by Carys Crossen
Roll up! Roll up! No, you clots, roll those pumpkins up
here, not down there! Ugh, trolls, who besides my idiot self
ever hires them? Strong as willow wands but dense as fog off the river.
Forgive me, forgive me, I am at sixes and sevens today.
Who are you? A traveller? A poacher? Just out for a walk? No matter, come and sit on this tree stump. Lots of nice soft
moss to rest your bum on for a bit. Join our other human
guests, if you please. We have quite a few this year, passers-
by and runaways and people seeking favours and those who owe a favour. All the better...
Permit me to introduce myself: my name is Jaga, and my
trade is witchcraft. Most of the year I keep to myself in my
little hut, but once a year, round about Samhain, my friends
and I gather for a bit of mischief and devilry at the fringes
of the wood, and we put on a show. It’s not often we make
visible our strange selves, but this is a peculiar time of
year, when the boundaries between summer and winter, night and day, life and death grow thin and insubstantial. And so we
come to the edge of the wood, and gather our audience
(including some fool – that is, brave humans such as yourself)
and we conjure… a circus.
Our own woodland circus, with myself as ringmistress!
(Yes, I’m a woman, no need to look so surprised, the beard’s a
gift of old age and one or two little tricks gone awry). Hence
my fine scarlet dress and thigh-high boots. Made from doeskin, and stitched with silver thread, you see. A bugger to keep
clean, but worth it. Now, excuse me, I must make an announcement.
Roll up! Roll up! Come one, come all! Undines,
hobgoblins, hunkypunks, tommyknockers, witches, warlocks, werewolves and werebears, ghosts and ghostlings, demons, fae… who am I forgetting? Ah yes, humans! Come one and all, no matter who or what or where you’re from or what you feast on! Come to our ring, betwixt the wood and the town, the ring that
for this night only will feature our circus! Der Hexenzirkus!
What? You don’t speak German? Shame. It means ‘the witches’ circus’ or ‘the circus of witches.’ It was founded by
the Wayward Sisters, some of the greatest witches who ever
lived. They adopted a German name out of respect for our great patron, der Erlkönig, whose woods these are. You don’t know of him, either?
Hmm? Oh, I said time for the fools! Here they are! Allow yourself to be amused, kind visitor, by our sprites and
goblins! See what hideous faces they pull! Look at their
tumbling! See what tricks they can perform with stones! They
never miss their mark! Yes, we do tend to lose a sprite or two during this act when they all pick the same target, but a
small price to pay for such a performance! Mop up that blood
and let us proceed.
Time for our jugglers! You wouldn’t expect werewolves to
be such stupendous jugglers, now, would you? Look at them, tossing up pumpkins and turnips and flaming torches and
severed heads! For you see, werewolves must juggle their very beings, between humans and wolf, and must never fumble the catch, or else they fall into beastliness and will gorge
themselves on blood and flesh until they burst.
And now the acrobats! Witches, these two, sisters. What stunts, what gymnastics they are capable of, those flying
creatures! And all without the aid of a broom! Ooh, look at Danielle, how she flips and is caught by Giselle! Now spinning round, like a pair of wooden tops! Shall I tell you their
secret? It’s the ropes. Nothing like a good hanging rope for acrobatics. A hanging rope never breaks.
A little dancing now. Oh, what a treat! What an honour!
The Erlkönig’s own children come to dance for us! Look how gracefully they move. Spider-leg thin, I grant you. And the
mud on their feet and their clothes made of leaves… Yes, they
are rather mournful-looking. I daresay they miss their old
homes. The Erlkönig never bothers asking if they’d like to come and live with him...
The shadows are coming out to play – light those torches,
will you? We must have firelight for our great finale! Get
those ogres to move aside! We must have room for our guest of honour!
Look! He comes! With his crown of thistles and ivy, his
sceptre of reeds, his cloak of animal hides and bones, eyes
the colour of mould and rot and his moss-rimed grey hair… do
you recognise him? Do you know him? It is the Erlkönig! Bow
low, for he is a king, and I cannot vouch for his temper. I
wonder if he’ll like you?
Oh, so you’re off? Took you long enough. Perhaps you’re
not as much of a fool as I first thought… no, don’t linger!
Scarper, before he gets here! Perhaps we might see you next
year, but for now, follow your feet and pray they lead you
safely back home! And whatever you do, don’t you dare take a shortcut through the woods. Take the path away from them.
As for me, I go to greet our patron. He looks hungry –
I’d better find him some meat. Stoke the bonfire, and bring
forth our human guests... the daintiest of morsels, is roast
human flesh, the eyeballs, the fingers, the hearts...
Be off with you, I said! And plug your lugs, the
screaming will start soon and otherwise it will be a long time before the ringing in your ears ceases…
Safe journey, my dear. And the sweetest of dreams!
Carys Crossen has been writing stories since age 9 and shows no signs of stopping. Her fiction has been published by Mother's Milk Books, Riggwelter, Cauldron Anthology, Honey & Lime Lit and others. When she's not writing she's earning a living/contemplating nature/reading voraciously. She lives in Manchester UK with her husband.