You stand at the turnstile, a faint breeze playing over your ungloved hands as you watch the moor grass rippling in the moonlight. A thrill shivers down your neck. You’ve never felt so exposed, so free, so devil-may-care. That’s because there’s only one night a year when Pinkies like you can gad about hatless, gloveless, with collars unbuttoned. Only one night when you can pretend that you’re not a tender sack of blood on two legs, waiting to be devoured by the first rat, rabbit, or rake who can separate you from the city crowd.Only one night when everything goes topsy-turvy.
On Halloween, the humans and Bludmen trade places.
When it’s finally your turn, you’re met by a man whose gray eyes dance like flaming coals behinda heavy, leather mask that covers his entire face. You hold out your copper, your hand trembling and toss back your hair with a smile you hope seems fearless. Although you don’t feel the touch of the Bludman’s leather-gloved fingers, the coin disappears, replaced by glass vial. You almost drop it, thinking it’sactual blood.
“Sweets for the sweet,” the man says, his voice muffled and amused.
You look again. It’s some sort of candy, red-tinged sugar that twinkles in the glass. Someone shoves you from behind, and you step over the line from the wilderness to giddy warmth of the caravan. You were here once as a child and remember the way the lanterns glittered against the night sky as gaily-dressed characters performed feats too marvelous to be real. Your feet lead you to the first act, a woman turning somersaults on a tightrope. But she can only hold your attention for so long. She’s human.
Left or right? With the caravan arrayed in a large circle of wagons, you have an entire clock face to traverse. Left, then-- the sinister side.
The next act beguiles you. It’stwo contortionists, and Bludwomen to boot. Their masks are dainty, one a sun and one a moon, each buckled securely. But as they twine around each other with spines as flexible as snakes, you can’t help thinking that such lovely, lithe, delicate creatures could never harm you. You’ve heard stories of Bludmen all your life, but as you step to the front of the crowd, you realize you’ve never been so close to the real thing, to people your mother considers monsters.
The contortionists freeze in place, their limbs so twisted you can’t tell what belongs to whom. After a few moments, the crowd moves on, and so do you. The next act is a strong man—boring. After that is a lizard boy, but he mostly just stands there, and it might as well be a costume. A puppet show captures your attention next, the voices so strange and realistic that you’re mesmerized by something as simple as Punch smacking a crocagator with a stick. When the puppeteer stands and bows, his face is covered with a smooth wooden mask, and now you know where the magic comes from. He winks at you, and one of the many Coppers specially commissioned for safety detail on Halloween night steps close, poking the man in the ribs with a billy club.
“Did he scare you, miss?” the Copper asks, stepping too close to put a bare hand on your wrist, and you bolt away like a frightened bird.
The next space belongs to the calliope. The man masterfully playing the instrument of gleaming brass and wood is so handsome you can’t stand it, and you try to remember every detail from his long, copper hair to his high, black boots. He grins, flashing dimples just for you, and you blush hot and quick-walk around the corner, your back against the velvet curtain of a tent. Fake spider webs tickle your neck, but you know they’re just for tonight, for Halloween.
Feeling brash, you uncork the small, glass vial you’ve held all along. Before you can think too hard, you tip the sparkling red candy into your open mouth. The glass is cool against your lips, the sugar candy warm from your hand. It dissolves on your tongue like the champagne you tasted once, at a wedding, and you lick the vial to make sure you got every grain of forbidden goodness. For just a second, you pretend you’re one of them. A Bludman, drinking blood from a vial.
That nosy Copper comes around the corner, and you bolt, nearly running into the same man you remember from the turnstile. His eyes dance madly as he whispers, “Hurry, inside, sweeting. Wonder awaits!” When he holds up the velvet rope, you duck under and rush into the tent beyond. Do you imagine you feel his hand trailing in your hair, loose for this one magical night per year? It doesn’t matter. You’re in the darkness now. And it’s warm and dizzying, a funhouse, as they call it, the walls not quite straight and the floor not quite level.
You nearly trip and look up. There—right before you— is a Bludwoman. You’re fascinated and terrified to realize that she looks just like you. Your bare hand reaches out, and her bare hand reaches out, and then they kiss against the cool glass of a mirror. Hair down, hatless, gloveless, collar unbuttoned, she’s the most wild and free and brilliant creature you’ve ever seen. She fears nothing, needs no man, kicks bludbunnies out of her way.
“You’re perfect,” you say, tracing her reflection.
In response, she smiles, slow and sly.
When you see her fangs extend, you start screaming.
Delilah S. Dawson comes from a long line of Roswell, GA natives. Originally named after two grandmothers and a dog, she grew up as Missy Southard and attended Roswell High School and the University of Georgia, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Studio Art. Her career gag reel includes stints as an art teacher, a balloon artist, a reptile vendor, various Disney princesses, a corpse, a cube monkey, a tour guide, a horseback riding instructor, a muralist, and a gallery supervisor.
Delilah wrote her first book in 2009 and promptly stuck it in a drawer. WICKED AS THEY COME is her third book and was written under the working title BLUD. She just sold her first YA and always has several projects in the works, including a steampunk romance version of Robin Hood. Delilah is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Georgia Romance Writers, and the Artifice Club. You can also read her product reviews on www.CoolMomPicks.com and www.CoolMomTech.com, where she is given the more eccentric and geeky products to cover. Delilah lives with her husband, two small children, a parakeet, and two cats in Atlanta.
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Delilah is giving away a copy of Wicked as They Come and an e-copy of The Mysterious Madam Morpho. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents. Read event rules and guidelines before entering.
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