“Ladies and Gentleman!” The echoing, dulcet tones of a man billowed across the damp cobbles stones of an obscure London side street. Gas lamps flickered in the slight drizzle that ran down their glass defence like fat tears; casting an eerie orange glow across the wet surface of the world.
The man’s long Stockman coat flapped about the mind like the wings of a giant bat, his white face the only thing that shone in the darkness; his wide grin framed by long black hair and a towering top hat.
“Ladies and Gentleman, your attention!” the few people who were out at this late hour slid past him like a group of eels trying to avoid the hungry gaze of a predator. Not to be dissuaded from his mission he slinked forward, his suit and tie wet from his hours in the rain and approached a gentleman who had been minding his own business, smoking a cigarette against the window of a shop.
“Good sir. You have the mark of a Gentleman who enjoys the thrill of the fantastical.” The man took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out a long, thoughtful puff of black smoke. He didn’t say a word.
“Illuminate your mind Sir with tales of old evils from dark times long forgotten. I can promise you an evening that is unparalleled with delights and thrills the like of which you have never seen before! Magic and mystery await.” The street seller poured over his hands, moving them in ways that looked mystical and foreign to his uninterested one man audience.
The door behind them pinged open, the bell above the wooden frame announcing the exit of a petite lady. Her brown hair was pulled tight and covered with a light blue bonnet, lace decorating the delicate edges and exaggerating her large green eyes. She hitched her black, full length skirt up as she stepped delicately over the threshold, showing over her brown patent shoes for the world to see. The man offered her his jacketed arm and the street seller sensed that he was loosing his grip on the situation.
“Lady! A beauty such as you must be interested in adventures? A woman of such rapture, and yet I sense, one of great intellect as well.” He moved swiftly, almost too swiftly and stood before the couple.
“What’s this?” She asked, tugging on her leather gloves as she spoke and offering the curious man before her a baffled smile.
“Nothing Lilly, just a street vagabond attempting to lure us in with pretty words. We’d best be back before the weather turns for the worst.” Her surly partner interjected. He rapped his cane on the cobbles in impatience, feeling the rim of his bowler hat beginning to wet his slicked back hair.
“No Madame! I simply aim to entertain and delight. Our little travelling company of theatre hands is in London for one night only. We promise to dazzle, entertain and enthral in ways you have never experienced.” He kissed her hand with a flourish.
“Oh Jeremy, lets!” She exclaimed, clasping her companion’s arm. “It sounds like such a lark. Oh please lets!”
Jeremy’s eyes moved from his eager young wife to the sly street seller, he didn’t like the way his eyes twinkled with the promise of mischief but he never had been able to deny his girl anything she’d asked for.
“How much?” He sighed, putting his hand in the inner pocket of his dinner jacket.
“For you Sir, not a penny’s charge. I insist.” The seller grinned a sickly smile and ushered them a couple of steps down the road and into a creaking wooden door that sat a little crooked on its ancient hinges.
“Well would you look at that? Isn’t it marvellous Jeremy?” Lilly gasped, full of delight and wonder as they shuffled into their seats. The room was rounded, like a giant lecture hall filled with uncomfortable wooden benches that stacked up and up the great tall walls. Dim light from candles and the odd gas light flickered in the darkness making the round clearing in the centre of the room just visible. It was unexpectedly busy.
“I can’t see a damn thing in here.” Jeremy muttered, straining into the gloom to pick out the odd face in the crowd.
“Hush dear!” His wife, tapped him on the arm, embarrassed by his harsh language. “It’s probably for dramatic effect.” Jeremy huffed in disgruntled annoyance.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of London Town. I bid you welcome, to the greatest show you shall ever have the pleasure to witness!” It was the street seller again, standing on an old wooden crate in the centre of the room. His tall, black top hat stood imposingly on top of his head as he swirled a great black cape about his skinny, pale frame. No one had seen him come onto the stage; it was like he’d just dropped out of the sky. “A world of mystery, wonder and a little fear awaits you. Come, join us, follow us on our journey. Welcome, to the Circus of the Golden Circle!”
A mass of bodies spread out onto the stage, glittering costumes of all manner swirled around in the half light, winking at the audience. From somewhere towards the back of the room the whining, pitiful sound of a violin being badly played echoed across the vast space. Lily shuddered a little at the sound.
The characters on stage swirled around, contortionists crammed themselves into tiny jars, their crooked limbs bowing and bending like broken branches behind the glass. The fire eater, swallowed mouthful after mouthful of scorching flames, barely blinking an eye as he set his enormous beard on fire; his endless smile forever grinning out at the audience. One tall, willowy woman, towered over the crowd on giant stilts, balancing on one precarious leg.
There didn’t seem to be much plot, nothing amazing or exciting. The frozen grins on each and every pale, white face serving as the only chilling element to the whole charade. Something was not quite right.
Jeremy scanned the scene, and thanked God that he hadn’t paid for this tirade of drivel until something caught his eye. The chandelier winked at him from the ceiling, catching the light as it gently swung to and fro from its chain. Its gilt design was battered and worn, half the diamonds missing and not a single candle alight in any of its holders. He peered and leaned forward. There was something, some shape sitting atop the fixture. A figure, someone up there, holding onto the chain and watching the crowd below, shrouded in darkness where no one could see them.
He sat up, suddenly a little alarmed. He went to tap his wife and thought better of it, no good in worrying her just yet; it may be part of the show. Glancing around into the crowd he watched as dark, hooded figures streaked behind the back rows, weaving past each other as silently as the wind across a field. They were everywhere, they were surrounded.
Turning slightly he made to grab his wife’s hand; he didn’t like where this was going, the sooner they could leave the better. As he turned his feet squelched with the movement. He balked and looked down, turning his once shiny shoes into the light. Something was splattered across the dark surface, reaching down he swiped one finger across the shoe and brought it close to his face. He leapt back in surprise at the blood that dripped from his finger tip and pooled under his nail.
“What is it darling?” His wife’s worried face floated into vision, he could see some of the other audience members starting to crane round to look at him too. They all had that same, sickening grin.
“We need to leave.” He hissed. “Now.”
“The show hasn’t finished yet.” She pouted, oblivious to the many faces now trained on them. Their deathly white skin reflecting light like death himself had visited them.
“Trust me.” He dragged her to her feet roughly, suddenly painfully aware that the music had stopped. Putting a hand protectively around Lilly’s waist he pulled her to him and glared around at the sea of faces. Every single one in the room was turned to face them, staring, sizing them up like wild dogs about to leap in for the kill.
“Jeremy?” Lilly’s voice was shaky; suddenly frightened as she began to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Something hit him on the head, only lightly but enough to get his attention. He looked down as a droplet of glass from the chandelier fell onto the floor with a tiny thump as loud as the explosion of a gun in the silence. With a racing heart and a stomach full of dread he looked up, slowly. The chandelier had stopped swinging, the man upon it leaned into the light displaying his taught, ancient face. Unhuman and ungodly, wild with delight and anticipation. He craned forward and tilted his head to one side, his long, black hair falling over his face a little and exposing sharp, pointed ears. He barred his teeth and in that moment both Lilly and Jeremy realised, the chase was up.