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Nothing Stays Gold

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“Ladies and gentlemen!” Why was he here? He shouldn’t be. He was going to get found out and then he was going to get in so much trouble.

 

“Welcome!” He should get up and leave. He was so close to the exit, no one would care.

 

“To our circus!” Freak shows were illegal, weren’t they? He was going to get in so much trouble if he’s caught, he has to leave now.

 

And yet he didn’t move from his seat. Atsushi Nakajima, 17 year old nobody, was in a position unlike any he’d ever been in. He’d never seen a circus or a carnival- and when he happened these tents, he couldn’t help but want to check it out. However, one thing led to another, and he ended up purchasing a ticket for the show. The freak show. Well, technically, it wasn’t a full fledged freak show- that he had been told at the counter. It was a mix of performers and true freaks.

 

“Now, why don’t we begin?” The ringleader announced from the stage, smiling at the crowd who cheered in agreement. The man, despite claiming previously the show was mostly true, genuine freaks, didn’t appear strange in any way. He had shag brown hair and a top hat he mainly held in his hands. He wore a yellow blazer and orange pants, both littered with multi-colored dots. He looked just insane, especially with that grin, “First, the strongest man alive, Chuuya!”

 

The lights flicked to an opening in the curtains, and from there emerged a short, red haired man with a confident smirk. He didn’t appear to have any muscles at all. Taking the microphone from the ringleader, Chuuya spoke, “Welcome to the show. I’d like to have some volunteers! Can ten step up? Whoever thinks they can beat me at lifting!”

 

Within seconds, ten big, beefy men were up on stage, laughing like it was a joke. The strong man didn’t look like he was joking. He was dead serious. Atsushi began to doubt the man's confidence when the curtains rolled back and there was a barbell.

 

“On this,” Chuuya spoke, walking over and patting the weight, “is 5,000 pounds. If any of you 10 gents to successfully deadlift this sucker right here, then I will reward you… hmm, what’s the going price now, Dazai?”

 

The ringleader (was his name Dazai?) stepped up and cleared his throat, “Currently, it’s 2,834,260 yen.”

 

At that, all the men rushed to take their turns, but each failed, not being able to come close to lifting it from the ground. The strong man only laughed at their attempts and eventually told them to sit down. Once they did, Chuuya approached the weight. He grasped the bars with his hands, and without even stretching, lifted it up like it was nothing, right over his head. Atsushi was too shocked to applaud as the man set down the weight and looked around the crowd once more.

 

“You!” He called, pointing a finger to someone, “Do you want to give me a hand?”

 

Within a minute, a young girl, no older than six, stepped up on stage, nervously walking to the strong man who smiled and greeted her half way, “What’s your name?”

 

“N-Nanami..” She replied as he beamed.

 

“Well, Nanami, would you like to try and lift this weight?” He asked and she hesitantly nodded her head after looking to her parents. They walked to the weight and the man showed her how to grab the weight and then said, “Okay, you got this! Show those guys how easy it is!”

 

The girl nervously gripped the bar and closed her eyes as Chuuya stealthily touched one end of the weights…. And she lifted it! Her eyes flung open as she stared, a big smile erupting onto her lips as she let the weight down and began bouncing up and down in excitement. The crowd roared and cheered and the strong man congratulated her with a big lollipop before sending her away.

 

Atsushi smiled as the man grinned again for the crowd before bowing and leaving. The ringmaster took his place in the middle once more, “Wasn’t that something! Now, let’s welcome our magicians, Kunikida and Yosano!”

 

Two people stepped out from behind the curtain now, one woman with short black hair and the other a man with long blonde hair. They both took different sides of the stage and began their act. The man was the closest to Atsushi, so he paid attention to him. He was able to make anything appear in an instant! Doves, books, toys- was that a gun!?

 

The man, who had just made a gun appear, threw it to the woman, who caught it. After that, the man retreated and another person came out. He wore a green coat and had orange hair- and a bandaid on his nose.

 

“Those with children might want to cover their eyes now-” The ring leader piped in, “There’s a silencer, so no need to worry about the noise..”

 

And just like that, the woman shot the boy. Right through his chest. Atsushi jumped in his seat, watching as the boy screamed, falling to the ground. People were beginning to panic, but then the woman walked over to him, waving a single hand over his being…. And just like that, the boy got up. His shirt was stained with blood, but he seemed fine. And to prove he truly was, he lifted his shirt. No wound.

 

“The amazing healer, Yosano and her lovely assistant, Tachihara!” The woman bowed with a smirk at her entrance and the boy just laughed, coughing up a bullet comically before they both exited.

 

“And now you can see why we don’t generally admit children,” The ring leader smiled, shaking his head, “Now, welcome our knife thrower, Gin!”

 

From then on, the acts were anything but boring- not like the ones before them were. The woman who threw knives was amazing, and following up her was a beast and beast tamer, who each put on a great show, though the man was so nonchalant- even when putting his head in the beast's jaws. After that, the same man did a little magic, then left- and more acts came in. There was jugglers, a living skeleton (that freaked Atsushi out to no end), a man who could eat anything, many amazing things.

 

And then it came to the final act. Atsushi wasn’t ready for the end of the show. All the performers were so nice and called upon people to help them nearly every act. They were…. such nice people. It made Atsushi feel warm inside when Chuuya helped the little girl with the weight, and it made his heart soar all the other times they brought wonder to them all, the children, him, the adults. It was like magic did exist.

 

But this was the last act. After this, everyone would leave and eventually forget this feeling coursing through their veins. Atsushi didn’t want it to go away.

 

For one last time, the curtains rose and… no one stepped out. The ringleader chuckled and looked to the audience, shaking his head, “It appears the last act for today is having some trouble! Let’s see here, come out!”

 

Slowly, a man poked out from behind the curtains. He made no contact with the audience and walked over to the other, shaking his head to himself. This one was different. Instead of bright and cheery, wearing a multitude of colors, he wore only black. His face was pale and he looked…. sickly.

 

Taking the microphone, he kept his gaze to the ground, “It appears… there is a slight misunderstanding backstage, I apologize. However, the act I planned can be replaced with something else... Ladies and gentlemen, I need a volunteer.”

 

With that, the ring leader pulled, from seemingly no where, a big sword from behind his back. When did he get that?! The sick man took the sword and finally raised his gaze, raking it over the crowd. And then they landed on Atsushi. He raised his hand and pointed to the boy, who nearly sank in his seat, but the people all around him began cheering and pushing him to his feet. There was no way out of it.

 

Thankfully, the darkly clothed man waited for him to stumble his way on stage. He handed the sword to the boy, “Please, inspect this to your heart's content, make sure it is real.”

 

“O-Okay…” Atsushi mumbled, taking the weapon. He quickly checked for any signs of it being fake and even tapped and nearly cut himself with the blade before he handed it back, “I-It’s real.”

 

“Thank you, please stay on stage just a little longer,” The man said as he quickly removed his coat and set it down. The strong man came back, pushing two crates out and setting them behind him. It appeared as though everything was set.

 

The sickly man then began his act without a second to waste. He began to shove the sword down his throat. Like it was nothing, but a pill he had to dry swallow. Atsushi watched in utmost horror, because unlike everyone else, he saw it up close. He could see the real pain in the man's eyes… Was this like all the other performers?

 

Once the blade was just near its hilt, he stopped and paused for emphasis before walking to the crates. He neared the crate before bending down and putting his hands on the crates. Then, he pulled himself up, holding himself up with just his hands. Then, despite all the people’s concern, he swallowed the rest of the sword to the hilt. Atsushi jumped, watching as he then moved to balancing on one hand, then he finally got down, sword still in his mouth. Once he was down, he walked over to Atsushi and bowed, looking at his expectantly.

 

As if he knew what he was doing, Atsushi grabbed the hilt and pulled the sword out. There was a little bit of blood, he noticed as he pulled it out, but once it was out, it was swiftly taken from him. The man bowed and Atsushi was dismissed and that was the end of the show.

 

“Thank you for coming! Please exit through the right and left front exits, and please stick around! We have souvenir shops outside and our freaks will be walking around for pictures and such! Thank you!” The ring leader bowed once more and the curtains closed. Everyone began to leave, but Atsushi stayed in his seat.

 

Despite everything that happened, he was so happy. This place was so wondrous… And now he had to go home. His parents were going to kill him from being late- he had no excuse. Hands tightening around the chair handles, he slowly stood and sighed. If he was going to be skinned alive at home already, he better stick around and see the freaks. He didn’t have money or a camera, but the least he could do was go around and see if the sword swallower was okay.

 

Walking out, he could see that there were many small crowds gathered, probably by the stands or the performers. Atsushi attempted to weave around the men and women, but the only freaks he saw were the other ones. The sword swallower was nowhere in sight. However, just before he was about to give up, he spotted a bright, dotted suit from the corner of his eye. The ring leader? He was bound to be able to point him in the right direction!

Atsushi rushed through the pushing crowd, trying to not lose the man as he strolled casually back towards the big top. Luckily, right as he was pulling the curtain back to leave, Atsushi caught his sleeve, “W-Wait!”

 

The man stopped and sighed, “Look kid, do I look like a police officer to you?”

 

He blinked, “Uh… no?”

 

“Exactly,” He grumbled, “so no, I won’t help you- Go wait in the parking lot. Your parents are probably just waiting for you.”

 

“... I’m not lost,” Atsushi began, but the man wouldn’t listen, ripping his sleeve from the others grasp.

 

“Dazai-san! The rope is cut. Were you-” A deep voice began, something Atsushi recognized. It was only slightly different from the sword swallower’s, but once he came in view, he could see it was the same man. The dark haired widened a little at the sight, “Oh, it’s you… Thank you for volunteering, if you excuse us-”

 

“Are you alright?” Atsushi cut in, “I saw blood on the blade, did I hurt you while pulling it out?”

 

The man's lips curled into a frown, “I’m fine.”

 

“If that’s all you want, you can go now-” The leader stepped in, whispering something to the man. He quietly left, coughing into his hand.

 

Atsushi paused. “When are you all leaving?”

 

“Tonight. That was our last show, kiddo.”

 

“When will you return?”

 

“Ten years, maybe. Maybe more.” Atsushi frowned a little. Ten whole years? Was that even close? That’s… so far away. No one he saw would be performing, likely. Their smiles and joy…. embodied in new performers. And where would they go? Why would they want to leave such an amazing place? If he had a talent, he would-

 

He froze.

 

If he had a talent… He could go with them. He could at least ask. Then he wouldn’t need to go home to his family. No longer would he face their beatings…. But that’s silly. It’s impossible, he’ll never be allowed in….. And then he remembered their smiles…

 

“I also… want to know if I can join our circus..!” Atsushi breathed out, closing his eyes tightly as he waited for a resounding no. But it never came. Instead, there was silence. He slowly opened his eyes and looked to see the man staring down at him curiously.

 

“What do you have to offer?”

 

Atsushi faced the ground, “I can…. Transform..”

 

“Transform?” The man beckoned, getting more intrigued by the second.

 

“... Into a tiger.”