A dry morning wind lashed at the dusty emptiness of the wasteland as the sounds of muted activity echoed over all the stark nothing. The ambience of a frail egg shell headache, a morn after the night before, everyone tip toeing around busily packing up their lives. Still cool and dank but the sun bright and blinding coming up over another centuries old pile of garbage in the distance.
A slight figure blotted out that bright sun and cast an angular shadow on the side of a circus tent. One of the boys taking it down turned his scruffy dirty face in the direction of the shadow maker. He squinted with his hand attempting to block out the sun, a strange blinking collar around his neck.
“Mornin’” The young carny said as if it were a phrase buttoned to his tattered coveralls. He squinted harder trying to make out the figure. Rubbing his eyes as strange images of malformed birds filled his mind and he saw a grotesque heron mask. “Oh lady Hero, I didn’t know it-“
“The Ringmaster, where is he?”
“Oh, the boss, he’s-he’s still up in the big top, they’re getting ready to pull it next.”
“Thank you” Heron said flatly, slowly walking in the direction the boy gesticulated to.
The boy nervously returned to his tinkering, loosening the ties on the tent and scratching under his bomb collar.
Heron walked in between the stalls, more carny’s tinkering away to dismantle and pack away games and rides. All so they could move on to the next town, she could feel them they trying not to look directly at her.
“Hows tricks bird girl?” A voice mocked.
Heron looked coldly out of the corner of her eye, the voice came from a tall gaunt figure leaning out the window of his icecream van. He laughed and stared with his sharp dagger like beady eyes as he smoked from the corner of his mouth letting ash hit the counter without a care.
She turned her head to the front and continued saying nothing.
The Icecream man laughed and watched her go tapping ash out the window.
At the foot of the big top the dogfaced boy sat sullenly falling in and out of consciousness.
Upon seeing her he decided to be awake and quickly bound over to her.
“Ya bring me anything?” He said.
“Not this time, the big man in here?” Heron said.
“Yeah, he and Tanner are arguing about how the mutant sea lions are kept again, it’s really boring.”
“I see” She said as she patted him on the head and went on through into the big top.
Inside it was even cooler without the sun, the smell was so familiar; woodchips and blood and vomit and piss. Death and life, love and hate, there was nothing that wasn’t under this big top.
Heron looked up at the rigging, staring at it without knowing why, for a moment she couldn’t take her eyes off the tightrope.
Then remembering her purpose she pushed on into the ring.
As she was fortold the Ringleader was having a heated discussion with Tanner the animal tamer.
The Ringleader was a large man with a round belly but without hint of sagging. His roundness was almost perfect and complete, spherical and tightly packed, as if he were a baseball that could tuck in his arms and legs and roll away. But attached to the baseball were strong ropey arms and legs and a head he used to hold an oversized black top hat. His face always carrying the merest hint of a jovial smile betraying a wicked set of eyes which poked into every corner. He stroked and twirled his vaudeville mustache as he gestured wildly with his free hand.
“My good man, you realise these ‘creatures’ of yours cost an arm and a leg to feed, quite literally. I simply cannot afford any more lavish accomodations for them and certainly can’t spare the water to give them a dipping pool.”
“But you don’t understand, the heat is worse than ever this year, they’re going crazy, they need a way to cool off.” Tanner said as he stooped. Tanner was a large man with soft eyes, a lover of animals and wildly homicidally protective the particular species he’d trained from birth.
A rather unusual species of sea dwelling creatures that had with the drying of the oceans evolved to live on land. Undoubtedly with the help of the rampant radioactive fallout after the first war. One of the creatures playfully practised a routine where it would stand to attention on a podium. Then accused criminals would be dropped from the rigging for him to catch and eat. In this instance a side of beef or some other indistinguishable meat was dropped. The huge thing lumbered into position on the podium wobbling back and forth comically.
The creatures were huge twice maybe three times the size of a human. Scaly shiney skin but rough and course like sand paper. They had huge heads with large teeth and tusks but oddly reptilian features, with clawed hands ridged flippers for digging in the sand.
The ringmaster looked the creature over. The creature almost seemed to be trained to beg and look as cute as a giant reptilian mutant man eater could.
The meat was dropped and in an instant the creature timed it’s movements perfectly and snapped the meat out of the air with it’s ferocious jaws. The power of the bite bisecting the meat without need of sharp teeth, just the power of the jaw was enough to rip anything apart.
It moved with so much power, all those large muscles moving at once, spurred by instinct and training, the ground seemed to quake, the air shifting. The amount of power necessary to move that bulk would astound any crowd. The amount will to train the beast even more so.
Heron stared at the Ringmaster and he turned and noticed her out of the corner of his eye. He turned back to Tanner to dismiss him. “I’ll see what I can do”.
“Very well” Tanner said also having noticed Heron waiting. He left abruptly without saying anything more. Exiting through a large opening in the back. The creature bounded after him flopping around comically dragging it’s large finned tail.
“Yes?” The Ringmaster said crossing his hands behind his back he tilted his head as if he were talking to a child “Do you have something to say?”
“They’re all dead”
The Ringmaster showed no great surprise in his stoney features, he only let out a long disappointed sigh “I see”. He turned to walk up the steps towards his ‘throne’ on the edge of the big top. It was a monstrosity made of collected pieces of wood and metal. Different discarded weapons of the long dead clans that came before. The scattered remnants now making up most of the circus a generation or so on.
He sat and waited for her to say more “Is there more?”
“The ronin clown Pookie lives” She said flat.
He hid it well but at the corner of his eyes, wrinkles started to appear. “And why didn’t you stop him?”
Heron stood not moving, expressionless behind her mask. “That was not my mission”
“Your mission was to bring back a body, so where is it?” He gestured spreading out the fingers of one hand.
Heron said nothing.
The Ringmaster tutted “Forgive me, you’ve lost your friends and I’ve lost a headline act” He paused and thought about the implications. “I want his head atop my throne by this afternoon”
“Yes Ringmaster.” Heron said.
“Wait, I changed my mind!” He tapped his lips with a long finger “I want you to shadow him for me. Report to me on his movements through carrier pidgeon” He sighed deep in thought. “More information is necessary.” He said to himself. The ringmaster straightened his moustache and tugged at it a little more before he noticed Heron was still standing there. “You’re dismissed.”
“He’s alive!” A young girl said smiling to herself.
“Margherite, what are you doing? Pop pop says it’s bad to spy on people” The dog faced boy said as he pointed at Margherite squatting in front of a hole in the big top.
“Hush up dog breathe” Margherite hissed as she shoed him away with a tattooed hand.
“Whatever clown face!” The boy barked back.
Margherite narrowed her eyes at that but found it hard to take offence as she literally had a clown face as she was a clown. Her face tattooed white with big red love hearts over each eye and another at the tip of her nose. Her lips were tattooed a deeper red with little red balls for rosey cheeks at each end. Her hair was long and ropey orange dreadlocks made to look like cotton twine in two thick pigtails hanging over her shoulders.
She tutted and marched off as the boy with the dog faced stuck out his tongue and did neener neenering at her back.
“I hope the wind changes and you’re stuck like that” She said as she walked off.
The boy looking stunned for a minute and putting his tongue back in his head.
Margherite strode around the back of the big top through the tent city.
“Hey there Margherite” The Bearded lady called smiling and waving her gelatinous fat arms.
“Mornin’ Mrs Lady” Margherite said as she passed the giant woman trying to keep her long beard out of the shawl she was knitting.
Margherite waved and put on a smile but taken by an immense urgency power walked right passed not stopping for the usual pleasantries. She reached her tent at the end of the walk and zipped herself inside.
“He’s alive” She said as if to herself.
The tent was silent for a moment. The figures in it standing like posed mannequins as they wrestled with her words trying to forge them into an opinion, an action, anything.
“Mon dieu, too stupid even to stay dead” Le Jongleur said, a tall and thin clown with black and white sad clown tattoos on his face.
“Figures, now it’s on us to clean up his mess.” Banjo the screwdriver said, shrugging his huge shoulders over his round muscular gut as he lent against the tent pole with his arms folded. His face tattooed white with red stripes running along his cheeks, his eyed shadowed in red and just one small red dot for his mouth.
“What can we do?” Flappy said fussing with his gloves. He wore a set of tattered dungarees without a shirt over his scrawny hairy frame. His face tattooed white with a blue star over one eye and a moon on his cheek wearing his signature flying cap and goggles.
“We can find out the truth” Margherite whispered harshly.
“We already know the truth” Banjo said in his low gravelly voice. “He killed Master Popsicle” Banjo said staring at nothing, his words trailing off.
“Qui, he is a traitor.”
“Now hold on a minute” Flappy said.
“Wait” Margherite said looking around the room. “Where’s Coldslaw?” She looked at each of them, Banjo refused to look at her, Jongleur waved a hand dismissively, Flappy just shrugged.
Margherite sighed in disbelief “That goddamn idiot, he’s gone to get hisself killed.”
“He’s gone to reclaim our honor!” Banjo hissed. “If he’d have told me he was going I would have gone too” His voice trailed off again at the end again as if he was trying to convince himself.
“He’s a goddamn fool and you are too if you think Pookie did-did!” Margherite’s lip quivered. “I know him, better than anyone, sure he was weird, even for a clown, but he was one of us and he loved Master Popsicle like a father, there’s no way he would’ve-“
“But he did, there was no one else he could’ve, Master’s body was found next to Pookie’s hammock and Pookie was nowhere to be found.”
“It must be a mistake.”
“Then why would he run?”
“I dunno, maybe he was confused, maybe he was scared.” She paused to think “We can’t just assume-“ She bit her lip “That stupid kid, Coldslaw, running after his death, he’ll die never knowing the truth, for what? Revenge? How did he even know to go looking, we all thought he was dead for sure.”
“Not Coldslaw” Flappy said folding his long arms. “He didn’t believe it for a minute, said he could ‘feel it’.”
“He’s not so dumb” Banjo said. “In fact he might be the smartest of all of us.”
“Ah qui, the youngest, impetuous, rash maybe, but not stupid.”
“They’re not gonna talk it out” Flappy said. “If he means to find’im, he means to finish it, one way or the other.”
“Is that all he said?” Banjo asked.
“Who?” Margherite asked dizzily.
“Who do you think who? Your dear old daddy, the Ringmaster” Banjo said.
“He sent Heron to watch him”
“That freak huh?”Banjo hissed.
“Le jeune de horeur”
“Goddamn, I wouldn’t want that gal sneaking up on me in a dark alley, gives me the creeps just thinking about it.” Flappy shivered.
“She was alone?” Banjo asked.
“Uh huh, there’s your innocent man right there, those bird brains were freaks but they were our freaks” He shouted thumbing his huge chest.
“Got damn!” Flappy hissed. “He’ll bring the whole damn thing down on his stupid head!”
“You knew what they were like, they were crazy, he was probably just trying to defend himself.” Margherite said rapidly.
“A million excuses, how many more of us does he have to kill before you realise he’s not on our side anymore?” Banjo spat.
“Stop talking about him like that!”
Banjo laughed “What you think he can hear us?”