Leo Valdez: The Clown on Fire
All things considered, Leo figured he'd had a great day. Even the Manticore didn't ruin his mood.
had started out great, with him waking up under the sheets with his
awesome girlfriend. He smiled and snuggled closer, wrapping his arms
around her midsection and nuzzling the back of her head. He breathed in
her cinnamon scent deeply.
Calypso stirred. She mumbled, "Off. You're hot."
"Why thank you," he said with a smirk. "You're hot, too, babe."
She kicked him in the shin. "No, stupid. I mean you're body temperature is hot. You're way too hot to be snuggling up with me right now. Get off."
Leo shifted into a new position; one that had him laying with his full weight on top of Calypso. She grunted and struggled. She kicked and kneed him until he ended up on the ground, laughing.
She glared down at him. "It is 5:30 in the morning! Why in the name of Hades are you even up?"
Leo chuckled when she threw a pillow at him. "I dunno. For some reason, I feel like it's gonna be a good day! I woke up and felt hyper."
"May the gods help us all," she muttered, curling back into the blankets and sheets. "The imp boy wonder is hyper before breakfast…"
Leo sat on his knees and peeked over the bed. He smiled. "Let's go get brekkie," he said. "I'm hungry!"
Another pillow smacked him in the face. He fell back on to the floor.
"Get out," she growled. "You may be awake, but I'm tired. Go out into town and get your own breakfast. I'll get some at the continental breakfast in four hours."
She rolled over, which signaled the end of the conversation. Leo sighed and got up. Scratching his side, he walked over to the closet and pulled out a clean white t-shirt and jeans. He laced up his boots and pulled on his army jacket and tool belt.
He cast one last glance back at Calypso before shrugging and leaving their hotel room.
was a beautiful country. Currently, Calypso and Leo were staying in the
city of Orleans, just Southwest of Paris. It was just the latest of many stops on their Euro-trip. Calypso had wanted to see the world, and Leo, not wanting to disappoint, went with her. They used conventional means, with Hephaestus taking care of Festus while they traveled. Right now, they were in year three of their journey (as Leo had been 16 years old when they started).
Within minutes he'd passed by the Joan of Arc statue and was heading for a nearby park. They'd been in Orleans for about a week and a half, so Leo knew a good bagel stand in the park that was open early.
After purchasing said bagel (cinnamon raison with butter), Leo walked along the park. He sat on a bench eventually, finished his bagel, and started to tinker. His mind blanked out for a few minutes, and by the time he came back into reality, the sun was above the trees and he had a fully functional robotic King Kong in his hands.
Something caught his eye. Leo rose and walked over to a tree, on which was a poster for a travelling circus that would be in town for three days. Leo grinned excitedly.
Calypso munched on some eggs. It was 9:45 at the moment, so Calypso was in a far better mood. Leo knew not to annoy her too much early in the morning, since she was not a morning person, so that was why he didn't bug her too badly that morning and gave her the space she needed.
He nodded, poking the poster. "Yeah. A circus! You know, clowns, lions and tigers, tightrope walkers, sword-eaters! It's fun!"
Calypso shrugged. "I suppose."
Leo's jaw dropped. "You've never actually seen a circus before, have you?"
She shook her head. "I remember watching that cute movie about the animals making their own circus."
Leo rolled his eyes. "Circuses are fun, mi sol. Let's go to this one! I'll buy you a giant lollypop and a big stuffed animal!"
"I thought you got those at a carnival?"
"Eh, whatever. I'll get you a balloon animal from a clown." He wiggled his eyebrows.
She smiled. "Fine. We can go."
around noon, they went to the circus grounds. Calypso soon discovered
that the circus was as much fun as a carnival. This one had some rides
for kids, a petting zoo with exotic herbivore animals, and a bunch of
carnie-style games. There was also a freak show, but Leo didn't want to ruin his good mood, and Calypso agreed, so they didn't go to that.
Leo kept his promise and won her a couple stuffed animals—a dog dressed as a wiener with ketchup and mustard lines on his back, and a bright pink unicorn with butterfly wings. He also got her an orange balloon dog from one of the clowns.
"Step right up!" called a strongman in English after yelling in French. He held a hammer the size of a tire in his hand. "Step right up and show how strong you are! Win a prize! Hit the bell and win the grand prize!"
He gestured to a couple of huge red dragon plushies. They were as big as Calypso was tall and as long as a horse.
Leo went right for it. "That dragon is the bomb!" he exclaimed. "I gotta have it!"
Calypso rolled her eyes and smiled. She followed him over to the strongman. He was standing beside a long thin pillar that had a teeter-totter thing on the bottom and a bell on the top.
The strongman looked at the approaching couple and grinned. "Hey there, young man! Think you're strong enough to win your lady another prize?"
Leo took off his army jacket and draped it over Calypso's shoulders. He rolled up his sleeves and rubbed his hands together. "I don't think so. I know I am."
The strongman gave Leo the hammer. The son of Hephaestus nearly fell, the hammer was so heavy. He braced himself and stood in front of the bell game. Seeing him with the hammer behind his head on the ground, it looked rather ridiculous.
"Come on, Leo," he growled to himself. "You built your own damn ship. You can do this!"
He grunted with effort, howled in defiance, and slammed the hammer down onto the teeter-totter thing. A cylindrical rock-thing went up about halfway, then came down.
The strongman shook his head. "Well, you can't win them all, son. You've gone the farthest of anyone in this town, so that's something." He gestured to a pile of big toys. "Take your pick of the second tier prizes." He looked at Calypso. "Unless your girlfriend thinks she can wear the pants in the relationship."
Calypso knew a challenge when she heard one. She was still a Titan, so she had the strength to match ten thousand strongmen. She smiled sweetly and acted sheepish. "I don't know…"
Leo caught the glint in her eyes and held his hands out. "Let me hold those for you, babe," he offered, putting his jacket back on.
She gave him the toys and her own army jacket. The strongman raised an eyebrow.
"Now, Madame…" he said. "I was merely making a jest. You don't have to do this."
Calypso shook her head. "Oh, no. I think I can handle this."
She picked the hammer up with ease, not bothering to act like it was difficult to lift. She raised it above her head, swung it down, and hit the teeter-totter thing with pinpoint accuracy. The cylinder went up extremely fast and hit the bell so hard it nearly fell off.
The strongman's jaw dropped and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. Leo squealed in excitement and grabbed a gigantic dragon plush, dragging it along behind him. He grinned impishly at the strongman.
"I only date strong women," Leo said proudly. "You know, one who can defend herself should her knight in shining armor not be around."
He and Calypso walked away long before the strongman could find the will to speak again.
Leo proudly hefted the dragon onto his back, so it looked like it was piggybacking him. Calypso turned to him once they were in a different area. "And how are we supposed to carry that around Europe, Mister Half-strongman?"
He stuck his tongue out. "We won't. Remember, we've got Hermes' storage!"
Calypso nodded. Hermes, as a reward for destroying Gaea and breaking Calypso's curse, had given both Leo and Calypso a debt-free credit card to fund the backpack through Europe, as well as a storage place on Olympus for any and all souvenirs the couple picked up. When they decided to settle down, Hermes would deliver all the souvenirs to their place.
Leo's eyes began to bulge. He crossed his legs in alarm. "Uh…Calypso…" He danced around, the dragon bouncing. "Remember how you told me not to drink the extra-large Mountain Dew?"
Calypso took the dragon and set it on the ground. "Go pee, you idiot."
Leo dashed off.
The Titaness rolled her eyes and maneuvered the dragon onto her back. She ducked behind a game tent and set everything down. She checked to see if anyone was looking before taking out a piece of paper, writing Hermes Delivery Service Requested, folding it into a plane, and sending it into the sky.
Seconds later, Hermes himself appeared out of nowhere, dressed in a delivery man's short shorts and khaki shirt. He looked around and grinned.
"A circus?" he exclaimed. "You two must be having a blast!"
He blinked after glancing around again. "Where's Leo?"
"Peeing," she informed him. Calypso patted the large dragon on the head. "Look what I won for him a few minutes ago."
Hermes whistled. "Impressive. What'd you do, guess someone's weight correctly?"
"You know that strength game that has you hit a bell with a hammer?"
"Okay, now, to be fair…you were practically cheating," the god said. "That's like me during a pick-pocket contest or Apollo at karaoke."
Calypso giggled. "Leo only got halfway and the strongman challenged me to see if I could do better. I didn't want to disappoint the mortal."
Hermes laughed. "That's pretty good. So, I'm assuming you want to put this guy in storage?"
The god took out a clipboard, scribbled something down, and stuck a sticker onto the dragon's head. He grabbed the other circus toys as well (minus the balloon animal) and placed some stickers on them.
"This'll come out to around 25 drachma," he assessed.
Calypso handed him her credit card. He swiped it into his card-reader on his staff/phone, let her sign the screen, and smiled. "Cool beans," he said. "Have fun at the circus!"
He and the toys disappeared. Calypso gripped the balloon animal and went back out into the crowds.
After a few minutes, Leo ran up to her, bouncing in excitement. "Calypso! Guess what! Guess what!"
He gripped her shoulders, so now she was bouncing. "What? What?"
He beamed proudly. "So, after I peed, I overheard the ringmaster of the circus in his tent. He was talking with a few of the clowns about how their fire-breather got the flu. I was like, Ah no way that sucks, so I went up to them and said I could totally be his replacement for the night. They were all like, get out of here, and I was all like, no let me show you, so I grabbed a torch, swallowed the flames, and spit them out in different colors. After doing that without getting burned, they said I got the job for the night!"
Calypso wondered if he had breathed at all during that explanation. "And the short version?"
Leo sighed. "I'm gonna be in the show tonight as the fire-breather!" He spread his hands wide. "Leo Valdez: the Boy on Fire! Has a good ring to it, doesn't it?"
She rolled her eyes and smiled. "Or Idiot on Fire."
Leo held up a ticket. "Snagged a front row seat for you! Sorry I can't sit with you during the show."
She ruffled his hair. "Can't wait to see it."
The show was amazing. There were so many acts that truly amazed Calypso; The sword swallowers, the acrobats and trapeze artists, the animal tamers, and the knife throwers—all of them truly earned the applause, and all of them made Calypso's jaw drop in astonishment. Clowns came in and tried to ruin the fun for some of the acts, which only made everyone laugh when they failed.
The ringmaster came to the center of the ring after the knife throwers. "Well done! Now, I have some good news and some bad news, everyone. The bad news is that our current fire performer is currently sick with the flu and is unable to perform tonight."
The crowd aww'd.
The ringmaster held up his hands and smiled. "The good news is that we found an excellent replacement! Please give a warm welcome to Leo Valdez: Le Clown En Feu!"
A burst of smoke made the ringmaster disappear. In his place stood Leo.
The crowd applauded and laughed at his attire. He was dressed in red and orange loose-fitting clothes with black puffballs on the shirt, wore belled black shoes, and had a red cone hat with a black puffball on top. He had happy clown makeup on his face.
Leo waved and danced for the crowd as they applauded. He skipped over to where Calypso was seated and kissed her, but not before offering her a fake flower. The crowd went wild for it. Calypso blushed.
Some more clowns came into the ring and placed torches into the ground. One lit them on fire.
Leo grinned and skittered over to the fiery torches. He grabbed one and held it up for the crowd to see. Some of the clowns hid behind each other in fake fear.
Leo put the flames right into his mouth. People gasped. He looked up and spit the fire back out. The fire started out orange, but then turned to blue and white. There was more fire coming out than what he had originally swallowed, and the crowd was amazed.
He swallowed more flames and made them come out of his nose and ears, which made the crowd go wild. Calypso knew how he was doing it, really, but she couldn't help but be amazed at how well he was doing.
Then, as he spit out a burst of white flames, some of his black curls caught fire.
The other clowns silently went frantic and started pointing at his head. Leo looked confused before looking up. He freaked out and patted his hair.
Then his hand caught fire.
The crowd freaked out as he tried to shake out the flames. Then, as he kept putting out the fire only to have it reappear somewhere else on his body, they laughed and applauded. Calypso had been laughing all along, watching in happy embarrassment as her boyfriend humiliated himself.
The last flame ended up on his butt, so he sat right down and it finally went out. The crowd cheered and the clowns acted relieved.
A boy next to Calypso said, "Mommy! Look at the lion!"
People turned their heads to see a lion stalking across the ring, right towards Leo. Calypso didn't see a lion, though. She saw a full-grown Manticore, its scorpion tail poised to strike. The clowns retreated, and Calypso could pretty much guess this wasn't a part of the show.
But the crowd didn't know that. They cheered at the new addition.
Leo patted his waist, momentarily forgetting that he was not wearing his tool belt. He swore under his breath, then grinned.
He goaded the monster closer, taunting it with his hands. The Manticore prowled forward. Leo grabbed a torch and blew like he was blowing out a candle. Only this time, he was blowing the flames at the creature. It roared and pounced.
Leo dodged and whacked it with the torch, knocking it off-balance. "Take that!" he yelled.
The crowd cheered.
Leo assaulted the Manticore with more fire-breathing. When he was down to his last torch, the Manticore pounced one last time. Instead of blowing the flames at it, Leo clapped his hands at the flames and they shot outward like a sonic boom. The Manticore exploded into a cloud of gold dust like a firework.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation. Leo bowed dramatically and grinned. His ears caught fire, effectively making everyone laugh.
After the show, Calypso met up with her clown behind the big tent. He was being congratulated by all the performers. When Calypso approached, he wiggled his eyebrows, which looked much more dramatic on a clown's face.
"How'd you like that?" he asked.
She smiled. "That was fantastic! You made the perfect clown! Tell me: why you don't do that for a living?"
"'Cause I'm a better mechanic," he told her.
The ringmaster came up to the couple. "Monsieur Valdez; that was the best performance I have ever seen someone do with fire! Even our usual talent is not brave enough to set himself on fire!"
One of the contortionists asked, "How do you do it? Special fabric? Inflammable skin cream?"
Leo shrugged and grinned. "A magician never reveals his secrets—and a clown never reveals the punchline too early!"
They all laughed. The ringmaster gave him a check with a huge amount of money, but Leo happily declined. He was also given a card with the circus's number, if ever he decided to stay in show-business.
Leo said he'd honestly think about it.
On their way back to the hotel, Leo was mobbed by many people about the show. He advertised the circus, but mentioned his performance was a one-night deal. A couple kids got his autograph, and many took photos with him, since he was still in his clown costume.
Leo bragged to Calypso once they were alone again that today had been the perfect day. Nothing could ever have ruined his day.
That is, until he tried to scrub off all the clown makeup…
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