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Cirque de Feu

by Kylan


This is my response to Trident's Three Pronged Contest. But critiques on the story itself are always appreciated.

_________________________________________

A cigarette dangled from the corner of Claude's mouth and smoke curled into the air, coalescing with the gasoline fumes oppressing the tent. He was hunched over a shop table, his massive shoulders pulled forward in deep concentration, humming cheerfully; like a child fashioning a new wooden toy. On the table, nestled among empty beer cans and shattered shot glasses, was a line of Matryoshka dolls, tallest to shortest, stair-step style. They were clowns. The Whiteface, the Auguste, the Pirouette, the Tramp, the Hobo, the Bum. All lined up like pretty maids in a row, their faces contorted in pain, or laughing, or crying, or smiling. Claude liked to think of the dolls as his family. His friends.

“Papa,” he said as he snatched a dirty rag from the table, addressing the largest doll, “You like the idea, no? Our good friends will be warm tonight, after all. I hear the generator broke. No more heat, no more stove, no more floodlights. Well,... problem solved.”

He stuffed the rag into an empty tequila bottle, filled to the neck with gasoline. Good stuff. The engine's drink of choice, Claude's weapon of choice. It always had been. It left no trace, after all. Only ash and smoke. The big man took a deep breath of the fumes, light-headedness stealing through his brain. His good friends would indeed feel the heat tonight. Pinstripes would burn. And nothing would be left of his new home.

Only ash and smoke.

He took a drag on his cigarette, tapping the ashes off perilously close to a jar of gasoline. Circus lights filtered through holes in the tent, illuminating in glimmering shafts the smoke he exhaled. “They shouldn't have, Papa. They had no right. I have kept to myself, no? I do my act, I come to my tent, I smoke, I sleep, I eat. They just don't like me. No one ever does. You know that Papa. So I kept to myself.” He nodded to himself, “They will pay now, though. Blood in my sheets, blood on my costume, blood in my tent. Too, too much. Yes, they will pay.”

Silent, the largest doll stared up at him with a leering grin, demonic in the half-light.

Of course, my boy. Just like the others. As our fathers would say, “May impure blood water our fields.”

“Ah. La Marseillaise. Very clever Papa.”

Only ashes, only ashes.

“Burning hair... I've never liked the smell much though, so I will leave eventually.

But burning flesh...

“Not tonight, Papa. Not tonight. The authorities come fast in these big cities.”

Claude stood, lifting the rag-topped bottle and made his way to a cracked mirror, hung over a barrel of water. Carefully, he set the bottle down, dipped his massive hands into the water, and scrubbed. Scrubbed the make-up and the oil and the gas from his skin. He stared into the mirror. The face of a clown looked back, white, nose a bulbous red, large fake tears streaming from his eyes. The face that children both laughed at and cried at. Such a study in contrasts, a clown. A philosophical quandary. To smile or to frown? To laugh or cry? Or in Claude's case, to burn or not to burn?

All determined by the make-up artist.

Humming La Marseillaise, Claude dried his hands, picked up the bottle again and walked back to his table to dip the rag into his jar of gasoline. As he left the tent, he slipped the larger Matryoshka doll into his trouser pocket.

The circus tent was still lit for the most part, even past one in the morning. Claude made his way through the “instant stadium” that the circus company lugged around from city to city; it's folding struts like spindly spider legs in the dimness. He entered the circus arena – shuffling through piles of candy wrappers and cotton candy cones – and made his way towards the announcers ring.

They will pay, a voice whispered from his pocket, pay everything.

“And only ashes left, no? I would like nothing better than to shake hands with Mr. Moltov.”

Stepping on top of the announcer's ring, Claude glared into the stadium, hand clenched around the neck of the bottle. A half-smile crept across his red-paint lips and his teary eyes narrowed. This would be quite the show.

“Ladiiiies and Gentlemeeeennn,” He bellowed at the empty seats, spreading his arms wide, “Tonight I brings you a special treat! So daring, no one has ever survived. So dangerous, no one has ever attempted it behind the hallowed flaps of a circus tent . I bring you the sensational, incredible, unbelievable: Cirque de feu!”

Circus of Fire.

An invisible crowd roared in anticipation.

Give it to them, Papa said.

Scanning the tent, Claude chose the elephant ring. Mounds of dry hay were piled like ready-made kindling near the tent walls. The Moltov Cocktail would spread like wildfire. Through the ring, up the walls, gnawing the wooden supports. Collapse was inevitable. Chances of survival for his good friends the acrobats and clowns and the jugglers and the lion tamers were small, if not zero. It would happen so quickly, the damage would be so complete.

“I will miss it though, papa. This job was more agreeable than the others. Good food, good bed. Seems such a shame to burn it all, no?”

There will be other jobs.

“I know, I know. You are right. As always.”

Claude took one last drag on his cigarette before drawing it from his mouth and touching it to the rag snaking from the bottle. Flames erupted from it immediately. Claude smiled softly and kissed the warm tequila glass.

Bon voyage, mon ami chaud.

And with all his might, Claude hurled the bottle towards the elephant's ring.


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Thu Sep 13, 2007 4:58 am
Trident wrote a review...



Ah, it's refreshing to read this one again.

A cigarette dangled from the corner of Claude's mouth, [s]and[/s] its smoke curling in[s]to[/s] the air. It coalesced with the gasoline fumes oppressing the tent. He was hunched over a shop table, his massive shoulders pulled forward in deep concentration, humming cheerfully, like a child fashioning a new wooden toy.


All right, I split the first sentence purely for my aesthetics. I found that 'coalescing' and 'oppressing' together were too stressed in this sentence. The semicolon in the last sentence is unnecessary. It needs a comma. Or you could make it a sentence fragment.

They were clowns: the Whiteface, the Auguste, the Pirouette, the Tramp, the Hobo, the Bum.


Superb stuff here.

He stuffed the rag into an empty tequila bottle, filled to the neck with gasoline. Good stuff. The engine's drink of choice, Claude's weapon of choice. It always had been. It left no trace, after all. Only ash and smoke. The big man took a deep breath of the fumes, light-headedness stealing through his brain. His good friends would indeed feel the heat tonight. Pinstripes would burn. And nothing would be left of his new home.

Only ash and smoke.


You will need to address the fact that these contradict. Like CCF said, there can't be both nothing and ash and smoke. I would just drop the whole 'left nothing' idea and just say that it left 'only ash and smoke' like you have.

He took a drag on his cigarette, tapping the ashes off perilously close to a jar of gasoline.


I know I only gave you a thousand words :), but I think you should split the two ideas of this sentence into two sentences. Give us the jar of gasoline first and then have him drop his ash next to it. Get rid of perilously and let us draw our own suspense.

A philosophical quandary. To smile or to frown? To laugh or cry? [s]Or in Claude's case, to burn or not to burn?[/s]


Meh, I'm not fond of such Shakespeare wordplay. I would play on the setup you already have in place. Something like this (with burn in italics): A philosophical quandary. To smile or to frown? To laugh or cry? To forgive or burn?

“And only ashes left, no? I would like nothing better than to shake hands with Mr. Moltov.”


Eek... Molotov

“Tonight I brings you a special treat! So daring, no one has ever survived. So dangerous, no one has ever attempted it behind the hallowed flaps of a circus tent . I bring you the sensational, incredible, unbelievable: Cirque de feu!

[s]Circus of Fire.[/s]


If your reader hasn't figured out what 'cirque de feu' means by this time after all of your references to burning, they don't deserve to read your story. ;)

Of course, an editor, or some other sort, might ask you to put it back in if you were to submit this.

Chances of survival for his good friends the acrobats and clowns and the jugglers and the lion tamers were small, if not zero. It would happen so quickly, the damage would be so complete.


This part is probably the biggets problem I have with this piece. I don't think the performers actually sleep and live in the large tent. If you were to somehow show that the fire would destroy the whole circus' encampment, it would go a long way toward not having to explain why everyone is in the large tent. I don't know if you meant for the reader to think everyone lived in the large tent, but that was the impression I got.

Claude took one last drag on his cigarette before drawing it from his mouth and touching it to the rag snaking from the bottle. [s]Flames erupted from it immediately.[/s] Claude smiled softly and kissed the warm tequila glass.


Please find another way to describe that part.


Superb ending, and much deserving to be my contest's winner. Many thanks for entering. Good luck on the editing. I think this shows some promise to possibly submit somewhere, someday. So much for specifics!




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Sun Aug 05, 2007 4:07 am
Cabassi_Crime_Family wrote a review...



Kylan wrote:
A cigarette dangled from the corner of Claude's mouth, [s]and[/s] smoke curled into the air, coalescing with the stifling gasoline fumes [s]oppressing[/s]inside the tent. He was hunched over a shop table, his massive shoulders pulled forward in deep concentration, humming cheerfully; like a child fashioning a new wooden toy. On the table, nestled among empty beer cans and shattered shot glasses, was a line of Matryoshka dolls, tallest to shortest, stair-step style. They were clowns. The Whiteface, the Auguste, the Pirouette, the Tramp, the Hobo, the Bum. All lined up like pretty maids in a row, their faces contorted in pain, or laughing, or crying, or smiling. Claude liked to think of the dolls as his family. His friends.


Not a bad start. Already the mood is set to be a little creepy. Keep an eye out for redundant statements. Such as stifling and then oppressing.

“Papa,” he said as he snatched a dirty rag from the table, addressing the largest doll, “You like the idea, no? Our good friends will be warm tonight, after all. I hear the generator broke. No more heat, no more stove, no more floodlights. Well,... problem solved.”

He stuffed the rag into an empty tequila bottle, filled to the neck with gasoline. Good stuff. The engine's drink of choice[s],[/s] and Claude's weapon of choice. It always had been. It left no trace, after all. Only ash and smoke. The big man took a deep breath of the fumes, light-headdedness stealing through his brain. His good friends would indeed feel the heat tonight. Pinstripes would burn. And nothing would be left of his new home.

Only ash and smoke.


You've contradicted yourself quite badly. By making "only ash and smoke" a separate paragraph you are giving it a definitive stance that over shadows your previous statement of Nothing being left. It might be best to merge this to the end of the last sentence. i.e. Nothing would be left of his new home, save the ash and smoke. Or something of the sort.

He took a drag on his cigarette, tapping the ashes off perilously close to a jar of gasoline. Circus lights filtered through holes in the tent, illuminating in glimmering shafts, the smoke he exhaled. “They shouldn't have, Papa. They had no right. I have kept to myself, no? I do my act, I come to my tent, I smoke, I sleep, I eat. They just don't like me. No one ever does. You know that Papa. So I kept to myself.” He nodded to himself, “They will pay now, though. Blood in my sheets, blood on my costume, blood in my tent. Too, too much. Yes, they will pay.”

Silent, the largest doll stared up at him with a leering grin, demonic in the half-light.

Of course, my boy. Just like the others. As our fathers would say, “May impure blood water our fields.”

“Ah. La Marseillaise. Very clever Papa.”

Only ashes, only ashes.

“Burning hair... I've never liked the smell much though, so I will leave eventually.

But burning flesh...

“Not tonight, Papa. Not tonight. The authorities come fast in these big cities.”


The CCF is thoroughly creeped out.

Claude stood, lifting the rag-topped bottle and made his way to a cracked mirror[s],[/s] hung over a barrel of water. Carefully, he set the bottle down, dipped his massive hands into the water, and scrubbed. Scrubbed the make-up, [s]and[/s] the oil and the gas from his skin. He stared into the mirror. The face of a clown looked back, face white, nose a bulbous red, large fake tears streaming from his eyes. The face that children both laughed at and cried at. Such a study in contrasts, a clown. A philosophical quandary. To smile or to frown? To laugh or cry? Or in Claude's case[s],[/s]: to burn or not to burn?

All determined by the make-up artist.

Humming La Marseillaise, Claude dried his hands, picked up the bottle again and walked back to his table to dip the rag into his jar of gasoline. As he left the tent, he slipped the larger Matryoshka doll into his trouser pocket.

The circus tent was still lit for the most part, even past one in the morning. Claude made his way through the “instant stadium” that the circus company lugged around from city to city; it's folding struts like spindly spider legs in the dimness. He entered the circus arena – shuffling through piles of candy wrappers and cotton candy cones – and made his way towards the announcers ring.

They will pay, a voice whispered from his pocket, pay everything.


I think you missed a word in the last sentence there.

“And only ashes left, no? I would like nothing better than to shake hands with Mr. Moltov.”

Stepping on top of the announcer's ring, Claude glared into the stadium, hand clenched around the neck of the bottle. A half-smile crept across his red-paint lips and his teary eyes narrowed. This would be quite the show.

“Ladiiiies and Gentlemeeeennn,” He bellowed at the empty seats, spreading his arms wide, “Tonight I brings you a special treat! So daring, no one has ever survived. So dangerous, no one has ever attempted it behind the hallowed flaps of a circus tent . I bring you the sensational, incredible, unbelievable: Cirque de feu!”

Circus of Fire.

An invisible crowd roared in anticipation.

Give it to them, Papa said.

Scanning the tent, Claude chose the elephant ring. Mounds of dry hay were piled like ready-made kindling near the tent walls. The Moltov Cocktail would spread like wildfire. Through the ring, up the walls, gnawing the wooden supports. Collapse was inevitable. Chances of survival for his good friends the acrobats and clowns and the jugglers and the lion tamers was small, if not zero. It would happen so quickly, the damage would be so complete.

“I will miss it though, papa. This job was more agreeable than the others. Good food, good bed. Seems such a shame to burn it all, no?”

There will be other jobs.

“I know, I know. You are right. As always.”

Claude took one last drag on his cigarette before drawing it from his mouth and touching it to the rag snaking from the bottle. Flames erupted from it immediately. Claude smiled softly and kissed the warm tequila glass.

Bon voyage, mon ami chaud.

And with all his might, Claude hurled the bottle towards the elephant's ring.


An interesting tall. your ending makes think there is more, but at the same time it seems to be concluded.

Your character is developed well. He already displays serious mental complications making this a puzzling and creepy thriller. There is little insight as to why your character behaves as he does. You've made it clear he's done this before but the why is still in question. If there is another installment I hope you address this.

You are lacking in descriptions. There are some but they are not strong enough to provide a solid visualization.

Good luck in your contest, I hope this advice aids you in attaining victory.




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Fri Aug 03, 2007 6:39 pm
Kylan says...



Thanks! You're right. Too many -ing words. I'm off to change 'em.

-Kylan




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Fri Aug 03, 2007 3:38 pm
biancarayne wrote a review...



A cigarette dangled from the corner of Claude's mouth, smoke curling into the air, coalescing with the stifling gasoline fumes oppressing the tent.He was hunched over a changing table, his massive shoulders pulled forward in deep concentration, humming, smiling; like a child fashioning a wooden toy.

Maybe do somethin' about the repetition of the "ing" words...something distracting about it...although that might just be me.

Other than that, I don't have much to offer as far as critiques because as soon as I began reading this story, I was way too interested to take time to notice if anything was wrong or not. A very eerie, well-written story and I'm not sure what else to say except that you most definitely have a wonderful story here.





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