Ashton Zillhardt

51 readings

1 vote

Runner up
Jury

No matter which direction Margo turned, she found fractured and distorted pieces of herself. When her eyes darted to the left, she caught a glimpse of strawberry blonde curls held in place by her grandmother’s pearl cluster hairpins. To her right was the edge of her mouth, her painted red lips parted and gasping with each breath. When she stared straight ahead, she could see the panic in her emerald irises and behind her were the ghosts from her past that clung to her heels every time she tried to run. This house of smoke and mirrors was no exception. Just as the mirror-covered walls seemed to start closing in on her, a girl with hair as dark as a raven and eyes the color of the morning sky grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the red and white striped tent. Margo found herself standing on the circus path, alone. She turned in every direction once again, this time in search of the girl who saved her. Broken glass from the funhouse mirrors crunched under her leather boots. As she realized she wasn’t going to find the girl, she looked up and around, deciding to take in the night sky and the golden hue from the string lights that illuminated the paths between the tents. She closed her eyes briefly and when she opened them again, the circus was gone.

The alarm clock next to her bed read 5:37 A.M., confirming that it had all been a dream. She took a deep breath and thought for just a moment, she could smell the lingering sweetness of caramel apples mixed with the scent of popcorn. It was certainly peculiar, but she didn’t think much of it as she began getting ready for school half an hour earlier than usual.

By the time she was walking the familiar route to school, she had nearly forgotten the strange dream until she saw them in the distance. In the empty field up the road from her house, she now counted the tops of at least a dozen tents with the same red and white strips as the ones in her dream. What were the chances that a circus would come to town on the same day that she just so happened to have a circus-related dream? She wasn’t one to believe in magic or ghosts or fate, but she also couldn’t bring herself to believe that it was pure coincidence.

At school, all Margo could think about was the circus. Luckily, it seemed like no one else could get it out of their heads either. She listened to all the whispers – It had been a long time since anything like this had happened in her small country town– Someone thought they’d heard an elephant and another person could’ve sworn they saw a snowy white tiger wandering around within the circus gates. Margo’s parents were the type that would barely let her go to a school function without an interrogation, and so she knew that if she wanted to experience the circus, she would have to lie.

She took extra care in helping her mother with the dishes after supper that night and claimed to have an obscene amount of work to do so she could retreat to her bedroom without raising suspicion. The sun set over the horizon as Margo got ready to leave and she waited until it was dark to climb out her bedroom window. Before she knew it, her house was out of sight, and her parents out of mind. Her heart raced as she saw the tents all lit up by Edison bulbs just like it had been in her dream. The entrance was crowded, as she’d anticipated, and all she could hope for at this point was that anyone who recognized her would kindly decide to not tell her parents about her defiance.

The man in the ticket booth collected her money before giving her a stamp on her hand. Margo wandered through the labyrinth of tents, hoping to catch a glimpse of that raven hair or those striking ice blue eyes. At the outer edge of the circus, there was a single tent separate from the rest. Margo felt inexplicably drawn to it and seemed to pull the tent’s curtain back in slow motion. Inside, there were lit candles staggered everywhere which she glanced at warily. Illuminated by the flickering candlelight was a round table covered in purple satin with a tarot deck in the center. Margo’s feet propelled her forward until she could sit down.

“I’ve been waiting for you.” The girl with the raven hair emerged from the shadows to sit across from her.

“Who are you? What is this place? What’s so special about me?” Margo asked each question in rapid succession.

The girl put her hand up gently. “Slower. One question at a time.”

Margo felt like she could do nothing but stare in silence. “My name is Amara. The circus is...” Amara trailed off. “Well, it’s more complicated than we have time for.”

“And me? Is there something wrong with me?”

Amara chuckled softly. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Margo. We’re connected. Can’t you feel it?”

Margo considered her words, turning them over in her mind. She had felt a pull toward this tent. And now, sitting across from Amara, it was like she felt a certain electric current between them. “What does it mean?”

Amara flipped over the top card from the tarot deck. It was The Lovers. “You and I – we’re twin flames. I’ve been searching for you for a long time.”

Margo’s stomach fluttered uncontrollably. It was like butterflies were trying to burst out of her from her ribcage. “This is too weird.”

Amara lowered her eyes. When she looked back up at Margo, there was melancholic determination. “Can I show you around?”

Together, they left the tent and Amara led the way. There was one tent with acrobats twisting themselves up in aerial silks, one with fire eaters, another with a breathtaking carousel – Margo lost count of all the wondrous sights. All through the night, Margo felt a blissful sense of freedom, akin to what she imagined flying through the clouds would feel like. As they came back to Amara’s fortune-telling tent, Margo knew that she was about to make a choice that would alter the rest of her life forever.

They held each other’s hands outside the tent, secluded from the rest of the circus. With their fingers intertwined, Margo could feel the energy coursing between them. In that moment, it was like Amara and her were at the center of the universe. She knew it was crazy – she had only known this girl for a few hours – but she couldn’t stop herself from leaning in to kiss her. The second their lips met, it was as if all the planets aligned, the stars shone brighter, and the circus itself was burning to the ground around them. Margo had never felt a sensation so overwhelmingly all-consuming in her life. They broke apart, foreheads still touching, hands still clasped together tightly.

“Will you run away with me and become a part of the circus?” Amara whispered, gazing into Margo’s eyes. Her head was still reeling from the kiss. She wanted nothing more than to say yes.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about everyone and everything she would be leaving behind. Could she really do that? She wasn’t sure she was ready. “Amara...” Margo murmured. “I can’t just leave. Maybe... Maybe you could come back for me?” It broke her heart to say it out loud. Surely something so painful couldn’t be the right choice.

“I can’t guarantee that we’ll ever come back here. This is it, Margo. You have to choose now.”

Margo felt a tear fall onto her cheek. “I’m sorry, Amara. I wish I could.”

“It’s okay. I understand.” As Amara said the words, her eyes were full of indescribable anguish. Margo wished fervently to take all her pain away.

“I think that if we’re really twin flames – If we’re truly meant to be together – we’ll find each other again one day.”

Amara smiled grimly. “Goodbye, Margo. I hope you’re right.”

After that night, Margo desperately hoped that it would return. She told her children about the dazzling circus and its mysterious fortune-teller, hinting that if they were lucky, they’d get to see it one day too. But to this day, the circus and Amara have not come back. Margo now doubts they ever will.

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