Jack, Puck, Mezu, Marilyn, and Billy the Camerman entered the circus tent and sat down on the seats before the stage. People everywhere were whispering excitedly. Apparently, the Devil’s Circus was a once in a lifetime experience. Film footage of it had never been taken.
Jack whispered to Marilyn. ‘What’s the plan?’
Marilyn pursed her lips and whispered back. ‘Let’s wait and see if Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo turn up. If they haven’t by the end of the show, we’ll capture the Devil’s Circus and use them as bait later.’
Jack, Puck, and Mezu nodded.
Jack tapped Billy the Cameraman on the shoulder. ‘Make sure you get all of this, pal. The Devil’s Circus has never been filmed, y’know. You could end up in the Cameraman Hall of Fame.’
Billy the Cameraman shook his head. ‘I’d rather remain in the background.’
‘Wait! You can talk?!’
‘Then why don’t you ever say anything?’
‘I’m kind of shy. It also contaminates the story when the camera operator takes part in it.’
Jack’s mouth fell open. After everything that they’d been through, this man’s main concern was his journalistic integrity. He was dedicated to his work, you had to give him that.
Jack patted him on the back. ‘You’re a good guy, Billy. After the Death Game is over, I’ll hire you to film my wedding. Don’t overcharge, though.’
‘Thanks. I won’t.’
The lights slowly dimmed until the circus tent was completely dark. Then a spotlight illuminated a figure on the stage. He was tall, thin man with a long nose and a pointed moustache. He wore a black top hat and a red suit jacket.
The Ringmaster’s English accent was booming. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the Devil’s Circus! I am the Ringmaster, and I will be your guide to the entertainment! We’ve got a wicked show planned for you tonight, full of mayhem, mystery, and murder! It’s probably illegal, but a law that cannot be enforced is a suggestion!’
The Ringmaster bowed. ‘Enjoy!’
Over the next hour, a strongman crushed a clown car with a clown inside, a lion tamer fed a clown to his lion, and a fire breather set a clown on fire. Jack wasn’t impressed. It was amusing in a childish sort of way and convincing enough, but he’d thought such a famous circus would have acts that would blow his mind. Once the fire breather had exited, however, a snake in human form came on stage.
Her hair was the black of midnight. Her eyes were the amber of honey. Her skin was the gold of the desert. Her bejewelled olive green bra and skirt barely kept her lithe body from nakedness.
The Ringmaster walked on stage. ‘Ladies and gentlemen! May I present to you the newest addition to the Devil’s Circus! The Wonder of the Arabic World, the Hashashin of the Heart, the Sultana of Swing, Queen Cobra!’
The Ringmaster exited. An Arabic drum beat started to play.
Jack recognised this song: it was from the Holy Land.
Queen Cobra danced. The flow of her body! The sway of her hips! It was mesmerising! A mime placed a king cobra at her feet. It coiled up around her body and hissed in her face. One false move and she was dead! Queen Cobra smiled and carried on. Soon, the king cobra was hypnotised. It danced with her, matching its movements with hers.
A hand covered Jack’s eyes. Marilyn was scowling at him.
‘What?’ said Jack.
She held up her hand to show the engagement ring.
Jack gave a big dumb grin. ‘I was just admiring her…talent.’
The dance and the music ended. The crowd went wild. Jack gave a golf clap. Queen Cobra kissed the king cobra on the nose, winked at Jack, and sauntered off stage.
If looks could kill, Marilyn would’ve been a slasher.
Jack held his hands up. ‘I’m as confused as you!’
The Ringmaster entered the stage. ‘Thank you! Thank you! For our last act, I’ll need an assistant from the audience!’
The spotlight searched the audience while a drum roll played. It landed on Sam, her mouth full of cotton candy.
‘You!’ said the Ringmaster.
‘Mbe?’ said Sam. She looked to Marilyn.
Marilyn smiled. ‘Go on, Sam. It’ll be a laugh. These guys aren’t slashers, and you have the Zone to protect you anyways.’
Sam got on the stage.
The Ringmaster took her hand in his. ‘And what’s your name, my dear?!’
Sam felt herself blushing. ‘Sam Jacinto.’
‘And where do you come from?!’
‘Oooh, they filmed some of Pee-Pee’s Big Adventure there, didn’t they?!’
Sam gasped. ‘You know about that?! I was an extra in it! I was the little girl in the orange shirt during the Alamo Tour!’
The Ringmaster chortled. ‘A beauty and a talent at that! Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for my lovely assistant Sam Jacinto!’
The audience clapped.
A mime pushed a table with a black rectangular box on it onto the stage. The Ringmaster led Sam into it so she was lying down inside it, her head sticking out of one end, her feet sticking out of the other. She straightened her back to get comfortable and caught an upside-down sneak peek backstage exit stage right.
There was a pile of dead clowns in the corner: one crushed, one mauled, one burned.
This show wasn’t a performance at all! It was real!
The Ringmaster pressed a gloved finger to her lips. Suddenly, she felt sleepy. Chloroform. She couldn’t work up the energy to move, let alone the adrenaline to use the Zone.
The mime handed the Ringmaster a saw.
‘Try not to scream with joy, my dear!’ said the Ringmaster. ‘You’re skinny enough as it is, but I’m going to help you lose even more weight!’
The audience laughed.
The Ringmaster sawed through the box. She saw the blade getting closer to her waist.
Sam tried to convey her situation to her friends through an alarmed expression, but the chloroform just made her face droopy. She probably looked bored. ‘Huh-help.’
The saw was an inch away from her waist!
The entrance to the circus tent flapped open. Two figures were highlighted by the light of the moon. One was a fat and squat clown wearing a long-nosed Zanni domino mask, a bodysuit with a rainbow-coloured vertical zigzag pattern, and oversized red clown shoes. The other was a little girl with grey hair all over her body sitting on her hands and feet like a dog.
It was Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo!
The Blue Nasties summoned their slashing weapons and costumes from thin air using a Zone Technique.
Fubsy the Clown pointed forwards. ‘We’ve finally caught you, Ringmaster! We’ve come to stop this madness once and for all!’
Loco Lobo barked.
The Ringmaster smiled with crooked teeth. ‘Fubsy! Lobo! It’s so good to see you again! You’ve been giving us quite a chase all these years! I must confess I’ve gotten a tad bit old for running, so how’s about we settle this here and now, eh?!’
Thank God, thought Sam.
‘Rrright after I finish my act! You know what they say: the show must go on!’ The Ringmaster started sawing again.
Quick as lightning. Loco Lobo bounded over on her hands and feet, took Sam’s collar in her teeth, and pulled her out of the box.
Loco Lobo plopped Sam on Jack’s lap like a chew toy.
‘Everyone get out!’ said Fubsy the Clown. ‘You’re not safe!’
The audience waited for the punchline.
‘Really!’ said the Ringmaster. ‘You’re both acting like such prudes! All I want to do is create a few slashers now and again for the sake of art! To liven up this dull world! Is that so much to ask?! I’m not exactly asking for the Dagger of Life and Death here, am I?’
‘You’re art has destroyed thousands of lives,’ said Fubsy the Clown, ‘including those of Lobo and I! We don’t want anyone else to suffer like we did!’
‘But you’re both perfect as you are! You’re my beautiful monsters! Did all of our shows, all our magical carnage, really mean nothing to you?!’
Fubsy the Clown shook his head. ‘Low art.’
Loco Lobo growled.
The Ringmaster’s face darkened. ‘Artists are never appreciated in their time.’
Jack turned to the others. ‘Maybe we should hold back, let them fight, and then kill the survivors.’
‘I don’t like that,’ said Mezu. ‘It’s dishonourable.’
‘Yeah,’ said Puck. ‘It won’t show our strength.’
Sam tugged at Jack’s shirt. ‘Fubsy and Lobo are good people. We should help them.’
‘No,’ said Marilyn. ‘We’ll go with Jack’s idea to be safe. Keep in mind, we only have three Zone Specials left. If we don’t use one this time, we’ll have three ready for Shark Man, the Cosmonaut, and Colonel Ripper.’
The Ringmaster took out a whip and cracked it in the direction of Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo. ‘Kill these traitors!’
The Strongman, the Lion Tamer and his Lion, and the Fire Breather rushed at Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo.
Fubsy the Clown summoned a giant spiked mallet from thin air and bashed the Strongman’s head in. Loco Lobo stretched out a pair of work gloves with fishing knives attached to the fingers and clawed the Lion Tamer and his Lion apart. Fubsy the Clown stomped the Fire Breather to death with the spikes on the underside of his oversized clown shoes.
The civilians ran for the exit, but a line of mimes holding Uzi submachine guns blocked their path.
Fubsy the Clown and Loco Lobo rushed at the Ringmaster.
The Ringmaster chortled. ‘You sickly soft slashers think you understand the Zone because you can use a few parlour tricks! You understand nothing! Let me show you what true art is! Zone Special: Dungeon Gate!’
Everyone in the circus tent was sucked behind the stage curtain.