The Night Circus—Kate Leimer

It will appear, as circuses do, occupying the bare grass with tents and caravans, stalls and a Big Top, with a small kiosk at the entrance. 

When it leaves silently before dawn, you may find something else is missing: your bicycle, your dog, your brother, or even your soul.

They say once a whole village disappeared, leaving only a circle of bleached grass. A cold wind always blows over that spot. Even on a fine summer day, a cloud seems to pass across the sun.

It starts the way these things always do, with the arrival of posters. They appear at night, of course.

Instead of the bright red-and-yellow grins of clowns and cheerful stripes of the Big Top, you’ll see a dark tent, below a sharp yellow moon. The tent flap hangs open like a maw, revealing a slice of pale light inside. A hunched, long-fingered shape waits at the entrance.  Figures with blurred faces beckon. Some might look familiar to you but it’s hard to tell.

Free tickets will appear in shops, under stones in the park, on windowsills. Each purple rectangle announces: 

ᴀᴅᴍɪᴛ ᴏɴᴇ:

The purple writing looks stretched—too tall, spiky and jagged, rather than friendly and fun. You might feel a cold breath at the back of your neck when you pick one up.

At midnight, the music starts. A steam-driven fairground organ plays ‘Danse Macabre’, evoking images of capering, skeletal violinists. The sensible among us will cover our ears and pull the bedclothes over our heads, having first checked the doors and windows are safely locked. 

Are you feeling cold yet?

The foolish ones will dare one another, eyes bright and feverish, their laughter nervous.  Others, stumbling home from the pub, cutting through the graveyard, pass the church standing dark, its stout doors locked and veer across the field, summoned by the music. 

The young—impulsive, curious, casting stones up at bedroom windows—will tempt each other to an illicit night adventure as the music speeds on, round and round, faster and faster. 

If you dare cross the cold grass and approach the kiosk, you find there an automaton stretching out a bony hand for your ticket. Whirr, snap! Ping! The register rings and a soft, distant cackle announced your arrival.  The tent beckons—black, iridescent, shiny, like a crow’s wing.

Inside, you see the audience in the raked stalls; their clothes ragged; their bodies motionless.  You notice a smell like graveyard earth, rotten wood, feel the tickle of beetles’ feet against your skin and the gossamer of cobwebs on your face as you sit, waiting for the magic to begin.

Don’t taste anything you are offered, even if it smells like bread, popcorn, beer. There is no nourishment there, only distraction, illusion.  

Returning, you may find you have aged, your home occupied by strangers, your face and name unrecognised, unremembered except by a mossy gravestone.  Yet for you only hours will have passed. 

If you return.

An emerging writer, Kate Leimer enjoys stories of all kinds. Her work has appeared in Hysteria 7 Anthology 2020, The Wondrous Real Magazine, TL;DR PressBluesdoodles, Idle Ink, Orange Blush Zine, Cabinet of Heed, 81 Words, and been shortlisted by Cranked Anvil. When not writing, she works in a library.

photo by Joshua Coleman (via unsplash)