In this series, I will take the Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and craft a short piece of creative writing around it. My goal is to embrace the meaning of the word in some unique way, all the while trying out different styles, rhythms and characterizations. It is as much an exercise in creativity as it is an exploration of grammar. Enjoy!
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By Alex Seise
Quietly, the clown slipped out of his squeaky slippers and walked gingerly down the dark hall behind the roaring stage. It was another full house, and for the inevitable after party, the troupe leader would surely slick back his hair with the expensive grease from Par-ee, as he called the French city.
Odgee had always told him that he could gauge Master Jannicle’s mood by the type of sleek product combed through his thinning locks the night after a performance. The nicer stuff imparted a gentle sheen and smelled faintly of pine; the cheap stuff reeked of antiseptic and clung to his flat strands like the used vats of canola oil he saw behind the carnival fry booths after the crowds left for the night.
Now, though, he didn’t care about the grease or the fried dough or anything other than Zannie. She’d slipped during her elegant dance number, a selection from Orovoskov’s famed ballet Daughter of the Shimmering Snow Crystals. He’d winced when he heard the thud from backstage, and word quickly spread about which dancer had tumbled. Zannie would hear it from Jannicle after the curtains fells, though chances were, the heavy crowd and heavier billfold would dull his sharp tongue.
In her dim dressing room, the girl in the blue lace tutu sat slumped over the mirror counter cluttered with makeup and perfume and long-dead vases of roses and baby’s breath. Faint whooshes and cries whimpered out from her hidden face. The clown spoke softly from the doorway so as not to frighten the quivering girl.
“Zannie,” he said as quietly as he could, taking another silent step in. “Zannie, don’t cry. It was just one little trip.”
“One little trip!?” She sat up suddenly, roaring as her mascara-stained cheeks puffed angrily. “The other girls were more than happy to remind me of the deafening tumble once we got off stage. Inara told me I should quit dancing and take up a new career as a bass drum!”
The clown shook his head and yanked a polka-dotted handkerchief from his red pants, handing it to the girl. She refused with a twist of her tiny, upturned nose. A rivulet of snot dribbled from her left nostril, but she quickly wiped it away with the back of her right hand.
“Listen to me, Zannie, not those girls with flapdoodle and gossip on their tongues. You were beautiful, and I’ll bet no one even noticed your slip.” He gazed down at the ground sheepishly, trying to appear disinterested in the likely bruise on her thigh. “I hope you didn’t hurt yourself, though.”
“And what does it matter if I did?” Zannie retorted with snobbish airs. “Jannicle doesn’t care. He’s probably going to make me a clown just like you, and I’ll be able to slather creamy makeup all over myself and hide my bruises and bumps and everything else on my ugly body that I hate already.” She started sobbing again, drawing her hands up to cover her face.
The clown instantly looked up and forgot his propriety, gathering the dainty girl in his arms for a hug. “Don’t you worry about Jannicle, or those other girls, or anything. I’ll protect you, my sweet ballerina.”
In the mirror behind the shaking girl’s frame, he saw his painted face reflected. But it was not the goofy grinning fool that he’d slathered on earlier that afternoon. Now, his black eyebrows arched in a triangular point instead of a gentle slope, and his bulbous red nose ball deflated into a sinister looking lump that covered his entire proboscis. His white foundation coat had turned gray and lumpy, boils rupturing along his forehead and brows and cheeks. Even his fluffy red hair had turned ugly and frayed, clumps missing from his heinous scalp.
He opened his mouth to gasp, but when he did, he saw that his regular teeth were gone. In their place, the clown saw only a half dozen sharp red-tipped fangs; between them, a black three-forked tongue darted out with snake-like rhythm, the individual prongs moving independently like serpentine heads.
Panicking, he looked into his own eyes. They weren’t the usual sad brown puppy eyes that’d once broken girls’ hearts. Now, they were entirely black terrors, devoid of pupils or life.
The clown wanted to scream, but he couldn’t. The slithering snake-like tongue kept the terrified sounds trapped in his throat, unable to escape his mouth.