As we walked through the entryway, an immediate sinking feeling came over me, and I knew there was something about this circus that wasn’t right. Something terribly wrong, in fact. The faces of the performers, slack and emotionless told me. It was too late to turn back, being corralled single file through the narrow entrance, I would have had to climb over the shoulders of the 20 or so people that were in the tunnel blocking the light of day on the other side, and truthfully, I would have felt a bit silly, and it had been awhile since I’d taken Alisha out for a date. She would have thought I was just trying to bail on her again. As I looked at her face, it was bright and excited with no trace of reserve or fright.
At the end of the corral, there was a ticket dispenser like the kind one would find at the dmv or Secretary of State. I took my ticket and read D97. The man at the dispenser, looking lackadaisical and understimulated, pale and ghastly, glanced at it and pointed over his left shoulder towards the section clearly marked “D”. I took her hand when we were able to again walk side by side and led her to the back of the huge tent.
As we climbed the bleachers to the top row, we saw young children with parents, mostly mothers with no spouse to help carry the burden, burying their grubby hands in greasy bags of popcorn, unable to focus on one thing for more than a few seconds. A few old people, but not many. Past their 7pm bedtimes, I suspect.
When we finally got to our section, we took our seats and took in the view. There was a large cage in the middle with 2 emaciated looking tigers nervously pacing back and forth. Off to my left there was a large upright stationary ring, which I knew or at least assumed would be lit on fire for the tigers to jump through. Aside from that, the floor was mostly empty, except for the gate surrounding the seats, presumably keeping the people out and the circus animals in.
Nearly 20 minutes after we had taken our seats, a man’s thunderous voice with a thick German accent came booming through the loudspeakers. “Lady and gentman, boys and gurs, we like to velcome you to de Schrien Zirkus!” Applause and whistles overpowered his voice for a moment and he patiently waited for it to die down. When at last it did, he resumed “Please show a*s much love for our first performerss, the amazink Himmler Brüder!” Again the crowd erupted as 2 long, gaunt men came out with their arms in the air, turning back and forth to face everyone in the crowd.
After the frenzied crowd tapered off again, they both walked to the tigers and simultaneously pulled levers at each side of the cage and swinging the entire front up on a hinge, released the animals. Both tigers causiously walked out at the same time, and just as they cleared the open part of the cage, both men raised a hand and said “halt! Sitzen!” and they both sat. The crowd applauded enthusiastically. They soaked it up for a few seconds and one said “Feuer!” The other went to the ring on the left and lit it. I have to admit, watching the fire work it’s way around the ring was very beautiful, and I was starting to feel a little better, drawing from the positive energy of the crowd. The man who lit the ring went around to the far end and nodded to his brother, who was still standing with the large cats, unintimidated. He said “lauft! Springt!” and they both bolted towards the ring and the other handler. Both cats leapt simultaneously, side by side through the burning ring of fire and landed less than a foot from Himmler #2. As soon as they touched down he yelled “halt!” and they immediately stopped. The audience was impressed. So impressed in fact, they hadn’t noticed the large wooden door being bolted in place, securing the only exit, while dozens of other common circus animals had been led in from thier containment areas just outside the other end of the tent and through the dark corridor. When the animals emerged, the brothers took turns making a brief explanation in German, which few, if any, understood. “Das ist Hitler’s Rache! Wegen seiner Ungerechtigkeit wirst du jetzt alle sterben!”
While most just looked around in a dazed, confused state, I understood enough German to know it was time to get the f**k out of there. I looked at Alisha and said “Sterben means “die.” This is no good, we gotta go.” I grabbed her hand while she just stared at me like I’d lost my mind. I dragged her up so we were standing on the bleacher we had been sitting on and swung my leg over the braces on the back. She still gave me some resistance until Himmler #1 shouted “Gunther, Fritz, töten!” The tigers split in each direction and charged the crowd. One boy walking back to his seat with his recently refilled popcorn bag was unlucky enough to be the first target. The tiger grabbed him by his jeans and dragged him away from the stands, and before the boy even knew what happened, had its mouth around his neck and made a quick puncture on both sides. Blood sprayed in 2 directions like a burst water pipe as he tried to cover the wounds with both hands. It was no use. He rapidly lost his strength and slipped away. The other tiger easily leaped over the gate and pounced into the audience. It grabbed a fat woman by the face and with a quick whip of it’s head, neatly tore off her skin. Blind and still confused, she blundered around and tumbled down the 3 steps to the ground, landing on her gory mess that used to be her face and twitched around. I knew the tigers weren’t just trying to get a meal. They only wanted to kill.
Now everyone was on their feet and fumbling around in all directions, with their brains having not entirely processed what was happening or how to deal with it. Luckily Alisha and I had a few seconds head start on getting used to the idea that we had to go. We both climbed over the back of the bleachers and started climbing down, hearing from above the stampede of scared, stupid humans. People crashing and tumbling down the aluminum stands in a desperate attempt to reach the ground and exit the tent that had become their tomb. Some even diving over where we had climbed and landing hard and clumsily on the ground all around us.
When we reached the floor, I pulled out my utility knife and cut a slit in the tent from my head to the floor, revealing the direct and blinding light of the sun setting over the lake in the West. We stumbled through the hole and staggered like drunks until we were 15, maybe 20 feet away from the tent, and watched as others started tumbling out and trampling each other in a frenzy. It didn’t take long for the bodies to stack up and clog the exit I had made.
As the screams from inside rose to an ear piercing pitch, it dawned on me for the first time the ominous name of this wicked circus. Schrein Zirkus: Screaming Circus