Chapter IV: Welcome to 'Mazy Quazy'!
I didn’t know a person could learn so much in so little time but I guess that when you have nothing to do and you live in a cave with a crazy but good-hearted old woman, hiding from angry, hungry people sent by an evil, self-proclaimed King, well… I guess your brain adapts to the necessities.
By the time I was almost eighteen I had learned to defend myself – all thanks to Baba (that’s how she wanted me to call her) who was an ex-judo instructor – and I was ready to go out in the world again, against Baba’s warnings.
“I’ll be ok, Baba, don’t you worry! I cannot spend the rest of my life in a cage… All my life I’ve been locked up and I don’t want that anymore. No offense, and don’t think I don’t appreciate all that you’ve done for me but I think that, somewhere deep down you knew this day would come. Otherwise you wouldn’t have taught me to defend myself.”
“I guess I should’ve expected this…” Baba responded with sorrow. “I guess it was fate that brought you to me and fate told me to teach you everything I know… And now… it’s time for you to leave the nest…” She let out a small giggle and gently caressed my face with the back of her hand. “If you feel ready and if you know this is what you must do… who am I to stop you from that? Just a crazy old lady that knows martial arts and lives in a cave. So go on then, live your life, explore the world, conquer it, or what’s left of it anyway, you’re ready! But, please! Be careful! It’s a game out there and you cannot trust anyone. Know that if anything happens you will always find shelter here…”
After a hard, long goodbye and some tears shed I finally left Baba’s ‘protective wing’ and tried not to look back. She was a good woman, she felt like the mother I never had. With her crazy, big eyes and gray hair, always talking and teaching me stuff… I could say that I’ve spent the best time of my life with her or thanks to her.
Outside everything seemed even more lonely and deserted or even desert-looking. I had no real direction but the first thing I wanted to check was the nearby citadel that the After King had built. I guess it was the only thing I could actually check. I wanted to go right between the evil’s tits and say a big “Fuck YOU!” – Poetically speaking. It seems I was a tad angry and vengeful. Wrong! I was very angry and I wanted to kill everyone that did me wrong including the mighty After King and especially those who tortured me. Their faces always burned and tattooed in my memory: the eye patch, the bald one and the ogre. I was feeling strong and confident, ready for everything, young and fearless heading towards the unknown.
Soon enough I was seeing it like a mirage, a fata morgana: some sort of triangle shaped buildings. When I got closer I realized that they were actually tents, big and small, made of wood, stone or material. On to the left and a bit more far there was a fence surrounding some type of main tent which was more bigger than all an in front of it a big barrack-like building. I thought to myself: ‘That’s where I need to go!’ and went to the first settlement.
Baba didn’t teach me only physically, she also showed me how to open my mind, how to think, she had a lot of books and I had a lot of time but most of it I learned from her words and stories. But, like she always said, you don’t truly know something until you experience it yourself. And you don’t really appreciate something or someone until it’s gone.
I got to what it seemed like a bar or a place to eat so, as I was very hungry I went inside fearless but humble. Even though it was scorching outside I kept my scars hidden as much as I could, covering my arms and legs. The only skin I was showing was my face but I don’t have that much scaring there. It seems that when you’re trying not to attract attention, that’s when everybody sees you. Or maybe I’m just a magnet for bad things? It sure seems that way so far… but I like to think that every bad leads to a good…
The place indeed seemed to be a bar of some sorts and the few strange people inside all turned at me when I entered, their looks burning me, analyzing me, asking me questions. Soon enough I became paranoid and started to sweat a lot, so to calm myself down and maybe make everyone take his or her eyes off me I politely asked for water. The barkeep looked at me doubtful for two good seconds – making me realize how quiet it all was, just the wind screaming through the cracks in the windows and the wooden door – then he put in front of me a cold glass of water. I went for it and he grabbed it fast, almost spilling it on the bar.
“You’re not from here… So you’ll have to pay…” I looked around and everybody was looking at me annoyed and demanding like I was the negative actor in this play they were witnessing.
“It’s ok, Andrew! I got him.” An old man appeared next to me and pulled out some weird coins. He gave them to Andrew, the barkeep. The old man took the water from Andrew’s unsure hands and led me to a table in the corner. We sat down and after a few seconds everyone in the bar un-paused, resuming their meaningless chatter.
“Who are you? And why did you do that?” I cautiously asked the old man. He had white hair in a ponytail and his eyes were young and blue and had a calming effect each time you would catch a glimpse into them, like you were looking into the fountain of knowledge and assurance. He smiled and it seemed like a warm, honest smile. Right there I thought to myself that I have mostly bad luck and bad things happen around me but I am lucky enough to be alive and well and sometimes I meet good, true, normal people. But, hey! What do I know? All my life was a series of buildings and rooms without any real-life experience.
“I’m Bill, Bill Ricketts… I’m… the ringmaster of Mazy Quazy.” He paused, looking at me like he was expecting me to react in some other way. But all I did was to raise my right, scarred eyebrow. “The circus? The capital of ‘The City’? The only city left for all we know…” Again he was expecting me to acknowledge in some way but other than ‘The City’ nothing rang any bells. “By the gods, kid, where have you lived until now, in a cave?” I smiled.
“Actually, yes…” He paused, looking at me then he broke into a full, thick laugh. When he saw that I might actually be serious he stopped at once.
“Sorry, I keep forgetting there could be… there is life outside of this…” He went back to his straight face and started to tell me his story.
He was an old man, you could see on his face that he went through a lot in life. He was born in the circus but he had seen the world through it, when there used to be one. With bad and good he managed to become the ringmaster of this circus, ‘Mazy Quazy’ more than thirty years ago.
“Back then the shit had already started to hit the fan…” he said, always with a hidden, faded smile drawn on his sunburned lips. He had thick, white beard that emphasized his blue eyes and he was puffing on a dark-brown pipe that let out rich circles of smoke. It smelled of cherry, burned wood and what I will later know as whisky. His clothes were patched but clean, his words came out slow and clear like he was first saying to himself in his mind.
I was deep in a reverie induced by his stories when three men walked in the bar. The first one had an eye patch over his left eye, the other was bold with a stupid grin stuck to his face and the last one was short and a little hunchback looking like the dog of the first two. A terrible trio, a trio that made my blood boil and my heart race. It was THEM! I guess old man Bill foreboded mischief in my anatomy before I could act. He slowly grabbed my arm.
“Don’t do something you might later regret, kid…”
“B… buh-but… thow… those are the m… mmenn who fuh-fucking ra…ra…”
“Ok, I understand your anger but those are three of the many right hands of the After King! Even if you manage to hurt one of them, even if you manage to kill all three for whatever reasons you have, that won’t matter. Someone else will catch you; another right hand of his and things won’t turn out good for you!” I was breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, like Baba had taught me.
“And what do you suggest?” I asked after a couple of deep breaths, never letting the fucked up trio leaving my eyesight.
“Well, kid… You don’t have much choice, to tell you the truth. And I’m just laying the cards here, telling you your options because I can see something in your eyes. Yes, that may sound cheesy, but if you stay and analyze every single detail of life, you realize it can get quite cheesy a lot of times. I see something in there that gives me hope, comfort. And I know that even if you manage to beat those guys up – which in your current state I guess you could or you’d die trying – within an hour after you walk out those doors alone others will hunt you down and torture you. So that’s one option, and I know it could sound ‘worth the risk’ but I have another option for you, granted not as satisfactory… at least not for the immediate moment but it’s one you should consider. You may feel bad, like a slave at some points if you’d agree but you will also feel free somehow…” he drew a deep breath in and looked at the three monsters laughing at the bar. They didn’t notice me yet; I bet they wouldn’t even recognize me anymore. Who knows how many other lives they had destroyed after me or even before? “What I’m proposing to you is…” he continued with a serious face. “… to come with me back in the city, at the circus. I’ll find you a place in there, I’ll protect you! It’s better than being dead, tortured or turned into a slave…” he paused again, puffing angry at his pipe. “What can you do kid, can you actually fight?” At the last word all my attention focused on his words.
“Yes!” I swiftly answered clenching my fists. ‘Patch-eye’ looked at me but looked through me, not recognizing my scars or me. I guess I changed a lot in the last couple of years.
“Good because… The After King turned our circus into a fighting arena. So I think it would be perfect for you and your anger. It is dangerous but you have a lot of good chances you’ll survive each fight, even if you lose. The King has lost his appetite lately so he’s letting everyone live…” he puffed again and out of the mouth of the pipe a circle formed getting bigger and wider as it floated through the air. Then I realized that everything was like moving in slow motion; everything but old Bill and me. “I see a lot in you kid and usually I’m not wrong about these things. I’m just not sure how well-directed your potential is now, that’s why I want to help, to give you a chance. I don’t think you had many of those in your life.” He pointed with his pipe at my scar on the right hand and on my face. “So what do you say? Will you trust and come with me?” I looked into the kind eyes of Bill.
“That means I could get to see the After King?”
“Well, yes, sort of… he comes to most of the fights. But he’s not that great as you might think so actually he’s...” he drew back crossing his hands over his chest. “Hold on now, don’t get any stupid ideas, kid! He’s untouchable; he’s a psycho that you can’t get to. Even if you… It seems that I have to teach you a lot, first of all patience!”
There was a moment of silence where the only things moving were the thick circles of smoke – everything else was suspended – in which I was weighing my two options.
“Ok, I’ll come with you! But who is this After King? Sounds like a god, an evil one…”
“No… he’s no god! He’s just a man who took advantage if the weakness of the people at the right time. When the people were scared and they looked up for help that’s when he stepped in. Or stepped on! So there he was, this faux savior making his way up through this descending world. He built his army through violence and fake promises and lies.” He looked down with a real dose of sadness or disappointment, his pipe resting in the ashtray, tilted on its side like a wale on the sand. “Then he heard of us and… everybody’s here now… I sadly often think that if it wasn’t him it would be someone else… What has to happen… happens. I don’t know if its gods or whatever but…” he almost had tears in his eyes.
“So you really think this is it? We are the last people on the planet?”
“Nooo, kid! That would be blatantly ignorant! I’m just saying this is our world now! It’s not much but… we live here so this is it. The rest is… the rest.”
“So you think there’s not much left?” I asked full of hope.
“It’s what I’ve seen, as well, and the stories of the people who came here and chose to live here rather than wander out there.”
“I used to live in an orphanage so my world was always small… there’s where I got these!” and I lifted my shirt quickly to show him some of the scars. To my surprise he reacted very well, not like other people who cringe or turn their faces in a cocktail of sadness, remorse and relief.
“By the gods, kid! Who did that to you?”
“I don’t know… I was in the castle – that’s how we used to call the orphanage – when I woke up to this masked monster on top of me slicing through my skin. I was much younger and in the room there were two more kids just like me. One of them actually survived and was with me even after…” A fist knocking on our table interrupted me.
“Well, well, what do we have here? If it isn’t the scarred, scared little boy! I’ll be damned; I thought you would be dead by now!” Right then I felt that rush of anger coming back, so overwhelming it wouldn’t let me move. Bill saw it so he intervened.
“I think you’re drunk and you don’t know what you’re saying. I think you need to go back to your friends… Nobody wants any trouble here. We’re all here to relax and have a drink, so why don’t we all just do that?” the bald, short guy was staring me in the eyes with the same look he gave me in that dark shop just before they all…
“Oh, it seems old Bill here is taking your side. Isn’t that nice?” he said smiling.
“Why don’t you… No… I think you won’t agree, it’s not in your nature…” Bill said lighting his pipe again. The short man turned to him.
“Say what you want to say, old man!”
“I was going to ask if you wouldn’t prefer to take this in the ring. That way you would show him who the actual boss in here…is. What do you say about that?”
All this time I was sitting there, grinding my teeth, blocked by to many emotions rushing through my body.
“Ok… yeah! Why, the fuck not? See you there, little boy!” he slapped the table again and went back to his two friends laughing and pointing at me.
“Calm down!” Bill said shaking the ash from the pipe. “Come with me and I’ll show you everything. You will have your moment; you will have your chance with Dan…”
Before we left that small bar Bill gave me my first shot of whiskey ‘to calm the nerves’ and told me I should enjoy it now, while I can before A.K. would take everything for himself – the A.K. being an abbreviation from the After King.
“Once you’re going in with me, don’t think about leaving. He has this thing about deserters or traitors, he rarely tolerates or forgives, he kills on sight or tortures in front of everybody. He rules by inducing fear…”
We went out of the bar and the wind had started its fury dance, blowing sand and dust in my eyes. Bills were protected by a pair of dark, square glasses. He led me through a small market where people seemed to sell only used and partly damaged goods: stereos, old money, fake money, rags, patched clothes, tires, everything you would rarely need. We came along a big metal gate, spiked, barbed and guarded by four men dressed in army uniforms – two on each side of the gate (inside and out) armed with automatic rifles. He said his name to one of them.
“Remove your glasses, old man!” the guard ordered and Bill complied.
“This is Tom, my guest, and he will be joining us in the arena from tomorrow if the King would grant him access. I want to present him.” The guard looked disapprovingly at me and although his face was covered I could see the smug smile on his face.
“I always welcome fresh meat!” he said and invited us in with a head move. The gate was opened by the other two guards inside.
In the center of this square like town stood the main tent. On top of it, written in big, funny letters: ‘MAZY QUAZY’.
“He left the name, he liked it, I guess.”
The place looked like a small village, a big neighborhood; around the main tent were trailers and smaller tents, cars and barracks. Bill led me inside the tent and just then I realized how big it actually was. The main stage was round and behind it, a red velvet curtain was slowly moving with the wind. On my sides there were wooden chairs stacked in rows. As I was slowly digesting the details of the circus Bill pulled me and said:
“Come, I want to show you behind… soon you’ll have to train, you have to meet Isaac! I want you to be ready and to win!”
“I am ready today!” I told him with confidence. He snickered and led me behind the velvet drape. Here it was like a different world, crowded and loud, full of people running, training with their faces caught in some kind of desperation grimace.
“Why is it called a circus now if the show consists of fighting?”
“I don’t know, kid… he just wanted to keep it that way. He didn’t physically change much, mostly added and the show… there’s still some acrobacy and other forms of entertainment. But once a week there is a big fight. Lots of the times people died because there are no rules, no judges, the one who can’t get up loses, the one who’s standing… wins. Except the one time where both fighters lost…”
“How did that happen?” I asked with a bit of fear creeping up my spine.
“Well… the fight was taking too long and I guess the A.K. was getting really bored or he didn’t like the fighters or both… So halfway through the fight he went in the arena and shot both of them in the head shouting at the end: ‘This is entertainment!’” Bill pondered a bit making circles in the sand with the tip of his boot. “But enough with this scary stuff. This rarely if ever happens; I don’t want to scare you from the first minutes.”
I looked around and I could see the fear in everyone’s eyes. Now understanding what this really was about: everybody was fighting for their lives, for a place in this shitty world. Bad life beats death, I guess… I think Bill could read minds because then he looked at me with his specific respectful sneer and said:
“Everyone here fights for life but we all are friends, you won’t find the contenders here. Since the ‘long fight’ fiasco, the A.K. decided that he would choose the opponent while I’m responsible to bring in the ‘victim’ – as he putted it.”
“So I am your… catch of the day?” I asked wondering if that sounded a bit too harsh. He smiled.
“Yes, you could put it that way… But don’t get it wrong; I think we’ve saved each other here. Now would you like to fight for me, for us and for you? Isaac there will show you everything you need to know. Isaac!” he shouted and this skinny, pale boy came running.
After a while he somehow found out that I knew a bit of tarot and magic but what he was interested in was the necromancy, my ability to talk with the dead. I hadn’t practiced it in quite some time and the last time I did it I reached my father and my mother died, so it didn’t turn out that great. Let’s just say I was a bit reserved when the After King came and asked me crudely if I can talk with the dead.
“I can try to contact the ones that had past, yes… But it’s never something sure or easy.” By that time I was getting used to him and his abuse, just floating in the life, in his life, trying to keep myself alive.
“I don’t care! I want to talk to her!” He was drinking and when he was doing that he tended to ramble, to be crueler and meaner, the alcohol amplified his inner true self. “Sit your ass down and… ‘Contact her’!”
“Ok, but first I need to know who is she, who do you want me to reach out, what’s her name and it would help if I would have something of hers, to find the roots, the…”
“I have this!” and he threw me a triangle shaped gold earring with a black, matte stone in the middle.
“Ok, now comes the tricky part. I need a fresh goat eye…” I didn’t actually need that – although it would help – I just wanted to make it hard for him. But after a moment of doubt, looking into my eyes, trying to read my soul he left the room and the next day he came back still drunk holding a bloody cloth. He told me to open it and there it was… a freakin’ goat’s eye!
“Now you have all that you need, let’s see what you can do!”
“How did you manage to get it so fast?” I doubtfully asked, trying to avoid the main subject. But he wouldn’t have it; he just gave me a smirk and with a head gesture told me to continue without asking any more questions. I took the bloody cloth and put it on the table next to the earring. I asked him to close the doors and make it as dark and quiet as it could be so he went outside and told something to the guard there which I guess sounded like: ‘Tell everyone to not make a sound otherwise I’ll kill all of them!’ because in a few moments everything went dead quiet. “No matter what happens, don’t interrupt it, don’t interrupt me! You are just here as a visitor, as a spectator.” He didn’t like what I told him but he huffed loudly as he sat down in front of me.
I started my routine, focusing and concentrating while holding the earring in my left hand and the goat eye in my right. After few minutes in which the only things I felt was the After King’s rising doubt and the haunting, cold presence of my mother – like a dog who’s locked outside the door and you won’t let it in – I finally managed to reach the one who A.K. wanted.
“I think… she’s here! She’s asking for… No! Wait! Who are you? I mean no harm, but no…” All of a sudden I felt this rushing presence pushing me out of my body.
When I woke up A.K. was standing on top of me and I was stretched out on the floor with a huge pain in my jaw and cheeks. He was shouting something.
“You fucking idiot! You ignorant prick! You never cared how I felt; you never wanted to know how I feel! You were too busy stealing her from me! You were more important than anyone else!” I could see the rage on his swollen temple veins. He picked me up and started to slap me. I immediately screamed and kicked him in his ancestors to be. I was crying without control and as he was crouching, filled with pain and confusion, I started to run. I ran till the main tent and went inside. Here I always felt safe and peaceful; somewhere I could always relax and forget about all the shit in this decaying, devastating, dying world. That is when I saw him… this new guy that was training with Isaac. He removed his shirt and his body was full of countless scars. But somehow that didn’t repulse me, it actually made me feel more intrigued and there was something in his look, his eyes that made me come closer.
“What’s wrong, Eva?” Isaac asked me and I felt the panic in his voice. I notice I was still sobbing and my face was pulsating with pain.
“Nothing, just… that fucking asshole!”
“Who hurt you? Who hit you?” the new, starry-eyed boys asked.
“It’s ok, don’t worry… Hi! I’m Eva… Cortez!”
“Hello, my name is Tom… Tom Puh-Pagan…”
“Having a bit of a stutter there? Mister puh-Pagan?” he smiled and he had the most beautiful smile.
“No, just when I’m nervous.”
“Now that we’re all acquainted, can we resume our training? You’ll fight tonight and I don’t want you killed on your first fight!” Isaac said with that young wisdom in his voice. You could see he was staying a lot around Bill.
“We trained enough Isaac! I thank you but I’m feeling ready. All I need now is some nice company!” and while he said that he got dressed and grabbed my hand. “What do you say, Eva? Will you keep me company until the fight?” when he smiled I felt all my problems, troubles and sorrows disappear.
“Sure if… you promise you’ll be around after the fight as well…”
“I cannot promise that but I’ll try my best. Now I have a new reason.”