Return to Issue 4
Return to Stories

The Magnificent Maggot Face
By N J Buchanan

Billy Kinkaid was dead. I know because I killed him. I stabbed him fifteen times in the back while Evita the Bearded Woman held his arms and laughed. The two Dwarves, Josie and Roslyn, shared cigarettes and watched, while Giganto - real name Kevin Smith - dug the grave and said nothing.

It was the hottest day on record. Hotter than 1910, when the Great Forest Fire of Milwaukee claimed one hundred lives, my parents among them. Hot enough to melt the tarmac on the roads and steam the quarry lake like boiled water. Nature was being a bitch. The sun beat upon the land, merciless and uncaring. There was no shelter to be had, and we slowly cooked as the day wore on.

Billy took a long time to die. He rolled in the dirt, crying and screaming, trying to rise when he had strength, but Giganto was always there to plant a foot on his backside and push him back down.

Sweat soaked my shirt and pants by the time Billy was gone, and I hated him more than when he was alive.

We each took turns pissing on Billy's back. I could tell Evita didn't want to, but she wouldn't refuse her Ringmaster. She hitched her dress, pulled down her drawers, and squatted like an animal over the open grave, pissing along with the rest.

"You owe the Carnival money?" I said to the group, gesturing for effect at the urine-drenched body. "Then put your affairs in order, because as God is my witness, you won't be long for this world." I tipped my hat to the body. "Not long at all."

We left Giganto to fill in the grave and walked back to the site. By morning, we'd be gone. No one was going to miss Billy Kinkaid. He had no friends and no family, no history and no money. He'd slipped through the net of life as we all had.

I comforted Evita on the walk back, but she kept pulling away. I could tell she didn't like my fingers stroking her back. She was no oil painting; her black moustache and beard felt like tangled wire. I suspected she was into women, but the carnival had slim pickings, and I needed to off-load. There were the Dwarves, of course, but I had standards. I insisted by walking my fingers up to the nape of her neck and squeezing until she flinched. She knew enough not to put up a fight and we went to her bed, where the sweat and the heat, mixed with the dirt of the day and the grind of our bodies, saturated her room in combined filth. When finished, she hid her face and made small sobbing sounds into her yellow-stained pillow.

The moon was out when I left. A hot, fetid wind skimmed in from the prairie and tugged at the tents while mosquitoes buzzed stupidly around hazy gas lamps. The urge in my balls faded and the world was one loser down. Billy Kincaid was no longer a problem.

It made me smile as I climbed the steps to my wagon. Not a bad night's work, after all.

Something stirred on the porch, crawling along its edge. In the moonlight, it flashed creamy-white, shot through with red. Reminded me of Billy's ragged flesh after I was done with the knife.

I bent down to inspect it, curious about what it may be.

A maggot! A stinking, fat maggot.

How it came to be on the porch was anyone's guess. Perhaps an animal crawled underneath the Wagon and died - simple thing to happen in the heat. A stray dog seeking shelter caught in the gap and lacking strength to escape.

It made sense, and I crushed the maggot beneath the heel of my boot without thinking, feeling a faint satisfaction as its innards squished. I ground it into the step - just to make sure - and made a mental note to check the underside of the wagon come morning light.

Inside, the air was thick with the heat and pressed upon my shoulders like a heavy weight. I stripped naked and lay in bed, closing my eyes to imagine the cool green forests of Milwaukee and the dryness and dirt of the Oklahoma panhandle. I was a long way from what had once been home and I was kind of glad about that. Something about the darkness of the dirt-bowl struck a chord within me, a reflection of the life I led. As dark and dirty as the man I had become. I liked it that way, and I slipped into a deep untroubled sleep.


"Wake up. Look who's come to see you."

"Billy?" I half-opened my eyes to the nightmare before me and felt shock so intense it left me too stunned to move.

"Damn. I thought for sure seeing me would be enough to stop the old ticker." He leant in close. "Pretty, aren't I?"

In the pale haze of a full moon, Billy's face drew into sharp focus. His once angular features shifted and moved, shrinking then contracting as if malleable and soft. Sections fell onto the bed where they writhed upon the sheets. His eyes were dark pools with single points of yellow light gleaming wickedly within. He opened his mouth to speak and wriggling shapes fell from between his teeth to land upon his dirt-stained shirt. He brushed them absently away.

Maggots! There were maggots crawling across his badly mauled features - in the thousands.

"I . . . don't understand?"

Billy chuckled and drew back. "Which part?" he said. "The maggots? Or the fact I'm not in the bottom of that ditch?"

I couldn't answer. My throat dried. All I could produce was the faintest of whines.

He shrugged. "I owe the circus money so the Ringmaster decides it's worth a life - that's harsh." He reached up and scratched at his cheek, catching several maggots under his broken nails. "I've got news for you. You can't play with people's lives. It isn't your place in the world. Other forces decide that and they are not happy with you. No sir, not one bit."

Finally, my voice returned. "Billy, I'm sorry . . ."

"No, you're not," he interrupted, his yellow eyes flickering. "Besides, it doesn't matter. The way I see it, you did me a favour."

He slowly curled his hands into fists. "I died in hate. For you, for Evita, for the whole damned world and it was that hate - that black knot of rage - which took me on the winding path to the forgotten room. Where he was waiting."

My expression must have mirrored my confusion because Billy sighed with irritation and then said, "You know him: The man who can, the dark one, the fallen - call him what you will, you know who I'm talking about."

And I did. A dawning realisation of the primordial force lurking within what once had been Billy Kinkaid, as if he had stood in the presence of something timeless, evil and god-like.

"What do you want?"

"Ah now, don't look at me that way. I'm not going to harm you. If I was, then you'd be dead already or wishing that you were, if you get my drift. Instead, I've got a business proposition of sorts."

"What kind of business could I do with you?" Something twisted inside. "You're dead, Billy!"

Billy reached forward in a swift fluid motion and caught me by the jaw. "Shut up," he said. His hand was cold, painfully so, as if immersed in thick ice. The maggots by contrast were warm and slid from between his fingers to touch upon my face. I tried to squirm, but he held me fast.

"I'm not dead," he said at last. "I'm something more, better than what I was. But not dead. Never dead. That's what the man said. I get to see eternity. And so do you, if you play along."

He let me go, and I rubbed my jaw.

"Oh, and another thing," he added. "It's not Billy anymore. He changed my name before I hit the surface - I'm Maggot-Face now."

"Sure. . ." I stumbled with the words and his face fell. " . . . Maggot Face," I repeated.

"Want to know why?"

I nodded dumbly.

"Because you were right. I did owe you cash, and I had no intention of paying. It wasn't worth a man's life, though. That's the way he judged it and that's where the plan comes in."

He looked away into space and grinned, his face splitting, maggots spewing forth like vomit.

"Imagine," he said, lifting his hands into the air. "A travelling carnival with new acts, so dark and evocative they draw in crowds, not just in their hundreds, but in their thousands. Come and see the Magnificent Maggot-Face. You'll be stunned, you'll be shocked. There are none like him in the world."

"You want to be a headline act?"

He looked at me. "Oh, not just me. There'll be others. Instead of The Bearded Woman, we'll have Evita with her writhing entrails. A strong man who can lift until his arms burst. Trapeze artists who literally launch themselves into fire."

I tried to crawl away, but he drew closer.

"People won't come."

"But they will, and everyone who does will see the fires of damnation gleaming in our acts, becoming converts, steadfast believers in what waits past the simple brush of death."

"I'll never do it."

"But I'll need a Ringmaster," he cooed. "Something so hideous and deformed that they won't have any choice but to whisper to their friends that the carnival has come to town. That will be the hook to draw them in. It's all we need."

He reached forward. "Come now. Your turn to see the man."

Maggots rushed from his hands. I tried to brush them aside, swiping frantically, but their numbers were legion and they slid up my arms. I tried to scream, but they poured into my throat and I choked instead. They filled my guts, wriggling through my innards. I could feel them worming their way into my bowels, into my heart, the very centre of what I was, my shrivelled black soul.

I fell to my knees, arms outstretched, feeling my skin bubble and shift, the bones snapping and reforming, my innards growing large, changing into something new and monstrous, yet beautiful and bright. My stomach distended, until its bloated purple mass flopped onto the floor. My arms shrivelled, the muscle and flesh falling away until stark bone became visible, while my legs became stunted and thick; the skin browned and grizzled like old tree trunks.

Maggot-Face had been telling the truth. It didn't hurt. It was a release. I was born anew, shedding the skin of my old self and embracing what had always been within.

I felt wind rush past me as I moved at great speeds, and where I ended up I don't know, but he was there waiting. I found myself looking into the eyes of the man.

And yeah, oh yeah, I could see how this was going to work.

I couldn't wait to tell Evita.