“I don’t remember you” Pookie said.
“That hurts” Canard smiled through his words tilting his head slightly. “I’m your biggest fan”
Pookie wobbled a little and corrected himself with his hips. He cast a glance down at the rapid waters below bubbling with toxic waste and probably used needles from a century ago.
“You were always kind of weird, even for circus folk, liked to keep to yourself. But I mean most clans like to keep to themselves, clowns especially, guess you guys think you’re kinda special.” He laughed. “But I always liked you, in fact, you were the reason we joined, one of them anyway.”
“Yeah my ‘friends’”
“The ones I killed?”
“We were more like ‘acquaintances’ really, you don’t choose your friends in this world, ya just kinda try to get by.” He sighed.
“We were orphans, our parents killed in the war, we had like a little gang stealing and scrounging to stay alive. One day the circus came to town and we snuck into one of your shows.” He laughed. “You couldn’t have been much older than us at the time, a boy really, but the way you fought, and how the crowd loved you.
“Right at that moment, we realised that life couldn’t get any better than that. We could never be kings or work a normal job like our parents. We’d never fall in love and have kids but if that crowd could cheer for us like it did for you. We could die with a smile on our face, ya know” He clicked his teeth under his mask.
“And then you go and do a stupid thing like kill your own master, why? He not pat you on the head and tell you you’re a good boy enough, run out of fortune cookies to read from, what was it?”
“…” Pookie stayed silent.
“Well whatever it was it’s my mission to bring your body back.” He laughed and gripped his spear tighter “I guess we should fight now”.
Pookie was getting his balance, getting used to the spring and using his toes to walk and cling to the rope mimicking the movement of the acrobat. He bounced on his heels and used his sword as a balance beam.
Canard took up a readied stance and Pookie leaned back into the rope. Suddenly springing forward he pulled the cord on his sheathe and the sword came roaring with laughter out to cut the air.
He was gone.
Pookie stood frozen for a moment feeling overextended and confused. There was nowhere to go, it seemed impossible for him to vanish right before his eyes.
There was a laughter and Pookie’s blood ran like ice water as the blade of a spear came up between his leg and nicked his foot playfully.
Canard was standing as he was before except upside down, gripping the rope with his feet.
“You dodged, just by falling.”
The spear came up again but Pookie bounced back and away. Canard stayed on him walking upside down gripping with his toes as if they were hands following Pookie’s movements.
Pookie barely able to keep his balance and block the incoming strikes with his blade.
Pookie jumped back and Canard tugged at the rope and swung himself the right way up.
“Impossible right? To just vanish right before your eyes” He laughed. “The others just ran to their deaths one after the other, I don’t fault them for that, they died exactly how they expected to but I watched you. I noticed there’s a split second, right when you pull that cord and the sparks fly, just a nano second - you close your eyes.” He said, an unseen grin creeping across his face
Pookie’s face soured and he got that cold feeling in his gut like when he needed to take a shit really bad.
Canard glided towards Pookie, weightlessly and effortlessly fast like the rope wasn’t even there, like he could fly. His spear flashing in the air he slashed down at Pookie’s head. Pookie barely managed to get his footing, turning side on to block the strike. But then a follow up and Pookie turned again stepping backwards barely dodging a thrust. The blade nicked his shoulder when the blade came back as he tried to regain his balance.
Pookie turned 180 degrees throwing his body weight forward. He launched a powerful strike holding his sheathe out to his side to act as a counterbalance. Canard was too close and overextended to block it so had to jump backwards gliding through the air and landing softly back on the rope a few feet away.
Pookie looked at the cut on his shoulder and the one on his leg and he felt all his exertion. His lungs burning, every muscle and sinew fighting to keep his balance and fight at the same time. How long could he last? He tried to quickly glance behind him to see how far he’d have to run to get back to the other side of the bridge. But he couldn’t turn far enough or fast enough without giving away his intention. And if he just turned and ran for it the much more experienced tight rope walker would undoubtedly catch up to him and strike him down like a coward.
No there was no other way, he couldn’t turn back, there was no other way but to keep going.
Canard looked down at the toxic rapids below “We were never afraid of death as kids. Death was all around us, it was in the streets and in our living rooms, in our kitchens, it was how we lived, how we - ate. But falling, the fear of falling that was something completely different, something we had to conquer. So we practiced, we climbed and ran and jumped and sometimes we fell but we didn’t die.
And in a way I guess she helped us conquer death.”
“Our leader, she didn’t want to play our little game and she went on ahead”
“She’s your leader but you ignore her orders?”
“Geez, you really don’t know anything about us, someone doesn’t get out of the tent much. She’s the strongest but she’s also kind of a pain in the ass” He laughed. “And who are you to talk, you took a knife to your master in the dead of night, like a fucking pussy” He laughed.
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Then how was it?”
“Exactly, you’re no better than us, they followed their code and they died anyway, you broke yours and you’re still alive!”
Canard leapt forward again gliding across the rope and jumping launching a downward slash, his spear flashing. Pookie raised his sword and tried to keep his stance balanced.
Canard feinted a strike from above pulled away at the last second. He came in again from the side swiping upwards with the tip of his spear catching Pookie across the chest with a shallow but vicious cut. Pookie swirled around and swung his blade hard at nothing again as the lithe duck evaporated. Gliding up in the air back the few feet out of his reach, Pookie fought to get his balance, his frustration mingling with the searing new pain in his chest.
It was hopeless, Pookie could barely even move to launch at attack himself. Having to keep his balance made him a sitting duck only able to counter and each time he was getting more tired and losing more blood.
“We just wanted to have a little fun, what’s left in this life if you can’t have that before you die.” Canard said.
“Is that all there is?” Pookie looked down at the water again.
“Of course, can you think of anything else?” He laughed.
Pookie rested the blade of his sword against the rope. “Are we having fun yet?”
“You’re joking right?”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
Canard looked at him and shrugged. “Well, yeah kinda”
Pookie flicked his wrist and cut the rope, plunging them into the toxic rapids below.
In the trees a heron mask watches the scene coldly surveying and then retracting back into the foliage.
“Where’s that music coming from?”
“I can’t move”
“Oh it’s you guys again”
Pookie could barely open his eyes but he could feel the cold hard neck of the carousel horse against his face. He opened his eyes and he could see the procession of carousel horses bobbing up and down, not going in a circle but going straight forward to the horizon. Their mooring poles connected to thin air, the horses floating on what looked like mirror like water above and below.
The water reflecting clouds and the world, glistening like a lake of pure silver.
“Where are you guys taking me?” He said muggily.
Almost instantly the sky, the mirror like water grew dark with grey and black clouds but there was no lightning or thunder or noise at all. And then out of the mist they came, the elephants, thousands of them shoulder to shoulder leaving no room between them.
“Go away! Can’t you see I’m ready to go? I’ve had enough leave me alone.”
The elephants said nothing. They just watched on with their cold wet black eyes and then there was an image that flashed before his eyes; a hand holding an icecream. The icecream dripping and running down the gloved hand.
The icecream drips forming a little puddle on a dry patch of ground covered in hay and in the puddle a reflection of a great fire swallowing everything.
“I don’t understand”
“What don’t you understand” A girl’s voice said.
Pookie opened his eyes, it was dark but he could see he was in some kind of wooden and straw shack by candle light.
“Were you having a bad dream?” The little girl said.
Pookie raised himself up on his forearms and hissed in pain and flopped on his back again closing his eyes.
“Be careful, you were barely alive when they pulled you out of that gross river.”
“The people that live in this village, they were fishing I guess, the river runs right by their village.”
“You’re not one of them, from this village I mean?”
“No silly, don’t you recognise my voice?” The little girl popped her head over Pookie’s face dangling her scraggly thatch of a red mop in his face. Then a warm wet rough tongue scraped at his feet and he looked down to see a weird looking dog.
“Efron!” The girl corrected. The dog barking along with her.
“I kinda saved your life twice, least you could do is get my name right?”
Pookie lay there for a moment, it hurt to breath. “Thanks”.
“It was fate I guess, you and that other guy”
“Yeah they fished him out right after you, he’s still out though”
Pookie turned over, his muscles ached and his joints felt like they were packed full of wet sand. He looked over at the unconscious man on the other side of the room.
“He your friend? You know his name?”
“You should really get some rest. The villages said they were going to hold some kind of ceremony for you, like a welcome or something, they said they’d feed you, I think”.
Pookie suddenly felt naked, he looked down at the crude bandages covering his body. A sinking feeling setting into his guts “Where’s my sword?” He said his voice cracking a little like he was asking after a pet or a lover.
“The village elder has it, he said he was gonna hold it until you were on two feet.”
The dog barked and looked off out of the small crudely cut opening that formed a window into the shack.
“What is it Garfield? You see a bird?”
It was dark as pitch outside, not a star in the sky, only the dim echoes of torchlight.
The dog barked again and rushed out the door which was little more than a fabric screen and out into the night.
“Hey come back!” Efron said. “That damn dog” She said coming off her knees. She walked to the door and looked out and saw nothing. “Garfield come back!”
“Maybe he went out to get the newspaper” A strained voice came from the other side of the room.
Pookie turned to the figure lying on his back still not moving on the makeshift bed in the corner. “So you’re awake”
“What’s a newspaper?” Efron asked.
“You’re not dead” Canard said it almost as a question.
“Neither are you- in case you were wondering”.
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
“How’s that? Pookie smirked.
“I failed to kill you” He said with a distant tone in his voice talking at the wall of the shack.
“We’ll get our weapons back and you can try again” Pookie grinned.
“You don’t understand, I can never go back”
Canard rolled over slowly and pulled the crude blanket that was laid on him off of his legs one of which was a poorly bandaged bloody stump.
“The medicine man, he said you broke it badly on a rock and it got infected and they had to cut it off” Efron said.
“You see, I’ll never walk the tightrope again, I’m like you now, a deserter, a ronin, a nobody.” Canard sneered as if his mouth were suddenly filled with ashes. He covered his legs back up and rolled over like a petulant teen.
Pookie said nothing as he looked at where the stump was but started to make a face like he was going to say something. Then he was cut off by a strangled yelping sound outside.
“Garfield!” Efron said.
Efron looked at Pookie and then Canard’s back and when neither of them said anything or moved a muscle she stood up and said “I have to go and find him”.
“Why? He’s dead” Canard said.
“You don’t know that!” She shouted at his back. Then sge turned her on the verge of tears face to Pookie who almost shuddered. “Please will you help me look for him?”
He sighed “If you stop bugging me I’ll go look for your dead dog, I need to see that chief guy to get my gear back anyway.” He got up awkwardly hissing and grabbing the crude bandages around his chest and ribs. He stood in the doorway and looked over at Canard “You coming dead man?”
Canard just waved him off saying nothing.
“Suit yourself” He nodded at Efron “Come on kid.”