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Welcome to the Nightmare

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    Mylene was absolutely breathtaking. She always was when she performed. Her command of the stage left him mesmerized as she spoke, sweeping her hands in large arcs to guide the audience’s gaze. It was the wind up before the biggest show of the night, the finale. They had already gone through the side-shows and minor performances, terrifying the people with their work. 

    Those who sought the peculiarity of the Anathema Circus were always a curious crowd. A circus based on fear and horror was both frightening and intriguing. But people always came, to be awed and to gawk, to confront fears they didn’t know they had, to feel better about themselves. 

    After seeing monsters and the screams of the pained, the tricks and performances around it, the audience was rightfully shaken with confused laughter and cheering as they enjoyed the very unique brand of entertainment. 

    Oh, how Aurelien loved how much the crowd would try to work out the magic, how they managed such tricks, and the fantastic special effects. It always seemed so real. He had been asked so many times their secrets, but he would never tell, none of the staff of Anathema would. 

    Truthfully Aurelien didn’t care much for the circus. He wasn’t as passionate about it as the owner and puppet maker, Joseph Petiot. Instead, Aurelian’s entire being was about Mylene. She lived for this circus, and would probably die for it if she must, but oh how he wished to remain at her side forever. 

    With a spin, Mylene flourished with a deep bow, and the lights died down in the tent. A flick of her wrist, grabbing her lavishly decorated hat, she removed it, arching it out to the crowd as a spotlight aimed down on her. 

    “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, tonight you have graced our little show with your presence, and to this, we are deeply humbled. In a show of our gratitude, allow us to send you a proper haunting tonight; to leave your humanity and grant you the opportunity to see something so few ever dare. For those who are faint of heart but have stuck by us so far, you have our respect, but for our finale, this will be uneasy for sensitive stomachs.” 

    She swung off the large podium she stood on, landing with a small hop before she began to remove her ringmaster’s coat. The stagehand spun the large cylinder to keep the spotlight on her. A flurry activity happened at once, as horrific monsters climbed out from the curtains and side stage, setting up a wall. 

    Aurelien scrambled to duck away from the back of the crowd, heading along to his small station. His doctor’s mask and gloves had been prepped, and he began to prepare. Mylene continued to announce, speaking loudly to the curious onlookers, of the final show, it’s spectacular, the edge of your seat action, and-

    “Oh, I’m not feeling well,” Mylene set a hand to her head before she laughed. “But the show must go on!” As she thrust a finger into the air, her body suddenly crumpled to the floor, and the lights cut. 

    The crew scrambled. Three ‘nurses’ wheeled a large table out, with one quickly picking Mylene off the floor to gingerly place her on the table. The audience was in full murmur as the spotlight flickered back on so they could see her, unconscious, strapped to the table. 

    That was Aurelien’s cue. Taking his cart with him, he walked out to begin looking her over. Overdramatic actions, so it was clear he was searching for vital signs and the likes. He was not a fan of such theatrics, but Mylene always insisted it worked, and he trusted her expertise.

    Mylene’s beautiful golden brown eyes fluttered open, and he could see her suppress a smile at seeing him. He was grateful for his own mask that hid his expression. “Oh, the doctor is here! Please, doctor, what’s wrong, why have I fainted?”

    Aurelien didn’t respond. Mylene guessed at his treatment, some of which sent snickers to wave through the onlookers. Still, he would not react as he set about his part. A quick shot to the arm which she’d gasp horrifically at and beg to know what was in it before the screaming began. A bit gruesome, but as he knew it was all for the show, it didn’t matter. It never really hurt her, not that the audience would know.

    It was an anguished wail before it capped into shrieking, of how it burned and scorched. Mylene begged for mercy, to know what was going on. He leaned in to whisper finally, and she’d scream in response. 

    “What do you mean it’s inside me?! Get it out, get it out!” Her frantic pleas would only peak in horrific, painful screaming once the saw came out to oblige her requests. 

    This part was always so messy. Aurelien liked the blood and how it splattered on her pale skin and soaked through her surgical gown in such beautiful ways. Even after all this time, he was still ever so entranced by it. 

    He got to do the live surgeries on his own now. Joseph used to perform but has since enjoyed being able to work on his artistic creations with the puppets. Instead, he trained Aurelien in everything he knew. For the last few years, he had been performing alone with Mylene for the horrified audience by cutting her open and showing her parts to the gasps of the crowd while she screamed and begged to give them a taste of unimaginable fear.

    Reattaching her arm was always such delicate work, but after all this time, it was becoming second nature. He knew her inside and out in so many ways. He sewed up the parts that had been cut open during their scene, and once he wiped away the blood, he freed her with a quick press of the locks that were joined on his side of the table. 

    She bounced onto the table, arms extended up to the spotlight she adored. 

    The crowd was of mixed reactions; some were horrified, but many would cheer in awe as she waved her arm and jumped off the table to offer her hand for people to shake. Their fear and disbelief were so infectious, Aurelien could understand why it drove Mylene so. The cheers erupted into full proper applause by the time Mylene made it back to the stage and taking his hand, and together they’d bow. 

    “Thank you! Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience! Be sure to enjoy our attractions if you had not had the opportunity, and refreshments are just outside! Our medical staff will be by for any of you with poor dears who found their limits.” Mylene was speaking, and as she continued, Aurelien found himself squeezing her hand gently. 

    She paused as she finished before looking up to him with a warm smile, the green-yellow glow in her eyes shone so brightly in the dim light. 

    She pulled him through the back curtain away from the crew and audience. Aurelien forgot to remove his medical mask, which made giving her a quick kiss a bit of a problem initially. 

    “You’re such a dork,” she giggled once their kiss broke. 

    “None more than you,” Aurelien teased back, pressing her body firmly against his. “You were amazing tonight.” 

    “Awh, thank you! Nothing too over the top?” Mylene ran her fingers along the bloodied apron’s straps, tilting her head coyly. 

    He leaned down to give her another kiss. “A bit more shrill than last time, my ears are still ringing a bit.” 

    Mylene laughed, toying with his shirt collar before she rested her head against him. “I’ll try better next time.” 

    “No, it’s fine, it was wonderful.” 

    He didn’t get long to hold her before Joseph came by. Aurelien tensed a bit, protectively holding Mylene closer to him. The owner of the circus clapped his hands, a warm smile spread across his face as he approached them.

    “Well done, you two. Another successful show. Quite a bit more of the crowd fainted; the staff has a lot on their hands this time. A good idea to start showing the arm off, Mylene,” Joseph praised. He was a tall man, almost unnaturally so. His body was lean, and he always wore the finest of deep-colored coats and kept his hair long and braided, always decorated with feathers of some kind. Everything he wore, he stitched himself. 

    “Thank you,” Mylene beamed. “I knew you would like it!” 

    “My dear, I loved it,” Joseph praised before offering his hand, palm up, towards Mylene. 

    Aurelien tensed but slowly relinquished her as Mylene accepted Joseph’s hand and allowed herself to be pulled away. 

    “Aurelien, while I have Mylene serviced, could you oversee the puppets and entertainers?” Joseph asked, draping his arm over Mylene’s shoulders.

    “She shouldn’t need to be serviced,” Aurelien quickly interjected. 

    Joseph’s eyes narrowed to Aurelien before he smiled with a slight tilt of his head. 

    “My boy, it’s better to ensure she’s safe than for us to just assume. I’m certain you’d hate if anything happened to her, wouldn’t you?”

    Aurelien clenched his jaw before he lowered his eyes and nodded, “I suppose you’re right.” 

    Joseph chuckled and moved to leave. “Once you’re in charge, you’ll understand why all the precautions are in place! For now, just relax. You did well.” And they were gone, leaving the tent from a service entrance. 

    Aurelien took in a slow, deep breath and counted down from ten. There was nothing he could do. Mylene was Joseph’s favorite. While he kept everyone serviced, or tweaked and tuned, Mylene was the one he continued to overprotect. 

    Aurelien would rather he serviced Mylene. He hated Joseph touching her. He knew Mylene didn’t like it either, but she couldn’t say anything to stop it, and neither could he without hurting her. 

    Reluctantly he went about what Joseph asked him to do. 

    The circus was abuzz with people winding down for the last hour of the show. Those who arrived only for the big top show now took their time around the other attractions. Preserved body parts and animals, the entertainers of the obscure talents that left the mind wondering. But they were fine, and usually handled themselves without trouble. 

    It was the puppets that were always a handful. 

    Magnificent creations, the puppets were. With dangerously glowing eyes, they all were caged in their own ways. Their area was in the center of the attractions, so everything weaved around them, to keep them hidden from the public who did not wish to look into the circus’s shows. Joseph apparently had a run in with those who did not understand his artistry some time ago to lead to this choice. 

The Guide was the only puppet free to wander. They were a set of twins, sisters, stitched together through the middle to be given a new chance at life. They were identical save for how they wore their hair, and both enjoyed walking the small tours around the cages. They looked perfectly conjoined, their gait a bit of a struggle as they had to weave and counterbalance against one another, each half of the body responding only to the shared head on that side.

    One gave Aurelien a wink in passing as her sister was sweeping her arm to showcase the next beasts to a current tour.

    Aurelien paused, watching the crowd’s reactions to the monsters. The creature remained seated, its human torso heaving in pained gasps, as his legs had been twisted and rebuilt to that like a bird’s. His arms had been reconstructed, hands removed to elongate the forearms before the feathers had been attached, granting him wings. He had two more sets of wings down his back, though all were heavy and currently rested against the ground. His head hung, the feathers that sprouted along his crown unmoving and the usual gold glow of his eyes were dim. He did not seem aware of the tour.

    Aurelien noted that quietly.

    The slam on the next cage nearest the crowd sent shrieks and screams rippling, and some to hide behind those braver. As the Guide insisted it was fine, the cage held the puppet back, they still encouraged the group along after just a few moments for them to enjoy the frightful sight.

    The fox puppet was clearly full of energy. Her snarling maw turned towards Aurelien, her jaw having been reconstructed so that her skin pulled back to forever show off her sharp canine teeth. Her burning green eyes locked on Aurelien as a predator sizing up a prey, her fox-like ears pinned back. Her cage was made with smaller holes to keep the gnarled, large claws from reaching through the cage. 

    “Behave, or we’ll have to put the chains back on you,” Aurelien scolded, turning his head away, though he still watched her from the corner of his eye. She began to pace, eyes remaining locked on him. Her stride had her muscles spasm, straining to keep upright as a bipedal despite the twisting of her bones in her legs that matched the gnarled claws of her hands. Her long, thick tail lashed angrily, but she did not attack the cage again. With her easing down, Aurelien left, but he noted the Fox’s eyes never left him until he could no longer see her. 

    The rest of the puppets seemed up to par as usual. Aurelien wasn’t surprised the Bird was beginning to shut down. The dolls always did, eventually, with time. Joseph had stopped servicing that one some time ago and suspected it will be dismantled soon enough. 

    By the time Aurelien made his rounds, the shows were closing up, and the last of the fans were leaving. A small group had gathered around Mylene, who was now cleaned up, and in one of her fancier dresses Joseph had made her. Her short golden curls caught every bit of light in the area.

    She was being bombarded with questions about the performances, so Aurelien took the time to slip past the crowd into Joseph’s wagon, who was finishing straightening himself up. The cart was filled to the brim of fabrics and small dolls, and sketchbooks filled with scribbled ideas. As much as the man was a doctor, he was an artisan at heart. Aurelien never understood why he took up the circus, but he had, and here they were. 

    “The Bird looks like he’s shutting down,” Aurelien reported. “Everything else seemed to be going on as normal, even the Fox and her attitude,” Aurelien chuckled faintly, but it died as quick as it started. 

    Joseph smiled and straightened his hair. “Good. I’ll check on the guards before we call it a night then,” and he swept by without another word.

    Aurelien felt the pang of doubt once more that perhaps Joseph viewed him as he did his puppets. He commanded him like he did the others, but it never worked the same. He was almost tempted to be defiant again just to see the shock on the older man’s face, but he didn’t want Mylene to be punished for any of his transgressions like last time. 

    Besides, he wanted to inherit the circus. He wanted to have Mylene as his own. He didn’t want to have to let others service and take care of her. He already did that as much as he could now, which Joseph seemed to appreciate, but it was never for him. 

    It was all for Mylene. 

    Stepping out of Joseph’s cart and shutting the door behind him, he found Mylene laughing as the questions kept coming and entertaining those who were poking at the arm that the show had shown severed off during the finale, clearly well and working. 

    “Did it hurt?”

    “Not at all,” she giggled. Aurelien could not help but smile at how much she cared about easing everyone’s minds. Fear was a great adrenaline rush, but the bring down, showing it’s okay, made her so kind in his eyes. 

    “Oh, you’re bleeding,” someone remarked. Mylene tried to see where, twisting a bit but could not see it. Aurelien quickly came over to investigate. Along her backside, she had punctured herself through her clothing.

    “It’s nothing bad, just a scrape,” Aurelien assured the onlookers. “But she should get it taken care of. Infections and all that,” Aurelien smiled to the crowd before hooking his arm around Mylene’s middle and encouraged her aside. He did not walk quickly to allow her time to bid her farewells and ever-thanks before she was whisked into their wagon, leaving the small crowd to disperse and go home. 

    Aurelien helped her undress so he could better look at the puncture. It was small but clean. She must have bumped into a loose pair of scissors or something like it in Jacob’s wagon. “It’s not too bad, so long as it didn’t go deep.” 

    “Ugh, how much blood is there?” 

    “Well you were wearing black… but it dropped onto your lace, which is how they must have seen it.” Aurelien set about getting out his medical supplies to stitch her up. He couldn’t tell her to just heal it, Joseph was clear he had to avoid direct commands with her at any point unless Aurelien risk harming her, and he never wanted to do that. Once stitched and bandaged up, he kissed her side to make her squeal, dealing with the swats from her ticklish reaction. 

    “You’re evil!” Mylene laughed, getting up to steal one of Aurelien’s shirts. 

    “I am, but you love it.” Aurelien teased, setting about cleaning up his station while she got dressed. Once she was done, she quickly climbed into their sleeping loft. “If you hog all of the blankets, I’ll make you regret it,” Aurelien joked before stripping down to get ready for bed.

    “Only if you can find me,” came her playful reply. Aurelien found her curled up into a cocoon, claiming all of the blankets, with just her glowing eyes peering from the hole about her face. 

    “Oh, I wonder where she could be,” Aurelien chuckled before sliding next to her to worm his hands into the blanket just enough to tickle her. Her shrieks of laughter and struggles to defend herself failed by being caught in a trap of her own making was hysterical. Aurelien found himself cracking up too much to stop her from beating him with a pillow by the time she managed to free herself. 

    Once they calmed down, she curled up into his side after he fixed the blankets so that they could share, pulling the blanket up over her head. She left it there for a long moment until she giggled and pulled it down enough so she could poke her head out and up to rest on Aurelien’s shoulder. 

    “Will you still act in the show with me when you own the circus?” Mylene inquired, getting comfortable. 

    “Of course I will. I have to make sure the show goes right, so you don’t end up hurt.” Aurelien kissed the top of her head before relaxing back against his pillow, smiling to the ceiling. 

    “Will you keep the show going if something ever happens to me?” 

    Aurelien fell silent as his fingers delicately laced into her curls. His thoughts wandered to very dark places, places he knew were quite real in the shadows of their reality. Any slip up, and he could lose her. After a long bout of silence, and wrestling with his emotions, Aurelien smiled down to her, though he did not suspect she could see it. 

    “I would if you wanted me to.” 

    Mylene nodded, snuggling to hide her face against him. “Please. I would love for the show to go on forever.” 

    It hurt to think about. Mylene made this circus. It was her family’s before Joseph came about and took over. He helped bring a whole new level of horror to their little oddity collection, but it did so well. Aurelien could not wrap his head around Mylene not being here. 

    “Forever and ever,” he finally agreed before kissing her head.