Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the thirteenth piece of flash fiction in this weekly series. Today’s piece is a 996-worder, entitled ‘The Paper Doll’ by Cindy Vaskova.
There was a circus on the beach of the sea. Right on the sand, no more than five meters from the water and its waves. And it performed only at night. For certain people, at a certain price, an entertainment one-of-a-kind, once а year for three nights. Until the dawn. There was no tent, just a few huge pillars, build deep into the sand for the performance holding the ropes for the trapeze and tightrope acts, so except for the seats and the lights, the circus was opened to the sky above.
There were magnificent acrobats, twisting their bodies, in the most amazing ways, then slowly, unwinding themselves; trapeze acts, flying high, swinging, unbelievable for the eyes of everyone watching. How could they manage that, with no roof to hold all the strings required to hold the bars, no metal, nor anything? Was this, which held them, coming down from the dark sky? Alas this illusion optical or psychological remained unanswered for the audience. It was the magic of the circus no doubt.
The tightrope walkers were balancing on tin ropes and wires some lower, some on a greater height, balancing with umbrellas or only with their bodies and hands, without protection whatsoever to hold them if they tend to fall, making the audience gasp and shiver and tremble and fear. They looked like moving on the spine of the night, on some invisible line, only for them to see. Then of course for a comic relief came the clowns, funny and stupid, stomping and falling, with red noses and green hair, blue trousers and big yellow shoes. Animals, though a few, roared or crawled, and watched with, as people imagined, hungry eyes. The sand was flattened in the centre of the circus and there, unicyclists three of them were riding, and juggling at the same time, making everyone dizzy. Musicians were playing from the darkness, out of the light, no faces just music, corresponding to the acts of all the performers, following their every step – piccolo for the clowns, fast violins and loud drums, most likely timpani, keeping on edge the public while the tightrope walkers or the trapeze performers were making their final step. Not the usual circus music you would expect to hear, but then again not the usual circus you’d expect to watch.
And then the music ceases, just for a moment, for The Ringmaster to appear, all dressed in red, with white gloves, a white bow-tie, big red top-hat, black pointy beard, and eyes mesmerizing, deep and black, with a sparkle in them. Without a microphone, his voice spreads in the vastness, loud, remaining powerful, for all to hear. He gathers round the public’s attention, with smooth words and moves announcing the next part. There are no pauses for this circus.
The Ringmaster opens his hands, pointing them in direction, to nowhere, to the dark, and flames start walking towards him. Fire-breathers, like dragons step into everyone’s vision and suddenly the lights turn off. No one dares to move.
Music changes. There are Arabic drums and flutes, to which the flames dance like snakes. The audience can see only a glimpse of the performers’ faces, when the fire catches them. They hypnotize with this dance macabre. All fades to black, for a moment, then the lights turn on again. Applause, like thunder, comes from all around. Everyone is speechless. But there’s more to see. They feel it. It’s time for the 13th act, the last one which performs as the sun is about to rise, making a path for itself on the surface of the water. They know something is about to happen when The Ringmaster, smirking, announces:
“Ladies, gentleman you are about to witness the most extraordinary act in your lives. One which you will not forget, one you will tell stories of, one to show you magic inhabits this reality. This is one to test the nature of your minds, to ask not only your eyes but your inner vision as well – your ability to dream and fantasize. Let your emotions feel you, let them circulate in your souls. Face them as you watch. For your entertainment, and yours only, tonight you will be reborn seeing the unbelievable. Welcome, The Paper Doll and her Master – Sasha!”
“Go on, your dad be proud.”
Sasha looked at the big, strong acrobat, nodded silently and made her way into the light. Her father, The Ringmaster came close and whispered in her ear, “Be a good girl. Don’t make me angry”.
The sky had started to lighten. Sasha, holding a human-sized paper doll moved around the audience making them turn on their seats, watching baffled at what was happening.
Under the sounds of darbuka and kaval the girl, barefooted, stepped in the water, and continued until it reached her waist. The sun was an upside down smile on the horizon, burning orange. She then dived and again the audience gasped. A wave passed and the paper doll appeared above the water with no sight of Sasha. From where the audience sat, it didn’t look like a paper doll, but like a woman dancing on the tip of the water, curving her body, slow with the rhythm of the music, a sound sad and lonely. She was a mirage, dim before the watchers’ eyes, a mermaid, a siren, calling for all. It looked so real, yet impossibly for this paper doll to touch the water, to dive and appear again, reaching a hand for the ones on shore, with no voice, only body language. The audience stood up, with tears in eyes, breathless. Kneeing down, before the water they gave their souls away for love, for salvation. For this unknown girl drowning as her dance stops, lost forever. They cannot bare this end, so they die with it, soulless. Behind, the devil and his demons await their feast. They lick lips tasting the souls they’ll devour. Tonight the circus on the beach opens again.
Morgen: Wow. I asked Cindy what prompted this piece and she said…
Well, crazy as it sounds, the inspiration for this flash story came to me one morning after I woke up from a curious dream about a circus on the beach, a girl whose father seemed to be The Ringmaster and one particular, strange, strange dance with a paper doll which she performed. Couldn’t put my head around it for a while, because as we all know dreams tend to become a bit weird at some point, but then I thought it might just transform itself into a proper story. So I decided to build the rest of the scenery around those few things I remembered from the dream and voila! A flash fiction story was born.
It doesn’t sound crazy at all… very normal, to me anyway. 🙂 Thank you Cindy.
Cindy is a first year student in Journalism. Other than that normal bit of her life, she writes short fiction stories and has a novel in progress in the background to which she dares go near from time to time. She has been involved in a school project, creating a short fiction story anthology called “The Red Hill”. Recently Cindy started her own blog, where she posts her writings, while doing some twitting in between that.
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with Tannbourne publishing editor Ellen – the two hundred and twentieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers, editors and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.