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The Lost Circus, Part 4
Another performer appears.
Hello, dear readers! I’m on the road today, so please excuse any typos or weird formatting issues. I’ll sort them out when I have a full-size keyboard again.
As I draw nearer, the clown steps to one side. Behind him, the entrance to the smaller acts tent - which was definitely empty ten minutes ago - now sings with music and chatter. Barkers bellow advertisements for the bearded lady and the strong man. Several musical instruments sound off, creating a chaos of flutes and trumpets and a violin somewhere on one side. A monkey dances out the door to the music, and a dove dives out of the tent. I duck as it soars right over my head.
A performer, a Gypsy woman, steps out from the tent. For a moment, I'm struck by her beauty. Tendrils of dark hair swim down to her waist, escaping the scarf she wears as a headband. Little gold coins dangle from the trim of her blue and purple headscarf, somehow complementing her white shirt, deep maroon skirt, and a gold sash that ties it all together.
She looks like she doesn't belong here, in the middle of an semi-empty field. Then, as she moves into the light, I get a better glimpse.
Her face, which I'd imagined so lovely, splits in two. Half of her image remains: dark eyes, thick eyelashes that flutter with every step, ruby lips that curve upwards in a seductive smile. The other half is raw white bone, polished and clean. One gold tooth gleams in her naked jaw, her other eye is missing, and the remains of a scar starts at the edge of her teeth and disappears under her hair where her ear should be.
My stomach swirls, threatening to throw back everything it can find. There are only a few things that would cut someone - quite literally - down to the bone. She looks like she has some experience with the pain.
She looks past the clown and directly at me. Her lips curve into a smile, mocking and sincere at the same time. Two sides of the same coin, just like her face. Ring-covered fingers gesture to me, pulling me closer to the tent.
"Welcome, stranger. You wish to know your fate?"
My pulse flatlines. She's the first one to speak to me, and under any other circumstances, I'd be lulled by the depth and heavy accent in her voice. It's rich, not high or flighty. Exactly the kind of voice that would draw people in and take money right out of their pockets.
Except she's half skeletal, mostly dead, and somehow standing here talking to me. Not really what I look for in a friend.
And no, I don't want to know my fate. For some reason, I have this crazy idea that she might have some influence over the end of my days, and I definitely don't want her hanging in the balance.
I lick my lips, even though my tongue feels like sandpaper. "No?"
She laughs. It's not a musical sound. It's fingernails on a chalkboard, the scream of angry children, the shriek of gulls as they swarm over the ocean. All of her previous allure vanishes as it penetrates my skull, driving spokes of pain between my ears. I nearly hit myself in the face as I throw my hands up to stuff my fingers into my ears and end up pressing the camera as hard as I can against my skin.
When the sound finally dies away, I open my eyes again. The clown holds his stomach in his hands, making a show of laughing uproariously. The woman herself stands with one hand on her hip, the other poised in the air as if holding an invisible wine glass. She shakes her head, black tresses bouncing on her shoulders as the gold coins on her scarf tinkle back and forth.
"Just as I thought. A doubter."
She clicks her tongue in displeasure, and the clown wags his finger at me again. Then he jumps into air, kicks his feet a few times, and topples over in an exaggerated bow once more. One finger directs me towards the tent's flap, the other jabbing towards my camera.
"No." I say it out loud this time, but it's not very convincing. More like paying lip service to the idea that I don't want to go.
The Gypsy raises her eyebrows. "Ah, no doubt. Fear." Her smile widens, and I wince at the way her naked jaw gleams. "It is healthy to have fear. It is the body's attempt to keep you safe. Do you feel safe?"
I shake my head mutely.
"Then you are wiser than I believed." She crooks a finger at me again. "Come."
Unbidden, my feet move. I struggle valiantly for a few seconds before giving in, allowing myself to stride towards the half-baked Gypsy and her scary tent. There's no point in struggling. I don't want to go, of course, but the clown wagging his finger at me taught me that I don't really have a choice in the matter. It would still be nice if it was my idea, though.
As the clown drives me towards the chatter and lights, a new thought pops into my head. It must have gotten smushed in all the chaos of being terrified, but now it radiates like a lamppost at midnight.
Maybe I can make something out of this.
At first, I'm not terribly sure what I mean. Make something? I'm worried about not dying, here. But the thought persists, unfolding its dark corners little by little. Maybe there is a story here. Not one about an abandoned place, oh, no. But a haunted circus - that's something you could make an actual documentary about. Not just pictures of abandoned places, but the idea that it comes back to life - people would pay millions for that. The chance to walk through it, to follow a camera past the bleeding clown and the half-baked Gypsy, into a small tent that's probably filled with horrors. Experience something so close to death without coming near it. It would show in little indie theaters all over the country, drawing everyone who's ever had a fascination with the supernatural.
And my coffers, of course, would overflow at every showing.
I smile at the Gypsy, even as her eyeless socket stares back at me. Yes, there could be a future here. Not with photographs and snapshot cameras, but with movies and film. Maybe if I have enough evidence, I can convince a startup to fund me. I can come back here, to the creepy field, with enough memory cards to record a World War. And I can tell a story that will bring people with fistfuls of money to my door.
Yes. This has promise. I can make something with this.
The Gypsy's one eyebrow lifts. "Does this please you?"
"It does," I say automatically, and I'm surprised to find that I'm right. I am pleased. I like this plan. This started as a terrifying foray into horrorville, and I might end up rich on the other side. It could be the best thing that ever happened to me.
"Well, don't let it go to your head." She steps to one side, her arm open towards the tent. "Now the real show begins."
As I step just outside the opening, I can barely see what's inside. Swirls of colors, shouts and cat-calling, laughter and oohs and ahs. It sounds like a party, or some kind of old-time Vaudeville striptease, back when showing an ankle was considered indecent. Maybe they're just showing off their tricks to each other. Or drinking one another under the table. Maybe I've just got this all wrong, and they're not actually out to get me after all.
Thinking about my future film must have made me high, because I actually believe this idea for a second. Then I get a glimpse of what's inside the tent, and as my stomach swirls, all dreams of becoming a millionaire - and surviving - fade away.