Welcome to the final chapter of the Night Circus. I hope this was worth waiting for. It’s fantasy and some 3557 words long. Enjoy!
The Night Circus
“We are here, yes,” Alek said softly as he slowed, “do what I do, only talk if asked a question. Oh, yes, and polite. Be polite.”
The Ringmaster was tall, at least eight and a half feet Peter estimated as they entered his small alcove room. Although small his room seemed empty. A chest, a closed writing desk and a bed were the only contents. The Ringmaster’s head was shadowed but Peter could see he was bald and pale. His height was the most striking feature, the room itself looked drab compared to the other rooms he’d passed, it was a pattern of beige squares. The belongings the Ringmaster had must have been neatly stored away as nothing but his jacked and hat lay on a neatly made frame bed. Peter noticed that one of the walls only had a few squares, behind them was the tent fabric with its rich reds.
Peter realised then that the room wasn’t patterned, he turned to look at the nearest wall, the one behind him where he’d come in. The little squares were paper, pinned to the wall with tiny pins in neat rows. Each square had on it a drawing, with cursive writing beneath. Some of the squares looked brittle and old, they were faded so badly that he couldn’t make much of the contents out. On the more recent paper Peter could see wonderfully detailed illustration, the text was hard to read as it was highly stylised and very small. He looked over the various pictures, one, of indeterminate age but fading slightly, was of Alek. Beneath the drawing was written “The Strongman” The pictures, Peter worked out, were the of all carnies and their role in the Circus.
“Ringmaster.” Alek spoke softly.
The Ringmaster had his back to them, still dressing it seemed, his motions suggesting he was finishing buttoning a shirt. A long arm reached out for his jacket and as his hand grasped it Peter saw bones. Dry bones of faded off white. The ground together and clicked slightly as he grasped the jacket and slipped into it with a grace he hadn’t expected from someone so tall. Once the jacket was straightened, fussed over, and straightened again, the long arm reached for the top hat, and into it. Out of it was pulled a small leather neck tie, a string of black with silver tips. Again this was carefully fastened and positioned. He reached for the hat and placed it on his head, adjusted it a few times, then stopped. Only then did he turn.
“Alek, my Strongman,” He said with a light voice that carried without volume, “and this must be the new one I was told of, Peter, is it not?” His words were clipped, clear and very much what Peter considered old fashioned BBC English. Peter didn’t respond as he was staring, the ringmaster, while both appearing and sounding like a gentleman from an age past, was a skeleton. His sockets didn’t glow, and they weren’t black as media portrayal often showed on CGI or animated skeletons, in the dim light Peter could see the back of his skull through his eye sockets.
“Yes. This is the fuss.” Alek said into the silence.
“Good, good.” The Ringmaster said.
“I need to get ready, yes. I go and see you later tonight.” Alek slapped Peter on the shoulder blade and walked out. His shoulder stung but it was distant, the Ringmaster moved a step closer and seemed to be waiting.
“I-I’m sorry, did you say something?”
“I said, how do you find our Night Circus?” The Ringmaster asked. Peter tried to speak but couldn’t, his thoughts tumbled over themselves. How do you describe such a place? It was impossible, incredible, it couldn’t exist yet here it was. He took a deep breath, it helped as the right adjective slotted into place.
“Magical.” Peter said. After a moment the Ringmaster nodded slowly.
“Magical,” he said as though trying the word out, “the is an apt word. Both in the visual and visceral sense. Why are you here, Peter? How are you here?” The questions caught him of guard, the Ringmasters tone was undeniable and could not go unanswered, could not be lied to. In response Peter spluttered.
“I don’t how I got here, I think I was invited, I was led here, by a round-man.”
“We have no round-man working here at present, have not seen one for some time, they are quite rare but good workers. Very polite if hard to understand at times. Yet, you cannot be here unless you are already magical, or brought in by someone who works for the Circus. Yet she didn’t reject you.” The Ringmaster stood, tapping the fingers of one hand against the back of his other hand. Click, click, click. He turned and picked up a cane that had been leaning against his writing desk, the end of it was rounded and silver, even in the dim light it reflected brightly.
“Why am I here…I don’t know that either. I’m sorry, I…” he trailed off, “I don’t want to leave though, are you making me leave?” He was plaintive, querulous, the words more urgent than he wanted them to be, his voice strange to his own ears. Did he want to stay? He wasn’t sure. What was back home for him, a single somewhat lonely life, filled with his dog and work. Aside from Shep, why exist there? He couldn’t come up with a good reason.
“Not unless you want to. You can stay the evening, even watch the show, when you leave you will forget all of this ever happened. It will become a fading dream. The mystery of how you got here will frustrate me though, I do like a mystery but I like answers far more. The mammal you came with,”
“Yes, she’s my dog, Shep.”
“She has asked to stay and we have said yes. So you would return alone.”
“I don’t want to go back.” Peter said, his sentenced started with petulance but turned to steel. He was determined, sure now that his old world could never be as interesting as this, so full of colour and life beyond life. The Ringmaster nodded and stepped forward so rapidly that Peter could hardly follow his movement. One large boney hand gently settled on his shoulder.
“I know why you are here, Peter. You are here to join us and work for the night circus. If you say yes, you can never go back, you will exist only in here, in, how you said, magic. Will you join us, mysterious Peter?”
“Yes.” He replied at once.
“Then come with me, I have some friends I would very much like to introduce you to.” The Ringmaster turned Peter, he walked past him with a quick stride, out of the room and instead of turning and following the corridor he walked straight on and through the tent wall. Peter took a couple of steps forward, held his hand out in front of him, closed his eyes, and walked forward. After a few steps he opened his eyes, he hadn’t felt the tent wall and he was now stood in another room. The room had two young men in it, they were well muscled, they had the physique of acrobats. This alone, wasn’t what caused Peter to gasp, nor was it the fact that the men were mostly naked, embracing and kissing, it wasn’t the silence as the background tumult of hundreds of people was gone; it was that time had stopped.
The two men were frozen in their momentary kiss. Beyond them the Ringmaster had paused, he watched Peter with those empty sockets, he could almost feel his gaze on him. Assessing, working him out.
“Do come on, although impressive this particular parlour trick never lasts very long.” With that the Ringmaster promptly walked through another wall and Peter had to jog to keep up. It wasn’t just the walls, he could pass through anything. He was most amazed and amused when he had the opportunity to pass through a huge tank of water, a woman was playing, frozen distorted spheres of water floated in the air around her. Peter only noticed her long fish tail as he left the room. Then they were walking down a corridor again, ahead of him the Ringmaster had out a silver pocket watch. As he tucked it back into his jacket, sound and time returned.
Peter jumped at how loud everything was. How had he not noticed the noise level? He mused on how you could get used to anything given time.
“My friends,” The ringmasters said, Peter wondered how his voice always reached him at the same volume regardless of how far away he was, “please dress Peter for the show, he will assist Miles shortly. He is our latest intake so he is somewhat discombobulated.” Peter reached the room as the Ringmaster finished. The room was larger than most he’d seen, chaos ruled, as clothing was arrayed in various little mountains around the room. The occupants turned to Peter as he entered, they looked like large Meercats, tawny fur and quick dark eyes were everywhere. Some darted off as he arrived, other regarded him openly.
“Hello.” Peter said.
“I have arrangements to make, I will see you soon in ring three. My friends here will show you the way.” He tapped his cane against the rim of his top hat and walked away. Warm breath ruffled his hair, Peter turned and was nose to nose with one of the animals. Another huffed on his hand, three of them regarded him, pulled at his clothing and sniffed him. Once they had the measure of him they returned the the other Meercats and a fast chittering began between them. It wound down after a minute of what Peter thought sounded like intense debate. They regarded him in near silence then the chittering briefly arose again.
Evidently a choice had been made, a choice about him. He wondered if he should be annoyed at this but decided that made no sense. They spoke no English and he no…Meercat. Three came back to him and started undressing him with dexterous paws, aided by what looked like very sharp teeth. Peter wasn’t sure if they were the same three as before or not, they looked a lot alike to him. While they undressed him other rifled through the clothing piles, choosing an item, assessing it before chittering and throwing it to another pile. In short order Peter was naked and had in front of him a new selection of clothing.
“For the show, I suppose.” He said, more to himself than in the hope that they understood him. They chittered back, it seemed as though they disagreed. He tried again.
“So not for the show, then why do I have to change?” This seemed to agitate his clothiers so he quickly added, “Not that I won’t change, I’m just wondering why. Is it for the circus then?” More chitters of dissent. “For me?” The chittering changed tone, sounding somehow reassuring, excited and in agreement. Peter checked through the pile, none of it was his size, not even close. The clothing was old, but clean, it was well worn but lacked obvious patching or stitching.
“Nothing here is my size, I doubt that I can even walk in those shoes. Are you sure?” More chittering, more disapproval. Peter sighed, gave in, and started to dress. The red striped boxers were short, almost cut off, yet they were 46 plus waist, or more, Peter couldn’t tell. They had a drawstring though and that allowed him to wear them as intended. The same was true of the brown trousers, they were short but very wide. The cuffs on the trousers came to his knees. They wouldn’t stay up until he attached the braces to the waistband. The trousers flapped around him as he reached for the yellow shirt. He went to put on the shirt, stopped, slid off the braces and his trousers fell as he pushed his arms into the short shirt sleeves. When he was finally dressed he carefully clomped his way over to a full length mirror in the overly long shoes.
Peter stared at his reflection, he looked ridiculous but then he suspected that was deliberate. If not a clown he would certainly look amusing.
“I guess I’m ready then, what happens now?” A burst of chittering and one of the Meercats ran to the corridor and paused. It chittered when Peter didn’t instantly move.
“Someone fell down the well, Lassie? Alright I’m coming.” Peter murmured with dry resigned amusement. The now familiar corridors seemed more empty, in the distance Peter noticed the white noise of a crowd clapping and shouting. After a few turns the noise grew louder, and louder still. Until Peter was led to a dark curtain, the Meercat stopped, chittered at one of the stage hands present and left. He nodded and stepped forward, the other stagehands returned to the work they were doing. Carrying, pulling ropes, even the ones just watching covertly through the curtain seemed to be vibrating with business. Everyone know what to do, their particular role in the Circus, aside from Peter. His increasingly maudlin thoughts were brought up short when a well muscled woman placed her hand on his arm.
“Come with me, it’s dark so take my hand.” She was shouting even though she was right next to him, the crown noise had become almost a physical presence. Peter nodded and let himself be led out through the curtain. She led him over and through all sorts of ropes, it was difficult in the shoes he’d been provided and she had to stop him from falling twice. He got more used to it and he didn’t stumble as they clambered over a curved large piece of wood that vanished both ways into the darkness. In the distance, in a large ring, horses ran as animals and people performed tricks on them, the crowd was cheering after each feat. Eventually the stagehand stopped him, turned him, and pressed him backwards onto slightly inclined wood board. His back rested against the cool wood, he wondered what it was as the sound washed over him.
“Stand here, take my advice, don’t move. Don’t leave here until the lights go out again, you understand mister new man?”
“Yes,” Peter nodded, “I understand.” She pressed his head back against the board with two fingers.
“Don’t move.” With that she ran into the darkness and was gone. He waited, starting to panic slightly in the dark, he could no longer see the other ring from this angle and the board blocked a lot of the light. He didn’t dare move again. It got worse as smoke drifted over to him, a light smell at first then thicker. The crowd now was all appreciative moans of Oooh and Aaah. Peter guessed a fire juggler, or performance of some sort anyway. The smoke was harsh and he started to feel sick from the smoke and his own panic.
Peter looked around, in the darkness something hissed, wetly. He swallowed, his throat tasted of bile and smoke. Peter muttered, it was something unintelligible, even he didn’t know what the words were. In a heartbeat panic rose as he wondered how he ended up here. The lights came up, Peter squinted as the reflections caught on the blades, and he smiled. A performers smile, it came to him naturally as he rolled his eyes around, taking in all the sights he could without moving his head. In the lights he still couldn’t see the crowd, the ring he was in had a number of different performers, all either already in an act or starting one. This, Peter thought must be the warm up shows, snippets of performances to wet the crowds appetite. He felt better with the lights up, even the smoke seemed to be thick all at once.
Before him a large lizard stood on two legs, spreading knives over a small table covered with a deep blue cloth. The lizard regarded him for a moment then hissed again, a sound that should have terrified Peter but the stage smile was helping and Peter felt that the show mattered. Part of him knew this, deep down, no matter what, the show had to be as good as they could make it. The lizard selected some knives from the table and after waving them to the crowd threw them at the board Peter stood against. They thumped into the board all around him, first one knife at a time, then two then many. They rested against his skin they were that close to him.
For as many as were thrown, and it was over fifty, Peter had lost count after that, not a single knife had cut either him or his clothing. The lizard knife thrower was incredibly skilled. The knives stopped hitting the board as the other performances going on around them wound down, light came on in another ring as the lights around Peter flicked out. Peter remained still as the knives were removed around him. Then the lizard hissed again and a hand, a human hand, found his own.
“Well done, come this way, you’re done for the night now so you get to watch with us.” She started to lead Peter from the board but he stumbled. This time it wasn’t the shoes, they seemed like they were fitting better, or at least falling of less. It was his legs. They felt strange and stiff. He tried to walk normally but found he couldn’t, so he walked in a stilted way as the stagehand guided him in the darkness. When they reached the rings wooden curve Peter found it more difficult to climb over, either he was tired or the ring had gown taller.
When he reached the curtain he was patted and congratulated, a few of the stagehands stared at him at first, then shrugged and carried on working. Peter watched as they fetched, carried and set up each performance in the nearest ring. The show got bigger louder and brasher as the night stretched on. The Ringmasters voice could be heard by all in the same clear way regardless of every other noise happening at the same time, narrated and introduced and applauded his fellow performers. Peter was amazed at what he saw, it put anything else in he’d experienced to shame. Eventually it wound down and the Ringmaster closed the show with an elegant speech and the lights went out.
The after party was intense and Peter was welcomed as one of them. Where ever he went in the tent that night, creatures danced, drank and fucked. After a while Peter stopped getting shocked and enjoyed each new event that occurred for what it was. Joining in whenever he was pulled into a dance, or kissed by creatures with lips to kiss. Eventually he was slapped on the back and Alek was with him. He seemed taller than Peter recalled, he greeted him with a hug that changed Alek’s initially confused expression into one a large smile.
Peter knew, he wasn’t sure how he knew but he’d come to trust his instincts. It was time. He waddled through the corridors of the immense tent until he came to the Ringmasters room. He was sat at his writing desk, as he often was, his ink pots arrayed before him, a quill in one large bone hand. Peter entered the tent, he walked over to the illustration of him and touched the paper softly and laughed.
“It’s time.” Peter said.
“Yes, I also think so.” The Ringmaster replied, he looked up and regarded Peter. He’d changed so much. From a normal human who worked as an assistant to a full performer in the circus. He’d changed in so many ways.
“Time to come and go.” Peter laughed again, he pent a lot of time laughing, it turned out to be a whole other way of communicating, his species used laughter as the main form of communication.
“Yes. This does make sense, it resolves your mystery at last Peter. Thank you for the answer. Good hunting, my friend.” With that the Ringmaster returned to his art. Peter nodded, as best he could, and waddled from the room. He walked through the corridors and out into the public atruim and picked his way through the crowds over to Alek. He smiled at the Strongman who had four men dangling from his arms as he flexed his biceps. He was laughing as they rocked backwards and forwards. Alek winked at Peter, who laughed back at him. Peter turned and left the scene and walked out toward the edge of the fair. He was out their, walking his dog. One day this newcomer would fit that initially over sized yellow shirt and brown trousers, as well as Peters round body fit them now.
Before that though he had to invite him into the fair. Peter set off down the tree lined path to meet both himself and Shep. He laughed at the thought and started chanting to himself.
“Go, come, go, come!”
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