10. Alliance of Standards


Time passed after the fiasco with Draven. Pandora stopped going home all together, living either with Doyle or I on rotation. She stayed well. Draven grew restless again and took off for a while. Nobody missed him. Except maybe Pandora at times. No one else.

Business stayed the same. My uncle got better over time; working more, drinking less. I don’t know what…or who, set him on track, but he was doing well. Max buried the issue with his son, warming up gradually. It was in such prosperous times that the idea was born.

Vagrant disappeared with Draven – story goes they had personal business to take care of. A long-lost vendetta. They say that they wouldn’t come back, or only one will stand. Who knows; Vagrant is fighting for damage long forgotten – its suffering victims were all dead by now. Draven fought for his good name and reputation. Or so they say.

I was working when Doyle sauntered in. It was one of the rare occasions that Art could stay. One thing led to another – boys will be boys – and there was a fight. I tried to pull them apart but found Serkis in my way. She shoved Doyle back, seeming to barely touch him. I held on to Art. Layne was standing on the sidelines with Pandora, both of them feeling useless. Serkis brought Doyle outside for a few words then sauntered back in to us. She crept over to Art.

“You’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Art coughed. Doyle was his size, but Art wasn’t used to fighting. Serkis smiled.

“Good. There’s something I want to talk to you about.” She wound an arm across his back and led him away, the rest of us staring on.

Pandora shook off the event and went back to work. Layne stood next to me, arms folded.

“She’s a bit weird, but I love her for it.”

“Shouldn’t you go get her?”

“Why? She’ll come back when she’s done.” He smiled. “She stays with what’s familiar.”

I nodded and sat down absentmindedly. There was work to be done. I didn’t care. Layne sat down with me. He waved over someone, ordered a fresh round of drinks, eying me.

“What’ll ye have?” he questioned. I shook my head.

“I don’t drink.”

He merely laughed, concluded his order, and smiled. “Yet. We’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?’

“The new business venture we’re instituting.”

“Which is?”

Layne smiled wider, letting no word pass until the drinks arrived. He handed me a glass that matched his own. He held his up, motioning for me to imitate.

Whatever makes him happy.

“Here’s to us, the great family, and a home for the lost. The circus’ come to town.”

And he downed his drink. I subconsciously did the same.

So much for being straight edge.

That was the most we’d spoken since he came back. Serkis crept in behind him, leaning over him to collect her own drink, which she also downed boldly.

“Celebrating without me?” she joked, sitting down with Layne. They kissed and forgot I was there – I took the opportunity to try and slip away. Serkis grabbed my arm as I snuck past.

“Sit. Stay.”

“I have work to do.”

She looked around, reassessing her surroundings. She smiled wide, a Cheshire sort of grin.

“I suppose you do. We’ll be seeing you I imagine.”

I nodded foolishly and slipped away. I felt Pandora’s burning gaze the entire time. I went back behind the bar, cleaning furiously under Pandora’s scrutinizing eye.

Art did not come back. He seemed to disappear for ages at a time. He was changing subtly over time. His appearance, his general character. Everything. His work was changing him. And all I could do was watch. From afar.

He had a new big project of sorts. He was too excited to sit still and tell me the details. In the meanwhile, Pandora warned that I stay away from Layne and Serkis.

“Trouble walking,” she’d mutter. I couldn’t understand her contempt. I blamed her father.

I should have listened. Hindsight is 20/20. Always.

Weeks dragged by. Business kept pace, the same old story. Day in, day out. The infamous and inseparable pair was always there, always with someone new each day. When they turned to me, I got nervous of all the attention. They knew they were being counterproductive – they pushed harder.

My uncle let Layne play a few nights – the guitar was almost as gorgeous as the sound that came from it. My uncle insisted that I join him, but I refused. With a lot of shoving and urging, they eventually got me there. By the end of the week, we had a full band.

Serkis played bass, and she could sing sweet as sin.

Layne and I on guitar.

And the drifter on drums. Requiem.

That’s how they got to me. How they sucked me in. Through music.

Layne took me on as an apprentice of sorts. Whatever I couldn’t do, he taught me. We’d stay in the bar afterhours specially, leaving Serkis with the drifter.

The drifter – Requiem. She could play most anything – whatever was needed. She was an old friend of Serkis, they had the same morals and methods. Almost. They were masters of adaptation.

Requiem seemed to wander in one day and simply never left. Pandora was uneasy of her as well. Most people were. But the band was good for business. We enjoyed playing and we got a decent cut. Everybody wins.

Time rolls around and Halloween comes. We decided to match – to create an atmosphere. Hours of planning and conspiring later –

We had a freak show. A living, breathing circus.

How was I to know that this was merely the rehearsal for the real thing?

Anything I knew was laced with uncertainty.

Art came back – he was decked to match the theme as well. He was beyond excited. We all decided to hang out after work. “We” being – Art, Layne, Serkis, Requiem and myself. Doyle joined us along the way, Pandora in tow. As soon as work let out, we marched bravely through a door long forgotten. And we emerged into our future.

My first impression was simply – What the fuck?

My second one never came. The entire group stood triumphantly, save Pandora, who merely yawned. I looked around slowly, spinning to make sure this was real.

“This is…a sewer.”

“This is our new home,” Serkis replied proudly. I turned to face her.

“What is all this?”

“This is home,” Serkis repeated. “This was a sewage line. Now it’s home to all things…well, home to our social niche. Our social group is shunned, ridiculed, mocked – we’ll give them something to admire. A safe haven for all. Always.”

“And what does the circus have to do with anything?”

“Where else are the freaks held in such high esteem? Safe.” Serkis’ voice was confidant, as if she’d rehearsed this. I looked at the rebuilt sections, rooms, light – the works.

“Who funded this?”

Doyle stepped forward. “I did. This gives the kids somewhere safe. The streets are a most hostile home recently. There must be salvation.”

“Why have you brought me here?”

Serkis crept closer, holding on to my shoulders, arms outstretched. “Every circus needs a ringleader.”

“But why me?”

I’d forgotten that the rest of the group was there, they’d wandered to admire the work, most of them smoking idly. Layne was taking drinks from a silver flask kept in his coat normally. Everything seemed to simply fade away.

Except Serkis. She was very real. As hard as I tried to blink this away, she was still here. She merely smiled wider.

“Because you are mostly pure. You know a little about a lot. You have the personality for this. People want to hear what you say. And you’re well-versed in the art of deception.”

“But this is your ambition.”

“Ours.” Serkis moved and pulled a tarp away, revealing shining letters on black background.

“Gothik-Serkis? Where’s your partner?”

She motioned half-heartedly to the group, wandering aimlessly. “My reborn artist.”

I looked around, considering our new group. Art was separate, suiting his darker appearance. Halloween did him great justice – he truly was born for this. I could merely smile at the excitement of the group – my new family. This would be my new home. A new life.

“What would you have me do?”

Serkis smiled, a hand outstretched to me. I put mine in hers and she pressed her other on top, closing me in. “Learn. Observe. Trust us.”

“I’m all yours.”

She held me close, rocking for a moment. The others watched – I felt their presence now. They were mostly approving. Except Pandora. She stood on the sidelines, arms folded. The next time Layne’s flask came out she grabbed it from him for a swig. He let her.

She moved to leave first, impatient to reach the surface. Doyle fell in step behind her. Requiem was the next to go. She didn’t feel at home – understandably so. This was a new element to her, in a sense. She had history with Serkis. You could feel tension between them, hidden artfully between wide smiles and forced laughter.

An object under pressure…

Left with Layne and Serkis, my nerves were shot. My return to the surface couldn’t come soon enough.

But there would be nothing to return to.

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