A/N: I wrote this for my Creative Writing I class last year and found it again today. It got an awful grade, but I really like it so XP
When Charlie Wickerson was a teenager, there was absolutely nothing in the universe that merited interest. Now, one could say that this view was just a side-effect of being a teenager, as many teenagers tend to feel this way from time to time, but Charlie has seemed to be afflicted with this opinion for the unusually long period of seven years. Charlie's loving mother and father, who themselves thought that the world was full of wondrous things, were obviously concerned with their son's bleak outlook.
From the time he was eleven, which was the age this infinite indifference began, Charlie was thrust into a myriad of peculiar and diverse activities by his parents. Many of Charlie's classmates at school are envious of the impressive multitude of sports, clubs, camps, workshops, volunteering opportunities and jobs he gets to write on his college applications. Not to mention that he had achieved a 4.0 GPA and had four AP credits under his belt. Of course, Charlie couldn't care less about college; he was only going because it was expected of him.
This particular expectance was what was on the mind of Melinda Wickerson, Charlie's mother. When she had arrived home to the family's spacious apartment from work that afternoon and checked the mail, as per her daily routine, she found three very emotionally stimulating envelopes addressed to her son. One of the letters was from Brown University, another from University of Washington, and the last from Duke University. It took all of her will to wait until her son got home from school to open them.
"Charlie, thank god you're here! Hurry and set down your things, come on!" The woman urged at the entering boy. "I know we should wait for your father, but they've been staring at me for hours!" Melinda exclaimed, thrusting the envelopes into Charlie's hands.
Charlie looked down at his mother with a blank expression. How Melinda loathed that expression. She much more enjoyed when Charlie would smile, as it was such a beautiful smile and it would cause him to resemble his father. Spencer Wickerson was a handsome man, with a strong jaw and dark eyes and hair. While he could appear intimidating, being quite tall and toned, when he would smile it was light and infectious. Even with his father's smile and height, Charlie looked more like his mother. They shared the same light hair and eyes, slightly upturned nose, and bronze complexion.
"Well, are you going to open them or not?" Melinda frowned and crossed her arms across her chest, impatient. Charlie nearly rolled his eyes at his mother's childlike nature, deciding instead to just nod. He plucked one of the letters at random. The Brown logo stared up at him. Carefully, Charlie tore the top of the envelope open and unsheathed the paper within. Both he and Melinda just skimmed for the words accepted or we're sorry. They found the latter.
"Okay, well, we didn't really like Brown anyway," Melinda grumbled. She grabbed the next one, taking the liberty to tear this one herself. "Let's see if we still like Washington…Why yes we do!" Melinda whooped, hugging her son tightly. He reciprocated out of respect, opening the third behind his mother's back.
"Duke accepted me, too." He told her, to which she began another round of excited shrieks and hugs. "Which one should I attend?" He asked her as he tried to pry her off of him.
"Whichever one you like best, though I guess we should wait and see what the other letters say. What were the other colleges you applied to again?"
This jumbled and enthusiastic display by Melinda lasted for another two hours, and was continued with Spencer upon his arrival home. Charlie just lounged on the plushy corduroy sofa that separated the den and kitchen areas, observing his parents celebrate. He hadn't doubted that at least one college would accept him, so what was the big deal?
The remainder of Charlie's Friday evening was spent with his parents alternating between raving over his accomplishments and sobbing over the fact that their baby was truly leaving them. At some point he had to remind them that dinner did still exist, so after fixing and eating meal he was finally allowed to go to his room with his thoughts.
As Charlie lay on his bed, staring at the four, empty blue walls surrounding him, he wondered if maybe he'd stumble upon someone who piqued his interest when he went off to college. None of his current peers were satisfactory, especially since most of them were seemingly just clones of the other. Not even his unique and supportive parents, who he loved and respected dearly, could repair his intense lack of vitality.
The reason for Charlie's academic success was actually this deprivation. He learned so much in his search for something interesting, his level of intellect and plethora of skills just growing and growing. Finally, Charlie just concluded that there was nothing and no one that could please his apathetic psyche.
That conclusion would be dramatically altered in less than twenty-four hours and change the course of Charlie's life forever.
Saturday morning was brought to Charlie's attention by the intoxicating smell of pancakes and the sound of his father's off-key singing. The teenager stretched and walked groggily into the kitchen, plunking himself down at the counter. Spencer chuckled at his still half-asleep son and flipped the last pancake.
"Hey kiddo, have any plans for today?" The elder Wickerson male asked, placing the syrup bottle next to the younger. Charlie shook his head, his vocal chords not fully awake yet. "Fantastic! I saw a sign on my way back from work yesterday saying that some sort of circus arrived in town last night. Your mother and I wanted to know if you would like to accompany us. When you were little you loved the circus, do you remember that? No? Oh, you would go on and on about how you were going to run away with the circus and how you would do all the acts. I think you were especially fond of the lion tamers, though the clowns were pretty up there for you too."
Charlie nodded in between bites of breakfast, not really listening to his father's ramblings. "Yeah, I'll go to the circus with you guys."
"Your mother will be thrilled. Maybe we should make it a tradition to go to a circus whenever you come home from college. Though I suppose that there might not always be a circus around whenever you do, so maybe it should just be a springtime thing we do, or—"
"What time are we leaving?" Charlie cut off his dad, knowing that once Spencer was on a roll then it could go on for a long while.
"Around three, so we'll be there as soon as it opens." Spencer replied. His son nodded and finished his breakfast, heading back upstairs to get ready for the day. I feel good about this circus, Spencer thought to himself as he peered after the departing boy, I hope it'll remind Charlie of his childhood.
Several hours later, Charlie returned from his room to find his parents prepared to leave for the circus. Both were wearing excited grins and silently urging their stony offspring to hurry up so they could leave. Said teenager nearly smiled at their childlike behavior.
The three loaded into Melinda's gold Saab wagon, the matriarch trying hard not to speed in her anticipation. After thirty minutes of comfortable silence, they were travelling under a large black banner, reading Cirque de la Lune Jour in a fancy, lavender script, which signified the entrance of the carnival grounds. Many cars surrounded the Saab, all trying to nab the best parking spot. Unfortunately for them, the Wickerson family did not do well in this voluntary cattle call, finding themselves parked far away from the large, colorful circus tents.
For some time, the three wandered through the smaller tents surrounding the main one, visiting each artisan and vendor. Fortunetellers would animatedly call to the Wickerson parents, telling them of the good fates ahead of them, while they would only stare curiously at Charlie. He was quite popular with the stilt artists though, the vaulted women fluttering their also elongated lashes at him and waving their silk ribbons over him. Melinda and Spencer could only look on and giggle at the perturbed expression their son wore in reaction to the ladies' attentions.
Spencer, Melinda, and Charlie each got a corndog and some candy before heading into the main tent. They bustled down to the second row from the ring, stealing the seats of a couple young gentlemen who apparently thought that pursuing the blonde acrobat rushing past was more important than staying to see her performance later. Soon the lights dimmed and a single spotlight shined down upon a redheaded woman in a glittering top hat and leotard-tux. Once the audience quieted to near silence, the ring-mistress smiled broadly and opened her arms.
"Welcome, all, to Cirque de la Lune Jour." She paused for the exuberant applause, "My name is Stiletto, resident ringleader, and here in this room you will see very peculiar things. Some will be amusing, some shocking, some beautiful, and some ghastly. By the end, however, the only thing you will be able to register is amazement."
"She seems pretty sure of herself," Charlie muttered, slightly irked by Stiletto's tone. It was presumptuous, he thought, to say that absolutely everyone will be absolutely amazed.
"For your first pleasure, I introduce Diana, Athena, and Venus, our lovely beast charmers." Stiletto outstretched her hand towards three new spotlights. In each ray of light shone a posing female with some type of animal. A pale brunette stood next to a bowtie-clad tiger, a raven-haired woman riding a polar bear, and a blonde petting a scruffy lion. The adult Wickerson's glanced at their son, gauging his reaction to what used to be his favorite circus performance. Throughout the entire act, however, he remained as unmoved as ever.
Unbeknownst to his parents, Charlie felt that time seemed slower as the acts continued. Each savory moment slightly distorted by the senses being overwhelmed by magnificence. Flashing lights, flawless dancers, awe-inspiring acrobats and aerial artists, immaculately trained creatures, magnificent magicians, mind-boggling contortionists, and comical clowns all seemed to be the center of the universe during their respective routine. Charlie had to admit that he hadn't been able to peel his eyes away from any of the spectacles.
Finally the lights dimmed once again and Stiletto returned to center-stage. The audience immediately silenced, waiting anxiously for whatever the woman would announce next. She smiled forlornly at the frozen crowds.
"Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, this is where we say goodnight," a pause for the cries of outrage and disappointment, "so let us have a final round of applause for all the glorious performers presented to you tonight." She raised her arms again and behind her lights ignited, revealing every performer from the evening on an elevated platform. The crowd went wild as the numerous players bowed. Suddenly there was a smoke explosion in front of the entertainers, and they vanished by the time the smoke cleared. The guests only clapped and cheered more vigorously, a standing ovation now reached.
Stiletto was beaming now, obviously proud of the production and the reaction it had incited. She held up a hand, silently asking the spectators to settle down. It took a while, but they finally did. "Thank you all so much for joining us tonight, especially since this is our only night in your town." Again she had to break for the reaction of the audience. "I apologize if you find this news sudden, but it was on our banner…in a very, very fine print." Stiletto smirked at the irate audience.
Charlie Wickerson sat in his seat, dumbstruck. The circus had tricked them? Was that legal? Charlie asked himself, already knowing the question was juvenile. He found himself pouting involuntarily, much to the excitement of his observant parents. He had enjoyed Cirque de la Lune Jour; he actually thought it was quite brilliant. Charlie clenched his fists, abruptly furious with Stiletto (as she seemed to be the one to blame) for taking this exquisite thing away from him before he got to enjoy it to its fullest.
The boy was deaf to the dismissal of the audience; he could only glare after the ring-mistress as she retreated into a smoked out area. His parents goaded him fruitlessly, trying to remove him from his seat as they began to be the last people in the tent. While the two proud parents were certainly such, concern started to creep into their minds as a strange glint crept into their son's eyes. Surely they hadn't been mistaken to bring Charlie to the circus?
"I'm gonna go see if I can score one more corndog," Charlie blurted, jumping from his seat and rushing out of the tent. He did not go in the direction of the concession stands, however, instead making his way around the side of the tent he just exited. As he neared the back, it was revealed that there was another fairly large tent along with trailers, buses, and openwork eighteen-wheelers. Some of these vehicles were open, so Charlie saw that some were the living/dressing quarters for the performers, equipment trucks, and animal transferors. He tried not to be unnerved by the leopard blatantly staring at him from one of these holders.
Charlie's meticulous eyes scanned the area, darting over various circus staff and entertainers, searching desperately for the infuriating Mistress of Ceremonies. Finally a sparkling top hat was caught in his peripheral, and he whipped around to follow it. None of the circus people appeared to find the running boy out of place, continuing on with their business as if they didn't notice him. Charlie found them to be irritating, though, as they were hard to weave through to get to Stiletto, who seemed to only get farther away.
Finally Charlie tracked her down to a trailer near the opposite side of the area, barely getting a glimpse of her stepping inside. He knocked loudly on the door to no avail. After banging thoroughly, checking the perimeter for another entrance, and merely waiting it out, Charlie felt extremely exasperated. So he decided to just waltz right in.
Upon first glance, Charlie saw that Stiletto's trailer was very clean and organized. A half-closed violet curtain separated what appeared to be her bedroom and her office. Upon second glance, Charlie realized that Stiletto was not in her trailer. He checked behind the door, the curtain, the desk, and any other large furniture but there wasn't a ringleader to be found. But there aren't any other exits, Charlie remembered, now more confused than ever.
"Stupid circus tricks!" Charlie snarled, punching the holly cabinet next to him. His eyes widened and he cringed in regret, however, when said cabinet started to fall and things that had been lying on top of it scattered on the ground. He caught it just before it fell all the way over and carefully put it back into place. Crouching to retrieve what had flown off the top of the cabinet Charlie noticed it to be some old photographs.
The first photo was of Stiletto when she was a young girl and, judging from the rest of the photo, was a ringleader for Halloween. The next several pictures were of Stiletto, when she was about Charlie's age, trying and failing to do various circus acts. Then the photographs started to be of a young-adult Stiletto, doing different acts and jobs for a slightly older Cirque de la Lune Jour up until she became ringleader. There were some photos of her doing her job as a ringleader there too.
Finally Charlie flipped to the last picture, which was a group-shot of everyone currently working in or on Cirque de la Lune Jour. He smiled slightly, and then noticed that the picture was slightly heavier than the previous ones. A small golden key had been taped to the back of it. Charlie pulled the object from behind the tape, wondering what it went to. His eyes immediately sought the lock of the cabinet, its golden sheen standing out from the black wood.
Still forgetting that he had entered someone else's home/office without permission, nearly damaged their belongings and rifled through their personal items, he continued his delinquency by inserting the petite key into the lock of the cabinet. He froze at the click, suddenly feeling the need for a dramatic reveal. Bracing himself, he grasped each of the gold handles of the cabinet and whoosh! He swung them open violently.
At eye level, Charlie just saw a neat stack of books. There were no titles on the hardbacks, and the rest were just spiral notebooks. His conscience creeping back, he decided not to pluck any of the books down to peruse. Instead he let his eyes peer lower, gazing curiously at the box before him.
Nearly as wide as the cabinet but only a few inches deep, the box was designed to look like an old time-y chest. Painted ivory with black and grey streaks to resemble aging, it had clawed legs, a slightly domed lid and a rusty, exaggerated padlock. Charlie couldn't quite discern what it was made out of, but it was cold to the touch so he guessed it was some type of metal. His fingers brushed over the intricate designs on the lid and sides, studying the tiny flowers, unicorns, dragons and mermaids etched into the box. He ran his fingers over the padlock, disappointed that he didn't have a key for that either.
That is until he noticed that it was an illusion. Upon tugging lightly at the padlock, it became apparent that no part of the lock was actually attached to the bottom half of the box, instead it all hung from the lid. Charlie grinned at the genius of it, and then lifted the lid to see what was inside.
"Dear Charlie," immediately stood out to stated boy as he stared confusedly at the contents of the box, which was only an official looking form with a large Post-It stuck on it. Charlie gently picked up the form, bringing it closer to his face to read the rest of the note.
"You are quite obsessive when you put your mind to something. I can't imagine you getting this far if you weren't. Of course I would never doubt anything our fortunetellers foretell, and my, did they have so much to say about you! Congratulations on getting into WU and Duke, by the way. Whichever college you choose would be lucky to have you. But so would I.
I, Madame of Ceremonies "Stiletto," would like to cordially invite you, Charlie Wickerson, to join Circus of the Day Moon. Your part will be minor and difficult until you decide what path to train for (our fortunetellers have told me all about how you are apparently the king of extra-curricular activities, so I'm sure you'll do fine at whatever we throw you). Of course, I am not trying to distract you from university – by all means, go conquer that first. Education is encouraged. But if your interest is piqued, then the application form is attached for whenever you're ready."
Charlie stared at Stiletto's messy signature, slack-jawed and all ability to comprehend wiped out completely. "I just got asked to join the circus," he finally realized, his eyes somehow widening further. "I can join whenever I want, and it's to join the circus." These were the only thoughts he could muster as he, without really knowing he was doing so, exited Stiletto's trailer and walked all the way back to his mother's car.
The teenager said nothing as his worried parents shouted at him for disappearing for so long. In fact, he didn't say anything for the whole car ride or when they arrived back home. He just went straight to his room. Melinda and Spencer did not notice the paper he'd been clutching tightly, too concerned with the odd behavior of their son.
The next morning, Charlie burst from his room in a fit of happiness and told his parents all about his job offer. Spencer and Melinda sat in silence for nearly ten whole minutes after Charlie finished talking.
"College?" Melinda could force out of her mouth only the one word, not yet able to form sentences.
"What's the point? I was only going to attend before because you two wanted me to. Plus there's a job already waiting for me, one that doesn't even need any type of degree." Charlie explained.
"You could get a business degree, or engineering, or zoology!" Spencer argued, angry at his son's dismissal. "Any of those would help with a circus career without going to clown school."
Charlie rolled his eyes. Why didn't his parents get that this was the first important thing to him in seven years? Shouldn't they be happy for him? He articulated this thought for good measure.
"Of course we're happy that you finally found something you genuinely like, honey," Melinda jumped at the concern, taking her son's hands in her own. "Ultimately that's all we want for you: happiness. But running away with the circus is a hard thing for a parent to support their child doing. Do you see where I'm coming from?"
"Yes, but…" Charlie deflated. He did see where his mother was coming from, and he didn't want to make her sad. His tear ducts threatened to overflow as his hopes for this exciting new life started to fade.
"Charlie, please don't be upset. You know that we'll love and support you no matter what. You're eighteen and, unfortunately for us, that means you can make your own decisions. So if you truly want to join the circus then we can't and won't stop you." Melinda's expression was unchanged as she paused for her husband protested loudly. "We only ask that you take some more time to think this through. Miss Stiletto said that you can join anytime, so please don't just rush to the circus and regret not going to college first, okay?"
"Yes, Mother," Charlie smiled, tears now falling down his cheeks but out of love not sorrow. Ignoring the sounds of his father's protests and his mother shushing the former, Charlie went to his room to think some more.
The day after graduation, Charlie was buying a ticket to Cirque de la Lune Jour three states away from his parents' home. The teenager walked past the knowing smiles of the fortunetellers and the winks of the stilt-walkers. He ignored everything as he made his way to the main tent and watched the best circus show of his life. This time all the performers and staff stared at him as he walked to the ringleader's trailer after the show ended. She opened the door on his first knock, a smirk on her lips as she accepted the form he handed her. Charlie disappeared into Stiletto's trailer, officially run away to join the circus.
Nowadays, he is known as Helios, ringmaster of Circus of the Day Moon, the one-night carnival where by the end the only thing you will only be able to register amazement.
I hope you liked it, and please review :)
(Oh, and yes I'm aware that I drowned the story in passive voice. I'm pretty sure that's why it got such a bad grade, and I've gotten a lot better about it by now. I just didn't have the heart to edit it out because I felt like it would lose some of the tone I intended. So, sorry about that, grammar-sensitive people.)