Circus of the Dead Book One
Circus of the Dead Book One
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Callie heads to a swampy island in the Louisiana bayou to spend the summer working at a circus with her uncle, but she quickly learns that the performers are more than they seem — and once you join them, there’s no leaving…
- Forbidden Love
- Forced Proximity
- Villain Romance
- Enemies to Lovers
- Fish out of Water
- Woman in Peril
There are many ways to die at the Circus of the Dead.
You’re invited to witness them all.
Mom sent me all the way across the country to the Louisiana bayou to join the circus and help my uncle for the summer.
Except there is something not quite right on this swampy cursed island, and after having my fortune told, I can’t leave.
I try to escape, but Benny, an all too charming ghost gangster tries to kill me by feeding me to a tiger.
Thankfully I’m rescued by Samuel, the incredibly hot ringmaster who can’t be a day over twenty. Can he?
In addition to avoiding the human scorpion, staying away from the big cats, and having trouble figuring out who’s dead and who’s alive, I have to find a way to escape this horror show. Will I get out of the circus alive or will I join their army of ghosts and become a murderer myself?
Welcome to the Circus of the Dead.
“Can you tell me where I can find Luke Legrange?” I ask.
The girl pops her elbow out. She’s wearing a sports bra and yoga pants, and her body is completely ripped. She looks about my age or maybe a few years older. “Who’s asking?” She has a thick southern accent but speaks much more intelligently than the ferryman on the way over.
“My name is Callie Spruce. He’s my uncle.” I look around at the run-down circus in the middle of a Louisiana swamp island. It’s the last place I wanted to be for the summer. And it looks like the so-called circus is dying a slow death. Which is appropriate, I guess, since it’s called Circus of the Dead.
The girl sizes me up. “I’m Shelley. Follow me. Is he expecting you?”
“Yes. My mom said he wanted me to come help him.”
“Don’t know what Luke would possibly need help with, but come on.” My wet flip-flops squish on the damp earth. I watch my toes, not wanting to run into any more creepy crawlies. On the way over to the island, in a boat I thought for sure would sink to the bottom of the forsaken swamp, a snake fell out of a tree and right onto my head.
An arguing couple goes silent as we pass, glaring at Shelley. As soon as we are out of earshot, she speaks.
“They don’t like me.”
“Because I’m an acrobat. They are clowns.”
Not very good clowns unless their mission in life is to make everyone else as grumpy as they are.
We pass a few more people, all who look tired or crabby. A few say hi to Shelley, but she doesn’t introduce me. Shelley seems close to my age, but all the rest of the people seem much older.
We wind down another muddy path away from the circus and into the swamp. The island seems bigger than I initially thought, and I scan the thick leafy trees for falling snakes. Shelley doesn’t seem bothered by the trees. Maybe she’s not scared of snakes.
We take another turn at a fork in the path, and soon the dirt ends at some wooden planks.
“Be careful,” she says. “Don’t step off the boards, or you’ll fall right in.”
Sure enough, the damp earth on either side of the path has turned to water. A few of the boards are missing, and she deftly skips from one to another. Good thing I have decent balance. I look down and hope I don’t see an alligator. Something stares up at me, but it looks almost human. I shiver and concentrate on my feet. My imagination is running wild.
“Maybe Luke will take one look at me and insist I go back to California.”
“He probably will. Luke don’t like anyone.”
Then why on earth did Mom send me to stay with him? When she put me on a plane this morning, I begged her to reconsider, but she didn’t. “When family needs help, you go, and Uncle Luke needs help.”
I should’ve known that things were about to get worse. I left my phone in the Uber, and the creepy ferryman dropped my backpack—with my laptop—into the swamp. So here I am, on an island in the middle of nowhere, no phone, no laptop, no way to contact anyone back home.
“Believe it or not, that’s the best-case scenario.” Once I meet Luke, and he tells me this is a mistake, I will call Mom or Dad from his phone. I have their numbers memorized since I’ve lost my phone at least three times, either in the water or on the beach. This isn’t my first time having to borrow a phone. Then, they’ll buy me another plane ticket and let me come home and spend the summer surfing the waves with Maddie—my little sister by eleven months and BFF.
“If you say so.”
The trees thin, and several houseboats come into view, all tied tightly to the dock. Shelley stops at a white houseboat at the end with the paint peeling off, and she pounds on the door.
“Luke,” she yells, “you got a visitor.” Shelley gives me a tight smile and takes off back down the docks. I want to yell after her not to leave me here after what she said about Luke, but my voice catches in my throat.
I stand on his rickety front porch. He opens the door, wearing a dirty wife-beater, and has a cigarette hanging off lips that are covered with a dark mustache. He blinks at me.
I swallow my fear. “No, she’s back in California. She told me I had to come and help you. I’m her daughter Callie.”
He tromps across the deck, his dark beady eyes never leaving mine. “You can’t stay here.”
I cover my nose. He smells of sweat and meat, and I can practically taste the rottenness.
“Mom said I had to stay with you for the summer. That you wanted me to come work with you or whatever.” Obviously, Mom didn’t inform Luke I was coming. But that’s crazy. She wouldn’t have done anything like this without discussing it with him first.
He blinks slowly, not saying a word.
I take a step back. “So…do you think…”
He grips my arm and drags me away from the boat. My flip-flops catch on the decking.
“Ow, let go!”
His fingers pinch my biceps, and I stumble along in his wake, my duffle banging against my knees. I jerk my arm out of his grip and stop dead. “I will not be handled like this.”
He drops his cigarette and puts it out with a toe, his furious eyes still staring at me. “We have to get you out of here. Now.”
Luke clenches his jaw and grabs my arm again, pulling me around his boat. Oh heavens, he’s going to make me leave. I get to spend the summer with Maddie on the waves after all.
He glances up at the rapidly setting sun and grunts, but he doesn’t respond. This is impossible. I can’t believe Mom would send me out here without talking to him. But maybe he’s just crazy and forgot that I was coming. Who knows.
Luke yanks on my arm and drags me to a dinghy behind his houseboat.
“Ow, you’re hurting me.” I bump against him, hoping I can break his grip, but he’s holding too tight, and I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. The water sloshes up around the dock, and a pair of shoes floats by. It looks like the legs are still attached, but my eyes must be playing tricks on me.
He shoves me into the dinghy and crawls in after me.
“Sit,” he commands.
The dinghy smells like cat piss, and everything looks wet. I cover my nose, bile rising to my throat, but I don’t say anything. Maybe he’s taking me home. Or at least back to the mainland where I can find a phone and call Mom and ask if she knew her brother was nuts.
My uncle cranks the motor on and rushes through the water. I fall, my knees and hands scraping along the floor. I rock back on my heels, my hands stinging.
“Luke, stop!” I shriek. My life flashes before my eyes for the third time that day. Between the snakes, the gators, and my uncle, I’ll not survive even a day here.
He yanks the boat to the left, and I fly into the side, knocking my head on a metal edge causing stars to flash behind my eyes. The motor makes a weird beeping sound, like a heart machine.
He stops suddenly, and I shoot forward, landing hard on my side.
“Dammit!” Luke yells, pounding the boat. “Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.”
I lay there, scared to move. My shoulder aches, and I touch my forehead, feeling for a bump.
Luke spins the boat around and flies back the other direction. The boat stops abruptly once again and nudges the dock. I’m still lying on the boat floor, not sure what to do. Luke hovers over me, his face promising murder.
He offers his hand. “Get up.”
I take it because I’m terrified of what he’ll do if I don’t, and he pulls me up and drags me onto the front porch of his houseboat. He opens the door and shoves me inside.
“Stay here,” he commands.
I blink at him, utterly confused.
“I mean it. Stay here. You cannot leave this boat. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I lie. What else am I gonna say?
He slams the door shut, and the lock clicks. I brush off my shorts. Both my knees are pink, but overall, I’m okay. I pull my shirt up over my nose and breathe in Mom’s laundry soap because the stench in here is unbearable. Almost like rotten eggs and dog pee. I take a quick glance around. It’s like a hoarder’s house with boxes everywhere and dirty dishes piled high on the counters.
I feel numb. Nothing makes sense.
Luke is obviously off his rocker, and Mom had no idea.
Luke is Mom’s brother, but this place is so far from Mom it’s not even funny. Sure, she is into some hippy dippy stuff, but she is always put together and not a slob at all. Appearances are everything to her. It’s why she put me in dance as a child. I was clumsy as all get out, and Mom couldn’t stand it. I’m grateful now, of course, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to learn to surf. Ballet taught me balance, but at the time, I hated it.
I sink down onto a dirty couch and look around. I have the urge to search out rubber gloves and Clorox.
The bed is tightly made up. It’s the only clean thing in the entire room, but it still probably smells like Luke.
What would Maddie do? She’d make up some story about me being an FBI agent on the hunt for a murder weapon and how I got trapped, but because I’m smart, I can figure out how to get out.
She’s right. I can escape on my own, but I have to wait until I’m certain he is gone or he’ll just throw me back inside. I swallow. The possibility that I am good and truly stuck is all too real.
I close my eyes and count to a hundred. Then, I step over moldy boxes and filthy clothes. I have to get out of here. I’ve read more than one story of what creepy old uncles do to their pretty nieces. I yank on the front door, but it won’t budge, and I can’t find anything that remotely looks like a lock. Crap. He trapped me in here.
I jiggle a few windows, but none of them open except the one my body won’t fit through.
The back of the boat has a wide glass slider. It’s probably locked, too, but I try it anyway. It opens a fraction of an inch. I pull harder, but it won’t slide farther.
A fly buzzes in my face, and I swat at it. It lands on a stick of wood holding the door closed.
I pop out the wood, wrench the door open, and step outside onto a wide porch, immediately assaulted by the heavy, wet air. The boat wobbles a little, and I try not to look down. All I see is open water, and I need to get back onto land. I could climb over the top of the boat. I search for a ladder but settle for a chair. I hoist myself up on the roof and gingerly crawl across it, hoping I don’t fall off and into the gator infested swamp. The front of the roof comes into view, and I give a yelp of victory. I scramble off the edge, down the dock, and head to the dark planked path. I have no flashlight, and I’m certain I’m going to step on something awful, but I keep moving. I have to get out of here.
I come to the fork in the path and take a deep breath. I take the one that looks slightly lighter. As I make my way, the lights get brighter. I’ve taken the right path. A sign with “Circus” on it points down another path. Phew. I head down it, reach the end, and step out of the trees.
Then, I freeze.
The entire circus has transformed.