• 05 May 2010
    When I started "Cirque Du Freak" on the 9th of May, 1997, it took me a while to find the right voice. Included here are the first few chapters of the original draft, warts and all. People who've read the published book will pick up on the rougher tone, and will also notice a few different scenes, which make for interesting comparison with the finished product.



    First off, this is a true story, every last word of it. I mean, sure, there are bits which didn’t happen exactly as I say, but it’s as close to pure truth as any book is ever likely to get.

    It’s a scary story, so you might not believe it’s real. I know I never believed horror stories when I was little. My Mum and Dad used to tell me there were no such things as monsters. They said only silly boys and girls let themselves be frightened by books or films. Well, I didn’t want to look silly, so I told myself they were right, even though I always suspected they weren’t.

    Grown-ups think they know it all. Well, they don’t!

    If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like scary stories, you’d better stop reading RIGHT NOW, because this is about as scary as it gets! It would be scary enough if it was just made-up. But knowing it’s real, and all this really happened … Terrifying!

    Even if you do like horror books, you might be a little shocked by this one. You see, it’s not like other books. This one isn’t made-up, so it isn’t safe. Most books are safe: the good guys win and the monsters get their butts kicked. This book … well, let’s just say it’s not like any other you’ve ever read. You’ll see what I mean later on.

    It’s a bloody book. I used to like stories with lots of blood and gore in them when I was little. People getting their heads chopped off and their bellies ripped open and their guts spilt out: that was my idea of a good time! All the same, I’ve tried not to make this too gory. It’s frightening enough the way it is, without adding any extra spicy details. But it’s a chilling tale, no doubt about that. There’s lots of blood and bits that will give you goosebumps and maybe even a nightmare or two, and that’s just the way it is. I don’t want to gross you out, but in some places it simply can’t be helped.

    That’s the problem with truth: sometimes it’s ugly!

    One thing before I start into the story: my name isn’t really Darren Shan. I know I said everything was true, and it is. Except for the names. I’ve had to change the names because … well by the time you get to the end of this book, you’ll know the reason. Secrecy is a must.

    I haven’t used any real names, not mine, not my sisters, not my friends or teachers. Nobody’s. I’m not even going to tell you the real name of my town or my country or anything! I daren’t.

    Anyway, that’s enough of an introduction. I don’t want to bore you to death before my story starts. I hate introductions normally, but I felt it was necessary this time. I had to warn you before you began, to give you a chance to get out. Like I said, if you’re the sort who gets scared easily, STOP NOW! Close those covers, put this down and go watch telly or read a nice safe book. This isn’t a story for cowards.

    But, if you’re brave enough and ready, let’s begin. If this was a made-up story, it would begin at night, with a storm and owls hooting and rattling noises under the bed. But this is a real story so I have to begin where it really started.

    It started in a toilet.


    I was in a toilet at school. Our school has two sets of toilets. One for the younger boys and girls, another for us older pupils. I preferred the one for the smaller boys. It was brightly painted and smelled nice. But I was too old to dare be seen in the room where the little boys go to tinkle.

    I was sitting down, humming a song. I had my trousers on. I’d come in near the end of English class, feeling a bit sick. My teacher, Mr Dalton, is great about things like that. He’s smart and knows when you’re faking and when you’re being serious. He took one look when I raised my hand and said I was ill, then nodded his head and told me to come here.

    "Throw up whatever's bugging you, Shan," he said, "then get your behind back in here."

    I wish every teacher was as understanding and funny as Mr Dalton.

    Anyway, I didn’t get sick, but I still felt a bit queasy, so I stayed on the toilet. I heard the bell ring for the end of class and everybody came rushing out for their lunch break. I wanted to join them, but I knew Mr Dalton would give out if he saw me in the yard so soon. He doesn’t get mad if you try tricking him, but he goes all quiet and won’t speak to you for ages, and that’s almost worse than being shouted at.

    So I was sitting there, humming, watching my watch. I decided I’d wait another five minutes. Then I heard the door opening and someone calling my name.

    "Darren! Hey, Darren! Have you fallen in or what?"

    I grinned. It was Steve Leopard, my best friend in all the world.

    "Hey, Steve," I called back. "I’m in here." I hit the door so he’d know which one I was lurking behind.

    He walked over quickly and I opened the door. He smiled when he saw me sitting down with my trousers on. "Did you puke?" he asked.

    "No," I said.

    "Do you think you’re gonna?" he asked.

    "Maybe," I said. Then, to give him a shock, I leant forward all of a sudden and made a sick noise. You know the sort: Bluurgh! But Steve Leopard knew me too well to be fooled by that.

    "Give my boots a polish while you’re down there," he said, and laughed when I pretended to spit on his shoes and rub them with a sheet of toilet-paper.

    "Did I miss anything in class?" I asked, sitting up again.

    "Nah," he said. "It was the usual load of crap."

    "Did you do your History homework?" I asked.

    "It doesn’t have be done until tomorrow, does it?" he asked, getting worried. Steve’s always forgetting when homework has to be done for.

    "The day after tomorrow," I told him.

    "Oh," he said, relaxing. "That’s OK then. I thought…" He stopped talking and frowned. "Hold on," he said. "Today’s Thursday. That means the day after tomorrow would be…"

    "Saturday! Got you!" I yelled, punching him on the shoulder.

    "Ow!" he shouted. "That hurt." He rubbed his arm, but I could tell he wasn’t really hurt. "So are you coming out?" he asked.

    "I thought I’d stay in here and admire the view," I said, leaning back on the toilet seat.

    "Come on," he said. "Quit messing. We were five-one down when I came in. We’re probably six or seven down now. We need you." He was talking about football. We play a game every lunchtime, the older boys against the younger ones. We normally win easily, but we’ve lost a lot of our best players lately. Dave Norman broke his leg. Sam White transferred to another school when his family moved. And Danny Curtain has stopped playing football and spends his lunchtimes hanging out with Sheila Leigh, his girlfriend. What an idiot!

    I’m about the best player we have left. At least, I’m the best full-forward. There are better defenders and midfielders, and Tommy Jones is the best goalkeeper in the whole school. But I’m the only one who can stand up front and score four or five times a day.

    "OK," I said, standing. "I’ll come and save you. I’ve scored a hat-trick every day this week. It would be a pity to stop now."

    We walked out of the toilet together and hurried to my locker so I could change into my trainers. I used to have a great pair, real expensive ones I won in a writing competition. But the laces snapped a few months ago and the rubber along the sides started to fall off. And then my feet grew! The pair I have now are OK, the best I could afford, but they’re not the same.

    We were eight-three down when I got on the pitch. It wasn’t a real pitch, just a long stretch of yard with painted goal-posts on either end. I don’t know who painted them, but whoever it was was a right idiot. He put the crossbar too high at one end and too low at the other! Because my team’s older, we always have to play with our goalie beneath the one that’s too high. And although Tommy Jones is a great 'keeper, he’s quite short, and if the other team can kick the ball high and on target, they normally score.

    "Never fear, Hotshot Shan is here!" I shouted as I ran onto the pitch. A lot of players laughed or groaned, but I could see my team-mates picking up and our opponents growing worried.

    I made a great start and scored two goals inside one minute, and it looked like we might come back to draw or win. But time was against us. If I’d arrived earlier we’d have been OK, but the bell rang just as I was hitting my stride, so we lost nine-seven. I scored my fourth hat-trick of the week, so I wasn’t too unhappy, but it’s not much fun scoring if your team loses the game.

    It was as we were walking back to the room that Alan Morris ran into the yard, panting and red-faced. They’re my three best friends, Steve Leopard, Tommy Jones and Alan Morris. We must be the oddest four people in the whole world, because only one of us has a nick-name. That’s Steve, whose real name is Steve Leonard, but who’s been called Leopard ever since he was born. Everybody calls him Leopard, even Mr Dalton sometimes. Everyone except me, that is. I call him Steve because he asked me to, and when your best friend asks you something like that, it’s your duty to agree.

    "Look what I found!" Alan yelled, waving a soggy piece of paper around their noses.

    "What is it?" Tommy asked, trying to grab it.

    "It’s -" Alan began, but stopped when Mr Dalton shouted at us.

    "Hey! You four! Inside!" he roared.

    "We’re coming, Mr Dalton!" Steve roared back. Steve is Mr Dalton’s favourite, and he gets away with stuff that the rest of us couldn’t do. Like when he uses swear-words sometimes in his stories. If I put in some of the words Steve has, I’d have been kicked out long ago.

    But Mr Dalton has a soft spot for Steve, because he’s mixed-up in the head and all over the place. What I mean is, sometimes Steve’s brilliant in class and gets everything right, while other times he can’t even spell his own name. Mr Dalton says he’s a bit of an idiot savant, which mean’s he’s a stupid genius!

    Anyway, even though he’s Mr Dalton’s pet, not even Steve can get away with turning up late for class. So whatever Alan had, it would have to wait. We trudged back to class, sweaty and tired after the game, and began our History lesson.

    Little did I know then that Alan’s mysterious piece of paper was to change my life forever ... for the worse!


    History was fun. We learned about the Vikings and how they used to raid England and Ireland and kill monks, and sail away with the gold. I guess they were bad guys, but I’d love to have been one. It would have been cool to burn down monasteries and chop off a few heads. And they even got to rip up books! If I was a Viking I’d rip up every book in school, then burn the school down!

    We had maths after history. That wasn’t much fun. I’m quite good at maths, but it’s fairly boring all the same.

    Steve managed to brighten things up for us for a while. Mr Dalton brings us up to the blackboard to do sums, a few of us every day, and keeps us there until we get one wrong. The person who gets most right wins a prize at the end of the week, and it’s usually a good prize, like shin-guards or a football, or a skipping rope if you’re a girl (and girls win more often than you’d think!).

    Anyway, he called Lucy Sheils up first. She got two right, but messed-up the third. The sums get harder as you go along, see. He called me up next. And I got six right in a row, which is great. The most anyone had got so far that week was four. I felt like a king going back to my seat. "Let’s see them beat that!" I muttered to myself, and Steve must have heard me, because he stuck up his hand and asked to go next. He smiled and winked at me as he walked by.

    "Volunteering, Master Leonard?" Mr Dalton asked. He was smiling.

    "I feel lucky, Sir," Steve replied.

    "Do you now?" Mr Dalton said, rubbing his chin. "Well, let’s see if we can’t maybe deflate that ego of yours a bit, shall we?" Mr Dalton says things sometimes that we don’t understand, like now. But it sounded funny, so everybody laughed.

    When we stopped laughing, Mr Dalton scribbled the first sum on the board. It was multiplication, quite hard, but Steve took one look at it and called out the answer. Mr Dalton blinked, but this wasn’t the first time Steve had done something like this, so he wasn’t too surprised.

    "OK clever clogs," he said, "let’s see how you do with this one."

    Mr Dalton wrote down a really hard one then, where you had to multiply three sets of numbers. Steve frowned a little and reached for the chalk, but then he stopped and grinned and called out the answer. This time Mr Dalton was surprised, and he had to think for a long time before writing down the next tough sum.

    Well, things went on like that for ages. Steve wasn’t able to do all the sums in his head and had to start using the chalk a lot after the fifth problem, but he was still getting the answers right, and quickly too. He did one sum, which would have taken me a quarter of an hour, in about half a minute! It was like watching one of those kid brain-boxes on telly.

    He got fourteen sums in a row right. It was a record. Nobody had ever got more than ten, not in all the years Mr Dalton had been teaching. Everybody in the class was cheering and shouting. Normally Mr Dalton would have told us to be quiet, but he was as excited as the rest of us.

    Then while Steve was doing the fifteenth sum, a bird crashed into the window. It happens a lot in our school. There’s loads of trees nearby and birds are always crashing into one window or another, so we didn’t take much notice.

    Steve jumped when the bird hit the glass, and spun around to look at it. It was a sparrow, and it hung in the air for a few seconds, sort of shaking it’s head and checking its wings to make sure they were OK. Then it gave a little chirp and flew off again, and Steve turned back to the blackboard. But I could tell by the way his shoulders were slumped that the run was about to come to an end.

    He was in the middle of the sum, on a real easy bit where he had to multiply 7 by 12. Everybody in the class knows the 12-times table off by heart, at least up to 12-times-12, and Steve should have had no trouble figuring out it was 84. But he couldn’t do it. He stared at the sum for what seemed like hours, then slowly wrote 91 down beneath it. He looked up at Mr Dalton nervously.

    "Is that right, Sir?" he asked.

    Mr Dalton stared at him sadly and shook his head. "No, Steve," he said softly. Then he smiled and started to clap, and everybody joined in. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he shouted, pretending to be a referee at a boxing match, "I give you Steve Leonard, AKA Steve the Leopard, undisputed heavyweight maths champion of the world!"

    We cheered and Steve returned to his seat. I clapped his back and he grinned bashfully. "Aw, it was nothing," he said modestly, but I could tell he was delighted.

    Then Mr Dalton called Danny Curtain up to the board. He got one sum right but failed the second, which was about usual for Danny. He returned to his seat and Mr Dalton called Jimmy Clarke up next, and it was back to being an ordinary boring lesson.

    I didn’t know it then, but Steve’s unbelievable run at the blackboard was going to be every bit as important to my life as Alan’s piece of paper. And every bit as deadly!

    - - - - - - - - - e - n - d - - - - - - - - -

    In this draft, in a later chapter, Mr Dalton gave Steve two tickets to the Cirque Du Freak, as a prize for getting so many sums right. My editor swiftly drew my attention to the fact that teachers were unlikely to go around handing out tickets to illegal freak shows to their students, hence a hasty re-think on my part!!!
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