The Twilight Circus (9 page)

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
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Some time ago, Fish had read an article in a magazine about an extremely sharp physicist who had tried to prove vampires didn't exist by doing a simple calculation. The bright dude had checked the census data on record, and then estimated from the year 1600 AD, when there were approximately five hundred and thirty-six million humans in the world and (hypothetically) one vampire. He assumed that if the single (and rather lonely) vampire fed on human blood once a month and its victim also became a vampire, there would then be two vampires and one less human in the world. The next month it would rise to four vampires and so on and so on. As they say: Do the math. The brainy physicist worked out that it would take only two and a half years of snacking on humans before the humans were wiped out, cutting off the vampire's food source. This meant, he decided, that vampires
could not possibly exist

Alex Fish thought his theory sucked big time. It was common knowledge in vampire circles that most vampires were dead cool and not in the least bit malevolent. They
limited their blood lust to animals or raided their local hospital blood bank. Modern vampires weren't interested in making
vampires or killing humans because, quite frankly, it was just too much trouble. It was the old-type vampires you had to watch: the cranky ancient ones. And now, it seemed, they were being woken up.

Safely back at NightShift HQ, Fish had supper and a long hot shower, glad to be rid of the sticky, congealed gore of the undead. She was due in the boss's office at nine for a meeting that Quentin Crone had stressed was of ultra importance, and she didn't dare be late.

It was nice and toasty in the office. Crone had mastered the art of fire lighting to perfection, though privately Fish thought that he had become obsessive to the point of twitchiness about keeping the flames going. He had abandoned his apartment in favor of his office and had taken to sitting gnome-like, hunched in the corner, stoking the fire with a poker that seemed to be permanently welded to his person. Outside, London sparkled under the dim streetlights with a hard white frost that covered a treacherous layer of thick ice, and no one could get to work in the
city even if they wanted to. Elsewhere in the world it was the same story: The weather had gone mad. Apparently even Niagara Falls was frozen solid.

Fish had been summoned to meet someone special, an elderly gentleman with snow-white hair and a neat beard. She was surprised and a little perplexed to see there were no other NightShift agents present in the office. Crone got up from his fireside vigil and introduced Fish as she walked toward them, balancing precariously on her unfeasible platform shoes.

“This,” said Crone, “is the young lady I was telling you about.”

The old gentleman stood up and shook Alex Fish by the hand.

“Delighted to meet you,” he said. “Quentin has told me a great deal about your achievements.”

“Alexandra Fish, this is Professor Robert Paxton,” Crone told her, “from the original Proteus project.”

“Glad to meet you, sir,” said Fish, still wondering what this was about.

The three of them sat around the fire, exchanging pleasantries and talking about the weather as every English
person is wont to do. Eventually, Crone got to the nub of the matter.

“We are certain that Lucas Scale is back,” he blurted. “Back from the dead.”

Fish's breath hitched in her narrow chest.
Break it to me gently, why don't you
? she thought to herself.

“We are positive that Scale is behind the increase in malignant occurrences,” said Professor Paxton in a more gentle fashion. “We have reliable information that he has been participating in certain … ah … certain
to summon up things of the past. Things long dead, like the Threadneedle Street vampire hive.”

supposed to be a thing of the past!” said Fish shrilly. “It's not

“Life rarely is,” said the professor. “Nor death, in this particular instance. We think Scale made a deal long before he was shot at Helleborine Halt.”

“A deal?” said Fish, her voice no more than a whisper.

“With a demon,” said Crone.

Deep beneath the blackened, burned-out shell of Helleborine Halt seethed what was left of the black soul of Lucas Scale

He had been human once, but now all vestiges of humanity had gone. Even before his deal with the demon (whose name sounded like a scream) Lucas Scale had longed for power and glory. And now, it was in his sights again. His recovery from the gunshot wound had been swift and his lair deep beneath the labyrinthine halls safe from discovery. No one but himself and the long-dead architect knew of the neolithic caves deep in the earth below the Halt. It was time to finish the business with the annoying brat Carver and the Wolven. But first there was fun to be had. Lucas Scale pushed his bony behind deeper into the comfy chair that had belonged to Dr. Gabriel Gruber (until, of course, he was ripped to shreds on that fateful night last summer). Scale grinned toothily at the memory. “Insufferable twit. Vain, puffed-up buffoon,” he said out loud, his voice echoing eerily around the cave. How he loved this place. It had been his refuge in the days after the fire that had gutted the entire estate. Underneath, in the tortuous maze, he had been resurrected and recuperated by the demon whom he had summoned just days before the tiresome woman with the fat behind had shot him. His rancid orange eye narrowed with malice again as he thought of her. “But no matter,” he muttered to himself. In the end hadn't he
been cleverer
? Oh yes. He had.
He had assured his future. By making a deal with the demon with the unpronounceable name, Scale had given himself another chance to change the world. The deal hadn't been entirely fair to Scale's way of thinking—he had needed to give up most of his soul and agree to spend some time Down Under, and by that, Lucas Scale knew the demon hadn't been referring to Australia. But the gifts it had thrown in outweighed the debt a hundredfold! The demon had shown him how to awaken malignant beings and bring them back from the dead, beings who now roamed the earth again, ready to cause chaos among the living. “What a lark!” tittered Scale

He closed his eye. He took a deep phlegmy breath of satisfaction as his other eye—the eye he had sent out to spy on the tiresome (but, he had to admit, quite resourceful) Nat Carver and his annoying hairy friend—did what he had sent it to do.

, E

Back in Paris, far below the twinkling canopy of stars, the strange collection of animals and people from the Twilight Circus slept soundly. A single cloud momentarily blocked the stark light of the full moon, and inside the
Silver Lady
all was still.

There were no sounds in the trailer apart from the soft breathing and occasional snore from Nat and Woody as they slept: Nat in his bunk, the covers pulled up primly to his neck. Woody, now in Wolven form, lay on the floor, all four legs occasionally twitching as he ran in his wild dreams. It was as black as a funeral director's hat in the shadow of the cloud, no chink of light showing through the thick curtains. On the little dining table, the snow globe stood where Woody had left it, the flakes of fake snow lying at the bottom waiting to fly and swirl again when it was shaken.

The darkest hour is just before dawn, which unhappily is when the snow globe began to glow—but not with a warming, bright light. This was a sullen, sick-looking orange; the dull, burnt orange of a dying planet, or the bleary gaze of a corrupt werewolf. Nat moaned feverishly in his sleep, dreaming of dark things that rose from the earth with red, hungry eyes and darker times to come. The dusty orange light in the snow globe increased to reveal an enormous orange eye with a tiny black pupil. It rolled obscenely around the globe, bumping enthusiastically up against the clear plastic, pressing its terrible eyeball as near as it could to see what it needed to see. How it swiveled and rolled until it was satisfied! Now it could see the sleeping boy and his furry friend, innocent little lambs to the slaughter.

Watching you, boys. Watching and waiting
. The disembodied eye of Lucas Scale winked twice and blinked out. The snow globe was dark again.

In the murky early-morning light, Nat's nightmares shrank back into the night, and somewhere in the bit between sleeping and waking, he dreamed of a large bacon
sandwich dripping with juice and then—
!—just as he raised the enormous sandwich to his lips, someone started to wash his face with a warm, stinky washcloth. Unfortunately for Nat, the part featuring the awful washcloth wasn't a dream, it was Woody's tongue.

“Ugh!” yelled Nat, frantically wiping his face on his pajama top. “Get off me, dragon breath!”

Woody grinned his wolf grin and waved his tail like a furry banner.

“I s'pose this is your way of getting out of cooking us breakfast,” said Nat, hopping on one leg then the other as he pulled on his jeans.

Get fed up with being human
? Woody chuffed, wagging his tail again, and Nat saw a brief image in his mind of the swollen moon of the night before.

“Nice one.” Nat grinned. “I s'pose it's hard for you to resist a big, fat, full moon.”

He shoved three sweaters over his pajama top, deciding it was far too cold to wash, and pushed open the door of the
Silver Lady
. It was snowing, and he was just about to follow Woody out into the frosted landscape when the snow globe caught his eye. Unthinkingly, he picked it up
from the table and shook it. The scene was the same as it always was, the snow swirling merrily around a tiny fir tree and a tiny herd of reindeer. Nat stared at it with distaste, but didn't know why. Who
sent it to Woody? Maybe it had been an early Christmas present from Iona, or even the Tates? But there was something about the snow globe, something that jangled Nat's warning senses. As if remembering a forgotten dream or lost memory, he opened a cupboard and shoved it roughly to the back. Then he closed the door and followed Woody, who was in search, as always, of food.

Big, fat snowflakes greeted him as he took in the busy scene. Already the black tent had been packed away and the skeletal base structure was being quickly and skillfully dismantled. The adults were already discussing their plans for the journey south over breakfast. Jude supplied Woody and Nat with platefuls of sausages, beans, and bacon, which were immediately wolfed down, followed by steaming mugs of hot chocolate, croissants, and a whole jar of delicious apricot jam.

The first thing Nat noticed was that Woody was a definite favorite with all the circus folk. Everywhere he went
with Woody loping along by his side, people would come over and chat, making a huge fuss of the Wolven, patting him, rubbing his belly, and stroking his ears. Nat watched Woody's antics in amusement, hoping they didn't go around doing the same thing when Woody was in human shape. That would be
weird. It was strange seeing people in daylight, too, away from the lights and charged atmosphere of the big black tent. Shark Woman turned out to be an Australian girl called Sharon, who wore sensible clothes and a large Russian hat with flaps, and even the Surrealias, their wings hidden under layers of sweaters to keep out the cold, looked quite ordinary, though they giggled a lot. Nat learned that Maccabee Hammer and the aye-ayes were nocturnal, so they hardly ever came out during the day.
, that
would make sense
, thought Nat to himself, wondering if Mac had a coffin in his caravan.)

The younger Twilighters all had assigned shifts for cleaning animal sheds and stables and making sure they were ready and fit to travel. Nat's dad told him that when it was time to leave, even the stables were to be flat packed and taken with them. After breakfast was cleared away,
Evan sent Nat and Woody to see if they could help with anything, and they drifted across to the stables, which were half dismantled. There didn't appear to be much activity until a girl appeared from one of the loose boxes. Nat recognized her as one of the Cossack bareback riders.

!” The girl ran over and threw her arms round his neck. “I wouldn't dream of hugging Woody when he's boy-shaped,” she said shyly when she saw Nat. “He would hate it!”

Or not
, thought Nat, smiling. “Uh, I'm —”

“Nat Carver,” said the girl, smiling back. “I know.” She had long, curly black hair and an accent that Nat assumed was Russian.

“I'm Scarlet,” she said, “Scarlet Ribbons.”

“Doesn't sound very Russian to me,” said Nat doubtfully.

“We have different names in this country,” she said in a low voice.

, thought Nat.
Everyone has something to hide here

“It seems funny talking to people who know about Woody,” he said. “We spent such a long time hiding it from everyone. It's weird.”

Scarlet stroked Woody's long white coat. “I thought
now you are here, Woody would want to stay in the shape of a human being.”

Nat shrugged. “Sometimes he doesn't have a choice.”

“What about you?” asked Scarlet curiously.

“What about me?” said Nat, a bit shortly.

“Pardon me, that was a bit nostrils,” said Scarlet, blushing again.

“Nosy,” corrected Nat.

I was sorry,” repeated Scarlet.

“No, I mean …,” stammered Nat. “Look, I don't shift, and I don't bite, either.”

They watched awkwardly as Woody investigated the stables and went nose to nose with a fine black horse being led by another girl.

“Anyway,” said Nat, “what's your story? Don't tell me you can shift into a horse.”

,” whinnied Scarlet seriously, then she smiled and the dodgy moment passed. “This is my sister,

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
6.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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