The Immortal Circus

By: A. R. Kahler

 (Cirque des Immortels Book 1)




EPISODE ONE





CHAPTER ONE: CIRCUS


Who the hell did this?” Kingston whispers, staring at the corpse.

Sabina’s body is on the pedestal she uses in the show, and she almost looks like she’s performing. Almost. Her legs are tucked behind her ears in a perfect backbend, her fingers laced under her chin. She’s even smiling, her brown eyes fixed on a point far away.

I’m right beside Kingston, doing everything I can not to vomit on his black Chucks, run from the tent, or do an embarrassing mixture of both. Right then, I’d give my left kidney for him to wrap an arm around me to shield me from the atrocity before us. But he’s not mine, and probably never will be. And even if he were, he’s not the comforting type. I can feel his heat against my arm. I don’t know why that sticks out at the moment, but maybe that’s just the way shock works.

We’re both standing in the dust of the center ring. The rest of the troupe quickly filters in with gasps and screams. Sabina looks perfect — poised like she’s holding a pose for the audience’s applause. Except her sparkling unitard is usually white, not stained a wicked crimson. The long gash across her throat is a second smile leaking its secrets into the ring.

Someone is crying behind me. I don’t look back. I don’t look at anyone. I just look at Sabina and wonder what sort of shit-show I’ve gotten myself into.

I hear a shout and look up to see Mab storming into the tent. Her wild black hair is in disarray and the sequins of her midnight-blue dressing gown sparkle in the lights. Not for the first time, I can’t help but think that she looks like an early incarnation of Cher. Her porcelain face is flushed, and when she catches sight of her star contortionist, she stops dead. Mab’s perfectly manicured hands clench and unclench at her sides. After a deep breath, she stalks forward, stepping over the ring curb and into the spectacle. She goes right up to Sabina and lightly puts a hand on the girl’s knee. I see something flash across Mab’s face — the tightening of her eyes, the barest strain of her lips. Then she withdraws her hand and faces us, her company.

Her minions.

“Which of you found her like this?” she asks. Her voice is deep and smoky, like an ex-jazz singer’s. Even though it’s a whisper, it carries to every wall of the big top.

A woman to my right steps forward. I've never asked her age but she looks like she's in her forties, maybe younger, with aquamarine eyes and fiery red hair that falls to her waist. Her skin is as pale as pearls, and even though she wears a rumpled blue bathrobe, she looks ready to take the stage. I can’t help but glance down at my own wrinkled pj’s, and hate her for it.

“Penelope?” Mab asks.

“Yes, my Lady.” Penelope’s voice is crystal clear. Everything about her screams vintage pinup model, even the way she’s holding her robe closed with one hand. It’s like she practiced how to be perfectly disarrayed. “Not five minutes ago, I was making coffee when I noticed the tent lights on. I thought…I thought someone was practicing.”

“And she was…like this?”

“Yes. Exactly so.”

Mab stares at the body, the corners of her mouth barely tilting into a frown. She’s not staring at Sabina like she’s sad over the death of one of her troupe. No, Mab’s expression is purely calculating, like she’s facing a particularly frustrating Sudoku puzzle. One that might, at any moment, piss her off.

“I assume no one knows who did this?” she asks.

No one speaks. No one even breathes.

I mentally prepare myself, waiting for her to fly into a rage. Not that I’ve ever seen Mab in a rage. But it doesn’t take a genius to know there’s a storm brewing under that well-maintained facade. I can only imagine that “Hell hath no fury” refers to her. But instead of ripping us a new one, she strokes the corpse’s short brown hair. Things are clicking behind Mab’s green eyes, things that subdue everybody — even her. A crowded tent has never been this quiet.

“Well then, my loves,” she finally whispers, almost to herself. “It appears we have a murderer in our midst.”

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