We walked Darius around the site and introduced him to Rhamus Twobellies, Cormac Limbs, Hans Hands and Truska. Cormac was busy and didn't have time to show the boy how he could re-grow his limbs, but Truska sprouted a short beard for him, then sucked the hairs back into her face. Darius acted like he wasn't impressed, but I could see the wonder in his eyes.
Darius was strange. He didn't say much, and kept his distance, always a couple of metres away from Harkat and me, as though he still didn't trust us. He asked lots of questions about the performers and the Cirque Du Freak, which was normal. But he didn't ask anything about me, where I was from, how I'd come to join the show or what my tasks involved. He didn't ask about Harkat either. The grey-skinned, stitched-together Little Person was like nothing most people had ever seen. It was common for newcomers to pump him for information. But Darius seemed uninterested in Harkat, as if he already knew everything about him.
He also had a way of staring at me oddly. I'd catch him looking at me, when he thought my attention was elsewhere. It wasn't a threatening look. There was just something about the flickering of his eyes that for some reason unsettled me.
Harkat and I weren't hungry, but when we passed one of the open campfires and saw a pot of bubbling soup, I heard Darius's stomach rumble. "Want to eat?" I asked.
"I'm having dinner when I go home," he said.
"How about a snack, to keep you going?"
He hesitated, then licked his lips and nodded quickly. "But just a small bowl of soup," he snapped, as though we meant to force-feed him.
While Darius was downing the soup, Harkat asked if he lived nearby.
"Not far off," he answered vaguely.
"How did you find out? about the show?"
Darius didn't look up. "A friend of mine - Oggy Bas - was here. He was going to take some seats - we often come here when we want seats or railings. It's easy to get in and nobody cares what we take. He saw the circus tent and told me. I thought it was an ordinary circus until I came exploring yesterday."
"What sort of a name is Oggy Bas?" I asked.
"Oggy's short for Augustine," Darius explained.
"Did you tell Oggy what the Cirque Du? Freak really was?" Harkat asked.
"Nah," Darius said. "He's got a big mouth. He'd tell everybody and they'd all come. I like being the only one who knows about it."
"So you're a boy who knows how to keep a secret," I chuckled. "Of course, the downside is that since nobody knows you're here, if wedid kidnap you or feed you to the Wolf Man, nobody would know where to look."
I was joking, but Darius reacted sharply. He half-bolted to his feet, dropping the unfinished bowl of soup. Acting instinctively, I snatched for the bowl, and with my vampire speed I caught it before it hit the ground. But Darius thought I meant to strike him. He threw himself backwards and roared, "Leave me alone!"
I took a surprised step back. The other people around the fire were gawping at us. Harkat's green eyes were on Darius, and there was more than just surprise in his expression - he looked wary too.
"Easy," I half-laughed, lowering the bowl, then raising my hands in a gesture of friendship. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Darius sat up. He was blushing angrily. "I'm OK," he mumbled, getting to his feet.
"What's wrong, Darius?" Harkat asked quietly. "Why so edgy?"
"I'm OK," Darius said again, glaring at Harkat. "I just don't like people saying stuff like that. It's not funny, creatures like you making threats like that."
"I didn't mean it," I said, ashamed for having frightened the boy. "How about I get a ticket to tonight's show for you, to make up for scaring you?"
"I ain't scared," Darius growled.
"Of course you aren't," I smiled. "But would you like a ticket anyway?"
Darius pulled a face. "How much are they?"
"It's free," I said. "Courtesy of the house."
"OK then." That was as close as Darius got to saying thanks.
"Would you like one for Oggy too?" I asked.
"No," Darius said. "He wouldn't come. He's a scaredy cat. He doesn't even watch horror movies, not even the really old and boring ones."
"Fair enough," I said. "Wait here. I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
I tracked down Mr Tall. When I told him what I wanted, he frowned and said all the tickets for tonight's show had been sold. "But surely you can find a spare one somewhere," I laughed. There was always lots of space in the aisles and it was usually never a problem to stick in a few extra chairs.
"Is it wise, inviting a child to the show?" Mr Tall asked. "Children tend to fare unfavourably here. Yourself, Steve Leonard, Sam Grest." Sam was a boy who'd had a fatal run-in with the Wolf Man. He was the first person I'd drunk blood from. Part of his spirit - not to mention his taste for pickled onions! - still lived on within me.
"Why mention Sam?" I asked, confused. I couldn't remember the last time Mr Tall had made a reference to my long-dead friend.
"No reason in particular," Mr Tall said. "I just think this is a dangerous place for children." Then he produced a ticket out of thin air and handed it to me. "Give it to the boy if you wish," he grumbled, as if I'd squeezed an inconvenient favour out of him.
I walked back slowly to Darius and Harkat, wondering why Mr Tall had behaved in such a curious manner. Had he been trying to warn me not to let Darius get too closely involved with the Cirque Du Freak? Was Darius like Sam Grest, eager to leave home and travel around with a band of magical performers? By inviting him to the show, was I setting him up for a fall like Sam's?
I found Darius standing where I'd left him. He didn't look like he'd moved a muscle. Harkat was on the other side of the fire, keeping a green eye on the boy. I hesitated before giving Darius his ticket. "What do you think of the Cirque Du Freak?" I asked.
"It's OK," he shrugged.
"How would you feel about joining?"
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"If there was an opening, and you had the chance to leave home, would?"
"No way!" he snapped before I finished.
"You're happy at home?" Yes.
"You don't want to travel around the world?"
"Not with you lot."
I smiled and gave him the ticket. "That's OK then. The show starts at ten. Will you be able to come?"
"Of course," Darius said, pocketing the ticket without looking at it.
"What about your parents?" I asked.
"I'll go to bed early, then sneak out," he said, and giggled slyly.
"If you're caught, don't tell them about us," I warned him.
"As if!" he snorted, then waved sharply and left. He looked at me one final time before he passed out of sight, and again there was something odd about his gaze.
Harkat walked around the fire and stared after the boy.
"A strange kid," I commented.
"More than just strange," Harkat murmured.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I don't like him," Harkat said.
"He was a bit sullen," I agreed, "but lots of kids his age are like that. I was that way myself when I first joined the Cirque Du Freak."
"I don't know." Harkat's eyes were full of doubt. "I didn't buy his story about his? friend, Oggy. If he's such a scaredy cat, what was he? doing exploring up here by himself?"
"You're getting suspicious in your old age," I laughed.
Harkat shook his head slowly. "You didn't pick up on it."
"What?" I frowned.
"When he accused us of threatening him, he said? 'creatures like you'." So?
Harkat smiled thinly. "I'm quite obviouslynot human. But what tipped him off to the fact? thatyou aren't either?"
A sudden chill ran through me. Harkat was right - the boy had known more about us than he should have. And I realized now what it was about Darius's gaze which had disturbed me. When he thought I wasn't looking, his eyes kept going to the scars on my fingertips, the standard marks of a vampire - like he knew what they meant!