Happy #ThankYouPatrons Day! Because I appreciate each and every one of you I found a story that I wrote when I did Zoetic Press' Write Like You're Alive event last year. (That was super fun and I wrote some wild stuff; I'd like to do it again sometime.) This is relatively complete as is, but someday I would like to expand it into something bigger than a 1000 word flash fiction. I like the characters, especially Simon, which I'm sure you guessed. I am 100% the person that glass at the zoo is for, because I just want to pet the big kitties... Anyway. Thanks again for being patrons! Enjoy!
The circus was hemorrhaging money. There was no other way to say it. Ringmaster Gwen O’Ryan needed nothing short of a miracle, or an inheritance, and she would take either one. After that night’s barely half full main tent show was over, she retreated to her makeshift office out behind the lions’ pens. Her girlfriend, Bianca, was the lion tamer, and she’d be working with the cats for another hour at least. Plenty of time for Gwen to go over the books one more time and come to the same conclusion: she was going to have to disband the circus.
Gwen stripped off her bright red waistcoat and threw her top hat across the room. It spun like a Frisbee and landed with a thud on top of a pile of dirty laundry. She sank into a chair and put her head in her hands. She knew she’d have to tell people, but it could wait until the morning. No sense in the whole crew losing sleep. Gwen didn’t want to give up her dream. She’d wanted to run away to join the circus her whole life, from the moment she realized as a small child that she didn’t fit in with her family. She was too full of wonder, and curiosity, and her parents and siblings frankly, weren’t.
When she’d taken over as Ringmaster five years ago, Gwen felt like she had everything she’d ever wanted. A nagging voice in the back of her head told her that it was too good to be true, but she’d ignored it. When attendance started to fall, she’d chalked it up to a bad year. But a bad year had turned quickly into five bad years, and attendance continued to fall. Ticket sales were all they had to keep going, and those were drying up.
The flap of the tent open and Bianca strode in. “We have a small problem,” she said.
Gwen lifted her head. Simon, one of Bianca’s lions padded in after her and sat at her feet. He was a young male, and Bianca had saved his life when he was still a cub. He and Gwen had a tentative truce. Simon flicked his tail at Gwen in annoyance.
“We have a lot of problems,” Gwen said. “What did fuzzbucket do now?”
Simon was preternaturally intelligent and as a result was a constant source of the dull ache that permanently resided behind Gwen’s right eye. Usually Bianca jumped to defend her feline friend but today she just shook her head with a sigh.
“Stole someone’s wallet,” Bianca said. She held out the folded square of leather.
“Good boy,” Gwen said. “Is there money in it?”
“Gwen,” Bianca said. “I didn’t teach him to do that. He can’t be a thief.”
“Apparently he thinks he can, and I’m inclined to give him some ear scritches, because that might be the only way we get to eat dinner tonight.”
“What’s going on?” Bianca asked. “You’re acting weird, Gwen.”
“I’ve been running the numbers for weeks, Bianca.” Gwen said. “And they all come out the same. We’re going to have to disband the circus. We can’t keep it up.”
“Shit, Gwen, I’m sorry.” Bianca crossed the room and wrapped her arms around Gwen’s shoulders. Even Simon sensed that something was wrong. He padded over on silent lion feet and laid his head on Gwen’s knee. He looked up at her as if to say “you promised scritches.”
“You’re right, I did,” she whispered to him and obliged. He let out a low purr.
“We have to figure out a way to save the circus,” Bianca said. “I’m not giving up. And I’m not giving up my lions. Or you, for that matter.”
“I’ve tried everything,” Gwen said.
“I mean, we could have Simon pick pocket them. He apparently has a knack.”
Gwen laughed, but shook her head. “We can’t do that. It’s hard enough to get bodies in the door. If we stole from them, they’d never come back.’
“So we steal from the people who aren’t coming.”
“A minute ago you were mad at me because I was petting him for being a thief.” Gwen said. At the mention of more petting, Simon nudged her hand with his nose.
“Well I didn’t realize our livelihood was on the line.” Bianca said. “Now I should be mad at you that you’ve kept this from me for this long, but we can deal with that after we figure out a way to save the circus.”
“I’m sorry,” Gwen said. “I didn’t set out to keep it from you. There was just never a good time. But I think you might be on to something.”
Gwen stood up from their tangled hug and grabbed the newspaper. She held it out to Bianca.
“What if we stayed in town one more week?” Gwen asked. “How fast can you train a lion?”
“To do what, exactly?” Bianca stood, and peered over Gwen’s shoulder.
“Steal a very large diamond?” Gwen said, pointing to the headline.
“RARE CHOCOLATE DIAMOND ON DISPLAY NEXT WEEK,” Bianca read out loud. “Gwen, that’s ridiculous.”
“We were brainstorming ideas,” Gwen said.
“No, I just mean that you can’t unload a diamond that size. It wouldn’t help us sitting in a suitcase for decades until the heat from the heist cooled and we could find a buyer for it. We need instant gratification targets. Hard to track things that we could sell in the next town before they realize they’re gone. That’s the best way to fund the circus.”
“You’ve suddenly become a criminal mastermind,” Gwen said. “I love it.”
“I think we agreed that we were out of legal options to keep the dream alive. I’m all in if you are.” Bianca said.
Gwen’s eyes filled with tears. She was so grateful to have a partner like Bianca. She turned to Simon. “What about you, Simon? You want to help us steal some jewelry?”
Simon stretched up onto his back legs and put his paws on Gwen’s shoulders. At his full height, he was as tall as she was. He bumped her cheek with his and she laughed. Simon had never been demonstrative with her, so she took it as a good sign, and agreement from the large cat.
“Okay, let’s do this.” Gwen said. “We’re keeping the circus.”