Chapter III: Their world gone, another world begins
Although we were safe and far from the outside ‘world’, the real world’s news eventually came to our ears here, in the circus. So not to long after the whole ‘mother incident’ Isaac and me started to hear words like: ‘the end of the world’, ‘the apocalypse’ and ‘destruction of humanity’. But it was confusing as we were far and safe here. I guess… in a way that’s what made us vulnerable.
I was seventeen years old when I had my first show of acrobatics. I didn’t leave the magic; I’ve just putted aside, making my exercises a priority. I was still having dreams that were getting more and weirder but clearer, at the same time.
Of course Bill helped me with the training as well as Isaac and the Romanov family. Everybody was around me, taking care and treating me like I was some crystal glass or a melting snowflake – I haven’t seen those in my life.
I will always remember old Bill’s voice as he announced my first stage appearance. The circus was not full – with the end of the world and all – but there were still the ‘local’ folks – who were living the end from their beginning - that were coming here once in a while to be entertained. And we tried our best.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Bill shouted in the microphone that made a short high noise. “Tonight, for the first time ever…” he was gesticulating fiercely. “… Two opposing families, two founding names, the very beginning of this circus, never seen together… the Romanovs and the Cortez for the first time… performing together…” He paused, letting the information that he had just spat to get to the few ears and minds and raise some sort of tingling reaction down their spine. But the minds were numb so there was not much excitement, just few tired applause somewhere on one of the wooden benches. “Please welcome… Eva Corteeeez and the Romanovs!” I could hear the first applause getting accompanied by few more tired, forced ones. As I walked through the velvet curtain the spotlights immediately blinded me, – when I was training they were either dimmed or off completely – my heart started to race. But then I calmed myself down by running through the exercise in my mind. We went to the center of the stage, me holding Isaac’s hand, bowed towards the unaffected audience and just then, between those handful of people, sitting and clapping mockingly I saw my mother. There she was, Miss Amalia grinning at me. She got up, pointed towards the entrance and turned. The back of her head was soaked in blood and there was a black spot tainting her perfect blonde hair. I shut my eyelids together hoping that would make her disappear. And she did, when I slowly opened my eyes again she was gone. Instead of her there was this old woman with an unwashed face and sad eyes but with a smile on.
Everybody started to do their thing – I was somewhere towards the end – while I was just helping them at jumps and gathering the balls and other props used. Later on I would have my long-practiced triple salt from Isaac’s shoulders. But I didn’t get to do it because a group of men came in shouting and shooting through the main entrance – the one the ghost of my mom had pointed at. Panic broke loose, everybody started to run and scream but I was the only one just standing there, petrified, the sounds all dimmed in my ear and my vision out of focus, thinking of my mother and feeling angry – maybe because I didn’t get to show the world my newly discovered talent, maybe because I knew something was going to happen but I didn’t do anything, but what could I do? Eventually Bill came running and the world around me resumed its paused state, the sound came back on and the shouting and gunfire amplified. Bill pulled me back behind the curtain and next to the other scared people. A bunch of men dressed like bikers with leather gloves on and leather vests grabbed us and pushed us to our knees towards the center of the stage among the others from the audience. The lights were blinding me but I could see a figure, a shadow of a man slowly, confidently approaching. Although I could sense everyone’s trembling, paralyzing fear around me, I was not scared.
“You people are lucky!” the shadow man said. His voice was harsh but he was not shouting. It even had some kind of sadness, like the voice of a man who went through a lot. “Or I could say that you WERE lucky, now WE are!” he let out a short manically laugh. “I guess it’s true what they say about ignorance: it is BLISS! But now I’m not sure ignorance is the same with not knowing or choosing to ignore…” he was approaching me and I could see he was playing with a knife. “You have no idea, not a complete one, anyway, about what happened out there, what’s still happening actually, don’t you?” he paused like waiting for an answer. Now he was slowly strolling in front of us… “My church offers no absolution but it promises a deathless death…” I noticed that Bill’s head was bleeding and Isaac’s father was barely breathing with a freshly broken nose. Everyone was exhaling fear but me… I was more curious than afraid. “No you don’t! Well… let me paint the picture for you…” he paused again and made a sign to someone behind him. Now I realized that there was a small army behind the reflectors. One of them appeared out of nowhere holding the wooden chair that was standing in front of my home. The dark man sat on the chair and plunged his knife in the wood between his legs. “It started a few years ago, although, if I truly think back, it started since I was born. Or since you, or you, or you… or since the first human started to walk on this planet. We were born for destruction… So, obviously, sooner or later this would happen. It did. And now I don’t think there are many survivors out there. So even if you would want to run you would have nowhere to go, there is nothing out there… you’re free to try, but, you’ll see… better the evil you know than the one you don’t…. I’m a survivor turned into a leader. And I promised my people…” he turned and made a long, welcoming gesture towards the small army waiting patiently behind the blinding lights. “… I would find a place for them, a place where we can start over, where we can have a normal life again. So we found you!” he pointed at me. “Granted, I knew about this circus of yours years ago but I didn’t expect it to still stand after so much time. Just so you know… you’re very lucky you’re this far from the outside world!” he made quote signs in the air and then pulled out the knife out of the chair and started to play with it again. “But, you see… now your life is going to change, you will have to...” he pointed with the knife at Bill’s angry, bloody face. “ You will have to work… for me… Or else… You see… I believe in the hardheadedness of the human nature, I know there is pride, family and guts so I also know I will have to make an example so you people will understand the true nature of this situation that you’re suddenly in. So, without further ado… I present myself…” He got up from the chair and stepped towards Isaac’s father and, in a blink of an eye, he put the blade on his throat and sliced it from left to right. As soon as the blood started to gush out, his body went soft and fell to the sandy ground with a thump. The shadow man moved over him and continued to slice and stab at him like it was fun and games. He eventually stopped and drew breath, wiping his face of blood but actually spreading it. He was standing in the spotlights like a colossus in the sun; he continued: “the AFTER KING! And this… this is now my kingdom!”
I had to convince Carla that I will come back no matter what and that is just a recon mission, although I knew I would never see her again.
“I’m gonna come back quick, I promise! I just have to look for him, for any clues that might lead to him… I left him there with those… those animals and who knows what they did to him. I have to hurry up…”
“Yes, Thomas, I understand but it’s been a few days already, don’t you th…”
“No! It is never too late! I have to go now!”
“Ok, but don’t you think you’ll be going alone! You’ll take Izzy and Ziggy. They will protect you!”
“Ok, Carla agreed! Now let me rest please! I have to be with a straight mind if I’m going to lead those two brutes!” She looked at me with loving sad and loving eyes then she left me to sleep. But after about two hours, when everybody was asleep I gathered everything that I could fit in a backpack and I snuck out.
I started on the same road I went with Sunny the first day we went out of the Shelter. It was still dark and quiet. I could hear my breathing and the noise my shoes were making on the dusty asphalt. No other noise, no birds, no insects, not even a gust of wind. Just the sky up high and the stars and moon to light my way. It was quite beautiful, poetic, if you’d like. Nevertheless I was cautious, attentive, expecting any second to hear again that distant roar of the engine, as I got closer to the place where I ran from helpless Sunny. But there was no engine sound, no bikers, no Sunny… So I went forward to the place Sunny called: ‘The mall’. It was basically a big shop, windows broken and the insides cold, dark and unwelcoming. But still, I went inside stepping on the broken glass and holding my breath. I had a flashlight but all I could light up in front of me were empty shelves and all sorts of destroyed packages on the floor. But then I saw a bag of chips untouched on one the shelves behind the cashier’s counter. I approached it carefully and just when I was about to grab it I realized it could be a trick. So I stopped inches away from it. But it was too late… A man jumped from behind the counter and grabbed me by my extra-large jacket.
“Well, hello, there! Look ‘it what fresh meat we caught us boys!” he shouted and two other men came out from a door in the back. One of them seemed similar to the one that hatched Sunny.
“Oooh, a young one again!” The one with his grip on me said; he had a patched eye; I knew for sure he was one of those who attacked Sunny and me.
“Rad, stop it!” one of the others shouted.
“Goddammit, stop what? Don’t you see where we are? Don’t you see who this one is? Do you see anything that comes more close to a pussy than this one right here? Just imagine he’s a girl, it’s not that damn hard! Look!” then he turned me around and pulled my pants down. I was struggling to get loose but now all three were holding me.
“Ah, shit, he’s fucking disgusting! What are those?” The doubtful one shrieked pointing disgusted at my scars.
“Oh, calm down, just some small scars!” he looked more at me… “Ok… not so small and not some… are fucking a lot! Shit, kid, what happened to you?”
“Please! Let me go!” I begged.
“Oh, yes! Beg, you little bitch! That will make things a lot easier!” the one that was quiet all of a sudden said grabbing and pushing me on my knees. “Open your mouth, and if you’ll bite I’m gonna use this to multiply those lovely scars of yours, you freak!”
Now you know how the mind and body have all sorts of defend mechanisms to help us get through life safe… Well… I guess my brain opted for me to black out because the next thing I knew I woke up and it was morning; I was on the floor naked and alone, not feeling so well.
So after I dressed I left running out of that shop as fast as I could, but I didn’t went back. I just ran over the sand dune formed by the side of the roar instead of going back. After running for what seemed like an eternity, there, in the middle of nowhere I saw a woman standing in front of me. She was the most beautiful being I ever saw, long, chestnut hair covering her naked shoulders and firm breasts. I took two steps toward her and immediately I fainted.
‘I was standing in front of an audience, in front of an unknown group for me… or, no… I could distinguish some familiar faces. I was naked but not ashamed, scared but still bleeding with no pain.
Everybody was waiting for something, looking in anticipation at me and at the masked boy in front of me. He didn’t have a mask per se, it was like his face was shifting every second, changing its features. He was everyone I ever met and everyone I would ever meet and he was kneeling before me, bleeding from his temples but not saying a word. Somehow I knew what everybody was waiting for, looking eagerly at me. They were waiting for one of us to die. They were waiting for violence, pushing me with their questioning gazes to finish him, to kill this (un)known stranger. And then I started to think: maybe if I kill him his face will stop changing and I will finally see who it is… but then, is that what I want? Do I want to see whom I’m dealing with? I could see Carla in the audience; even though the stage lights blinded me, I could still see her caring, loving eyes watching me disapprovingly. I blinked and she wasn’t there anymore but I realized I had a gun in my left hand. And just like someone was controlling my body I lifted my arm and pressed the trigger. His shifting face blew in an explosion of blood. Everyone was cheering and somewhere, behind, in the shadows, a man got up and started to clap slowly.’
Those claps soon melted into reality and I woke up with this old woman clapping and dancing in front of me. It was another one of my dreams, my clear, weird dreams…
“Oh, you’re finally awake!” she screamed happily. “I knew this dance would work!” she sounded a bit over-the-top-crazy.
“What… where… am I?”
“You’re dehydrated and tired. You fainted right in front of me so I took you – you’re quite heavy for a skinny, young man, but I guess I’m just getting old – and I brought you here to my humble shelter, my lovely cave.”
I looked around and I was actually in a cave, a nicely, remodeled, furnished cave. I was lying down on an old, stained mattress, the floor was covered with bamboo sheets and old rugs, the walls lightened by candles and torches were full of crude hand drawings – attempt of visual history, I guess. The wind was howling through the only entrance that was reinforced with a metal fence that now stood open. Not too far from me a sniper rifle was leaning against what seemed to be an ammo or weapons military crate.
“That’s my most valuable, trusted friend!” she said pointing at the riffle. “She helped me get through a lot and, honestly, without her I wouldn’t be alive right now.” She made a pirouette and let out a crazy, short giggle. “And I couldn’t save you without her…” then she stopped her enthusiasm and looked to the floor. “If only I would have been there earlier…”
“You… you s... saw me with… with those men?” I asked with a touch of embarrassment.
“Yes, only… I was too late, and I apologize for that… I did scare them away, but kid, what were you doing all alone in this wilderness? You know how dangerous it us out there? Especially now when almost everyone is working for ‘HIM’! I heard they even settled down somewhere not too far from here…”
I was looking at her baffled and she realized that I had no idea whatsoever about what she was rambling on.
“By the Gods, kid! I thought I was the one living in a cave!”
“I… I was closed in a… shelter from before it all started… so… I don’t know much…”
“So why did you leave that place if it was so disconnected from this shitty world?”
“It was my choice… Some men like the man that… like the men in the shop, they took my friend when… when… and I was… there…” right then I started to sob uncontrollably.
“And you went to find him? Do you have any idea what is out there? Do you know what the world has become?”
“I heard… things and… saw…”
“So basically you don’t know shit! But don’t worry, old Baba Dee will teach you the ways of the new, wild life. I used to be a survivalist before, you know?”
“Those men… that attacked me and… who are they?”
“All I can tell you is that they work for one man. One man that somehow created an army, an empire and took over what’s left of this world. He’s an evil man; a terrible human and people call him… The AFTER KING!”
After that night everything changed and not into better. The After King – which I will refer to as the asshole, scumbag or monster, by case – took over our circus and transformed it into a camp, a small village which grew every month because it was very secured and once you got in you’d only get out dead.
Soon we learned that this sadistic prick was very fond of violence so he turned the circus, my humble home, into his very own gladiator-style arena. Bill still remained the ringmaster, only now, instead of introducing clowns and acrobats he introduced fighters and entertainers. He wasn’t happy about the change but it was the only way he could survive, like the rest of us if we’d want to live we’d have to adapt. As for me… I became his personal toy-servant.
I was sleeping next to Bill and Isaac since The After Psycho took over everything we owned. It was breaking dawn when I was woken up by a loud bang – the door was kicked open.
“Wakey, wakey!” one of his minions shouted.
“The After King is here!” the other one said bowing a bit as the asshole king came in. He was dressed all in black with a long coat and worn jeans. His boots were dusty and blood stained and that knife… always playing with that knife… He walked slowly, like he owned the place – which he kind of forcefully did, I guess.
“What do we have here?” his voice was coarse but somehow gentle. “Bill, you didn’t tell me you have a daughter…”
“She’s not my daughter, but don’t you dare touch…” A punch to the back of his head interrupted Bill.
“Now, now, Lou! Let the man talk! There’s no call for violence, now is it, young thing?” he got on his knees really close to me. I could feel his hot breath. “I… I remember you… you grew up nicely in such short time… How old are you, honey?”
“Almost seventeen!” I responded trying to hold my composure. But again, it wasn’t fear I was feeling, it was anger and curiosity. Bill was still rubbing the back of his neck when he jumped up and said:
“She’s still sixteen, she’s just a kid, don’t…” Lou, the gorilla, made a move to hit old Bill again but was stopped by a hand gesture from the king.
“You know… age… these days… it’s not what it used to be, not that important anymore. As long as you have those…” and he pointed at my newly grown breasts. “… You’re good to go, as they say.” He started to laugh maniacally and the two gorillas joined him stopping a bit after him. “What do you say little… sorry, big girl? Would you like to come with me? To live like a princess?”
“What would I have to do?” I asked after a weird moment of silence. I stared into his eyes until I felt a little discomfort building up in him.
“You know, not much. Just some house duties, nothing you can’t manage. What do you say?” he touched my knee.
“Noooo!” Isaac, who until then was sitting quietly in the corner next to the door, jumped towards the After Asshole and pushed him hard enough that he dropped the knife. The two other assholes grabbed Isaac and started to hit him.
“Wait!” the king shouted at them. Fury was replacing the calm now. “We have a little fighter here, it seems, and I would like to make an example out of you. An example of what happens if you step out of line.” he got up and went in front of Isaac. “Hold him!” he commanded. “I didn’t want it to go down like this but you people give me no other option. I like to think that our actions are formed by the actions of others. So you see…” he put the blade against Isaac’s cheek. “You, dear Eva… oh yes! I know your name!” he didn’t take his eyes off Isaac who was struggling to get out of the grip of the two mindless minions. “You have to come with me… or else…” he moved the blade on Isaac’s neck and turned to me.
“No! Ok, I’ll come; I’ll do what you want! Just please don’t hurt him, don’t hurt us!
“That’s a good girl!” the calm was taking over again. “But still… I cannot leave it like this, someone has to pay for you, and for sure it won’t be me…” then with a single, slow movement he cut Lou’s throat. Silence fell over everyone as his body fell to the floor, blood spraying out of his neck, between his fingers.
“Now that everyone is calm, I would like to go to sleep. What do you say, Eva? Would you prepare me a bath?” fascinated by the word ‘bath’ and shocked by the amount of gore in such a small amount of time I just looked at him and nodded.
“Eva! No! Wait what…” Bill started but the After Maniac put his bloody index finger in Bill’s trembling lips and whispered:
“Shhhh! Everything will be all right!”
After that he took me to his barrack, which was like a studio flat with a bathroom bigger than the bedroom.
“I don’t sleep that much.” He told me when he saw my reaction at the sight of the bathroom. Everything looked new and neat, everyone who worked for him did their best to steal for him the perfect things so he could create this mansion looking home.
“Could you help me take that bath now?” I was just standing there looking dumbfounded so he started to undress. When he got to the underwear I turned, his hand stopping my motion. “I want you to see me!” and he was completely naked. It was my first time seeing a naked man before me so I guess that’s why I was blocked. But somewhere inside I kind of knew there was something wrong with what was happening. “Now it’s your turn!” he said grabbing my shorts and that’s when the panic rushed in. I was flustered, angry and confused, so many emotions I couldn’t handle. So I slapped him and started to run. Immediately after I opened the door two guards caught me and pushed me back inside, shutting the door back. He was coming slowly from the bathroom, still walking like he owns the ground that he steps on, still naked and with a mixture of anger and pleasure on his face. Then he snatched my arm and put it on his prick. I immediately let out an incredulous gasp.
“Everything has a beginning! Look at me; at my age I’m still learning new things every day. Life is full of firsts.” He said with that disgusting smirk on his face. My rage was growing and glowing inside. I pulled back my hand and slapped him again and again and… the third time he caught my arm in midair and turned me around, pulling me close to him. His strength was incredible, I was feeling like a spider’s victim wrapped in its web, immobilized and scared, aware of my damnation. “You are mine now!” he whispered and ripped my shirt, throwing me on the floor. I hit the hard wood floor with my knees and elbows. He sat on top of me and started to pull my shorts down. I was squirming and turning like a worm caught in the fisherman’s needle. But there was no escape from this monster. Suddenly he stopped, got up and went towards the bathroom.
“That was just an introduction… this is your life now, pleasing me, serving me… That or… you don’t actually have other choices. This is it! This is your world now, because this is MY world. Nothing else matters because nothing else exists. So you can accept it and live well or fight it and live miserably. Either way, I’ll get what I want. Now… prepare me something to eat while I’ll take the bath. Today you won’t be doing much, giving it’s your first day, but please… don’t do the same mistakes that Sheila did… She was the one before you. She thought that she could trick me, wanted to poison me so I killed her!” his eyes were widening, he looked like a psycho killer standing there naked and somehow that made me shamefully wet.
From that day onwards my life changed, I was known in the circus as ‘Eva, the After King’s girl’. My life was a nightmare, a struggle… that’s until I met HIM…