Gods & Monsters - Stefano Pastor - ebook
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Three fantastic novels:FreaksA strange Circus travels around the world, showcasing unique phenomena. Under the direction of the Magnificent Santini, bizarre creatures perform on stage. Their bodies remind of ancient mythological creatures. The Magnificent owns them, controls their lives, especially their unions, hoping to produce new phenomena. When he decides to pair the two stars of the show, everyone's resentment is on him. Because Penelope, the spider woman who can create wonderful cobwebs, is just a little girl while HE is considered a monster. Raised in a cage like a beast, without a name, subjected to any overthrow to make it fiercer, he does not speak and feeds only with blood. He does not know she has always loved him since they were kids, and she can finally have him. But Penelope's choice could be another. She might not even agree to be used again, to do something foolish, to unleash a deadly, hungry, and hateful creature in the world.CirceIrene is an exile, condemned to wander the Earth in a never-ending, desperate search. Her love is poison: merciless and deadly. Anyone who lies with her is doomed to suffer a horrifying fate: their animal instincts take over their whole being until there is no humanity left inside them. The wretched creatures take on the appearance of pigs, with no hope of salvation. But one day, during a cruise, Irene’s desire gets the better of her. She gives in to temptation, despite the difficulty of covering her tracks on a cruise ship. Her latest victim is a public figure, too well-known for his disappearance to go unnoticed, and she soon finds that the pig that he turns into isn’t easy to hide. In fact, one of the ship’s stewards discovers the pig before she can get rid of it. But one mistake leads to another, and Irene just can’t stop herself. She must continue her eternal quest, searching her own character for the only thing that can break the curse.The Ballad of ParioLuca’s thoughts - his hopes and dreams - centred on one thing, and one thing only: his neighbour, Laura. She was his first crush, and she had turned into a full-scale obsession. He liked to spy on her, watching her every move, and he was always making up excuses to run into her, but all his efforts seemed to be in vain. He had finally managed to arrange everything perfectly - he had the house to himself and he had screwed up his courage, ready to ask her out on a date - but those damn deer ruined everything. Those awful, too-big animals that could walk through walls were the last thing he needed. They weren’t even ghosts, not by any stretch of the imagination, because they left devastation in their wake wherever they went. He had no idea where they could have come from, given that he and Laura lived right at the top of a skyscraper. But maybe they could provide the perfect opportunity to win Laura over, to show her how brave he was. If only he didn’t have to contend with that pain-in-the-arse Parry, the dark-haired guy who lived across the hall. Parry was handsome, mournful and so tragic; and always so damn perfect. Of course Laura had fallen under his spell, the poor thing. Luca couldn’t compete - he knew that all too well - Parry was just perfect in every way. But Parry had a secret: he knew perfectly well where the deer were coming from, and, moreover, why they were there. He knew that they were merely the vanguard of an ancient and deadly menace that was about to arrive, threatening them all.

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Illusion Omnibus # 6

Freaks

Original title: Freaks

Translated by Marco Alessi

Circe

Original title: Circe

Translated by Laura Whitaker

The Ballad of Pario

Original title: La ballata di Pario

Translated by Laura Whitaker

© 2018 Illusion

© 2018 Stefano Pastor

Graphics: Angela M.

FREAKS

1

Penelope was weaving.

She was always locked in her carriage with lowered curtains, doing nothing from morning until night. She was rehearsing, she would say.

The cobwebs were everywhere; they filled the cockpit completely. In her eyes, they were gigantic and beautiful. They were successes she was proud of, but she never showed it to anyone, though, only to Medusa, because the others would not understand.

Penelope was alone, from what she could remember. No one else at her age could boast of having a carriage. But there was also the possibility that no one dared to share it with her. They all found her disturbing.

Medusa was her best friend, her mentor, as a mother to her. But she wasn’t her mother. Penelope had no mother; she had never known her.

Even Medusa felt uneasy about coming in, but she did. She was the only one to be able to sift through all the cobwebs, without getting stuck. The silk that Penelope produced was deadly glue, and if someone got inside it wasn’t easy to release them.

Each evening, after her performance, she unwillingly destroyed her creations, because nobody wanted to touch them.

Medusa came in and sat on a small stool, which Penelope always left free for her. It was the only cobweb-free area in the carriage.

Medusa settled down and took off the veil. She hated it, no matter the reaction they had to her hair over the others, but the Magnificent was clear: they had to pay to see her; no one got a free show.

Medusa wasn’t a great performer. She didn’t know how to do anything; she just had to show herself. Her hair didn’t turn people into stone, despite the threatening name she had. In fact, there were no snakes on her head; they seemed more like tentacles, dark, robust, and constantly moving. They also indicated her current mood. When Medusa was angry, they looked incredible.

Since her temper was fierce, several had already clashed with her; including the old Medusa. The one who before her.

“Nana was feeling bad”, she said. “All day. And getting worse.”

Penelope rarely came out of her carriage when the sun was up. She loved the night, the dark, damp and muddy places. Medusa was her contact with the outside; she reported to her every occurrence. No gossips, just the naked reality.

She thought the outside world interested her. She was sure that Penelope was wrong to grow apart that way. The entire circus was her family.

But for Penelope, it wasn’t like that. She felt uncomfortable with the others, and the feeling was mutual. Few were able to hold her gaze, that’s why she learned to lower her gaze to the ground, like a child.

Nana didn’t care. She hardly spoke to her. Just like her creative name, she was a dwarf under a meter tall; many hated her because she was evil and revengeful. The fact that she was dying did not change her opinion.

She lived her life, did her time. The fact she was only thirty years old wasn’t the point, none of them lived for long, and dwarves lived for a shorter time than the others. It was their altered metabolism to condemn them.

What else could others expect? That was the Itinerant Circle of Human Phenomena, of the Magnificent Santini, and they were monsters, despite the names they attribute to themselves.

“She can’t make it! She can’t even stand! And that beast forces her to perform again!”

Only Medusa dared to call the Magnificent a Beast, and sooner or later he would have her pay for it. Or maybe he already did. Santini was their leader, a god on Earth. Each of his wishes was an order.

“Do you even care? Do you care about anyone?”

Penelope wept because she couldn’t do anything else. As Medusa talked the Spinnerets on the sides of her neck produced silk constantly. She exploited them so much that they swell, distorting her appearance. But it wasn’t her art: producing silk didn’t make her special. Creating cobwebs, yes. Absolute symmetrical constructions of ever-new and bizarre forms that could impress anyone; they were perfect to make a real spider jealous. That was unique.

Medusa continuously spoke, because that was her nature. All she did was complain; nothing was fine for her.

Penelope wasn’t like that; silence was her companion. Her mouth just weaved, that was her purpose. When she had to speak, she preferred to cover herself with the veil. If she could not, she’d put a hand to her mouth to hide it. Her palate was a cave of silvery threads, and she expelled them talking, she could not hold them back. This made those talking to her; feel uneasy not to say worse.

“Santini wants to talk to you.”

Her voice was strange; it sounded tense as if there was a message on the line.

Penelope knotted the last thread and then turned to look at her. She was astonished and didn’t take any precaution. Though she knew her well, Medusa didn’t stand the sight and lowered her head, embarrassed.

Penelope also turned around.

She knew she was a monster. Besides, her features did not appeal to anyone. Her face twisted by the glands, her gray and dry mouth, and two eyes out of her head, black as the night: she would scare anyone.

“What does he want?” she asked, as a puff of thin threads widened around her.

“I don’t know”, Medusa lied. “He has to tell you.”

It was credible.

Nobody ever looked at her. She was a joke even there; she chose to be.

“Oh, Penny!” said Medusa sadly, instinctively hugging her. It was something unusual for her, and it seemed she was crying.

Penelope wasn’t afraid of anything, and certainly not death. Sometimes she wished for it.

“I have to tell you”, Medusa confessed in the sobs. “He wants me to talk to you.”

She was too young, but Medusa sometimes behaved just like a mother. Maybe she wasn’t the one who chose her, probably had to help her, to instruct her, but that strange woman had been fond of her, despite everything.

Penelope wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing for her because she didn’t know love. At least this she said, if questioned, that love was sterile and useless, and she wasn’t affected by it.

“He wants to give you to Him”, said Medusa, all in one breath.

She thought that would impress her, but Penelope did not react.

Medusa now seemed to cry even more. “I told him it was impossible! Obscene! You’re just a little girl! But he’s stubborn as a mule; he doesn’t want to hear. He says you also have to try. But it’s not over here, you’ll see! Don’t let it go! I will change his mind!”

What did she expect? To see her weep, tremble, implore? That she would take refuge in her arms?

No, Santini was right, her appearance was no longer that of a child, she was sixteen, and according to circus rules, she would have had to pair.

Yes, that’s how she called it, pairing because the Santini’s weddings were only arranged between phenomena, to produce always new attractions. That would have happened to her, there would be no fake marriage, it would be a mating, and what they would call it.

“Penelope!”

She had already grasped her veil and, covered her face, heading to the door. She was moving at incredible speed, scraping the cobwebs without even touching them. Penelope emerged outside, and the sun flooded her.

It was summer, it was scorching, and it was also noon. She had never been outside at such an hour.

“Penny! Penny! What are you doing, come back here!”

“Leave me alone!” the girl shouted. “I need to stay alone!”

She was in the light.

By day the field was very different. There were no human phenomena around, all enclosed in their curtains or the carriages. Only a few, rare, came out. Those without apparent deforms or covered by long veils, just like her now.

By day it was the reign of the workers, those who set up and dismantled the circus and did a thousand jobs. They were not part of the family; they kept them far away. They also changed constantly, hardly willing to work for a long time in this company.

Penelope was covered in a black dress, far from elegant, more like a bag, and the veil that hid her face was also black and didn’t let anything visible. She was very short, even for her age, and was delicate to the point of being mistaken for a little girl until they saw her face.

The camp was in the middle of nowhere, halfway between two very populated villages. There were no traces of human life, all around. On the one hand, the woods and immediately after the mountains, on the other side the river, for them of vital importance, and beyond there were uncultivated fields.

They were not going to stay long, just for a week. Five shows in all, and three would leave. They had come from far away to see them, and the voice had spread. Because the Circus of the Magnificent was unique, and even though it didn’t beat the main circuses, it still provided unforgettable attractions.

Her number was renowned, but it wasn’t because people wanted to attend to her weaving. He was the real attraction.

She went to the river decisively, before being noticed, because they would have tried to stop her. She needed to be alone, to think.

After a few steps, the whispers started.

“Is it her!”

“It’s the spider woman!”

They were also there, as always, wherever she went. Curious little boys, scared and looking for adventure, hiding in the grass around the field in the hope of seeing some phenomenon.

Maybe they didn’t have the money to watch the show, or their parents prevented them, once they knew what it was. Or maybe they had seen her and had been impressed that they could not get away.

They were in four, but two escaped as she turned to them.

She wasn’t very impressive, she didn’t overwhelm them, but in their eyes, she was still a monster.

“Go away”, she said and went toward the river.

It was just a rig, at least in that season, and it was slow, almost silent. There was no one in sight, and this gave her a moment of peace.

It would have been good if no one was there.

They had followed her, at a distance, hiding badly behind bare bushes. And they talked forever, albeit in a low voice.

Penelope didn’t want to turn around, or play their game; she just hoped they would leave.

She had been forced to flee from the carriage; she didn’t want Medusa to look at her. She had come to give her terrible news and was shocked by her reaction. She didn’t want Medusa to understand.

She was the chosen one. She knew that one day it would happen. It had already happened to all the young females and in the ages to procreate during the circus. She wasn’t sure he would consider her, and certainly, she wasn’t the first choice. It was a year since the abomination started.

They want to kill him, she thought. He was too much that she thought he knew it. She wasn’t astonished.

“Lady…”

Cheeky boy! Penelope tried to ignore him.

“Lady? Are you the spider woman?”

She snapped. “Go back to your fields! Go milk the cows and sow the grain! Your dad needs you!”

That was the life of those peasants. A monotonous life, boring that even the circus seemed to be a paradise. Someone always tried to escape that life and join the caravan. They could not imagine how much she wanted to leave.

He saw them at last, and they were just two. The others, if they didn’t run away, had to stay away.

They were of the same age, not much younger than her. They could not have been more different. A tall, almost as thin as the dark haired guy, with a hat on his head. The other blond, with rebel curls, much shorter. They had a pink skin, typical of those who burst into health. They were the sun like she was the moon.

“Can you show us?”

She recited Santini’s classic formula: “They don’t give free shows!”

They looked in the eyes, and then the brunette stretched out a hand. “We have the money.”

There were coins on his palm, misery; they could not even pay half a ticket.

Penelope was tired; she just wanted to stay alone. She shook her head decisively.

They came back to talk to each other, in a slightly higher voice. Then the dark-haired boy returned. “We give you more. At least show us Him.”

It wasn't the right request, and they understood it immediately. Penelope made the same effort to answer. “He sleeps during the day, you should know.”

“Just let us see where he sleeps! Only that! Don’t worry! Please!”

There was a spider, in the bush behind it, a big, fat animal with a red striped stomach. A harmless spider for people, even if a spider can be considered innocent. It was lowering a thread, just on the shoulder of the blonde.

Penelope looked at him, fascinated.

Then the scream came, as he had expected. “Ahhh! Take it away! Take it away!”

The dark guy stopped before crushing it and immediately turned to look at Penelope, scared. Penelope managed to smile, hidden by the veil. That little boy was afraid of her reaction if she had hurt a spider. That moment was enough to calm the day.

She waited for the guy to release his friend using a stick, putting the unlucky spider on the bush before getting up.

“Put that money away”, he told the boy. Then she added: “I’ll take you there.”

It was crazy.

He was the treasure of Santini, a gold mine. Showing strangers where he rested was irresponsible action. But she was reckless; no one would be surprised.

They believed they would find those fools. A coffin in walnut, perhaps, with gold napkins, and inside velvet padding. They were all on a pedestal.

They huddled the field, always in the shelter of the bushes. She didn’t see other guys apart from these two. If they didn’t run away, surely their friends were too scared to come forward.

“Is he a real vampire?” he asked.

Penelope didn’t know what it was. Nobody knew, probably not even Santini. But by day he was asleep, no, more, by day he was dead, and his blood didn’t flow. And by night…

At night his hunger didn’t equal, his thirst for blood, the anger, and hatred that dominated him. At night nothing could stop him, and any wound he would heal instantly. At night his strength was frightening.

“Yes, he is”, Penelope replied.

“And how did you catch him?”

“He was born here.”

They paralyzed because he had broken their dreams. Even the blonde guy made spoke for the first time. “Then he’s not a vampire!”

“Vampires are not born!” added the dark haired guy, proud of his knowledge.

“This one was born”, replied Penelope.

They came to a tent at the end of the field, separated from the others. A man was sitting in front of the entrance, but he was sleeping.

“Don’t make any noise”, Penelope said.

“Is he in there?” he asked incredulously.

“He’s in there”, she said.

He lifted the tent to let them pass, and they exchanged a scared look. But neither of them intended to look like cowards, so they slid inside.

“He’s not here”, the dark haired guy man said immediately, looking around.

There was nothing in that tent; it empty. It was just the deposit of the materials. A bulk of boxes.

Penelope pointed to him. “He’s there.”

“I don’t believe it”, said the dark-haired guy man, then backed back frightened by his daring.

It was a coffin, just like many others. But square, nothing like a coffin.

“Believe me; he’s right there.”

“But… No one watches him! Where is the cage?”

“There is no need during daylight. During the day he’s harmless. He’s a vampire, remember?”

They approached and turned around. The dark guy even found the courage to knock on the lid, and then leaped back.

“He can’t hear”, Penelope said. “He’s dead.”

“Can you open it? Can we see him?”

She shook her head. “The sun could kill him.”

“But there’s no sun! It’s dark!”

“It’s too bright for him, though.”

They were both disappointed. The blond guy rose. The other turned around towards the coffin, unable to give up.

“Then you can show us what you do!”

Even the blond came forward trying to scrutinize what hid the veil. “Can you show us how you are?”

They had never been to the show; they didn’t see her. Penelope wasn’t at all sorry. She shook her head again.

“Please!”

The brunette also went on. “Are you like in the billboards? Are you?”

Again Penelope smiled under the veil. Those absurd billboards! They depicted her like a spider with the face of a beautiful girl. They were almost a mockery since she was the opposite.

“No, I’m not.”

“See?” said the blond guy to his friend. “I told you. It was impossible.”

“So how are you?” he asked.

They were no longer afraid of her. They evaluated the height, and then the brunette asked: “Are you a child?”

I’m a monster, she wanted to say, but she didn’t need it, they would have thought of it already.

“Please! I promise we won’t scream!”

She grimaced the veil.

The blonde kept on. “We are not afraid of anything!”

If they were certain, it was worth it to test them. Penelope lifted the veil.

She heard them restrain their breath. She had bowed her head and looked at her feet.

“Are you… are you sick? Is it an illness?”

“Why is your neck so wide?”

“What did you do to your mouth?”

“You don’t resemble a spider.”

Then they continued to ask.

“Do you know how to make cobwebs?”

“How do you do it?”

“Can you show us?”

It was not the place or the time. Penelope didn’t want to leave any trace; she didn’t want others to know that she was there.

She looked around, looking for a point where she could show them, and then they noticed her eyes. She felt them breathing again. “Oh!”

It could have been worse. It was worse many other times. Children were crying, expressions of compassion, insults. A woman also fainted.

She pointed a place. “Is there all right?”

It was the space between two crates less than one meter high. It would have been easy to clean it afterward.

They had no idea what their number was like and nodded confidently.

Penelope knelt down.

She opened her mouth and cast the first thin silk thread. She hooked it to a coffin and then extended it until it was attached to the other. She continued, fast, moving her head. Silk came out of her mouth, uninterrupted, with no fatigue. Only the spinneret widened slightly in the effort to produce it.

This time they could not remain silent, but their exclamations were quite contained.

She used little more than a minute to create a perfect web, stretched between the two cases. But it was strange, full of arabesques that no spider could ever produce.

The dark guy approached to touch her.

“No!” she stopped him. “You’d be stuck.”

They approached anyway and looked at her carefully, without touching her.

“You did this?” asked the blond one.

No, during the shows the cobwebs that Penelope created were much bigger, some tall even three meters. Sometimes they filled the whole stage. But they could not know.

“Yup.”

“How do you do?”

“I was born like that.”

“Cool!”

They probably saw her that way, but Penelope wasn’t so proud. She restored the veil.

The effect was strange, unusual. They seemed uncomfortable, even more than when Penelope showed her face.

She approached the web and grabbed a thread that hung almost invisible. She started to pull it, and the web spun off, as she scraped the silk.

“No! What are you doing! It was beautiful!” said the dark guy.

It was too late; the last thread pulled out of the box, and Penelope’s ball was complete. It was a silver ball, as small as her thumb. She handed it to the boy. “Keep it as a memory. But be careful, it sticks easily.”

He pulled out a napkin and wrapped it up like a relic.

“Get outta here now. You’ve seen enough.”

She raised the tent before they could complain. They slid out, a little disappointed. She kept checking that they went away and saw them run into the woods, keeping them low. Far away, two other boys conversed toward them and saw them discuss all of them and gesture in the direction of the field.

Then Penelope dropped her flap and went back inside.

The silence was total, broken only by the rustling of the gown on the ground as she approached the vampire’s coffin.

The lid was closed, but only a nail blocked it. There was no danger as long as it was there, and that box was open every day, it was useless to use so many precautions.

She removed the nail easily, then carefully lowered the wall and laid it on the floor.

The vampire was transferred to the coffin at dawn when his heart had already ceased to beat, and his body was dead. They didn’t use so many precautions, they slammed it into the coffin, and that’s it, just as he was.

He was crouching in a corner, his head crushed against the wall, knees bent and crooked on the one hand. A very uncomfortable position, if he was alive.

Penelope knelt down and crawled into the coffin. She took off the veil and let it fall to the ground, so he could not see her.

She took his knees and straightened them, then turned his head and put it down. She made a bit of room for her and sat down beside him. Then she wasn’t satisfied yet and put his head on her shoulder. Yes, it was better now.

She took a hand and clutched it between hers. It was frozen. All his body was cold.

He was naked because no one had taught him to wear clothes. Or maybe because it was preferable for the performance.

He was young, only a couple of years older than her.

He was beautiful, though no one wanted to notice it. Or maybe they could not. Nobody ever looked at him as she did. No one ever saw his face lying, abandoned to eternal sleep. They only saw the bloodthirsty monster that was performing every night on the stage. They saw the evil beast, the demon.

But he was beautiful, even though the skin was bluish in the glory of death, his lips looked black, and the hair had never known comb.

Penelope wanted so much to be able to wash his face, to see how he was. The chin and the neck had deep creeks, the blood from his last meal. There were other spots in every part of the body. His hands were encrusted because nobody washed them. He didn’t care; it was terrifying.

Nor could she, otherwise they would have known she was there. Already on other occasions, she risked her exposure.

So she was content to sit next to him. Stroking his body, even though he smelled of death, pretending to be with him although he wasn’t there. She forgot that she was hugging just a corpse.

Since when did she love him? Since always. From what she could remember. Ever since she was a child, she spied on him, unable to stay away from him. She spent whole nights watching him in the cage where they locked him up after the show. To see him when he was alive. When he still breathed. Although he almost could not move, chained as it was.

She didn’t attend the shows, no. She always tried not to be present. She knew what it was, what was going on, it wasn’t necessary to remember it.

And day after day, whenever she could, she came to see him.

She was still a little girl talking to him, though she knew he could not hear her. She told him everything about herself, her fears, and her dreams. But then she grew up, and only the silence remained. But she came back anyway; she always came back.

He would have killed her. If she had approached him closely enough, he would indeed kill her. You and all the others. His jailers. He would kill anyone because his life was just that, anger and hatred, and an insatiable hunger.

Penelope loved him the same. She had always loved him.

But no one had to find out; it was her secret.

2

“Where have you been? You drove me crazy!”

She hoped Medusa had given up and had come back to her carriageway. Instead, she was still waiting for her.

Penelope closed the door behind her, and the carriage was dark again. Only then did she remove the veil.

“Don’t you say anything? You have nothing to say?”

Penelope returned to her canvases without looking at her. “I wanted to be alone.”

“Of Santini!” said Medusa. “What he wants from you.”

Penelope shrugged. “Who cares? He always does what he wants.”

Medusa was upset, for what was waiting for her. Or maybe because she wasn’t.

“He wants to get you coupled with him! He could kill you!”

Penelope remained silent.

“You don’t understand. I went through it. It’s horrible! The scariest experience of all my life! He can’t ask for it!”

He clutched a shoulder. “Penny, baby girl. You have to oppose.”

Penelope turned, and Medusa crossed her eyes. Immediately she remained speechless and looked down.

She sat down on the stool. She was very agitated. “You don’t know what happened.”

“I know enough”, Penelope said.

“No, you don’t know, because I’ve cut off the worst part. You just know I didn’t do it. Just that.”

No, Penelope knew a lot more. She knew that Medusa didn’t sleep since that night. Penelope heard her scream every night and often ran to comfort her. She knew that from then on in her carriage the lamp was always on because the darkness terrorized her.

“Kriss is dead.”

He had gutted her, and she knew. Maybe she had done something else because her coffin was not open and no one had seen the body. Kriss was much loved, and the death of the snake woman had left an unmistakable void in the circus.

“And I knew it! I knew Kriss was dead, but when he asked me, how could I refuse? He told me they would take all the precautions and I would not run any risk!”

She remembered that day and remembered how much she had hated her. How much she hated Kriss and all the others. Because she would have made love with the boy, she loved. He was the boy of her dreams.

“I don’t know how he convinced me, how he succeeded!”

Oh, the Magnificent was skilled in this. To manipulate the mind of anyone, to always get what he wanted. And now he wanted a son from this vampire, just as he had been able to get it from his father eighteen years earlier.

“They were chained, you know? Not as they always do, he was in chains! But it didn’t work anyway!”

Penelope turned to look at her, finally, and also interrupted her work.

“There was Hercules, and there was Wolf. And there were four more. Everyone kept him firm. There was Santini, but he was out of the cage. He only looked.”

Penelope was struggling: she didn’t want to hear anything else and at the same time was attracted by her words. Soon it would have happened to her; it was fair to know how the procedure was.

“I felt awful, you can imagine it. I was terrified. I was sure I would not succeed. Santini didn’t want to hear reason. He said it would be simple and fast; it was a sacrifice I had to do for the good of all. A bunch of nonsense. Well, it wasn’t easy, and in front of everyone! They would also have turned their heads, but they could not… They could not leave him out of sight, ever. He was excited; he felt the smell of blood. My, that of all the others. He tried to bite, constantly. His head was firm, but he tried anyway. Those teeth…”

She paused for a few seconds.

“It was scary. His body trembled all over. And what was most frightening was the silence. Absolute silence, you know? He didn’t make any sound.”

He didn’t need it, Penelope knew. The predators roared to land the prey, but to him, certain means weren’t necessary, it was enough to look at him.

“Those red eyes! Red blood! And he did not have any clothes. Nobody hurried me, not even Santini, even though they were not happy to be there. But they understood how difficult it was for me. I could not undress in front of them, so I just took off my panties. And then… well, you can imagine.”

Penelope was doing fine. She saw her kneeling in front of the vampire, exciting him, and then putting it inside her. And every time she imagined that scene, she only felt the desire to kill her.

“It wasn’t difficult… to prepare him. He was very excited. Not for me, of course, but for the blood. Anyway, I did it. Hercules had told me not to look at him, ever. To do what I came and went away. But don’t look at it. I tried, I moved on him, and I kept my eyes on the ceiling. But…”

He started to shake.

“I hate it, Penny. You can’t imagine what hatred is. The real hate, what I saw in his eyes. The desire to kill me. Because in the end, I didn’t resist and lowered my eyes. I could not help but have to see who I was pairing with. And those red eyes, those sharp teeth and the anger that devoured him… And he was there, at that moment, that he released himself.”

A long sigh.

“It was impossible, and yet it did. Maybe it was my fault for exciting him. And it was already happening, when it gets excited that way he gets stronger. However, he was free. Despite the chains, despite being so many to keep it locked. In a fraction of a second, so fast that I didn’t even notice, he pulled up. I found it in front of my eyes, a vision of hell. His mouth was wide open, ready to bite. I was dead, just like Kriss, in an identical way. There was nothing I could do. I was there, impaled on him, and I could not move. I would not even have time, anyway.”

“But you were saved”, Penelope murmured in a neutral tone.

“Hercules, it was him. It was fast. He grabbed the vampire by a shoulder before he reached me, using all his strength, and managed to stop him. But that beast swirled at once, with just as much speed biting Hercules’s arm, tearing off the meat, tearing it away. Then Wolf managed to pass an arm around his neck and pulled him away. But the vampire crushed him on the floor; he was crushing him. Then the others came with the spears. They hit his chest, crossed it, slammed him to the ground, and they kept pushing because he didn’t move. And yet the vampire continued to struggle as if he didn’t even suffer. He tried to grab them.”

Penelope’s features were overwhelmed by anger, but Medusa could not see her, for she had bowed her face to the ground.

“Hercules yelled at me. But I could not; I was in a paralysis state. And Santini, outside the cage, shouted at me instead of going ahead, to finish my job. I was mad with terror, that monster was in front of me fighting. The spears sprang from everywhere, blood splashed from his body, he even hit me, but he kept fighting. Because he wanted to get to me, he wanted to tear me apart! Hercules kept shouting to get out of there, screaming that they could no longer keep it. He lost much blood, and this was more and more exciting for the vampire. But I could not, I swear. I could not get up! I still had it inside me; I was a prisoner! Then Hercules abandoned the spear and came to my aid. He grabbed me and pulled me up. I’ve never felt such a pain! Then he dragged me out because I didn’t even stand on my feet. And do you know what that bastard Santini did? He slapped him!”

He expected Penelope to participate in her resentment, but the girl remained silent.

“Kriss wasn’t the first. He also killed two others. You know?”

Penelope knew everything. It was a year since Santini decided to pair him. He had tried with all the circus women. At least a dozen. It didn’t always go as he had hoped. There had been some deaths and many wounded, and even when the report was complete, however, didn’t produce any offspring.

But he didn’t stop because once he had succeeded. Eighteen years earlier. And from that union, He was born.

He believed that he could dominate him, and for many years had even succeeded. But it had become ever stronger, and the risk of getting rid of it had doubled. It was a threat of another massacre. It had already happened and would not allow it to happen again, even though He was his masterpiece.

He needed a son, someone to continue the lineage, someone else to show, and he would have succeeded.

And then…

“Don’t you have anything to say? Don’t you care?”

Penelope put a hand to her mouth. “I’m tired, Medusa. And soon the show will start.”

Medusa stood rigid, even a little offended, and went straight toward the exit.

“You don’t even want to know when?”

Penelope had already turned; she was no longer listening to her.

She heard the door shut behind him.

She knew very well when it would happen.

The day of her marriage.

“Penny, devil, what are you doing here? It’s still too early for your performance; don’t you see what we have to do?”

Penelope was already in a stage suit, the widow’s dress. It was black, like anything she wore, but was tailor-made for her. With skirt and undergrowth, lots of lace and lace. The scaffold was so wide that it was difficult to go through the doors. He was the chosen one because he highlighted the features of the spider woman. The hair that fell on her shoulders in soft bushes, an elegant velvet hat, very different from the veil she used to wear.

It was soon, yes. It was rare for her to leave her wagon at that hour. The sun was still setting, and the show would not begin in a couple of hours. And her number, however, was one of the last, before the grand finale.

At that moment they were all agitated, as every time they had to handle him, they only took a few minutes to move it into the coffin before he woke up. He was still dead.

Penelope stayed in the corner and wished to be invisible, but her costume didn’t allow it. They had forgotten her; they were carrying the coffin, mounted on a platform with wheels. There were so many to push it. After that it would have been harder to move it, ropes would be useful because no one would have the courage to approach it.

“Did you come to see him?”

The Magnificent Santini appeared at her side, just like a ghost. He overcame her. He was taller than two feet and wearing a cylinder hat that made him, even more, looks like a giant. He was a handsome man, seemingly fifty, with two gorgeous colored mustaches. Always elegant and unmatched, with a red stick in his hand and a cloak on his shoulders.

He had no performance, he only commanded. But there were many legends about his true nature. Some said he was two or three hundred years old, because it existed long since the Circus was scaling the scenes, and already its name was famous. He murmured that he was a sorcerer and that he had discovered the gift of eternal life.

Penelope didn’t believe this. She didn’t deny that Magnificent Santini had dominated the Circus from the start, but she was sure it wasn’t what they knew. Many had gone through that role for decades.

There were rumors he had been a circus attraction, but no one was old enough to remember those times.

Penelope didn’t answer him because he never did.

“My dear Medusa has already informed you, I imagine.” Then he chuckled. “It’s obvious; otherwise you would not be here.”

They all worked in a hurry before the sun was down. Many preparations were needed, but they were used to it now, after many years of doing so. There was no risk that he would come back to life, but they were equally nervous, frightened of what would happen next.

Penelope saw the open the coffin.

“Does not look so dangerous now, isn’t it?” The Magnificent sighed. “It would be much simpler if you could pick it up during the day.”

It was impossible to stimulate a corpse, even though Penelope didn’t doubt that they had tried it.

They lifted him up in two, though he wasn’t heavy at all. They seemed to be moving a sack. They launched him inside the cage. He rolled for a couple of feet, and then one of the workers stopped him with one foot. Immediately they all went in and covered him, with chains in their hands.

When he was only four, just on his wrists and ankles was enough, but each passing year was worse. He had added a collar and also a tight waist belt around his waist. The chains were getting bigger.

A few minutes, very few and He would be back to life.

“You should not stay here, not now. You don’t have to impress yourself. I assure you that it will be much simpler than what you imagine.”

She put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, dear, let’s get out of here. We need to talk.”

Penelope remained long still, perhaps waiting for him to wake up, but it was too early. She could not even see him, surrounded by the workers. She was furious at Santini’s intrusion, right at that moment. She turned and walked out of the tent while the Magnificent made his way.

“Do you want to come to my place?”

As pompous as always. The Magnificent didn’t dare to sleep in a carriage, and for him, a curtain worthy of an Arab emir was set up.

Even inside Penelope didn’t take off the veil.

“Where did you find him?”

“Are you talking about him, my dear? But you know very well…”

“The father”, Penelope interrupted.

“Ah… the first one.”

So many things were known, but not their origin. They had captured it, they said, the Magnificent Santini caught an authentic vampire. He had been with the circus for five years and caused so much mourning. It was unmanageable, powerful and angry. Eventually, they had to suppress it. But not before risking a tragedy.

And of course, after the coupling produced its fruit.

Whoever was the vampire’s mother didn’t know if she had survived on childbirth, if she was still alive. Of course, she didn’t nurse him; she never cared for him. No woman would have done it, it was too dangerous, and there was the risk of him tearing off the breast that fed him.

“I bought it”, said the Magnificent.

No one had ever told her; Penelope was surprised. “Bought? From who?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t very glorious. And not a good deal, to tell the truth.”

Mentally, everyone knew very well that the vampires had made him rich.

“Where did he come from?”

“I have no idea, my dear. The one who sold it to me was the director of another Circus, very small indeed. A miserable competitor, who now does not even exist anymore. He cheated, I’m afraid. He looked good to say he was in despair, that vampire had brought him to ruin by decimating his artists. He has made it look like a great deal to me.”

“It was”, Penelope contradicted him.

“This is!” said the Magnificent. “And just thanks to me! The first was a catastrophe for us as well. He was an infidel, a traitor; he knew how to convince anyone. He risked bringing us to ruin.”

Penelope turned to the tent, observing the precious works of art Santini surrounded but didn’t try to sit down, even though those cushions were inviting because the dress she was wearing would not allow her.

“Why did you raise him like a beast?”

The voice of the Magnificent was insinuating, with a bit of malice. “Would it make a difference for you?”

“You have not taught him to talk, don’t even dress him.”

“For what you have to do, my dear, this could be an advantage. It will make things easier for you.”

“What difference would that do?”

“None of our viewers ever complained.”

It wasn’t true at all. Now it was, but in the past years, there has been a lot of complaining, seeing a baby in chains, even after finding out what kind of monster he was.

Penelope remained silent for a long time, and eventually, he was forced to ask her. “Are you willing to try it, my dear?”

It was a trick. In his denial, the Magnificent would just use his spells to convince her.

Again he waited for the answer. “What about my son, after that?”

“Whatever you want, my dear! Everything you want!”

Oh, what a sincere voice! The Magnificent was exquisite and full of attention, but no one knew how to be as infidel as he is. He would take him away, and she knew it very well, condemned to live like a beast, just like his father.

Penelope turned to him and lifted the veil. He looked right into his eyes. “Are not you afraid of what might come from us?”

He had the pleasure of seeing him disturbed. And this was incredibly rare. Also, unprecedented was that he looks away first.

Penelope took advantage of it to reach the exit.

“Where are you going?” he cried out behind her.

“I have a performance to do.”

“It’s too early!”

But Penelope was gone.

“They’re with me.”

“Oh, Miss! Do listen to them, these tricksters don’t have to come in, they’re here just to make us waste our time, they don’t have any money.”

Penelope was tempted to raise the veil again, but there were too many people, there at the entrance, and she would not go unnoticed.

The ticket office was just an improvised counter, surrounded by a fence that prevented the curious from coming too close to the tent. And it was around this fence that Penelope found them, as they leaned out trying to sneak in.

They were locked when she had come over her shoulder and grabbed them by one arm. They didn’t recognize her with the dress.

“Where are the others?” he had asked, and they eventually recognized the voice.

“It’s just us”, he said. Then he had taken them away.

“They are with me”, she repeated for the second time at the ticket, with a tone that would not allow replies.

Penelope had no power there at the circus. The fact that her name was on the billboard meant nothing. There was even that of Him, but she was a disturbing presence that made everyone nervous.

The ticket ripped two tickets, mumbling, and handed them to the boys. Penelope took it from his hand and pushed them forward.

“Will you let us enter?” asked the blond, as if he didn’t yet understand.

“Did you not want to see me in action?”

The brunette chuckled. “Are not you uncomfortable?”

Penelope hated that dress, so she didn’t want to answer.

“And He…?” he dared to ask the dark-haired guy man.

“He’s already in his cage now.”

She was still annoyed by the intervention of Santini: she wasn’t even able to witness the awakening.

“Are we going to see him then?” she asked excitedly.

She wasn’t sure it was a good show for kids, but they were not the only ones. They didn’t realize how disturbing it would be.

“It may be”, he conceded. “Stay close.”

“Will you find some good places? Really? Maybe in the front row?”

It wasn’t what she had in mind. She didn’t head to the audience but turned around the tent.

“Where are you taking us? Cool!”

Behind the stage, confusion was common. Everyone ran around nervously, getting ready to enter the scene. He was the central number of the show, and he wasn’t there yet. They would only bring him at the last instant, to avoid unpleasant accidents.

The boys looked at each other with wide open eyes, filled with wonder. Penelope felt someone’s gaze, and her eyes crossed Medusa’s, at the other end of the tent. Indeed, the presence of the boys would leave many with their mouth open.

“Look, there’s Muffin!”

It was the blond who talked. Penelope followed her gaze and saw a lone calf tied to a pole.

She frowned. “Do you know it?”

“It’s the old Jonah’s calf, who does not know it? Did you buy it?”

They always did, buying animals in the area was much less expensive than carrying them around.

“Do you know him well?”

The guys didn’t understand. “Huh?”

He was almost sorry to have taken them there, but then they recognized someone else and jumped excitedly. “It’s Lazarus! That’s Lazarus!”

He too heard them screaming and turned to them.

An ageless face on a thin body, eyes looked white. His presence was disturbing, even though he was a gentleman. “Toh!” he said. “Someone still remembers that it exists!”

There was also his name on the billboard, just that it was tiny. One time, before the Magnificent found the vampire, he had been the star of the show. His number was impressive, as he was the man who could return from death. But his performances had always been controversial, as every time there was someone who didn’t want to believe it and stepped out of being a swindler. In the end, his peculiarity had ended up becoming uncomfortable.

But it was true. Lazarus was faithful to his name: he was able to return from the world of the dead. Not that he was immortal, much else, even for Lazarus would come the day when return would have been impossible, but until then the gap between life and death for him was always open. He died during the show in peculiar and imaginative ways, and he always got back to life after a couple of minutes.

He was, however, a kind of vanity, too full of himself for Penelope to like him, who preferred to avoid him.

“Would you like an autograph, boys?”

They were excited but looked at Penelope for permission. “Go ahead”, she said.

“What does that mean?” Medusa asked when she came to her.

Penelope watched the kids listen to the old Lazarus gesture and smiled under the veil. “Does it bother you?”

“Where did you find them?”

As she didn’t answer, she added: “What do you want to do with them? Why did you bring them here?”

Penelope answered the question. “They want to see Him.”

Medusa almost shrieked. “And did you bring them here?”

Then she grabbed her by the arm. “Penny, what’s happening to you? I have never seen you this way!”

In fact, she had never felt that way. Something was changing inside her, but she didn’t know yet. She released herself from Medusa and went to find the boys.

“Oh”, Lazarus said. “It’s almost my number now, sorry.”

“He doesn’t like you”, whispered the dark guy when the artist moved away.

“No one likes me”, she replied.

They took him half an hour later.

The cage was iron-made like its stand; six sturdy wheels made it stable; nevertheless, once inside, they would still have it fixed on the ground.

Sturdy men, led by Hercules carried it. This gimmick wasn’t a scenic find: it became necessary because no animal would agree to captivity in the wagon. In the presence of the vampire, they all seemed crazy.

The cage was five meters long and three meters wide. The chains were at the bottom of the cage. He was awake and alert.

The dark haired guy looked at him openly and said: “But are you sure he’s a vampire?”

She didn’t yet turn to them, so he didn’t see him on his face.

“It seems a zombie to me”, said the blond one.

They didn’t understand; no one realized he was dangerous the first time they saw him. They didn’t realize how fast he could be, how strong he was.

Muffin, the calf, began to sink desperately. It was the only animal present there.

The eyes of the vampire turned to them. The dark haired guy groaned. Penelope, on the other hand, stepped forward.

She would never have done it before, she would not expose herself, but now that their marriage has publicly sanctioned this curiosity was justified.

One of the guards came in, pulling the spear between the bars and tried to hit him. The vampire was fast and grabbed the tip of the spear, removing it. Another behind him struck him. The spear penetrated into his back, and he moved away. A rush of blood leaped.

Penelope heard one of the guys clinging to his arm. They were so shocked that they had forgotten who she was. “What are they doing?”

“They are intimidating him for the show.”

He didn’t understand. “But he’s a vampire!”

According to the Magnificent, this wasn’t enough. He didn’t make enough impression.

Other guards arrived with their spears and teased him, always keeping away from security. They struck him in several places, wounding him, but the cuts quickly recovered.

“Are they not hurting him?” asked the blond.

It was obvious that they did, but he never made any sound. It was the silence the peculiarity most frightened the viewers.

At some point, they could no longer hit him. Despite chains, he could still be faster than them.

The dark haired guy was pale. Now the vampire snarled in silence and showed an impressive predator tooth. His eyes changed, they were completely red. No, no one could have confused him for a zombie now.

The guards retreated, and Hercules and his men came forward.

“It’s time”, Penelope said as the curtains rose.

The wagon began to move, and the vampire was dazzled by the stage lights.

Penelope managed to see him clearly for the first time, in detail.

“Can we go and see him too? Please, let me see.”

“No”, Penelope said.

They exchanged a look, disappointed.

“So why did you bring us here?” asked the blond guy

“To see me. Didn’t you want to see my performance?”

“Yes but…” The dark haired guy was very embarrassed. “Just take a look. Only one looks.”

Penelope noticed the guards untie the calf and take it away.

“He will eat Muffin”, he said.

He managed to confuse it. Then they turned back to see and realized that the animal had disappeared.

“But…”

“What did you think of his performance? They can’t nourish him with human beings.”

Santini would have been capable, Penelope thought, if only he had found the way to do it without being sued.

“Why Muffin?” asked the blond, upset.

“That’s how it works. They give him whatever they find. Pets. Horses, cows, goats. What they can buy from peasants. For the show.” And she added: “To nourish him. He needs it.”

“But…”

“Let’s go out”, said Penelope, for she didn’t even want to hear what would happen from there.

“We want the same thing!” said the dark-haired guy.

The blonde nodded though he did not seem sure as his friend.

“You will not like it”, said Penelope.

They would not listen to her. They could not understand. They were too hungry for adventure and emotions. Of course, they were afraid, but even that for them was a diversion.

“As you please”, he conceded.

Medusa went on. “Do you bring them in?”

She should not have been surprised; there were certainly younger children among the spectators, there had always been.

“You never come!” he added.

That was right, but only partially. Sometimes she had also witnessed, without being noticed by anyone.

“I think it’s time to start”, she replied and took the boys toward the stage.

They crossed the red curtain and found themselves in the heart of the show. They stood open, in front of all those lights and the public. Eight large braziers were placed at the sides of the round table and illuminated it by day. The vampire cage seemed almost small, there in the middle.

“Let’s get out of here”, Penelope said, pushing the boys to one side.

She left them on the ground, in front of the first row, in an ideal position. She could not do it, with her dress she was wearing, so she stood. Many glances turned towards her, for they soon realized it was one of the phenomena.

They had set up a platform, in front of the cage, and were pushing the calf for it to rise. The bellowing of the poor animal sounded nervous.

Silence fell over the entire tent. So many excited and frightened looks were pointing toward the cage.

The boys were holding hands, and Penelope wondered if they had already regretted it.

When they opened the cage, it was the worst moment. The vampire tugged at the chains, and the metallic strider made several people startled. We also had to help the strong men push the calf inside because it didn’t want to move; as soon as we managed to push it the grid collapsed inexorably.

Everything froze again as they rushed to take off the platform.

The boys didn’t ask her anything because they understood.

None of the viewers realized it, but that was the most dangerous moment. Every night the risk of a massacre was possible. That was how the first vampire had freed himself, bringing death and destruction.

For the show to take place, it was necessary to loosen the chains so that the vampire could reach its prey. Hunger drove his instincts. A blind, irrational hunger of a beast that dominated the vampire. It was logical that he was just about to sneak on the prey.

But if it didn’t happen? His father didn’t do so. His father turned and managed to escape. But he was different. Penelope didn’t know how much because no one ever wanted to talk about him, but he certainly wasn’t just a beast.

Everything needed incredible precision. The moment the vampire is released, the precise moment to retract the chains before he finished the meal and address his interest in other preys.

He saw the forts move over the other side of the cage, out of sight. There were the wheels that adjusted the length of the chains.

There was a metallic noise, and then…

The whisper was heartbreaking. Penelope saw the boys’ legs twirling, but she didn’t look in their faces.

The vampire was on the calf, had been so fast that almost nobody had seen him move. He was biting it everywhere, and the blood splashed. The calf moaned even stronger.

“He is eating it alive”, one of the boys said.

“No, he’s just drinking his blood.”

“But he’s tearing the flesh!”

Perhaps nobody taught him to attack the jugular, to do it faster. He sucked the blood from every part of the body. And the animal itself allowed him, trying to protect his head.

He made his way through the meat, scratched it, and squeezed it to squeeze each drop.

It was an obscene, terrifying show because the calf was still alive, sliced open but alive.

Then he also came to his neck. He broke it to bites.

The blonde guy jumped to his feet and ran.

The dark haired boy went to him, calling him. “Piero!”

He had to be more upset than she expected.

He crossed the stage instead of walking around it, heading toward the tent that hid the passage from which they had passed. The dark haired guy also did the same, finding himself dangerously close to the cage.

Unlike his friend, however, he made the mistake of raising his eyes.

The vampire was there, very close, looking over at the bars.

The eyes were red, the naked body covered in blood, with a handful of small bowels in his hands. His mouth wide open, his teeth clenched, also dripping blood, and a look of pure hatred that can paralyze anyone. The calf had to be dead by now, as he had almost pulled his head off his neck.

The dark haired boy turned into a statue frozen by terror. His death had never been so close to him.

It was an infinite moment in which he felt he had become his prey.

Then there were two things at the same time: someone lifted him by weight, and suddenly the vampire was dragged away.

They were rolling the chains.

There was applause; the spectators were still shocked by the violence of the show.

The dark haired boy was beyond the curtain, without realizing it. There Penelope put him down to the ground.

The blond guy wasn’t far away and was crying.

She took the dark-haired guy’s hand and went together to retrieve his friend.

“Let’s go”, he said.

3

They moved away from the tent and found themselves in a field under the moon.

The dark haired guy tried to talk. “We’re fine, go back inside.”

“My performance is at the end; there is still time.”

They didn’t yet recover. They were peasant children, and they were likely to have seen death before. But nothing could prepare such cruelty.

“He did it on purpose”, said the blond one. “He didn’t kill it right away.”

The other also nodded. “He tore it apart, but he didn’t kill him. Until the end.”

Yes, it was possible. Penelope had never thought of it, but it was credible. Besides, she was watching the show as little as possible. Hatred dominated him; so why wonder if he was particularly cruel.