It was a beautiful Spring Thursday as 19 year-old college student Jennifer Jade strolled across campus. Everything seemed so bright and cheerful; she had just finished her last exam early before her Spring Break officially began. She was simply meandering around campus trying to decide what to do with her imminent two week vacation.
She stopped by the local Starbuck’s for a venti hot chocolate and began to peruse an abandoned morning newspaper as she sipped the frothy beverage. As she scanned or read the various pieces catching her eye, she stopped and re-read one article that seemed to jump out at her.
Under a headline that asked WHO KILLED BARNEY FIFE?, an editorial writer went on to describe the erosion of ‘small town’ living, even in the most rural of areas. He wrote that all the ills of what he called ‘big city living’ have now invaded all corners of our society. One segment mentioned that “even small downstate towns like Reidsville, Vandalia, and Conyers Corners have recently experienced inexplicable criminal activity.” It was this part that caught Jennifer’s, a.k.a. the young superheroine Emerald’s, attention.
Intrigued, Jennifer walked the rest of the way to her nearby apartment. There she settled down in front of her computer. After a couple of hours on the internet, she discovered that all of the towns mentioned in the article, as well as nearby Ellerbe, Mint Hill, and Toluca, had been impacted by a number of baffling police reports, as recently as last weekend.
She found that in each town, all at once a large number of individuals had contacted their local police departments, reporting losing all their cash and valuables. But the odd thing was that every single report mentioned that these were not hold ups or break-ins. These people reported losing their wallets, cash, credit cards, checkbooks, and all watches and jewelry that they had been carrying on their person the day before. It was as if they somehow had misplaced every item of value they were carrying and had no memory of losing anything whatsoever.
Jennifer now knew she was onto something substantive. Clearly there was some kind of connection here, even if local or state authorities had yet to realize it. She now wanted to see hat that connection could be. She began by mapping out the locations of the towns, spread out over several hundred miles in the rural southern part of the state. She also made note of the dates of these inexplicable occurrences.
Using every resource available on the net, Jennifer tried every possible connecting factor she could come up with. Other than the occurrences themselves, nothing seemed to fall into place to link the incidents together. It was as if some unseen spectre was roaming along the interstate, leaving its mark on whatever town it came across.
It was as she was looking over scanned images of local newspaper advertisements from the affected towns that she suddenly saw the missing piece of the puzzle. Every single affected town had, on the exact date preceding the odd disappearances, played host to The Big Top Circus. “Bingo!” Jennifer exclaimed aloud, knowing she had discovered the key to the mysterious occurrences. Somehow this traveling circus was responsible for the losses, now totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That’s got to be it, she thought excitedly. Now I just need to find this roaming sideshow and find out how they’re able to take these poor people’s money and have them not remember it. Following the path the circus had so far traversed, it was a simple matter to find their next destination. Sure enough, just a few mouse clicks was all it took to confirm that The Big Top Circus’ next performances were to be held this coming weekend for the anxious residents of the small hamlet of Newton Grove.
With an air of anticipation, the beautiful young blonde thought, well, it looks like I’ve found a place to spend my Spring Break after all. It’s not exactly Daytona, but Newton Grove, you’re about to meet Emerald!
It was mid-morning the next day as a beautiful teenage girl, dressed in a form-fitting t-shirt, tight denim cut-off shorts, and sandals carried a worn gym bag over her shoulder as she walked across the low-cut grass field toward a group of people working at erecting a large canvas tent. She caught the eye of several of the men working as she stopped and politely asked, “Excuse me, but who’s in charge around here?”
Turning toward the petite voice, an enormous, powerfully-muscled African-American man removed his small cap and regarded her with kind eyes. “Mornin’ miss,” he replied in a deep, rumbling bass voice. “Sounds like you want to find Shandar the Magnificent.” At her amused raised eyebrows, he continued, “I know, but he is the manager and ringmaster, so if he calls himself magnificent, who am I to argue?”
Sharing the gentle giant’s infectious smile, the young woman replied, “Well, there is that. So where can I find Shandar?” With a courtly bow, the larger than life character made a sweeping gesture toward a smaller tent already set up about 50 yards away, near a large collection of crates, cages, and the vehicles and trailers obviously used to transport the entire operation.
With a perfect curtsey to her helpful new friend, the young woman turned and walked to the smaller tent. Inside she was greeted by the sight of an average-sized man sitting at a desk, apparently attending to the myriad details of operating a medium-sized traditional traveling circus. Without looking up from his paperwork he said, “I’m very sorry, but tickets are only sold at the beginning of each performance. The tent opens at five-thirty this afternoon and the first show is at seven.”
Smiling, the shapely young blonde replied, “Thanks, but I’m not here for tickets. I came to see if you were hiring.”
Raising his head, the man looked up and regarded the lovely visitor, his eyebrows climbing slightly in appreciation. “Oh, sorry about that, just a reflex,” he said. “But I’m afraid that I still can’t be of any help.” He looked truly regretful that he had nothing to offer.
Persistent, the girl continued, “Are you sure you don’t have anything open at all? I can do just about anything, just give me a chance.” The look in her eyes spoke of a longing desperation to be needed.
Shaking his head, Shandar replied, “Sweetie, I’m sure you could. But unless you’re a certified diesel engine mechanic or an experienced trapeze artist, I’ve got too many folks and not enough payroll as it is.”
With a playful smile, the beautiful girl said, “Well, I don’t know much about diesel engines, but…” And with that, she lightly stepped out of her sandals and executed a perfect forward tuck, landing on her feet with her hands never touching the ground. Without missing a beat she then sprang forward onto her hands and did a handstand, then began walking forward on her hands, spinning around, and popping herself back upright with almost no effort.
With an irresistibly impish grin, she finished, “So, where’s that trapeze?”
Thirty minutes later, after an elementary but still impressive trapeze demonstration on the outdoor practice rigging, introductions were made. “My name is Jewel. Jewel Green,” The lovely blonde told Shandar after they had returned to his office tent.
“Well Miss Green, you certainly are a surprising little thing,” said the impressed manager and ringmaster. “I have a feeling that even if I ask, you won’t tell me much about yourself or where you’re from. Am I correct in this assumption my dear?”
With slightly pursed lips, Jewel replied, “Let’s just say that I like the idea of working hard and not staying in one place too long. I seem to do better when I’m… in motion, shall we say.”
“But I must ask, where did you learn the use of your obviously natural gifts,” he inquired.
“Here and there,” she replied casually, placing a stray blonde lock behind her ear. “High school and a short time in college, I was involved in gymnastics. But then things happen, people change,” she trailed off.
“I see,” he said, thinking he had gotten very lucky indeed, to come across such a talented and beautiful young stray. A runaway with no family ties, he mused. All the better. Still, one could never be too careful. Aloud he said, “All right, here’s what I can do. We’ll be performing here for the next several days. If you do well, you can stay with us as long as I need you, or until someone better comes along. You’ll get room and board plus fifty dollars a week. We’ll make your costumes and you supply the talent. Fortunately for you we have a small trailer vacant right now so you’ll get the luxury of bunking alone. Any questions?”
With a smile of genuine gratitude, Jewel replied, “Only what do I do now?”
Standing, Shandar gestured toward a small trailer across the way. “Head on over to Helga’s trailer. She’s the best costume mistress in the business. I’m sure she won’t have any problem coming up with something absolutely stunning for you.” While he maintained a professional tone, it was apparent that Shandar was not immune to Jewel’s graceful beauty.
After saying good-bye, Jewel made her way toward Helga’s trailer. As she walked past the various animal cages and all the activity of the assembling troupe, she thought to herself, OK you’re in. Now it’s time for Emerald to get to the bottom of this.