Down the Alley – Adventure Under the Big Top Part III
Click here for part II
“You guys go ahead. I’ll be right back,” you tell Andrea and Peter quickly and then turn away.
The man in the long coat turns and begins to limp down the alley. You follow him, keeping your eyes ahead of you. You know that if you look back, Peter and Andrea will call after you and stop you, but you don’t want them to. Your insides are jumping with excitement and fear. You keep hearing your mother’s voice telling you to stay with your friends and not to go off by yourself. You can’t help but think what your dad would say and how mad he would be if he found out that you were following a stranger down an alley, but your curiosity is making the decisions right now. You need to know who this strange man is and what this game is. The mom and dad in your head will just have to be quiet.
The man makes a left turn behind the row of fairway booths. You follow him. He moves more quickly than you expect a man with only one leg to move. As you exit the alley, you enter something like a field flanked on one side by the small booths and tents of the fairway and the sideshows and on the other by the main tent — the Big Top. This field is littered with housing tents, boxes and crates, empty animal cages, and feathers, poles, and props for the show. There are circus performers milling around, clowns in only half their costumes, acrobats warming up. You are getting a behind the scenes look at the circus.
You are aware of several changes immediately. It is much quieter back here. It is also darker. With the lights all over the circus grounds illuminating everything, you hadn’t noticed that the sun had gone down, which doesn’t make complete sense to you. You haven’t been at the circus long enough for the sun to go down. But you don’t know how else to explain the dusk.
“Hurry up now,” you hear the whisper in your ear again as the man throws you a look over his shoulder. You hadn’t noticed, but you had slowed down considerably. There is so much to take in as you walk through this maze of backstage paraphernalia.
You follow the man through a cluster of tent. “In here,” he says as he ducks into one of them. You freeze in your tracks just inside the entranceway. The tent is stiflingly hot. The air is heavy with perfumed smoke. The light is dim but warm and seems to be coming from two sources: the burning embers of three communal pipes sitting on the ground at the edge of the tent and a glowing crystal ball on a small, wooden table in the middle of the room.
The man you have been following takes a seat at this table where two other men sit. One man dressed in a wrinkled brown coat, very little hair, and very large eyes, is holding a small dagger in his right hand. His left hand is flat on the table — palm down, fingers outstretched and spread apart. With incredible accuracy and speed, he stabs his dagger into the table in the spaces provided by his outstretched fingers. He is clearly well practiced. The table is full of knife marks and his is looking only at you.
The other man at the table is also looking at you. He is wearing bright blue and yellow robes. He has a turban on his head and has dark penetrating eyes. As he stares at you and you look back at him, you start to feel a little dizzy and disoriented. Is he a mind reader? You quickly look away.
The only other people in the room are three women — belly dancers if you had to guess by their costumes — that reclined on pillows placed around the outer edge of the tent. Each of them is smoking one of the communal pipes: the source of the sweet smoke that fills the tent.
This is not the kind of place that you should be. The man with the dagger seems to be looking not at your face but your neck as he repeatedly stabs the wood of the table, eyes bulging. When you look at the man in the turban your head whirls and you find it hard to stay on your feet. The smoke is affecting you too. Your knees are weak and all you really want is to sit down for a minute and clear your head.
“Take a seat,” the turbaned man says to you as if he read your mind (which is what you fear he is doing). He gestures to the fourth chair at the table.
“This was a terrible idea,” you say to yourself. “What were you thinking?”
“No it’s fine,” you answer yourself, “Remember what he said about the prize. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Are you kidding? That guy’s going to stab you as soon as you sit down. We need to make a run for it.”
“No. The game. The prize.”
“Take a seat.” The turbaned man repeats himself in a voice that draws forward one step.
You must choose. Will you run? Or will you sit down at the strange table?
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