The Midnight Circus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Inspired by Sunny Hill's 'Midnight Circus' -

The story of a boy who escaped, and the girl who never did.

Submitted: December 02, 2011

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Submitted: December 02, 2011



The drops of rain landed in puddles at his feet, somewhat reminiscent of the continuous streams of tears falling from the pair of crazed brown eyes that pierced through the hazy depths of his memories. She had been crying for help, for salvation from a never-ending hell of bright lights, fake smiles and night after night of cruel laughter. But no one ever came. Reality was never one for kindness. He made his way slowly through the dark alleys, retracing a familiar path he had once walked down so many times before, eyes darting back and forth furtively to make sure that no one else was around. He had no reason to be so frightened, the path was long forgotten, and those that once knew the way were gone. The walls of the alleyways abruptly came to an end and a large clearing came into view. It was empty now, with only patches of scorched earth to remind the accidental passer-by of what might have once stood before them. Something glistening in the corner of his eye caught his attention. It was a long mirror leaning against a tall oak tree, its once pristine surface now splintered into a dozen shards, each reflecting its own bit of light from the street lamps above. As he walked towards the mirror, the faces on the other side became clearer and clearer. And then he could see them all.

The mirror had not always been alone. Once upon a time it lived among many companions of all shapes and sizes. An eclectic mix that reflected the oddities of the people that added them to this collection. The ringmaster liked those with ornate gold frames emblazoned with jewels like the shades of the rainbow. The clown with the wide smile and sad eyes owned the round ones with the square frames, awkwardly superimposed on one another. The trapeze twins had two of every kind, shape was of no concern to them, but all that they owned hung off the walls, not a single one seated down. The contortionist lady liked hers to be of the most unexpected shapes, invading every nook and cranny that one might never expect to find a mirror. They loved the mirrors because they gave the illusion that there was another world on the other side that they might one day escape into. He had tried counting the mirrors before, but each time he would lose count and end up with a wildly different number. Over the years, the mirrors kept increasing, their arrangements ever-changing, but there was always one mirror that drew him back to it again and again. It was a long rectangular mirror with a dull silver frame, devoid of the embellishments surrounding all its sisters and brothers – and it belonged to her. The woman in the cage.

The woman in the cage was as much a part of his family as were the other mirror owners. From as early as he could remember, she had lived in her cast iron cell beneath the large oak tree, behind the monstrous red-and-white tent and far from the prying eyes of the revellers that came to see the show at every stroke of midnight. No one was allowed to speak to her and no one ever did. Occasionally there would be the screaming fits, as she banged against the bars of her cage until her hands bled and the lion tamer was sent to tape her mouth so the guests would not know of her existence. He never found out what she was trying to say, for he was too young to understand and the contortionist lady always held her hands over his ears to block out the sounds anyway. Everyone in the family seemed deathly afraid of the woman in the cage, except the contortionist lady who never failed to give her a faint smile as she walked past, and the ringmaster, who, with his stern glare and unpredictable moods, inflicted more fear than anyone else in the world possibly could. As he grew older, he heard many stories about the woman in the cage, each one so far removed from the next that he began to confuse reality with fantasy. The trapeze twins told him she was a member of the rival family who tried to infiltrate and steal the closely guarded family secrets. The lion tamer said she was the ringmaster’s disobedient daughter who refused to follow in her father’s footsteps and take to the stage. The clowns believed she was a lunatic who had once tried to burn the place down with a blowtorch. He did not know which story was fact and which was fiction, perhaps they all had hints of the truth, but his favourite story came from the contortionist lady.

The story went that the woman in the cage was once a sad, lonely girl who wanted to explore the world beyond the big top tent. One night, as she was sitting alone on the wooden swing beneath the oak tree, counting the stars in the sky from their reflection in her long silver mirror like she always did, she encountered a boy trying to sneak into the ringmaster’s tent. In exchange for her silence, the boy would tell her one story each night, each more resplendent than the next, detailing the wonders and mysteries of the world beyond. Inevitably, they fell in love, and the boy promised her he would take her away from her caged world to explore the wonders she so yearned to see. They agreed to meet at the stroke of midnight under the shadows of the great oak tree where they had first met, on the night of the full moon. That night, she packed her things and waited. And waited. And waited. But he never came. No one ever knew what happened to the boy, no one ever heard from him again. The girl however, was caught by the ringmaster and locked into her cage, its cast-iron bars preventing her from ever escaping again. In one night, she lost her freedom, her dreams, and her one true love.

When she was not screaming in agony, the woman in the cage sat quietly in the corner. He remembered the tears shining in her eyes before they slowly tumbled down her cheeks. He liked to think that that was because she was thinking of the happier times, of the boy she gave her heart to and the stories he told. As time went by, the screaming became more infrequent and the crazed look in those brown eyes was replaced by one of infinite sadness and despair. One day, when everyone was asleep and the sound of birds chirping was all that filled the autumn air, he snuck out of bed and pottered to the cage where she lived. She sat there wide awake, as though she had sensed his imminent arrival and was already waiting for him. His heart was suddenly stricken with fear as he remembered the stories of her lunacy – what if she tried to attack him? Of course, she did not. She stared at him for a long time, and he stared back, and it was as though a million words passed between them even though not one sound was uttered. For an instant, he thought he saw a new expression overcome those sad brown eyes, one of hope and love, but he dismissed it quickly as an illusion. And then she smiled. He did not know it then, but that would be the first and last time he would see her smile.

That fateful night, the fires took over. He could not remember distinctly every detail of the night anymore, but at the back of his mind, he could still hear the piercing screams filling the air, the shouts for help, the cacophony of falling chairs and the shattering of the mirrors into a million pieces as hoards of people rushed to escape from the fiery pit. He remembered being safe in the arms of the contortionist lady, watching from a distance as the signature red-and-white canopy gradually collapsed as it was consumed by the hungry flames. No one knew how the fire was started, it was one of those unsolved mysteries that would eventually be buried six feet under along with all those that were present at that time. Several people were lost to him that night. The trapeze twins and the lion tamer were never found. He never knew if they were lost to the flames or if they escaped in a different direction that night, but he never saw them again. Rumour had it the ringmaster refused to leave his precious tent and the home he had so painstakingly built up over the years. He too, was never found. As for the woman in the cage, no one knew what became of her. The morning after, when the fires had been reduced to tiny embers, the cage remained shut, its cast-iron lock still firmly in place. But the woman in the cage was gone.

After the fire, life changed for everyone that survived. The remnants of the family moved into a tiny apartment along Chinatown and immersed themselves into what others would consider ‘normal lives’. The glitter eyeshadows, painted faces and fancy costumes were replaced with t-shirts, sun dresses and jeans. He went to primary school, secondary school, university; he got a job as a lawyer, married an amazing woman and had three lovely children and later eight grandchildren, all of whom would come visit ever so often to regale him with stories of their lives. Deep down inside, he wondered if this was the life the woman in the cage had always wanted and if perhaps, somewhere out there, she had finally lived her dream. Till the end, he never found out who she really was and why she cried, but some part of him believed that he actually already knew.

As the memories of an era long gone came flooding back to him, he blinked back tears as he continued to stare at the reflections in the broken shards of mirror that once belonged to the woman in the cage. One by one, the shadows of his past faded away from the reflections in the mirrors and were replaced by that of the thousands of stars in the night sky as the rain clouds cleared. He stood smiling as he counted the number of stars through the mirrors, like she once used to do, a long long time ago.

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