Circus Beast

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As Mark, the most average of the Average Dudes, stepped out of the coffeeshop and into the watery spring sunlight, the world vanished around him.
In the dark, a crowd roared and the smell of sulfur assailed him. He was on his back? Had he fainted – no, men “passed out” – while leaving the coffeeshop? He stared above him and slowly, in the dim light, he began to make out red and white stripes that swirled and coalesced into a huge tent. As he lifted his head, the scene went white.
“Ladies and gentlemen! What you see before you is no illusion, no meticulous costume or trick of the light! I, the most daring magician to have graced the big top, have summoned a DEMON!”
The roaring of the crowd intensified.
“These terrible creatures are so dangerous that we cannot house them in our circus, lest they trick, deceive and seduce us with their lies and greed! And so, for this very special performance tonight, I have summoned the worst of Hell to perform for this lucky crowd alone! Mothers, hold your children close. For if the demon escapes my confinements, there is no telling what havoc it may unleash upon us...”
As Mark’s eyes adjusted to the bright light around him, it occurred to him that it was a spotlight. He was sprawled in the center of a dirt ring, his suit dusty and his cappuccino now only an empty cup and a muddy stain beside him.
“Behold!” The same voice bellowed, seeming to reverberate and surround him. “The demon awakes!”
The spotlight dimmed and Mark saw, in the shadows, a roiling crowd around the edges of the space. The longer he looked, the less sense it made. At a glance, his mind puzzled out a circus tent, with a crowd of spectators around the ring where he lay. But rather than cheering families, horrendous creatures gazed at him with rapt attention. Hundreds of red eyes gleamed in the dark, and little spouts of flame burst forth sporadically from shadowy body parts. Tails lashed syncopated thunder on bleachers and fangs gleamed brightly.
Mark’s heart sped to a gallop, his breath becoming shallow and desperate and several different parts of his anatomy breaking out in a cold sweat of horror. “I actually did it,” he thought. “I went to Hell for lying to my mother, just like she said.”
“Demon! Hear me now!” the same resonant voice accosted him like a Sunday morning hangover clanging through his temples. “Do not attempt to escape! Do my bidding, and I shall send you back to the dark realm from whence I summoned you!”
“Excuse me?” Mark muttered weakly. As he sat up, and audible susurration of gasps flurried around the crowd.
“See its grotesque form! Children, be warned. The pincers on its tentacles have five claws, and if it grabs you, it could be deadly.”
Mark gazed wildly around in confusion, sure that something terrible was going to charge at him with waving tentacles. He stumbled to his feet, pivoting around and around. But he saw nothing else in the ring with him, and realized belatedly that the voice meant him! It was referring to his hands and fingers.
In the horrifying, questioning uptalk that he tried desperately to curb around his boss, Mark called, “Excuse me? I think there’s been a mistake? I-I’m not deadly...?” Not unless you were a fungus gnat that plagued his poor houseplants.
“SEE HOW HE LIES! That is their most enthralling magic. These demons can speak falsehoods as easily as we speak truths.”
“Only about my weight,” Mark huffed resentfully.
“They are beholden to no one! Guided and constrained only by their own power, lust, and greed!”
“Dude, I’m an intern. I have no power. Who do you think you grabbed...?”
“Hear me, foul beast! Do not attempt to sway me! Do only as I command, and I shall then relinquish the spell that has summoned you!”
The tent darkened and when the spotlight assaulted him once more, he was still in the center ring of the circus tent. Now another figure had joined him, towering several feet taller, but a good distance away and brandishing what might have been a straight-backed wooden chair. A top hat balanced between two large curving horns and black eyes flashed as it turned. Their eyes met, and the figure flourished a limb that had far too many joints. A large hoop appeared between them. With a snap, the hoop started pouring water.
“Any of us can walk through fire. But these demons can easily pass through that most fearsome element – water!” The crowd roared. “Now, walk toward me, Demon! Through the pouring tempest!”
“My name is Mark...?”
“Silence! Do not attempt to misdirect me! I know all the ways of your trickster kind!”
Mark shrugged and took a tentative step, edging toward the would-be fountain. What if it was acid? Or poison? This was not how he had planned to go – that is, old and fat in a penthouse in Ibiza.
He hesitantly stretched out a finger until it touched the water, parting the curtain pouring down from the top of the hoop. He could feel the eyes of the entire tent watching his every move with jarring focus. His finger, when he withdrew it, looked damp but fine. Nothing burned or stung, so he gritted his teeth and stepped forward, lifting first his left leg, then his right as he stepped across the bottom of the hoop and through the pouring water. It was effing cold, and he gasped at the shock, which in turn elicited gasps from the audience in the shadows. As he cleared the hoop and stood, soaked and starting to shiver on the other side, it vanished. The crowd erupted in a terrible cacophony of awed applause. After the first existential smack of the sound, Mark found himself taking a stunted bow, his hair dripping into the dirt below him.
As he straightened, the ringmaster disappeared and blinked into being again on the opposite side of the ring. Before him now stood a bike - a plain silver cruiser, propped up on a kickstand.
“Ok, sure, that’s me, I guess,” Mark sighed.
“Display your dexterous appendages!”
Mark stared across the ring before raising his hands questioningly.
“See his clawed pincers! But the lower appendages are not the same – put together like a patchwork abomination! Demon, remove your hoof coverings and display your appendages!”
Mark, slightly insulted, assumed this referred to his feet. He pried off his loafers and moist socks and stood barefoot, facing the ringmaster in exasperation.
“Now, mount the machine and advance, beast!”
Mark looked at the cruiser and shrugged. He climbed onto the bike, disengaged the kickstand, and rode a few lazy circles around the interior of the ring and the ringmaster. The crowd oohed and aahed and he couldn’t help but puff out his chest a bit. No one had been this impressed with his basic mediocrity since his early finger paintings on the family fridge.
After his third circle, Mark slowed to a stop and the bike vanished from beneath him, alarming him immensely as it occurred in close proximity to some very cherished body parts. Over the next 20 minutes or so, the ringmaster ordered him belligerently through a series of benign, quotidian tasks including making tea, unscrewing a series of jar lids, and climbing up and down a ladder. The thing that seemed to enthrall the audience the most was when he was ordered to recite a series of simple arithmetic sums incorrectly. He found himself preening in the absurdity of the attention, throwing in an occasional embellishment or random pushup (on his knees) just to increase the reaction.
And then, as the last set of props vanished, fire erupted around the center ring of the big top. Mark squealed in an immensely unflattering manner and shielded his face.
“Demon! You have done my bidding! Your part in my circus is over! Now, BE GONE!”
The big top went pitch black, and Mark found himself standing outside the coffee shop once more in the weak spring morning.
“Dude, what the Hell. Move - you’re blocking the door.” Another young man shouldered roughly past him, knocking the cappuccino out of his hand. Mark stepped aside and gazed down at his once-again-empty cup, and the coffee puddled on the ground.


Image of A Night at the Circus


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