High-pitched screaming echoed throughout the tent as ghostly forms swooped down above the crowd, terrifying the patrons who sat shivering in their seats as a chilling mist weaved its way into the rafters. A brilliant shot of light pierced the center ring, highlighting the shadowy figure that hadn’t stood there just moments before. Men chuckled nervously as they pulled their loved ones closer. Comforting, or taking comfort in their touch none could tell. A single spotlight shone down, illuminating him, but it wasn’t to be had, not fully. His hand clasped the brim of his top hat, hiding everything on his face except for his sinister smile.
“Have you enjoyed your evening of terror?” he called out to the audience, his voice echoing around all facets of the tents without any help from a microphone.
His smile broadened, sharp white teeth glistening in the light as he bowed before them, his silver hair falling carelessly over his shoulders in his sweeping, elegant bow. “I have fed from your screams,” he said as he slowly raised, lowering the hat further over his eyes, “delighted in the increasing tempo of your heart. But it’s not over yet, not quite.”
With the flick of his hand, a single tarot card appeared, glowing brighter as the lights began to fade until there was nothing but it left to illuminate the ring. “The Fool.” Gasps erupted from the deadly silence as his voice broke out once more. The card grew steadily in size, its colors vibrant, shockingly so until everyone in the farthest reaches of the tent could see each detail for themselves.
“A carefree wonderer. Enthusiastic. Full of hope. Life.” With each word, the card began to flash, pulsing steadily until it began to strobe, highlighting the enraptured faces of the audience. “It speaks of traveling, as The Fool journeys with his dog among the land, letting his feet take him wherever they will. Many of you wish for such freedom. But at what cost? With his eyes constantly towards the heavens, will he ever see what’s before him? Will he ever hear his dog as it barks out its warning? For surely if you’re too busy looking at what you want, nothing but death awaits you.”
With one final, brilliant flash the card vanished, shrouding the tent into darkness. But not just any darkness, but complete darkness where not even a hint of light can be seen. She took a steadying breath as she wrapped her hands tighter around the drapes of fabric as she looked down to where she knew the center stage to be. Breathing out slowly, she arched her back, straining her chest forward and letting the movement take the rest of her body with her. Wind whipped through her hair as she fell, the air hissing past her ears louder than the screams of the audience as the lights snapped on as soon as her feet left the steel cable that she had been balanced on.
Faster and faster the circus floor sped toward her. Thirty feet. Twenty. She could barely breathe with the momentum that her body was plummeting, stealing the air from her. Ten feet, five and her body jarred to a stop, the fabric tight above her. The screaming stopped as soon as her plummet did. She smiled slightly as a pink curl escaped her updo, her own smaller top hat pinned carefully and firmly into place how somehow managed to survive the downfall. Taking a much-needed breath, she arched her body, angling it until she was almost sideways to the ground before switching positions quickly and twisting herself into the fabric, her muscles pulling herself back up the distance that she had fallen to the delight of the audience. Once at the proper height, she paused before shifting her feet, pressing against one length of fabric and stretching it out, allowing her body to go sideways to the ground. The ringmaster himself stood below her, grabbing the ends of the fabric where it rested against the floor.
“See how she does nothing but look up? How she see’s nothing but what it is she wishes it to be?” Uneasily the audience’s eyes went back and forth between her and the ringmaster as he began to slowly twirl the fabric. The slight movement below sent up repercussions to where she hung in the air, turning her slowly at first, but then faster and faster until the black of her dress and the pink of her hair bled into one another, creating a staggering display of color. “How long do you think she’ll be able to last?” He called out to the audience before twisting the fabric violently.
Whimpers could be heard from the crowd, mumbling by those who didn’t have enough courage to call out to stop him. Again and again he turned her until, even after he let go, she still spun. She curled into herself, pulling the fabric around her until nothing could be seen of her. Nothing but white silk, spinning perpetually underneath the hot lights.
A whoosh sounded in the ring, drawing the petrified eyes of the crowd to where the ringmaster walked, flaming torch aloft in his hands. He paused once again below the fabric, the torch swaying precariously close to the precious material. “How long do you think it would take for The Fool to realize his mistake? How long, ladies and gentleman, until he would heed the dog’s warning?” He smiled again, showing nothing kind or merry in the flashing of teeth and stretching of lips. “Let’s see, shall we?”
He ignored the screams and cries of the audience as he tipped the torch to the fabric. Flame sprouted easily, eating its way up the paper almost faster than the human eye could track. An ear piercing, shattering scream cried out over the terrified sounds of the audience as the white cocoon that the woman had put herself in went up in flames, the red and orange tongues licking outward as still it spun. Ash began to fall, drowning out the air like snow.
With a final whoosh, the last of the fabric was burned away, leaving nothing but tendrils of smoke in its place. Some began to cry, and still the screaming continued as people rose to their feet, their eyes constantly searching for the girl.