Violet was sweating. She coated the palms of her hands in finely ground barley meal, praying that she wouldn’t drop her conducting baton — a simple but elegant piece of glass that Ungulen had presented her with at breakfast that morning. The morning of opening night.
“A fairy’s wand, you see that? Made me think of you” he’d smiled at her. “Now go drum up some cash. I’m sick of eating nothing but gruel and Netta’s leftover sardine tins. Wherever the cock’s head she’s got to these days.”
Violet’s stomach sure was churning now. Backstage, her and her elephantarinas were all flowered and powdered up, the entr’actes ahead of them were steadily whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The Keurmite brothers juggled their heads to and fro, pulling faces in mid-air and hurling brotherly insults at one another. Mingey and Rustia torqued a furious sugar plum that you could really sink your teeth into. A strongman swallowed a sword or two, and a very ornery walrus rolled himself through the dirt, roared a stinking belch of clamshells at the crowd, after which he was muzzled again and dragged off stage in a ferocious display of his fat, wattling strength. The crowd was kiting with laughter.
At last, the introductions were being made for Violet and her elephantarinas. She took this last opportunity to gaze out at the audience.
It was a mixture this time, very typical for a showcase not featuring Marrionetta. There were some goat-herding villagers, a smattering of townspeople, and a modest pie slice of the dreaming damned.
You could always pick the dreaming damned out of the crowd by their lustrous, vacant eyes. They arrived at the circus through psychological currents, trapped in nightmares, visions, or other strange liminal experiences. As each arrived, they paid their fare — a moment they would never recall upon waking — to Ungulen or whoever the ticket taker happened to be that night. It was always a sheaf of indigo paper, hazy with linen blending, bordered in silver lief. If the circus performers did their jobs correctly, the dreaming damned would be impressed, frightened, entranced or generally ensnared. These ones tended to return and the repeat patronage was the largest potential source of revenue for the circus, especially as it was strung up on its hind legs in the financial ruin of the Empire’s recent downturn. Unfortunately, circuses were somewhat out of fashion in the modern era and the steady stream of psychologically tormented tourism had narrowed to just a trickle in this day and age. Still, the generous exchange rate for a dreamer’s ticket was the main income source that the circus counted on. One ticket per dreamer.
The french horns sounded. The curtain went up. Violet commanded herself to her full height and smiled a dancer’s smile. Confident and invitational. Welcome, she seemed to say, to my magnificent showcase.