It was an accident that led Dingo here, a stupid rookie mistake. He had been in a rush cleaning the seltzer bottle the day before. He hadn’t thought to flush the vinegar from the nozzle. When the spray hit Mr. Tinkle in the eyes in the middle of his act, the veteran clown had cried out. It had been his first public vocalization in twenty-seven years of performances. That kind of commitment one expected out of a Bozo or an Emmett Kelly. For a run-down whiteface on the rural tour circuit, it was almost legendary.
The clowns cried out for retribution.
Dingo looked out at along the high wire. It was his first time viewing it from this perspective. He wondered if it was supposed to slope down in the middle or if it might be broken. He risked a glance towards the sawdust covered ground despite his better judgment. There was no paying audience, and more importantly, no net.
If he fell from this height, he would most likely spend the rest of his days a cripple. The clowns would see to that. He’d be patched up, but not right. Broken bones set at bad angle and left to mend.
If he survived the fall.
The doll-like chorus of merciless clown faces looked up at him from forty feet below.
There was a strict hierarchy in the circus. And there were rules. It was what kept order among the greasepaint and tattered motley chaos of the tradition. And clowns, as Barnum himself had been known to say, were the backbone of the circus. When their justice needed to be done, the rest of the circus knew well enough to let them see to their own.
And so the high wire.
Mr. Tinkle’s famous bells jangled ominously. Step or be pushed, Dingo knew. He could feel Bobbins standing on the platform behind him, ready to help dispense clown justice as needed.
Dingo wondered, however briefly, if he could overpower Bobbins fast enough to let him climb down and run. But even if he made it out of the ragged canvas big top before the rest of the clowns fell upon him like hungry gargoyles, then there would be no peace. Every time the circus calliope came to town, every time the flyers went up, no matter where he went, the circus went everywhere. They would find him eventually.
The bells jangled again.
Strange that such a bright sound could be so chilling.
Dingo stepped out onto the rope with his ridiculously large shoes. Two steps before his balance failed him, before gravity wrapped him in its undeniable pull. On his way down, Dingo prayed for the courage to twist to a killing fall.