You probably won’t believe this, but Sheep Meadow got weirder the further in we got. We didn’t realize that the booths on the outskirts had basically been kiddie attractions until we walked closer to the center, where the Burning Pit was.
The first one that really caught my eye was the “Decorative Genital Mutilation” booth. They had a special going on, apparently. A heavily pierced and tattooed man called out to Mike, “Butterfly your penis, man? Only two cigarettes to butterfly your penis!”
“That certainly is a deal,” Moira said to Mike. “We’ve got a lot of cigarettes. We can spare a couple.” Mike looked at Moira with a sick look on his face. The man ran up to us with photographs of his work. Mike pushed the pictures back at the man, but not before we caught a glimpse of the man’s horribly dirty, blood-caked fingernails.
There was a very patriotic display a few booths down. American flags were pinned around the bottom of a small, but high chain link fence. The fence probably started life as a dog run, but now it held two hatchling giant birds. “Avenge your dead loved ones!,” shouted a barker. “Show them that we ain’t going to take it anymore!” The birds were about the size of small women, which made them pretty formidable, even for babies. They could easily look me straight in the eye. But, they were helpless inside of the fence, and you could pay a can of food to jab them with your choice of several weapons.
As we watched, a man walked up, handed the barker a can, and turned to select his weapon. “That’s the last time I’m taking black olives from you, buddy. They aren’t even brand name ones, for God’s sake.” The customer ignored him and selected a straightened coat hanger from the items leaning against the fence.
Before we could pass on by, he rapidly jabbed the baby birds four or five times. They screamed weakly and tried to flop away from the jabbing hanger, but the jabber simply moved to the other side of the fence and continued his attack.
“This is sick,” I said. “The birds are what they are. They aren’t maliciously out to get us. The other birds aren’t going to learn a lesson from this. We can’t make pets of them, but it would have been better to knock them in the heads to kill them right away than do this.”
“Yeah, but it would have been less profitable and entertaining,” Mike said, grimly. A small crowd had gathered to cheer the man on. Their faces were red and spit flew as they cheered and roared.
We soon learned that this entertainment wasn’t the darkest fare in Sheep Meadow. We saw a large crowd as we moved on, and we headed toward it. I momentarily wondered if we were wasting time, avoiding the confrontation that would hopefully result in us walking away with Jill, but we hadn’t gone out of our way. All of the paths in Sheep Meadow were spokes that led to the Burning Pit in the center.
The big crowd was gathered around a man on a makeshift wooden platform. He was dressed in black, which was no surprise. He was wearing a hat that made him look Amish, but he wasn’t Amish because he was using a portable public address system. He was also shaking a book that I assumed was a Bible.
“We have witches in our midst,” Hat Man boomed into his microphone. His crappy little speaker let out an earsplitting whine of feedback, and he turned around and squatted to adjust the knobs. He finally fixed it, we all took our hands from our ears, and he stood up and turned to start lecturing again.
“We’ve been told and told throughout history that we can’t just let this go, friends. But we let it go. We started to get all humanistic and secular. We took prayer out of schools, and we let the queers have their own parades. And look what has happened in this city. Witch stores on every block downtown. They even have their own television shows and sections in book stores. It’s no accident that God has sent this plague of birds down upon us. The Bible has let us know that we can’t put up with certain things, and other Godly men have told us what to do.”
The man showed us the book he held. It wasn’t the Bible. It was a fairly recent printing of the Malleus Maleficarum. The Hammer Of Witches. It was the witchhunters’ bible from the 1400s. It was the book that had fueled the terrible witch hunts that raced through Europe for centuries. The Malleus had fed fear, it had justified murder, and it was a handy dandy guide to torture, as well.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!,” he roared. A couple of men dragged two bound and hooded figures onto the platform. They looked like mummies, they were so wrapped up. The men jerked the hoods off of them so we could see their faces.
It was Kat and Kate.