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Writers are revealed, so here's my Yuletide story!

Digger of Holes in the Land
Gen. 1,714 words. Contains spoilers for both seasons of Carnivále. Written for arllama in yuletide 2007.

Ben Hawkins drifted in the fever for three days.

Read on the Yuletide archive here, or

Ben Hawkins drifted in the fever for three days. Around him, Management's trailer shook with the ruts of the road, wood creaking, dusty curtains fluttering against his face. The sheets under him were rank and stale, the bow in the mattress cradling Ben into a dead man’s wallow.

Ben dreamed:

The preacher, with his eyes gone black, blood spilling cool and wrong over Ben’s hands –

Sofie, with her back turned to Ben and her worn calico dress caught up in blackening flames –

A withered old tree, swallowed by an immense wave of noise and fire –

Ben was no stranger to sickness, but this fever was like a living thing. It seized Ben and shook him like a babe in arms, sending him trembling like a spastic till his arms and legs were useless jelly. The air itself turned thick, choking him with his own breath. When he floated towards consciousness, that was when the pain set in – a wide band of fire across his belly, all his skin burning hot despite the cool blankets.

Sometimes, Ben could sense other people there beside him: Samson’s small, gnarled hands dabbing awkwardly at his brow, or Ruthie’s careful, firm touch. Others, too: coarse hands lined with blisters and calluses, chapped palms brushing against Ben’s sides as sheets and bandages were changed. Ben wanted to open his eyes, to either thank them or tell them to getthehelloff, let him lie there – die there in peace – but he couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move.

Ben dreamed:

Lodz was an insufferable cocksucker at the best of times, and death hadn’t made him any more likable. He crossed his legs and stared at Ben with his blank gaze.

“It ain’t bad enough that I’m at death’s door, now I gotta deal with you, too?” Ben sat up in bed, moved the curtains further aside with the easy, blurred motion that dreams provide. It made him nervous, to be trapped in the trailer where his predecessor had lived his days.

“You’re nervous.” Lodz growled and disguised it as a laugh. “How do you think I feel? I died here, boy.”

Ben just looked back at him, stared right in the Professor’s boiled-egg eyes. “So did he,” said Ben.

“You killed me.”

“Yeah. Him, too.”

Lodz leaned forward and handed Ben a card like the ones from Sofie’s deck. It was folded in half, and when Ben looked at the front of the card, there was a big white crease worn through the picture: a battered man surrounded by a forest of wooden poles.

"Wishful thinking," said Lodz.

It was right about then that Sofie popped out of nowhere, her eyes black as pitch. She sliced Lodz from stem to stern and left him flopping on the floor. Another flash of metal, and Ben had just enough time to look down, crazy with shock and the blade of the scythe that was sticking from his chest, goddamn,
Sofie? before he woke up – to pain, and more pain.

Ben’s eyes were sealed shut, and his face felt like a death mask. He tried to say something, but it came out as a whimper. Whoever it was next to him shushed Ben, dragged a wet rag over his face, and Ben turned into it like he would a cool rain.

Ben was trying to wake up; he really was. But Samson was right, when he said that dying was a helluva lot easier than living. After all this time, Ben was so, so ready for things to be easy.

He dreamed:

Jonesy’s baseball uniform was covered in blood, but he didn’t seem bothered none by it. He was tossing a ball in one hand, and as Ben watched, he wound it up and let it go, small white blur shooting through the empty air. His whoop of delight shattered the silence.

“Hawkins!” Jonesy shouted. “Come look at this.”

Ben took a few steps over to him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Ben’s dreams rarely deviated from his destiny and all the mumbo jumbo that went with it, and Jonesy didn’t have anything to do with that whole mess.

Jonesy looked at Ben for a long moment, biting his cheek in thought. “You know you have to wake up, right?”

“I’m tryin’!”

“Not good enough.” Jonesy looked away, spit on the ground. “Not nearly good enough, Hawkins. You’ve got a lot of people counting on you.”

“Sofie,” said Ben. “I need to find her.”

“Thought I told you, she can take care of herself,” said Jonesy. He gave Ben a bitter grin. “Anyway, the way things are going, she’ll find

He tossed Ben his catcher’s mitt. When Ben reached for it, it flew apart into pieces. Each scrap of leather was a small brown bird, little wings flapping like mad.

“Would you look at that,” said Jonesy. His voice was awed.

Ben twisted around. Behind him, there was a huge stadium full of people – so many that Ben couldn’t tell the faces apart, just saw a mess of color and motion. They were all cheering and clapping.

Jonesy clapped Ben on the shoulder. “Ready to play?”

On the third day, Ben woke up for good. Little things started to filter in first: the texture of the bedspread, the crack in the curtains where the light came in. He heard metal clinking, paper being shuffled. Someone was nearby.

“Hello?” Ben croaked. He cleared his throat a few times, then tried again: “Who’s there?”

The curtain whipped back to reveal Samson, who gave Ben a surprised stare. “Thought we’d lost you, kid,” he said, sounding relieved.

“I guess it ain’t gonna be that easy.” Ben coughed and tried to drag himself to a sitting position. “I got him, right? The preacher? He’s dead?”

“You sure did!” Samson handed him a dented tin cup of water, and Ben gulped it down too fast. The lukewarm liquid sat hard on his empty stomach, but he didn’t care.

“It’s strange,” Ben said. “I don’t feel no different. It always gonna be like this?”

Samson gave him a concerned look. “Like what?”

Ben didn’t know how to describe it: the pulling sensation in his head, telling him that there was somewhere else out there he needed to be; the constant reminder that he was part of a half, good and evil gone and twisted up in each other. That feeling was still there, wrapped around his lungs, humming in the back of his mind. He guessed it always would be.

“I don’t know,” said Ben. “Shit – Sofie! Did anyone find her? How long have I been sleepin’?”

Samson just shook his head, and something tight and ugly took up residence in the back of Ben’s throat.

“You’ve been with fever for three days,” said Samson. An awkward pause, then: “There was no sign of Sofie. We lost Jones, too. Word around the camp is that he took off again, or was locked in the drunk tank for real, this time, but nobody actually believes it.”

“So, what, he’s dead?” Hawkins! Come look at this.

Samson’s silence was answer enough. Shit. Ben hadn’t even known Jonesy very well, but hell, in some ways he’d known him better than Jonesy’s momma would’ve. Ben had been inside the man’s skin, after he’d been tarred and feathered – reshaping flesh, forcing the life back in. Don’t nobody know you better than that.

“We’re back on the circuit,” said Samson. “Headed to Carson City.” He paused, and Ben could tell there were about a dozen questions he wanted to ask. “So what does this mean?” Samson asked finally.

“Sure beats me,” said Ben. It was strange, to think of it being over. He tried a joke: “Does this mean I’m Management, now?”

Samson chuckled. “Don’t get cocky.”

Ben got better, after that. The slice across his stomach scabbed over purple, and he ventured outside a few times to help pull his weight, which seemed more important now that Jonesy was gone. He got tired easy, but it was a good tired, the kind you get with a full night’s sleep.

It was another three days before Ben got a hold of a newspaper.

The preacher was still alive. His face stared up from the front page, solemn and damned. The article said there’d been a freak accident at the ministries involving a loose wire on a carnival ride. Several people were dead, and Brother Justin was deeply sorry for the loss and praying for their swift journey to heaven. Ben wondered if people were really so blind that they couldn’t see the devil in the man they followed.

Ben couldn’t wrap his mind around it at first, but then he realized: this meant nothing was over; good people were dead, the Usher was alive, and Ben had failed. For a moment, he wondered if he could get away with crawling back into the Russian’s bed and closing the curtain, letting the whole world swirl on by him. He wanted to do it, God, he wanted to leave the whole thing behind, take a page from his father’s book and just disappear.

Then Ben thought of Sofie – and Ruthie, Jonesy, Samson, and every other miserable soul in the whole goddamned carnival, with their worthless lives and desperate hopes, needing Ben, whatever the hell that meant. Jesus, it had been hard enough to choose this path the first time, destiny or not – Ben hadn’t known that he’d have to keep choosing it, over and over again.

And God help him, he would. Ben would choose it, because he might not be the messiah that people wanted – hell, he might not even be a good man – but he was the only man that could do the job. It might not be easy, but it would be right. He took a deep breath, and then went to tell Samson the bad news. No way around it, they’d have to leave the circuit again and head back west.

Outside the trailer, Ben halted and stared at the eerie yellow of the horizon, the air full of the dark smell that comes before a rain. Above him, the sky was completely clear, not a cloud to be seen.

Ben Hawkins looked at the sky, then looked forward and started walking.


did not catch sight of you yet
allowed to randomly offer accidental insight.

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