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art by Void lon iXaarii

The Strongest Man in the World

The strongest man in the world is trapped inside the closet. The doorknob rattles and shakes, but I have placed a chair beneath it, angled like so, and the rug has kinked beneath it and it will not move. That is how you do trapping people in closets. I know the trick, and I have used it against him.
In the bathroom, the clown is still sobbing into the toilet bowl, into which I flushed his bright red rubber nose, the one that goes honk-honk when you squeeze it, and into which I further flushed his electric handshake joy-buzzer and squirting flower, which is visible peeping out from the dark shadows of the U-bend and emitting periodic bubbles. Strings and other such items--for example plastic flower stems--are tremendously bad for toilet pipes, and I should have remembered better. Still, it is enough to trap a clown. It is possible his nose would have been enough, but a thing worth doing is worth doing well, as someone once said to me. I believe he had a sweater, the man who said it.
The clown's tears have filled the bowl. If he cries much longer it will begin to overflow. Clown tears are not salty, but sweet and sticky, like the liquid in the carnivorous pitcher plant that lures and traps the insects that are its food. They are harmless, once you have removed their buzzers and disarmed them of any paddling sticks, and their tears are an important source of antioxidants and Vitamin B. This is a useful thing to know about clowns.
When I return to the hallway, the strongest man in the world is crying, too. Strongmen's tears are not good for much of anything, and it annoys me to hear him.
I walk to the basement, where I have thrown the tightrope walker and the trapeze artist, first tying them tightly with their own wires and ropes. They would be able to escape, of course, if left to their own devices, for the wires and ropes are theirs. They have mastered these objects and may bid them to obey. However, they are creatures of the heights, and the basement is anathema to them. I open the door enough to peer into the depths and ensure that they remain in place, wedged between the washer and the dryer. They whimper and moan when the light touches them. A cockroach scuttles across the trapeze artist's oil-slicked hair.
Cockroaches are a good source of protein, but you cannot bring yourself to eat them until you are desperate because you fear and dislike things that remind you of uncleanliness. This is how your culture has poisoned your mind. I eat three cockroaches every day before breakfast in my continuing efforts to pursue total intellectual freedom. I recommend this practice strongly. They are crunchy.
Back in the hallway, the strongest man in the world is mumbling something. I can see his lips moving through the keyhole when I lower my eyes to peer in, but I will not listen. I hum loudly to myself, a jaunty and mocking tune, so as to block out the sound of his voice. The strongest man in the world cannot escape from his closet, no matter what he does, and if he cries again it will go the worse for him.
A thump from upstairs draws my attention. I maneuver past the spreading puddle of toilet water/clown tears with an agile little leap--perhaps I too will be a tightrope walker one day and be thrown likewise into the basement with the cockroaches, which I will eat with relish (but only metaphorically, as it is important to eat your cockroaches without adornment or processing)--and climb the stairs to the master bedroom. That is where I have chosen to keep the elephant because my mother has a waterbed. Elephants, once tipped onto their backs upon a waterbed, are helpless to climb down again. This is how all of the biggest and most popular elephants were once captured for the traveling circus shows, before the invention of the coal-fired mecha-elephant which now serves the same purpose. Fortunately for me, the elephant attached to this circus was a relic of the old days, and as a flesh-and-blood beast was easily suborned with peanuts and tricked onto my mother's bed.
However, I am displeased to discover that the lion tamer has successfully escaped from beneath the toppled bookshelf and is attempting to haul the elephant back onto her feet. I had thought him defanged, shorn of his bright jacket and vibrantly masculine mustachios, but clearly I have underestimated him. He has thrown his whip to her, and she has grasped it with her trunk, and he is in the midst of pushing the vanity under the elephant's derriere for a fulcrum (thus producing the thump which, you will recall, attracted my attention just as I was contemplating the plight of the strongest man in the world, whose pleas for mercy I was in imminent danger of unwillingly hearing).
The lion tamer sees my shadow stretching out upon the ground before him. I was desirous that he should do so and had turned on the hall light expressly for this purpose. I knew that the light would operate as I wished: we have replaced all of the bulbs in the house with compact fluorescents and so they rarely burn out.
My hundred-watt shadow falls before the lion tamer, and he quails. The elephant trumpets her distress as she rolls willy-nilly back onto the waterbed/elephant-trap. It is a measure of the excessive esteem in which I hold myself and the vanity which always I am striving to overcome that I initially attribute the lion tamer's reaction to my imposing presence. I speak here with irony, for I am and have always been short of stature and reedy, though I hope one day to achieve a fuller figure in my final growth (but never, not even in my wildest flights of fancy, have I believed that I will become as muscular and virile as the strongest man in the world, whom I have trapped in the downstairs hall closet with the mop and the bottle of Pine-Sol).
But no. It is not I who causes the lion tamer to reel in sheer monkey-piss terror, but rather he whose shadow in turn usurps my own in the harsh glare of the upstairs hall light, he whose power was likely the source of the lion tamer's untimely escape, having long been used to aiding that once-boldly-mustached man: to whit, the lion.
Having felt some kinship with the great beast, so unjustly caged, I had left the bathroom window open and given him a knowing wink, trusting that he would understand my intimation and steal for himself the freedom long denied him.
Alas, he did not.
And so instead of presenting a figure of command and intimidation with which to cow the lion tamer and pin him again, perhaps beneath a wardrobe instead, I am beset by a savage beast. Lions are poisonous, of course, though being also large and capable of biting through bone, the detail rarely arises. I know of it, however, and so I endeavor to avoid the venemous fangs as my first and most essential task, with a secondary goal of reaching into my pocket for the folding knife that I always keep there in case of just such an emergency. The animal's breath is hot and rancid with sour meat, and its eyes are the eyes of madness and rage, the eyes of a creature driven well past any endurance (and the fault was mine, for I had coaxed the great cat into the bathroom without considering the presence of strawberry-scented organic herbal shampoo, which lions hate above all other substances--particularly when bedecked with cartoon children, as this bottle damningly was--and which this particular lion took for a dire insult on my part). (Quite rightly so, I should add, though I maintain I acted in all ignorance, for negligence is an insult in itself.)
I jam my forearm into the lion's jaws, far to the rear so as to prevent him from closing his mouth, and we roll and scuffle in this way across the master bedroom carpet. I am sorely pressed, for the lion is possessed of four good limbs tipped with razor claws, whereas I have only my white-soled sneakers and a plastic spider ring upon my right middle finger (a remnant of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays.) I take blow after blow and am bleeding profusely, but I dare not push too hard to return a strike, lest I dislodge my arm and suffer the painful death of the lion-poisoned. As my vision tunnels slowly to black, veined here and there with red and yellow flashes, I become aware of a high-pitched keening. Not so high as the wails of the strongest man in the world, but quite as irritating. With a mighty effort, I struggle upright so that my feline opponent and I stand like paired lion-rampants on a coat of arms. I cast my failing sight over my shoulder to see what made that heinous sound, wishing to cause it to stop so that I might die without additional and unnecessary irritation to my eardrums. (I have very sensitive ears and for one full year in the fourth grade was obliged to wear ear plugs at all times merely in order to attend class with my peers, so grating did I find their constant prattle.) I find it to be, in fact, the lion tamer.
Surely it is the blood loss and the pulse of adrenaline in my head that cause me to be initially confused by his fear. Had he not, by definition, tamed this lion? What reason could he have to quake and shrill so? Then I realize: I shaved his bountiful and munificent mustache with my father's razor after I trapped him beneath the bookshelf containing the picture books from my distant childhood. At the time I had merely been--I admit it--jealous of his hirsute glory, but it is plain to see that the mustache was more than mere male decoration. Rather it was through a demonstration of follicular excellence that the lion tamer had ruled the mane-proud predator that now threatened my own life. With this realization, my plan crystallizes in an instant.
I wheel backward, breaking the lion's crushing grip and pulling my saliva-slicked hand from its maw. I point to the lion tamer, clambering now atop the mirror behind the vanity, setting the antique wood to trembling both with his weight and his fear.
"There!" I say. No more need I utter, for it is plain that a wild animal, formerly enslaved, will prefer nothing else to the taste of its captor's blood. The lion rushes past me, our strawberry-scented animosity forgotten, and crunches the lion tamer's shorn skull as easily as I crunch my first breakfast cockroach (the latter two being made more difficult by the lingering taste of the first.) I retreat from the bedroom to the sound of panicked elaphantine cries and the creak of a distressed waterbed as the lion enjoys his long-delayed repast. I sketch a bow as I leave, though the lion is far too engrossed to notice; having once disregarded his dignity and comfort, it would ill behoove me to do so again.
With the crisis resolved, I am free to skip down the stairs, leaving a trail of blood as I do, spotting the floor and walls like cheerful polka dots. The hallway is flooded with sugar-sticky clown tears, and I can tell from the sounds below that the flow is endangering the trapeze artist and the tightrope walker. That must be dealt with, but not just now. Now I am off to the garage, where the human cannonball has been put to work shaping my parents' cars into additional cannons. Whether they will fire ammunition or humans, for war or for show, I have not yet decided. The furnace burns hot on its new diet of banana-flavored marshmallow peanuts, and the smoke is sweet and pleasing to me.
Outside, then, where the carnies are hard at work dismantling the rides and games. The enormous tent has been draped over the house and stapled in place, wide stripes of color fluttering and snapping in the cool morning breeze. Sparks fly overhead where they work to weld the great Ferris wheel to the side of the house; on the opposite side, the carousel, painted horses screaming as though they were anything other than wood and shellac. They will be the wheels of the great circus engine, and when they are ready, my house, containing as it does all manner of needful performers, including the strongest man in the world (currently trapped in a closet), will begin to roll, and nothing will be able to stop it.
I will not run away to join the circus. I will bring the circus with me wherever I go.
The wheels quiver on their bearings. I place my new top hat squarely upon my head and tilt its brim to a rakish angle.
Strike up the calliope. Cry "Hey, rube!" and let slip the clowns of war.
We are coming. We are coming to your town. We are the greatest show on the Earth.
Come see wonders. Come see marvels. Come see the strongest man. The strongest man in the world.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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