A Thrill Seeker's Day at the Circus
The outburst breaks the silence of the reveal. It comes from the woman to the left of the thrill seeker, her greasy black hair falls in stringy spirals around her face. She gives him a blackened grin and traces her finger down his arm as she continues. “I ‘ope they teach ‘er a good lesson, I do. A right gentleman like you should learn ‘er how a prop-ah lady should act.”
The people press against each other; each wanting to be the one that could say they saw the freak first. The air is sticky with the sweat of the teaming crowd. It is hot—very hot the thrill seeker notices. He pulls at his collar, pushing through the hoard to get a better view and to get away from the filthy woman touching his arm.
The man closest to the cage with the silk top hat and the silver pocket watch beckons to her. “Aren’t you a rare bird?” He coos. “Come here and let me really look at you.”
The thrill seeker is not anything special. Just a boy teetering on the edge of adulthood. His eyes are a muted shade of blue, his nose comes to a sloping point that angles slightly to the left, and his mouth is steadfastly fixed into a rather morose straight line that has rarely sees the curves of a smile. He is lanky and awkward, neatly dressed in clothes he did not purchase. The girl who possesses the nasty habit of ignoring him mentioned she might attend the show tonight. He is mostly here for her.
“Oi! Girly!” The man with the patched bowler hat and the faint smudges of soot on his nose yells from the middle of the crowd. “I’ll give ya a good stuffing. Let’s see what a slag like you can do!” He roughly grabs at his crotch as he calls to the creature.
The ring master is calling to them all. The peculiar lilt of his voice is intoxicating to the people in the crowd. His throat like sandpaper producing a speech with a sort of melodious grit to it. The hint of an exotic accent that dances on the tip of his tongue seals their seduction. They hang on his every word, falling deeper into his bewitching world to escape the mundane grey of their otherwise spectacularly ordinary lives.
“Well I never,” whispers the woman in the olive-green petticoats to the woman in the pearls, “a girl her age making such a spectacle… and in public! It is simply not proper.” The women nod curtly in agreement but do not look away.
The thrill seeker pushes, elbowing men, jostling women, stepping over children. He wants to see what the fuss is about. He says nothing. He doesn’t take the time to notice the black and reds of the tents are covered in a layer of dirt. The sickly sweet scent of caramel apples and icing sugar hang in the air. The children in the crowd can taste the salt and butter wafting out from somewhere much farther off. It is tempting and inviting, yet he had yet to see anyone eating these enticing treats.
A child tugs on the ivory lace of her mother’s dress. “Mommy? Is that lady bad? Why they got her all locked up?” A scarlet hue creeps into the mother’s cheeks. She turns to shield her daughter as she softly explains, “I’m sure she’ll be just fine, darling, the nice men are just playing a game with her.”
The thrill seeker tilts his head in wonder at the sight before him. Within the confined stage is what looks to be a girl. She sits in the corner of her cell staring into the sky, failing to avoid the gazes of the crowd around her. Her hair is matted, unkempt, and dirty. The only covering she has is a thin white gown; it barely falls past her knee. She is nestled in the straw that lines the stage. The ring master is shouting out to the crowd but he is just getting to the interesting bit.
“Step right up folks, come one and all, witness and be awed by the freak show of the century! A specimen so grotesque and rare you simply won’t believe your eyes! Presumed to be at least 21 years of age, we have yet to tame this creature. But fear not my friends we may just break her rebellious nature tonight! Make sure to buy your tickets before it is too late!”
The thrill seeker says nothing. He barely blinks as the creature in the straw begins to stir.
She stands tall in the cage walking around without direction. Her head almost brushes the dirty metal bars keeping out the sky. Her gaze never wavers from the bluish grays and purples mingling with setting sun until the ring master catches her off guard.
He grabs her by the arm and pulls her to the side of the cage. He strokes her hair and commands her to show off for the crowd. He reaches down to the seam of the white gown. Before the garment reaches the middle of her thigh the creature attempts to wrench her arm from the ring master’s grasp and spits in his face.
The slap that follows hushes the crowd. The creature lies in a crumpled heap back in the straw. She clutches the growing red mark on her cheek and glares at the ring master. He simply wipes the saliva from his brow and smiles at the now buzzing crowd.
The thrill seeker cannot decide whether he should look upon the wounded creature or her charming master. She had gone against society. She had been wrong. She deserves this--doesn’t she?
The creature turns to look at the crowd, to show them she is a human person, but it is too late, their attention is back on the ring master as they shuffle over to the small black and red striped tent to buy their tickets to the show. Only the thrill seeker lingers around the bars.
And what has the thrill seeker decided? He stands observing the creature and the crowd. The ring master is flitting about, stirring the fervor he has created around the sideshow. The creature is not crying; she connotes no emotion save the visible clenching of her jaw each time she is verbally attacked. The thing behind the bars in the straw is filthy and odd, but he observes she is also pretty. The curves of her body are alluring in a way he has never known. The way her sunken eyes gaze at him is exciting. She is nothing like the girls who warrant his attention, but her body seems soft and strong and he wonders what it would be like to touch it. The notion of owning her completely seems thrilling. He wonders where he could have possibly gotten such thoughts.
Perhaps he heard the sandpaper voice of the ring master whisper it in his ear…
“For tonight’s first act we will begin with the strongman and his mesmerizing feats of strength! And let’s not forget tonight’s star performer as we break her spirit right before your very eyes!”
The strongman waits just outside of the main tent as the people mill around inside settling themselves into seats. He wipes the sweat from his brow and absently mindedly begins twisting the end of his mustache. He takes another drag from the smoldering stub of a cigar hanging out of the side of his mouth. It is his tradition to sit out amongst the stars before heading into the performance.
Lights pour from every opening in the massive tent as the strongman contemplates his place in this production. He can barely remember the feeling of his body without the tightly wound ball of anger nesting deep within his stomach. Its tendrils branching out, taking root in the banded cords of sinew in every muscle, overtaking his very being, feeding into the strength exhibited in his act. He begins to ponder the wife and child he left three years ago, when the ring master and his circus first appeared in his town. While grinding the end of the cigar in his teeth, he pictures his son on the knee of the banker he caught in his wife’s bed that day the ring master came into his butcher shop.
The ring master had been so persuasive that day. He didn’t need his cheating wife or their son. He could be loved by thousands of people every night for as long as he could keep his unnatural strength about him. But tonight, he was teetering on the edge of what he thought must be the remnants of his compassion.
If any one of the mob of people inside the tent had the predisposition to pay attention to anyone other than themselves, they would have noticed the smoke curling angrily in through the tear in the back behind the rows of seats. They would have felt the strongman’s rage from the memory of his wife radiate through the thick canvas and seep into the atmosphere of the crowded tent. They, possibly, could have even felt the decision being made as he stomped out the fiery remains of his cigar into the earth beneath him and took his place backstage to begin the show.
However, the mob did not notice. They sit shoulder to shoulder, emitting a boisterous hum of excitement that hangs in the air as the ring master makes his opening speech. The thrill seeker has purchased a prime seat right in front of the center ring and cannot wait for the show to begin. He is so excited he forgot to look for the girl he had come to see.
The spotlight shifts to the back of the ring; from the darkness, the strongman emerges. He is clad in only a leopard print loin cloth and large black boots. The thrill seeker has never seen a man so large. The crowd is hushed as the strongman strides out of the shadows into the center ring. Once in position, the strongman rolls back his shoulders, thrusts his strong chin out slightly, and sends a pulse of anger shooting around his body flexing every muscle in one movement. He holds a rope in his left hand which he jerks upward as the crowd drinks in his presence.
It is only then that the thrill seeker can see what is going on. The other end of the rope runs taunt behind him as the creature from the sideshow desperately tries to keep up. With the violent pull from the strongman she is thrust like a ragdoll into the burning lights. In the change of scenery, the thrill seeker observes she still wears only the thin white gown and is caked in a layer of filth. She stands with her hands tied out in front of her with her head high and back straight. The thrill seeker notes that while she may be markedly taller than a woman should be, she looks rather pathetic next to the hulking stature of the great man.
It is customary in the ring master’s circus for only certain performers to speak; the strongman is not one of them.
The strongman begins his act by hoisting a large, iron railroad tie above his head. Drums bang and the lights dim. He begins winding the creature’s leash around the heavy metal object. She refuses to look at the dark metal or the giant hands. She keeps her eyes fixed upon the crowd. Many respectable ladies and gentleman fidget as her piercing gaze falls upon them.
The railroad tie is placed atop an X neatly painted on the ground in the center of the main ring. Without hesitation, the strongman begins hammering the tie into the earth with his own fist. With each strike the dark metal disappears into the earth; clouds of brownish dust emerge with each heavy hit. The spike runs deeper and deeper into the heart of the circus and with it the creature’s fate is sealed.
The creature stands in the center ring, tied, unable to stray farther than the five foot radius given to her, but she stands still and calm.
The strongman is picking up metal bars of various weight, shape, and thickness. After each addition of his wrought iron bouquet, he spins, showing the crowd, slamming it against a bell just to the left of his materials and grasping it between his teeth to show its authenticity.
The rows of eyes crashing down on the creature like an ocean from above. She keeps her chin raised as the strongman moves towards her with the iron bars. She never makes a sound as the strongman begins his next feat, by force of brute strength and will, bending the lengths of cold metal around her body.
He starts at her waist with the longest of the bars, twisting and morphing it like putty into a knot around her. He strains the next around her knees, then ankles, then shoulders, and the last is bent into a neat ring around her neck. The thrill seeker claps in delight thinking of how the iron accessory resembles the collar his dog wears when she is allowed to go outside.
The strongman does not want to look at his creation. He thinks of how uncomfortable the bars feel against his bulging arms in a normal routine. He is almost overcome with the urge to rip them all off, but the creature’s steely brown eyes remind him of his wife. With a huff he walks over to the railroad tie, ready to continue his act.
The creature stands in front of the crowd, a tangle of soft flesh and cold iron. Hot blood seeping from the gashes caused by the rough, rusted metal scraping her exposed skin.
The creature is unable to move, unwilling to cry.
The crowd is clapping along with the rhythm of the drums as the sound becomes deeper and faster. With the increased urgency, the strongman rips the railroad tie from the ground, and moves to the great figure of a ship’s anchor in the back of the ring.
The strongman winds the rope, attached to the tie, in tight crisscrosses to the anchor. The creature cannot move her feet due to the metal ring around her legs. As the length of rope is shortened, she falls hard onto the ground. Only those truly watching could see the strongman wince at the sound of the impact. He pulls the rope, foot by foot onto the anchor; she is dragged, foot by foot along the ground.
The bands of iron catching on rocks and mounds of lifted earth, cut her deeper. Behind her bright red streaks fade to a saturated brown as her bloody display is soaked into the earth. Her cheek runs through one of these patches on the last tug of the strongman before she is attached to the anchor.
Gasps ring out through the tent. The drums reach the crescendo as the strongman lifts the massive anchor above his head in one move. There is a single tear of earth and blood snaking down the creature’s cheek as she is rotated, displayed to the great crowd.
The anchor drops with a thud. The strongman looms over the creature. She is bleeding and dirty but she has not uttered a sound. With a slight sigh no one in the crowd could notice, he begins slowly, more gingerly, unwinding the rope and after wrenching the bars from her body, grunting slightly as he discards each one. The creature is allowed to move only slightly before the last feat begins.
The strongman values tradition. As a finale to every act he poses and displays his massive body for the crowd, tonight is no different.
The strongman lifts the girl into his arms. He flexes and grunts. He shifts poses and positions, tossing the creature about like a doll, careful to avoid her cuts as much as he could. Each pose grander, each muscle bigger. He is a grand specimen, the lights glint off his muscles as if he was made of marble, chiseled to perfection by the ring master’s plan.
The strongman flexes one more glorious time, causing the woman with the soft golden curls and the corset tied just a hair too tightly to swoon. He takes a final bow; he does not look at the creature or revel in is applause. The ring master once again addresses the crowd.
“Ladies and gentleman I do hope you enjoyed the start of our show, but do not fret this is just the beginning! As you can plainly see our silly creature here has not yet relented. There is still a fire behind her eyes and she gazes at us with such disdain. Should we not teach her how to behave?”
The crowd answers his question with a loud cheer. All humanity that previously existed is lost in the madness of the night and the excitement in the tent. The ring master continues to spin his charismatic web as the beast tamer prepares for his act.
The beast tamer is a dark figure. He stands only slightly shorter than the strongman, but much thinner. His sallow cheeks cast deep shadows on his angular face. The whites of his eyes are tinged yellow; his irises are a swirling dark grey. His hair is jet black, slicked tightly around the sides of his head, save one strand that escapes onto his forehead when he gets worked up. His bottom teeth are just a touch too big for his mouth causing his jaw to jut out at startling degree. He broods in the shadow of the performer’s entrance waiting.
If this were a standard performance, he would have gone on before the strongman. But the ring master finally felt hesitation in the strongman the beast tamer had been warning him about all along; a slight trace of his former life creeping in. The beast tamer did not have such distractions. He had practiced similar feats upon similar creatures in his days as an academic before the ring master tracked him down. So as the strongman passes him, the beast tamer decides to test his whip. The crack of the leather on the strongman’s back goes unnoticed by the uproarious crowd. The angry red line snakes across the contours of the larger man’s muscles. The strongman tenses and turns grabbing the gaunt, dark man by his black silk ascot.
“Tut tut,” the beast tamer taunts, “we wouldn’t want to disturb the show, now would we? What would the ring master say if you ruined his plan?”
The strongman exhales heavily through his nose and tosses the beast tamer aside into the dirt. Stomping away, back to his post behind the massive tent.
“You bumbling, overgrown buffoon.” Yells the beast tamer after him. “This is my night, my performance, my show now. Watch and see!”
The beast tamer picks himself up of the ground and begins to brush the dirt from him. He tucks the loose strand of hair plastered to his forehead back into place and grasps his whip tighter. His knuckles pull white and gaunt showcasing the twisting blue veins under his grey skin. His brows set over his narrowing eyes as he strides out into the ring to begin the performance of his life.
While the beast tamer is slighter in frame than the strongman, he commands the arena with an even greater air of confidence. The thrill seeker observes he is tall and dark and there is a cruelty lurking behind his dark grey eyes the crowd can see at the first crack of his whip. He claps and cheers with the rest of the crowd.
The beast tamer strides slowly in front of the cage. He runs the handle of his whip along the bars as he walks. The creature inside scans his movement, but does not make eye contact. He continues circling the cage, stalking her. His beady eyes watching her as she attempts to stumble to the other side.
The creature makes the mistake of traveling too close to the bars and the beast tamer reaches through to caress her cheek before violently grasping her hair and thrusting her up for everyone to see.
“I do believe it is time to begin, my pet.” He whispers in her ear. She can feel the moisture from his breath hit her neck as he turns to the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen. Do not be alarmed I am in complete control. With my help this creature will be broken tonight!”
He whips her back to the ground and releases her hair as his laughter mixes with the atmosphere and hangs heavy over the crowd.
The lights cut out as the orchestral music accompanying tonight’s performance takes on a more menacing tone.
The thrill seeker can hear movement mixing with the music. The people next to him are restless in their seats, but that is not what he hears. The lights blaze bright again in the center ring and dim once more. The thrill seeker can see the source of the noise.
Smaller men, performers in costumes resembling exotic animals stream from the darkness into the soft glow of light surrounding the cage. With a crack of the beast tamer’s whip the lights turn red and some of the women in the crowd gasp.
The performers are coming from the wings, swinging in on trapezes, streaming down from the crowd. They are everywhere and from them come voices. Maybe two or three at first, but quickly strengthened by the hoard. They whisper and chant a kind of song. The thrill seeker strains to hear their words.
The freak, the beast…
The voices dance in the air of the tent.
The beast, her blight…
Her shrieks will fill the sky this night.
From her cage, the creature looks around. Her eyes getting wide.
The greatest sight you’ve ever seen.
The man who tames the beasts and obscene.
The lights flicker and flare. The performers move in perfect rhythm. Closing in on the cage and the creature.
She stands before you brave, no dread!
Her chin is high, her spirit not dead!
But fear not ye gentle folk, Oh see!
The magnificent taming of the Ring Master’s beast!
It is like a choreographed routine, a disturbingly graceful dance. The tamer cracks his whip in time with their haunting words as the performers go towards the girl. On their last verse, the performers flood the cage, reaching and prodding the creature. The tent goes completely black once more. Their gruesome melody punctuated by the creature’s first piercing scream.
The lights return and they rip her white gown and grab her by the hair. The cage is gone and she has been dragged to the center ring once more. The whip cracks as she is stripped in front of the crowd. More performers come and surround her; she is no longer visible to the thrill seeker, but he can almost hear her sobs over the commotion.
The creature is sobbing and thrashing. The beast tamer relentlessly whips her as the men perform their work. He smiles at his handiwork; he lives for performances like these. If only those who doubted his methods could see him now.
In one last feeble attempt the creature calls out to the crowd pleading with them to help her, but not one soul moves. Many gentile ladies shield their children and quietly whisper a thanks to their respective gods that it is not them suffering under the lights.
The music dies down to a whisper as the beast tamer goes to collect his prize from the mass of performers surrounding the cage. As quickly as they came they are gone and all that remains is a mound of red fabric lying in the center ring. The thrill seeker leans forward to see the creature.
The crowd gasps. The beast tamer reaches down to pick up the mass of red.
“Stand with your back arched and look down. Do not look at me.” His lips barely move as he gives the command. He painfully nudges her back to display her to the crowd.
Her face has been painted to smooth out her completion and to emphasize her natural features. The makeup looks chalky and caked on under the lights but this sight is preferable to how she was presented before. The thrill seeker gazes at her big, brown, almond eyes and painted full lips. Her dark hair cascades down either side of her face in shining ringlets. Her thin white gown has been replaced with red satin. The corset she now wears is laced tight with a black ribbon. It pinches in her waist painfully, but her figure is much more pleasing to the eye now. His eyes fall to her body, to the curves the corset creates; it’s not perfect but he supposes it is still doable. He harkens back to the moment before the show began and the seed the ring master planted in his head; she is quite pretty he thinks. The thrill seeker smiles in awe at this metamorphosis that transpired in front of him.
The beast tamer grins wickedly as the ring master comes back into the light. He pats the beast tamer on the back and encourages into vigorous applause. He returns to his personal tent with a dark pride swelling in his chest.
“Isn’t she lovely ladies and gentlemen? A rarity indeed, but we are not done with her yet. I promised you all a show and that is what you shall get! After a transformation from rebellious creature to obedient woman she will now perform for your pleasure… the death defying high wire!”
The creature is starting to believe the ring master’s words. She can feel the blood trickling underneath the corset from the whip and its sting deepens with every one of the crowd’s gaze directed at her. She has been conditioned like a salivating dog and broken by the beast tamer. Her spirit is gone for now and she resolves to stop fighting; it is easier and safer this way.
The girl stands on the platform high above the crowd and the thrill seeker. She can hear the ring master shouting, coaxing her out to complete his show. Her body and joints ache from the night’s events. Fresh blood still drips from her wounds. She no longer has the illusion of choice, she belongs to the ring master and the fickle crowd. She takes her first step.
The ring master must know what is best for her or he wouldn’t make her do this.
But this is dangerous, one wrong step and she will fall to her death.
She has no choice; she must make it to the other side now.
Her life is about balance now.
Creature and woman.
Object and human.
Live and die.
There is a collective gasp. There is no hum, or cheers, or jeers, no shouts or applause. Every man, woman, and child falls silent, looking at the scene they caused.
Everyone except the thrill seeker. Who stands in his seat, wildly clapping for the ring master, the creature, and his wonderful day at the circus.
About the Author: Alyssa Mountain is a senior at St. John Fisher College studying History, English, and Anthropology.
Her work has been displayed in such prestigious places as her grandmother’s fridge. Despite the
entire world telling her it is useless, she continues writing because, ultimately, she enjoys the torture.
Her work has been displayed in such prestigious places as her grandmother’s fridge. Despite the
entire world telling her it is useless, she continues writing because, ultimately, she enjoys the torture.