An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
By Kandi McGilton
Running away was easy; it was putting a roof over her head at only fifteen that was the hard part. After eight months on the road she found her home in the traveling circus and even there she felt like an outcast, unwanted, and strangely like a normal human being. There were all types of weird and unusual people on board the train, Sullivan’s Circus’ permanent traveling home. After only four days as janitor, she’d already created enemies. During last night’s show in Colorado, she may or may not have been the cause of the tent falling down on the entire clown routine. She tried to explain that it had been one of the animals, but since she didn’t know which one, no one believed her.
Frilly costumes and props of all shapes and sizes swung above head and clattered to the rhythm of the train as it cut through the mountain side. Cece had to hunch and duck out of the way to avoid another egg size knot on her forehead as she maneuvered to the front of the car. It was only her first week, but she’d already managed to make that mistake a half a dozen times. Making it through the next three to the food car without incident was a miracle in itself. She was starving and knew that the box of doughnuts she’d been eating from just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Brushing leftover crumbs off her lap, she opened the door and the aroma hit her right in the gut. At the same time as silence that filled the cramped space. All eyes were on her and suddenly she’d lost her appetite, the car was full of the clowns who all hated her now. Glancing at the prices, she thought there was no way she was spending $4.00 on a hobo sandwich.
Pulling her from her thoughts, “Who found her anyway?” One of the clowns whispered loudly to his neighbor. She couldn’t match a name to the face since he wasn’t wearing any of his required clown makeup.
Hasn’t she ruined enough for one night?” Another said as he pushed his meal away.
Cece hung her head and turned around to leave but as she reached for the handle, something bounced onto her back and pulled her hand away.
“Hey!” she looked over her shoulder to see the money who had already wrapped itself around her torso. Smiling, she scratched the top of its head and asked to no one in particular, “What’s his name?”
The animal trainer of the circus stood up and was already stomping towards her. “His name is Doughnuts and you give him back right now!” The whites of her eyes shone up at the man as she tried to protest that she hadn’t taken him to begin with. He was a tall, broad man and had she not seen him only hours ago sticking his head down the mouth of a lion, she would have assumed he was the one who claimed to be the strongest man on earth. His wide hands reached forward to procure his animal and that was when all hell broke loose. Again.
Doughnuts screeched at his trainer and in one mad dash, flung himself from Cece and onto Derek, knocking her tiny body back against the door. One minute she was standing there, the next she was flat on her ass, a welt forming at the back of her skull. It was hard to focus on one particular thing in the room because it felt like everything was spinning. The screeching, screaming, and all out panic didn’t help Cece regain her focus. She jumped when she heard glass shatter and her eyes shot up to the far left window just above the cook.
“No!” Derek yelled as he hurled himself over the counter in a failed attempt to capture the crazed monkey as it jumped through the window. She stood up and was surveying the mess and dazed patrons whose shock must have mirrored her own. Outraged, he turned and shoved his way through the wreckage that had become the dining area and jabbed his finger against her collar bone. “This is YOUR fault!”
Baffled, Cece shouted back, “Excuse me? How is this my fault?” She waved at the tornado like wreckage. “That was YOUR monkey, not mine!”
“Because every time you walk into a room, something bad happens! You’re nothing but bad luck!” He turned to the group of clowns who were all a mess, food and drinks covered their clothes, some with ripped shirts, and one even missing a shoe. “I say we drop her off at the next town and say good riddance! Who’s with me?”
The small mob shouted back in unison, “Yeah!”
Spinning on her heels, she pulled open the door and swung it open hard. In the same moment, it connected to Derek’s nose and he flew back against the other men, his nose completely shattered, blood spewing down his chin. Without looking back, Cece ran towards the front of the train, adrenaline and fear pumping through her as she stumbled from car to car.
As she reached the ringmaster’s quarters, she stopped. It was forbidden for anyone to enter. Cece held onto the railing as she tried to catch her breath. Her long, auburn hair whipped around her in the wind, and she was suddenly chilled to her bones as she realized there was nothing but darkness and clear skies above her. She glanced through the tiny window behind her and saw no trace of the men who wanted her gone. How was she to blame for all of this? It wasn’t her fault the monkey had suddenly gone crazy.
“I don’t belong anywhere.” She breathed to the sky and then let out a yelp as the tiny face of the monkey popped into her line of sight, obstructing her view of the galaxy. She grasped her heart and yelled at it. “Oh, you stupid monkey!” It made a sound as if mimicking her voice and she let out a frustrated grunt at it swung down from the roof of the train and onto her shoulders. It began digging in her pockets and down her sweater.
“Hey! Stop that! That tickles!” She squirmed and tried to push the monkey off her and when he finally let go she saw that he had shoved something into its mouth. “What the?” Just as she was about to reach for him, the whistle sounded. She covered her ears and then stumbled forward into the rail as the engineer began to break. “That’s going to hurt in the morning.” Cece muttered as she held her ribs and stepped off to the right to see why the train was stopping so suddenly.
“This is your fault you know.” She accused Doughnuts as he swung in front of her as if looking too. He stuck his tongue out and blew a raspberry at her before climbing to the top of the train only to disappear once more.
Shaking her head, she continued to watch as to cold mountain air began to warm up, and realized that somewhere back there, they had cleared the mountains altogether. As the train slowed, and her vision adjusted, she noticed the tall wisps of wheat and grains and taking a deep breath, a smile curved her lips. She’d made it to the country side.
“What’s all that noise out there?!” Cece gasped at the ringmaster’s voice, and did the only thing she could think to do as she heard all of the locks clicking open. She climbed the ladder and hid.
“What’s going on out here?” Sullivan yelled to no one as he flung his door open. His frown deepened as she looked around at nothing and with a disgruntled shake of his fists, he barged into the car and proceeded to yell again. She could hear him moving though this one and to the next and didn’t dare climb down until he was well gone.
As she peeked through the window, there wasn’t a soul to be found. She looked at Sullivan’s door that gently bounced to the sway of the train. Open, unlocked, unoccupied… forbidden. She was about to turn around, to chase him down to explain when Doughnuts pushed open the door and disappeared inside.
“Shit!” On gut instinct, she rushed in after him and then froze in her tracks. Treasures from faraway places she’d never even dreamed about covered every nook and corner. It was stuffed so full she couldn’t even tell where that damn monkey had gone until she passed the little table and chair where he had been hiding; waiting it seemed, for the right moment to grab her hand. She yelped and then growled at him. “Would you stop doing that? Come on, we’ve gotta get out of here!”
Ignoring her, the monkey climbed on top of the table and began popping grapes into his mouth.
Stop, don’t eat that!”
She tugged at him and to her surprise, he went willingly. She got to the door and swung it open and that was exactly when the train came to a complete stop. It jolted her, slamming her into someone. As her green eyes looked up, it wasn’t just anyone. Sullivan’s ice cold glare told her he’d already been informed of the mess back in the food car.
“So you think you can steal from me?”
“What? No! I wasn’t… It was Doughnuts!”
“Liar! Then what do you call this?” He pulled a ruby necklace from her pocket and she gaped back and forth between the him and the monkey now hanging on her hip.
“I swear I’d never steal anything! It was him!”
“Tell that to the authorities!” Sullivan reached for her but suddenly Doughnuts was between them, growling and clawing at the man. As if matters couldn’t be worse, she held her breath and leapt from the train. Her knees gave way and she hit the dirt rolling, the monkey tumbling to her side. Aching, she began running away from the train, from her accuser, and the rest of the circus that seemed to come spewing off the train in an attempt to catch her.
Cece had to shield her face as she ran through the cornfield. She knew it was just fear, but it seemed as if the stalks were grabbing at her, slicing at what bare skin was showing trying to slow her down. The voices seemed to shout from all around her and she came to a stop when everything went silent. The blood pounded in her ears, only the quiet hooting of owls could be heard in the distance.
Owls… owls needed a place to perch. Trees, a barn perhaps. Shelter.
“I’ve got the monkey, forget the girl!” Cece whipped her head in the direction of Derek’s voice and almost turned back around. Somehow she felt she owed it to Doughnuts to go back. Just as the thought crossed her mind, he heard the man yell not two minutes later, she was tackled to the ground. Wide eyed, she looked up at the crazy monkey and without a word, scrambled to her feet and began running again.
Two months later Cece found herself sitting outside a doughnut shop, her pet sitting next to her as they attracted customers inside. While she had been fine getting paid minimum wage, her monkey thought he got the better deal, being paid with his favorite treats. As she watched him bite into his afternoon payment she laughed.
“We’re going to have to give you a better name…” She had to duck from the piece he threw at her and shook her head, holding her hands up in surrender. “Alright, Doughnuts it is, Doughnuts it shall be.”
© 2013 Kandi McGilton