The Circus ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #25 (Finale) | (Short Story)

This is the final installment in the Tales of the Red Line Circus Series.


The rest of the pages of the diary were blank. Ruby Allison had been the most recent addition to the Red Line Circus.

Rosalie let out a content sigh and gently closed the book. She hadn’t realized how much time had passed while she was reading; she was too caught up in all of the stories. Who would have thought that creatures from such vast walks of life could work together to bring people entertainment? Rosalie had laughed at times and felt tears welling up at others. She had never met any of the members of the Red Line Circus, yet she felt like she knew them all so well now. Perhaps this little trip was worth it.

Rosalie’s focus was broken as Caleb entered into the room.

“There you are!” He exclaimed, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! There’s a whole circus out there, and you’re in here…reading?”

Rosalie rolled her eyes. “Yes, reading. I’ll have you know that I learned a lot about the people that work here! You have no idea what some of those performers out there have been through. It’s fascinating to learn where they all came from.

“Yeah, I bet,” Caleb said distractedly. “If you’re done reading the biography of everyone who works here, I’d like you to come see the rest of the circus. The big show is about to start!”

Rosalie gave one last look at the book and smiled. Her eyes flashed to the framed picture on the wall. When she first walked into that room, the people in the picture were nothing but strangers. Now she knew them for who they were: the first performers of the Red Line Circus.

“Fine,” she said. “I think I’ve learned enough.”

“That’s a first,” Caleb chuckled.

The two walked out into the open air. Rosalie squinted as her eyes tried to readjust to the bright sun. It almost felt like she was walking into a completely new world. It was the same area that she had seen before reading the diary, but now she had a better understanding of everything. Through everyone’s stories, she watched the Red Line Circus evolve.

Caleb kept ahead while Rosalie scanned the whole area. She specifically sought out each and every member of the circus that she had read about.

She passed by the animal cages first. Inside were Ramla, Isoke, Sesh and Kali, the four animal spirits that had once been members of another circus. The four rested in order to save their strength for when it was their time to shine. Rosalie peeked through the bars and noticed Sich laying against Isoke. His eyes were closed and he wore a content smile on his face. It was odd to think that a human-turned demon could be so close to a few animals, but Rosalie understood why.

She continued on past the large haunted house. The gray angel Noire stood outside, greeting people as they wandered in to face their deepest fears. Rosalie noticed a couple of white-faced spirits exiting the building. While she was sure that Noire’s house would cure Rosalie’s fear of the deep ocean, the girl would have to pass for the time being. She would let the gray angel have her fun with the more adventurous creatures.

Rosalie’s eyes wandered over to the ferris wheel. She noticed that the angel Dahlia was fixing up a part of the ride. Standing next to her was Zesze, the huldra, who hoisted up a steel beam that was twice her size.

“Man, I’ve wanted to go on the ferris wheel all day!” Caleb complained. “I hope they’re finished with it soon!”

Rosalie ignored him and kept searching for the other creatures from the stories. She heard the faint sound of violin music and turned her attention to the stage. There was the nokken Valorin, playing his sweet, hypnotizing music while three others joined him. Unity, the spirit that went to Tartarus and back, danced along to the tune. Meanwhile, Melodie the ram spirit and Covetina the shark spirit sang a lovely duet. Rosalie was enamored by the performers on stage. The song and dance was beautiful.

Over by the side of the stage, Rosalie noticed another group waiting in the wings. There were brother and sister fox spirits Blase and Aurabelle, who were having themselves a playful tussle. The elf Nara and the human Alex watched the siblings go at each other, though only stood by and laughed. Rosalie would have to remember to return to the stage later in order to watch that group’s act. She could only imagine how hysterical it would be.

Rosalie was almost to the tent now. She looked over to the food stands and saw a peculiar sight. Tisiphone, the Greek Furie, was behind the alcohol stand, but she didn’t seem very pleased. Next to her was the most recent addition to the circus, Ruby, who looked to be talking to a tall skeleton in a cloak. Another, clearly drunken man was hunched over the counter. Tisiphone was glaring at him. Rosalie surmised that he and the skeleton were other reapers mentioned in the tales: Septimus and Scy. The girl giggled. The Red Line Circus really did attract every kind of person.

As Rosalie and Caleb approached the entrance to the tent, Rosalie felt a sudden tap on her shoulder. She spun around and found that no one was there.

“Was that you?” She asked Caleb.

“Was what me?” he replied. Rosalie shook her head. She must have been feeling things. Then she remembered the tale of the Silent Specter: Joy, the homonculus. As soon as the memory struck her, she saw a masked figure duck behind one of the stands. Rosalie grinned. It seemed like the Specter had paid her a visit.

At the entrance to the tent, Rosalie saw the four clowns. Webster and Erastus flanked one side, while Brooke and the demon Helena took to the other. Each of them made quips to every person that walked into the tent. Rosalie knew that she and Caleb would be no exception.

“Look sharp, fellas,” Webster said. “Pretty lady at 12 o’clock!”

“Which one?” Erastus replied. Rosalie burst out laughing, though Caleb’s face flushed red.

“Now look what you did, Web, you turned the poor kid on.” That quip came from Brooke. The clowns burst out into a fit of laughter. Caleb made haste through the entrance. Rosalie was glad that the clowns had turned their jokes onto her friend. Seemed like he was the one that had to lighten up. Though Helena did not add to the jokes, she gave Rosalie a friendly grin.

The two found their seats. Caleb sat with his hands crossed over his chest.

“Come on, Caleb, grow a funny bone,” Rosalie taunted. The boy shot her a look.

“I’ll be sure to remember that when it comes from someone other than you. I just want to enjoy the show, not be insulted by some clowns.”

Rosalie chuckled. She scanned the interior of the tent. Up in the rafters waited two women. One was the witch Giselle, who was joined by the vampire Fawn. Both conversed and scanned the crowd while they waited for the show to start so that they could show off their acrobatics.

To the side of the stage waited two men. There was the illusionist Thaddeus, who was already entertaining a section of the crowd by manifesting a rabbit illusion. The other man was the second-in-command Sven. He waited for the opening act with a content smile.

Suddenly, the lights went dim and a red flash of light erupted in the center of the stage. Crimson and violet smoke cascaded around the ring. The audience broke out into thunderous applause.

Out of the smoke stepped Cymbeline, the reaper ringleader of the Red Line Circus. She wore her trademark top hat and grinned from ear to ear.

Rosalie sat back in her seat and relaxed. She had never been one for circuses before. Now, after learning about all about the people who made the Red Line Circus into what it was, she figured she would make an exception this one time. Rosalie clapped and cheered as Cymbeline began the show.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, angels and demons, spirits and souls, welcome to the Red Line Circus!”

The End

Advertisements

The Lonely Spirit ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #24 (Short Story)

Ruby Allison

-Birthplace: America

-Birth year: 1995

-Physical age: 22

-Species: Human spirit

-Position: Vendor

*

I’ve lived a weird life. Hell, I’ve lived a weird afterlife. Here I am, a 22 year old dead girl who works at a circus full of supernatural creatures. Do I perform at said circus? Nope. My job is to help a Greek Furie sell food and alcohol to people. So yeah, I live an odd life.

I’ve been at the circus for around a year now, and I’m still not entirely used to it. There are nice people here and other dead people like me, but the atmosphere is…different. Not bad in any way, just…different. I used to love circuses and carnivals when I was younger. The sights, the sounds, the food, the performances; it was all so much fun! The Red Line Circus is like that, but at the same time it’s not. Every time I see one of the clowns or a performer up on stage, I know that they’re not human (well, in some cases not anymore). There’s only one living human here at the circus, but he’s an anomaly. Everyone else is some supernatural or mythical creature that I read about in books. I still haven’t grasped the fact that now I practically live with those same creatures. My boss is a reaper of souls! If you had told younger, naive, alive me that one day I would die and my afterlife would consist of me working at a circus with a bunch of mythological creatures and other dead people, I probably would have run screaming from you. Nevertheless, here I am. I’m sure you want to know all the details of how I got here, huh? It’s…weird. Let me just say that it was a skeleton that introduced me to the Red Line Circus. You’ll find out the context for that one later. My name is Ruby Allison.

I’m from California in the US, specifically near Hollywood. That’s right, I grew up with all the famous movie stars right down the street. None of my family were celebrities, and neither was I. I never got the call to be a child actor in a film or TV show. My younger self was disappointed. Looking back, it was probably for the best.

I went to a normal school and had normal friends. For someone who lived in the entertainment capital of the world, I was shockingly normal. Just another face on the street. Nobody would ever say, “Hey, that’s Ruby Allison! Let’s go get an autograph!” That was fine by me. I was more than familiar with the way the paparazzi hounded celebrities in the area. You couldn’t walk a few feet without seeing a man with a camera run down the street. It was just par for the course. You got used to it.

In my younger days, I wanted to become an actress. I adored the idea of acting on the big screen. I wanted my name in lights on all of the billboards across Hollywood. Everyone would know the name Ruby Allison!

There was just one problem: I couldn’t act if my life depended on it. Don’t get me wrong, I could memorize lines like it was nobody’s business, but whenever I got in front of someone I froze up. It was stage fright to the max. I could barely hold myself together when I was by myself in front of a camera in my own house!

In my freshman year of high school, I auditioned for the leading role in the winter play. My audition was so bad that talk of it spread through the theater community at the school like wildfire. Everyone was talking about the girl who shook like a leaf and spoke like a robot. Needless to say, I gave up on my dreams of acting pretty soon after that. Being laughed at in high school is one thing. If I had given the same kind of audition to a professional, I’d be the laughing stock of Hollywood!

Though my horrible acting skills followed me through freshman and sophomore years, people began to forget about me once I never went back to the theater. I was perfectly fine going back to being a normal girl. I sped through my junior and senior years without a word spoken of that horrid incident. I would take the little victories where they came.

Once I graduated from high school, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. Acting was out the window, and I had yet to find a job that would interest me. So, I decided to take a year or two off to get my life in order and figure out what I wanted to do for a living.

It was around 2013 when I met Aaron Potaris. He was a somewhat well-known DJ at a club on the east side of Beverly Hills. It was a place called The Solstice, and it was somewhere that I frequented starting around the same year. While I was still on the hunt for a career, I had to get my kicks in somewhere. The Solstice was your average club that featured bands of all genres. The place was 18-plus rather than the usual 21-plus, so it was the perfect place for my friends and I to chill. I may not have been old enough to drink alcohol at the time, but that didn’t stop me from having a blast with every visit. I can’t even count how many times I went to The Solstice. There were days that I would chill in there until the staff kicked me out. It was the place to be.

Aaron was one of the reasons that I kept coming. He was attractive, he played amazing music, and he seemed like an all-around cool dude. Not to mention that he was the same age as me. I found it funny that the boy couldn’t even be bought a drink by the people that enjoyed his music. He always sat by his turntables with a Pepsi and a water close at hand.

As you can probably tell, I fell for him. Hard.

After a while, he noticed that I was coming specifically to see him. It was just my luck that he took an interest in me. One night after one of his shows, we stayed in the club until the wee hours of the morning just talking and getting to know one another. I was as nervous as anything. This was a boy who was practically a celebrity to me, and we were having a conversation like we were close friends. Be still my beating heart.

Our little post-show meetups continued for a while. It was the same routine: he would finish his show and cleanup, then come sit at my table while the next act came on. It was perfect, and my friends were a little jealous. All of them agreed that Aaron had a thing for me. I wasn’t sure whether I believed it. Maybe it was because I considered myself an average girl and he was a celebrity. Maybe because I thought that there were so many better girls out there than me. Yet, in the end, he chose me.

Aaron asked me to be his girlfriend on December 4th, 2014. I remember that date like the back of my hand. That was the day that everything changed for me. That was the beginning of the end.

For the first several months, I was on cloud 9. I had an amazing celebrity boyfriend who gave me anything and everything I could have wanted. Hell, I even moved into his apartment four months after we started dating. He was my first boyfriend, and in my eyes he was the only one I would ever have. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else.

Now that I was dating a celebrity, the life of a celebrity began to follow me. I got my first taste of what being hounded by the paparazzi was like, though it was only when I was seen with Aaron. Nobody seemed to care about me when I was alone, but I didn’t mind that. I had my privacy. But when I was with him, the paparazzi would clamor over “Aaron Potaris’ new girlfriend.” At the time I was overjoyed. It was the closest I would get to stardom without making an ass out of myself. I thought that life with Aaron was perfect.

But nothing is ever perfect, is it? I should have seen the signs long before I did. I should have gotten out of there while I had the chance. Back then, my judgment was clouded. I wanted nothing more than to stay with Aaron, no matter what happened. My dependence on him went to his head. He changed. Well, maybe not. Maybe he was always an asshole. Maybe he was just waiting for the right moment to show his true colors. He had to make a great first impression, after all.

In the later couple years of our relationship, things went south real quick. In public, we were the poster children for the perfect young relationship. We held hands, we smiled, we acted like we were the happiest people in the world.

It was when we were alone that he would hurt me. Every time I talked back to him, or said something that he didn’t like, I would get a punch in the arm, torso or stomach. He always hit me in places that couldn’t be seen. Sometimes he slapped me in the face, but he made sure never to leave a bruise. He couldn’t have people questioning why his girlfriend looked so ragged.

The worst part of it was that I stayed by his side the whole time. I hated when he put his hands on me. He always spun it around to make it seem like it was my fault that he was hurting me. Yet, I was so scared of what would happen if I left him. I was terrified that he would spread lies about me among his fans and they would come after me like rabid animals. That he would use his popularity to ruin me. He had me right in the palm of his hand. He could do whatever he wanted to me and I would remain with him through it all. I hated it. What had originally been a wonderful, loving relationship morphed into one that was fueled by his dominance and my submissiveness. I thought he loved me. I guess in the end I was just “Aaron Potaris’ girlfriend” and nothing else. That bastard took something away from me that I wouldn’t get back until I joined the Red Line Circus: my dignity.

For almost two years I dated Aaron. Towards the end, I tried everything to appease him. And I mean everything. I did a lot of things with him that I shudder just thinking about. It was a very low time in my life. I was miserable and sore almost every day. There were several times I contemplated suicide. I could never pull myself to do it, though. I knew that Aaron would find some way to paint me in a bad light even if I escaped him that way. I was trapped. He made me pretend that I was happy whenever we went out somewhere. If you ever saw me online in a picture with him, I always had a big smile on my face. If you really look into my eyes, though, you can see the pain and the hurt I was feeling. I felt like I was in Hell.

In the end, he pushed me too far. He has nobody to blame but himself for what happened that final night. My only regret was that he took me down with him.

We had just gotten home from dinner at a fancy restaurant. I don’t remember if the food was good or not. I was too distracted. I didn’t get two steps through the door before Aaron backhanded me across the face. I yelped and spun onto the couch. My cheek burned like I had just been stung by a wasp. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.

“You looked awfully upset during dinner,” Aaron said, rubbing his reddened hand. “What are people going to think when those pictures get published? I thought I told you to keep your chin up when we’re out in public. Isn’t that what I told you?” I opened my mouth to speak, but no words would come out. That was the hardest he had ever hit me in the face. He was in a particularly foul mood that night.

Aaron marched over and grabbed me by the hair. His face was only an inch away from mine. Tears fell like a waterfall down my cheeks. I think that only made him angrier.

“I asked you a question!” He shouted in my ear. He tugged at my hair sharply and came away with several strands. I felt like screaming but only winced. “Are you not listening to me?”

I tried to say something, but my words came out jumbled and sputtering through my tears. This earned me another slap across the other cheek. Now my whole face felt like it was on fire. Aaron didn’t look like he was ready to let up anytime soon.

“Get up,” he said in a eerily calm tone of voice. I didn’t move. His hand was still clasped tightly around my hair. “GET UP!” he screamed this time. Aaron yanked me up off the couch by my hair. I couldn’t hold back anymore. I let out a scream and he kneed me in the back. My scream was cut off as the air left my lungs. My mouth hung open in a silent yell as I gasped for a breath. Meanwhile, Aaron dragged me over to the bathroom and flung me inside. I landed hard on the tile floor. I felt a sharp pain shoot through my leg as it smacked into the base of the sink. I sat on that floor, sobbing and feeling pain everywhere in my body as Aaron looked down at my like I was an insect.

“Clean yourself up,” he grumbled. “You’re a fucking mess. When you’re done, come to bed and we’ll forget any of this happened.” He slammed the door shut. I didn’t get up off of the floor for five minutes. Too many thoughts were running through my mind. He had never beaten me so bad before. It was always a punch here or a kick there. This time he had gone the whole way. My face and scalp burned. My back and leg ached. My throat and lungs were sore from the heavy breaths I was taking. Aaron was right. I was a mess.

I pulled myself to my feet and stared into the mirror. I barely recognized myself. My hair was a frizzy mess, while both of my cheeks were stained bright crimson. I was lucky that he hadn’t given me a black eye.

My fingers dug into the sink as I forced myself to stop crying. Enough was enough. I’m not sure where the urge came from, but there was a little voice in the back of my mind that pushed me to take revenge. I was sick and tired of living a lie. I was sick of being beaten for the tiniest little thing. How would Aaron like to step into my shoes for a few minutes?

I pushed back my hair and scrubbed the tears out of my eyes. I had no idea what was going to happen to me, but I didn’t care. Aaron needed to learn why being an abuser leads down a dangerous path.

“Aaron, can you come here for a minute?” I called, trying to make my voice as steady as possible. “I need you to help me unzip my dress.” I heard heavy footsteps rumble towards the door. I took a deep breath and grabbed a glass vase that we kept next to the sink.

“Seriously?” He muttered. “Fine. Hang on.” I pulled the vibrant red roses from the vase and dropped them to the floor. My heart was thumping at a million miles a minute.

Aaron pushed open the door and wore an annoyed scowl on his face. He only had a second to react before I flung the vase into his face. The glass shattered and sprayed around him. Aaron yelped in pain and staggered backwards. Blood ran down his forehead and over his eyes. He brushed the glass away and stared at me with the intensity of a wolf on the hunt. My heart fell into my stomach. I was hoping that the blow would have knocked him unconscious. I was as good as dead.

Aaron bull-rushed me and grabbed me by the arms. I struggled against his grip to no avail. With a grunt, he slammed me into the mirror. The reflective glass broke apart and fell over my head and shoulders as the wind was once again forced from my lungs. I could feel a warm liquid fall down my neck and back. Aaron pulled me forward, intending to slam me back against the broken glass. My leg shot up and connected with his balls. He went to his knees almost instantly.

While he was down, I took the opportunity to kick him in the head. Blood spurted from his fresh cut, but he still didn’t go down. I reared my leg back for another shot, but he grabbed my ankle before I could connect. He yanked and I fell to the ground. I saw a red flash of pain as the back of my head slammed against the floor.

Aaron climbed on top of me and wrapped his hands around my neck. I tried to push him off, but he was too heavy. I could feel my face turning blue as my air supply was cut off. Aaron’s blood dripped into my face. I thought that was the end of me. Darkness was already beginning to come into the edge of my vision.

My eyes flicked to the side, and I noticed several large shards of glass from the mirror laying on the floor next to me. I reached with everything I had towards the largest one. My fingers clawed for purpose. The darkness grew thicker. Just a little more…

I felt the cool glass in my hand and took hold. With all of my strength, I lifted my arm and plunged the glass into Aaron’s chest. He screamed in pain and fell off of me. I gasped and coughed as the air refilled my lungs. The darkness in my eyes receded, and I painfully pulled myself to my feet.

“You fucking bitch!” Aaron spat. He held a hand to his new wound. I panted heavily and held the shard out in front of me. I dared him to take another step. He would regret it. “That’s the way you want to play, huh?”

Aaron picked up his own shard of mirror and rushed at me again. I screamed in fury and drove my shard into his neck. At the same time, I felt a searing pain shoot through my chest. Aaron’s eyes widened as his fingers grazed the piece of mirror that now jutted from his throat. He made a gurgling sound and blood seeped from his mouth. He stared at me incredulously before collapsing to the floor. His head landed right in the bowl of the toilet, splashing water and blood over the side. It was a fitting place for him to rest.

I had no time to think about the fact that I had just committed murder. I peered down at my chest and noticed a spreading circle of crimson staining my nice dress. The bastard had caught me right in the heart as soon as I stabbed him.

My legs gave out and I tumbled backwards into the bathtub. The darkness returned to my vision and did not cease. The last thing I saw was Aaron’s corpse flopped over the toilet as if he was drunk. The bathroom was an absolute mess. With my last shred of energy, I smiled. My pain was finally over. With that, the darkness consumed me.

And then my afterlife began.

It felt like only a minute passed. I awoke with a start in the ruined bathroom. All of the pain had left me. I blinked a few times as my eyes flashed around the room. Aaron’s body still lay face down in the toilet. Everything else was the same, but I felt…better. Better than I had in years. I wondered if I had actually survived the attack and the adrenaline had shocked me awake.

I pulled myself out of the tub, making sure not to step on the shards of broken glass. The floor was coated with specks of blood, both mine and Aaron’s. I turned around to see the state of the bathtub and nearly screamed. Sitting there with eyes open and a smile on their face was a bloody body. I rubbed my eyes and realized that the body was my own. I was certifiably dead.

Well, I thought. Shit. I thought that I had beaten the devil. It looked like we beat each other. I was sick to my spectral stomach. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen now that I was dead. Would I be cursed to wander the Earth as a spirit until the end of time? Would the grim reaper appear to take me to the afterlife? So far, spending my afterlife in a bloody bathroom was not my idea of a good time. I couldn’t bear to look at my own corpse any longer.

I turned to make my way out of the bathroom and stopped cold. Aaron stood in the doorway. I glanced between him and the body that lay in the toilet. He was as dead as I was. Was his spirit planning to beat the shit out of mine? No way in Hell would I allow that. I didn’t die finally defending myself from him just to suffer again in the afterlife. I never considered myself a good person, but I didn’t deserve such a Hell.

“You’re in for it now,” Aaron scowled. I was frozen in place. My brain screamed for my body to move, to jump through the wall like ghosts did in the movies. My body didn’t listen. I was as good as a statue.

Aaron took a step forward and fell to the ground. As he did, I noticed a skeletal hand grasping onto his ankle. Behind the hand was nothing but shadows.

“What the hell?” He cried. The hand began to pull him backwards out of the room. His fingers dug into the tile in an attempt to find something to grab onto. It was to no avail. Aaron Potaris was dragged kicking and screaming into the darkness by an unseen figure. His screams cut out as soon as he was lost from view. Silence filled the apartment.

I’ll admit that I broke out into laughter. I was trying to wrap my head around what had just happened, but seeing that bastard scream like a little girl as some unknown entity dragged him away gave me the best feeling I had in years. Serves him right.

I tiptoed out of the bathroom and scanned around the living room. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Aaron was definitely gone. It was just me and the corpses in the bathroom. Flashing red and blue lights cascaded through the windows. It was apparent that one of our neighbors had heard the commotion and called up the police.

I meandered around the apartment for a few minutes. My ecstasy from Aaron’s demise began to fade as I wondered if that same entity would return for me. A chill shot up my spine. It felt as if the apartment had suddenly dropped several degrees. I got the horrible sensation that someone was watching me. I regretted thinking about the concept of the grim reaper.

I peeked my head back into the living room and jumped a mile. There was a shadowy figure standing near the couch! The figure was more than a head taller than I was and wearing a jet-black cloak. It turned its head around and stared at me with empty eye sockets. The damn thing was a walking skeleton!

I felt like a child, hiding behind the threshold of my bedroom door. The grim reaper was in my house! What was I supposed to do? Waltz up to him and ask him to take me to Heaven? The way he was staring at me was off-putting. I shivered knowing that a conscious skeleton with a grand amount of power was waiting to take my soul to some other realm.

The reaper spun around and took a step towards me. I gulped and prayed to whatever god was listening to let that creature be kind to me.

“I have come for you,” the skeleton said in a deep, demanding tone.

“I-I’m not afraid of you!” I countered. I wasn’t even sure if I believed my own words.

For a moment, all was silent. Then, to my complete and utter disbelief, the entire air of the room changed. The expression on the reaper’s face was frozen in skeletal form, but I almost felt an air of…embarrassment coming from him.

“No, no, no, wait!” The reaper shouted, waving his hands furiously in front of him. His entire disposition seemed to morph. Even his darkened voice had changed considerably into something much more airy and attune to a skeletal character from a certain 1980s cartoon. “I didn’t mean it like that at all! Let me try that again!”

My eyebrows furrowed and my jaw fell slack. What on Earth was going on? The reaper turned around towards the corner, counted out loud to three, then spun back around and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

“Congratulations! You’re dead!” The reaper began clapping as confetti seemed to materialize out of nowhere and fall onto my head and shoulders. One piece flew into my mouth. I hacked it out. The paper tasted like dust.

The Reaper let out a nervous chuckle as his clapping slowed, and then died out completely. The spectral confetti blinked out of existence a second later.

I was at a loss for words. I took back every sentiment that told her that this…thing in front of me was the bonafide grim reaper. The skeleton part was right, but this guy was acting way too friendly and casual for him to be the creature to shuffle me off to the afterlife. This one must have been some wacky spirit that was trying to get a few giggles in. That or I was just in some horrid nightmare and this was where things started to get weird.

The reaper was staring at me as if he expected a reply. I searched my brain for anything to say. “So, um…What are you supposed to be?”

A slightly offended air seemed to fall over the reaper. It was the weirdest thing. I hated how I could feel his emotions even though his face never changed. It was just his jaw that moved up and down, and he was already using that too much.

“I’m here to take you to Purgatory, young lady,” he replied. That figured. I guess it was hoping too high that I would end up immediately in Heaven. I guess that’s what happens when you kill someone in self-defense. It also seemed like that skeleton really was the grim reaper. He was nothing like I expected. I had always known about the reaper being this dark and foreboding creature. This guy seemed like he belonged in a satire film. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy that I didn’t get the bad version or concerned that this was what the real grim reaper was like.

“So, you really are the Grim Reaper, huh?” I still had an air of skepticism around me. I eyed the skeleton closely. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being punked, or whatever you would call the version of that with dead people.

“Well, I’m not the Grim Reaper per se,” he replied. “There’s a lot of us. I just so happen to be the third. You can call me Scy!”

I opened my mouth to speak, but then slammed it shut and kept my lips a thin line. Too many questions buzzed in my mind. Knowing this skeleton, I would be here all night. I was better off taking his comments at face value. Apparently there were more grim reapers. If he was reaper number three, I didn’t even want to think about what the two that came before him were like. Or those who came after him, for that matter.

“Now, are you ready to head to the other side?” Scy rubbed his bony hands together. Before I could reply, the police entered into my apartment and began searching about. They trounced around as if neither me nor the skeleton were even there.

“Shucks, the coppers are here,” the reaper said. “They’ll be in for a nice surprise when they see the bathroom.”

“Jesus,” one of the cops said, holding a hand to his mouth and beckoning his comrades over to the bathroom. “In here.”

“And there it is,” Scy said matter-of-factly. “So what about it, missy? Ready to go?”

I didn’t reply. My gaze was fixated on the men and women who began taking pictures of the crime scene. These men and women who had no clue that the dead woman in the bathtub was standing right near them. They wouldn’t have to speculate on what happened. I could tell them. I could just reach out and tap one of them on the shoulder. I could explain everything, and make it so I wouldn’t be known as the girl who killed Aaron Potaris.

“That’s not going to work, you know.” Scy’s tone brought me back to reality. I blinked and noticed that I had been subconsciously reaching my arm out towards one of the men. Then it hit me. I wasn’t just reaching for someone to explain the circumstances of the crime scene to. I was reaching for someone to know that I was there.

My final years had not been good. Aaron had limited how often I got to spend with my other friends, and as I result I lost contact with many of them. For the most part, it was just me and that psychopath. I never felt more alone than I did in those last few months. And then, even with the tall skeleton and the dozen police surrounding me, I still felt alone. It hurt more than any bruise or welt that Aaron ever gave me.

I slowly withdrew my arm and held it closely against my chest. I felt cool drops sprinkle onto my wrist and noticed that my vision had become blurred. Reality was finally sinking in, and it was cold and lonely. I would never get to raise a family; never get to grow old with someone that I loved and that truly loved me back. My one dream had been to become an actress, but that had been squashed long ago. I never went to college and never found something to do with my life. I became dependent on a celebrity that beat and belittled me whenever he pleased. Aaron took everything away from me. Now I was dead and on my way to Purgatory. What a shitty life.

I felt a bony hand on my shoulder, and found that the reaper had a strangely caring sense. I didn’t think it was even possible for a creature like him to care about anything. I peered up into his soulless eye sockets and my lower lip began to tremble.

“It’s not fair,” I hissed, holding back any more tears from falling. I turned my gaze away from the men and women in my apartment and grabbed hold of Scy’s cloak. I had seen enough. “Take me away from here. Anywhere. I don’t care where it is, I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

Scy said nothing, but nodded and patted me on the back.

“As you wish…”

I suddenly felt a cool rush of air shoot up my back. The air dropped another ten degrees. I pulled my face away from Scy’s cloak, and was struck by a vision of the starry night sky. Around me were dozens of colorful lights, and a numerous amount of voices laughing and being merry.

I gathered pretty quickly that we weren’t actually in Purgatory. If we were, then my idea of it being gray and dreary were way off.

“Where are we?” I asked, wiping the water out of my eyes.

The skeleton seemed to be grinning now. “How do you feel about the circus?”

I blinked, then spun around to find that we were indeed at a bustling circus. Game and food stands, rides, and attractions of all shapes and sizes surrounded us. Several yards away I laid eyes on the great, red circus tent that posed as the centerpiece of the event. I felt like my mouth was on the ground. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Scy posed as one of the clowns at this one.

“Why did you take me here?”

“Because it’s a circus, silly!” Scy exclaimed, playfully rustling my hair with his bony fingers. “Who doesn’t have fun at a circus? Wait, don’t answer that. There are several people that don’t have fun at circuses. Mostly the ones that are afraid of clowns. You’re not afraid of clowns, are you?”

I shook my head. I didn’t particularly like clowns, but they weren’t the scariest thing in the world.

“Then it’s perfect! Besides, after mentally going over a few of the facts about your, uh…predicament, I’m willing to pull a few strings.”

I tilted my head to one side. What was this crazy skeleton going on about this time?

“Weren’t you supposed to take me to Purgatory?”

Scy shook his finger. “Let’s just say that a fun idea popped into my skull not too long ago.”

Oh, great. Now he had ideas for me. Just what I needed. Fifteen minutes of being dead and I was more confused than I ever had been when I was alive.

A pink top hat materialized atop Scy’s head, and another woman appeared from behind the skeleton and rested her elbow on his shoulder. She had long, spiky blond hair and eyes that were clouded completely white. She must have been a friend of the skeleton’s. She was much prettier than he was, though.

“Hey, big brother,” the white-eyed woman said with a bubbly tone. “What brings you here? Who’s your spirit friend?”

Did she just call him ‘brother?’ I thought. You mean to tell me that this cute girl is this skeleton’s…sibling?

This woman was another reaper? Aside from the completely white eyes, she looked as human as I did. What the hell did all the other reapers look like?

I scrubbed at my eyes to make myself more presentable. I had to push the thought out of my mind that the woman in front of me was another reaper. I will never look at the concept of the grim reaper the same way ever again.

“Ah, Cymbeline, you’re just in time!” Scy retorted proudly. “This little missy is Ruby. She’s one of the spirits that I’m supposed to take to Purgatory. But it seems like she’s a special case.” He made quotations in the air with his fingers. The other woman nodded and winked. She knew exactly what he meant. As for me, I was lost as usual. I was just going to stop trying to understand these people.

Cymbeline eyed me up and down for a couple of seconds, and with a wink she snatched the top hat off of Scy’s head and placed it on her own. Scy grumbled jokingly, but immediately manifested his own top hat and shot a thumbs up to me.

“Welcome to the Red Line Circus,” Cymbeline said. “You seem like you would be a great addition to our team! Scy seems to think so, and I always take his word when it comes to entertainment.”

Make that two thumbs up from the skeleton wearing the top hat.

I looked between the two Reapers and a concerned look crossed my features. Was Cymbeline implying what I thought she was implying? This night just took a very odd turn.

“Hold on,” I said, finally getting my bearings. “You want me to join your circus? But I’m dead! I have no talents that would do any good here!” My confusion began to morph into anger. My hands balled into fists by my side. Was this some kind of joke? Did the skeleton know that my dream was to be an actress so he took me to a place where I could show off my skills as a clown or something? Was I being strung along for the amusement of a couple reapers? My face flushed crimson. “I’m not going to stand by and be made some sort of sideshow attraction! Why don’t you just take me to Purgatory where I belong!”

Some of the other patrons of the circus turned to look at my outburst for a couple of seconds, but quickly returned to their fun. Scy tugged at the collar of his cloak. I was glaring daggers at him. Cymbeline stood aside, allowing us two to work it out among themselves. I shot her a glare too, but she backed away. If she was part of this little joke too, then she was just as bad as the skeleton.

“I didn’t mean it like that at all!” Scy shouted. “I could tell that when you started crying, you were sad because you were alone! There was nobody that you could call a friend! I brought you here to give you a second chance to make some friends and have fun! There are some great people here! You would love to get to know them!”

Scy’s jaw seemed to be running at a million miles a minute. My face flushed red again, this time out of embarrassment. The reaper just wanted me to have…a friend? He wanted me to be…happy? He meant no malice in taking me to the Red Line Circus. He wasn’t trying to make me feel worse. He truly was trying to help.

My hands fell back to my side and I let tears fall this time. I felt like an asshole. For the first time in so long, it felt as if I had someone who actually cared about me. Someone who was willing to help me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that it would be a personification of death that would show such kindness. He gave me a second chance when he could have just tossed me in Purgatory and been done with me. I would not squander that chance. It didn’t matter if I was a spirit. That just meant I could do more now than I could while I was limited to that sad sack of flesh.

“I…don’t know what to say,” I whimpered through my tears. I put on my best grin for Scy, who in turn produced the largest skeletal grin he could muster.

I felt Cymbeline’s top hat fall atop my own head. It was strangely comfortable for a hat worn by a reaper.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Cymbeline giggled. “Welcome to the team. We’re glad to have you.” She turned her attention to Scy. “Won’t you stay for a bit, brother? Our big act is starting soon.”

“Ah, you know how much I love a good circus, but my schedule is chock full tonight!” Scy pulled a dusty scroll out from the inside of his cloak and unraveled it. The parchment had a long list of names; those who were close to death or perhaps already dead. Near the bottom of the scroll, I noticed other things written down in messy handwriting. I could have sworn that one of the lines read, 05/24: Begin construction of the real Mr Bones’ Wild Ride. Do not let older siblings find out.

Scy rolled the scroll back up and stuck it back into his cloak. Cymbeline shook her head and let out a chortle.

“Always up to your crazy schemes, I see.”

Scy patted me on the shoulder. I sensed a calm, proud air coming from him even though he spoke no words. I smiled back at him, and he made a quick OK symbol with his fingers.

“Well, duty calls,” Scy announced. “Save some of that good popcorn for me. But only the good stuff. The rest goes right through me! Heh!”

With that, Scy disappeared in a cloud of shadows. I stood there, peering up into the starry sky. The night had started out so terribly, but had ended with the best, albeit strangest, bang I could have asked for. I wasn’t sure what life in the Red Line Circus would be like. It would nice to have a new life and new friends to call my own, but I had no clue where to begin. I wasn’t keen on becoming a clown and I couldn’t act to save my life. I also wasn’t very limber, so acrobatics were out, and I wasn’t all that great with animals. I told Cymbeline all this and she pouted in thought.

“I’ve got it!” She snapped. “You don’t have to do any performance stuff, but there is a job we have for you here at the circus.” The reaper took me by the hand and brought me over to one of the stands. The sign read Beer and Other Necessities. Behind the counter was a woman with long, red hair pulled back into a ponytail. She grinned as we approached.

“I heard the commotion,” the woman said. “Your brother brought this spirit here, huh?”

Cymbeline nodded. “Yup. This is Ruby. She’s our newest addition to the circus, but she told me that she’s not all that interested in performing. So, I wondered if you wouldn’t mind taking her under your wing?”

The woman looked me up and down and chuckled.

“Sure. I’ve been meaning to ask you to get someone to help me now that things are getting busy. She seems like just the girl I’m looking for.”

The woman extended her hand out. I took it. An odd tingling sensation jumped up my arm.

“Nice to meet you, Ruby. My name is Tisiphone.”

I didn’t mind working as a vendor. Tisiphone turned out to be a pleasure to be around (even if I did later find out that she was practically a demi-god). I was shocked to find out that everyone that worked at and frequented the Red Line Circus was either a human spirit or another creature that I thought only existed in myth. At least there were other dead folks there to ensure that I wasn’t completely out of place.

On that night, I left my old life behind. I was no longer “Aaron Potaris’ girlfriend.” I was Ruby Allison, member of the Red Line Circus. I made so many new friends and had more fun than I ever could have imagined. As bad as it may seem, dying was the best thing to happen to me. I can rest easy knowing that Aaron will never harm another girl ever again. I hope the bastard is having a fun time in Hell where he belongs. Maybe one day I’ll ask Helena, Brooke or Sich to go down there and deliver a message from me. It’ll just be one giant middle finger. I wish he could see me now. I’m happier than ever before. Everyone at the circus treats me like an equal. This is my home, and its the only one I’ll take. I haven’t been with the Red Line Circus for long, but I can already tell that the coming years will bring nothing but amazing stories and adventures.

And it was all thanks to that goofy skeleton.

 

 

 

 

The Human of Mind ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #23 (Short Story)

Alex Brewer

-Birthplace: America

-Birth year: 1994

-Physical age: 23

-Species: Human of Mind

-Position: Actor

*

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a good carnival. The smell of the artery-clogging food, the thrill of the rides and games, the wonder of the circus performers; it’s all so enthralling! I’ve been going to carnivals of all sizes since I was just a little kid. The first one I ever went to was one my parents forced me to go to. It was small, just a local one put on by the church that we went to. It wasn’t anything spectacular, and it only took up the church’s parking lot, but damn, did my five year old self have a ball. Ever since that time, no matter where or when a carnival would pop up in my town, I would beg and plead with my parents to take me. My dad even started saying that one day I would march with the rest of the clowns. Funny guy, right?

I’ve been out of college for less than a year now, sporting a nice theater arts degree that my grandparents were less than thrilled about.

You should have studied to be a lawyer like your mother! That line was spouted during many a family dinner. I love my mom and all, but have you ever seen most people who are lawyers? They have this air about them that they’re planning to put you on the stand in front of a jury of your peers if you ever say the wrong thing to them! That was certainly not the life for me. Theater was my major and my hobby. I always pictured myself belting out the next Tony Award winning musical number and standing on the stage with a trophy in my hand and a grin on my face. The audience would give me a standing ovation and I would bow to my adoring fans!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Alex Brewer. This is the story of how I found and ultimately joined the Red Line Circus.

When I wasn’t acting my little heart out on the college stage or studying for some boring history exam, I found myself doing a little bit of traveling. I still loved the carnival, and I always wondered if my Broadway dream fell through if I could run away to the circus. You have to keep those sorts of options open, you know?

I bounced around the tri-state area every weekend that I was free, seeing if I could find a carnival or circus that could best the ones I had previously gone to. I even frequented the occasional Renaissance Faire when I was in one of those “ye olde” moods. Each spot that I hit seemed to exceed my expectations every time. There was only a couple of carnivals that I will not mention due to them nearly ruining my opinion on them. Let’s just say that when the clowns look like they just walked out of a rehabilitation clinic and the rides seem as if they’re one screw loose from crumbling to the ground, it’s not the most fun place to be.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I stumbled across this circus that I now call home.

As you probably already know, the Red Line Circus is entertainment for supernatural creatures, by supernatural creatures. There’s isn’t a single living human in the entire troupe! Sure, there are spirits and demons who were once human at one point in history, but as they are now their humanity is all but gone. Any living human that stumbles across it usually has their memories wiped before they can even have any fun. Only humans with a connection to the supernatural have the ability to see and understand everything that is taking place in front of them. Like me. I’m what they call a “Human of Mind,” though I’m still not completely sure what that entails.

I first came across the Red Line Circus completely by accident. I was driving home from one of my theater rehearsals. It was around ten at night on a Sunday, so there was barely anyone on the roads. Combine that with the fact that I live practically in the middle of nowhere and it was a lonely night. I was bordered by miles of farms on both sides as the clear night sky offered a landscape of white and yellow dots. I had my Luke Bryan CD blasting as my headlights pierced through the pitch darkness ahead of me. I even passed by a family of deer that I frequently saw on my drives home. I pulled over for a moment to wave, and the eldest buck came right over to my car. I started calling him Bambi II. Don’t ask what happened to Bambi I. Bambi II was a good deer. Maybe it’s this whole “Human of Mind” thing, but I’ve noticed that animals seem to be a lot less nervous around me than with other people.

After bidding farewell to the deer, I hopped on the road again and made my way home. I could feel my eyelids starting to get heavy. A good night’s rest was in order. The coming week of rehearsals was what we lovingly call in the trade, “Hell Week.” I was going to need my sleep, or else Javert was going to make an ass out of himself in front of the whole dang French Revolution.

I could practically feel the warmth coming from my bed. I was only a couple of miles away from home. The sweet release of sleep was soon to be upon me!

That’s when my 1995 Jeep decided that it had finally had enough of this cruel world, and said its final goodbyes with a horrible sputter as every light on the dashboard lit up like it was Christmas. I pulled over to the side as my trusty Jeep crawled to a stop and subsequently blew its engine on the spot. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad about the loss of the car I had since high school, nervous that it was completely busted, or angry that it couldn’t have lasted another ten goddamn minutes before kicking the bucket. I just wanted to go to bed!

I didn’t even bother popping the hood. I knew that all that would greet me was a billow of smoke. It looked like it was time to start walking. Thank goodness it was the middle of summer. I grumbled to myself for the first few minutes, cursing that car and accusing it of purposely dying on me when it knew I so badly needed sleep. Now I was wide awake as a cool breeze smacked me in the face. This was not what I needed!

I was around ten minutes from my home when I began to hear peculiar sounds coming from the woods nearby. At first I wrote it off as some drunk college kids who had wandered off into the woods to get high, but I soon realized that there were a lot more voices than I originally thought. There was even music. If this was a frat party, then they had pulled out all the stops for it. Half of my mind wanted to check it out, while the other half pleaded with me to be sane and go home. I was too awake now to get any good sleep. What would the harm be in crashing the party for a couple minutes?

Armed with the flashlight on my phone, I pushed some branches out of the way and entered into the woods. I kept the light directly in front of me, hoping that I didn’t accidentally step on a raccoon’s tail or anything. After a few more minutes of pushing my way through thorny bushes, I began to see light. Not just any light, either. Flashing, colorful lights! The kind of lights that you see during carnivals! For a moment I tried to wrap my brain around how I had overlooked another carnival coming to town. Surely I would have seen it posted in the newspaper or online. I make sure to check at least every couple of days. And what a curious place for it! Smack in the middle of the woods, away from any kind of civilization? What kind of show were they running? I couldn’t resist. I picked up my feet and bolted towards the light, disregarding any animals and plants that stood in my way.

I broke into the clearing, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was truly a carnival! Lights flashed on every stand and ride! The musical notes of games chimed in the air! In the middle of it all, a huge, red circus tent dominated the landscape. On top of the tent was a wooden sign that read, “Welcome to the Red Line Circus!” in firetruck red paint. What a wonderful turn of events! I took a moment to silently apologize to the soul of my vehicle for being so rude. Surely in its last moments, my Jeep had led me to the promised land.

Forget about sleep, this was the place to be! I meandered into the middle of the action, gazing wondrously at the different game and food stands. There were a decent amount of people there, but not nearly as many as I would have expected at a normal carnival. At first I figured at that time of day on a Sunday, most would be asleep and preparing themselves for the week ahead. It was only until after I took a second glance at several of the patrons that I began to feel a very strange sensation in my gut. The man behind the popcorn stand had eyes that were pitch black, and irises that were blood red. A child at the fish-catching game seemed to be floating just a tad, and she almost looked like I could see through her. And did that woman who was on the Ferris wheel have…wings?

I scrubbed at my eyes and gave a second look. Nothing had changed. I surmised that maybe this was a special circus where everyone was allowed to dress up! Then again, it wasn’t even close to Halloween. It was then I noticed a stand with the sign Beer and other Assorted Necessities. A nice, stiff drink was just what I needed to get my head on straight. The woman behind the counter had dark red hair that was pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes were a pale gray and they seemed to be fixated right on my own as I wandered up to her counter.

“What can I get for you, stranger?” She spoke in a wispy voice, wearing a smirk on her face the whole time. I glazed over the list of drinks, though none of them were anything I had heard of before.

“Give me your strongest drink,” I spoke heartily. Those theater classes had to come in handy at some time or another. The woman eyed me up and down and broke into a fit of laughter. Her reaction took me off guard and my face flushed red. It wasn’t as if I didn’t look like someone who couldn’t hold his liquor. I was 6’1 and 200 lbs. I looked like I was better off on the football field rather than the stage.

The woman wiped a tear from her eye as her laughing spat died down.

“No offense, human, but our strongest stuff would put you out of commission for a solid week if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, it would probably kill you.”

I must have made some wacky, confused features with my face because the woman had to stifle another bout of giggles. I had never heard of any kind of alcohol that could kill a man with one shot before. Not to mention, why did she call me “human?” Was that some kind of shtick with the people who worked there?

“Okay,” I replied. “Do you have anything that won’t put me in the hospital?”

The woman winked, held up one finger and ducked beneath the counter. I inched forward to peek, but she scolded me as if she could see through the wooden stand.

“No peeking, nosy human!”

I immediately pulled away and sat upright. My body seemed to move on its own in accordance to her whims. A moment later, she appeared with a shot glass that was filled with a fiery orange liquid.

“I call this one Dragon’s Breath,” the woman said. “Not too much alcohol, but it burns like lava going down.”

I eyed the drink nervously, contemplating whether I should actually take it or not. Then I realized that I had already embarrassed myself once with this woman, I couldn’t bear to do it a second time.

“How much to I owe you?” I asked, sniffing at the liquid before I committed. It smelled as much like fire as the woman had explained it.

She shook her head. “Consider this one on the house for a new guest. Your reaction will be all the payment I need.”

She flashed that coy smirk again and I wasn’t sure if she was trying to kill me or not. I was no wimp, though. I had to prove her wrong. I took a deep breath in, exhaled out, and said a quick prayer should the drink actually burn my esophagus out. Down the hatch. I took the whole shot down in one gulp. For the first two seconds, it tasted delicious. It was a citrus flavor with a smoky, yet satisfying aftertaste. Then the heat came. Oh God, the heat. It wasn’t like a spicy heat or the kick that comes with cinnamon, it was like swallowing pure fire.

The woman cackled as my face twisted into pained expressions. I clawed at my throat as it felt as if my insides had gone up in flames.

“Just wait for it,” the woman snickered. “It’ll fade.”

I barely heard her over the sounds of my own whimpers. I held back the urge to scream. It was quite possibly the worst pain I had felt since a time when I broke my leg in fifth grade. Any amount of humiliation would have been more tolerable than this.

All of a sudden, it was if the heavens had opened up and saved me from the torment. A wave of cool air seemed to erupt from my stomach, soothing my burning insides completely. I let out a small belch, and a wisp of flame shot from my mouth. Had I not been in such a state of shock, I would have thought that I looked pretty darn cool in that moment. I was making more of an ass out of myself though, as I hadn’t realized that I was beginning to stumble backwards.

Just as I was about to hit the ground, I found myself supported by two pale arms with purple-gloved hands.

“Easy there,” a bubbly, female voice spoke. “Tisiphone, are you trying to kill our guests again?”

The red-haired woman shrugged. “He can’t deny that he liked it.”

The other woman pulled me up to my feet, though it took me a moment to get my bearings. If that shot did that much damage, how bad was the one that would have put me in the hospital? What about the one that would have killed me? What kind of tortuous death would I have suffered? I shuddered just thinking about it.

I turned towards the woman who had stopped me from falling, and was shocked to find that, like the bartender, she looked fairly normal compared to some of the other patrons that were floating around. Well, save for the fact that her eyes were completely glazed over milky white. At first I thought that she might have been blind, but she seemed as if she could see perfectly fine. She had long, spiky, blonde hair that was covered up by a black and purple top hat.

“I’m sorry about that,” she apologized. “Tisiphone tends to go a little overboard when it comes to mixing drinks. It’s not very often that we get special humans around here, though. From what I can tell, you’re a human of…mind!”

The woman’s last two sentences went straight over my head. This shtick was getting old really quickly. I had just nearly been poisoned and now I was being told that I was a “special human.” Was I just insulted?

“So, is this circus’ theme that all of the workers and actors are supernatural beings and the patrons are humans or something?” My voice was a bit hoarse while my throat still recovered from Tisiphone’s concoction.

The woman with the top hat blinked a couple of times before tilting her head to the side.

“Oh, it’s not a theme, she replied. “Everyone in the Red Line Circus is some sort of non-human being. We have demons, angels, spirits, you name it! Tisiphone here in one of the Furies of Greek legend.”

My eyes shot open wide. There was no way this was true. I spun to look at the woman behind the counter and she simply waved at me with that same smirk plastered on her face. If this was an act, then they were doing a pretty good job at making it seem realistic.

“Okay…” I sputtered out, “Then what are you?”

“I’m a reaper,” she beamed.

Now this was just getting weird. “You’re the Grim Reaper?!”

“Not the Grim Reaper, no. There’s over a hundred of us. I’m the 64th reaper. I’m also the ringleader of the Red Line Circus. My name’s Cymbeline.”

I felt like my head was spinning. Maybe this was all just a fever dream from inhaling too many of the fumes from my dying car. It had to be. There was no way that I was standing face to face with a creature that took human souls to the afterlife. It couldn’t be possible that I was served a drink by a legendary spirit of vengeance. Where the hell was I, really?!

Cymbeline grabbed both of my hands and peered into my eyes with her own, blank ones. Even though they were empty, I sensed a strange liveliness within them. This woman, this…reaper seemed as if she really cared about the circus around her. I still didn’t understand everything, even the weird sense that I was getting, but it made me feel more at ease.

“I know this may seem like a lot of information to throw at you all at once, but I promise that your feelings will change once you see our performance. If this isn’t this best circus and carnival you’ve ever been to, then I’ll eat my hat!”

I couldn’t help but crack a smile. She was a performer, all right. She was good at what she did, too. Who would have thought that a creature who saw so much death all the time could be so upbeat?

She took her leave to prepare for the show and I made my way to the large tent. A number of clowns made an honor guard around the entrance. Each one of them was a different sort of creature donned in colorful makeup and traditional clown clothing. Some of their outfits were more horrifying than others.

“Lookie here, fellas,” one of the clowns pointed at me. “We got a live one!” The brigade of clowns began to laugh uproariously and I found myself laughing along with them. I used to be afraid of clowns as a kid, but once I got older I realized how hysterical they could be. I would pretend for a moment that there wasn’t an actual demon behind that costume.

I took a seat facing the center of the stage, and as I looked around I noticed that everything looked like an average circus. There were no demonic symbols or spooky ghosts floating around. It was just a circus tent. That, above all else, put my mind at ease.

Only a couple of minutes later, the lights went out and the place got quiet. A singular spotlight shone onto the center, illuminating a large pedestal. A cloud of purple smoke erupted from the floor, and Cymbeline appeared holding a large, decorated scythe. I had almost forgotten that she was a reaper, but that little showcase happily reminded me.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, angels and demons, spirits and souls, welcome to the Red Line Circus!”

Cymbeline’s introduction drew a thunderous applause and cheer from the crowd.

“We have a wonderful show planned for you this evening, so keep your eyes peeled and your butts glued to your seats, because you’re not going to want to miss this!”

And then the show began. Everything else around me seemed to melt away as I gazed upon the performance. From Cymbeline’s leading, to the acrobats and the illusionists, the animals and their trainers, everything was…well, perfect. It was the best show I had ever seen in my entire life. I felt like a five year old kid again watching the circus for the first time. I didn’t care if these were creatures that most humans had no idea existed. At that moment, they were performers doing their job. The whole spectacle was wonderful. I never wanted it to end.

“Thank you all for joining us!” Cymbeline announced at the end of the show. “This is our last night here, and we appreciate all of your support for this wonderful week! Next week’s location will be in Barcelona, Spain! Join us if you can! Thank you and Goodnight!”

The troupe took their bows and Cymbeline waved her hat to the crowd. The lights came up and I came back to reality finding that I was giving the Red Line Circus a standing ovation with a misty feeling in my eyes. I glanced in both directions to see if anyone had noticed, and quickly made my way to the exit. Just as I was about to pass outside, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Cymbeline, wearing a proud grin.

“Well, was I right, or was I right?”

“You were right…” I said, trying to discreetly rub the water from my eyes.

“Of course! I’m always right,” she declared, placing her hands on her hips like a superhero.

I let out a chuckle, but soon felt a sudden forlorn sensation in my chest. This was the last day the Red Line Circus would be anywhere near my location. Who knew if they would ever come back here in my lifetime? Part of me wished that my car had broken down in the same spot a few days ago!

“It’s a shame that you’re leaving so soon after I found this place. I don’t really have the money or the methods to travel all over the world.”

Before I had even finished speaking, Cymbeline had removed her top hat and was reaching around inside of it. She produced a small, purple business card with the letters RLC in red. A line of text on the bottom read, A two way ticket to the Red Line Circus, to be used at any time.

“Consider this your way in,” Cymbeline handed over the card with a wink. “No matter where we are in the world, you can visit us with that card. Just trace your finger over the RLC and grasp the card tightly. You’ll be teleported to wherever the circus is. Then just do the tracing in reverse to go back home. Simple, right?”

I didn’t think it was that simple. Me, something called a human of mind? And a business card that could teleport me anywhere in the world? Maybe it was time for me to go to bed. I stuffed the card into my pocket and the reaper seemed to pout. Had I done something to offend her?

“I just realized, I never got your name!”

“Oh!” Silly me, how could I have forgotten to give my name to the creature of death? “I’m Alex.”

Cymbeline grinned from ear to ear. “Thanks for coming, Alex. I hope to see you again sometime!”

I said my goodbyes and made my way back the way I came. I gave one last look at the Red Line Circus before I hazarded the woods again. Something told me that it wasn’t the last time I would see it. It was definitely the last time I try anything called Dragon’s Breath again, though.

Several minutes later and I was home safe. The exhaustion had finally caught up to me after the night I had, though I was glad to have seen it all. As I lay in my bed, staring up at my ceiling, I pulled the card that Cymbeline gave me out of my pocket. For a split second, the letters almost seemed to glow with a purple-ish hue. I closed my eyes and smiled.

I always wanted to visit Barcelona.

After practice the following night, I took the bus home and rushed upstairs to my room. Thankfully, my parents and sister weren’t home, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them barging into my room the second I used a business card to teleport halfway across the world. That would be a pain to try and explain. I wasn’t even sure if the card was going to work! Maybe it was just an elaborate prank that Cymbeline was trying to pull on me. I was still having a hard time fully believing that the Red Line Circus was made up of a cast of supernatural creatures.

I guess in the end I ran my finger along the RLC just to humor myself. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up about seeing Barcelona so easily. I mean, really? A business card that can take you exactly where the circus is touring? Come on, Alex, you should know better than to be so naive.

Once my finger had passed over all three letters, the card glowed a deep red for a couple of seconds. Then nothing. I knew it. It was nothing but an elaborate ruse. I shook my head and closed my eyes. I would have to ensure that was last time I got my hopes up for anything. And that circus had been so much fun, too!

I suddenly felt a cool draft and wondered if I had left my window open. When I opened my eyes, my mouth almost hit the floor. I wasn’t at home anymore. I was standing right at the entrance of the Red Line Circus. It was still daylight in Spain, and I squinted against the bright sun.

I couldn’t believe it. The teleporting card actually worked! And here I was, at the Red Line Circus once more. If I had any doubts about the supernatural aspect of the circus before, it was squashed then and there.

Well, I was there now. I might as well make the most of it. I figured I would pay a visit to the woman who had tried to poison me the night before. I had no doubt that she would rag on me, but I wanted to show her that I hadn’t been scared off yet. Yet.

As I approached the booth, I noticed that Cymbeline was there as well, and she was surrounded by two other performers. They were both blond and looked like they were siblings, though the boy appeared older than the girl. Cymbeline’s eyes flicked over to mine and a giant smile pursed through her lips.

“Hey! The human from yesterday came back! Glad to see that we didn’t scare you off!”

“Almost,” I joked. “But I let my curiosity get the better of me.”

Tisiphone shot me a sly wink. “Can I get you another drink?”

I shook my head. “I’ll pass this time, thanks. I don’t want to breath fire again.”

“Suit yourself,” the Furie shrugged.

I turned my attention away from the Furie, and found myself face to face with the brother and sister that had been crowding Cymbeline. They were a little too close to comfort, and I swore that they were…sniffing me.

“Ooh,” the girl said, “an actual, living human! We don’t get many of those visiting our circus!”

“I’ll say!” Her brother replied, “and I think he’s one of those human of mind thingies!” Cymbeline grabbed both siblings by the ears and dragged them away from me. They both let out a whimper of pain and struggled against her grip.

“Would you leave the poor boy alone!” She reprimanded. “You’re really going to scare him off if you keep crowding him like that!”

“Sorry, Cymbeline…” They both spoke in unison. I stifled a laugh. They were an odd pair, I’d give them that.

The friendly smile returned to Cymbeline’s lips once she turned back to me.

“I’m sorry about these two,” she said. “This is Blase and Aurabelle, two of our actors. They’re just excited to find out if you came back to see the rest of what the Red Line Circus has to offer.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but the strange girl blabbered out an interruption first. Ironically, her words would begin the conversation that would lead to me joining the circus.

“Yeah! Did you come to watch the best theater performance you’ll ever see?”

I blinked. As soon as I heard the word “theater” my heart skipped a beat. Did this amazing circus also have theater performances? Did the Red Line Circus bring together two of my favorite things in the world? Where was this circus my whole life?”

“You have a theater here, too?” I asked, wide-eyed.

“Technically we have a nice outdoor stage,” Blase explained. “But we do all sorts of theatrical acts up there. Improv, Shakespeare, Broadway, you name it! I don’t mean to brag, but my sister and I, along with our good friend Nara, just so happen to be the best darn acting trio at the whole circus.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. This circus got better and better every second.

“The funny thing is,” I said, “that I’m actually a theater performer myself. I’ve done several shows in my time. Mostly in school, mind you.” The two siblings stared at me as if I had just told them that they won the lottery. It was kind of creepy.

“You’re…an actor, too?” Aurabelle said.

“And you like theater, too?” Blase continued. I nodded. I felt like the two were about to jump me. Consequentially, they would have had Cymbeline not held them back.

“Please join us!” Blase exclaimed, falling to his knees. “We’ve always wanted a quartet! You seem like the perfect guy for the job!” Aurabelle joined her brother on the ground. I thought that they were going to start kissing my feet. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or even more creeped out. I settled on a mix of the two.

Cymbeline and Tisiphone both rolled their eyes. Apparently those two siblings were like this on a daily basis.

And if you’re wondering what I was thinking about being asked to join the Red Line Circus, it was something along the lines of “WHAT?!”

I was at a loss for words. I looked to Cymbeline for explanation.

“They did this to Nara before she joined, too,” the reaper explained. “These two are always looking for new actors to join their brigade. Looks like you fit the bill nicely. Besides, I always love when someone new joins our circus! Having a human of mind with us will be different, but certainly not in a bad way.”

Now Cymbeline was offering me a job. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t just drop everything I had back home to join some crazy circus where I would be the only living human being! If I ever tried to tell my parents that, they would put me in a mental hospital!

But I wanted to take the job so badly! It was my two loves mashed into one: circuses and theater! It was too good to be true! I would be a fool to pass up such an opportunity! Who cares if I was the only human? (Though that would take a lot of getting used to). I could spend all of my time at a circus and act whenever I wanted to? It was a dream come true. I would ignore the fact that I would be in the presence of dozens of supernatural creatures. (And as I would later find out, acting alongside two fox spirits and an elf).

“Let me get back to you on that one…” I said. The siblings seemed disappointed, but Cymbeline understood.

“No rush at all. We’ll understand if you choose to go your own way and stay as a patron. In the meantime, why don’t we give you an official tour of the circus? You saw the show yesterday, but there’s plenty more that we have to offer!”

I won’t bore you with the details of my second visit at the Red Line Circus. All you need to know was that I really wanted to join them after seeing everything.

I used the same business card to return home to find that it was already morning. Just my damn luck. I figured it was the best time to explain the situation to my parents, though I was careful not to mention anything supernatural. To my surprise, they actually supported my decision! Although the idea of me working at a traveling circus meant that I wouldn’t see them as much, they knew that it was something that I wanted to do and would allow me to see the world. They just made me promise that I would return home for the holidays, which of course I would. How could I possibly miss out on Mom’s world-renown apple pie during Thanksgiving?

The trickier part was explaining to my troupe that I had to drop out of the current performance. They weren’t too happy with me about leaving on such short notice, but they gave me warm wishes towards my future endeavors.

Then the day came when I went back to the circus. I packed a suitcase full of all my favorite clothes, books and essentials, bid farewell to my family and friends, and hopped on a bus to the middle of nowhere. It was best to make everyone think that I was heading to the airport instead of teleporting away in front of them. Again, how would I explain that?

Once the bus had reached a secluded part of town, I hopped off and wandered into a back alley. The card glowed as I ran my fingers over the RLC. There was no turning back now. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I was back in front of the circus. Cymbeline was nearby, almost as if she had been waiting for me. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she offered me a playful grin. Her eyes flicked down to my suitcase and she chuckled.

“Looks like someone made their decision,” she said.

Although I’ve only been a member of the circus for around a year now, it’s a place that I wish I had found so much earlier. The people—if you can technically call them that—are some the funniest and nicest that I’ve met. Acting up on stage is just like it always has been, except now I’m always surrounded by that circus atmosphere. It’s more than I could have ever hoped for. I’m still trying to get used to the fact that my coworkers include angels, demons, animal and human spirits, a reaper, and more otherworldly creatures. Being a living, breathing human sometimes makes me feel out of place. At least I can brag and say that I’m the only one at the circus. The human spirits can eat their hearts out.

I’m also the first person to join the circus after Cymbeline created this little diary. Everyone else who joined before me wrote their story back in 2005. No one had joined since the 1970s, and that was a shark spirit named Covetina. Here I am, writing my entry here at the end of 2016. It makes me wonder what kind of creatures will join after me. I guess I’ll just have to wait and find out. I figure that I’ve got plenty of time. I may be the only person at the Red Line Circus that still ages normally, but I’ve got a lot of life left. I plan to spend it all right here, at my favorite place in the world.

The Singing Shark ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #22 (Short Story)

Covetina

-Birthplace: Pacific Ocean (near Hawaii)

-Birth year: 1764

-Physical age: 22

-Species: Shark Spirit

-Position: Singer

*

If there’s any place in the mortal realm that is the epitome of mysterious, it is the ocean. Creatures unknown to humans lurk in the depths of the unexplored waters. Some of those creatures are more horrible than others, though most are beautiful and almost alien-like. To some humans, the ocean is a scary place. To me, it’s my home. Well, my first home anyway. You see, I’m an animal spirit just like Melodie, Blase, and Aurabelle. Though unlike them, I am a spirit that dwells beneath the waves. I’m a shark, specifically of the mako clan. And I just so happened to know a certain Furie before I joined the Red Line Circus. I wonder if Tisiphone mentioned me in her story? In any case, let me start from the beginning. My name is Covetina.

I was born to a family of sharks off of the coast of Hawaii. Even though I lived under the water, I still had the ability to take a human form. Any of the underwater clans with that ability can still breath both underwater and on land in human form. We’re special like that. Though, as a child I remained in shark form for most of my days.

Life as an underwater spirit has its challenges. Getting lost in the ocean is much different that getting lost in a forest. Unless you’ve lived in a certain area for a long time, it’s hard to tell which way is which down below the waves. That’s why my family and I remained close to the Hawaiian shore. As long as we could see the land when we peeked above the water, we were fine.

Once I was old enough, I began taking my human form and traveling to the islands. It was strange and exciting to watch how the humans went about their lives. This was long before Hawaii became the human tourist spot that it is today. It was intriguing to learn more about their way of life. Some of the men and women even knew that I was a shark spirit and treated my clan like we were gods. I certainly didn’t mind the attention. I was flattered that they thought so highly of me just based on what manner of creature I was.

I hit my peak around the age of 22. I was content with the result. Not too young, but not too old. It was also around that time that my parents took me to the Spirit Realm for the first time. How different that was! It was nothing like I was used to! They had their oceans, but we spent more time on the land. There were so many shops and attractions that it made my head spin! I never wanted to leave!

In the mid-1800s, I landed a job at a tavern in the Spirit Realm. It was called Yorvi’s Tavern. The owner and namesake of the place was a bear spirit. Tisiphone was the head bartender. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous working around such people at first, but I soon grew fond of my coworkers. I would always return to the ocean after my shifts. It was my home, after all, and the most relaxing place I knew.

After Tisiphone departed for the circus around 1895, I remained at Yorvi’s Tavern for a long time. I still visited my friend and the circus from time to time, and Tisiphone constantly bugged me to join her. I didn’t know the first thing about working at a circus. She was a food and drink vendor, which made sense from her bartending skills. But what was I? A shark spirit waitress? It wasn’t like the Red Line Circus had a restaurant. Other than that, I didn’t think that I had any talents worthy of employment in a circus. Tisiphone claimed that I had a wonderful singing voice, but I wasn’t so sure about that. Besides, if I ever told Yorvi that I was leaving to join the circus, he would have a conniption. I was perfectly content with my job at the tavern.

Well, at least I was content for about a hundred years or so. In 1976, Tisiphone pretty much forced me to join the Red Line Circus.

Let me explain. It happened one night in the late winter months. The tavern was closing down for the night, and Yorvi and I were the only two left in the building. He was cleaning up the back room, while I tended to the tables and mopped the floor. That was when Tisiphone paid us a visit.

“Yorvi, you’re favorite person is here!” Tisiphone shouted as she walked through the door. She gave me a wink and I smiled.

“Eh?” The old bear spirit wandered out from the back. A dirty rag hung over his shoulder. “Did I not just give you your weekly order a couple of days ago? Or did you come by simply to say hello?”

Tisiphone chuckled deviously. I recognized that laugh back when she used to work at the tavern. It always came out when she was trying to get something out of Yorvi.

“Actually, I came to steal Covetina away.” Both Yorvi and I stopped what we were doing and stared blankly at the Furie. She smirked at me. I hoped that she wasn’t planning what I thought she was planning.

Yorvi grunted. “What do you mean? I already gave you up many years ago. If you think I am giving up my last good worker, than you have another thing coming!”

“Relax, old timer,” the Furie replied. “I’m not stealing her for good. Just for tonight. I have something special to show her.”

The bear spirit threw his rag at Tisiphone’s face. She easily dodged out of the way.

“Bah!” Yorvi exclaimed, “That is the problem with the Greeks! So stubborn!”

Tisiphone wandered over to me and threw her arm over my shoulder. I opened my mouth to speak, but she put her finger over my mouth to shush me. I had no idea what she was planning, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it.

“You’re closing down for the night anyway,” the Furie said. “Plus it looks like the place is clean enough. It won’t kill you to let Covetina leave a little early.”

Yorvi’s eyes narrowed. He held a staring contest with Tisiphone for a long while before finally relenting.

“Fine. But so help me, if I find out tomorrow that you have convinced her to join that blasted circus of yours, bodily harm will come to you!”

I barely had enough time to get my bearings. Tisiphone began to push me out the door the second Yorvi gave his answer.

“Don’t worry, you old coot. She’ll be back to work tomorrow. You may have to adjust her schedule though.”

Yorvi’s eyes widened. I heard the beginning of a shout before Tisiphone teleported her and I out of the Spirit Realm and right in front of the entrance to the Red Line Circus. My head was woozy from the sudden trip, and I leaned onto Tisiphone for support.

“Mind telling me what’s going on?” I asked.

The Furie chuckled. “I told you, I’m stealing you away. You’ve been cooped up in that damn tavern for almost a century now. You need to expand your horizons. This circus is the perfect place for that.”

She was doing exactly what I hoped she wouldn’t.

“But…I couldn’t possibly fit in here!” I exclaimed. “I don’t know the first thing about working at a circus! And what about Yorvi? He’ll kill both of us if I join!”

“Relax, he can’t do a thing to me. Look, I’m not asking you to work here full time. We have an elf who joined recently who bounces back and forth between here and another tavern in the Spirit Realm. If you’re really worried about Yorvi’s wrath, than you can do the same. I’m just offering because I know that you need something new. Every time I come to visit you, I notice less and less of a brightness in those eyes of yours.”

I subconsciously put a hand to my eyes. Had work at the tavern really been taking that much of a toll on me? I certainly didn’t mind the work. In fact, I would say that it was a lot of fun! But I would be remiss to say that working at a dusty old tavern for my entire existence wasn’t something that I wanted to do. But a circus? Me?

Tisiphone patted me on the back and offered me a smirk. “Come on. I know just the place to start.”

Against my complaints, Tisiphone dragged me over to the outdoor stage. A collection of patrons were beginning to gather there. I wondered which show was about to start. Was it Thaddeus and his amazing illusions? Melodie and her soothing voice? Unity with her dancing or Valorin with his music? Or perhaps it would be Nara, Blase and Aurabelle with another hilarious act. I didn’t see any of them nearby. I figured they must have been waiting behind the stage for their show to start.

As Tisiphone led me by the hand, I realized that we were headed to the side of the stage, where the stairs were. It was an odd spot to watch the show. Or did Tisiphone plan on introducing me to some of the performers whom I had never met?

“Who’s going up on stage?” I asked. Tisiphone shot me the most sly smirk I had ever seen come from her.

“You,” she said. I blinked. There was no way I had heard that right. There was no way that I—a shark spirit waitress in the Spirit Realm—was about to hop on a stage in front of a bunch of people and do…whatever it was that Tisiphone wanted me to do. She may have wanted me to join the circus, but she couldn’t expect me to just start performing without any warning!

“No,” I said, backing away. “I can’t! I’ll make an ass out of myself!”

“No, you won’t,” Tisiphone replied. Her grip did not loosen, though her smirk faded into something else. Something more comforting. “I’ve heard you sing before when you thought that nobody was around. I’ve told you how good I think your voice is. Have you ever known me to lie?”

I blushed and turned my eyes to the ground. “No, but…”

“No buts!” She scolded. “I’m not going to drag you on the stage, but I think that you should have more confidence in yourself. Give this a shot. If it doesn’t work out, then Yorvi will be happy that you’ll be staying with him full-time. Just try. If not for me, then for yourself.”

I was at a loss. On the one hand, I was petrified of making a fool of myself in front of all of those people. I sang as a little side hobby to keep myself occupied during work. I never gave a performance to anyone, let alone a small crowd! I would embarrass myself so much that I could never show my face at the Red Line Circus ever again!

Yet, on the other hand, the thought of people hearing and enjoying my voice was intriguing. Tisiphone was right; I never once knew her to lie. If she said that my voice was good, then at least part of me believed her. But would anyone else agree with her? If I could just get over my stage fright, maybe singing for that crowd wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“I…I don’t know about this,” I said.

Tisiphone sighed. “I figured you would be nervous. That’s why I brought someone to help you out. Melodie, come here!”

From behind the stage emerged a young girl with dark pink hair and two different colored eyes. She was the main singer of the Red Line Circus. A girl whose performances I enjoyed more than anyone else’s. That ibex spirit was an idol to me in a sense. If you thought that I was nervous before, that was nothing.

“Melodie, this is my friend Covetina that I was telling you about,” Tisiphone explained. The ibex spirit smiled and nodded.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Melodie’s voice carried a lilting Italian accent. “Tisiphone has told me that you enjoy hearing me sing. I’m always happy to entertain.”

I nearly had to slap myself to break my starstruck gaze. Now I had to worry about embarrassing myself in front of my favorite performer! Was Tisiphone trying to kill me?

“It’s n-nice to meet you,” I sputtered out.

“I’m still trying to get her to sing up on stage,” the Furie explained to the ibex spirit, “but she’s still a bit nervous. Mind using your charm to lighten her up a bit?”

Melodie nodded and walked a couple of steps closer to me. I drew myself to my full height, trying not to seem like I was about to melt into a puddle in a couple of seconds.

“I don’t blame you for being nervous,” she said with a friendly grin. “You should have seen me when I first got up on that stage! Much like you, it was before I was even a part of this circus. I had never sung in front of anyone other than my own family! I was called up by Thaddeus to show off a talent. Once I blabbed that I could sing, Thaddeus insisted that I demonstrate for the whole crowd. I was so nervous that I almost locked up and fell over! That would have been the worst moment of my life!”

I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. I could just imagine the girl flopping over like a lump whenever she got scared.

Melodie continued, “It took a lot of courage to get those first few words out, but once I got going I couldn’t be stopped. Everyone in the crowd loved my singing. It was the best feeling I ever had. So, even though you might be terrified of messing something up, as long as you have confidence in your own abilities, you should be golden. Just take a deep breath, focus on your song, and let your heart lead the way. I know you’ll do just fine.”

I felt like I could cry. To hear such inspiring words from a performer whom I looked up to meant so much. It may have been a short little pep talk, but Melodie’s words pushed me to get up on that stage in front of that crowd. Tisiphone may have been the one to drag me to the circus, but it was Melodie that ultimately inspired me to join.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I was shaking like a leaf, but I had made my decision. There was no turning back now.

“Okay. I’m ready.”

Both Melodie and Tisiphone smiled.

“Knock ’em dead,” Tisiphone said. Melodie led me up the stairs and onto the main stage. The murmurs from the audience turned into a smattering of applause, then silence. I looked out over the crowd and saw that there were at least twenty-five or thirty creatures of all ages watching me. I had to pretend that they weren’t there. Otherwise I was going to start blabbering uncontrollably.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Melodie announced, “it is my great honor to present a special treat for you this evening! Tonight I am joined by a newcomer to our circus: the shark spirit Covetina!” The crowd clapped for me before I had even said a single word. I wasn’t sure to feel honored or even more embarrassed. Also, it seemed like Melodie was introducing me as if I had already agreed to join the circus. What exactly had Tisiphone told her?

“Covetina is a singer like myself,” Melodie continued, “and would like to treat you all to a song. Please enjoy!”

A smattering of applause and cheers rumbled through the audience again. Melodie patted me on the shoulder and grinned.

“If anything happens, I’ll be right here.” I nodded. It was comforting to have her by my side and Tisiphone nearby. I glanced over to the Furie and she gave me a thumbs up. Now was my time to shine.

As the crowd fell still, I clasped my hands behind my back and closed my eyes. I figured that I would sing a song from my childhood, one that had been passed down through my family for generations. And before you ask: yes, even shark spirits sing (albeit in our human forms).

I drew in a breath and let the words flow. The song that I sang was one of happiness and redemption. It was the story of a shark that was banished to the deep ocean for his arrogance. While he was exiled, he met a series of other animals who taught him what it meant to live properly and how to treat others with respect. Those lessons coming from creatures who lived in the darkness of the deep sparked a new way of thinking in the shark. He took those lessons and returned to his clan, sorrowful for his actions and begging for forgiveness. Seeing that he had truly learned from his exile, he was welcomed back into the clan and lived life as he had learned from the creatures of the deep. The entirety of the song was sung in the Hawaiian language that both the humans and animal spirit clans of my home shared. I wasn’t sure if everyone in the crowd understood it, but they could at least appreciate my voice.

As my song concluded, I was shocked to find that I hadn’t messed up a single word. It was as if I was singing only to myself. I almost jumped when I came back to reality and saw the crowd in front of me. A couple of long seconds passed before I was met with thunderous applause. I can’t begin to tell you how quickly my heart was racing. A grin split across my features. Melodie was right: that was the best feeling I ever had.

“That was amazing!” Melodie whispered to me. “You should sing for us more often!”

I giggled and took my leave from the stage. The applause did not cease until I was out of sight from the crowd. I felt like my legs were going to give out. I don’t think I ever had that much excitement before!

Tisiphone wandered over and embraced me in a hug. “See, what did I tell you? You have a great voice, Cov.”

“Apparently,” I chuckled. I sat down on the stairs and ran my shaky fingers through my hair. I was riding a wave that I didn’t want to crest.

“So, can I convince you to join us now?” Tisiphone asked. The devious smirk had returned to her lips. “Well, at least for a couple of days a week? We wouldn’t want Yorvi to have a heart attack.”

If this was the feeling that I was going to get from singing in front of a crowd, then sign me up! Not only that, but I would get to work with Tisiphone again. I had missed our work conversations when the tavern was slow. Above all else, I could now be a singer alongside Melodie. Just thinking about us performing a duet together sent a chill up my spine. No offense, Yorvi, but this was where the fun was!

Then again, I couldn’t just leave my favorite Russian bear spirit high and dry. Balancing work at the tavern and performing at the Red Line Circus wouldn’t be so bad. Yorvi may not have been too happy that he wasn’t getting me as much as he used to, but at least he wouldn’t lose me for good. That would keep him somewhat happy.

“Tisiphone,” I beamed, “you’ve got yourself a shark spirit!”

It’s been a few decades since I first joined the Red Line Circus, and it’s been more fun than I could have hoped for. Everyone here is so kind and entertaining! The whole atmosphere is fun and welcoming! Best of all, I finally get to perform on stage with Melodie! It’s amazing!

As for Yorvi’s Tavern, things have been going even better now that I joined the circus. People who see my act and find out that I also work at the tavern come to visit me. It brings in more customers, which in turn makes Yorvi happy. He once told me that if I ever leave to perform at the circus full-time, then he’ll hunt me down and drag me back to the tavern. What a nice boss.

Even though my first performance was nerve-wracking, every one since then has gotten better and better. Even my family has come to visit me time and again. (Though some of my family members chided me on why I never sang like that to them.) All in all, it’s been one hell of a ride. Would I ever give up my dual job? Not a chance. I’m one part circus performer, one part waitress, and 100 percent shark spirit. Come visit me at the stage sometime. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t bite. Much.

The Runaway Clown ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #21 (Short Story)

Erastus Horsfall

-Birthplace: England

-Birth year: 1935

-Physical age: 30

-Species: Human spirit

-Position: Clown

*

So it’s come to my turn has it? Right. Jolly good. You’re here because you want to know about my life and how I joined the Red Line Circus, I suppose? That’s the whole reason Cymbeline is forcing us to right in this little diary, and specifically in the order which we joined. Sheesh. I’m a clown, not a writer! If I wanted to scribble down my autobiography, I’d hire a scribe or something. Which, in hindsight may not be the worst idea. Saves me the trouble of trying to come up with a story to keep you, sir or madam reader, entertained long enough. If you want real comedy, just watch Webster try to get a date. It’ll have you rolling on the ground in no time.

Well, I suppose that there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. Might as well get the old mental juices flowing. My name is Erastus. I was a clown while I was alive, and I am still a clown now that I am dead.

If you want the epitome of boring, look no further than my childhood. My family in Liverpool, England, may have been the dullest bunch of people in the whole of Western civilization. My father was a door-to-door life insurance salesman, while my mother was a fifth grade teacher. I loved them with all of my heart, but they were about as fun as a dead pig riding on a ferris wheel. They caused a scene, drove people away and—more often than not—smelled to high heaven.

As for me, I was indoctrinated into their dullness from an early age, but broke free of that torturous lifestyle once I reached junior high school. I loved nothing more than listening to comedy sketches on the radio and watching comedians on the television. (My family owned the smallest TV in the whole of Liverpool. Granted, this was the late 1940s and TV was just starting to come around, but you needed binoculars to see the damn thing from the couch.) I became a little comedian myself at school. Every day I would strut into class with a new joke for my friends and classmates. They howled with laughter at every word that came out of my mouth. My teachers, however, were less than pleased. They had a little class clown on their hands. They reminded me of my parents. No matter how many jokes I told, it was always the same reaction: Erastus Jonathan Horsfall, you stop that nonsense this instant! Bunch of Philistines, the lot of them.

After I graduated from high school, my parents insisted that I attend the finest college in London. They wanted me to be like my father and learn to be a proper businessman. No, thank you. I would rather shovel animal waste for a living before I subjected myself to the same job my father had. I couldn’t fathom it. Me, the funniest boy that Parkington High School ever had grace their halls, bouncing door to door selling insurance to complete strangers? I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it as I write this. The horror of the idea! I wanted to be a comedian, not a salesman! You might as well have told me to sell my soul to the Devil for all it was worth. Friends and neighbors, Erastus Jonathan Horsfall would never stoop so low as to knock on someone’s door and say, “Lovely place you’ve got here. By the way, did you know that for only thirty dollars a year, you can insure yourself on the off chance that you die in some horrible accident?” That will be a hard no for me, my friend.

So, I did what any sane human being would do in that situation. I ran away from home. I know what you must be saying: This man is a bloody idiot! I won’t deny that you are entirely wrong. My idiocy got me into something much worse in my later years, but I’ll get to that later. My main reason for running away is that I felt like I was trapped there in Liverpool with my parents. I didn’t want the life of a businessman or a salesman. What I wanted was to make people laugh. I would scour the country high and low until I found a place where I could take on that profession.

I may be an idiot, but I know my way around. I only had to live on the streets for a week before I found the place that I was looking for. It was as if Heaven had rewarded me for all those years of proper jokes. My reward came in the form of the Allington Brother’s Traveling Circus.

If you told my younger self that I would one day become a clown, I would have thought that you were insulting me. Yet, here I was, being brought into this new circus with open arms as a performer who wore paint on his face and simultaneously made children laugh and wet themselves. All in all, it was far better than going door to door as a salesman. Can you imagine me doing that job in clown makeup? “Here you are, Missus Johnson, a cheap policy for you and your husband. Honk Honk. Isn’t that wonderful?”

The Allington Traveling Circus was quite unique from other circuses that I had seen in my younger years. The whole thing was set up on a train, which traveled all around England and Scotland. The train had everything that a circus needed to bring in the crowds. The Allington Brothers had a lot of green. They could have retired at the age of forty if they wanted to. Yet, they decided to purchase a train, start a circus and employ poor sods like me.

I wasn’t the only runaway that the traveling circus brought in. The Allington’s were generous people. Whenever someone came to them who was homeless or down on their luck, they were employed in some respect to the circus. I just so happened to become a clown after I mentioned that I enjoy making people laugh. I suppose it was preferable to being an acrobat. Come to the Allington Brother’s Traveling Circus and watch Erastus Horsfall break his neck!

Speaking of which, that probably works as a good segue into the next part of my story. I can just imagine what kinds of faces you’re making, reader. It’s probably the same face I made when I did the most idiotic thing in my entire life. Yes, even more idiotic than running away from a stable home to join a circus. Incidentally, it was also the last idiotic thing I would ever do as a living, breathing human.

Allow me to explain before you start having a stroke, reader. I spent a little over a decade at the Allington circus. It was the best years of my life. The people, the places, the fun! Running from home was the best idea I ever had! Perhaps I wasn’t such an idiot after all! Though I was never one of the well-known clowns, I always felt a rush of emotion whenever anyone would laugh at my jokes. It made me know that I still had it. I went from a nervous, 18-year-old boy who just wanted to make people laugh, to a confident 30-year-old funnyman who kept my audience in stitches. If I ever saw my parents again, I would ask them what they thought of me. Most likely they would have said something along the lines of, You could have owned a multi-million dollar business by now you buffoon!

On nights after the circus had closed down for the evening and the train began rumbling down the tracks, I would climb atop my sleeping cabin and lay watching the stars and feeling the cool air on my face. Was it dangerous? Of course. Pay attention, that danger plays a role in a little bit. Was it relaxing? Even more so. It was nice after a long day of jumping around and entertaining crowds to just lie down on the top of a moving train and rest. I usually only stayed up there for a half hour or so at a time. Less if bad weather was on the way. It was just a nice tradition that I had. No one ever joined me up there. Many of my fellow performers thought that I was crazy to actively rest atop a moving train. What was the worst that could happen? I get harried by a flock of angry birds?

Before I continue, I would like to state that the Red Line Circus has been my home for the past half a century. It is a place that I love and cherish, and the people here are the best friends a clown like me could ask for. I never plan on leaving this place for anything.

That being said, the Red Line Circus got me killed.

Alright, maybe that’s being a tad unfair. I suppose it was my own stupidity that got me killed. Another explanation is in order.

It was a beautiful, peaceful night atop the train. The stars were out, the full moon was huge hanging in the air above me, and the wind cooled me down from a hot day. I could have dozed off then and there. It should have been just like every other time I had jumped up there in the past twelve years. I always caught glimpses of other towns, animals running through the forests and the occasional homeless person who would shout obscenities at the train as we went by. Never did I ever see anything completely out of the ordinary. Not until that final night.

As the train rumbled through the Scottish countryside, my eyes beheld a peculiar sight. Out in the distance, I could see colorful lights emanating from within the forest. I squinted, and could just make out the form of a large, red circus tent surrounded by small stands. There was a circus in the middle of the forest! How had I not heard about that? Surely someone in the Allington circus would have information about a secretive circus such as the one in the middle of the woods! Who were they trying to entertain? Deer? Sheep?

I had to get a better look. I stood to my feet and cupped my hand over my eyes. I could see figures moving to and from that other circus. I thought that I could just barely hear music, though it could have been the rumbling of the train and my ears playing tricks on me.

I leaned forward to try to get a better view before the train got too far away. That was when everything went wrong. A harsh gust of wind smacked into me from behind. I lost my footing and careened off the side of the train before I could say “oops.” I remember hitting the hard ground and tumbling down a large hill for what seemed like a solid minute. Meanwhile, I listened as the train continued chugging ahead. I was left behind in a Scottish forest. How was I going to make my way out of this one?

I finally came to a stop in a prickly bush. I lay there for a few minutes, silently taking note of all of my extremities. Fingers and toes moved fine. Arms were still intact. Legs, functional. Neck, solid. Mind…well, let’s not go there. No comments from the peanut gallery, please. Every part of my body seemed to be in working order. Surprisingly, for a man who had just fallen off a train and had a long tumble down a hill, I felt great! It felt like I barely had a scratch on me!

I slowly stood to my feet and dusted myself off. The train was long gone by then. There was no way that I was going to catch up anytime soon. My best bet would be to head to that circus in the woods, scope out the place and ask if anyone would be so kind as to give me a lift to the nearest town. Surely there was someone who would be nice enough to help a poor clown out.

I took two steps before I realized that I was being watched. I turned my head and my eyes fell across a young woman sitting atop a rock. I nearly screamed like a little girl when I saw her. My mind was still a little woozy from the fall. I hadn’t expected anyone to be in that neck of the woods with me, let alone a woman with pure white eyes who was wearing a top hat over long, blonde hair. Was I having a moment? Was that was hallucinating was like?

“Hi there,” the mystery woman said. She had a wide, friendly grin on her face. If it wasn’t for the fact that she looked blind, I’d go so far as to say that she was quite attractive. “You’re Erastus Horsfall, right?”

I blinked. Now I was certain that she was an illusion. I must have been concussed. There was no other explanation. I had never even seen this woman before!

“That’s me,” I said, humoring the illusion. “Have we met?”

“For your sake, I would hope not,” she replied. “I’m Cymbeline. You’re on my list. I’m not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse that you died so close to my circus.”

I must have looked like a bumbling fool. My mouth hung open to the ground as incoherent sentences poured from my lips. That settled it. I had hit my head one too many times on that fall.

“May I…may I ask what this ‘list’ of yours is?”

“It’s a list of human souls that I have to take to the afterlife,” the woman said matter-of-factly. The smile never went away from her lips. “You’re destined for Purgatory, but I figured I’d give you some time to take in the whole situation.”

My mouth opened and closed to speak, but no words came out. I wasn’t sure where to begin. Was this woman—whom I had just met, mind you—implying that I was dead, and that she, the grim reaper, was here to take my soul to the afterlife? This “grim reaper” that appeared like she belonged in a circus herself?

“Can you excuse me for a moment?” I said. The woman nodded and kept to herself on that rock. I had to get to the bottom of this nonsense.

I marched back up the hill the way I came. If I was lucky, maybe I would find that the train had reversed to come back for me. Then I could get some medical attention and leave the grim reaper of the forest behind me.

As I reached the top of the hill, I noticed a darkened figure laying near the train tracks. No doubt that it was a homeless man that decided that that spot was a good place to take a nap. I approached the man and reeled back when I noticed that his neck was bent in an extremely wrong angle. I may not have been a physician, but necks are not supposed to do that. Then I noticed the man’s face. Then I screamed. This mutilated homeless man looked exactly like me. It was like one of those spooky radio shows that would come on at late hours when I was a child. The stories where the main character was dead the whole time and never realized it until he came across his own corpse.

Realization smacked me in the face like a sock full of soap. I was now the main character in one of those radio plays. The corpse on the ground was mine. Bugger.

I nearly screamed again when I noticed that the woman from earlier had appeared right next to me. She laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. For some reason, her touch kind of stung.

“It’s never easy finding out like this,” she said. “Buuuut…what if I told you that it’s not all bad?” I shot the woman a stern look. Not all bad, eh? What was she going to tell me next, that I won the lottery for dead men? That she was having a laugh with the Purgatory nonsense and I was actually destined for Heaven? That I wasn’t actually dead and the corpse at my feet was just an elaborate dummy?

“Come with me,” the woman continued. “There’s something that I think you may be interested in.”

I wanted to voice a complaint, but I had no idea where to start. So, I followed the grim reaper like a good little clown. To my surprise, she led me to the circus that had caused my curiosity to kill me. It was even nicer up close than it was at a distance. I didn’t see why the woman had brought me there. Was she going to tease me and say, Ha ha! You can look but you can’t touch, funnyman! I lied about the Purgatory thing! You’re actually going to Hell, schmuck!

What she actually said was, “This is the Red Line Circus, the ultimate entertainment destination for supernatural creatures of all kinds. I noticed on my list that you were a clown at a traveling circus. That’s why I mentioned that dying so close to us may have been a blessing. We could always use another clown!”

My mouth hung open again. First, I died after falling off of a train. Then I meet a woman who claims to be a reaper of souls and tells me that I’m destined for Purgatory. Now she takes me to a circus that apparently entertains ghosts, angels, demons and other paranormal creatures and offers me a job? How hard did I actually hit my head? If I was actually, truly dead, then I had to pat myself on the back. I was taking it pretty well, if I do say so myself.

“Y-you want me to join a circus that I’ve never even seen?” I stammered.

“Sure, why not?” Cymbeline said. “We only have four other clowns. Webster, our master clown, was part of the original cast when we first started the circus. Then there’s Helena, who came out of the blue and asked Webster to teach her how to be a fool. After her came Brooke, who is a good guy even if he is a human-turned demon who was once in the Italian mafia. Finally, there’s Joy. She’s quiet, but she’s a sweetheart. Out of those four, Webster is the only one who ever had any official clown experience. Having you on board would bring our clowns to a nice five, and we’d have someone else who knows exactly what clowning is all about. So, what do you say?”

I had no clue what to say. I was flattered that she wanted me to join the circus simply because I had clowning experience. (What kind of clowns did they have there?) Yet, everything was happening so suddenly. I had just died, for crying out loud! The circus that I had called home for 12 years had departed and probably didn’t even know that I was dead! And now I was being offered a job at a circus full of supernatural creatures? My life was being flipped upside-down, and I was supposed to make an important decision?

Of course I said yes. What? Did you think that I would go to boring Purgatory rather than work at a circus like that? It’s not like I could have gone back to the Allington Traveling Circus. I would be a great clown for the people that had no idea I was standing next to them! No, the Red Line Circus proved to be quite the interesting experience. And when I say interesting, I use that term lightly. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed it. (I’ll direct you to my earlier disclaimer.) It just took a while for me to get used to. The other four clowns were friendly, it’s just that only one of them was a dead man like me. He just happened to be dead for a lot longer than I was. You’d never know it talking to him, though. The other three were something else. Two of them were demons. One of them stared at people a lot and the other I was convinced was going to break my kneecaps if I talked to him the wrong way. Then there was the mute girl, who I later discovered was a homonculus. Consider my shock when I had to look in a dictionary to find out what that word meant.

And on that cool night in 1965, I became an official member of the Red Line Circus. Now I work with several people that could probably snap me in half just by looking at me. In a sense, falling off of that train and breaking my neck was the best thing to ever happen to me. I was skeptical at first, but this circus has been a blast. I could never turn my back on these wonderful people…er, creatures. Sure, I miss the Allington Circus sometimes, but I’m sure that they’re still doing fine without me. I’m a dead man, now. I belong with the other dead people and the more powerful creatures that look out for us. And if you think that being dead has ruined my sense of humor, you have another thing coming. I tell you, friends and neighbors, that my comedy had improved ten-fold after beginning here at the Red Line. All of us clowns work off each other better than I could have hoped. We’re all very different, but somehow we still manage to make people wet themselves with laughter. That’s all I ever wanted.

If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, we clowns are always willing to help. I’ll do everything I can to entertain you. Just don’t ask me to jump off of a train.

The Elf ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #20 (Short Story)

Nara Stilmyst

-Birthplace: The Spirit Realm

-Birth year: ~1900

-Physical age: 26

-Species: Elf

-Position: Actress

*

I have been sitting in my tent for almost an hour now. These are the first words that I have written on this page. I have no clue where to begin. Should I explain my people’s history and where I came from, or should I just dive right in to the good stuff? This shouldn’t be this difficult! I suppose that if this is going to be the tale that the public will see to learn more about me, then I want it to be special. I want you, reader, to know about what I am and how I got here. I just don’t want to bore you! Darn it…

Okay, no more procrastinating. I’ll tell you everything you need to know. I just hope you enjoy what I have to offer. My name is Nara. I’m an elf.

Yes, you read that right. An elf. And I don’t mean like the ones that humans imagine live at the North Pole and help out the man named Santa Claus. No, I am a true elf. Yes, I have pointy ears. No, I do not make toys for a living.

An explanation is in order. You see, my people were created by the gods a long, long time ago. We were created even before humanity, though we were meant to be a race to serve the gods. Just like the dwarves, though they had their own way of life. While they were builders and blacksmiths that lived in the mountains, my people were warriors and teachers who lived in the forests. My ancestors trace back to the very first elves, so I suppose that makes me a little special.

Once humanity was created, elves and dwarves were shoved to the wayside. Our peoples still aided the gods, though not to the same extent as they once did. In the early years, elves and dwarves helped humanity to grow and learn. Over time however, the human population grew exponentially larger than that of our peoples. Thousands upon thousands of humans were popping up, while only hundreds of our peoples were being born every year. Eventually, humans pushed the elves and dwarves into hiding. Though some clans remained on Earth, and a small number still remain to this day, the majority of our peoples moved on to the Spirit Realm. There, they could live in peace without having to worry about humans ruining their homes and driving them out.

That’s where my story began, though I was born many, many years after my ancestors came to the Spirit Realm. I was born around the human year of 1900. Just as the elves of Earth once did, my clan lived in the forests. I grew up learning about my people’s history and the workings of elf culture. Living in the Spirit Realm meant that I was free to explore a lot more, and I eagerly visited the dwarven clans and small “towns” filled with all sorts of spirits. Human, animal, you name it. It was the best place to grow and learn.

My family and I visited the Earth on several occasions so they could show me what it was like. They revealed both the good and the bad of the planet. One day I would see lush forests and crystal clear rivers, but the next I would see crumbling human towns that had destroyed the nature around it. Seeing what humans had done to some areas made me glad that I lived in the Spirit Realm. I wondered how the elves that still lived on Earth dealt with all of the nonsense.

Sometime in the 1940s, I got a job in a Spirit Realm tavern. It was a rustic place that kept me busy. While I didn’t spend time in a library studying up on history, I worked at the tavern. The Fool’s Tower, it was called. The place was big enough to support at least sixty people comfortably. There was a small second floor which had a balcony that overlooked a small stage against the first floor wall. Once a week we would have special improv nights where audience members were invited on stage to act out random scenes. I was always in charge of those nights. I had a blast hopping around the stage laughing and acting with people I barely knew. I was one part waitress and one part actress. In the grand scheme of things, performing on stage in The Fool’s Tower was what really got me into acting in the first place. I would take that love with me to the Red Line Circus. But I’ll get to that part in a bit.

The tavern attracted all kinds of clientele. Spirits, angels, demons, elves, dwarves, even gods came through those doors. We certainly weren’t the most popular tavern in the Spirit Realm, but we had a cozy atmosphere than anyone could enjoy. Our improv theater nights were when the big crowds came. Business boomed on every one of those nights. I got my fair share of a workout between serving people and acting out on stage. At the end of the night, I was exhausted but content. I looked forward to those nights every week.

It was sometime in the early 1960s when I got my first taste of the Red Line Circus.

Improv night was going full swing. A decent-sized crowd had formed in the tavern, but there was one particular table that stood out to me. There were two young fox spirits and a female vampire. It was a peculiar mixture of creatures, but who was I to judge? I wandered over to their table and struck up a conversation.

“Welcome! My name is Nara. Can I get you anything?”

“Just water for me and my sister,” the male fox replied.

“And I’ll have a glass of wine,” the vampire said. She spoke with a refined British accent. The two foxes shot her a look. “What? If I’m being forced to take you two little monsters out, then I am going to enjoy myself a bit.”

I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. “Is this your first time at The Fool’s Tower?”

The vampire nodded. “This is my first time in the Spirit Realm, if you can believe that. You see, I lost a bet and as such I was forced to take these two…wonderful little foxes out for a nice evening. They insisted that we come here.”

I smiled. “I’m glad you chose us!”

“How could we not?” The younger, female fox said. “We saw on your sign outside that you have a theater night! Me and my brother are professional actors!”

I blinked. Was I in the presence of a couple of celebrities? If so, then they were two that I had never seen or heard of before. I hadn’t seen anyone approach them, so I assume that they must not have been very popular. I decided to play along anyway.

“Oh? Well then, you came to the right place. I’m sure that you’ll have plenty of fun tonight!” I took my leave to gather their drinks. When I returned, our little conversation began anew.

“Have you ever heard of the Red Line Circus?” The male fox said as he took a gulp of his water. I had indeed heard the name come past me a few times while at the tavern. I would overhear conversations about the circus filled with supernatural creatures, but I thought that it was just some kind of a joke.

“Once or twice,” I replied. The two foxes seemed to beam. The vampire simply rolled her eyes at their reaction.

“Well,” the female fox said proudly, “we happen to be the premier actors at the Red Line Circus! Creatures come from far and wide to see our performances! They laugh, they cry, they beg us for an encore!” Her brother nodded intently while his sister made the two of them out to be the biggest name this side of the Spirit Realm. They had moxie; I couldn’t deny that.

My eyes flicked over to the vampire. She was resting her chin in her hands. She looked up to me and smirked.

“And I’m just a simple acrobat, apparently. How could I ever hope to compete with such talent?” The sarcasm dripped from her mouth.

The male fox belted out a hearty laugh that was at least an octave lower than his normal voice.

“She’s so humble, isn’t she? Even if she’s old enough to be our grandma!”

The smile ran away from the vampire’s face as she glared daggers at the two foxes. She didn’t look a year over thirty. The fox let out a nervous chuckle and glanced to me to give him guidance. He regretted his words the moment they escaped his lips. I had no place stepping in. I just hoped that I didn’t have to drag a dead fox spirit out of the tavern in a couple of minutes.

“What did you say?” The vampire spoke with a brash, motherly tone.

“N-Nothing, Fawn! I didn’t say a thing!”

The vampire bore her sharp teeth at the fox. The younger of the two whistled a small tune, pretending that she wasn’t there. I thought that her brother was going to wet himself under the vampire’s stony gaze.

“That’s what I thought,” she grumbled before taking a sip of her wine. Her eyes never left the fox spirit’s. “Insinuate that I’m an old lady again and I’ll lock you in the cage with the gorilla. I’m sure she’ll have plenty of fun using you as a punching bag.”

“T-that won’t be necessary…ma’am…” The fox looked like he was about to break out in a sweat. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to feel bad for him. Fawn let out a huff and leaned back against her chair. A devious smirk returned to her lips.

As much as I wanted to stay and chat with such “famous actors,” it was almost time for the improv show to start. I had no doubt that I would see those two foxes on stage soon.

“We should be starting the show in a couple of minutes,” I told them. “If you’d like to participate, head over to the stage. I think a queue is already forming.”

The foxes seemed to forget all about what had just happened. Their eyes widened and glimmered in the pale light from the lanterns. I didn’t get another word out before they rushed out of their chairs and over to the stage. I applauded their eagerness.

I glanced back to Fawn, who offered me a shrug before taking another sip of her wine.

“Excitable little things, aren’t they? Good luck handling them up there. You’ll need it.”

I took my leave and made my way over to the stage. The two foxes had pushed their way through the crowd and were bouncing up and down with excitement. I had never seen anyone look so thrilled to act on stage in a dinky tavern in the middle of the Spirit Realm before. They may have been strange and excitable, but their giddiness was infectious. Something in my heart told me that those two foxes were going to make that night one to remember.

I hopped up on stage and began the spiel that I gave before every improv night.

“Welcome everyone to tonight’s improv show! As always, I am your host, Nara!” Though sects of conversations still mumbled through the tavern, the majority of the crowd gave me their attention. “If you’ve been here before, then you already know how things work. For those of you who may be new, here’s a quick explanation. Everyone who wishes will have a chance to come up on stage with me to act out different scenarios. We have plenty of different acting games, and anyone is welcome to participate. I see we already have a line of people ready and eager to begin, so I won’t waste anymore of your time. Let’s start, shall we?” A rumble of applause and whistles worked its way through the audience. Almost everyone in the tavern was ready to be entertained. Entertain them we shall.

The first person to join me on stage was a young cat spirit. She was shy at first, but opened up once our scene got rolling. After her came a handsome male angel. Though his humor was hit-or-miss, he seemed to enjoy himself and the female members of the audience couldn’t take their eyes off of him. The third person to come up on stage was a drunken dwarf who had the crowd in stitches with his antics. His name was Bodrehn. Even though he was a dwarf that lived on Earth, he was one of our regulars, and made a point to come in during every improv night. Most of our other regulars knew him well, so his appearance on stage was just par for the course.

Then came those two fox spirits. They insisted that they act together, claiming that they were a “package deal.” Who was I to argue? From the small conversation I had with them, I could already tell that the brother and sister worked well off of one another. I was eager to see where the act would take us.

The improv game that we played was a simple one: two of us would act out a scene, but the third person would yell “freeze” whenever one of us was in a funny position. That third person would tag out one of us and begin a completely new scene. It was one of my favorites, but only something that could be done with more than two people. We had the perfect lineup. I found out that the boy’s name was Blase, and the girl’s was Aurabelle. I thought that they had lovely names.

I had been acting on improv nights for a couple of decades by that point. I had performed along creatures of all shapes and sizes, personalities and backgrounds. Some made me laugh more than others. But none of them ever made me wheeze with laughter more than those two foxes. I understood why they thought so highly of their own skills. They had the actions to back up their words. Several scenes had to be cut short because I had burst out into a fit of laughter after one of the two said or did something that put me over the edge. A couple members of the audience nearly fell out of their chairs. A good number of them had tears of laughter in their eyes. It was the most fun I ever had at an improv night. I was blown away by those foxes’ performance. This was just a small improv show at a tavern! I wondered what they were like when they performed at the Red Line Circus!

The foxes received a standing ovation when they begrudgingly stepped down to allow others to have a turn. They ate up the attention. Several others came up onstage after them, but none had the same impact as the foxes did. After a while, the queue dispersed. Everyone in the tavern was still laughing from their acts, and those in the queue figured that they could never top what they had already seen.

Once we ended the improv show for the night, I went back to my waitressing duties. I had to stop myself from giggling like a madwoman every time I thought about that night’s show. Several tavern patrons approached the foxes to compliment them on a wonderful night of entertainment. I, too, wanted to speak to them again. I just had to invite them back.

Luckily for me, the foxes and the vampire stayed until we closed. The rest of our patrons had departed for the night, leaving the special table the last one.

“Well, I think we should probably head home before they kick us out,” the vampire yawned. “You two have had your fun, but I would like to get some rest.”

The two foxes let out a simultaneous “awww…” and slumped in their chairs. They perked up once they saw me approach the table.

“I didn’t get a chance to say this earlier, but you two were amazing! I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life!”

Both foxes grinned from ear to ear. “Just doing our job, ma’am,” Aurabelle spoke in an empowered tone. “Improv just so happens to be our specialty.”

Fawn rolled her eyes. “Yes, just like annoying everyone at our circus is also your specialty. Now let’s get moving. These nice people want to close shop and you two are being nuisances.” The vampire dropped payment and a nice tip into my hand and offered me a wink before she began to shove the two foxes out of the door.

“Wait!” Blase called out, “You should come visit the Red Line Circus some time! You can enjoy more of our amazing show!” Fawn kicked the fox in the rear end, sending him flying out of our door. She turned to me and sighed.

“For once, I am inclined to agree with him. We are currently set up in the outskirts of Moscow, Russia. If you have the chance, I think that you will enjoy some time at our circus.” Her eyes scanned around the tavern and she smiled. “Thank you for a lovely evening. I will have to return here one day.” With that, she shut the door behind her. I could hear muffled arguing coming from outside.

“Come!” Fawn shouted. “Get up out of that snow!”

“Oww…” Blase moaned. Aurabelle’s muffled cackles followed. A moment later, and silence filled the air.

As I cleaned up the tavern, I considered spending one day at the circus. Although I wasn’t certain that it was even real until that night, I had heard high praise from other patrons of The Fool’s Tower. I had never been to a circus before, but I didn’t see the harm in visiting. It was settled. To the Red Line Circus I would go!

I arrived a couple of days later, once I had some time off from work. The circus was grander than expected, and I was immediately drawn in by the colorful lights and the sweet aroma. Part of me wished that I hadn’t thought that the concept of the circus was a simple joke for so long. This was what I was missing out on? I kicked myself for not having a more open mind.

My first stop was over by the large stage that was set near the big top. I figured that was the best place to find those foxes. Lo and behold, they were already on stage and in the middle of acting out a scene from the Shakespearean play Macbeth. Of course, they put their own hilarious spin on it. I had read and seen performances of Macbeth several times before. I don’t remember Macbeth himself being a foolish drunkard, and I’m almost positive that Lady Macbeth didn’t speak with such a silly accent. Nevertheless, their performance had me and the rest of the audience in stitches. It was nice to see that not much changed based on the location where those foxes were performing. They were the same at the circus as they were at the tavern.

Once their act concluded, they gave their bows and remained on the stage, greeting those who wished to congratulate them on a job well done. I waited for the crowd to die down before I approached the two. Their eyes lit up at soon as they saw me.

“Hey, it’s our new elf friend from the tavern!” Blase shouted. He hopped down from the stage and embraced me in a tight hug. I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome. Aurabelle kept to the stage but offered me a grin. “We were wondering when you were going to come visit us! What do you think?”

“Well, I’m impressed so far,” I replied. The foxes’ eyes twinkled. “I’ve only been here for a few minutes, but I like the aesthetic of the whole place. It’s definitely someplace I wish that I had visited earlier.”

The brother and sister exchanged a glance and slowly turned back to me. Their features suddenly turned into something that was vaguely devious.

“We’re glad that you like it,” Blase began.

“We were worried that you would be turned off by all the sights and sounds,” Aurabelle continued. But since you’re not, we have a…proposition for you.”

I raised an eyebrow. I wasn’t sure where they were going with the conversation. “Go on. I’m listening.”

Blase spoke first. His words came out as quick as lightning. “Wewerejustwonderingifyouwantedtojoinushereatthecircus!”

I blinked a couple of times and tried to comprehend the words that had just come out of the fox’s mouth. Had I heard him correctly? Did he ask if I wanted to join the circus? I hadn’t been there for twenty minutes and I was already being scouted?

“Hold on,” I said. “Me? Join the Red Line Circus?”

“Pleeeeease?” Both of of the fox spirits said at the same time. Their eyes were opened wide and they were both giving me exaggerated pouty faces. It was all very sudden.

“I-I’m not sure,” I replied, biting at my nails. Blase nearly threw himself at my feet.

“Please, oh please!” He cried, “We’ve been trying to get new people to act with us for a couple of years now, but nobody will agree! Acting with you at the tavern was so much fun! You have a ton of talent and we would love it if we had you as a third actor here at the circus. Just imagine how much more we could do with three people? Pleeeeeease!”

I must admit that I had to stifle a chuckle. The fox spirit was practically bending over backwards for me to join the circus. I didn’t want to say no to such a pleading face. For a minute, I wondered what it would be like to work at such a circus. I certainly wasn’t the strangest creature at the place, so I would fit right in with that respect. As for the rest of it, I was an actress at heart, so maybe jumping on stage along those two excitable fox spirits wouldn’t be too bad. I could always keep my job at The Fool’s Tower. I could handle the improv nights and work at the circus at the same time. I would get double the amount of acting every week. Hey, if it kept me busy I wouldn’t complain. Working at the circus might prove to be a ton of fun.

“Alright,” I said. “You’ve got yourself an actress.” The two foxes jumped for joy and wrapped their arms around me. As much as I appreciated their enthusiasm, I didn’t appreciate being squished between the two of them. I suppose I was going to have to get used to that.

“This is perfect!” Aurabelle cheered. “I promise that you won’t regret this!”

Well, it’s been more than half a decade now. Have I ever regretted my decision for a second? Hell, no! Sure those two foxes are a little much to handle sometimes, but we have our fun up on that stage. In fact, business at both the Red Line Circus and The Fool’s Tower improved once I became Blase and Aurabelle’s third. Patrons from both places visited me and the two foxes at the other. It was strange to think I helped make that happen just by agreeing to join a circus.

Though I work at both places, lately I spend more time at the circus. I’ve made many friends here that have helped me get accustomed to my surroundings. Though spending time on Earth is strange, it makes it easier knowing that I am surrounded by good people. I don’t think Blase and Aurabelle would ever let anything bad ever happen to me. I imagine that is mostly because they don’t want to lose their star third actress.

It’s a wild and wacky ride here at the circus, but never a dull moment. If you’re ever in the mood for a good laugh, come visit me and those silly foxes at the stage. Maybe one day you’ll even stop by The Fool’s Tower and say hello while I’m acting my heart out. No matter where I go, I am the elf who loves to act. Here’s to hoping I never lose my enthusiasm. Then again, if for any reason I do, Blase and Aurabelle have plenty to spare.

The Two Foxes ~Tales of the Red Line Circus #19 (Short Story)

Blase

-Birthplace: America

-Birth year: 1932

-Physical age: 20

-Species: Fox Spirit

-Position: Actor

__

Aurabelle

-Birthplace: America

-Birth year: 1934

-Physical age: 18

-Species: Fox Spirit

-Position: Actress

*

Looks like its our turn to tell our story! (Finally!) Gosh, where do we begin? (How about you start from the beginning, dummy?) Right. Good point. I’ll start by saying that we’re two of the coolest and most awesome fox spirits to ever live! All the other members of our clan wish they could be like us! (Yeah! Just don’t let Mom and Dad know that you said that.)

The two of us are both performers here at the Red Line Circus, but we started an act that was different than what everyone else there was doing. We’re both actors, and we started our own little theater-improv sort of thing. (We’re professionals. Don’t try this at home, kids.) Not bad for a couple of young foxes, eh? But we should probably explain the whole story. I’m Blase. (And I’m Aurabelle!) This is the story of how we brought show business to the Red Line Circus.

We were both born in America, specifically in the forests of Oregon. I was born first, and my sister came two years after me. (And how jealous you were that I got all of the attention as a baby). Since our parents were members of the fox clan that could take both animal and human forms, we inherited that ability as well. In our early years, I spent most of my time in human form, while Aurabelle preferred her fox form. (Hey, it was easier to get around when I was young and limber). Our skulk wasn’t the largest in the state, but we got along just fine. Predators tended to stay away from us when they found out we could take a human form. (Our grandpa once chased off a pack of wolves using just a stick!)

We were introduced to the Red Line Circus from a young age. (Shocking, right? Most of our fellow performers accidentally stumbled across it before they joined. Not us!) Nope, our parents took us to visit the circus whenever it was nearby. That wasn’t often, mind you. Maybe once every five or six years, and we always had to trek a ways to get there. (It was well worth it, though. The sights! The sounds! The smells! Ooh, it was all so amazing! We work here now and we’re still amazed by everything that happens. Imagine how starstruck we were as simple kids!) Our mom and dad had come across it several years before we were born, and were instantly hooked on it. It was only natural that they take their children to see their favorite attraction. It quickly became Aurabelle and I’s go-to destination whenever it was in the area. (It usually remained in our neck of the woods for a week or two before moving on. Blase and I would spend the whole week there from the moment it opened to the second it closed. Webster once told us that he would have to start charging us rent!)

As fun as the circus was, it was disappointing to see it go. Every time it departed, we knew that it would be several years until it returned. We would have to keep ourselves occupied until then. (Luckily for us, our friends introduced us to just the thing!)

Though we lived in the mountains, there was a human town about a mile away from our home. If you climbed to the top of one of the larger hills, you could get a birds-eye view of the whole place. As such, a variety of animals and animal spirits frequented the town. It was fairly small, with a human population of less than a thousand. (When we got older, our parents used to take us into town in our human forms. No actual human ever realized what we really were.) Except when Aurabelle went up to a street vendor when she was six and said “Hey, mister, did you know that I’m a fox?” The look on that guy’s face was priceless. My mom pulled Aurabelle away from there so fast that my sister almost learned how to fly that day. (Hey, I was six! You can’t blame me for being so mouthy!)

Over time, that town became our source of entertainment when we were bored. There were times that we spent more time there than in the forest. You could say that we almost felt more human than fox spirit at times. (The forest was fun when we were in the mood to play around in our animal forms, or if we wanted to relax in our den. Warton, as the town was called, was the place we went when we wanted to find something exciting!)

Of course, being an animal spirit meant that we had no money. We didn’t need it. We got our food and survived as all foxes do. Sometimes our mom and dad would travel to the Spirit Realm for something extra special, but that was on rare occasions. When it came to having human money, we were flat broke. (So everything in Warton was ‘look, don’t touch.’)

We had a couple of friends in the moose clan that sometimes pickpocketed humans for a couple of bucks, but we never joined them. Mom always told us that it was rude to steal from anyone, even humans. If she or Dad ever found out that we were taking money out of people’s pockets, we would be in for it. (I wouldn’t doubt that we would have been banned from Warton completely!) Instead, we made do with what we had. It was nice to just wander around town and take in the sights. It was especially nice during Christmastime. Every building would be decked out in tons of lights. They even had a huge pine tree right in the center of town! (It was the most magical time of the year, after all. Humans have such cool holidays!)

But out of everything that the town of Warton had to offer, their theater performances in the public park was the highlight of our trips there. Once a week, the humans of the town would put on a different performance of some human play. (A lot of it came from that old man Shakespeare.) The performance was free to the public, which meant that Aurabelle and I could enjoy the show without having to worry about shelling out any human currency for it! It was perfect! (Our vantage point depended on the crowds. It was busier in the summer months, but it never attracted too many people. If we got there early, then we would sit in the front row in our human forms. Otherwise, we took our fox forms and watched from the bushes. Either way, we got the whole experience.)

Watching those shows every week made us love the theater. Maybe we were always destined for show-biz. Between the human plays and the acts of the Red Line Circus, we wanted to be a part of the same action. (The two of us would even pretend that we were part of a grand show in front of a huge audience. When we were bored at home, we would find an open area in the forest and practice our acting skills. Needless to say, we never had a dull moment. Our family and friends called us high-strung. I like to think that we’re just…excitable. Yeah, that’s the word.)

With every performance that we watched in Warton’s park, the more we learned about acting. I was more interested in how the actors memorized all of those lines, while my sister was intrigued about the actors’ movements. At nights before we went to sleep, we would discuss what we had learned with each other. After a year or two, we felt like we could hop on stage and act ourselves! If the humans could do it, why not a couple of fox spirits?

(There was just one problem: both my brother and I didn’t know where to begin. Part of us wanted to see if we could join the Warton acting troupe, but problems would arise from that. If anyone ever saw us going back into the woods every night or changing into our fox forms, they would think that we were practicing witchcraft or something. That was a explanation that neither of us wanted to give. The second problem was that we were both still young. When we first discovered the theater in the park, Blase was 15 and I was 13. Both of us had a few years before we our peak, but what would happen if we wanted to stay with the theater in the long run? What if we hit our peak young and thirty years went by without us aging? Again, do I smell witchcraft? Besides, I don’t think our family would have condoned us performing alongside humans. It was all too risky.)

So, we remained as a simple audience, though we still practiced our talent among ourselves. We even performed a couple scenes for our family and friends from time to time. Everyone said that we had a true talent, though Dad did mention more than once that acting wouldn’t get us anywhere as a fox spirit. It was nothing more than a fun hobby. (Boy was he surprised when the Red Line Circus came back to town.)

It was about 1952 when both Aurabelle and I hit our peak. I was lucky to be both the older brother in actual and physical age, for my peak was at 20. My sister’s was 18. She’ll forever have the body of a teenager. (Thanks for reminding me, sweet brother of mine!) That same year, the Red Line Circus returned to our area for the first time in more than a half a decade. Aurabelle and I had spent several nights leading up to the circus’ return discussing our options. (I brought up the idea of possibly joining the circus ourselves. We wanted so badly to act on stage. If we couldn’t do it with humans, then why not with other supernatural creatures?) We still had a couple of problems: one, what if the circus didn’t have a place for us? It would downright suck to have our hopes dashed like that. I almost didn’t want to take the chance. (Second, we would have to bring up the idea to our parents first. They were still our guardians. They would have the final say as to whether or not we were allowed to travel the world. They would certainly miss us, and we would miss them.)

After long deliberation, we both decided to bite the bullet and ask to join the Red Line Circus. First came the hard part of breaking the news to our parents. There would be no second part if our idea did not fly with them first.

Mom had prepared a quick dinner for us before we would head to the circus. Both of our parents had been just as eager for the Red Line to return, so they planned to join us there. Aurabelle and I sat munching on our food. We exchanged glances with one another, silently instructing the other to speak the first word. (Neither of us knew where to start. How were we supposed to break the news to our parents? Were we just supposed to say, “Hey mom and dad, we decided that we’re going to leave home to join the circus that we love so much. Hope you don’t mind!”)

Mom was the first to notice our silent bickering. “Is everything alright between you two?”

I turned to my mom and flashed her a convincing grin. “Yup, everything’s just peachy!” (He might have actually convinced her if his voice hadn’t cracked. That’s my idiot older brother for you, ladies and gents.)

It’s true. I was so nervous that I couldn’t control my tone of voice. My mom’s eyebrow raised and she gave us a stern look. My father tended to the fire and chuckled to himself. We were in for it now.

“Alright, out with it,” mom said. She used her commanding voice, which meant that she meant business. There was no escaping her now. The little squeak in my voice threw me under the bus. “What are you two hiding?”

My sister wasn’t free from my mother’s gaze either, and she only made the situation worse. (I did?) Yeah, she did. She tried to offer her own two cents on why we were acting so strange. What she probably meant to say was, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mom. Blase and I are just fooling around like always!

What actually came out of her mouth was, “We’re not hiding anything, Mom! Blase and I certainly weren’t thinking about joining the Red Line Circus, if that’s what you’re wondering!” (Oh, yeah. I did say that, didn’t I? Oops.)

I buried my hands into my face and mumbled out a soft groan. Both of our parents stared at us in silence for a painful few seconds.

“Let me get this straight,” Dad said, holding up a finger. “My two children not only want to visit the Red Line Circus, but want to join it as well? And what position will you join; the clowns?”

“No!” Aurabelle and I shouted at the same time. We loved the clowns, don’t get me wrong. We thought that Webster, Brooke and Helena were hysterical. (Don’t forget about Joy, although she didn’t talk much. Or at all.) “We want to…act.”

“As clowns?” Dad replied. He had a smug grin on his face. (Damn him and his dad jokes.)

“No!” The two of us shouted even louder this time. I let out a heavy sigh. “We want to act in the theatrical sense. You know that we’ve been visiting the theater in the park in Warton for a few years, and we’ve learned a lot about acting from those performances. We’ve seen people sing and dance and do other acts on that big stage at the circus, but no one has ever brought theater to the stage. That’s what we want to do.”

Mom and Dad studied us for a while, glancing at each other. They were having a conversation with their eyes that I couldn’t understand. I could only hope that it was one that leaned in our favor. (I was sitting at the edge of my seat. I hated to admit it, but Blase laid out the plan better than I could have. If Mom and Dad didn’t agree after that speech, we didn’t stand a chance of convincing them otherwise.)

“You do realize that if you go with the circus, it will be quite some time until we’re able to see you again, right?” Mom said. She had a look of concern in her eyes, but I could tell deep down that she was happy that we had a set goal for ourselves. “Plus, there’s no telling if the circus will accept you.”

“It’s worth a shot,” Aurabelle said. “If we do go, then we’ll be sure to send plenty of letters and come home for dinner whenever we’re in the area!”

Dad stood from his seat and walked up to us. He looked us both up and down before patting us on our heads. “You’ve shown us how well you can act. I don’t have any doubts that you’ll do well for yourselves at the circus. We’ll certainly miss you here, but we won’t stop you if you really want to join the circus. It’s about time you two…what’s that human saying? ‘Leave the nest?’ Yeah, that’s it.”

His head pats turned into brutal noogies. He cackled with delight as we crumbled under his hand. Mom simply giggled as she watched us struggle to escape Dad’s torture. (They’re sadists, I tell you! Sadists!)

We may have had to deal with terrible noogies, but we had our parents’ blessing. Phase one of ‘Operation: Join the Red Line Circus’ was complete! Now it was time for phase two. The hardest part about that would be actually approaching the ringleader of the circus to ask for her approval. (Neither Blase nor I ever had stage fright. No matter how big of a crowd we performed for, we never had an ounce of nervousness. But put us in front of someone that we admired and respected; someone that we looked up to as a celebrity, and we turned into two little piles of fox mush. The hardest part was going to be talking to Cymbeline without sounding like we were having a stroke. We may have spent hours at a time at the circus while it was around, but we never actually got to talk with the ringleader. She was always so busy. She was the one performer at the circus that we had never met personally.)

With dinner promptly devoured and my hair fixed from the absolute mess my father had turned it into, the four of us made our way to the Red Line Circus. For the whole trip, Aurabelle and I kept reassuring one another that there was nothing to be nervous about; that Cymbeline, the ringleader and reaper of human souls seemed like a perfectly nice lady. Who cared if she had no pupils or irises in her eyes? Who cared if she could manifest a powerful scythe at will? Not us, that’s for sure! (We would march up to her, look her right in those pure white eyes, and tell her exactly what we wanted to do! We were Blase and Aurabelle, professional fox spirit actors, after all! What was there to be worried about?)

Maybe if we were lucky, neither of us would faint before we got a word out. At least Mom and Dad were there to back us up. Knowing that they supported us made it all a little easier.

When we arrived at the circus, a good number of patrons had already arrived. More were entering with us. I worried that we wouldn’t get a chance to speak to Cymbeline with all of those people. Lucky for us, she was greeting people over by the big top. We had to be quick if we wanted to catch her.

“Ready?” I asked, taking a deep breath in.

“Now or never,” Aurabelle replied. She held tightly to her wrist to keep it from shaking. It must have looked like there was a small earthquake occurring specifically below our feet and nowhere else. The sooner we talked to the ringleader, the better. (For the glory of the fox clan!)

We picked up our feet and booked it over to where Cymbeline was standing. Along the way, the clown named Webster greeted us.

“If it isn’t my two favorite foxes! You two look older since the last time I saw you!”

“Can’t talk, asking to join circus!” Aurabelle replied with a tone quicker than our running. We didn’t wait around for Webster to reply, but I could faintly hear him cough out a laugh.

“Well, good luck with that,” he said. After a second, “Wait, what?”

We slowed our run just as we approached Cymbeline. She flashed us a smile and tipped her top hat at us.

“Hello, there!” She said. Her voice was so bubbly. I felt like my sorry self didn’t deserve to stand in her presence. “You two look like you’re already having some fun!”

Mom and Dad approached us from behind. Cymbeline waved at them. “Tanra, Michalis, good to see you again! These must be your kids that I’ve heard so much about!”

“That’s right,” Dad said. “The boy is Blase and the girl is Aurabelle. They both have something that they’d like to ask you.” I spun around and Dad winked at me. He was going to make sure that neither me nor Aurabelle left that area until the question was asked. (Maybe if things went south, we could escape through the big top. My eyes flicked around to keep our options open.)

“Oh, do they?” Cymbeline giggled. “Well, what would you two like to ask me?”

I coughed nervously before patting my trembling sister on the back. Cymbeline was such a caring and kind person, and we both knew that. It was her status as head honcho at the circus that made us so nervous. Not to mention the reaper energy that she gave off put a heaviness over me. That was something that I would have to get used to.

“We just…” I began.

“We were wondering…” Aurabelle continued.
“We’re actors of sorts…”

“And we like to act…” (I have such a wonderful way with words, don’t I?)

“And we would like to bring our acting to your circus…” I could feel the sweat dripping down my brow. Why couldn’t my lack of stage fright show itself in this, my time of need?

“Because we really, really like your circus…”

“And we love spending time here.”

“So if you’re okay with it…”

“Will you let us join the Red Line Circus?” We both spoke that last line at the same time. I felt my mom’s gentle touch on my shoulder. It helped to calm me just a tad, and I could tell that it calmed Aurabelle as well. (Mom could calm a thunderstorm if she really put effort into it.)

Cymbeline blinked a couple times in surprise before the smile came back to her face.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I should be used to people asking me to join the circus out of the blue by now,” she chuckled. “It’s happened more times than you would think. But we would be happy to have you here at the Red Line Circus! I think that a theater act is just the thing we need to add something new to the stage! I’m sure that there are a few people here that will be more than willing to help you out. With that, Blase, Aurabelle, welcome to the Red Line Circus!”

I don’t remember anything after that, because I’m pretty sure I fainted. (Yup, me too. My brother and I are too much alike.)

(I woke up before my brother. They had taken us to one of the spare living tents. Cymbeline stood with my Mom and Dad and offered me a gentle smile as my eyes fluttered open.

You okay, there?” She asked. “I can’t say that I’ve ever had someone pass out on me after asking to join the circus. To think that you and your brother fainted at the same time, too.” My face was beet red. Right out of the gate we had made fools of ourselves. And there was Dad with that same old smug grin on his face. I wanted to punch him in the gut. At least Mom showed the decency to look worried.

The two of you were shaking like a couple of leaves,” Mom said. She held the back of her hand to my forehead to check for a fever. “I thought that you had come down with something!”

No, we were just…nervous,” I mumbled. “I guess the shock of being allowed to join the circus drove the final nail into the coffin of me being conscious. Same goes for him.” I nodded to Blase, who was beginning to stir. He woke up and had the same red face of embarrassment I was currently wearing.

I, uh…meant to do that,” he sputtered. “Fainting was all part of the, uh…act! You know, to show what good actors we are!”

The four of us stared at my brother blankly until Cymbeline burst out laughing.

Oh, I can already tell that I’m going to like you two! I’ll let you settle in with your parents. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. If you’re feeling up to it, the main show starts in ten minutes. Hope to see you there!” She gave us a wink and was gone.)

I scrubbed at my eyes and slapped myself across the face. I sure made an ass out of myself with that little stunt! Thank goodness that I didn’t have any more idols that I could embarrass myself in front of. Fainting in front of Cymbeline was officially at the top of my “nice-job-idiot” list.

“Well, you made quite the first impression,” Dad said, rustling mine and my sister’s hair. “At least Cymbeline thinks you’ll do just fine. Of course, I don’t think that this would have happened if you had just become clowns.”

Both of us started playfully punching at my dad. Mom watched on giddily. It was nice to spend one last night as a family before we became an official part of the circus. I wondered where the job would take us. (I wanted to see places like Spain and Italy. The pictures of those places in the books in the Warton library were amazing! I just had to see those countries up close!)

To say that we weren’t at least a little nervous on the night of our first show would be a lie. I never came even close to fainting levels, but there was a small pang that sat in my stomach through our first performance. (Blase had it easy. I had to stop myself from shaking multiple times. That night was the only time we suffered stage fright. It wasn’t because of the crowd; we felt like we could handle thousands of people at a time. Our nervousness spawned more from the fact that we weren’t sure if the audience was going to like our act. Mixing theater with a circus wasn’t something people may have been used to. In a sense, we were taking a risk.)

I think the thing that calmed us the most was seeing Mom and Dad in the audience. We had acted for them a hundred times before. They always enjoyed our performances. We would give one for them and the rest of the crowd to remember. One they would be talking about for days.

Our first act of many on that stage was excerpts from Shakespearean plays. (Except we put our own funny spin on them.) We had the audience in stitches as we made Hamlet into a whiny teenager, Romeo and Juliet into a couple of lovesick dunces, and Macbeth into a drunken, inept fool. The audience loved us. I even noticed a few of the circus performers watching us with smiles on their faces.

(When we took our bows at the end of our act, I felt amazing. The crowd gave us a thunderous round of applause. This was the feeling I had hoped for. We no longer had anything to worry about.)

My sentiments were much the same. To finally act in front of a mostly unfamiliar crowd and to have them enjoy our show was empowering. Was this what Cymbeline and the rest of the circus performers felt every night? Sign me up!

So here we are, decades later, and our theatrical performances still draw the crowds.

(It’s been so much fun performing here with everyone! We’ve made tons of new friends, both inside the circus and out! We still get to see our parents every few years, and they always expect us to come home for dinner. As good as the food is at the circus, Mom’s home-made meals are always the best. You can’t beat dinner prepared by a fox spirit.)

All in all, it’s been a crazy ride that has no end in sight. With every year that passes, this circus becomes something more and more exciting. (Like the year Dahlia installed the ferris wheel and the other rides! I went on the tilt-a-whirl so many times that day that I threw up twice!) Not only that, but we unveil a new act every couple of weeks! We’ve been at this for about half a century now and we’re not going stale any time soon. As long as the humans keep coming out with new plays, we’ll keep acting them out and putting our own little twist on it. (Where’s our Tony award?)

So what are you waiting for? Come visit us and enjoy our act! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have a sudden urge to throw roses at us! (Preferably without thorns, please!) We’re convinced that you’ll love our show! That’s a Blase and Aurabelle—fox spirits extraordinaire—promise!

(What are you, a human car salesman now?)

Shut up. I’m writing the main story here. You’re just adding your two cents in with parentheses.

(Two cents, my foot! Your story would be terrible if it wasn’t for my input! You wouldn’t even have my side of everything!)

WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST WRITE YOUR OWN DIARY ENTRY, THEN?!

(BECAUSE IT’S EASIER THIS WAY, DUMB-DUMB!! WE PRACTICALLY DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER AS IT IS!)

Why are we writing down this conversation in the middle of this diary?

(Because we can! Cymbeline said that we can write anything that we want. So I would like to formally state that MY BROTHER, BLASE, IS A HUGE BUTT!)

YOU TAKE THAT BACK, HEATHEN! NEED I REMIND YOU THAT I AM YOUR OLDER BROTHER?

(MY BROTHER IS A WEENIE! HE’S A)

*

Rosalie noticed that Blase and Aurabelle’s entry ended abruptly. She made her own assumptions on why. Either Cymbeline had put a stop to their antics or their argument came to blows. Rosalie rolled her eyes and shook her head.

I think that’s the first time that I’ve seen two people write down both sides of their argument on the same piece of paper, she thought. These foxes are strange. And that’s saying something considering the rest of the performers here.

Rosalie flipped through the last couple pages of the diary. It appeared that she only had five more entries until the pages went blank. Five more performers to learn about.

Let’s see what the rest of you have in store.

She turned the page.