Post from Scarred Lands Forum, preserved by CarnivalKid.

Short Story; Jack of Tears

author: Joseph Carriker
date: 2002-01-21
status: finished

Imagine if you will a settlement in the bayous -- think old New Orleans, if you will. Now this settlement gets by on fishing, by harvesting any edible plants the swamps have to offer, such as berries, and potentially by working on the lands of the local lord, who sits above it all in a plantation-like manor house, situated well above the water line.

One brisk autumn morning, there are strange bits of parchment scattered here and about on the streets, and tacked to every available surface, from front doors and shutters to building posts and even sitting wagons. The pieces of parchment were obviously printed with bright inks, but they are now tattered and faded from age.

People begin looking around them, somewhat fearfully; the words are never spoken directly, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the whispers -- "Carnival is coming".

Just as night falls, a thin mist creeps in off the bayous, carrying with it the sickly sweet smell of confections that have sat for too long. A fat, sickly moon rises in the sky and the folk of the settlement flee into their homes, uttering prayers to keep them safe.

In the distance, lilting, piping music is heard, and the first freaks can be seen. The town's diseased and mad come crawling out of the gutters and alleys -- they aren't afraid, for the Carnival is a freakshow. Just like them. Soon, far down the main road that leads through the center of town, lights can be seen, bobbing merrily and in time to the music.

Carnival has arrived.

The town is soon filled with cavorting, dancing, merry folk in costumes both macabre and bright. Everyone wears a mask, though many of those masks hide horrors -- these are the freaks, the outcasts, the monsters of the world. But tonight is their night, for during Carnival, it is the freaks who rule the world. The pipers and siren-like singers call to the people of the town, who rush out, madcaply dancing to the music of the Carnival, wearing masks they don't even recall having.

Tonight, all the living are freaks. All the living, and some of the dead.

At midnight, a grand parade sweeps through the center thoroughfare, with each of the Krewes staging spectacles in an effort to outdo the others. The paraders cast strings of silver beads to those in the crowd that please them with their dancing and their antics.

And in the center of the parade, a float, decorated in silk and faded crepe, bears the bone throne of the Jack of Tears, the King of Jesters. His favors are dispensed with equal parts mirth and misery; his beads are purest gold or the knucklebones of children. He leads the revelers to greater heights, driving them into an ecstatic frenzy of celebration that devolves into hideous debaucheries and even the moon sets, unable to bear the view.

When morning comes, the only traces of the festivities are the ribbons of crepe that litter the gutter and the occasional abandoned string of silver beads (quickly gathered by those fortunate enough to find them). The folk of the village wake slowly, some in their homes, some in the beds of others, some in the gutters and alleys.

The diseased and mad are gone from the village; no one mentions them, for it is ill-luck to speak the names of those taken by the Carnival. And if some who were neither diseased or insane are gone?

Well, no one mentions them, either.