What happened when the circus rolled into town? Tell us, and you might get published in WD

Horror stories. Literary fiction. Any and all permutations of “__-Lit.” Pastiches. Romances. Heroes. Villains. Leprechauns (it’s a phenomenon—there are always a few, no matter the prompt).

It’s time once again to open WD’s doors for the eclectically great submissions to our Your Story competition.

Want a shot at getting published in the magazine? Pen a short story of 750 words or fewer based on the prompt below. Then, post the story in the comments section of Promptly, or e-mail it to yourstorycontest@fwmedia.com (entries must be pasted directly into the body of the e-mail; no attachments).

Prize: Publication.
Deadline: Feb. 10.
Rule: One entry per person.
Leprechauns: Not required, but welcome.

Hope to see your story. Good luck.


Your Story #32
(If you want to post your story in the comments section for other writers to read but the Captcha code isn’t working, e-mail the piece to me at writersdigest@fwmedia.com with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.)

Begin your story with the following sentence: “It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town.”

Also, a quick note from Wednesday’s post: If you missed a certain edition of WD, it looks like they’re
clearing out our 2008 back issues, and have marked them down 50 percent.
To check out the stock, follow this link
and click “Price (Low to High).” Cover gals and boys include Diablo
Cody, Brad Thor, Sara Gruen and Isabel Allende, and our features feature
screenwriting, agents, literary hotspots, e-books and more.

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23 thoughts on “What happened when the circus rolled into town? Tell us, and you might get published in WD

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  2. Katie Dixon

    "Circus Escapes"

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town.  They stayed for three days.  Three days of glamour, of spectacle, of gilded perfection in the performances of man and beast.  On the final night in town, our young friends, Cecile and Jack, decided that they simply could not wait any longer.  Once everyone else was distracted in the intricacies of their evening routines, they made their escape.  Things were going to be so busy that night, they doubted they would even be missed.

    Cecile slid awkwardly under the chain linked fence.  It was really more of a less-than-stealthy army crawl, all sharp points, knees and elbows.  Once on the other side, she held the fence a few extra inches off the ground as Jack slipped smoothly under the wires.  His scrapes numbered one to Cecile’s eight.  For all of his grace, however, Jack looked like he had just been tending horses, which he probably had.  Cecile, too, was dressed in opposition to her natural disposition.  Even in her tights and leotard, remnants of her mother’s dashed dreams for her daughter’s future as a dancer, she stumbled.  Furthermore, she had draped the ensemble with a dark grey t-shirt splattered with paint. 

    “You look ridiculous,” snorted Jack.  It wasn’t necessarily a condescending snort, more like the kind that escapes while trying to hold in laughter.

    “Well, you smell like horses.  Probably.  It’s not like I’ve smelled you, or anything.”  Cecile flushed pink while Jack’s expression remained placid except for one raised eyebrow and the corner of his mouth.  Most of the time that eyebrow made her want to punch him in the stomach, which she did.  It never did any good.  The eyebrow would just arch higher.  Secretly, she practiced the trick herself at home but only ever managed to look like she was holding in a sneeze.

    “Plus,” she added with her own snort. “You could make a side show act out of that eyebrow of yours.  I’m merely prepared.  No matter what situation we end up in, I am dressed to make a quick escape.”  Cecile drew herself up as tall as she could and began to lead the way down the narrow path. 

    Jack followed behind her humming softly.  It wasn’t any song in particular, but just a soft melody that came unassumingly whenever he was lost in thought.  Jack wasn’t worried about their plan.  It was just a night out for goodness sake; it wasn’t like they were running away.  Nonetheless, it felt good to stretch his legs, walk the town, see how the other half lived.  As he mused, though, he smiled at her enthusiasm.  He liked how everything was an adventure to Cecile.  You would think that, based on their shared history, she would have been finished with adventures. Instead, she just looked for them in unexpected places.

    When Cecile and Jack reached their destination, the main event, they didn’t even need to talk.  So used were they to this routine that they slid automatically into their roles.  Jack paid for the tickets while Cecile bought the popcorn.  From there, they settled onto a bench to watch and play the game they had waited all week to play.

    “Oooh,” Cecile whispered nodding her head just slightly to the left.  “I’m guessing:  baseball, the color red, and Huck Finn.”

    “I’ve got a dead ringer for cheerleading, pink, and twilight – but only secretly – straight ahead,” Jack replied.

    “Oh, you’re good.” 

    “Tickets, please,” called a gruff voice, unexpectedly, from behind them. 

    Jack calmly pulled the tickets from his pocket as Cecile threw on her best of-course-officer smile, one of the few things she did truly gracefully.  In this case, however, her grace may not have had the chance to do her full justice thanks to her, well, eclectic fashion choice for the evening.  The manager came up behind the officer and took in her “getaway” outfit along with Jack’s rather rustic appearance.

    "You thinkin’ runaways?” he questioned the officer.

    “To where?  The Circus?  There’s nowhere to run away to in this town,” replied the officer as he gestured for their I.D.s.  Cecile squirmed, waiting for the inevitable. 

    “Bill, my friend, you are not going to believe this.  I do believe we have some runaways among us.  Except they aren’t heading for the circus … they’re from the circus!”

    Officer Jones was still chuckling as he dropped them back off at home.  Shaking his head as their parents waited, still dressed from the night’s performance.

  3. Dana DuGan

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. I loved these early nights when we planted ourselves for a week or so in a new town. There would be new faces and new intrigues. A smell of clean pine wafted with animal shit wafted in the air as I rolled out the long water hose. I’d almost reached the elephant pen when Kinky-Ass wandered up to me with a proposition.
    Kinky-Ass used to be part of the show. Now, it’s politically incorrect to ogle misshapen people anymore. But who else will hire them? Kinky’s tush is ginormous on one side but tiny on the other. It makes him wobble. He ran the animals’ feed schedules. I worked for him when I wasn’t finessing the make-up on the older clowns who couldn’t see anymore.
    It was on a night quite different than this—cold and dark as the underside of a performing bear—when I left the home of my third foster family and found my real home. The freaks couldn’t shake me. They knew what it was like to be without family, home or love.
    Kinky’s proposition was this: After the show, I was to dress up in a sharp suit and go seduce some young women. For him. See Kinky was horny, and everyone acknowledged I had a pretty face. Problem was I am a girl. Not that anyone knew.
    Shoving my hands in my overall pockets, I stammered a bit and told him I’d think about it.  He gave me a hard punch in the chest and laughed, before wobbling away as he left me to my meager occupation.
    Wincing, I adjusted the tight strap binding my breasts. Kinky’d been after me for a while about loosing my virginity.  Believe me, I kind of wanted to but not that way. I was in love with someone. But even he didn’t realize that I was a 20-year-old female and not a slight but determined boy. 
    No one knew my secret, not even Dora and Edythe, the trapeze twins who took me in five years previously. I slept over the driver’s side of their RV, while they shared a bed in the back. On the road I was driver, handyman and gofer.
    From my bed I could watch the entire village of performers and animals go about their business. I saw enough to teach me about the ways of the world—at least in this twisted parallel universe—to know to keep my mouth shut. But it also gave me the chance to spy on my beloved as he worked out.
    The elephants sprayed each other playfully with the water as I filled their troughs.  I wondered how I’d ever please Kinky-Ass without blowing my cover.
    The Ringmaster finished the show that night with Lupe and Horatio riding their trick horse, Jester, over a series of inventive obstacles. While they were receiving gasps, applause and a standing O, I slipped out to the costume trailer and found myself a dress and shoes I thought would fit.
    As the audience left, I slipped quietly in among them.
    “Ooh, I want to meet the performers,” a young woman said.
    “How?” said another.
    “I know,” I said, before adding, “Follow me, girls.”
    We trotted around the back to where our trailer village was set up.  I figured maybe I could help Kinky out after all.
    The girls were clucking away at the scene before them. A bunch of performers were nearly naked, with towels around their waists as they waited in the shower line. Dora was sitting on a clown’s lap kissing his funny face and getting the stage make-up all over her. Animals were snorting and pawing in their cages. Children darted between their parent’s legs and over by the grill my love was cooking huge racks of ribs for our late dinner.
    The girls began spreading out, pulled by talk and looks. I stuck to their sides with my head down. But as we passed the grub table someone grabbed my arm hard. The Hungarian strong man, bald as a coot, Clyde, looked sharply down into my eyes.
    “You look good in drag, dude,” he said, nodded once and let go.
    Like I said my beloved didn’t know or care who I was. Life is a circus, I thought.

  4. SwedenSara

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. The air was crisp and clear after the afternoon’s quick drizzle, and a slight breeze rustled the recently full-blown spring leaves in the aspen glade. She listened to the distant sounds of the circus tent being set up, people hollering and animals bellowing. A movement to her right caught her attention, and she saw the form of a girl standing behind a honeysuckle bush. The sweet scent wafted through the air, and as she watched her step forward, her breath caught and her chest swelled. The girl smiled, cocked an eye-brow and strode towards her. An arm was offered to her, and a whispered ‘come with me’ wiped away all fear, wonders and uncertainty. She just knew, and she went with her.
    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. The air was dry and still hot from the day’s quivering heat. No breeze rustled the dark green leaves in the aspen glade, and as she waited for her girl by the honeysuckle bush, the sounds of circus tents, hollering people and bellowing animals drifted towards her. Twigs cracked behind her, and she felt slender, yet strong, arms encircle her body. A soft bosom pressed against her back, and a gentle breath whispered loving words in her ear, mending her heart and drying her tears. She turned around, pressed her forehead against hers, and ‘please don’t leave me again’ slipped out, floated in the dusk for a second and then found their way to another heart that needed mending.
    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. The air was chilly and still damp from the evening’s heavy rain, and violent winds shook the trees in the aspen glade, tearing golden leaves from silvery branches. The red berries on the honeysuckle caught her attention, as she waited for her family. Tents, people and animals made familiar noises that blended with the approaching sounds of squelching feet in rubber boots and the rustling of rainwear. The children’s tiny warm hands slipped into her larger ones and filled her soul with purpose, and her woman’s laughter spread love in her body. Fits of giggles and ‘hurry up, let’s go’ echoed in the night, adding a childish excitement to an event that held meanings the small ones did not yet understand.
    It was on a dark, gloomy night that the traveling circus rolled into town. The air was cold and biting, from the drop in temperature during the day. Snow drifted across the frozen ground; a thin shroud of white dust, a reminder of ashes spread and a love gone too soon. Thick, white frost covered the branches in the aspen glee, like crystal on granite, like diamonds on silver rings. No one was there with her to share the moment, and the silence was ripped apart by sounds that she no longer wished to hear. No arms were offered, no hands sought hers. No voice uttered words that spoke to her heart.
    ‘I miss you, love’ lingered in the air as she left her love, her life and her joy behind in the aspen glade.

  5. Keri Paul

    Tempting Fate

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. On my aging porch swing with my legs curled beneath me, I sat slowly swaying rhythmically back and forth, sipping my coffee and watching the lumbering progression with open curiosity. The caravan carrying the tents, banners and all the paraphernalia that went with portable entertainment, rumbled slowly past my aging farmhouse and stopped next to the open field banking my property. Like a battle injured beast, I heard the protesting cry of break pads scraping and disrupting the 18 spinning wheels of each truck, in quashing unison.

    I hadn’t yet decided how I felt about my new, albeit temporary neighbor. Part of me knew the noise and bright lights would carry far over the acres of distance as if they were parked right outside my door, but another part of me felt a stirring of excitement and wonder that only the circus coming to town can invoke. The moment I could spot the first red flag flying in the distance, common sense was tossed aside. Instantly I was on my feet, coffee cup and swing left far behind as I began to make my way across the open field towards the organized chaos. With every step, my exhilaration grew and so did the speed of my approach. Within minutes I was running full out, my long hair tumbling from its loosely tied slipknot to stream out behind me like the red, rippling circus banners I was running towards. In the short time it took me to make it to the heart of what would be a fully operational circus in just a few hours, the crew had already raised the main tent. Coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of the field, I stood awestruck when faced by its quiet, majestic form. Every sight and every sound around me conjured up a potent memory from my childhood. Even in my utter stillness, I was so overwhelmed by my surroundings that it took me a moment to feel his presence.

    “There’s nothing quite like thrill of the first day when the circus comes to town, is there?”

    For some reason I simply couldn’t fathom, where there should have been an immediate fear, there was only acceptance of the stranger now standing beside me. Still, I was caught completely off guard and unable to speak so I simply nodded my agreement and took in the appearance of the little person in silence. Given the stealth of his approach, his height and the jaunty hat perched upon his head, it suddenly pleased my imagination to believe him to be a Leprechaun traveling with the circus. All that was missing was the Irish accent, green outfit, and cob pipe perched between his lips. The silly notion had me smiling and made my lips quiver in suppressed laughter. A fact I’m sure did not go unnoticed.

    “You live in the farmhouse just down the street don’t you?” The little man tilted his head in question, his eyes twinkling in mirth almost as if he’d known exactly what I was thinking, but chose not to comment.

    “Yes. How did you know?”

    “A simple deduction, really. I saw you emerge from the edge of the field and not the road. Though I am surprised you’re alone, given the time of night.” He paused for a moment as if considering his next words. “Would you care to see the circus from behind the scenes? I could use the break and it seems a shame to let such an opportunity go to waste.”

    The first sliver of apprehension slid down my back at his words, but was quickly overridden by the pure, unadulterated delight at the chance to get a look of something that was so seldom seen by the outside world. “Oh yes, please!”

    Giving a quick nod of his head, he bowed slightly and made a wide sweeping motion with his arm in an age old courteous gesture for me to lead the way. With every step forward towards an unseen elephant’s call and the scent of freshly strewn sawdust and hay, the farmhouse and empty field fell away behind me, out of sight and out of mind. And if I’d taken even a moment to turn around, I’d have seen the outside world completely disappear altogether and the look of a dark and unholy satisfaction residing upon my friendly Leprechaun’s face.

  6. tigersilver


    “It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town.”
    And didn’t that just suck?
    He would fail at this rate, and possibly also fail at Life, In General. He would, in fact, be relegated to Fail Blog’s back issues section, where the minor losers were slotted and the dweebs dwelt.
    Certainly, he wasn’t going to earn any money. Nor should he, with a line like that. No…they were supposed to be catchy—riveting—eye-snagging, the alluring entry to a whole new (effing) world.
    And he just wasn’t meant to do this. His belly of life was gaunt and skinny; at eighteen years of age, he hadn’t the paunch of experience to draw upon.
    Nah, he sucked. It sucked. The piece would suck, too, if he slogged on through the marsh of his pathetically flimsy scarecrow of a plot. Make that zombie; he did have a character or two lined up, at the ready (‘Call me Quick Draw!’ he thought, and slopped watered-down Dr. Pepper on his messenger bag.) And yeah, they were gaming avatars and yes, they were a little unbelievable, but so was this…this thing he was attempting to write, and so was his stupid idea he could actually ‘effing write it.
    Make a living. Oh, shit, yes. That’s what they (They, with a capital ‘T’) wanted and went on about, yeah, but then ‘They’ didn’t really tell a person what to do about it, did they? No, it was all about taking aptitude tests and picking lame-ass GenEd courses when one couldn’t even buy a legal drink in most states and had no frigging clue. With a maybe-maybe not payoff in four years and something like eighty grand out, so he could walk out into the ‘real’ world and flip educated burgers.
    Make a fucking living. Writing. Real live Thinking, with a capital ‘T’: to amuse, to convey—to touch. At fifteen, he’d thought it might be okay, doing that. His English Comp and Creative Writing teachers loved him; hell, he’d been publishing ‘effing poetry since he was twelve! Winning stupid little awards from stupid little no-account lit mags and hoarding those wins like they were something meaningful in life. Like they’d make up for…stuff. Yeah, right. But, fuck, he’d have more luck with plumbing. Plumbing (his Dad said) was the ‘real thing’. Everybody used plumbing. Always broke, too, and then needed fixing. Very reliable, plumbing.
    Words weren’t. And neither was his fail-brain, or his vague idea there was something he could do that didn’t require four years of school and a really choice MacBook.
    And this—this was drek, pure and simple, and he should fail, because he deserved it. No one who started a novel—short story—anything—like that should deserve to win a goddamned thing.
    It sucked. And so did he…yeah. But.
    But, and wait a sec, here, just a freakin’ minute— if he just…tweaked it. Upped the levels. Cranked it down.
    A little, like this:
    “They came at night, the freaks and the carnivores…”
    …or maybe (better, could be better, yeah; come on, baby):
    “They crept in under the star-sodden blanket of the dark, the freaks and the carnivores, the mimes and the shells-and-peas men.’
    Maybe, just a little, that was…alright. Least, not as fucking fail as the first one. Not as flat, boring, same-old, same-old. No Dick and Jane or Hardy Boys flavor here. No—it…it kinda sounded cool. Like it would be followed by…a jolt. Some adrenaline—a little speed, to fuck with their heads.
    Suck them in, instead of just…‘suck’. ‘Them’, the other They.
    Yeah, maybe.

    ‘Lame-ass’ is the intellectual property & © of Mariann Sibinga (aka ‘tigersilver’)

  7. Ruth Kollman

    The Lessons

    IT WAS on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Its renowned performers were the first to venture into the region in years, a welcome sign of improved security. Their troupe had delighted the soldiers on the smaller bases outside the capital. The colorful clowns and acrobats, an animal trainer and her eclectic mix of chimpanzees, dogs, snakes and a porcupine, other exotic animals, relieved the tedium of winding down a long war, even though the soldiers’ boredom still was punctuated by the terror of suicide bombings.

    The circus caravan slowed, the first dusty truck’s headlights picking out rubble scattered across the pavement. It rumbled down deserted streets redolent of decay, burnt things–wood, vehicles and buildings–and the cloying stench of the dead. The chimpanzees, recognizing the smell, gibbered in their cages; the dogs howled at the stars. The snakes and porcupine, after their kind, remained silent, but they coiled in tight nervous balls.

    Ahead, at an internet café in a heavily fortified compound at the center of the capital, a soldier spread his fingertips across a computer screen. On the other side of the world, his young wife did the same. Their baby fussed.

    "Time to eat," she laughed, shifting the child on her lap, safe within her other arm.

    I cannot tell her today, the soldier decided. He remembered to look into the webcam, so as to appear to her to be gazing directly at her, not into her virtual eyes, pools of spilled midnight ink that had attracted him so their first meeting.

    "I have to go. I wish I could be with you today, remembering our wedding."

    The caravan rattled across a bridge, new girders gleaming beneath the bright stars. The guard towers of the central compound, awash in floodlights, rose on the opposite bank.

    He returned his eyes to the monitor. Her eyes, those huge eyes, filled with tears. She pressed her forehead to her screen, close to their fingertips.

    "I know, my husband."

    The first truck in the caravan stopped behind a line of vehicles–early morning workers and vendors–waiting to clear security into the compound. The driver, the circus’s famous lead clown, checked his watch.

    The soldier dropped his hand from the computer screen, leaning back.

    "Pray for peace and blessings for our baby," he started their sign-off ritual, begun when their unborn child first stirred in her belly.

    The caravan inched forward. Earthen berms, chain-link fences and loops of razor wire signaled the approach to the armed checkpoint. The driver glanced at his watch again, and then looked in the rear view mirror. He stuck his arm out the window and waggled his fingers to his wife, the animal trainer, driving the truck behind his. She lifted the tiny hand of their daughter, strapped into a car seat beside her, and helped the child return his wave. She flashed a thumbs-up sign.

    "I do," the solder’s wife was saying. "Come home to us soon."

    "I will."

    But not for six more months, the soldier thought as he reported to his post at the checkpoint. An honor, his superior had told him, for learning their language so well.

    The first truck in the caravan pulled into the inspection bay. The driver waited while fresh guards relieved those on duty.

    The soldier ordered the driver to get out and open the hood, and then patted him down while another guard searched the cab. Two more inspected with bomb detectors chests of sequined costumes and crates of brightly painted equipment. A fourth verified the circus workers’ identity papers.

    Satisfied, the soldier directed the driver into the compound with his rifle, and then watched the second truck approach. A rank odor of confined animals wafted from the back. Chimpanzees shook their cages, gibbering. Dogs howled. The soldier eyed coiled snakes, a ball of porcupine quills and a prehistoric-looking creature he believed they called an armadillo.

    The young woman behind the wheel smiled. A dark-eyed toddler, no older than two, fussed next to her.

    "Time for her breakfast," she laughed. "Those guys, too." She hooked a thumb over her shoulder.

    He hesitated, but then he motioned her into the compound. The next truck had rolled up before he heard her shout.

    "Today you learn a lesson about us!"

    We taught them well, these Americans, was the soldier’s first thought when the leading wave of the explosion caught him. His last was of his wife and daughter.

    R. King Kollman

  8. Jeff Hendricks

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. James appreciated it when they were scheduled for a night arrival, it allowed him to walk around the new places in peace, take in the surrounding environments without being disturbed by curious onlookers, gawkers and what he called the” mean ones”. He loved to smell the new places and he would describe each new environment in terms of taste. San Francisco tasted like browned toast, Virginia City tasted like sage chicken. But this place was different, he had never tasted a place like this before…vanilla.

    James had heard that if he walked far enough into the mountains here, he could find trees whose bark smelled of vanilla. A man could live in the vanilla forest and never see another human being they said. A man could, but what was James?

    The train’s whistle blasted and James pulled himself from the window of his boxcar. The long rides were the worst part of this job, his boxcar was vaguely provisioned, tasted like burnt oranges and was always cold. Whenever they traveled through the mountains it was frigid inside and all they were given was a blanket to keep warm. James wondered how it could be that The Captain’s “prized possessions” could be treated in such a way and why he would want his talent to suffer. Regardless, he was here now, and high time to get the job done, time to stop taking the abuse and do what he needed to do; kill The Captain, take his share of the money and run away to the vanilla forest to live like a human being, like a man.

    James, trying to step as stealthily as his hulking legs could carry him, blundered across the chatty wooden floor to the cabinet and pulled out several long red candles, lit them, and placed them strategically so that when Pinney awoke she’d be able to see. Last time, Pinney tripped, hit her head on the metal handrail and busted her skull open. James remembered how fantastically white the skull looked underneath the bleeding flesh. The Captain had refused to provide Pinney treatment; he liked the fact that she would develop a hideous scar.

    “It’ll scare the hell out of the customers” The Captain said “they’ll pay a premium to see that.”

    Pinney suffered for a long time after her fall, she had breathtaking headaches and her skin turned green and tasted like limburger cheese. James took care of Pinney for an entire month refusing to perform until he knew she was better. The Captain would beat James with a bullwhip regularly for refusing, but The Captain was powerless in hurting James. On top of being enormous, powerful, and covered from head to toe in long brown hair, he was also extraordinarily tough. He wasn’t often hurt or injured; physical pain just didn’t bother him. They called him a freak.

    James took in the night air with a smile. “Yes” he thought “vanilla”. Tonight was the night he was going to be human. He would take the name of “freak” and drown it in The Captain’s blood.

    The Captain’s door was open. James stepped in the lavish boxcar. There was fruit on the table, a half downed glass of beer, and the fatty part of a steak still leaking amber juices on a plate, but the room tasted oddly like yeast. A pale light flicked form the candle on the far end of the ornate room. James peered into the candle light.

    A gun in The Captain’s hand, pointed right at the heart of the freak.


    Poor James took a bullet in the chest. He didn’t feel the shot but he could feel the warm blood roll down his hairy torso, splashing on his feet.

    No matter, there was no pain within him. James walked through the nightmarish thickness to The Captain and wrapped his hands around the Captain’s neck, gun clattering to the floor.
    As James observed The Captain struggle and wiggle in his meaty, simian hand, he suddenly and without warning, released his grip. A new feeling, a human feeling flooding within… sorrow and sadness for The Captain, breaking his new freakish and human heart, and it was then that James did the strangest thing. He kissed the choking Captain.

    As the light of the day dappled the forest floor, James took a deep breath and tasted it, vanilla…and freedom.

  9. L. S. Purcell

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Pinkie and I bundled up in scarves and sweaters and made our way over to the depot to watch the train pull in.

    “It’s cold, Pink. You sure you want to go over there tonight? There’ll be a parade through town tomorrow.”

    “Oh yes, I’m sure. I want to see the elephants on the train! How do they get elephants on a train, anyway?” She carefully unfolded the flyer she’d found a week ago.

    “They have sea lions, Barry. Are those like regular lions?”

    “I dunno.”

    Last summer, the good circus, John Robinson’s 4-Ring and Menagerie, had come through Johnson City, and all us kids took the car down there to see it. But Pinkie’d had the diphtheria then and couldn’t come. We didn’t even know if she’d make it the summer at first. Aunt Nan’d pushed her around in a baby buggy. She couldn’t talk for the longest time. But she got better. She’d always been a puny thing and still was, but stronger in a way, too. I didn’t realize how bad she’d wanted to go with us then. Since she’d caught wind of Sparks World Famous Show coming through Erwin a couple weeks ago, it was about all she’d talk about.

    “Do they really have dogs dressed up fine as ladies? That talk and dance?”

    “I think so, Pink,” I’d say.

    “And elephants?”

    “From what I hear, Sparks has more elephants than any traveling circus in the country. That should be the best part.”

    We weren’t the only ones headed out. And the circus must’ve known we’d be coming. The train crept along the tracks, animals and performers spilling out the windows. Clowns walked alongside, doing backflips and cartwheels, honking pocket horns. After the caboose, came the elephants.

    There had to be seven or eight of them, each with a handler carrying a long stick. They walked single file, swinging their large trunks and tiny tails. One handler wore a half barrel around his neck, filled with watermelon slices. He’d spear a slice of watermelon with his stick and hand it up to an elephant. They’d calmly pick it up with their trunks and pop it into their mouths.

    “Wow,” said Pinkie. “I didn’t realize they’d be so big.”

    They might’ve even been bigger than six cows standing one on top of the other. The last elephant in line was by far the largest. As the handler presented the watermelon to the elephant, she swatted his stick away. She lifted her trunk, got up on her hind legs, and bleated the longest, loudest bleat I’d ever heard, louder than a Sousaphone band, or 100 sheep waiting for shearing. The watermelon man, as stunned as the rest of us, prodded her with his stick. She brought her front legs down with a thud, picked him up with her trunk and slammed his body to the ground.

    She bleated once more, long and slow and sad. Faster, better handlers than the watermelon man lassoed her neck and pulled her from the railroad tracks into an empty field. It seemed like she knew what was coming. She could’ve wiped each of those men out, or all of us, if she’d wanted. Surely she could have. My heart beat so fast and hard I wondered if anyone else could hear it. Pinky clutched my arm.

    “Y’all right, Pink?”

    “I think I’m ready to go now,” she said.

    We had to fight our way through the crowd, as looky-loos crushed their way back toward the horrific scene. I tried to get Pinky to talk to me but she wouldn’t. We were half froze by the time we got back to Aunt Nan’s, we both stayed all bundled and went straight to bed.

    “Y’all ready to get up?” Aunt Nan called the next morning. “It’s Saturday and I thought we’d all head down.”

    Pinky slept in the loft above and I didn’t hear her move, so I got out of bed quickly and went to catch up with Nan. I told her about the elephants. “Well that’s a real shame,” she said.

    It turns out they hung that elephant, from the derrick car of another train, after shooting it and didn’t seem to do no good. Pinky never did want to talk about it, but she kept that flyer, all folded up, in the top drawer of her dresser.

  10. Arr Ell Ess

    By Arr Ell Ess

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Late July in northern California is always pleasantly scorching. We spent most of our days playing outside, scaling the massive clay hills, having rock fights, and exploring the area along the creek where the Maidu Indians lived until the white man came. We played on the big rocks where there were deep holes the Indians used as pestles to grind acorns. When night fell, we were called indoors by our mother, forced to eat dinner, take a bath, and get ready for bed. “The Dukes of Hazard” and “The Fall Guy” and “Charlie’s Angels” kept us company until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.

    But on one Friday night, the circus paraded into town and set up their enormous red-and-white striped tent in the field, between the clay hills and the former home of the Maidu. We didn’t mind that our playground had been usurped, for now there were bears and chimpanzees, men with no teeth selling popcorn and soda pop, women with tanned thighs and round, full breasts twirling flaming batons, white horses galloping around the ring, driven by the crack-whip of the Ringmaster wearing his tall black hat. There was even an Indian who stood at the side of the tent, his arms folded across his bare chest. A single long white feather stood tall at the back of his head, held fast by a simple leather thong tied above his brow. Above it all swung the trapeze artists.

    On the second night, I sat in the bleachers inside the tent, lost in the rapture of warm sawdust and salty popcorn heavy in the summer air. I sat in the front row between my dad and my brother, the fluff of pink cotton candy in my hand forgotten. The trapeze artists swung and swung, two men and one woman. The men hung upside down by their knees, swinging back and forth, higher and higher, in greater and greater ever-expanding arcs of speed and frenzy. Finally, the woman let go of the man who held her wrists. She curled her knees into her chest and sailed into the air, higher and higher, so high I feared she would hit the very top of the faded, dingy canvas tent. Her long blond hair whipped through the air as she spun in a ball. Then she exploded her body into a straight line, thrust out her arms, and locked hands with the man swinging on the other trapeze. A sharp SMACK! filled the tent as their hands slapped together.

    But their timing was off. The blond woman’s hands slid through those of the man trying to catch her, and down she went. She landed on her back with a THUD, and didn’t move.

    Most of us jumped to our feet. Many of the women screamed and covered their eyes or the eyes of their children.

    The Ringmaster rushed forward, as did many other members of the circus. They crowded around the fallen woman, and I leaned side to side, desperate to see.

    I watched the Indian stride from his place in the shadows at the side of the tent and into the center ring. He eased his way through the circus family, and knelt by the woman, who still had not moved. Silence filled the warm tent. Between the Ringmaster and the Strong Man, I could see the Indian kneel and place one hand on the fallen woman. The Indian closed his eyes and raised one hand to the sky, somewhere above the tent. His deep voice filled the air, his words a mystery to my ears. He looked down at the woman, and she opened her eyes and sat up. The Ringmaster helped her to stand. We cheered, clapping our hands and spilling our popcorn and peanuts onto the sawdust below the bleachers.

    Clowns appeared, juggling and performing acrobatics, because the show must go on. The woman was led away.

    I watched the Indian walk out of the spotlight, out of the center ring. He was nearly lost in the shadows, but I saw his tall white feather. He looked over his shoulder, made sure the woman was all right.

    He looked at me. He smiled.

    I smiled back.

    He turned and melted through the taut canvas wall of the tent.

  11. bobby

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town…then quickly closed and left. That’s when I realized that no matter what, everything ends. Some sooner. Some later. No matter how bizarre, fun, or unique, it all ends.

    Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. If I was ever going to do something about my situation, it’d better be now. So I hitched a ride toward salvation. Well, at least it was to me. You might call it by another name. But, it didn’t matter. Stubbornly, I was on my way. Wasn’t gonna change course. Not now.

    All great plans, right? Yeah, I was stopped. Not my doing. No choice. Powerless. I hate that. You probably don’t care. But you will.

  12. Cherlyn

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. I had just got up to check on my pregnant wife. She has been in the bathroom for over an hour. When I reached the door and opened it a small circus clown was leaning over her. Once he saw me, he jumped out the window onto a giant elephant. I stood there shocked at what just transpire. After about ten minutes of starring in shock, I realized my wife hadn’t moved that whole time. I kneel down beside her and checked her pulse. She appears to be breathing but unconscious. I ran into the bedroom and pickup up the phone to dial 911. Right before I enter in the last 1 a circus strongman picked me up causing me to drop the phone. He squeezed me so tight that I started to pass out. As I faded into unconsciousness I heard a man say, "Put him down Pedro".
    I woke up in a circus tent surrounded by a bunch of trapeze artist starring at me. I looked around lost and confused as to how I got here. A trapeze artist started talking to me and that jolted me back to reality. I shot up off the floor preparing to run all the way home to find my pregnant wife. I had just got half way out the tent when I heard a baby crying. Thinking my wife might be here at the circus giving birth to our child cause me to start running towards that sound. I found myself inside the scary dark big top tent. I could hear the animals and they sounded very restless. I looked around the tent looking for the source of the crying, but I couldn’t find it. I turned to leave that tent when I felt something swipe at my back. I looked around and found that I was face to face with a circus lion. I stood still paralyzed with fear, once I closed my eyes I heard a baby crying again and when I open my eyes the lion was gone. I felt something wet dripping down my back. Still searching the circus for the crying baby, I didn’t have time to investigate the wetness on my back. I felt like I had been running forever when I heard the crying noise again. I changed directions and ended up behind one of the big moving trucks for the circus. The back of the truck was open and I saw a lady that looked just like my wife giving birth to a child. When I tried to get closer to see if it was my wife, I was attacked by the same circus strongman. As I faded into unconsciousness I heard a man voice saying, ‘Put him down Pedro”.
    This time when I woke up, I was back at home on the bathroom floor. I notice I was lying in a pool of blood. Fear shot through my body because I instantly thought something terrible had happen to my wife and unborn child. I got up off the floor and left the bathroom to search for my wife. I found her in the bed sleeping like a baby. My vision got blurry and my heart started throbbing fast and hard. I felt myself slipping off into unconsciousness, and before I faded I hear a man say, “Put him down Pedro”. This time I woke up in a hospital bed with my wife holding our new born son. Seeing the bewilderment on my face, my wife informed me that we when to the circus two days ago and I participated in the strongman’s act, while he was holding me over his head I had a heart attack and her water broke.

    Naturally Nappy

  13. Francesca Hubbard

    It was on a bright, starry night that the travelling circus rolled into town. And, like every night the circus had ever rolled into town there was certain electricity in the air and an extra hum in the wind. From his bedroom window, a lonely figure feasted his eyes upon this scene, eyes wide and fists sweaty and tight. The sky turned red.

    Their harsh laughter carried through the air and smacked him in the face. With muddied hands and face he was glued there on all fours, entranced, paralysed by his own humiliation. As he slowly lifted his head and all he could see were two large red clown feet, then the face. That smirking satisfied state of a clowns face looking at him as if he were a stooge. That exaggerated grin was plastered so wide on that clowns face that young Johnny felt it was going to swallow him up. Instead he was swallowed up by his own rage. The backdrop of the tent, the sky, the people around all seeped red and Johnny swore to destroy the circus by his very own anxious and sweating hand…This year was the year Johnny planned to execute his plans. Tomorrow night- the circus’ first show of the year- would also be its last show, ever…

    Johnny watched through his bedroom window as rallies of children skipped across the red fields with wide eyes and deluded excited squeals as they gawped at that towering thing of plastic, mud and deception. Ten minutes before the show began Johnny grabbed a pair of scissors and then quietly purchased his circus ticket with the manor of a man with good intensions; such a man he was not. He took his seat and ten red painted minute’s dragged by. Johnny felt sick when a roar of music, blinding lights and a drum roll pierced the room. It had begun…

    Johnny’s hand was trembling like mad, sweating of course, but he managed to reach for his scissors and snip the harness with a single perfect snipping sound which sent warm shivers down his spine. His face formed a smirking satisfied face, disturbingly similar to a clown he once knew. The red wash over the place at last dissolved and Johnny for the first time since that night long ago, saw the circus in full multitude of bright colours. Revenge.

    Swishing and gliding; ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’; gasps and sighs. This was some show. Rows of heads titled as the trapeze artists drifted through the sky; soaring, like fearless birds surveying the sky and smearing it with beautiful bright colours. Even Johnny found himself entranced for a moment and felt he was with the trapeze artists in this momentary world of magical liberation. He envied them…Yes, and he hated them. A brisk shake of his head and that determined smirking face returned and he licked his lips as he listed to the drum roll and watched the trapeze artist prepare for his finale jump…Time for the circus to end in a haze of humiliation and devastation. He oozed with anticipation, hands sweating.

    “Mummy, why does everyone laugh at me” Johnny asked. The little boy looked up to his mother in hope of some sympathy, an explanation. All he got in response was a reprimanding for his muddy hands…

    The trapeze artist leaped. The air was so static with silence no one dared breathe. In slow motion he floated across the sky with great grace and poise… just him and the force of gravity. Johnny’s tense face collapsed into a gawping mess as he watched the trapeze artist land delicately on two feet. The audience roared with applause. This really is magic Johnny thought.

    Run he thought. Run. But in his frantic state he tripped and fell. Johnny quickly scrambled to his feet. He stood there, mouth wide open and then he did something he had never done before. His cheeks tingled and the corner of his lips spasm. He smiled. And then his smile exploded. Exploded into the most infectious laugher you have ever heard. He was laughing at himself. Yes at himself. He looked to the mud on his hands and laughed even more. He looked to see a rainbow of colours and friendly laughing faces surrounding him.

    Johnny spotted in the distance a clown with the reddest of shoes and the widest of grins. He raised a dry, sweat free hand and waved before continuing to laugh and laugh and laugh until his tummy hurt.

  14. AmyBeth Fredricksen

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Eileen paced her narrow quarters nervously. The curtains were pulled tightly closed between the tiny room she lived in and the hallway where paying customers would walk and gawk. The curtains on the other side were thrown wide open. Something was going on outside.

    The crew was always impeccably efficient at getting everything set up as soon as they rolled into a new town, and tonight was no different. But the spot where Madame Zelda, the fortune teller, usually parked her colorful trailer was conspicuously vacant.

    Eileen caught a hint of motion off to the right, and she turned off all the lights inside, straining her eyes to see better. When she looked back to the left again, the spot where Tiffany Toodle’s Dancing Poodles had been was suddenly and inexplicably empty.

    Eileen backed away from the window. All seemed quiet and still for the next few minutes, then she caught a flash of something zipping from one tent to another. One something was followed by several somethings in quick succession. Eileen began to shiver.

    Three elephants stampeded by, and disappeared into the suburban streets that surrounded the fairgrounds. Strangely, even though it was only a little past midnight, there were no shrieks or screams as the pachyderms made their way to freedom. Even more strange was the absence of drunken arguments from Hugo the Strong man and his wife, whose trailer was right across from hers on the customer side. The side she could not see out, even if she wanted to open the curtains, which she most certainly did not.

    An otherworldly giggle broke the silence, but was hushed so quickly that, at first, she thought she must have imagined it. It was a familiar giggle. Eileen threw herself to the floor and groped under her bed till she found her backpack. Frantically, she tore apart her quarters, shoving those mementos she couldn’t leave behind into the pack. She put on her best pair of running shoes, a sweater, and a hat, then perched cross-legged directly in the center of her bed to wait.

    She watched, mesmerized, as the trailer for Gregoire’s Knives of Doom became two dimensional then began to spin on a central axix. Being two dimensional, every time the edge was directly in line with her eyesight, she could not see it at all. On the thirteenth spin, that moment came when she could not see it, and it did not come back.

    Across the exposition, tents and trailers were spinning into nothingness at an alarming rate. Eileen nearly jumped out of her skin when there was a sudden pounding at her door. “Dexy! I’m here!” she shouted, and ran to try to smash at the lock. But there was no lock inside, not even a doorknob in her prison. Somehow, inside, her magic did not work.

    “Get back from the door!” shouted the muffled voice of her lover. She obeyed, and dove under the bed just as a huge blast rattled her windows. She could see the Runners now, surrounding the big top in the distance. The huge tent pixelated (a specialty of pixies) and the individual dots of color floated off in the wind.

    “I’m all right! Try again!” Eileen shouted, and immediately there was another blast. This time, the door flew off its hinges, hitting the bed with unnerving force.

    The red bearded rescuer burst into the room. “Eileen?” he pleaded, looking around the ransacked, blasted room.

    She crawled out from under the bed, her backpack in one hand. “Here, Dexy!” He reached down and scooped her into his arms. She cried with relief. “I thought you’d never find me!”

    “To the ends of the earth and beyond, my love. Till time itself comes to an end. No mortal can keep me from my true love.” She kissed him then, and he spirited her away.

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. And it was a bright, sunlight morning when the first ticket holders arrived to find that leprechauns had literally stolen the show.

  15. TonyEvs

    It was on a bright, starry night that the travelling circus rolled into town. I’d just walked out of the store with a loaf of bread in one hand and the hand of my five year old son in the other. We watched as these alien, huge wheeled, red and green vehicles passed by us on the most mundane of streets, lights blinking around every window, horns tooting a warm “good evening” to the town.

    “Dad, Dad!” Sam pulled at my hand.

    But I was miles away. In the past. In a memory…

    It was almost twenty years ago when I last saw the circus. I was with my own father and I too tugged and said “Dad, Dad!”

    I was mesmerized by the artwork on the side of these vehicles. Artist impressions of the main attractions. Pictures of animals that I’d only heard about in school or in stories, athletic acrobats flying through the air, muscular strong men and gleefully grinning clowns. I never fully understood peoples fears of clowns, although I might feel different if I’d watched Stephen king’s ‘IT’ as a child. I always saw clowns as fun. Friendly. And safe. Unlike that Pennywise.

    I was grinning from ear to ear, mind racing with thoughts and ideas. I looked up at my Dad and saw a clenched jaw. He always was a serious, opinionated man. I’m not sure I ever saw him smile. There was that time my neighbour fell off his roof a couple of Christmas’ before. I think that was a smile.

    I asked anyway. I asked if we could go. I said please. A lot.

    He looked down at me and said “Son. The answer is no and I’ll tell you why. Circus folk can’t be trusted. They kidnap kids your age and force them to do crazy things. Things like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth or shooting you out of a cannon. Would you like that?”

    Well, no. Not really, especially not the lion part so I shook my head. He wasn’t finished though.

    “They have women with beards and men in funny clothes and… Clowns. They have bloody clowns. Clowns with their stupid red noses that go ‘honk’ and their buckets of water. Only it’s not water is it? It’s tinsel. Always tinsel. Son. The answer is no.”

    With that we went home and true to his word he never took me to the circus.

    But I went anyway.

    I wasn’t as young as Sam. I was coming up to my twelfth birthday but a school friend of mine, James Campbell, got to that milestone before me and for his birthday he wanted his party at the circus. The ‘at the circus’ part I left out when I asked my parents if I could go to Jimmy’s party.

    The first thing I remember is the ground. A mix of sawdust and mud. The next thing was a smell. Cinnamon. Roasted nuts. We then walked into the red and white striped big top and that’s when my strongest memory kicks in.


    It was so vibrant, so bright. I’d never seen anything like it. The ring master in his bright red jacket and black top hat with a finger constantly twirling his moustache. The blue and white blur of the death-defying acrobats as they glide through the air. The multi coloured clowns in their orange wigs, green shirts and yellow trousers each carrying a bucket of water, sorry, bucket of tinsel. My Dad was right about that one thing. They used tinsel.

    It was a night to remember.

    To this day my father still doesn’t know that I went to the circus and still has a thing against clowns.

    Sam and I watch the vehicles reach the end of the road and with another toot of its horn turns left towards its destination. I smile. I then, finally, feel the tug on my hand. I look down and see an excited five year old staring up at me.

    “Dad, Dad!” he says hopping on the spot. “Can we go? Please? Please can we go?” He wrings his hands together into some kind of strange begging pose and smiles a toothy grin minus one or two baby teeth.

    I grin back. “Course we can.”

    Sam cheers and I can’t help but smile. I lift him up onto my shoulders and we head home.

    “Let’s go tell Granddad.”

  16. Dena Nicotra

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Not just any circus mind you, it was the Lucky Leprechaun Traveling Show. The year before had been the first visit in our town, and I’d marveled at the two-headed lady they displayed in a glass cage (it was good luck if she smiled at you), not to mention the Ferris-wheel, green cotton candy, and fun house. Just thinking about it made me smile.

    I watched from my open bedroom window and marveled at the sound the trucks made as they slowly soldiered in. Aside from farm equipment, there wasn’t much in the way of traffic around here. Momma and Daddy were sound asleep and as usual, I was wide awake and bored. It was only 9:00. Life in other cities was just getting started. Or so I’d heard, and here I was seventeen years old with no exciting experiences under my belt. It was just another summer night alone with nothing more than my dreams of having a life. You know, a real one. The kind that other people envy. At least the circus would give me something to do for the week it stayed in Dumont. Population: 1056.

    I watched until I couldn’t see anything and then flopped on my pillows. I reached for my cell phone on my desk and sent a quick text to my best friend Kaylee. Circus is here, want 2 go watch set up tomorrow?” The reply was quick and short “yep.” I smiled in the dark and then flipped my pillow over to get the cooler side. The morning seemed like years away and it took another hour to fall asleep.

    When I woke, I yanked on a pair of denim shorts and a tank top, threw my hair up in a pony-tail, and scrubbed my face. I knew Kaylee would be in our usual meeting spot. The halfway point on our gravel road was marked with a giant Magnolia tree and offered the only patch of shade between our houses. It was only 8:30 and already 80 degrees. I bounded down the stairs hoping to sneak out the back door before my parents could stop me. No such luck.
    “Girl, where do you think you are goin’?” Daddy was on the couch with a cup of coffee in his hand his eyes glued to the television news.

    “Me and Kaylee were going to go check out the circus Daddy. You know, just to watch them set up and all.” I stammered.
    My daddy was strict. Okay, that’s an understatement. My daddy was a tyrant, but I loved him. Southern girls needed escorts to do anything in his opinion.
    “I don’t want you anywhere near those carnies Colleen.
    Momma called out from the kitchen, “Dale, let her go, I’m going to need her help with chores later. Let her run off some of that energy early so that she’s not so darn whiney.”
    It wasn’t easy being the only child, but it helped to have a momma that understood. Daddy waved me off and turned up the news.

    “Shhh, I want to hear this!” He snapped.
    I smiled at momma, and she winked. I knew that meant I was dismissed. So I slammed out the creaking back door, giving my daddy one last thing to holler about.

    When I got to our spot, Kaylee wasn’t there and I realized with a sigh that I’d forgotten my phone in my haste. If I went back, I’d never get back out, and it was too hot to stand there waiting. I debated for ten minutes, and then trudged on alone. Justifying my decision with the certainty that she’d catch up soon.
    I took the shortcut across the cotton field to the clearing, and stopped behind a semi-truck to watch. I ducked down when I heard the crunch of footsteps in the gravel. Someone was dragging something, and grunting…and heading my way.

    I duck-walked to the other side of the truck and dropped low enough to see beneath it. I saw a tangle of black hair and little brown shoes. Then a long narrow hand reached down, grabbed a handle on the hair, and started dragging. A horrifying realization struck me and I could not move. That mass of hair belonged to the lifeless body of my friend Kaylee. My heart stopped short when a small figure dropped low enough to glare at me in my hiding spot…and demanded to see my smile.

  17. Evelyn

    Yet another example of why I don’t use my real name.
    Death by Accordion

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Curly the Clown never got a chance to admire the constellations. He might have seen a few stars spinning in his head when the lid of Melvin the Magician’s trunk of tricks closed him inside. But by the time the trunk was reopened, Curly had kicked the bucket. From the looks of his corpse, this bucket hadn’t been filled with confetti.

    I’m Dennis York, forensic scientist and slave of empirical evidence. My microscope never lies, and the truth of what happened that bright, starry night hid on the slide beneath its lens. Hid from me that is, but I’m not paid to find murderers. That’s Detective Vivian Brooker’s job. Here’s how it went down.

    “Any findings, York?” Vivian said as she pushed her way through the lab’s double doors.

    I rose from the stool in front of my microscope and straightened my lab coat. “Blunt trauma to the head, carbon monoxide poisoning, and asphyxiation. You still think the Magician’s innocent?”

    “It doesn’t add up,” Vivian said with her arms folded. “A magician would have done a better job making the Clown disappear.”

    “Is the motive still a mystery?”

    “No. It seems Curly was quite a casanova when he wasn’t donning his orange afro and red rubber nose. He made a lot of enemies among the troupe. Jealous girlfriends. Cuckolded husbands. It could have been anybody. If he had been smart, he would have quit the troupe, jumped on his unicycle and kept pedaling.”

    “Trumps traveling in a trunk.”

    “I fear the killer may get the last laugh.” Vivian exhaled slowly, and then her eyes locked on my microscope. “Were you examining the blood work?”

    “No. The slide under the scope has a smear from the nasal swab.”

    “Mind if I take a look?”

    “Help yourself,” I said. Normally, I don’t allow anyone to touch my lab equipment, but I always extended an exception to Vivian. At first, I was baffled by my behavior, but the more I saw of her the more evidence emerged. My increased heart and respiratory rate, accompanied by glandular secretions, led me to the only logical conclusion. I was in love with Vivian Brooker.

    Vivian peered down the neck of the microscope and adjusted the focus knob. “This is odd.”

    “Mostly respiratory bacterium compromised by CO,” I said. I leaned close to Vivian and inhaled her intoxicating aroma.

    “It’s not what I see, York. It’s what I don’t see that’s vexing. Curly was discovered in full costume: orange wig, polka-dotted jumpsuit, big floppy shoes. But this slide suggests something was missing. Can I use your phone?”

    “Yes. Who do you need to call?”

    “Sergeant Miller. I have to convince him to get a warrant and search the troupe’s gear.”

    Two hours later, Sergeant Miller, wearing latex gloves, pulled a red rubber nose from the suitcase of Judy the Juggler. Within minutes, Judy confessed to the whole heinous act. “I knocked him out with juggling pin, pulled off his rubber nose and zipped him in a tent with the gasoline-powered, animatronic accordion player. Finally, I stuffed him in the trunk. He deserved it, the big creep. He promised me that I was the only one, but I discovered him making out with the Bearded Lady.”

    Vivian and I watched Judy, hands cuffed behind her back, being led away to the squad car. Vivian turned to me. “Tough hearing the details of man’s final moments, isn’t it?”

    “Yes. I’ll never enjoy listening to an animatronic accordion player again. But how did searching the slide magnify the missing red rubber nose?”

    “No red rubber residue appeared in the nasal swab. The incriminating piece of evidence was as plain as the nose on — or, in this case – OFF the victim’s face.”

    “Amazing,” I said, my heart ablaze with admiration for the vivacious Vivian. “I just got a new set of Bunsen burners back at the lab. Would you like to help me hook them up?”

    “Sure, York, I never thought you’d ask.”

  18. Mary J. Webster

    CASE FILE #321-1

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go, but I could hear the distant music through my open window as I lay in bed, trying not to scratch at my chicken pox.

    Everyone else in town had gone to watch them raise the big top, even my parents and sisters. Our border collie was my only company. It was very late when they came back and my mother opened my door to check on me.

    “How are you feeling, Michael?” she asked. Her voice sounded strange.

    “Okay, I guess.” I shrugged and it made my shoulders prickle. “I’m still itchy.”

    “Do you need some more calamine lotion?” she asked. This time her voice sounded so hollow that it shocked me.

    “No, I’m alright,” I said. She nodded and turned to go. “Mom… are you okay?” I asked.

    “Yes, Michael. Goodnight.” She closed the door and went to bed.

    In the morning, I found myself alone again. The newspaper hadn’t been delivered and the empty milk bottles were still on the porch, waiting to be picked up. I fed the dog, ate some cereal, and took a bath to ease the itching. I spent the day watching cartoons with the volume up high to drown out the circus music.

    When my parents and sisters finally came back, I had already put myself to bed. I listened as they all shuffled up the stairs as one unit. My door opened and my mother stood silhouetted against the hall light. She took a step into the room but stopped when my dog growled.

    “How are you feeling, Michael?” she droned.

    “Itchy!” I said. “Why were you gone all day?”

    Confusion flickered across my mother’s face. “We were at the circus. Would you like to go to the circus?”

    “I can’t!” I snapped. “I’m contagious!”

    Her confusion returned for another moment. “Goodnaaahght, Michaaahel.” Her pronunciation was off, like her tongue was in the way.

    As soon as she was gone, the dog whimpered and licked my face like he did when thunder scared him. I stroked his ears for a while, then I got up and locked my bedroom door.

    The next morning, I was alone again. I tried calling Grandma, but the phone wouldn’t work. The dog whimpered continuously and wouldn’t leave my side. I dumped my schoolbooks out of my backpack and filled it with clothes and food. It would take days to get to Grandma’s on my own, but knew I had to get out of there. I tied my wagon to the back of my bike and loaded it with my backpack, my father’s old sleeping bag, and some dog food. As peddled out of the driveway and down the road, with the dog at my side, I realized that I’d forgotten the calamine lotion on my dresser. I didn’t dare go back for it.


    “And that was my last day inside the quarantine zone.” I finish talking and lean back in my chair as the researcher makes a few notes.

    She shakes her head as she writes. “You were a smart boy to get yourself out of there.”

    I shrug and rub the stubble on my chin. “Do you really think there’s any hope of saving them?” I ask. “I mean… it’s been so long.”

    She sighs and looks at the live-feed monitors that fill the walls around us. Every house in my little town is covered in peeling paint and is surrounded by waist-high, yellow grass and rusted cars. None of the inhabitants seem to notice as they set out on their daily shuffle to the big top. I catch a glimpse of my un-aged mother in the crowd. She’s still wearing the same dress, only now it’s faded and so tattered that I can see her yellowed slip underneath. Her skin is nearly translucent and her eyes have sunk deep into her head.

    “Who knows?” the researcher says. “We’ve had some minor successes with the aerial inoculations, but I don’t know how we’ll ever get their memories back when we can’t even figure out why they don’t die.”

    Then I notice something different about my mother. I peer at the screen and my eyes well with tears for the first time since the dog and I made it to Grandma’s. The bottle of calamine lotion is sticking out of her dress pocket… and I’m sure it wasn’t there last week.

    She remembers me.

  19. Michael Cann

    "Beware of Falling Clowns"

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. I stood stone-like just outside the front gate. It was late and almost no one was there; everyone who had actually wanted to see the circus had entered long ago.

    My father had never taken me to the circus. In fact he really had never taken me anywhere. When people asked me what my father did, I used to tell the truth – “I don’t know, he left when I was a child.”

    I walked under the large fabric arch adorning the entrance pausing to read the bright red inscription, “Kingston-Barber Circus – Tonight Only.”

    My free “Guest” ticket, the size of a marathon runner’s bib, hung from a complimentary lanyard around my neck. It was embarrassing, but I trudged on anyway.

    With each step my heart pounded a little harder. I neared the big top and walked along its perimeter. I followed the outline of the large canvas tent, ducking under each guide wire, until I saw the ‘Restricted Area’ sign. I hurdled over the small metal fence.
    There amongst the hay and empty cardboard boxes was a small dingy trailer; most of the paint peeled and the color of rust everywhere. I knocked on the door.

    “Can I help you?” a wrinkled blonde woman said, her face contorting like a catcher’s mitt when she talked.

    “Is Donnie Barber here?” I asked stepping up the grated metal steps into the filthy cavern interior. There were pans in the sink and beer cans everywhere. I sat down on the couch closest to the door.

    A thin man stepped out from behind the bathroom door. He rubbed a towel over his face and underarms. White and red makeup streaked down his cheek and over his neck. The red rings around his eyes looked worse than a Doctor Seuss raccoon.

    “What can I do for you?” he firmly asked.

    “It’s me Peter, your son.”

    He said nothing. He stood there swabbing himself until most of his face was revealed. The little bit of hair he had left stuck straight out above each ear. I didn’t know if I should speak.

    “So what is it that you want? I told your mother’s lawyer I don’t have anything.” He draped the towel around his neck and popped open a can of beer.

    “I don’t want anything, Dad. You put my name on the Will Call list,” I said.

    “I did? Crap, I must’ve done that five years ago. I put it on there when I thought you might want to follow in my footsteps.”

    He swilled the beer faster than I could think.

    “You thought I might want to be a clown?” I finally asked.

    “Clown!” he shouted nearly emptying the entire beer back onto the linoleum floor. “I used to be the best damned acrobat this place’d ever seen!”

    I think he wanted to punch me.

    “I blew out my knees so now I just…”. He pointed to a small tin sign on the table that read “The Great Crashini, the High Falling Clown.”

    He sighed and flipped his hand at me in disgust. “You want a beer?” he asked. “Wait, you ain’t a cop are you, son?”
    I saw him eye the syringe on the table and the Ziploc bag on the counter.

    “No, I’m in college now.”

    “Don’t suppose your brother has a job either?” he asked popping open another can of beer and snickering.

    “He’s fourteen,” I said. I could see why my mother was only marginally upset when he had left us.

    “Your mother ever marry again?” he asked never pausing for an answer. It was obvious he didn’t care. “I married Tina last year.” She stood behind him, but I could barely see her leathery face through the cigarette smoke plume in front of her.

    “Sorry, I came,” I said exiting without another word. The metal door clanged behind me as my feet hit the dirt. I pulled the lanyard from around my neck and pitched it into the night air. I flipped myself back over the metal rung fence catching my hand on a metal sign drawing blood.

    “Damn it!” I yelled looking back.

    The sign stared at me in bright red lettering – “Beware of Falling Clowns! The Great Crashini is Here! Tonight Only!”

    It was the last time I let my father hurt me.

    Now when people ask me about my father, I tell them he’s a dentist… and that he’s dead.

  20. Lori Quiller

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. We hadn’t seen my husband’s brother Paul and his family since we married a year ago. The last thing my husband Matt said when I invited them down for the week was, “Just remember…you asked for this.”

    Paul and his family pulled into our driveway on time. My sweet husband put his arm around me, squeezed me tight and said, “The circus has arrived!” The sedan barely stopped when the doors swung open and the twins flew out.

    “Ugh! You farted!” my nephew Andy shrieked as he rolled around on the grass.

    “Did not! YOU farted!” my other nephew Johnny yelled rolling over his brother.

    Andy and Johnny were twins, every bit of six years old. Matt waived to his brother and dropped to his knees with the other clowns on the grass. The children instantly tackled him.

    “No, I farted!” my husband yelped at the children. Everything stopped. The boys’ faces pinched before they yelled, “EWW!”

    I walked over to Mary and Paul, who were calmly unloading the sedan. Mary was unbuckling the baby’s seat in the back. How she managed a career as an architect, a household and a growing family was a mystery. It also made me jealous.

    The Technicolor confetti of chips, cookies and crayon on the back seat and floor didn’t bother me. I’m used to a bit of a mess in the kitchen. As a chef, we make messes, and we clean them up. But, at least now I understood why Matt called his brother’s car the “clown mobile.”

    “I hope you guys are hungry,” I said grabbing a handful of luggage and baby necessities. “Dinner’s ready!”

    We finally got everyone inside, and I realized that whatever timetable I was working on wasn’t working. I only hoped that the dinner of striped bass poached in olive oil, the mix of braised baby vegetables, and the white chocolate and raspberry torte I made earlier would stand the test of a little time.

    I made the twins their favorite food, chicken fingers and fries, with my special sauce of mayo and ketchup on the side. Everything with the twins was “on the side.” No food of differing color could ever touch or it would forever rot on the plate. Kid food rules. I wondered when “parent food rules” applied.

    All the “boys” were in the living room romping and one-upping each other after dinner. The sound of the twins laughing filled the house.

    “So, when are you and Matt going to start popping out little moppets of your own?” Mary asked as she gently handed Allison to me. Little Alli was so tiny I was afraid to hold her. But, then she nestled in my arms and went back to sweet slumber.

    “We’ve definitely discussed it,” I replied. “We want a family. Actually, I’d fill this house with kids, if I could…” I could feel my voice trailing off. Warm tears filled my eyes until I couldn’t fight them back.

    Mary walked over and knelt in front of me. “Still no luck? There are other options.”

    All I could do was nod up and down.

    “You’re a natural with her,” Mary said walking toward the living room. “You’ll be a great mother.”

    Every morning, I joined center stage with the twins. I watched as they tried to out-do each other tricks and tumbles. I joined in! I didn’t realize we had an audience, but Matt kept a close eye on us all.

    When it came time for everyone to leave, I felt a hole sear into my heart. I dreaded that morning. Everyone had so much fun, and I didn’t care that my house looked like a three-ring circus.

    Matt and Paul loaded the sedan, and the twins clung to everyone before Matt and Paul “airplained” them into their seats. I watched from our bedroom upstairs, my heart breaking.

    I went to the bathroom and opened the small drawer where I’d stored all the pregnancy tests. I couldn’t help but perform my morning ritual before going downstairs.

    The screams of the twins ushered me downstairs and out the door as quickly as possible. Hugs all around and promises to visit Tennessee as soon as we could. It would have to be soon, though, I thought as I patted my back pocket and felt the plastic test stick.

    Soon, we would have a circus of our own.

  21. Kerrin Winter-Churchill

    "Circus by Moonlight"

    It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. It settled on the edge of the big woods and the air was alive with the bustle of activity. Wearing a dark hoodie and a pair of old jeans, I peered through the trees to observe the circus folks’ doings. Lucky for me, a big, harvest moon hung low in the sky. I could see for miles without a flashlight. Where were they? Surely they’d be nearby. My heart raced with excitement. It has always been that way. Nothing made my spirits soar like horses!

    I knew they would be standing in a pen near the big tent being erected. As my heart raced, I laughed inwardly at myself. Here I was, a fifty year old kid, doing the same thing I’ve always done.. tromping through the woods, adventuring. I was an expert at getting myself into places that I didn’t belong but I knew from long experience, I wouldn’t be in trouble. I meant no harm and I was an honest to goodness "hands on" animal person. No one ever got mad at me. Still, I had to wonder what the "officials" would think of me if I were discovered .. after-all, I was no longer young enough to be called "a curious kid." Laughing off the notion, the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man leapt into my head… "I’yam what I’yam.." There was so much truth in that statement.

    With resolve, I moved through the trees and walked like an Indian, silently through the clearing – tipi-toeing up to the rear of a big stock trailer. Leaning against its side, I peered around the tailgate. My racing heart fluttered as I inhaled the sweet aroma of fresh alfalfa hay. They were nearby. Leaving the trailer, I walked boldly forward, following my nose when quite suddenly, my eyes fell upon a heavenly sight. Six magnificent, gray Percherons stood glistening under the starlight. My eyes went wide with knowledge. These were the famed "Bareback Horses." Every circus worth its salt had them.

    Without thinking, I walked right up to the pen, pulling from my pocket one of twenty bits of carrots I’d brought along. "Shup, shup, shup," I whispered to the great creatures before me. With noble expression, the largest of the six turned and gave me a kind, quizzical look. "Shup," I said again and he moved gracefully across the round pen and gently sunk his muzzle into my open palm. Soon, two more came to the rail and I was busy digging for more carrots as the draft horses greedily pushed at my hands and lipped my pockets. As I fed them, another came up and breathed into my ear while two more took turns nipping at my loose hair. We were lost in bliss when quite suddenly, a metaphoric cane yanked me off the stage. "You there. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? GET AWAY FROM MY HORSES!" As I turned towards him, a rough hand grabbed at my shoulder and threw me to the ground. For a second I was blinded by fear but it was nothing compared to the terror that filled me when looking up to see the huge, angry man glaring down at me.