And Christof had to add another whiner to the group, didn’t he? You’re in for a fun ride, kid.
Kid? (Jamison chuckles.) From th’ looks of it, ye don’ look too much older than I.
O’ course but I wouldn’ say I’m a ‘whiner.’ Ye can call me Jamison and that’s th’ only thing I’ll answer to.
A few pints? You’re already in need of a drink? (She laughs) I guess you’re not strictly a celebratory drinker, then.
Is your new home posing to be a bit stressful already?
Bein’ Irish, the liquor flows in yer veins. Instead o’ drinkin’ coffee like normal folk, I prefer whiskey or beer.
An’ no, not stressful. I don’ think I know wha’ stress is, ta be honest.
At the sound of the voice behind her Floren’s body went rigid. The initial fear was of Christof, but it wasn’t a voice or an accent she recognized. Even so, if it wasn’t Christof’s eyes that saw what she was up to she still might get in the same degree of trouble. Those who allied with him would have no qualms in sharing what they’d seen. Quickly, Florens’ swiped her hand over the stiff letters marked into the mud wiping them away to nothing but a smooth span of earth. She stood quickly, one hand caked in the stick soil, the other crumpling the paper into the palm. Florens looked in the direction she had heard the voice come from. To Florens the stranger looked looming, the features of his face wearing dark and pitted shadows from the small amount of light afforded at this late hour in the day.
He drew closer to her, and she could feel her heart pounding against her chest. She wasn’t sure if he was some intruder on their camp or the new recruit, but ultimately she knew she didn’t trust him. With every step he took closer she in turn drew backward until her back was pressed flat against the icy metal of the train car she boarded in. After a moment what he had said to her managed to register and she looked down at herself, adjusting her dress slightly. She gathered her hair into her hands, the few piece matted to her cheeks sticking in their pace. Nervously she wrung it between her hands, wary of the distance between the two. She turned her cheek slightly to make a note of the distance between where she stood and the door of her train car. However, her curiosity outweighed her instinct to flee. Her eyes dropped to the ground for a moment before she turned to look back at the man, tentatively stepping away from where she had practically plastered herself against the train car. She uncurled the messy, albeit still legible, paper from her grasp, looking down at it for a moment before handing it over to him. In the middle of the illustrious designs and illustrations for what appeared to be a promotional poster was the loopy print of the word “Florens”.
Seeing that he frightened the young woman, Jamison took a step backward as if to give her space. “Don’ be frigh’ened, lass.” he said slowly as he wiped a wet curl away from his brow. “My name is Jamison. ‘M the new groundsworker.” She probably thought he was some vagabond by the way he was dressed and what condition his clothes were in. The overcast light seemed to bounce off of the water droplets that stuck to her olive skin and dark hair. Jamison shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he watched the young woman with a single raised eyebrow.
Suddenly, the young woman uncurled the creased and ink-smeared paper and then handed it to him. ‘Florens’ it read in an ornate script at the top of the poster. At that moment, Jamison realized the car that they were standing in front of and put all of the pieces together. “Yer Florens? Hell, ‘m not supposed ta be talkin’ to ye. I s’pose we could make an exception, maybe.” he said, then wondering why she had been drawing her own name in the wet, red clay. He supposed that maybe Florens was trying to learn to write her name. It had taken Jamison longer than he could remember to learn how to read and write. He still couldn’t fully read everything but just enough to get by. His blue eyes held her gaze for a few moments as the mist kept pouring down from the darkening grey sky.
It’s about time we got some rain.
I couldn’ agree more with tha’ statement. I was gettin’ sick o’ the heat.
Indeed we haven’t.. a pleasure, Mr Reed. Truly. You can call me Mavis. (She extends her hand, remembering formalities, of course) It isn’t too often we get new faces around here. You must be.. rather special. At least to Christof..
and I’m just not too fond of rain or cinder skies. Hopefully no heavy showers will be following throughout the night.. the heavens know I don’t need another restless night.
Oh, I understand tha’. I’m nothin’ special, either. By the looks of it, ‘m hopin’ there’s no heavy showers either.
(Jamison meets her extended hand and shakes it gently.)
Do ye know anywhere a man could get a few pints in him?
The rain, which had come down as thick, pelting sheets earlier in the day, had reduced to not much more than a thin mist hovering in the air come evening. Florens half expected it to be the atmosphere soaking back up what it had lost to rebuild humidity, but with the sun slowly descending its arc-like travel the air was cool and it was enough for her to find enjoyment in the evening. Life was a string of small pleasures for the girl; under Christof’s watchful eye they were all she was allowed. Performances brought the girl a degree of gratification and fulfillment, but this trip was different and no one would be performing. Short of the canvas that housed food and a few other essential supplies nothing had been unpacked from the train cars. She missed her high hanging hoop and the trapeze in the few day’s time since she had been given the chance to utilize them. No performances also meant no one to watch herself. Had she been lucky enough Christof might have sat her down and taught her some menial new penny trick, waiting for a longer stop to teach her anything with real weight, but he hadn’t been around since before she had woken up that day. He was away, on an errand to fetch some new hand, but Florens suspected a more sinister plan at play. It wasn’t any of her business, made clear by no word from Christof even by this last hour of the sun’s light.
Despite the worst of the rain seeming to have moved past for the evening Florens was soaked to the bone. The fabric of her dress clung to her small frame, her curls a damp tangle down her back, the straying locks sticking to her forehead and cheeks. Her pale skin wore the mist in the air like an iridescent glow. She crouched over the red-clay earth, clutching something close to her chest. Whatever it was, she protected it, and in the mud of the earth directly below her she scratched carefully with her finger, slow straight lines and loops. She pulled away what she had been hiding against her chest, a paper, making some comparison between her creation and the rain-smeared ink.
After Christof had left Jamison to his own devices to get acquainted with the rest of the rabble, the young man had decided to sit out in the mist that was ever constantly falling from the grey sky. He mulled all of the thoughts that were running through his head as Jamison stared out into the falling mist. The stained, off-white shirt he had been wearing along with dirty slacks were now percolated with rain. The wet clothing clung to his muscular frame, outlining the hardness of them. His dark, curly hair felt like a mop, a stray curl or two stuck to his temple. Finally deciding sitting around was monotonous, Jamison pulled himself off of the steps of the circus car and starting walking along the tracks.
Anxiously he bent down and picked a piece of grass that looked like wheat and put it in his mouth. It wasn’t long before several feet in front of him, there was a young woman drawing in the dirt who appeared to be soaked to the bone. Jamison didn’t say anything for a few minutes, observing what she was doing. After taking some strides towards her, he spoke. “Excuse me, lass. Y’could catch a cold out here sitting in th’ rain like so.” Jamison commented, a playful smirk upon his lips. He could tell she was clutching an ink-smeared piece of paper, not being able to make out what was on it. He chewed the piece of grass carefully as he waited for the young woman to respond.
I suppose that means no one will be outside to play this evening..
I don’t believe we’ve met, miss. Y’ can call me Jamison. Jamison Reed. I’m th’ new bloke around here.
And th’ rain your talkin’ about, it’s nothin’ but drizzle. A soft day though as some would call it.
The muddied up paper Jamison handed back to Christof disgusted him slightly. He had certainly put in years of hard work, getting his hands dirty, and though he was above that now during the time that he was a laborer in the troop he had enough self respect to at the very least wash his hands before meeting with a superior. He forced a pleased smile and he stuffed the contract into a drawer, locking it up and replacing the strung key around his neck where he wore nearly half a dozen others. “You may take that with,” Christof said, nonchalantly, gesturing at the glass on his desk.
“Your job,” Christof mused. “Well, your job essentially is everything shy of the performance sector. Excuse the language if you will but you’re responsible for the bitch work, but don’t worry you aren’t on your own in the department. Now these first cars are still living quarters.” Christof gestured toward the train the two walked beside. “The first dozen or so are single spaces, for the performers naturally. We have Mavis, Estelle, Vance, Marion, Bradford-you’ll learn the names and faces eventually. These next ones,” he continued, gesturing to a few duller and slightly rusted cars, “are for you laborers and behind the scenes workers. You’ll live two or three to a car so find an open cot and call yourself at home.”
Christof continued walking pointing out the storage cars containing food, attractions, general supplies and finally stopped in front of one. “These next dozen are so house our big top, the pieces that make our ring and the seating for our patrons. Keep these carts fresh in your memory and when the other roustabouts teach you how to assemble I highly recommend you make a note to learn quickly. We cut dead weight frequently, contracted workers included.” The following carts were the animals, and Jamison was informed it would be one of his responsibilities to muck them frequently and keep the animals fed and watered.
“Speaking of animals,” Christof began, clearing his throat. He knew when he talked about these things most people thought he was crazy. Folklore had seemed to lose a bit of its weight with every passing day. “You’ll be our serving lion for all intensive purposes from now on. Vance will make all the proper arrangements to show and facilitate that transformation. I’m sure that if you’re under the impression that all of this is just tricks and illusions you’ll have a definite change of heart by morning. I assure you, we are completely authentic.” The thought of Jamison’s horror in reaction to the spell or conjuring that Vance would be able to make to give him the ability to shape shift entertained Christof. He just hoped Jamison had the sense in his head not to abuse the power. However, Christof had faith in his ability to snuff out the sense of rebellion with a simple threat or voided check. Jamison had too much to lose back home, and Christof had no reservations about taking it away from him.
Jamison nodded as he listened to the man go on about the workings of his job and where he’d be staying. The strong smell of animal excrement and hay filled the air even the rain couldn’t drown out. He brought the glass to his lips again to try and get rid of the odor that now filled his mouth. Nothing extravagant was expected but he was a bit surprised when the man explained exactly what his job consisted of besides manual labor. ‘A lion..’ Jamison thought to himself as he pondered the man’s words. ‘Shapeshifting? Could this be.. magic?’ The young man had heard the stories of the circus and the illusions that surrounded it but Jamison had always thought of it as the stories people told, not anything in reality.
His expression hadn’t twisted into horror but into confusion. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the position that was contracted to him; money was at stake here. Turning into a lion, if at all possible, was something that Jamison would just have to live with. “I understand, sir.” Jamison replied, not wanting to leave an awkward silence hanging in the air. The rain had begun to pour harder, soaking the young man. He didn’t mind for it was a change from the humid heat. An eerie feeling crept over him as he stared at the circus cars. A feeling he couldn’t shake. Jamison knew the man had the power to ruin his life and it was something he wasn’t used to.
Christof sat rigid in his office chair doing his best not to sneer at the man before him reeking of hard labor and days of sweat. He was dirty and beneath him, but he was pliable and he would have to do. The neatly written contract was placed before Jamison to sign, straight lines of script outlining an opportunity for a new life. Christof knew he had the upper hand, a position that wasn’t a new concept to him. He gave a wan smile at the boy before him and allowed him a chance to study the writing. Surely some of the heavy literature would go over his head and that was the point. Christof had nothing to worry about in the way of clauses and the younger man backing out.
“Does everything seem to be in order?” Christof asked as he tapped the space for Jamison’s signature on the bottom of the papers, making a shuffling sound. Impatiently he pushed a pen pushed across the desk toward him by Jamison’s hand. “It certainly is a pleasure to have you join us in our travels.”
Christof crossed the office car and returned with a glass of water for the boy which he set on the edge of the desk before the younger man. He placed his palms to the cold, wooden surface, raising his eyebrows with smile so crooked it was almost sickening. ”Now, I’m sure you’ve been wondering about the lion portion of your job description,” he mused. His lips curled into a crooked smile as he stood, his fists at his hips almost laughing at the boy’s willingness to sign without truly knowing what his body would be in for. He lifted a single finger to Jamison, not bothering to really give him time to respond, or listening even if Jamison did. ”You’ll need to know much more than that, roustabout. Come, I’ll explain along the way.”
Christof turned, making his way to the back of the car. He slipped through the door, hopping down between the stationary cars and began to walk along the train. “You’ve got a lot to learn now that you’re at the bottom, so I might as well explain as we go along. That car is my office. It’s restricted to you unless you’re in for payroll, but considering the nature of your contract you won’t be. This next car is my boarding car, and the following is Florens. You will never be invited into either, you are never to enter either, though the other members of his fine company can entertain you any time they like.” He shifted suddenly, walking backwards and eying Jamison to be sure he was paying attention. “Questions?”
Jamison Reed sat in the seemingly spacious office car, sweat dripping down his neck, his tired eyes wandering. Hard work and labor was something that he had grown used to from a young age, the dirt beneath his nails never ceasing to exist. His rough hands grabbed the paper, creasing it in the process, to bring it closer to his eyes. His eyes skimmed over it, not actually reading it because in actuality that would probably take more time than he wanted. The man that sat across from him was dressed crisply in pressed clothing and there was something off about him that Jamison couldn’t quite put his finger on. Giving a polite smile, Jamison picked up the shiny ball-point pen that was pushed at him, signing without any thought. Being hungover from the night before caused him to have a pounding headache that just wouldn’t seem to go away. The cool glass of water that sat in front of Jamison was enough to make his throat dry with thirst. He brought the glass to his lips and drank.
The water wasn’t as cool as he expected but anything to drink was better than being parched. The circus man could’ve put motor oil down in front of him and Jamison would’ve thought about drinking it. “Yessir. What exactly does that mean?” he asked, curious to know about his job. Quickly, Jamison got up and followed the man for this “tour” of his. Of course, Jamison was used to being at the bottom, he had always been for all of his life so there was no surprise there. He listened to what the man said and in the back of his mind, Jamison was curious about ‘Florens.’ “The only question that I have is what exactly my job is and everything pertaining to that, sir. And also, is there any name you’d prefer besides sir?” Jamison asked bluntly. He had his family to worry about since every penny he made was sent to them. The rain was sprinkling down on him as he stared at the man. Jamison was thankful for the rain as it brought relief to his sweaty face.