Wow, that was easy. Too easy. Looking to my sister, I saw a smile like I hadn't seen since she was a little girl appeared on her face. Now don’t get me wrong, I was happy for her, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something a bit off about this young ringmaster. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but she seemed a little too eager to have Rachel after just talking to her for five minutes. Rachel looked happy, though, so I decided to ignore it for now and resigned myself to just wait and see. If she didn't like the job she could always just quit, right?
“Come this way,” Candy called as she moved down the corridor back the way we came. “I have your contract in my trailer.” Now outside again, I noticed the skies had acquired quite the menacing overcast. Thunder could be heard faintly in the distance and clouds now blocked the light from the moon and stars. It had gotten so dark, in fact, that I barely noticed the parking lot as we passed it.
As Candy led us away from the old football field and the main tent, we started walking towards what looked like a really large trailer. As we drew near I could see Candy’s name on the door. The light above the entrance suddenly snapped to life as we approached it. “Come on in,” Candy beckoned, opening the door for us.
The interior was amazing. Just like the tents, it seemed larger on the inside than from the outside. Even more intriguing, the interior looked like it was from another era long past, from the golden mirror hanging on the far wall, to the hand-carved desk resting dead center at the far end of the room to the fancy silver figurines resting on its surface. Not to my taste, but then again I could survive with a futon and milk crates for furniture.
Rachel was the first to speak. “Wow, you have an amazing place.” She was obviously trying to suck up to Candy, but the ringmaster barely seem to notice or even care as she brushed past us and closed the door behind her.
Candy made her way around the large desk and from the top drawer produced a blank sheet of paper and a black, extravagant-looking quill pen. It had to be the oldest-looking pen I had ever seen, all black with golden detailing all over it. She presented the paper and the quill to Rachel, who seemed confused.
“Please sign here,” Candy instructed, holding out the pen. As she did, lightning flashed outside the window.
“Uhm...” Rachel hesitated, but reached out for the quill and paper. She was about to take it from Candy when, out of nowhere, the ringmaster jabbed my sister's index finger with the pen's jagged tip, drawing blood. “Ow!” Rachel recoiled from the shock of suddenly getting her finger stabbed. "What was that for?” she screeched.
“Oh, you’ll see,” Candy chuckled enthusiastically. Before either of us could object, however, she took Rachel by the hand and delicately planted her injured finger on the bottom left corner of the blank sheet of paper.
The instant the blood made contact with the paper, it flew across the page as though it were alive. I watched dumbstruck as the blood danced around the page and began forming words. The once blank page now was filled with blood-soaked text. Entire paragraphs were written in seconds very plainly across its surface, and in my sister’s blood.
I threw my hands up and backed away from the desk. "I’ve had enough of this freak show!" I announced and grabbed Rachel by the arm. "We are out of here." Rachel hesitated and pulled back. I glanced back, and seeing my sister’s transfixed reaction toward the blood-covered page, I hesitated as well.
Despite how freaked out we both were, somehow, in some sort of crazy sense of clarity, we read everything written on the page.
By signing, I Rachel Krieg, do hereby
submit myself, my rights, and my
services in full subjugation to the
betterment and overall well-being of
the Black Candy Circus and its
mistress Candy. I am henceforth
recognized as a full member of staff
and will remain as such until released by
my new mistress Candy.
It was surprisingly short, but I didn’t even get past reading the first sentence. “What the heck… Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke?” I asked, a bit disturbed.
My sister looked up from her reading to the ringmaster. “I-I realize I need a job and your circus is really cool, but I think I’m going to need some time to think about this,” Rachel stammered nervously. She started to turn for the door when Candy started to giggle.
“I am terribly sorry, young lady, but you signed the contract; you now work and live here.”
The lady was clearly insane if she thought anyone would work here after that little display. No wonder she was short-staffed.
“She doesn’t have to work here if she doesn’t want to!” I snapped, taking Rachel by the hand and turning to leave with her. “Let’s go.” As soon as I turned I nearly jumped out of my skin as I came face to face again with ringleader, who stood between us and the exit. How the heck did she do that?
All around us, the sky roared and flashes of light silhouetted us in the dimly lit room. “Leaving in such a hurry?” Candy asked. “And here I was about to offer you a job too, Gab-ri-el.” The emphasis she put into the syllables of my name made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Even though I towered over the young woman in my six foot frame, it somehow felt as though she had ‘me’ cornered. Rachel’s hand was trembling in mine as she squeezed harder. I pulled her behind me, placing myself between her and Candy. “Oh, and brave too!” Candy chuckled. “Yes, you’ll be perfect!” She reached for a whip tied to her belt.
Only just now realizing that we were going to have to fight our way out, I dropped Rachel's hand and rushed towards Candy with my arms outstretched, intending to overpower her before she could try anything. Before I knew what happened, I felt myself soaring through the air as Candy easily tossed me aside like a rag doll. My shoulder collided with the glass of the window on the side wall and it shattered as I passed through it, then landed hard on the grass. Breathless and stunned, I simply lay there, belly up as it started to rain.
With a painful groan I rolled onto my hands and knees. Candy stepped out of the trailer, the whip from her belt now in her hand. The rain blurred my sight but from where I was now kneeling I lifted my head slightly. I could only make out the tail of her whip as it dragged behind her black leather high-heeled boots. She stopped only feet away from me. The sky boomed above me as though Candy’s very presence enraged it, tendrils of light snaking across the heavens.
Just as my vision was beginning to clear I saw a flash of movement as she flung the end of her whip into the air, then brought it down hard on my side, slicing a hole clean through my shirt. The whip resounded with a deafening “Crack!”
A surge of red-hot pain shot through me as I yelled and clutched at my side. Looking down, I expecting blood, but what I saw was far more disturbing. Covering my exposed skin through the tear in my shirt was a patch of thick, brown fur the same color as the hair on my head.
I gasped, then cried out again as the hair grew and spread down across my skin with a sensation so painful it felt as though I had been set on fire. Every new hair that grew felt like a needle stabbing its way through my skin. With unfamiliar strength, I tore my damp shirt open to reveal the fur spreading down my side and up my chest.
“Gabriel!” Rachel cried as she followed Candy through the door just in time to witness the horror before her. Glancing up, I saw her move in behind Candy, her hands at her mouth, frozen in shock and disbelief.
Scared and confused, I turned my gaze to the monster standing between me and my sister. “What did you do to-”
I was silenced when the whip collided with my chest again, sending me backwards. Rolling over onto my side and looking down again at the new hole in my shirt, I saw more fur growing across my chest but taking on a lighter shade than the rest. My ears were now ringing. “GABRIEL!” Rachel screamed my name.
The unrelenting pain pouring out from my wounds forced me to clutch my stomach. Whatever was happening was now spreading its way down my right arm and onto my hand; I felt a surge of pain follow it as I watched the brown coat reach my fingertips. My fingers as well as the rest of my appendages thickened; the bones in them seemed to break and pull inward while my nails grew into what looked like claws, which twisted forward to a point. Utter helplessness consumed me, though my screams were muted by the thunder and rain.
Wave after wave of searing agony coursed through every fiber of my being, each one more painful than the last. I buckled and stretched, subdued by my own spasms. The ringing in my ears grew louder, pain ripping through my head.
Another blow from her whip struck me in the face. “Please!” Rachel pleaded, tears streaming down her cheeks.
My head throbbed like a hammer and I heard a deafening crunch as the bones in my jaw and nose stretched and creaked, pushing themselves forward. A harsh burning sensation rippled across my face as the fur continued to grow, tearing my flesh with every hair that sprouted. When the beast-like coat finally reached the end of my nose it forked out down to my lips, coalescing into sharp points of thicker and longer hair, like whiskers.
The pain was so great, I should have passed out already from it, but whatever it was that forced my body to endure such mutilation seemed to hold my consciousness in place, chaining me to reality. Somehow despite the pain, I could still comprehend all that was happening around me. My body had become hypersensitive to all the sights and sounds buffeting me. It overwhelmed me. I couldn’t understand how or why this was happening to me, and though I knew it to be impossible, Candy was actually changing into something and that something was definitely not human.
A hard, reverberating screech shook me to my core as my jaw began to ache. In front of my tongue I could feel it as my molars and incisors began to stretch and grow jagged until they filled the spaces in my mouth. Whatever I was becoming, it ate meat.
As if to confirm my suspicions, I felt my guts swim inside my thrashing body as my internal organs moved to different locations, abandoning both their original shape and function. I tried to roll back onto my chest but instead rolled onto all fours. I stood in one place, trying to regain my composure. The pain seemed to be subsiding. For the first time in what seemed to be an eternity I started to finally regain control of my faculties.
The whip struck me again, causing me to lose my balance as soon as I’d regained it. A sharp stab traveled down my back, It felt as though my spine was being literally stretched apart, making it even more difficult to attempt standing on two feet.
My ears slowly crawled to the top of my head all the while my spine continued to grow. My appropriately named tailbone had grown down my ever-tightening pant leg into a short, fuzzy stump of a tail.
In a matter of seconds I was almost double my original girth and still growing. My jeans were constricting my legs, so much that I could feel the beating of my own heart pounding in my ears. Fortunately the fabric, no longer able to take the strain, tore down the seams with a loud rip. My clothes fell to the ground.
As my shirt tore away, it revealed a multi-colored stripe pattern in the fur that now covered my entire body. Finally, like a light switch being turned off, the pain suddenly stopped and I collapsed to the ground, exhausted.
The world around me had grown quiet. The only sound I could hear was from my now massive lungs, which heaved, straining for every breath. Devoid of will power and energy, my body rested heavily on the cold, wet ground.
Laying there for what seemed like hours, I half-expected the pain to return or for Candy to lash at me with that accursed whip again, but neither happened. When the pain didn’t return, I let exhaustion take me and allowed my body to sink further into the mud. The wind and rain had subsided. Barely able to move, I forced myself to blink as my vision began to clear. Despite my disorientation, I tried to piece together what had just happened.
Although my ears were still ringing, I was able to make out a familiar faint whimpering coming from where I had last seen Rachel.
With the last bit of strength I had, I forced my eyes open and searched for my sister; she was huddled against the wall near the broken window, her head lowered, hands clasped together as if in prayer. She lifted her head, and our eyes met, tears in her eyes and hands shaking. She seemed to be in shock, though I suppose anyone would be.
I shook my head as my senses seemed to be strangely more alert; it surprised me but I was able to hear what she was saying under her breath, her voice echoing through the darkness. “Dear God, please let this be a dream! Dear God, please let this be a dream!” She continued on like that for a while, repeating her prayer over and over.
Candy, now finished with me, turned her attention to Rachel, glancing back only once to admire her work. Rachel slowly stood, facing Candy. I half expected her to leave me and run, but what she did instead surprised me.
Trembling with fear, but determined, Rachel dredged up all the strength she could muster and confronted Candy. “What did you do to him?” she demanded in a shaken but stern tone. Candy folded her arms as she approached Rachel feigning an almost amused look.
“Exactly what it looks like, dear. I just made your brother my latest attraction.” She stopped and glanced back in my direction. “What do you think?” Turning slightly, she unfolded one of her arms to display her work. I was still slumped on the ground, so exhausted I could barely lift my head.
She turned back to Rachel and lowered her voice. “You both belong to me now.” Candy reached out to grab Rachel by the wrist.
Almost instinctively, Rachel jerked her hand away. I know my sister didn’t look like it at only five feet tall, but she knew how to take care of herself. Without warning, Rachel brought her left foot forward and shifted her weight perfectly before delivering a right hook that would make some baseball players jealous. The punch made hard contact against Candy’s cheek and she staggered backward from the sheer force of the blow.
The ringmaster struggled to right herself, but I don’t think it was from the blow she had just received. The look on her face was that of utter shock and surprise as opposed to pain. Her expression suggested that she had never imagined anyone would ever dare strike her.
“How did you do that?” Candy hissed.
Rachel didn’t understand the question and neither did I. She had hit Candy hard, harder than most guys could, but her punch hadn’t even left a mark. Rachel screamed at Candy, "Get away from me, you monster. I’ll-” She paused to consider her words. “Or I’ll go to the police and expose you, and your circus!"
Candy’s intense glare went from my sister to the blood contract she still held in her hands back to Rachel. Her attention drew down to the small, silver cross around Rachel’s neck. Her expression changed from surprise to again threatening.
Rachel continued, though her words were being ignored. “Change him back, change him back now!” The ringmaster's eyes tracked back up to my sister's face. She paused as though she was trying to figure out how to get this defiant girl under her control. As a smile crept across her face she walked closer to Rachel, almost as if she was going to whisper in her ear.
“Your brother is my property now," she announced softly, her voice harsh and husky. "However, I have left his memory intact. He still remembers who he is and all of his memories as a human. If you defy me or do anything other than what I tell you, I will make it as though he were never human. He will not remember anything from his past life, not his own name, not even you!”
Rachel met her glare. Then she glanced at me. With a sad and hopeless look on her face, Rachel lowered her fists and relaxed.
A triumphant smile crept across Candy’s face. “That’s better," she chirped. "As long as I hold your brother’s life in my hands, you will do as I say.”
“What are you? What do you want from us?” Rachel asked pleadingly.
“What I am is of no consequence. What I want is obedience from both of you.” Candy paused as if waiting for her to respond, then went on. “I will allow your brother to keep his mind and allow you to keep your brother so long as you are obedient.” She paused again to compose herself, confidence now returning to her. “If you even try to tell anyone, I will know. If you defy me, I will make you regret it. It's your choice," she added. Candy’s words rang in my ears as darkness washed over my mind. After all that happened I could no longer keep awake. “Welcome to the Circus," was the last thing I heard before my vision went black and unconsciousness took me.