Standing Before the Flame
“Happy Birthday!” I heard my older brother, Gabriel, shout as the front door of my house swung open to let me in. I had just gotten home from school and after walking a half mile down our driveway and stopping to feed the horses and other critters that my family had collected over the past couple of years, I was tired. We had two horses 4 dogs 6 chickens and one very large pig who was about to give birth to piglets. I loved animals and someday wanted to be a veterinarian.
My brother stood in the doorway of our house with an eager and infectious grin on his face. Gabe, as I affectionately call him is a college boy who lives at home and commutes to the local community college. Gabe doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He loves that he can go to school and still come home every day to eat our moms cooking. Gabe stands at a lanky 7ft 3 with dark chestnut brown hair and pail skin. He gets the look from my dad. I am more like my mom darker skin and full figured. Gabe swung the door wider to reveal the plethora of decorations strewn around the house. All green and white which were my favorite colors. From the front door I could see my Mom and Dad in the dining room appearing frantic and flustered at my sudden arrival; Dad was struggling with a small digital camera while mom lit the candles atop a beautifully decorated cake she had made herself.
“Here, let me take that” Gabe said as he removed my backpack from my shoulder. With a grin I made my way into the dining room feeling elated about the treatment I was receiving. “Hi, Princess,” Dad said enthusiastically, placing the camera down and reaching out to give me a big hug. As I melted into the arms of my daddy I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Hey, what about me, don’t I get a hug? Gabe asked enthusiastically.” As much as I loved feeling safe in the arms of my Dad I really didn’t like hugging or being touched normally. Because He looked like a puppy giddy and excited I relented and reluctantly embraced my older sibling.
“Rachel!! Look!!! Gabe whispered releasing me and directing me towards the cake. As they all in unison began to sing.
“Happy birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.”
My face went hot as the blood rushed to my head; “Happy birthday, dear Rachel!” they all yelled in unison. Standing in front of my cake with everyone I cared about around me, I thought to myself “I have the perfect family.” Eager for what was to come, I inched my face closer to the flickering lights.
As I got to close to the candles, I began to feel warm. The heat was far more intense than it should have been. The heat washed over me from head to toe. That’s also when I noticed the candles were extraordinarily bright, as though I was standing before a bonfire, as opposed to small, flickering candle lights. Very soon the heat became almost too much to bare and I recoiled trying to escape it. I felt no change as the discomfort persisted. “Happy birthday to you,” as their song ended I no longer cared for my wish. All that was on my mind was the unbearable heat. I covered my face and without hesitation I took a deep breath and blew. I half expected my efforts to be in vain but, to my short lived delight, the candles flickered out. “Yaaay!” everyone shouted with approval. I however did not share their enthusiasm for despite my attempt to escape the intense heat that I had originally believed to be coming from the candles it still lingered.
“Why is it so hot?” I asked looking but no one seemed to hear me. I looked at the smiling faces around me and was shocked to see their apparent obliviousness to my discomfort. It wasn’t that they were ignoring me it was more like they didn’t hear me.
“Time for gifts,” Gabe announced, practically jumping up and down with excitement. I turned around and saw him reach into his pocket, he revealed a small golden box, no bigger than a box of matches, and handed it to Mom. Behind me, clouds of smoke continued to pour from the top of the cake. The smoke was filling up the entire room till I could no longer make out the faces of those around me. Searching frantically for my family I tried to cry out but I found myself unable to speak. Suddenly the cloud dissipated a little.
“Rachel!” A voice came from behind me.
I felt my mom’s hands soft against my shoulders. She reviled a small, silver cross which she then draped against my chest and fastened around my neck. I looked at her and felt the love that only a mother can give. My mom was my hero. She was everything I wanted to be when I grew up. She was a stay home mom who loved taking care of her family. She also had a faith in God that I envied. No matter what happened she told us that God had a plan for our lives. She and my dad taught us to pray and how to trust God. Not by what they said but by how they lived their lives. They loved each other which made me feel very loved and secure. She would always tell me “Never forget, Rachel, God loves you and you are never alone.” As she latched the necklace my vision started to blur as though everything around me was melting.
“Rachel, wake up!” my brother’s voice rang in my ears. His voice was desperate, and I could smell burning, as my eyes filled with tears from the smoke, stinging as I tried to orientate myself through the dark plumes. All along the ceiling I saw a blanket of smoke and fire that seemed to crawl from one end of the room to the next. I tried to climb out of bed but breathed in a lungful of the black fog and I started to choke. From out of nowhere a pair of large strong hands grabbed me by my arms and dragged me out of bed to the floor. My lungs were on fire as i coughed and choked.
“Come on Rachel” screamed Gabriel “get up now!” He took me by my hand and pulled me to my feet. “We need to get out of here!”
My throat was too sore to respond but I didn’t fight him. With his hand tightly clenched around my wrist, he led me through my door into the hallway. The walls were on fire, and the fire seemed to pour from every open doorway. My brother didn’t stop; he just kept on going until we hit the stairs. “Wait!” I chocked “what about mom and dad?” Looking towards their room I pulled back from Gabe, but he just tightened his grip and dragged me down the stairs.
The fire had not reached downstairs but the smoke was still thick and toxic. As we hit the front door we found it locked. Gabriel struggled to get it open, fighting with the lock and the heat. He forced it open just before a section of the ceiling caved in, throwing sparks and flame at our heels as we stumbled out into the night.
Out of breath and now on our front lawn, the crisp coolness of the night washed over me like a waterfall of relief. I let go of my brother’s hand and turned to face the inferno that was our home. I gasped from the sight of it. Gabriel grabbed me up in his arms and carried me to the edge of the street. I pulled away from him and stood in awe of what was happening. The entire roof was on fire and most of the top floor was engulfed flames bursting from every window. The sound of Glass shattering and beams crumbling. “What was happening, how could our house be on fire?”
Taking a couple of steps closer I noticed something strange about the roof about where my parent’s room was. A huge chunk of it was simply gone. As I scanned the scene I noticed large smoldering craters the size of beach balls dotted across our lawn. I dropped to my knees in disbelief. Suddenly it hit me, “Where were mom and dad?” I turned to Gabe who was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands crying. I stumbled to him franticly yelling where is mom and dad?” As he lowered his hands he shook his head as if to say I don’t know?” Black soot lined his nose and mouth. The look of hopelessness filled his eyes as I desperately tried to find any hope in his face. My eyes darted around the yard again desperately trying to notice any movement of anyone else.
He turned to me and I noticed he was crying. His hazel green eyes caught the reflection of the inferno in front of us. The curly brown hair on his head was a tattered mess and his face was covered in soot. What actually scared me though was the look of despair on his face.
“I…I don’t know.” He said “They weren’t in their room,” he stammered sounding out of breath. Catching his breath he looked down at his hands. My Gaze followed his and though it was night it might as well have been mid-day; the blazing from our house was giving off enough light to plainly show the bright red burns. It looked so painful I couldn’t understand how he was so calm. He stammered “I smelt smoke and I tried to get Mom and Dad first but I couldn’t even…” he stopped, out of breath. He took a deep breath and looked back at me. “They weren’t there, Rachel. They were just gone.”
“’Gone?!’” I cried. “What do you mean, ‘gone?’”
“I mean gone; there was no sign of them. “He said
I swallowed hard. “Maybe they got out and they are looking for us in the backyard. I stood to look around. Or maybe they went somewhere last night and didn’t come home. I turned toward the driveway. Their car was in its place as usual.
“Where would they have gone?” Gabriel said to himself starting to sound angry. “And if they did leave us, why didn’t they…” He paused to look back at the fire, “They wouldn’t have just left us…”
I heard the faint sound of sirens in the distance. We lived in a rural community with no real neighbors. It took about 20 min to even get to what I called civilization. My dad loved living off the land and how can you live off the land if you don’t have any he would say. He didn’t want neighbors knowing what we did day in and day out. My dad was a former Marine who took the phrase God Family Corps to a new level. He raised us all in Faith and couldn’t have imagined growing up with a different dad. My dad loved my mom and even after 20 years of marriage they still acted as if they were dating. Weird but I guess it is also pretty cool.
Suddenly a strong crisp wind blew in against our backs carrying no comfort but the faint sent of morning.
“What do we do?” I asked as I started to shake from the cold night air penetrating my charred pajamas.
Gabe looked down at me, “I don’t know Rachel.” Noticing that I was cold, he pulled me in for a hug.
Grateful for his embrace and warmth I hugged him back. I could hear him start to softly cry again. My brother was the strongest person I’d ever known. I had never heard him cry. He had always been and outdoors kind of guy. He and dad would do allot of crazy stuff, like go on camping trips, go rock climbing, and even they would even take their bikes out every weekend for hours. Almost every time they went out, they would both come back bruised and bloody. He would always say that if he didn’t come back with some injury that it wasn’t worth remembering. He had even broken some bones on that on one of his trips and never shed a tear. When he was a teenager his best friend Taylor came down with cancer. Gabe sat by his bed for hours and even when he passed away Gabe was stoic. Not a tear. Yet, to hear him crying like that; it really frightened me.
The emergency vehicles arrived just as the roof of my house started to collapse, what can be done now? Everything I had ever known was gone. The tears where now streaming down my face as I began to sob. To think that just yesterday I had turned eleven. My mom and I spent the previous morning together because my birthday fell on a school day. We even did some shopping and then had lunch at my favorite restaurant. It was quite the surprise last night once I finally got home from school and found cake and presents waiting for me. Gabe even sat to watch a TV show with me and let me pick what I wanted to watch, which was rare for him. Everyone was so happy, especially me. My home, and my parents. I reached my hand up to my chest to find I was still wearing the necklace that Mom had given me.
I clutched the necklace in my hand and still holding my brother close, I started to pray “Dear God, Please help us.” Gabriel heard me and echoes “Yes please God help us.”
Eight years late
. . .
“Fire in the hole!” The demolition charges went off and the entire end of the building caved in having lost all its support. I could feel the powerful vibrations surging through the earth as tons of steel and sheetrock came crumbling down.
The sun would be up soon; a faint glow could be seen on the horizon of the quiet residential district of Philadelphia.
My name is Gabriel Saint; I’m twenty six years old and a part of the demo team for a construction company that builds and renovates hotels. It’s a hard job and the hours are rough, but the pay is hard to beat. “HAY GABE!” yelled my boss Joe Murphy from across the work yard. “I NEED YOU BACK TOMORROW TO HELP OUT WITH THE SOUTH WING AT FIVE. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE IT?”
“SURE, SEE YOU THEN” Joe gave me an affirming nod then went to go yell at some of the clean-up crew. Anyway, my shift was just ending; I had just spent the entire night stripping a condemned school building bare so they could build a bunch of high rise apartments.
I made my way to the tool shed where I dropped off my tools and hung up my helmet. My body was tired, sore, and dripping with sweat; nothing a hot shower and a nap wouldn’t fix but first I had to get home. Once my gear was up, I exited the shed before checking my watch. The time read 5:00 am.; my shift was officially over. Yup I was working the night shift. Thinking back it was quite a tough shift; ten hours, which meant one heck of a pay day though. I started for the parking lot where my truck sat.
From across the parking lot I heard Larry call out to me “See you. Gabe!” and I turned to wave back. Larry was a friend of mine on the demo crew, he’s a bit of a nerd but then again I guess I am also. He is one of my only friends and we really are only friends because I think he feels sorry for me. Larry is 26 like me but much more accomplished. He actually is from money and doesn’t have to work. He does it because he likes it. Something I don’t understand at all. Almost every other night we would play cards or watch a movie after work. His parents own a bunch of hotels and apartment buildings. That is how we met and the one we are working on now is owned by his parents company. A while back he even set me and Rachel up with the apartment we live in now. Larry Rachel and I have been friends ever since. I don’t hold him being rich against him and he doesn’t hold me being a jerk sometimes against me. So it works for both of us. Plus I think he has a crush on my sister.
Opening the door to my faded green pickup I climbed in and started the engine. It was a nice morning with the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon. Sunday morning and no traffic on the roads. I rolled down the window to enjoy the cool morning breeze on my damp face. The hectic honking of nearby traffic filled my ears and the faint smell of Philadelphia smog filled my nostrils.
“A New Day” I chuckled to myself halfheartedly.
Actually, I have two other jobs on top of this one. One of them is stocking shelves at a book store, a block away from the apartment I stay at, and the other is loading and receiving at a post office about six miles from there. Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but my sister is worth it. I’m currently trying to put Rachel through her third year of college and those classes are expensive. However, because it was Sunday I didn’t have work for the rest of the day since the book store and post office are closed on Sundays. This is kind of good I guess; I realize we need the money but it’s nice to take a break every week. As a bonus to a half day off I also get to spend some time with Rachel. She usually goes to church in the morning and then volunteers at an animal shelter later in the day. She gets off around the same time as I do so we have the evening to spend together. Today is an extra special day though, it her birthday, and I want her to feel important as well as create some good memories.
After the death of our parents, we received some money from a life insurance policy that my parents had. It was just enough to pay off the debt, buy a truck for me and a car for Rachel and put her in private school through High School. She finished high school early and graduated when she was 16. She started college that fall and has been going ever since. I had to drop out of college because I needed to work. It really didn’t bother me because I really didn’t know what a wanted to do anyway.
Rachel and I are all we have left and her birthday is a hard time for the both of us. I want her to have a decent life and I don’t care how hard I have to work for it.
If not for me being eighteen at the time of the accident, my sister and I would have probably ended up in some foster home.
They never did find out what happened. To our house I mean. By the time the firefighters managed to put out the flames any evidence explaining how it started was long gone. The police tried to find the bodies of our parents but were unsuccessful. There was no sign of them. They said the heat of the fire probably burned them all up. I would often wonder if they might actually still be alive. It was wishful thinking I guess but what can you do?
I drove for about twenty-five minutes before making the last turn to our apartment. The air rushing in the truck was surprisingly warm for fall and it carried the scent of freshly carved jack-o-lanterns. I noticed that the trees that lined our street had only a few amber and crimson leaves left on them. That’s right I thought to myself Halloween is tomorrow.
I pulled into the one of the vacant parking spaces, which conveniently sat in front of where Rachel and I lived, then turned off the engine.
We lived in a rather old apartment complex. , The owners took good care of it, but you could tell from the aged bricks and faded colors that it was probably a hundred years old. I think before it was an apartment building it was an old train station. The rooms were awkward inside, not your typical apartment but the outside had a rich history look about it.
Our room, 233, was on the second floor just next door to Larry’s. Yah part of his inheritance was that he had to live in one of the buildings that his parents owned so as to know what his tenants lived like, plus he doesn’t have to pay any rent. I made my way into the apartment building and checked the mail box. No mail. I promptly went upstairs to take a shower. One thing I will say for these old buildings is that the water pressure is awesome. As the hot water streamed down my body I felt all my sore muscles relent. I don’t know exactly how long I was in there, it felt like an hour or two, but it felt amazing. Once I finally finished my shower I had to sleep. Working the night shift really is hard on your body. You get used to it but I still need a couple of hours of sleep before I feel human. Hitting my bed was a relief that can’t be explained, all I remember is setting my alarm for 11 and that was all. My alarm woke me and I headed to the kitchen for a snack. An apple sounds good. Being that it is fall, apple season is at its peak. I just bought a bunch at the farmers market yesterday on my drive home. Opening the door to the fridge the entire bottom shelf was loaded with bright green Granny Smith apples. Oh man! I have been addicted to these things for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why but they were my absolute favorite in the world. I grabbed two and was about to make my way to the couch. Oh shoot. I forgot about the cake.
Before I went to work yesterday, I went to the store and bought Rachel the new zoology book she wanted for her birthday and then I spent maybe two hours baking and icing a relatively large dark chocolate cake. I needed to take it out of the fridge before work and forgot. It wasn’t a perfect cake that you could buy in the store, but I made it myself, so that had to count for something. Holding one of the apples in my mouth and dropping the other on the counter I opened up the fridge again. I then carefully lifted the cake balancing it with one hand while shutting the fridge with the other. Once I had the cake securely in my hands, I started to make my way to the dresser across the room from the front door. That was the perfect place to put it so Rachel would see it as soon as she walked in from church. It took a little bit of effort but, I got it to the dresser safely. Delighted with my skill in transporting cake, I promptly turned to make my way to the couch, accidentally grazing it with my loose shirt. “Gosh dang it!” I cursed.
Oh, yeah; that’s how we curse in my family. If Rachel so much as heard me think the word “crap” or heaven forbid something worse, she would be all over me. After eight years of her constant nagging, it was now a habit.
I made my way back into the kitchen, to wash the dark chocolate frosting off of my shirt. I then grabbed a knife from the drawer and went back to my defiled cake to fix my shirt mark.
After that little bit of personal drama, I retrieved my apples from the kitchen and made my way back to the couch stopping only to grab her zoology book off the coffee table. I sat and ate both my apples, savoring every bite. Rachel should be home any time now. Rachel in the last couple of years has really been into church. She met some girls from high school that attended a big church down the street and they invited her to a youth retreat. Ever since that weekend she seemed happier. She carries a bible around all the time and spends most of her free time at church or bible study. I guess that is good for her, she really needed something to get her past what happened when she was eleven.
I picked up the zoology book to pass the time. Rachel is getting her degree in zoology science. All that taking care of our animals when she was younger I guess stuck with her. I looked up briefly at the clock and saw it read 11:15 am. I ran my fingers through my unruly hair while I read a section on large cats. I was about to turn the page when I heard a knock at the front door. Hum I wonder if Rachel misplaced her house keys again? I promptly put the book down on the coffee table and jumped over to the dresser where I lit the candles atop my glorious creation. Once they were lit, I quickly made my way to the front door to let Rachel in. Making sure I had on my biggest smile before opened the door. I jerked the door open fast to surprise her. My smile quickly faded as it was only Larry.
“Hey Gabe, someone seems to have mixed up our mail, yours was in my box.” he handed me the mail and smiled weirdly back at me.
“Well, that was a letdown.” I said “Thanks, Larry.” This was the second time this month they had mixed up our mail.
“What’s with the cake?” he asked looking past me as if to see if anyone else was home. I knew who he was looking for. Larry always had some excuse to come to the apartment to see Rachel.
“It’s Rachel’s birthday.”
“Really, how old is she now?” he asked pretending not to be that interested.
“She just turned nineteen, would you like to wait with me to wish her a happy birthday?” She should be home from church soon.”
“Oh, that’s cool.” No its ok I will see her around and wish her a happy birthday. Thanks.” Any mention of church and Larry goes running. I guess I am not really fond of church also but Larry is downright scared of anything to do with it.
With a grin on my face I shook my head, and gave him a wave “Bye, Larry.” I closed the door and went over to blow the candles out. Looking down at the stack of mail I thumbed though it to see if there was anything interesting. It was mostly bills and some promotional stuff for a carnival or something. Just then there was another knock at the door. That had better not be Larry again I thought. I let out a deep sigh and I placed the envelopes next to the cake. This time I will look through the peep hole to see who it is.
Before I could get my eye up to the hole, someone pounded again. “Gabriel, are you going to let me in or not?” Rachel snapped. Yes she had forgotten her keys again.
“Just a sec.” I yelled Panic hit me; I jumped back from the door and made a dash to the cake tripping over myself and crashing to the floor, forgetting that socks don’t get much traction on our fake hardwood floor. I recovered quickly, bounced back up and hurriedly lit the candles. The candles flared to life, I then bolted for the door. I paused to compose myself then I let her have it.
“Happy birthday!” I cheered as the door flew open.
She struck a fake embarrassed pose. But smiled widely. I stood back to admire my little sis and her new age. Nineteen and so grown up. Wow such a long way from that little eleven year old who used to talk incessantly about animals and the zoo that she was going to run someday. Today she was dressed in blue jeans, a green top, sandals with a gray bag slung over her shoulder. Her long brown hair was tied back revealing the round features of her face including her freckles and blue eyes. I still can’t believe she is so grown up. “That sounded like it hurt.” Rachel said, looking me over as she passed by me.
“It did,” I admitted, with a snicker of embarrassment. Rachel tossed her bag on the floor and made her way across the room to the dresser.
“Thanks Gabe . . . um, did you bake that yourself?” She teased sarcastically. The icing gave me trouble, but I thought I did pretty well for my third attempt. I quipped back
“You didn’t mix up the salt and the sugar again this time did you?” She asked with a smirk.
“Oh come on, it wasn’t my fault the jar wasn’t labeled,” I protested.
“Mhm.” She murmured, giving me a sarcastic look.
“So…” I started hesitantly “do I at least get a hug?”
“Fine.” She surrendered a little irritated with me. I knew she didn’t like hugs but for me that just made them more special. Besides these moments where rare, and I had to make them count.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” I quickly broke free from her embrace, nearly knocking her over. I jumped over the sofa and retrieved the book from where I had left it. I cautiously made my way back around, suddenly remembering what happened last time I ran on the hardwood with socks. “Here, this is for you,” I said, handing her the zoology book.
“Is this the new one?” She gasped.
I nodded with a big smile. She’d wanted that book for a while now, but was hesitant to ask me for it because it was so expensive. But seeing as she wanted to be a veterinarian so bad, she was worth it. Her obsession with animals started at about age five when she found a baby bird in our backyard and talked my parents into taking it in and nursing it back to health. At sixteen when she started college that is when she decided what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She threw her arms around my neck and hugged me, this time because she wanted to. “Thank you!” She said with a really silly sheepish voice. “I know this cost a lot.” “Yup.” I said in a ‘duh’ kind of way. “So did you want to catch a movie tonight?” I asked nonchalantly. “Or maybe we could play a board game?”
“Actually. . .” Rachel began to fiddle with Mom’s necklace, something she did when she was nervous. “I was hoping to go job hunting today, I could really use your help.” A Job I said inquisitively. “How can you do a job and go to school at the same time?” Well actually she replied “I was actually looking for an internship for a couple of months.” It is a school requirement.
My heart sank, this was the last thing I wanted to even think about!
“Gabe I know that you’ve been trying to carry the torch for mom and dad by taking care of me but, now that I’m an adult now I think it’s about time that I took on some of the weight” plus it will fulfill my semester requirement.”
You have enough to worry about with school hanging over your head, if you did get a job it would just slow you down.”
“Gabe my grades are in for this semester and it’s about time I applied as an assistant, somewhere. I do need to get a job out of college. If I get a paid internship then that could lead to a permanent job later.”
I was running out of things to say. We have had this argument before but somehow, this time she was winning. “Couldn’t we talk about this another day?” I asked pretending to be offended. “Today is my day off, and plus it is your birthday! Why would you want to think of working on your birthday?” Can we just talk about this on another day?”
“I don’t see you on any other day”, she said sadly “so how are we supposed to talk about this later” she asked pointing out the obvious. “Besides like you said it is my birthday and this is what I want to do”
“Most people try to have fun on their birthday.” I retorted.
“Gabe I’m not asking for permission, she replied with a little irritation in her voice. I’m asking you to come with me. I’m nineteen, which means I’ve been an adult for a year now.” She crossed her arms determined not to be swayed. “Please Gabe” she asked in a calm yet serious tone. “Let me take some of the responsibility for myself.”
I felt cornered, and I didn’t know what to say. Rachel wasn’t just my little sister she was my best friend and it’s been like that ever since we were little.
Everything I have done was to keep her safe and ensure that she had a future. The idea of her getting a job kind of scared me because that meant that soon she wouldn’t need me anymore. Then again, wasn’t that the point.
I let out a great sigh of defeat letting my arms fall to my sides and hang there.
Rachel knew I was broken and the faintest smile crept across her lips “I’ve put a lot of thought into this, Gabe. I know what I’m doing”. I only nodded in response.
“Oh common Gabe. I promise it will be fun”
“How is job hunting supposed to be fun?” I asked sarcastically.
“You’ll see, but we will have to leave soon” Rachel stated glancing over at the clock.
“You say that like you already have something in mind.”
She gave me a weird smile, “Yup! I don’t suppose you’ve heard about the new show in town, I think it was called” Rachel paused trying to recollect the name. “Wait, that’s it!” Rachel shrieked with delight. She reached past me to the pile of mail still sitting next to her cake and grabbed the flier off the top. “This is it!” she held the flier up to me.
“The Black Candy Circus” I read the title aloud in a questioning tone.
The advertisement was very unique not like others I have seen. Dancing across the paper where black representations of all sorts of exotic animals that you would expect to see in a circus. They seemed to be moving…..very weird. It read “Welcome to the experience of a life time. We warn you that our show is not for the faint of heart. Premiere showing October 28th. We….”
“At the bottom, Gabriel!” Rachel cut me off. “Read the bottom”
I started again. “Employment opportunities: stunt devil, animal tamer, veterinarian assistant, ringmaster assistant.” The list went on a bit more but I had read everything she wanted me to. “You want to work at the circus?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I just want to check it out,” she said defensively. “The premiere showing is tonight. We should go.”
“I don’t know, Rachel.” Don’t circuses only stay in town for a week, what could you do in a week?”
”It says right here”, said Rachel pointing to another line on the advertisement that read “3 month run”. That is exactly what I wanted. Just as if it was made for me.”
Getting frustrated with my hesitation she grabbed the pamphlet form my hand. “Come on Gabe. It’s a circus not a blood drive; and besides you did say you wanted to have fun!”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up at her mention of the blood drive. Why did she have to bring that up? I had been terrified of needles my whole life and she knew it. What can I say? They just freak me out.
“Please Gabriel? It is my birthday,” Rachel said, taking advantage of my hesitation. I hated when she batted her baby blues at me.
Of course she had to play that card. I crossed my arms and sighed. “Fine, I’ll go with you to check it out. A huge grin crept across her face and
Rachel started to jump with joy. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Once she finished thanking me like a maniac she gave me a big hug which made me feel a little better about my decision. Huh, three hugs in five minutes. “This is a record. She practically skipped out of the room calling from over her shoulder “I am going to get ready now for my first job interview.”
“Wait, I Quipped “what about the cake?” I called after her but she didn’t stop. “What did I get myself into” I thought to myself
Oh well, I guess cake will have to wait till we get back.
Off the Deep End in Candy land
“Geez, Rachel, how long does it take you to take a shower?” He teased.
“I wanted to look my best and I wasn’t in there that long,” I retorted. Despite his pessimism, I knew he was exited; he had never been to a circus before and neither had I. To be honest, I was a little worried we weren’t going to make it in time; After about fifteen minutes of driving we were almost there.The map on the back of the pamphlet said it was at the High school’s old football field, How hard can it be to find a football field in the middle of nowhere but still, we had a little trouble finding the place. It was about 6:15, which meant we had a little less than fifteen minutes to find the place and get in. We decided to watch the show and then find the Manager after and talk with him or her afterwards.
“Hey, there it is!” Gabe said, gesturing to our left with his chin.
The circus was huge; I couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen it before. The tent itself was a dark purple with black embroidery and it nearly filled up the schools entire football field. The closer we got to it, the more intimidating it got, as its size started to really sink in. I was also surprised by how busy it was, there were cars everywhere. “Wow, these people sure know how to advertise.”
“You’re not kidding,” Gabe said, showing genuine enthusiasm. After about five minutes of circling the parking lot trying to find a spot, we finally parked.
The line to get in was surprisingly short; apparently, everyone else was already inside and we were late. The lady at the ticket booth gave a large, but empty smile. “Hello, and welcome to the Black Candy Circus!” she wore a purple dress and a black bow which tied back her shoulder length blond hair.
“Hi, how much for two adults?” Gabe asked.
“As tonight is our premier showing, all admission is free.”
Wow, that surprised me. Apparently Gabriel too, as we both gave each other a confused look. Well I guess this is our lucky day I said, another birthday present for me.” Gabriel gave me a look to say seriously? The lady spoke again which caught us by surprise and somewhat creepy. She added Tonight is our premier show and our premiers are quite special.” “Oh ok I said thank you.”
Wonder what she means by “special,” I said to Gabriel under my breath. We both giggled and. The lady handed us our tickets. “Thanks,” I said. She responded with the same empty smile. We took our tickets and proceeded to the tent. “Well, that was weird,” I said.
Gabe nodded in agreement. “Goodness gracious weird isn’t the word for it.” Gabe added
With the tent looming over us, you couldn’t help but be intimidated. It was like some huge monster glaring down at you; the entrance even resembled a gaping maw. It was extremely dark out so you couldn’t see the inside from the outside.
I paused a moment to take a quick breath. Then, with Gabe at my side, we crossed the threshold. A deep sense of distance seemed to set itself between us and the world outside. I didn’t quite understand it but, it just felt removed. Gabe and I stopped for a moment to let our eyes adjust to the dark, and stared in surprise. The tent seemed even larger from the inside. “How is that possible?” I thought. As we entered on our right stood a tall, solemn looking man. He stood behind the counter selling candy and popcorn. Tall jet black and purple wooden bleachers wrapped around the tent all surrounding a center stage. The stage was about fifteen yards in diameter. The bleachers completely packed with people talking and eating waiting for the show to start. It is amazing that from the outside you could not hear a thing. You would have thought the tent was empty. The lighting was very eerie, the only source of illumination was a single spot light shining down directly on the center stage. This light reflected against the sides of the tent in a way that made it seem like it was alive.
I looked at Gabe and shrugged my shoulders “Well here we go” We had to find our seats before the show began. I scanned the bleachers quickly for two empty seats. We sat down just as the music began to play; the show had started.
Just as we sat, a whole orchestra of violins rang out to break the chatter of the crowd. It was absolutely enchanting. Gabe and I along with the crowd, grew quiet with wonder. I looked about, trying to find the source of the music but I couldn’t see anything “Maybe they’re using speakers,” I said to myself.
Suddenly A faint mist began to fill the stage; it spun about itself as though it were alive, slowly turning inwards towards center stage. Once it reached the center spotlight, the mist rose up from the ground, building up upon itself until it encompassed the entire stage.
“Welcome to the experience of a lifetime. Came over the loudspeakers. A deep female voice that sounded more like growling than speaking. Beware, for you are about to enter a world without rules or understanding,” The crowd fell silent, and the mist rose into a tall column in the center of the stage “My name is Candy and I will be your hostess for this evening.” The mist vanished, leaving on stage a human figure that I presumed was Candy.
She was young maybe 30 with long black hair and a sickly white face; she wore a black dress coat with purple trim and embroidery. Atop her head sat a black top hat with a purple stripes encircling it. Despite the distance she stood from us, a twisted smile could be made out just under the shadowed brim of her top hat.
“And now, let the show begin!” She removed her hat and gestured towards the curtains behind her. The music changed to that of a waltz. The curtain parted and from behind it emerged two polar bears on their hind legs, dancing. “Holy cow” I screeched
The audience applauded while Gabe and I sat dumb struck. It couldn’t be, I thought. I know way to much about animals to believe that Polar bears can waltz. It really looked like two people dancing together though. Maybe they were actors in costumes I thought No they were way too big, they had to be real.
As they rounded the area and approached closer to the center stage, Candy gave a twirl of her dress and vanished in a puff of mist. Then from behind the curtain came a man dancing with another polar bear. He had blond hair and wore a plaid shirt and red overalls much like a farmer would wear. His face was emotionless as they twirled around each other. Could that be real? I thought
The dance continued on until the man and his polar bear came to the center of stage, directly under the spotlight. All 4 were now dancing in a round in the center of the stage. The music changed back again to the violins, and they all stopped dancing and faced the crowd. Over the loudspeaker came Candy’s ghostly voice again “Please give a great big hand to my brother Jagger, The Beast Tamer!” The crowd cheered and clapped as He took a bow. “He must be one heck of a trainer” I said to no one.
The polar bears exited the stage leaving the guy with the overalls still standing in the center stage. “And now, ladies and gents, please welcome The Beast Tamers two faithful partners, Lola and Kiki!” From the right side suddenly appeared two majestic-looking snow leopards. The came out on stage and took their places at their master’s side. The crowd went wild. Wow I thought what beautiful animals. I thought those leopards were endangered. How can a circus have two of them? I nudged Gabriel but he was as mesmerized as the rest of the crowd.
The music started up again and the snow leopards bounded from the podium. The instant their feet made contact with the floor, two large round cage like spheres with jack-o-lantern faces painted on their surface’s fell from the darkness above. Seriously, these things were huge, and when they made contact with the ground they bounced nearly ten feet up.
The two cats chased them around like a cat with a ball. When the large objects came down for the second bounce, the snow leopards leaped onto the top, causing the spheres to lose their bounce. The two cats walked around the stage while balancing atop. They circled The Beast Tamer, one of them clockwise and the other counterclockwise. They continued their circular rotation until they looked as though they were about to collide, and suddenly they both leaped from their mounts and in midair the cats leapt over each other, and landed safely on the other’s globe. They continued balancing around the arena until they finally rested back to Jagger, the Beast Tamers side. The crowd cheered as the music blared.
Jagger then stuck his hands behind his back and pulled from nowhere two flaming torches which he began to juggle. Ok, I thought, this is more like a circus.” Both torches soared through the air. Suddenly from out of nowhere appeared another and then there were three torches being tossed, then four. I couldn’t tell where they came from, one second they weren’t there the next they were.
Now juggling no less than six torches, Jagger tossed a torch up to his left and Lola one of the snow leopards still balancing on the ball caught it expertly in her mouth. Then Kiki the other leopard on the right of Jagger did the same catching hers. Once both cats had their torches they in unison tossed them back to their master who caught them continuing to juggle. They repeated this process multiple times, back and forth, back and forth. All the while Jagger continued to juggle and the cats maintained their balance on the large spheres. Gabe and I were at the edge of our seats. The cats started to circle their master again while still passing the torches back and forth to him. Finally the music started to slow as did Jagger’s juggling. As the music winded down the torches started to disappear as easily as they appeared. Five then four, disappearing into thin air until there were only the original two torches left, Jagger slid them from where they came behind his back and they disappeared. The cats turned their balls and made their way behind the curtain again. The crowd leapt to their feet in cheer.
“Holy-!” Gabe exclaimed and jumped out of his seat. “Yah it was good” I said turning to Gabe. He was now standing on his seat looking down at floor with a terrified look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I yelled over the defining noise of the crowd. I then felt something brush against my leg. I shrieked and jumped up on my seat as well. Below was a large black snake slithering under the seats? It had to be about 25 feet long and a foot around. Gabe and I embraced each other as if we were somehow going to protect ourselves from this large monster. The snake slithered under our seats past us heading toward the center stage. Spectators everywhere where jumping up on top of their seats just as we had done.
An electric guitar began to play strange notes as suddenly hundreds of snakes slithered onto the stage. They crawled on top of each other making a huge slithering serpentine pile in the center; the audience watched seemingly creped out but pretty calm. As soon as all the snakes were on the stage the audience calmed and returned to the seats. I looked around, let go of my brother and we also took our seats. Gabriel grabbed my hand as if to say No I am not alright with this. I patted him as a mother would do to a child and leaned over to whisper “Its ok I think it is part of the show.” He still looked very freaked out and it made me smile. Wow, my big brother is afraid of snakes!? I knew he was scared of needles and anything to do with shots but this was funny. Well, to me anyway.
Turning my attention back to the stage the twisting pile of snakes began to stack up like a pillar about six feet tall then seamed to fusing together forming into what looked like a human. It was Candy the mysterious Ringmaster. Whoa that is crazy I thought. She appeared in the spot with the snakes although the snakes seemed to melt away from around her until nothing but the ringleader remained. A second later there wasn’t a trace of the snakes; there was only Candy.
She raised her arms in the air and spoke. “Are you ready for the finale ladies and gentlemen?!” She uttered in the same low graveling voice. The crowd hollered and cheered as if it say, oh yah!! Then spread her hands out towards the audience in a beckoning motion as the audience became even crazier with noise. Gabe and I cheered along with them. The effects for this show are amazing, I thought. What could possible top what we have already seen?
Jagger The Beast Tamer left the stage. Mist began to appear again, only this time it was different. Instead of coming from outside the stage flowing to the center, it started from beneath Candy’s feet and crept towards the audience. A slow eerie music kept track and timed its every move. The mist made its way to the edge of the ring spinning and circling. It then began to glow. “Well that’s different” I thought. The music quickened as the mist began to move and shift: it separated into mounds of smoke, then the mounds coalesced into the shapes that looked like people then in unison hooded people emerged from the mounds dressed in long flowing black robes that obscured any individuality. Their robes flowed as if their clothes were made of black smoke.
The music faded then changed tempo and quickened to a lively but more sinister tune. Candy stomped the ground with her foot and fire erupted all around the area. What looked like wooden sticks, shot from under the ground and suddenly caught by all those cloaked in black. They encircled Candy and suddenly at the end of each stick erupted a flame as they began to juggle, twirling the flaming sticks around themselves and each other timed perfectly to the music.
All the while, Candy still in in the center began to dance; she moved sensuously, elegantly. Flirting with the sticks as they flew past her dodging them as though they were intently dodging around her every move. Almost hypnotized Gabe and I could not help but stare intently as she moved. The cloaked beings and the torches seemed to respond to her every move in unison.
The music thundered toward a climax, and on the final note Candy returned to the center of the stage and stomped her foot down one last time. The music stopped and everything in the ring burst into flames, then just as quickly vanished in a plume of smoke leaving only Candy on stage. The whole place erupted in cheer. Gabe and l were no exception, we stood on our feet and clapped and yelled. Ok, I thought this is definitely the place for me.
Candy took her bow turning to every side. Jagger joined her on stage and also bowed to the crowd. “Thank you for coming, they said in unison, I hope you enjoyed the show. As the crowd died down Candy left the stage and only Jagger was left. He raised his voice again directed at the audience. We have a show every night for the next 3 months” He said “each night you will experience a greater show than the one before.” Candy returned to the center ring for an encore. The crowd cheered again as she removed her hat and bowed again. “Have a most enchanting night ladies and gentlemen. “She said and with that, she vanished in a plume of smoke.
“That was amazing!” I screamed over the crowd to Gabe. Gabe enthusiastically nodded in agreement. He bent down to my ear “Ok you win this might actually be a good place for you to work, at least we could see the show whenever we wanted. I smiled smugly put on a very smug look and Gabe just rolled his eyes. “Alright let’s go and see if we can find the person in charge, you brought your résumé right? “He asked
“Yup,” I said with a nod. We headed through the crowed toward the back of the tent. Hey he said can we stop first and get a Carmel apple. I have been wanting one since we arrived. You and your apples I said. Hey can you blame me its fall you are supposed to eat apples and what better than to encase them in Carmel. We stopped at the concession stand and Gabe bought two.
“Here” Gabe said eagerly and offered me one of his apples.
“No thanks,” I said as apologetically as I could. As much as I appreciated the thought, I wasn’t in the mood for junk food I just want to find whoever is in charge of hiring. With a light shrug, and not even a second glance, he bit into his apple getting caramel on his chin and causing juice to drip down his face. “Gabe,” I groaned with a halfhearted chuckle, trying to hide my embarrassment. I know he doesn’t do it on purpose, but its times like this that I remember just how much of a slob he can be. Maybe it’s just a guy thing. Trying hard to ignore the mess all over his face, I eventually managed to lead him away from the food kiosk and back out to where we got our tickets. The same lady was still standing there behind the
counter with the same empty smile. “Hey I chirped “I was wondering who we talk to about a job here?”
The empty smile disappeared apparently startled by my question “ Um You talk to the ring master, Miss Candy; she’s in charge of this circus and the hiring I’d be happy to take you to her.”
It could have just been my imagination but, I could have sworn I detected an anxiousness in her voice, almost desperate. She exited out the back of her little tent and led us around the back of the main tent. Along the back stood several much smaller tents. Which I assume they were for storage or used for housing the cast or animals. The woman walked briskly and Gabe and I had to almost jog to keep up. Once we made it around to the back of the main tent, we came to another large tent connected to the main one. Wow this place is huge” I said “what is in all these tents. Ugh she paused as to think of something to say. “It’s all for the show”.
She finally led us inside the second main tent where our jaws dropped. There were so many cages, maybe hundreds of them and all of them were full of exotic animals, both large and small. Lions, Bears, Hyenas, snakes, several large cats, and many different types of assorted birds. I almost couldn’t move in amazement at what I was seeing. “How did you get so many of these animals I asked?” “Ugh” she paused again, although didn’t stop walking “Well” she stammered “Candy has collected them over the last couple of years.” “Ok” I thought Gabe and I gave each other backwards looks. We both knew that to get this many exotic animals all in one circus is almost impossible.
“There are so many back here, how come none of these animals made it into the premier?” I asked
“Every animal has their own set of routines and eventually gets their time in the spotlight” she said still walking. “Miss Candy likes to mix things up every show. What you witnessed tonight was a performance that will never be viewed again. “Tonight was a premiere.” She stated in a matter of fact kind of way, I nodded in understanding as we continued on at our brisk pace.
“Where are all the workers to take care of the animals?” Gabe asked as he gestured to the cages sounding a bit confused. “With this many animals you would think there’d be a lot more staff running around back here.” Gabe finished off the first apple; core and all, then inserted its now bare stick into his jean’s pocket before starting on the next one.
“We have tried to hire more staff, however, Candy is very picky and usually turns down most of the applicants.” Candy has strict qualifications, “putting an extra emphasis on the word, “qualifications”,
“So then, how many people do work here?” I asked, now curious about the qualified.
“You will see,” the ticket lady said her voice so low I had to strain my ears to catch it. I waited for her to explain but she made no attempted to amend herself, so I dropped the issue. I was excited to have the opportunity to work with animals that I really had only read about in books.
Seeing all these animals, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind, I wanted to work here. I wanted it so bad I couldn’t even fathom what would happen if I didn’t get the job. I grabbed my necklace that mom had given me and said a short prayer. Oh God please let me get this job. My heart quickened a little which surprised me. I stopped and shook my head a little.
“Are you ok?” Gabe asked with a concerned look on his face.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just a little uneasy.”
“Uh I don’t know,” I said as we kept walking I said impatiently
“Gabe” I looked over my shoulder. “What if they don’t want me? I really want this job; it’s perfect.”
“They would have to be crazy not to take you. He said with a shoulder nudge. “And besides, even if they don’t, you shouldn’t worry about things you have no control over.” As much as he clearly didn’t like the idea of me having a job, I was surprised to hear Gabe encouraging me. It was times like these he sounded more like my dad. Oh how I missed my parents. I wonder what they would think of me and Gabe now. They always encouraged us to go for our dreams. Would they be proud of me? I sure hope so.
I nudged him back “I know I know, I just have not wanted anything this badly in a long time.”
“Then don’t worry about it, if they don’t take you, it wasn’t meant to be and there is something better out there for you.
I gave him another playful nudge. “Thanks Gabe.” He gave me his stupidest smile as his way of saying “you’re welcome”, before wiping the excess apple juice off his face with his sleeve. We continued to walk through the tent which from the outside didn’t look so big but from the inside it was never ending.
“Hey Rachel you know what I just thought of?”
“No, what?” I asked
“How little you will get to see me if you’re working full time during winter break”
“I’ll live” I said teasing him. “Though you, I’m not so sure about”. “Maybe you should get a girlfriend?” I suggested.
His eyes rolled “don’t start that one again” he said sarcastically.
“Gabriel, you really should start dating, I’m getting sick of people mistaking us for a couple” I complained.
“Well he said sarcastically, I actually think it’s kind of fun messing with you”
I shoved him jokingly. “Sometimes I swear I can’t tell who the oldest is.”
“Ouch” he clutched his chest acting like I shot him.
“Seriously, one of these days you are going to need to grow up”
“You’re not my mom” he mocked rolling his eyes again.
The ticket lady led us past the last pair of cages when we rounded a final turn; Gabe was just finishing off the last caramel apple, when we saw her. In the distance down the corridor. It was the ringmaster Candy. She was still in the same outfit as before only she wasn’t wearing her hat. She stood with her back to us, facing and talking with Jagger, her brother, and they seemed to be arguing about something. I could barely hear what they were talking about, but as we drew closer I heard her say “Listen, I don’t care if you forgot; if you steal my spotlight like that again. . . ”
“Miss Candy, these two people are here to see you about a job.” The ticket lady quickly interrupted. Candy slowly turned around. To see who had disturbed her. With a slow methodical reply and still glaring at her brother
“Thank you Miss Tiffany,” I take it from here.
Tiffany made a bow and hurried the way she came. Candy turned back to her brother
“We will finish this later,” Candy said. Jagger turned with a sheepish look on his face and left. Candy whipped herself back around to face us, Wow I thought to myself” this lady leading the Black Candy Circus didn’t look a day over sixteen, earlier on stage she could have passed for late twenty’s. “Hello, offering her hand to me while acknowledging my brother with a smile. My name is Candy, she chuckled- of course, you already know that. “What are yours?”
“My name is Gabriel, and this is my sister Rachel.”
“It’s nice to meet you, your show was amazing!” I said, shaking her hand cautiously but enthusiastically
Candy seemed pleased with my flattery. “Yes, I know. I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a bad time though; I understand you’re here for a job.” she said looking directly at Gabe
“Yes, actually, my sister Rachel is -oof!” Gabe started to say.
I elbowed him in the stomach before he could finish. “I can speak for myself, Gabe.” I pulled out my résumé and presented it to Candy. “I was hoping to apply for a job as either a vet assistant.” I am on winter break from school and I read that you are in town for 3 months and looking for a vet assistant?
An ear to ear smile crept across Candy’s face as she slowly grabbed the folder out of my hand. “Are you qualified for such a position?” Candy asked, pursuing inside the folder.
“Yes, ma’am. I believe I am. I have three years of college under my belt as well as two summer internships at the city zoo. I have a letter of recommendation from the Director of Animal care from the zoo.
Candy continued to read, not giving any sign of having heard me. “You have a very impressive track record for only three years of college,” she said, then closed the folder and tucked it under her arm. I started to respond but Candy put up her hand to cut me off. “When can you start?” Well I stammered and shot a look of shock to Gabe. He raised his shoulders as if to say Go for it and I said in more of a question “Tomorrow?”
Written in Blood
“Wow” that was easy, too easy I thought to myself.” I saw on Rachel’s face a smile like I hadn’t seen since she was a little girl. I was happy for her although I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something a bit off about this young ring leader. I couldn’t put my finger on anything in particular but she seemed a little too eager to have Rachel after just talking to her for five minutes. Rachel looked happy so I decided to ignore it for now and wait and see. If she didn’t like the job she could just quit, Right??
“Come this way, Candy motioned as she moved down the corridor back the way we came. I have your contract in my trailer,” Now outside again, the skies had acquired a menacing overcast; thunder could be heard faintly in the distance. As clouds now blocked the light from the moon and stars. It had also gotten so dark I could barely make out the parking lot as we passed by it.
As Candy us away from the old football field and main tent we walked towards what I could barely make out as the outline of a rather large trailer. As we drew near I could see Candy’s name on the door. Approaching, the light above the door snapped to life. “Come on in,” Candy said while opening the door for us.
The interior was amazing. Like the tents it sure looked larger on the inside than from the outside. Everything looked like it was from another era. From the golden mirror to the hand carved desk to fancy silverware on the table. Not my taste but then again I could survive with a futon and milk crates for furniture.
Rachel was the first to speak “Wow, you have an amazing place.” Rachel was obviously trying to suck up to Candy, but Candy didn’t even seem to notice or reply as she passed by us closing the door behind her. She just gave her a shrug.
Candy made her way around her desk and from the top drawer produced a blank sheet of paper and a black, rather extravagant-looking quill pen. That had to be the oldest looking pen I had ever seen. It was black with golden detailing all over it. She presented the paper and the quill to Rachel who seemed confused.
“Please sign here.” Candy said, holding out the pen. As the lightning flashed outside the window. Uhm… Rachel hesitated but reached out for the quill and paper. As she did, Candy, out of nowhere, stuck Rachel’s index finger with it drawing a small amount of blood. “Ow!” Rachel recoiled from the shock of suddenly getting her finger stabbed. “What was that for’ she screeched. Oh, you’ll see. The ring leader said enthusiastically. Before either of us could object, however Candy quickly took Rachel by the hand and delicately planted her injured finger on the bottom left corner of the blank sheet of paper.
The instant the blood made contact with the paper it flew across the page as though it were alive. I watched as the blood danced around the page to form words. The once blank page now was filled with blood soaked words. Entire paragraphs written in seconds very plainly across its surface, and in my sister’s blood.
I threw my hands up and backed away from the desk. “Well I’ve had enough of this freak show.” I announced and grabbed Rachel by the arm “we are out of here.” Rachel hesitated and pulled back. I glanced back and seeing my sister’s transfixed reaction toward the blood covered page I hesitated as well.
Despite how freaked out we both where somehow in some crazy sense of clarity, we read everything written on the page: aside from a lot of formalities, the line that caught my attention was the one on my sister surrendering any and all freedom over to the eternal service to the Black Candy Circus and its mistress.
“I realize I need a job and your circus is really cool but I think I’m going to need some time think about this.” Rachel said. She started to turn to head for the door when Candy started to giggle.
“I am terribly sorry young lady but you signed the contract, you work and live here now.
“She doesn’t have to work here if she doesn’t want to!” I said quickly in defense. I took Rachel by the hand and I turned to leave. “Let’s go Rachel.” As soon as I turned I nearly jumped out of my skin as somehow I was face to face again with Candy, who stood between us and the exit. How the heck did she do that I thought. Suddenly, all around us, the heavens roared and flashes of light silhouetted us in the dimly lit room. “Leaving in such a hurry? Candy asked.” And here I was about to offer you a job too, Gab-ri-el” The emphasis she put into the syllables of my name made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Even though I towered over the young ringleader in my 7ft frame, it was weird how I felt as though she had me cornered.
I could feel Rachel’s hands trembling as she squeezed harder. I pulled her behind me, placing myself between her and Candy. “Oh, and brave too! She chuckled Yes, you’ll be perfect!” reaching for a whip tied around her belt.
Only just realizing now, that we were going to have to fight our way out I dropped Rachel’s hand and I rushed towards Candy with my arms outstretched intending to try and overpower her before she could try anything. Before I knew what happened I felt myself soaring through the air as Candy easily tossed me aside like a rag doll. While in midair I collided with the glass of the window on the side wall and it shattered as I passed through it and landed hard on the damp grass, outside of the trailer. I lay there breathless and stunned for a brief moment, belly up with the rain pouring down on me.
With a painful groan I managed to roll onto my hands and knees. Candy stepped out of the trailer, the whip from her belt now in her hand. The rain blurred my sight but from where I was now kneeling I lifted my head slightly, only make out the tail of her whip as it dragged behind her a pair of black leather high heel boots. She stopped only feet away from me. The sky boomed above me as though her very presence enraged it. Tendrils of light snaked across the heavens.
Just as my vision was beginning to clear I saw a flash of movement as she flung the end of her whip into the air, then brought it down hard on my side, slicing a hole clean through my shirt. The whip resounded with a deafening
A surge of red-hot pain shot through me as I yelled and clutched at my side; I looked down, expecting blood but what I saw was far more disturbing. Covering my now exposed skin through the tear in my shirt was a patch of thick, brown fur the same color of the hair on my head. I gasped, then cried out again, as the hair continued to grow and spread down across my skin with a sensation so painful it felt as though I was set on fire. Every new hair that grew felt like a needle stabbing its way through my skin. I tore my damp shirt open trying to alleviate the pain but it merely revealed that the fur was in fact spreading down my side and up my chest.
“Gabriel!” Rachel cried, as she had climbed out the broken window just in time to witness the horror before her. I glanced up as she moved in behind Candy, her hands to her mouth, both frozen in shock and disbelief. Scared and confused, I turned my gaze to the monster standing between me and my sister, “What did you do to-”
I was silenced when the whip collided with my chest again, sending me backwards. Rolling over onto my side I Looked down again at the new hole in my shirt, I saw more fur growing across my chest but taking on a lighter shade than the rest. My ears were now ringing, I could still hear Rachel screaming my name. GABRIEL!!!
I clutched my stomach from the unrelenting pain pouring out from my wounds. Whatever was happening was now spreading its way up my right arm and onto my hand; I felt a surge of pain follow it as I watched the brown coat reach my fingertips completely covering my hands; my fingers as well as the rest of my appendages thickened and my nails grew into what looked like claws, which twisted to a point. I was utterly helpless, my screams which seemed to fill the night air were completely muted by the constant thunder of rain, and screams coming from Rachel. Wave after wave of searing agony coursed through every fiber of my being, each one more painful than the last.
I buckled and stretched, subdued by my own spasms. The ringing in my ears grew louder causing a massive headache.
Another blow from her whip struck me in the face. “Please!” Rachel pleaded, tears streaming down her cheeks.
My head throbbed like a hammer and I heard a deafening crunch as bones in my jaw and nose stretched and creaked pushing themselves forward. A harsh burning sensation rippled across my face as the fur continued to grow tearing my flesh with every hair that sprouted. When the beast like coat reached the end of my nose it forked out down to my lips coalescing into sharp points of thicker and longer hair like whiskers.
Despite the pain I was in, I could still comprehend all that was happening around me. I almost felt like I was hypersensitive to all the sights and sounds around me to the point where I felt confused. I didn’t understand how or why this was happening to me and though I knew it to be impossible I was actually changing into something and something defiantly not human.
A hard reverberating screech shook me to my core as my jaw began to ache. Using my tongue I could feel it as my molars and incisors began to stretch and grow jagged till they filled the spaces in my mouth. Whatever I was becoming, it clearly ate meat.
As if to confirm my suspicions, I felt my insides began to swim inside my thrashing body as my internal organs moved to different locations abandoning both their original shape and function.
I attempted to roll back onto my chest but instead ended up staggering onto all fours. I stood in one place trying to regain my composure. The pain seemed to be subsiding. For the first time in what seemed to be an eternity I started to regain control of my faculties.
The whip struck me again, causing me to lose my balance again. I felt a sharp stab in my back, as bone scraped and bent and my spine elongated and shifted forward. It felt as though my spine was being literally stretched apart, making it even more difficult to attempt standing on two feet.
I felt my ears crawl to the top of my head while my spine continued to grow. I didn’t see it but I felt a sharp jab at the base of my spine, as the bone attempted to push its self out. My appropriately named tail bone had grown down my ever tightening pant leg into a short, fuzzy stump of a tail that continued to grow.
All the while my body had continued to shift and change, it wasn’t until now that realized I had been growing as well. In a matter of minutes I was almost double my original girth and still growing. I had grown so massive and my jeans where constricted my legs so much that I could feel the beating of my own heart as it struggled to keep the blood circulating through my limbs.
For a moment I feared my limbs might fall off from strangulation. Fortunately I did not have to wonder long as the wet fabric could take no more of the strain and I heard them tear at the seams. Once the zipper and button give away, my pants slid down past my ankles as what remained of my clothes fell to the ground.
My headache returned and now hurt so much I could barely hear or think. As my shirt tore away, it revealed a multi-colored striped pattern in the fur that now covered my entire body.
Finally, like a light switch being turned off, everything became quiet. My body rested heavily on the wet ground as the pain finally subsided. Laying there I half expected the pain to return or for Candy to again begin lashing out at me with that accursed whip again.
When the pain didn’t return I let exhaustion take me and allowed my body to sink further into the mud drenched ground.
Utterly exhausted, and barely able to move, my vision soon began to clear. Despite my disorientation, I tried to piece together what had just happened. The ringing in my ears aside, I could also make out a faint whimpering coming from where I had last seen Rachel.
Despair took me, and yet with the last bit of strength I had, I opened my eyes to look for my sister; she was huddled against the wall near the window that I had been thrown out of. She looked like she was praying. She lifted her head, and our eyes locked. Tears in her eyes and hands shaking. She seemed to be in shock, though I suppose anyone would be.
I shook my head as my senses seemed to be strangely more alert. I could hear what she was saying under her breath, her voice seamed to echo through the darkness “Dear God, please let this be a dream!”
Candy now finished with me turned her attention to Rachel. As the ringleader walked toward where Rachel was crouched I saw candy glace back in my direction as if to admire her work, then returned her attention back to my sister. Rachel slowly stood, facing Candy. I half expected her to leave me and run but what she did instead surprised me.
With as much strength and bravery as my sister could conjure up she confronted Candy. “What did you do to him?” Rachel demanded in a shaken but stern tone. Candy folded her arms as she approached Rachel feigning an almost amused look.
“Exactly what it looks like dear. I just created my newest attraction.” She stopped “What do you think? Turning slightly in my direction unfolded one of her arms to reveal her work. I was still slumped on the ground so exhausted I could barely lift my head. She turned back to Rachel and lowered her voice “you both belong to me now.”
Candy quickly reached out to grab Rachel by the wrist. Almost instinctively Rachel jerked her hand away. I know my sister doesn’t look like it at only about 5ft but she knows how to take care of herself. I made sure of it.
I had long since known I would not always be around to protect her and so over the years I taught basic self-defense.
From out of nowhere Rachel brought her front foot forward and shifted her weight perfectly before delivered a right hook that would make some baseball players jealous. The punch made hard contact against Candy’s cheek and she staggered backward from the sheer force of the blow.
The ringleader attempted to right herself, but not just from the blow she had just received from Rachel. The look of utter shock and surprise on her face suggested that she had never imagined anyone would ever dare strike her.
“How did you do that?” Candy hissed.
Rachel didn’t understand the question. Although she hit Candy hard, her punch hadn’t even left a mark. Rachel screamed at Candy “Get away from me you monster. I’ll.” She paused to consider her words “or I’ll go to the police and expose you, and your circus.” Candy’s intense glare went from my sister to the blood contract she still held in her hands back to Rachel. Her attention drew down to the small, silver cross around Rachel’s neck. Her expression changed from surprise to again threatening.
Rachel Continued “Change him back, Change him back now” though her words where being ignored. The ringleader’s eyes tracked back up to my sister’s face. She paused as though she was trying to figure out why she had no control over Rachel and how to get this defiant girl under her control. As a smile crept across her face she walked closer to Rachel almost as if she was going to whisper in her ear. With a devilish breathy voice
“Your brother is my property now,” she said. “However, I have left his memory intact. He still remembers who he is and all of his memories as a human. If you defy me or do anything other than what I tell you, I will make it as though he were never human. He will not remember anything from his past life, not his own name, not even you!”
Rachel met her glare. Then she glanced at me. With a sad and hopeless look on her face Rachel lowered her fists and relaxed. A triumphant smile crept across Candy’s face. “That’s better,” she chirped. “As long as I hold your brother’s life in my hands you will do as I say.”
“What are you? What do you want from us?” Rachel asked pleadingly.
“What I am is of no consequence. What I want is obedience from both of you.” Candy paused as if waiting for her to respond. “I will allow your brother to keep his mind and allow you to keep your brother so long as you are obedient. She paused to compose herself, confidence now returning to her. “Or I will make you regret it. It’s your choice.” she continued. Then with a slight bow, Candy’s words rang in my ears but I could no longer keep awake. “Welcome to the Circus.” was the last thing I heard before my vision went black and unconsciousness took me.
Obedient, New Pet
Rachel. . .
I don’t know how long I was out, but the first thing I felt was pain, everywhere. The cold floor pressed against my side and I felt as if I weighed a thousand pounds. As I slowly awakened, my entire body started to ache and my head pounded yet again. As my head stated to clear, I blinked my eyes to get some idea of where I could possibly be. Maybe this is what a hangover feels like. I couldn’t focus on anything around me. I closed my eyes again and tried to recall what was going on. As my thoughts began to come to me I wanted to believe it was all a dream, a nightmare, but there could be no mistake. It was all far too vivid; I took a deep breath and even that felt unnatural and painful. Mustering up whatever courage I had, I opened my eyes again. The sudden light hurt and my vision was still definitely hazy. I blinked, trying to focus, but everything was different; light, shapes, color. At first I couldn’t tell what I was seeing until my eyes finally focused. My heart sank as I realized that this was no dream. The large furry muzzle in between by eyes dismissed any doubt I had.
Looking back at what had transpired. My mind began to race with questions. How could this have happened, where was I? Where was Rachel? Was this magic? It had to have been, nothing else made sense. Well actually that doesn’t even make sense, magic isn’t real. Who, or what was the Candy and why did she do this to us?
Putting my thoughts aside I decided to try moving. Tensing unfamiliar muscles, I slowly lifted my head off the floor, gritting my teeth from the pain. While attempting this I was surprised to find my neck had far more flexibly than I remembered.
The floor was wooden with straw everywhere. There were bars, completely surrounding me, closing me in.
Despite my disorientation I could easily make out that I had been caged. Likely in one of the many cages I had seen earlier with Rachel. The cage itself was only about six feet by eleven feet, not very big. Looking over to the other cages I think I recognized some of the animals caged from the premier. No sign of Candy though. No sign of Rachel either. Looking back over my body I also noticed I had no clothes on. Then again, I was covered in fur. Though not having clothes on left me feeling bare and exposed. My body tingled from crisp draft which blew through the cages and swept across my new frame. The air was cold but it didn’t chill me as I thought it would, my new coat seemed to protect me somewhat. Still looking over myself, I took note of how the light brown fur covering my body had been traced by darker brown stripes. From the stripes on my back to the curve of my tail, from the size and build of my form, what I had become was unmistakable. I was a tiger. A rather unusual tiger considering they don’t normally have brown fur, though definitely a tiger. Turning my head around to get a better look at myself I felt something catch tight around my throat, restricting my movement. What is this I thought, a collar? Well this sucks.
Ignoring the uncomfortable and obvious lack of freedom for now, I tried to sit up using my arms- I mean- using my now fore legs to push myself up into a sitting position. My mouth was so dry and my tongue felt like sandpaper. The sensation as it moved around in my mouth was strange, though despite its alterations, its mobility was familiar enough and with it I could make out the shape and sharpness of my now dagger-like teeth.
After briefly inspecting the rest of my changes (the weirdest one being the tail) I decided that I had wasted enough time and what I really needed to do was to find a way out of this cage and then find Rachel.
Gathering up what courage I had, I rose up carefully until I was standing on all fours. The sensation was incredibly alien, but also somehow natural. After assuring myself I could stand, I slowly made my way to the bars. From the door of the cage, I could see that I was elevated about four feet off the ground. My cage was kept in a corner of the tent, separate from the others. In the cages across from me I could make out three polar bears, a mountain lion, and two lionesses. All of them lay motionless at the bottom of their own cages, I figured they were either sleeping or just bored.
I examined the bars closely which looked quite solid. I then moved back to the door in order to try the lock. It was just as solid as the bars. From the design, it was plain to see it to take a rather interesting key, which was to my great surprise still in the lock. Strange that they would leave the key in the lock. It must have been a mistake, I thought while sticking my . . . paw through the bars trying to grab it. Although my brain thought I could grab the key, my hand now a tiger’s paw did not work the same as fingers.
As soon as my paw was through the bars I felt the collar around my neck start to get warm. It also started to hum. What the heck now. I shrugged it off, although the longer I tried to pick at the lock the humming grew louder and louder.
I paused from my lock picking, unsure of what to make of it. Suddenly a jolt of pain so intense and powerful radiated from the collar through my entire body. It rattled me to the bone. My legs buckled as I fell to the floor, thrashing and crying. I tried desperately to get the collar off. I used my hind legs to try to push it off over my head, but just as I made it up to my ears the collar delivered yet another more powerful rush of agony. With another cry I collapsed to the floor again and blacked out.
A sudden rush of cold water drenching my entire body woke me instantly. Jumping up from the sudden shock and now soaked fur, I turned my head around looking for the jerk responsible. The cage door was now open and standing in front of it was Jagger Candy’s brother with bucket in hand. . “Rise ‘n shine pussy cat!” he called mockingly. As I shook the water off myself, a rage unlike anything I had ever felt before built up deep in my throat and I let out a low growl. I braced myself to pounce on this small fraction of a man. “Now now kitty, I wouldn’t even think about it if I were you.” Jagger was a twenty something about 5ft-8 and couldn’t have been more than a hundred pounds. He had strait wiry hair and a pot marked face. The guy looked like he could have just crawled out of a sewer and frankly he smelled like it too.
As my anger built my muscles tightened ready to pounce. Suddenly the collar started to hum again. I instantly shrank back in fear, remembering what had happened before. The collar stopped humming. Relief washed over me as my fear and anger subsided.
Turning my attention back to the jerk with the bucket I suddenly realized that he wasn’t alone. Standing just behind him with a rather frightened look on his face was a little boy carrying a large tattered broom. He couldn’t have been older than twelve. He had medium length tattered blonde hair and was barefoot wearing blue overalls that didn’t fit him well.
“Aww, is the pore kitty upset that I woke him.” Jagger continued. Oh, I really didn’t like this guy. I thought to myself.
“Get out!” He ordered. “It’s time for your check-up and we mustn’t keep the doctor waiting!” when I didn’t move, the collar around my neck immediately started to hum again. “I’d obey if I were you,” Jagger said with a wicked grin. “That collar isn’t going to wait for you, I’d say you have about two seconds.”
I reluctantly made my way to the cage door and the humming quieted once again. Once at the edge I paused for a moment and the collar started up again. “I said get out!” Jagger snapped again. I hopped out quickly, desperate to avoid any more assaults from the collar. “So long as you are obedient and don’t try anything stupid, that collar shouldn’t give you any trouble. Now come.” Jagger then turned to the small boy and nodded. The kid sped past me and climbed into my cage and started to clean it. Then it hit me that this kid, like me and my sister worked for the circus and judging from the miserable look on the kids face it probably was not of his own volition either.
Jagger broke my concentration on the kid by barking more orders. “Come on kitty let’s go!” As stupid as I felt and as disgusted as I was with these people, I didn’t argue. Leaving the kid behind I followed awkwardly, and unsteadily from the pain, the shock, and because it was my first time on all fours.
Struggling to walk on all fours, I thought back to my little outburst in the cage. It came on and off so quickly I hadn’t noticed it till now. The almost primal rage I felt after Jagger threw the water on me, kind of scared me. Had the collar not intervened, how far would I have taken it?
I was led past several empty cages out the back door to a trailer that looked a little like Candy’s except it wasn’t as big, On the door was a big paw print. Above the paw print was a plaque engraved with the name “Steve” on it. Under his name were the words Black Candy Circus Veterinary clinic. I didn’t know what was in store for me once inside, but it couldn’t be good.
We stopped just outside the door. Jagger turned his head towards me. “Now remember, little pussy cat, unless you want that collar to put you in a coma I recommend you give the doctor your full cooperation.” I gave him a low growl before he opened the door.
As we entered I noticed a pungent smell of urine. It smelled like an old folks home. Good morning Steve.” Jagger said cheerfully. The trailer was about the size of a typical vet’s office. It had pictures of exotic rare animals on the walls and white tiled floors. There was a large stainless steel table in the center of the room presumably where they treated the animals. Steve was in the corner of the trailer, writing something down on a clipboard.
The Doctor didn’t look at all like I imagined a vet would. He was about 6ft tall with dirty blonde hair and a tan complexion. He wore blue jeans and a brown jacket with the same paw print on the chest pocket as the front door. He also wore black reading glasses and a stethoscope around his neck.
“Ah, good morning, Mr. Jagger. Steve turned around to greet us. His eyes widened as he glanced from his clipboard toward us. Oh, what do we have here?” He asked noticeably excited to see me.
“This one is here for his physical and for documentation,” Jagger remarked.
“Alright then, Can you have him jump up on the table? I’ll be right with him in a second.” Steve went back to his clip board to finish whatever paperwork he was doing. Glancing my way numerous times almost in unbelief.
Jagger gave me a backwards look that said ‘I better not have to ask you. Making my way to the foot of the table, I placed my forelegs on the edge and hopped up.
“Ok, then,” Steve said. He turned to place the clipboard down on the counter, then grabbed a pair of rubber gloves and slipped them on with a snap. The way he did it made me very nervous as I had seen other doctors in movies do the same thing, and I got the distinct feeling he didn’t want me to turn and cough.
Once his gloves were on he turned back to me. “Let’s take a look at you shall we?”
Steve removed his glasses and walked on over to me. I tensed up, reluctant to have this man examining me so closely. “So, what’s this big guy’s name?” Steve asked Jagger.
“Gabe or something,” Jagger replied uninterested. “I just train the dumb animals, I don’t know, he’s is a recent accusation.
Steve offered a hand cautiously, probably expecting me to smell it. When I didn’t respond his hand went to the top of my head and he proceeded to pet me. “Hey there Gabe how are we today?” He said very kindly. His voice seemed genuinely concerned for my welfare. I turned to Jagger and gave him an icy glare; he just leaned up against the wall with a smirk on his face
Steve pulled out a small flashlight then brought it up to my eye line and turned it on briefly. The bright light made my eyes hurt a little, but I cooperated. Having taken physicals before, it didn’t bother me all that much. He went from one eye to the next and after determining my eyes were indeed healthy he went to my ears. He brought his hand up to my left ear and snapped his finger. My ear twitched and he proceeded to the other. “Can you have him open his mouth for me?” Steve enquired of Jagger.
“Stick your finger in his mouth, he should just open it for you,” Jagger replied.
Steve shot Jagger a surprising look. Jagger nodded and so shrugging he proceeded to bring his hand up to my mouth.
When I hesitated to open the collar started to hum again, giving me really no choice. I opened my mouth, and Steve examined my teeth briefly.
“Wow, I can’t say I have ever seen teeth this clean before, even on most people! Do you guys brush them?”
Was this guy for real? I thought. Was he really totally clueless about who he worked for?
Jagger just shrugged. Once Steve was out of my mouth I closed it promptly almost biting off his fingers. Going back over to his clip board he then preceded to transcribe his observations. “He’s an unusual one; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Bengal with this kind of coat before, or any tiger for that matter. Do you know if this is his natural color?”
“You would have to ask my sister,” Jagger replied. “I only know we got him this way.”
“Fair enough.” he then came to stand beside the table. “I don’t suppose you could get him to lie down.” He asked before placing the clipboard down next to me. Jagger folded his arms and gave me that look again. I knew if I didn’t, the collar would just start humming again, so I lowered myself into a comfortable lying position. Steve circled around the table looking over every inch of me “And he has no medical records at all?” he asked Jagger in disbelief.
“None.” Jagger replied. Steve stopped a little to my left and just nodded.
“Does he have a number?”
“113,” Jagger replied. “Though he hasn’t been marked yet.”
“Ok well that has to get done. I’ll also need to take a blood sample.”
I didn’t like the sound of that!
Putting away his flashlight, Steve pulled a syringe from his jacket. I tensed up almost immediately jumped to my feet and backed to the edge of the table knocking Steve’s clipboard off the table. “Easy, there!” he said throwing his hands up in a calming gesture. Don’t worry big guy I am just going to give you something to help you sleep. “Oh I don’t think so I thought. I gave a slow growl in disapproval. Jagger cleared his throat trying to catch my attention then I heard him say something under his breath but I didn’t catch but aside for that he stayed put. What the heck are you going to do to me that you would need me to be sedated?
I felt the collar start up again. “4.” I heard Jagger say. O God. “3.” No this can’t be happening. I gave Jagger a desperate look. He just returned a smile “2.” this was really going to happen. I didn’t know what that doctor had in store for me once I was out but what could I do. “1.” Time was up; submitting to my fate, I very reluctantly went back down and the collar stopped humming.
Steve seemed to calm down also. He removed the cap, revealing the rather large needle and made his way behind me and stuck that ginormous needle right into my left shoulder. It didn’t take long for the effects of the sedative to begin. I suddenly got light headed, and gave the so called beast tamer a look that spelled out pure hatred. How could anyone do this to another human being?
As the drug kicked in my vision grew blurry and it became hard to keep my head up, all the while I struggled to stay awake the doctor was petting me. “That’s a good boy, that’s it shhhh”…
My last thoughts were that of deep loathing for Jagger. You had better hope I don’t ever get out of this collar. At that thought I fell into a deep sleep.
The first thing that returned as I came too was my hearing. Steve was talking to Jagger “. . . .He’s surprisingly tame for a tiger his age, so we might not have to. However, if he starts having temperament issues I’m going to have to insist.”
“Whatever, Doc.” Jagger replied. As the drug continued to wear off my other senses started to return. I began to feel immensely sore in my hind region not to mention the burning sensation on the inside of my right hind leg.
“Oh, I think he’s coming to,” Steve said. I felt his hands go up and down my back trying to help blood circulation. “Alright now Jagger, I want him resting for the next twelve hours, until he’s fully recovered I don’t want him doing anything where he might hurt himself.”
Relief hit me like a wave. Don’t get me wrong, I was sure ticked as heck at this doctor for his violation of privacy and personal space, but at least we were finally done.
As my strength returned I tried sitting up. “Whoa, easy there!” the doctor tried to prevent me from getting up, and for good reason. I felt the blood rush to my head and the world started spinning, I almost fell off the table. Steve thankfully caught me.
I sat there for a few more minutes and once the doctor felt I had woken up enough, he allowed me to stand. As I did the inside of my right hind leg really started to sting. In order to view the damage I turned my head around and lifted my leg. To my delight and utter relief certain parts where still there, but at the base of my right hind leg some of my fur had been shaved away and in its place was “113” tattooed in black ink. Wow, that’s less than flattering, now I know what he meant by marked.
Steve went to the corner to finish some paperwork. Jagger opened the door and motioned me to exit. I didn’t hesitate; as soon as the door opened I bolted out, eager to be rid of the doctor.
I trotted out with an awkward gait thanks to the amount of discomfort in my sore hindquarters. My gosh, I can only imagine the things that were done to me while I was unconscious. To be honest I probably didn’t want to know.
I followed at a distance behind Jagger, not wanting to be too close to him. I would never forgive what that man just forced me to go through, or for helping his evil sister take people hostage. I was very tempted to tear this jerk to bloody pieces. I definitely had the power to do so, but every time the thought hit me this darn collar would remind me that I really had no power at all.
Jagger led me back through the main tent. We rounded a couple more cages and made our way through a big curtain into the performance area of the main tent. The same one Rachel and I watched the premiere in. Looking out I could see that the bleachers were all empty except for a lone employee sweeping up spilled popcorn. He seemed to notice our arrival because as soon as we entered, the man departed through another side entrance taking his broom with him. `Standing in the center on the ringleader’s podium were two snow leopards. The same two from the premier: Lola and Kiki.
When Jagger approached them their ears perked up. “Front and center ladies.” Jagger called affectionately to them. On command they jumped off the podium and sat right in front of him as though they were begging for something to eat. Jagger glanced to me. “You too, puss!” I obediently but reluctantly made my way over.
As I approached their eyes met mine; they were black and empty. Empty, I mean there was nothing in them, it was like staring into an abyss. I tried to avoid eye contact as I sat next to them, but I could still feel their eyes on me. Jagger pulled out from his shirt a silver whistle. He played one single high note and the two cats ran out of the ring and behind the curtain.
I wasn’t sure what just happened but I didn’t move. Not that I could move very fast anyway. I was still a little slow from the sedative.
A few seconds later Lola and Kiki returned but they were riding atop two rather large red plastic balls. The balls were about 4 feet round and the two cats balanced atop with almost supernatural skill while at the same time directing them around the ring. It was quite impressive how much control they had, balancing on those things.
Still on top they made their way back to the center of the ring.
“Ok, pussy cat, guess what you’re doing today?” Jagger said with a grin. I just sat there glaring at him. So much for resting for the next twelve hours. I thought to myself. “Get on the ball, puss!” Jagger demanded
Kiki dismounted her ball and went to stand next to Jagger. You seriously have got to be kidding me I thought. I gave them all a look of disbelief. There is no way I am getting on that ball. I intentionally made my disapproval known by sitting down on my hind legs. Jagger gave me a sideways look and like clockwork the collar again gave me it’s first warning. Oh fine, I got up and walked toward the ball. As I approached the ball I thought about how I was going to go about doing this. Placing my front paws on the ball I tested how sturdy it was. Not very.
“I meant now puss!” Jagger snapped impatiently. The collar started to hum again, only louder. I was so startled by the sound, I just hopped on top of the ball. However I wasn’t up for long. I felt it start to roll backwards so I tried to move forwards. The ball did what I wanted, but I was too far forward on the ball so when it decided to move I ended up landing on my face, and boy did it hurt!
Jagger just busted out laughing, and to my surprise Lola and Kiki did too. It sounded very unnatural but it was unmistakably laughter. I let out a low growl in protest as I tried to pick myself up. Lola rode her ball over next to me, obviously mocking me, and with effortless ease jumped from her ball to the other one, leaving me her ball.
Gee thanks, I thought. Oh these cats where really starting to get on my nerves.
“Again, puss!” Jagger ordered.
Give me a second, I thought. Unfortunately, I knew what was in store for me if I waited, so I hopped back on. This time I managed to stay on a little bit longer. Eventually I started to slide off the back, when my hind legs made contact with the ground I tried to push off to get back on. Just as I did Kiki came around me on her ball and made a swipe at my left leg with her extended claws. I flinched from the blow and my left foreleg slipped from under me and my head collided with the ball and eventually the floor again.
“Get on and stay on!” Jagger demanded.
Disoriented from the impact I shook my head to try and clear it. I then tried to get back on. This did not go well as I guess I had taken way to long and the collar started to hum again. This was getting old I thought to myself. I kept trying and I kept slipping off. I would stop for a moment and try to think of how to stay on that stupid ball. The collar would start to hum and I would jump back on the ball trying hard to keep my balance. Because I was still weak from the drugs, the blood loss and the slight head trauma. I slipped off and before I even hit the ground the collar rattled my body with unimaginable pain. Kiki backed away from my thrashing.
The collar surged like electricity, wave after wave of the most unbearable pain. Then without warning the pain subsided. I was on my side covered nose to tail in sweat and breathing hard.
“Are you quite done now?” Jagger sounding irritated. I looked up at him balefully and let out a deep growl. Jagger backed away, I don’t know if it was from fear or if it was just a reflex, but the look on his face was priceless.
“Jagger!” we all turned our heads. Standing by the main curtain with her arms crossed and looking irritated was Candy. “Dear brother, may I have a word with you in private?” Jagger cussed under his breath then he turned to his cats and they both retreated disappearing behind the curtain.
As Jagger began to walk toward Candy he whipped back around at me “I’ll be back, “He snapped” and you had better be on that ball when I do!”
With that, Jagger disappeared behind the curtain with his sister, leaving me all alone. I turned to face the ball. Suddenly something from behind the far curtain caught my attention. I thought Jagger might have forgotten something. When the figure stepped through to the ring my heart nearly stopped.
Rachel. She was still wearing the same clothes from the night before. Our eyes locked. . “Gabe . . . is that you? I couldn’t respond. We both just stood staring at each other. Finally she took a step forward, then another until she was at the edge of the ring. She then ran toward me. I hesitantly moved forward looking around for Jagger. As much as I wanted to see my sister I was also afraid of getting zapped by Jagger again. Courage overcame fear and I met her half way. When I was close enough I rose up on my hind legs and we embraced. To anyone watching I imagine this would have looked quite peculiar but I didn’t care. I was just so happy that she was safe. A low happy growl escaped my lips as a steady stream of air shot through my nostrils producing a rather breathy snort.
“I’m so sorry, Gabriel!” she sobbed, squeezing me in her arms. “This was all my fault!”
I broke away from her embrace. I might have been bigger than her but standing on all fours she loomed like she was a giant. Was she crying? I’d known Rachel all her life and she was a very tough girl. The last time I had seen her cry was when Mom and Dad died, but then again, so did I.
We locked eyes then I shook my head in objection to her statement. A confused expression appeared across her face. My attempt didn’t seem to register.
I needed to talk to her, I needed my voice. Then it hit me; I might be able to talk. I mean, you see videos on YouTube all the time of animals being taught to talk, maybe I could too.
I concentrated on the positioning of my tongue and the very limited movement of my lips. When I had them in the right spot I tried to say a word. Only air came out. DANG this is not working I thought. Then she spoke again.
“If I had listened to you and just waited till school was over none of this would have-” I growled, cutting her off and shaking my head again in disapproval. “Gabe. . .” I shook my head again desperately trying to get her to stop. “You aren’t mad at me?” Putting my ears back and my head low I shook again. “I wish you were, At least then I could live with myself.” I took a step closer but as soon as I did she dropped to her knees and gave me another hug. “I’m sorry, Gabe I know I shouldn’t be crying like this but I can’t help but feel responsible.” I just returned her hug as best I could, burying my face deep in her arms. “I promise I’ll get us out of this,” she paused to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Thank you, Gabe.” She then released me from her embrace and kissed me on the forehead.
I responded with a sympathetic yowl. It wasn’t fair that my sister had to be subject to this kind of torment. This wasn’t her fault and I hated myself for not being able to comfort or protect her. I hated Candy for what she had done to us and I hated God for again allowing what little I had left to be taken away from me.
My sister and I were in quit a fix. I was trapped in a body that wasn’t my own and my sister was being blackmailed into forced service. I didn’t know what the future would hold but at least she was here with me. A few minutes later we heard voices coming from behind the curtain: our reunion was going to be cut short. “I’ll visit you later, Okay?”
She gave me an affectionate head bump then turned quickly to leave. I moaned, reluctant to be left alone again. But she didn’t stop, didn’t even turn around. She disappeared behind the curtain, and a few seconds later Jagger came storming back in. I bolted for the ball remembering his warning from earlier.
“Don’t bother, pussy cat; training is canceled until tomorrow.” He said just as my paws made contact with the sphere. He was clearly agitated though I doubt it was from me.
Sliding off the side of the large sphere I obediently followed the animal tamer back to my cage where he then locked me back up. As much as I hated being caged I was relieved to be able to rest after a very long and humiliating day. The only one bright spot to think on was that Rachel was ok. As I reflected on the day it seemed as hopeless as one’s life can get.
My sister was a nineteen year old girl who would soon be, against her will, be providing veterinary services for an evil and demented woman who runs the craziest circus in the world. As for me I was now a brown Bengal tiger who would soon be performing in that same circus. One of us cursed, the other enslaved, neither of us though, was alone.
The first couple of days I would have to say were the absolute worst for me. Each day would start and end the same. Thankfully ever since Candy’s had a talk with her brother, he has not used the Collar as his personal torture devise. He even would speak to me in kinder tones. Lining his orders with “try to do this” or “attempt to do that” so long as I made it look like I was doing my best the sessions went by without incident. Every day Jagger would let me out to practice a new trick, each one more difficult than the last. We would keep at it until I was worn out then it was back to my cage.
I don’t know how many hours I sat alone in that cage but the days dragged on and on. With nothing but all the time in the world and my thoughts to keep me company, it’s beyond me how I managed to keep my sanity. I hadn’t seen Rachel since the day in the ring a week ago.
For the most part I spent the majority of my time exploring the inside of my cage. I don’t know what I expected to find, there was clearly no way out. In fact the more time I spent looking the smaller my cage seemed to feel and that was just the beginning of my day.
Immediately after my first long training session with Jagger I was so thirsty I not only ended up getting myself sick from drinking too much water too fast but when I finally recovered, wouldn’t you know it I had to use the restroom.
I must have sat at the cage door for at least an hour hoping for someone to come by and let me out to do my business. No one came and inevitably, out of options, I did the only thing I could do.
I tried my best not to make too big of a mess in my cage, and thankfully I don’t think anyone saw, though the polar bear in the cage across from me was looking at me funny.
Despite my willingness to drink water from the bowl in my cage it was days before I even considered eating the slab of raw meat that was placed in my cage daily.
It was late in the evening; being hot and tired from the day’s training sessions I quenched my thirst carful not make myself sick again. After a few swigs my stomach wanted something more solid. So I went over and sat in front of the freshly delivered pile of meat. Now don’t get me wrong, when I was human I loved meat. When the option was available I would even eat it rare, this, on the other hand, was pushing it.
I hesitated at first, however the cries of my belly could no longer be ignored. Leaning down I inspected the meat with a light sniff then I sank my teeth into the warm red flesh and tore off a peace small enough to swallow.
Surprisingly it didn’t taste that bad, in fact it didn’t really have that much of a taste at all. Minutes later the meat was gone and my stomach was finally full.
Looking down at my paws I realized I had not been very clean with my meal, I had gotten blood all over them. I considered trying to wash them in my water dish. However once the dish was in front of me, I caught sight of my reflection on the water’s surface and discovered It wasn’t just my paws. I was all together a disgusting tattered mess.
Head to tail I was caked with dried mud, dust, and meat juices. Desperate to get clean and without really thinking, I stared grooming myself. I started with my paws then once they were clean I used them to help out with the rest of me. It wasn’t really till I started chocking on a mouthful of cat hair that I realized what I was doing. I froze, shocked by my own behavior. I tried to spit out the hair to the best of my ability however I had already swallowed so much.
At this point it could not be denied that my changes where more than physical. The only thing that seamed to set me apart from a real tiger was my memories and thoughts. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if every single one of the animals in this circus had previously been human. Seeing as none of them wore a collar like me to restrain them, it scared me to think that one day I might also not need mine.
As the hours rolled by I had nothing better to do with my days apart from my training. For the most part if I wasn’t sleeping or training, I was in my cage contemplating life and for the most part worrying about Rachel.
I didn’t see her much for the first couple of weeks and when I did see her she was always busy with one of the other animals. She would look my way and throw me a smile although it was somewhat sad and concerned. She always looked distracted like she was being watched. I don’t know why but Candy wasn’t letting her spend any one on one time with me. Whenever I did see a vet it was always Steve, and although he seemed like a good guy, being able to see my sister and make sure she was ok, really would make a difference in my sanity.
One day though after training with Jagger I returned to my cage to find something other than a slab of meat tucked in the corner of my cage It was a bright green granny smith apple. My heart leapt with joy. I knew who had left it too. For as long as I can remember I have loved these amazing apples and it was no secret to my sister. I took the apple between my paws and sunk my teeth in. Ugh!!!! I coughed and spit it out. The taste was terrible, so tart and bitter. My taste buds where overwhelmed by the unbelievably tart juices and it was almost enough to make me gag.
My first I thought was that maybe the apple had just gone bad. However later in the day I remembered how good the meat from earlier had tasted and that’s when I realized my taste buds had changed along with everything else. My mood went from elation to depression in five minutes flat. What else can go wrong I thought to myself?
Four months have passed now. I have all but given in to the fact I will never escape this nightmare. I don’t even look for opportunities to frustrate Jagger any more thus my collar is little more than a piece of jewelry around my neck. I am still kept isolated in my corner of the tent with hardly any interaction with the other animals. Aside from Lola and Kiki though they seem to have gotten bored with me, and don’t really bother me anymore.
Rachel and I have also not seen much of each other. The last two visits to Steve’s office did produce a small time where we were able to be in the same room for about 5 minutes. One of the times she and Steve were in the office discussing the care of one of the animals when Jagger brought me in. She stopped mid-sentence with Steve and walked toward me. Jagger gave her a hard look and she stopped in her tracks. She turned to Steve and asked if she could assist in the checkup. Before Steve could answer Jagger interrupted. “Rachel, Candy was looking for you. She has a new arrival that she needs you to look after.” Steve looked confused as He was usually the one who looked after the new arrivals. Rachel knew what he was doing but didn’t let on to Steve. Ok she said somewhat sarcastically. She grabbed her clipboard and headed for the door. As she passed by me she reached out and scratched my head and whispered “Hey Gabe” before shooting Jagger and look that could kill. Jagger as usual ignored her obvious irritation, smiled and bowed, as though Rachel was royalty passing by. Steve’s eyes darted back and forth from Rachel to Jagger wondering what was going on with those two. Rachel stepped out of the trailer looking back at me until the door closed. Steve looked at Jagger inquisitively “What was that about?” He asked.
“Oh nothing, Jagger said with a swagger. I think she likes me. “Steve looked doubtful and replied
“Yah I am sure that is what it is.”
I cocked my head sideways at Steve, as I was starting to question whether his interest in Rachel was more than just professional. It almost seemed as though he was a bit jealous of Jagger’s exaggeration of Rachel’s feelings toward him. That was interesting I thought. Maybe this could be a good development? Only time would tell. Jagger changed the subject and my exam began.
With months of endless training now under my belt I was getting pretty good at all the tricks I was trained to do. Jagger decided that I was finally ready for public eyes. I was fairly nervous and really didn’t know what to expect. Balancing on a ball in an empty arena was very different from one with screaming people all around you. That night when I was let out of my cage for the performance I could hear the crowd’s excitement roaring from behind the curtain. I was so nervous. This would be the first time I was allowed to be near people who were not under Candy’s control. Would they know I was once one of them? Jagger stood at the mouth of the curtain signaling each animal to enter as their act came up. I was at the end of the line and stood there for what seemed like hours before Jagger finally called me up.
My heart was pounding in my chest like never before. I had never had stage fright before in my life, and to be honest I usually enjoyed that kind of attention, but this was different. To me being nothing more than a simple circus act was humiliating and undignified.
In the beginning I had been just a guy trapped in the body of a tiger, tonight I was a full-fledged freak circus animal dancing to the sadistic tune of Candy and her Brother. Powerless to do anything but obey. Minutes passed before I heard Candy signal my cue by introduced me to the audience. Just like we rehearsed I broke through the curtain as the crowd cheered.
My eyes began to well up looking into the crowd. Why couldn’t I just be one of them again and leave this place. Seeing all of those people with popcorn and enjoying themselves made my heart ache. Thinking that months ago Rachel and I were among them. I must have been standing in one place for a while because out of nowhere a familiar hum that I had not heard for a long time broke through my thoughts. The sound of the collar revving up was more then enough to bring me back to reality and so I started my routine.
Practice had made perfect, and I successfully pulled off my balancing act. Near the end of my performance Candy had directed me over toward her. Once at her side she dismounted from the podium and road on top of me like a race horse. I was a bit surprised at how light she was. After two or three laps around the circle I returned her to the center podium as directed. It wasn’t until she dismounted and had me stand next to her on the podium that I really noticed how small she was next to my huge feline frame. Gosh I wish I could take her out right here and now. I didn’t even look up at her as I passed by her. Once I was properly facing the audience she leaned down and placed a hand on my side which signaled me to roar to the crowd. I put my right forepaw forward as I had been trained to do taking a rather imposing stance. I then too as deep a breath as I could I let out all my frustration from the last couple of months in a roar that shook the air sending vibrations into the bleachers. The audience grew still in awe. I like to think that even Candy was surprised at the power of my roar.
Candy quickly glanced my way. I could feel hot tears trailing from the corner of my eyes. “Cheer up Gabriel, you’re a star now” she whispered mockingly under her breath while taking a bow for the both of us.
I had never hated anyone like I hated her at that moment. Nor would I ever again.
Candy was right of course, as I was an instant hit. In my next performance and in every show that would follow, people would come from all over to see Gabriel, the Brown Bengal Tiger.
I had become so popular in fact that before each show Candy had me greeting guests just outside the main entrance. Jagger though was still there to keep an eye on me while people took pictures and gawked. I have to admit it was nice to do something other than tricks or just sitting alone in my cage.
The circus did a lot of moving around for the next couple of months and I got to experience firsthand what riding around in the back of an eighteen wheeler was like. Cramped stuffy and disorienting, and my motion sickness didn’t help.
As the days rolled by it wasn’t long before my birthday passed. It came and went just like any day before and I wouldn’t have even noticed its coming if not for the calendar that hung is Steve’s office. I didn’t know what to expect but at the very least I thought maybe Rachel would come by to say hi, but she never did.
By now, I think I missed Rachel even more than I missed being human. I missed the late night talks, the way she would try to cook for me. I even missed her nagging me about going to church with her. Well that is now definitely out of the question I thought to myself. Even if God is real he surly doesn’t have the time of day for me. besides I doubt they let tigers attend church anyway.
One late night only a few days after my birthday I had finally been moved to a different part of the tent. It had more action and I could see workers come and go. It gave me more to look at beside empty cages. That is the night Tony came to the circus. I had only just fallen asleep that evening when I was awakened by voices shouting down the corridor.
“Where are you taking me?” I lifted my head unsure as to what could be going this late in to the night.
“Please, O God, this can’t be happening.” The voice screamed. Although I couldn’t make out who it was I knew it was getting closer by the increase in volume. It also sounded muffled slightly, childlike even. Getting up from my corner I hopped over to the bars trying to get a better look. I noticed the other animals across the tent were beginning to stir also from the noise. From my cage I could barely make out three figures. Two of them I recognized to be the Candy and her brother but the other I couldn’t tell. He was being pulled along by his wrists which were bound by a long rope by Jagger. Although I couldn’t get a good look at him I could tell from his size and build that he was just a young boy.
“Please, don’t hurt me. He whimpered. Where is my mom? I want my mom. ” the boy’s cries for his mother filled me with sadness and rage. What were they doing to this poor kid? As they passed by the other cages of animals, you could hear them start to react to the boys cries. Soon the entire tent was alive with each animal now making a considerable amount of noise. It as though they knew something bad was about to happen and I was getting the same bad feeling. I wanted to help him, the kid couldn’t have been more than twelve. I paced the inside of my cage trying figure out a way to help him. I could not just sit quietly. I began to roar along with the other animals.
Despite our protests which were ignored I was a bit taken by surprise when Jagger removed the kid’s bindings, letting them fall to the floor before slipping the bag off the child’s head.
Jagger stepped off to the side and the whole tent went quite. It wasn’t just that the animals had stopped their protests I could clearly see that all the animals where still very restless in their cages. It was as if someone had hit the mute button the world and it wasn’t just the animals. The ambient sounds from beyond the tent, even the faint hum of electricity emanating from the dimed lights seamed to just disappear. It was in that one single moment that I noticed several things, first off that, aside from the kid’s bindings, Jagger was holding something with his free hand that dangled like rope. I also took note from the kid’s damp face and reddened eyes that he had been crying for some time.
The last thing I noticed however was that Candy, also had something gripped tightly in her hand also. As I adjusted my eyes I saw it was the whip that she had cursed me with when I had first arrived. My heart stopped at the realization of this child’s fate.
Candy reached down and gripped the young boys chin in her hand and chuckled with sick delight. “Why the long face kido?” she asked in a twisted motherly tone.
I gasped and my heart sank. No, no no no! this can’t be happening I thought to myself, she couldn’t. He’s just a kid.
Candy then took two steps backwards and gazed at the young boy as though she was looking through him. As she did I could hear her say
“This should teach your parents not to cross me.” I lowered my head and began a slow deep growl. The rest of the circus came to life, joining me in protest as Candy cracked the whip over her head. I instantly had flashbacks of the night that she had turned me.
I slammed my body as hard as I could against the cage and roared with an intense rage building inside. The boy just stood there looking like a deer in the headlights sacared to death. Instantly with a subtle twist of her wrist Candy let the whip come down upon him.
My ears rung from the sound that hurt my sensitive ears and I watched with absolute horror as a fate no one deserved befell this child. He fell to the circus floor clutching the wound on his left shoulder. However it was no ordinary wound. Where there should have very clearly been blood or at the very least a welt his skin had instead sprouted brown fur. Oh Dear God, I thought not that!
The boy screamed in agony as the changes spread down his arm and over his chest. Hot tears began to well up in my own eyes and as much as it hurt to watch I just couldn’t look away.
I roared louder shaking the cages around me which then got Candy’s attention. She glanced over her shoulder my way with an irritated look on her face. At that moment the collar I wore started to hum. Because it had been so long since I had heard that sound it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. As soon as recalled what was going to happen to me if I didn’t stop I quickly lowered my head and stopped my protest the other animals obediently followed my example. The boy continued to scream from the slow agonizing distortion of his body.
His small body began to grow and I saw his clothing tighten and then burst at the seams as his skin slowly began to darken as the coat of fur spread its way further across his body until his torso was completely covered. By the time the coat had made its way down his arm to his hands they started to disfigure and stretch. As they did, his middle finger lengthened with it while the others seamed to shrink in size and length till they almost disappeared.
The changes where happening allot slower than they had for me and at first I didn’t know why but then it occurred to me that the ringleader had only struck him once.
As his chest began to grow his clothing stretched against it.
The fur had now reached his neck and as it crawled its way up his chin his neck started to thicken and grow in length. The boy grew larger and larger while
Candy and Jagger stood by as the boy screamed and contorted as the changes took place. Had this been the same for me? Had it really been so painful? I asked my self-thinking back to that night. The boy rolled around on the ground clutching his aching body twitching with spasms that now rocked his body with pain as I had felt once before. His screams continued as did his changes, as they did his voice distorted into a very familiar shaky high pitched whine.
His horror struck face was the last thing the ever spreading fur had yet to reach. The most disturbing thing I had ever seen happened next. The boy held what was left of his hands to his head and gave out a long horrific whine when his face pushed out into a long muzzle. It stretched out long still forcing his nose and mouth out with it. I couldn’t believe how ridiculously long it was. It just kept growing and growing until his face resembled that of a horse.
Then it dawned on me as to what the boy’s fate would be. The rest of his body’s changes confirmed my suspicions. He was becoming a horse.
From hooves to flowing mane and tail.
His cries, now the whinny’s of a young stallion soon began to quiet. Without further warning he collapsed in a heap on the ground. Aside from the heavy rise and fall of his large belly he did not move.
The changes where now complete and the results where that of a large black stallion lying unconscious on the ground of the large circus tent covered in the tattered torn remains of his own clothing.
Silence descended over the circus yet again as the animals grew still in their cages.
Candy stood over her new creation. Her dark form emanated a twisted arrogance that was made ever clear by the cruel smile on her face. A moment passed before she looked up from her handy work and without a word the animal tamer approached. He circled around and holding out what I could now see was horse’s bridle, he leaned down and fastened it securely to the poor creatures face then left him to lie there as he snickered. “Sweet dreams my little pony” He attached a line to the halter and the other end to picket nearby.
“We will be back for you in the morning.” Candy said as she turned on her heals and disappeared behind some cages leaving Jagger alone with the former youth. Jagger however did not linger; as soon as candy was out of sight he retreated in the same direction as his sister.
For hours nothing moved and all was quite. Rage and sadness consumed me. How could this happen, what kind of monster could do that to a child. Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing could matter. No more, I couldn’t take this anymore.
Loneliness and despair had consumed me, and I couldn’t take it anymore. For nearly a year and a half I sat complacent waiting for some way out. There was no way out, and I was neither the first nor the last to suffer such a fate at that monsters hands.
I could see him lying there, all that remained of his former life now lay strewn about him in a tattered mess of torn clothing. I looked out at the other animals still unmoving in their cages. I searched their faces desperate for some sign, some trace of the emotions I felt, but I saw nothing. All traces of their humanity was long gone. All I could see was the blank expressions of animals that where simply annoyed by the disturbance. Each one of them had long forgotten who and what they were. The same fate awaited the new stallion lying quietly on the tent floor. The same fate awaited me.
My name is Gabriel Saint. My name, the fact that I knew who I was, just so happen to be the only thing that truly set me apart from a simple beast. But for how long.
I refuse to wait and find out. I refuse to simply sit and wait until I eventually forget who I am. My anger and frustration had bubbled up to a climax till I could no longer contain it. I’m done!
Immediately and despite the consequences, I ran at the bars throwing all of my wait against it. My side collided with the bars but it did little more than shake the cage. Like clockwork my collar started up again however rather than scare me into backing down the threat had served to only fuel my rage. The bars that had confined me for so long vibrated violently as my rampage intensified. Then the pain came as I knew it would so I fought it too. Cursing I dug my claws into my own neck trying desperately to get the collar off and as I expect the pain intensified. My body convulsed and I kicked against the side of my cage in a wild spasm.
I let lose a roar that sent tremors through my body vibrating my cage bars and scared the other animals into a wild panic. I dug my claws in deeper but the pain was just too much and I wasn’t getting enough ground and soon I lost all control of my actions.
The pain consumed me there was nothing left, nothing else existed but the pain. I thrashed desperate to escape it but to no avail my body completely given over to the rhythmic surges of agony. My powerful muscles contracted and released with no sense of purpose.
An eternity seamed to pass and all light in the world faded then I knew for sure that I would die. “Death” I though “yes, that would be my release.” In between convulsions I forced up what remained of my shattered will and wished with all of my heart for it to end. “Please kill me I want to die. God please” I blacked out.
. . .
I awoke the next day in Steve’s operating room, it looked just like the last time I saw it. The doctor was sitting in the chair next to me scribbling something down on a clip board. Looking away from his clip board he seemed to notice me coming too. Without a word he got up and left taking his clipboard with him. The door closed behind him and I was alone again. Trying to better assess the damage I winced from the pain as I craned my neck. Sitting up I noticed that other than some bandages covering my injured neck nothing else was different. I don’t know how they moved me there but it was safe to assume that I had failed; all of my efforts had been in vain. My entire life seemed to be just one big failure after another. I failed my parents and my sister by not being able to take care of her. I failed myself by not being able to do anything about it. No matter which way I looked at it, I was a failure.
I felt a breeze blow through as the door to the trailer swung open and I heard footsteps. At first I thought it was the doctor, Steven, coming back to check on me but then my little sister, came into view.
Rachel stood there for a second as if uncertain of something, then slowly she made her way over to the table and sat in the chair next to me. She didn’t make eye contact, and that worried me.
“Steve said that you banged yourself up pretty bad. Steve also mentioned that for the most part your injuries were all self-inflicted.” She stated calmly then waited for me to respond.
When I didn’t move, Rachel’s patience with me had apparently reached its boiling point, as she slammed her fist down on the table. The blow from her fist striking the stainless steel was enough to make me jump and rattle the entire trailer.
“Your all I’ve got left!” She choked out and her eyes started tearing up. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you. More than anything in the world I wanted to come. I wasn’t allowed; I’ve had to go through your vet Steve just to find out how you were doing.”
My heart sank suddenly resenting and hating my own selfish behavior. I lifted a paw to my face attempting to hide my shame. How could I have been so selfish, so absorbed in my own troubles that I had completely forgotten about my sister’s lot in all of this? I realize that my original intention was to escape but it almost got me killed and I wanted to. I wanted to die and had I succeeded Rachel would have been more alone then I ever had been.
“I had a talk with Candy; she agrees that it’s in her best interest for us to be able to see each other again. So long as it doesn’t get in the way of my duties.” I was so overwhelmed with joy I felt my own eyes welling up. Six months of absolute undignified isolation, and now that her new favorite pets’ sanity was on the line Candy was willing to let us keep something. To be honest I didn’t really care about her motives, I was getting my sister back.
A low moan escaped my lips and I felt a hand on my dishpan sized paws as she pulled them away from my face. I averted my eyes as she leaned in to hug me, carefully avoiding my injured neck. “Promise me you won’t do anything like that again.” I nuzzled her face with mine and gave her a reassuring low moan.
Satisfied she pulled away said goodbye then she was gone again. My sister’s absence bothered me but at least I would be seeing her more often and as much as I hated my new life I had to endure it. If not for myself then I had to do it for Rachel.
Training is Over
Violins, hundreds of violins rang out through the tent. The circus’ signature music began to play. “And now ladies and gentleman for our finale.” The music quickened the audience quieted “I give you Gabriel, and his partner Tony!”
I heard my cue I had been waiting for it patiently behind the curtain. Tony, as it turns out, that was the kids name, back when he was human I mean. He’s now a large jet black shire horse. Candy paired me up with him a couple of months ago in order to better help him cope with circus life and she just happened to liked how well we got along.
My stomach growled from having not eaten or drank anything for the past day and a half. Then again neither has poor Tony.
I’ve been doing my best to look out for the kid, kind of like how Rachel looks out for me, unfortunately there’s only so much I can do as we are both in the same boat and he gets worked just as hard as I do.
Something strange I’ve noticed is that in the two years I had been a part of this circus, Tony is the only one like me I’ve seen, until now. I’m sure Candy’s done this to loads of people, it’s just that none of the other animals I’ve seen in our circus seem to fit the bill. First off Tony and I have both been fitted with those weird collars, or in his case a bridle. If any of these other animals had ever been human, I’m pretty sure she would have had them restrained just like us… I think.
It’s been about a year, give or take, since Tony’s unfortunate transformation and he’s been slowly adjusting to life here in the circus but every now and again ill spot fresh tears running down his long face. I Hated Candy almost as much as I hated her brother for what they did to tony. For one thing the kid had a family waiting for him. At the very least I knew he had a mom. He called for her the night he came here. I can only imagine how she would feel if she knew the kind of hell her son had to endure.
Regardless of how I felt or how much I hated this circus we were both slaves to its design forced to bend knee to its will. The show had begun and our time had come, I stood up on my hind legs and placed my forelegs on his rump and with a hop I was properly mounted.
Once I was on, Tony took off. We broke through the curtain, and the crowd cheered. I could feel his powerful muscles surging beneath my paws as he galloped towards the ring. It was a little rough but I didn’t have too much trouble staying on, the hard part was not to dig my claws into his back as we rode around the ring. On top of which my stomach was giving me a hard time because I hadn’t been fed in two days, since Jagger had me training all through the night preparing for our performance. We rode just outside the ring right in front of the audience all they had to do was reach out and they could literally touch us. We were just about to make our first pass when someone’s camera flashed in my face blinding me briefly. Their cheers picked up as we came around.
I don’t know where we were, somewhere south most likely, maybe Texas. The majority of the people here were a little obese and I saw a lot of cowboy hats, not to be stereotypical or anything. This was our third performance in this area and already we had a full house. My performances had become so popular in fact, that Candy has resorted to starting another side show titled “The Amazing Brown Bengal.” I think I even recognized some of the audience: a couple of kids in the front row who have been following our show for the past four moves. Once we made our second time around the ring, Tony altered course into the center where I dismounted. He gave me a playful whinny then exited the ring and made his way behind the curtain.
I approached the center where Candy waited for me. She made some room for me up on the podium. I reluctantly stepped up.
I had stood on this podium many times before today; I had stood in this exact spot. It infuriated me that I could be this close to the person responsible for ruining my life and not being able to do anything. Candy reached down placing a hand on my side then reached another hand into the air and waived to the audience. The audience’s screams made my sensitive ears hurt. The music stopped and just when I thought it couldn’t get any louder.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gabriel!” The crowd got louder, fortunately not for long. Taking my cue I took in a deep and let lose a roar that made the floor and bleachers vibrant. As I did the floor erupted in fiery inferno and extinguished itself. Wooden shafts extended out of the ground like headstones; they were evenly spaced and in a line circling inward towards the podium. The top of every pole had a diameter of about six feet and every sixth pole was spaced about ten feet from the next while every other was only four feet. The crowed fell silent as this was a new performance and no one knew what was going to happen. As I too fell silent Candy removed her hand from my side and I heard her clear her throat before introducing the act.
“My tiger will now demonstrate to all what it means to be flashy.” I flinched at her emphasis of my tiger. “Because at my circus, Flashy is an understatement.”
Tiny eruptions burst forth from the ground in between every sixth and seventh beam and again dispersed. Where the eruptions had occurred there where now metal hoops suspended from the ground by apparently nothing. The music started and that was my cue. I leaped from the podium and my fore legs made contact with the first beam followed by my hind legs. Using my hind legs I leapt another small distance the second and third where closer I made little contact with the beams as I simply ran across coming to the first ring. I leapt the crowd applauded. The hours I spent training with Jagger where paying off. I had this performance down to a T.
As I passed through the ring it caught fire signifying that I had cleared it and almost roasting my tail. I landed on top of the beam on the other side. I repeated this for the next three rings, each completed went ablaze. Each time they did it exited the audiences, but the fifth one was special. The fifth and final ring was already ablaze. My heart was pounding in my chest. Despite my sleep deprivation and my lack of nourishment I was not going to mess this up and risk angering Candy. Though I will admit I was a little nervous about this next part as it required me to rely on her magic for success. As I came to the blazing hoop I prepared myself for the last jump. My four legs made contact with the pole and I brought my hind legs forward on top of it. I could feel the intense heat from the blazing ring. I took one last deep breath and leaped.
When I passed through the last flaming hoop my fur went ablaze and I landed on the other side, burning and completely unharmed. The audience freaked I almost did as well. This was the second time I have had to be a kitty torch but it still freaked me out. Despite my unease I didn’t let it slow me down and I made my way back to the podium and the music stopped. Due to Candy’s composure and my ignoring the fact that I was now on fire the audience started to catch on that it was all part of the show.
At first they all started to calm down then they all started to cheer. I took my place next to Candy and she stood back giving me my last cue. I took my stance, left foreleg forward and my right hind leg back I took a deep breath and let lose another roar. Immediately everything in the ring caught fire then disappeared leaving only me and Candy in the ring. The crowd stood up and applauded. I’ll never get used to the audience, they’re way too loud for my sensitive ears. Candy then placed her hand on my head and immediately the fire on my skin extinguished.
“Ladies and gentleman, I give you Gabriel the brown Bengal.” The closing music started up again and with that the audience burst forth with one more final volley. I dismounted and I made my way to the curtain eager to return to my cage. As mind-numbingly boring as it is to be caged up all day I prefer it to the humiliation of performing for that horrible woman.
As I passed the curtain I could still hear Candy as she continued to goad on the audience enjoying the attention it got her. “Thank you, thank you! Return again for a new experience every night!”
Jagger was waiting for me on the other side. “You did good today pussy cat” Jagger’s compliment was both smug and infuriating. I returned a low growl.
“Oh, don’t get your tail in a knot.” I knew he wasn’t actually afraid of me; it’s just that Candy kept getting on his case for harassing her prized tiger. Jagger looked down at his watch then up at the curtain. “Wait here pussy cat, I have something to take care of.” Jagger turned and broke into a jog before disappearing behind one of the cages.
My collar would have given me grief if I didn’t obey; it never did fail to remind me that I was a slave to its will. Do to my compliancy it hasn’t gone off in nearly a year now but I wasn’t willing to test it so I sat patiently awaiting Jagger’s return. While I waited I began to groom myself, a habit I had developed over the past two years I’ve worked here. Yea I know it’s a little gross but it’s good to pass time and it’s not like they bathe me. Sure it’s a little nasty and I cough up hair balls every other week but what else am I supposed to do? To be honest I might not even be able to stop if I wanted to. The first time I started doing it I didn’t even know I was doing it till my mouth was dry and full of hair.
I had just finished with my face when I heard approaching footsteps. I assumed it was Jagger so I didn’t look up however once it got close it stopped. Pausing my bath I looked up to see who it was. Rachel stood with her hands behind her back and a pained smile on her face. Well this is awkward. It’s a good thing I looked up when I did, or I might not have stopped before she saw me do something really embarrassing. I composed myself and tried my best not to look as guilty as I felt.
“Hey, Gabe,” she gave a warm yet worried smile though she didn’t comment. I perked my ears up and pretended ignorance in order to deflect her concerns. Had Jagger not ordered me to stay put I would have gone to her but I was forced to wait for her.
“You look like crap.” She said somehow seeing through my act.
I laughed, or tried to, it sort of came out as a funny sounding woof instead. Apparently lost for words she just stood there. I cocked my head to the side as if to ask her what’s up.
She got the hint and approached. I very playfully dropped low with my rear waging in the air. Now it was her turn to laugh. It was actually more of a snicker. “You goofy cat.”
She sat down next to me; the smell of all the animals she had been working with still clung to her jacket. Now at eye level I noticed the small metal water bottle strapped to her side and was suddenly reminded of how thirsty I was. Rachel noticed my interest in the metal can as her eyes went from the canteen and back to me again.
“You’re thirsty?” I nodded. She unbuckled the canteen from her side and unscrewed the top. She glanced left and right apparently looking for some kind of container. She then looked back at me.
“How do you want to do this?” I just continued to eye the canteen. Rachel’s eyes went to the wall behind me appearing to be deep in thought when her attention suddenly went back to the canteen. I could tell from the look on her face that she had an idea. She stuck the canteen underneath her arm angled herself somewhat upward so as not to spill it. She then cupping her hands together and leaned forward she tipped the canteen which poured some of its contents into her hands. Rachel, what would I do without you?
Once her hand was full she then sat up again stopping the flow and offered the water to me. I brought my dry lips just above the surface of the water and began to lap it up. My tong shot out of my mouth till it grazed the surface of the water. I then just as quick pulled my tong back in to my mouth causing the water to jump up into my mouth. I repeated the process until the water in her hand was nearly gone. The water was both cool and refreshing; it might have just been the dehydration setting in but it was the best tasting water I ever had.
When I finished Rachel filled it again and I drank again. “Geez Gabe, when was the last time you had anything to drink?”
I continued to drink, answering her question. It wasn’t long before her canteen was empty and I was licking the last drops off her hand.
Once her hands where dry I nuzzled them with my face. She scratched me behind the ear, then moved down to my neck. As unbecoming as it was for my sister to be babying me like this I just didn’t care, this was one of the last pleasant experiences left for me to enjoy.
While she petted me she looked troubled, like she wanted to say something but didn’t know how. “I was talking to Steve earlier.”
Rachel told me that she was learning under him. During her visits she often mentioned him. It could just be me being paranoid and that she’s just keeping tabs on me but I suspected that there was something more going on. I rolled my eyes to show my discomfort towards the subject she’s just chosen to bring up. I think she noticed but ignored it.
“He said he’s been worried about your health lately, said you could be showing signs of depression.” I pulled away from her pampering and locked eyes with her.
Every day I sit in my cage until someone let me out. Maybe they would remember to feed me, maybe not. And when I did get out of the cage it was for intense training or a humiliating performance. After that it was back to the cage. The routine that was my life right now was far from decent. If something didn’t happen soon I was going to lose my mind. But I wasn’t willing to drop this load on my sister. She had enough on her plate she didn’t need me adding to it.
In order to change the subject I did something a little drastic. I took my wet sandpaper-like tong and dragged across her face from chin to nose. “Ugh, Gabe! that’s just nasty.” She giggled wiping her face.
I responded with a rather toothy smile that would have freaked anyone else out. She sighed and gave me one last hug before she stood up. I’ll never get used to how tall everyone seems now.
“I’ll try to come visit you tonight Gabe, I still have a couple of things I have to take care of but I promise to make it when I can.”
I looked away, avoiding eye contact; I knew she had to go but that didn’t mean I had to like it. The time I get to spend with her was getting rarer and rarer even more so than back when I worked three jobs. Back then I was at least guaranteed Sundays with her now I was lucky to see her once a month. I let loose a low light growl in complaint.
“Oh, don’t be that way Gabe I promise I’ll do my best to come visit you tonight.” I just nodded; I knew Candy would find a way to keep us separate. “I’m also going to have a talk with Candy, her brother obviously hasn’t been taking care of you” I was a little uneasy about her sticking her neck out like that for me all the time, but it was nice to know she was looking out for me.
“Don’t worry Gabe, I promise not to do anything I’ll regret,” Rachel said reassuringly, then reached into her pocket. “Here, I have a little something for you!” That perked me up a little bit. She pulled out a bright green granny smith apple.
She offered me the apple and I took it greedily, sinking my teeth into it first, and then tearing a huge bite out of it. I cringed slightly from the intensely bitter juice. I haven’t been able to enjoy them as much as I used to since my taste buds lost the ability to register anything sweet. The thing is they used to be a big part of who I was back when I was human so eating them was kind of my way of holding on to whatever was left of me.
The apple dropped to the ground getting it a little dirty; I hunched down in order grab it again when I heard Rachel start walking away. I looked up from my snack, and just watched as she rounded the corner of one of the cages.
Before she disappeared though, she turned and waved goodbye. She didn’t even slow down; she was there and she wasn’t. I was left all alone. Well, aside from Tony, who was tied to the post across from where I sat.
I was about to go back to my apple when I notice Tony eyeing it. Ugh Tony. Chances are he was hungrier than me, not only did he train just as long as me but his stomach was a lot bigger than mine. I looked from the apple to the very pathetic look on Tony’s face. Guilt got the better of me, taking the apple in my mouth I placed it in front of me and I nudged it with my nose in his direction.
Despite being misshapen, it still rolled right to him. As soon as it was close enough he gobbled it up, stem and all, then gave me a very funny looking nod I could only assume was a thank you. My attention went back to where I last saw Rachel. I was sad to see her go, I don’t know what I would do without her. She’s always been there for me. With a final look I went back to grooming.
I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
Health and Helplessness
I wanted to beat the snot out of that low life. His job is
training and looking after the animals. All he really seems to do is drive poor Gabe into the ground.
I hadn’t seen Gabriel in nearly a week, and as glad as I was to see him I can’t stand to see what they have made him go through, and what they continue to make him go through. I felt really bad about leaving him there but it couldn’t be helped, since Candy would just make his life harder if I neglected my duties. On top of which I was eager to speak to Candy about her brother. I was ticked and more than anything I wanted to blow of some steam. Before I went looking for Candy however I had to finish my rounds then check in with Steven.
The lioness, Silva, still needed her meds, also one of the older hyenas by the name of Samuel just had surgery so I needed to see how he was doing. Heading first to the supply trailer I grabbed my clip board Silva’s meds and small bucket of meat chunks out of the walk in fridge. Taking one of the pieces of meat I stuffed one of the large pills into it, then I put the medicated meat into a small Ziploc baggie so I didn’t mix it up with the rest of the meat. Lastly I grabbed the feeding pole which was just a short wooden shaft with a blunted tip for skewering the bits of meat on. Silva’s cage was near the middle of the tent in fact it wasn’t far from Gabe’s. As I her cage came into view I noticed she was pacing restlessly in in her cage. When I approached she greeted me at the bars and I said hello then placed the bucket and clip board on the ground next to bars before getting to work. Removing the medicated meat from the plastic baggie I made sure to stick it firmly on the end of the feeding pole. Once it was secured I stuck the tip of the wooden shaft through the bars where the lioness sniffed the meat at the end suspiciously then snatched it up in one bite. After a few more treats given to her the same way as her meds I made some notes on my clip board then gathered up my things.
“Hello Rachel.” My heart fluttered lightly in my chest when I heard Steven call my name. I turned and saw the young veterinarian walking towards me and for a moment I forgot how to breathe.
“Hay Steven, what’s going on?” I asked trying hard not to lose my composure.
“Good, I just finished for the night. So, I decided ide stop by to see how you were doing before turning in for the night.”
“Im fine” I stated reassuringly “Gabe’s show just ended a few minutes ago so I was about to go check on Samuel.”
“I actually just passed him on the way over” Steve said gesturing back the way he had come. “He looks good, I expect hell make a full recovery.” He smiled reaching down for the bucket of meat in my hand “like some help putting that away?” his hand paused just inches from mine and hovered over the handle as he awaited my answer. I considered his offer then grip slightly allowing him to take the bucket from me. “Thanks” Was my response. He nodded than began to make his way towards the supply trailer. I followed closely behind him, all the while thinking about how lucky I was to have him.
Ever since I first joined the circus Steven had been looking out for me. I really don’t know what I would have done without him. He’s strong and reliable, not to mention a genius when it comes to his job and doesn’t even technically work here.
His parents own their own chain of animal clinics and he’s been working in them since he was little. He volunteered three years ago to work here as an unpaid intern, just to get some experience before he opened his own clinic and even though we had been spending allot of time together we only just recently started going out. Nothing too fancy usually it’s just lunch or dinner but I’m really starting to enjoy his company. Who wouldn’t? Anyway, above all else Steven has the same values as me and has a close relationship with God the same way I do. The only thing about him that bothered me was that he was a hard core extrovert, kind of like Gabriel, which wouldn’t bother me if I wasn’t an introvert.
We were a little ways from the trailer when it got too quiet for his liking so he tried to strike up a conversation. “How was Gabriel?” his question came a little out of no were so I hesitated. “You said you got to see his show early” he finished. A knot began to form in my stomach. “Jagger has been over working him again.” Saying the jerks name just made me angry. Steven looked surprised “that’s terrible!”
“I seriously don’t get why Candy keeps him around. It’s his job to train the animals not work them to death. I swear, if I didn’t pick up his slack that Gabriel and all the other animals would have died from sleep deprivation and malnourishment!” finally done venting, I forced myself to calm down again. It wasn’t until we arrived at the trailer that spoke again.
“That tiger is really lucky to have you looking out for him, you know that” he opened the trailer door for me and I entered quietly. “I don’t know if it will do any good but if you’d like I can have a talk with Candy about Jagger.” He waited at the door while I put the meat back in the fridge.
“I had already planned on going once I finished up, I don’t suppose you would mind coming with me?” I asked Steven. “Sure, I have to take care of some things back at my office first, though I won’t be long.”
“All right, I guess I’ll meet you there then, I still have to finish cleaning up here”
“You sure you don’t want some help?”
“I’ll be fine, but thanks anyway” I reassured him. “Ok then, see you there” Steve gave me a warm smile then left closing the door behind him. As much as I enjoyed Steve’s company I really wanted to be angry right now and I’ve already vented enough on my boyfriend. I know it’s silly but Jagger, no not just him. Ever since we’ve come here Jagger and his sister have made my brother’s life a living hell and I’m tired of them getting away with it. Even more infuriating was that I couldn’t do anything.
During those last few minutes of locking up medicine and taking inventory I stewed over and over again about how much I wanted to hurt the animal tamer. However once I was done with the logs I stored them on the shelf then locked up the trailer and headed for Stevens trailer.
I made my way past the hundreds of cages that littered the inside of this huge tent. All of the animals I passed showed signs of the abuse common in the circus. It’s the same old story every day, they either don’t receive enough attention or they are worked to the point where they can’t even walk strait. Which wasn’t bad for me, I suppose. I do get to spend more time with the animals, including Gabriel.
I rounded the last cage when I nearly ran right smack into the one person in the world right now I just didn’t want to see.
“Rachy how is it going?” Jagger greeted me in his usual ‘cool guy’ tone. “Did you manage to catch tonight’s show?”
“Get out of my way, Jagger!” I snapped while trying to get by him. Originally I would give him an earful on the way he treats my brother but every time I talked to him he would brush it off and try to change the subject, proving time and time again he wasn’t worth it. “Oh common Rachy, I just want to talk.”
I was about to hit this guy “Stop calling me that, my name is Rachel!”
“That’s what I said, baby face, anyway I’ve been looking for you. I was wondering if you had any plans for tonight. I know a really nice place where the music is great and the beer is greater.” Was this jerk really hitting on me?
“Yes Jagger I do have plans tonight. In fact, I think you do to. You are supposed to be taking care of the animals not working them to death. Since you seem to have no interest in taking care of them, your job falls to me.”
He put his hands on his hips. “You work way to hard Rachy, you need to loosen up. “The animals can go one night without someone babying them. Come on, have some fun for once.”
“First off, Jagger, I’m already seeing someone. Secondly, why would I, or anyone, even consider going out with you?” I snapped and jabbed my pointer finger into his chest. “You dress like a hillbilly, you smell like a bar, and the things you do to the animals- ” I had to pause in order to breath. “Let me get something straight: I can’t stand you and your sister for what you did to my brother, and what you continue to do to him.” He still didn’t respond.
“You work my brother into the ground nonstop, without food or water. You practically torture him and you honestly expect me to fall for your poor hygiene and insulting demeanor.”
“Is that a no?” I’ve had enough of this jerk, I thought to myself as I shoved my way passed him. I was nearly out when I heard him call after me. “If you say yes, I’ll take it a little easier on your cat.”
“No you won’t,” I said under my breath, not even slowing down. I could now see Steve’s trailer and it looked as though he was there, but when I got closer I could hear voices. The first one was his, but the other one sounded like Candy’s.
“Please I don’t think-” Steve started to say as I approached.
“Gabriel belongs to me,” Candy cut him off. “I’ve given you my final answer, and I don’t want to hear about this anymore!” Before they could continue I opened the door and entered. “Ah, Rachel,” Candy said, changing gears smoothly. “Steve and I were just talking about you.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothing, really,” she said. “And as much as I would like to stay and chat I’ve got work to do.” She then turned to Steve. “As do you, I believe.” Without another word, Candy made her way around the counter, pushed open the front door and was gone.
I turned to Steve for answers. “What was that about?” I asked.
He just stood there. “Rachel. . .” he paused to scratch his head, his hesitation making me a little nervous. “Candy is selling Gabriel.”
My heart stopped. That can’t be right I had to have misunderstood him. A massive knot started to form in my stomach and the longer I took to let his words sink in the worse it got. “This morning we got a call from one of the local zoos. Turns out they’ve taken a big interest in him and made a substantial offer for his custody.”
“And she agreed!?” I asked, still in disbelief.
“They’ll be here to pick him up tomorrow,” he said nodding in confirmation.
I couldn’t believe it. “This can’t be happening!” I gasped; I started for the door but Steve grabbed my hand.
“It’s no use Rachel, I tried to talk to her she won’t listen.”
“I still have to try,” I said.
“Rachel, I know you really like Gabriel but perhaps this is for the best. The circus life here has been rough on him I think he could actually be happier there.” He was right of course, or at least, he would be if Gabriel was a normal tiger. Not only was he smart but he still remembered being human. In fact it’s for that reason that I agreed to work for her but now she was giving him away to some zoo. We had an agreement, doesn’t she know that I would just leave as soon as he…
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, she plans to get rid of me too doesn’t she. Ever since I got here she has used me and Gabriel as hostages to manipulate each other. However now she doesn’t seem to care anymore. Candy knows she would lose control of both of us should either of us be taken out of the equation and that’s exactly what she was doing. She has no intention of letting Gabriel keep his memories and I doubt she’s going to just let me leave quietly. I couldn’t let her sell him.
Fear griped I was on the verge of tears.
“It’s not your fault,” I said to Steve. “But you just wouldn’t understand.” I pulled away from him and made my way back to the door.
“What is with you Rachel? He’s just a tiger!”
I paused with my hand on the door handle. He may have not meant it but his words cut like a knife. I turned to face him my hand still on the handle. “No, he isn’t.” He’s my big brother; is what I wanted to say but I held my tongue. With that I burst through the door leaving Steve behind. I should have felt bad about how that ended but I was too upset and right now all that I could think of was ways to somehow talk Candy out of selling my brother.
I started to make my way to Candy’s trailer. Maybe if I threatened to tell the police any sensible person would have run away and done exactly that. No, not only has she already anticipated that but she probably doesn’t care, I mean, who would even believe me. I stopped to think.
I had to do something and it had to happen soon, if I didn’t Gabe will be shipped off to the zoo where I would never see him again unless I attended. Even then after she takes his mind away it wouldn’t even be Gabe, it would just be a brown tiger. What do I do, what could I do? I was out of options. Then, it hit me.
I had answered my own question. I couldn’t stay here, and I couldn’t just let her sell him. I guess I was just too scared to consider this before. But I had nothing to lose now, or rather I had my brother to lose if I didn’t act now: we had to escape the Black Candy Circus. I had to save my brother.
Elixir of Truth
I started to make my way to Jagger’s trailer. The zoo was going to take my brother away tomorrow; I had to get Gabriel out of here while he was still himself, but the only people with access to Gabriel’s cage were Candy and Jagger, and they kept their keys with them at all times.
Just then an idea came to me, I rolled up my left sleeve and glanced down at my watch: 7:45. Jagger was a late nighter, but he usually went drinking around 8:00. Hopefully he hasn’t left yet. I ran as fast as I could, darting past and in between the cages. I was almost out of breath when I made it to Jagger’s trailer. For a trailer it was pretty generic; the outside was white with blue lines almost like he was trying to pull off racing stripes. I quickly made my way to the door and nocked twice. I waited while I considered what to do if he answered.
“Hey Rachy, did you need something?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I turned to face the beast tamer, taking note of the keys chained to his belt.
“Hey.” I had to do this carefully, I didn’t want him wising up.
“Yes?” I paused to consider my words carefully.
“Did you mean it when you said you would go easier on Gabe if I went out with you?”
He paused then blinked twice obviously trying to remember that conversation. “Oh.” he apparently caught on. “Yes, ma’am, I certainly did, why are you reconsidering your original decision?”
It can’t be that easy I thought. “Yes I am. I have decided I will go out with you, but I want your word.”
“I thought you hated me.”
“One date won’t kill me. . . your word?” It was a big risk, playing hard to get, but I knew Jagger. He was a stupid selfish jerk. He couldn’t say no to a date, especially a willing one.
He folded his arms and pretended to think. “Ok, toots, you got yourself a date.”
Relief washed over me. He still hadn’t promised, but I didn’t need him too. I don’t know why I ever doubted his decision.
“Alright, are we taking your car? You said you knew a good place to get something to drink.” A rather disturbing smile crept across his face.
“Yes and yes; give me a minute though, I gotta go get my wallet,” he started for the door of his trailer but he paused for a moment when he had his hand on the door knob, then turned to face me, I tensed up. Did he suspect what I might be doing? “Don’t go anywhere, toots.”
Oh please don’t call me toots, I wanted to say, but thought better of it. I waited while he went to retrieve his wallet. Yet as the minutes ticked by I started to get a little anxious. I realized there probably wasn’t anything to worry about, but a lot was riding on this plan, and I didn’t want to muck it up. After about ten minutes he finally returned his greasy blond hair was combed back and I think he was wearing cologne. He closed the door behind him and made his way to my side. Yup, he was defiantly wearing cologne and a lot of it. I mean geez, he smelt like he was wearing straight up laundry detergent.
“Are you ready to go?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am. After you,” he said, indicating with an outstretched hand the direction of the exit. So we walked, and I don’t know about him but it felt really awkward for me. I don’t know what I would have said if Steve or Gabe had seen me like this.
As we rounded the cages and made our way to the exit I could feel the temperature dropping. Outside was promising to be a little chilly. “So Rachy, you do drink, right?” he asked, snapping me out of a bit of a daze.
“What? Oh, yeah, I’ve been legal for two months.” I didn’t actually drink; one, I hated the taste and two; I knew Gabe would get mad if I even touched that stuff. However, tonight was going to have to be different: I might have to drink some of that nasty stuff in order to keep up appearances.
“Good, because the place where going to has some of the best drinks out there,” Jagger said. We exited the big tent and seeing as I didn’t know which way we were going from the edge of the parking lot, I let him lead the way. He led me past two or three cars before we got to his.
It was a Prius I don’t know how I didn’t notice before, but it was a tiny thing. “Nice car.” I tried to say seriously.
Of course he was too vain to suspect any insult in my words so as expected he started talking about the dumb thing. “Yeah, it was a gift from my sister. It’s a little small but it gets some good mileage. On top of which it’s been paid off, so no car payments.”
“Nice,” I said, trying to sound interested.
He unclipped the keys from his belt and I expected him to push some sort of button to unlock it, but to my surprise he left it unlocked. He opened the driver’s side and let himself in then he pulled out his keys. There were only three of them: one was to his Prius, one was to his trailer, and the other I would have to assume was for the cages.
I made my way around to the passenger side and let myself in. It was a little hard to breath as the inside of the car smelled like the inside of an ash tray. Once I was buckled up he gave me a look that said he thought it was uncool or something then switched it into drive and we were off. I had intended to try and start up some kind of conversation with him in order to keep him going, but didn’t get the chance. When he peeled away from his parking space, you could hear the tires screeching and smell the rubber burning.
He sped around corners at speeds I know for a fact weren’t legal; he almost drove himself off the road three times, all the while blasting head banging music with lyrics I couldn’t understand. He ran nearly six stop signs and four red lights. I was on the verge of screaming, I was so scared, and grateful I had a seat belt. It didn’t take us that long at the speeds we were going at before we made it to his bar.
The place looked a bit like something out of a western only allot more rundown. From the neon sign that said bar to the alcoholic beverage posters on the windows, the establishment was just about one of the most run down looking bar I had ever seen. He parked the car and turned off the engine.
“Here we are” Jagger said, oblivious to my distress.
I quickly unbuckled my seat belt and jumped out of the car, eager just to get out of the little death machine. I was very tempted to lecture his ear off in regards to his driving, but I stopped myself, remembering why I was here.
“That was fun” was all I said.
“Oh, yeah,” he said sort of dismissively, then headed for the door. I thought he was going to hold the door for me, but he missed his cue and he let it slam shut in my face. So I ended up opening the door myself.
I’d swear it was the same headache-inducing music as was playing in Jagger’s car. It smelt like Jagger’s car too, only a lot stronger. Everyone in there looked really unhealthy, from the bartender with the handlebar mustache, to the guys in the corner throwing darts.
We made our way to an empty table near the front of the building. “Hey, Jagger,” the bartender cheered in good spirits. “The usual I presume?”
“Yes, sir, and one for my friend here,” Jagger said, and sat himself, apparently devoid of any gentlemanly qualities at all. I sat across from him.
“Coming right up.” The bartender immediately started filling up some glasses with some yellowish alcoholic beverage.
“So, Rachy, why is it that one minute you couldn’t stand the sight or smell of me and now all the sudden you want to go out with me,” Jagger asked with his hands folded with his elbows on the table.
I had prepared myself for this question but I also didn’t want it coming across as rehearsed. I composed myself. “You said you would take it easier on my brother if I went. At first I didn’t believe you but then I figured I had more to gain then lose.”
“Ah so you don’t hate me”
“I don’t hate you, I don’t hate anyone”
“That’s not true!” Jagger protested. “Everyone hates someone, my sister for example. I know you hate her, I can see it in the way you look at her.”
That caught me a little by surprise as I wasn’t expecting to argue; I had to think quickly. “Well, I don’t know what you see but I have no grounds to hate you or your sister, as God considers hatred to be at the same level as murder.”
“That’s just stupid,” Jagger said. “And what’s with the God stuff, are you one of those religious nuts?” The bartender plopped our drinks down on the table, with a pitcher filled with the same yellowish brown concoction.
“As a matter of fact I am, and no, I don’t hate you or anyone. I do, however, hate what you’ve done to my brother. Yet, despite what you’ve done God is willing to give you a chance, whether you want to believe it or not, so that’s good enough for- ” I started
“That’s what I’m talking about!” he cut me off. “You’re so dang worried about your brother, when you should be worried about number one.” He held up one finger after to add emphasis to his statement. “No one but yourself is going to help you, no one else can be trusted, not even your god, and even if your god is real, he obviously doesn’t care about you or you wouldn’t be in the fix with your brother. That being the case, you got enough problems of your own you shouldn’t be worried about your brother,” Jagger said, then took a large swig of his drink.
“Not everyone is as selfish as you Jagger.” I retorted. “When my parents died, Gabriel was there for me. He didn’t have to do that. To be honest, it would have been easier on him to drop me off at some orphanage so he could just take care of himself, but he didn’t. He worked three jobs for eight years to put me through school and to take care of me. I might never be able to repay the kindness he’s shown me but I’m never going to stop trying.”
Jagger took a swig of his beer apparently unfazed by my argument. “A lot of good that did. So, I guess in a way it’s his fault you even came to our circus.” It’s almost like he only hears every other word I say, I was about to respond but he cut me off again. “If he really cared about you, he wouldn’t have forced you to go through school, and the only reason he put you through school was so that when you did get a good job he could freeload off of you.”
“I put myself through school, that was my choice; he provided the money. He did it because I wanted to be a vet.” Jagger took one last swig of his drink which was now completely empty; he didn’t answer. “I don’t know how you can be so cold.”
Jagger ignored my comment and went straight for the pitcher and refilled his glass. “How is it so hard for you to grasp the concept that I care about my brother he’s the only family I have left. I see you and your sister fighting a lot, but she is your sister. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“No, not really.” Jagger paused to take another big swig. “And my sister doesn’t care about me, she is a witch after all; she sold her soul for power and she got it. She doesn’t care about anything but her spotlight and to tell you the truth, she can have it for all I care.”
I was completely lost for words. Did he really mean she was a witch?…are they actually real? I suppose it explain some things, but if so it was weird that he would just come right out and say it. I looked down at the mug in front of me. The fumes rising from the glass were really robust. How strong is this stuff? “So your sister’s a witch.” I paused, waiting for a laugh or snort to give away the fact that he wasn’t serious. Hearing none, I continued, “Does that make you a warlock?”
“Nah, I still have mine soul but she’s. . . to be honest, I kind of doubt she had one to begin with.” He took another swig, bigger than the last. It’d only been five minutes and already he was drunk to the point of slurring his words. “I mean, she’s always acted like one, I don’t know what her problem is. Even Vic Fleming thought she was a total pouty princess.”
That name sounded familiar. “Did you say Fleming as in Victor Fleming, the director for The Wizard of Oz?”
“Yeah, she always wanted to be a movie star, sis tried for the role of the leading lady and if she hadn’t been so rude to the Vic, she might have actually gotten the part.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Then again, Candy did turn my brother into a tiger. Still, The Wizard of Oz was filmed almost seventy years ago, yet Jagger and his sister still looked so young. Were they immortal? I was about to ask him how old he was when I noticed he was using the table to support himself. His glass was empty again and he reached over to grab the pitcher.
“So your sister was into acting. Why then did she get into the circus thing?”
He gave a chuckle that sounded more like a snort. He then poured half the remaining pitcher into his glass and the other half onto the table.
“Why do you’s think?” he said, then took a big swig. “She likes attention, she likes peoples giving praise. She started this whole thing so that she could get it, all the fame, the money, the status.” He finished off his glass, then eyed the pitcher like he wished there was more. “She might’s not be sixteen anymore but she’s as self-absorbed as ever.”
Then his eyes slid from the empty pitcher to the full mug in front of me. Before he could ask, I slid my mug over to him. He took it greedily with a rather awkward smile. “Thanks you miss,” he said, then brought it to his lips and drank. He didn’t even stop to breathe, he just threw his head back and gulped down half the glass in two seconds. Three seconds later it was gone, and he placed it down on the table. He looked at me blearily, smacked his lips, then fell face-first onto the table, out cold.
I was astonished at how much he just drank. I was surprised that he didn’t pass out sooner. I rose to my feet and turned to the bar tender. “How much for our drinks?”
He looked up from cleaning a glass “So far fifty two dollars. Are you ready to pay, or did you want something else?”
“No, thank you. Can I take the bill now,” I said, standing up from my chair.
“Sure thing,” the bartender said, then made his way over to his register and punched something into it.
While he was busy I made my way back to Jagger. I gave his shoulder a push but he didn’t respond. After making sure no one was watching I reached for his belt and as quickly as I could, removed the keys. I have the keys now to get Gabriel. I put the keys in my pocket and dropped sixty dollars’ worth of cash on the table, then I darted for the door and hurried to Jagger’s car. I climbed in and started the car. Once it was started I pulled out headed in the direction of the circuses.
I didn’t waste any time getting there; I think I ran couple stop signs and almost didn’t make on turn I cut a little too sharp. I don’t know how fast I was going but it probably wasn’t legal I’m just glad I didn’t pass any patrol men on the way.
At my current pace it wasn’t long before I was rounding the last corner. Glancing down at the dashboard, I noted the clock read 9:00pm, meaning I had been out for almost an hour.
I drove into the parking lot and pulled into one of the hundreds of available spots. Without even coming to a complete stop, I slammed it into park, then turned off the engine and jumped out, taking the keys with me. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone around, so I darted across the sidewalk to the main tent. The dew on the grass stuck to my shoes as I cleared the pavement and ran across the grass to the entrance. Once inside, I walked more cautiously, since I didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention to myself. It was really dark inside as all but a few lights had been shut off. Despite the darkness providing cover I checked all the corners of all the cages I passed until I came to Gabe’s cage.
He was fast asleep when I approached, curled up in the far corner of the cage, not even his tail was twitching. As I made my way to the bars I tripped over a bucket next to the cage. I didn’t fall but my heart skip a beat from the noise. I quickly checked around me to see if anyone was around. I didn’t see anything, but it was so dark I couldn’t be sure. Looking back to Gabriel, I noticed his eyes were open and his ears were perked. “Hey, Gabe,” I whispered.
He didn’t move at first, and his eyes glowed worryingly in the dim light. When he didn’t move, I made my way to the bars and he lifted his head up from its resting position. I waited patiently as he shuffled his forelegs in front of him, then stretched, claws extended and let loose a huge yawn revealing his rather sharp pearly whites. Once he was done stretching he bounced over to the edge of the cage to greet me.
I reached in to scratch him behind the ears and he responded by growling playfully and rubbing against the bars.
“Sorry I woke you,” I said, removing my hand and heading over to the cage door. “We’re leaving, we can’t stay here anymore.” taking Jagger’s master key in hand, I inserted it into the lock and twisted. With a click it opened and I pulled the cage door open. “Candy wants to sell you to some zoo; I’m not going to let that happen.” He just stood there with a bewildered look on his face.
“C’mon Gabe, we don’t have all night, we have to go!” Rachel said, beckoning me from the cage door. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but I complied. However, once I made it to the door, my collar for the first time in over a year started to hum. I stopped dead in my tracks unwilling to provoke the collars wrath.
“C’mon Gabe, we need to go before someone notices,” Rachel urged me, but I didn’t respond; there was nothing I could do. If I dared leave my cage the collar would go off. What could I do? How I wish I could talk. I probably could talk if I practiced enough however every time I tried the darn collar would force me silent.
“What’s wrong?” she asked confused by my hesitation.
It would be impossible for me to leave with this collar on. I needed a way to tell her about it without speaking. Then I got an idea. Sitting down and using my forelegs for support I lifted my chin up as high as I could, to make the necklace as prominent as possible. Come on, Rachel. All you have to do is take this darn thing off and I’m free.
I detected movement from the corner of my eye; bringing my head back down, and growled, seeing Candy sneaking up behind Rachel. I tried to warn her, but she didn’t understand, and Candy was right behind her whip in hand. Instinct kicked in and my heart started racing as I dove from my cage and leaped between Candy and my sister; I didn’t even get more than three steps before the collar started to hum in my ear, but I ignored it, leaping toward Candy, roaring. Candy staggered back, away from Rachel, but before I could do anything else the inevitable happened.
A volley of the most excruciating pain rocked me to the bone and I toppled to the floor. My whole body went into a full blown seizure as I tossed around on the ground in pain. My mind started to go numb from the pain. Rachel tried to get close but little she could do with my constant flailing.
“Gabriel!” I heard her cry out to me but I could not respond.
Just when I thought the worst had passed it rocked my body with another even worse wave of pain. Please help. This collar was going to kill me. I could feel it, there was nothing I could do, I could feel my limbs starting to lose feeling, my heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my chest. Please make it stop. I could feel it as it started to slow. This was it, I knew I would die I knew my body couldn’t take much more. I heard something that sounded like someone snap their fingers. Suddenly the pain stopped as well as my convulsions. I didn’t move, afraid that the pain might start up again.
“I don’t know how you managed to get this far, but no one takes from me and gets away with it.”
If I could still cry I would have. Instead I let out a low moan of agony. Just then I felt a hand on my side, I thought it was Candy’s but when I looked. Rachel. . . she should have run, I wish she had run.
A knot began to form in my throat as I saw candy take up position behind Rachel. She let the whip in her hand go lose and fall to the ground now dragging behind her. In one single fluid movement I saw candy lift her whip from behind her and bring it down on Rachel. The cord of the whip coiled itself around Rachel’s free hand constricting it like a snake, then with a flick of her wrist Candy pulled Rachel to her feet and dragged her over to where she stood. I had seen the whips power before, I had seen candy use it to steal away peoples humanity leaving them as nothing but mere animals. I had assumed the same would now befall my sister but nothing happened. I did not
“Get off of me” Rachel cried struggling against Candy’s grip but to no avail. I didn’t understand it the changes had always been immediate with the victim experiencing great pain but Rachel was clearly neither in pain or her body changing.
Ignoring Rachel’s struggle Candy turned her attention to me.
“I’m really sorry it had to happen like this my pet but tomorrow is indeed your last day here.” I didn’t see him arrive but Candy passed Rachel over to Jagger. The animal tamer was clearly drunk judging from his smell and the way he staggered. “If it’s not too challenging for you brother” she spat her last word. “Would you mind taking Miss Saint here to my trailer for me?”
Jagger didn’t answer instead he very clumsily took Rachel by the shoulder who then planted an elbow firmly in his stomach knocking the wind out of him and causing him to lose his grip but only for a second.
“You’re going to pay for that one tuts.” Jagger grabbing her firmly by the wrist with one hand and stuck Rachel hard across the face with his other. I snarled loudly with searing rage unlike anything I had ever felt before still unable to move. Rachel fell to her hands and tried to pick herself up. However Jagger struck her again this time kicking her in the side forcing her onto her back. Stop it! I tried to yell but all that game out was a stifled growl. He backed up to kick her again.
“Jagger!” Candy roared losing patience with the animal tamer. Jagger stopped in mid kick.
“I’ve about had it with you wasting time.” Her tone was icy dangerous. “Now, if you quite finished, take her to my trailer.” Jagger looked like he wanted to argue however he had never seen his sister this angry before, so instead he reached down and grabbed a large had full of my sister’s hair and yanked Rachel back to her feet. Moments later they were both gone and I was alone with candy.
My body practically trembled with anger the ringleaders gaze fell on me. I could hear the faint click of her heals as she approached circling around beyond my field of view. The clicking stopped and everything went quite, it was then, I knew she was right behind me.
“I really am sorry.” She said trying to sound apologetic and I felt her hand go to my side. “I’ll admit I’m normally less forgiving when people try to take my things but I think I’m going to miss you two.” Her mocking tone served only to agitate me further. “You were a good pet, and if I could I would turn Rachel into a tiger just for you. That way you and your sister could both go to the zoo.” Candy paused then began petting me head to tail, the sensation sent chills down my spine. What did she mean by (if) she could turn her into a tiger? Was Rachel somehow immune to the ringleader’s magic. “Sadly you will likely not be seeing her again, but don’t worry you won’t miss her. After tonight’s show ill have all your memories from before coming to my circus removed. Then you’ll be a proper tiger.” My anger turned to fear at her words. Could she really do that? She had taken everything else away, my memories where all I had left. A most sinister smile crept across the ringleaders face. “But for now I need you in top shape for tonight’s performances, so you will get to keep your memories until then; I suggest you enjoy them while you can.” She turned and started to walk away. “Wait here and rest up I’ll be back for you in a couple of hours!”
I was just left there on the floor unable to move, and barely able to think. I don’t know what they intended to do with my sister. Once again I had been unable to protector her, heck not even able to comfort her. I was a worthless piece of garbage. I’m her big brother. I’m supposed to be able to protect her. More than that, I was a tiger, an animal with amazing strength and speed and it all counted for nothing before Candy’s power. Soon she would have me perform one last time before taking everything from me, leaving me with nothing. By tomorrow I would be in every way nothing more than a tiger. I wonder if I’ll even remember my own name.
Desperate and out of options and yet one door remained open, I needed help.
Dear God. . . I know we haven’t really talked in a while but right now I need you.
I have been so angry with you for taking away my parents and tossing me into this hell.
I don’t know if it means anything but please I beg of you, help my sister.
She means the world to me please don’t let anything happen to her she’s all I have left.
She worships you, and despite everything that’s happened she still hasn’t lost her faith. Please don’t take her away from me; I don’t want to be alone anymore. Please help me…
…God please help me.
I finished my unspoken prayer and to my surprise, my eyes started to water and I felt myself begin to cry.
…God please help.
Apex of Despair
I don’t know how long I sat there in the corner of Candy’s trailer, it seemed like forever. I was on the floor with my mouth gaged and my hands bound with handcuffs behind my back. They were a little tight on the wrists causing me some circulation problems. Scary thing is the cuffs where bolted to the walls. I was not getting free anytime soon however I wasn’t going to stop trying. I had accumulated some rather unattractive bruises on my wrists from hitting them together all night and I would start again soon.
The sun had risen hours ago; I could see the faint rays of sun as they slipped through Candy’s curtains. Outside, I heard the voices of people as they made their way into the circus. I could also make out the faint rumble of cars as they pulled into the parking lot before cutting their engines. From the sound of activity I could hear outside, it seemed the show was about to start.
I wish I could see my brother I can’t imagine how scared he was; the last I saw of Gabe he was just lying perfectly still on the ground. He looked like he had been in so much pain. Before she locked me up Candy told me about the collars. No wonder Gabe wouldn’t leave his cage, he couldn’t. It also explained a few other things regarding my brother’s unusual behavior; I can’t imagine the pain it had caused him; pain so great it had brought him to his knees.
Dear God please watch over Gabe. I know he can be a bit of a pain sometimes, but I know he hasn’t completely lost his faith, please; he has been so good to me. Protect him and guide him back. Please don’t let Candy take him away.
Just then Violins, hundreds of violins began to sound in the distance; the circus’ signature music began to play and my brother’s final performance was under way. I didn’t move, I sat completely still, I hardly even drew breath. It was happening, it was really happening. My brother would perform for the final act, then Candy would take him from me. There wouldn’t be anything left, she would just erase him. I could hardly think about it, I sat there and waited. Time passed, and my brother’s performance was coming up, the music was getting faster meaning it wouldn’t be long now.
I just wish I could be there with him, I wish I could see him one last time. We have always been together, when Mom and Dad died it was just him and I. My eyes began to well up and tears began to stream down my face. God please, I beg of you, don’t take my brother away.
The music stopped and for half a second, so did my heart. It was over, the show had ended. I hung my head in anguish. It was over, the show had ended, and suddenly I felt so alone. I waited for Candy to bid her audience farewell like she had done hundreds of times before.
A minute passed, and nothing. Something was off. At first I thought it was just a delay but I waited another minute and still nothing. I picked my head up and strained my ears to make out what I could. I didn’t hear Candy, but I did hear quite a commotion coming from the main tent. Did Gabriel manage to escape? This happy thought was shot down moments later when I heard ambulance sirens. Was someone hurt? A terrible thought crossed my mind, had Gabriel done something drastic? Just then Candy stormed in through the door; she stalked over to the desk, completely ignoring my presence, a look of pure fury on her face. She picked up the phone from the desk and dialed a number.
The phone rang twice before someone on the other side picked up. Despite the fact that we were alone I still couldn’t quite hear what the other side was saying it was loud enough for me to determine that the voice on the other end was feminine.
“Yes, this is Candy, I’m calling in regards to the animal that you were supposed to pick up today.” Candy paused. “Yes, I am still interested in the original agreement, however, a complication has arisen,” she paused for the response from the other end of the line. “No, however the animal was injured we don’t know how severe.” She paused, “It is… he’s receiving treatment as we speak.” An animal was injured, could she have meant Gabriel?
Straining my ears I could barely make out the next part. “I understand” said the lady on the other line “Well, I hope you will keep us posted on its condition.”
“I will but there might not be anything we can do for it.” Candy stated.
“I hope that is not the case” the lady on the other line paused as though talking to someone else on her side of the line. “I am terribly sorry but the terms of our agreement where for the live custody of the brown Bengal. Unfortunately, if the animal doesn’t recover then I’m afraid the deal is off.”
The words Brown Bengal stuck in my ear. The injured animal they were talking about was Gabriel. Then I remembered the part about him not recovering. Disbelief hit me not only was Gabriel facing the prospect of having his mind erased and his body sold but he could actually die. The prospect was not easy for me to swallow.
“Very well, I’ll keep you posted on his condition. Until then… good bye.”
“Have a nice-”
Candy hung up before the lady on the other end of the line could finish. Candy just stood there glaring at the telephone. She stood motionless thus for a few moments, then her attention went from the phone to me. Candy reached for the phone again, dialed a number, then brought the receiver to her ear. It didn’t even ring.
“Yes, this is Candy, is mother there?” I don’t know who she was talking to but I couldn’t hear them at all, she could have very well been talking to herself. “Yes, I know the time, just tell mother that her favorite daughter is calling for a favor.” As Candy spoke, her eyes never left me; she had this look of utter malice on her face. I had never seen her furious before, it scared me a little.
A few seconds passed. “Hello Mother, it’s been a while,” Candy said, then paused, apparently for mother to speak. “Yes, I’m sorry to bother you at this hour but I need a favor.” She paused again. “No, nothing like that, I’m currently in the middle of a business deal that has gone south.” Candy started to play with the cord with the phone. “I was wondering if you had any ideas to where I could get my hands on a new tiger. . . Yes I realize that mother, but it’s an awfully large amount of money, do you think he will be willing to. . . fair enough.” Candy put the cord back down, and brought her attention back to me. “One last thing mother, I have a bit of a trash issue that needs taking care of. I don’t suppose you would mind sending two of your goons down here would you… Five hours? Perfect.”
I remember the whole experience quite clearly and it was not pleasant. My performance was not much different from the last one; I made my way through the hoops like I always had, Just like every other day. With my sister’s life in danger and memories to be erased, all was not ordinary. But with the collar on, what else could I do?
I jumped from totem pole to totem pole with ease, and cleared the first four hoops with no problem at all. To be honest I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but when I cleared the last hoop my fur caught fire just like it was supposed to, only this time I was really on fire. Then all I remember was searing pain before blacking out.
I know I should have cared more but I didn’t. My mind was lost in a bit of a haze, and my thoughts moved languidly through my head. To be honest, I really would have liked to see the look on Candy’s face if I died, and she wasn’t able to get her money. I didn’t know where Rachel was, but I hoped she was okay. If I could know that she was okay that would be enough for me. If I had been asked, I doubt I would really care if Candy brain washed me, so long as she agreed to let Rachel go. I hated my helplessness.
I slowly came too, lying side up on the stainless steel operating table in Steve’s trailer. Steve was hunched over me, wearing some latex gloves and one of those operation masks you see doctors wearing in most movies. He was treating my burns with some kind of ointment. Whatever it was it stung a little when applied, but I ignored it.
The ointment felt a little cold as Steve applied it to my now exposed flesh. He had started at my back and slowly worked his way forward, stopping periodically to bandage the treated areas. He had just worked his way up to my neck when he stopped abruptly and put the ointment soaked cotton ball on the table. I couldn’t tell what he was doing; I thought he was about to begin bandaging my shoulder but then felt his fingers fumbling at my collar. Was he trying to get under it, I thought apathetically. Then I heard a very distinct yet faint ‘click’ like metal rubbing against metal, that managed to arouse my curiosity. What the heck is he doing?
Then I felt pressure relieve itself from around my neck. All languor vanished; my eyes snapped wide and my ears perked up. Steve, had removed my collar, and for the first time in two long years I was unbound.
Steve noticed me coming to, and reached for the syringe full of sedative before removing the cap. Oh no you don’t! In one quick fluid motion I bolted from the table and tackled Steve causing him to drop the syringe.
I pinned him against the floor, careful not to put my full weight on him. I brought my face within inches of his, glaring into his eyes. “If you so much as squeal, I will tear you to bloody shreds.” I snarled. Oh my gosh, this feels so good I thought. I was a bit surprised that I could talk so easily and here I was thinking I might have to practice. Even more surprising is that it was my voice. Granted I could do more with it now including growl and roar but it was still my voice it had been so long. Snapping back to reality I noticed the look on Steve’s face: terror, confusion; the tiger didn’t really talk, did it?
I saw his eyes dart from me to the syringe that had fallen just to his right. Steve very slowly moved his hand up to grab it. “Don’t even think about it!” I growled. Steve took his hand back. Releasing him with my left leg, I swiped it away with my paw. With that out of the way I perked my ears up and listened for any indicator that anyone had heard our little struggle. Turning my ears left and right I didn’t hear anything so I relaxed. I tried to think. I looked back at the doctor who was still under my feet. “How long have I been out?” He just stared back at me, in shock. “Your watch! What time is it?”
Finally catching on, he glanced over to his watch. “Three o’clock.”
I had been out almost five hours. In that time what happened to Rachel? Was she even still alive? The burns across my back started to ache; the medication was wearing off. “Steve!?” he flinched from me calling him by name. “When was the last time you saw Rachel?”
Fear followed by seriousness crossed his face. “Why do you need to know?”
“Look, I don’t have time for twenty questions. Now, when was the last time you saw Rachel? She’s in danger.” I growled. That seemed to get his attention as he looked concerned.
He blinked twice, trying to organize his thoughts. “Two nights ago, about eight-ish. However Candy told me that she was transferred this morning.” That meant that I was the last one to see her. Was I too late? “What do you mean she could be in trouble?” he asked obvious concern in his voice.
“That’s none of your business.” I removed my paws and limped around him and started for the door. I was only a few feet from it when he bolted for the door his movement surprised me I backed up a little and dropped my ears back. He had placed himself between me and the exit his left hand was on the door knob. Ok now this guy was getting on my nerves. “Get out of my way”.
“Ttt… tell me what you meant by Rachel being in danger.” The man was trembling and yet, he didn’t budge an inch.
“It doesn’t concern you now get out of my way!” I growled.
Steve swallowed “Well, I say it does!” There was an intense look in his eyes, I knew he was scared, I could practically smell it on him. Yet despite his fear I knew he wouldn’t move.
I was lost for words, it took a lot of guts to stand up to me like that, I could see why Rachel liked him. “You really have no idea what’s going on here do you?” I asked rhetorically. He just responded with the same determined stare. I suppose I could have just powered my way past him but then he would have just followed me and that could have been problematic. I was in a bit of a hurry, I couldn’t hurt him, or Rachel would never forgive me, assuming she was still alive of course. He was getting bolder by the second; it was obvious he wasn’t moving without an explanation.
“Do you believe in magic?” I asked bluntly, his expression became confused.
“What do you mean, like witchcraft?”
That was a good question. “I don’t know but she can defiantly use magic.”
“Have you ever wondered where she gets all her animals, or noticed how real the effects in her show seamed?” Steve looked a bit taken aback but said nothing. “I don’t really have time to give you all the details, but I can tell you I wasn’t always like this, Rachel and I came to this place looking for a job. However once we found out how steep the terms of employment where we tried to back out and when that happened Candy did this to me,” I said, giving my body a quick glance.
Steve took his hand from the door knob, “so you were once human?”
I nodded. “Chances are, all the animals here were, at one point. However they have had their minds taken from them they are nothing more than animals now.” I waited for a response but he just stood there letting the reality sink in. then he surprised me.
Backing away from the door he took one step towards me. “What do you need me to do?”
Is he saying he wants to tag along? “I need you to get out of my way,” I said.
“I meant besides that” he said sternly.
“I suppose you could hold the door open for me.”
“I’m not letting you go without me.” This guy just doesn’t quit.
“This is likely going to be dangerous, are you sure you want to come?
He locked eyes with me no sign of fear. “Positive” he didn’t even hesitate if I could, I would have smiled; I think I’m starting to like this guy too.
Nice night for a party
“I should probably finish bandaging you up first. You’re in bad shape and you’ll be in worse if those wounds open up again” Steve said looking me over with concern. “It will have to happen later where kind of on borrowed time,” I said. He hesitated but he didn’t argue and opened the door for me.
Once we left the operating room it suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea where I was. “Which way to Candy’s trailer” I asked Steve. “That way” If Rachel was still alive I couldn’t think of anywhere else where Candy would keep her. I had to go slow so that Steve could keep up but I wasn’t going to complain as the pain medication was wearing out.
“Uhm- Mr. Tiger?” Steve stammered.
“My name is Gabriel” I corrected him.
“Sorry, Mr. Gabriel what exactly is the plan?”
That was a good question. “Rescue Rachel.”
“I meant how do we go about doing that.”
“I suppose I could eat anyone who tries to stop us.”
“Great plan,” he said, a little sarcastically.
We made our way past the hundreds of cages that littered the large tent. “So. How do you know Rachel” Steve asked calmly as we came around the last of the cages. I waited till we were near the exit to answer.
“She is my sister” I looked back to see his reaction however I was surprised to find his face quite expressionless.
“That certainly explains why Rachel was so upset, but why is she in danger?” it made sense that he would want to know more but I had hoped he would leave the questions for later.
“She tried to bust me out last night, against her better judgment and was caught by candy.”
“But how do you know that she is in danger, maybe she just…”
“This is the same lady that turned me into a tiger just because my sister changed her mind about wanting a job.” I cut him off harshly “also do you really think that candy would let my sister go after everything she’s seen here.” Steve nodded seaming to except my words as truth. Now at the exit I looked out and took note of the large grassy field as well as the tree line to a forest of lush green pines. “Steve, which way from hear?” I asked peaking my head through the door.
Steve stepped through and pointed in the direction of the woods. “Over there.” nearly a hundred yards away, partially enclosed by greenery was a secluded trailer.
“Does she always park so far away from her tent?” I complained. Just then my sensitive ears caught the faint approach of a vehicle. Steve was about to start across the grass. “Whoa there,” I said then took his jacket in my teeth and pulled him back into the tent.
“Don’t you hear that?” I snapped, releasing him. Once I released him, an unmarked van emerged from the line of trees and drove down the road from the woods. I was surprised at how bright it was tonight. Despite the fact it was four o’clock in the morning I could still make out the approaching vehicle. I remember reading something about how cats can see in the dark. So I guess maybe it was dark and I just had night vision. The vehicle continued on toward us until it came to the turn off to Candy’s trailer. “What am I listening for?”
“Nothing anymore. A white van just pulled up to her trailer.” The engine died, then the driver’s door opened and out stepped a very thuggish-looking man; he looked about, adjusting his jacket and I caught sight of a holstered pistol. Then the passenger side opened and another man emerged, this one with a baseball bat in hand.
“I can see the head lights but how do you-”
“Shhhh! They could hear you!” I hissed.
“Who could hear me?”
“The armed men that just stepped out of the van.”
“The armed what?” he exclaimed. “What are they armed with?”
“I said quiet!” I growled
“Sorry,” he said in a low whisper.
“One of them is walking around with a pistol and the other’s got an old baseball bat.”
He strained his eyes to make out what I was seeing. “If you say s-” he started to say when the man with the pistol walked in front of the cars headlights. “So what’s the plan? If Rachel’s in there how are we supposed to get past these guys?”
“I could create a distraction. I run out and roar and when they come running, you go in and get her.”
“Great idea and I suppose you’re just assuming that they won’t just call animal control, or just shoot you.” Candy emerged from her home and went out to meet the two men.
“Good point, and there’s always the possibility that they won’t all leave.” I sat and put a paw to my head struggling to think. You would have thought after all the years I had spent cooped up alone in that cage that I would have had some ideas of escape. Sure I spent plenty of time imagining what one would be like and how I could pull one off. One time I even put a little thought into what I would do if I had I happen to leave the circus but that thing around my neck didn’t seem to like that very much and I was forced to return to reality or risk another seizure.
Anyway what we needed was some kind of distraction, something that would tick off candy enough to ditch Rachel.
“We could set the tent on fire.” I suggested.
“that could work” Steven pondered, “it would definitely make her angry enough to come for us but she might also just call the fire department then she would have plenty of time to do what she wanted with Rachel by the time she got here.”
“We could just call the police ourselves, that way she won’t have any time to get ready.” I suggested
“How would we call them, I don’t have a cell phone. Candy doesn’t let us carry them.”
“You’re a doctor and you don’t have any kind of communication?” I gasped in disbelief.
“All of the staff use radios” Steven explained, “Candy’s office is the only place with a phone.”
Dang it, well there go’s that plan. “Common there has to be something, what if we try something bigger something only candy could clean up?” I said sounding a little desperate.
“You have something in mind?” Steve asked with a cocked eye brow.
Who was I kidding, I had no idea what I was talking about, my eyes scanned through the inside of tent desperate to find something we could use against Candy. My gaze fell on one of the cages holding a large hyena though I forget his name. That’s when it hit me. “What do you think Candy would do if all her animals where suddenly let loose?”
Steve folded his arms. “That might work,” he said thoughtfully. “It would definitely keep everyone busy, I’m just hoping it’s enough to be Candy’s number one priority, it would suck if she just came after us, or worse what if she runs off with Rachel.”
“Well, she was pretty upset about losing me; she’d be ticked if she lost any more of her animals not to mention, out of business.” Candy was now talking to her goons however it was too far even for my ears to pick up.
“Ok.” said Steve. “So, how do we go about releasing these animals? I though Candy was the only one with a key to the cages.”
“Actually, I think Jagger has one also”
“You think, or you know?”
Candy turned her head in our direction. “Shhh she’s looking this way!” Steve and I froze in the tents opening, we didn’t move and for a moment we didn’t breath. After a few seconds, Candy turned back to the two men and gave them one last instruction before walking back into her trailer. The two men positioned themselves on either side of the ringleader’s door.
“Well it’s our only shot, we’re certainly not getting the one off of Candy.”
“Ok then, do you want to check his trailer first?” asked Steve
“That would probably be best.” I agreed “I just hope that Jagger doesn’t keep the keys with him. I’d rather not have to make a scene getting them.” Without me even asking, Steve bolted back inside the tent, and I followed him. We wove our way in and out through the hundreds of cages that littered the inside of the tent, we even passed my cage. Despite the fact it being nearly pitch black inside, it might as well have been mid-day. Granted it was nice being able to see where I was going but I also could not help but feel exposed.
It didn’t take long at our pace but we eventually made it to Jagger’s trailer on the other side of the big tent. Steve and I approached cautiously using one of the cages to hide behind. “Ok, so now what?” Steve asked.
I sat and tried to think, ignore the urge to scratch at my bandages. “Well, I suppose someone should stay out here just in case someone shows up considering there’s only one way in and out of that thing.”
“In that case it should be me”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, he could already be in there he catches me in there than ill just say I was looking for him about work or something”
“Or something?” I cocked my head sideways and gave him a look that.
“And you think he will buy that.” I asked him disbelievingly.
“What’s the worst he can do?” he asked sarcastically “fire me?”
“More like set you on fire” I retorted looking down at the burns covering tattering my body. He didn’t answer.
“Look Steve,” I sighed then turned to face him. “I know you want to help Rachel but you’re no good to her dead. At the very least I can defend myself if he’s in there.
And besides, chances are he hasn’t just left his keys lying around, it’s allot more likely he has them on his person”
“In which case we are going to have to get them off of him somehow.” Steve finished my sentence for me.
“Alright” he threw his hands up in submission “you win but if you get in trouble I’m coming in after you.”
“Just wait here and keep your head down.” I demanded getting impatient with the veterinarian.
I started across from the cages and made my way to the door, checking my surroundings constantly for any movement. Once at the door I hopped up and using the wall for support I placed my right paw on the handle. I pushed down on the handle, then hooked my claw around the back part of it and pulled. The door opened, then it occurred to me too late, that Jagger could have locked it, my worries faded quickly however when the handle turned. Breathing a sigh of relief I used my nose to push the door open and slid inside. “Thank you God for stupid people.” I chuckled amused by my own words.
Well, pretty quickly I determined that Jagger wasn’t home which was good assuming of course his keys where somewhere in here. Unfortunately for me, his place was a total mess. I can’t believe that someone actually lives in this i thought looking the piles of dirty laundry tattering the floor. Even worse there was a half-eaten pizza on top of the TV, the carpet was a tattered mess with stains littering the entire floor. The whole trailer smelled absolutely terrible, like being inside of an ash tray. Beer bottles were everywhere: all over the floor, on the window, the counter, there were even bottles stacked on a chair in the corner. I had been walking bear footed for nearly two years now but right now I desperately missed shoes.
Doing my best to ignoring the disgusting condition of the floor and stifling my regrets towards insisting on Steve staying behind, I began my search.
Aside from the mess there wasn’t really much to look through; the walls were for the most part naked and he didn’t really have any furniture. Walking over to the table I scanned the beer bottle-covered table for any sign of the keys. Moving from there I reluctantly returned to scanning the floor and slowly made my way to the bed room which was just as nasty.
The mess aside, his bedroom wasn’t really much to look at considering it was just as empty as the rest of the trailer. Only the dresser and the large queen sized took up the available space despite this my gaze lingered on the bed.
It was just a patch stained matrass with some sheets some nasty sheets thrown on top of it which I assume where once white. It, just like everything else in the Jagger’s trailer, reeked of alcohol and yet despite all its flaws it was still a bed. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had slept in one.
Looking back at all those nights I spent curled on the cold unforgiving floor of my cage I felt a deep sense of longing and envy.
Snapping back to reality I hopped up on the bed eager to get off the floor as well as to get a better vantage of the room. The sheets weren’t the cleanest thing in the world though to be honest it was still better than the floor, barely. The matrass creaked under my weight as I moved to the edge and scanned the room for any sign of the keys. I was about to check the dresser when suddenly I heard the front door open, and an all too familiar waft of alcohol and cigarettes rolled through the air. Jagger had come home.
I looked franticly for an escape but there was no way out, so I did the only thing I could. As quietly as possible, I climbed down onto the floor and crouched down low behind Jagger’s bed.
Lying this close to his disgusting floor was almost more than I could handle, but I didn’t really have much choice. No sooner had I settled into my hiding spot, Jagger walk in close the door behind him then slump down on the edge of the bed. Ducking my head lower in an attempted to see under the bed, I craned my head to the side and managed to make out his feet.
For a moment he just sat there. I slowed my breathing and lay still, hoping he hadn’t spotted me. Then I heard something; it sounded like clothing rubbing on clothing, I then heard a faint clicking sound, or it would have been faint had my ears not been so acute. I was now almost certain he had spotted me in which case I was going to have to defend myself. Then it hit me, why exactly was I hiding? I’m a freaking Tiger; I’m a thousand pounds of fur teeth and claws. Better still, for the first time since I came the circus I was off the leash with nothing holding me back. Without another thought I was ready to pounce when suddenly, his pants dropped.
The action was almost enough to make me jump out of my skin yet instead I froze up. Relief washed over me as the witches’ brother continued to disrobe. I guess that I should have been at least a little disturbed by the fact the Jagger was undressing in front of me but in my defense I it’s not like his underwear dropped too, I think. To be honest I wouldn’t have noticed even if they had. You see I was far too distracted by the distinct jingling sound his pants made when they hit the floor. The keys!
Once Jagger was undressed he collapsed onto his bed, then his hand draped over the side nearly smacking me in the face and rested inches from my head. Geez that was close. Seizing what could be my only chance I crept forward, carefully making my way out from behind the bed. So how am I supposed to get these darn things out without waking him up? Remembering that I was on borrowed time I very gingerly took the butt of his jeans in my mouth and slowly lifted. My gosh doesn’t this guy ever bathe, I couldn’t even describe it his pants were by far the worst most foul thing I had ever tasted. Thankfully his keys slid right out so I placed the jeans back down on the ground. Fighting back the urge to vomit after having his clothing in my mouth, I picked up the keys in my teeth. They were still warm from having been there in his pocket for who knows how long. The thought alone was enough to make me want to gag.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
The sound came from the door; before the second knock I was already back behind the bed. Jagger rose with a groan and shuffled to the end of the bed, then made his way over to the window. He lifted the latch on the window and slid it open. “Who’s there?” he called, sticking his head out the window.
No answer came. Jagger turned back to the bed, then grabbed his pants and slid them back on. As soon as he was dressed again he made his way over to his bedroom door. Twisting the handle he pulled it open and stepped through all in one movement.
The moment the bedroom door closed behind him I bolted from my hiding place over to the window. Planting my forelegs on the window sill I peeked through, looking left and right. As both directions where clear, I hopped up and dropped out of the window landing on my fore feet first. The front door of the trailer cracked open and I jumped back behind one of the nearby cages. Jagger hadn’t seemed to have noticed me; I peeked my nose out from behind the cage just to be certain; there he was, standing just outside his house with a scowl on his face. He hasn’t seen me. I went back behind the cage again, with keys still dangling from my mouth.
I was about to head back to where I thought Steve was hiding when I heard a faint shuffling sound behind the cage across from me. It sounded like Steve, but I wasn’t sure so I made my way over and around. Hunched over with his back turned to me was Steve; he was breathing heavily, probably from playing ding dong ditch with Jagger. I let loose a low growl to let him know I was there. He tensed up immediately and jerked his head around.
Once he saw me he relaxed and brought his hand to his chest with a sigh. “Gabriel!” he said hoarsely. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.” His complaint sounded a bit winded, whether it was from me scaring him or his stunt with the door. I threw the keys at him by jerking my head towards him and opening my mouth. They landed at his feet he picked them up then wiped the saliva of on his jeans.
“Thanks for the distraction it really helped.”
Steve just responded with a weak smile. “So, what now?” he asked. I glanced up at the cage we were hiding behind. There was a brown liger curled up toward the back. Steve followed with his eyes then he looked down at the keys in his hand.
“Now we let the animals out.” Now we trash Candy’s circus.
Steve reached up and inserted the key into the lock then twisted. The action was simple but it was so satisfying my heart hummed with excitement within my chest. I made my way over to the next cage and Steve followed. Once he caught up he unlocked it as well; it might take a while for the animals to realize that the cages where open but as long as they were unlocked we were fine.
We hurried from cage to cage, and in under five minutes we had unlocked the majority of the cages. It wasn’t until we were nearly done that the animals started letting themselves out; that was our cue to hurry up.
Steve had just finished up with the polar bears when I saw the stallion tied up in the stables. “Tony!” I bolted for the corral, Steve not far behind. As I approached I slowed down, remembering that I was a nearly one thousand pound tiger and I didn’t wanting to freak him out. “Hey, Tony I don’t suppose you remember me?” He turned his head around and backed away nervously letting out a whinny. “Whoa, dude” I said, trying not to be patronizing. “Easy, it’s me Gabe; remember the apple?” My attempts to calm him did not seem to work I was starting to question whether or not Candy had taken his mind yet but then again he did still have the halter on. His lead rope was tied tight and wasn’t allowing him to back up any further. “I realize the talking thing is new, but you didn’t really think you were the only one that Candy turned, did you?” I sat down right in front of him. “Tony, I’m going to take that halter off of you but I’m going to need you to lower your head.” I think he understood as he started to calm but he still hesitated. “Just lower your head, I’ll remove the halter and you’re free.”
Steve caught up to me then; he stopped, just off to the left of the stables. I ignored his presence for now, focused on getting this horse to trust me. Tony looked from Steve to me and swallowing his fear he brought his head low to the ground. Using my teeth I grabbed hold of the strap, then gently placed my paw on his face and pulled. The strap came undone, then went to the top of the halter and I lifted it over his ears, again being clever with my teeth. From there I let go, and the halter just fell off.
As soon as it was off he jerked his head back in surprise. He rubbed his face with his foreleg, as if disbelieving that he could really be free. He did a little happy trot in a circle clearly enjoying his newly acquired freedom. Once he was done he came back over and stopped in front of me. “Thank- thank you.”
“Wish I could do more.” I said and then turned to Steve who stared wide-eyed at the horse.
“I was under the impression. . . do all the animals talk?” He sounded shaken.
“At one point probably, however. . .” a faint two note whistle carried throughout the tent, interrupting me. I recognized the tune almost immediately, but the note was too high for Steve to even hear it.
A snow leopard threw herself off of one of the nearby cages and before I could even tell which of the twins it was I leaped to intercept her. Kiki and I collided in midair and tumbled to the floor in a mess of sharp teeth and claws.
Steve jumped back from surprise and so did Tony; I half expected them both to run. I heard a second whistle and spotted Lola emerge from her hiding spot and leap towards Steve.
I kicked Kiki off of me with my hind legs; she flew off and bounced off the cage wall behind me. Before she had a chance to recover, I was back on my feet and off to intercept Lola. I had less of distance to travel and despite my injuries I put myself between Lola and my friends with plenty of time. She slowed to a halt, and Kiki was just recovering from just being thrown against the cage when I let loose the fiercest roar I could muster. Everyone, even the cats, froze in their tracks.
Clap Clap Clap!
The sound was coming from behind the far cage that had been Lola’s hiding spot moments ago. Jagger emerged, applauding slowly, arrogantly. I glared at him and snarled, long and viciously.
“Ooh aren’t you scary!” he said mockingly while Lola and Kiki started to circle us. Steve tried to keep Tony calm while trying to keep himself from freaking out.
“I’ll show you scary,” I said, my voice low and deadly. “Just wait till I get ahold of you.”
He backed up expecting me to charge. Who could blame him? I’ll admit It took a lot of self-control but I knew I had to stay put remembering that I was the only thing standing between the two cats and my friends.
So many times I had fantasized killing him in the most colorful ways. “I’m going to tear your freaking head off”. To be honest I used a slightly more colorful word, and yes I would feel bad about cussing later, but right now nothing else quite expressed my feelings the way I wanted.
Kiki bolted at me trying to slip past my left. I reacted by swiping at her and growling she jumped back. I might have been outnumbered and injured, but I was a lot bigger and I was in a really bad mood.
“Tony!” his hears perked up when I said his name. “I need you right now, buddy.” Lola saw her opportunity and tried to make it past my right so I rushed at her and she paused expecting me to tackle her however I did something very un-tiger-like. I faked left turned on my right front paw and kicked her right in the face making sure to dig my claws in. I used her face as a spring board to push off and reverse direction then made a dash at her sister who had taken the opening thinking I would be too busy to stop her. “Tony take Steve and run!” I yelled, tackling the snow leopard sinking my teeth and claws into whatever I could. I didn’t have to tell them twice; Tony, being a well-trained circus horse, circled behind Steve ducked his head low placing his long nose between staves legs then jerking forward into a full gallop, lifted Steve off the ground over his head and safely onto his back. As scared as the poor guy must have been, tony handled that very smoothly. Once Steve was properly mounted tony made a brake for the line of cats.
Kiki made a quick swipe at my face, and I reflexively jumped back in order to avoid them. Despite my being preoccupied with her sister I notice Lola from the corner of my eye suddenly break away and head after tony.
With a swipe of my massive paw I shoved Kiki away and perused her sister. Before I got away, however, Kiki planted four evenly spaced gashes on my shoulder when trying to jump on me. I ignored her and leaped at Lola. She went straight for tony legs but just before she could sink her teeth in I landed on top of her and dug my claws deep into her skin.
She hissed and turned beneath me, making a move for my throat and I didn’t have much time to respond. I turned my head away just as her teeth sank into the back of my neck just as tony ran by. I roared with pain as I struggled to get her off. Using my greater weight and strength I tried to roll myself on top of her, but I ended up pushing her back so hard that she collided with one of the cages. Her back struck the iron wall hard, hard enough to cause her to lose her grip on my neck.
Seconds later, the sound of thundering hooves faded off into the background; Steve and Tony were gone, leaving me alone with Jagger and his two demon cats. I was tired and hurt, my burns had started bleeding again and I was absolutely livid.
“Stop getting in my way you stupid cat!” I turned to face him and our eyes locked.
Rage, unimaginable rage. I was completely devoid of fear and yet my heart was pounding like a drum in my ears. I was even began to feel light headed most likely from loss of blood and yet despite this any physical pain I felt was far off, as though it belonged to someone else.
I don’t know if I actively chose so or if it was instinct but I allowed my body to show no signs of weakness, despite my injuries. Mind was made up, I no longer saw Jagger as an enemy nor did I see his cats as a threat to myself. I was a predator and he was my pray and all that stood between me and my quarry where two other predators challenging me for my meal and I was not about to back down. Just then Lola attempted to put herself back on top of me. She leapt and instinctively I turned to meet her halfway. We collided midair and landed in a mess of thrashing teeth claws both of us lashed at the other. She was faster but I was stronger and I could keep this fight up for longer without tiring. Kiki tried to join in with her sister but I presented no opening as I kept her sister between us as we fought.
We fought for was seemed like minutes when Lola started to show signs of slowing and tried to back out in order to let her sister in. however seeing my chance for what it was when she pulled away I dropped down low and lunged forward where my teeth made contact with her neck and sank into her throat. Lola thrashed helplessly in vain within my jaws, and I could feel the rapid pulse of blood as it rushed through her veins, distinguishing the heavy yet distinct beating of her heart. With the sensitive hairs on my face I could even feel the frantic irregular beating of her hart. With a single twist, I heard one last gasp of air escape, and felt the beating of her frantic hart stop. Her body went limp in my jaws.
I released the dead beast from my maw and turned my attention to her sister expecting her to come at me next. Instead what she did was literally turn tail and run, leaving me alone with Jagger.
I turned back to the beast tamer and met his gaze again. My legs trembled, mostly from the shock of having just killed something, but I was also tired, tired and had lost a lot of blood.
I could sense the terror in his eyes though, building up as the magnitude of his defenselessness came crushing upon him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but his fear, his trembling, excited me in ways I didn’t know it could. It even scared me a little.
Our little stare down didn’t last much longer as Jagger could not contain his fear for another second and without much warning he turned and ran. Almost instinctively I followed. As injured as I was it kind of surprised me how fast I was actually capable of going without doubling over from the pain. I guess I have the adrenalin to thank that. That and the immense amount of hatred I had for this jerk.
I was really going to do it I was going to kill that little weasel and this time no stupid collar was going to stop me.
My pray, for that is what I saw him as was only a couple feet ahead of me and I was gaining. As he zigzagged in between the cages and boxes that littered the inside of this enormous tent I could see him beginning to tire. I would catch him and I knew exactly what I’d do when I did.
“What the hell is going on out there?” Candy demanded, sounding very irritated. I was gagged, so I couldn’t respond. But to me it sounded almost like someone had started the show without her. I could hear all sorts of animal noises coming from the direction of the tent.
Candy made her way to the window and parted the blinds to peer out into the night. I had been sitting in that corner for what felt like nearly an hour. My wrists where raw from my constant fight with the tight cuffs.
After a few seconds passed, Candy dropped the blinds with a groan. Apparently dissatisfied with the view, she made her way over to where I sat in the corner. Without warning she grabbed me by the hair and tossed me to the side in order to get into the cabinet behind me.
Without even a second look in my direction she opened the cabinet and very quickly removed a rather beautiful but otherwise ordinary looking crystal ball. Two years ago I wouldn’t have paid it much thought, however. . . this was two years later.
Taking the ball in one hand she held it out, as if to offer it to an unseen being. The ball began to give off such an intense light that I had to look away. Seconds passed when curiosity got the better of me and I tuned my gaze back to the glowing sphere shimmering in Candy’s hand. The crystal ball which had moments ago emitted a light so blinding you couldn’t see anything at all was now beginning to clear: different colors began dancing around underneath the surface of the enchanted orb and produce a very clear image of center stage.
More surprising was the elephant moving along with no one supervising it. Without warning the image soared across the stage and made its way behind the stage, revealing that it wasn’t just the elephants that had been let out. Not only was every single cage clearly open but all the animals where now running amuck.
It was an absolute mess of color, everywhere the crystal gazed mass hysteria could be seen. From the orangutan that could be seen harassing some lions by throwing food at them from atop the cages, to the polar bears rummaging through the trash cans. Suddenly a shiver shook my body as It felt like an icy breeze had blown through the room and yet the doors and windows where shut. Taking my attention away from the orb I noticed that even Candy was shaking, but clearly not from the cold.
Words could not describe the rage emanating from her, for a moment I thought she might explode. Despite this she did not linger as the image danced passed and over the cages, stopping here and there in order to give the image a chance to focus. Before long it became clear that she was looking for something but what? Perhaps the culprit responsible?
The image stopped one last time at the far end of the tent before rounding the edge of the stables. It caught a glimpse of movement and the image came to a complete halt then adjusted to the light. As it came into focus I noticed the image of a man wearing blue jeans. Of course I immediately recognized Jagger, but what I didn’t quite get was why he was just standing there. He did not seem to care in the slightest about the chaos erupting around him. In fact he seemed to be transfixed, staring at something happening just behind us. Candy adjusted the image yet again, this time putting us behind Jagger so that she could see exactly what held her brother’s attention.
That’s when I saw them. Two very large very angry looking snow leopards where circling another vary large cat with brown fur. “Gabriel!” I gasped. There was no mistaking it was my brother, he was still alive. Relief was what I felt, like an enormous weight had been lifted from my heart however this was short lived. Sure he was alive, but for how much longer? He had just been hospitalized and there were bloody bandages covering his tattered body. Even worse there were large and very fresh evenly spaced gashes across his exposed skin which I could only assume where caused by the two monsters circling him. I wanted to get out to him, to help him.
Having seen enough, Candy stuffed the orb back into the closet. She then turned her attention back to me and without a word walked over and grabbed me by my hair. I staggered to my feet as she effortlessly pulled me along leading me to the door. With her free hand she opened the door and ordered the two goons outside to take me.
Without any further instruction two very tough looking men who were standing by the van approached. They looked like twins and, aside from the scar draped down the left ones’ right cheek, they were indistinguishable from their thousand dollar dress suits to their closely shaved heads. When they reached either side of me they took me by my arms as Candy disappeared back inside her trailer. The two thugs escorted me to the passenger side of the van. As soon as candy was out of sight I did the only sensible thing to do at the time I brought my right foot back and delivered a hard kicked between the legs of the guy to my left and he staggered to the ground holding his lower chest and breathing heavily. Fighting my restraints I attempted to pull away from his companion when I felt hard thump on the back of my head. He had hit me over the head with the back of his gun forcing my knees to buckle. I would have fallen to the floor had the thug not been holding me so tight.
Head still pounding in my ears the man dragged me over to the passenger side opened the front door then shoved me into my seat. Once I was in my seat the door was practically slammed in my face and the door locked. I considered making a smart remark just to see if I could aggravate them but I thought better of it. The first one made his way around to the driver’s side and let himself in while the other sat behind me. Just as the engine jumped to life the driver leaned over the seat in order to fasten my seat belt. “Don’t want you going nowhere just yet,” he said, then we pulled away.
From inside the car I could still hear the animals running loose inside the tent. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but as we pulled out of the parking lot and on to the road I could have sworn I heard a tiger’s roar emanate from the distant tent before everything faded into total silence.
No more than a minute passed and with nothing but the quiet hum of the engine to break the silence I found myself staring out the passenger side window. Eyes locked and completely absorbed in the black of the forest looming over the van. You could barely make out any one of the hundreds of trees around us until the headlights found them. This made me a little nervous as we were traveling quite fast and the road was just as difficult to distinguish from the void outside.
That’s when an idea came to me. Granted, a very stupid and dangerous idea but I was out of time and out of options. On the bright side I was the only one in the car with a seat belt on, so why not. Without really thinking it through and with one quick movement I very awkwardly turned my self-sideways pulled my right leg out from under the dash, planted my foot on the wheel and pushed.
The car responded as I’d hoped, veering off the road and coming to a rather startling stop having collided with a rather large oak
Scar Face and his twin weren’t lucky. Both the front seats had air bags, but not wearing their seatbelts took its toll as they were both out cold. Or at least I think they were unconscious. As grateful as I was that the passenger side had an air bag, it was a lot less helpful and hurt a lot more than I had thought. Forcing myself to ignore the pounding in my head and soreness of my chest I tried desperately to recover my wits. My disorientation from the impact finally began to clear and I wasted no time freeing myself.
Whilst being clever with my hands and unbuckling myself I looked over to the driver trying to decide how I was going to get over him. By chance that’s when I noticed that the driver very conveniently had a set of handcuff keys attached to the key in the ignition. I quickly bent my head down under the steering wheel and removed the keys with my teeth.
It took a bit of finagling but in no time at all I was out of the cuffs though as I climbed out of the overturned van I noticed that one of the twin’s firearms had skittered a few feet away from the wreck. After brushing off some bits of broken glass and debris, I then retrieved the pistol from the asphalt before running- well, limping, as fast as I could in the direction of the circus.
I felt as though I was being watched by the trees. Every step cut through the silence like I knife. The darkness that surrounded me was dense and ominous, yet I couldn’t have been less than a hundred yards from the circus. Or had I misjudged; we were going pretty fast. Now that I really thought about it, maybe I was farther away than I thought. I slowed to a walk.
For what seemed like hours I walked on that open and exposed road sticking out like a sore thumb. I was very tempted to abandon the road and head into the woods I was afraid I wouldn’t find it again so I marched on.
As it was I was surprised how alone I felt. I knew God was looking out for me, he is the reason I managed to crawl away from that wreck unharmed. Well for the most part. Despite His presence I couldn’t help but miss my family, and not just Gabriel. I wonder if he’s up there with mom and dad right now, if so than one day I would see him again. I could only hope, Gabriel had been wrestling with God for so long. The possibility of never getting to see my brother again sacred me; I felt hot tears roll down my cheek. “God please forgive Gabriel, he was just sad because he misses our parents” I chocked on my words and dried my face with my sleeves. “Please just keep my family safe”.
Before long the only thing more prominent than my defenselessness was my aching body and my throbbing head. Despite the pain I was somewhat grateful for the distraction, no matter how uncomfortable it was. Shortly after my head started throbbing I caught a glimpse of light.
Just like that my fears melted away and my pace quickened back to a run. Before long I could hear the sound of animals again. I could feel the darkness releasing its grip on me and all I could feel was relieved.
I was only seconds away from the clearing just outside the circus when I heard a familiar rumble. The sound made me freeze and it started to grow louder. Realizing that something was getting closer I ducked behind the nearest tree. I now recognized the rumble as hooves beating the ground for out across the clearing to the circuses I saw someone riding a rather large black horse and they were headed straight for me.
Panic hit me and I retreating back into the woods. The rider was almost upon me and with only seconds left to hide I ducked behind the nearest tree. The rider stopped just past the tree line only feet away from where I hid. “Rachel?”
I recognized Steve’s voice immediately and stepped from my hiding spot. “Steven!” I gawked in disbelief. Too happy for words to describe I stepped out from behind the large oak, and there he stood. Dropping the gun and without even hesitating I ran toward him and threw myself into his arms where he held me comfortingly.
“I thought you were- how did you manage to get out of the van?” He questioned me without letting go.
Recollecting my thoughts and composure I pulled my self away from his chest. “That will have to wait, have you seen Gabriel?”
Steve avoided meeting my eye. “Rachel I-”
The world erupted into a fiery explosion that sent both me and Steve flying. I collided with the ground with so much force that it knocked the wind out of me, and I saw Steve land a few feet in the other direction while his horse bolted. Gathering my wits I looked up to try and assess what had just happened. The trees looming over the clearing had erupted into a raging inferno. Where we were standing was now a crater twelve feet wide, charred black and barren of any foliage. With a resounding hiss, the fires which had erupted out of nowhere died away to nothing. Sitting up I noticed her; standing in the center nearly enveloped in smoke and mist was the witch of the Black Candy Circus.
In a confused panic, I struggled to get to my feet but the witch was just too fast. With nearly inhuman speed she cleared the distance between me and her in only three effortless strides. With that same speed I felt her grab me by my hair and pull me the rest of the way to my feet. Then I felt something cold against my face and heard the distinctive click of a gun as she pulled the hammer back.
“Don’t move,” Candy said, a ring of venom in her voice. “My magic may have no effect on her, but bullets work on just about anyone.”
Steve was already on his feet and I was grateful to see had somehow managed to retrieve the firearm taken from the van. However once he saw the weapon in my face he froze and lifted his free hand in a submissive calming gesture though he held the weapon tight in his other hand. “Please it doesn’t need to come to that, just let her go,” Steve said cautiously.
“Oh, I’m afraid it does.” Candy jerked her head back, flipping the hair out of her face trying to regain her composure. “You and your friends have caused quite a bit of trouble for me and my circus.”
The tone in her voice indicated her resolve however she still hesitated to pull the trigger. What is she waiting for? Out of the corner of my eye I saw what Steve could not; Scar Face had not only survived the car wreck, but was now closing in on Steve from behind with a rather large hunting knife in hand.
“Ste- mh!” I started to say but the witch released her hold on my hair and clapped her hand across my mouth, silencing my warnings to Steve. “You have some nerve even to speak to me after everything that’s happened!” She snapped, clearly buying time for her man to get in closer.
Too bad for Steve as he mistook her reluctance to shoot as indecision and took a step forward, hands still raised in submission. This clearly irritated her as she pressed the barrel of her gun harder against my temple, Steve hesitated not wanting to anger Candy further. As I could tell by the look on his face he was terrified knowing he might have to kill someone even someone as evil as Candy. He racked his brain trying to find a way to free me without getting one or both of us killed.
While Steve debated his next move scar face slowly and silently moved toward Steve till he was now only feet away. I wanted to call out to Steve, to warn him. I tried everything I could to warn him but candy held me so tight there was nothing I could do. Tears begin to well up in my eyes as the thug stood directly behind Steve raising his blade ready to strike.
Please just turn around.
run. . .
run. . .
First my mother and father then my brother and now this. everyone I have ever cared about. . .
Candy looked from Steve over to Scar Face signaling him to strike with little more than a light nod. I held my breath and my heart stopped as the world I knew ended.
* * *
The Roar that escaped from between my jaws was so piercing and fierce it reverberated through my own limbs down to my paws. It cut through the silence of the forest and echoed through the night.
Everyone froze, even the man holding the knife turned to face me, eyes wide with terror. Satisfied with everyone’s reactions I broke from behind a group of thick pines, digging my claws in to the earth with every stride.
Faster than the human eye could follow in the low light of the forest I closed the distance between me and the bulky looking man with the knife. He turned to run but it was too late, I was already upon him. I threw myself on the man and dragged him to ground sinking both claws and teeth into his exposed flesh.
The man did not even have time to scream; his body now lay limp beneath me. In the confusion I saw Steven duck behind a nearby tree candy fired a single shot in his direction and the bark of the tree splintered inches from where his head had been moments ago.
Recognizing Candy’s goon to be no longer a threat I let his body fall from my monstrous jaws and turned my attention back to Candy, and my sister. Relief was what I felt at seeing my sister safe and I could tell by the look on her face the feeling was mutual. The ringleader however was not quite so taken in by our reunion, and with a look of surprise and deep loathing she took aim at me.
Despite the dark I easily recognized the weapon as a magnum revolver. I was familiar enough with the gun to know she had six shots however a weapon of that caliber could easily take down a tiger with just one.
I froze cursing my own recklessness at having not assessed the situation before jumping in. of course she was armed, what was thinking. I growled in frustration as our eyes locked and the corner of her mouth pulled into a triumphant grin.
“Ahhg” Candy shrieked in pain, Candy had loosened her grip just enough for Rachel to sink her teeth in to the witch’s hand.
“Run Gabriel” my sister cried. Enraged the young ringleader grabbed a handful of my sister’s shirt and with inhuman strength sent her flying toward a nearby tree.
She collided with the tree and toppled to the ground as limp as a rag doll.
“Rachel!” Steve cried leaving his cover and rushed to her side. Candy had just recovered her composure and took aim at the young veterinarian, now a sitting duck.
My blood boiled with a primal hatred that I wouldn’t fight even if I could, I loosed a low roar and charged the horrid woman.
I was only feet away when candy noticed my approach, she had little time to react, I was practical upon here when she released a single shot which I felt pass through my right shoulder. I landed on her with enough force and weight to uproot a small tree and she went down as easily as her thug did, her weapon fell from her hand and landed beside her. Ignoring the pain in my shoulder I opened my massive jaw and leaned in to deliver the kill.
Inches from her exposed throat I felt the muscle in her arms tense and coil. As though I weighed no more than a small house cat she freed her arm from underneath my massive paw placed her arm against my chest then heaved with an unnatural force I was all too familiar with.
I was flung clear over her head and I landed hard in some bushes a few feet away. Hard enough to knock the wind out of me. Despite the disorientation I still managed to force myself off my back and onto my side. As my vision began to clear I saw the blurry figure of candy already back on her feet and retrieving her weapon.
I didn’t have enough time to get there before she could arm herself and I could stay there as I was an easy target. As quickly as I could on shaky legs I dragged myself up and took cover behind a tree.
I sat there for a second trying to regain control of my body, though the longer I sat there the worse I felt, then I remembered the wound in my shoulder.
Glancing down at my body it was a wonder that I wasn’t falling apart, let alone still conscious. From the burns down my back, the injuries I received from fighting the leopards and top of that getting shot it was clear that if this fight would be over soon one way or another.
Peaking around the corner I noticed that Steven was still safe behind the tree with Rachel who I could only hope was just unconscious. Candy however was just standing there a look of utter loathing on her face scanning the forest as if she was looking for something.
“She can’t see in the dark” I whispered to myself just now making the connection. I had known for a long time that tigers eyes where better in the dark than a normal persons but I had been a tiger for so long that I haven’t really had the chance to make the comparison. I couldn’t know for sure but for everyone else it might as well been pitch black I hoped.
I was about to break hiding and attempt to sneak in behind her but then I heard the ringleader start to mumble something under her breath I couldn’t make out. I froze and strained my ears trying to make it out but it sounded like some foreign language. Here rambling grew louder appearing to reach a climax then extending her free hand out in front of her mantra suddenly ceased.
“Burn!” Cried Candy, and with her final word the forest around us lit ablaze entrapping us in a circle of fire several yards wide with her at the center. Candy chuckled with a sickening delight then without her uttering another word the raging inferno around us began to shrink.
We were trapped and the fire was so bright and intense that it might as well have been midday; so much for being able to see in the dark.
The edge of the ring was only a few feet behind me and closing, from behind my tree I could see Steven struggling with Rachel trying to keep them away from the fire but at the same time away from Candy.
Their struggle illuminated by the spiraling flames, it wasn’t hard for candy to spot the two of them. I had to act, her back was to me so now was as good a time as any.
I crouched my tattered body low and dug my claws in deep. I felt the powerful muscles in my legs coil as I prepared to strike. Heart pounding in my ear and vision still foggy from too much blood loss I broke for the clearing putting every ounce of strength I had left into my stride. In seconds I cleared the distance candy again hadn’t noticed my rapid approach. I leaped claws extended.
Candy turned to face me and our eyes locked but it wasn’t fear I saw it was victory that burned in her eyes. She raised a hand toward me seemingly unfazed by me and suddenly I stopped.
When I say I stopped I mean I literally stopped, midair. My heart was racing, I had never felt more helpless in my whole life, here I was, a fully grown bangle tiger, and I might as well have been a kitten the way she had me suspended nearly five feet off the ground with nothing holding me up. Candy didn’t even seem fazed.
“How many times do I have to put you in your place, you stupid cat?” There was a hint of irritation in her voice, then with a twitch of her wrist I was dropped hard against the ground though she held me pinned.
Not good, I struggled against the force that held me to the ground but no matter how I kicked and growled I could not lift myself. “It takes more than brute force to take on a daughter of the circle.”
She extended her arm over me, palm down, and she started to chant again. I heard a faint all too familiar hum begin emanating from her hand. Pure terror grabbed hold of me robbing me of breath, it was the same as my collar.
The agony I had experienced at the hands of my collar palled in comparison to the mind numbing pain that now coursed through my body. Had I not been held down by the ringleaders might my body would have thrashed uncontrollably instead I simply shook in silence. The very fires of hell boiled just underneath my skin and yet I could do nothing but lay there.
I could feel life leaving me, and yet despite the pain, my thoughts turned to my family. Mom and Dad where gone and for all I knew Rachel was too. I’m amazed to say that despite everything I had gone through everything I had endured I still wanted to live. Though I’m sure many faced with the prospect of death have cried out to God in the hopes for salvation when there is clearly no hope, at that moment I would count myself among them. Barely able to think let alone speak, my heart cried out to the God I had resented for all those years and I begged Him for mercy.
The sudden noise echoed through the night then died down as it carried. The fires around us went out like a blown out candle, to my great relief the pain that had rocked my body only seconds ago was gone, and the forest descended into utter silence.
I lifted my head up from the disturbed foliage of the forest floor surprised yet grateful to have again regained control of my body.
Dazed and confused about what had just happened I looked up and saw the figure of Candy still looming over me, though something was off about her. I noticed she was clutching her arm as though it where in pain with a look of what could only be described as distress. The revolver fell from her hand but she made no attempt to retrieve it.
“No!” the ringleader cried. “No, no no. what have you done!” she screamed fear apparent in her voice.
Then something bazar started to take place with her hand, it started to grow fur.
She dropped to her knees and shot a look of pure hatred in the direction of some trees.
I sat up slightly and followed her gaze, that’s when I saw my sister grasping hold of the enchanted whip.
“Rachel!?” I gasped, both surprised and joyful to see her alive. She gave me a similar hart warming smile that told me she too was relived.
Candy staggered onto her hands and knees which drew my attention back to the whip then to candy then back to Rachel again. She must have grabbed it before candy threw her.
Candy began to wail from the changing pains I was all too familiar with, and we all just stood there silently and watched everything unfold before us.
No longer interested in us, she turned her attention back to what used to be her hand and was now, very distinctively a paw.
Rachel had only struck her once with the cursed whip, but that seemed to be all that was needed. No sooner had the first wave of pain passed before she was rocked by another. Seconds went by and the black fur that at first only covered her hand now sprouted from every pore on her body. We all watched, unmoving and silent as Candy’s cries of pain filled the night. Her form distorted while her body grew. Accompanied by every miniscule change that took place in the ringleaders body was yet another wave of pain.
The pain she endured was great and as much as I knew she deserved her fate I had a hard time watching as it brought back bad memories.
The faint glow of the sun rising could be seen on the horizon and though it was still dark we all recognized the distinctive stripe patterns that where covering her from head to tail. We stood there for what felt like only a few minutes and before long just as the sun began to peek over the trees, lying unconscious in a pile of Candy’s tattered and torn circus uniform, was a black Bengal tiger.
Decent end to a very Long Day
It’s safe to say I nearly passed out from all the blood loss though at the time I was too tired to care. As a matter of fact I was content to just lay down right there in the middle of that charred clearing and try to get some sleep. Rachel apparently had other plans.
“Gabe are you ok” Rachel asked sounding shaken and worried.
“Oh, Hay Rachel.”
Rachel’s eyes went wide with shock.
“You can talk!?”
I was about to explain but the sound of approaching hooves broke my thought.
“Are you guys ok” tony asked nickering nervously when he noticed the large black wolf laying passed out next to us.
Needless to say Rachel freaked out when the horse started talking though surprisingly she took the news unrealistically well. Considering that until now she was under the impression I had been the only one that was previously human she was a trooper. Without taking her eyes off of Tony she slowly sat back down trying to give the appearance of calm.
None of us where really calm once Candy started to stir. Steve immediately jumped up announcing he would be right back with van hopefully before Candy woke up. She might just be a wild animal now but we all agreed that it was for the best not to take any chances until she was safely locked up.
With Steve taking care of Candy and the other animals Rachel decided to stay back and look after me and to tell you the truth I was in no shape to argue.
Rachel wanted to try and get my back to the medical trailer however every time I tried to stand up I would get light headed to the point of passing out so I didn’t get very far on my own. I honestly couldn’t tell you how great full I was when tony offered to carry me the rest of the way. Though I was uncomfortable with the idea of him carrying me around on his back I was in too much pain to argue.
Tony decided to wait outside and I thanked him for the ride. “Any time” he stated nodding his large head.
I limped carefully inside while Rachel held the door open for me. That’s when it accrued to me that I wouldn’t have to sleep in a cage tonight, if ever again. It was a nice feeling and I couldn’t help but smile.
It was a bit of a struggle but somehow with Rachel’s help I managed to get on to the operating table where I collapsed. I realize it was just a stainless steel counter but it was still an upgrade from my usual accommodations so I figured on just crashing right then and there. Sadly for me it’s never just that easy.
“Geez Rachel!” I scooted to the far edge of the table away from the enormous syringe that Rachel just tried to jab me with.
“Well I’m sorry Gabe, but you’re going to need stitches if your wounds are going to heal right,” she said, sounding more amused than agitated.
“Maybe, but that’s not an excuse to impale me with a giant needle!” I argued.
“Well, if you think you can manage to hold still for the next half hour while I sew you up,” she said jokingly. There was no way I was going to be able to get stitches while I was still conscious and she knew it. My ears went back and I gave the syringe an icy glare.
“Look, just- try not to think about it.” She said reassuringly. “Just look the other way and it will be over before you know it.” I really didn’t want to have that thing under my skin but I also didn’t want to argue with her. I was too tired and I knew her patience with me had its limits. If I kept this up much longer she’d use force to give me the tranquilizer and I was in no mood to fight with her.
“Fine,” I turned reluctantly on my hunches so I was facing the far wall. Desperate to stall her as well as distract myself I tried to get her talking. “So do you know what’s going to happen with the circus?” I asked, staring at the hundreds of people out the window: animal control, police, reporters, and lots of other people. Everyone was scrambling to collect all the animals that Steve and I had let loose. I didn’t sense her move, so I assumed she was deep in thought, my plan was working . . . for now.
She paused before answering. “Steve’s parents own several animal shelters and a large zoo up north, so from what he told me they will be taking most of the animals.”
“I saw some of the animal control people loading Candy up. Is she going too?” I asked.
“Yes, but. . . ” Rachel started just as I felt a sharp prick right in my left shoulder I was so caught off guard that I nearly fell off the counter. I let loose a muffled growl, trying hard not to sound threatening. “To be honest I’m more worried about Jagger,” Rachel went on. “I haven’t seen him since last night. I guess it’s possible that he was killed by one of the animals that got loose, but no one’s reported a body so it’s unlikely.” I didn’t respond.
The pain in my shoulder subsided so I turned and watched her put the now empty syringe on a tray near the edge.
“Do you know what’s going to happen to me?” I asked nervously. “Am I going to be placed in the zoo also?” Rachel took a cotton ball soaked in something that smelt like alcohol and dabbed it on the spot she had injected me.
“I wouldn’t let that happen Gabe and you know it. Steve’s sister owns a small animal clinic near the coast, we will be staying with her,” I was relived but I don’t even know why bothered asking. I should have known that she would take care of me, but I guess I just wanted to hear her say it.
She continued “He even said he’d be willing to help arrange for me to get a job there.” My eyes lids started to get heavy, I was a little bit startled at how quickly the tranquilizer was taking affect.
“And Tony?” I asked, remembering the large black stallion sleeping just out back. Shortly after the incident in the woods I nearly passed out from blood loss and the kid was nice enough to give me ride back to Steve’s trailer. We talked most of the way and as it turns out the he did in fact have a family. Not only that, but it seems he was being held for ransom because his parents wouldn’t give Candy the horse she wanted. The stuff that witch pulled, just thinking about it made me angry so I tried to think about something else.
Rachel tossed the first cotton ball in the garbage before soaking a new one. “I gave his parents a call. I told them I knew where their son was, but other than that there was nothing else I could have said to them. Regardless, they should be here in a day or two.”
“Does Tony know?”
“Yes, but he’s a little scared and for good reason I suppose. I mean, it’s going to be quite a shock for them, once they find out he’s a horse.”
I tried to nod but thanks to fast working effects of the drugs now in my system I could barely lift my head anymore. “That’s understandable; there really is no knowing how they will react when they see him.” my words slurring a little from the drugs.
She took the newly soaked cotton ball and went to work on my other injuries, getting them ready for stitching. For a moment neither of us said a word, I didn’t know if it was because she couldn’t think of anything else to say or if she was just uncomfortable talking about him but she changed the subject.
“You, don’t think that it’s permanent, do you?” she asked sounding hopeful. Her question caught me a little off guard. “You know, the curse on you and tony, do you think that it might where off”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. “I really don’t know Rachel. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it but it seems doubtful.” She looked away and her voice took on somber tone.
“Are you ok with that?” she asked.
“I guess I’ve kind of gotten used to it.” I paused to see if she would react but her face reviled nothing.
“Don’t get me wrong” I continued, I do miss being human but it’s not like there’s anything we can do about it right now. To be honest I’m just glad we are leaving this awful place.” She threw away another blood stained cotton ball but she didn’t respond.
“So, how are you holding out?”
“What do you mean?” she asked sounding a bit flustered.
“Well, it’s been two, may be three years since we last spoke with one another, since then a lot’s happened.” I strained my neck with trying to look her in the eye.
“Are you okay? These past couple of years haven’t exactly been easy on you either.” My words slurred a bit from the tranquilizer.
“It wasn’t as hard on me as you might think. After all it wasn’t me who was stuck in a cage for two years after getting made into a circus attraction.”
“True, but you still got kidnaped, and shot at”
“I guess, but that all happened today, and I always had help. Even though sometimes if felt like it I wasn’t ever alone.”
My vision started to fade but before it went dark I noticed a faint smile appear on Rachel’s face. I thought at first she was smiling in response to my comment, but then I realized I could hear Steve arguing with one of the cops just outside and I understood where her thoughts where.
“You really like him don’t you?” I asked trying not to sound bitter. Fortunately all emotion left in my voice was drained away by the power of that evil syringe so my thoughts on the matter remained a secret.
She didn’t answer, but before I could press her, I felt her hand under my chin just as she planted a gentle kiss on my brow. The sensation from the gesture was enough to make me blush or at least I would have, if my fur didn’t hide it.
I don’t know why but at that very moment everything felt right in the world and there was nowhere else I would rather be. There truly is no simpler joy in the world than to just be with people who care about you. I can’t remember the last time I felt so complete, since the last time I felt this… happy.
As I drifted into the arms of unconsciousness the world around me began to grow quite. Straining my voice the best I could, I called out to my sister. “You know I love you… right?”
The world went silent as the soft and gentle voice of my little sister was the last thing I heard.
“I love you to”…
One year has passed since the previous story Gabriel has grown accustomed to his new body yet still yearns for his humanity. He slowly grows spiteful of Steve as he feels he is stealing away the only bond he will ever have. The closer Rachel and Steve get together the more Gabriel feels alone. Until one day he wakes up and he’s human. No explanation no warning. With his humanity restored he is able to enjoy life again and spend more time with his sister as well as Steve. This peace is short lived however as Gabriel is visited by Candy’s brother. Jagger informs Gabriel that his newly acquired human form is only temporary and that unless he kills Steve by tomorrow at sundown he will return to being a tiger forever.