavily. Luckily it was the entrance to Reno and the Fantastic Killing Machine.
Finally reaching the doors, I slowed down in a feeble attempt to regain my composure. It was dark and I stood for a minute, waiting for my eyes to adjust. A pair of eyes as dark as the shadows blinked at me. "
"The show's about to begin, miss." he had a lisp. I shivered and stepped into the cavernous room.
"Right this way, miss." he gestured towards a doorway with faint reddish light peeking through. I nodded, and walked away quickly. The image of his crooked yellow teeth and oily hair shimmering made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. The room was enormous, and nearly empty. An elderly lady with a plain and familiar hat sat on the edge of her seat, eagerly giggling. A somber-faced gentleman with a pinstriped and pressed suit glowered in the upper left hand corner of the grandstand, periodically, he checked his watch. I climbed up the creaky rows of seats, settling in the fifth row up, a safe distance from both the people here.
The flickering lights set throughout the room, suddenly darkened. Only one remained on, and it was centered on the stage. The woman in front clapped loudly, even without seeing her face, I knew she was grinning from ear to ear. Even the business man leaned forward in his seat. I smiled, eagerness welling up in me. It was nearly silent and no one moved. A small man with a black suit slipped between a gap in the tattered curtain on the stage. He had puffy cheeks and very slicked hair. The man grinned at us and bowed.
"Hello! Welcome, welcome! Thank you all for coming to our show!" he stopped and breathed deeply. Looking back up he said, "Without any further ado, I'd like to introduce the beautiful Reno and her Fantastic Killing Machine!"
The woman in front rose to her feet, clapping. Something about her was so familiar, so natural to me. I brushed it away, focusing on the stage. The business man clapped halfheartedly. I looked around, wondering who these people were and why they were drawn to this shady sideshow. My pondering was interrupted by the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She wore a red dress, covered in sequins, at the neck and bottom of her gown were black sparkling swirls. Her dark hair was curled and it flowed over her tan shoulders. Reno's smile was bright and her eyes shone with a fiery joy. I had seen models in advertisements and such, but she, she was a goddess.
For a while I didn't notice the large white box that she had wheeled onto the stage. It was trimmed with black and covered with red swirls. Little rays of blinding white light peeked out from the top of the box. Reno smiled and said in a honey-sweet voice, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you all for coming to see the wondrous machine that the Doctor and I created for your enjoyment."
She stopped and flashed a winning smile at us.
"Before I begin the show, I'd like to warn you. This machine, as simple as it looks, is dangerous. When I open it you will not be able to see what's inside, only it's light. After the show you can come and see us and chat and even take a peek into the machine. And now, the Amazing Killing Machine!"
We began to clap, earnestly, filling the room. Reno grinned and the Doctor stepped back onto the stage. Reno danced around the stage, her long legs scandalously revealed through slits in her dress. As she twirled and pranced about, the Doctor pulled a long silver skeleton key with a red ribbon tied to it from his coat. Slowly, the Doctor put the key into the lock, opening it so that we wanted to pull out our hair in suspense. Behind the Machine, Reno spun gaining speed as the Machine was closer to being opened. When she stopped, the room was dead silent. Not a sound was to be heard, not even whispered breaths. Deliberately, painfully slowly, Reno opened the Machine. Spires of white light danced across the ceiling, but I couldn't look for long for the brightness of it.
I turned away, cupping a hand over my eyes, thinking that this must be what the face of God is like. Not even a second after I shielded my eyes, I felt the pull of the Machine drawing me back. I stared, head on, nearly falling over in my seat. In that moment, I made the resolution to see whatever was deeper inside the Machine that made such a lovely sight.
I felt like crying when Reno shut the lid on the box, plunging us into darkness. It was quiet for a moment as everyone let go of the breath they had been holding. The lights came back on, illuminating Reno and the Doctor. Somehow, the Machine had been wheeled offstage in the brief period of darkness. They beamed at us.
"Thank you all for coming. We really truly appreciate every single person that comes to see us and our machine." the Doctor said, pushing his spectacles further up the bridge of his nose.
"And please, do tell your friends and family. We hope you enjoyed our show. Have a great day!" Reno said. I was entranced. Without realizing it, I walked down the rickety steps of the grandstand and onto the stage. I was peeking behind the curtain before I realized what I was doing. The businessman and elderly lady where flanking me.
I turned back to look at them, realizing I hadn't clearly seen their faces yet. As I whirled around, so did the lady, eluding my cause. The businessman remained still, he was quite handsome with a strong face and a sharp nose. Despite his obvious age, he still had distinct traces of boyhood about him. I smiled quickly and turned back to the curtain, completely forgetting about the lady.
I peeked back through the curtain, noticing the roughness of it and the deep smell of leather and age. Reno and the Doctor waited within, smiling blankly at me. I stood awestruck, my mouth probably opening and closing like a fish.
"Well, aren't you going to come in?" Reno said with a laugh. The way she said it put me at ease. I threw my instinct to the wind and basked in her smile. My shoes were silent on the wooden floor as I stepped backstage, my heart began to flutter. I heard rustling behind me coming from the two following me backstage.
Neither Reno or the Doctor tried to talk, they knew what we wanted to see just as much as we did. With much less suspense, the Doctor unlocked the Machine and Reno opened it without beautiful twirls. The same spires of celestial light danced across the ceiling but this time it was different; more personal, more isolated. Although I stood a handful of feet away, I could feel a deep, otherworldly pulse emanating from the Machine.
"Who wants to go first?" the Doctor asked. I shrugged as the businessman stepped forward, lines of excitement crisscrossing his face. The Doctor nodded, leading the businessman forward. Reno and the Doctor stepped back exactly as the businessman stepped closer to the Machine. He gasped, and stood up on his tiptoes trying to get a better view. Suddenly, there was a flash of light so bright I felt it singe my skin. As if it was a parlor trick, the businessman was gone. All that was left of him was the echo of his scream and his gray briefcase. I gulped. Something told me that he was gone forever. And yet some primal urge deep within me burned to know what was the secret of the Machine.
The lady stepped forward next, a weak cough rising in her throat. She stepped up leaning her head into the Machine before disappearing completely from sight. Once my eyes adjusted from the flash of ethereal light, I noticed something glinting on the floor. I stepped over to the box, picking up a small locket, it looked like Grandma's. I used the lip of the Machine to pull myself up with one hand as I opened the locket with the other.
The last thing I saw were tiny photographs of two beautiful children; it wasn't my grandma's locket; the old lady was a stranger. As the lid to the Machine shut I heard Reno's voice, "It's really too bad, I liked her."
She sounded further away with every second. The Doctor's deeper voice rose above the sounds of the Machine. He chuckled and said, "I didn't." I heard the key click and then it was dark.