Friend of Mine

The following won third place in the Short Fiction and Creative Nonfiction division of the Walter Spara Writing Contest sponsored by the Department of English and Communications in the spring semester, 2012. 

by Hope Hall

Friend of Mine

My name is Avery Sparrow, and I work with the Circus.

It’s a menial job really, picking up after the people in the audience, giving the animals baths. But mostly, ‘cause I’m the “junior” of the squad, I pick up feces. Poop. I am forever the one with the giant sized pooper-scooper in hand. However, today is a good day. Charlie didn’t come in to work, so I get to stay inside, out of the hot sun, to work with the caged animals. I have to admit… I’m excited.

So today I was walking into the pen, lugging a large plastic bucket with raw deer meat across the crunching straw, to feed to Big Blue. He’s our prized Bengal Tiger. He’s pretty young but he acts chill onstage. This is the first I’ll see of Big Blue away from the big top. I doubt he’d recognize me; I always wear all that clown make-up running across the grass, or straw, or dirt. He wouldn’t recognize me anyway because he’s a tiger… but it’s nice to think he might.

I approached the cage dropping the bucket to open it, “Hey there, Blue.” I muttered.

Blue’s head perked up as he looked at me. It seemed he was questioning me. Almost like he was wondering what I did with Charlie.

“Don’t worry; I didn’t eat him or anything. The human “kingdom” isn’t quite as cutthroat as the animal one. He’s just sick. He’ll be back.” I spun off.

Blue cocked his head to one side, and then licked his chops.

“Ha-ha,” I wrinkled my nose, “I’m not the food,” I gestured to the bucket, “that is. Well the food’s inside.”

Carefully, I pried the cage door open and used the scoop to measure out the meat. I was supposed to give him ten pounds, but how was I supposed to tell? After I relocked the door I checked my watch. My eyes slid over to Blue, who was staring at me expectantly.

“Yeah, I know, who has watches anymore?” 3:14pm it read. “Well, I think I’ll take in lunch with you.” I sat down on a barrel near his cage.

Blue continued to stare at me.

“Really, I don’t mind eating with you. Feel free to dig in.” I opened my small back-pack and pulled out a small soda and a leftover Hamburger Helper and cheese sandwich.

I looked up at Blue to see him looking glancing my way like, “Are you really not going to leave me alone?”

To answer him I took a big bite out of my sandwich.

He proceeded to eat with a slow enjoyment as if trying to gross me out with all the blood and crunchy animal bits.

I ate my lunch ignoring him mostly, kicking my feet against the barrel in the rhythm of my new favorite song. I glanced at my watch again, 3:40pm it read. “Oh crap!” I scrambled to clean up after myself, Blue looked on eyes wide. “I’m going to be late, Blue! I’ll see you tomorrow. Same time same place, right?”  My attempt at humor was lost on him as he seemed to glance at the bars surrounding him.

I arrived at the big top just in time to start putting harnesses on the elephants, but three minutes late, crap. My boss Michael motioned towards the brush near where I was, his eyes widening and narrowing meaningfully. I picked it up and brought it with me. As I came closer towards him I saw the Ring Master, Ms. M.

“Thanks for getting me that brush, Avery.” Michael said casually.

“You’re welcome,” I said with a smile. Ms. M. passed and I mouthed, “Thank you.”

“Why were you late? It’s not like you.”

“I was eating lunch with Big Blue.” I said while I started brushing the dirt off the elephant, Mars, upraised foot.

Michael raised his brow but kept quiet except for a slight snickering.

After the elephants were all ready I rushed to the small trailer they gave to those of us who were clowns, to start putting on my make-up. The trailer really was too small, but the one time I mentioned it, Ms. M. laughed and said, “Aren’t one hundred clowns supposed to be able to fit into a VW bug? And you want a larger place to put on make-up?” I’d dropped the subject, feeling sufficiently humiliated. No one could complain that the trailer wasn’t clean, unless the tamer happened to use it because her quarters were too disgusting. I’d had my turn cleaning it; the woman was inhuman.

Quickly I stripped and donned my huge, looks-like-a-rainbow-threw-up clown suit, slapped on my Ronald McDonald war paint, and I was ready to join my brethren in the tent.

Even though I saw the grimy side of the circus, I still loved it: the lights, the smells of popcorn and excitement. The thrill of the acts, the ballerinas dancing on the elephant’s backs, the cannonball, and of course Big Blue jumping through the ring of fire.

I heard the ring master’s voice as the lights went on, “Welcome to the Big-Train circus!”

The crowd roared, and that was the clowns’ cue to run across the big top floor, with sparklers, doing flips, rolling on barrels. I can’t do any of that, so I ran to grab the first parade of elephants. I grabbed onto Mars’ trunk and led her towards the central pole to make the circle for the dancing girls. I smiled and felt my dry make-up crack, but it didn’t matter. This was my moment.

A few acts later it was time for Blue’s performance. I could hear the crowd murmuring as a few of my fellow clowns lit the ring afire. The tamer led Blue out onto the stage; till this moment I hadn’t really paid much attention to Blue himself. He seemed resigned, almost sad. He did his tricks, the crowd ooo’d and ahhhh’d. Then they’d brought out Angel, the new addition, a white tiger. The crowd roared and Blue himself perked up; he almost looked like he was smiling. I quickly wheeled out the second fire circle and lit it up. Watching them jump together was beautiful– poetry in motion, my art teacher would have said.

Then the tamer pulled Blue away and he roared softly; it sounded strongly of protest. Angel made a sound low in her throat, even though I couldn’t see her face I knew she was telling him it was okay.

After I had wiped my make-up off and changed, feeling sweaty and disgusting and oh so alive I went to water Big Blue. I held the huge jug on my hip for support; Blue lay over in his cage rumbling softly.

“G’day Blue,” I said in my mock Aussie accent. “I come bearing gifts. Well water.” I reached my hand towards his bowl to drag it towards me, He thrashed and his claws came towards me, his eyes were miserable. “Oh Blue, you don’t have to embody your name kid.” He sniffed and lay back down. I poured his water then made my way back to my small shared trailer, forgetting for once how I wished I could afford a hotel in town. “Goodnight Blue.” I whispered to his back.

I neared my trailer, walking past the double wide that belonged to the ring master, and I heard yelling. I froze for a moment thinking perhaps somehow it was meant for me.

“I know how to run this circus, Conall!” Ms. M’s voice rang into the cold night.

“I used to think so. I’m not so sure anymore.” an unfamiliar male voice answered.

I heard a huffing noise. Ms. M not having a snappy comeback? Who is this guy? Curious, I listened further.

“Prove me wrong, show me that you know how to run things, and maybe I’ll reconsider.” The man said not reassuringly but coldly.

“Fine, I’ll show you.” Ms. M said firmly.

I heard chuckling, “I’m sure.” Footsteps sounded come closer to the door, panicking, I high-tailed it out of there as fast as my tired feet could take me.

The next morning, as the sun rose, I helped Michael bathe the elephants. I was a bit absentminded, I guess, and not talking like usual. Finally, Michael asked me,

“What is on your mind, Avery?”

I sighed, “Well it’s just Blue… He seemed so depressed. He was cranky like he wanted me gone.”

“He’s allowed his off days, I guess. Plus, you are kinda annoying.” He grinned as he nudged me in the arm with his elbow.

“Yeah, yeah, like you know anything.” I jabbed him back.

“Well it’s probably not just you. I think it’s that new tiger Ms. M. got. I think he’s got a “thing” for her if you know what I mean.” Michael made a vulgar motion.

“Hey, hey, just cause you’re an animal doesn’t mean he is.” Certainly felt like more like love to me.

“Whatever. Either way he wants to be with her and Ms. M. doesn’t want him to be for some reason. So that’s that.”

I felt my brows pinch together as I thought about how sad I’d be if I couldn’t be around someone I liked. Maybe cranky Blue was just lonely.

Once Horton was clean I made my rounds to feed the animals, saving Blue for last. I approached his cage with care, he lifted his head and huffed, but he couldn’t disguise his curiosity at my presence. I unlocked his cage and brought the meal of the day, probably something else the proprietor of the circus had hunted. The only sign of the curious owner I’d ever seen was his offerings of food to the animals.

Blue sniffed bloody meat and sulked back into his paws.

“Come on, Blue, you got to eat.” I tried to sound soft but authoritative. His response was a great yawn. “Well, you sure are enthused.” I sank back in that same barrel and pulled out my same boring lunch. I looked up at Blue, who was watching me while he ignored me. How that’s possible I don’t know. It must be a tiger thing. “Yeah, I’m staying here. It’s either you or the monkeys. You may not like me but at least you won’t throw your own waste at me.” He looked surprised. “Yes, they do that. Rather an unsophisticated bunch. Not like you at all. I’d rather scientists think we were evolved from tigers. I don’t believe in evolution mind you. Why couldn’t you be born with opposable thumbs? Hmm?” With his brow wrinkled and his eyes wide, I started to laugh. “You know, you are a very funny tiger. You should be so humorous more often, you might have more friends.” I smirked into my sandwich. His eyes looked at me tortured. They were telling me that he didn’t need friends; he needed her. “I’m sorry, Blue… I don’t know why she won’t let you see her.”

“Because I don’t want Angel getting too used to his company,” The voice of the ring master popped up out of nowhere.

One hand fisted around my sandwich as the clutched my breast. “Oh, Ms. M. you scared me.” My nose wrinkled as my shoulders drooped. My… my sandwich…

“Doesn’t everyone need a good scare every once in a while?” she retorted.

“Yes I suppose so.” I yielded scrapping my destroyed lunch into my paper bag. “Why wouldn’t you want Angel to get used to Blue?”

“I’m selling him.” She stated matter-of-factly.

I was dumbfounded. “Sell Blue… why?”

Behind me Blue groaned.

“It’s simple. The people respond better to Angel and I’ve gotten a good offer from Liberty zoo. He’s worth more sold than he is here.” She glanced behind me. “Aren’t you, big fella?”

I must’ve plainly shown my displeasure on my face, for when she looked at me next she said, “What? It’s not like he can understand me.” Then she simply walked away.

Blue made a noise that made me believe tigers could cry, even if no tears came out. I stood up and called out his name. He stared at me, his earlier cry a low rumble in his chest. My every instinct told me to back off, but I couldn’t, I wasn’t scared. As my hand reached the bars he swiped one powerful paw at his water dish, slamming it against my hand. I cried out in anguish.

“Blue! Blue! Why did you do that?” My fingers bled.

The sound made by him died down, he approached the front of his cage stepping over his metal bowl, his head lowered and he brushed against the bars near me.

I clutched my injured hand to my breast and reached out, ever so carefully, to stroke his head and ear. He made a moaning noise that was a tiger’s imitation of a purr. I knew he was sorry. “Don’t hurt me again.” I scolded. His big head lifted his afflicted eyes, to catch mine. Oh I definitely forgive you. I thought. His large pink tongue reached out and licked my still extended fingers. Even though it was the wrong hand I understood the gesture. “Okay, it’s alright, big guy.”

That was the day I made my best friend.

The next day the previous night seemed a dream. I woke up at 6am to muck the big top of last night’s deposits. Then I moved on to the seats, ridding them of their popcorn and cotton candy trash. I was looking forward to my lunch with Blue so I hurried to feed the other animals I was responsible for. I sighed as I thought that nowhere in the job description did it say “monkey wrangler.” And even though I was already a little late I decided to go and have a talk with Angel. She deserved to know what was going on, if she didn’t know already. And the way gossip gets around the big top she probably already did.

It wasn’t too much of a walk to Angel’s cage; I ran part of the way, why I’m not sure. I quickly slowed to a stroll, but still panting heavily I casually drew near to her.

Angel’s head tilted and she blew out through her nose. “Who are you?” she was asking.

“Oh hi, uh, Angel, my name’s Avery. It’s okay if you don’t remember me, I’m usually covered head-to-toe in uh, a clown costume.” Angel relaxed and sat back on her haunches, so I continued. “So I’m a friend of Blue’s and I wanted to talk to you about him.” Angel lifted herself to appear larger, even while sitting, she was daring me with her eyes to say what she’d heard before. I laughed nervously, “I know you’ve probably heard that Blue’s being sold…” Though she stayed stiffened, she appeared saddened. “I don’t want that to happen!” I exclaimed quickly, her icy eyes were a shadow of how Blue’s looked when he was at his most heartrending. “Blue’s my friend; I want to help.” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously on me. “Yeah I know I don’t look like much, and I’m not the most important person in this circus…” This line of thought was beginning to depress me. “But I’m on your side.” She lowered her head to level with mine. I saw when she believed me; she made that groaning purring noise that Blue made. “I think he loves you.” I said, grinning. I saw what looked like a smug smirk on her muzzle before it was gone. “We should really talk more.” I glanced at my watch, “I gotta go but I’ll tell Blue we talked and you said Hi.” I rushed towards Blue’s cage waving to Angel as I left.

I advanced towards my goal, dragging the bucket holding his latest meal and part of me wondered if all these deer had been road kill at some point. “Hey Blue.” I greeted cheerfully. “Guess who I talked to today?” he snorted out through his nose, telling me he didn’t really care. “Angel,” I waggled my eyebrows playfully as his head came up to show his renewed interest. “That’s why I was late. We had a nice chat. She told me to tell you hi. I told her you loved her. Is that okay?” He lifted one great paw to cover his face. “No, no, she smiled. I think it’s mutual.” One eye peeked out to look at me. “Really,” he moved his paw away completely. I told her that I wanted to help you two. She didn’t believe me at first, but she does now. Do you?” He laid his face on his forelegs and sneezed. I started laughing. “That’s why you’re my best friend.” Blue looked at my, by comparison, smaller frame, then eased his claws out of his paws. To any other person it would have seemed to be a threatening gesture, but I knew he was asking me why I don’t have friends my own species. “Well I mean there is Michael… but he’s my boss and he mostly just laughs at me when I mess up. I don’t think you’ve ever laughed at me.” He licked his chops lazily, which reminded me that I still hadn’t given him his food. “Oh sorry,” I lifted the pen’s lock and threw laid the bloody mess of a meal onto the cage floor.

With resignation Blue began to dig into his food. My stomach growled reminding me that I too, was hungry. I sat down on that same barrel, finally sparing a thought to what was on it.

However, I was too tired to actually look. Work had been harder than usual since my hand was injured. Using my good hand I pulled out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then took a big ol’ bite. “Oh Blue, I don’t know how to help you.” I licked the peanut butter off the roof of my mouth.

Blue groaned.

“Yeah I know…” I looked up at him, he had paused eating and was staring fixedly at my hand. I had hidden it under a glove so no one would know. I really needed this job. But he knew. He had done it. He reached up his paw to touch one of the bars on his cage.

“It’s fine, Blue.” I stood up and took my glove off. I touched his big fuzzy paw. “See? Nothing’s broken.” I smiled. He didn’t need to know that they were swollen, that I couldn’t bend three fingers, or that my nails had fallen off two. I slipped the glove back on. “Eat, ‘kay? Because that’s what I’m going to do.”

I replaced my glove and ate my unsatisfying meal. I believe Blue and I shared the same perspective. ‘Well it’s food…” That’s about the only thing our supper had going for it, its edibility.

I saw the tamer come up behind Blue’s cage, but I didn’t greet her; she wasn’t the kind you exchanged pleasantries with.

She smiled at me with that innocent flashing of teeth that I knew better than to trust.

“Shouldn’t you be working?” her sweet tone did nothing to mask her malice.

“I still have a few minutes left from my lunch break.” I replied evenly.

“Oh then maybe I should suggest to the ring master you don’t need so long to eat.” Her thick ponytail bobbed back and forth with her head as she considered.

I grimaced in my displeasure. “No, that isn’t necessary.  I’ll be leaving now.” She smiled her victory at me, as I passed. “Bye Blue.” I said, but he didn’t look at me. I heard the tamer snort at my actions. I let it go and returned to my task at hand: How to help blue. My thoughts were punctuated by the sound of his cage opening and his dull resigned roar.

That night I dreamed of screaming tigers.

In the early morning I scrubbed the inside of the cages, my bandanna over my nose and mouth. Michael came by smirking at me.

“Having fun?”

“Yeah… I love the smell of excrement in the morning.” I said my voice dripping with sarcasm.

“So I’m guessing you haven’t heard about Charlie yet.” Michael said still grinning.

I exhaled, and pulled down my bandanna, “Nope, enlighten me.”

“Well you’re in a foul mood today, Avery.” Michael frowned.

“I’m sorry Michael… I just slept really bad last night.” I leaned into the bars, “What was it that you wanted to tell me?” I wiped my forehead with my sleeve.

“Well, I’m not sure how you’ll take this…”

“Just tell me Michael.”

“Ol’ Charlie was playing hooky.” My brow quirked and he laughed, “It was some chick he’s into’s birthday. He got himself invited to the party to try and hook up with her. Being sick was just an excuse to get off work. Then he got smashed at the party and ended up with no pants out by a lake or something. He had to call one of his buddies from work to come and get him.”

I blinked, “And what does this have to do with anything?”

“I’m not done.” Michael grunted impatiently. “Anyway Charlie’s friend is worse than two women at the beauty shop when it comes to gossiping. So when word got around to the ring master, Charlie got his keister fired.” He laughed and mumbled to himself “Good riddance.”

“Well that’s horrible. How is that supposed to make me feel better?” I scratched my head.

Michael rolled his eyes. “I did some sweet talking and got you his job.”

I stared at him dumb founded.

“Well hey, at least say thanks. ‘Cause of me not you can eat your lunch with that cranky tiger till he leaves.”

I stuck my hand through the bars, “You’re awesome, Michael.” I beamed.

“Yeah I know.” He grinned. “But you’re crazy if you think I’m going to shake that nasty hand of yours.” He turned and walked on. “See ya.”

I looked down at my hand. I couldn’t be angry at his words my hand was covered with a brown most foul.

After cleaning al the cages I reeked. I wanted nothing more than a hot shower. But I’d have to settle for washing my face and hand, till the work was done.

I was walking towards the spigot to do just that when I saw the two people I most disliked in the circus, scratch that, perhaps in the entirety of the world.

Ms. M and the tiger tamer.

I stopped and waited, hoping, pleading, they would leave. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop; it just kinda happened.

“I still don’t understand what’s bothering you so much about the whole situation.” Ms. M said, her voice only slightly nicer than normal in the face of her favorite.

“I told you, I’ve already got him trained just how I like him. It would take years to do that too a new tiger. Plus…she’s too old to be malleable.  We got Blue when he was a cub. That made my job easier. Where the hell do you get off making my job harder?”

I waited for Ms. M to start screaming, telling the tamer she was fired. But she didn’t instead she said,

“Now Caitlyn,” her tone warned, “You’re smart, you’ll find a way. Besides, you need a challenge. Think of it as improving yourself.”

“I feel like a child you’re punishing by taking their favorite toy away.” She scowled. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Nothing at all; however, I don’t want you going soft, getting complacent.” Ms. M ended the conversation with a pat on the shoulder.

As they broke apart with the tamer coming towards me, I panicked, but my brain still functioned. I put on my best casual face and started walking towards the spigot.

The tamer passed me, then stopped to inform me, “You smell like—”

I played dumb, pretended I hadn’t heard the explicit insult and kept to my goal. After hearing their conversation I felt dirtier than ever.

“Blue,” I said as I reached his cage, “Are you okay?”

He curled up the side of his nose and sniffed in disdain.

“Yeah I know, believe me.”

He looked at me as if to say, “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Blue I’m worried about you.” I said resting my head against the bars.

He went back to the activity he was doing before I so rudely interrupted, licking his paw. With my head still on the bars I watched him while he ignored me. His tongue slowly made it up his arm to his shoulder. There near the joint his tongue ruffled the fur to reveal two large bumps on his skin.

“Blue, how’d you hurt yourself?”

His eyes narrowed in an intimidating glare.

I felt like I’d missed something.

That night I couldn’t sleep; I sat outside the tent that held the animals. The night air was cold and it stung my face. I couldn’t really notice it, though. I felt useless, like wasted space. I think I might’ve drifted into a half sleep, I’m not sure. But I know it was four o’clock when I was awoken by the screaming.

“No! No! No!” It repeated. My sleepiness distorted the sound. Where is it coming from? I thought. Behind me. I understood. I rose and stormed the tent.

What I saw shocked me. There was Blue, amber eyes piercing, wild, furious. His paws pressed against the bars imprisoning him. The iron cage shook with his rage.

“Blue?” I shot to his side, keeping a safe distance just in case. “What’s wrong?”

He wouldn’t look at me. His senses seemed far away. He roared; it was a fearsome sight. Never before had I seen defiance or anger from his gentle beast.

I realized, as my mind cleared, the screaming was his roaring, “No! No!” he howled. I looked again and there were tears, in those fierce eyes, not flowing but present nonetheless.

“Let me help you!” I cried out to him. “What is it? What do you need?”

He did not spare me a glance. His massive body slammed against his prison door, over and over. Whimpers of pain escaped his muzzle, unnoticed, as he smashed into the bars.

I sat and watched unable to move or look away from the anguish, the power.

I heard a click from behind me, and in a split second he was still, sluggish. He wobbled and fell to one side, looking at me intensely. He was trying to tell me something important. I knew he was. But I couldn’t understand and in another spilt second his eyes were closed.

“Next time it might be good to run and get help, instead of standing there a willing target. What if he’d gotten loose?” Ms. M’s voice sounded from beside me, as she pointed out how the bars had bowed.

I was still stunned, my mouth dry as I spoke the words, “He wouldn’t hurt me.”

Ms. M snorted, “He’s an animal. It would do you good to remember that.”

Anger seeped through my veins. You’re the animal. I wanted to say, and I think I would have if she hadn’t interrupted me.

“This behavior is exactly why he’s being sold.” She put her hand on my shoulder and spun me to face her. She somehow managed to look like the pillar of authority even whilst in pajamas. “I was going to talk to you in the morning, but since you’re here, I might as well do it now.”

Dread washed over me; firmly she guided me away from Blue towards the living quarters. “I heard something about you today.” She began.

“Oh?” I couldn’t trust myself to speak.

“Yes, like that you were shirking your duties. Things weren’t being done. I don’t like hearing this. You seem to be an honest good worker. So I’ll let you off with a warning. I better not hear things of this nature again. I was kind enough to give you Charlie’s job. I put my trust in you; don’t betray me.”

“No ma’am.” She seemed satisfied with my response; Ms. M nodded and walked off.

I walked into my shared trailer and found my section of floor with my sleeping bag on it. I lay down and when sleep finally claimed me, I, once again, dreamed of the screams of tigers.

Through out the next morning I had a feeling I couldn’t shake. It was with me while I cleaned the trailer, as I went into town to buy supplies for the performers. I couldn’t identify it; the feeling had me on edge. I could sense Ms. M’s “eyes and ears” watching my every move. I couldn’t deviate from my schedule in the least, not even to see Blue.

Another thing that was puzzlimg me was Blue’s behavior last night. What had been wrong?

He had to have a reason.

I tried to stay focused on the task at hand, but my attention kept straying to my precious friend.

I don’t think a day has ever passed that slowly for me, every task dragging on past the tip of insanity.

I had finally gotten to the point in my day that I was chomping at the bit to get to seeing Blue.

I drug his not so freshly dead meal to his cage. I had greeted him, he stared intently back at me, waiting. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to say so I remained silent as we locked eyes. That seemed to answer his unspoken question well enough. He spun, facing away from me.

“Blue?” I pleaded.

His tail batted at the surrounding air. He was quietly angry.

I gave him his meal and left.

That had been hours ago; now I was sweeping. Technically I was supposed to be off and perhaps collapsed on the couch. However, one of Ms. M’s eyes and ears decided to give me his work load. I got the feeling Ms. M would hear about my ‘laziness’ if I didn’t comply. So now even after overtime I wasn’t finished.

I sighed, and leaned into my broom handle, trying to relieve the pressure on my back. That strange feeling hovered over me, I felt pretty deflated, and the answers to my problems seemed too far off to reach in time.

I swept my way across the floor and ended up in front of Angel’s cage

I leaned against the edge of her cage, trying to draw strength from her. Even sleeping I could feel her peace. In her throat I heard a rumble. The hair on my neck stood on end. I slowly turned around and her eyes opened. Gradually it seemed she recognized me. She seemed tired and sorrowful.

“Are you sick?” I asked concerned.

I saw a smirk play on her muzzle before a condescension framed her eyes.

“Not sick?” I looked for the conformation I saw, “Hurt then?” she sighed deeply through her nose. “How?” Her lip lifted bearing teeth. Gooseflesh raised on my arms.

“Someone?” I heard the growl again, her tail thumped. “Who?” Her sarcastic eyes were on mine, “Oh right, tigers can’t talk.”

I couldn’t hide my chagrin. Then I saw her water bowl laying broken in two pieces. I stared speculatively at the tigress. “I’ll just get this out of here. Maybe we have another somewhere.”

I unlocked her cage and carefully slid the bowl away from her, cringing slightly as I heard a crack when it thumped to the floor.

I reached up and slid the first bolt back into place. As I reached for the second bolt a chill ran up my back at the sound I heard then, a scream.

I stepped towards the sound, “Hello? Is someone hurt?” I took a few more steps. “Hello?” That horrible feeling I had came back full at power. My skin felt icy, my heart thudded and I ran.

The whole circus was quiet and empty; I tripped over the brooms that hadn’t been put up where they were supposed to be. My lungs burned; I slowed and bent over with my hands on my knees. My ears strained to hear another noise.  Come on, I thought. I heard a soft crackling sound. I turned around pushing past the curtains of different rooms. The only sight that greeted me was the darkness and the stored props. I was beginning to feel stupid, such a total overreaction. I sighed, and trudged back the way I came. My panic was slowly ebbing but that awful feeling wouldn’t go. My ears picked up that soft crackle again; I was tired and wanted to walk away but something told me to go and look. I came into the big top from the clown’s tunnel entrance, all I could see was the thrust of the tamer’s arm as a long cattle prod smashed into Blue’s back, and the look on his face when he saw me. He let out a cry of pain and the tamer laughed. I looked at her face; there was a sick pleasure there.

I ran towards them, unthinkingly, screaming. My fist collided with the tamer’s eye socket.

The tamer’s head jerked to one side as my hand connected with her skin. I wasn’t sure how I ended up on top of her, my puny fists beating her to what I thought should have been a bloody pulp.

I never thought I had rage like that waiting inside me. In my shock my punches stilled and I felt and heard the blow to my skull with the hollow metal shaft of the cattle prod.

I fell over, my hands felt cold and numb. I could barely hear the roaring over the rush of blood in my ears.

“Blue…” I whined.

My head lolled to the other side and through my altered vision I saw a flash of white.

All at once my hearing came back, my vision cleared, and I heard the roar of a vengeful tiger.

I feel, perhaps, I should’ve gone deaf, the sound was so great.

The tamer’s back was to me. Her usual confident air was gone; the cattle prod trembled a little in her tightly clenched fist. Suddenly, it seemed to provide no more protection than a twig, in the face of two ferocious animals.

Blue sprang first and the noise that came out of the tamer’s mouth… I hesitate to say it was human.

“Blue no!” I shouted, all too late.

The first sounds of snapping bone made me lose whatever was left in my stomach.

Angel joined in the massacre and it was like watching children fight over a toy.

I tried to stand, my knees wobbled. My hands groped the air to keep me upright. I knew I was screaming. What I was saying I couldn’t tell you. Maybe I was saying nothing at all. The whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off the brilliant colors of the tamer’s suit. Each bright primary color dulled to one solid red scream.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard someone call my name. I think they were begging.

Blood sprayed my face I was so close to them now.

Blue stared at me, his beautiful burnt orange muzzle shining with his fresh kill. His head tilted as thought I was a long lost face that he couldn’t seem to retain.

“Blue…” I choked out of my tear constrained throat.

My eyes only saw Blue; the hairs on the back of my neck felt our audience.

They were gonna kill Blue now; he’d taken a human life.

I walked towards him, this was my friend, they were going to kill him and there was nothing I could do about it.

Softly I approached him, ignoring his low growl. My head ached, maybe he hadn’t growled. “Blue… my Blue…” I cried. My arms went around his neck, I felt the rough texture of his thick pelt, how I had longed to do.

White hot pain lanced my shoulder and neck. I turned to see Blue’s giant head bowed his large yellowed teeth in my skin. My mouth opened, no sound escaped, however. Numbness spread through my body. My head listed to one side, his great tiger’s eye watched me. My gift to you, He said. This is all I can do.

My body was being pulled so I hovered parallel to the ground. I felt nothing, no pain, not even the breath of the great beast.

A picture of their earlier tug of war entered my brain.

My eyes slid closed and for the first time in my life I hoped that heaven was nothing like the circus.

 

End

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