"Ho-hum," Emeral said as they waited beneath the pavilion outside the parking lot. Well, if it could be considered a parking lot. It was really just dirt on top of more dirt with spouts of grass every once in a while. And even then the dirt was more like mud.
They were waiting for her mom. It turns out the carnival has a flat fee of one-dollar games, three-dollar rides (two, if you were under eight years old; whoopie), and five-dollar shows. Food varied. So, Momma B. went to the gas station conveniently placed somewhere nearby to get a bunch of singles.
Emeral looked at all the fun she could be having. Most of it was concealed under tents. Some of the tents were small, but a few quite far away were gigantic. And the rides were not false advertising. There was a Ferris wheel, easily spotted. There was also a small roller-coaster, made out of wood. She could hear the clackity-clack-clack-clack of the wheels from where she sat, along with the screams and shouts of the riders. It didn't look too scary, just a bunch of dips and hills and really twisty turns, but the fact it was made of wood filled her with a creeping fear. Doesn't wood warp when it rains--and didn't it just rain?
There were also a few Merry-Go-Rounds sprinkled about.
Aside from that, there was plenty of activity going on. Lots of people walking or running from place to place, tent to tent. There was a big open field where kids were throwing water balloons at each other. Emeral wished they had worn their swimsuits, but it was going to be dark soon and the air still felt a little cool so maybe it wasn't such a loss.
And there were also stages all over the place. People were gathered, partying and dancing. Music was all about, even where she sat. A mariachi band was walking around playing their strings, looking for people to accost with a melody.
Thankfully, they had eaten dinner before they came. There were food-smells that wafted in their direction--most of the entrance-material was foodstands--but it all smelled... so... unappetizing.
"Time to perk up," Ket's mom said, patting the two kids on the back to usher them. Mrs. Garne's black van pulled into the lot.
"Sorry it took so long," Momma B. said as she met with the group on the way in. "I ended up going to a gas station a bit farther down the road. The other one just looked too... suspicious."
Emeral rolled her eyes. Her mom was so paranoid.
"Keep this away from the creeps," the white tigress mother stated, handing the other mother a wad of singles.
With the pulse of her left eye, Momma R. hastily shoved it into her purse. "Jeez Garne..."
"Hm?" Momma B. said a little mock-innocently.
Ket's ears twitched.
They waited for a little while as the line to enter slowly moved its course. Emeral looked behind her when they were only a few people from the front, and noticed that it was just as long as when they had first started, if not longer.
They approached the entrance counter and sitting at the booth was a really haggard looking old rat. He had tufts of fur missing from his face like he'd been in several fights--scars, most likely. It gave an impression of the carnival, one that they probably didn't care about to begin with. They just wanted your money, that was the important thing.
"Forty bucks." His voice was like listening to two rocks grate together.
Emeral's mom pulled out four tens, "Here."
Ket mentally kept track of how much money they were costing. Thus far, twenty.
They were given four plastic bracelets. The kind that had notches on them and a button to fasten it into place. It was colored yellow, one of Emeral's least favorite colors to wear, next to green.
No sooner than ten steps in, Momma B. asked, "So... What do we do?"
Her daughter was quick to respond, "Big tent! Big tent!" She pointed at it.
"Only if we all want to go," her mom admonished.
"I'm for it," Momma R. said. "Might as well get the big stuff out of the way before it gets too late."
The tiger cub shrugged. "Sure," he replied. He smiled, though. While he wasn't enthusiastic about the tent, mostly because he had no idea what was inside so why bother, it would be good to get them in the mood for the night.
As they waded through the crowds and lines and miasmic odors of fried food, Emeral spotted even more things that she hadn't seen before. There was a twister-top ride, where people sat in benches hanging from a mushroom-looking chunk of metal. It spun around and bobbed this way and that, eliciting thrilling shouts and screams from its passengers.
There was a huge yellow slide with a terribly long line that looked like a lot of fun to go down--even if it was only a ten-second trip.
They passed a few acts along the way, too. Free entertainment for passersby. A Siamese cat balanced plates on pegs that were in turn balanced on his hands and feet. Slender minks danced and twisted about one another. A monkey was perched atop a tall pole, his hand-like feet clasping the balled top as he played a trumpet.
There was no line at the big tent, which made Emeral a little concerned. They approached the entrance, guarded by a tired-looking thirty-something Dachshund, his height an apt match for his charge.
"Hello," he greeted, pulling a bit of energy out of thin air. "The show's already started, but there's still a few seats. You can get in for a discount, bout half-price?"
"That's a deal," Momma R. said.
Ket made note. At five dollars that made twenty, so half price was ten. So they were--
"C'mon, let's go, we'll miss it!" Emeral tugged his arm.
--five bucks, that was twenty-five total. "Don't rip my arm off," he protested as he was pulled through the flap that caught him in the face a bit.
The lighting-change went from day to night. Aside from several spotlights shining in the center, their way was pitch-black. Thankfully, they were met by an attendant with a flashlight shortly after they entered. The girl, barely an adult, led them up the risers to some free seats that she knew of.
Emeral huffed as she walked, her legs feeling strain as they kept going up and up and up. How many rows of seats were there? Finally they started going into the crowd, at what felt like the very top row. They pushed in, bumping knees and tripping over feet. Emeral bumped into her mom--or maybe it was Ket's, she couldn't tell--and then realized that this was where they were sitting. She took her seat, as Ket took his beside her.
And then she realized she couldn't see a thing. The people in front of her were just tall enough that she couldn't see over their heads. Thankfully, there was something she could watch after a second or two. Another monkey-man climbed a tall ladder, and he was passed a trapeze.
He grasped it, and with a nod and a smile, hopped off the platform. Another trapeze was tossed, so that he could leap from one to the other.
Emeral gasped. For a second he was just floating in the air.
He landed on the other platform, as another of his kind arrived at the platform he had left. The assistants who had tossed the trapezes before climbed down, and the two simian sailors on either side nodded to each other. The one on the left hopped first, followed by the second just a little bit later.
Emeral gasped again. It looked like they were going to hit each other! But just at the last moment, the one who had leapt first let go and did a flip through the air. Emeral's heart thundered as the other let go of his trapeze and caught the other, while the flipping one landed with his feet on the bar of the trapeze that was just freed, his hands clasping the ropes. He rode it back to the other pole, standing like how you're not supposed to on the swings.
Mrs. Rinder would be so angry if she saw kids doing this on the swings back at school.
Emeral felt a tap on her shoulder. She didn't realize how deaf she was to noise in the tent. The constant cheering and shouting and gasping and clapping made any conversation mute. So it was a bit of a shock to see the girl that had led them to their seats right beside them again. She held a small box and motioned for Emeral to leave her seat.
Reluctantly the tigress did and the box was placed in her spot. With her mom's help, she was lifted up and placed onto the boosted seat, and finally able to see the full show.
Beneath the swinging monkeys were three rings. She had heard "three-ring circus" before, but didn't quite know what it meant. Now she did. The monkeys were just one of three shows going on at the same time. The monkeys were center-ring.
Left-ring had three cats climbing on a large pillar. Their claws dug into the body of it, allowing them to clamber about like spiders on a wall. One was sideways, parallel to the ground, crawling around the circumference of the cylinder. The other had one foot and one hand on the pillar only, the other two free and flinging ribbons about. The third started off on the ground, and began walking up the wall with just its feet, its arms crossed in front of its chest.
Right-ring had a mouse that was a lion-tamer. It was no surprise that the primitive animal was dominated by the more intelligent one, despite their differences in species. The world of the primitives was much different than that of the intellects, but it was still a bit of a poke in the side to have the mouse tame the lion--or perhaps to intellect lions, a thorn in the paw. Still, the mouse was skilled. The lion perched upon a sloped platform, a few other obstacles around as well. He was ordered by the crack of a whip to lie flat. An assisting clown held up a large pole with a dangling object hanging from a string. The lion was coaxed to leap into the air and flip and twist about to get the morsel.
"Ladies and gentlemen..."
Emeral strained her eyes to see a top-hat wearing emcee, of what species she couldn't tell.
"In the center ring, Miss Saria de Ver on the high-wire!"
The monkeys stood on the poles from which they had flown about and rested the trapezes on notches. Below them, on the next platform just a few feet down, stood a very thin komodo dragoness, wearing a pink leotard to highlight her otherwise dark, green complexion.
Emeral's nose went dry as she watched the woman step onto thin air.
"Please be aware," the emcee stated against a low drum-roll, "That this act is highly dangerous, requires an acute sense of balance and sensitivity, and will be performed--" the drum-roll halted with a beat. "--without the safety of a net."
Emeral's eyes trailed to the ground, where all she saw in the bloom of the white-and-purple lights was an earthy-looking ground of mulch and hay.
Saria started off as if hesitating, stepping gingerly upon the invisible wire in the air. But then she leapt, landing on the center, her body bouncing up as if on an invisible trampoline. The audience gasped with shock, always her favorite part of the act.
The tigress sat at the edge of her seat, heart at the bottom of her throat. She was filled with a mix of amazement and dread. While she didn't want the act to stop, she wished it wouldn't go on for long for the sake of the woman's safety. Her morbid imagination wondered what-ifs that all started to blend together.
Saria began to almost dance upon the wire, her nimble feet and slender legs accentuating the delicate movements that forced the audience to hold their nerves in the palms of their hands.
In her empathetic rush of adrenaline, Emeral clasped Ket's hand in hers. She saw him glance at her out of her periphery, but her focus was locked onto the woman who began twirling upon the wire invisible to her. It just looked as though de Ver was floating in mid air. She felt comforted when he matched her squeezing.
And then the audience jumped as the acrobat hopped slightly into the air, and abruptly dropped like a sandbag. She fell no more than ten feet before her feet lurched in the air, and her torso snapped downward. She swung once on the underside of the second invisible wire, her costume sparkling as the light caught more of her body. Her neck flared as she stood upright to catch her balance, and then paused as the audience recovered from their shock.
She bowed to a standing ovation, before skipping to one of the side poles.
Ket covered his ears as Emeral screamed at the top of her lungs.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls..."
Overwhelmed, Emeral had to force herself to calm as the lights dimmed.
"Introducing, Vladamir Skollride!"
In the darkness, the heavy thrum of a motorcycle thundered over the speakers, competing with the beat of every audience-member's heart. To their left, the tigers saw a fiery flare plume upward. A dimmed spotlight was caste on the rider.
The black wolf sat upon his growling chopper, his studded jacket catching shimmers of light and throwing it back to every eye. He twisted his knuckles upon the throttle and from the rear pipes blue flame streamed forth like a pair of dragons in a wild rage.
Without any prompt, the chopper began to move. He threw himself into a circle, nearly going horizontal, and then charged toward the other side of the stage. As he went, flames lit up beside him, marking the path which he was to take. The flames rose upward, and so did he, until he flew into the air.
The light followed him, and as he passed through a ring that at first the audience did not see, it lit aflame. He landed on the far side, his aura again accented by fire and hell. He turned sharply, as did his prominence, and mirrored his previous jump. A second ring was lit, until the full path could be seen, traced in orange and smelling of smoke and sulfur.
He paused, once again where he had originally debuted, and prompted his chopper to growl three times. At that command, a central path was lit, cutting between the oval he had gone. He took this path, which appeared to be just a jump--the audience could clearly see there was no obstacle in his path.
Until, as he began to take the ramp, the two flaming rings began to move.
Emeral let go of Ket's hand, and covered her eyes so she could see only through thin slits of her fingers.
Skollride left the top of the ramp, just as the rings were about to join at the center.
Emeral couldn't bear it. She closed her eyes. When she opened them, she saw the wolf riding down the opposite ramp, and turning to the far side of the track. He drove up that ramp, and jumped. The ring stalled in the air just long enough for him to leap through. The chopper coughed as he landed, but he did not stop. As before, he mirrored the jump, passing the other ring just as he had done a moment before.
Now on the opposite side from where he started, he once again made the chopper growl three times.
The audience gasped with dread and fear as, on the outside of either ring and between them, flaming crescents dropped and began their pendulous swing.
Without giving them a chance to take in the entirety of the track, Skollride popped his front wheel into the air, spitting dirt and mulch ahead of him as he thrust forward. He landed the wheel as he hit the bottom of the ramp. The chopper emitted the most guttural, bloodthirsty roar yet, the dragons at the peak of their fury.
He passed the first crescent just before it hit him, into the first ring just as it was leaving; the second crescent passed in front of him, almost nicking the front of his chopper. He passed the second ring, and then the bike squealed as it hit the final crescent, dead-center.
Again the audience was taken to shock and horror as they watched the bike fall to a heap on the mulch, the far crescent twitching on its chain as if to deter any skeptics that it was not hit.
The spotlight shined upon the chopper, but no body was found. It panned upward, and there, hanging upon the middle crescent as it passed by the stream of the light, was Skollride.
Everything went dark, and the audience voiced their approval.
Once again, as if he wasn't aware of what was even going on in the acts that he announced, the emcee's even voice came over the speakers: "Ladies and gentlemen we have one final act for you. Don't worry, there are no shocks in this act--it's all just for fun. Let me introduce you to the Family Hanoi and Tohru!"
As the lights came on once again, the audience was greeted to a large primitive elephant, its trunk raised. It gave a hearty toot as it began to tromp forward. For a while it appeared the elephant, presumably the one named Tohru, was alone out on the stage. But as he walked about, from beneath the mat on his back a very white and skinny cat emerged.
Emeral watched curiously as the cat, who appeared very small, almost like a kid her age, slowly began to rise in the air. Underneath, two other cats were lifting the first one up. Then it was revealed that three other cats below them were holding the other three up. They all emerged from the elephant's back out of thin air.
The audience chuckled as the pyramid of white cats surfed upon Tohru, who seemed not to even notice them perched upon his back. The pyramid broke as the topmost Hanoi was taken to the level of the other two, so that there were three pairs: one standing upon the other.
The totems arranged themselves so that they were very close together, their sides facing outward and all facing the same direction. The top of each totem placed a hand upon the person in front of them, and they began to walk forward in their circle, stepping upon the hands of the lower tier.
It was dizzying to watch, for they did this while Tohru walked about the stage.
Abruptly the top row twisted about and began walking the other direction, unwinding the audience's dizziness.
Then the three hopped off their perches, landing nimbly upon the happily tromping elephant. They all began to trot about upon his back, hand-on-shoulder. The audience clapped to the music that was playing, enjoying the surreal walk the family was taking. There were no shocks, but there were some gasp-moments. The littlest one appeared to fall off the elephant's side, but on the pad that covered the elephant's back were tassels which she or he used to swing back up, to be caught by another member of the family. This was probably part of the show, because it was done for the other half of the audience as well.
The family then stopped their trot and began rummaging about. It was hard for anyone to see at first, but after a while one could tell the family was putting together something out of several lengths of poles. As it was finishing they lifted it up high, and the audience could see that it was a set of gymnastics' rings. The parallel sets of rings were hoisted into the air, the entire set held up only by four members of the family. The fifth member lifted the sixth member--the littlest one--upon its shoulders. The littlest one leapt into the air, and caught the lower set of rings.
Emeral was truly amazed. If the kid was her age, she or he had a lot of talent. The littlest Hanoi began to twirl and flip about the rings, passing between the sets almost constantly. Again, while not shocking, the act had the audience's grip tight and white-knuckled.
Somehow, without being realized, the other acts began to trickle out onto the stage. A lot of them the tigers had not seen: jugglers and dancers, bicycle-artists and other dare-devils including Skollride, along with acrobats and animal trainers and many, many clowns.
"Thank you for participating in the show. Your next opportunity will be tomorrow morning at eight." The emcee was spotlighted on a raised platform.
Emeral could finally tell that he was an owl. Quite a pudgy one at that.
"Please leave the tent in an orderly fashion, and remember to stay safe. The other attractions are open until ten tonight!"