Monthly Short Story Winner: Find the Story in the Picture
This month our entrants got three pictures to choose from.
Every picture a frozen moment from an unknown story. They convey atmosphere and (part of) a setting. The rest is up to you.
1. The story/poem must be inspired by one of the pictures.
2. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
3. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
This month’s winning story was by bdcharles (@jd_books on Twitter), with “The Greatest Theater Under The Skies”. Congrats on your win!
You can find all our entries here.
And now on with the story!
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“The Greatest Theater Under The Skies”
But in the end, no-one could pinpoint just when Sevensky’s Travelling Circus had arrived in Cyanoga. Tattered posters appeared where none could remember seeing one before, and slowly, like a tuberculotic outbreak, from one person to the next, all the talk turned from pressure valves or configurations of hulls to feats of acrobatic mastery, and illusion, and rabbits yanked from hats. The city plied the jet streams that blew them among the skies.
But Neeton could remember precisely the moment he became involved. For him, it coalesced one workday, a tiny particle from a primordial sea evolving into new life, trembling and uncertain. He shouldered his cart-handle and regarded the flyer.
“That’s where it’s at, boys,” he said. “Show business!”
“You gonna join the circus, old man?” Tarker, their vicious young foreman sneered. “You ain’t no tightrope-walker – hell, you ain’t even a clown!”
Neeton ignored him, but Tarker seemed at first to be right. For while the dog-eared hoardings assured passers-by that the circus was very much in town, no-one he knew or spoke to was able to find it. No instructions or address were given – he checked and rechecked the tiny playbill font at the very bottom before rain and grime swallowed up the lettering – but found nothing.
“Hmm,” he muttered.
“Hah!” came Tarker’s reply as the foreman shouldered a steel beam. “Told you. Didn’t I tell you? Now step-to, circus-clown, step-to, step-to!”
Clangs of metal rolled round the dock, pulling the old cartwright out of his reverie. Still, the notion, the promise of glamour, must have infected his working mood. The ladies shuttling baskets of food here and there – why, they could be ballerinas, dancing and twirling against a backdrop of smelting sparks. And those weren’t boys, kicking a ball about in the muck. No, they were dwarves, midgets – bred to entertain. Even Neeton himself felt the call of the ringmaster, so much so that he took to thrusting an arm up and out every time he spoke, an old-time thesp delivering street side philosophy to bedarked masses. Frequently he sang.
“Woe is me!” he wavered, “for I am bound to work this old shipyard, mmm, till ohh, my dying day!”
Tarker, that villain, noticed. “We all gots to work, gran-pappy. Now get on with it, ‘fore I crack-a-whip!”
Rustbucket hulls drifted by with magisterial slowness. Black pipework issued fumes of lifting-vapour; for Cyanoga’s port was a manner of aeronautical shipyard, and these behemoths would climb the clouds, hauling their ores and grains and goodness knew what else to nameless continents.
But Neeton didn’t get on with it. Rolling his wood-rotted barouche down slick cobbles, he instead took to adopting curious stances at random moments; the sudden pause of the mechanical man, the never-ending gape of the mime. At first it just amused him. Streetcars ding-ding-dinged along their iron roadways, and as they did, the bustle of the markets where he traded scrap metal for occasional sweetmeats had looked for a moment as if all who stood in them were about to swing into a sort of synchronised rhythmic step. He almost expected a chipper tradesman to strut out with a maple cane and start singing about a girl he could never have. And when he would snap from these reveries, well, blow him down if there wasn’t a little pile of coin right there in his upturned skullcap.
Overhead, the giant vessels shunted on, bow-to-stern, nose-to-aft. Fly away, little birds, thought Neeton. Safe travels, au revoir, et bon voyage to all.
He never told Tarker about the skullcap. He told a ballerina though. She hmmphed and walked away, basket on head. But dammit – even her movements were musical. Neeton felt positively glad to be alive. His fellows on the other hand continued to mire themselves in the wet grey slop of the workman’s misery. Could they not see the beauty around them?
Tarker’s whip snapped. And the posters proliferated. Somewhere, somewhere, the circus was in town. And it was all tied into the timeless movements of the enormous steamships and the travels of the trams amid Cyanoga’s ancient, crumbling stonework. Even the spinning seamstresses hinted of its locale in their labour-songs. Their chatter and the hieroglyphic threading of their needlework all spoke of it. Neeton’s skullcap filled, and it filled. Where was Sevensky? Who was he?
Until one day, beneath clouds of black smoke in a copper sky, the leviathans stopped their steady skyward march. The sudden silence boomed louder than a metal thud on any hull.
A shower of sparks, and another. Then a third, until a whole row of flame poured onto the dockside. And – was that a trumpeting, from that massive-bore pipe? It may have been; it may just have been. It heralded – something. Neeton didn’t know what.
A fire-orange line materialised in the hull of the largest skysteamer. Horizontal at first, it curled both of its ends around a pair of bevelled edges until there could be no mistake.
It was opening, separating from the hull with a scalding pneumatic hiss.
“Behold!” echoed a voice from the pipe’s mouth. “Behold! Your Ringmaster Is Here!”
Every last piece of work in the shipyard ceased. Each set of eyes turned towards the figure in the hatch. Top-hat squared against the fiery glow, cane held smartly in hand. On either side of this apparition was a leashed griffin, ready to pounce. The only one remaining resolutely not impressed was Tarker.
“Get back at it!” he barked ineffectually. “Get on! Time’s a wastin’! You ain’t paid to loaf!”
Oh, but Neeton knew, and he knew, as the shadowy ringmaster held the foreman in his dark gaze. A flaming lash curled in the blackness. For the world was his circus, his city, his floating Cyanoga, the city that plied the lofty jet streams that crossed the seven skies. And the crowds that bore witness that night would proclaim, would swear, would know for sure, that Neeton was the finest performer ever to grace their air-ways.
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Congratulations again to bdcharles! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.