They All Float Down There.

There had been some reports of kids going missing from this amusement park. And as far as I could tell there were no clues.

Which only means that somebody isn’t looking hard enough.

Mommy can we get a balloon?

Alright, Jethro, but then we have to go home!

And This is How it Seems, To Ride the Big Ferris Wheel!

This is not my preferred work environment. There’s so much going on. Every sense is continually being assaulted from every direction–flashing lights, loud music, the smell of food, the noise of the rides, the smell of what happens when somebody combines the food with the rides, yelling kids.

Wait.

“Max, do you hear that?”

I’m hungry, Sly. Lesse if we kin find-

“Shh!” Yes, it’s still there, past the sirens going off in the game booths. Kids. More than one. Yelling, not the way they’re supposed to yell at a fair, either. Not just kids.

“This way!”

Sly, fer pete’s sake waitup!

There’s a guy, some kinda lizard, with ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ written all over his face. And unless he’s the most efficient polygamist in the world, none of the kids crawling all over him are his. Which can’t be helping, because they’re all bawling at the top of their lungs.

“Bub, you got three seconds to explain what you’re doing with all those kids before you’re under arrest.” I guess I was angrier than I thought.  But he doesn’t look scared. He looks downright pleased to see me.

Oh a policeman thank God! You’ve gotta help me! These kids… I found them locked in… I guess it was a crate! They were all crying and I can’t get them to stop and I can’t find the way out of this place! If his hands weren’t full of trauma, he’d probably be trying to grab my jacket with a trembling hand. Every time I try to turn to go out, I’m just going further back in!

I think he must be drunk. “Show me where you found these kids.”

We have to get them out of here first!

Yeah Sly, dese sprouts aint lookin so hot.

“Fine then.” At least I won’t get lost, I know exactly where the exit is.  It’s two rights and a left.

One right.

Another right.

A left.

Isn’t dis where we wuz when we found Uncle Albert ‘ere?

“Shut up, Max.” Maybe it was two lefts and a right?

Now, I know dis is where we wuz, cuz here’s da lolipop dat one kid dropped.

We’re never going to get out of here.

“Shut up, both of you!”

Well, if we’re stuck here, leastways I kin git sumfin ta eat! Max grunts, the blatant offense to the laws ofnature notwithstanding. I’m spose’d ta be meetin Weirdly round the midway, said he’d got sumfin I wanted him ta get fer me.

“You’re using Count Weirdly as a smuggler?”

Da professional toim is ‘courier,’ an I dun see why not, you let Cassie buy you off wit-

“Not in front of the children.” But if Weirdly can get in, then maybe he remembers how to get out. “Hey, Lizardman, think we can get to the midway?”

Oh yes. We can go anywhere we want inside the fair. He snorts.

“You not drunk, are you?”

Wish I was.

“Just checking.”

It’s actually absurdly easy to find the Midway. Turns out, we just had to follow the ungodly stench.

Mithter Fox! lisps the only child not too busy crying and/or holding his nose Smells like poos!

“Yeah, I kinda figured that part out, thanks” I gag. But it doesn’t just smell like, as she put it, poos. It smells like somebody choked on their own vomit in a stalled car on a highway in the middle of death valley in the summer three weeks ago with all the windows rolled up. And their socks were dirty.

It’s the smell of the beast, the crocodile is muttering to himself, of course why didn’t I see it all before? It’s just luring us all here. It wanted me to find the kids. It wanted me to meet up with a policeman, so it could take him too. It wanted us to think there was a way out at the Midway. There won’t be. We’re all going to-

H-h-hey M-max, thought you w-weren’t gonna show up!

I blink. “Count Weirdly. Thank you for introducing me to a genuinely new sensation.”

W-what’s that?

“Being pleased to see you. But,” it’s hard to talk when your nosehairs are shriveling into dust, “What the hell is that stench?”

I h-h-h-have no s-sense of sm-smell, d-detective.

Stay back, kids, the alligator whispers, completely unnecessarily.

Naw, Sly, it’s cool. Dat’s how a good Stilton is supposed to smell! Max takes a deep, luxuriating breath. Ya can’t get dat kinda rich bouqay in da states!

“Max, that thing is emitting visible stink-lines!”  I point at the thin, smokelike whisps trailing from the cheese. And then I notice Count Weirdly giggling and ducking behind a solid object.

It occurs to me what his defining personality trait is.

About a minute and a half later, I’ve come around. Thankfully most of the cheese is charcoal.  I’m not in the least surprised that it’s aroma was mistaken for that of a cthonic demon.  The first thing I see it the hole the explosion made in the carnival fence.

It’s an exit.

I see the kids and the alligator safely onto an ambulance by the time the fire trucks start arriving. Poor guy looks more shook up than the kids do. As they pull away, I hear someone approaching from behind.  “What possessed you to have Count Weirdly do your smuggling?

I figgered he hadda get all does weird-ass gadjets frum somewhere! An hey, he got da goods… he jus, ya know, tunred em inta a cheese-bomb. Dun hear you complaining about it gettin us outa da carnival frum hell, dough.

“It wasn’t from hell! We just got, I dunno, turned around. Lost our sense of direction!”

Whatevah. I just wish my cheese wuzn’t sploded up.

The last thing I hear is a woman’s voice, calling for someone named Jethro. And then I’m gone.

The Final Word.

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