Dark Day at the Circus

Thunder fought above in the dark stormy sky. A middle-aged man insistently pulled at the hand of a younger boy, both sharing a naturally upturned nose and stubborn chin. The child whined quietly as the shadow of an enormous tent covered him, its sullen colors the opposite of inviting. His father stopped to buy a ticket at the gaping hole that lead inside, still holding his son's hand in an iron grip.

"Dad…" The boy looked up at his father with pleading eyes.

"Come along Charlie. You'll love it, I know it."

Noise crashed on their ears as soon as the tent had engulfed them. Screeches and crashes from the other patrons in the stands made Charlie twitch, pulling at the hair tucked behind his ear worriedly. His father half dragged him to the front row, and they both sat.

"You'll love it," the older man repeated. Lights dimmed and spotlights began circling, like vultures looking for prey. The crowd quieted.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, we are proud to announce the arrival of the spectacular and amazing, the unforgettable, Morte Brother's Circus of Wonders!" There was applause as the spotlight landed on two lean men in matching dark red uniforms, the Ringmasters.

"Welcome, welcome," the brother on the right said.

"It's an honor to have you all here," added the brother on the left.

"But enough of our blather!"

"We have a plethora of never-before-seen wonders to show you."

"So without further ado…"

"…Let's begin the show," the two stepped aside out of the light, which flickered and died.

"For our first act, we'll focus on the daring tightrope walker, Eliza Bathory. Watch as the daring Miss Bathory walks not only without a net, but side-by-side with flying foxes," an unknown voice announced. The spotlight reappeared, focusing on a pale woman in leotard, high above the crowd. She crouched in front of a razor thin wire, preparing. Charlie grabbed his father's hand. Eliza Bathory stood and began her walk. Slow and steady, the silent watchers stared intensely as she made her way across.

A shape suddenly darted in front of the spotlight, its wings blocking out the tightrope walker. Several people began screaming as more creatures appeared, gyrating around the circular beam. Miss Bathory, however, seemed completely unfazed and completed her walk easily, even as the wind from the bats' wings blew her black hair back into her face. She bowed as the announcer started again.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Eliza Bathory. We'll leave the flying foxes out for now; as long as no one is wearing anything fruit scented, you'll all be fine," the voice paused. "Probably."

Nervous laughter rippled through the audience. It had almost sounded like the announcer wasn't joking.

"Dad, can we go home now?" Charlie whispered into his father's ear.

"Not yet. Just wait," he said while the younger boy fidgeted.

"And now we would like to introduce the incredible Dr. Scolio, our Beastmaster and one of the leading experts of all the world's dangerous and deadly….insects," at this an older man wearing enormous spectacles and an off-white lab coat stepped into everyone's sight. A bat swooped down onto his shoulder, grooming itself as it displayed sharp fangs.

"This evening, I shall be showing my most fearsome beast," the doctor began in a heavy French accent, "the rare and exotic Rainforest Centipede." Murmurs spread like wildfire through the crowd.

Charlie leaned into his father's side as though he wanted to disappear. He clutched the bench he was seated on and waited anxiously with the rest of the spectators.

"Daddy," he said, silently begging with his eyes.

"I know you don't like centipedes, but it'll be all cooped up. Now shush," his father replied, not even looking at the boy.

"Most centipedes found in rain forests are much larger—and more venomous—than an average centipede. These insects can reach as long as 4 feet, without human assistance," Dr. Scolio began. To his right, in the dark, a large rectangular cage was being moved by circus workers. "The Rainforest Centipede is the longest and most deadly of all its brethren, reaching up to 6 ½ feet long when fully grown. With my help, however, our insect is a staggering," a separate spotlight flickered, dimly illuminating the cage, "10 feet long, with a width of over a foot!"

People shouted in shock and terror. An iron cage big enough to hold a tiger held, instead of a large cat, the monstrous centipede. A bruised yellow color, its hundreds of legs clicked against the bars impatiently. Its mandibles snapped hungrily. Dr. Scolio seemed to look on with pride.

"And now, I would like a volunteer, so as to more easily show and compare my great centipede's size," the doctor's eyes scanned the rows, looking as hungry as his bug.

Charlie shrank further into his father's side. He shut his eyes tight, as though Dr. Scolio wouldn't be able to see him so long as he couldn't see the doctor. His breathe quickened.

"And you, you there!" Charlie cracked open an eye, only to witness the man point directly at him. His heart stopped. "The taller gentleman there, with the young boy!" His father seemed to start. Charlie glanced at him, then back at the enormous insect, his throat dry. "Don't worry, both you and your boy will receive first-class seats for your assistance. Come down, come down," he beckoned excitedly, flapping his wrinkled hands impatiently.

Charlie watched his father stand and begin making his way to the eager PhD. He looked completely calm as he took his place close, but not too close, to the Rainforest Centipede's cage.

"What's your name?" Dr. Scolio asked, examining him.

"Terri, sir."

"Not nervous, are you?"

"A little."

"You'd be stupid not to be," the doctor said, nodding.

Charlie was watching fearfully from his seat when he felt a light tap on his shoulder. Whipping around, a small thin clown covered from head to toe in black paint wearing a white bird-like half-mask stood behind him.

"Please come with me. I'm to take you to your new seats," the small clown said politely.

"My new seat?"

"Yes. Are you coming?"

"Oh, um, yeah," he scrambled up, following the clown as he disappeared up higher into the stands. "Where are we going?" the young boy asked, glancing back at his father worriedly. Terri was currently stretching his arms as high as they would go, while the centipede arched in the cage next to him.

The clown didn't answer, but hurried on. When they had reached the top of the stands, he opened a trapdoor leading down via a rope ladder.

"Please, go ahead," he motioned towards the dark hole.

"Is this safe?" Charlie questioned timidly. Once again, the clown chose not to answer, but instead motioned again towards the ladder.

Taking a deep breathe, he followed the clown's instructions and began down, sparing one last glimpse for his father, who seemed to be helping Dr. Scolio feed the centipede chunks of unknown meat.

The ladder swung and creaked unnervingly under Charlie, but it was not long before his feet touched the ground. It was almost pitch black under the stands.

"Come along. Here's my hand," the clown said as he slipped his hand into the young boy's. They stumbled through the dark to a door leading to the back of the entire circus tent.

Rain drenched the two of them as soon as they had stepped outside. The ice cold water soon had Charlie shivering, and he looked at the clown in confusion as he led them along the outside of the tent. Opening a flap that was near unnoticeable, the companions quickly ducked inside.

"Whoa," Charlie exclaimed. They had entered into the very back of the tent, where the costumes and other odds and ends were held for shows. Glancing around, he spotted several clear plastic bags filled with a miscellaneous red liquid leaning against a rack of black leotards in various sizes. Besides that there were regular shorts and shirts also on a rack, maybe for the clowns after the day was done.

His journey was not over yet, however. He and the clown continued on through another flap, one which Charlie hoped was the last.

He stopped, dead in his tracks. Inside of this area, cages lined the walls of various shapes and sizes. Several contained abnormally sized insects like the centipede Dr. Scolio had so proudly shown early, but others still held normal animals. A black panther snarled viciously in its cage, throwing itself at the bars towards Charlie, who jumped back in fright.

"They're simply hungry," the clown next to him said calmly. "You can look, but please don't stray too close to any of the cages."

"But don't we have to get to the seats?"

"We have to wait for a few minutes before we can continue." No matter how many times he asked why after that, the clown remained eerily silent. Curious, Charlie examined the cages closely. One held what seemed to be a moth that was at least half his height, with an ominous gray skull decorating the back of its wings. When he reached the enclosure the moth flapped against the walls, hissing.

The boy leaned back, wary, before continuing. In another container an anaconda lazed, and in a different, glass, cage hundreds of spiders scurried up and down cotton webs.

"I see you've met my arachnids," a pleased voice said from behind him. Charlie spun around, faced with Dr. Scolio and his father. "Beauties, aren't they?"

"Um, yes sir," Charlie nodded. His father stepped forward to put a friendly hand on his shoulder.

"Dr. Scolio has offered to give us an extensive tour of all the circus's animals and insects, Charlie," Terri explained.

"Oh. That's great."

"Indeed, you two are very lucky gentlemen," the doctor said nodding. In his hands he suddenly held an old plastic container. "Here, in this small cylinder, is something that is almost as much my pride and joy as the Rainforest Centipede," he began to unscrew the top.

Terri looked on curiously, but Charlie backed away a bit, sweating. With a small pop, the top came off. Ever so gently the doctor reached into the container.

"There we go," he said softly, pulling his hand out. Curled around his finger was a small, bright-blue centipede decorated with black vertical stripes. He stepped forward, smiling benignly, and offered the centipede for Charlie to hold. He shrank back instead.

"Sorry sir," Terri apologized. "My Charlie is afraid of centipedes. Always has been."

"Oh? Is that so?" The doctor seemed to scrutinize the young boy before him. "Don't worry boy. Its bite is perfectly harmless. Go on, take it," shaking slightly, Charlie did as he was bid.

The doctor deposited the many-legged insect onto his palm, where it promptly curled into a ball and released a smelly liquid out it's back end. Charlie winced in disgust and fear, but Dr. Scolio and his father just chuckled.

"He does that to everyone he meets, I'm afraid. He can be quite shy," the older man explained. "Here, let us let your father have a turn. I shall get you both wipes."

His father inspected the shy creature in his hand as the doctor left. He gently poked it with his index finger, where it curled up even tighter. Dr. Scolio returned and took back the blue insect so as to let both clean their hands.

"Please, sit down over there while I put my little friend away," he motioned towards two well-used chairs in the back. "I will be right back." Charlie scratched his palm and followed his father to the chairs. They sat for a few minutes.

"Dad, my hand hurts," he whispered to his father.

"So does mine. It was probably the centipede, don't you worry," they continued sitting.

"My head hurts too," Charlie scrunched his eyebrows and looked to Terri.

"Does it? Maybe you're having an allergic reaction to holding the centipede, or something," his father scratched his stubble worriedly, just as the doctor returned.

"Did I hear that you two may be having an adverse reaction to holding my pet?"

"Yes sir, you did," Terri said. Dr. Scolio reached into one of the pockets on his lab coat.

"I'm terribly sorry. That does happen sometimes, but luckily I concocted a fix against any symptoms you might be having long ago. I've had that centipede a long time," the man explained, drawing out a miniature Zephyrhills water bottle full of light blue liquid. "Hurry and drink this, I don't want us to miss the Wolf Man."

"The Wolf Man?" Charlie asked as his father drowned some of the contents of the bottle. "You mean, a really hairy man? Or like a werewolf?"

"Oh, yes," the doctor's smile seemed to stretch unnaturally. "He's the big finale. Unfortunately, he can be a hassle to feed. You two were very polite and courteous," he said, suddenly solemn. "I truly am very sorry about this."

Charlie's father fell to the ground from his chair. The young boy stared at the still standing elder man in horror, before attempting to dive between his legs. Bending down and grabbing his ankle, the PhD hoisted the child into the air easily.

: : :

"And now, after terrifying tightrope acts, enormous creepy crawling creatures, death-defying knife tricks, and hordes of clowns, I am honored to present the big finale! Parents, hold your children close, as we are now going to release the one, the only, Wolf Man!" The audience applauded as the announcer spoke. Lights drowned the stage as an enormous humanoid wolf burst free from its cage. It roared, standing on its hind legs, its furry knuckles dragging on the ground like some absurd ape. Yellow teeth spotted with red sprouted from its muzzle, and angry brown eyes scanned the stands. It growled deeply.

From right a tan young man entered, holding a whip in one hand and a chair in the other, in classic lion tamer style. The humanoid wolf spun its head around and began skulking towards the man, saliva dripping from its maw. Without warning it jumped, straight for the man. With a yell he raised his chair, using it to catch the wild animal and toss it to the side.

The crowd screamed its approval, the beast its frustration. The tamer leapt into action, charging with whip and chair in hand. They danced around each other, with the wolf showing a wily intelligence. After almost losing his arm several times, the man eventually managed to get the creature to back into its cage, where it howled its frustration and rattled the bars with its clawed hands.

With that, the man took a bow. Others leaked onto the stage: Eliza, the tightrope walker, a dozen clowns all in black with different masks on, two beefy men juggling knives as they walked, and the two Morte brothers. They all held hands and bowed as one, an older man in a clean lab coat slipping in at the very last moment to join the bow.