The Show Must Go On (excerpt)

There were roughly twenty-five people within Salvador's tent. The interior was poorly lit, and the edges of the room seemed to be perpetually submerged in shadows. Salvador the Illustrated Sword-Swallower himself stood on a battered makeshift wooden stage, awaiting his audience. A small rack of swords stood behind him. As the people made their way into the tent, they noticed two things about the performer. One was that he was indeed illustrated, with line upon line of immaculate calligraphic lettering tattooed on every inch of his body, save for his face. The other fact was that the body upon which the tattoos were drawn was too tall and too thin. With the scant lighting, he seemed like a corpse - a corpse that smiled as his audience drew near.

The beautifully-crafted words were a mystery to the onlookers, for the lights were much too dim to make out all of the details. Were the lighting more sufficient, the crowd would have seen their very names somehow tattooed on the performer's too-pale skin, a fete as chilling as it was miraculous. Only one gentleman noticed his name and his wife's name on Salvador's body. Tattooed on the left side of his ribs in pristine cursive were the names JAMES CORBETT and CYNTHIA CORBETT.

"Would you look at that!" James said, chuckling to himself. He pointed a finger at the performer so that his wife may see. "See there? He has our names on him!"

Cynthia found the names and shuddered. "How do you think he did that?" she asked quietly.

"Oh, I don't know. It's probably paint," he answered, but the more he looked, the more the tattoos appeared to be faded, as if the needle drove ink into his flesh some time ago. He could make out other names surrounding his and his wife's. LISA COLLINS. MARK HARINGTON. ALBERT SMITH. James looked behind him and saw that others were pointing at Salvador and whispering something into their partner's ear. Very few looked excited. In fact, one couple abruptly turned and left the tent. Wondering if he should do the same, a movement from the stage caught his attention.

With a flourish, Salvador grasped the first sword and the show began. With practiced dexterity, he slid the blade down his throat and turned in a circle so that every member of the audience could see. He then pulled the sword out with a speed that made most of the crowd wince. The routine was repeated with the other swords, all of which were longer and wider than the last. In time he came to the final sword, which seemed much too large to be swallowed without grievous injury. Undaunted, Salvador held the tip of the blade just above his open mouth and released his grip on the handle, letting the sword fall into his abdomen.

The effect was immediate. Each audience member felt a simultaneous tearing in their throats, as if having a blade forced through tissue. No one had time to scream. The only sounds that came from the crowd were gurgling coughs and gagging noises. One by one they fell as their lungs filled with blood.

Salvador, with the sword still in his throat, took a slow bow. His eyes were like obsidian.