“Feller’s not from around here, is he?”
The old man was eyeing the dark, lean stranger that had just arrived at the only hotel in town. His friend snorted and spat tobacco from the corner of his mouth.
“Damn foreigners won’t stay away. Look at him. Where’s he from, Africky?”
“Naw, he looks like a ‘Gyptian. What’s he doing here?”
The stranger was now directing the bell hop as the boy struggled under the weight of box after box, all marked with odd glyphs.
“I’ll ask Ned when he gets done carrying all that,” said the old man’s friend.
“Yer boy ain’t got enough muscle on him to carry them boxes.”
“Ah, shut it, Charlie. Boy was breach, he’s doing good for himself. He’ll get stronger. Just you watch.”
Soon enough, however, Ned’s weak muscles gave out, and a box tumbled from his arms. The box remained intact, but there was a loud shatter, like glass. The dark stranger moved forward with an odd quickness, and Charlie watched as his friend tensed.
“Easy, Jeb, let the boy take his licks.”
No licks came; it appeared the stranger merely gave the boy a stern talking to. Then, he turned and looked at the two men.
Charlie could never quite explain it, but for some reason he found his feet pulling him toward the stranger without even considering whether or not he should go. Jeb spit his tobacco out and followed. In a moment, they were before the man. He was tall and lean and sinewy, and for some reason Charlie thought of a coiled snake.
“This man’s dangerous,” he thought, “no doubt about it.”
The man regarded them for a moment, then turned to Jeb.
“Lend your son strength,” he said. It was an odd way of saying, “help him out”, but the entire situation was so strange that in a moment the two older men were helping the boy carry in boxes without a second thought. It was the eyes, Charlie decided. You looked in those eyes and you just wanted to do what the strange man said.
When the boxes were placed and the work done, the stranger nodded at the results, then turned to the trio once more.
“There is a show tonight. You will be there.” The flat command startled Charlie, but he nodded anyways, along with Jeb and Ned.
They spent the rest of the day at Charlie’s, drinking from his own special brew.
“Man must be some kind of itinerant show-man,” Charlie said. “Heard of them types. Scams, that’s what they are.”
“He’s some kind of hypnotist.” Jeb shivered a bit, then took another swig from his jar. “Every time I looked in them eyes, I felt like I was…falling asleep.”
“Pa?” Jeb looked over at his son. Ned’s eyes were wide. “Pa, we ain’t going to that show, are we? I don’t want to. He’s a scary man.”
“Naw. That damn foreigner didn’t even pay us.”
But as night drew closer, the three started becoming restless.
“I wonder what kind of show he does?” Charlie asked. “He had all them glass things.”
“I heard my boss talking,” Ned told them. “Said the man was a scientist. He does stuff with ‘lectricity.”
“Maybe he’ll let us in for free for our work,” Jeb said, rubbing at his scraggly beard. “You know how foreigners like to barter things.”
“I don’t know,” Charlie began, but Jeb waved him off.
“Come on, Charlie, we’ll just peek in and see what’s going on.” With a strange fear, Charlie followed Jeb and his boy back to town.
The show was in the never-used ballroom of the hotel, and the place was packed full. Charlie, Jeb, and Ned managed to squeeze in at the very back. No one was taking money, no one appeared to be guarding the door. People just arrived.
Charlie was uncomfortable and hot, and that fear was still tickling at his mind, like a fly that wouldn’t stay out of your ear. The stranger was busy at the front, setting up a strange contraption from all that glass and equipment they had carried in earlier. Charlie’s head spun slightly, and he wasn’t sure if it was the fear or his brew that was doing it.
The stranger finished, straightened, and laid a hand on the contraption. Quite suddenly, the lights went out, candles included. Charlie shoved his hands into his pockets, and felt his trusty knife still there.
The stranger began to speak, his voice lilting and smooth, and Charlie felt as though he was looking into those eyes once more.
“I will show you,” the voice said, coming from the darkness, a voice without a body, “I will show you what you have never seen. Farther than this world, farther than the stars you use for guidance every night. I will show it all to you, and show you how it will all end.”
The fear in Charlie grew, and as the man flicked a switch on the machine, and strange images began projecting onto the walls, Charlie rushed for the door.
“Why do you leave?” came the voice, and Charlie froze, and he felt eyes upon him. Images of strange landscapes flickered before his eyes. “Do you fear that which you do not know?” Stars were exploding, and that voice was tugging Charlie back, and he didn’t know if it was in his head or if the stranger was still speaking. “Come back. Come back and watch the end.” Slowly, like a child just learning to walk, Charlie took one step, then another. “COME BACK!” The voice boomed in his ears, in his mind, but Charlie kept taking one step after another and he was out the door and he ran, ran into the darkness of the town, as screams began filling the streets, and he ran, back toward his own home out in the woods, where all was safe and normal and right.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Charlie had seen more than he wanted. He had dreams, every night, of stars exploding and his house crumbling and the people of the town turned to ash. Everyone said Charlie was odd after the showman came through, odd as the people who came out of that place raving. They said it just took a little longer for him to lose it too, and when he was found in the woods one snowy night, lying on his wife’s grave and babbling about “following her soon, when it all turned to ash”, no one was surprised.
A/N: Nyarlathotep told me if I didn't write another story I'd have math problems all over my walls in the morning. And you know how I feel about math problems.