THE PEEPSHOW: The Forbidden Path (Chapter 4, Part 1)

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Editor’s note: Welcome to “The Peepshow!” For centuries, the peepshow was a popular form of entertainment presented by traveling showmen. By looking through a small hole into a viewing box, spectators could contemplate magical, bizarre and unusual sights that filled them with wonder, laughter … and, sometimes, with fear. The showmen traveling with these boxes would provide patter to go with the pictures, spinning strange tales that sometimes told hard truths.

The Polaroid photographs appearing in this story are the work of American artist Joel B. Feldman. They are not digitally altered in any way. The story you are about to read is a work of fiction. “The Peepshow” posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

So I began my journey, convinced I’d catch up with him quickly and that would be the end of it. How difficult could it be, chasing after a man with a box on his head? Predictably, he’d taken the forbidden path called “The Forbidden Path” because at the start there was a wobbly, stand-alone sign declaring DO NOT ENTER. TRESPASSING IS FORBIDDEN.

That warning was for suckers. We saw chains draped across the entrances to trails and EXIT ONLY posted on metal doors and went right ahead and pushed through as suited our whims. Here, the sign seemed especially easy to ignore because the path cut through a great, open expanse of brown sand. No bushwhacking through brambles. No traffic to dodge. Just wide open spaces and a barely perceptible path invented by bored tramps.

The Forbidden Path led toward the direction of the great cliffs. Beyond the cliffs was the water, and on the other side, the Forest of Fate. The Fates did not live in the Forest, though there were fairytales that warned of them, fairytales invented to keep foolish children out of wild places where vicious monsters live. Should the disobedient child venture into these woods — and of course he would, for the same reason that signs saying KEEP OUT don’t do much good — one of three Fates would stumble upon him, to bestow her dubious gifts: the first, the Fate of Good Fortune; the second, the Fate of Eternal Suffering; the third, the Fate of Horrible Death. According to these fairytales, the Fates took many victims because the odds of running into Good Fortune in the Forest was 1 out of 3 — a risk worth taking your life was crap. If meeting the last Fate meant getting stuffed into an oven and served for supper, it didn’t seem that bad compared to the middle option, which was Eternal Suffering.

It was the “eternal” part that bothered me.

With every step, the town receded into the distance, out of sight, out of mind. And I was steadily moving forward, searching for signs that I was on the right track. But there was no trace of him. No sign of anything at all. Just boulders and pebbles and sand. Big rocks and little rocks.

The further I roamed into the desert, the stranger the landscape seemed to become. As if it was unfinished. Missing parts. Missing people. The tiny seemed huge. Giants turned into dwarfs. Minor details swelled into major events. The scale of the objects slipped and shifted. Very small objects seemed to be large, and mountains seemed to be so close that I could almost reach out and touch them. Yet as I walked towards them, they seemed to recede, cringing away, playing a game of hide and seek where hiders and seekers were not who you think.

Dutifully, I followed the Forbidden Path, which meandered and slid around the usual inoffensive contours. A racetrack for tortoises. It leered around a shoulder, ogled a buxom slope, groped around a boulder and tickled its way into a valley with a crevasse between a narrows on either side of two rock walls where a slimy monster suddenly rose up and blocked the path. I froze.

It was an enormous frog. Frogs are supposed to be small enough to step on and stupid enough to catch, not grown large enough to swallow me with one gulp. Was it really that large, or was it just my imagination? Should I talk to it nicely and ask it to move? What if I backed up really slowly and ran away as fast as I could? Every plan of action was wrong because it was wrong. It was a violation of the order of things. I didn’t know what do. My mind went blank, letting the void between us fill with interesting possibilities.

Speculatively, the obscenity looked at me with blank oily eyes, then hopped away without commentary. But it smelled of love. It smelled of things rotting.

B.B. Young is the author of the serialized novel “The Peepshow,” which is published exclusively by TheBlot Magazine on Tuesdays and Thursdays and features images by artist Joel B. Feldman. Read Chapter 1, Part 1, The Boy with the BackpackChapter 1, Part 2, Anyone Can Call Themselves a MurdererChapter 2, Part 1, Here’s GoodChapter 2, Part 2, The Man with the Box on His HeadChapter 3, Part 1, The End of the World. and Chapter 4, Part 2, Don’t Go There.

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