Somewhere else, anyone who had noticed the countless posters and signs dotted along the dual carriageway and at roundabout turnoffs was now heading towards the grassy common. The circus was in town.
'See the most amazing acts in the world,' was the proud boast. 'Watch the strongman lift a dumbbell twice his own weight! Marvel at our professionally trained aerialists and acrobats! Gawp at our special guest act as the Amazing Ranajay faces the Drill of Death!'
Of course nobody doubted the validity of these boasts, or even paused to wonder what circus would take on acrobats that weren't professionally trained. They were all too excited by the thrill of going to the circus.
If the excited throng were persistent enough to trudge through ankle deep mud for fifteen minutes, they would be dwarfed by the sheer size of the circus tent, striped red and white and waving its little flags in the wind. They would walk through flapping canvas, and be handed assorted leaflets by a clown on their way in. They would be persuaded by their children that a trip to the circus did warrant all the necessary foodstuffs like candy-floss and popcorn, and would pay twice the price of a tub of supermarket popcorn for a box half the size. They would all settle into their seats and wait for the show to begin.
The Ringmaster stepped into the centre of the floor, wearing a red waistcoat, a top hat and, for some unknown reason, carrying a whip. Audience members were asked not to use flash photography, and the show began.
Little kids pointed and shook their parents by the shoulder as Melanie, an acrobat, left her trapeze to catch the hands of fellow acrobat Preston.
If he drops me again I'll break his nose, Mel thought, trying to keep a dazzling smile on her face.
Then on came the clowns, asking for four male audience volunteers to come on down. Excited little kids eagerly pushed their fathers down the stairs. Everyone watched as four dads were each asked to sit on a stool, then lay back and put their heads on another man's knees. Then the stools were taken away. Hurrah! The fathers did not crumple in a heap. The stools were replaced. The fathers got up and walked a little grumpily back to their seats.
Finally, it was Ranajay's turn. This is it, thought the Ringmaster. This is what earns me my lousy money. He beckoned to Ranajay, quivering behind a tent flap, until he emerged to huge applause.
'Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,' the Ringmaster said, whilst thinking what a bore it was to say those words each and every night, 'we present to you the final act of tonight's show. A man will face death tonight, before your very eyes. He will be tied up on this platform…' The Ringmaster pointed to his left, where a spotlight now hovered over an impressive metal structure on long legs. 'He will race against time to undo the shackles on his hands and legs, before the Drill of Death pierces his body! Please welcome the Amazing Ranajay!'
There was a tumultuous applause - children love the idea of anything related to gore or violence, and above all love to be grossed out. Ranajay gave a nervous bow, and walked towards the platform.
'Please let it be alright,' he muttered to himself as he climbed the ladder. A mysterious blue spotlight followed him up the ladder, the dust and smoke in the air caught in its beam. He stood atop the platform and nodded to the techie Brian. An assistant in scanty panties tied up his wrists and ankles. A blindfold was slid over his eyes, and the assistant went to stand beside Brian, away from the sharp end of the drill.
Below him, a similarly clad second assistant walked up to the Ringmaster. She held an oversized clock in both hands, and held it up for the crowd to see. The ringmaster gave her a quick lecherous glance and then peered up to Ranajay. Behind him, the terrible drill began to turn. A few minutes passed while it warmed up, and the Ringmaster kept the audience busy with some cheesy banter.
Finally, the haunting music started.
'Your time… starts… NOOOOOOOOOW!'
Ranajay turned his head to the right, pretending to look around confusedly. It was all a bluff. He knew exact where he was and what was going to happen.
After about twenty seconds of this, he thought it was about time to start untying himself. The fingers of his right hand played with the ropes securing his wrist. he managed to twist a section of rope around his fingers and pulled. The rope fell away easily. He had one hand free. He held it up to the audience and they cheered.
The drill was closing in fast. He could hear the whirring behind him, metal scraping metal, as he worked on freeing his other hand.
The rope fell away, and he lift his other hand up. The audiences cheered again. Little kids tugged their mums' shoulders and asked if the man was going to be alright. Even the Ringmaster was holding his breath. He'd taken Ranajay on a few days ago. He'd never seen this act before. It was all getting very close. The drill was getting nearer, getting louder.
Ranajay yanked off the blindfold and looked behind him. The whirring filled his ears. The light burned into his eyes. With a look of desperation on his face, he struggled with the ropes that bound his ankles.
Something clunked behind him. The drill rushed forward, poking into and then through Ranajay's body.
Everything was silent for a full five seconds. Then there were anguished screams and yells. The frilly-knickered assistant dropped her clock. The Ringmaster's moustache fell clean off. Oh God. What was he going to do now?
The drill started to tilt its way up to the ceiling. The ropes around his ankles fell away. Drops of blood fell from the body of the Amazing Ranajay. More screams. Mothers covered their children's eyes. The clowns gaped in shock. One man, bizarrely, stood up and asked loudly for his money back.
And then Ranajay opened his eyes. He looked down with difficulty over the tip of the drill, and waved. There were more screams, and then lots of confused babble.
He waved to a befuddled Brian and asked him to retract the drill. Brian nodded and pulled a lever. The drill went backwards. Ranajay wiped the sweat off his forehead as his feet touched the floor of the platform again. He swept a red cloth over his right arm, and held it in front of himself as he stepped off the drill. He whisked it away and threw it down to the audience.
Everyone went mad. The applause was deafening. Children knocked over what was left of their popcorn as they got to their feet and clapped and cheered. Wives turned to their husbands and said 'For a moment there I thought something had gone horribly wrong!'
'And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen!' cried out a relieved Ringmaster, bowing deeply to the crowd. 'The Amazing, Death-Defying Ranajay!'
The audience got to their feet and applauded a final time for Ranajay, still standing up on the platform. On of them, a man called Gerald with ginger hair and a beard, held the cloth that the performer had thrown down.
'I can't think how he does it,' he murmured to himself.
The truth was, nobody knew how it was done. Not even Ranajay.