Story 1: THE FACE PAINTER
The haggard old woman was stooped from the waist and hobbling along as though her position on this earth was as precarious as Mr. Wallenda's final performance--moments prior to his rapid descent to the packed earth far below. HOWEVER! When she stepped from the forest and onto the path, she underwent a spontaneous transformation.
Standing where the old witch's hoofprints still remained visible, was a beautiful young woman. In her hands she held the tools of a carnival face painter--always a favorite of the children who had waited impatiently, since the previous day, as tents and sideshows were assembled.
The children exited the woods, through which they had traveled from nearby hamlets, to begin their short trek along the tree-bordered lane. The young face painter passed her long brush across the empty space in front of a tree. It was the very same one from which, only moments earlier, she had stepped from its gnarled embrace. Instantly before her was an alluringly enticing tent that no young boy or girl could resist.
"Don't pass me by and arrive at the carnival looking like an ordinary villager." The face painter pointed at the array of sketches hanging on a wire strung across the front of her tent.
Several of the wiser youths passed by, heeding the advice of their elders: 'Talk not to strangers; especially those near the woods; fore it is there that the evil ones dwell--ever searching for an unsuspecting and careless human.'
Eleven-year-old Evellyn Vovgrah had only one source of guidance and wisdom--her Aunt Volya. Abandoned by her widowed mother, and shunned by all other relatives, five-year-old Evellyn was happy to be accepted into her aunt's house: silly, inept, and painfully ignorant though the old woman was.
Aunt Volya loved the child, and was always concerned for her well being but could offer little in the way of advice. The child's path would be a journey through a very difficult time.
The country of her birth was experiencing upheavals of growth as it slipped precariously from its perch in Medieval ignorance into Modern Europe.
Gandistonia had resisted change for centuries. As the world around moved through the stages from foot travel, to riding animals, to carriages--Gandistonia remained unmoved and unimpressed by all that was happening in the nearby villages. "We will be guided by God."
The clergy preached it, the elders obeyed, youth was abandoned to ignorance, and all suffered as a result.
"Carry this head of garlic with you whenever you leave this house, 'fore if you face a werewolf or a witch, it will be all that will save you."
Evellyn, like all of the other children, hated the smell of the aging medicinal bulb, and always deposited it in a special hiding place--to be retrieved prior to re-entering the tiny mud and sod house.
Thus was the extent of the child's worldly education. No strange thing was it that she happily approached the smiling face painter who was beckoning with a slender, artfully decorated finger.
"You my dear child, are the one that I have chosen," her pause was ominous, but unnoticed, "to be my first representative at the carnival." Her sweet smile completely disarmed the innocent and unaware young Evellyn.
"Oh my goodness, really? Can you make me look like her?" She pointed with a dirt-encrusted finger--nail bitten to the quick.
"Ah little princess, you will look so much prettier than the girl in that sketch that she will forever hide--never to be compared to your beauty." She swept the canvas back, and pointed to the seat next to a table, where sat jars of every imaginable color. "Sit and we shall begin the transformation."
As the face painter took the seat facing her new victim, the girl in the sketch tried to turn and watch. Tears began streaming down the canvas then dripped from the edge of the crude wooden frame. They pooled on the earth beneath the melting face. Soon there was a small red puddle beneath a blank canvas. The red hue of the puddle resembled blood--with good reason.
"And now let us look closely at you my dear." The face painter leaned toward Evellyn, a sad smile hiding the cruel beast within. "Hmmm! A slightly crooked nose, and....
She was interrupted. "My uncle Zivagy hit me with his walking stick when I would not allow him to remove my dress."
"Ah yes my darling child, a cruel world it is indeed. I will paint you a new nose that will be the envy of all who attend this carnival." The face painter leaned back as though to consider her next task. "One eye is not the same as the other."
"Aunt Zvodisha beat me with a candle holder when she found Uncle Lazzor in my room."
"Mmmm, not to worry dear girl, I will paint a beautiful butterfly over each eye, and all who see your lovely face will wish to walk in your shoes." A somewhat sinister cackling laugh was unheard by the mesmerized young Evellyn. "And because of your new beauty, I will have many new customers."
And so it was