Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Daily Story 139: The Man in the Center Ring

When the "grizzly" busts free from its chains, throwing handlers aside like ragdolls and roaring with fury, there's not a single person in the audience that doesn't jump. Some of the kids even scream but the adults recover quickly - they came for a show, and they're smart enough to know that this is all part of it. There's that glimmer of doubt, though, that the opening causes. They wonder if maybe, just maybe, it really is an accident and someone is going to get mauled. Secretly they're hoping for it. It's easy to imagine in all its gory detail when you see those massive jaws unhinging - someone came to me about that once, going on about how real grizzlies can't open their mouths like that and don't get over ten feet. Who the hell cares?

I picked up Binger here on Mars when he was just a cub, from some dealer who was eager to unload a stash of exotic animals. The guy that normally smuggled stuff for him had flat-out refused, said he lost two crews to engineered critters - which meant I got the little guy for a song. Of course I already knew he wasn't a grizzly, but most folks aren't really sticklers for accuracy. He grew like a weed and now he's twelve feet tall with teeth like walrus tusks. When he roars and charges at me, it's a sight to make grown men wet themselves. It's his partner that causes trouble - me. They've been saying I don't look scared enough, that I don't move fast enough... pretty much what they're telling me is it's not believable that I could ever wrestle Binger down and "kill" him. They can tell he's throwing the fight.

It was bad enough before, but I knew Moriarty wouldn't fire me because he's behind on my pay. This circus is barely limping along anymore, and even the low-cost attractions like "the world's oldest man" - some poor sap in cryostasis - need some amount of upkeep. The colonists on Mars have been good customers, but they can't spend money they don't have and Moriarty is struggling. Still, after what happened today he's going to fire me for sure. Binger did his part like a pro, roaring and swiping at the air. I reached for my staff and my knife, jumped into the ring, but then when I went to say my line - "Stay back, you damn filthy beast!" - I collapsed in a fit of coughing.

It's these godawful Martian cigarettes, almost as thick as a cigar and loaded with lord knows what. I've been saying I'll quit for months, but they put something in these things that just grab hold of you. So there I was, hacking up a lung, and Binger halts dead. Maybe he could have salvaged it if he had tried, but I can't blame him for being worried. He shuffled over and patted me on the back, held me up while I caught my breath. You can imagine it ruined the illusion of danger somewhat. He came over after everyone left, sat down next to me on the edge of the ring and draped a hot furry arm over me. I gave him a drag off of my cigarette and told him it would be okay. It will be, eventually. Moriarty will fire us but he'll be forced to pay us which is more than he'll be able to do for everyone else when his luck finally runs out.

There's a lot of farmland out there for sale, and Binger wouldn't mind pulling a plow until I can buy some equipment. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, busting free of these chains won't be so bad after all.