Welcome children, boys and girls, to another installment of the Dark Carnival!
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by Claire C. Riley
Dancing Bear loved his job. It wasn’t what he’d strived to be when he was a young boy sporting too-short pants and a dirty face, but when the opportunity arose, he knew well enough not to turn it down.
He sat in his tent waiting for the next lot of children to arrive. Poking a stick into the fire pit in front of him, he cursed himself for having drunk too much the previous night. Now he was stuck with a damned hangover from hell.
He smirked; a hangover from hell. Now that was ironic.
The pitter-patter of the children’s feet drew close to his tent, and with that sound, he threw some herbs into the fire pit to create more smoke. He closed his eyes as the curtain drew back and the children entered with a mixture of gasps and giggles.
Dancing Bear always played his part perfectly, and with his heritage, the part was fitting. His father, filled with old Native American DNA in his blood, passed down the family genes in abundance to Dancing Bear. And now as a tall man of twenty-five, his long black hair hung low to his waist, and reflected handsomely against his golden brown skin.
“Come in, come in.” The steward ushered the children inside with a wave of his hand. “Sit down…just here, yes, yes, sit, sit.”
“Mister? Where’s the dancing bear? I was promised I could see a dancing bear.”
“THIS, is Dancing Bear, boy,” came the steward’s reply.
“So there’s NO dancing Bear?” the snotty little child sounded annoyed.
The air felt thick around him, the steward’s temper flaring, and Dancing Bear had the urge to lash out and tell him to calm down before he ruined it all. But as quickly as the air thickened, it dispersed, and things returned to normal.
Dancing Bear felt the movements of the children all around him, a special heat coming from his left. He had an urge to peek at them, but resisted. Can’t go ruining the illusion. Ringmaster would have his guts for garters, and that was not something to laugh about.
“Just give him a minute children, he is deep in meditation…”
“Sir? What’s medit…mediat…mediaption?”
“Meditation, boy, is a way for Dancing Bear to clear his mind of all things,” came the gravelly voiced reply.
A snort of laughter. “That sounds kinda lame,” said a voice to his left.
Dancing Bear took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He looked around him slowly, eyeing up each child’s face for their merit, until he found the one he was looking for. Yes, there he was. A little boy that reminded him of himself at that age, his hair too long and hanging in front of his cold grey eyes. A smirk of immature arrogance lay upon his face.
Yes, this one would do just fine. Ringmaster would be pleased.
The children’s eyes widened and froze on him as he opened his mouth to speak. They waited in expectancy for what would happen next. Dancing Bear kept his position: legs and arms crossed in front of him, straight back, and a calm face—only his eyes moving among the children, eyeing each candidate for their qualities.
The boy to his left shifted uncomfortably, giving a huff of annoyance, yet his face still held a look of interest. “Told you this was lame,” he murmured to no one in particular.
Edmund: the short steward who looked very much like an evil little dwarf—mainly because he actually was an evil little dwarf, both tutted and sniggered equally at the boy’s comments.
Dancing Bear turned his head to look at the child, keeping his face calm and relaxed when really he wanted to smack the little beast around the head. Yes, a beast, that would do nicely. He began his story, keeping watch over this child in particular.
“In the beginning of the world, it was Bear who owned Fire. It warmed Bear and his people on cold nights and gave them light when it was dark. Bear and his people carried Fire with them wherever they went. One day, Bear and his people came to a great forest, where they found many acorns lying on the forest floor. Bear set Fire at the edge of the forest, and he and his people began eating acorns. The acorns were crunch and crisp and tasted better than any other acorns Bear and his people had ever eaten. They wandered further and further away from Fire, eating the delicious acorns and seeking out more when the acorn supply grew low.” Dancing Bear spoke low. The children hushed, their tiny mesmerized faces transfixed by the story and the flickering of the flames. All apart from one.
Dancing Bear continued. “Fire blazed up merrily for a while, until it had burned nearly all of its wood.” Dancing Bear looked at the little beast to his left. “It started to smoke and flicker, then it dwindled down and down. Fire was alarmed. It was nearly out. ‘Feed me! Feed me!’ Fire shouted to Bear. But Bear and his people had wandered deep into the forest, and did not hear Fire’s cries. At that moment, Man came walking through the forest and saw the small, flickering Fire. ‘Feed me! Feed me!’ Fire cried in despair.”
Dancing Bear threw his herbs into the fire, and smoke and crackling brought the room alive in a flurry of brightness. The children oohed and aahed, giving little claps of joy. Even the little beast seemed impressed.
“‘What should I feed you?’ Man asked. ‘I eat sticks and logs and wood of all kinds,’ Fire explained. Man picked up a stick and leaned it on the north side of Fire. Fire sent its orange-blue flames flickering up the side of the stick until it started to burn. Man got a second stick and laid it on the west side of the fire. Fire, nourished by the first stick, burned brighter and stretched taller and eagerly claimed the second stick. Man picked up a third stick and laid it on the south side of Fire and laid a fourth stick on the east. By this time, Fire was leaping and dancing in delight, its hunger satisfied.”
Dancing Bear threw more wood and herbs into the fire. Smoke began to pour out of the flames, and the children coughed, but stayed in their seats, listening intently, breathing in the acrid poisons. Dancing Bear chanced a look at Edmund who was making his way around the backs of the children, making sure that they were all staying seated inside the circle. Satisfied, he smiled at dancing Bear, who rummaged in his little animal skin pouch and withdrew a small silver blade and some purple herbs. He sprinkled the herbs into the ever growing flames. The flames changed colour from orange and yellow to green. The children drew breathes, amazed at the magic before them, and Dancing Bear smiled and carried on with his story, slowly sprinkling in more of the sweet smelling herbs. Dancing Bear looked at the Beast child. His arms were wrapped tightly around his middle, a pain beginning to radiate in his stomach like Dancing Bear knew it would.
Dancing Bear spoke softly, almost sing-songy, as he carried on with the story, continuously poking the growing green flames with his sharp silver blade. “Man warmed himself by the blazing Fire, enjoying the changing colours and the hissing and snapping sound Fire made as it ate the wood. Man and Fire were very happy together, and Man fed Fire sticks whenever it got hungry.
A long time later, Bear and his people came back to the edge of the forest, looking for Fire. Fire was angry when it saw Bear. It blazed until it was white-hot and so bright that Bear had to shade his eyes with both paws. ‘I do not even know you!’ Fire shouted at Bear. The terrible heat rolling off of Fire and drove Bear and his people away, so they could not take it and carry it away with them.”
Dancing Bear drove his knife into the flames again and again…
“And now Fire belongs to Man.”
Edmund clapped his hands loudly, and a whoosh shot upwards into the air from the fire pit, making the children jump up and scream. Dancing Bear turned to the boy on his left and grabbed his hand, thrusting it into the fire.
The little beast screamed and tried to pull his hand back, but Dancing Bear kept hold of his wrist until the flames formed a ball of green fire on the boy’s palm. Only then did Dancing Bear let go. The boy pulled his hand free, his eyes wide with fear and confusion at the green fireball floating in his hand. His irises glowed, mesmerized, transfixed by the vision in front of him. Dancing Bear drew his blade and plunged it through the green fire and into the boy’s palm, but no blood was drawn. The boy did not flinch. And the fire extinguished immediately.
The children stopped screaming and clapped, giggling happily at the magic that they had just witnessed.
“All right, time to go, go on, GET!” Edmund ushered them all back out, his hand resting on the little beast’s shoulder as he passed him. He peered down into the child’s face, examining him before he left. He smiled and showed his rows of sharp, pointy teeth to the boy, satisfied the ritual was complete. The boy did not appear bothered by the gruesome image of Edmund’s face, like most children would be. His soul was awakening, ripening ready for the Ringmaster to collect.
“See you in a few years, boy,” Edmund whispered, finally letting the child past.
Claire C Riley, is a mother first, a wife second, but a writer at heart. Her first novel Limerence is a dark paranormal romance. Claire likes to break boundaries with her writing, incorporating an old school style of horror and romance. Sexy and dark.(Think Bram Stokers Dracula, but for the 21st century!) Claire’s current novel is a dystopian post-apocalyptic zombie novel called- Odium, and it focuses on survival, and how it would change us. She has also written a short story, which is a prequel to Odium called Life Ever After. Nina’s story: Part one. It is in an anthology named Fusion, along with some other great indie authors. So if you enjoy Odium, go and pick up Fusion and get to know a little bit more about the main character. She is currently working on the sequel to Limerence named Limerence II: Mia and a horror thriller novel titled Chance Encounters. Claire is an avid reader of all genres, a book collector, general procrastinator and has a great zombie apocalypse plan in place thanks to a questionnaire she asked her readers to fill in for her. She can be stalked at any of the following. Website Goodreads Facebook Amazon
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