Just for a change of pace, I thought I'd post the story I wrote for that Writers' Digest contest back in January. Entries had to be 750 words or less and begin with the sentence It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. I gave mine a title when I entered it, but for the life of me I can't remember now what it was, so here we go:
It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Lydia and I were right there to meet it, all fizzy inside with excitement. We hadn't had a circus come in at least twenty years—-maybe thirty. I guess word gets around on the entertainment circuit.
“You remember the last time, Sissy?” Lydia asked as we watched the hubbub of people and animals. Two men passed in front of us, sweating, hauling a lot of striped canvas attached to ropes. A few yards away, a lady in a red-and-white leotard bent over backward, casually, and walked a few steps on her hands.
“It was fun, wasn't it?”
“What was your best part?”
“The acrobats,” I said, knowing that wasn't what she meant.
Lydia giggled. “Not mine. My best part was when we--”
“Hey, you kids!”
We turned around at the sound of the voice—Lydia first, then me—and found a man just behind us, looming thin and tall and straight like a pine tree, made even taller by a top hat that looked out of place with his work clothes.
“That's the ringmaster,” I whispered.
“Aren't you girls out kind of late? Your folks know where you're at?”
“Yes sir,” said Lydia, looking up at him as only Lydia could, with those big eyes of hers as sweet and melting as brown sugar. “Daddy said we could come down and watch a while. You gonna set the whole circus up tonight?”
Like most grown-ups, the ringmaster clearly thought Lydia was cute as a button. “You bet,” he said. “By the time you wake up in the morning, it'll all be ready, and tomorrow night we'll do the show.”
“And are there gonna be elephants and horses? And a tightrope walker? And a lion tamer?”
“All that and then some.”
I was imagining it—the roar of cannons, the glitter of spangled costumes, the smell of animals and popcorn and sawdust—when I realized that Lydia was giving the ringmaster that look, the one she used to get when we were perusing the candy display at the old five and dime. She drew a slow, deep breath, like the first half of a sigh, and leaned toward him with yearning written all over her sweet little pixie face. Before she could get any further than that, I stuck out one of my brand-new Sunday shoes and trod on her foot hard enough to leave a crater in the soft black dirt.
“Oops,” I said. “Sorry. We've got to get going now, mister. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“I'll look for you,” said the ringmaster, and ruffled Lydia's hair. “You girls be careful on the way home. There's bad things in the dark, you know.”
“We know,” I said. “Come on, Lyds.”
“We're going to get them all after the show anyway,” Lydia whined as I dragged her through the park, past the abandoned swings with their rusted-out chains . “Mayor Gibson said so at the town meeting. What difference would it make if I have this one now?”
“Because there's no show without him, dummy! He's not just some old carny, he's the boss of the whole circus. If you hurt him—if you so much as spook him—they'll pull up and leave, and then I won't get to see it. And I been waiting too long to let that happen.”
“But Sissy nothing.” I curled my lip and showed her the tips of my teeth, gleaming in the moonlight. “If you mess this circus up for me, Lydia Jones, I will get up early one night and hammer a two-by-four right through you, just see if I won't.”
“Honestly,” Lydia huffed. “Anyone would think you didn't want to kill them.”
“I want to kill them all right,” I said. “But after the show. Don't forget whose fault it was that I almost missed it last time.”
That shut Lydia up. We trudged on, with my legs just outpacing her shorter ones.
“The stars are real pretty, aren't they, Sissy?” Lydia offered after a while, wanting to make up already, or maybe just hoping to avoid being staked in her sleep. “So close and bright. It'll be a nice night tomorrow.”
“Yes,” I said. “It sure will.”
That's all for now. Hope to be back in a day or two with a post of actual substance!