In the mid-1970s
The last travelling circus had seemed to meet its end. They lacked the means to keep up with the growing demand, and everything from their acts to their animals began to grow tired and hungry. Over time the talent had begun to fade, until there were only a handful of has-beens left. Those who had once knew the glory of the circus had grown old, but the owner of the circus refused to let them go. He had been with them for decades, and had been hoping for five years that they could find young people who wished to dedicate their lives to an old tradition. He had bled money for two years, and was ready to fold.
One evening a twenty seven year old man by the name of Gerald approached the old circus owner. He requested to have a drink, and told him a story. The story was true, and he told the man that he had seen his show at the end of its prime, twenty one years ago. He asked a lot more questions then he answered. But he heard what he needed…The core of the show he had seen were still in the circus, though no longer performing. He offered the circus owner a deal, he would pay off the man’s debts and give him fifty percent of profits made if the man parted with the deed to everything he owned within the circus. The quickness with the acceptance let him know he probably could have taken it over with just paying the debts, but he wanted the owner to profit. That evening twenty one years ago had changed his life.
Gerald had fallen into a large amount of old money shortly after he graduated college with a business degree. After purchasing the circus, the first thing he did was give everyone on staff a year’s worth of pay as a bonus. His only request was that they put new life into the circus. Gerald began to take the circus from city to city, town to town, even village to village. That first year, he lost more money then he had paid for the circus. He considered the loss worthwhile, and he gave the previous owner half of profits earned from ticket sales(not counting his own loss against him.) His acts were paid well, the few travelling hands he had were paid twice minimum wage.
Over the next twenty five years, the travelling circus thrived as much as such a small show could. Yet, on consistent bases, the more popular he got the more important his acts became. And the best of the best always ended up getting recruited into bigger shows, Namely The Wringling Fucking Brothers. He could barely go to one of their shows without watching one of his former acts defame everything he had helped teach them for more money.
Yet his ability to draw in new and fresh talent never dwindled. It was odd how when the second millennium came to be, more and more people wished to join the circus. But even his expanse of wealth began to dwindle. He watched his dream begin to bleed him dry. He knew that if things didn’t change quickly, then he would end up just like the last owner. Sacrificing more and more of the show in order to break even. He began to drink.
It was the day before the first show. Gerald’s veins were itching in anticipation, nervousness, fear. This was the biggest city his show had performed in in ten years. 55,376 according to the sign the trucks drove past. He chose to go out to a local bar to get an idea of the people. Every bar made his stomach fill with knots, until he found one who had promised a show beyond belief. Something that would make people gasp and scream in fear and anticipation. His original idea of a circus. He walked in, sat down and ordered a Gin and Tonic (Heavy on the gin, he asked.)
Then they walked on stage. They both had a beauty to them, and also a certain amount of strangeness. He was dressed in dark grey slacks with downward pin strips, a white button up with long sleeves, and a dark grey vest which would match perfectly…But the pin strips were horizontal. She had on blood red dress that was loose fitting beneath the waist, and form fitting at the top. Namely because she wore her corset over the dress. Gerald smiled, because none of it made any sense at all.
Fire erupted. Three inch balls on strings were set on fire, they both handled at least two per hand. They were whipped around in the air, at every spin nearly hitting the clothing. They began to shoot the balls of flame at one another, the absolute perfectness of the choreography was brilliant. He had been teaching his acts for decades, and he had never seen something like this. He hadn’t gasped or screamed, until one of the balls of flames hit to the right of the woman. Suddenly an eruption of flame shot up, he heard her scream. It was fake, and he still gasped in horror. Next thing he knew they were shooting the balls beside one another, every time flame erupted.
They made what, fifty dollars a show? He could make fifty dollars a ticket off of this. He hired them both on the spot.
Lawrence and Elizabeth had proven very quickly that Gerald had made an incredible decision in hiring them. He had placed them as an opening act for the main attraction in the big tent, something that most of the acts resented. Then they actually got to witness what the two were capable of. Every show was full of flame, burns, violence, and a tension between the two that was absolutely palpable. The crowd saw it as hostility, as with every part of the act they went at each other more and more ferociously. Those within the circus came to realize that they were consistently attempting to better the other one, to prove that they were the superior fire handler. It went back and forth on who “won” the competition, but more often then not, it was Lawrence.
The two ended up as the main act six months into their being there. There had been acts a decade old who still had not tasted the big tent, and they all accepted being passed over…Lawrence and Elizabeth were simply better. They had become the main attraction of the show, and for the first time in over twenty years the crowds at each town they arrived in began to whisper about the flame throwers. There was a sign outside of every tent stating that cameras were not allowed…In every tent, that was enforced, but when Elizabeth and Lawrence took the stage Gerald allowed them. The internet had become an easy way to market the show, and YouTube had video after video of the two.
A year later, and Lawrence was quickly on his way to becoming the Ring Master. He had a way with the audience that was absolutely profound. He was good with enticing the crowd, and he was better at backing up his bold statements with his beautiful partner in flames. They saw more money in the next six months then the circus had seen since it had begun. More and more money, and Gerald celebrated more and more. He drank more and more. He more or less gave the show to his main act. Lawrence directed, and Elizabeth began to bring in talent.
The circus was once again thriving. By the end of 2008 every show was sold out, from the major acts to the small ones. Elizabeth’s brilliantce with bringing in new talent showed itself, and Lawrence was a master of the crowd. There was no doubt in Gerald’s mind that the circus would thrive until the day that he died.
Elizabeth's obsession with the circus had gone above and beyond what it had been when she had been recruited. She had joined simply blissful to be a part of it. As her and Lawrence’s show began to grow in fame, she wanted more. She loved her circus, do not doubt that, but she believed that she and Lawrence could do a hell of a lot more for the circus then what Gerald was allowing them. He had stepped back from directing and controlling the acts, but he still demanded on the logistics. As his drinking became worse and worse, the towns became more and more confusing. By September, they entered more villages than cities. They could perform ten shows in a village and get the same number of viewers that they could draw in one night from a city. She had enough.
She had sat down and talked with Lawrence one evening. She had told him that a change had to come, and he agreed. She and Lawrence had always had an odd relationship. They were in love with one another, but it was never romantic. Nor was it platonic. It was some strange symbiotic relationship that thrived with time. They were intimate, but rarely sexual. They slept nude in the same bed, but it was always something of understanding and not sexuality. She told Lawrence that evening that she had to seduce Gerald, to gain control over him, and gain ownership of the circus.
Lawrence took a while before he accepted it. They both did not like the idea, but they knew that the larger picture was the most important. The next evening, she made her first advance on Gerald. It was nothing more than a promise of something else. The rest of September she continued to tease the old man, playing at his emotions and desires until he was drunk enough for her to leave without him remembering.
By then Elizabeth had played the old man beyond recognition. In his mind, they had slept together many times. They never actually had, she would feed him liquor until he blacked out and the next day brag about how incredible he was in bed. She had thought that she had done absolutely everything right. She had not realized that the old man would think that sex was something more then it was…He began to believe that he was in love with her. Hell, maybe he was, but she didn’t understand how someone who could no longer function sober could truly interpret his feelings.
She had grown more and more distant from Lawrence. They were still the best of friends, but she was no longer able to sleep in his bed. She often left Gerald’s tent far too late and didn’t wish to wake him, so she found her own bed. Gerald had eyes on her, and she had been too daft to realize that he might do such a thing. She made her biggest mistake a month later.
Elizabeth had just finished her last show in a small city in Texas. She had noticed that Gerald had not attended, but she had not thought much of it. He had shown up every show in the past few weeks glassy eyed and looking as though he wanted to vomit. She knew the day would come when he just didn’t wake up in time, or was too hung over to actually come. She thought that that was what tonight was. So she used it to her advantage, and she found herself in Lawrence’s bed for the first time in what seemed like years.
She finally felt at home again. She had sex with Lawrence that night in the first time in a year. It was the most gratifying experience she had had in as long as she could remember. She hadn’t realized exactly how much she had missed him, not only his presence but his body. His companionship. She left his tent the next morning with a smile and a kiss to the cheek, promising to see him again soon.
As she approached her tent to get changed, one of the oldest of the circus hands approached her. He was fifty eight, grey haired, 6’3, and still built like a linebacker. Even if the muscle seemed softer than it should be. “Gerald wants to see you, Liz.” She gave the man a cutting look, no one called her Liz except Gerald, and she pretended not to hate it then. “Call me by my real name or I’ll have you fired. Let me change.” “He told me to call you Liz, and no, you will be coming with me right now.” He grabbed her by the arm and placed an iron like grip. She had no choice but to follow. She noticed a few of the older circus hands walking in the direction of Lawrence’s tent, and never for a moment realized what that meant.
It was two in the afternoon. Gerald should still be passed out for at least five hours. But he sat there, sober eyed for the first time in six months. “Fuck.” She whispered to herself. He looked up to her with a frightening expression, before the man released her arm and took a few steps behind her. She did not speak, she kept denying why she had been brought here.
“You fucked him last night.” Gerald was straight to the point. Elizabeth’s lips went to speak, and she was quickly shut up by Gerald’s strong voice. “Do not deny it, the man behind you heard you moan his name.” Gerald rose to his feet and was almost instantly upon her, he struck her with a backhand to the cheek. She was stunned for a moment, and tears ran down her cheeks. She hardly remembered the rest of the conversation.
Lawrence never returned to the circus. No one but Elizabeth, Gerald, and the man who had heard it all knew what happened to him. Most believed him to have fled. It took no more than two hours for it to leak out that she had “cheated” on Gerald, and for the next six months she received pity from those she had brought in, and hatred from those Gerald had managed to keep.
After Lawrence left, Gerald changed. He began to cut pay, cut food consumption, cut absolutely everything. Suddenly the circus he had did everything he could to save was once again falling into shambles, while he sat on a large stack of money and did everything he could to drink it away. For the first three months, Elizabeth simply found pity in herself. But when she started to see her talent lack, and more important, the animals was fed worse and worse, she realized that things had to change.
She betrayed her own morals and gave herself to Gerald. She groveled in apology, she wept for him, she gave him her body. She allowed herself to be a martyr for a dying circus. She would not let it die. She refused.
By September she had succeeded in gaining Gerald’s trust. He believed in her whole heartedly, he believed that she loved him. She managed to convince him in late September that he should draw up a will. She remembered telling him that he needed to ensure his dream lived on, that if anything horribly tragic happened to him that he could not let the show be auctioned off. The will stated that she owned 49% of the circus, and upon his unfortunate death she would get full ownership.
On a late October night, she decided she had had enough. One of the show horses had collapsed of starvation during the middle of a show. One of hers had broken her leg under the horses weight. The show ended abruptly, and she waited a half an hour after the crowd had left to compose herself. She went into Gerald's tent, and he was already black out drunk. She picked up a full bottle of gin, tied his arms to the chair he sat in, and fed him enough liquor(Most of which by force) to ensure he would never wake up.
The police had not been kind to her. They had forty eight hours to question her, and they made sure that she slept in a cold cell without a blanket for two nights before she was brought in for questioning on hour forty six. They were quick and to the point. “So how did you kill him?” “Kill him!? I loved the man, ask anyone!” “We asked everyone, and most of them said that you were in their bed that evening.” They gave her an alibi that was not the same as her own. Her alibi was that she was with the girl who had had her leg broken under the horse, and the girl had said it was true. It was also true that the mass of the talent she had brought in had stated she was fucking them. “Then isn’t it obvious? He thought I was a whore, just as you do. He could not deal with the anguish, and he drank himself to death. I am sure that everyone you spoke to said he was a horrible drunk. Why on earth am I even here?” They were dealing with a performer. She performed perfectly, she seemed shocked they would ever even think she could have killed the bastard.
They had halfhearted hopes she would confess. She didn’t. She was granted full rights to the circus. The circus was ready. It was ready to achieve what she had set it out to do from the moment she began to cut them off from reality
When Elizabeth took over everything changed. Old, dead weight was fired. The three men who had been involved in her and Lawrence’s events had been severely punished, and then left to walk a hundred miles to the nearest town in 100 degree weather. She hoped that none of them never survived. The wealth that she had been given with Gerald’s death ensured that the circus didn’t see a show for the next two months. They found the outskirts of a small town near a large Train Station and settled. The horse that had collapsed in exhaustion had been rehabilitated and was given to a youth group who wanted to teach young children how to ride horses. The trainer, who had fallen beneath him, could not longer perform, but was given a management job to help Elizabeth’s next animal trainer. All of her animals and workers were well fed, and she purchased a train with quite a few train cars.
All of her talent remained on staff. Some were relinquished of their jobs for better talent. They began to travel the train instead of the cars and semis that they had used before. She spent her first six months doing the same small shows that Gerald had done, but she had done it for a reason. The small tents and dirt covered floors were to prove a point. The small crowds, the small acts, they were to remind her talent what the circus was about. They were forced to realize that a circus meant nothing without its crowd. Instead of thirty shows like Gerald had had, she had about a dozen. But every one was incredible. Every one excited the crowd to a frenzy. For the first time in a hundred years, the Spirit of the circus was being remembered. Show after show, the acts grew better and better. She was happy to take the lead, the Ring Mistress performing with her fire like a mad woman with a cause. She felt the Spirit grow and grow, build into her veins.
The Circus was ready. It was ready to achieve what she had set it out to do from the moment she began to cut them off from reality. None of them knew what the outside world was like, she ensured that. They were not allowed to leave the grounds she set without express permission. Nothing battery operated was allowed to enter the grounds of her circus. She had cut them off from everything modern, and put them back into the reality of what she believed a circus should be.
One tent. Twelve shows. Two hours. Ten thousand people. The first act was simple, but still something the Wringling fucking Brothers could put in their show. The next were clowns, but her clowns. Clowns that spoke more of the ages of burlesque then the annoying and sometimes frightening ones that most circuses showed. This night they remained a family show, though even the children realized that they were enticed by what they saw.
Then it was her turn. She stood behind the curtains, hearing the crowd outside erupt. Her clowns had left right and left of her, giving the best show of their lives. The Spirit had began to flow within all of them. Now it was her turn to walk out and give a show that could kill her, and if she had it in her to give that…Then she could capture the spirit. The curtains billowed as she walked out of them, and walked to the center of the stage.
“My darling followers, what you have seen tonight is everything that a circus should be. Excitement. Thrills. Acts of genius. And fear. But the death defying acts that you have seen thus far…” She was looking around the crowd the entire time she spoke, right to left, left to right. Finally her eyes shut, and her gaze lowered to the floor. “Will seem like child's play, what I will give you now will change your thoughts on what a human is able to achieve and survive.”
All of her time, she had never used more then four flaming balls, six spots of gunpowder, and a half gallon of gasoline spread in random places…Tonight she had ensured her own death, because three times the gasoline, eight more spots of gunpowder, and two more balls were added. She smiled death in the eyes as she looked forward, lit a match, and threw it in front of her.
The match never met its arc. She closed her eyes and began. She knew the stage, she knew where every hazard was, and she figured that seeing herself walk into hell itself would cause her to pause. The first ball hit the match, it lit. Then the second, the third before she knew it the sixth. No matter how long in the future you asked her, she would swear that the show had only lasted ten seconds. It had lasted ten minutes. She rolled with the Spirit of the circus, she never realized that without it she would be dead. She never realized that she would have been burnt to a crisp within the first minute. She had never seen herself perform. All she knew was that when she was done, her eyes opened. She felt a ripple of power. She felt the crowd, every last person, and she felt herself draw more and more power.
Six months later she understood that the Spirit had grown powerful enough to share. If they went into a city of 50,000, then in seven shows 200,000 showed up. She realized she was now holding onto a gift…Every scar that she had happily gained performing with Lawrence had healed itself. She had tested her limits, and placed her palm over an open flame. She felt the heat, but she never burned. She had taken this circus over for a reason. Slowly, she began to give her gift to others. Only the best of the best received a small bottle, which looked like water but felt like air…When they received the gift, then their act was not only easy…It was seamless.