Microcosms 21

My inspiration for this week’s competition came from seeing a clown’s face on a card game I play with my students. I don’t like clowns – finding them more scary than funny – and I’ve always considered Ronald McDonald pretty creepy. From there I started to think about the other characters you might find in a circus and wondered what they would be like when moved out of the Big Top. So that’s your challenge, show me the ‘real’ characters behind the greasepaint and if a few clowns bite the dust in the process, well so be it … but don’t let me influence you, mwah hahaha …


Word count: we have mixed it up again this week and you are allowed 200 words +/- 50 for your mini masterpieces.

As usual, our contest will begin with three things: character, setting, and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are character: Puppeteer, setting: Subway, and genre: Fantasy.

Feel free to write a story using those or spin a new set of your own. Be sure to include which three elements you’re using.


  • Puppeteer
  • Contortionist
  • Strong Man
  • Magician
  • Dancer
  • Clown
  • Park
  • Subway
  • Airport
  • Camp Site
  • Mansion
  • Shopping Centre
  • horror
  • sci-fi
  • steam punk
  • mystery
  • fantasy
  • romance
  • drama
  • comedy
  • poem

Spin!


Judging this week is one of last week’s Community winners, A.J. Walker. 🙂


All submissions should be 200 words in length, give or take 50 words (150 – 250 words). You have until midnight, New York time to submit.

If you like, you may incorporate the following photo prompt (not required).

Sad Clown by Shawn Campbell

Sad Clown by Shawn Campbell

BADGES! Please note that at present, I do not have sufficient admin rights to amend your badges. Hopefully, I can update these in the not too distant future.

Microcosms 22
Microcosms 20
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34 comments for “Microcosms 21

  1. 27 May 2016 at 10:08 am

    Escape
    @hollygeely
    246 words
    Puppeteer, subway, fantasy

    “Where does the train go, Max?”

    Max ignored the stares. If the other passengers couldn’t handle the sight of a ventriloquist conversing with his dummy, they had no right to be on the subway in the first place. As far as unusual occurrences in public transit, Max and Fabian didn’t even rank in the top 100.

    “Where does the train go, Max?”

    “I heard you the first time,” Max muttered, yet he still didn’t answer.

    The portal in his room beckoned him, even from this far away. The other world waited; where Fabian had been given a voice of his own, and Max had transformed from average performer to powerful wizard.

    “They’re waiting for us, Max. The priestess died because of you, Max.”

    Max clamped a hand over Fabian’s mouth, and offered the woman next to him an apologetic grimace.

    She changed seats.

    “Look, you useless tree stump, it wasn’t my fault,” Max said, through gritted teeth.

    “Oh? So why are you running, Max? Where does the train go, Max?”

    The priestess had looked into his soul, extended a hand, and told him he was the chosen one. She had trusted him, and followed him into the fiery pits.

    Max got off at the next stop, because it didn’t matter where the train went. There would be no escaping his problems.

    “Told you,” Fabian said smugly.

    Then again, there was one problem he could do away with, as evidenced by the ventriloquist’s dummy in the trash.

    6+

    • 27 May 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Steph reveals her fear of clowns this week, but there have been a number of films where a ventriloquist’s dummy takes on a life of it’s own – including “Dead of Night”, a 1945 black and white movie which I saw on TV as a youngster, which had Michael Redgrave playing a vent also called Max – but his dummy’s name was Hugo. I found that quite spooky and scary at the time, but I’m glad to say I didn’t develop a phobia!

      Your tale, Holly, is in the same vein but with a fantasy ‘alternative reality’ vibe. Good stuff!

      1+

  2. 27 May 2016 at 11:37 am

    The Clown Murderer – an Origins Story:

    In a dark corner
    of an equally dark mansion
    swung a framed portrait
    of a clown.
    No one could recall
    when it arrived in the corner
    but it smacked mistress
    and she died.
    After that we knew
    of the framed clown that swung at will.
    Our house versus the clown,
    a battle.
    Soon, it turned bloody
    the clown killed the heir and the spare
    and then the butler.
    We brought fire.
    Oh, how the clown screamed
    trapped in his frame, as he melted
    and we did not laugh,
    at this clown.
    But then the next day,
    in the same spot, a frame swinging
    and a new clown face
    murderous.
    We blocked the corner
    kept away the remaining child
    who laughed at the clowns
    with intent.
    Who placed this mansion
    under such a malicious curse?
    We would never know.
    The child grew
    as most children do,
    yet, he had vengeance in his heart
    for he’d decided,
    kill them all.
    All clowns, even those
    who did not swing from frames at will.

    —-
    179 words
    Clown/Mansion/Poem
    @agardana09

    4+

    • 27 May 2016 at 11:39 am

      Bah – the ninth line should read: “After that we knew” to go with the 5/8/5/3 syllable count I decided to painfully put myself through. 😀

      0

    • 27 May 2016 at 12:47 pm

      Very well done, Ashley – dark and sinister. I like a poem with a set structure.
      [ I missed the strict syllable pattern (it would have been more obvious if you had broken the poem up into stanzas – just sayin’… 🙂 ]
      Loved “the heir and the spare”.

      0

  3. 27 May 2016 at 11:49 am

    @GeoffHolme
    #FlashDogs
    Word Count: 250
    Clown / Mansion / Mystery

    The Mystical Machine

    “This is it,” says Fayed, as they leave the psychedelic van. “Anthem, Arizona.”

    “We always end up someplace at night,” moans Thelma.

    “It’s not Fayed’s fault!” says Dymphna, in her boyfriend’s defence. “His father forgot to wire his allowance, so we couldn’t buy gas. We would’ve been here hours ago otherwise.”

    Scraggy trails behind. “I’m not begging on the streets with Rooby-Roo again,” he says. “It’s humiliating.”

    “You’re such a dirtbag,” says Fayed, “you look like a homeless bum… especially with that hungry-looking Great Dane.” Dymphna and Thelma laugh; the dog glares at Fayed with narrowed eyes, and growls.

    Soon they’re standing outside a spooky, Gothic mansion. “Woah!” quakes Scraggy. “This looks like a Mission Impossible even Ethan Hunt would refuse.”

    “Tom Cruise isn’t a coward!” Thelma retorts.

    “Quit bickering!” says Fayed. “Let’s split up and look around.”

    “Sure,” mumbles Scraggy. “It’s Hallowe’en, dark, we’re in an isolated location… what could possibly go wrong?”

    Swamp-Monster chases Thelma… Fayed and Dymphna chase Swamp-Monster… Scraggy and Rooby-Roo hide… Fayed, Dymphna and Thelma catch Swamp-Monster in rope-net… Fayed removes Swamp-Monster’s mask to reveal… a clown in full make-up!

    The clown produces a pail full of… Fayed, Dymphna and Thelma scream and flee in terror, as the clown throws… sparkly scraps of paper.

    Scraggy’s and Rooby-Roo’s grinning faces appear from behind a pillar. Scraggy turns to the clown and smiles. ”If I’d known before that those supercilious jerks were all coulrophobes, Rubes and me coulda done this way sooner.

    “Thanks for your help, Dad!”

    5+

    • 27 May 2016 at 11:53 am

      Rehashed story – but it’s been a busy week. 🙂

      0

      • 27 May 2016 at 4:44 pm

        But it’s still a good ‘un. Thanks for all the help, by the way. 🙂

        0

  4. 27 May 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Ivy

    I am not a handsome man. My forehead is too thick, my ears bony and always flapping in the slightest of breezes.

    Spindly as a child, unpleasant to gaze upon, you could knock me over with a budgie feather and no one would object.

    Maybe my parents might.

    Rose and Roland Shipley, known professionally as Scallop and Sweetums, stalwart gagsters for Henry Squiggles’ Backroads America Circus Daze, had lived their lives on the road as knockabouts. If you weren’t bruised a bit, you were doing something wrong.

    Eventually my mother saw my wretchedness. “Roland, this pathetic child needs our help. The world will stomp him into the sawdust,” she said to my father.

    “Rosie. You remember Charlie?” And with that, they signed me up with Charles Atlas’s “Dynamic Tension” course.

    By my teens, I was still somewhat disagreeable to look at but I was muscular, fit as a thousand fiddles, an asset to Scallop and Sweetums who incorporated me into their act, a foil for the half dozen clowns in Circus Daze to bounce off of.

    Best of all, I met Ivy. Ivy joined us in my sixteenth year as we wintered in Florida. Though not raised in the Circus, she might as well have been. Her father, Otto the Crusher, was a wrestler and she had been on the circuit most of her life. My mother trained her to be the new Sweetums to my father’s Scallop.

    I am still not a handsome man. But I have found love.

    Strong man; circus; romance
    250 troupers
    @billmelaterplea

    4+

    • 27 May 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Lovely tale, Bill – someone out there for everyone, eh? Some nice details of circus life in days gone by, too.

      [ Shouldn’t it be “an asset to Scallop and Sweetums…” in para 6? ]

      1+

      • 27 May 2016 at 2:45 pm

        You got me, Geoff. Sweetums started out as Sally and when I sallied forth with a more suitable clownish name for her, I failed miserably in the transition. Thanks.

        0

        • 27 May 2016 at 2:50 pm

          Revised version and my apologies for my slack editing skills.

          Ivy

          I am not a handsome man. My forehead is too thick, my ears bony and always flapping in the slightest of breezes.

          Spindly as a child, unpleasant to gaze upon, you could knock me over with a budgie feather and no one would object.

          Maybe my parents might.

          Rose and Roland Shipley, known professionally as Scallop and Sweetums, stalwart gagsters for Henry Squiggles’ Backroads America Circus Daze, had lived their lives on the road as knockabouts. If you weren’t bruised a bit, you were doing something wrong.

          Eventually my mother saw my wretchedness. “Roland, this pathetic child needs our help. The world will stomp him into the sawdust,” she said to my father.

          “Rosie. You remember Charlie?” And with that, they signed me up with Charles Atlas’s “Dynamic Tension” course.

          By my teens, I was still somewhat disagreeable to look at but I was muscular, fit as a thousand fiddles, an asset to Scallop and Sweetums who incorporated me into their act, a foil for the half dozen clowns in Circus Daze to bounce off of.

          Best of all, I met Ivy. Ivy joined us in my sixteenth year as we wintered in Florida. Though not raised in the Circus, she might as well have been. Her father, Otto the Crusher, was a wrestler and she had been on the circuit most of her life. My mother trained her to be the new Sweetums to my father’s Scallop.

          I am still not a handsome man. But I have found love.

          Strong man; circus; romance
          250 troupers
          @billmelaterplea

          1+

          • Geoff Holme
            27 May 2016 at 4:28 pm

            Bill, I recently volunteered to help Kristen with Microcosms, so both Steph and I now have amendment privilege on comments. So you didn’t need to reply with a revised version – especially as your word count (which I amended in your original entry) is now back to 300, instead of 250! 🙂 I’ll fix that for you. Also, If you have TWO versions you may have some people voting for v1 and others for v2, thus diluting your potential for a community pick win (possibly – don’t know if the two would be amalgamated).

            I’m rambling…

            1+

    • 27 May 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Great story. And as the ‘Charles Atlas, Dynamic Tension’ reference brought Rocky Horror to mind, this definitely gets a vote from me.

      1+

  5. David Shakes
    27 May 2016 at 3:37 pm

    The Illusionist Never Speaks
    250 words
    Magician, Subway, Horror
    David Shakes
    @theshakes72
    #flashdog

    Curious, how he always stands in the part of the subway where the lights are dimmest and the acoustics fool your ears. His face is at once familiar yet difficult to place – wasn’t he once on TV?
    A flourish of cheap, plastic flowers from deep within the folds of his coat are usually produced for the ladies. A grubby, hard boiled sweet travels from knuckle to knuckle before disappearing, only to reappear behind your child’s ear to then be presented like a rare treat. A few coins will raise a smile and a polite bow, but you wouldn’t let your child eat that sweet.
    The illusionist never speaks.
    More curious than that faded magician is the mural he chooses to stand before. The caricatures of business commuters are painted life size and grimacing on the cracked, white tiles.
    Every now and again a new figure is added, seemingly overnight.
    I’d never given it much thought until recently. The newest addition was the perfect portrait of a man I’d grown used to seeing on the daily journey home. Indeed, the last time I’d seen him was in this very subway, berating the busking conjuror for his tired tricks and lack of imagination. It had been quite a scene.
    That’s probably why I remember the guy, and why the contorted features of his painted self disturb me so.
    The thing is, I’ve never seen him since. So, that’s why I always pay a few coins, because you never know, do you?

    9+

    • 27 May 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Really liked this, such an original idea. I failed miserably trying to come up with a horror this week as they kept turning into parodies of IT, Chucky etc.

      1+

    • 27 May 2016 at 5:04 pm

      Excellent work, Shakes, beautifully told.

      2+

  6. 27 May 2016 at 4:29 pm

    The Night Show

    163 words
    Elements: magician, park, poem

    @el_Stevie
    #FlashDog

    He stands in the open, claims the night
    With sleight of hand, scattering stars
    On dew-laden grass
    Plucks the moon down
    To cross a palm with silver

    Cold flesh he wraps in a velvet robe
    Pulled from a sky now denying day
    Binding the cloak
    With filigree skeins
    From jewelled webs of serrated steel
    Dyeing the coat vermillion red
    A ruby replacing a pearl

    He weaves a spell tight
    Carves light from the eyes
    Of those who watch
    Transfixed, hypnotised
    By his guile and lies
    Hearts plucked from ribs
    To sit still beating in rigid hands

    He takes all they can give
    Breathes in their dreams
    Lets their monsters roam
    Mingling with his own
    Playing like children on
    Abandoned swings and rusted slides
    Filling the void with delighted howls

    They do not see his encore
    Already he has moved on
    The travelling man
    Leaving behind broken minds
    Tormented with whisps
    Of a memory, of a darkened night
    And blood and smoke and mirrors.

    4+

    • 27 May 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Still not sure why I get boxed in! Saw Geoff’s comment re liking structure in a poem so he’ll probably hate this!!

      0

      • 27 May 2016 at 5:28 pm

        An invalid inference there, Steph: the fact that I told Ashley I like a poem with a set structure does not necessarily imply that I dislike those without.
        ‘I failed miserably trying to come up with a horror this week’ – Duh! I don’t think so! It may be a poem, but it is still very dark, spooky and disturbing. Cracking job.

        [ I’m wondering if you are logged into administrator mode when you post, and that is causing the lines – just trying to think outside the box 🙂 ]

        2+

        • 27 May 2016 at 6:05 pm

          I was just teasing re poem – and yes I think it’s due to my login status, just not looked into it. 🙂

          0

      • 28 May 2016 at 7:53 am

        I think you get boxed in because you are the admin of this page/article. It is to show the rest of us who is boss 😉

        1+

  7. A V Laidlaw
    27 May 2016 at 5:56 pm

    @AvLaidlaw
    Puppeteer / Subway (Ok, London Underground) / Fantasy
    250 Words

    I Had Not Thought Death Had Undone So Many

    The passengers stumbled and jerked at the end of the hand straps as the train rattled into Clapham North. The indifference on their faces grew waxen in the fluorescent lights.

    It was no good, Tamara thought. The glamour was off. The dream job that had brought her to London turned out to be fetching coffee for expensively suited men who insisted she wore short skirts and high heels in the boardroom. Her ankles ached. And still another five stops until her cramped flat shared with two other girls, two glasses of chardonnay, and an hour on Netflix before she slipped into sleep feverish with traffic noise.

    The train doors opened. The passengers murmured as a hunched shape climbed into the carriage. Tamara craned her neck to see better and caught her breath. A tiger. No, impossible. Not here in London. She breathed out. A tiger puppet. A cheap effect. Nothing more than man in costume advertising something or other. The passengers pressed back into their seats, back into their studied apathy, as the puppet passed them. The puppeteer was good though, he arched his back convincingly as the tiger puppet slunk along the carriage, each pad forceful against the floor. It stopped beside Tamara and bared its teeth with delicate ferocity. She saw dark jungles in its eyes. It growled softly. She touched its fur, soft and hot with tropical sun.

    The tiger prowled into the next carriage, leaving nothing behind except the scent of wild beast on her fingertips.

    7+

  8. 27 May 2016 at 6:21 pm

    For a Maiden Fair

    The dragon swooped across a flat grey sky. In the beginning they had watched eagerly, some in fear and some in wonder, but neither fear nor wonder lasts, not for a shadow on the subway wall. It was only a few tattered rags, manipulated by an old man as ragged as his puppet. The commuters grumbling past huddled ever deeper in their coats as the year died, embarrassed for him with his tawdry show, and the few coins that accumulated in his hat were thrown in pity. It might have ended that way, with a whimper, if not for the girl.

    On the first day her mother had to tug her past the show, but by the third day she followed obediently, only her eyes lingering.

    On the fifth day, the dragon belched fire.

    The crowd shrugged. Clever, but a trick.

    On one face there was rapture. That was enough.

    He was packing up his kit in the empty tunnel when suddenly it wasn’t empty any more. He huddled against the wall helplessly as the younger man plucked the puppet from his shaking hands and the dragon took flight once more.

    “You old fool. Why use fire magic? You could have hidden forever.”

    As the dragon swooped, remembering the girl’s radiant smile he said

    “You couldn’t understand.”

    Even so, his nerve failed him at the end. There was a thin scream, and then nothing but a few scraps of cloth and wire on the subway floor, and a young man striding away.

    @brightsmithgamp
    250 words
    Puppeteer/subway/fantasy

    4+

  9. 27 May 2016 at 7:28 pm

    One Thousand and One Graffiti Nights
    by Me (@The_Red_Fleece)
    Puppeteer, Subway, Fantasy
    Word Count = 245

    “Last orders!”
    The shout is met with groans, finished drinks and goodbye hugs. Half way home I stopped at the concrete tunnel under the motorway. The subway walls are a cluster of colourful graffiti lit by a harsh yellow light: A pig outlined in red, a young girl with blue arms and her older sister with a red heart mouth. Opposite them is a puppeteer. No taller than his God’s knees, the puppet jumped out an exciting tale.
    “The old man was stuck in his blue box as it got smaller and smaller, his last words were a goodbye to his best friend.” The puppet became a mime, his little wooden hands revealing his ever shrinking world. “But she wasn’t listening, she was thinking, working out how to save her friend.”
    The graffiti characters leaned in, wait they leaned in, like they are alive. I tried to shake the alcohol from my brain but the filter will not go.
    “And I’ll tell you how she did it tomorrow night.”
    A sigh blows through the subway. I join in.
    The puppeteer and his puppet both hold up a hand. “Only if you stay where you are, in your own realm.”
    “And me?” I ask.
    He turned to me. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow night.”
    I did as he said, the same time the next night and the night after that and the night after that but his tale never ended.

    6+

  10. Voima Oy
    27 May 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Night Train
    @voimaoy
    152 words
    contortionist /subway/ a prose poem?

    At night, when the subway is empty, she does cartwheels on the platform for the ticket agent, bored with watching the shadows on the security cam. She bows to his silent applause. It’s perfect timing, as the doors open on the arriving train. At night, the cars are full of sleepers; she is part of their mutant dreams. She’s the snake girl, double-jointed, her eyes like opals in the dark. The train moves through the tunnel and she stretches around the poles. She slithers. She shimmies. She shakes. She does handstands on the backs of the seats. Hanging from the straps, she goes into a flawless split. Now, she swings her legs behind her, touching the back of her head with her feet. She folds into a tuck position, like a diver, unfolds like an origami bird. No wings, no wires, she is airborne, weightless, floating above the bodies curled in sleep.

    7+

    • 28 May 2016 at 8:18 am

      Lovely! Who knows what goes on while the rest of us sleep? It has a great feeling of escapism and joyful abandon!

      2+

      • Voima Oy
        28 May 2016 at 3:28 pm

        Thank you for reading, Denise, and for such a lovely comment. Much appreciated! 🙂

        0

  11. 27 May 2016 at 11:45 pm

    Puppet On A String
    Puppeteer/Subway/Horror
    WC 249

    Our train pulled into the station. I saw the old man and his raggedy clown puppet. There were a few people nearby watching his show. I liked marionettes. It was amazing how with just strings, he could make it move so life-like. It danced, walked, and entertained as more people crowded around.

    Mum made some comment about keeping homeless off the subway platforms, but I didn’t see any harm in it. I watched intently.

    I saw a constable and worried he would make the man leave. “About time,” Mum said and went back to her book.

    The old man looked at me with a snaggletooth grin. With his free hand, he made a strange motion toward the policeman. Suddenly, the officer began to move in step with the clown. No one else noticed, as the old man and the puppet captivated them.

    The officer had a sightless look in his eyes and moved in a jerky motion, arms and legs swinging unnaturally.

    The old man still smiled and then he winked at me.

    I watched the officer dance his way toward the opposite tracks and off the platform as the other train entered the station. I stifled a scream with my hand over my mouth as it came to a screeching halt, while the body flew through the air.

    Our train started to move. I stared, wide-eyed as the crowd became frantic. I searched the platform, but I could not see the old man or his clown anywhere.

    Leara Morris-Clark
    @learawrites
    http://learawrites.wordpress.com

    3+

  12. Meg Kovalik
    28 May 2016 at 12:05 am

    Smoke and Mirrors

    “Have a nice day!”

    “Thank you! You too!”

    The door to the sandwich shop closed with a jaunty jingle as Clancy the Magnificent took a bite of his lunch. It had been a good day and he was looking forward to the afternoon show – despite the lack of a closing act. “The universe will provide, Clancy,” he whispered to himself. “It always does.”

    Around the corner he pulled up short, with a smile. A dejected children’s entertainer sat in the gutter, colourful head in his hands.

    Clancy put on his brightest voice. “Penny for your troubles?”

    The clown looked up with a start. “Mate, you’d need at least a dollar,” he replied.

    Clancy sat next to him and worked his magic into his words, finishing with an offer the young man simply couldn’t refuse.

    That afternoon the crowds marvelled at Clancy’s latest and greatest attraction: a sad, wooden life-size clown marionette, skilfully handled by the master illusionist as he cartwheeled and prat-fell to the delight of children and adults alike.

    Although, his terrified rictus was, to tell the truth, a little off-putting.

    @meg_mediocre
    182 words

    Puppeteer; Subway (the restaurant); Fantasy

    (I know it’s a few minutes late but I hope I can still sneak it in!)

    4+

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