It came up through the ground. Music pulled at it, as of old. Unknown years had passed since it had been called forth. The memory of sights, sounds, and smells were distant. It remembered the sweetness of honey, the scent of charred flesh, and the sounds of screams. Here were all of those things and more. It needed something to attach itself to. Fully experiencing the world required a suit of flesh. It fumbled about like a mewling baby, looking for mother's teat. Bright colors drew it and the sound of laughter, not all that different from screams.
It entered through the pores of the skin, through the nostrils - smelling like something gone wrong and yet not entirely unpleasant. Now it could see the children at its feet. Hands covered in oversized gloves were dexterous enough to make balloon toys. Feet in shoes ten sizes too big could dance and cavort. It handed the balloon puppy to a nearby child. Even through the gloves, it could feel the pulse beating in the girl's wrist as it showed her how to hold it carefully.
The taste of a young soul like this one lingered on the back of its tongue like candy floss. Come with me, its mind whispered to that of the child, knowing that she would come when she could. A moment where too many crowded around and her mother would lose sight of her. She would come to it and it would feast like it did of old.
"Hey, Bubbles, you've got a show in the big top in fifteen." The voice was harsh and came from low to the ground.
It turned and looked down at the man near its knee. "Yes." It grated through Bubbles’ teeth. "So many there." The thought of feasting on a whole tent full of young souls made its mouth water.
The man nodded. "Yeah, really big show today. So, come on, will ya?"
Bubbles followed the man through the milling crowd. It would need strength to be able to do what was needed in this big top. "Colonel." Its words were deep and gravelly.
The small man turned. "Yeah? What is it?" He tapped his foot and pulled a stubby cigar from one of the garish pockets of a slapdash uniform.
"I need to feed before the show." It extended a hand to the man.
"Really? You should have eaten before..." When the clown glove touched the Colonel, it felt too much like swollen flesh.
Its smile became twisted, into an even more insane grin than the one painted on its skin.
The Colonel began foaming at the mouth. His teeth chattered.
It saw into the Colonel's mind. A man shaped monster brandished a studded length of leather over a too small child.
"You're a damned freak." The monster shouted. "I'm gonna beat the devil out of ya, and then I'm gonna go beat yer ma fer havin' ya." Flecks of spit fell on the boy and sizzled where they landed.
The fear was delicious. It clutched at the man's shoulder, drawing energy along with the emotion. As it grew stronger, now oversized fingers sunk into the work hardened flesh of the man before it. There was a smell like the wind just before the storm. As it fed, the tiny man began to shrink, looking more and more like the boy from the nightmare. Soon there was nothing more than the uniform filled with withered skin and bones.
Feet that looked like shoes and skin shiny with the red and blue diamonds of the harlequin's garb, filled out. It became the thing that Bubbles was trying to be. The creature that brought cheers and screams out of the audience. It swept aside the remains of the Colonel with one massive leathery foot.
Its power was returning. It would need more than physical contact to draw the souls from its audience. It would need them to be afraid. It would bring them to the edge of panic into that place where they ceased being human and became a massive beast, slouching towards death. They would claw and beat and trample one another. The air would fill with their essence, and it could walk among them, breathing in a feast.
It walked towards a large red can. There was enough kerosene in it to make a sizeable fire. It would need more help to start the show. With loping strides, it walked to an area behind the rides, where workers would take a smoke break. Today was too busy for anyone to be back here. It set the can down and grabbed a handful of wiry hair with each bloated fist. A shrieking laugh and wet ripping would have drawn attention were it not for the wail of a calliope. More ripping and squelching noises filled the air. Soon, four smaller jesters stood where the massive white-faced buffoon had been moments before. They chittered to one another, though joined by one mind they needed no talking.
By the time the Ringmaster took center stage, it would have the entrances blocked and the fires started. The carnage would be delicious and folks would talk about it for generations.