After being herded through the tent flap, I stepped onto the hay covered dirt floor, my nose assaulted by the horrid mixture of smells of overly buttered and burnt popcorn, cotton candy and a menagerie of animal droppings. The circus had come to the ‘Gap, and the local freaks lined up to see the show.
I took my seat in the top row of the worn wooden stands which creaked under the weight of the collective secrets of our townsfolk. One of the carnies, with his villiainish black mustache, sold balloons to the children huddled at his feet.
Through the dancing colors of balloons, she caught my eye. Tamara. We locked eyes for a moment before she quickly looked away. She grabbed her two cousins by their hands as they skipped behind her, balloons bobbing. She couldn’t even seem to look at me anymore. No one could. Even my brother sitting across the way only gave me a head nod of existence before pretending to accidentally touch Bella’s hand as they reached into the same tub of popcorn.
Sandra and her daughter Lisa glared at me as they took their seats below. I didn’t have time to respond as the main lights died out and a single spotlight shone down on the center of the ring. From behind the red velvet curtain trotted a short stubby man in a sparkling red coat with long coat tails flapping behind him. “Welcome one, welcome all to the greatest little show on Earth…” He went on for few moments, building up the crowd’s expectations of fire-eaters, wild animals, acrobats, and all forms of acts of danger.
I sat through the show, as dogs and bears danced, people flew through the air, boys balanced on wires, and slowly, my butt grew so numb even I could feel it. Well, I could feel the numbness, but not the pain. That was one of the interesting side effects from my run-in last year with Mrs. Underwood. Monsters should really come with warning labels like they have on medicine bottles. “Do not take if you wish to grow old, feel pain, enjoy bright sunny days, or not have people look at you like they just want to put a stake through your heart.”
The ringmaster walked out to announce the final death-defying act and asked the audience for our complete silence. Through the curtain strolled a raven-haired beauty dressed in a purple sequin bodysuit, her long hair pulled back in a braid. She stepped up to a big wheel painted with yellow and black triangles, backed up against it and put her arms out without pause. A young man came out and locked her wrists, legs, and her neck in place. As the last bolt around her neck clicked shut, I found myself entranced.
The girl looked toward the audience and smiled, and the wheel began to spin. The young man bowed and asked for silence. With great dramatic gestures he withdrew the velvet black sheet from a stand across the ring. On the stand lay a stack of highly polished knives. The audience breathed a gasp right on cue. He picked one up and dropped a tissue over the blade to show just how sharp the edge was.
I watched the wheel’s speed increase and as the girl scanned the audience, our eyes locked. She appeared to be looking right through me. I turned to my left and right. There was no doubt she was looking at me. I heard the thud before I saw the handle of the knife swinging right beside her head. She was still focused on me, but now she had one eyebrow up as if examining me. The second and third knife made nearly simultaneous thuds into the spinning wheel. She seemed completely unaware as the knives continued to thud against the wooden wheel, and I was stolen away by her amazing eyes.
The wheel slowed, and she was unlatched. She took hands with the boy and stepped to the center of the ring to take their bow. Her eyes never left me. As they took their first bow, I felt a tug on my jeans from under the bleachers.
“Timmy!” came the distinct voice of Keith, no doubt up to no good. Keith’s invisibility – well, non-noticeability, really – lended to all sorts of fun mischief. As pretty much the only one who could see him, I usually joined in. “Timmy, we need to talk…now.” I looked down and nodded. The entire cast was coming to the center of the ring to take their final bow. She looked at me as if asking me to not to leave. The crowd took to their feet, and I jumped down behind the rickety bleachers.
“What’s up, man?” I poked at Keith. He only put his finger to his lips and walked slowly to the edge of the tent where there was a flap to the outside. I looked back momentarily as the crowd started to descend the bleachers in search of their last-minute souvenirs.
Outside, the dark surrounded me like a second skin. My eyes adjusted quickly, and I found myself keenly aware we were in the section reserved for the performers and their animals. Keith beckoned me to the animal cages.
“Come here,” Keith whispered while walking up to one of the larger cages. I could see shadows moving around inside. Keith took his flashlight and shone it through the rusty bars, only to have it reflect off four pairs of yellow eyes in the cage.
“There were no wolves in the act.” My curiosity aroused, I looked at Keith.
“That’s ‘cause they just caught these wolves here in Gloaming Gap. I overheard the trainers. They said they were ordered here to capture some ‘troublesome beasts’.”
“You mean you were bored and looking for trouble? You’re always listening in on everyone’s conversations.” I laughed.
“Yeah maybe, but this is a little more serious. Look in the cage, on the floor. “ Keith pointed the light onto a tattered little league hat. “You and I both know Owen Linder never goes anywhere without that hat. It was his dad’s.”
“Wait, are you saying they fed the Linder boy to these wolves?”
“Come on,Timmy, you were a smart boy even before you became…whatever it is you are.” I wanted to punch Keith in the stomach. What was I supposed to be getting? Suddenly, like the moon coming out from behind the clouds the answer snapped into place. There were four Linder boys!
“Four wolves. I freakin’ KNEW it. Wait till I tell Chance the Linders are werewolves. But where is their mom? Wait. Who would order this and why? We can’t let them stay in here. Werewolves or not, they’re people.” Before I could say another word, I heard the crunching of feet behind me and motioned for Keith to turn off his light.
From around the corner of the tent walked the girl in purple and her knife-throwing partner, carrying lanterns. They stopped short only a few paces from me. There was nowhere for me to run or hide. “Why, hello, there,” she said to me, then turned to the guy. “Nathan, it seems Grandmother was right about finding many interesting things in this town.” The lantern’s light reflected in her blue-gray eyes pulled me in like a collar around my neck. “You are not allowed to be in this area. Maybe I should put you in a cage myself. Would you like to be my pet?” Her brother chuckled.
“Adaline, try not to scare the boy. I think he might just believe you.” Nathan’s voice seemed to shake the ground, it’s depth disproportionate to his appearance. “Come along, Timmy. I promise I won’t let Adaline hurt you…much.” He laughed again. I saw a flash of silver in his hand as he spun his knives as incentive.
Adaline took the lead as Nathan trailed behind me, a shadow hanging over me. I could only imagine he was juggling his knives right behind my back. I was not sure which was more unsettling – the fact that they knew my name, or that Nathan was willing to let Adaline hurt me. Turning a corner, we stopped in front of a beat-up little RV. Nathan opened the door and motioned me to enter. Adaline slid in behind me, not a place I would like the scary beauty of a girl.
In the RV, a gray-haired woman stood over a small grill, making what smelled like bacon. “Sit, boy. Your head is filled with questions, and I don’t have time to answer. I fear your invisible friend is up to something, but not even I can see what. Sit. The short and long to this is you need to come with us.”
Behind me, Adaline caught her breath. “Nana…?”
“Adaline is right to gasp, although she should know better then to show our cards. Boy, you don’t belong here anymore. You know it, and I know it. Adaline is only shocked because I’m telling you. You see, normally, we just take the unwanted out of a town upon request. You, though, were not on my list. If you stay, you won’t outlive the next full moon. So the choice is…” She stopped mid-sentence. “Dammit… too late! Nathan, the wolves are free! It seems I underestimated the mischief your friend was up to.”
Marking a exclamation to her sentence, we heard screams from the main tent and the howling of excited wolves. Nathan grabbed something from the cab. “I’ll round up the men, and we’ll get them.”
“They’ll make a run for the forest. I fear the bitch will be there. Watch out for her. She won’t be happy with us. Get the others to start the tear down, and pack up the vans. We jump at first light. I don’t want to be around to tell our client we let them escape.”
Adaline placed her hand on my shoulder and looked at me intently.
“If Grandmother says you won’t live past the next full moon, you MUST come with us. Besides, I can’t figure you out yet, and for me…well let’s just say it doesn’t happen often.” I felt myself sinking into the raging ocean in her eyes.
“It must be his own choice this one, Adaline, we can not just take him. He is not on the list,” her grandmother spoke softly. “Well, Timmy, what’s your choice? Stay here and face your fate, or take a chance with us?”
I looked up at the old lady and smiled. “Pass the bacon. I’m feeling kind of hungry.” I felt Adaline’s fingers tighten warmly on my shoulder as she smiled back.