6. Pariah (Part 2)

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Watching Aenea and Arik practice did not tempt me to sneak away from the tent and make my way home. It tempted me to run home. The morning passed slowly and painfully.

For over an hour, I stretched every muscle and ligament of my body, until I felt as if I were made of rubber. Next, I performed calisthenics, jumping in place until I was panting, squatting until my leg muscles were afire, and pressing myself to the floor until my arms shook. By the end of it, I was drenched in sweat and certain the trainers' animal tent smelled better.

Aenea and Arik could bend nearly as well as the contortionists. They stretched and flipped to warm up and, perhaps a little, to show off to me. Aenea always shot me a smug, triumphant smirk after landing from a flip or a cartwheel, chin high, arms held above her head. I would attempt to copy them, and usually fail. I would exert too little force and lose momentum mid-roll, or I would propel myself so hard that I would slide off the mat and across the rock swept free of sand, leaving my skin and my dignity shredded. I had the strength and balance to hold myself on my hands, but my legs waggled in the air like twigs in a breeze, while theirs pointed toward the top of the tent, unmoving as stone.

Their practice continued long after mine. Instead, I was handed over to the workers and given the most menial of tasks to prepare for the circus act that evening. I scrubbed stains from benches under the big top, holding my nose and trying not to think about what the foul crusts might be. The workers barked instructions at me, calling me "boy" and expecting me to know where the brooms and rags were as if I had been working there for years. By noon, I had stocked the entrance booth that Frit would man later on with rolls of tickets, and arranged the props for the show neatly in the backstage area.

At lunch, I asked the cook for a second helping of dry roast beef and vegetables. He laughed and motioned for me to move along. With hunger in my stomach and my limbs aching and trembling, I refused to move until he gave me another slice of beef. To me, it was a moment of triumph.

The relief was short-lived, however. Jive, the red clown, had been standing behind me in the queue, and as I turned to leave, he stuck his foot out. I tripped and fell, my plate tumbling into the sand. I stood, wiping sand from my much-patched clothing. Jive leered at me. He was an ugly fellow, with eyes too small, mouth and teeth too big, and a crooked nose and sallow skin.

I took a deep breath and resisted a growing urge to reach out and strike him.

"Won't be much of a trapeze artist if you bumble about like that, will you, boy?" he asked.

I brushed more sand from my pants and shirt. A boy would hit him, and not even hesitate at the thought of a brawl. But the clown was much larger than me, and I had no confidence in my ability to throw a punch. He'd fight dirty. My only option was to lash out with a cutting, witty barb. But my tongue was blunt and thick in my mouth and nothing came to mind. Instead, I picked up my plate from the sand, dusted it off as well as I could, and held it out for more food. The cook gave me two helpings. Jive tried to trip me again, but I nimbly hopped over his foot, balancing the plate in my hand. His eyebrows rose and he cocked his head to the side. I nodded to him and sat down alone at a table to eat my meal mostly free of sand, hoping that that would be the end of it.

After lunch, all I wanted to do was fall asleep. I had never been so exhausted, even after a day of playing in the for- est with Cyril and Oswin or after an afternoon climbing scaffolding.

Instead, I was thrown to the lions.

Tym, the animal trainer, stood in front of the animal tent and said just enough to be understood.

Pantomime (Micah Grey #1) - First Six Chapters *COMPLETE*Where stories live. Discover now