The Underground Circus
The clowns were the creepiest pigs she’d ever seen. They were tall – so tall they looked like they had been stretched, and their makeup was sweated half off.
They were meant to be funny, apparently, but their whole vibe was just totally sinister. They leered at the crowd, and she felt shaky when they singled her out; felt as if she wanted to shrink.
She wished she hadn’t worn that low-cut top, and her hands hovered about in front of her breasts, trying to hide from their pointing fingers. One licked his lips, and more of the white stuff slid off his face. The word ‘predators’ lit up in her brain as primal instinct kicked in and she had to fight the urge to get up and sprint away from there. But the Ringmaster had been very clear from the start. They were to stay in their seats.
Marcia was whispering loudly with the woman on her left.
‘And don’t even mention the dog act. Were those live rats they were using? And there’s no cell phone reception, and it’s so damned hot…’
It was hot. The heat was rolling down on them, pressing them lower. She supposed it was because they were underground, deep in a chamber of cut rock. The walls were black and vaguely glittery, like granite. Their seats were flip-up, and covered in stained red velvet like a less salubrious theatre. Or a dirty cinema. She swallowed, wondering if the free tickets to ‘Hell’s Circus’ had been such a great offer.
She wanted nothing more than to be outside, with the wide blue sky far above her head, feeling the cool of the breeze over her face. She imagined tip-toeing across a stream, the icy water swirling around her ankles.
There was a sudden smattering of applause, and she jolted back to the present. The other people down there with them were tourists, overweight, sweating like jolly walruses. Most were middle-aged, some retirees, and a couple of others as young as Marcia and herself. In the main, they were smiling and laughing, enjoying the corny sleaze of the seven clowns. She shivered, wondering what delight was going to pop out next from the shadowy tunnel at the far end of the ring.
It was the acrobats. Five old-ish guys, all in grey dungarees and striped sweaters, (sweaters? They must be absolutely baking hot down there) they moved sullenly, faces low. The clowns had gone, except for the last, who was lingering directly below where she sat, waving up at her with a simpering expression. She felt a shudder of disgust, and was shocked when the man on her right elbowed her vigorously in the ribs.
‘Wave back, chica! Is lucky if a clown singles you out.’
Lucky? She breathed in hard through her nose and gave the clown a tiny wave. He capered about in delight, his eyes glinting up at her in the flashing lights. Next thing she knew, he was clambering over the little rocky surround of the circus ring, and beginning to climb up the levels of seats.
‘Oh my god!’ she whispered, as he came closer and closer. The man next to her began to laugh, and Marcia grabbed her arm. ‘What’s going on?’ she asked, urgently. ‘Why is that disgusting clown coming up here?’
‘I don’t know!’ she hissed, frightened now. ‘I waved at him…’
‘You what?’ Marcia pulled back and stared at her. ‘The ringmaster guy – he said not to signal the performers unless you wanted to be involved…’
‘Tell him to get lost, please Marcia!’ She was sweating now, and close to tears as the clown arrived at the end of their row. He buffed and barged his way through, right up to her, and held out his hand. She stared at it, caught as a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car, seeing the grime in the lines of his skin, the black hooked fingernails. She stared at it, and the people sitting alongside stared at her, until the man spoke again.
‘Take his hand, chica! Is bad luck to not take the hand of a clown when it’s offered. Go on silly girl!’
She looked frantically at Marcia, at the others sitting all around, and was horrified to see them all melt away, until there was nothing but her and the clown, and he leaned towards her, and he said in a voice like smoked, charred skin – ‘Come on then, pretty girlie,’ and his hand clasped her wrist, and grinning with dark teeth he pulled her away, pulled her all the way down.
Carolyn Ward is a mum of three and writes short stories, flash fiction and is working on her first YA novel. She lives in Wolverhampton, UK, and eats far too much yoghurt. She’s a Finchfield library supporter and reads anything and everything. Follow her @Viking_Ma for pics of exceptional yoghurt and writing updates.