Among the Tents

Among the Tents

November 1963

On the edge of town stood the tents of the old circus, stained, torn, the bright colors already faded from the summer sun. It had only been two months since the place had been shut down. Living in Thistle Florida, there wasn’t much to keep it alive, and yet it had thrived in the same place since the 1920’s. The place should have been claimed as a historical site, but no one ever seemed to stay with the company long enough to be able to file out the paperwork, well besides one person. No one had heard her talk for years though, the Mute Medium. Once she had told a teenage John F. Kennedy to avoid convertible cars, but did he listen, no.

I was back in town myself only to visit my hometown. I remember walking down to the circus grounds, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy clinging to the air. The sound of animals from foreign lands locked away, or kept out of sight until show time, subtly echoing from tent to tent. I waited till sunset, pulled on my walking shoes. I pulled a well fitting black cardigan over my head then made my way down. It was just as I had remembered it.  Minus the people that is.

I knew what it should sound like, so where a cricket would chip I could hear the low purr of a huge savannah cat. I treaded my way through the now growing grass and weeds. I was not the first one to visit since the place had been closed down. I saw the mark of rebellious high school kids spray painted onto tents and signs.

A band of mice passed my feet, they owned this place now. I had no right to stop them or shoe them away. I could see every tent the mice had chewed little holes here and there as their own personal doorways.

 Once upon a time I used to get on my belly, mid show and peep my head under the tents, I got a view no one else would ever see, a show, just for me. Yes, my clothes would be soaked through with mud, but it was worth it. I saw the clowns as people, more normal than some businessmen I had met on my travels. Their true laughs only ever happened backstage. I do not know if you have ever heard a clown tell a good joke, I know I have, and I know to never tell it.

I made my way to the smaller tents where I saw a glowing light emitting from a tent. The very tent I had always made sure to keep away from. Most people who knew it stayed away. The tent was a deep shade of purples and blues stitched together like a giant spider web. It was where the Mute Medium foretold so many futures.

“Unless you wish to know how the end will come, never enter that tent my boy.” My uncle would tell me. He spoke to me like he knew I wished others would, calling me boy. Outside the circus however, you are called as you look, not as you wish to be.  

“How much of an end?” I would ask, terrified but still curious.

“Your own, the circus’s, maybe even the world’s itself.” My uncle would say.

He would sound so serious that I couldn’t bring myself to mention the tent for weeks. For being a juggler there was never a serious moment, so that meant something.  Finally alone, no uncle, no patrons, no animals,… just me I could finally face whatever end I might learn of.

I made my way to the tent caressing the fabric with my hand until I found the tents entrance. I parted the beaded canvas. She sat there, her nose pointing my way, her lips sealed with a light pink hush. Her hair had grown so much grayer then I had thought it should be, almost to the point of being translucent. Her hand on the table was mostly bones with loose skin hanging off of it. She made a circle on the table. I stepped inside. I sat down as if I had been told to by my own grandmother. She opened her eyes, her dark lids parting showing off her scarred pupils.  She waved her weak shaking hands over a clear crystal ball and I saw it.

The world had burned, beasts had risen from the soil to take back what had been theirs in only nightmares for so long, and yet there was the circus, lit, alive, filled to the busting point with people. Its music filled my ears like it never had even as a child. The end was coming, and yet, it was not.

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