London, March 1898
The resurfaced night irradiates from unusual and familiar attributions; clashing black and white at every curve below the starry skies. Countless composed and collected, red-recognized messieurs and madams stroll through the grassy realm. A family, or clan sort-to-speak, of rêveurs surround you, confounded with allure and heartfelt fascination of Le Cirque des Rêves.
At the end of the Illusionist's performance, you are the last to cease applause. It's easy to indicate her focus was distracted but nonetheless, she carried a spectacular performance with every wavering gesture and mystifying trickery. You stare around at the other patrons and observe the enchantment she's placed on them.
Has time flied so quickly, you ask yourself. Could the night be passing so fast? The dreamlike clock tower of moonlit shades is still juggling silver balls from the hands of a mechanical harlequin. One hour past midnight, you step towards the candy vender. He's seen your face more than one time, more than a dozen perhaps. He's become adjusted to your presence; purchasing one of his scrumptious delicacies on a regular basis. He greets you with cheer in his cheeks and spirit in his smile. Polite words are exchanged. The vender hands you a striped bag of chocolate bats with a black tied ribbon as you pay him with coins and compliments. After pulling the ribbon, you withdraw a dropping of sculpted chocolate perfection on a stick. Wings, fur, teeth, and talons fashioned of what looks like hours of craftsmanship. The cracking of a wing with your teeth is so susceptible to the smallest effort. The sweet, rich chocolate sinks in your mouth with rich sensation.
A small, frantic boy runs across from you, followed by his mother. You cause no fuss but take note of where they run to. It's an odd tent you haven't seen before. Two black flags and with sides split into eight, like a vast octagon. A newly painted sign stands outside.
160 Knives Show
A performance of stunning liveliness
and dynamic motion.
Watch breathlessly as precision
meets grace, and human ability
The warm wind tries to pull you in, urging you to enter this casting striped tent. Black and white cloths hang from the towering poles of the eight corners. The center has only a white stone pedestal. The aisles fill with spectators, sharing conversations of the circus and its ethereal enigmas. You notice another rêveur in a scarlet duster nodding at your direction. You smile back.
The spotlights rotate around the tent's cloth walls. The prattle quiets. Lights settle on the pedestal, illuminating its stone pallor. From behind, eight white-gloved pairs of hands waver. Then, eight men dressed in white suits walk from the shadows, only one wears a top hat.
The one with the hat introduces themselves, with a voice compelling and strong with lungpower. Their audience applauses as he gestures out to them. The performers move in corresponding motion. The hatted man gestures his gloved hand back to the podium, where a slight young lady outfitted in a corseted, black dress walks into the light graciously. She bows in a balletic circle and then shows her black-gloved hand to the audience. Many patrons reach out to kiss the back of her hand, allowing this dark illusion to make its way into absolute reality. She then takes the hand of the hatted man and is gently supported onto the pedestal. The eight men walk out towards the crowd.
They pull back the sides of their coats to reveal customized pocket slips holding twenty daggers of multiple sizes and shapes. The man assures that there is no reason to be alarmed but announces a test of genuineness. The men stand firm, equal distance from each other like the octagonal sides. They each pull a single knife from their coats. The man with the top hat controls their action at word.
Ready. They each pull a single knife from their coats while the woman straightens her poise. Aim. They stance angled with a lifted arm carrying a sharp blade. Libérer. They throw their daggers at the open girl, spearing swiftly in the air. She stands fearless and refuses to move. You lean towards the end of the chair, gripping the rim with anxiety. Only several feet from her, the woman pulls a wooden board from her back and swings it in her hands in front of the blades energetically. The board moves speedily, her arms bend and hands shuffle dexterously without moving the rest of her still body. The knives strike fiercely. The audience inhales in their shock as the last blade pierces. She lifts the board to reveal she is unharmed and displays the wood, pelted with the eight daggers right through to the other side. The crowd applauses. You participate in the excitement. The girl tosses the board out of sight. The men pull out blinding white handkerchiefs from their sleeves and tie them across their eyes.
Prête. They each take another knife from their coat, glistening in their white-gloved hands. The stone pedestal begins to unfold of what becomes revolving tiles and stretches upwards, getting taller and taller until it is three times the height of its original elevation.
Vise. The arms lean back, a perfect angle. Anticipation and wonder of others emanate in the room. A long silence, so long, the patrons become quietly impatient.
Libérer. They release. Eight blades tearing through the air. Again, she remains frozen until the right moment. At the blades arrival, there is no protection of a wooden board. Instead, she bends and twirls in all directions, dodging each knife stylishly. The tent is filled with awes of fascination. The eight men do not stop, they start moving clockwise around the stage and continue shooting blades, angling and exchanging their many daggers with each other back and forth. Arms moving, hands flexing, knives flying in perfect synchronization, like a well-round machine.
The girl evades each, every time with a new flexible movement. She grabs the end of her foot, pulls it over her head to dodge one knife, then suspends her body with her other hand to survive another. She releases her foot and flips backwards twice to avoid another two. Another graceful twirl and then a split on the stand. Her hands quickly grip the stone rims and lifts her body into a handstand. Her limbs disengage and her body crouches into a candlestick. The legs press down, looking like a folded mattress on hands. Without hesitation, her next movement is dismounting from her current fold into the air, completing a routine of controlled flips and spins, landing back in place like an overly-twisted pretzel, with not one sign of emotion. However, her gaze is always at the same direction. This inhumanly dance intertwined with vicious razors in synchronizing beauty and perfect contradictory fills your mind with serenity.
As the final eight knives are shot and avoided coyly, the men remove their blindfolds and stand tall towards the stunned audience. Applause bursts from the seats like a mighty roar. The woman graces her arms out. The spotlights and gestures direct your view to the black and white cloths nailed at the tall poles. Each of the men's twenty knives impacted one of the cloths to its pole. The spotlight starts with an M marking, followed by E, eventually a VI, then ending at the third and final E. Lights flash at the blades, reflecting the radiance and casting shadows of bizarre shapes and outlines. The crowd cheers at the only word to marvel at: MERVIELLE. The performers finally bow.
As you leave, the breezy zephyrs brush against you. You grip the fur bearing of your coat and wrap around your red scarf. You then realize you left your half-eaten bag of chocolate bats behind. You return cautiously to the site of the seat, only to find it resting under the bejeweled cushion, slipped through the crack of the chair besides it.
"Did you enjoy the show?" a voice calls out. You react quickly, and duck your head behind the chair. The voice is familiar, the announcer in the top hat, the ringleader of the performance. You peer around, he removes his top hat as the darkly-dressed woman dabs her forehead with a white cloth.
"I did indeed," answers a man. You turn to see who replied. The man the girl had her eye on during the entire performance. An authority figure perhaps, you think to yourself in pondering state. He stands clapping slowly, to where you can see him caught finely in the light. Curly hair, a tall figure, fancy sartorial of dark violet. "Wonderful performance; unique, fascinating, and displays unimaginable magnitude. It all fits in right with the feeling of the circus."
"Thank you sir," he answers back.
The girl takes the white-suited man's arm. "Truth to be told, we were rather surprised when we were offered a position in your circus. We were making quite in an impression for our Russian audiences as it was." Her voice is elegantly accented, and highlighted with delight.
"All due acknowledgement, but I was rather mesmerized by your anti-impalement act during our last visit in Moscow. Completely staggered by you and brothers' skill," the mysterious man tells the white suited performer. "And captivated by your abilities," to the girl. "I am quite an enthusiast for the art and practice of knife throwing myself."
The conversation continues but you phase out their private discussion. You grab the bag of sweets, making your completion. You quietly make your way through the curtained door into the open and brace yourself for the wind. Oddly, the wind has silenced. More disturbing than lucky, you wonder.
You can only assume you will return and look back one last time before leaving with your satisfaction and chocolate bats.
"Thank you Monsieur Chandresh."