The Twilight Circus (5 page)

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
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Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs! Je suis John Carver
. Welcome to the twilight world of dreams and nightmares, of the wondrous and the uncanny. Tonight, we ask you to open your mind and believe the unbelievable, for, ladies and gentlemen,
there is no illusion
. All the incredible things you are about to see are
REAL
!”

CHAPTER 6
S
MOKE AND
M
IRRORS

As the excitement in the tent reached fever pitch, an enormous, transparent sheet descended from high up in the big top, apparently filled with water deep enough for something to swim inside. Flashes of iridescent colors swayed in time to the music, performing a weird sort of hypnotic water ballet. Eventually Nat realized the colors were actually people, and wondered how they could stay underwater for so long with no visible breathing equipment. Were they some kind of marine people who didn't need it? He still wasn't sure if his grandfather had played a joke on the audience by wanting them to think the illusions were real!

The lights got brighter as the transparent pool ascended back into the top of the tent, and the audience clapped wildly as the three bearded satyrs bounced into the ring.
This is more like it
, thought Nat, leaning forward in his
seat. He watched in admiration as the satyrs leaped madly around the ring, the audience
ooohing
and
aaah
ing at their fantastic acrobatics and outrageous sense of humor. At the end of their act they produced sparkly feathers and tickled the kids in the audience until they shrieked. Nat noticed that some of the little ones laughed so much they looked like they were going to puke, which, he had to admit, would have made the satyrs' act even better.

He was doubly thrilled when his
actual
grandfather came striding toward him while his hologram grandfather announced the next act: the Surrealias. It was the first time Nat had seen John Carver for three years.

“Welcome to the family business, Nat.” His grandfather smiled, hugging Nat close and planting a firm smacker on the top of his head. “Now, watch this act carefully. There'll be questions later.”

Woody was practically frothing at the mouth to tell Nat about all the acts, but he had been forbidden. John Carver wanted to know what Nat made of the whole thing after the show.

The Surrealias turned out to be three young women lowered smoothly from the ceiling on a trapeze. They
looked like exotic birds, dressed in blue and turquoise costumes with matching makeup and sequined tail feathers. They swung to and fro on the trapeze out into the audience, once swinging close to Nat. He had thought them beautiful when they first appeared, but close up he could see they were a bit too strange to be beautiful. They all had a bad case of Quasimodo back, and it wasn't just the costumes that were birdlike—their
faces
were birdlike as well. The nose and mouth seemed elongated—pushed out into a sort of beak effect—and the eyes looked as though they had been stretched to the far sides of the head. Nat suspected they wore some sort of clever makeup or masks—it was amazing what could be achieved nowadays. But as the act progressed and the Surrealias defied gravity by leaping from one side of the enormous tent to the other, Nat realized the trapeze was only there for show. His enhanced vision picked up that they weren't touching the ropes at all.

“Might be parachutes,” he said to Jude, “'cause
look
… there's no safety net.”

The bird girls and their uncanny aerobatic skills took any other thoughts away. Then, shockingly, one bird girl
appeared to miss her timing, and fell. Nat couldn't bear to look; he covered his eyes until Woody shook him.

“LOOOK,” he hissed.

Nat opened one eye and gasped.
What he had thought were parachutes were tiny wings
!

Instead of plummeting to her death, the girl's iridescent wings had unfolded like sycamore seeds, spinning her gently to the floor. And the crowd went wild.

“What
are
they?” Nat asked Woody. “Are they for real?”

“Cryptids,” whispered Woody, “but I'm not allowed to tell you what sort. You gotta guess.”

Nat didn't recover from his shock until well into the next act, which was the Zombie Dawn Street Dancers. He hoped fervently they weren't
real
zombies. But Nat's favorite acts were the daring and the comical, and although there was a lot of humor in the show, Nat was surprised there were no clowns.

“They're
way
too scary!” Woody shuddered when Nat asked him about it.

One of the audience's favorites, including Jude's, who cried actual hysterical tears of laughter afterward, was the large red-and-gold bird who appeared on the wrist of a
man dressed in khaki shorts, a matching shirt, and a hat with corks dangling from it. The bird was too colorful to be a bird of prey, and Nat found himself wondering again if the creature was real, or an elaborate and realistic puppet.

The man walked around with the bird on his wrist, encouraging members of the audience, including Jude, to pet it. In Franglais, he told the audience it was an Oozlum bird, apparently now very rare in Australia.

“Not to be confused with the extinct, short-legged Ooomegoolie bird, which once lived in the Outback,” he explained as Jude stroked its impressive plumage.

“The Oozlum is in danger of becoming extinct due to an odd habit it has. Please don't make any sudden moves or it'll —”

There was a
bang
like the report from a gun and the bird shot up into the top of the great tent. The man in the corked hat made a great show of being upset, and spent a long time persuading it to come back. At last, the Oozlum bird circled just above the audience in ever-decreasing circles, smaller and smaller, faster and faster, until it made Nat dizzy. Then it squawked as though in
pain. There was a
pop
like a cork coming out of a bottle, and the bird disappeared.


Disparu
! Gone!” said the man sadly. “
C'est monté dans son propre derrière
!” The audience, including Woody, was crying with laughter.

“What?” asked Nat.

“What did he say?” asked Jude, stunned.

“It's flown up its own butt,” Woody translated once he finally managed to stop laughing. “That's why they're so rare.”

When Jude and Nat had recovered from the unfortunate Oozlum bird incident, the acts continued to live up to their introductions. The scary snake-people contortionists reminded Nat too much of the Pyslli clan he had seen at Helleborine Halt to be entertaining, but the next performers were a family of fierce Cossack riders with a troupe of shiny black horses, whose horsemanship and knife-throwing skills kept him on the edge of his seat for their entire act. Nat watched the youngest members of the family, two raven-haired girls of about twelve and fourteen, propel themselves fearlessly under the bellies of their
enormous horses, only to end up back in the saddle, their heads still firmly in place on their shoulders, unscathed by the galloping hooves. But for all their stunning stunts and bravery, Nat couldn't spot anything supernatural or cryp-tid about them. The Cossacks and the horses all
looked
as though they were normal, but tonight Nat had given up trying to guess what was real and what was not.

He didn't have to wait too long to see the strange aye-ayes again. They crept with unnatural grace into the ring behind a man who looked like the human equivalent of an aye-aye, and Nat wasn't the only one in the audience to shiver a bit at his appearance. He was thin and bony with scant aye-aye-type black hair and a ghost-white face. His eyes were made up with black, and his demeanor was rather slow, so that he appeared to creep rather than walk. The John Carver hologram introduced him as Maccabee Hammer, Master Magician, and the aye-ayes as his unlovely assistants. Along with the way the aye-ayes freaked out most people with their bony fingers and uncanny saucer-eyed stares while the magician impressed everyone with his unique type of
magic, the part Nat liked best was when Maccabee (who although undeniably weird, was very funny) made the aye-ayes give back all the stuff they had pilfered from people in the audience.
Maybe they have pouches like hamsters or kangaroos
, he thought, but the amount they had pinched seemed to be more than their own body weight, and no one in the audience even realized they'd been robbed.

In any circus the final acts are the best, and Carver's Twilight Circus of Illusion did not disappoint. There followed the nightmare story of “Red Riding Hood,” where Granny's big teeth and eyes turned out to be that of a real wolf. Nat knew from experience that the shape-shift had been real; in Granny's bed there was a real, live werewolf. He glanced at his mum, who was clearly thinking the same thing, and he could tell by her expression that she didn't like it at all.
She's still worried about me
, he thought uncomfortably. But the rest of the audience loved it.

Hologram grandpa came into the ring again for the last time to announce the finale.


Et maintenant, mesdames et messieurs, notre finale—la Femme de Requin
! I give you—Shark Woman!”

Inside a large tank swam two women in electric-blue wetsuits, their long blond hair fanning out in the water. The water pulsated with different colors in time to the music while they dived, making it difficult for the audience to see sometimes. Everyone cried out in shock when the water suddenly clouded dark red, and the two girls vanished. The crowd stood in their seats, craning their necks to see what was happening. The water cleared and the audience gasped again. A large gray thing with a dorsal fin and sharp teeth had somehow got into the tank. And there appeared to be only one girl left!
Had the shark eaten the other one
? But Nat, with his supernatural sight, had seen what others could not. Behind the mask of red, one girl had morphed very smoothly into a shark. The water cleared and the audience was treated to the shark playing a game of cat and mouse with the remaining girl. When the audience started screaming, the water clouded again and the girl morphed back. The two performers emerged unscathed and smiling from the tank. The shark, of course, had disappeared.

It had been an adventure and, as Nat stood and clapped with the rest of the thrilled but exhausted audience, someone caught his eye. She was coming toward him, smiling slightly. She had unmistakable fire-engine red hair, shiny black biker boots, and brilliant orange eyes. It was Crescent.

CHAPTER 7
T
HE
S
ILVER
L
ADY

Crescent Domini Moon was the only female werewolf Nat had ever met. Early on in their acquaintance, Nat had decided that if Crescent was typical of the female of the species, he wasn't in a great hurry to meet any more, thank you very much.

So what if Crescent was beautiful? She was also bossy, loud, and extremely vain, and as Nat watched her, she sashayed along, basking in admiring stares from people nearby, acting as though she owned the place. Most onlookers would assume her Halloween-orange eyes owed their color to novelty contact lenses, but the opposite was true. Nat knew that werewolves living in the community usually wore colored contacts or polarized glasses to hide the true color of their eyes.

“Jude!” cried Crescent as she made a big show of air-kissing Jude on both cheeks. “
Mwah, mwah
.” Then she
turned to Nat, giving him a big hug and a smacking kiss on the lips. Nat blushed to the roots of his hair, deciding maybe he had been wrong about Crescent all along. But when she started bossing them around and taking charge, he changed his mind again.

“Guess
what
,” gushed Crescent, “Angelo and Vincent are here! They've taken time off from their restaurant to cook a special welcome dinner in your honor.”

Nat was dead chuffed. It was largely due to the heroic acts of the twin werewolves, Angelo and Vincent Spaghetti, that Nat and Woody had escaped from Helleborine Halt with their lives. Far from being the murderous, savage beasts portrayed in the media, many werewolves fit into the community surprisingly well, although of course, there were always exceptions to any rule, as Nat and Woody had found out firsthand.

Then Nat remembered something from the show. “Were you the wolf in the Red Riding Hood act?” he asked her.

Crescent lifted her lip slightly, showing white teeth. “Do me a favor. Do I
look
like a performing animal?”

“It was Otis,” said Woody hastily, seeing Nat's
crushed expression, “you know … the bass player in the Howlers.”

All Nat knew about Otis was that he was a tall, dark-haired, bass-playing werewolf from Cardiff, who seemed to leak vapor trails of cool from every pore in his body.

“Are you and the Howlers staying with the circus, then?” asked Nat.

Crescent flicked her red hair. “We're traveling south with you,” she purred. “Isn't that
great
?”

Nat smiled weakly.
Oh yeah, that is
so
great. Not
, he thought to himself. Crescent Domini Moon had just got
way
too big for her biker boots.

Nat and Woody followed Crescent outside. The music still played and great torches blazed fire across the frozen grass, making it sparkle red and gold. The crowd, bundled into thick layers of clothing, followed the torchlit path to the gates, anxious now to be home, safe from the biting cold of the night.

Crescent stopped abruptly, gazing longingly at the moon. “
Look at that sky
,” she murmured in a low, husky growl. Nat and Woody stood either side of her, staring up at the swollen full moon hanging above them. It looked so
close that Nat felt he could reach out and touch it. It made him feel restless and weird.

“It's
irresistible
,” said Crescent dreamily, and for a moment her face shifted, as though her change was coming and she wasn't going to stop it. Nat caught just a fleeting glimpse of her inner wolf, and then it was gone. She smiled, her teeth glinting dangerously in the light of the moon.

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
4.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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