The Ace of Clubs was quite the popular venue, judging from the lineups at the door. There were two leading up to the club, one for the customers who had reserved their tickets beforehand, and the other for those who hoped to snag a last-minute entrance on the eve of the big show. Unfortunately for them, most of the seats had already been booked for the night.
Kit and Anny passed by the crowd, glancing at the larger-than-life sign adorning the façade of the club. The flashing lights sent a host of colours spilling over the heads of the throng gathered below.
But the two kids didn’t pause for long at the sight, passing the main entrance and making their way to the side of the building. Down a dark alley they went, heading for an inconspicuous door next to some garbage bins. Kit knocked, stopped, then knocked three more times. There was a pause as he waited, and in a few seconds the door opened from within.
“Oh, Jack,” came a voice. “You’d best be getting ready. Lavinia is looking for you.”
“Again?” he said, entering with Anny close behind. “She already ambushed me once today. What does she want now?”
“There’s no telling what she’s up to,” said the girl, holding open the door. She had long black pigtails and wore a gothic-styled dress. “She had a terribly sneaky look in her eye.”
The three of them continued down the narrow hallway, passing by a long row of dressing room doors. Anny couldn’t help but peek inside whenever one was left open.
“So what’s going on here?” said Kit, directing his attention to the girl walking next to him. “Lavinia said something about you two not coming for the show.”
“Did she now? That’s strange.” She frowned, adjusting her large glasses. “Yang and I didn’t say a thing, to my knowledge. As far as I know, we’re still on the program for the evening.”
“Dagnabbit!” He groaned. “She roped me in for no reason! I hate it when she does that…”
“Don’t take it personally,” said the girl. “We all know Lavinia will have her way in the end.” And then, turning to Anny, she asked, “Who might you be?”
“I’m Anny,” she replied. “I’m just tagging along.”
“A pleasure,” said the girl, giving a curtsy as they continued. “I’m Yin. My brother Yang and I have a dance act here at the club. Are you staying for the night? Will you have the chance to see us perform?”
“I hope so,” she said, casting a sideways glance at Kit. “I’m sort of just following this guy around for now.”
“Do you have a pass on hand?” said Yin. “Lavinia’s quite ornery about that sort of thing.”
“Oh yeah, here it is,” she said, taking the pass out of her pocket.
“Here.” Kit took the ticket and placed it in the breast pocket of her blazer, leaving its tip sticking out. “There we go, it’s official.”
They slowed to a halt in front of his dressing room. “I’ll be ready in ten, if anyone asks,” he said.
“I’ll let them know,” promised Yin, continuing to the backstage area.
Anny looked over Kit’s dressing room door. There was a cross of yellow crime scene tape stretching from its four corners, with bright red lettering in the center that read, Jack the Ripper.
She rolled her eyes. “Seriously?”
“You’re just jealous,” he said, opening the door. The room was smaller than his own back at the apartment, but this one had more clothes racks and a greater collection of accessories. There was also a large mirror that covered an entire wall. Wasting no time, Kit sifted through the piles of clothes and pulled out his costume for the evening. Once he had collected his outfit, he pulled out some hair gel from the small vanity in the corner, along with a makeup box. Dumping the clothes on the floor, he began to undress.
“Alright, alright, I’m going!” said Anny, averting her eyes. “You could have given me a warning.”
“I’ll be out in a minute!” he said, taking off his shirt.
She closed the door behind her and took a deep breath. Time to explore. As the dressing room corridor ended, the space widened to reveal the rest of backstage. She looked to her left, where the twins were seated on a clothing trunk, exchanging excited conversation. There were other performers, too. Some were pacing the floor, some were practicing tricks, and others still were in the process of calming their nerves. They stared at Anny as she walked from one end of the room to the other, but looked away as they noticed the backstage pass sticking out of her pocket.
Following the sound of murmuring voices, she rounded the corner and found herself within view of the stage itself. The layers of curtains, not yet drawn, hid the audience from sight, but she could see clear across from where she stood. On the opposite end there was a woman, inspecting the floor for misplaced wires or unsightly scratches. She looked up, noticed Anny, and made her way over to where she stood.
“Who are you?” she said. She seemed young, but commanded an air of authority.
“I’m Anny,” she replied. Hoping to explain herself, she added, “I came here to see Kit perform.”
“Kit?” The woman frowned. “Oh, yeah. Jack. They all go by stage names around here.” She held out a hand and smiled. “I’m Jacky.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking her hand. Out of all the people she had seen in the Market that evening, Jacky definitely looked the most normal. She was wearing a black top with jeans, and her hair was a common shade of brown that matched her dark eyes. The most remarkable thing about her was the headset she was wearing.
“Ever been to the club?” said Jacky.
“Nope,” said Anny. “Never even heard of it.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “How is that even possible? Everyone knows about the Ace of Clubs!”
“Well, I’m not from around here.” She paused. “Actually, this is the first time I’ve been to the Goblin Market.”
Her jaw dropped. “Really? Are you serious?” She stared at her for a long moment. “Are you human?”
“Um, no,” she admitted. “I’m a goblin, but I was raised aboveground.” She looked down at her feet. “Man, does it ever feel weird to say that out loud.”
“Say what?” asked Jacky, curious.
“That I’m…” Another pause. “A goblin.”
“I hear ya. Believe me, I do.” She pursed her lips in thought. “I only found out about this whole operation a couple years ago, by accident. It was a complete shock. I almost went insane when I saw it all.” She offered a sympathetic smile. “How long have you been here for? You adjusting okay?”
“I think I’m adjusting pretty well. But the whole thing is kind of a shock. It’s so surreal… like a dream, almost.” She let out a sigh. “It’s been a long day.”
“Hold on a minute!” said Jacky. “A long day? You’re not saying you just got here, are you?”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “I got here during rush hour, whenever that was.”
“What?!” She threw her hands into the air. “But you’re so… so calm! You’re not even freaking out! You should be passed out on a couch and near the brink of death or something!”
Confused, Anny rushed to defend herself. “It doesn’t really make sense to freak out, does it? I mean, I was pretty shaky when I first got here, but it sort of wore off…”
Jacky shook her head. “Of course, I forgot. You’re a goblin.” She gave a laugh and began to calm down.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Anny, scowling.
She shrugged. “Well, you know, goblins don’t really freak out like humans do.”
“No, I don’t know. What do you mean they don’t freak out?”
“Wow, seriously?” Again, she was stunned. “You haven’t got a clue, do you?”
“It’s not my fault, I just got here! And I only found out about the whole goblin thing a few hours ago. Everything’s new to me.”
“Ah, I gotcha,” she said, nodding her head. “Tell you what, I’ve got to get this show on the road. I’m the manager here at the club. But stick around and I can give you a crash course on goblins between the rushes of the night, if you want.”
“Are you kidding?” said Anny. “I’m confused about everything right now, and I’ve got a million questions. If you’re offering, I’m not about to say no.”
“Sounds like a plan.” She smiled again. “Why don’t you go backstage and look for a chair? If you set it up on the other end, you can keep out of the way and get the best seat in the house!” She left, off to organise the upcoming performances. “We can chat while we watch.”
“That sounds awesome!” she said, watching Jacky disappear through the mess of curtains. “Thanks!”
Man, did she ever feel lucky! The Goblin Market was getting to be a pretty exciting place. She turned from the stage, off to find a chair she could use for the evening. The performers were still backstage, getting revved up for their upcoming production, but she made sure to stay out of their way. She didn’t want any trouble.
Someone grabbed her arm. Her heart jumped as she was spun around, but a moment later she sighed. It was only Kit. She hadn’t recognised him because of the dramatic costume change.
She looked him over and frowned. “What’s with the getup?”
“Sexy, eh?” He turned in a circle for her to see. “Jack the Ripper is ready for action!”
It was a very peculiar outfit. Kit’s fedora sat on his head, but the front of it was propped up behind a thick spike of his hair. He wore a collared t-shirt with a black pinstriped vest, along with one of those poufy neck scarves that reminded Anny of those old silent movies. He had suspenders too, but he let them hang past his waist alongside the belts around his hips. The whole costume seemed to be a hybrid between a classy gentleman and a film noir gangster.
She chuckled, clearly unimpressed. “Are you wearing eyeliner? That’s cute.”
“Pff!” He pulled on a pair of delicate white gloves. “Just you wait ’til I’m onstage. Your mind will be blown.”
“I’m sure,” she replied.