The Twilight Circus (6 page)

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
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“Want to come?” she asked Woody, and prodded his shoulder.

Nat noticed that for a few seconds her fingernails seemed to lengthen into vicious-looking claws.

Woody shook his head. “It's Nat's first night.”

Crescent turned to Nat. “You can come if you want,” she said offhandedly.

“Where?” asked Nat, puzzled. “We're going for dinner soon.”

“So am I.” Crescent grinned, licking her lips. “But I'm talking about
real
food.”

“She wants to run with the moon,” explained Woody.

“Oh,” said Nat, not fully understanding.

“Getting down with my bad self.” Crescent grinned
again, her eyes blazing with excitement. “A hunt.”

“I can't,” said Nat, narrowing his eyes. “You
know
I can't. I won't be able to keep up: I can't change like you.”

“Shame.” Crescent smirked. “Well, if I can't tempt you, I'm off. I need to, um … undress for dinner.”


You
go if you want,” said Nat, turning to Woody.

Woody shook his head.

“D'you go on runs a lot, then?” asked Nat, watching Crescent dash across the grass.

Again, Woody shook his head, and shivered. “I don't think I'd like it.”

Nat was surprised. He continued to be thankful his supernatural gifts didn't include a full shape-shift, but all the same he imagined it would be thrilling to run with the pack under a full moon.

“Why not?” he asked curiously.

“They kill stuff,” said Woody simply.

Slightly unnerved, Nat watched as Crescent melted into the shadows.

“Come on,” said Woody, breaking the mood, “there's your mum and dad. I'll show you where you're gonna live.”

Evan had explained that after the final dinner, some
of the circus people would be leaving for their winter homes, while others, including the Carvers and Woody, would prepare for the long drive south to a place called Salinas, their winter quarters. The black tent would be dismantled the next morning and the animals and caravans made ready for the journey.

Small sodium lamps lit the way as Nat followed Woody, their boots crunching across the frosty grass, their breath making whirling patterns in the freezing air. The silver trailers that Nat had spotted on arrival were arranged in neat rows some way behind the black tent, and Nat spotted his grandfather's black Daimler parked regally next to his trailer. In keeping with his status as ringmaster and co-owner, his van was larger than anyone else's, although he lived alone. Nat ran his hand along the freezing mirror-finish of the trailer. He had never seen anything like it. It was like a cross between an enormous tin can and a tiny space capsule.

“All the caravans are made from aluminum alloy,” said his dad, who had caught up to them. “They might look brand-new, but they're all pretty much vintage—about fifty years old.”

“They look like they're from the future,” said Nat. “They're
amazing
.”

“This one's ours,” said Woody excitedly. “She's called the
Silver Lady
. I'll show you around.”

Nat raised his eyebrows. “Show me
around
?” he snorted. “That's not going to take very long!”

He followed Woody into the
Silver Lady
, hoping it—
she
—was going to be a lot bigger than she looked from the outside. She wasn't.

Nat thought he had walked into Santa's Grotto by mistake. The ceiling, walls, and cupboards were strewn with tinsel and baubles, and on the tiny table stood a Christmas tree and one of those glass snow globes you shake to make your own mini snowstorm. Woody took Nat's shocked gasp as one of pleasure, and because Nat didn't want to disappoint him, he laughed weakly.

“Oooh,” he said, “Christmas has come early.”

“I
knew
you'd like it,” said Woody happily. “Want to shake the snow fing?”

Nat picked up the snow globe and shook it once, just to be polite, while Woody waited impatiently for his turn.

“How did you know I always wanted one of these?” Woody smiled, shaking the snow globe so hard that Nat feared for the safety of the tiny reindeer inside.

“I didn't,” said Nat in surprise. “Where'd you get it?”

Woody looked confused. “
You
sent it to me.”

Nat frowned. “No, I think I'd remember if I had.”

“It was in a pretty box with a note,” insisted Woody.

Nat shook his head. “What did the note say?”

“Can't remember. Something like
see you soon
, I fink.”

Nat shrugged. “Well, I'm glad you got a present, but it wasn't from me. Maybe the present was for someone else?”

“No,” said Woody firmly. “It's
mine
, 'cause I'm worth it.”

Nat grinned, remembering how Woody had learned loads of his English from watching TV commercials. Leaving Woody happily shaking the snow globe, he gazed around the
Silver Lady
.

Obviously designed with hobbits in mind, there were two neatly made-up bunks, a minuscule stove, a table (swallowed by the Christmas tree), and two chairs that looked as though two of the seven dwarfs were coming for tea. There was a washbasin and a closet with a bucket inside, which Nat suspected (hoping he was wrong) was
the toilet facility. Almost hidden by eight rows of multicolored tinsel sat Woody's most prized possession.

“Hey, you got your own TV at last!” cried Nat.

Woody stroked the TV set fondly. “It's
French
TV. They speak French!”

“Oh,” said Nat, losing interest, “I don't expect I'll bother with it, then.”

“Good commercials, though.” Woody beamed. “Nice tunes.”

Nat smiled, glad that Woody still liked the commercials best.

He could feel his friend waiting breathlessly for his approval of the rest of the caravan. Due to the explosion of Christmas decorations, Nat had a hard time at first to see the
Star Wars
posters on the walls and closet doors, the brightly colored cushions and blankets on the bunks, and the favorite books arranged on the shelves. The caravan was lit by a small lamp, which flickered cozily in the corner.

“I did it all,” said Woody nervously. “I wanted you to like it.”

“This,” said Nat, beaming, “is
brilliant
. Even
better than brilliant! I thought I'd be sharing with Mum and Dad.”

“Thought you and Woody would be OK on your own.” Evan appeared in the doorway. “Your mum and I are right next door, so any loud music or loud noises …”

“We'll know who to complain to.” Nat grinned.

Evan glanced at his watch. “You've got about an hour before we eat,” he said. “Why don't you unpack, make yourself at home, and we'll walk across together?”

Nat watched as Woody lit the tiny, wood-burning stove, put the kettle on it, and explained how everything worked. There were solar panels on the roof that supplied most of their electricity, which he said was stored in batteries from decommissioned submarines (another cool fact for Nat to savor). Woody lit some candles to give the gas lamp a bit more oomph, and in no time the trailer was warm and cozy. It felt like home.

After Nat had unpacked the few things he had brought with him, the boys sat down with their drinks to talk properly without being overheard.

Woody had been having the time of his life, by the sound of it. Nat could see that he had grown since he last
saw him, and cleaned up his unibrow. He looked almost human in the candlelight, but Nat thought there would always be a wildness about him that would set him apart from true humans. And while Nat had been recovering from his wound in Temple Gurney, Woody had been either loping around the site in Wolven shape or, when he shifted to human shape, busy helping Evan backstage, learning French from TV commercials, and making more friends.

Woody listened intently as Nat told him about the changes he was experiencing.

“These … things that've been happening, they're not
all
bad. I don't want my mum and dad to know what's going on, though,” he explained. “Just after I got the Wolven blood transfusion, my sense of smell went crazy, and I've got, like,
infrared
vision—I can see things miles and miles away, even in the
dark
. But I get these headaches, 'cause when I'm in a crowd of people, I can't tune stuff out: It's like there's always noise in my head. It's like watching TV while you're eating potato chips —”

“What
you
need is an earworm,” interrupted Woody.

Nat stared at his friend askance. He didn't like the
sound of that at all. Was this earworm some sort of parasite that lived in the ear canals of all Wolvens—or his case, half Wolvens? Did it hurt? Was it alive …?

Woody laughed at Nat's slightly worried expression. “An earworm isn't alive, it's a tune.”

Nat still looked worried.

“It's, like, you think of the most annoying song you can think of, and after a while it kind of lodges itself inside your head,” explained Woody. “Then you can use that to block anyone nosy enough to want to brain-jack your thoughts.”

“Like you.” Nat grinned.

“Yup,” said Woody, nodding, “some fings are private. But what
else
has happened? Have bits of you disappeared, like when my ears don't always go back to normal?”

“No, nothing like
that
.” Nat shivered. “It's nothing, really; it's stuff that's easy to hide. I'm physically stronger; I get these premonitions when bad things are going to happen, and —”

“But you definitely haven't shifted?” interrupted Woody again. “'cause the game will be up when that starts. Trust me, I should know.”

“No,” admitted Nat, “and I don't think I can, either. But like I hinted in the car, something happened to me at St. Pancras, and then I met this man on the train.” He told Woody what had happened and Woody stared, his topaz eyes shimmering in the lamplight.

“He wanted
us
to join this, er … NightShift agency?” he asked, astounded.

Nat nodded. “He reckons that there's been an increase in supernatural activity and that the human race is in for a bit of a rough time. He said if we join them, he'd arrange a sort of amnesty—you know, like when people break a law they won't get punished….”

“We didn't
break
any law,” pointed out Woody. “We didn't do anything wrong at all. It was Gruber and Scale; they were
killers
.”

Nat stared at Woody's sorrowful face. “Crone knows that,” he said. “He promised to get rid of any stuff on the Internet about us. I didn't even
know
we were on World's Most Wanted. Iona never told me.”

Woody looked stricken with guilt. “I'm sorry,” he said. “If it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't be in this mess.”


What
?” cried Nat. “And miss all this? Anyway, if it hadn't been for you, I'd be dead.”

“You'd be normal,” pointed out Woody.

“Yeah, normal but dead!” Nat laughed.

“You can do the two-way thing—Crescent can't,” said Woody, brightening.

“Sometimes,” agreed Nat, “although it looks as though we're limited by distance.”

“Can you read my mind?” asked Woody.

“No,” admitted Nat, “not as much as you can read mine. And it's like … when other voices butt in, I sometimes miss stuff that's more important.”

Woody nodded. “That happens to me sometimes. Still got a lot of practicing to do, I s'pose. But I still haven't met anyone else who can do it yet, apart from you.”

“Me and —” began Nat.

“Lucas Scale,” whispered Woody.

They were silent for a few moments as they remembered the hideous creature that still haunted their nightmares. For a split second Nat wondered if he should tell Woody what Quentin Crone had told him. That Scale's body had
never been found. He decided not to tell; after all, it didn't really mean anything. Or did it? He glanced at Woody's face and tried to block his fears by thinking of something else. He didn't want Woody to read his thoughts.

“What about you?” asked Nat, changing the subject well away from Scale. “How's the shifting?”

“Coolio.” Woody grinned. “Doesn't hurt at all—seems like I got the knack most of the time. I tried shifting specially today, in case the two-way thing didn't work, but the shifting worked first time!”

“Still prefer to be Wolven shape, then?” asked Nat curiously.

Woody hesitated. “I dunno … yeah … I guess. It's a lot easier—
simpler—
being Wolven. It's like putting on baggy pajamas when you've been wearing tight an' itchy pants.”

Nat nodded. He thought he could understand that feeling.

“It's like … a rest,” continued Woody. “It's hard work being human.”

Nat smiled. “What about your ears?”

“Still got a mind of their own,” admitted Woody. “I
want to be able to do it properly for when I meet the rest of my clan.”


If you
meet them, you mean,” pointed out Nat.


When
I meet them,” said Woody firmly.

“Let's hope,” Nat said, and the pair were quiet for a bit, lost in their own thoughts.

The place where the professor and Iona had first found Woody's Wolven clan was close to where the circus would make their winter quarters. But no one knew for sure whether there were any of them left now, or whether Woody was the last of the King's Wolven. While Nat was eager for Woody to find his clan, he had to admit to himself that it was bound to change things between them as friends. Worse still, it was all Woody had thought about since they met. Nat didn't like to think what would happen if they weren't successful.

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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