BRITISH COMICS

(Wizard Homepage)

THE CIRCUS OF SECRETS AND SHIVERS

 

Last episode taken from The Wizard issue 1463 (1954)

 

For new readers

Jack Heaton, a talent scout for the Hackfield

Circus, who joins the Astor Two-Ring Circus

in the guise of a circus labourer, has made the

astounding discovery that PETER NETTAR,

The Boss of the Astor Circus, and his leading

performers, are people from another planet, here

to seek out Britain’s military secrets.

Jack gets into Nettar’s caravan and secures a

mysterious crystal box, which Nettar uses to

communicate with his colleagues in space, and

a deadly flash-gun belonging to the circus Boss.

With these objects Jack hopes to prove to the

police that Nettar and his performers are spies

from space.

Jack sets off for the police station in Nettar’s

car. He is pursued by Nettar and HERMA, the

circus strong-man, in a lorry. They cause Jack

to crash the car and he is taken to hospital

unconscious. When he comes to, he is taken to

the police station.

There Jack hands over the crystal box. When

the police take it away and examine it, it blows

up, wrecking the police station. In the confusion

Herma kidnaps Jack and takes him back to the

circus. There Nettar tells Jack that he is to be

fired in a rocket to the planet from which the

circus performers came. Helpless in the power

of PAX, the circus hypnotist. Jack is led into

the circus ring, where the rocket is ready for

firing.

 


THE ROCKET IS READY

Three thousand people packed the great tent which was the setting for the evening performance of the Astor Two-Ring Circus. It was nearing the end of the performance, and all that remained on the programme was the act which was unique to this circus, the firing of a man in a rocket “into space.”

 

This was done at the end of every performance, and many people had wondered by what trick it was done, for it was taken for granted by the public that it was a piece of showmanship. But Jack Heaton knew differently. He knew that he was going to be actually fired into space, and that his destination would be the unknown planet from which Peter Nettar and leading performers of this circus had come. Jack was not tied in any way or gagged, yet he could only move when told to do so by his captors. He could not utter a cry. This was the doing of Pax, the circus hypnotist. Nettar, the circus Boss, was making his usual speech. “…and now,” Nettar was saying. “we have a volunteer for this voyage into space, a brave man who is quite willing to be shut inside the rocket and shot from the ramp.” He signalled, and Pax brought forward Jack Heaton. In vain did Jack try to resist Pax’s will. Jack was brought to the foot of the ramp amidst cheering and clapping. On the ramp the rocket rested on two rails. The front of the shining rocket was open, and inside there was a space large enough for a man. The ramp and the rocket reclined at an angle of forty-five degrees, the upper end pointing at the roof of the tent, where there was a flap which had been opened. “Are you willing to take this voyage into space? You are going of your own accord?” the circus owner asked Jack Heaton. In spite of his efforts to stop himself, Jack nodded vigorously. “Then please go up those steps and into the rocket,” said Nettar. Again Jack’s limbs moved without his willing it. He felt the hands of the others helping him, and he thought – “This is my last minute on Earth. In another few seconds I shall be shot into space and on my way to some other planet. He was now inside the rocket, face to the audience, although still hooded. Nettar had lifted the curved hatch of the rocket in order to clamp it down, when from the back of the tent came a terrible cry – “Help! The Octopuss has escaped. It’s coming.” There was a moment’s silence, then women screamed. People jumped to their feet and pointed. Nettar and Pax swung about. They also stared in the direction indicated, where through the opening from the dressing rooms of the leading performers a monstrous shape was appearing. It was the Octopuss, half-cat and half-octopuss. Its hugh, bulbous body was supported on eight legs or tentacles. It had the head of a giant cat, and was entirely covered with black fur. The Octopuss had already claimed a victim. It was dragging along with it one of the Specto Brothers, the Kings of the Trapeze. The acrobat was struggling mightily, but he had no chance of getting free from the two tentacles which were twisted round him. The next moment the Octopuss and its victim were in the ring. The crowd stampeded. Hundreds of men, women and children started to scramble over the seats as the quickest way to an exit. Nettar drew something from under his cloak, and Jack Heaton saw that it was one of the deadly flash-guns. The circus Boss started to walk towards the Octopuss. The acrobat it held had now gone limp. Pax had shouted something and jumped down from the ramp. Jack suddenly realised that he had been left alone. Furthermore, there was no restriction on his movements. He had the use of his muscles again. The hypnotist was no longer concentrating on him. He was too busy thinking about the octopuss. The noise was deafening. One of the tent poles had snapped under the pressure of many people, and the roof was sagging badly. Ropes were breaking. Hundreds of people were already outside. Jack Heaton heaved himself out from the rocket chamber and ripped the hood from his head. He saw Nettar’s gun give a blue flash, but it missed, for the Octopuss at that moment made a catlike leap to the other side of the ring, where it seized one of the roustabouts. Rabot, the man who defied gravity, and Herma, the strong-man, had appeared on the scene. They both had flash-guns. They were shouting to Nettar in their own tongue. The circus Boss was again trying to get closer to the monster, but it was now aware of its danger. Some of its tentacles flailed the air as it leapt at Nettar. He fell as he turned to run, and the Octopuss was on him. Jack Heaton jumped down from the ramp and ran in the other direction. As he did so he saw flames spring up ahead of him. A wall of the tent had caught fire. Jack grabbed a small boy who had fallen and got separated from his parents, and carrying the youngster, dived for the nearest exit. In a moment he found himself fighting with half-crazed people, who were looking over their shoulders as they tried to get out. Jack managed to force his way through the crowd to a clear space outside. He put the boy down and saw him run to a man and a woman. There were running people everywhere. Jack Heaton hesitated. Someone burst out from the dressing-rooms at the rear of the big-top, and almost collided with him. The man recognised Heaton as the talent scout recognised him. It was Selfax the Fakir, another of the green-eyed mystery men. His mouth opened for a shout, then he grabbed for Heaton with claw-like hands. Jack Heaton promptly drove his fist into that leathery face, but even as he did se he knew it was a waste of time to try to hurt the fakir. He had seen Selfax lie down on a sheet of red-hot iron without hurt. The man’s toughness was fantastic. He now had Jack Heaton by the legs, brought him down, and grabbed him in his bare arms. In spite of Jack’s struggles the fakir lifted him and dived for the nearest entrance into the flaming tent. In a moment of horror Heaton realised that the fakir meant to carry him into the heart of the fire. Selfax was immune to fire. A gust of heat hit Jack’s face, and he coughed as his lungs filled with smoke, then someone caught the fakir by the hair from behind and pulled him back. Selfax screeched with fury, and let go his hold on Jack Heaton, who fell to the ground. Jack saw that his rescuer was Jim Harrow, one of the rousta-bouts who had been his mate when he had worked with the show. Jim Harrow had just kicked the fakir in the face, but the man was getting up again, mouthing threats in his own tongue. “What’s he trying to do to you?” roared Jim Harrow. “Let’s get out of here before the big-top comes down. It’s doomed.” “Nettar’s in there, and some of the others.” Shouted Jack Heaton. There was a cry at his side. Selfax, on hearing his last few words had turned and jumped through the blazing side of the tent. A moment later he had disappeared from view into the inferno, and Jim Harrow was hauling Jack Heaton further back. “Has Selfax gone mad?” the roustabout was yelling. “First he tried to pull into the flames, and now he’s gone in there himself. When did you get back here?” But Jack Heaton had no time to answer questions. “Selfax has gone after Nettar,” he cried. “Selfax is no ordinary man. He’ll manage to live in that fire. We must see if he brings Nettar out.”

 

THE PURSUIT TO THE MOOR

 

Jim Harrow ran round to the other side of the big-top with Heaton, getting out of the way of the drifting smoke. The first thing they saw staggering out of the flaming tent was the Octopuss. It was dragging itself along on only three tentacles and was terribly burnt.

 

But it still had one tentacle wrapped round a victim. “Is that Nettar it’s holding?” gasped Jack Heaton. Even as he spoke, the figure of Selfax the fakir emerged through the flames. In his arms he carried another form which moved and writhed. “That’s Nettar!” exclaimed Harrow. “The fakir’s got him out. Let’s give him a hand.” “No, no!” Jack Heaton hauled him back. “Leave them alone. They’re dangerous. They will kill us both. I know too much about them. They tried to shoot me up in the rocket tonight. Get behind this lorry!” He pulled Harrow down. Harrow looked amazed at what Jack had said. There was a clanging of a bell. A fire brigade was arriving, but they were too late to save the big-top, which was now a pyramid of flame. Then Jack Heaton saw someone plunge out of the back of the tent. It was Rabot, his ring clothes little more than charred rags about his limbs. He had a flash-gun in his hand, and he ran straight up to the writhing Octopuss. The watchers saw the blue flash, saw the monster let go its hold on its victim, and stiffen. Just for a moment its long tentacles writhed in the air, then they wrapped themselves round its bulging body and collapsed. Rabot, apparently in agony, turned the flash-gun upon himself, and there was another blue flash. He dropped beside the octopuss. Jim Harrow gasped. Jack Heaton peered through the smoke for others of the performers, but could see no more. What had happened to Herma, to Gallus and to Pax? Had they got out in time, or had they perished in the flames? Police were arriving to help the firemen. Although he was too blackened by smoke to be recognizable, Jack kept out of their way. Suddenly there was a roar, a terrific rushing sound, and something shot out through the pyre of smoke and flames, and sped towards the sky. “The rocket!” exclaimed Jack Heaton. “It was fired by the heat, and this time there was nobody inside it. What’s happened to Selfax and Nettar?” Jack and Jim Harrow had been so intent on watching the firemen and the rocket that they had not noticed what had happened to the fakir and the circus Boss. When Jack and Jim looked round they could see nothing of them at first. Then Harrow pointed. “There goes Selfax, still carrying Nettar,” he said. “Where’s he taking him? He’s turning away from the caravans. He must have lost his sense of direction.” Jack suddenly understood. “Selfax is taking Nettar out to the moor!” he exclaimed. “They mean to get away. Nettar must know that the game’s up. He’s going to try to get away by space-ship.” “Space-ship!” repeated Jim Harrow, and Jack Heaton remembered that his companion knew nothing of the truth about this strange circus. “What are you getting at, Heaton?” Selfax was hurrying for the end of the lane that led to the moor. “We’ve got to stop Selfax and Nettar!” panted Jack, beginning to run. “The police will never believe me if we don’t produce them as evidence. Nettar’s hurt. He has to rely on Selfax. There were shouts behind them. The wind which had followed the firing of the rocket had taken the flaming canvas far and wide. More fires were starting. Another brigade had arrived on the scene. Jim Harrow ran along beside his companion without knowing why he did so. He kept looking at Heaton in a way which showed that he doubted the other’s sanity. All this queer talk made him believe that Heaton was crazy. They could now see Selfax going up the hill beyond the showground. He was a spare man and after he had been in and out of that burning tent it was a miracle that he could move at all. Yet he seemed to think nothing of his burden. “I saw – once before – one night – a space-ship!” panted Jack Heaton. “It brought the Octopuss from another planet. Nettar will try to get away in a space-ship before the true story about him is told.” Jim Harrow looked puzzled, but he asked no questions. He was too bewildered for that. “Don’t look at me as though I was crazy!” said Jack Heaton. “I can prove it to you. If they take the road to the moor, I’m certain they’ve summoned a space-ship. I want you as a witness, Jim Harrow.” The roustabout panted along beside Jack, but said nothing. His eyes were fixed on the pair ahead. The glare from the showground still illuminated the tops of the trees and the hedges around them. Fearful that Nettar might still have his flash-gun, Jack Heaton would not let his companion get too close to the others, but not once did Selfax look back. He did not appear to consider the possibility of their being followed. The moorland road at last. Jack Heaton had been right. Selfax turned from the main road over the heather. Selfax arrived at the hollow where the space-ship had landed on the previous occasion, and Jack Heaton motioned for his companion to get down flat. They could see that Nettar had been put down in a sitting position, and that he was bending over something which he had brought from a pocket. “A crystal box he’s using to direct the space-ship,” thought Jack, who knew that these crystal boxes were used as a means of communication by Nettar and his colleagues. “What are they going to do?” whispered Jim Harrow hoarsely, at his side. “Why did they come here?” “To wait for a space-ship to fetch them,” replied Jack. “Watch up there in the sky, and presently you’ll see something glowing red. It will be the space-ship coming. It will come down and land to take them off. If only we could stop them! If only I could be sure that Nettar hasn’t got a flash-gun!” Jim Harrow looked at Jack in disgust. “A space-ship – nonsense!” he exclaimed. “You don’t believe it, but these men are from another planet,” explained Jack Heaton. “Whose leg are you pulling?” demanded Jim Harrow. “You mean to say they’re from Mars, or somewhere like that?” “I don’t know which planet they come from, but they’re certainly not Earthmen,” said Heaton. Jim Harrow was staring up into the sky. He pointed. “What’s that coming through the clouds?” he asked. “It’s an aeroplane of some kind.” “It’s what I’ve been telling you about – a space-ship!” retorted Jack Heaton.

 

JIM HARROW’S SACRIFICE

 

There was a sudden rushing noise, a flicker in the air, and then a strange craft stood in the centre of the hollow. It was shaped like a rocket, and stood on three legs when on the ground. The wider end of the craft was now near the ground. There were windows near the top, and a trapdoor was opening in the underside.

 

“Gosh!” hissed Jim Harrow. A metal ladder extended from the trapdoor to the ground. A man clad in a one-piece garment with metallic hue came down the ladder and approached Selfax and Nettar. A second and third man followed. Nettar was too badly injured to stand, but he managed to sit up and talk. Now the men from the space-ship were picking up Nettar very carefully and carrying him towards the ladder. “Do you mean to say that those chaps were spies from some other world, an’ they’re going to escape?” asked Harrow. “Yes, we can’t stop them,” replied Jack Heaton. “You saw how Rabot killed the Octopuss? They’ll have weapons like that. It’s not safe.” “We’ll see about that!” growled the roustabout. He picked up a heavy stone from the ground, suddenly jumped to his feet, and ran forward, shouting – “Hi, hi, come back!” Jack Heaton remained on the ground, staring in horror. Selfax and one of the three men from the space-ship had turned round. The man from the space-ship had drawn a flash-gun. “Stop where you are, you dirty spies!” roared Harrow. “You don’t get away with it like this.” He threw the stone. It missed the men, and Jack Heaton saw it strike against the space-ship where it seemed to get stuck in a small gap between two sections. The man beside Selfax raised his hand, there was a faint, crackling noise, a blue flash, and Jim Harrow suddenly doubled up. A blue light played over him for an instant, then it was gone and he was very still. The fakir and the man with him slowly walked back towards their victim. Jim Harrow had not stirred. Jack Heaton sighed. He knew this meant that Jim Harrow, his only friend in the circus, was dead. No longer could Jack rely upon Jim Harrow as a witness to prove his story about the space-ship. By the time the others had got Nettar into the space-ship. Selfax and his companion slowly walked to the ladder, took a long look around the moor, and climbed to the trapdoor. A few moments later the ladder was drawn up, and the door was closed. Jack Heaton flattened himself still further to the ground. After about a minute there was a loud, rushing noise, and clouds of vapour gushed through vents at the lower end of the space-ship. The vapour welled around the rocket, and when it cleared, the rocket rose. But it did not flash into the upper air as the previous rocket-ship seen by Jack Heaton had done. Its flight was easily followed, a strange, wobbly, slow flight. Something was wrong with the rocket-ship. By the light of its jet Heaton could see a crack appear across it, then it split, and next moment the space-ship had disintegrated into dust. Next, Jack Heaton heard the chugging of a motor cycle on the moorland track. He looked round without rising, then remained still. The newcomer was a motor cyclist policeman with another in his side-car.  “The noise and the flash came from here!” the policeman on the motor cycle shouted, as he stopped not twenty paces from where Jack Heaton lay. Both policemen dismounted and were coming through the heather in their high boots. Instinctively they looked down into the hollow, and the first thing they saw was the still figure of Jim Harrow. One of the policemen shouted to the other, and they both began to run. Heaton raised himself and saw them turning the roustabout over. “I think that something strange has been happening here, and that he had something to do with it,” said the other policeman. They used their torches as they went through poor Jim Harrow’s pockets. All they found was a little money and some cigarettes. The two policemen then examined the bottom of the hollow. “Looks as though something big flattened down the grass and heather here, but there’s no trace of oil or smell of petrol,” said the taller of the pair. “I’d better get to the nearest phone and report this.” He went past Jack Heaton on his way to the motor cycle. Jack wondered whether he ought to show himself and tell them the truth about Jim’s death, then he decided that it would be a waste of time. The police would not believe there had been any space-ship, or that the boss of the Astor Two-Ring Circus and the fakir had taken off in it before it blew up. It would only get Jack into further complications and trouble if he took his story to the police. In any case, there was not much they could do. The circus had been wrecked. Of the green-eyed artistes whom Jack Heaton had known to be spies, he believed that all but Selfax and Nettar had perished in or near the big-top fire. Rabot had killed himself. The rest of the roustabouts and circus hands would not be able to tell the police anything. They would soon be looking for new jobs. “So shall I!” thought Jack Heaton, as he followed the policemen away into the darkness. “I’ve had enough of the circus life for a while, and it’s no good going back to Hackfield. I could never explain to him.” In the newspapers during the next few days he read a lot about the circus fire at Lurrington. Nobody had been killed, except these few circus performers. The charred remains of the performers had been found amidst the wreckage of the big-top, and the police had been puzzled that nobody came forward to identify them. The remains of the Octopuss also caused a lot of comment. It was decided that it was an unusual sort of octopus, and people asked why Nettar, the missing circus proprietor, had not shown it to leading scientists instead of keeping it in a side-show. Neither could anyone be found who had claim to ownership of the circus. The effects which had not burnt, and there were scores of lorries and other vehicles, were finally sold, and the proceeds were distributed among the circus labourers who were out of work. Even the police sensed that there had been some mystery about the Astor Two-Ring Circus, but the only man who knew the real truth was by that time in Canada under a new name. Jack Heaton would never forget what he learned and seen for himself. He knew that he would never again see in any circus the feats that had been performed in the Astor show. Often Jack Heaton would look up at the sky and wonder where the planet was which produced Nettar and his group of fellow spies. He had the feeling that the men of that planet would never again come to Earth. Their spying expedition under Nettar had met disaster, with the loss of all its men. Jack Heaton himself had been responsible for that defeat of Nettar by his lone fight against the green-eyed men of the Two-Ring Circus. Nobody on Earth would ever know it. At the end, Jack had the help of Jim Harrow. Jack knew that the stone so courageously thrown by Harrow had in some freakish way been the cause of the space-ship’s destruction. The stone had lodged in some vital part of the space-ship. That primitive weapon, a stone, had brought about the final defeat of men who had weapons of the most advanced kind ever seen on the Earth!

 

THE END

 

 

The Circus of Secrets and Shivers 11 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1453 – 1463 (1953 – 1954)

 

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003