By: Thomas M. Malafarina
© 2015 Thomas M. Malafarina
“Well, I try not to think about the general public since I have no idea what the general public is and I don’t think anybody does.” – Elliott Smith
“Unfortunately, science cannot be reduced to short, catchy phrases. And if this is all that the general public can comprehend, it’s no wonder that we spend so much of our time in the interminable debate about belief in God, or lack thereof.” – Greg Graffin
The air was full of the many strange and wonderful smells of the street fair. There were a variety of sandwiches available for sale along with French fries, funnel cakes, ice cream candy cotton, candy apples, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and just about every such food you could imagine.
The unhappy-looking man sitting under the shade of the pop-up trade-show tent behind the metal and plastic folding table was starting to question his decision. As he sat squirming on his rickety folding chair staring across the expanse to the milling crowd of people he wondered if the girl was really worth this effort. In fact, he wondered if any girl was worth the effort.
After all, she may have been a girl and his friend, but Elsa was not yet his girlfriend. In fact, Quentin hadn’t even mustered enough courage to ask her out. But when the beautiful young blonde librarian batted her gorgeous blue eyes at him and asked if he’d be willing to volunteer to man the local library’s informational booth at the small college town’s annual street fair, he was unable to say no. Quentin wrongly assumed for at least some of his four-hour shift Elsa would be accompanying him but to his displeasure she was nowhere in sight. The surface of the table in front of him was covered with a variety of free brochures and other such items promoting the library and reading in general but so far, the crowds had not showed even the slightest interest.
Quentin Steadman was an Assistant Professor of English Literature at an area university and was most definitely out of his element this day. For one thing, he didn’t care for people in general and especially hated crowds. His life was one of quiet academia, dealing only with those who were on or at least close to his own intellectual level. In his classroom, he was king. He was at home at small, intimate academic events. He tried never to have to deal with the general public, what he referred to as the “great unwashed”. Yet here he was among them. He felt like an anthropologist researching some never-before seen primitive civilization.
The town had cordoned off several blocks of its main thoroughfare to allow for a variety of local businesses, organizations as well as food and craft vendors to set up their tents along both sides of the street. There were also a large number of food service trucks set up, although Quentin thought the word food was a bit of a stretch for what he had seen and smelled so far. It seemed as if every ounce of air around him reeked with the stench of a variety of burning meats and greasy fried garbage. Several such food preparation tents were set up nearby and whenever a light breeze blew, he was accosted with the odor of fried, something or other. Quentin had never experienced anything so revolting in his entire life. Now sitting alone in the shadow of his tent looking out through the opening at the spectacle unfolding before him, it felt to him as if he was watching wild animals roaming about the African planes, while he was safely hidden inside a protective blind.
Yes, that was it, he suddenly realized. These so-called people, members of the “general public” didn’t fit into what Quentin thought of has real humans. He knew the idea was snobbish, bigoted and downright ridiculous since of course they were human. Still, when he looked closely at them, he had to wonder. They weren’t the typical, well-educated, well-dressed intellectuals he was accustomed to but were… well… they were just regular people. Quentin suddenly realized just how regular such people were.
This event was a very popular one for the town and from what Elsa had told him more than sixty thousand people attended throughout the day. But from what Quentin could determine, he wasn’t sure if “people” even was exactly the right word.
“Where do they come from?” He asked himself, “I swear, I’ve never seen such a collection of misfits in my entire life.”
For Quentin as he watched the scores of people walking left to right while others walked right to left, they seemed more like cattle being corralled through shoots rather than individual human beings moving along a street. Not one of them even looked over at his library display table, and why should they? Quentin suspected none of them could likely read above a fifth-grade level anyway. He thought if anyone ever wondered why the Japanese, Chinese and Indians were killing us academically, all they had to do was look at this pathetic crowd.
“Pearls before swine.” Quentin thought as he looked at the items on his display table.
The sights he saw walking by on this warm summer day were beyond his wildest imaginings. He noticed more than his share of morbidly obese scantily clad people in cheap thrift-store clothing, which didn’t even attempt to hide the acres of undulating flesh and cellulite. Others were far too thin for the tattered clothing they wore, which hung on their frames like shrouds on ancient skeletons. He suspected several of them put together couldn’t come up with a full set of teeth. Then there were the thousands of tattooed arms, legs and God only knew what else not to mention the countless body piercings. Again, he wondered what rock these creatures crawled out from underneath. Last but far from least were the lame and the crippled. He had never seen so many individuals with limps, twitches, wheelchairs, crutches, canes, short limbs, missing limbs and virtually every other abnormality one could imagine.
Quentin was astonished by the general lack of intelligence he perceived in the slack-jawed, hangdog, hooded-eyed faces of these… these freaks. Yes, that was it. He suddenly realized with complete clarity. Sitting there looking out from under his canopy at the hordes of twisted deformed creatures dragging themselves back and forth and stuffing their hideous faces with the grease-soaked swill of this bizarre carnival, Quentin felt as if he were front and center at a private screening of some sort of freak show. These mutants were not true representations of the general population, they simply couldn’t be. This must be the sort of event that attracts the lowest of the low; those who barely qualify as human beings like some sort of psychic magnet. Surely, that had to be the answer.
Then sadly, he realized he was wrong. These were not the dregs of society; they simply were society. He understood that had seen people like this all his life at department stores and gas stations and virtually everywhere. He had just not considered them relevant enough to really see them. He had his circle of close friends and his life at the University where even the worst of his students seemed to be light-years ahead of this rabble. No, he suddenly understood what the problem was; there were just so many of them gathered in one place. He’d been accustomed to seeing them in passing yet not seeing them; one or two here or there. But now… now they were in mass. They seemed to be everywhere at the same time. They were like a herd of shambling zombies walking back and forth in front of his tent, completely unaware he was even watching them and ridiculing them with his unspoken assessments.
As he sat on his chair studying the parade of aberrations, he suddenly thought to himself how lucky he was that these sub-humans were unable to hear his thoughts. The last thing he’d ever want was for a massive crowd of so many lumbering creatures to suddenly realize that he had placed himself up on a pedestal much higher than they were and he was looking down his overly educated nose at them. That was when they all suddenly stopped.
It was as if he had been watching a movie and suddenly someone had pressed the pause button. Every one of the dozens of beings in front of his tent had simultaneously stopped in mid stride. Quentin found it both confusing and fascinating at the same time; there they were as if frozen, captured in a still picture. That was, until they all started to turn.
Quentin felt a lump begin to form in his throat as his stomach clenched. There was something very wrong going on here. Every single one of the people stopped in front of him were now facing him and looking at him with what could only be described as eyes dead of all emotion. Then like a flash of lightning Quentin saw something that made his heart almost stop beating in his chest. All at once, their faces changed to some sort of horrifying hideous demonic beings with insanely angry bulging eyes and mouths filled with hundreds of needle-like teeth. Then in an instant, they were back to their original appearance. It was as if the things wanted him to see their true nature, even if just for a millisecond. He understood then that somehow, impossibly they had heard his thoughts and knew how he had been demeaning them. He felt a cold sweat break out on the back of his neck and trickle down his spine. Likewise, perspiration began to bead on his forehead. What the hell was going on?
Then in unison, they all took a single step forward. He heard the thunderous simultaneous slap of dozens of sneakers, flip-flops, Crocks, and sandals all strike the asphalt at the same time creating a rumbling sound that shook Quentin to his core. Then there was another followed by another. He was shell-shocked sitting, sweating, and shaking, as the thundering horde grew ever closer with each slow and forceful step. Then the closest of the crowd were against the edge of the table pushing it over with the sheer weight of their mass. Quentin could smell a combination of foul breath, body odor, greasy French fries, and some underlying stink he couldn’t even begin to identify as the table suddenly toppled over, knocking him backward to the ground.
Quentin felt the air explode from his lungs, first from the impact of his body hitting the hard paving then again when the rounded plastic edge of the table came crashing down upon him along with the weight of dozens of those shambling people falling with it. He heard a cracking sound followed by several sharp agonizing stabs of pain and realized his ribs had been broken. Then with his arms pinned by his sides also by the table edge, he felt it suddenly becoming more and more difficult to breath. It was then he realized his broken ribs had punctured his lungs and all the air was leaving his body.
Dozens of pairs of hands began to reach down toward him as he looked up into the hateful inhuman eyes of those strange crushing beings. He felt his hair torn out by the roots but he couldn’t scream because of his lack of oxygen. Soon unknown fingers entered his mouth while others pawed his face. Still others grabbed at his legs, abdomen, and crotch. He felt a ripping and tearing of his clothing from his body then he felt sharp fingernails digging deep into his exposed flesh and tearing it to shreds.
A particularly strong pair of hand found their way around his throat, making an already impossible situation even worse. With one final gasp, Quentin felt the last traces of his life fade away to nothing as he looked up at the insane pairs of angry eyes staring down at him.
Soon the crowd stood back up and slowly work their way out into the main flow of pedestrian traffic once again leaving Quentin’s ravaged corpse lying beneath the fallen table. Once again, the air was full of the many strange and wonderful smells of the street fair.