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Polyphemus’ Cave

The horror in the sawmill wasn’t far from his mind the night he saw the giant. He’d thought about it briefly in Los Angeles, after he saw the telegram announcing his father’s death. He considered the slow swing of barn-board doors across the mill’s great black belly, each of the three times he’d had to stop to change flat tires on his brand new Ford Coupe. He thought about it again, stopped in the afternoon sun at the top of a steep slope just west of the Idaho line, to deal with his boiled-over radiator. The water steaming from under the hood made him think about how the rainwater dripped from the tackle and chains in the sawmill’s rafters as he lay face-down in damp sawdust. He retched yellow bile into the roadside dirt and started, maybe, to cry. The horror of that night was clearer in his mind then than it had been for years.

But a hundred miles ahead when the sun had at last set, the spruce trees at the side of the road spread apart like drawing curtains and the nude giant stepped into his path. The sight of it drove The North Brothers Lumber Company and its terrible sawmill from James Thorne’s thoughts like a spurned beau.

The giant clutched a splintered rail tie in front of him like it was a baseball bat. He glared into the Ford’s headlamps with a single eye — a great green orb flecked with yellow around a pupil wide and deep as the Idaho sky. It hovered in the middle of his skull, beneath a great curling mass of black hair. James slammed his foot on the brake pedal and the Ford’s tires bit into the road, sending stones rat-a-tating into the depths of the wheel well.

My God , thought James. He’s big as trees.

He leaned forward in the seat to get a better look. The giant crouched down too and leaned towards the car. A leathery lid crossed his eye as he peered in. They studied each other in that instant. James felt as though that eye was looking through him: drawing the rest of his terror from him like sweet liquor at the bottom of a dark glass.

Then the giant made a noise like a dog’s barking, his lips pulled back from teeth that seemed filed to points. With a swing of the rail tie, he splintered the tops of two trees on the far side of the road and disappeared again into the wood. Crickets chirped and tree limbs cracked, and James Thorne’s heart thundered in his chest.

“He’s big as the trees.” He said it aloud, with a bit of a laugh. He wanted to say it to his pal Stephen Fletcher, a lean young black-haired colt of a boy who dressed sets back on The Devil Pirates. For the past month he’d spent many of his after-hours undressing James. Stephen was smooth and young and eager to please — and James wished Stephen were here now. But he couldn’t take his lover home. Not any more than he could admit to having him in Los Angeles.

James set his mouth and engaged the clutch. The Ford Coupe crunched across the gravel with a noise like breaking glass. He rounded a bend, and came out in the great bowl of valley in the Coeur d’ Alene mountains. The road was still high enough that he could see the dim etchings of the familiar peaks against the night sky that surrounded Chamblay. In the valley’s middle, miles distant, James could make out a glow among the trees.

This was new for him. When he’d left home, the Grand Coulee Dam wasn’t even half built, and the only light in Chamblay came from candle, kerosene and the sun. James smiled bitterly.

After dark on a moonless night, Chamblay could hide in itself.

The road carried James down a sharp slope and drew alongside the Northern Pacific line that served the town. The tracks gleamed silvery in his headlamps for an instant before he turned back parallel to the line.

That was the line that, according to his mother’s cryptic telegram, had something significant to do with his father’s sudden and untimely death.

“Mmm.” He smiled a little, and thought about the giant in the road again — not just the eye, but his immense, sculpted thighs, the dark beard that tumbled halfway down the broad chest …

“What a thing,” he said. “What a marvellous thing. Put that in a picture, no one would believe it.”

The giant, of course, would be the perfect thing for the pictures. Particularly pictures like The Devil Pirates. In the person of the brave and over-energetic Captain Kip Blackwell, James had battled a giant octopus, not one but two carnivorous gorillas, a host of man-eating midgets from Blood Island, and of course, several of the fearsome Devil Pirates themselves. For all that battling, Republic still wanted another batch of a dozen episodes before the serial ran its course. The giant man in the road, with the peculiar eye in the middle of his forehead, naked as the day he was born — he’d fill out four of those episodes, maybe more, all by himself.

James thought about that — about unsheathing his rapier against a giant more than twice as tall as he — leaping across the otherwise unconvincing deck of the Crimson Monkey, dodging the blows of the giant’s papier-m^ach'e club, slashing out theatrically with his sword to bring a dozen yards of sailcloth onto the monster’s roaring head. Perhaps, to be true to the plotline, they’d be battling over the honour of the lovely Princess Rebecca, who had disguised herself as a cabin boy back in episode three to join Kip and his crew on their frenetically eventful voyage.

“Wouldn’t do to lose that fight,” said James, thinking for a moment of what would become of his co-star, tiny Alice Shaw, in the amorous clutches of the giant. He slowed down as he drew through the closed-down business section of Chamblay, past the Episcopalian church his parents frequented, the schoolhouse where he’d learned to read — and finally outside the old clapboard house where he’d spent the first seventeen years of his life. James smiled and shook his head: the preposterous picture of a twenty-foot-tall man mounting a five-foot-two-inch woman provided a comic, if grotesque, distraction to the matter at hand.

He was still thinking about it — or about the giant, the magnificent giant that he might have seen or might, the more he thought of it, simply have dreamed — as he pulled his suitcase from the Ford’s trunk, let out a long sigh, and made his way up the path to his mother’s front door. The telegram that had brought him here sat folded in his jacket pocket and he made himself think of it. It was a reminder of what he ought to be feeling.



That was what James had said when the script girl had handed him the slip of onionskin paper from Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. He’d set his glass of water down. Read the words from the telegram once, and then again. Endured the girl’s hand on his arm, the sympathetic cooing noise she made. He gave her a smile that was meant to look strained — the smile of a grieving son, bravely facing the death of his beloved old dad.

“Well,” he said. He unbuckled the leather belt and scabbard. He draped it over the canvas back of his chair. He walked back behind the false adobe wall of the Castillo de Diablo set. He found a spot where no one could see him. Crossed his arms. Put his hand on his forehead, and waved away a carpenter who’d stuck his head back there to see what was wrong. Then laughed, silently but deeply, until tears streamed convincingly in little brown rivers down the layers of orange pancake encrusted on his cheeks.

His dad was dead. Some terrible accident on the tracks. Well, wasn’t that rich. The town would probably be having a parade for Nick Thorne, his strapping, iron-jawed Paul Bunyan of a father … And now —

— now, he was the man of the house.

There was only one word for it.


Three days after the telegram, in the middle of the night, James trod up the front steps to the family house. He didn’t know much more now than he did then: he’d just sent off one telegram before packing up his car and heading off. He found that he didn’t want to know more than his mother chose to reveal in that fifty-word telegram. So he just composed one of his own:


There was light inside the house. He was not surprised to see that it was not electric. His father hadn’t worked a decent job since the last time the North Brothers had run their mill, and that was years ago.

But the kerosene flame gave James an odd sort of comfort. The yellow, flickering light was proper and right for a town like Chamblay. Electricity was for New York and Los Angeles. This little place wasn’t ready for it.

He paused to look inside. There was his mother, sitting in one of the hard, high-backed chairs. She held the black covers of the family Bible in front of her face like a fan. She heard him coming — he knew her well enough to tell that — but she pretended not to. As he watched through the window, she licked a forefinger and turned a page.

James leaned over and rapped twice on the windowpane. His mother looked up. Widened her eyes in unconvincing delight, as though he were the last person she’d expect to see at the window on an August night some four days after the death of her husband. “Jimmy!” Her voice had a far-away sound to it through the windowpane. She shut the Bible on its marker, set it down and hurried to the front door, which she flung open with a clatter. “Oh, Jimmy!”

James patted his mother’s back. “Hello, Mother,” he said, as she buried her face in the crook of his shoulder and moistened his shirt with tears. “Hello.”

“Now tell me what happened,” he said, as they sat across from one another in the dining room. “What happened to Dad?”

His mother smoothed out her print dress and looked down. “I’m sorry, hon — I guess I didn’t put too much in that telegram. Thought you might have read the newspapers. About the derailment and such.”

James shook his head. “I don’t have much time for that, what with my schedule.”

His mother smiled and patted his hand. “Well, you’ve got time to come home when I need you most. That’s a blessing.”

“They gave me ten days,” said James. His mother’s smile faltered, so he added: “I’m sure I can arrange a little more.”

“Oh.” The smile returned. “Well, good.”

“Now. Was it the derailment? That — ”

“That killed your father?” James’s mother folded her hands in front of her and fixed her eye on the Bible. “Not directly. I can’t believe you hadn’t heard of it. There was a newspaper man who came all the way from Seattle to interview me and take pictures. He said it’d play in all the Hearst papers, what with the circus angle. Biggest one since 1918, he said. I’d have written more if I’d known.”

James frowned. “The circus angle?”

“It was a circus train,” she said, sighing. “Twillicker and Baines Circus. Come down from Canada. Old steam engine, six rickety old freight cars and a couple of Pullmans. Wasn’t even supposed to stop here …”

“Ah.” James nodded. He did remember the story now — the Twillicker and Baines wreck had come up a couple of times while he was in makeup. The circus train had derailed somewhere “up north.” There’d been a kerosene fire. Some animals had gotten loose. A lot of people had been killed. There was a number, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He shut his eyes — as much in shame as in grief. Maybe someone had said the word Chamblay in connection with the wreck. If they had, James just hadn’t made the connection between the wreck and his home. Even when his mother told him of his father’s death.

What did that say about him?

“There there, dear.” His mother patted his hand. “It’s been a long day’s drive for you. I see that pretty car of yours outside. You don’t want to hear about your father right now. Why don’t you get some sleep? Lots of time to talk in the morning.”

“I’ll sleep in a moment.” James opened his eyes and took his mother’s hand in his and looked her in the eye. It had been years since he’d fled Chamblay, and every one of those years showed in her face. Now grief was added to the mix. She looked very old. “Tell me about Dad now.”

His mother nodded. “The train wreck happened in the middle of the night. They’re still trying to figure exactly how, because there wasn’t any other train involved. It made a terrible noise, though. Sounded like the ground was being torn. Your Dad — well, he went out to see what was what. You know how he could get.”

James didn’t answer. He did know how his Dad could get. Old Nick Thorne had a reputation to uphold in the town: he was the strongest and most capable man there was, after all. A terrible explosion sounds off in the middle of the night? He’d be out there in a flash.

“He joined the fire crew. The wreck was just a mile south of the station house, so he hopped on the back of the truck as it passed. Last time I saw him alive.”

“Was he caught in the fire?”

James’s mother shook his head. Tears were thick in the corners of her eyes. They gleamed in the kerosene light, as her mouth turned down and her brow crinkled angrily.

“Trampled,” she spat. “Crushed underfoot. By that damned elephant.”

James’s bed was as he remembered it: an iron-framed monstrosity, barely wide enough for one with a mattress that sagged deep in the middle. If two people got on that bed, its rusted springs would scream to wake the dead. Otherwise, there were few possessions left in the room. He stopped his mother from apologizing.

“I’ve been away a long time,” he said. “It’s fine. Now go to bed.”

The room had a small window in it that overlooked the town. Light poured in from below, painting squares on the ceiling and walls. It reflected back from a small tin mirror nailed onto the opposite wall. His mother absently straightened it. James took her gently by the shoulder and led her to the door.

“Bed,” he said firmly.

When she was gone, he undressed himself, hanging his trousers and shirt on a hook by the closet. He sat on the bed for a moment — listened to it squeak as he bounced a little. The briefest flash of nostalgia overcame him, then — of another night, when he felt the bristles of his friend Elmer Wolfe’s neck against his shoulder … When the springs screamed, loud enough …

… loud enough …

“A Cyclops!” James snapped his fingers. That’s what you called a giant with an eye in the middle of his forehead. He’d seen drawings years ago, in the old Bullfinch’s Mythology they had at the schoolhouse. A huge, one-eyed man who lived in a cave and was ultimately blinded by a gang of Greek sailors.

James went to the mirror. The light from the window was enough to see himself by. But the mirror made him into a funhouse image — his chin was cartoonishly long; the thin moustache he’d cultivated for his Captain Kip role looked as though it’d been drawn by a drunkard. He leaned closer and it was better: the nearer you get to a bad mirror, the less the distortion.

Finally, he found he was literally looking himself in the eye. Just inches from the mirror, his own eye seemed huge. The light was wrong to make out the colour — but it took little imagination to paint his iris yellow and green. To imagine the iris — big and black as an Idaho sky. He could lose himself in that eye. No, scratch that: he wanted to lose himself in that eye.

“Mmm,” said James. His hand crept down to his crotch — took hold. He smiled. Shut his eyes. How would it be, he wondered, to lick that thing — that massive thing, while hands as wide as his back squeezed his shoulders; a thumb as wide as a post gently, maybe even painfully, spread his cheeks.

Eyes still closed, he backed across the room to the freshly sheeted bed and fell into it — lost already in a fevered and vivid dream.

James and his mother spent the next morning at the Simmons Brothers Funeral Parlour in town. His mother had made pretty much all the arrangements before he’d arrived in town. It was going to be a good burial, in the Chamblay Hill Cemetery, with a nice oak casket and a polished headstone made of granite. It was far more than his mother could afford on her own. James made out three large cheques, while Mr. Simmons prattled on about the tragedy of the train wreck and the evil of circus folk and the better place that Nick Thorne had gone to. When they were finished, James took Mr. Simmons aside.

“Tell me,” he said quietly, “what really happened to my father. It was no elephant — was it?”

Mr. Simmons crossed his arms and lowered his head.

“An elephant,” he said carefully, “was involved. But no.”

“Not an elephant,” said James. “But it was a big thing.” He took a leap. “A — Cylcops, I heard.”

Mr. Simmons fixed him with a glare. “Circus folk,” he said sharply. “Circus folk have all manner of queerness to them. Giants and midgets and clowns and trapeze artists. Big enough man can call himself a Cyclops if he wants. I should stay well clear of them, if I were you, son.”

“Where are they?”

“By the creek — camped like wicked hoboes in the North Brothers’ common. But they won’t be there for long.”

James suppressed a smile. Wicked hoboes. “I see.”

Mr. Simmons’ glare faded. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve buried nine good men who lost their lives trying to put out the fire on that train wreck. Your father far from the least of them. Contrary to what some might say — a busy day’s no pleasure for an undertaker.”

“I’m sure it’s not,” said James.

“But son — ” Mr. Simmons put a pale hand on James’s arm “ — circus folk aren’t nothing but gypsies, you know. They’ll cut your throat and steal your wallet, give them half a chance. They’ll overrun a town, steal its children. Don’t go out there looking for vengeance.”

“Vengeance?” James was honestly puzzled, and that was betrayed in his expression. “Why would I — ”

“For the death of your father,” he said, then added quickly: “Although I can see such thoughts are far from your mind. That is good, young sir. I apologize for thinking you a hothead. Other sons and daughters have been angrier about the goings-on with the circus folk. If I may say — your mother has raised a fine and temperate man. I am told that you do quite well for the family. In the moving picture business. I’ve a nephew in Spokane who’s a great fan of the pictures. I shall tell him we’ve met.”

“Give him my regards,” said James. “And now — one more thing — if I could …”

Mr. Simmons smiled sadly. “See your father? I’d advise waiting ’til tomorrow. There’s some work to be done. To make him as he lived. Do you no good to see ’im now, son.”

James hadn’t been about to ask to see his father’s corpse. God, that was the last thing he wanted to see. He’d wanted to know more about the circus folk. About the Cyclops. But Mr. Simmons wouldn’t talk more about that. He’d just think that James was fixing for vengeance, and try and stop him. So James just returned the sad smile and nodded. “Tomorrow, then,” he said.

“You’re far away,” said his mother outside the house.

“Yes.” James ran his hands over the knobby wood of the steering wheel. Stared into space, at the far western ridges that were partly obscured in low cloud right then. “Sorry.”

“That’s all right, dear.” She sat in the car, looking at him.

He smiled at his mother. “Listen. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to take a little drive by myself.”

His mother took a breath, patted his arm. “Of course, dear. You haven’t been back here for almost ten years. And now you’re back, it’s to bury your — ” She stopped, lifted her handkerchief to daub her eyes.


James let his mother go inside, and put the car into gear. He wheeled back through Chamblay’s downtown. It was looking livelier during the day. Livelier, in fact, than it had in some time. He counted maybe a dozen trucks, covered with black tarpaulins. Big, dangerous-looking men in dark suit jackets leaned against their fenders, leering at passing townswomen. From behind the wheel of the Coupe, James leered at them. Turnabout’s fair play, he thought, imagining himself in their midst — a giant in their midst — plucking first one, then the other, screaming into the air … Ramming them face-down into the sawdust — into the dirt …

God, James, he thought as the little fantasy took form in his mind, you are a depraved one.

Back in Los Angeles, Stephen had taken to chiding him about that very thing. “They’ll let you go, you know, if the press gets wind of your shenanigans,” Stephen said to him, curled against his stomach in the heat of a Sunday afternoon not long ago. “They’ll cut you loose.”

“No fooling.” James had reached around front of Stephen, took hold of him lightly and ran a fingertip in the warm space between his thigh and his scrotum. He gave Stephen’s nuts a sharp little squeeze. Stephen sucked in a breath — James could feel the cheeks of Stephen’s arse tightening around him. “I guess we should stop, then. Maybe I should find religion. Or — ” he pulled his hand away “ — take little Alice up on one of her many offers. Knock her up. That’d settle it once and for all.”

“Oh, go to hell,” said Stephen. “You wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Wouldn’t matter,” James had replied. “She’d know what to do. And she wants to fuck me.”

“Everybody wants to fuck you,” said Stephen. “You’re Captain Kip Blackwell, for Christ’s sake. But I have to tell you, Kip — that unenthusiastic flirtation you play at with her in the canteen isn’t fooling anybody.”

“It fools Alice,” James had said.

“You think?”

James set his jaw. Put his foot on the gas pedal. He took the road to the mill — then, following the wood smoke and tire ruts, made his way to the creek-bank where, according to Mr. Simmons, the circus was encamped.

There was no Big Top; not shooting galleries nor cotton candy stands nor halls of mirrors. The remains of the Twillicker and Baines Circus was mostly people, and those people had spread in a makeshift shantytown along the grassy east bank of the Chamblay Creek. Little tents pitched here and there, charred swaths of orange and green and blue fabric. Some of the folk had dug out fire pits in the needle-covered dirt. They were surrounded by trees, spruce and pine so high that from the camp’s far side, they obscured much of the snowy mountain peaks to the west.

James stopped his car and got out. The place smelled of wood smoke and burned fat. He tromped down the slope to the first of the tents — where a young woman sat beside an older man, broad-chested with a long, drooping moustache. He wore a battered felt bowler hat, and his arm was in a sling. She wore a pale blue cotton sun dress, mismatched with the torn fishnet stockings of a dancing girl.

“Hello,” said James.

“Good sir,” said the man, tipping his hat. “Clayton O’Connor, at your service.” The woman smiled wanly. “And this is Clarissa.”

James stood there awkwardly for a moment. They didn’t appear to recognize him — which as he thought of it wasn’t unusual: circus folk had a show of their own to perform Saturday afternoons. There’d be precious little time for the pictures, what with all the fire-eating and clowning and lion-taming to fill up the day.

“Good afternoon,” James said. “James Thorne. I’m looking — that is — ”

“The eye,” said Clarissa, nodding. She got a funny look in her eye.

“Do not mind her and her riddles, friend,” said Clayton O’Connor. “She’s new at the Sight.”

James smiled. “The Sight. She’s a fortune teller?”

Clayton nodded, and removed his bowler cap to reveal a balding crown covered in intricate tattoos. “An oracle,” he said.

“Ah. Of course. Oracles speak in riddles, don’t they?”

Clayton shrugged, held his hat in front of him. “It is a mixed blessing, good sir.” He extended the hat a little further, like a bowl. “Prophecy is good, but it’s nothing,” he said, “without sound interpretation.”

“I see.” James laughed. “Prophecies are free, but interpretation costs a penny.”

“Five pennies.”

James’s first impulse was to walk away — leave the tattooed man and his abstruse young oracle to prey on the next townie that happened by. But he dug into his pocket, and came up with a nickel he thought he might spare. The oracle was a good shtick, and these people had just survived a train wreck; he couldn’t begrudge them their little grift. He tossed the coin into the hat. “Interpret away,” he said, and knelt down beside them. “Tell me …” He paused, looked across the creek to the dark evergreen wood. Some of the circus folk between himself and the river were taking note of him — of his new automobile. A dwarf limped up to it and gave the rear tires a malicious little kick. “… tell me about the Cyclops.”

Clayton looked into his cap — with his damaged fingers, he pulled the nickel out, turned it over and examined both sides.

Clayton paused a moment, then looked James in the eye. “You’ve seen it, have you, sir?”

“The Cyclops? I have.” James took a breath. “Yes.”

He shook his head. “And you’re here anyway.”

“I have to find him. It.”

“Father,” said the oracle, throwing her head back theatrically and gasping at the sky. “Here for his father.”

“Hmm.” James wasn’t sure how good Clarissa was at oracling. But as an actress — well, she made wooden little Alice Shaw look positively Shakespearean.

“That has nothing to do with this. My father’s dead.”

James looked at Clayton, then at Clarissa. Her eyes fluttered shyly to her hands, a sly smile playing across her lips. Clayton raised his eyebrows in a questioning way.

Clayton nodded. “A lot of men are dead by that monstrosity’s hand,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”

“That’s why you’re here,” said Clarissa, looking across the creek but pointing straight at James.

James ignored her. “All right, Clayton,” he said. “Tell me about this thing.”

Clayton looked at him levelly. “That’s more than interpretation,” he said, rubbing two coinless fingers together as he spoke. “That’s a tale.”

Sighing, James dug into his pocket for a couple more pennies. When he’d added them to the nickel, Clarissa feigned a swoon across the log where she sat, and Clayton started talking.

“The Cyclops,” said Clayton, “was with us for less than a season. Sam Twillicker found the beast in a deep cellar at a ranch in eastern Texas, where he’d been guesting over the Christmas break. Baines and Twillicker had had a bad run of luck with the Hall of Nature’s Abominations the past season. The mermaid had come unstitched and spewed straw and cotton all over her case in the middle of our St. Louis show in May. In the early morning hours of July 8, our prized geek Skinny Larouche ran off into a Kansas cornfield with a pair of chickens and the previous day’s nut. Later that month, Alfie Fowler took ill with something in his intestine. In August, the bug moved to the gut of brother Mitch, and by Labour Day we’d lost our genuine Siamese twins. Perhaps, said Charlie Baine, the days of sideshows were winding down and they ought just fold up the rest of Nature’s Abominations and concentrate on the Rings. But Twillicker didn’t buy that; to him, a freak tent was as much a part of the show as clowns and lion-tamers and the high wire. So when his host in Texas mentioned the thing he was keeping in the cellar, and intimated that he had intended the thing’s stay should be temporary — ‘I’ll have to kill it or be rid of it, and I’m not sure I can kill it,’ he said — Sam Twillicker was intrigued.

“Of course, intrigued’s not the same as fooled. Twillicker took care not to let his interest show.

“‘We have an excellent strong man,’ he said cagily. ‘You’ve got a fat Greek with an eye out? I might put a patch on my Wotun the Magnificent, change his name to Polyphemus and call him the one-eyed giant — and not have spent a penny more.’

“‘It would not be the same,’ said the host. ‘For mine — he has seen the Trojan women and sung duets with Sirens and walked the sea bottom at the heel of Poseidon. How can you compare?’”

“‘You ought have been a barker, my friend,’ said Twillicker. ‘For you could make the rubes see all those things and more in even my poor Wotun, with pretty words like that.’

“‘Not the same as seeing it for real, though.’

“Late in the evening, Twillicker walked outside the ranch house, to do just that: see it with his own eyes. They climbed down a tunnel past a padlocked door in the Texas scrub, and stepped out onto a ledge in a room like the bottom of a giant well. The thing — the Cyclops — was below them, lolling against the wall amid a carpet of whitened bones. Flies buzzed and flitted in the lantern beam that Twillicker’s host shone down, and the creature looked up into it with its single great eye, so wide that Twillicker could see the pair of them reflected in it.

“‘How big is he?’ said Twillicker.

“‘Twenty and five,’ said his host. ‘From toe to skull top, twenty and five feet.’

“‘And that eye,’ said Twillicker. ‘Sitting unnaturally in the middle of the forehead like that. It’s real?’

“‘It better be,’ said the host, ‘for the beast has none but that one to see by.’

“‘My God,’ said Twillicker.

“The bones rattled and crunched below as the Cyclops stirred. Both men stopped their conversation, as the thing drew himself to his feet. Standing, the Cyclops was nearly eye level to him. His breath came at him like a hot Mediterranean wind. His eye blinked. A hand, big as a door, came up over the lip of the ledge — Twillicker barely had the wit to step back into the tunnel before it could grasp him. The Cyclops opened his great mouth, and rumbled something that sounded like Greek. Hot, unbreathable air followed them up the tunnel as they backed away from the grabbing hand.

“‘That,’ sputtered Twillicker, as they climbed the stairs to the Texas night, ‘that thing was going to eat me!’

“‘Not likely,’ said his host. ‘The Cyclops likes lamb better than man. But still — better he didn’t get hold of either of us. Because that eye — that eye of his is a hungry eye.’

“‘What do you mean by that?’

“‘What I say. It’s a big eye — a God’s eye — and it hungers for the sight of a man’s soul. It’ll drink that sight right out of you, if you let it.’

“Twillicker spent another three days at the ranch — thinking mostly about what that meant. He didn’t know about getting his soul drunk up — but he surely wanted to see that Cyclops again. He wanted to see him something fierce; it took all his will not to steal down that hole again, and look at the beast once more. How many times, he wondered, could he haul a rube back and back again to see this beast, if it had such a draw on a seasoned ringmaster as Twillicker?

“He came back a month later with the right cash and equipment for moving the creature. By March, he had a rail car rigged up and fresh signs made. By the middle of April, the circus was on the move again, and Nature’s Abominations was back in business.

“There were practical problems. For one thing, the Cyclops was not a professional. It was more like keeping an animal than an employee — as they discovered when our roustabouts tried to use the Cyclops’s strength to haul up the big top outside Denver and three of them wound up in bandages and splints, raving for days from their trials at the Cyclops’s hands. The creature’s unruliness kept him out of the Big Top as well. He couldn’t be trusted around townies without thick bars between he and them, because unlike our old geek Larouche, depravity was no act for the Cyclops. He leered — at everyone, in a measure, but he paid particular attention to the aerialists. One time — ” here Clayton paused, and patted Clarissa on the shoulder “ — one time he got hold of this girl here. Didn’t he darling?”

Clarissa’s eyes rolled into her head and she trembled for an instant. Then she blinked and nodded.

“Took five of us to get her back,” he said. “Clarissa tore a ligament, and that was it for her on the trapeze. Looked at her for a little long — maybe drunk a bit much of her poor wee soul, hey, girl? And she hasn’t been the same since.

“But for that, no one could deny that with the addition of the Cyclops to our roster, the Twillicker and Baine Circus had turned a corner. Every town we stopped opened its purse to us and our monster. Rubes loved Hall of Nature’s Abominations now that the Cyclops sat in its middle. They forgave the two-headed ewe that floated nearly invisible in a milky brine. They didn’t mind that the geek cage was still empty, or that the two Italians who played the Siamese twins didn’t even look like relations. They hurried past Gerta the Doll Woman and Lois the Chicken Lady. Didn’t heed the resentful glare that our own Wotun the Magnificent gave them, as they sat through his Nine Feats of Strength that raised sweat-beads big as dimes on shoulders and a brow that had one time seemed immense. They each paid their nickels, and gathered in five-dollar crowds in the Hall’s middle for the headline of our show — and listened, as Twillicker himself rolled the spiel outside the curtained-off cage of Polyphemus, Son of Poseidon.

“‘He has seen the Trojan women and sung duets with Sirens and walked the sea bottom at the heel of Poseidon,’ Twillicker would bellow. ‘He has fought Ulysses, battled Odysseus, and shook a fist at great Jove himself! Ladies and gentlemen — I give you — ’

“And their breath would suck in, as the bright red curtains drew from the front of a tall, steel-barred cage.

“‘ — I give you Polyphemus! Son of the Sea God Poseidon!

“And the curtain would open, and the men would gasp, and the children scream — and the women, some of them, would faint dead away at the sight of the naked giant Polyphemus. His lips would pull back from a shark’s-row of teeth, and his great arms would rise to rattle the bars of his bolted-together cage — and he’d take a taste of them with that eye of his.

“And then, as fast as it’d risen, the red curtain would fall back in place, and the next crowd would come through. By the time the circus was ready to pull up, all the crowds were filled with familiar faces. They all felt the same draw Twillicker had felt that first night. By the time the circus left a town, the coffers were filled to overflowing with fresh torrents of silver.

“The Cyclops became a part of the circus like he’d always been there. The cat wranglers and elephant handlers and the roustabouts had all worked out a drill for moving him, from his cage to the railcar and back again — figured out how to feed him without getting too close to those giant hands, those lethal jaws — and devised a way to wrap the ropes and chains around his wrists and ankles and middle, so he couldn’t squirm much. Charlie Baine looked at his books, and understood that for all the food he was buying for his Cyclops, profits were still higher than they’d ever been. As for the freaks, now relegated to second-class oddities in the shadow of Polyphemus? They rattled the change in their pockets and shrugged. Even Wotun couldn’t complain much, about being upstaged by the Greek giant. It was as good as pitching the tent next to the Grand Canyon. Folks’d pay to watch your show, just because it was on their way to the view.

“And the view,” said Clayton, “doesn’t ask for a cut of the nut.”

“But the Cyclops wasn’t just a view,” said James. “The Cyclops felt differently.”

Clayton winked at him. “No fooling you, sir. ’Tis true. The Cyclops felt differently. And why wouldn’t he? For we kept him like an animal, although he was a thinking beast. He stood in his cage, listening to Twillicker holler his spiel, enduring the stares of the glassy-eyed rubes. Submitted to the will of his wranglers. And always he watched. With that great eye he has. He watched and he paid attention. Listened to what Twillicker said, and made out the words. Listened to the rubes muttering amongst themselves. Heard the wranglers and the freaks and the clowns chatter on. Two weeks and a day before the tragedy here — ” he gestured behind him to the camp “ — he spoke.”

Clarissa the Oracle stood, her eyelids trembling in a sideshow trance. “I am Polyphemus,” she said in a deepened voice. “Son of the Sea God Poseidon.”

“Dear Clarissa started talking then, too. She’d given up the trapeze, and been fooling with tea leaves and Tarot cards instead. We thought she might open a fortune-telling booth. When the words started to come — the poetry — it dawned on us all that little Clarissa should start calling herself the Oracle.”

“From the Greek stories,” said Clarissa.

“It was a theme,” said Clayton. “The Cyclops didn’t speak much. But the words he did speak commanded respect. He seemed to speak the things in a man’s soul. The things that did not wish speaking. Perhaps — perhaps he did what Twillicker’s Texan host said he did: drank in the souls of men and women through his great eye, and spat up truth. For is it not true that the Cyclops were the sons of Gods?”

“The sea god Poseidon,” said James dryly.

“You mock,” said Clayton. “But you shouldn’t, because you’ve seen him.”

James couldn’t argue with that.

“The talk continued off and on,” said Clayton. “Sometimes it would be just a few words a day. Words we could understand. Words in strange tongues. All mixed up. It was a kind of parroting. After a time, the talk became incessant. He talked as the wranglers tore down his cage, roped his wrists and led him to his rail car. It went on even after he was chained in, we all boarded, and the train was underway. Talked and talked and talked through the night, louder even than the engine whistle sometimes — softer than a whisper in your ear at others. Far into the next night, and into the mountains — the giant’s voice lived in our skulls. That can be the only thing that drove Twillicker to do what he finally did.”

James shivered as the wind shifted over the circus shanty town. In the distance, he heard a rumbling sound of car engines. “And what,” he said, goose flesh rising on his arms, “did Mister Twillicker finally do?”

“Unbound him,” said Clayton. “They found Twillicker’s body near to the Cyclops’s car after the wreck. The giant killed him, we can only think — after Twillicker clicked the locks with the key we found on ’im. Perhaps the Cyclops told him something he could not ignore. Or perhaps — ”

“ — perhaps the temptation to take a look was too strong to resist,” said James quietly.

“Split up the middle was he, into Twillickers two,” said Clarissa helpfully. “One good, one wicked — and — ”

She stopped. Rubbed her arms. Looked back to the road.

“What’s wrong, deary?” said Clayton.

“Wicked,” she said, very quietly, as the first black-draped truck crested the hill and stopped, to let its load of bat-bearing men out to the circus’s hobo town.

“We should run.”

You are all trespassing. By the authority of the Chamblay Sheriff ’s Office and the owners of the North Brothers Lumber Company — on whose property you are squatting — I’m placing all of you under arrest.”

The speaker was a thick-set man with short bristly white hair and thick brown sideburns who stood on the hood of the second truck in. He wore a suit jacket and black wool pants, tucked into rubber boots that came up near his knee. He held a long double-barrelled shotgun propped against his hip. Maybe two dozen men carrying baseball bats and wearing dark suit jackets surrounded him.

Don’t make trouble for yourselves.” The man lowered the megaphone and motioned down the slope with the barrel of his shotgun. His men started to move.

James was already ankle deep in the river. Clayton and Clarissa, and a crowd of others with the circus were with him.

“Who the hell is that?”

“Pinkertons,” said Clayton, huffing as he sloshed. “That one was here day before yesterday. There was trouble with a couple of the roustabouts.”

Pinkertons. James shuddered. This wasn’t the first time he’d heard of the detective agency; when he was a boy, a gang of Pinkerton men ran herd on the men who worked the lumber mill. His father’s most prominent scar, a puckered pink thing that extended along his forehead up past his hairline, dated back to the first time Pinkertons came to Chamblay.

Dating to a night …

When the bedsprings screamed, and …

… Jimmy tasted the sawdust in his mouth …

There was no doubt about it. James’s feelings about Pinkertons were … complicated.

The Pinkerton men moved through the camp like armed locusts. They knocked down tents and sent pots of hot water flying and splashing into cook-fires. Three of them descended on a dark-chinned roustabout and pummelled him to the ground. Two were studying James’s coupe, parked a dozen yards up-slope. Another two chased down a pair of dwarfs straggling behind the exodus to the creek, while five more waded into the waters after the fleeing mass of circus folk. At the top of the slope, their captain stuck a cigarette in his mouth as he watched it all unfold.

“Get away from my car!” shouted James.

“Christ,” said Clayton, a dozen steps ahead by now. “Hurry, boy. He’ll crack your skull! Run!”

James was about to turn and do just that, when the shadow passed briefly over their head.

The Pinkerton captain looked up. He dropped his cigarette, still unlit. The boulder crashed down in the middle of his truck — sending glass and metal flying through the air. The Pinkerton men who were following them turned and gaped at the sight.

Clarissa screamed then.

“Oh, Lord!” shouted Clayton, pointing at the opposite bank. James looked, and froze, creek water lapping icily at his ankles.

The Cyclops stood there, a bronzed giant in the sunlight. He raised an arm to shield himself against the flames, then waded into the creek and bent down and reached into the water.

James stood transfixed as the Cyclops’s muscles strained to yank a huge, river-rounded rock from the creek bed. Lids the size of window covers crinkled over his single eye and his sharp teeth bared in the sunlight as he hefted the rock to shoulder height. James swallowed and gasped as the beast straightened, the muscles rippled down his abdomen.

“What’re you staring at? Come on, boy!” Clayton yanked James’s arm and hauled him stumbling downstream. Behind them, there was a gout of water high as a geyser as the rock crashed in the path of the five detectives who’d followed them. James ran, as best he could, through the fast-moving shallows of the Chamblay Creek. He didn’t look back when the terrifying roar sounded out across the valley; kept moving when he heard the two gunshots, and the screaming. He finally stopped with the rest of them, when they reached a small rapids in the creek.

Clayton helped Clarissa onto a low, spray-soaked shelf of rock that split the creek. James hauled himself up, and for the first time looked back.

The circus camp was blocked now by a low rise of trees. A black plume of smoke rose above them and into the sky. There was another scream — distant and strangled — and then Clarissa pointed and cried out: “Look!”

A man was flying — his legs and arms wheeling as if for purchase on the air. He must have been a hundred feet up, before he started falling again. There came another roar. Clarissa covered her ears. Clayton shut his eyes against the tears. The others who were lucky enough to make it to the creek cowered in terror.

And as for James —

James Thorne found his hand creeping to the belt of his trousers. He pulled it away, and ran it through his hair.

“My God,” he said unconvincingly. “The horror.”

The camp was ruined when they returned, and the Cyclops was gone. But he’d left his mark. People were down everywhere: strong men and acrobats and clowns and roustabouts, and the hard men from the Pinkertons. Some must have been dead, because it smelled like barbecue. The beast had marked his exit with a gateway of smashed and broken trees. Clayton bent down onto his knees and clenched his good fist. Clarissa knelt beside him. The two of them wept softly.

James stepped back from them: surveyed the place. It was a terrifying mess. Was this what the undertaker Simmons had meant when he said the circus folk wouldn’t be here for long? Had he heard tell that the North Brothers had gone and hired Pinkertons to clear out the town? James felt a little sick: if he’d been more on the ball, he might have been able to muster a warning, rather than waste these people’s time telling him tales of the Cyclops.

The lame dwarf who’d kicked his car tire hobbled past, and pausing, glared up at him.

“Ain’t you the movie pirate?” he said.

“Captain Kip Blackwell,” said James. “That’s right.”

“Well why don’t you get your fat piratey arse moving and take care of that beast? Make ’im walk the fuckin’ plank! ’Bout time someone did.”

“I’m not a real pirate.” James held up his hands. “Look,” he said. “Not even a sword.”

The dwarf bent down over one of the fallen detectives. “Well, fuck my arse, if this ain’t your lucky day.” He stood up, holding a baseball bat nearly as long as he was tall. He handed it to James. “Now you’ve got a choice — you can use this one — ” the dwarf pointed to the bat “ — or this one!” and James yelled as the dwarf swatted his groin.

“Ha! Unless you want to save it for the Oracle bitch, who — hey!” The dwarf yelled, as Clayton grabbed him with his good arm and lifted him off his feet.

“That’s enough,” said Clayton.

“Wotun! C’mon! Fuck you! Put me down!” The dwarf’s feet pinwheeled in the air. James raised his eyebrows.


In one motion, Clayton set the dwarf on the ground and shrugged at James. “Not much of a strongman now, I’m afraid. We’re all put in our place. By that thing.”

James hefted the baseball bat. He looked to the crack in the woods the Cyclops had left behind him. Back at Clayton O’Connor, the former Wotun the Magnificent.

Clayton took off his bowler.

“You want company?” he said.

James shook his head. “No.”

“I can tell what you mean to do,” he said. “Are you certain you dare to?”

James felt himself smile a little. “You have no idea what I mean to do,” he said, and set off toward the edge of the trees — where the Cyclops had marked his path.

As he tromped through the woods, James thought about his last day on the set. The last scene he’d shot before they let him go. Two of the Devil Pirates had tossed him into the Sarcophagus of Serpents — where Captain Kip would spend the next episode, while Princess Rebecca and the rest of the Monkey’s crew contrived his rescue and James Thorne contrived to bury his old Dad.

“Jimmy!” Alice Shaw hurried to catch up to him, as he stalked away from the plywood Sarcophagus left over from last year’s King of the Mummies serial. He sighed and stopped.

“Alice,” he said.

She stopped in front of him, set her fists on the velvet britches that were Princess Rebecca’s single nod to disguise. “I just wanted — to offer my condolences.”

“Thank you.”

“Because we can all see how torn up you are. About your father’s death.”

James frowned. “Well, it’s been a long time — ”

Alice stepped closer to him, took his hands in hers as though they were sharing an intimacy. In a way, they were. “You know, Jimmy,” she said, “you should really learn how to act.”


“You’d fool more people.” Alice stepped back. “Why are you even bothering to go?”

James crossed his arms. “To bury him,” he said.

“Something you wish you’d done long ago?”

He sighed. “If you like, Alice.”

She wagged a finger at him. “I know what you are, Jimmy Thorne,” she said. “The only question is: what did your horrible old father do to you to make you this way?”

James wondered if he’d ever feel the proper things about his father’s death. He felt as though he were circling those things as he walked — getting closer to the feelings of grief and loss and everything else that went with facing a father’s death.

But the fact was, he wasn’t thinking about that. He was thinking about the Cyclops. And he wasn’t thinking about how he’d kill him, either.

The path led him to the bank of the creek where it twisted around a cropping of rock and tree. With a trembling, he knew where he was:

The North Brothers Lumber Company’s sawmill.

The last time he’d seen it, the mill was up and running. The whine of the saw blade would cut across the valley as teams of horses hauled giant logs up the round-stoned creek-bank to the mill’s black and hungry mouth. Inside, men would unhitch the logs and haul them further along with complicated block and tackle. Nick Thorne would be first among them, the muscles in his thick forearms dark as mahogany, straining at the weight of the spruce and pine logs cut down from the mountain slopes all around them.

Now the place was still as a tomb, its wooden walls and roof grey as stone.

James swallowed. His hand was shaking as he set the baseball bat down in the pine-needles beside him, and set out across the creek shallows. The mill’s great black doors were open. Inside was dark as the mouth of a cave.

The last time James had been inside the mill, the scent of pinesap was overpowering. Pinesap and machine oil and a bit of fear sweat.

Now, it smelled like a slaughterhouse.

At first, James was afraid the Cyclops had brought humans here — some of those folk Mr. Simmons had said had gone missing. But as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that wasn’t so. The smell was from something else. Animal carcasses hung from chains wrapped around the rafters. He first passed a couple of shapes like big cats, their skins torn off as they hung maw-down to the sawdust-covered ground; something that might have been a boy, but James gathered to be a monkey carcass, hanging by a single, hand-shaped foot; and, what was left of the elephant. The bloody trunk brushed James’s shoulder as he passed underneath and a cathedral of ribs hung over his head. A cloud of flies that had been feeding there followed James for just a few steps then abandoned him as he left the Cyclops’s larder, and moved into the next chamber of the mill.

James stepped around a thick post. Looked down, where the floor of the sawmill sloped from wood down to dirt. Light leaked in through the warping barn-board of the mill’s wall — reflected off a pool of oily water that had collected at its base. The Cyclops crouched by that pool — poking with an extended finger at a dark shape in the water.

The Cyclops rumbled something indecipherable, in a deep and lazy voice. Mottled sunlight from the pond flickered across the giant’s flesh.

The Cyclops stood high enough to brush rafters, while at his feet, the shape rolled and sank beneath the water.

The Cyclops’s nostrils flared and he made a bellows-like huffing sound as he sniffed. He turned to face James.

In two great steps, the Cyclops had closed the distance between them. He leaned down, so that his eye — big as James’s head — was just a few feet off.

James gasped. This close, the Cyclops’s eye was fantastical. Colours shifted across the broad surface of its iris like oil across a sunlit pool. As for the dark in its middle, that grew and shrank as the creature focussed on James —

— the darkness was hungry.

The Cyclops reached around with both hands, and tucked them under James’s arms. He lifted him like he was a small child. The Cyclops muttered ancient words as he turned James from side to side — studying him like he was a doll.

James kicked his feet back and forth in the air beneath him. He looked down: his toes were at least a dozen feet from the floor. He could barely breathe, the creature was holding him so tightly. He stared into the Cyclops’s great eye, and the Cyclops stared back.

Memory drew from him like pus from a swollen wound.

He felt a sob wrack across his body. The Cyclops ran a great thumb down his chest. When it settled, James gasped. The Cyclops grinned.

James squirmed in a terrified ecstasy. The giant’s thumb was thick as a man’s thigh, but far more nimble. The feeling was primordial — it was as though it yanked him back to the night when his old friend Elmer Wolfe slept over — and had found his way into James’s bed — pressed close to him — and then the springs …

… the bedsprings …

They screamed.

The mill was dark when Nick Thorne and Jimmy arrived there. It was in the hours before dawn — long before the morning shift would arrive. Nick pushed the boy around the side of the building, and through the great, blackened doors. It was dark inside.

“You want to lie with men, boy?” Nick cuffed his son hard enough to send him to the ground. “You like that, do you?”

Jimmy heard himself whimper — and hated himself for making so weak a noise. He was covered in sawdust. Face-down on the ground. His father smelled of liquor and sweat. “I’ll show you what it’s like …”

Jimmy tried to press himself into the ground — as though he could escape that way, by enveloping himself in wood shavings. But there was no escape. His father’s hand, thick and callused from working a lifetime in the sawmill, pushed hard between his legs, pushed his nuts up hard into his abdomen. He gave a cry that sounded to him like a squeak.

“That’s what it’s like, queerboy.” His father grunted, took back his hand, and undid his trousers.

That’s what it’s like, queerboy.” The Cyclops brought James close to his face. He opened his great mouth, and a tongue came out, thick as a marlin and rough like a towel — touched James’s middle, taking a taste of him. The Cyclops huffed, and smiled and lowered James to his own middle. Now James was staring straight into another, smaller eye. James felt his feet touch the ground, and the giant’s hand pushed him, guided him forward.

James rubbed his face against the shaft of the giant’s penis. It was wide as a drum, and the leathery flesh trembled as he caressed it. The Cyclops moaned. The hand stroked James’s back. It wasn’t squeezing him anymore. But James knew it held him there as surely as were it a fist clenched around him. Shaking with fear and lust, and tears streaming down his cheek, he raised his own arms and embraced the immense shaft.

The memory kept coming. The vivid, awful memory of his father, the heroic Nick Thorne, buggering him for what seemed to be an hour on the floor of this place. To teach him a lesson, he’d said. The old man had rolled him over before he was done. Demanded …

… demanded …

There had been a sharp crack! sound before he could do anything else, and his father had fallen down, clutching his skull. A man with a baseball bat was standing behind him. First ordering him off the property — telling him he was trespassing. Saying something about being an “agent of the mill.” Showing a little eye-shaped Pinkertons badge on his chest. Then, seeing Jimmy half-naked in the sawdust, shutting his mouth. The baseball bat came up again, and down again. That was when Jimmy had said it:

“Stop killing him! He’s my Dad!”

“Sweet Jesus,” said the man from Pinkertons.

Sweet Jesus,” said the Cyclops.

James looked up. The Cyclops moved his hand from his shoulder, let him step back.

“Shit and hell.” Not a dozen feet off, the grey-haired man from Pinkertons stood, blood in his beard and his shotgun raised, along with a fresh troop of detectives. “It’s a monster, boys. Kill it.”

The Cyclops let James go, and turned his great eye to face his attackers. James sat down in the wet sawdust and finally felt the tears — hot and salty and honest — streaming down his cheeks. They weren’t the tears of mourning. Those, James realized, would never, ever come. The roar and light of gunfire and screams filled the cavernous mill. James was nearly deaf from it, weeping in the dark, when the Cyclops turned his gaze back to him.

Now why, wondered James as he gazed up into the Cyclops’s encompassing eye, would anyone stick a spear into that?

James dropped two polished nickels on his father’s waxy eyelids. Gunshots echoed through the valley, as another wave of detectives assaulted the sawmill, and James thought about old Nick Thorne’s death: fighting his way through the flames — looking everywhere but up — before he was plucked into the sky and flung down again, amid the screams of his fellows.

James stepped back and put his arms over his mother’s shoulders. He tried to ignore the stares of the other mourners. He was a mess. He’d come directly here to the Chamblay Cemetery from the sawmill. His shirt and trousers were stained and torn from the night spent in the crook of the Cyclops’s arms, amid the heaps of dead men left over from the first Pinkertons assault. His chin was dark with morning beard. It was quite scandalous — showing up such a dishevelled mess at his father’s burial. He supposed he would have to get used to that when he went back to Hollywood. There would be quite a lot of scandal then. Republic would more than likely, as Stephen had put it, cut him loose once it all came out.

It may as well come out. Because he couldn’t go back to the cage of lies he’d made for himself in Hollywood — to being Captain Kip Blackwell of the Seven Seas — any more than Clarissa the Oracle could go back to the trapeze now that the horror of her own tiny soul was drunk dry, or than Clayton O’Connor could trick the rubes into thinking he were a true strongman, or than Sam Twillicker could live another day once the Cyclops had sucked his soul right from him.

But he would have to take this one step at a time. His mother looked at him with wet, uncomprehending eyes. “What happened to you?” she whispered.

“Quite a lot,” said James as Mr. Simmons’ shaking hands closed the lid of his father’s casket, and his sons prepared to lower the old man into the space they’d carved for him in the earth. James felt himself shaking too, around the great, empty space in him where the sawmill had crouched all these years.

“I’ll tell you all of it this afternoon,” he said.

Fly in Your Eye | Monstrous Affections | The Webley