Just because I’m happy with the way this piece turned out (although it’s still a very rough draft), here’s another small taste of my NaNoWriMo work-in-progress.
Ladies and gentleman and other good readers of this story! Please direct your attention to the center ring of the Badger Brothers Very Fine Circus! You can’t actually see it, of course, so I will describe it to you.
Under this huge tent made of old newspapers, there are three rings. In the ring on stage right, a contortionist bends herself into uncanny, disturbing shapes that border on the non-Euclidean. In the ring on stage left, a clown in a raggedy tuxedo tells silent stories using only the barest of movements and abstract hand gestures. In the center ring, a man in a baggy suit, checkered bow tie, and black high top sneakers finishes his magic act by setting his handkerchief on fire with a snap of his fingers then making it vanish into thin air with another snap of his fingers. The magician bows, disappearing from the center ring before he rises from his bow. In his place stands a smiling, young woman with dark skin and darker hair, clad in a blue and yellow leotard.
It’s the Amazing Sarah!
She waves her hands in the air, inciting the audience to applaud politely. In the ring on the right, the contortionist produces a slim, shining, silver dagger from…somewhere (but where?) and hurls it at the Amazing Sarah’s chest with lightning speed. Even faster than lightning, the Amazing Sarah’s right hand whips out and catches the dagger by the handle, twirls the blade in her fingers, and throws it back at the contortionist, who catches the handle in her teeth. The Amazing Sarah grins and puts her hands on her hips as the audience cheers.
The clown in the ring on the left pulls a pistol from inside his jacket and fires off six shots at the Amazing Sarah’s head. The crowd gasps, several members of the audience scream, with each bang of the gun. The Amazing Sarah frowns, a pained look on her face. Then she spits six bullets onto the ground at her feet and again smiles big for the people in their seats, who cheer and yell wildly for her.
The contortionist rolls out of her ring, out of her spotlight, to be replaced by…a minotaur! The beast-man stands taller than the tallest man, grunting and huffing great smoky breaths. He picks up a barbel at his feet, heavy with more weight than any one man could lift, and hold it high above his head. The audience gasps and applauds. The minotaur roars and tosses the barbel as easily as one might throw a lead pipe at the center ring. The Amazing Sarah deftly catches the barbel and in an imitation of the minotaur, holds it high above her head, as easily as the beast-man did. The audience applauds loudly.
And that’s when things go terribly wrong.
The Amazing Sarah soaks up the audience’s applause like a sponge. She feeds off of it. As she does, the air around her begins to shimmer and glow with a golden light. Her eyes begin to shine with a similar golden light. At the same time, her skin and hair grow darker, from brown to black, taking on the darkness and shine of obsidian. The audience lets out a collective gasp, not of appreciation and wonder, but of uncertainty and fear. In a way, the Amazing Sarah now looks less human than even the minotaur. Her black, black skin, her glowing eyes, her shimmering aura give her the look of something alien. She doesn’t look human, she looks like an animated statue.
The people in the audience back up, moving nervously up the benches around the three rings. The Amazing Sarah lets the barbel fall to the floor with a thunderous clang and calls out, “Please, don’t worry! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” But her voice comes out hollow, deep, echoey, uncanny and unnerving. The minotaur looks like a mythical man-beast come to life, but the Amazing Sarah looks like a monster, a golem or a gargoyle, a person no longer a person. The members of the audience scream and cry, shoving each other as the run to the exits.
The Amazing Sarah looks around the tent. The minotaur and the clown are no longer in the other rings. The contortionist and the magician are nowhere to be seen. The spotlights suddenly click off. She is alone, so alone in the dark tent.
Tears as black as crude oil blossom in the corners of her eyes and roll slowly, thickly down her cheeks. Her heart feels like a heavy stone in her chest. This is not the first time fear has driven everyone, stranger and friend, away from her. This won’t be the last time. Maybe she will always end up alone.
Always, always alone.
And then a man steps out of the shadows, walking stiffly with a limp, assisted by an ornate cane. “Hello,” he says, “I am Dr. Percival Chalice.” He’s completely unperturbed about her strange appearance. “I’ve been looking for you for quite some time.” He extends a hand in greeting. “I have an offer for you. Something that will take you away from this humiliating public exhibition but still allow you to use your natural gifts.”
She takes his hand warily, unsure of this stranger and unsure of how to shake his hand without crushing it with her uncanny strength. “This life in the spotlight is all I’ve ever know,” she says with a shyness at odds with the exuberance she showed during her performance. “What else can I do?”
“You can join my cabinet of shadows, my Indigo Circle,” Dr. Chalice explains. “You can help me keep the world strange and mysterious.” The Amazing Sarah considers this, nods, and follows Dr. Chalice out of the tent and into a new, weirder life.