OOC ”Already you have seen wonders.” The voice seemed to echo around the interior of the old warehouse, emerging from the smoke that seemed to fill every corner of this space. He was sitting among all the other people, eyes drawn to the sides, seeking the source of the voice, but it was movement that finally attracted his vision back to the center of the warehouse, where the bat-winged figure who appeared to introduce every act was slowly emerging from the smoke. The grey tendrils curled around him playfully, forming briefly into the visage of swirling water before transforming suddenly into hundreds of moths and butterflies that fluttered away towards the audience. “Already, many of you are thinking desperately, trying to determine the trick. There is no need to pretend otherwise. I can see it in your eyes. Up until this point, such doubts have not mattered. But now, that changes.” In the back of the warehouse, a light suddenly illuminated. For a moment the view hidden there remained opaque due to the curls of smoke, but a moment later it parted, rolling to each side like a curtain. Three people suddenly became visible. If people could even be an appropriate word for them. Perhaps the two on either side could have the label applied to them. One was a large man, with two bull horns emerging from the side of his head. The other, a young woman whose body was entirely grey. Large antlers emerged from the crown of her head, and dark grey cracks seemed to cover her skin. It would take time, and a great deal of effort, but makeup could create these two. But between them was a giant creature. It looked like a half man, half large, furry dog. Muscles seemed to ripple under its fur, and its large head snarled. Everyone in the audience, him included, couldn't help but let out a gasp. The dog-man snarled abruptly at the noise, only for the bull-horned man to step forward unexpectedly, waving a contained of scented smoke under the dog-man's nose. His aggression immediately lessened. “Now you see.” The ringmaster continued. In the audience, he didn't even dare to breathe too loud, out of fear of what the noise might provoke. “Under the control of the beastmasters, and when surrounded by limited stimulus, he is calm. Under the guidance of the beastmasters, he can be brought among you. Gently, you may feel his fur. But at this point, all your doubts must be smothered. The risk is real.” As the ringmaster spoke, beast and beastmasters slowly moved towards the audience. Those brave enough reached out hesitant fingers, running it through the smooth, brown fur of the man-dog. Fear and wonder kept them contained, kept them from acting out. But it would not last long. Towards the front of the crowd, sitting on the edge of an aisle, a lanky young Korean man only stared at the man-dog with disdain. He even muttered something, which earned him an angry glare from the person sitting next to him. It didn't seem to matter to the young man. Indeed, when the man-dog was brought in front of him again, his hand snaked out like lightning, latching on to the tail of the man-dog. He gave a sharp, abrupt pull. The beastmasters didn't have time to react before the man-dog swung around, his massive jaws lunging for the neck of the young man. He didn't even have time to let out a scream before they closed around his throat. But, rather than blood suddenly flying everywhere, something even more impossible began to happen. A convulsing shudder shook the form of the Korean, and purple scales suddenly began to erupt from his body. His scream suddenly changed into a deep-throated roar, like the bellow of a dragon from a horror movie. Buried in the middle of the audience, he stayed calm even as those around him burst into terrified screams. He had seen this before. He knew what was supposed to happen. The beastmasters would move forward with speed and confidence, using horns and bursts of fire to subdue both the man-dog, and the newly appeared monstrous lizard. Several of the other circus workers would move forward to calm the panicking audience, and the ringmaster would emerge once more, giving a potion to the quieted lizard that would cause his scales to slowly shed and dissolve, returning him to the pale-faced Korean man. He would be escorted out of the audience, and the rest of the circus goers would be left in a state of utter bewilderment and uncertainty, having witnessed something none of them would have ever believed was possible. He knew that was what was supposed to happen. He knew it. But it didn’t. The two monsters screamed their pleasure towards the ceiling before lunging forward unrestrained into the audience, attacking anyone who got in their way. Everyone who was bit suddenly bent double, shaking violently before hair, fur, feathers, or scales would suddenly erupt from their body, and they too would turn against the people near them. The disease spread like wildfire through the crowd, and he could only stare gape jawed at the beastmasters, who stood there, leering and laughing at him. This wasn't what was supposed to happen. This wasn't. This wasn't! Noah awoke abruptly with a gasp, and it took him several moments of wide-eyed panic to realize he was in his room, and not in that old, torn down warehouse. Normally his dreams, however dark, would not haunt him upon awakening, but this one had been worse because it had not only been a dream. It had also been a memory. And how could a memory like that, a memory of a person being transformed into a giant lizard by the bite of an uncontrolled man-dog, not wend its way into his dreams? It had been well over a day since that terrible, amazing moment, and that memory had haunted not only his last two nights of sleep, but his waking moments as well. It seemed that every time he gave himself even a moment's stillness or relaxation, his mind went back to that extraordinary scene. It would not leave his mind. The ticket to the Circus of Curiosities had been an unexpected gift from his younger brother Zach. Noah certainly didn't know how the young man had come to possess that ticket, nor what had compelled him to give it to Noah, all he knew was that Zach had showed up on the doorstep of their mother's house for the first time in a couple weeks, brusquely handed him the ticket saying that such things “just weren't his style”, and then vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Noah hadn't objected. Zach might have always been grounded in practicality and reasonability, but Noah had a bent for all things out of the ordinary. Even the few words on the ticket of “wonders beyond compare”, however cliché they might have been, had been more than enough to stir his imagination. He had determined to go, to witness what wonders this thing would be able to display. But now it seemed that dusty old warehouse had not only captured his imagination, it had stolen his soul. Noah sat up slowly, kicking off his sweat-dampened blankets with a few abrupt jerks, before flopping limply back down onto his pillow. The sky outside was still pitch dark except for a speckling of stars, and a trace of frozen winter air slipped in through the hole in his window and caused him to shiver unconsciously. Resigning himself to the fact that he wasn't going to be getting any more sleep tonight, Noah rolled himself out of bed and got dressed without turning on the light. His mother was in her room, haphazardly sprawled across the bed, clothes still on and a mostly empty bottle of rye whiskey occasionally dripping onto her chest in time with a particularly loud snore. Noah carefully set the bottle on the side table, before rolling his mother more fully onto the bed and pulling up the blankets. Under the covers, with her face finally relaxed, Tamara almost looked normal again. Looked like the photos Noah had seen of her before the accident that had left her physically crippled and heartbroken. Looking at his mother, Noah couldn't help but shake his head in frustration. His older brother Ben had been gone for a long time now, and Zach was only ever home when he couldn't find the parents of some friend or another to take care of him. Somehow, Noah had ended up taking care of Tammy, and it was the last thing he had wanted. He had persisted through it for the last nine years out of some notion that he owed her because she brought him into the world, only to watch her fall further and further into a state of disrepair. In a burst of frustration, Noah grabbed the bottle of alcohol, before dumping its contents over his mother's sleeping figure, before turning and storming out of the house and into the dark night. Noah ended up, like he always did when the world became too much to bear, on the lakeshore. He buried his feet in the cold sand as he sat down, before pulling his knees up to his chest and closing his eyes. The rhythm of the water lapping against the shore slowly soothed the frustration in his heart, and as he calmed down his thoughts returned to his obsession: the circus performance. For a long time he simply sat there, replaying the beastmaster act over and over in his head. Noah had long since given up trying to understand it, and a part of him had even accepted that somehow, remarkably, it had not been some sort of stage trick or optical illusion. That perfectly normal man had really become a lizard, just like those two girls had really grown wings, that mime had really stood on thin air, and that man had truly been punctured with knives and come out completely unharmed. It had shattered everything Noah had believed about the world, about what was possible and what only existed in the realm of his imagination, and now he was left floundering, uncertain of whether he wanted to bury his head in his hands until he just forgot the whole affair, or scream his unrestrained excitement to the sky, raving about the fact that there was so much more in the universe than he ever would have dreamed. He hadn't realized how trapped he had felt. Trapped in a shattered family where he was the parent to his own mother and his own brothers had abandoned him to that unwanted responsibility. Trapped in the knowledge that there was nothing waiting for him in the future but some meaningless job he would hate to the core of his soul, and that he would never accomplish anything that made him feel fulfilled. Most likely he would end up like his mother, left with nothing but bitterness and disillusionment that could only be mildly tempered by the oblivion of alcohol. But, for one night, all of that had changed. For one night, during the two hours of that performance and in the glow that followed after it, Noah had felt like a child once more, facing a future filled with unlimited potential. But now it was all fading away. Nothing remained but vulgar reality, fading memories, and a desperate longing that Noah couldn't even begin to figure out. Unable to stand sitting still any longer, he stood up abruptly and struck out along the coast, using faint moonlight to avoid the drifts of snow that the waves would not reach. He didn't stop moving even once he reached he end of the sandy lakeshore, instead barely hesitating as he vaulted a fence into the vacant rail yard to continue to walk along the water's edge. The ease of his movement showed that this was not the first time that Noah had performed such an action, and he didn't bother to look around for any observers before tucking his hands into his pockets and continuing to walk. At this time of night, no one else would be out here. It wasn't until he'd almost doubled the distance that he had walked that Noah realized his solitude was not as absolute as he had supposed. Several bright lights were poking in narrow rays through the shrubbery, to vanish out over the lake. Curious, Noah paused. He had lived here almost his whole life and knew that this rail yard was almost always completely deserted, even in the middle of the day. No one would ever be out here this time of night. No except him. And someone else, apparently. But it wasn't until he was almost on top of the light that Noah finally comprehended what he was seeing, and the realization brought him to a grinding halt. It was a train, which was unsurprising considering the fact that it was a rail yard, but it was no ordinary train. That was because Noah could see, printed on the side of every box car in a decorative silver and green font, three words that made him think his heart was going to stop. Circus of Curiosities. In that moment, Noah forgot about everything. He forgot about the fact that he was trespassing, he forgot about his mother sleeping at home, he forgot that he had to go back to school in a couple weeks, that he had a wrestling match coming up, that he was supposed to go shopping tomorrow for Zach's school supplies. All he could think about was the fact that fate had somehow guided him exactly where he wanted to be. Exactly where he was meant to be. The thought of what might happen if he walked into the camp of an illegal circus without welcome didn't concern him in the least. Even if they were to let that dog-man attack him, to turn him into a mindless beast that served the circus, it didn't seem to matter. Right now, any fate that this place could offer him seemed so many times better than the soul-crushing future that awaited him otherwise. Heart in his throat, Noah began to creep forward.