"Step right up and see the amazing bird-boy!" the announcer screamed to an all but seething crowd. The three people out in the afternoon heat stopped playing their carnival games and stared at the man who ruined their concentration. He, in turn, smiled broadly back and continued to advertise. "Born half human, half hawk! The body of a man, the wings of a bird!" Two of the three people in the crowd outside stared at each other, shrugged, and went into the checkered-tent. If it wasn't cooler in the tent, at least they would get to sit down.
Howard Trash knew the drill well. Come in, sit down, let the norms marvel at him for a while, and then leave. It was the same in every town. Still seated in his air conditioned trailer, Howard tried to comb his hair, but the mop of unruly black hair would not be controlled. He sighed and looked at himself in the mirror.
Howard wouldn't have been ugly had he been born normal. He had a slight build, intense eyes, and a nice-enough looking face. Average until you got to the monstrous wings on his back and the feathers on his arms and neck. Normal girls wouldn't look twice at the bird-boy, even if he didn't have the wings, but they would have given him a friendly smile as they passed. His mouth pressed into a thin line and he fluttered his wings a bit. A few papers shot off the desk. Howard didn't bother to pick them up.
Felix Anderson stuck his head through the door, forgetting that even an amazing human pin-cushion needed to knock first. "Hey, Trash, get ready. You're on in two."
"Minutes?" Howard asked in his quiet voice.
"Seconds. Pull that shirt off and get into the tent. The people paid to see a bird-boy. They don't mind that you didn't shave off your back-feathers, so don't be so modest." Felix grinned, exposing a sewing needle in his gums.
"Felix?" Howard said, pointed to his gum "Got a little something there.'
"I know. I was saving it for another show." Felix grinned again and slammed the door.
Howard sighed and pulled off his shirt, gingerly easing his wings from the specially-made holes in the back. Tucking the wings tight to his body he made his way through the trailer, past the cotton candy machine, and into the back of the tent.
Master Katz gave him a grim look as he stepped into the ring. Howard was late, and he knew it. Master Katz hated tardiness, and Howard was late on a constant basis. The bright lights shown down into the center of the ring, and Howard took his spot on the rotating stool. He could hear the cries of "Those wings! They're just a fake!" from one of the people in the audience. Howard waited three seconds before unfurling his wings to their full span. It silenced the audience quickly, shocking them into "oohs" and "ahhs." Howard knew the drill. He understood how to change non-believers into devout carnival-hounds.
"Born to a pair of perfectly normal parents, Howard Trash had an amazing set of wings already attached to his back! No genetic engineering folks, just a pure, old-fashioned miracle! His parents were affected by their little boy's disfigurement so much that they handed him over to Karnival Katz to raise as their own! Howard the Hawk has been with us for 19 years, and has shown many qualities of birds in the wild!" Master Katz raised his arms and, right on cue, Howard screamed with all his fury. The piercing cry of a hawk shattered the heat of the air and caused the audience to clap.
The rest of the show was fairly simple. Howard sat there as the audience stared at him. Finally, after ten minutes of spinning on the stool, Howard got up and left. This was the last show of the day, and he was glad of it.
As he left the tent, he noticed the carnival becoming a bit more populated. Children ran about, teenagers stood in lines for rides, and a dark-clad boy was standing in the shadows. Howard smiled a bit and pushed his way through the crowds (though it wasn't hard, they stepped aside when he needed wing room) towards the other boy.
"You're out early tonight Vlad. Got your sunscreen?"
Vlad nodded and grinned, showing a set of sharp fangs and bright white teeth. "Absolutely. Wouldn't want to end up like all those funnel cakes."
"What? Crunchy and covered in powdered sugar?" Howard said, slightly confused.
"No. Fried." Vlad laughed grimly, and pulled down the sleeves of his shirt. His porcelain white skin, now covered by a double layer of sunscreen and his shirtsleeves, would still burn slightly in the fading sun. He applied a par of sunglasses to his face and smiled once again. "Are you ready?"
"As always. Where will we be watching tonight?"
"Terry said we could sit by the ferris wheel and watch. He mentioned a lot of people wanting to join the carnival over by that area. God knows why, but they do. He said we might be able to convince them, or look for any freakish qualities."
"There were two in my show today, they didn't look the least bit...freakish." Howard said quietly. These mid-western towns always looked similar to him, and so did the people.
"I think I caught wind of a man who eats light bulbs." Vlad said. "I could smell it on his breath...when I woke up anyway."
And with that, Vlad walked out of the shadows and into the crowds. His black buttoned-down shirt and pants setting him apart from the casually dressed carnival-goers. Children cried when Vlad passed by, but he didn't stop. Howard watched his hands form complex, yet carefully masked motions, and though he couldn't see the energy being pulled into Vlad's hands, he knew it was there.
Howard ran after Vlad, his wings causing considerable drag behind him.