CH1 Sweetdew’s Circus
A circus is a wondrous place. Adult and child alike look on astonished at the amazing visions to be found under the colorful tarp of every tent. And outside the colorful coverings are no less spectacular.
People walking on stilts as tall as five men stacked shoulder to shoulder. Clowns juggling balls of blue flames and passing them back and forth with no expressions of pain on their colorful faces or damage to their white-gloved hands, food stands of all kinds with delights the human world has never known, and old crones reading fortunes for a small price, and good fortunes that don’t lead to a horrible death, for a large price.
Also note, not calling them an old crone, guarantees a fortune that does not foretell of an immediate death by way of an old crone.
In a place of such amazing sights and sounds, it’s no wonder that a young dark-skinned girl and her companion often go completely unnoticed.
That’s not to say that the young girl would stand out a great deal in Feary, to begin with. She was thirteen and of average height and looks. In her home, she would be referred to as black or colored, and in some less friendly areas, other names altogether. But in Feary, she was just one color among thousands. And she never thought much of home anyway. The human world had only abolished slavery in her home country a few years before her birth. Things had not improved much afterward and she had grown to like being treated as an equal.
Well… Equal is all relative. In her new home, she belongs to the lower class of circus folks. She spends her days pickpocketing the rich guests, only taking what she knows they can afford to lose and her nights cleaning the muck from the cages of the exotic wild animals. But all and all she liked her life and could often be seen smiling from ear to ear as she shovels unmentionable piles of exotic shit from various cages. And she would be the first to tell you exotic shit is indistinguishable from regular shit. Except for unicorn shit. It's worse. It’s sticky and as black as tar and smells like concentrated death. It was also hell to clean out of her uniform. The basic Sweetdew’s circus uniform was basic overalls. The suit itself was dark blue, with hot pink collars and cuffs. Hers was no different. Except it was a little small on her due to her being a growing child and she has had the same uniform for three years. It also was covered in stains of every color.
She worked hard to clean her uniform every night. And while she can get some of the most ghastly smells out. The colorful markings are in the cloth forever.
No, Janet Farms “or shovel girl as her superior has taken to calling her” was completely no different from anyone else. Her best friend Pickle, however, was one of a kind.
At first glance Pickle is a tall man in a dark coat, baggy pants, and a large straw hat, He wears big leather gloves, and large work boots and more shambles than walks. If someone was to stop and pay closer attention to the large strangely dressed man, they would realize he isn’t a man at all. If one was to simply peer into the face of the man, they would shudder to realize there is no face.
The hat first assumed to be on top of a head actually sits on top of the coats upturned collar. Under it is nothing but air and empty cloth. If that same person, who is no doubt now becoming a firm believer in ghosts, was to pay closer attention to how the animated laundry moves, they would realize the man did not seem to have joints. And in fact, the cloth seemed to be animated by a constant breeze. The clothes are constantly rippling and the wind, that can not be heard or felt seems to adjust itself in order perform motions in a near approximation to how humans move.
Now if for some reason the person looking at the heap of animated clothing hasn’t already backed away in disbelief and for some reason known only to this hypothetical person decided to look down the pants leg of the outfit given life, they would notice the lit of a mason jar and a purple glow emanating from the glass below lighting up the enterer of the boot it has been nestled into,
And if this now heroically brave, or so impossibly stupid person was to reach into the boot to pull out the jar they would see a small purple orb floating in the air of the jar. The light sometimes dancing, and sometimes forming the shape of a small person, but always busy floating inside the glass, and under the gold screw on lid.
This is why Janet named her friend Pickle. On the account, that she caught him in an old pickle jar in the swamps of her old home. But don’t feel bad for Pickle. His is a chosen imprisonment. Janet has often opened the lid to let the little purple light out, and sure, the orb exits, and flies around, making a musical hum as it does, but it always goes back in the jar, even closing its own lid on a few occasions.
Yes, of the two, Pickle was the one who stood out the most. But here in the circus, even Pickle seemed boring by comparison to the spectacle in and around the big top.
“Will you keep up!” Janet called back to pickle who had a habit of getting distracted by shiny objects and bright colors. The lumbering pile sped up and drifted alongside Jenet. A glove and sleeve few up in front of Janet’s face and seemed to point at a booth loaded down with cakes and pies with shimmering glittery frosting.
Janet moves the sleeve from her field of vision and sparing only a fast sideways glance at the booth. “ We don’t have time for treats… Besides, all you ever do is look at them until they go bad, and have to throw them away. It’s a waste of food and a waste of the little money we have. “
A breezy soft voice flows from the center of the coat. “Pretty…” Janet shakes her head, “So are flowers, and you can get them for free wherever you go, and they smell good even after they have died.”
The sleeve went limp and the hat turned down towards the ground, Janet noticing the mood shift in her friend, slows down a little and shakes her head. With a sigh that signifies that she has given up, she states “Fine… After we clean the hook tails cage, we can go to Madam Brepby and see about getting a cupcake. But just one… and a small one… “
Pickle’s hat looks up with the good news and the rest of the clothes seem to inflate as he marches towards their destination. And Janet can’t help but smile though she tried not to let Pickle notice. They only made two coppers a day. And even though they have their food and shelter taken care of, living off of whatever the animals don’t finish doesn’t do much to fill the belly of a growing little girl.
One year ago, Janet had eaten one of Pickle’s snack cakes. She ended up doing chores by herself for the next week because Pickle had balled himself up so tight in his clothes, she couldn’t even feel the jar under the cloth. She felt bad about it, but being hungry, in a room with a delicious snack cake that’s just sitting going to waist is hard. And Brepby’s cakes had a tendency to call out to you. Sometimes literally.
Janet sometimes envied Pickle for not having a stomach to be empty. To Pickle, the cake was nothing more than something pretty to look at. It wasn’t till the cake was moldy and rotting before Pickle would allow it to be thrown away. And by that time, even a hungry little girl couldn’t stomach to eat it.
Janet shook her head from side to side to dislodge the thoughts of cake from her mind. She didn’t want her stomach to overhear and begin its noisy complaining. Besides, she had no time for cakes. Mr. Sweetdew had requested she and Pickle meet him in the office tent today at noon.
A quick glance at one of Mr. Rinklesnap’s clocks, that were mounted on various poles throughout the circus revealed it was 11:45 now, and Janet liked being early. Even if Sweetdew scared her so bad that the butterflies in her stomach, seemed to form cocoons, revert back to caterpillars, then squirm around her innards until she felt sick.
“If you can’t be on time, be early.” Her father’s deep booming voice rang out in her head. And she picked up her pace. The office tent was at least five more minutes away.
Feary is a place of magic and fantasy. If Janet was older she would have spent the last few years terrified at the strange sights and sounds she was constantly exposed to. But children have, due to not experiencing too much of the mundane, are open to the extraordinary. And tend to expect it out of their day to day life. It’s not until years of existing in a boring universe, and going through days and days of disappointment due to the lack of magic, do they begin to stop believing in things that happen outside of their day to day life. But even Feary has dull humdrum places. Janet and Pickle now stand in one such place.
Mr. Sweetdew’s tent was a shabby brown. Unlike the other tents in the circus, it had no decorations or designs. Just burlap and brown stitching. Most of the employees of the circus hated the tent. They felt it was an embarrassment to the circus, but for Janet, it reminded her of home. Whenever she would approach the tent her fears would be replaced with a flickering memory of an old shack built in a swamp. A tall strong man chopping firewood. And the scars that created a kind of map of pain that marked his back. But like the pretty colors on a soap bubble landing on a needle, the image is popped by the sound of her name being called out from the tent. “Janet. You can come in.”
Janet walks through the flaps. Her eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness within the tent. Mr. Sweetdew was sitting at a large wooden desk. The only light in the office was a single oil lamp. Most of the circus folk use magic to illuminate their living and workspaces. Mr. Sweetdew seems to have done the opposite. The only visible area in the tent was the top of the desk and Mr. Sweetdew’s hands. A pair of passive green eyes could be seen peering out from the darkness a short distance from the hands. Everything else not within the warm yellow glow of the lamp was lost in inky black.
“How long have you been with us, Janet?” A deep voice asked from a hidden mouth beneath the floating eyes. “Three years sir. “ Janet responded while her thoughts alternated between fears of why she was called in and the realization that she had never Mr. Sweetdew’s face.
“Yes. Three years. Your father delivered you to us. You were given rights of stay because your mother has some small heritage in Feary." Mr. Sweetdew stated. Janet just nodded. She was never given an explanation to why she was being sent to this strange, but wonderful land, her father simply told her she was going away for a while, and he would find her when he could. She cried but did not ask questions.
Mr. Sweetdew rustled some papers on his desk. The pages drifted in and out of view as the floating hands shuffled through them. “ The King has created some new rules regarding humans visiting Feary. While you have some fair folk blood, you are still mostly human. So you are affected by these rules. Do you understand me so far?” Janet nodded. She was vaguely aware of Pickle’s empty glove wrapping around her hand.
“Good.” Replied Mr. Sweetdew. “ I always knew you were a bright child, despite your human side. As I was saying. The King has sent out a proclamation that all humans visiting Feary and have been here for more than four years must return to their dimension of orogen for at least one year before coming back.”
Janet stood slack-jawed. Mr. Sweetdew sat in silence. For a long time, the only sound was Pickle’s clothing rippling from the intangible currents circulating under the cloth. Finally, Janet spoke. “Will my Pa come and get me?” she got out in a squeak.
“I don’t know,” stated Mr. Sweetdew. "We haven’t been able to reach him. Frankly, no one knows where to find him. But don’t you worry. We have a year before we have to send you away. Plenty of time to find him. Plenty of time to get you prepared for a year in the human world."
Janet swayed back and forth on her feet in the darkness. The inky blackness around her now seeming bigger and colder than before. The tent flap she had entered just a few minutes ago, now felt like it was miles away. And even as Pickle tightened his grip on her hand, she felt alone.
“Is my Pa ok?”She asked, knowing what the answer would be. “I don’t know.” came the deep voice, but softer now. And it continued with an uncharacteristic kindness. “What is it you do for us?” “ I clean the cages…”
Mr. Sweetdew was quiet for a moment then spoke up. “Yes… Shovel girl... Well, I am reassigning you to help Madam Dufrain with her fortune telling. I want you to learn her trade.” He spoke one of his hands smooths out a piece of paper and begins to write. The eyes just barely visible in the dark still look directly at Janet.
“So I don’t have to clean the cages anymore?” She trying not to reveal how much she hopes the answer will be yes. The hands stop writing for a moment. “Why? Do you want to continue that chore?” He asked. “Oh no, it’s no trouble to stop.” She responds. “Ok. But only if you’re sure.” The room is quiet for a few moments, and just when Janet was going to speak up, the hands begin writing again.
“Good. In the circus, we can provide you with a certain amount of protection and comfort. Yes, we expect you to work, but you get a safe place to sleep. And in Feary, that’s more valuable than in most places.” The hands begin to fold the document into triangles, “ But in the human world you will be alone, and you will need to learn a skill to get by.”
“Um… What about the “secret donations?” Janet while reaching into her pockets. The sound of coins jingling could be heard. Secret donations are what the people of Faery refer to donations made without the donator being aware. Before you pass judgment it should be known that anyone who goes to a show in Feary expects these donations to be taken. They only carry so much money into the show, and they keep whatever they feel they can afford to go without in an easily accessed pocket. The money they bring for food, purchases, and tips goes in a pouch hidden in other areas of the body. Janet was told when she was first brought to Sweetdew’s Circus if she manages to spot the thicker purse on a guest wondering the circus grounds to leave it. The circus will receive those funds in trade. However, if they find that purse on the customer as they are leaving the circus, feel free to relieve them of the circus’s funds the customer neglected to spend.
“You have been taking donations?” Sweetdew asked in a truly surprised voice. “I have!” Replied Janet holding up two hands full of fat golden coins with pride.”And who gave you this task?” Honeydew asked with a tone of voice that seemed to say he already knew. “Mr. Wellington sir,” Janet stated unaware that anything was wrong. “I see…” Sweetdew’s hands began to write again on a fresh paper.
Once done the two pages drifted from the desk to Janet’s waiting hands. For a moment she was worried she would miss and the pages would be lost in the vast darkness of the small tent. “GIve the one marked with an open eye to Madam Dufrain. Have her give the one marked with a shovel to Mr. Wellington. “
“Sir?” Asked Janet. “Yes?” Responded Mr. Sweetdew in a half-distracted voice. His hands had already begun writing in a large book. “What about Pickle?” “Hmmm?” “Pickle. My friend.” She gestured at the animated clothes next to her, uncertain if Sweedew can see him in the darkness around her.
“What about him,” Asked Sweetdew . “Will he be coming with me?” She asked now holding the sleeve of the billowing coat in her arm. “ The writing stopped and the eyes stared at the two friends for a while. “I guess that would be up to him. He is neither Feary or human.” At this, the sleeves wrapped around the girl in a hug that to an outsider would resemble a child locked in a straight jacket.
“Are you sure? Out there, you will stand out. They will pursue you to either learn how you work or profit from you as an oddity or worse….. “ The coat was now hugging the girl so tight her feet was off the ground and her face was turning blue.
“Ok!” Sweetdew exclaimed. “Put the child down. Nothing worse than being unintentionally murder by affection." The sleeves unraveled and Janet gasped for air while also laughing. A sigh escapes the darkness as the hands resume writing. “If there is nothing else. Please be on your way to Madam Dufrain.”