Even after the elephants retreated back to their cages, after the trapeze had been vacated, and the clowns returned to their car, the puissant smell of the show remained.
Luis felt it wrap around him like an old memory; Close, yet still painfully ephemeral. A reminder of what was and never will be again.
"I'm sorry." Timmons stood before him. Without his bowler hat Luis had to blink twice and focus to recognize him.
"You seem sad. I assume it had to do with the show." Timmons stepped aside and gestured with his arm. Empty as it was, the arena still crackled with life. Roadies--if that's what they were called here--hauled props through a small opening in the back of the tent. Platforms, cannons, nets, a washing machine.
Luis raised an eyebrow at the latter.
"We're carnies, not animals."
Luis laughed and began to apologize, but the playful grin on Timmons' face told him not to bother.
"Is that it, then?" Luis asked and he could hear Timmons' accent transforming his own speech the way a limp affects your gait.
This time Luis did offer his apologies, raising his hands in a deferential gesture. "No, it was great. Incredible, even. I just... where do I go from here?"
"Where would you like?"
The question took Luis by surprise. He hadn't considered what he wanted. Since meeting Timmons it felt like he had been ushered from place to place, moment to moment, without an ounce of input. But now, when faced with the prospect, he found he had nothing to offer.
"I guess I don't know."
"Ah, well, lucky for you I've been told I offer tremendous counsel in times like these. Shall we?"
Timmons gestured toward a pair of seats that Luis was certain hadn't been there before. The two took their seats and watched as workers continued to strike the set. A round, waddling man rolled out from under a tarp and, as he took his feet, grabbed hold of the sheets end and pulled. As he left the arena he produced a flash from his pocket and began to drink. He looked like a middle-aged baby carrying his cherished blanket while sucking down a bottle. As he moved out of view, Luis could hear him hiccuping.
Finally, Luis said: "I just don't understand this place."
"What's to understand?"
"Just..." Luis held out his hands as if he was trying to gather the sight before him up into a ball and transmute it into something intelligible. Something real. When that failed he continued moving his hands around in a futile gesture until at last, after realizing he'd ben holding his breath, he simply confessed, "All of it." He laughed at his own inability to define this place. "Three days ago I was just a guy working at a cafe."
Timmons nodded. His legs crossed and elbow on the back of his chair, he cut the image of a concerned and deeply interested friend. Not the type of friend Luis had ever enjoyed, but a type of friend he was sure existed somewhere in the world.
"No, I'm seeing people fall through floors and ceilings and..." He trailed off. A clown had gotten stuck in a bottle of sunscreen and his companions were working hard to extricate him from his plastic prison; One held his hands and pulled while another jumped up and down on the bottle to force him out. They finally got it on the fourth of fifth try. When they finished, the unstuck clown dusted himself off and shook his head as if he'd been a fool to trust the bottle in the first place. The clown that had jumped on the bottle picked it up and shook it ruefully in the air before dropping it into his pants. Luis laughed, shaking his own head in disbelief. "I mean, T, what the eff is all this?"
"Why sir," Timmons uncrossed his legs and brought his elbow down off the top of the chair, "are you implying that what you see here is not entirely normal? Do you mean to call us odd, and in our own dimension of all places!" Timmons flashed a sardonic grin that, if not for some innate yet undefinable amiability, would have seemed sinister.
"What can I say, T, you guys scare me."
"Well then, I suppose this means war."
Luis held his hands up in mock surrender and the two enjoyed a gentle laugh at their own game.
"See," Luis said, "it's not just the crazy stuff either. It's..." He paused, but this time it had nothing to do with his own struggles in defining this world. It was the opposite. "Every one is so carefree here. So happy. I don't think I've ever seen you get mad or frustrated."
Timmons shrugged. "A good run is all. We're all capable of it when the train's are running on time."
"Nah, it's more than that. It's like nothing bothers you."
"And you know this because you're an expert in being bothered?"
The following challenges were completed during the writing exercise:
Begin Start typing to begin
Location A circus
Words Reach 50 words
Sentence "I'm sorry."
Words Reach 100 words
Letter Use the letter N
Prop Include a washing machine
Words Reach 200 words
Words Reach 300 words
Event Someone is drunk
Words Reach 400 words
Character A meticulous counsellor
Words Reach 500 words
Words Reach 600 words
Prop Include a bottle of sunscreen
Words Reach 700 words
Letter Use the letter B
Sentence "This means war."
Words Reach 800 words
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