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Run away to the Donovan Circus and see acts under the Big Top like never before. “Like X-Men meets the circus with a murder mystery,” GIFTED will enthrall readers as they delve into the superpower-filled circus and discover that its history might actually destroy the entire gifted world.
And you thought all the drama was in the center ring…

Chapter 13

An Act Gone Wrong

I thought the next two days would be the worst. Several people elbowed me, shoved a shoulder into me as I walked by. When I gave them shocked looks, they just shrugged and kept walking. Others turned their backs on me, even giving me the middle finger if I didn’t get the first hint and lingered too long.
I gave a final try to help out an acrobat. She was beautiful, with dark hair pulled back into a bun. Her glittery tights had an obvious run and she looked distraught.
“Can I help you in any way?” I asked as I approached her.
She looked up from her tights to me, her face growing whiter underneath the bright makeup. Even as she paled, however, her eyes narrowed and she gave me a venomous look.
“You cannot help me,” she said with a Russian accent.
“I can go get you more tights or…” I trailed off as her eyebrows drew together in anger, giving her pretty face a birdlike expression.
“You cannot help me,” she repeated. “You killed Marty.”
She spat in the dirt at my feet and put her nose in the air. My jaw dropped and I merely watched her turn on her heel and storm away. I had no retort, no sarcastic zinger to throw back. Did she just spit at me? That was now number one on the top five of rudest things ever said to me. That list didn’t really stop at five, either.
After that, it got worse. They turned me invisible. The circus group didn’t get in my face or curse me; they did the exact opposite. It was as if I didn’t exist, the way they ignored my every move or offer. They talked around me, whispered behind my back. Delia and the others did their best to comfort me. Keegan walked with me almost everywhere he could, while they defended me to anyone who said a bad word about me. I held my head high and did my best to ignore it. There was nothing else I could do.
I guessed everyone was too afraid of me to confront me directly. Or maybe they didn’t care enough, which gave me hope that no one really believed I could be capable of such things. People still wouldn’t let me help them, but they weren’t outright rude to my face. I only heard passing comments about how they wouldn’t let “that Firestarter girl” help them with any props. There were a few snide remarks about how they didn’t want to be set on fire or to watch out for my temper, but mostly overlooked me. I decided it was better that way.
Sheffield took notice. He decided to put me between acts inside the Big Top to help get props off the center stage, help run sets or cages out for the performers who were running behind, or keep an eye out on any fire-related acts. Basically, it was a job that no one could deny or refuse my help because they had no choice. Smart man, that Sheffield. Clearly, he wasn’t paying me to hide in my camper.
It was a bad day. Jonah’s Luck (a show term Delia taught me that meant when everything could go wrong, it would) struck us. No matter how hard Mabel and Lucinda tried, the weather sucked. Drizzling rain depleted our ticket sales, strong winds made the workers nervous about their tents, and thunderclaps made the animals grumble anxiously in their cages. On top of that, we ran about eight minutes behind, which led to complete disaster; it set everyone back and created chaos when artists attempted to go out of turn. Sheffield worked doubly hard to keep the audience happy and get us back on track. Everyone got defensive and snapped with each other.
The clowns were sent out to distract the crowd while we waited for the horses to get lined up outside for the next act. We were trying the new slapstick comedy routine of a house fire and rescue. Having only done this gag twice before, the routine was still fairly new to everyone. The band began to play silly-sounding music. They were so loud that no one in the audience could hear the clowns talk; sometimes this led to some very dirty phrases that, because the band and speakers were in the seats above us, could be heard from the sidelines where we stood by.
Keegan and Nikolas had finished their act and rejoined us in the tent. All five Firestarters were required to be present to control and contain the fire, since the house was literally set ablaze. This was one of the few skits that could quickly go wrong. Nikolas, Keegan, and I stayed in the wings to keep an eye on the audience and the clowns, while Antonio and Bobby, the other Firestarters, got dressed up in clown gear and became part of the gag. Bobby was a carrier but only impervious to fire, he couldn’t actually control it. Antonio, a carrier like Nikolas, needed a light to get started. Bobby could grab anyone who may have caught fire while Antonio could keep the flames big enough to seem impressive, but low enough not to scare anyone in the audience.
While Sheffield cried in falsetto tones for help on his microphone, the other clowns piled themselves into an impossibly small fire truck to rush out to the house. They drove around the ring twice before spinning donuts beside the house, and when the clowns fell out to save the day, they stumbled around as though dizzy (or in some actual cases, drunk).
Gary, a dwarf, waddled around to save the dog attached to a leash near the house. Henry, Bianca’s extremely well trained Jack Russell terrier, was taught to stay until Gary came near, then “bite” his ankle (really just the pant leg cloth), and hang on as Gary shook him off. Once Henry let go he broke loose from his collar and ran away and Gary waddled frantically after him. He jumped through a few hoops, where Gary immediately followed. This got huge laughs from the children in the audience as they watch a little person chasing a littler dog around the ring.
Next up came Eli’s bit; once he rolled out of the clown car, he ran into the burning house, threw on a giant wig and strategically placed a fireproof vest in the chest of his costume, along with two ridiculously large rubber balls for breasts, to become a frantic woman about to jump from the second story window. This was where the Firestarters were most important. Antonio’s job was to light a flame out from behind Eli to “blow” him out of the window, where Bobby would catch Eli and land in a heap on the ground and ensure Eli had not caught fire. The key to this was Jade, who would float Eli down using her gift so that no one broke any bones. I wondered why they didn’t have Bobby play the woman and cut the middleman, but this wasn’t my show and no way was I about to insult anyone.
I grabbed the water hose and handed it to Jarvis since he needed to run out as Eli screamed out the window for help. Jarvis grabbed several feet of it and ran out to greet the group. He lassoed it around his head to throw it at Joe, but wound up getting himself tangled in it, falling over. Physical humor was always the best way to get the crowd to laugh and tonight’s audience, while slim, was no exception.
As Jarvis unknotted himself, the other clowns did various things—one sat on the fire truck and read the paper; another dumped a bucket of water on someone’s head; and Bobby would run around with an ax, have Antonio light the wooden handle part and run around in fright. The audience always reacted to this since they were worried Bobby would actually catch fire. Once he put the fire out and threw the ax aside, he ran to place himself around the window to catch Eli
Jarvis ran over to the burning house and I turned the hose on for the water. Antonio sent a giant burst of flames through the window but Eli hadn’t jumped yet. I only had a second to look at Keegan in confusion—“Where’s Eli?” he mouthed—until I heard Jarvis yelp. We both looked over to see him shaking the hose, but no water gushed out. Horror crossed his clownish face.
Antonio let his obligatory second wave of flames hit and there was a giant explosion of fire. The flames licked the edge of the ring, knocking several clowns over in their scrambled attempts to get out of the way. Henry ran for the exit, yelping with his tail tucked between his legs in terror. Several audience members screamed their surprise. This wasn’t right. The hose was supposed to release water, soak all the clowns and put the fire out. Antonio, on the opposite side of the house, still hadn’t seen the hose malfunction and continued to let the house burn.
I realized we had bigger problems. Where the hell was Eli? Then I heard a muffled scream from inside the house.
We had to think fast. “Jade!” I yelled. She looked at me with a shocked expression.
“Where’s Eli? Get him out of there!” I screamed at her.
Jade blinked in confusion and then took in what I said. She stood completely still, focused her thoughts on Eli. After a moment, she turned to me. “I can’t see him; there’s too much fire around him. I don’t think I can move him without shoving him into the flames and catching fire!”
Keegan yelled to Bobby: “Get Eli! Go in there and get him!”
Bobby didn’t hesitate; he ran in and stayed for maybe ten seconds, perhaps the longest ten seconds I’d ever known. The clowns ran around, tripping over their giant shoes in their attempts to do something to save Eli. Unable to get too close to the flames, they yelled at each other.
“Turn the hose on!”
“No, the hose isn’t working. Do something else!”
“What the hell is going on?”
“Turn off the lights then!”
“We can’t! We won’t be able to see Eli or Bobby!”
Then there was a crash through the front door: Bobby and Eli. The door splintered open when Bobby burst through. They were both on fire. As they fell hard to the ground, Bobby immediately started putting out the flames on Eli’s costume. Antonio finally saw everything going horribly wrong, so he stepped up beside the house and tried to lower the flames. It still wasn’t working. He threw us a panicked look. I could see the sweat and exhaustion on his face from where I stood. He didn’t have the strength to contain it.
In fact, his fear did the exact opposite. The fire seemed to grow larger, licked the edges of the ring and started to extend dangerously close to the acrobats’ wires. The whole damn tent would go down if we didn’t put a stop to it. I saw several audience members grow alarmed. Pandemonium would ensue soon if we didn’t do something.
I couldn’t stand there any longer. I darted out to the ring, despite Jade’s screaming protests and Keegan’s cursing. It was clear I wasn’t a clown, but at least I was in a uniform. Red hair flying in my face, I passed a screaming Gary and headed straight to the house.
Rather than send out heat waves as I had done my first day in the field, I would bring all the flames off the house and onto myself. I sprinted past Bobby and Eli, who still lay coughing on the ground. I ran to the closest area I could reach and slapped my hand firmly onto the side of the wall. I started to concentrate and realized my mistake too late—I should’ve gone inside the house so the audience wouldn’t see this. Son of a bitch.
It was too late now as I wasn’t talented enough to multitask, with no time to waste. I pulled the heat down to my palm; it took more energy than I anticipated and for a second, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I’d only succeeded once, years ago during practice with Dad, but I had to do something.
I gasped as my head ached. My arm began to shake as the fire melted off the roof. It took over my arm then began to spread quickly to my neck, torso and finally my entire body. It probably terrified the crowd—they thought I would die. I really should’ve run into the house. But I took another deep breath and pushed my mind harder.
My whole body hurt. It even felt like my insides hurt; they burned with my effort to keep all the fire on me. Heat bubbled in my throat and I gagged a little. Just as I worried my throat would close up and I would choke, it worked. The house, while badly burned, was no longer in danger and I again resembled the Human Torch. I heard a huge gasp from the crowd, until I held my breath and let the fire quickly sizzle off my skin. People were going to freak out on us.
After I made sure the fire was out on all sides (including on me), I saw Sheffield motion to the light crew to turn the lights off. I caught a glimpse of my crew: Keegan screamed at Bobby, Jarvis yelled at the clowns and motioned at me, and people in the audience stared at me in amazement. Then everything went pitch black.
Sheffield quickly shifted back to his ringmaster act. “Laaaadies and gentlemen, the Donovan Circus clowns! And now for the amaaaazing Jim Taaaaylor and his performing tigerrrssss!”
The crowd went wild. They had no idea they had just witnessed a terrible mistake.

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Liz Long

Roanoke, USA

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