Time to get into character...
I walk to the edge of the fire and look out at all of the monkey-people.
“I’ll go,” I say loudly over the flames.
The monkeys back up as I make a path through the burning forest floor. The heat makes me sweat and I can feel the danger as I walk through.
“You can take me now,” I say to a cluster as I reach the edge of the flames.
The fire is growing and spreading as I wait for them to understand what I’m saying.
“What happened to your friends?” One of the monkey-boys steps forward. His features seem normal, unlike the girls’, who looked more like a monkey than a human. A long tail twitches behind him.
“I have the power to transport people, including myself, to wherever I want them to go,” I say, trying to sound prideful. “So tell me where he is, or you won’t get the bonus of bringing me.”
The boy looks at me for a moment, and then he seizes me by the arm. He lets out a howl as he raises my arm in the air in triumph.
“Keep her held tight,” he tells a group. “Last time she got away, you know how much trouble we got into with the Master.”
“Who put you in charge anyway?” A younger monkey-boy hisses. He’s definitely way more monkey than human.
“Hey,” he snaps. “I was third in line. It was Bellis, Sylvia, and then me. Bellis is still recovering and Sylvia is dead. Until Bellis recovers I’m the leader, got it?”
The other monkey grumbles something and grabs onto my arm with about five other ones. I don’t struggle against them, though I could probably break free. I mean, I have the strength of a vampire, after all.
But we just keep walking and they calmly chat back and forth. A handful stay back to put out the flames, and few stop to snicker at me or lick their saliva-coated teeth or tell me how good my friends will taste as we make our way through the forest.
I just smirk. Having the upper hand and knowing the plan gives me a boost of confidence. Monkey-people aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, especially when blinded by hunger. They just live off of the animals in the woods. A human is almost like candy to them.
We reach a tree with a large body, and I recognize it as the entrance to the Underground City.
“He’s been preparing,” the new leader of the monkeys smiles as he opens the door. “He wanted to make your death grand, in honor of the life that you’ve come to live.”
They pull my feet out from under me and I slide down the long familiar slide and land on the grass. I get up quickly and another monkey pulls me to the side so violently, I feel my shoulder pop.
“Ow,” I mutter and rub it.
The other monkeys make their way down squawking and squealing as they pile up in front of me. The lead monkey is the last one down, and he means business. He takes my other arm and they usher me down the walkways.
Before I know it, a large striped tent is before me with wagons and cages all around it. It sits in the center of the houses, in the big circle the creatures use down here as a picnic site.
As we go through the front, I realize the inside is so much bigger than the outside. It’s like standing inside of a skyscraper with no floors when you look up. It’s massive.
So massive in fact, witches and fairies fly overhead, cackling and spell-casting, magic and glitter flying everywhere as the crowd cheers on our entrance.
The monkeys bring me to a platform and let go of me, backing away. I feel spotlights on me, obviously made by the witch’s overhead with their wands, and my body starts to sweat from the heat. A wash of green fairy magic falls onto me, and I look down to see myself changed into the Jasmine-like outfit I’d worn the first time I was in the ring after the wish. The crowd applauds and I hear some snickering, like they’ve seen it all before. Of course they have. They grew up on magic.
“GIVE A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR…” a voice echoes off the walls of the tent from an unknown location. More magic. “THE RING LEADER!”
The enormous crowd erupts into whistles and hoots as the vampire swaggers out into the arena. He smiles at me briefly, his hat making his red eyes glow dimly in its shadow.
“Thank you,” he says, raising up his hands.
They quiet down and he makes his way past me to stand in front of the audience. They’re all around me, their eyes watching, waiting for something to happen.
“Hello to all the werewolves, pixies, fairies, witches, warlocks, werecat’s, zombies, and all the rest of you boys and girls, and all the rest of the ladies and gentlemen. I am the Ring Leader, and I run this show. Welcome to the Vampire’s Carnival.
“As you can see here, this girl, this vampire, stands before you. You don’t know why, and you won’t know until she, or I, tell you.” He stops pacing and turns around to me, a staged smile making its way onto his face underneath the shadow of his hat. “This… is Rochelle. She was raised in my carnival above ground since the day she was left on the street to die. I took her in and cared for her. Then, one day, she disobeyed me.”
“Do you have something to say?” he prods, stepping closer to me.
I shake my head.
He chuckles and looks around at the audience, who laughs along with him.
“So I tried turning her into a vampire.”
“You tried to kill me, not turn me into a vampire!” I shout, losing my nerve. “You left me out in the woods to die.”
A low ‘oooh’ escapes the crowd as they look back at the Ring Leader.
“He thought I died,” I say, stepping down from the platform. It disappears as soon as both of my feet are off. “But he’s so old he couldn’t hear the faint beating of my heart.”
The crowd laughs at my insult. They think this is all for show. They don’t understand that this is real. My life is on the line, just as well as the carnies are.
I spot Harold in the audience, fluttering just above his seat, waiting for the signal.
The Ring Leader shakes his head and smiles, turning back to the audience.
“And then she showed up again, thinking I wouldn’t notice she was alive!” The audience laughs with him and I can feel the anger boiling inside me. “Then she falls from the tightrope and messes up her entire performance—the one she grew up on! How does someone fall from a tightrope when they’ve been walking on one their entire life?”
I have a feeling he doesn’t just mean when I’d walk on the tightrope in the past, but the narrow path I’ve walked for years now.
He goes on and on about my failures since the wish, and I stand with my hands clenched, boiling.
He’s worse than Dracula.
I march up to him and punch him across the face. I feel my hand snap in two, but I block out the pain, gritting my teeth. The crowd laughs and the Ring Leader turns around and smiles at me. He seems to grow taller as he turns to face me fully. A wave of fear washes over me and I start to shake.
“Oh, Rochelle...” he hisses, and the audience leans forward to listen. “It’s time for you to walk the tight rope.”
His hands are on me suddenly, and are turning me around and walking me to the latter that leads to the platform holding the tight rope.
“Climb!” he says, turning to face the audience. They cheer me on and I feel another wave of fear, followed by a sense of nausea in my stomach.
I start to ascend, going as slow as I can up the latter. My broken hand screams out to me, begging me to stop, but I can’t. The plan will come to play soon enough.
I reach the top of the latter and look down at Harold, who is a speck of blue light in the midst of many more swarming around me. Witches laugh and fly around me, mocking me and throwing balls of magic in my direction. Fairies blind me with their fairy magic, though some of them probably don’t mean to. The distance to the ground is dizzying, and I feel myself start to sway.
Looking up, the blue speck is gone. The plan is about to happen.
“Walk!” I hear the Ring Leader call up to me. “Walk, Rochelle!”
I look down at him and smile through the pain and the nausea and the dizzying height.
“She’s not Rochelle!” I hear a voice calling from the center of the ring. “I am.”
I laugh and pull the skin from my calf that I took off of Vanessa’s leg, returning to my normal self.
The plan is in play, and the show is about to get really good.