Victor VanLorn’s Lunar Circus was known for taking its customers away. Natalie didn’t think it would be quite so literal.
The circus was a collection of blue and grey tents with strings of lights that looked like mason jars filled with fireflies. Natalie had been so enamored with it all: the joyous cries of laughing children, the smell of funnel cake and popcorn, and the sparkling wonder of the circus that made Natalie wander around so bravely. She’d drifted through the carnival games, followed behind a trio of performing acrobats, and looked deep into the eyes of a caged tigress. The only problem was that she’d lost her way back to her parents and when the darker it got, the less Natalie wanted to stay.
Trying to find her way, Natalie walked through the circus. The tents here weren’t the glorious big top or the charming carnival games. Behind the scenes, a circus started to lose its whimsy. The roars of sleepy lions started to sound like they were hugging her in the dark and the people talking seemed sinister and feral. Biting back the urge to cry, Natalie tried retracing her footsteps until she stumbled across a group of performers sitting around a fire.
“Eighty-six,” a young woman frowned, flipping through a stack of bills, “eighty-seven, eighty-eight…damn it. Coming up short, again.”
“Victor isn’t willing to front you anymore?” Another woman asked.
“I’m still trying to pay off my last advance,” the young woman sighed. She was wearing a gold leotard that sparkled against the firelight. Her black hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail adorned with golden pins. On her back were a pair of fairy wings with more firelight sparkles that Natalie couldn’t help but stare at. The other woman had blonde hair and was dressed in an outfit that looked like a bluebird warming itself by an open flame. A bald man with a pair of black pants and a fourth person wearing a dark blue mask with spiky black hair were sitting around the fire as well, the bluebird woman’s head in the bald man’s lap as they lounged.
“Downside of circus life,” the bald man grumbled, running his fingers down the bluebird woman’s arm, “no overtime pay.”
“I don’t see why you pay rent anywhere,” the blue masked person shrugged, folding their arms behind their head.
“It’s a storage unit. I want to have somewhere to go after I finish my time here and it’d be easier if I was starting with more than what I have in my car.”
“What about temp work?” Bluebird asked. “John made some extra money when we were stuck in Atlanta for a week between shows.”
“Worst five days of my life,” the bald man sighed. “‘Corporate doesn’t care for clowns!’ as the owner always told me. Not that I was any worse than of the other goons in the data entry crew. The three I was with were always high off their—“
“Shh!” The golden woman perked up and looked across the fire. “What’s she doing here?”
Everyone around the fire looked, surprised to see Natalie, but their surprise was quickly covered over by careful ease. The Bluebird perked up and hopped over the fire, crouching in front of Natalie with an eager smile. “Hello, little girl…what are you doing back here?”
“I—“ Natalie stammered, her voice breaking a little. “I can’t find my mom and dad…”
“Poor girl’s freezing,” the Blue Mask said. “Come sit by the fire for a minute. You’re shivering so much I can see from here.”
Natalie hesitated, but the warm smile of the Bluebird and the Golden Woman enticed her to sit. Bluebird made a show of clearing off a stool for Natalie, wiping it clean with a handkerchief. Bald John hoisted her up and plopped her onto the stool.
“There we are,” John beamed, “best seat in the house! A warm fire and good company are the keys to a good mood! What’s your name, miss?”
“Natalie. I live in town.”
“Well, Natalie who lives in Town,” Blue Mask smiled, “my friends call me Rain! This is John and his lovely wife, Hannah. And our lady in gold, Amy. We’re all quite pleased to meet!”
“Are you all in the circus?”
“Acrobats,” Hannah said. “Except for John, but he’s alright for a clown.”
“They’re all well enough,” Amy said. “Did you come with your parents, Natalie?”
Natalie nodded and regarded the stack of bills in Amy’s grasp. “I have two dollars…”
“Oh?” Amy asked a little confused.
“You can have it,” Natalie said, stretching out her hand with the crumpled bills in it.
“Oh, I couldn’t take it from you,” Amy smiled. “It’s sweet of you to offer, but…”
“My mom said I could spend my circus money how I want,” Natalie said. “I don’t mind.”
Amy sighed deeply and looked to her other compatriots. When no one else objected, Amy took the two bills from her grasp. “Well, I’d hate to take something for nothing. Two dollars strikes me as enough for a small parade.”
“Natalie the Generous!” John said, hoisting Natalie onto his shoulders. “The Charitable…the Kind!”
“We’ll sing her praises through the Lunar Lane!” Rain cheered, hopping up and running in circles around John.
Natalie giggled as the acrobats rushed through the circus, cheering for her and jumping into throngs of people. People applauded as she walked by and John encouraged her to wave at people as they passed by. Before long nearly, the entire circus was following Natalie and her crew as they marched through the impromptu streets.
“Natalie!” Natalie’s mother came rushing through the crowd and reached up for her. Amy lifted her from the bald man’s shoulders and passed her off to her mother with a smile.
The golden acrobat knelt down and smiled. "A good deed can be its own reward, but you helped me more than you may ever know."
Amy stood again a little prouder and raised her hands to the crowd. “To Lady Natalie the Charitable!” Amy cheered. "Friend to the circus and all the circus folk!"
The crowd roared with applause as Natalie’s mother carried her out of the circus and the acrobats cheered. Natalie looked back to see Amy holding up the two dollars with a broad grin.