Every season, the circus came to town.
In the summer, they launched fireworks and clowns.
In the fall, they rolled upon pumpkins and spooked audiences.
In the winter, they made it snow inside the Big Top.
In the spring, they bloomed flowers from thin air.
Four times a year, young Darius Coven would fall in love all over again. His parents would silently complain about their child’s abundant adoration for the circus but would never dare take it away from him.
Nothing brought him greater joy than seeing the circus.
The twinkle and bop of the music as performers promoted in town always managed to make their child’s ears perk up and his eyes brighten with excitement. Despite struggling to tie his shoes, Darius never mistook the sound of the circus coming to town. At the tender age of five, he was absolutely vibrating in the stadium seat as acrobats and trapeze artists soared overhead, their colorful costumes dazzling.
He would gasp with delight no matter how often the clowns performed the same gimmicks. He would laugh shrilly at every gag, though his parents were positive he didn’t understand what was happening. His little hands would smack together loudly when a knife thrower successfully pinned the apple atop their assistant’s head. And don’t even get his parents started about how he would fall into a near unbreathing excitement when performers strolled through the audience looking for volunteers.
Darius was never chosen though. His parents would sooner die than have their precious baby on the arena floor.
When the spotlights would once again fall upon the main stage, Darius’s eyes would always follow a single person. His parents had never noticed this habit, and their son only vaguely understood what it meant to be entranced by another creature.
It was the Ringleader who captivated him.
He was a tall man with kohl-rimmed eyes and a charming grin. The whip in his hands always remained coiled, black leather a stark contrast to his snow-white skin. Sometimes, the lip of his top hat would tip up just enough for a clear glimpse of his features, and it was in those moments that Darius would reaffirm his love for the circus.
No one ever remarked on the unearthly beauty of this particular troupe, though. It was easy to dismiss their unwrinkled faces and delightfully mischievous behavior as merely makeup and youthful spirits. It never occurred to audience members that the death defying could be nothing more than a parlor trick to performers who feared nothing.
Their confidence was merely a misinterpretation, though. It was calculated recklessness--a state of being only possible for those who had no fear of meeting death.
And although mistaken about their attitudes and actions, little Darius remained an avid fan. He was a junkie for their arrogance and a sucker for their tricks.
For his seventh birthday, Darius demanded to stay after the show had ended to meet the performers. More than anything else, he wanted to exchange words with the illustrious Ringleader.
And so, his parents did what they could.
Darius was practically vibrating out of his skin as he waited near the performer tents after the show. His parents stood nearby, chatting with some volunteer staff members. Their conversation was only white noise to the young boy though. He anticipated none other than the group of brightly glittering people approaching him.
Leading them was the familiar silhouette of his favorite performer. That silk top hat shined beneath the moonlight as the tails of his coat whipped around his ankles. The Ringleader tilted his head up, dark eyes boring into the child. “Well, what have we here?” he drawled, voice low and smooth like molasses.
“I-I’m Darius,” he stammered, shuffling closer but then freezing in place as he craned his neck to stare at the man.
“What a cutie.” The trapeze artist remarked, reaching down to pinch one of Darius’s soft cheeks.
A volunteer staff member stepped in, rapidly explaining the situation. “They told me that their son is a huge fan of your circus and his birthday wish this year was to meet you all.” The volunteer smiled somewhat apologetically. “I couldn’t say no.”
“It’s fine.” The Ringleader waved a dismissive hand, bending down and scooping Darius up into his arms. He stroked a gloved thumb over the child’s cheek. “I recognize him,” he mused, “he comes to every show in this city. A perfect audience member.”
“Y-You remember me?” Darius stuttered, one hand resting on the Ringleader’s shoulder for balance.
The man chuckled. “Of course. I pay close attention to my audience,” he cooed, the curl of his lips distracting the young boy. That was an understatement though. Everything distracted him. From the mess of dark curls to the depth of the Ringleader’s black eyes.
Darius believed he had reached heaven for a fleeting moment.
“Am I your favorite, boy?” he cocked his head, looking like a dozen different kinds of smug.
“You’re inflating his ego,” the clown snorted, ruffling Darius’s hair. “Don’t make him any more arrogant.”
Darius blinked. “He’s my favorite! I like him the most.” His cheeks grew warm, but his eyes were clear and bright. “I want to join the circus, too!”
At that, his parents were intervening with awkward laughter and hasty apologies. Swiftly, they removed Darius from the Ringleader’s arms, scolding him quietly for being so forward and pushy. The child didn’t seem nearly focused enough to understand their words, as his eyes stayed glued on the circus master.
Taking Darius’s one hand lightly, the Ringleader leaned down. “My name is Kallum Kingsley. When you come of age, I will gladly take you in,” he murmured.
Those words kept young Darius up into the wee hours of the night, envisioning flying acrobats, alluring eyes, and the Big Top. He fantasized about late night performances and whispered secrets in caravans. His lips traced the familiar lines of songs sung under the brightly colored tent, as his feet tapped out the tune.
And then, one short month later, his family moved to the countryside.
The circus soon became a forgotten dream.
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