The circus arrives without warning. It always has, and presumably always will.
You sleep as much as you can the day before you will go, but you are too excited from the stories you've been told. Your parents understand. After all, it's their gift to you that you will even stay up tonight. Perhaps they sit at the table while you dress, sharing a mug of hot chocolate and bickering amiably over who will be the one to take you.
Your first trip to the Night Circus is when you are just more than a child but not quite an adult. It’s your birthday and bitterly cold, even with the scarf wrapped double around your chin. The gates haven’t opened yet, and the serpentine paths are deserted, but you think you can catch an edge of burnt sugar on the wind.
The gates open before you’ve been standing there long, and your mother sends you off to wander with an indulgent smile and a strict warning to meet her at dawn. It’s late for you, but she remembers her own first trips to the circus as a girl and then as one of those with the red scarves, and she would like for you to have such memories.
The clock outside the gate is a marvel, but there are so many other things to look at that you register nothing about it or the ticket booth. You pay your way in with birthday money and tuck the ends of your scarf back into your jacket. Instead of a paper ticket, the girl in the foxhead hat hands you a small sunburst knot of pine needles. It's a bit warmer inside the gates, enough to unwind from your frosted hunch and enjoy your surroundings.
You wander with one hand up to the left, off a vague memory of being told that if you keep to the left wall in a maze, you cannot get lost. Well and so, you’ve never heard of anyone getting lost in the circus, but you wouldn’t want to be the first one. You see people you know among the tents, the girl in your grade, the elderly man from the market, but you don’t pause to say hello. The stars are drawing you on.
First you come to a tent with the door pinned back in such a clever way as to blend the edges of the inside with the edges of the outside. You almost feel that you are flattening yourself onto a piece of paper as you step inside. In this tent you spend almost an hour, and when you try to describe it later, you find you have no words sufficient to the experience. You are not sure any language has words that you could use.
You come out of the tent, nerves humming, and you want to run for miles and miles. There are other tents to visit, full of bottled dreams and tamed lions, and bags of popcorn and strings of caramel to eat. You spend two hours in front of the strange white fire, sitting cross-legged on the stone, eating your caramel ropes, and thinking of nothing more than everything.
You never, ever want to leave.