Sunday, 25 July 2010

FFF #37 SEND IN THE CLOWNS


Another week rolls by and its Friday Flash Fiction time again! Cormac Brown has made an executive decision this week and pulled out an interesting and obscure starter line for us to weave our individual magic upon.

Just scraping in under the upper limit of the set word-count, here's mine!



SEND IN THE CLOWNS

As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don't look down.

Actually, I’m wishing I’d gone with the whole running-off-to-join-the-circus idea of my youth – it would have been an adventure and at least there’d be a fair chance I could have mastered the art of juggling. Or tightrope walking. Or fire-eating. Any or all of those skills might have come in useful now. Sitting on a bridge at 2.55 in the morning is absolutely not where I expected to be on the day I was supposed to be getting married.

I should never have answered the phone. It was a wrong number. But when the second call came through and it was the same voice, I mean - what are the odds of getting the same wrong number twice? It was a nice voice though, with a foreign accent. He sounded so apologetic. He was a bit of a charmer, too.

If I hadn’t rung him back out of curiosity I’d be tucked up in my own bed right now, dreaming about veils and flowers and getting my vows right. Instead, I’m freezing my ass off on a bench on a bridge in downtown Bratislava. And I can tell you the Danube is not wonderfully blue.

It’s nearly 3am and still I’m waiting. It seemed exciting at first. His voice on the phone with its lilting accent; the emails, the exchange of photos and finally meeting face to face. It took some courage getting on that plane to Amsterdam, believe me! My friends, the ones I was brave enough to tell, thought I was absolutely mad. They warned me I’d be murdered in some back alley and never seen again. Or it’d turn out he’d sent someone else’s picture and be ugly as hell.

But when Brian, my so-called fiancé, ran off with Claire from the packing department I was more than ready for someone to whisk me away on an adventure. I sold the engagement ring, bought a ticket to Amsterdam and met Pietr at Schiphol airport. After 48 wonderful hours I was supposed to fly back but Pietr persuaded me to stay on. Faced with returning to a mediocre job in sales that was going nowhere, or staying on in Amsterdam and travelling with Pietr, what would you choose?

And it wasn’t just Amsterdam. Pietr was a travel writer. I threw caution to the winds and my bags in his car and we motored across Europe. He would always have to check in with his editor, so I’d amuse myself looking round the shops, plan places to eat or find an internet cafĂ© so I could email my folks and reassure them that I hadn’t been abducted or sold into slavery. Then Pietr would find me and we’d be off on another adventure, another city, another country.

It did bother me a little that we never stopped long in any one spot or that Pietr never seemed to know where we were going next until the last minute. But there was always some new place to explore and he always made me feel happy so I refused to entertain my doubts.

Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge now, just like the good old Danube. Bratislava, for all its charm, is not where I want to be for the rest of my life, but it certainly may well be.

I don’t know what Pietr’s done but the look on his face this morning should have given me my first clue that all is not quite right. When he pushed a wad of money into my hand and sent me off this morning he was scared. I’ve done as I was told and kept well away from the hotel. He told me not to spend too long in any one place and that he’d meet me here, on this bridge at midnight. Funny, but as I’ve sat here I’ve realised the date. Today I imagined my life would be so different. It’s the day Brian and I had pencilled in our diaries for our wedding. Strange how life turns out.

Well, it’s past three o’clock. I’m tired, cold and with no passport I can’t even buy a room for the night. I had to leave it behind at the desk when Pietr hustled me out of the hotel this morning. He said he’d bring it with him when he’d sorted out whatever was wrong.

All I can think about is that haunted look in his eyes and the wad of cash in my pocket. It’s more money than I’d earn in a year back home. So now the questions are lining up in my brain waiting to be answered. What sort of travel writer has access to so much money? And why did we have to keep moving around?

I can hear a car coming. Thank God. It must be him. I’m torn between being relieved to see him again yet afraid that he’s not who he says he is. And where exactly does that leave me? On a bridge in Bratislava, freezing my ass off.

Wait a minute. That car’s going way too fast and the door’s open. Oh, no - Pietr! I’m too busy looking down at his blood-stained face laying at my feet to notice which way the car is carrying on, leaving his body on the ground. As I bend down I realise he’s dead; the gaping hole across his windpipe is still hissing with his last breath.

I’m too scared and confused to cry. Perhaps tomorrow it will all hit me but right now I hear sirens and as I feel the weight of the money in my pocket I have to make a decision. I force myself to feel in Pietr’s pockets. No passport, but I have his car keys.

Standing up I look towards the approaching car and take my chance. With whatever goodbye I can muster up I cross the bridge, staying in the shadows, turning the corner before the car and whoever’s inside it gets too close to notice me.

I walk away from Pietr’s abandoned body; away from the Danube, retracing my steps to where he parked his car.

It’s a plan.

Not a good one, I grant you, but I said I wanted an adventure. Just not this particular one.

I’m moving steady and not looking down. It’s the juggling I have a problem with. Perhaps joining a circus might be a good option after all.

If I’m still alive and free by the time daylight comes I could do worse.

7 comments:

  1. Wow, what a mess she's landed in! I love stories about abandoning the status quo. They are wish-fullfilment and a warning all in one. Great job!

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  2. So much happening in this very good piece, Sue. I really liked the slow realisation that 'something' was wrong but you never quite say what it is...and when poor Pietr shows up the way he does, she doesn't hang about waiting to find out. Very nice!

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  3. Nice job of starting in the present, giving us a solid recap of why the present is what it is. And then climaxing it with an end that is really a beginning again. And the whole time not making it seem as convoluted as that.

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  4. Nice writing. Great voice and sense of place. Liked the clever use of the Danube.
    Regards,
    Lewis

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  5. Top work Sue. You're creating a great voice and going from strength to strength....'young lady'. ;-0

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  6. Full of intrigue, I really hope to read where she goes next!
    Great work Sue.

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  7. You're saying we should stick with our soul-sucking routine, aren't you.

    Who among us wouldn't love to up and go like her? Just avoid the corpses, I suppose.

    This was both lovely *and* dark, which only ups the lovely.

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