The blue skies and the green hills seemed to shout out,
'It's a great day to walk and see us at our best!'
Craig Farrow walked out of his coastal town up the hill to the walkway on top of the long ridge bordering his town that led to the Wetlands. He had a fine view looking down in the Western distance to the lower farmlands getting a shower; the sun making the falling rain look brown. To his delight he saw the rain moving away from the direction of his walk.
He never tired of being thankful for living in a beautiful location that featured both coastal and 'bush' walks. He had the best of both worlds; the hills were green from the recent rain, but the tracks had dried out making easy walking.
He took a turn at the fork that led to the path that bordered the small river that eventually emptied into the sea. Something caught his eye, something in the distance that he had never seen before on his walks, a giant circus tent. He began to hear strange sinister steam calliope music.
He was startled by the voice of a fellow male bushwalker behind him.
'It's time for the next show. Coming?'
'What is this place? I've never seen it before.'
'It's the Circus of the Performing Spirits together with the Carnival of the Dead.'
He heard the voice of a Satanic ringmaster presiding over all.
He reached in his musette bag for his monocular that made the things in the distance look much closer. The pair of men walked towards the tent as they observed their strange destination.
He viewed as well as heard the sight and sounds of intense but emotionless barkers offering games of chance with monetary awards versus unspecified eternal punishments. There were overly made up white faced dancing girls moving their hips to the beat of the music, luring the crowds into the largest tent.
He noticed a small boy was apparently peeking into the canvas through a hole for a free show. He heard a painful scream and saw the child turn to reveal the area of his face where his right eye had been was black and seemed to have steam rising from the blackness; his eye was missing. The shrieking child ran around the tent until he was lost to his vision.
When his view from the monocular followed the screaming child he now noticed what appeared to be a carnival type Ferris wheel, however it was moving at a terrific speed with the sound of screams of torment rather than joy. The calliope music sounded unearthly, there didn't seem to be any tune, he realised it was being played backwards...
Over the hills there were now shining railway tracks where there had never been railway tracks before; a gleaming silver trainset came into view. He heard the sound of the train stopping and opening its doors beside the massive tent, with announcements over a public address system,
'All off! Final Destination! All off! Too late to change! This is your Final Destination!'
The man standing next to him broke their mutual silence.
'Now why would I want to do that?'
'Everyone goes, eventually.'
'I'm not everyone, and "eventually" can mean a long, long time, so you'd better bring a sack lunch if you think you're going to wait for me.'
'Aren't you coming?'
'No, you go, Hugo.'
'You don't know what you're missing!'
'And you do? What are we missing?'
He seemed perplexed.
'You know!', the bushwalker responded.
'No, I don't know. Clue me in, Sherlock.'
'You'll find out! Come on!'
'No, I'll take the train when the time comes.'
'I want to make my own way! I'll see you there.'
'Don't hold your breath.'
The eager visitor made his way over a barbed wire fence on his journey to the tent in the field, ignoring Craig's caution.
'Fences are there for a reason.'
Coming from inside the tent was fast funeral music played by a brass band. There was applause, then 'ooohs' and 'ahhs'.
'Isn't this just the place to be?'
One of the women herding people into the circus tent was now by his side...then she vanished.
A very low cloud passed over the tent, minutes later the clouds had passed and the tent was gone...the silent green meadows with the woods beyond it and then the sea that had always been there had returned.
He had never had any hallucination as vivid or intense as that before. Had someone somehow slipped a drug into his morning tea?
* * *
Craig was back in his coastal town and went to his favourite café for a double espresso and a South African rusk. Sue, the proprietress always made him welcome and engaged him in chatter, but what could he tell her? His mind drifted back to the two men sitting on the park bench from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle who had nothing better to do then spend their lives on a park bench and say,
‘Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncey.’
‘What’s that, Edgar?’
Though originally South African, Sue would probably recommend the traditional Australian cure of a cup of tea, a Bex and a lie down, before the day when Bex was banned after it was linked to kidney disease. He convinced himself that there was no way anyone could have slipped anything into his food as he had made his own breakfast.
He pondered one of his late war buddies who had been on the golf course and looked up to see a black circle, that vanished. After prodding from his wife, he found that he had a brain tumour and he died not long afterwards. Perhaps a medical examination wouldn't hurt? He recalled A Matter of Life and Death, one of his favourite films, where David Niven's supposed hallucinations were being caused by pressure on his brain.
He paid Sue and idly chatted without mentioning what he thought he saw on his morning walk.
The clock in the post office struck twelve o'clock and he found himself going into one of the pop up art galleries that occupied the empty shops that soon became cafés, hairdressers, nail painting shops, women's clothing boutiques, or for the males, Thai massage parlours. He hadn't recognised the sign on the pop up gallery that was in several languages.
Gallery in mundo in finem Galería en el fin del mundo...Galleria all'estremità del mondo Galerie au bout du monde
'The Gallery at the End of the World', smiled an attractive brunette neatly dressed in black with an unusually pale complexion for a coastal town, Isn't this just the place to be? You didn't see our show today...'
He recalled that she was one of the women enticing men into the large tent and had spoken to him before she and the Circus vanished in a cloud. She read his mind and began the same dance that he saw her do at the opening of the tent.
'You've a bit of explaining to do, Miss...Tree?'
She continued her dancing as her smile grew more ravishing,
'Very droll, Mr. Farrow...or may I call you Craig?'
'Mr. Farrow's fine. Why haven't I noticed your gallery or your circus before?'
'It wasn't your time to see us yet.'
'Why do you call it The Gallery at the End of the World?'
'Look, Mr. Farrow...it's the gallery at the end of your world...'
Suddenly every painting in the gallery was a portrait of him, done in oils, pastels, water colours, photographs, and a Dali type abstract. The steam calliope music from the Circus of the Performing Spirits filled the room.
'What the hell?'
He turned to the woman in black who was now one of the usual casually dressed aspiring artists taking her turn minding the gallery where local artists peddled their landscapes and other artworks that hung on the walls; bland music was heard over the hidden speakers.
'Are you all right, sir?'
Craig left the gallery and made his way up to the medical centre and made an appointment with the centre's only psychiatrist on the morrow.
* * *
It was evening and a thunderstorm had been predicted. Craig walked on the high track where he began his walk that morning for a short walk before bedtime. It would be worth the fee to be able to tell someone about the day's events.
The clouds were spectacular and grew in colour to gleaming gold. He thought the clouds resembled a large golden city. He wondered if the legend of the Seven Cities of Gold searched for by the Conquistadores in the South-Western area of what became the United States of America had begun with someone seeing a similar design in the sky?
The clouds actually looked like buildings from a city in Biblical times, like he had seen in films. As his eyes looked down to the horizon, the circus tent had returned as did the bizarre music and the sounds of a crowd. Making another appearance, the silver train glowed from the reflection of the sunset as it stopped and released its eager screaming passengers running into the tent...
''Isn't this just the place to be? Mr. Farrow, I've saved you a front row seat!'
The smiling grey clad woman from the field and the gallery advanced towards him, Craig ran back to his home as fast as he could.
* * *
Dr. Fitzpatrick's fee wasn't as high as he had feared, but it certainly wasn't cheap.
'There's only one thing for you to do, Mr. Farrow. Go to the circus and confront your fears. Everything else you do will just make you more and more anxious. You're also correct that a medical examination by your personal general practitioner would also be a good idea.'
Craig thought about it, and realised that the Doctor was right. He shook his hand and walked to the reception desk where he paid for his visit with his credit card. The nurse looked up and smiled,
'Thank you, Mr. Farrow. 'Isn't this just the place to be? See you soon.'
Of course the woman from the green field, the art gallery and the sunset was now dressed in a nurse's uniform; it was starched white and was tight in all the right places.
'May I take you into Dr. Fitzpatrick's office for "Show and Tell"?'
'I'm easy, Mr. Farrow.'
'That's just how I like my women...you may as well call me "Craig"'. What is your name, anyway?'
'You'll find out...'
Craig knocked on the Doctor's door and looked to see the nurse now had a different face and was dressed in a baggy dress.
* * *
Craig had his physical examination, but saw no more circuses in his walks.
The results came back from his colonoscopy that showed he had prostate cancer. He was rapidly booked in to his local hospital for surgery; his prostatectomy was successful. After five days in the hospital he was given a four to six week recovery period in his home.
The day came when he was fit enough to resume his bushwalking. A cheerful female voice came from behind him...
''Isn't this just the place to be?
He looked to see that it was the woman who had been the gallery owner and the nurse.
'May I join you? I've seen you walking around but then I haven't seen you for awhile and I feared you had moved away before I had a chance to meet you. I feel better with someone to be with. I hope you don't mind my company?'
'Am I dreaming, Ms. Tree?'
'You just might be, because you look like you're in shock! You're not looking too well.'
He broke out laughing and introduced himself.
'My name's Craig Farrow, and I'm going to tell you the most insane story in the world. You may start running for your life.'
'I'm Jennifer Andrews, and there's nothing more wonderful than an insane story on a beautiful day!'
'So besides being a nurse, do you love art galleries?'
'Now, how did you know I used to be a nurse and I love going to art galleries, Craig?'
The pair walked together up the hill to the ridge top walk then down to the Wetlands.
He told Jennifer his story; she listened in silence with an interested expression until he finished.
'So, Jennifer; am I insane or delusional?'
'It's insane that you men have to have the hell scared out of you in order to scare good health into you!'
'I suppose it does sound funny, Jennifer.'
'No Craig, the funny thing is one of my friends gave me two tickets to see the circus matinee tomorrow. I had no one to think of asking, then I saw you...'
Craig laughed, 'Isn't that just the place to be?'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).