Exiting the Parched Pumpkin, the last of the mint gumdrop rain-wash was being swept towards drainage pipes by miniature tornado mops that danced on the street in front of the pub.
“Which way is the circus?” asked Claudette.
“Check the compass,“ was JD’s reply.
The curly haired woman pulled out a little purple box that pulsed brightly, beating at a rhythmic pace. Opening the lid, liquid crystal amethyst beat and swirled but didn’t settle towards any direction. Before either could get frustrated at their lack of direction, to the Northwest within Draem, the sky lit up green and pink as two large Chinese warriors in full armor seemed to fight each other like giants in the heavens. That would have been impressive enough, except that the animation was actually being made by a barrage of fireworks that crackled in the Draem night sky.
Immediately an amethyst stone popped up from the liquid glass of the compass and pointed the way towards the fireworks. As JD and Claudette walked, the battle in the sky waged on. Sword parries, kicks and punches were all thrown by both firework warriors until the pink one broke the green’s sword causing the warrior on the right to explode. The pink warrior pumped his left fist to the sky in victory and below him, fireworks wrote in bold writing:
The fireworks increased in intensity and grew to a roaring crescendo until all the sparks descended to form one massive circus tent. At first it was dazzling light until the flickers seemed to knit themselves into beautiful Chinese silk strands that flowed over each other effortlessly as the tent was made.
At the entrance of the Circus stood an elegant woman with long flowing black hair and deep Spanish eyes.
“Come one, come all to the Kung-Fu Circus. Amida bless thee. Won’t you come in and enjoy?”
JD looked the woman in the eyes quickly realizing he and Claudette were the only people within listening distance from the young woman. They quickly walked up, both of them realizing how little sense distance made in the realm of Draem.
“Welcome, welcome,” said the young woman in a proper British accent. “Thank you for coming. Entrance is only one ten yen coin.”
Claudette and JD looked each other in the eye, taken quite aback by the need for currency within a dream. “Excuse us, miss....” JD suddenly realized he had no idea what the young woman’s name. Luckily she took the cue.
“Yes-yes... Miss Amanda. Pardon us, but we don’t have any money. You see, we’re dreaming and we never bring cash into our dreams.”
The raven-haired woman gave a half smile with her lean lips. “Are you sure you checked your pockets?”
JD was a little surprised at the suggestion since he had never even thought of pockets here in Draem. So he checked them and found four coins within that were hot to the touch.
Claudette looked at the four coins and smiled. “So I guess we can go in?” she said before adding: “And two extra coins so we can come back again.”
The woman in black cleared her throat, “There are other things the coins are good for.”
Claudette looked at JD, “Then keep them. I’m sure you’ll find something for them.”
“Me?” asked JD. “Well, all right then. If you think so.”
The lean woman stepped to the side and a large amber colored curtained opened to a vast area and a bustle of many people talking quite loudly. As their host, Amanda smiled at the jump JD and Claudette gave, “Thick curtains work rather well in Draem. This way, please. We have your box seats nearby.”
As Amanda led the way, Claudette and JD noticed all types of creatures sitting in the bleachers. A pale group of vampires, sheep dressed in wolf fur coats, Giant faeries with butterfly wings, monkeys in tuxedos and purple wigs, copper plated robots who let off steam with every movement, a group of walking eyeglasses, a whole row of unruly wooden rulers, a set of rebellious furniture who had mohawks and shirts that read downholstered and even creatures that looked liked plant people.
“Are those photogeni?” whispered Claudette.
JD nodded silently as he smiled and waved to various people in the crowd.
“Wow,” Claudette remarked. “You know most everyone here.”
“That may be although you’ve also introduced me to a couple of people and others we’ve just met at the same time. Next time, give me some names of friends and I’ll put them on the BWIPID list.”
“BWIPID list?” asked Claudette.
“Bloody well important people in dreams list.”
She laughed out loud at the reply, giving a little snort. “OK, Jay. I’ll be sure to offer some names for the list.”
“These are your seats,” said Amanda. “If you like, I can sit with you to offer information on the acts.”
Claudette stood looking at a large cardboard box that sat in front of the main stage. It was covered in postage stamps with names of places Claudette couldn’t recognize. “Our seats are in there?”
“That they are,” replied Amanda. “You may have to stoop but I assure you, it’s more comfortable than it looks from the outside.”
JD gave a shrug and ducked under the cardboard flap. Amanda held her arms out inviting Claudette to follow her friend’s example, so she did. When she came up on the other side of the flap, a satin sheet draped over her eyes until she poked out to the other side into a lush room with a table full of things to munch on, a fully stocked bar, and three large cushion seats to sit on, one black, one violet and a maroon one.
As she took the sight in, she saw JD pulling on the arm of an amber colored version of Rodin’s Thinker.
“They’ve got Curiosity Cola on tap!!!” JD exclaimed. Next to that, there were a dozen or so golden balloons tied to a large bottle with various pins stuck into the cork. Their guide pulled a pin and holding a flute glass below one of the golden floating pearls, popped the bubble and released champagne that smoothly filled her glass.
“I love bubbly. Would you like some, Claudette?”
But young Claudette had her eyes set on what looked like a pipe organ crossed with an espresso machine. “What’s that?” she asked Amanda.
Sipping on her freshly popped bubbly, Amanda pulled out a very comfortable chair for Claudette to sit on. “This is an organic smoothie maker. It accepts up to eight notes and interprets the melody into a smooth shake. For instance, try playing Bach’s Little Fugue.”
Claudette put her hands on the keys and before she could even wonder how to play an organ, her hands flicked over the keys and played Bach’s dark fugue as if she’d always known the tune. She looked at her hands a little shocked when JD called from his couch. “In Draem, we are endlessly more free than in Raelity, Claudi. The mind is powerful and in the Lucid, it is set free.”
While the young woman processed the information, a small clunk on the side of the organ signaled the smoothie was ready. Picking up the glass, she tasted it and found it was a perfect blend of blood orange and passion fruit. It was a small 4 oz. glass she noticed and her guide clarified: “The organic smoothie maker let’s you try samples or a larger size.”
Claudette leaned back in her chair and thought a second before a warm smile came to her face. She returned her hands to the keys and chimed the notes to a song that caught JD’s ear. Looking from the couch, he walked up next to her as she picked up the pitcher and poured him some.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Try it,” she replied smiling.
He gave a half-smirk with a suspicious look on his face. Pulling the glass to his lips, he said cheers and took a sip. The flavor started on the tip of this tongue, where crème tangerine met with ginger notes and pineapple overtones until the whole experience melted into what seemed like-
“A liquid smile, right?”
JD looked at Claudette and nodded in enthusiastic approval. “I’ll have to bring my Jane here, she’d love this so much.”
“You’re damn right!!” Claudette said. “There’s no way you can keep her to yourself forever. She’s not someone to keep from the world.”
Nodding apologetically, he responded: “You’re right. Next time, I’ll bring her although she may bring me. She dreams in a style all her own.”
“The show’s about to start,” Amanda said. “Would you like some satin or wool floss or rock corn?”
“What are those?” asked JD.
Satin and wool floss is like cotton candy, except smoother or rougher, depending on your taste. Rock corn is like popcorn, but crunchier. Do take a seat though, the show is about to start.”
Shuffling to the couches, they all took their seats and all went black. In the middle of the arena, a single flame lit in the dark space. Basking in the glow of the flame stood an old Asian man, holding a microphone up to speak into: “A single flame can burn for centuries. It can light the way; it can destroy a village or a forest or it can warm the soul. It all depends what we do with that flame, how we care for it and how we choose to express it. Tonight you will witness our tribute to fire, so please, put your hands together for Inferno.”
In response, the entire arena roared to life as columns of flame stood up from the ground and at least forty performers sprang to life, all riding a flaming dragon that swirled majestically through the air. JD, Claudette and even Amanda had to all gasp in awe at the sight of the dragon. Meanwhile, as time passed, people jumped off the dragon, performing elaborate tumbles and fanning past the box seats to wave hello before disappearing behind a large saffron colored curtain at the end of the arena.
The dragon swam through the air and breathed a cyclone of fire that looked about ready to go out of control, causing all the performers to duck behind the curtain and leave only the ancient looking announcer in the middle of the arena. The wave of fire swished and swirled heating the arena until the old man spun his slim arms powerfully causing the fire to stop in one place. Launching a high kick, he stomped on the floor with the same leg and pounded on his chest before taking a massive breath, inhaling the entire blanket of flames and breathing far after he’d swallowed the blaze.
When he stopped sucking, a pregnant pause hung in the air until a small burp escaped his mouth, followed by a little puff of smoke.
“Pardon me,” he said and everyone launched into a fit of laughter and applause.
After everyone had settled down, he bowed to the curtain. “Allow me to introduce to you, the first act: Jin Jun Mei, the tea samurai.
The curtain opened and a slender samurai walked out calmly, accompanied by three tiny old cats dressed in kabuki outfits and makeup, which included large amounts of rouge and who were pulling a sizeable cart filled with apples.
The samurai picked an apple and rubbed it on his hakama. “The apple is my favorite fruit. It is simple, elegant, practical, nourishing and can even serve as a weapon.”
Without warning, Jin lobbed an apple to one of the kabuki cats, bopping it on the side of the head and getting an annoyed meow as a response.
“Now, now, Fumiko. No need to get mad.”
The cat strode past the cart, took an apple and threw it full force towards the samurai. Two flashes of silver left the apple lying in four perfect slices on the ground. The other cats took notice and also picked apples, pitching them to the swordsman at full speed. One apple was peeled perfectly while the other was skewered on the sword. As if that weren’t enough, the peeled apple was actually still spinning in the air from the technique the samurai had used which he followed by slapping it with the flat part of his sword to send it back to hit the cat in the nose and cause an uproar of laughter and applause.
Jin gave a bow and all three old kitties growled in complaint and started shaking intensely which made the crowd’s ruckus die down. The swordsman noticed the reaction in the people and turned back to the quivering cats. He took a deliberate step back when he heard several pops coming from the cats. It didn’t take long for him to see that they had replicated until fifteen stood where three once were; all holding apples and gritting their teeth at the samurai. With a smile on his face and his hand on his sword, the cats surrounded him and all began throwing all the apples in his direction.
Where he stood only glimpses of silver shone and for a full minute, the cats threw apples until none were left in the cart. Although his sword was dripping with apple juice, Jin was as dry as a bone.
While the kittens growled, a large mirror came out and stood just above the arena, showing the image of a bearded man wearing glasses and holding his chin, staring out to the arena from the mirror with a line of text below him, all of which had been made with the shavings of the apples.
“A Jobs well done.”
The crowd exploded into applause and Jin bowed to the cheers.
The kittens became even more furious and started shaking madly until each cat burst into flames. Their fiery fur swelled the arena with suffocating heat in one large whoosh! Although it became more intense when they started spinning, creating a fiery cyclone.
In the middle of the inferno, Jin had closed his eyes and unsheathed his sword about an inch. When the first fiery cat made as if to pounce on him, he opened his eyes and in four seconds extinguished the flames. When all the fire had died down, all the kabuki kittens remained furless and covering their privates.
Jin responded to the audience’s stunned silence with a smile. “That’s at least fifteen additional ways to skin a cat.”
Another burst of laughter from the crowd prompted more applause and as he retreated, he bowed to the crowd before exiting through the large curtain from which the old announcer emerged again.
“How about another hand for Jin Jun Mei. And do not worry, no cats were harmed during the performance although they will be a bit nippy. Next up for your enjoyment, join me in welcoming Meicuo, the Divine Nun.”
The old man exited through the curtain, replaced by a small figure dressed in a grey robe and wearing a straw hat. With a slow pace, the person walked to the center of the arena where all went dark again. A single candle lit the arena, bathing the figure in its warm light.
Taking off the hat, a beautiful woman let down her black hair which almost reached down to her waist. She pulled her hair to one side, raised her right arm and undid the top part of the robe to reveal a white silk chemise that clearly outlined her svelte figure, delicate lines and leaving no doubt that she had only one arm.
In his seat, JD gaped a little and Claudette looked at him as she sipped on her savory smoothie. “What? You’ve never seen an amputee before?”
In awe, JD replied: “It’s not that, it’s just that she’s so beautiful. She makes it quite evident that you don’t need all your limbs to be mesmerizing.”
As he looked on, the woman continued to move with the grace of a swan combined with clockwork precision. Her movements unfolded like carefully pressed layers o satin and the flame from the candle danced to her movements.
Swishing her robed arm, the sleeve created an air stream that pulled on the small flame causing it to grow in size like a long flame ribbon. Her rhythmic swaying kneaded the flame through graceful movements that soothed the entire audience. The ribbon stretched and stretched and was now ten feet in length as the flame continued to grow.
“Fire isn’t always destructive,” Amanda whispered to Claudette and JD. “Meicuo lost an arm in a fire that ravaged her village. After they operated on her, she dedicated herself to nurture fire and show that when cared for, it is beautiful, it is alive and it is just fire. No judgment, no hatred, just misunderstood.”
The ribbon coiled upon itself, creating images of flowers that morphed into a large whale, then twirling umbrellas, a fiery fox and even a large panda. Finally, when the ribbon was ten meters long, the flame folded onto itself, creating a phoenix and a swan who began to dance in front of each other. The birds spun and twirled, passing each other side by side until they morphed into a large ball of fire that swelled momentarily as if about to explode before collapsing into a single solitary flame on the candle that was being held by Meicuo. With a gentle smile on her face, she blew out the flame.
When the arena lights came back on, she was gone and the crowd took a few seconds to snap out of their awe and burst into applause.
The old man walked out again with a satisfied smile. He held the microphone up to speak: “Thank you for coming to the Kung-Fu Circus. This is just a sample show. We invite you to see all we have to offer.
Before the ancient man could continue speaking, a small Japanese girl pulled at the sleeve of his suit. “Is there really no time for at least one more trick?”
His wise and confident face melted into a warm smile as he held up the microphone again. “What do you say, dear friends? Anyone want to see a short performance by our very own Ayi Origami?” The entire crowd filed back to their seats applauding loudly all the way back to their seats. “OK, Ayi. What do you have to show our friends?”
The little girl of about six or seven years was carrying a large school organizer which she opened to pull out various sheets of paper. She hugged the papers to her chest and with a joyful giggle tossed all of them into the air. The small ream seemed to come alive and fly off around the arena like a white dragon. Ayi jumped and skipped, picking papers from the air and folding them into intricate shapes setting each down on the floor. A panda, a monkey, a swan, an entire marching band, twin dragons, a large crab, little cars and finally a large hill that looked as if it was freshly dug earth, except that it was white because it was made of paper.
Before anyone could begin to wonder how the small girl could fold such intricate origami figures so quickly, she turned to the old man who stood admiring the frozen parade sized collection of origami. “Can you grandpa?”
With a gentle smile to the young girl, the old man produced a ruby red fortune cookie he handed to Ayi. “Go on, sweet child.”
Ayi took the ruby cookie and cracked it open. From within, came a little flame with eyes, a mouth a moustache and a small top hat. She giggled at the flame who in reaction pulled out a baton and began to tap each and every piece of origami sending them alive and dancing all around the arena to the delight of the crowd. They performed a merry song and dance and slowly grew brown and black, until almost consumed by flame, they jumped, waved goodbye and with a pop crumbled into ashes on the large mound that now danced with joyful fire.
Again the old man picked up the microphone and spoke while blossoms were being thrown by the crowd.
“Thank you so much, please come again.”
As everyone started exiting with the performers, JD got up, jumped over the hand railing in the cardboard box, making his way to the already extinguished mound. Amanda and Claudette quickly caught up. “What are you doing?” they both asked when they saw him digging in the ash.
After making a small hole in the mound, he reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the ten yen coins and dropped it into the hole, quickly filling up the hole and patting the ash mound. “Hey, you never know what can sprout when you plant good intentions in a dream.”
Both Claudette and Amanda stood confused and as they pondered just exactly what he could mean or what they could ask, the entire circus tent collapsed engulfing everyone in the saffron fabric.
Clawing through layers of fabric, Claudette finally saw some light and when she looked around, she found she was in her bedroom with her sheets in complete disarray. She laughed as she stroked her curls, “Well at least I got to finish the show.”