Updated: Sep 19
The Rosy Future Circus traveled from town to town. They followed the rivers, floating their caravan of curiosities to their next destination. It was a tiny circus with very few curiosities to speak of. They had a murder log named Larry who followed their caravan like a duckling followed its mother. Larry would eat the table scraps tossed overboard and he was a very content little crocodile. He was so dark in color he was almost purple. He was also tiny compared to the other river crocs. When the other crocs came nearby he’d pull himself up on a shelf on the back of the circus barge. The Ring Master’s name was Waltz. He was a cranky old bastard who was very strict with the crew.
They floated down to the next dock in the town of Middleway. Waltz began bellowing as usual that the tent and ring must be set up in less than an hour. The circus folk flowed out of the river and off the barge. It hurt the river crew to be on land for so long. They struggled as their skin dried out and breathing became difficult. Waltz refused to give them even a drop of water until everything was set up. It put a hustle in their steps but also hate in their hearts. They had no choice but to obey the Ring Master. He held their prince captive in a tank on the barge. None had been able to free the tiny river prince. The last rescue attempt had left the prince scarred when his tank had been shattered. For that folly, the river crew mourned forever. They could find no way to free their prince without harming him further. The young tarantula wrangler, Silvertips, watched with sad eyes as the river crew worked themselves to sickness for her father. Waltz blamed his long dead wife for the weakness of compassion that Silvertips carried. His wife, Sandrine, had died trying to save some of their crew from a fire on the second barge they used to travel with. It had been where the crew slept and the critters were kept. Waltz had ordered the river crew to help put the fire out but they had been exhausted from setting up the tent that day. His normally quiet wife had screamed at him that he had to unlock the cabin and release the crew locked inside. Waltz had laughed and said he could replace the crew at the next dock. Sandrine had snatched the key from his waist and leapt onto the burning barge. She scrambled across the deck and made it to the cabin door. She unlocked it and fell inside. Within seconds half of the crew was diving off the barge into the water. There was a large boom and the barge sank to the bottom of the river. Sandrine never resurfaced. When the barge was dragged out of the river bed and Waltz climbed into the burned and waterlogged shell, he found Sandrine trapped by the critter cages. Her hand was still wrapped around the lock on the wolf cage. The wolf was drowned right next to her. Waltz screamed in rage and sorrow. After Sandrine died he became an ever more unrelenting task master. The drowned crew and critters were sent to the crematorium. The other crew held a silent vigil at midnight for their lost friends and family. Sandrine was buried in the town she was raised in. Her grave was covered in monkshood and hyacinth. It spooked the townspeople and they started a whole new cemetary just so they wouldn’t have to walk by her grave. Strange canine footprints were often found on the grounds. The townsfolk crossed themselves when passing by the cemetary.
It had been nearly five years since Sandrine’s death. Waltz had finally decided to stop at the dock by her final resting place once again. He hoped that the townsfolk’s memories were short and they wouldn’t remember that it was this circus that had suffered the devastating fire. If they did remember, Waltz hoped that their morbid curiosity would win out and they’d still have decent attendance at the show.
The sun went down and slowly the crowd started to trickle in. Before long the big tent was full. The jugglers and dancers got the crowd going. Silvertips was stationed in a smaller tent to the side, offering Luck Spider bites to anyone willing to pay. The Luck Spider’s venom lasted no more than twenty four hours but gambler’s lined up outside the tent. There would most likely be brawl over a forbidden poker game somewhere in town tonight. The third gambler in line offered to pay triple the fee if she wouldn’t let any of his rivals get a bite. A brawl started in the line and Waltz had to toss the three of them out. After an hour, the Tarantula Tent was closed down for the night. Silvertips was sent to get ready for her high wire act. Fifteen minutes later Silvertips was hanging from the ceiling of the tent by a length of spider silk. It was the closest she ever got to feeling like she was one of her beloved spiders and she loved it. The crowd oohed and aahed as she twisted herself up in the silk and then unrolled herself until she was perilously close to the ground. She was in the process of climbing up the silk again when the first scream started. At first Silvertips ignored it, assuming it was just an overanxious spectator. But then there were more screams. Silvertips was halfway to the top of the tent when she stopped to look around. The townsfolk had crammed themselves on the topmost bleachers. They all stared at the main entrance and many of the children were weeping. A glowing silver wolf stalked into the tent. You could see the outline of the tent canvas and poles through him. He growled loudly and several women fainted. The wolf walked to the center ring and sat just below where Silvertips was suspended. Silvertips could see the sands below him through his translucent form. She knew she should be afraid but wasn’t. Silvertips had spent most of the last five years afraid of her father’s anger. A ghost wolf paled in comparison. Waltz stomped into the ring bellowing. “What’s going on here???!”
No one answered him. He caught sight of the wolf and he went pale. “You? How? You are dead! I saw to it myself! You should’ve burned and instead you took Sandrine with you! You cursed beast! Go back to hell!” His voice shrieked as panic clawed at his throat. The wolf stalked closer to him. Between one blink and the next he became a man instead. He was no more solid but he was far larger than Waltz. Waltz shrieked and ran into the night. The ghost turned and looked at Silvertips. Silvertips was shocked to see a mirror of her own green eyes staring back at her. His wavy brown hair held streaks of silver just like her own did. Her mind and heart made fast calculations. This was her true father. Murdered by that bastard Waltz. The ghost placed his hand over his heart and bowed to her. Then he was a wolf again and he bounded after Waltz. The tent was silent as howls and screams tore through the night. Silvertips slid down to the ring floor. She gathered poise she didn’t know she posessed. “I’m afraid the show is over for tonight. Anyone who would like a refund, please see me at the box office.”
She walked out and stepped into the booth. None stopped on their way out. Several people crossed themselves as they passed by. Some murmured prayers. A few placed their hands over their hearts and nodded to her as they left. Silvertips returned to the barge and immediately released the river prince. Outside of his small tank he unfolded until he was taller than her. He gobbled down a plate of forest berries and nuts. He thanked her and dove into the river.
In the morning, Waltz’s body was found beside the river. His face was a mask of sheer terror. There was not a single scratch on him. There were wolf prints in the mud beside his body and monkshood blossoms were scattered everywhere. No one wanted to touch it. In the night the river crocodiles dragged Waltz away.
The prompts for today’s short story:
travel to rivers
gobble forest berries and nuts
Copyright 2020 Klaudia Grady