circus act

Leave home & join the circus.


2. Two.

"You really think you can get a job in the circus just because your momma taught you some tarot and palm readin' shit? Why the hell'd she ever teach ya that?"


I opened the car door, took my stuff, and hopped down. I didn't thank Johnny, though I'd like to imagine the way he spit into an empty plastic bottle slowly filling with brown liquid was his way of saying goodbye as I slammed the door. He left me in the parking lot, near the big tent I'd seen. That little lock of hair was still in my pocket, and I still didn't know what to do with it. I slowly moved towards the admission booth. There were hoots and hollers from kids on the little carnival rides, shrieks from inside the big tent, laughter from people strolling around, and I was aware of how alone I was right in that moment, no family, no friends, not even Johnny. 


A wizened old man was working the admission booth. When I said I was there for the job, still grasping the gas station flyer, he nodded and replied, "You'll have to wait until the night is over and most of the crowds are gone. The show inside the big tent goes until 10:30, so for another five minutes or so. Then the freak show goes until 11:30, and the last thing running is the burlesque, which ends at midnight. Midnight is when everything fully shuts down. So you can probably wait in the freak show tent until everything's done. What's your name?"




"Elena, I'll tell Madam Volkova that you're in the freak show tent. And here's a free ticket for the show, ok?" He winked and passed me a little ticket stub, then gave me directions through the games and rides and balloon animals and face painted to the black freak show tent. 


Since the show was still on in the big tent, I was one of the first people to sit down inside. All I had to do was pass my stub to a tall man near the entrance, and he opened the flap for me to come in. The place was mostly fold-out chairs, and then there was a little raised stage area. The atmosphere was intentionally spooky, and since I was alone, I actually felt a bit scared, until more people started flooding in. My seat was in the front, and, soon, the light's went down and everyone became quiet.


One light hit on the stage, where a tall man with giant blue eyes was standing, wearing a top hat and a suit with a bowtie, all in black. "Welcome, friends, to the freakshow... our first star tonight is, of course, the fantastic fire breather, MISS HAZEL!"


He walked offstage, and on came a woman, with chocolate skin, in a little red dress with matching red shoes. She waved towards the crowd, then pulled a lighter out of her top, then held it close to her mouth. She stuck out her tongue, then flicked on the lighter, and waved the fire as she wiggled the tip of her tongue. All of the sudden, she turned her head to the side, opened her mouth wider, and the lighter lit a long stick she'd been hiding, and she held the torch in front of her, then, as if she was just breathing, fire erupted from her mouth. The crowd roared. She began to do different tricks, breathing the fire, making it erupt in various ways. By the end, everyone was clapping, and she curtsied. "Next, Theodore the Tarantula Tamer!" she roared.


Theodore was a boy with messy blonde hair and wide, doe-brown eyes. His skin was translucently pallid, but his build was healthy and strong. He was dressed impressively in a black suit with a little black bowtie, and he carried a cage covered in a black cloth. "Everyone, greetings... I have some friends I'd like you to meet..." he flung off the cloth and inside were two gigantic tarantulas, fearsome and hairy. He opened the cage and released them... they crawled on him immediately as he spoke. "These are some of the most dangerous spiders in the world..." they were everywhere on him, and he displayed them, petting them, letting them crawl on his face, their arms dangling in his mouth, and never once did they hurt him, and he spoke all the time in a voice like a trance, smooth and serene. He made them dance to music, doing various tricks for the audience. Before he could finish, another boy came onstage, a little younger, with brown curls and a matching suit. He was gorgeous. And he waved his hand in the air, and the tarantulas and cage and cloth all disappeared.


"Ah, everyone, it is time for me to leave, my friend Ivan is here. I hope he hasn't played a dirty trick on you... Last night I couldn't find my little creepy friends for a while, and I wouldn't be shocked if Ivan had set them on someone who left early during his performance."

Cue nervous laughter from the crowd, shushed as Ivan opened his mouth. "Goodnight everyone! I am Ivan, the illusionist, and this is my show." Ivan began with normal tricks: he made objects disappear with ease, he broke out of a locked box, and he guessed cards like no one else. There was something about his manner, however, that made the tricks more fantastic, and less staged. He didn't hide things; he did everything very clearly, but all of his tricks worked. 


"For my final illusion, tonight, I would like to make a beautiful girl levitate. Do we have any beautiful girls here tonight?" There were a lot of screams from the crowd; he was eerily handsome, barely older than twenty, and had a strong British accent. He walked through the seats, and girls and older women alike raised their hands. Even some guys raised their hands. But he continued until he was back to the front, back in front of... me. "I've found her." The crowd hushed. "Not only is she beautiful, but she's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen... please join me, Miss... what is your name?" He held out his hand.


"Um, Elena, but you don't have to-" I grabbed his hand, and gently, he tugged me towards the stage. My eyes burned into the ground.


"Elena, sit in this chair, right here." There was a gilded, throne-like chair now onstage. I sat down, and without even pausing to explain, I floated up into the air. Not the chair, just me. I felt this weightlessness, and I just... floated, and when I looked down, Ivan was smiling. I twirled and whirled in the air. I was giggling. I was amazed. What was happening?


Before I knew it, I was back down, and the show was over, and everyone had to clear out. One of the security guys asked me to leave, but I told them I was waiting for Madam Volkova, if that was her name, the owner of the circus.


"I'm right here, no need to worry." A woman in a slinky, fifties-style black dress, with short, curled black hair and artfully done classic makeup, waltzed through the tent's flap. "Elena," she held out her hand to shake mine, and her nails were long and black. "Welcome to the Three Wolf Circus. You are a fortune teller, are you not?"


"Yes! So nice to meet you. I only caught this show tonight, but it was incredible." I was busy sucking up to her. It didn't strike me that I'd never mentioned fortune telling to the admission man.


"Well, Elena, I see something in you. Now, we'll have to go through the formality of you proving your skill, but I think this might be the place for you." She sat me down in two empty chairs, and I quickly pulled an old deck of tarot cards from my bag that I kept around for luck. We used a chair between us for a table, and I read the cards for her. Afterwards, she made me examine her palm, and I told her what I saw. Then, she snapped her fingers, and Theodore, the tarantula man, walked into the tent with a crystal ball. It looked fairly heavy. "This is our old fortune teller's ball. She was a bit of a crazy hag, not very good at reading anything, but she had a fantastic ball. Do you have any experience with these?"


"Um, not really..."


"Don't worry, just try your best. You can tell Max's fortune."


"Max?" I asked. Theodore laughed and raised his hand. 


"The Theodore thing is all for show. We like alliteration-- Ivan's name is actually Alex, if you'd like to know." Madam Volkova giggled. 


Max sat down in her chair as she stood up, gently placing down the ball he'd lugged in. I grasped for his hands, paused, and closed my eyes. That was what I was supposed to do, right? It felt fake. I let go and looked at the crystal ball, moving my hands against it. 


A cold shudder erupted inside of me. There were rolling clouds in the crystals, and between them, I could see glimpses of color. Red. Dripping red. Blood. There was blood on Max's hands. But no, it wasn't actual blood... there were two bodies. Audience members. And the tarantulas, the tarantulas were crawling on them, and Max was, he was laughing. The blood on his hands was swirling in front of my face, and I let go, gasping.


Max smiled. "What?"


But before I could lie, Madam Volkova spoke. "That will be enough, Max, please take the ball back."


"No fortune?" he joked, but Madam Volkova had a cold glare that made him leave. She sat down in front of me.


I stuttered to speak. "W-wow, um, I, w-well, I'm so sorry that I didn't, I'm really sorry. I'll go."


Madam Volkova grabbed my hands. "No, Elena, you have the job."

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