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The Lost Circus, Part 6
A discovery of fate.
Hello, dear readers! It’s time once again for another update to THE LOST CIRCUS!
Up until this point, our lovely circus has been relatively well-behaved. Except for that last update, that was a little sketchy. And it’s about to get worse.
This is your warning, dear reader: if your stomach is easily upset, or last week’s buffet wasn’t to your taste, avert your eyes! The Gypsy has something planned for our intrepid hero, and telling a fortune may seem like an innocent thing, but she has something nefarious up her sleeve…
You know what? I’ll just let her do the talking.
In our last update, our hero visited the sideshow, and discovered that sometimes circus food can’t be trusted, especially in the form of a buffet. After a horrible realization, the Gypsy appears and invites our hero to photograph the evidence…
I stare at her, hoping that if I wait long enough, her words will make sense. When nothing happens, and that little smirk-smile stays on her face, I realize that she's serious. She wants me to document this. This horrifying display of cannibalism, this abomination of mankind. It's a tragedy, a travesty, and she wants me to take pictures.
As this thought roots in my brain, another one pops up. It's quieter, and though it drawls like a Southern gentleman, the energy behind it is nearly fever-pitch in its frenzy.
Maybe I can use this in my film.
At first I'm surprised at myself. Using this horrifying display to my own ends? What the hell, brain? Isn't it enough that the Fat Lady is on display with her guts literally out for others to enjoy? Must we also put her on a pedestal and let the entire world share in her shame?
This time it's stronger, both the thought and the voice behind it. We can do this. Think of what people will pay to experience such a horrifying event. They crave darkness. Car crashes, train wrecks, building explosions. They want to see death served on a plate. This is only giving it to them literally.
I realize I'm nodding along. It's right. People do have a fascination for things that go bump in the dark. The idea that somebody actually cut this woman open and served her at a party - and she's laughing about it - will make me rich. Everyone will want to see these photos. Everyone will want to see my film. We can serve popcorn dyed red and hot dogs in the lobby. Everyone will want a taste of the macabre when this is over.
My camera raises, and I sight through the lens. Just before I click the trigger, the Fat Lady turns to me and smiles. It's a perfect moment, captured for all of time.
When my hand lowers, the clown appears. He was just out of frame the entire time. His giggle-fit seems to be over, and his smile is broad as he pretends to give me a firm handshake. This time, I find myself smiling back at him. It's not so bad, getting hauled around the grounds by these folks. By the time this is over, I'll be ridiculously wealthy. What's a few more horrors from this crowd?
Suddenly inspired, I mimic his exaggerated bow and flop over like a rag doll, earning a round of applause from the partygoers that surround us. Even the Fat Lady's buffet wobbles as she throws in a few chuckles, and the Gypsy's bracelets' jangle gets lost as she claps along. The smile on my face gets bigger. This must be what it's like every night. Standing in the center of attention, feeling a stranger's praise lift my spirits. For a moment, I feel invincible.
Then I feel a hand on my arm again. My eyes open, and I come face-to-face with the Gypsy's skeletal smile. "Come. You must hear fate."
Some small part of my fervor dies at the thought of leaving my new fans, but it's not like I have a choice. If I don't follow her now, I'll just be puppeted across the room, and that would be far more embarrassing than leaving on my own terms. So with a wave to my devoted followers, I depart.
The partygoers part like the sea, and she leads me to a smaller corner of the tent. Multicolored cloths shroud the walls and cut off the light, leaving a table and two folding chairs in shadow. It looks hasty, thrown-together, and then I remember that the entire point of a circus is to move. It's portable. Of course they're folding chairs. They have to be thrown on a train tonight.
Or they would, if the circus wasn't completely dead. Which it is.
Or it was.
The Gypsy ducks under the drapery from the ceiling, and settles herself into one of the chairs. It's quieter in here, the fabrics protecting somehow against the noise next door. I can still see the shadows and movement of performers getting drunk on their friend's blood, but it's not as chaotic. It doesn't make sense, since the curtains are made of some kind of flimsy gauze, but I'm starting to understand that things don't always have a reason here. It just is because it is.
At the lady's command, I pull out the other chair and sink down into it, my knees complaining with age and use. I smile and shake my head, but she didn't seem to notice the noise. Or maybe she just didn't care, since she's clearly had a rougher go of things. One skeleton hand and one skin-and-bones hand shuffle a deck of cards together, fan a spread of choices, then whisk them away again before I have a chance to select one. I tell myself to be patient as she does it again. She's dead. Maybe she's out of practice.
What's left of her lips curls upwards. "Are you ready?"
"Sure." I smile back good-naturedly. I don't particularly like fortune-tellers, but seeing as how there's no way out of this one, I'll let her have her say. She pulls a card from the deck - mildly annoying, since I wanted to do that - and lays it on the tabletop between us.
My eyebrows furrow. Is she also blind? She is missing one eye, so it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility.
I glance up at her, to see if she's noticed, but she's not paying attention to the card. Her one eye - and the empty socket - are trained on me, which is about the most unnerving thing since the Fat Lady's buffet. Not as nauseous, but somehow creepier. Like she knows something that I don't, and I'm not going to like it.
Hmm. Maybe she's a decent fortune-teller after all.
The card shimmers, and an image slowly creeps to the surface. Of course, it's Death. Black cloaked rider on a horse, carrying a scythe in one hand an a head in the other. Holding it by its hair, swinging it back and forth with a gleeful look on its bony face.
I press my lips together, unimpressed. If she really wanted to scare me, she shouldn't have gone for the obvious one. Besides, since I do have some experience with tarot cards, I already know that Death doesn't always mean death. Tellers pretend it does - okay, the bad ones do - but really it just means being reborn. The old getting stripped away, stepping out of an old life and into a new one. There's nothing gruesome about that.
There's something about the head, though. I've never seen a Death card carrying a head, and that this one does concerns me. Maybe it's just the way the Gypsy woman stares me down, but it makes me uneasy. Maybe they decided to kill me after all, and this is how they've decided to announce it to the world.
The image sharpens again, coming into focus like a sight on my camera.
The head's long blonde hair swings back and forth, a few stray hairs half-covering clusters of freckles on their cheeks. One eye sits barely open, but the other stares widely out of the illustration. The vibrant green makes my heart sink and my stomach clench, and it only worsens when I notice the turquoise earrings dangling from the corpse's ears.
It's not me. But I know who it is.
The Gypsy doesn't wait for me to look up. "Your mother, I believe."
"Keep her out of this." It comes out harsher than I'd anticipated, but I don't regret it a single bit. "She's a nice woman, she's just-"
"She's going to die." She says it so calmly, as if we're discussing the weather and not the most beloved family member I have. "Soon. Not yet, but within a few days. Terrible circumstances, actually. And it will be your fault."
"You believe you will die here, yes? You do, I can see it. I do not need the cards to tell me what is before my eyes. And you will die, sooner or later. Everyone does. Even half-baked, skeletal Gypsies."
My cheeks flush from anger and embarrassment.
"I could tell your future, but no one needs to know their own fate. I will, however, tell about your beloved mother."
A cold feeling coils in my belly. I don't like this. I don't want to think about my mother dying. Nobody does. She's an old lady, she's happy, and there's no need to put her six feet under yet. Do I feel guilty leaving her alone all this time, while I run around the world taking pictures? Of course, but somebody has to make money in our house. I'm certainly not going to make her do it.
I rub my sweaty palms on my pants and tell myself there's no need to get worked up. The Gypsy's been stuck in a haunted circus for fifty years. What does she know about the outside world?
"Your mama lives by herself. She reads, and cares for her dog, and knits blankets for the older man next door. There is a beautiful house, and a two-car garage in the backyard that houses your grandfather's woodworking tools." Her eyes flash, and I catch a glimpse of something dark within them. Emotion twisted with something stronger; turmoil and a touch of malice. "She always told you they belonged to your late father, but that is not the case. It was your grandfather who created newness out of nothing, who taught his son to see something where there is only raw material. And in turn, your father taught you."
Okay, she knows a lot. More than she should.
"Your mother worries about you. She knows she cannot keep you in one home. It certainly did not work for your father, nor your grandfather, and it will not work for you."
Again with the grandfather. I feel the rough edge of irritation setting in. I thought we were supposed to be talking about my mother's death. What does this woman have against my family? And why is this important to my mother's death?
And why the hell are we talking about my mom dying?
I open my mouth to ask, and the Gypsy shoots me a glare that would skewer me on the spot if she could. It says, Wait and see, you jackass. Apparently she doesn't like to be interrupted.
"Your mother, in all of her loneliness, has never contemplated death. That will change on the eve she discovers your suicide."
"In the midst of the exhaustion that follows, fueled by alcohol and sleeping pills, she will dream that she walks to your grandfather's shed. In it, she will stand staring at the tools until the sunrise gleams in the saws' teeth."
"The next night, she will take the same pills, and drink the same drink. Again, she will find herself in the shed, staring at your grandfather's collection. This time, she will consider the sharpness of the blades, the swiftness of their cut. She will run her fingers down the saw, and think about chopping them off. Letting herself bleed out slowly, alone and screaming, surrounded by objects of destruction. It will seem a fitting end, after losing her father, her husband, and now you."
No, Mom. Don't. Don't-
"On the third night, your mother will sleepwalk to the shed. She will carry a bottle of wine with her for company, and when it is gone, she will smash it on the floor and step on the pieces. They will dig into her feet, wrecking her skin and dogging her every move with pain. Somehow, she will believe this is penance. If she were a better mother, you would not be dead. If she loved you more, you would not be dead. If she was a better person, she would not have lost any loved ones. You would all still be there, like she always dreamed. But instead, it will be her turn to join you."
My heart is in a vice. I can't breathe. She's making this up. She has to be. For shock value, for fear, I don't know why and I don't care. This is not how my mom should go. Not how anybody should go, but definitely not her. Not after all these years. She deserves better. Anything but this.
"So in her drunken, drug-addled state, she will survey the room, but find nothing to her liking. Then she will see the nail gun, hanging on its hook beside the door. She will go over to it and lift it, stroking it like a cat, feeling the weight and the cold metal beneath her fingertips. And she will decide that this will do."
No, Mom. Please, God. Don't.
"She will find a chair sitting before the work table, well within reach of the nail gun's cable. She will settle herself in the chair, and take a while to decide where to shoot herself. At first, she will consider her jaw, but that may only wire it shut and not kill her. Then, her temple, but the nail gun is heavier than she'd like, and will be difficult to balance against her skull."
Mom, don't no, please don't go, I love-
"Finally, she will settle the nail over her femoral artery in her leg. The weight of it will feel comfortable there, and she will know she can control it. With her thumb, she will stroke the metal side, whispering blessings upon it. That it will shoot straight. That it will be over soon. That she will find her loved ones in the end. When she pulls the trigger-"
"Stop it." My fingers grip the end of the table, knuckles turning white. My breath comes in ragged spurts, filling my ears with white noise. "Stop. I don't want to hear it."
"- the nail will shoot into her leg, severing the blood flow. Immediately, pain will radiate through her body, but she will not fear it. Rather, she will welcome it as more penance, and pray that it is enough to see you again."
"I said that's enough."
"It will take some time to bleed out, but the night will be clear and calm. All she will feel is the rush of life leaving her body, lightheadedness from alcohol and blood loss. She will hear only night sounds and her own tears dripping on the floor. With nothing else to see, she will watch the shadows turn on the walls, and eventually - like them - she, too, will be gone."
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I hope you have a wonderful week!