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2. Eyes of a Tragedy

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There are things that go on in this world that you wouldn’t even dream of. Yet it happens every day. Things, people – come and go as if nothing was going on. But deep down, they know. Deep down, they care. Only on the surface can they be nonchalant – the real truth is too terrifying to let loose.

The most dangerous enemy you have is yourself.

Your most powerful weapon is honesty.

The crowd passes idly, unaware of the real spectacle, the true show. They have better uses of their time, or so they say. They wouldn’t know “better uses” if it bit them. I gaze past the crowd, numb to their overpowering sense of contempt. It’s been raining – good for business. The water’s running over the edges of the hat – my mark of rank and authority. It drips down my hair, neck…I’m too numb to care. I chose this anyway.

A tap on the shoulder, a familiar voice and shining grin.

“You’re up,” he says to me.

“Perhaps.” And I follow anyway. I could run away, quit this game – but why?

We have the best operation in town.

Underground.

Welcome to the Gothik-Serkis, established by its namesakes. By the people, from the people, for the people.

I’m merely your host for the trip.

There are a wide array of talents provided here at our humble home. Hidden beneath the streets’ surface, the entrance hidden in the Drowning Raven – my uncle’s bar.

It’s not a true circus, it’s more like a…community center for the lost. We have our own little world, built carefully and meticulously in an abandoned sewage line. We made massive improvements – a little hard work goes a long way. We financed our endeavor over time through various people and…slightly illegal means. But we made due. We had a place to call our own.

I make my way through the grounds, soaked from the rain, but it’s no matter. Brisk steps take me to the center of all things, where I was brought. Serkis brought me here and I’ve stayed ever since.

Would I have chosen any different?

I make my announcements, acquaint myself with the crowd, and the usual routines take hold. Backstage I breathe out tension as time passes.

Serkis creeps over, water dripping off the hat brim. She hands me her smoke slowly, careful not to scare me. I take a few hard pulls before handing it back to her.

“Good job, kid.”

I nod at her, tired from the week. It’s almost over. We all need days off. She’s leaning against the wall, looking around quietly. She looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

“We didn’t do half bad. This place has been a center of illicit activities for years. It never really was used for real sewage, so to speak. New kinds of rats here now.”

“Why all this? Why the drama?”

She moved toward me, adjusting the hat on my head, tapping the flat top. Serkis smiled at me, like an approving mother. “You look perfect. We provide for the neglected child kept inside, a child that would die without such simple amusement. And besides, this is home.” She finished straightening me out, took a step back to admire her work, and smiled. “Go on. They’re waiting.”

And I went to reprise my role as Serkis took hers. What a family we had.

If you’ll kindly turn your attention to the center ring…

For those of you playing the home game – welcome to the show. And the family.

There’s a very bizarre structure here, but it’s ours. I went out, took my place in the show, turning the audience’s attention where it belonged.

Over time, it came naturally. Whether you truly belong there or not, you learn to adapt.

This is the home of the lost. Our Elysium – safe from the world.

The show ran its course, as always, and I retired to my own corner of madness. I heard the steps a mile away, knowing the identity before the hand crept to my shoulder. I smiled wryly.

“So how’s my angel?”

“Fine.”

Fingers probed into my shoulders, poking and prodding. I jumped abruptly.

“The truth.”

I grinned anyway. “Tired.”

Gothik smiled wide, circling the chair to the front. He reached a hand out to me. “Come on, sleep cures anything.”

“I still have things to do here.”

He smiled more, “Nice try.” He dragged me out of the chair, an arm securely across my back, holding onto my side. “Come on, getting out of here wouldn’t kill you.”

“If just might, you know.”

He laughed quietly, ushering me out. When his mind was made up, there was no debating it. Gothik’s word was law. He’s changed a lot in a short period of time, but it wasn’t too short. We made our way to the bar; I still had the keys – as if it ever truly closed. I’d been here for two years – it took that long to reinvent myself and maintain stability. It must be contagious.

I sat with him, drinking slowly, eyes searching the place. His sought mine.

“Where are you?” he whispered.

And I smiled, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Home.”

He closed his eyes to forget, drinking faster.

I liked him better as Art; he didn’t scare me half as much.

He reinvented himself shortly before I did – becoming Gothik. Years of being pushed around, beaten down – of course he’d jumped for this. People faced him, admired him – he was the top dog. Him and Serkis founded the organization. They were both legends now.

I was 16 when things started. When Serkis came into the place, at Layne’s right hand. He thought he still held the reins, but she’s nobody’s fool. Never was.

Now that demands respect.

Art became Gothik – but I always saw the devoted best friend in there somewhere. He was stronger now, more…something. Maybe too something. But here I was, just as I was meant to be. I’d stopped crying, or stopped feeling.

I wonder if he noticed. Do I really care?

We quit the place after awhile of unsettling silence. I was escorted home, kissed goodnight, and left alone. After it all, I’m still the child. Because they want me to be.

And every so often, I like the attention.

Up the stairs to home, I was above my true home – the Drowning Raven. I only had to open the door, change, and sleep. I went into my room, emptying pockets as usual. I heard a creak, peering out the door. Serkis lay stretched out on my couch across the place, humming to herself.

Circus music.

It’s only fitting…

She bent her body, stretching to see me upside down. “How is he?”

“The usual – you know.”

She got up, cracked her back and stood. “No, actually, I don’t.”

“You’ve got ways to get information.”

She stepped back. “Implications? Kid, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

She smiled. “The same nothing that’s always wrong. The same nothing that puts you to tears at one wrong word or motion. Come on, tell me.”

“Why? You don’t care.”

“Now that hurt – I might. Even the gods cry.”

I shrugged. “We’re not gods.”

She merely grinned wider, that infamous look. “No, we’re better. We’re free.”

Every so often I was convinced that she was crazy. A little madness never hurt anyone…too badly anyway. She was dancing to music that only she could hear, the usual movements. It was a game, an act – this. I loved her, but we had to go through this preliminary dance first. It was required. As everything and nothing is.

She brought me to where I was, how could I resent her?

My own personal savior, and her name wasn’t Jesus.

Religion – oh man. Now that’s a circus.

You hate your parents because you’re meant to – you have to. It’s part of growing up; you can’t merely walk away. You have to break free. That’s life. You’ll only truly appreciate it if you’ve bled. Serkis was mother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, enemy – she was everything in one. She crept closer to me, put a hand around across my shoulders, and led me to a chair.

“Now, all drama aside, what’s wrong?”

“Tired.”

She smiled. “Always. Come on.”

“Don’t you have places to be? Things to do?”

“Only when I want to. Right now, you’re priority.”

“Since when?”

She sat herself down, pulled out a smoke, lighting it casually. She stared at me intently. “What’s going on, huh? What’d I do?”

“Art.”

“That’s what this is about? You’re all riled up over that? You know that’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?”

“You know me better than that. Him too. I’m the only one that’s not his, remember?”

“Sometimes.” I took the pack from her, lighting one myself. She watched the smoke rise, stubbornly determined to get a real answer.

“Kid, come on. We started something great. You can understand that, right?”

“How did we come this far? Who’s pulling the strings?”

Serkis smiled. “We are.”

The smoke framed her eyes, dark and shining. This was hers just as it was mine. Ours. The freaks – as a collected unit. We had a family, a society. Nobody was turned away at the door. I was just sick of the drama. Everything was an act. Always. All part of the show.

If you’ll kindly direct your attention to the center ring…

Her and Art had an idea a long time ago. They built each other up and became as they are now. Art became Gothik. He was the master of names. Serkis was always herself, but she gained power along the way. I was involved by association. You can get into a lot just by knowing somebody.

Scary right?

Nobody was anybody’s – yet, we were each other’s. Family took on a whole new meaning.

Show business is tricky. The illusion of what’s real and what’s not is debatable, especially in our line of work. It’s work, yet it’s play; it was our everything. The art of illusion was ours. We’re the masters of deception.

We sat in silence, the vague echo of our voices hanging in the air with the smoke. A knock sounded, I yelled for them to enter. Layne came in slowly, almost sheepishly. He pulled a chair, sat himself back, leaning nonchalantly. He took the pack, lit one and looked around.

“Nice place kid. How’s she treatin’ ye, want I should lock her up?” His voice was light, mocking. She glared in response. He merely smiled wider. “Maybe I should’ve put in for the lion tamer bit?”

Serkis growled at him. Layne laughed. She smirked. “Playing with fire suits you better.”

He leaned across the table. “And you would know?”

“Naturally.”

And he kissed her.

And she let him. She might have returned the favor.

You can never really tell with freaks; hence the excitement.

For the moment, I pretended I wasn’t there. They’d forgotten, why couldn’t I? I waited until they’d settled back in their seats, smoking quietly.

“So what’s the secret? “ Layne asked.

“We’re just talking, right kid?” Serkis stared at me, hinting for Layne to leave. I nodded. He looked from one to the other, considering his options.

“What say we tell her the truth?”

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