The ogre sat in his dingy cage. His only companion was a broken doll that a little girl had dropped in fright at the sight of him. It had been five years of traveling in this one ring circus. Half of the workers were terrified of him and would only get close enough to throw food through the bars. The other half were mean bastards that delighted in tormenting the circus freaks.
Any of the caged freaks knew that the whistle of Frank the overseer spelled a bad night for at least one of them. Tonight he stopped in front of Aries’ cage and the ogre bared his broken teeth at him. Frank laughed. “Whatever you ugly freak. It’s time to get those teeth filed again. We can’t have another incident like in Tulsa.”
Aries fought the urge to start growling. His once magnificent tusks and teeth had been broken on that night. The workers didn’t know that he understood them. When they had taken him out of his cage to compete in one of their late night pit fights, they had made a terrible mistake. The moment the chains had been removed from his shackles he had turned on all of them. He had killed the previous overseer, Harry. It had taken four tasers and three tranq darts to make him stop goring Harry’s dead body. While Aries was unconscious, the workers had sawed off his tusks and broken his teeth in revenge. Even the loss of his tusks had not made Aries feel one ounce of regret. The world was a better place without Harry.
Now Frank led Aries towards the dark main tent again. Aries stretched up to the full height his chains would allow. His muscles were cramped from being trapped in the small cage for so long. Every moment he walked out under the stars, he felt the tingle of magic start to race through his veins. No moon hung in the sky and Aries hid a smile.
The workers thought that the dark moon was the safest time to conduct their pit games. Some of the circus freaks were moon called so full moons tended to be hectic times in the freak tent. Little did these morons know that ogres were star called. Every moment the starlight shone on his mottled gray skin was another moment that his power grew. He felt the magic run through his body and bloom from his heart. Soon.
Frank pulled on the chains and swore at Aries. “Come on you big freak. We’ve got a few new gamblers in the tent tonight eager to see you bleed for their entertainment.” Frank held a large cattle prod that in the past had proved to be enough keep Aries in line.
Aries hid a smile and faked a stumble. Frank jerked on the chains and demanded that Aries get moving again. When Aries refused to move forward, Frank hit him with the cattle prod. Aries let loose a soft laugh. The electricity arced through his body and strengthened the magic already coursing through him. Aries grabbed Frank with one hand and broke his neck. Frank’s face was caught in a permanent state of surprise. Aries hoped he carried that stupid face for eternity in the Underworld. He paused for a moment to listen. No sounds disturbed the night other than the murmur of voices from the big tent.
Aries searched Frank’s body and found the keys. He unlocked his shackles and slipped back towards the freak tent. Aries dropped his shackles just inside the dimly lit space. The other captured creatures stared at him. Some of them had dull eyes, worn down and defeated by years of captivity. A few stirred restlessly in their cages. Aries spoke softly. “Time for freedom at last.” A few more shifted around and away from their cage doors. Aries quickly unlocked all of the cages. Some leapt out immediately and ran off. Others still cowered in the corner. Aries could do nothing for them.
The last cage was a water tank that held a pink river dolphin. He couldn’t bear to leave her here. Aries slipped into the animal tent and harnessed up the old draft horse that was used to pull the cages around the grounds. He let a touch of his magic seep into the old stallion. The stallion perked up immediately. Within minutes Aries had the stallion attached to the water tank. Aries peeked over the top of the tank. “Ma’am, your chariot awaits. I’m going to get you to the nearest fresh water. I hope that’s enough.”
A buzzing feeling crawled through Aries’s head. Thank you. The iron in this tank is keeping me trapped in this form.
Aries shook his head to clear the strange sensation and led the stallion off into the night. He could smell fresh water about a mile away. The stars strengthened him as they jogged down an old logging road. Deep ruts scarred the track and jostled the water tank. The pink dolphin surfaced only long enough to breathe and then braced herself on the bottom of the tank. It took nearly an hour to make the mile trek. In the distance Aries could hear shouts coming from the circus. The chaos had so far worked in their favor, no pursuers were hot on their trail…yet.
They turned a corner and the stars shone on a beautiful lake. Aries guided the stallion to turn and back the tank towards the lake. Once it was as close as he could get it, Aries broke the back of the tank. The ancient seals came apart in his hands and the back of the tank opened like a door. Water poured out and the pink dolphin slid into the lake with a splash. Aries checked to make sure she resurfaced and then turned to attend to the stallion. He pushed the tank while the stallion pulled. Once the tank was tucked under the trees, Aries unharnessed the stallion. “Thank you friend. You are free. Go find yourself somewhere to live your days in freedom.” The stallion snorted twice and then trotted off into the woods.
“That was kind.”
Aries spun around. A woman stood in the water. Her pink hair floated around her. Aries smiled. “I see you can shift again. Best of luck to you. I’m headed back to my mountain home.” Aries turned to walk away.
“Wait.” Aries turned back and looked at her. “I owe you a debt. I hesitate to ask for another favor, but I must. May I travel with you?”
Aries looked at her in surprise. “Don’t you have to stay in the water?”
The woman laughed. “I need to submerge every third day or drink at least three gallons of water a day for every day. Are there streams at your home?”
Aries smiled. “There’s an entire glacier fed lake by my home. It might be a tad bit chilly for you.”
She laughed again. “I’ll take cold over capture anyday. I need somewhere to recover my strength. Here is too close to the circus. Please.”
Aries sighed. “Fine. What is your name?”
The woman smiled widely. “Venus.”
Aries took off the rough hewn shirt he wore and placed it on the shore for her. He turned away as she left the water and got dressed. “Ok. I’m ready.”
Venus walked to stand next to him. Her legs were a little unsteady. The shirt came to her knees. Her pink hair was already dry. Aries nodded at her and they started their journey to the west.
The prompts for this short story:
Blooms from the heart
Copyright 2020 Klaudia Grady