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The Jokers of Sarzuz Copyright © 2011 by Paul Sherman

All rights reserved. No part of this story (eBook) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidences are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published by TWB Press Cover Art by Terry Wright Images licensed through Edited by Terry Wright ISBN 978-1-936991-12-9

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By Paul Sherman

Gabrazini’s Mammoth Circus was playing in Atlanta. Its large population would supply lots of people to swarm the ticket booths. Yet sadly, attendance was way down. The take had reached an all time low, and Emilio Gabrazini fought the stir of anxiety in his stomach. He would need a miracle to save his circus. Adding to his angst, a dark and stormy sky hung over his trailer, mockingly, as if the deities themselves had agreed to the Big Top’s demise. He sat with his daughter, Irena, counting the evening’s receipts. Bills and credit card slips littered the table, on which stood the remains of their evening meal of spaghetti and meatballs. He’d used the salt pot to anchor a meagre pile of money. Sighing, he glanced up to the shelf above the window where a ceramic urn stood solemnly, as if in benign oversight of the dismal proceedings. Thunder rumbled in the distance. “We cannot go on like this,” Emilio told Irena, his heart flapping like a windblown tent. He gulped from his mug of beer. Foam fizzed in his thick moustache. “I can barely afford the payroll this month. If things don’t pick up...” He shrugged his shoulders and showed her a woebegone expression. “We may have to close.”


Irena, so petite with blond hair and dark eyes, leaned forward in her wheelchair. She placed her delicate hand on his arm, soft as a feather but firm and understanding. “Things will improve. We have a good show. Good acts.” “Nikolai Nikolas is a good knife thrower. Our animal acts are quality. The clowns get some laughs. But we don’t have those top quality attractions that other outfits offer. Back in the days when—” Horror grabbed his throat and choked off his words as Irena’s hand reached for a bundle of bills on the other side of the salt pot. Her arm nudged it. It teetered then toppled over spilling salt across the table. “Irena!” “I’m sorry, father.” “You spilt the salt!” A rush of wind buffeted the trailer and sloshed the beer in his mug. It felt as if bad luck’s mighty hand had grasped the world and shook it. Confusion clouded Irena’s eyes. “It’s only a little salt.” “It’s bad luck to spill salt,” he shouted. “Take a pinch between your fingers and throw it over your shoulder. Your left shoulder, remember.” “Father, it is only superstition.” “I have to be superstitious,” Emilio spat. “All my life, I have bad luck. And always it is superstition. Once I heard someone whistling in the Big Top and soon after an elephant stepped on the trainer’s foot. Five broken bones—” “But nothing happened after that clown sat on the ring kerb facing outwards. That was supposed to be bad luck too, no?” Emilio looked at his daughter and wondered why she refused to believe in bad luck. She of all people had had the worst of it. “And peacock feathers,” Irena went on. “More bad luck?” Her ridicule stung. “Don’t tell me you haven’t experienced bad luck. Ever


since—” Thunder boomed, closer this time. He swallowed his next words, realising he was about to refer to the time when Irena Gabrazini...fell. She was a top aerialist, her skill and grace unsurpassed on the trapeze... The Golden Swallow...before bad luck struck her down that night. He remembered seeing her sprawled on the sawdusted floor, her back wrenched at an ungodly angle and that look of horror and fear etched in her beautiful face. His chin quivered. A tear escaped his eye and trickled down his cheek. “Oh, father, no tears...please.” “Then tell me what else could have caused your accident, your fall, if not bad luck.” She reached out and took his hand. “Let’s not go into it again.” “When will you stop blaming me?” “Father.” She glowered at him, not an angry glower, but one of measured concern. “If it was not bad luck—” “How could you?” He pulled his hand from hers and slapped the table. “You’re my daughter. I would never have caused your condition.” “My condition?” she shouted. “I am confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, unable to swing on the trapeze and fly as I once did. My condition is not my fault, so it must be yours.” Emilio would have staggered and fallen if he hadn’t been seated. “It was bad luck!” “You were drunk that night!” “I had a drink, yes. I have a little drink every night before the show. It calms my nerves. I was not drunk.” “I saw you, father, stumbling about.” “Never.”


“A bolt fell from the rigging. That is why the trapeze collapsed. That is why I fell. Not bad luck but bad bolts.” “And I suppose the safety net was my fault too?” Emilio took another drink and wiped his mouth with his hand. “Father, one of the net supports was not secured, which means it had not been checked. You always make it your business to do the final check, but that night, you were drunk. Bad luck did not make the safety net collapse.” “But circus folks are prone to bad luck.” She shook her head. “Here we are back where we started.” “So take my advice and heed superstition. Throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to be safe.” “Father—” “Do it!” Irena bared her teeth at him, but he stared her down until her face relaxed. She glanced at the spilled salt, sighed, took up a pinch, and half-heartedly tossed it over her shoulder. “Happy now?” “You have just saved us from more bad luck.” She took his hand again. “What happened is in the past. You will never admit that bad luck wasn’t to blame.” “You would hate me if I was really to blame.” “Yes, perhaps I should.” She smiled. “But talking about it gets us nowhere.” Hot tears welled in his eyes, and he sobbed outright. “Father, what is it now?” “I weep because you can no longer soar across the Big Top.” “It’s okay. I don’t mind working in the ticket wagon and counting the money. At least I’m alive.” “I am glad your mother is not here to see what happened to you.”


“She is here,” Irena whispered. “She’s always with us.” Emilio’s sobs subsided, and his gaze rose to the urn on the shelf. Maria Gabrazini had been a talented clairvoyant and spiritualist, once sought after by the rich and famous. There were times when he could feel the aura of her presence, times like now, when he needed her strength to carry on. Irena’s eyes had misted over as she too gazed upon the ashes of her mother. “Lift her down, father. Place her on the table so she can be close to me, so I can touch her and pretend I’m holding her hand again, like when she walked with me around the circus lot to see the animals, to hear the people laughing and the music playing, just like she did when she was alive.” Emilio carefully placed the urn on the table amongst the remains of the evening meal and the day’s receipts. Irena reached out and caressed the urn with loving fingers. “Dear, Mama.” Raindrops pattered on the trailer’s tin roof. “You have always been with me, through the good times and the bad.” He placed his hands over Irena’s, felt the warmth of her skin and the smooth coolness of the urn. “If only...” He breathed. “If only what, father?” If only he could make everything right again, he would, but he knew he couldn’t. “Irena, I wish you could soar above the crowd once more. I would do anything...give anything for you to walk again.” Lightning flashed outside the window. Thunder cracked so loud the trailer shook. The table shook. The urn shook. Emilio cringed under the onslaught and held onto the urn with both hands, fearful the shaking would cause it to fall and break. “Father, not so tight,” Irena pleaded. “You’re hurting my hands.” Emilio loosened his grip a little. His heart felt suddenly lighter, as if Maria


had set her hands on his, and they were a family again, holding the urn upright and safe as the storm battered the trailer. “You should be careful what you wish for, father. I don’t think Mama liked—” A sudden pounding at the trailer door stopped her. Fear flood Emilio’s body in a cold swirl. “Who in the devil’s name could it be at this time of night?” “Don’t answer it, father.” He didn’t want to leave his connection with the urn, with Maria, with his wife...but the fear in his chest had driven her spirit from his heart. Curiosity edged in, laced with dread that the storm had created a problem that needed his attention. He released his hold on Irena’s hands and the urn. “It may be one of the crewmen.” More pounding. “Whatever it is can wait until morning,” she said. “It’s not fit for man or beast out there.” “You’re not going to answer it, father.” He guzzled the last of his beer. Maybe whoever it was would go away. Irena clutched the urn to her chest, as if seeking solace from her mother. The pounding persisted with more fury than before. The visitor, whoever he was, seemed determined to gain entrance. “In God’s name,” Irena cried. “Stop it! Go away!” The crashing blows reached demonic proportions. Convinced by the frantic hammering that something was terribly wrong, he rose and wrenched open the door. Rain blasted in against his face. At first he was blinded, but a flash of forked lightning illuminated a man’s silhouette at the foot of the steps. He wore a black hood and pulled a black cloak around his tall frame. Thunder rumbled off toward the east.


“Signor Gabrazini.” The man’s voice echoed away with the receding thunder. “May I have a moment of your time?” “Come in. Come in.” Emilio stepped aside for the stranger to enter. “ daughter, Irena.” He closed the door. “I remember Irena,” said the stranger, stooping as he stood by the table. Rain dripped from his cloak and formed a puddle of water around his feet. “Yes, the Golden Swallow of the Trapeze. So tragic, your unfortunate...ah... accident.” “Who are you?” Emilio asked. Impatience burned in his belly as he watched water accumulate on the floor for him to mop up. The stranger offered a handshake. “I am Akrahad.” Emilio switched his attention from the man’s feet to his fingers, which looked skeletal for a hand of that size, but accepted it with some trepidation. “What do you want from me?” Akrahad’s handshake was strong and intimidating. “Perhaps you have heard of me?” Irena’s cheeks flushed with excitement. “You are the famous circus impresario...” She placed her right hand on her right thigh and rubbed it a little. “...the man who boasts acts from all over the world.” “It is no idle boast, my dear. I am in touch with the greatest performers on this earth, and I feel that I can be of some service to you, Signor Gabrazini.” “You...?” Sweat trickled down Emilio’s forehead. In spite of the cold October weather, it was suddenly hot in the trailer, and he felt the beer he had drunk escaping through his pores. “You...of service to me?” “I have always been a true admirer of your show.” Akrahad smiled wickedly, revealing a magnificent display of fine white teeth. “I have followed your progress for many years. I admire the traditional bearing you give to the circus. It is a rare commodity in this present day and age. If I were to bestow

~10~ resources on any outfit, you would be my first choice.” “That’s very kind of you to say.” Emilio wiped his sweaty brow. “What resources are you referring to, Mr. Akrahad?” “A very special circus act. You will have an enviable show of the most amazing Big Top performances in the world. They perform on horses. They work with poodles. They appear high in the Big Top on trapezes and tightropes. They work at ground level as sword swallowers, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats, musicians, and clowns. They belong to a very elite troupe. They are unforgettable. They are superb.” His voice cracked as it rose to a crescendo. “They are The Jokers of Sarzuz.” A distant rumble of thunder signified the passing of the storm. “They sound too good to be true,” Emilio said with a deliberate edge of sarcasm to his words. “They are too good to be true,” countered Akrahad. “Yet they are as true in the flesh as they are true in their profession. Better than good, they are the best.” “I’ve never heard of them,” Irena said, now rubbing her thigh with more vigour. Emilio noticed her strange behaviour. She should have no feeling in her leg, so there would be no reason to rub it. He was about to ask her what was wrong when Akrahad blurted out: “You won’t have heard of The Jokers of Sarzuz, my dear.” Akrahad chuckled, a sound like a bubbling sulphurous pool. “They are currently in secret, refining their acts to perfection. When they appear, the effect will be...shall I say...extreme.” Irena kept rubbing her thigh. Emilio could no longer restrain his question. “Irena, your leg...what is wrong?”


“I don’t know.” He would ask Akrahad to leave and tend to his daughter, but as he turned to speak, he noticed the pool of water on the floor under Akrahad’s cloak had dried up. How was that possible? Emilio swallowed his rising panic. “You must go, sir,” he told Akrahad. “My daughter is not feeling well...and she is tired. It is late.” “But what of my offer? You cannot afford to refuse. I know that your finances are not sound at the moment.” “How do you know that?” Irena asked, now rubbing her other thigh. “I saw how many empty seats there were tonight, my dear.” He then frowned and pointed to the table. “And I should not have to count this money to know the take was small.” “Alright, alright!” Emilio snapped. “We’re going broke. You should also know that I cannot afford to pay you for these Jokers you are so anxious to procure for me.” “I did not mention payment,” Akrahad barked. “I am not concerned with matters pecuniary. I have the greater glory of the circus at heart. There is merely one condition I ask you to fulfil.” “And what is that?” demanded Irena, now rubbing both thighs. “That I, Akrahad, from the time The Jokers of Sarzuz appear in your circus, become your ringmaster.” At this ridiculous notion, Emilio’s body was overtaken by mirth. He laughed until tears poured down his face. He laughed until he could laugh no more, and then fell back into his chair, exhausted. “You? Ringmaster? We have a ringmaster. Anton Ffinch is superb. He is tall. He is imposing. All the ladies love him. Desire him. His voice booms around the Big Top with a resonance that does not require the aid of a microphone. His costume fits him snugly. He is the Adonis of the


centre ring. I should replace him with you?” Emilio squeezed another laugh from his belly. “I mean, look at you. You are hardly an attractive spectacle. Old and decrepit... Oh...oh dear...oh...oh...” “Father, please, don’t get so worked up.” Emilio fought to control himself. He sat up in his chair and breathed deeply. His face dripped perspiration. “We will keep our ringmaster, thank you very much.” Akrahad’s response came swift and measured. “You will regret laughing at me, Mr. Gabrazini.” He left the trailer without any further words, leaving behind a chill in the air that made Emilio shudder. Irena stopped rubbing her thighs. She looked at Emilio with awe in her eyes. “What is it?” He knelt beside the wheelchair, his knee now soaking in a cold puddle. His concern for Irena outweighed his shock over the water’s reappearance. “What’s wrong?” “I don’t know what it is, father, but while he was here, I felt a sensation in my legs...a kind of tingling.” “How is this possible?” “There has never been any feeling at all.” The excitement in her eyes shot through him like a lightning bolt. “And now? Are they tingling now?” “No.” She whispered the word, her disappointment obvious in that single breath. “There is nothing now.” Emilio scrambled to his feet, rushed to the door, and looked out. The rain had stopped. “Akrahad!” he yelled at the top of his voice. But the man had disappeared into the dark night. He turned back to Irena. “Are you thinking...what I am thinking?” “I think we should have nothing to do with that loathsome man.”


He knelt again in the puddle. “But your legs...maybe he can make you walk again.” She recoiled in horror. “You’re not suggesting we do business with him?” Emilio stood, his head held high. “I think that maybe saving the circus is not the only thing at stake here.” “You wouldn’t fire Anton to make room for Akrahad as ringmaster.” “No, of course not.” Anton had been with him many years. “But maybe there is another way to get Akrahad and The Jokers of Sarzuz on our bill.” She pushed her body back in the wheelchair as if she were trying to distance herself from him. “At what price, father?” Her face held the same look of fear and terror as the night of the...accident. *** To purchase this story, go to where you will find the links to Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and other fine online booksellers.


About the Author

Paul Sherman has been a teacher pretty well all of his life, specialising in Chemistry and Youth Theatre, an unlikely combination, but one which has worked brilliantly. He has directed a number of successful straight plays and musicals, including ‘The Crucible’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘The Entertainer’. His writing credits include short stories and poetry for a number of UK publications. He also writes drama having had a pantomime produced at the Rutherglen Repertory Theatre near Glasgow and a play at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. He is a bit mystified by the success in Scotland since he comes from the other end of the country. He is married, celebrating his 40th Wedding Anniversary this year and has two daughters and a jet black cat called Gertie.


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