THE LAST HURRAH
When he was six the circus toured to the town near the commune where his family lived and his parents told him it was ungodly and he was too young which he already knew to interpret as it being too wonderful and they too poor. After it moved on his parents wouldn't bother punishing his curiosity so he roamed the dusty straw-strewn grounds like an archaeologist, another word he would never know.
The circus-folk were very tidy despite the mess their animals left and it was a full afternoon of 'walkabout prayer' before he stumbled on the smallest speck of circus paraphernalia, but when he found it, he knew it was IT.
The Cygnet Circus's logo was the only thing left of the charred poster—a young swan in flight—as if the otherworldly artifice had been scoured away with brimstone leaving only three legible letters:
| Y N |
| U |
Had he seen the whole poster he may have become entirely sure of a different calling, but the large portrait of Malvolio—the circus's star attraction denoted as the 'funniest man in make-up'—had been burned by the clown himself, who had been cursed with a brain that considered much too much at all times.
Instead, the boy thought 'why not me?' and knew 'not me' was not in the eternal shuffle of cards for him. All week their morning prayers had been about witnessing signs of the Lord every day.
Whenever anyone happened upon his flapping he would quickly turn it into fits of holy spirit and the other Folk would shake their heads at how he had received an unfortunate touch from the Lord and counted themselves lucky for their bouts of tongues or their deftness handling serpents.
The circus finally returned in the summer of his fourteenth year and despite all his flapping he had only left the ground under his leg's propulsion or when shoved from behind by another of the Folk, which happened bi-weekly at least.
And he once more found assurance in The Words, as all that month their daily morning prayers were focused on piety and blind faith but most importantly, about the Lord's message being everywhere.
In town, the bright cyan flyers advertised the last hurrah of Malvolio, a clown known the world-over to be the cure of any ill. The boy did not see the flyers, but he heard tell of the circus's return and that was the only prompting he needed, aside from the life he experienced among the Folk. He would certainly not have believed the clown capable of such a feat, though he would be doubtless of its divine veracity as a sign that, in his heart, he knew what he must do.
On the last day of the circus the boy climbed the clock tower looming over the big top and flew.
On the ground pacing nervously, Malvolio the Clown, trying to defend his mind from the temptations of nihilism, saw the boy leap. He knew, that if there truly were infinite universes as many theoretical physicists believed, in one of those universes the boy's earnestly flapping arms would sprout angelic wings and he would lift off over the circus that night reborn—yet despite focusing his entire being on willing his consciousness into that universe he was left to this existence and the inevitable cycle of clean-up and break-down.
A Cold, Dark Place
The two slot reps working the dollar slot machine area had gotten to know each other over the past few weeks. The older rep was a quiet, passive man, while the younger was brash and talkative. The older rep was sensible about his money, and the younger rep was frivolous. Of course, the younger rep made more money in tips because he hustled around the machines talking to everyone he could so he could make that money, so he could spend it. The younger rep was bound to his lifestyle. The older rep was too, though not in the same way.
"What do you suppose is going on here?" the younger rep asked the older above the ding-pinging of the slot machines.
"What do you mean?"
"These machines," he nodded at the velvet roped-off Wheel of Fortune cumulative jackpot island, "they're reserved?"
"Is it a bigwig Tribal thing or something?" The younger rep shifted his weight from foot to foot, looking around almost to the point of being frantic.
"No, it's probably just the jackpot chasers." The older rep just looked at the jackpot sign above the island, steady at $184,821 without anyone pumping money into it.
"Jackpot chasers?" The younger rep centered his gaze on the older rep.
"What are they?" the younger rep asked, tapping his foot. The older rep sighed.
"Well, they're this team, a group of guys who go around to all the Indian casinos and play the cumulative jackpot slots until they win."
"What are they, just a bunch of rich guys with too much time on their hands?" The younger rep began scanning the room again, letting his shoulders slump for a moment.
"No, just one rich guy, he gives the people their bankrolls and they go out and play till they win. If it takes twelve hours, they’re here twelve hours, then they get a cut of the profits."
The younger rep stopped his foot and looked back at the older rep. "They get to keep a percentage?"
"But, aren't slots usually too tight for that? Wouldn't they usually just lose a bunch of money?"
"That's why the casinos let them reserve the machines. They'll put ten thousand dollars in right away, a thousand in each machine, and put them on auto play. When that runs out they start feeding in hundreds. The casino thinks they're making out like bandits, and so do the chasers. But, they're both rich, so I guess it works out."
"He just gives them all that money? Why wouldn’t they just split with it?"
"He’s not just giving them the money without…"
A jackpot interrupted the older rep, and sent the younger rep off like a schoolboy chasing the bell. It was the I Dream of Jeannie machines, so the older rep knew the jackpot was $15,000, and that the younger rep would probably get a couple hundred dollars, and probably spend it all on booze that night.
The older rep thought about the stories he'd heard about the chaser who did run. He'd seen the kid about a month before he disappeared, doing what he was paid to do, though apparently not paid enough to be content. The kid's eyes were everywhere, he was sweating and checking every machine every couple minutes. Usually the chasers are very calm, collected, not wanting to draw any undue attention. The casino liked them that way. Professional. When he hit after two hours, something like a hundred thousand, he didn't tip the rep or the cage, also strange. The cage cashier said that the chaser had been skimming, and the bigwig got word. Supposedly two brawny guys looking out of place in golf shirts and khaki shorts followed the chaser out of the casino. He said they put him in a big duffel bag, then wrapped it completely in duct tape and buried him alive somewhere in the Cleveland National Forest, close to the reservoir so that the moisture would make him decay faster, identification harder.
The older rep didn't necessarily believe the story, but he could believe it. He could see it, feel it. Being wrapped tight, then put in a cold, dark place, no clue if a bullet was coming, or a knife, or if maybe it was just a warning.
A service light went on in one of the All American 7's islands, so the older rep walked quickly over to it. He hadn't quite reached his self-set quota of $50 for the night's tips yet.
The older rep passed by the Wheel of Fortune island half an hour later and saw the younger rep talking exuberantly with the chaser, a middle aged man in a nice, but not too-nice, navy suit. The chaser kept nodding his head, keeping strict eye contact. After a minute he reached into his jacket pocket and gave the younger rep a business card. As the younger rep turned he saw the older rep. He quickly put the card in his pocket and hustled toward the next jackpot.
The sun always shocked the older rep's eyes when he left a graveyard shift. Too bright. Too warm. He drove home at his usual pace, and made his usual 9AM frozen dinner. No matter how many times he tried to fix the vertical blinds, the sun found a way through, laying bright glowing slats on the wall that his head faces as he tries to fall asleep. The air conditioner blows only hot air, circulating the dust around the room in a slow, oblong current.
Zebulon Huset is a writer and photographer living in San Diego. He posts a writing blog called Notebooking Daily, and his flash fiction guide was reposted at The Review Review. His writing has recently appeared (or is forthcoming) in The Southern Review, The New York Quarterly, The North American Review, Harpur Palate, Westview, The Cortland Review, The Portland Review, Bayou, Sugar House Review and The Roanoke Review, among others.