Sunday, August 19th, 1883
The circus arrived in town on Tuesday. A caravan rolled past Merchant Row kicking up dust. It’d been a dry summer, and the dirt of the main thoroughfare puffed up around the wheels like low-hanging clouds. Garish canvases lashed to the side of each wagon proclaimed:
Professor Grell’s Circus of Mystery & Menagerie of Wonders
I was outside, taking the air and witnessed the spectacle. Shopkeepers poked their heads out to investigate the noise. Hell, even the Widow Baines emerged from her dress shop to ogle.
Not much happens here in Corwen.
It’s why I came here. After. After the war. After Finn. A decade ago, I was sick at heart and tired. This little burg in the northern woods was as good as a place as any to hang my shingle.
If you’re finding this, hold it close, and keep it safe. Somewhere in the world, there should be a record of what happened here. It’s a humdinger of a story. One that would get you arrested, more likely than not. I wouldn’t go showing it around.
Sorry about that, friend.
I’d love to be there to tell you in person. Time’s short, and I’m moving on with Roe. He’s my life now. My name’s Doctor Thomas O’Dell. I was the doctor for Corwen, but anyone left is past my art, if I ever had any.
But that part comes later.
Tuesday, August 14th, 1883, Mid-Morning
The first time I saw Roe, he was bringing up the rear of that circus parade on a horse darker than midnight, from its nose to its tail. Its coat shone like the sea at dawn. He pranced straight up to the hitching-rail and let out an impatient snort, stomping his hoof. The animal looked right at me like I’d caused offense for not bowing in his presence.
I’d been so captivated by the horse I hadn’t glanced at the rider till he spoke.
“Master Angus says there’s no need to stand on formality, Doc,” He patted the horse like he’d been proud to translate.
The very thought was absurd, and I raised my head to meet the stranger’s gaze. His words had center-shot my thoughts. I was taken by a chill that crept up my spine on spider’s feet. Mustering the pluck of the soldier I’d once been, I refused to let my shock peek out from behind my smile.
“Now you’re calling me Doc, but I can’t place you. Do you mind reminding me where we’ve met before, sir?”
The stranger tossed his head back and laughed. The sound bursting from him was joyous, like the music of water tripping over rocks as it makes its way through a darkened wood — eyes grey as gunmetal sparked with heat.
My breath gusted out without so much as a by-your-leave, and the fervor of sudden arousal sent a jolt to my prick. It’d been years since I felt the instant desire to capture and kiss a full set of lips. A deluge of images rushed through my mind. I saw myself on my knees, rubbing the scruff of my beard against the tender flesh of his muscular thighs. Mouth watering, I felt his cock heavy on my tongue while I drowned in the salt-air scent of his body.
I hoped, for the sake of my neck, that my thoughts weren’t visible. Outside shadowed rooms in the bigger cities, I’d not risked revealing my nature. It’d been since Finn headed west after the war that I’d allowed myself to want this way.
But this man was beautiful, and I’d been so hungry for the drag of another’s skin against mine.
“You needn’t worry, Doctor O’Dell,” the stranger dropped me a wink.
My pulse stuttered.
He continued, “Our Medium, Mistress Murdina busted her foot. Fella in Bristol told me you were the only sawbones on this side of the mountains. Said we’d most like to find you sitting out in the afternoon with your pipe, excepting some tragedy,” the stranger said.
I tipped my hat, surprised by the familiarity I was allowing, “Sounds close enough to be true. My fee’s $3 and I can certainly situate Mistress Murdina in some plaster if needed. Want me to follow, or you want to bring her here?”
Sliding off the saddle, he held his hand out, “If you’d come, that’d be just fine. I sent the gal ahead with the others in case we needed to keep moving. Figuring, if you were around, we’d set up outside of town, maybe stick around, share our revelries if the town was hospitable.”
“Folks’ round here love a circus,” I took his hand to shake, and the world shimmered and faded.
I was on a beach of black shale. Mountains reared their shoulders against the onslaught of the sea, and above me, there was a starless sky that looked back into me with a hostility that froze my heart. A string of horses played in the surf. I tried to call out to them, warn them of the swift tides and the watchers in the dark. But when I opened my mouth, the sound of shrieking gulls and crashing waves poured out of me.
Then the stranger was there; arms twined around my waist, his mouth against my ear, voice as deep as the wind howling through caves carved by the ocean’s hand.
‘I’ve come for you, my love, heard your heart from beyond.’
‘I was lost.’ I said, my voice returning. I spun toward him, safe in the lee of his arms, ‘I’ve waited for you to find me since the Old Ones struck a match and lit the sun.’
I leaned into him, feeling the pulse of his shaft against mine. He took my mouth in a ferocious kiss.
‘I’ll not leave you again, pet,’ he said and dragged me to the ground. The shale crumbled as we fell, turning to sand, welcoming and soft. He thrust against me. I held his face in my hands, studying his features as if it had been an eternity since I’d seen him last. We writhed together while horses splashed around us in celebration and the sentient black above us seethed.
The image faded like a dream. I didn’t know how long I’d been clutching the stranger’s hand, but he didn’t pull away or look disturbed by my lapse. Instead, he smiled, wistful and expectant, like he’d found a treasure he prayed he might keep. It was an expression I’ve only ever dreamed of seeing in another man’s face.
“Name’s Monroe,” he said, and the name echoed through me like a wave surging across the surface of an endless ocean. “But you can call me Roe.”