Instead I felt more exposed than ever, the smooth fabric doing nothing to keep the cold out. I shivered, my exposed flesh covered in goosebumps. I should have turned the Mistress down.
When the second set of down clicked to a close an eerie silence fell upon the masked crowd. There was no sounds of shuffling or whispers and every face was now turned expectantly towards the centre of the ring. All at once the lights that hung above us flickered out, leaving only one shining brightly. It illuminated a platform within the circle, one I had not seen when I had first come in. When had it been placed there? Surely I would have noticed the yellow and red stripes when I had been led here before, would I not? I didn't ponder that question much longer another replaced it quickly.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Le Morts Cirque." I didn't know when it was that Miss Raven left the chair at my side but now she stepped upon the platform. Bathed in the light from above, her face was cast in shadow. From here she looked just like one of the ring leaders I had seen at the circus as a child. It was with that realization the rest of the room made more sense to me. This whole place looked like a circus albeit a rather dark and gloomy one. "Tonight I offer you a series of thrills and chills that will haunt the shadows of your dreams. This is the circus of the damned. As always our show starts with a song."
Now there was an excited murmur that ran through the crowd, a second beam of light shone down to reveal none other than my missing roommate. I barely recognized her at first, her garments were exquisite. It took me a moment to realize that she wasn't showing more skin than I though the top of her dress was sheer. A strip of brown began at her high collar and it stretched down to the top of her skirt. The billowing fabric of her skirt was the same shade of brown and it looked as though it had the strangest hoops beneath it. It puffed out larger than current fashion dictated before curving in and then out once more. Six strings of what I assumed were pearls started at a choker and ran down to the very tips of her dress. In the dramatic lighting her dress looked just like the instrument for which she was named.
"Miss Viola here is a violin virtuoso despite her deformity. With her right hand a little more than a claw the pain within her music is plain for us all to hear. Let her take us on a journey tonight." I barely noticed how the Mistress faded into the shadows, Viola's first note began before the last word died in the air. The stringed instrument moaned in her hands the melodic sound imitating a wailing woman nearly perfectly. I sat at the edge of my seat, the song resonating in my very bones. The tears that came to my eyes spilled over in moments, flowing freely even as the last note vanished into the silence. My eyes were the only that had failed to remain dry, many in the audience dabbed under masks carefully with handkerchiefs. I'd forgotten one of my own. A lacy square was pressed into my hands, when had the Mistress rejoined me?
Her cloth in my hands she nodded before slipping off again but I stared in tot he shadows long after she had vanished into them. Her eye had been fixed upon my tears, longing laying within it. What was it about her that made me so uncomfortable?
Movement within the ring called my attention once more as Viola gave a bow before leaving. It was as she turned and the light caught her right hand that I understood why Miss Raven had called it a claw. The hand I was so used to seeing bandaged was unwrapped and covered in the puffy flesh of scars. It seemed to twitch on its own but it never relaxed, fingers curled in, tense. Was that why she always had that white linen around her hand and wrist? To hide the deformity that was her right arm? The woman amazed me. Despite her twisted fingers she had played with more passion and more beauty than I'd ever heard any musician play with before her. It was a pity she was a maid here, locked away from the courts of kings. There she could play all day and night and never have to wash another window. Had the Mistress bought her as well? Was that why she chose to stay? So many questions and no answers plagued my mind today.
"Miss Viola ladies and gentlemen, she bids you all a good evening, now let us move on to another regular in our tent. As a spider spins and climbs its web Widow dances upon silks."
More light began to flood the stage, casting long shadows on everything. This time it was long ribbons of coloured silk that were illuminated, these I knew I had not seen when I first arrived. I did not know how they'd been let down but whatever the method it had been silent. No figure appeared to grace the round stage though Miss Raven had found her way next to me again. This time her presence had been made known with a light touch upon my arm. She had rested her hand there and did not pull away. Her other hand pointed my gaze back towards the stage. There, hanging high above the floor was a lump within the hanging fabrics. Without warning it dropped, the ends flapping wildly. A collective gasp rang out even as the lump had stopped a mere foot off the ground.
A figure pulled the silk together, to reveal itself even as it twisted and rolled back up in the fabrics. I would recognize that hair anywhere, it was the crusty Widow. Once near the top, once more she fell, twirling rapidly as the fabric unravelled. This time her decent was not as far, a leg acting as a break. Now she spun slowly in place, her body arched more than I thought a body could. With her quick movements momentarily stopped I found myself trying to understand what it was that I was looking at.Widow's arms reached towards the floor, and yet in this flickering lighting it looked as though a second set of arms reached towards each side. I blinked over and over, trying to clear them of the illusion but the longer I stared the more it looked as though the woman really did possess a second set of arms.
As if she had hung immobile too long Widow moved both sets of arms in sync, destroying any doubts I had about the extra limbs. I watched the rest of her routine numbly, how was it that such a thing was possible? It wasn't. Humans had only two arms not four. Yet there before me was a woman who had not only two sets of arms but they both seemed to work separately from one another. My unblinking eyes blurred, placing a fuzzy film over all before me. Without the focus I could see where her name might have originated from. As she climbed and fell Widow resembled a spider dancing upon the winds. Vaguely I was aware of her act ending, the warmth upon my arm was gone and my ears rang with the polite clapping of the crowd. I followed suit still not quite sure as to what was going on.
It was Mistress's next announcement that started to pull me back into this twisted reality. What was a Snapdragon tamer? Cages had been wheeled in, again all done in a magical silence. The cages held creatures that I had never witnessed with my own eyes, creatures I had never even heard of before. Their voices screeched inhumanly, covering the whispered concerns of the audience. Between the cages stood a man who I recognized rather easily. Berke? I also recognized the vest he wore, it was the one that had been nearly torn to shreds. Suddenly a fear colder than winter's ice buried itself within my belly. My worry was not for me but for the man who's cheerful attitude I'd grown to look forward to each morning. The metal bars that served as the cage doors rose without the aid of any visible pulleys or rope and for a moment it was that wonder that occupied my mind. Then another horrible scream tore through the hushed crowd.
A hand slipped itself into mine and I squeezed it without a second thought. It failed to bring me the strength to turn away from the sight unfolding before my eyes. Whatever had been in the first cage started to make its way out onto the unconfined floor though it seemed to leave its hind legs behind. With the head under the light I was struck by its striking resemblance to a flower I had seen before but did not know its name. The beast's fur was bright, yellow along its terrifying snout, green covered the rest of the body. As it moved in an almost snake like manner I realized that the legs that had remained behind were not legs at all. It was a pot like one might use for plants in their garden.
The creature snapped at Berke but he was faster than it, a whip in one of his hands cracking against its eyeless face. Was it a plant or just a monstrosity made to look like one? It was a monster no matter the explanation behind it. Another snarl and I finally managed to hide my face. I could not look to see my friend die for entertainment's sake. With my face pointed away I found the Mistress in my line of sight. She wasn't watching the show either, her pale eye upon my face. The smile on her lips appeared almost cruel as if she enjoyed the fear that plagued me. She drew closer, close enough for me to notice something strange dripping down the side of her face obscured by the veil. It almost looked like blood but I tried to tell myself that it was just from the dramatic lighting.
"Don't be worried my little bird. Berke is quite used to it, he has been a part of the show for a long time. He won't be hurt tonight. Too badly at least." Her breath was hot against my cheek, her lips so close I could almost feel them as well. She was too close to me, much too close. But it was that closeness that spared me from the rest of Berke's act. The applause and cheers told me once it was done and returning my gaze to the stage I was relieved to see him totally unscathed. Once more Miss Raven disappeared without a word only to reappear on the stage.