I am going to tell you three things about Katherine Harper:
1. Katherine Harper is dead.
2. Katherine Harper was prone to whimsicality and joking fallacies.
3. But not so much so that it would push someone to the point of murder.
She was all around a very nice girl, talkative and sweet. As far as had been decided, there was no reason for her to be dead. While a little exasperating, she wasn’t so bad that she made enemies.
Katherine had been the talk around camp for weeks. The rumors never stopped. Mainly because no one knew what happened. The public only knew that someone had been killed and the newspapers and journalists were desperately trying to make up the most extravagant way possible for her to kick the bucket. The other crew members of the circus didn’t know much more. They knew that Katherine had been killed, and that the ballet team was now short one person. It had also been found that she was stabbed, probably by someone within the circus crew, which worried everyone even more.
But the ring-master. He knew everything, and he wouldn’t tell anyone. The amount of inquiries he got were countless, but he would shake them off. He was lying. Master, as we called him, was keeping secrets. He was trying to let the whole thing drift away. Become forgotten. Turn into a ghost story. A myth.
But that was the last thing that I wanted. Being one of Katherine’s best friends, I knew her well. She was the most innocent person I had ever met. Kind, quiet, deserving of respect. She did not deserve this.
You might think that the person hardest hit by this whole incident was the ring-master, but the way Master was dealing with it, I thought differently. The hardest hit was definitely Oliver.
Let me tell you four things about Oliver Green:
1. Oliver was devastated.
2. Oliver liked flowers.
3. Oliver was Katherine Harper’s boyfriend.
4. I was Oliver’s best friend.
And him being in the current predicament that he was, it was difficult to be his friend. He was depressed and moody. He didn’t talk much anymore. He was an entirely different person than the guy I knew in 8th grade. Now, don’t get me wrong. I completely understand his behavior and I am not meaning to mock his pain. But this had been going on for weeks. Katherine was killed at the start of March and now April was just beginning. He needed help, and I did not think the person to help him should have been me. I did not feel capable.
I went to find him. It was a gloomy day. A perfect day to find a gloomy Oliver. The clouds were bluish gray and looking like rain. Wherever we set up camp, Oliver would find a random, secluded place, sit there, and refuse to move. After a few attempts to get him to come eat, we learned to leave him alone. It was like we were calling at shadows and dust. Oliver would be ignorant to our existence. But I was pretty sure that Mama Jo had been bringing him food. Now, whether he was eating it or not… I didn’t know.
Today I found Oliver sitting by a small pond. It was the same place that I found him yesterday. He hadn’t been coming to rehearsals or meals. He didn’t come to bed either, I, knowing this, since we bunked in the same train car.
I stood next to Oliver staring into the shallow pool.
“Hey, O,” I said.
Oliver said nothing. This was normally how our conversations had been going this past month. I would say “hello”, he would say nothing. I would ask him how he was, he would say nothing. I would continue to talk and he would continue his lack of acknowledgement. After weeks of this, I found that if I just started having a conversation with myself, he would occasionally join in. Occasionally. I took a seat next to him.
“Isn’t this weather nice? I, personally, want it to rain so that training gets cancelled,” I paused, waiting to see if Oliver was going to respond. He didn’t, so I continued. “Did you hear that we got a new recruit yesterday? I can’t wait to meet him. Or her. Or maybe it’s another set of Siamese twins? Nah, that news would have gotten around faster,” no response. Sometimes, conversations with oneself were good and productive. Other times, they were downright sad. This conversation was not either of those options. It was just bland.
In truth, I really was very excited to see who we had gotten. Our circus was mostly made up of orphans or runaways. They were the most fascinating people and they all had their own stories. I had been a part of the circus since I was three. So had Oliver. So had the other kid who bunked with us. Mama Jo took us from the same orphanage and brought us to the circus train.
Four facts about Mama Jo:
1. Everyone loved Mama Jo. It might as well have been a rule.
2. Mama Jo believed that there was no such thing as “not hungry”.
3. She also believed that “if it ain’t your business, you keep your nose out of it”.
4. Mama Jo was in charge of finding recruits for the circus.
I had been meaning to go talk to her. She would know all about the newbie, no doubt about it. But whether she would actually tell me anything was the question.
Oliver woke me from my thoughts. “Gone.”
“What?” I said, surprised that he had said something.
“Where did she go?”
I sighed, slightly disappointed. This was a recurring conversation. I was hoping for something new. “Who, Oli?”
“She went far away,” I said, reminding myself that Oliver affectionately referred to Katherine as “Kit”.
“Into the earth.”
Because that’s what you do when people die. “So that she could turn into a flower,” I said, dully, and without looking at Oliver. And then I swallowed. I hated telling him this story.
A note to take: All circuses have their own stories, or circus lore, you could call it. One of which describes what happens to people after they die. The story says that after you bury the dead, they reincarnate into a flower. I believed this when I was young. So did Oliver. But as I grew older I started to see it as a story to make people feel better. Is that not why we write stories of fiction?
Oliver probably wholeheartedly believed that Katherine was a daisy now, and that was mostly my fault. I had finally gotten to see Oliver a few days after Katherine died. He was in shock. He had not left her side since he found her dead. He didn’t understand what had happened to her. Once he came to realize that she had died, which took a while, he asked, referring to the fairytale we were told as children: “will she turn into a flower?” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him no.
And now look at where he was. Thinking his dead girlfriend was every flower that he saw.
“That’s good,” he’d mutter after I said that she’d be reincarnated.
And that was my cue to leave. I stood up. “Bye, O,”
No response. And with that, I walked away.
I went to find Mama Jo. Before I became a part of the circus, they called her Mama Josephine. Then, someone shortened it to Mama Josie. Over time, it was changed to Mama Jo.
I found her reprimanding a small child who was getting dangerously close to the fire pit.
“Nani! How many times have I told you, you may sit next to the fire, but keep your hands to yourself!”
“But Mamo, I wanna hold hands with the fire!”
“No, no. Maybe when you are older, now run along.” Mama Jo replied.
I dug my hands into my pockets and smiled. Nani was four years old and couldn’t pronounce “J’s”. Thus, calling Mama jo “Mamo”. She also had an odd affinity for fire.
I walked over to Mama Jo, who was mumbling to herself as she picked up some loose twigs off of the ground and threw them into the fire. “I’m telling you, that child is going to become a fire eater. I hope I’m not alive when she does… I swear-” then she looked up. “Oh, hello, Ramsey,” she said, noticing me.
“Hey, Mama Jo,” I said, taking a seat on the logs that someone had put as seats in a ring around the fire pit. The blazing fire warmed me immediately. Spring was not my favorite season. I was ready for summer. “I had a question for you.”
Mama Jo took a seat next to me and sighed. “And what would that be?” she asked, smiling.
“I just wanted to know about-“
“The newbie,” she finished.
I tried to look innocent. “Maybe…,”
Mama Jo pursed her lips. “I’m not going to tell you,”
“Absolutely not! You will find out tonight with everyone else,” she said, smoothing her apron.
“Aw, come on!”
“No! You don’t get to know, yet.”
“Fine,” I said.
Mama Jo turned to me and gave me a smile. “I do think you’ll like her though,” she said with a wink. And before I could ask her any questions, she was hobbling across camp yelling at some other delinquent child.
So it’s a girl… But that didn’t tell me much. I would just have to wait for tonight. Every evening at dinner, the ringmaster would come and give announcements. They could be anything from “I’m going to volunetell someone to patch up the tents” to “we are leaving for the next town tomorrow, don’t get left behind” to “here is this new person that is now a part of the team”. There was always a ceremony or something of the sort for the newbies. It was already afternoon, so I wouldn’t have to wait much longer. I decided to suck it up and wait it out. It was better than badgering Mama Jo and getting in trouble for it.
When the sky starts pouring rain, everyone goes into action, taking freshly washed uniforms and costumes off of the clothes line, collecting the little ones and making sure that they get to Mama Jo, and closing tent flaps. After you have helped others, you then focus on getting yourself into your assigned train car. I decided to help collect the small children. You had to get them quickly so that they wouldn’t get muddy, or else Mama Jo would make sure that you would be the one washing them in your precious free time. I coaxed a couple kids at a time to come to get in their train car. The rain started getting heavier as I picked up a kid and handed it to Mama Jo who was standing in the train car corralling and calming the others. She did a quick headcount.
“We’re missing one,” she said with a resigned look.
“You’re kidding,” I said, scanning the campgrounds, my heart sinking.
“Go look for him before he gets washed away!”
“Who are we missing?” I asked, peering into the train car and then looking at Mama Jo.
“Charles,” she replied, with a shake of her head. “I swear, that child will also be the death of me.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, blinking the water out of my eyes, trying to see Charles. We hadn’t had a bad storm like this in a while. If it was just a little drizzle, we wouldn’t bother all of this “get everyone into the train cars!” protocol. But this rain was just getting faster and harder and it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Ever since Katherine was killed, unsurprisingly, safety became a higher priority. Everyone was still scared that we’d lose someone else. We’d had people leave, due to personal reasons or anger management problems. We had some people die of old age. A couple people died due to their dangerous professions as circus performers. A couple years ago, the ringmaster excused someone, sending them away from the circus. There were important recognition ceremonies for all of these, excluding the banishment. But Katherine had been the first person to be killed. It was rattling. There was no ceremony. The event was hushed up as quickly as possible. It reminded us that we aren’t immortal.
Another note to take: Circus performers have a nasty habit of thinking themselves immortal. Thus why we try to breathe fire and fly.
I put my sweatshirt hood on my head, and started running. The grass and mud squelched under my bare feet. Charles was a mischievous six year old who thought hiding and scaring everybody into thinking he had run off was hilarious.
“Charles!” I yelled as I ran.
After running all throughout camp, I still couldn’t find him. I decided to skirt the woods. Charles was adventurous, but I didn’t think he’d go into the woods. Everybody has their boundaries.