Short story: Under The Small Top

As the opening chords began to swell, a hush fell over the audience. Anticipation weaved with the smell of popcorn and crackers to fill the tent. Sammy wriggled forward in his seat, finding it impossible to sit still now that the long awaited moment had nearly arrived. It felt like he’d waited years for summer, even though he knew it had only been a matter of months.

A figure trotted out onto the elevated stage and a beam of brilliant light pierced the dimness to illuminate the ringmaster.

“Welcome to Mouse Circus!”

A cheer went up from the audience and Sammy grinned.

“Tonight, we bring you our super summer show,” announced the ringmaster. “You’ll see acrobats,” and one arm was flung towards the canvas far above their heads. “And cat tamers!”

Cat tamers! That was what Sammy most longed to see. He waited through the remainder of the ringmaster’s spiel and settled back to enjoy the show.

The acrobats were astonishing. Sammy could hardly believe what they were able to do with just the same four feet and tail that he had. Beneath multicoloured lights, they flew through the air on the trapeze and performed extraordinary feats of balance and agility. Sammy clapped loudly and called encouragement.

Finally it was time for the cat tamers. The stage was cleared and a clear wall of glass or plastic, Sammy couldn’t tell which, rose from a hidden cavity in the floor to surround the perimeter of the stage. Sammy assumed it was to protect the audience from the cats. He’d seen cats before, but never this close. Would they be fat, lazy cats that weren’t too much of a danger, or were these tamers the real deal? He could hardly wait to find out.

At the first hiss, a deathly silence fell over the assembled mice. Too many knew that deadly sound. Sammy felt his hackles rise, and his whiskers twitch. It was hard to sit still.

The cat slunk onto the stage, causing the entire first two rows of mice to lean backwards in their seats, despite the safety of the barrier.

When the tamer entered the ring, the low feline growl sent shivers up Sammy’s spine. How could that mouse dare to be in the same space as that fearsome creature? A long, furry tail swished and Sammy swore he could almost feel the breeze from it washing across his face.

The tamer taunted and teased the cat. “Whose a pretty kitty?” he snickered. Sammy held his breath, watching that twitching tail, much as he’d watch a snake, waiting for the strike.

When the cat finally pounced, Sammy squeaked in alarm, along with most of his fellow spectators. He was sure the tamer was done for. Long, sharp claws reached for the small furry mouse, but an odd noise sent the cat snarling back against the wall. Sammy tried to figure out what the tamer had done, but couldn’t see him clearly enough. As the two creatures played a traditional game of tag, they moved around the ring, giving all the spectators a chance to view the show from a variety of angles. Sammy finally realised the mouse had a spray bottle of water that he was using to keep the cat under control. Sammy shook his head in wonder. To face such a fearsome foe with so little protection was awe inspiring.

A wave of shock rippled through the audience and Sammy craned his head to see what had happened. The cat had his back to Sammy, and the tamer was nowhere in sight. Mice starting standing up to get a better view, and Sammy did too. He finally saw the reason for all the consternation – the cat had trapped the tamer’s tail beneath one large paw. The tamer was squirting the cat with the water, but to no avail. Sammy held his breath. Would he really witness a tragedy, this fine summer’s evening?

Sammy looked up at the clear barrier. It was designed to keep a cat in, but it also kept the mice out. There was no way Sammy or any of the other spectators could rush to help the trapped tamer. Heads were turning in every direction and the multitude of squeaks from all around was becoming deafening.

A low rumble started from somewhere near Sammy. He turned with his fellow mice to try and find the source of the sound. The loud bark sent mice toppling off seats and scurrying out of the tent. Sammy spun towards the stage to see that the cat had also been startled by the bark. It had leaped to the far side of the ring, freeing the tamer. Another low growl vibrated through the seats and with some of them now empty, Sammy spied the speakers hidden near the floor.

When the tamer had escaped the stage and was safely being tended to, the ringmaster’s voice came over the speakers. “My fellow mice, I apologise for the scare you’ve had. As you have witnessed, our brave cat tamers take real risks to bring you such thrilling shows. We are grateful that our recorded dog noises have been able to save the day today. Three cheers for Christoff the cat tamer!”

Sammy cheered with everyone else, relieved that everything had turned out well. He’d certainly had his ticket’s worth of excitement, though he wasn’t sure the price of the entry fee was worth the danger these circus performers faced. One thing he did know – he never wanted to be so close to a cat ever again. His mother had been right with all those lectures he’d had to sit through. Now he had seen for himself how fast the situation could turn bad. As he watched the cat being carefully guided off the stage, Sammy wondered if the rest of the show would prove to be as exciting.


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