Prizm Books, who are publishing my novel, have lots of great stories and novels. One of their authors is Voss Foster and here is his reflection on his just published novel Zirkura Fantastic.
When someone might die, or do the impossible, people get interested. That’s the kind of thing that circuses have always worked with. The more dangerous and extreme, the more money you can get from your audience to come and see it… and that just spreads the word further and faster. It’s a vicious circle that can make people a lot of money, used correctly. It’s why people will dust off their wallets to see fire-dancers, high wire performers, and sword swallowers, even today. It’s why there’s still interest in contortionists and Cyr wheel artists.
It’s because people want to be swept away in a fantasy. We may never really see a knight in shining armor slay a dragon, or a game of Russian roulette. To be honest, I don’t think many people really have a strong desire to see real blood and anguish.
But danger? Yes. We want to see danger and unthinkable stunts. So we go and watch someone swing three-hundred pound weights around, or stare up as people run the wheel of death. No harnesses, just the open air and gravity.
Is the danger sometimes falsified? Of course. Fake falls are fantastic for increasing audience tension. As soon as someone slips, everyone’s hearts throb and hum with nervousness. Playing a little pretend never hurt anyone.
Zirkua Fantastic has been steadily running since 1753, amazing its
patrons with acts of otherworldly skill and prowess. But that talent
comes at a steep price: each artist must give a year of his or her
life to the circus. None of them know why, only that the circus’
owners will go to whatever lengths are necessary to ensure it. Toby,
the hoop dancer at Zirkua Fantastic and son of one of the owners, is
content with his life: he enjoys performing and Zirkua’s wandering
life, and even has a boyfriend among the circus’ hawkers. But when a
new artist arrives, bringing with him a strange flask and a number of
odd occurrences, Toby falls face-first into the truth behind the
circus: Its contracts bind King Jester, the immortal embodiment of
Zirkua’s performances and contracts have held King Jester prisoner for centuries, but now something’s amiss. King Jester’s sister, Dragon, has escaped her own bonds and is working to free her brother, and his power is growing. If he is loosed on the world, it will mean the worst
war in human history and the end of civilization… unless Zirkua Fantastic can find a way to stop him.
As the caravan rambled down the interstate, Tobias rolled onto his side. The prop wagon wasn’t the most comfortable. He’d have to opt out of practice to sleep once they got the tent up. No hope for that here.
He tossed aside the air silk he’d been using as a blanket and sat up, looking around, listening to the truck’s tires thud across potholes and cracked pavement. He checked the straps holding the crates, tightened one that had loosened on the drive. “Crap.” If one came loose, others could, too. He pushed himself off his stack of crates and toppled when they hit a particularly nasty bump. “When was the last time they fixed up this road?” He dragged himself up and stumbled toward the rear door of the truck, cranking straps tighter as he went. Once he got used to the movement, he sped up, tightening down all the cargo in fifteen or twenty minutes. Only the first strap had come loose.
Wood scraped against wood. His heart beat faster, breath catching. He scanned through the truck. Nothing had moved, to his eye. “Just another bump.” Palm pressed to his chest, he tried to force his heartbeat back down to something normal. “Nothing to worry about.”
He sat back on his crates and wrapped himself in the air silk. Sleeping or not, he needed a barrier against the cold and, though he would never admit it, it left him feeling safer, more protected against whatever probably wasn’t in the truck with him. He scanned the boxes a final time, just in case he had missed something.
Still nothing out of place. Not that Tobias could see much in the dark. He tossed the silk over his head and lay down on the crates, desperate for some semblance of sleep. He sucked in a deep breath. The silk smelled like tobacco.
He heard some kind of rustling and flipped the silk back over his head. Cerulean eyes filled his gaze. The familiar, heady scent rushed into his nostrils. “Marley.”
“You sound surprised.”
“A little.” Marley lifted the silk and climbed in next to Toby, snuggling up so close his scent filled the cocoon. Nice to have you here. “I mean, this is an artist’s wagon. It’s not really the sort of thing you do.”
He chuckled, hot breath cascading over Toby’s back. “That’s not quite true.” He kissed Toby’s neck, sending a chill racing along the corded muscles. “I end up in the prop wagon most nights.”
“Do you?” He did his best to sound unfazed. In reality, he fought back warm, nervous laughter. “I’d think I would have noticed.”
“Well, you did this time.”
“So I did.” Toby scooted closer, relishing in Marley’s warmth. “And I’m very happy about it.” He leaned his head against Marley’s chest. The slight movement of the fabric wafted more of the intoxicating perfume into the space. “How much longer ’til we get to the next town, you think?”
“I’d give it an hour. Maybe a little more. If I’m any good at guessing distance.” Marley pulled Tobias even closer. “You need to get some sleep, babe.”
“Not if it’s only an hour.” He turned over and nuzzled into Marley’s shirt, staring up into bright blue eyes. “I’d still be completely useless with only an hour’s sleep.” He yawned, and then slapped Marley across the arm. “Stop being so damn warm.” The end of the sentence got muddled by a second, gaping yawn. “It’s like sleeping with a space heater.”
“You can’t blame me for being hot. In fact, I remember you thanking me profusely on more than one occasion for it.”
“Well, it’s not very helpful when I’m trying to stay awake.”
Marley chuckled. “Then get off.”
He nestled closer in response, muttering into Marley’s chest. “It’s not that unbearable.”
Marley wriggled his hand under Toby’s chin, lifted his face, kissed him. “I figured that much.”