The tent loomed large as David drove up. It had been visible from almost half a mile away, the lights and burning torches that lined the driveway. The signposts had been up for almost a month already, and the public had certainly reacted well to the news.
The Chaplin Brothers travelling Circus hadn’t been to town for almost five years, and had only begun touring anywhere two years ago, after they closed their doors due to numerous animal rights protests which had resulted in the death of a trapeze artist and three protestors.
All long forgotten now.
The new sign showed the famous tent and Granny the Elephant who herself had been travelling with the circus almost since the beginning. The show promised the same spectacular show as before, but with a special finale that would have everybody standing.
The tickets had sold out the same day they went on sale, with the circus only staying in town and a few days before moving on again.
David pulled into the car park, and managed to find a space at the back of the field that wasn’t too muddy from the recent rain.
He almost broke into a run as he approached the large yellow and red tent. Looking around he was disappointed to remember that the car was his own, he was the adult now, and his father had been dead for over ten years.
He walked around to the front of the tent, the noise coming form inside was incredible, while outside people stood in excited groups, families with young children, older couples and singles, all mixing together. There were even a few of the local bikers standing in the queue for food. Their ticket stubs held in their muscular tattoo covered forearms.
There were clowns, their faces painted white with manic red smiles and darkened eyes that seemed to be anything but friendly. David wondered why clowns how acquired their infamous look and funny reputations. There were men on stilts walking around, squirting water, throwing buckets of confetti over the children, while a few young women in bikinis were handing out an assortment of sweets, toys and flags to whoever passed them.
The show started exactly on time, and David was sitting only 4 rows back. He had a perfect view of everything, and the company wasn’t too bad either. A happy family on his left, parents with two young boys, the mother was sitting closest to him. Her perfume filled his nostrils with a gentle aroma, which was urging him to look at her. On his right sat two young women who seemed very wrapped up with each other. Their hands interwoven, fingers interlocked; eyes constantly darting away from the ring to glimpse over each other.
The ringmaster stood proud centre stage. Charles Chaplin senior, or so he claimed, his potbelly hung over his black trousers; the vivid red jacket clung to his body. He had seemed a more imposing figure when David was a boy, coming here with his father while their mother – who thought the circus, was just a mobile house of disrepute thought they were at the movies – stayed at home with his sisters.
Still he was riveted.
The acrobats flew through the air; the clowns arrived early on in their tiny car and proceeded to have tears flowing from all but the most serious of eyes in the house as they fell from the trapeze into nets and large barrels of water. They pushed over the stilted men who fell like dominoes around the edge of the ring, and the extinguished an imaginary blaze in the audience with real hoses and even more, real water.
The elephant emerged, along with a new addition to the show, a rhinoceros whose large horn seemed filed down to a smooth rounded tip. Both had scantily clad ladies balanced precariously on their backs, and were followed by a procession of horses and displays of riding prowess. All along the familiar aroma of animals, straw and general carnival air filled the canvas show hall.
It was as though they had never been gone.
David sat riveted, and for the first time ever, a pang of sadness pulled at his soul for not having a child of his own to bring, to share the experience with.
The acrobats returned and the cages were wheeled in. The audience went silent. The instant eagerness of every single face could be felt in the tent.
The tigers . . . . ..
A murmuring chant built up. Tiger . . . . . Tiger . . . . . . Tige….. Silence fell. The majestic beast was brought in, led on nothing more than a rope leash by the largest of the clowns. His thick red smile hid all but the faintest look of apprehension on his face. Not that anybody who looked noticed it. All eyes were transfixed on the orange and black striped beast that walked before them.
It entered the cage and jumped onto the small round podium. Rehearsed and engrained into its memory.
It was now the turn of the ringmaster himself to steal the show. He held in one hand a whip, and in the other a small wooden stool. The latter was for comic effect rather than anything.
The audience gasped in amazement as the ringmaster then proceeded to drop the stool, - no real surprise – and then with an exaggerate motion, holding his arm outstretched he released the whip and entered the cage with nothing. Even his top hat was left on the floor, his greasy black hair, thinning on the top exposed to the night air.
The tiger roared once as the cage doors were closed. It was a sound that shook the bones of everybody with its power, while the ringmaster simply held his hands out like a preacher addressing his congregation.
The tiger sat.
The ringmaster approached, his hands now lowered by his sides.
The tiger sat, watching.
The ringmaster held one hand out and the Tiger raised its paw, before setting it over the human hand being offered to it.
The ringmaster bent forward and kissed the top of the paw.
The audience erupted.
The ringmaster bowed, waving his hands before his chest as he bent forward.
He then did the standard fare, making it jump through hoops and stand on its hind legs for a small piece of meat.
A drum roll began, quiet at first but quickly built until the crowd where stamping their feet in rhythm.
The ringmaster swiftly, and with a grace that was belied his appearance hopped onto the tigers back whereupon he proceeded to ride it around the cage like a show horse.
The whole time this was going on, the clowns continued to entertain, incorporating the daredevil act into their routine. With ostentatious displays of over the top emotion which saw one clown climb into the lap of the mother sitting next to David and bury his eerily painted face in her ample breasts and sob.
Somewhere outside the elephant called out. An angry impatient sound, one of the stilted men disappeared along with the strong man.
The applause was immense as the ringmaster dismounted the animal and strode confidently out of the cage. His face beaming with delight, they were really selling the show well.
In the wings he saw the next group standing ready.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” He boomed, his voice so commanding there was no need for him to hold a microphone. “At this point in the evening I would like to ask for a member of the audience to come down and join the fun.” He spat as he spoke; his thick black moustache caught a few small drops of white spittle.A murmur went around. Everybody seemed to flinch in one joint convulsion. Sinking back into their chairs, the way everybody bar one always takes a step backwards when a volunteer is needed.
“You Sir! You look like you are game for an experience that will change your life. Come on down.” A fat finger wrapped by a thick gold ring several sizes too small point directly at David. He could feel it just the same as if it were poking him in the centre of his chest.
Slowly, shaking not from fear but from nerves caused by the sudden weight of watchful eyes, David rose to his feet. He was escorted to the ground by the small clown and on of the stilted men. He was met in the ring by the ringmaster and ushered out and backstage by two scantily clad young ladies whose body odour had been better in his sear.
The four walked out and he over hear a few angry words whispered between the Ringmaster and a few of the other performers.
“Trust me. We need this. It will be fine. Just feed him.” He said.
David was standing alone and watched from outside, - the cool night air making him realize how much he was sweating. – As an incredibly attractive woman in her mid thirties he would have said, combed her long flowing beard before lifting a large plank of wood above her head. Balance on the wood was a midget on a unicycle trying with great success to juggle various items of fruit.
It really was a good show tonight.
“Can you dance?” One of the bikini girls asked. She was in her early twenties, and the edge of her nipple could clearly be seen above her top. She was wearing enough make up to broadcast her looks to the back of the room, but was clearly the sort of person who didn’t have to wear it to look good the rest of the time. A glinting charm hung from her bellybutton.
“I’m sorry” David stuttered, his mind taken away by her good looks, not to mention the large pink feathery headdress she was wearing, and the fact that she was a little bit taller than he was.
“Can you dance?” She asked again, impatiently, with a slight undertone of concern
“Well, I can manage a quick twirl, but I’m no professional.” He grinned. She didn’t laugh.
He did neither.
“Ok” She turned and walked away. The pink bikini briefs adhered to the contours of her rear, with the same teasing fragility as the top.
The ringmaster came over; his accent distinctly less it appeared when the audience was removed.
“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s perfectly safe. You’re going to help us put the circus trade back on the top of the list my friend.” He smirked as he spoke. His eyes never actually making contact with David, who hadn’t realized by had not even been asked his name before he was ushered back into the tent.
It had started to rain. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but rather the light, misty sort that gets you almost as wet as a torrential downpour would do.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” David heard the ringmaster begin, but his blood was pumping in his ears so loud that it successfully blocked out all other sound.
Before he knew it he was being lead by the same beauty he had spoken to outside. The cage was still there, in the centre of the ring. The strongman was standing by the door holding it open. His bald head reflected the light.
“Good Luck.” The girl said, kissing David on the cheek. His heart sped up, but then slowed. He realized he had better listen to what he was being told. Assuming he would have to simply stand there while the strong man performed something around him.
Instead the strongman, simply offered his hand and swiftly pulled David into the cage, climbed out himself and closed the door.
David was along. Or so he thought.
“And now, our guest of honour, a man so brave he needs no name is going to perform for us a waltz so majestic that it will have you in tears.” The ringmaster continued.
“What” David spoke, his voice a whisper from surprise and a sudden knowing fear? The crowd drowned him out.
He felt the adrenaline begin to build, and in the distance, or it appear to David, music began to play.
“Please, Viktor, bring in the partner for your Ballroom King.” The ringmaster beckoned with his arms, large exaggerated movements.
The bear came walking in on its hind legs. It stood towering over David, who without even thinking about the public staring at him felt urine begin to flow down the inside of his leg. A second cage door opened. This one larger than that used by David, and the bear clambered in, its long claws clinking on the metal bars that surrounded them.
Even the clowns had stopped their charades and stood, staring at the beast, diabolic mouths gaping in horror. David suddenly found himself more frightened of the clowns that anything else.
“Music Maestro,” The ringmaster called, and suddenly the melody of Joseph Lanner came booming through some hidden speakers. David looked over and saw a wide-eyed, vacant expression in the ringmasters face with a gleaming smile revealing teeth that seemed too white..
Upon hearing the sound, the bear, a black beast that easily weighed over one hundred and twenty kilos stood up to its full height and walked towards David, who had moved backwards and felt the cold metal pressing against his sweat soaked spine.
“Dance beautiful people. Dance and show your love to the world.” The ringmaster bought some time while the bear – apparently called Dolores walked forward.
It was clear there was no possible escape as the key that locked the door hung around a chain over the strongman’s neck. David walked away from the side of the cage and reached forward, towards the bear, his hands trembling. Sweat poured from his face and body, his shirt was plastered to him and the stench of his own urine burned away in his nostrils.
His fingers touched the fur, brushed against it. The bear didn’t react. It simply stood.
David moved slightly closer, the chants and applause from the crowd somehow overriding his senses. He reached up with one trembling hand and placed it on the outstretched front leg of the bear.
The moved in slow jerky movements, all the while the crowed grew wilder and wilder with excitement. Flashbulbs burst all around them as though they were a celebrity couple enjoying their first dance as husband and wife. Beside the cage the ringmaster continued to talk.
It was going great
Until, for some unknown reason, the bear let out a ferocious roar. It lacked the deep resonating quality of the tiger, but shook David enough for his liking. He went to move backwards, but the long claws dug into his flesh, and with a powerful swipe cut through his arm, pulling the shoulder from its socket, while stretching the flesh to the point of ripping.
David let out a scream. It was enveloped into that of the crowd, who were already fleeing for the exits. David looked across as the circus people stood staring, their faces aghast in surprise and horror. A strangely similar emotion when it came to action. The only one to move was the young girl, who grabbed the key from the chain and ran with it towards the door.
The second swipe from Dolores hit David from behind in the centre of his back. It snapped his spine with no effort at all, and several more deep lacerations opened on his back; the flesh splitting like a piece of over ripened fruit.
David fell to the floor, his scream cut off as blood began to erupt from his mouth in coughing spurts. The visceral ejaculations painted the black steel bars a deep red. Teeth sank into his shoulder and David was subsequently dragged away from the door, which was in the process of being opened. The girl in the pink bikini who had lost her headdress in her charge was fumbling to get the key in the lock.
By the time they got into the cage, the animal trainers had emerged from their backstage hiding places, shotguns at the ready. The door was opened and they entered.
David lay on the floor; the bear sitting behind him, a section of David’s bowel was hanging from the bear’s mouth like a strand of spaghetti and was soon sucked up with a spray of blood staining the bears chin.
Two shotgun blasts were heard, although nobody ever admitted to still being close enough to have heard either of them.
The first one passed through the bear’s immense chest, passing through its heart, severing it in two, before exiting through the lungs and spine. The beast roared and fell backwards. Not dead, not yet at least. The second although slightly larger than necessary blew apart David’s head, shattering his skull and sending shards of smoking bone and grey brain tissue over the floor and Dolores’s quivering flank.
When the town awoke the following morning, the signs, torches, tent, trainers and trucks had all vanished, disappeared into the night. All that remained in the field were two mounds of freshly dug earth. One was considerably larger than the other. Each one adorned by two small roughly fashioned wooden crosses.