It was so dark here. . .
I kept calling, but no one was there.
So quiet. . .
Where was I? There’s nothing but the dark. It’s like I was looking around with my eyes closed for a long time but I couldn’t open them. I didn’t know how long I’ve been here, but I didn’t know if I should move. . .or call out again. But no one was here I believe. I couldn’t see or hear any sound I didn’t make myself. Was no one here? I could only hear my breathing. All I saw was the dark.
“Sue?” I called one more time.
Nobody answered still.
I was getting so scared.
I reached out and felt something soft. Felt like a bed. Where was I?
“Hello?” I called once more. “Is anyone here? Please, I’m scared.”
Then suddenly. . .the darkness vanished, and a burst of yellow light filled the room. The light touched on a variety of animal shaped masks hanging on the gray walls. The masks had no eyes but they were all still staring at me. It made me shiver and I curled into a ball.
“Oh, you’re awake!”
A girl in a puffy polka dotted dress leaned against the door frame. She was smiling really big, and her eyes--one was green and the other, purple--were sparkling. Her face was covered in clown-like make up and her pink and blue hair was very curly. Maybe she was my age, or maybe younger.
“Uh, hello . . .” I greeted in a small voice. I thought she looked nice enough, so I wasn’t as scared anymore. “Wh—where am I?”
“Ludicrum!” The girl answered, throwing up her arms. “The world of magic and wonder. My name is Molly. Who might you be?”
“S—Sophie. . .” I replied, crawling out of the bed.
“I saw you falling from the sky. You were surrounded in light, I thought you were a shooting star! Are you hurt in any way?” Molly asked, tilting her head to the side. Her colorful hair dangled off her shoulders.
“No . . .” I paused, checking myself to find any injuries but I was perfectly fine. It was like I didn’t fall from the sky. I remembered the fall. . .voices calling for me. . .other loud sounds. . .and then the dark. I was also pulled down. . .
“There were also two men with you,” Molly noted, making me remember more. “They’re in another room still sleeping.”
“Those two are Duff and Bramley,” I said. “Was there anyone else?”
“No, just you three, where do you guys come from? Another world I suppose?”
“Yes, we were in the Caelum Islands, but I’m originally from somewhere else.”
“Wait a minute.” Molly tapped her chin in thought before snapping her fingers. “You’re The Madam’s kid aren’t ya?”
“Granddaughter, but yes.” I was surprised she knew grandma, and I leaned forward, hoping she would tell me more.
“Oh!” Molly clapped her hands. “I always knew that you were going to visit, but where is your sister?”
“We. . .got separated,” I mumbled, I whimpered and my shoulders shook. Molly came over and rubbed my back.
“Hey, hey, it’ll be all right, we’ll find your sister,” Molly said, patting my back some more.
“Where. . .where am I again?” I asked.
“Ludicrum. Have you heard about it?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well let me show you, c’mon!” Molly jumped up and took my hand. She dragged me out of the room and brought me down a long, winding hall brightened by lanterns in all shape and sizes. In between the hanging lanterns were windows revealing the outside. Molly halted at one window and pointed a finger towards it. I peeked outside and the first thing I noticed were huge, metal ribs rising high above us, stopping at a hook that fell to the other side.
“Are we . . .inside a cage?” I asked.
“Aviary to be precise, but yes.” Molly said. “It’s an attraction.”
“Attraction?” I asked.
“Yes, look below you.”
I did so and saw that we were sitting on some sort of platform, high in the air. Below us were many other platforms that were supported by columns with weird shapes. On top of the platforms were strange looking houses with a round build and small windows bursting with green and yellow lights.
Further, further down at the very bottom was an amphitheater. The amphitheater was filled with hundreds of people and their cheers could be heard. I couldn’t see what they were cheering about, but whatever it was, it was getting a great reaction.
“What’s going on down there?” I asked.
“It’s a performance. You’re at the circus!”
“The circus!” I gasped excitedly. “Really?”
“Yes, do you want to watch?”
“It would be nice, but I should—”
“Then let’s go!” Molly took my hand and led me down the hall. She skipped quickly, giving little time for me to collect myself. Molly turned a corner and then stopped at a door. I nearly bumped into her. Molly swung open the door and there was nothing but the weird houses and the metal ribs of the aviary. I glanced down and nearly jumped. Latched onto the doorway was a slanted, spiral object with a hollow opening that curled around and around downward until it ended at the very bottom.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Huh?” Molly gave me a weird look. “You don’t know what a slide is?”
“It’s a ride, see, you slide down it!” Molly made a downward motion with her hand. “Our other option is to take the elevator, but this is much more fun and quicker!”
“It doesn’t look safe,” I mumbled, staring down at the slide with hesitation.
“Oh, it’s safe, believe me.” Molly winked. “And better yet, it’s fun!”
With the last word, Molly jumped in the air and yanked me onto the slide. Slippery and fast was how I could describe it. I spun round and round, going faster and faster. I was getting dizzy. I shut my eyes. The wind pushed against me, but Molly, who was pulling my arm, had a stronger hold as I was dragged with her.
When I opened my eyes, all kinds of colors and lights flashed before me, and Molly’s cheers rung loudly in my ears. I closed my eyes once more, the dizziness was getting worse. Molly’s cheers were then surpassed by the audience’s cheers when they became much, much clearer.
The spinning finally stopped and I was on the ground. I looked above me and saw the building where we were just at. It was also a house, but bigger than the rest of them, and another difference was that the house glowed purple instead of green or yellow. There were dozens of houses hovering above us on the platforms, and each of them had a slide and an elevator.
In front of me was the amphitheater that never seemed to quiet down, and around that were a couple of other buildings that were similar to the houses in style, but had distinct animal shaped markings on them. There was a lion. . .elephant. . .monkey—
“Wasn’t that fun?” Molly’s cheerful voice chimed in. She helped me to my feet.
“I guess. . .” I said, I wasn’t too sure about it, I was pretty sure I was going to get sick, and that wouldn’t have been pleasant.
“Great! Let’s go!” Molly pulled me from my thoughts and took me to one of the entrances of the amphitheater. Once we entered, the first thing I noticed was the audience looking up. I followed their gaze and gasped. Above us, really high in the air, two young men were swinging on bars.
They swung and flew across the air, catching one another and flipping back to the bars. They did this a couple of times and the crowd went wild every time they turned around. Sometimes the two teens waved to the crowds, throwing their arms up while their legs caught onto the bars and swung back in forth before letting go and grabbing onto the next bar or each other.
“Those two are Isaac and Isaia, they’re pros at this,” Molly noted, smiling up to the teens. They were identical in appearance with the same gray hair and odd looking cloaks that sparkled as if tiny stars were stitched into the fabric. The two continued to flip and whiz to one end of the amphitheater to another in graceful turns. They caught one another arm in arm and took turns tossing and turning, swinging and spiraling. It was simply splendid.
“They’re amazing,” I commented.
“Yup,” Molly agreed but then said, “though, I believe I’m a bit better.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a lion tamer,” Molly beamed, as if she just said that she was a dog tamer instead.
My jaw nearly dropped. “A lion tamer?! Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Mmm, at first I almost got my arm bitten off,” Molly said casually, but I gasped in horror. Molly laughed. “Don’t worry, Jerome was just scared, that’s all. We’re good now.”
“Oh. . .”
“Would you like to meet him?”
Molly took me out of the amphitheater and led me to one of the buildings marked with animal shapes. She led me to the farthest left one that had a lion shape. Molly took out a small key from under her sleeve and used it to unlock one of the doors. Molly turned to me and asked:
“You’re not carrying any fish, are you?”
“No? Why?” I asked, taken aback.
“Jerome is really allergic to fish,” Molly noted, presenting a small grimace. “Isaac and Isaia once gave Jerome fish and he couldn’t stop sneezing for several hours. They thought it was hilarious.”
“Poor thing, was he alright afterwards?”
“Yes, he’s perfectly healthy.” Molly opened the door and said, “Isn’t that right, Jerome?”
A thunderous roar came out through the doors and sent me jumping back behind a laughing Molly.
“Good evening to you too, Jerome! I brought a friend.” Molly gently nudged me into the building and I gasped. Before me stood a lion covered in pure white fur and crowned with a huge white mane. His red eyes stared intensely at me, causing me to freeze up and the hair on my arms to stand.
Molly threw a hand into Jerome’s mane and her fingers got lost in the mass of white. “Jerome, this is Sophie. Sophie’s from another world, isn’t that cool?”
Jerome leaned forward, his right paw padded onto the dirt, followed by the other. His black nose wrinkled, inhaling my scent. I couldn’t move a muscle. After a moment of silence, Jerome nodded his head and pulled himself back.
“He likes you.” Molly nudged my arm and I flinched at the suddenness.
“Really?” I asked for precaution.
“Yeah, here—” Molly took my hand and placed it onto Jerome’s mane. “Scratch behind Jerome’s ear, he loves it.”
“Uh. . .” I gulped and my hand shook. I inhaled softly and moved my hand over to Jerome’s ear. I warily glanced over at Jerome, but he was completely still, staring off with a blank expression. I finally exhaled and slowly started to scratch Jerome’s ear. Jerome leaned into the touch and—to my surprise—purred with delight!
“He’s like a cat!” I commented
“Well he is a big cat,” Molly chuckled. “But yes, he really loves his scratches.”
Jerome purred some more and I too started to chuckle.
“I guess I shouldn’t have been scared,” I said. “After all, a while back I met a wolf and petted him.”
“A wolf?” Molly excitedly gasped. “Where?”
“In another world,” I said. “I . . .didn’t know what it was called, actually. Suzette and I were only there for a bit before we had to go, but there was a wolf there and I named him Shadow.”
“Shadow, huh? That’s cute,” Molly said. “I always wanted to meet a wolf. I could train it and use it for my acts. I trained lots of animals, but Jerome is my favorite. Isn’t that right, Jerome?” Molly asked, playfully scratching behind the lion’s ear. Jerome purred in response.
“He’s very fond of you,” I commented.
“Of course, I raised him ever since he was a cub,” Molly said. “We’ve been together for a long time. How long has it been? Six years? Gee, time flies.” Molly sighed.
“That’s amazing,” I said. “What other performances are there?”
“Oooh, tons!” Molly remarked happily, raising her arms out. “We got tight rope, juggling, knife throwing, acrobatics, you name it.”
“Those all sound cool to watch,” I said. “If I had the time, I would love to see them, but right now I should start looking for my sister.”
“Mmm,” Molly mused, “that is reasonable, but there’s someone you have to meet first. She really wants to meet you.”
“Hertha, The Ring Master.”
Back at the house, Molly took me to a different hallway. This time the hall was darker and lit by violet flames dancing on top of golden candle wax. The candles’ unusual light splashed upon the green paneled walls that were filled with paintings of cats performing different circus acts such as juggling and stilt walking. Those paintings brought me to chuckle. I wondered if grandma helped paint them.
We soon approached a tall door with a silver knocker right in the center. The knocker was in the shape of a cat’s head, and its mouth clamped over the actual knocker. Molly wrapped her fingers around the knocker before she proceeded to knock three times.
“Come in,” a silvery voice replied.
Molly opened the door and my nose twitched at the smell of wine and perfume. We had entered a round chamber, lit by those strange purple flames, but this time they were inside of glass orbs and cubes floating in the air. From the ceiling hung three large wind chimes decorated with silver tubes and bells. The wind chimes moved on their own, ringing soft notes that floated about. The room had so many fancy chairs and couches, all around a stained-glass table that had expensive bottles and glasses.
A tall woman with grayish purple hair that resembled a cloak of silk, rose from the couch. She wore a low cut black dress, and a matching feathered headdress that sat at the crown of her head. The woman’s skin was as pale as milk, and her dark purple eyes could be mistaken for the eyes of a cat’s.
“You must be the girl who fell from the sky,” the woman, Hertha, said. “You’re one of Emma’s grandchildren, aren’t you?”
“Y—yes, I’m Sophie,” I said, taking a short bow out of courtesy. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hmm, pleasure’s all mine,” Hertha smirked. There was something about her smirk that made me a bit uneasy, I didn’t know why, but I know I shouldn’t judge.
“Prepare us some drinks, love,” Hertha told Molly and then turned to me. “What would you like, child? Wine? Champagne?”.
“Water is fine, thank you,” I said, quickly dismissing the alcohol.
“Mmm.” Hertha raised an eyebrow at my decision, but shrugged. “You’re missing out on something good. My dear Molly, may you please pour me a glass of red wine?”
“Of course, Hertha,” Molly said. She approached the table and set up the drinks. Hertha returned to her seat and beckoned me to sit as well. I did so, and glanced up at the moving wind chimes above me. They were so beautiful, I was almost tempted to reach up and touch them, but that wouldn’t be polite.
“I’ve always wanted to meet you girls, but I didn’t think it would’ve been possible since there isn’t an item here,” Hertha said.
“I’m not looking for an item right now,” I said. “I’m looking for my sister. We got separated.”
“You don’t say? That’s terrible,” Hertha gasped, glancing to see Molly bringing the drinks. Hertha took her glass and I was given a small cup of water.
“It’s fortunate that we found you, who knows where else you would’ve ended up, but you’re in good hands now. I’m sure Molly has already told you where you are?”
“Yes, Ludicrum. . .I’m at the circus. I was told you run it?”
“I’m one of the caretakers of this world. I host this circus, while a couple of other Ring Masers take control their own,” Hertha said before taking a sip of wine. “The circuses are scattered all around the world, performing different forms of entertainment to those visiting the world.”
“Others can visit the world? How?” I asked. “Does Aleck help them?”
“No, we have trains that travel throughout the worlds that pick people up,” Hertha answered. “Since it’s just us performers and Ring Masters here, we have to find our audiences. There’s a train exclusively for the circus that comes around on occasion, bringing old and new audiences to see our show. The show’s almost over tonight, so the train should be picking them up in,” Hertha stole a quick glance at a lopsided clock circling counter-clock wise in midair, “forty minutes . . .well, if the train come right on schedule.”
“The train is sometimes late though,” Molly chimed in, holding her own glass of wine and taking a sip. She offered me a taste, but I quietly declined. Wait, wasn’t Molly my age? Why was she drinking wine?
“Hmm.” Hertha frowned briefly at the clock and shook her head. “Late or not it’ll come eventually. But enough with that,” Hertha’s attention flew to me, “let’s talk about you, child.”
“M—me?” I pointed to myself.
“Of course.” Hertha smiled. “I’d like to know where you came from.”
“Another world!” Molly chimed in once more.
“Yes, yes I know.” Hertha patted Molly’s head. Her long, spider-like fingers latched onto Molly’s bluish-pink coils and smoothed them out. “But the only ways to get to other worlds are by train, or by Aleck’s portal. You came down from a hole that was ripped open in the sky. It was definitely not Aleck’s work, so what had happened to cause the sky to rip open?”
“Terrible monsters called the Vacuus had been attacking a couple of worlds,” I said quietly, and at the mention of the creature’s name, Hertha’s eyes narrowed. Her glare was intimidating so I turned away. I continued: “Everything was happening so fast, the Vacuus attacked us but then it fell and its fall was so strong that it cracked open the ground. I fell through . . .and there were two others with me.”
“What relations do you have with those two men?” Hertha asked.
“I don’t have any relations with them, actually . . .” I said. “Those two are part of a group who kidnapped me and—”
“They kidnapped you?” Hertha gasped, and Molly’s jaw fell.
“Yes, but they tried to help my friend and I afterwards, we were all scared of the monster and needed to get away.”
Hertha’s lips pursed. “Why did they kidnap you? Did they hurt you in any way?”
“No, they wanted ransom. But they did hurt my friend . . .” I replied. My hands shook while holding the cup so I returned it to the table. “He got hurt a lot . . .from those men and from the creature. I want to know that he’s okay; I want to know that my sister’s okay, they must be horrified by what had happened to me. I need to contact Aleck.”
Molly jumped to her feet. “Right on it!” She skipped across the room where there was a strange looking metal device that was box shaped. There were buttons, knobs, and a microphone attached. Molly held the microphone to her lips and twisted one of the knobs until a static sound emitted from the device. “Aleck? Aleck can you hear me? It’s the fabulous lion tamer Molly! You got a special guest in need of your assistance!”
“M. . . shzzzzzz. . .shzzzzzzz. . .shzzzzz. . . Mo. . .shzzzz. . .Molly?. . .shzzzz. . .” there was a loud buzz in the background while Aleck’s voice struggled to break through. “I. . .shzzzz. . . can’t. . .szzz. . . can you hear me. . .shzzzzzzzzz.”
Molly slapped a hand on the box. “Ugh, this annoying thing! Hertha, you know this thing better than I.”
“Then you should’ve let me use it first,” Hertha stated. She came over to the box and turned the knob a different way. “Aleck? Do you read? Aleck?”
“Shzzzzz. . .Herth. . .shzzzz. . . Hertha?” His voice finally cleared and I sighed in relief.
“Yes, it’s me—”
“Excellent! Excellent! It’s good to hear from you.”
“Quite,” Hertha agreed and gestured for me to come over. I joyfully followed the order. “A child has been meaning to talk to you.”
“Aleck!” I exclaimed once Hertha handed me the microphone. “Aleck it’s me, Sophie!”
“Sophie!” Aleck gasped. “Thank goodness, are you alright? Is your sister with you?”
“No,” I mumbled, and my happiness disappeared. “We got separated.”
“Separated? Again? How?”
“Didn’t you see?”
“Well, I actually want to talk to you about that . . .”
Aleck released a sigh and took a few seconds to continue. “Your housekeeper accidentally destroyed Orbo, thus causing all the mirrors in the control room to break. I’m unable to send you to another world—wait, how did you get into this one? You’re at Ludicrum, aren’t you?”
“Yes. It’s a long story, but another Vacuus appeared and it broke open a hole in the ground. I fell through and appeared here.”
“There was another one?” Aleck cried.
“Yes. . .but it’s dead now.”
I dipped my head downward. “. . .Yes.”
“That’s great! Now we gotta get you back to your sister,” Aleck exclaimed. “I’m unable to send you to another world, but there’s a train you could take.”
“Hertha told me,” I said. “I’ll take that then . . .”
“Definitely, have someone come with you. You shouldn’t go by your—wait,” Aleck paused for a couple of seconds. “Or better yet, stay until I fix up everything. Yes, yes, please do that instead. I don’t want to risk losing you again, so stay where you are.”
“How long would it take for you to fix this?” I asked.
“I . . . I can’t say,” Aleck confessed. “The orb is completely destroyed and I have to construct a new one, which means I need to gather the right materials from across my world, reconstruct a new Orbo and get connected with all the other worlds. It’s going to be a while . . .”
“I see . . .” I mumbled under my breath, my shoulders slumped as it felt that they were being pushed down by an invisible force.
“But I’m exceptionally glad I got in touch with you.”
“It’s great to hear from you, too . . .how are Ms. Plumlee and the detective doing?”
“Well,” Aleck clicked his tongue, agitation now forming in his voice, “they’re both fine, your housekeeper is breathing down my neck right now, wanting to talk to you.”
“May I talk to Ms. Plumlee please?”
There were a few seconds of loud chatter on the other end until Ms. Plumlee’s shrill voice came through.
“Sophie! Oh, thank heavens, thank heavens! You’re alright!”
“Yes, it’s delightful to hear from you again, Ms. Plumlee,” I said. I really was glad to hear her voice; despite that it was so loud. I had missed her so nonetheless.
“Goodness, where are you? Who are you with?”
“I’m at the circus and—”
“The circus!” Ms. Plumlee cut me off with a howl. I pulled the phone away since I feared my eardrums would burst. “You better not be doing anything dangerous like going near wild animals!”
“Uh, well . . .” I started slowly. I remembered Jerome. Looking at the corner of my eye, Molly gave me a knowing grin. “I . . . I’ll be careful, Ms. Plumlee. I promise.”
“Good!” Ms. Plumlee exclaimed.
“Could I please talk to Aleck again, Ms. Plumlee?”
“What!?” Ms. Plumlee screeched “But I just got a hold of you.”
“I know and I’m terribly sorry, I promise I’ll talk to you soon.”
Ms. Plumlee huffed and her shrillness was replaced by Aleck’s calmer voice.
“Hello again, Aleck,” I said. “May I ask, how is Keith doing?”
“He’s well, I’ll let him know that we made contact with you.”
“That’s wonderful to hear,” I said, sighing with relief.
“We’re more concerned about you and your sister of course,” Aleck said. “But it’s exceptionally, exceptionally great hearing from you. Promise me that you will stay put until everything is sorted out.”
“I promise, Aleck,” I said. “Please let me know when you reach Sue.”
“Certainly, take care now, we’ll be in touch.”
I nodded, and after we said our goodbyes, I handed the microphone back to Hertha. I was so glad I got in contact with Aleck. It made me feel like I was much closer to seeing Sue. Oh, I wonder where she could be. . .
“What now?” I asked, turning to Hertha and Molly. Hertha returned to the couch and took a sip of wine. She placed the glass back on the table and her lips curved into a smile.
“Now, my dear?” Hertha echoed, now eyeing me with her unusual eyes. “Well, since you’ll be staying here for a while. . .why don’t you help out?”
“Help out? In what way?” I asked.
“You can perform, of course,” Hertha insisted, her smile growing. “This is just a small task that’ll keep you occupied while we wait for Aleck. Besides, the audience could use something new. But what exactly could you do to entertain them?” She tapped her chin while pursing her lips.
Molly jumped in and said while waving her arms: “Oh! Oh! She could be a dancer!”
“Dancer?” Hertha inquired, her head perked up at the idea. “That could work.”
“I’m not much of a dancer, though,” I said. “I only know a little from my lessons back at home.”
“No fear, you just need to spin and twirl,” Hertha said.
“And balance yourself on an elephant!” Molly added.
“What?” Hertha and I collectively asked, staring at Molly in disbelief.
“Yeah,” Molly continued, “the audience will love it! Plus, all performers need a partner. There’s Jerome and I. Isaia and Isaac. Ashton and Naomi. . .” She counted, bending her fingers at each pair.
“Yes, I get it, Molly,” Hertha said, cutting her off and turned to me. “Don’t worry, you’ll be given lots of practice.”
“But riding on an elephant?” I questioned, getting pretty scared. “Isn’t there a platform I can be on instead? Or do something. . . safer?”
Molly threw an arm around my shoulder and said: “There’s nothing to worry about while standing on an elephant, our elephants have wide backs that gives you enough room to move around, and you’ll be carrying a parasol in that, if you fall, you’ll use that to break your landing.”
“I’m still not too sure. . .” I mumbled, biting my lip. “Can’t there be something else I can do?”
“Mmm, we can see,” Molly said, but she didn’t seem like she was going to change her mind. “Let’s find you a costume! Off to the changing room!”
“Wha—” I tried to protest but I was dragged off. The last thing I saw in the room was Hertha smiling and waving me off. I know I shouldn’t judge, but there was just something about her eyes and smile that made me uneasy. . .