Hey there, thanks for clicking on this story. Before we begin, a little bit about it: this first chapter is mainly Gill, but the POV will rotate. Also, if you know anything about circus life, or if I get anything completely wrong, don't hesitate to tell me.
And more than ever, I hope to never fall, where enough is not the same it was before
- Poets of the Fall, Carnival of Rust
Gillian remembered the enchantment of that night. The sheer novelty of the animals alone was enough to send her into fitful excitement and beyond. Then add the lights, the music, the food. The hypnotic, almost snake-like movements of the dancers. She was ecstatic for it.
To a shy girl like her, the seemingly magical stunts that went hand in hand with pure amazement from the crowd was like something from a fairy tale.
All in all, it merged to create a memory that engraved itself deep in her conscious and unconscious mind. And, though she didn't know it, that night's circus had changed her life forever. A seed was planted that day, a seed that would come to fruition nine years later.
Her mother was a drunk. A raging, mad, abusive drunk.
Gillian had come upon the realization several times before, but had a hard time accepting it with all sincerity. Sure, her mother had slipped a bit since Gill's father walked out, but surely she would get better.
It was on her 16th birthday Gillian finally accepted it as one of life's honesties.
Ms. Lennox was long gone.
With that, came a second and even harsher revelation: There is nothing for me here. Nothing but old, fragmented hopes.
This one, even harder to process, was accepted into Gillian's hall of truths on her next birthday.
She was now 17, living with a woman she no longer recognized as her mother, and itching to do something with her life.
She believed it to be a spur of the moment decision, but in actuality, it had been years in the making and shaping.
I'm going to join the circus.
It was a small traveling circus, nothing extravagant, and many performers were in more than one act, but Gillian was certain it was the one.
What she wasn't certain of was how to do this. It's not like she'd run away before, she wasn't even sure how to rightly apply for this kind of thing. And really, it was very possible she was heading in the wrong direction.
"Excuse me, miss," someone called from behind her. "Closing time had long passed, the road out is over there."
Gillian turned. A boy, slightly older than herself- and not too hard on the eyes, either- was handling a cart of trash—likely picking up after the carnival goers. "But I don't want to leave," Gillian shifted from one foot to the other. "I want to stay."
"He chuckled. "That's all very well, but the shows are over, and like I said, we're closed."
"I mean," she explained, "I want to join."
"Join?" he was obviously more than a little shocked. "Aren't you a tad young to be joining the circus?"
"I'm 17," but I look like I'm 12, I know, She thought to herself.
"Oh," He said, at least looking a little embarrassed.
"Well," He said, "You're still not legally an adult."
"Gill shook her head, "Since when had the law been enforced around these parts?" She asked, and it was a valid point. Her neighbor, Amy, had been married off to a grown man when she was just 13. If the law couldn't catch an extreme case of what was surely adultery, what were the chances it would catch her?
"Sure, maybe not these parts," he admitted, "but we're a traveling circus. Meaning we won't stay in these parts for long."
"I saw your show," She huffed. "Don't tell me all of your performers are of age."
"Well, that's…" He shrugged. "Different?"
"Can I talk to whoever's in charge?" Gillian but her hands on her hips.
He studied her for a moment, then smiled. "The green tent near the big wooden stage."
"Thank you," she nodded to him, then set off in the opposite direction she'd been heading.
An amused, "Good luck," reached her ears as she passed him.
The space was nice, if not a bit too cluttered with paperwork for Gillian's taste. Well lit, warm enough, and it didn't smell bad, either.
But the most striking feature of the place was its single occupant.
Maybe in her mid-twenties, with sleek chocolate hair and soft features, the woman struck Gill as uniquely beautiful.
She looked up from what she'd been doing to fix Gillian with sharp, electric blue eyes. "Who are you?"
Good luck, the boy's well wishes echoed in her mind.
Yeah, I just might need it.
"Gillian," She lifted her chin a bit. "My name is Gillian Lennox, and I'd like to join your circus."
The woman narrowed her eyes and looked Gillian up and down. "There aren't any openings, sorry kid."
"I'm not a kid," Gillian said on reflex, then went on to say, "Are you sure?"
"Look, kid," She tossed a wave of brown hair over her shoulder, "I've met your type before. Many times before. Let me guess, you ran away from home to do this?"
"Well, yes, but that's beside the point." Gillian argued.
"Then what is the point?" The woman sighed. "Bear wrestling? The tight rope? Dancing?" When she saw Gillian's interest pique at that, she shook her head. "Forget it. I can only handle one newbie at a time, and the position's filled."
"Then let me be next." Gillian pleaded. "Just give me a chance, let me tag along, maybe as a janitor or something, until you're ready to take on another performer."
The woman sat back, that intense look of hers focused on Gillian, appraising her with interest this time, not pure judgment. Then, a small smile. "You can call me Mare. The girls lodge in the blue tent with red stripes, next to the candy stand."
"Don't get too excited though" Mare warned. "We'll talk more in the morning, and if I still like what I see, then you can grin."
"Thank you." Gill tuned it down to a small smile. "Thank you so much."
"Be on your way." Mare gestured at the flap that served as a door.
With one last thank you, and the brief notion of curtsying before the urge passed, Gillian exited the tent.
The bravado Gillian had felt earlier with Mare dulled to a poor, faded, mere imitation of itself when she pulled aside the flap and all eyes turned towards her.
Gillian raised a hand in a timid hello. "Um, hi. Mare told me this is where the girls sleep? Well, obviously," Gillian chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her neck, "I mean, you're all girls. And there's cots, and…"
For the next moment, there was only silence.
Then, the slight wheezing of an accordion as it was moved from the lap of a red- headed, pixie- like girl and onto the floor. The girl stood, stepped forward, smiled, and held out a hand. "I'm Poppy," she said.
"Gillian," she smiled, "but you can call me Gill."
"I'm Jade," another girl stepped up. Also petite and green-eyed, but this time pale blonde. "I'd like to say I'm a dancer, but the truth is, I'm still pretty basic. So," Jade smiled, "what are you on for?"
"Well, ah, I don't know." Gill admitted. "I'm interested in acrobatics, but I think I'll be a janitor or an extra hand for a long while."
"Acrobatics?" Poppy grinned. "Cool. I can't even touch my toes. They only keep me around 'cause I play." She motioned at the accordion.
"It's not certain, though," Gillian grimaced. "Mare just said we'd talk more in the morning."
"Eh," A girl with bouncy, fox-red curls stood up and stretched. "If you made it this far, chances are you're safe. Now you just have to prove you're good. Mare'll probably make you audition tomorrow, if she hasn't already."
Her stretch morphed into an elaborate bow. "Maggie Neeley," she introduced herself. "Your host, entertainer, and renowned cart-wheeler."
This made some of the other girls laugh.
"Maggie can't tumble worth crap," Poppy explained. "A woman after my own heart."
"But don't write her off," said what must've been the most delicate, flowerlike girl Gill had ever seen. "You should see her climb. She's half squirrel, I swear." She gave a small trill of her fingers. "I'm Iliana. Also a dancer, but I double on the high wire and trapeze and other things like that."
Jez wasn't sure what to think of the 'new' girl ('new' because she hadn't technically been hired yet.)
She was pretty enough. Blonde- like the other acrobats with violet eyes similar to Iliana's. But she seemed shy, something that would have to change if she wanted a job in this circus; known for its fantastic acts and personalities.
Though, who knew? Maybe she could pull it out on stage.
Then, she decided, she didn't really care. She was hungry, and when she got hungry, there was room for nothing else.
So, standing up, she slipped out of their lodging- a flimsy tent usually used for face painting and cheap game booths during show hours.
Jez was on her way to the boys' tent- David would give her the keys to the concession stand whether he liked it or not- when a faint rustling to her left caught her attention.
She turned her head, glimpsed the hint of a shadow, then nothing.
A stray cat or something.
Had anyone but Keller been on guard duty, she wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. But Keller was reliable, unlike Quinn or even Rashel (as much as she liked the girl.)
Quinn was prone to tuning out- most likely mourning his late fiancée, Dove- who'd died in a tightrope accident last spring. Then there was Rashel. Vigilant, Jez handed her that, but too new to have proven herself.
But this was Keller. Nothing got past her.
Two green eyes, bright as emeralds, peered out from the darkness.
Then they were gone.
Too fast to be anything but her imagination.
Well, there you have it.
A big thank you to the night has a thousand eyes for helping so much. I never could have gotten this idea onto paper without her.