Mr. Crow stood on the top step to his trailer and looked over his circus with a glint in his eye. Men and women were moving about doing their usual chores to get ready for tomorrow night’s show. He spread his think scarecrow like hands and arms wide and said, “All this is mine!” Mr. Crow stepped down off the steps and strode towards the animal cages. His long lean frame towered over most of the other circus people in his group. Mr. Crow knew they always made way for him. He felt as if he was their ruler. He decided who stayed and who went. People and animals feared him. That was exactly how he liked it Mr. Crow thought as he walked towards the lion cages. He stopped near the closest cage and looked in at the supposed “King of Beasts”. The lion wouldn’t even meet his gaze. This always made Mr. Corium feel as if he were the king of the beasts. He slipped his hands into his vest pockets and walked on to the next cage. Inside it was the jaguar. The animal lay in its cage without moving. The breathing was shallow and labored. The hip bones and the rib bones stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the body. Mr. Crow grasped the bars of the cage and growled at the jaguar, “If you don’t earn your keep you won’t eat!” The jaguar never even moved. In frustration Mr. Crow turned and walked towards the closest handler. “You there, I want that animal in the show tomorrow night! Get him in it or you’re fired!” The handler hurried over to the jaguar cage and started using the cattle prod to try and rouse the animal without any luck. Mr. Crow made his rounds of the circus animals and also the acts to be sure that everything would be ready for tomorrow night. He surveyed his “Kingdom” as he called it. Finally he returned to his trailer assured everything would be ready for tomorrow night’s show. The next night the show started with a packed house. The bleachers surrounding the center ring were filled with men and women with their screaming children. Mr. Crow would never admit it but he secretly hated those little children. Their wiggling little screaming bodies with their little fingers that were always touching everything and always dirty always appalled him. He surveyed all the people and spread his arms wide and yelled into the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome the greatest show on earth!” He scanned the crowd as he talked letting the people know what they were going to see in the show. He was scanning the crowd and talking about the dancing horses when he saw a pair of glowing red eyes peering from the back of the crowd. With the audience in the shadows it was hard to make out any distinct features. He paused in his speech as he blinked. The eyes were suddenly gone. He looked at the people around the area he had seen the eyes and no one seemed to notice. Mr. Crow resumed his speech introducing the clowns for the first act. For the next hour he introduced act after act. He was waiting for the dancing horses to finish up when the handler from the day before came up to him and said, “Boss, I have bad news. The jaguar just died. He won’t be able to go on after the lion act.” Mr. Crow could feel his face grow hot with anger. The handler scuttled back away from him mumbling an apology. Soon the dancing horses were leaving the center ring and Mr. Crow walked back out to the center ring with calm, controlled face in place once again. They finished the show minus the jaguar. He made a big show of sadness when he announced the death of the animal. He knew it always tugged at the hearts of the crowd and often times their wallets as well. Mr. Crow’s sly grin spread across his face as he watched the crowd leave and start digging for their wallets and pocket books. The glowing red eyes surfaced again before his eyes. He shook his head and looked again. The eyes were gone. “I must be getting addled in my old age. Tonight will be a very prosperous showing!” Mr. Crow said to himself. That night after all the animals were bedded down and the lights were turned out for the evening Mr. Crow sat on the edge of his bed. He stretched his arms above his head and gave a great yawn. He felt so tired tonight he could hardly keep his eyes open as he had gotten ready for bed. He slumped on the bed without even pulling the blankets over him. The last thing he remembered was thinking he should pull the blankets up. The next morning a bright light shone in his eyes with blinding brightness. Slowly he opened his eyes and squinted against the brightness of the morning sun. His eyes didn’t seem to want to focus at first. His head felt groggy and his mouth felt dry. He reached up with his hand to rub his face when he saw something that was not his hand. In front of his face were black paws. He screamed trying to back away from the paws. Suddenly his eyes came into sharp focus; his surroundings were not what he was expecting. Bars surrounded him where walls had been before. The pungent smell of hay filled his nostrils. A wooden floor was underneath him. It slowly dawned on him he was in a cage. He looked at his body and his mind seemed to stop functioning. White hot terror coursed through his body. The circus sounds were loud and he could hear things from across the circus grounds. Distinct smells came to him; he distinguished each one as if it were colors and hues floating by in front of him. Mr. Crow noticed a couple of bowls over by the cage bars. He got up and stumbled over to them. In one was water and the other was a mere scrap of food. When he peered down into the water bowl what looked back at him was not his face but that of a black jaguar. He fell back in shock and horror. The red eyes once again floated in front of his eyes. “No! it can’t be! It’s just an old circus tale!” He thought frantically. Suddenly an old woman stood before his cage. Standing there silent and staring. Finally she spoke, “Do unto others and you would have done unto you.” Mr. Crow closed his eyes and when he opened them again, she was gone. There was no trace of her, no scent no sign. Mr. Crow started to pace in his cage. It was difficult at first getting used to walking on all fours. But soon he had the hang of it. He paced agitatedly looking for someone, anyone to come near. “Surely, someone will notice soon that I am not around! My circus people will save me! They love me! They fear me! They will get me out of this infernal cage.” He thought as a smile crossed his lips. Soon two handlers walked by and Mr. Crow called out to them. The only sound that left his mouth was a growl. He coughed and tried again. This time all he did was roar. One of the handlers looked over and said, “Hey Joe, looks like the boss got a new cat.” The handler called Joe looked over and said, “Poor dumb animal. It would be better off in a zoo or something. At least it would be treated better. Oh well, it’s the boss wants. “His way or the highway”” Joe said emphasizing the boss’s words.“Hey Frank, have you seen the boss this morning?” Joe asked as they walked on by. Frank laughed and said, “Maybe the boss finally left.” Both men chuckled at the thought and Joe said, “Nah, we can only dream.” Both men walked out of sight. Mr. Crow brightened at the last statement. “Now they will notice, now I will be saved!”Mr. Crow was just getting his hopes up when he noticed another man walking by. Mr. Crow’s heart stopped in horror. “It can’t be! I am me! What is this?” Mr. Crow sniffed the air and could smell clay and something he had never smelled before coming from the imposter. Mr. Crow crouched low and a deep rumble escaped from his throat. The imposter turned and looked at him with a dead expression on his face. A mechanical smile spread across his lips. At the cold dead look from the imposter a whimper escaped from his lips. “Welcome Mr. Crow to being on this side of the bars.” A low rumbling voice said from his right. Mr. Crow turned his head only to see a lion looking at him from the cage next to his. The lion lay on his side staring intently at him. “How can you talk to me? How can I hear you?” Mr. Crow asked in frustration and confusion. “All the animals can talk to each other. At one time, humans could understand us as well. But then they decided to have their own words and thought themselves above us.” The lion said with a sad expression on his face. “Can you get me out of here? I obviously don’t belong here! This is my circus, I am the owner, not an animal to be caged!” he growled with indignation. “Not any more, the red eyed witch’s magic forces you to be treated by the law’s you have lain down.” The lion said with a hard look on his face. A soft female voice came from the cage next to the lions. “Come on Ceaser, he has had a pretty rough morning already. Give the guy a break. My name is Tina.” Mr. Crow tried to see who had spoken those words but all he could see was an empty cage. Slowly a shadow peeled away from the wall. A small golden colored cheetah with black spots slipped into view. Her bronze eyes looked at Mr. Crow with a sadness that he had never seen before. It was as if she pitied him. Mr. Crow had never felt this before. No one had ever pitied him. He knew that cheetah, lately it hadn’t been performing like it should have, missing jumps. He could see now that her ribs were starting to show and her flanks stood out in sharp contrast to her soft fur. He knew, he had done this to her. “I know you, why haven’t you been doing the jumps you are supposed to do?” He asked her in a gravely tone. He watched as she dipped her head towards her front paw and licked it. “My front paw hurts; I don’t know what’s wrong with it.” She lay down to take the weight off of her paw. “Well, just fix it or my handlers will fix it. They take care of everything.” Mr. Crow said and he walked to the far end of his cage. He didn’t look at her the rest of the day. Day after day he watched from his cage as other animals were taken to the arena to run through their acts. Soon he was joining them. The handler named Joe slipped the noose around his neck that was on a long pole. “Come on big guy, boss’s orders.” Mr. Crow struggled to slip the noose from his neck but was forced to comply. Soon he was lined up with the small cheetah who had spoken to him so kindly the other day along with another big cat. Collars were cinched to their necks with ribbons trailing behind them. They were to jump through hoops and land on platforms crisscrossing each other.Mr. Crow knew that they used cattle prods to get the animals to do their bidding but had never had one applied to him. He had always thought it wasn’t that painful. Today he found out differently. He had been watching the small cheetah’s jumps and had noticed that today her paw seemed swollen. “Why didn’t of the handlers notice?” He thought to himself before a searing jolt of pain hit him in the rear flank. “Move you dumb beast!” Joe yelled at the black Jaguar. Day after day they practiced; he noticed the Tina appearing more gaunt with each passing day. She tried valiantly to continue the jumps but Mr. Crow knew she wasn’t being fed or being taken care of. Every morning Ceaser the lion reminded him he was still here he was still in his cage. Every day Tina would ask Ceaser to be nice to him. Two weeks after he first woke up in the cage he looked over at the cage that Tina stayed in and noticed she wasn’t getting up. She lay there, her breathing labored. Mr. Crow threw himself at the cage and growled at Tina to get up. Mr. Crow could smell the rancid infection in her foot.Ceaser lay on his side and looked over lazily at Mr. Crow and said, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen an animal starve to death? She’s sick and needs medicine. But you are too much of a skin flint to not care for anything but yourself. She will die just as others before has died. What’s another dumb animal to you?” Mr. Crow couldn’t believe his ears. He cared, he had always cared. Then the truth rolled through him like a tornado, showing him images of himself not caring about the people in his circus nor the animals either. He saw how he had instructed his handlers to treat the animals. He remembered the old circus tale of the red eyed witch and that if you don’t take care of your circus and everyone and everything that went with it she would curse you for all time. He never knew what those words meant until now. He saw himself for what he truly was and for the first time felt sorrow and remorse. Not for himself but for Tina, for Joe and Frank, for Ceaser and all the other animals who had passed before. He felt remorse for the people he had fired because they had shown pity to the animals. Finally he saw what he had done, all of it. He didn’t like what he had seen. Silently he began to cry. He wished he could change things; he wished he could help Tina and change everything. He would be a better owner and a better boss, a better friend and a better caretaker of the animals. He would never forget. The curse was forever. He would never have a chance to make anything right again. He was doomed to spend the rest of his days in this circus until he was either too sick or old to perform any more. Then he too would meet the same fate as Tina. He lay his head on his paws and slowly drifted off to sleep. It was dark when next he opened his eyes. He looked at the ceiling and noticed it wasn’t the top of his cage any more. He quickly sat up and looked around. He was back in his trailer. “Had it been a dream? Had it all been real?” he thought to himself. Suddenly from the darkness of his bedroom the old witch moved towards his bed. Mr. Crow grabbed the sheets and pulled them up as if to protect him. “Remember your promise, or the next time you wake up in a cage it will be forever!” The witch said in a soft hissing voice. Icy fingers ran down his spine as he watched her disappear before his eyes. The last thing to disappear was her glowing red eyes. “Tina!” He thought as he quickly he sprang out of bed and ran to her cage in his nightshirt. He grabbed the bars and looked in on her. Her sides were rising and falling in a rhythmic sleep. Quickly he ran over to Joe’s trailer and banged on the door. Joe stumbled to the door in his pajama’s rubbing his eyes. “Who the hell is knocking on my door this time of night?” Joe said before he realized who was standing at the door. “Joe, call the vet and get him out here now. Tina, I mean the cheetah, is sick, her paw is infected.” Joe stared at me as if I had just spoken another language. “Go! Now,” I barked at him again. Mr. Crow ran back over to Tina’s cage and whispered to her. “Hang in there Tina, help is coming now. Please hang in there. I promise things will be different from now on. I will keep my promise.” When the vet had finally finished with Tina and given Joe the antibiotics needed to heal her. He looked at Mr. Crow with a stern gaze and said, “I got here just in time. If you had waited another day she could have lost her foot or her life. She looks a little malnourished; I am going to chalk it up to the infection and her fever. But if I find any more animals in that condition I will shut you down.” Mr. Crow vowed he would make sure all the animals were well cared for and thanked the vet for coming so quickly. He walked back towards Tina’s cage when he spotted Ceaser the lion staring at him from his cage. “I will be watching you.” He said with unblinking eyes. Mr. Crow looked around at all the animals who were staring at him with the same unwavering stare. They would all be watching him.
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