By Rex Hurst
It was Pierott’s own fault. Being top clown had gone to his head. Carlisles’ Frontier Wild West Circus was making its 1923 debut tour of England and Scotland. Nine train cars crammed full of colorful props, miles of rope and canvas, and the exhausted men who put up and ripped down the entire circus every few days rattled over the English countryside.
The week previous the top clown died of an exploded appendix, and Pierott was promoted to the high position. He was known for comic flailings of his limbs, for juggling six balls with perfect skill, and to make a perfectly pitched tumble look accidental, then pop up in complete control. Now that he had the responsibility of keeping the other clowns in line and making sure their performances were perfect, Pierott made the mistake of expecting more pay for the position.
He approached the owner midway to Truro and demanded a raise for the onerous demands placed upon his available person, hinting that unless paid the show might not go on. The owner laughed, spat a thick dose of tobacco juice on Pierott’s feet, and had the man redlighted – a nasty circus tradition where a person, usually one who is owed money, is tossed from a moving railcar in the middle of nowhere. The recipient either died or was so damaged he couldn’t catch up to seek revenge.
Luckily, Pierott was tossed out at a crossroads. One of those mystical places where boundaries between worlds were hazy at best. The momentum of the toss threw him straight from this world into the next – where fairies and elves still romped and all sorts of mythological mayhem occurred daily.
The bramble he hit did not break his bones, but cushioned him like a lost lamb. He bounced up and down on it, trampoline style, for several minutes before bounding onto the dirt of Elsewhere. Ten minutes earlier, he had been at the top of his career. Now he was a stranger in the strangest land imaginable. Pierott checked his pockets, apart from his makeup, all he had was a bag of juggling balls.
The ground was covered in carnage. The guts and mangled limbs of men lay everywhere. Blood, not water, ran freely down creeks. Organ meat fed the foul lichen native to the rocky moor. Cries of pain and the dashed dreams of glory peppered the air. Broken spears and smashed swords, ruined chariots and decapitated horses punctuated the aura of danger pregnant in the wind.
He saw the cause of this misery on top of a hill, the Beast of Bodmin Moor. A giant black cat with flashing green eyes. Two hairy tendrils ending in a poison-dripping scorpion sting sprouted from the beast’s neck. They whipped about the monster with terrifying speed.
A knight encased in shining armor approached. Weapon ready, shield afixed, he charged the beast. One-two, one-two, his blade shown through. The beast, now bloodied, jumped back and crouched as if readying to pounce. The knight braced himself, but instead of leaping, the beast’s tendrils planted their stingers between the joints of the knight’s armor. The would-be hero fell to his knees in paralyzed pain, and the beast leapt, taking the knight’s head off with one fluid bite.
The knight’s equipment flew all over, including a slender dagger, a misericorde, which flew at Pierott’s feet. The clown quickly picked it up and stashed it away in his bag of balls. The beast batted the knight’s head about as cats will do with rolling things, until it spotted Pierott, then arched its body and hissed.
“Who then challenges the Beast of Boudin Moor?” said the huge cat. “Know that none before have come close to defeating me. Cuchulain’s unnamed son tested my power. I sliced off half his face and sent the boy wailing back to his witch mother. Sir Persant of the Round Table came sniffing after my lair, thinking I held the secret to the Holy Grail. I watered the earth with his carcass. Conn of the Hundred Battles would’ve made a hundred and one had I not stolen the life from his lungs before he could scream his battle cry.”
“Oh, I, sir?” said Pierott. “I am a humble clown. A tumbler and a juggler. A character to amuse, not to conquer.”
“Your blood will taste as sweet.”
The creature paced forward.
“But look upon my skills, oh mighty one,” replied Pierott.
The clown danced back and produced his juggling balls. Throwing one, then two, then a third in the air. Keeping them in perpetual motion before his face. The beast stopped and sat, transfixed by the brightly colored balls in the air. Its poisonous tendrils looped about, in time with the cat’s eyes. Occasionally the beast lifted a shaking paw and tried to bat one of the balls out of synch, but Pierot was too skillful and maneuvered easily around this clumsy interference.
He stepped back and added a fourth ball. The beast quivered at the sight, nearly panting at this hypnotic display. Another step and a fifth was added. The monster didn’t know where to look, all about him were the beautiful orbs, the wonderful objects to hit and chase. Instead of the sixth ball, Pierott slipped in the misericorde. So many other things were going on, the cat didn’t notice.
Pierott stepped back again and appeared to slip on rock. He tumbled backwards, grabbing items out of the air. The spell was broken. The beast raised its poisonous tendrils to attack. Pierott popped back up with perfect balance.
Pierott picked up his balls, brushed himself off, and walked away to discover what other wonders awaited him in this land of fables.
He threw three objects. A red ball knocked away the right tendril. A blue one hit the left. And the dead knight’s dagger went straight down the middle, embedding itself deep in the monster’s eye and killing it stone dead.
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