Pythian Games

put on your track shoes and write the miles


with 8 comments

“A circus! A circus is coming!” This was usually joyful news. Exotic animals, acrobats, people doing death-defying stunts high in the air, clowns frolicking and drawing laughs – this was the stuff that dreams were made of in tiny towns where everyone knew each other and things rarely changed.

In most towns, people flocked to the circus. They bought peanuts and popcorn and lemonade in paper cups, and they hung around the outside of the Big Top and watched the elephant keeper feed the elephants. They paid their coins and peeked in the tents of the sideshows and stared at the people who seemed so like them and yet looked so different.  They elbowed each other and joked that their Great-Aunt Edna was way fatter than the fat lady, or that this elephant wasn’t nearly so big as the one last year and you should have seen how fancy the costumes were in the circuses fifty years ago.

But in the town of Forever, people started fidgeting and muttering when the first circus posters appeared on the lamp posts, having been put up unseen, in the dark of the night. When flyers were found stacked by the school house doors, quick hands grabbed them and flung them into the nearest garbage can. And when the strains of the calliope were heard coming down the road, people locked and barred their doors. The circus paraded through a town of empty streets, its brightly painted wagons and carts reflecting off of closed window with the shades drawn tight. Not so much as a stray dog or cat crossed its path through the town.

Still the circus came, once every year, and set up its Big Top and sideshow tent and food stands and animal pens just over the hill on the outskirts of town – just close enough for the townspeople to hear the music and see the flags fluttering atop the tents. Three nights it played, whether there were warm bodies in the stands or not. Then in the middle of the night it packed up and hurried on its way, leaving only a trampled field where the animal pens had been.



“Do you think Mama and Papa will come to see us this year?” Lydia Amari of the Flying Amaris asked her older brother William as she adjusted her spangled tights before they bounded into the ring for their performance on the first night.

“No, of course not. You know they won’t. But Donald or Marian might, if they’re careful.” William was thinking of their younger brother and sister. Donald would be fifteen now, and Marian ten. “Donald might even come along this time. I know he’ll bring Marian if he can – she’s never come before.”

“I hope so. I wish we could see them, I mean really see them. I miss them a lot sometimes. I miss Mama and Papa, too. Do you think we could go into town and see them?”

Lydia had only been with the circus for a year, and for a sixteen year old, she did well. But she still missed her parents and the younger ones quite a bit.

Steven, the oldest of the Flying Amaris spoke up, “No. They won’t see you. I know. I tried my first year, too. They just keep the doors locked if anyone comes into town from the circus. You get used to it.” He shrugged, and then tensed as the ringmaster announced their act.

“And now, THE FLYING AMARIS!!!!”

Steven, William and Lydia bounded into the ring and climbed the ropes into the top of the tent. There was no more time to think of parents and siblings – they had to concentrate on midair somersaults and handoffs. After they came down and bowed out of the tent, Lydia peeked around to the side – there was a group of children peeking into a slit in the side of the tent, but she couldn’t see if Donald or Marian were among them.


The town was called Forever because nothing there ever changed. Oh, other towns might say they never changed, but Forever really meant it. In school, the children were taught to read, but only bland and boring things that made them never want to pick up a book full of other people’s thoughts again. And while they learned their one plus ones and twice times tables and learned to divide a pie into eight equal parts, they didn’t learn to work through algebra or geometry because these last required thinking, and thinking was scary for the people of Forever. Most especially, the children were never taught history. Children who learned history might try to do things differently from the way things had always been done and change history instead of simply repeating it day after day and year after year. So each generation in Forever did the same thing as the last, and things never changed. Except when the circus came to town, once every year.


“Donald, can we go tonight?” Marian Amari whispered to her older brother as they weeded the vegetable garden just before supper under the watchful eye of their mother.

“I think so. Be ready to slip out the basement window after Mama and Papa go to sleep. They can’t stay awake past eight even when the circus is here.” Donald whispered back and quickly moved over a row before their mother noticed them whispering and got suspicious.

Dinner was slow, and the rest of the evening even slower. Donald and Marian went to bed at eight, just as they always did, and so did Mama and Papa. As soon as Papa’s snores echoed down the hall, Marian crept from her bed and dressed quietly before she slipped down to the basement to Donald’s room. Donald was packing a knapsack with his clothing, a picture of the family, and his toiletries.

“Donald!” Marian hissed. “You aren’t leaving, are you?!” She looked like she was going to burst into tears.

“Yes, I am. All of the others left at fifteen, and so am I. There’s so much out there, Marian – a whole world. And I want to see it. It’s not like I’ll be alone – I’ll be with Steven and William and Lydia. And I’ll learn new things, and do things, and see things that no one in this poky little town ever dreamed about. It’s the circus, Marian, and it’s my one way out of here.”

Tears were running down Marian’s cheeks. She knew he was right. All of the others had left at fifteen, and if you didn’t leave when you could, then you didn’t leave, and you ended up doing the same thing as all the other generations of people had done forever, in Forever.

Sniffling, she let him boost her up through the window. They left it open so that Marian could get back through it when she came home again, alone.


As they crept along the night time streets, the two children could hear rustlings and quiet whispers as other children slipped out see the circus. Some of them, like Donald, were carrying knapsacks stuffed with the few things they wanted to salvage from their old lives. They made a silent throng as they made their way just over the hill to where the music was playing and the flags were waving.

Unseen, quiet hands pulled curtains back from darkened windows and tear-filled eyes peered out into the night as the children who could not be kept the same forever slipped away for a look at the rest of the world.

In the morning, life would go on as it always had, forever, but with a few less children, in Forever.

– She Wolf (c) 2008

Written by Jane

June 2, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Short Story Arena

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8 Responses

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  1. Excellent! This grabbed me from the beginning and held on.


    June 2, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  2. I love this – it has a legendary quality. It could be developed into a novel, or a cycle of stories.


    June 3, 2008 at 12:45 am

  3. Entirely original and intriguing–will be waiting for the next part. Fran


    June 3, 2008 at 12:56 am

  4. Jane, you had me! I love it when I read one of your pieces that make me yearn for more. Genece


    June 3, 2008 at 1:22 am

  5. Haunting and poignant – love the way you went back & forth between the town & the circus scenes – and your explanations of why things didn’t change in Forever…Brilliant! Kerry


    June 3, 2008 at 12:42 pm

  6. Jane, this would make a delightful children’s book…one that young at heart adults would enjoy reading as well.



    June 3, 2008 at 1:47 pm

  7. Agree with Vi. It would make a great book, Jane. Great stuff.


    June 4, 2008 at 3:34 pm

  8. What an utterly intriguing concept you are wrestling with Jane. I would run away and join the circus if I thought I were destined to be trapped in Forever. So poignant!

    Heather Blakey

    June 7, 2008 at 2:07 am

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