The camp was buzzing with activity all afternoon. People were running around like crazy. A bunch of them were working on putting together the circus tent. I hadn't seen it before. It was an impressive sight when it was done, tall and round and red, decorated with pictures of the performers.

Evra and me were kept busy, hammering pegs into the ground to hold the tent in place, arranging seats inside, setting up the stage for the show, preparing props for the performers (we had to find tin cans and nuts and bolts for Rhamus Twobellies to eat, and help move the wolf-man's cage inside the tent, and so on).


It was a huge operation, but it moved with incredible speed. Everyone in the camp knew their place and what was expected of them, and there was never any real panic over the course of the day. Everybody worked as part of a team and things came together smoothly.

Sam showed up early in the afternoon. I would have kept him around to help with the work, but Evra said he'd be in the way, so we told him he had to take off. He was upset and slouched off, kicking an empty soda can along in front of him. I felt sorry for him, then realized how I could cheer him up.

"Sam! Wait a minute!"I shouted. "I'll be back in a second,"I told Evra, then rushed off to Mr. Tall's van.

I knocked once on the door and it opened instantly. Mr. Tall was standing inside, and before I could say a word, he held out two tickets for entry to the Cirque Du Freak.

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I stared at the tickets, then at Mr. Tall. "How did you know...?"

"I have my ways,"he replied with a smile.

"I don't have any money,"I warned him.

"I'll take it out of your wages,"he said.

I frowned. "You don't pay me anything."

His smile widened. "Clever old me."He handed over the tickets and closed the door in my face before I could thank him.

I hurried back to Sam and gave him the tickets.

"What are these?"he asked.

"Tickets for tonight's show,"I told him. "One for you and one for R.V."

"Oh, wow!"Sam quickly stuck the tickets in his pocket, as if he was afraid they might blow away or vanish. "Thanks, Darren."

"No problem,"I said. "The only thing is, it's a late show. We're starting at eleven, and it won't be over till nearly one in the morning. Will you be able to come?"

"Sure,"Sam said. "I'll sneak out. Mom and Dad go to bed at nine every night. They're early birds."

"If you get caught,"I warned him, "don't tell them where you're going."

"My lips are sealed,"he promised, then set off to find R.V.

Except for a quick dinner, there was no other break between then and the start of the show. While Evra left to feed his snake, I set up candles inside the circus tent. There were also five huge chandeliers to be hung, four above the crowd and one over the stage, but the Little People took care of those.

Mags - a pretty woman who sold souvenirs and candy during intermission - asked me to help her get the displays ready, so I spent an hour stacking candy spiderwebs and edible ?glass? statues and pieces of the wolf-man's hair. There was a new novelty I hadn't seen before: a small model of Cormac Limbs. When you cut a part of it off, a new piece grew in its place. I asked Mags how it worked but she didn't know.

"It's one of Mr. Tall's inventions,"she said. "He makes a lot of this stuff himself."

I chopped the head off the model and tried peering down the neck to see what was inside, but a new head grew before I could.

"The models don't last forever,"Mags said. "They rot after a few months."

"Do you tell people that when they're buying them?"I asked.

"Of course,"she said. "Mr. Tall insists we let the customers know exactly what they're buying. He doesn't approve of conning people."

Mr. Crepsley summoned me half an hour before the show began. He was dressing in his stage costume when I entered.

"Polish Madam Octa's cage,"he ordered, "then brush your suit down and clean yourself up."

"Why?"I asked.

"You are going on with me,"he said.

My eyes lit up. "You mean I'm part of the act?"I gasped.

"A small part,"he said. "You can bring the cage on and play the flute when it is Madam Octa's time to spin a web over my mouth."

"Mr. Tall normally does that, doesn't he?"

"Normally,"Mr. Crepsley agreed, "but we are short on performers tonight, so he is going to be performing himself. Besides, you are better suited to assisting than him."

"How so?"I asked.

"You look creepier,"he said. "With your pale face and that awful suit, you look like something out of a horror film."

That gave me a little bit of a shock. I'd never thought I was creepy looking! I looked in a mirror and realized I did look sort of frightening. Because I hadn't drank human blood, I was a lot paler than I should have been. The dirty suit made me look even more ghostlike. I made up my mind to find something new to wear in the morning.

The show started at exactly eleven. I didn't expect much of a crowd - we were in the middle of nowhere and hadn't had much time to notify people about the show - but the tent was packed.

"Where did they all come from?"I whispered to Evra as we watched Mr. Tall introduce the wolf-man.

"Everywhere,"he replied quietly. "People always know when one of our shows is happening. Besides, even though he only told us about it today, Mr. Tall probably knew we'd be playing tonight ever since we set up camp."

I watched the show from the wings, enjoying it even more than the first time I'd seen it, because now I knew the people involved and felt like part of the family.

Hans Hands went on after the wolf-man, followed by Rhamus Twobellies. We had our first break, then Mr. Tall went onstage and darted around the place, never seeming to move, just vanishing from one spot and appearing somewhere new. Next up was Truska, then it was my turn to go onstage with Mr. Crepsley and Madam Octa.

The lights were low, but my vampire vision helped me pick out Sam's and R.V.'s faces in the crowd. They were surprised to see me and clapped louder than anybody else. I had to hide my excited smile: Mr. Crepsley had told me to look miserable and glum, to impress the crowd.

I stood over on one side as Mr. Crepsley made a speech about how deadly Madam Octa was, then opened the door to her cage as an assistant led a goat on the stage.

There was a loud, angry gasp when Madam Octa killed the goat... it came from R.V. I knew then that I shouldn't have invited him - I'd forgotten how fond he was of animals - but it was too late to take back my invitation.

I was pretty nervous when it was my turn to play the flute and control Madam Octa, feeling every set of eyes in the tent focus on me. I'd never performed for a crowd before and for a few seconds I was afraid my lips wouldn't work or I'd forget the tune. But once I started blowing and sending my thoughts to Madam Octa, I did okay.

As she weaved her web across Mr. Crepsley's lips, it struck me that I could get rid of him now if I wanted.

I could make her bite him.

The idea shocked me. I'd thought about killing him before, but never seriously, and not since we'd joined the Cirque. Now here he was, his life in my hands. All it would take was one "slip."I could say it was an accident. Nobody would be able to prove otherwise.

I watched the spider move back and forth, up and down, her poisonous fangs glinting under the lights of the chandelier. The heat from the candles was intense. I was sweating a lot. It occurred to me that I could blame the slip of my fingers on the sweat.

Over his mouth she spun her web. His hands were down by his sides. He wouldn't be able to stop her. One wrong toot on the flute was all it would take. One broken note to stop the train of thought between the two of us, and...

I didn't do it. I played perfectly and safely. I wasn't sure why I spared the vampire. Maybe because Mr. Tall might know I'd killed him. Maybe because I needed Mr. Crepsley to teach me how to survive. Maybe because I didn't want to become a killer.

Or maybe, just maybe, because I was starting to like the vampire. After all, he'd brought me to the Cirque and made me part of his act. I wouldn't have met Evra and Sam if it hadn't been for him. He'd been kind to me, as kind as he could be.

Whatever the reason, I didn't let Madam Octa kill her master, and at the end of the act we took our bows and exited together.

"You thought about killing me,"Mr. Crepsley said softly once we were backstage.

"What do you mean?"I played dumb.

"You know what I mean,"he said. There was a pause. "It would not have worked. I milked most of the poison from her fangs before we went on. Killing the goat took the rest out of her."

"It was a test?"I stared at him, and my hatred grew again. "I thought you were being nice to me!"I cried. "And all the time it was just a test!"

His face was serious. "I had to know,"he said. "I had to know if I could rely on you."

"Well, listen to this,"I growled, standing on my toes so I could go eyeball to eyeball with him. "Your test was useless. I didn't kill you this time, but if I ever get the chance again, I'll take it!"

I stormed off without another word, too upset to stick around to see Cormac Limbs or the end of the show, feeling betrayed, even though deep down I knew what he said made sense.

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