Ray Owen, Writers Bloc
I stepped out of the comfort of doors and curtains into the darkened arena. I felt like the subject of a recent greeting card I saw at Hallmark of a bullfrog looking indignant in a pink tutu. My dilemma came in the form of white leotards with blue sequined stripes stitched down the sides of each leg. I wasn’t alone. There were five others walking in front of me sharing the same fate.
I couldn’t tell if the uneasiness in my stomach was caused by embarrassment or by the ever-changing exotic aromas, combining everything from elephant dung to cotton candy. I kept walking.
As we passed through sporadic clusters of off-duty clowns, I was amazed at how sinister they looked without the aid of the bright lights to showcase their colorful getups. I could see their grumbling scowls toting cigarettes underneath the exaggerated smiles painted on their faces.
Spotlights dimmed on ring one as ring two came alive. Whiter than white horses seemed to suck all the light out of the arena and reflect it back in the form of halos around their every move. The glittery ladies on their backs wore red plumed head dresses that took on the appearance of licking flames with each of the horse’s footsteps. Congo drums and a big brass band built up anticipation of a show with incredible energy.
The first three in my group split away to the left as I followed the remaining two to the far right of the arena. We made our way through a dimly lit maze of ropes, poles and guy wires pegged into the dirt with long steel rods. We stopped at a ladder that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. The leader immediately grabbed the aluminum rungs and started climbing up with a cat burglar’s silence. Soon he disappeared into the dark air. The one in front of me followed behind. It wasn’t long until it was my turn. I gripped the rungs with both hands and started pulling myself up. The ladder was alive with movement from the two above me. My feet felt vulnerable in the thin shoes I was wearing. I was used to thick leather boots that protected my arches. With these I felt the rungs were splitting my feet in half. I kept climbing.
Later the magnitude of the crowd revealed itself to me. Whoops and hollers were joined with applause as the horses below stood up on hind legs mocking their riders standing in front of them.
I kept climbing while my mind began to wonder. Did I lock the truck up in the parking lot? My phone and laptop were in it. Were my wife and son in the audience? I didn’t even remember if I told them when the show started. Were any of my friends going to be here? I wasn’t sure if any of them even knew I was here. I wondered if I knew anyone in the audience at all? Even if there were, I wouldn’t be able to recognize them or vice versa. I was just too high in the air. Did I feed the dogs before I left the house? The weekends always mess up their feeding schedule. Next weekend I have got to put the new deck on the riding mower. Winter will be here before I know it and there’s no way I’m working on it then. I have to stop on the way home and get batteries for the camera. It seems like every time I really want some good pictures I get the low battery signal. Lithiums sure seem to last longer. I wonder if I should convert to wood heat this year. Fuel prices are out the roof and I at least have enough fallen trees to get me through this year. It would be a good way to get some clean up done. The insurance company would probably have a fit. I wonder if I should put some new trees out this fall. They say it’s the best time because the roots have a chance to really dig deep over the winter. They have to have tiny leaves. No more raking. I get enough of the neighbors’ leaves.
The horses made their exit out of ring two when the spot light blinked off and reappeared in ring three. Suddenly the brass band music was replaced by a melodious steam organ and a laughing trombone. An army of flamboyant clowns made their way into the circle. The leader juggled rubber chickens while trying to keep his pants pulled up. Another was hammering out a melody on a set of partially filled glass jugs, but he was having trouble keeping the others from drinking out of them. All of them had their share of problems. The fun was watching them find each other’s solutions. If only we could have so much fun doing the same.
I was briefly amused but kept climbing. This climbing business was starting to become work. It was a test of strength, and, with each upward reach for a rung, I noticed it was also a test of endurance. I was glad I quit smoking. I wondered if I started eating all the right stuff, how long it would take for my body to forget what it was like to have a Big Mac? Would I be able to erase all the abuse I have put my body through over the years? I wished I could have erased about ten pounds of it before I started climbing the ladder. There was a mole on my arm. I wondered if it was cancerous. I hear so much of that these days. I have to say, I feel like I did when I was eighteen years old. Well, maybe I should say I have moments like that, which seem to get briefer and briefer, and take a lot more recovery time. I can’t say that either. I can’t remember what I felt like when I was eighteen. That was almost thirty years ago. I can only remember a fraction of what I did, much less how it felt. I wondered if my hearing was going bad. It was hard for me to tell with the noise from the crowd, but sometimes, when it was real quiet at home, I can hear ringing. Maybe it would be a good idea to make an appointment.
I glanced down at ring three again. It was hard to tell what was happening in the distance, but there must have been a bit of mutiny going on because one clown was being chased by five with giant, bright yellow butterfly nets. I finally reached the top to find the other two waiting for me on a tiny platform. One grabbed my wrist and helped steady me onto my feet. The other one had a swing bar in his left hand and reached to help steady me with his right. My feet felt the relief of a flat surface again. I stood straight up with their assistance and glanced down to see the lights in ring three suddenly disappear. This time it reappeared on me. The ringmaster sounded like a male version of Charlie Brown’s school teacher when he announced our act. This time the entire band joined in to play “Over the Waves.” It was then I realized that I could almost touch the ceiling, and the floor seemed miles away. With the light I could now see the faces of my comrades. They had sobered but confident smiles, and both had a grip of the swing on both sides of me. The first said “Give us a good start.” The other followed in with “Get a tight grip and relax.” With that I clenched the bar jumped up and pointed my toes forward. I was flying, and it felt so freeing. The gush of air pushing against me seemed to last for minutes, but then I reached the end of the swing’s cycle and started in the same path backwards. That’s when I looked down. The drum roll started. There wasn’t even a net that I could see.
Time seemed to have slowed to a standstill, giving me just enough time to ask myself these questions. What events brought me to this point? How did I get so removed from the concern of my own safety? Why did this chance in the spotlight mean so much to me? Did it mean more than my family or my friends? Was I a good husband? Was I there enough for the rest of my family? Have I taught my son all the things I think he should know by now? Did I have enough life insurance? Would it cover something like this? What was I trying to prove? Maybe I wasn’t trying to prove anything; maybe there was a part of me that was dying and I just needed a jolt to my inner most soul to feel completely alive.
I was brought back to the moment when I felt my swing being pulled back and then thrown forward by my comrades again on both sides of me. On my way back out into the sea of nothingness I could hear them saying. “You’re doing fine,” and “Don’t forget to let go”. Soon I could see another swing rushing toward me. It was carrying a man hanging upside down. Simultaneously, I felt an iron grip around both of my ankles and heard the reassuring words “Got ya” barked out of this stranger’s gut. My fingers immediately flew open. Along with time, the drum roll abrubtly stopped with a piercing rim shot. I felt the force of gravity lay my upper body gently backwards. My arms flew wide open over my head. I saw my comrades, now appearing upside down, reaching out to retrieve my now abandoned swing with one hand, and giving me the thumbs up with the other.
That’s the last thing I remembered before the alarm brusquely screamed out a line in the middle of the song “Over the Rainbow.” “Where trouble melts like lemon drops high above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me. Somewhere over the rainbow….” I reached over my wife to slap the snooze button on the other side of her. It felt good to lay there and hold her tight for a few extra minutes. I eventually rolled out to get the water started in the tub for my son. I went to the side of his bed and watched him sleep until I had to tell him to jump in the shower. I just had to get to my laptop to write all of this down while it still felt real to me. It had to be done before my critical mind had time to butcher it and throw it into the forgotten pile of ridiculous dreams. This one I needed.
Dreams never change the world that we can actually touch, but they can actually change the way we touch our world.

Ray Owen is a woodworker that holes up in the top of a barn to write. He currently lives in Pekin, Indiana, with his wife, son, and a majestic tree hound named Duke…who has yet to live up to his name.

For information on his novels and other work go to:


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