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Cannonball Blues by Christopher Butt

Sometime in the 22nd century...

“Welcome to the Greatest Show on what’s left of Earth!” the Ringmaster proclaimed to the mostly empty stands at the Niagara Agricultural Regional Fairgrounds. The scattered applause matched the Ringmaster’s mood as he thought about the meager box office.

Mitchell Taylor walked out of the small trailer he shared with Hugo, the world’s strongest man, and put on his helmet. Adorned with the red and white of the Canadian flag, Mitchell walked amongst the rest of the background carnies as they went about their chores. At the far end of the three rings, he spotted the edifice of his current affairs. The giant cannon.

As he slowly walked toward the phallic device, his mind drifted back two years and how his life had changed.

Two years earlier…

Mitchell was working in a public service office when the news of the Great Abandonment was released to the world. Start a new life on a new world. Three years earlier, the world governments took stock of the world and didn’t like what they saw. Through a Canadian initiative, the world powers got together and secretly started to build large transport ships.

An Australian astronomer found, completely by accident, a habitable world. The ships were redesigned to carry not just the smartest, most powerful, or richest people and their families but anyone who was healthy and strong enough to make the trip. Mitchell was excited and signed up immediately, his head already in the stars.

Mitchell’s office, as with many around the world, were reassigned to process the applicants. Thousands of people applied, eager to move to this new world. News articles about the new world were published daily, sometimes hourly, and the push to be on the first ship was intense.

When Mitchell’s application was approved, he went to see his doctor and his dream collapsed. An undiagnosed terminal heart condition. Mitchell was crushed. His doctor was sympathetic, but he couldn't rubber stamp the application.

In a fit of despair, Mitchell quit his job. He couldn’t bear the thought of processing claims for people when he himself was Earth-bound. He broke the news to his parents, who were approved to leave, and packed a knapsack of food and clothes. He said a tearful goodbye to his parents and left. If he couldn’t see the stars, he would see what he could of the Earth.

On the day the first shuttle was launched, Mitchell was in a bar in the middle of Alberta. While others cheered, he flipped the screen the bird and kept on drinking. As his money ran dry, Mitchell started doing odd jobs. He worked on farms, oil rigs, grocery stores, anywhere he could make money. His hands were cracked with sores and his back ached, but his body hardened. He was stronger, and developed an edge to his personality. He wasn’t afraid to take risks or any challenges that came along.

It was in the middle of Saskatchewan where he encountered the circus. A beautiful young woman was handing out leaflets in the small town. He was trying to walk by when she shouted to him.

“Excuse me, Sir! It’s the best show in town!”

Turning, Mitchell looked at the young woman and his terminal heart figuratively stopped. The young brunette was wearing a smart green dress, and her hair was in a ponytail. Her blue eyes bore into him. He walked over and took the leaflet from her. “Looking around, I would have to guess that this is the only show in town.”

The young woman smiled and replied, “Maybe so, but it’s worth it. Seven o’clock this evening. Don’t be late.”

Mitchell promised he wouldn’t and turned away. He heard the young woman continue her advertising as he headed to the small diner. Mitchell read the leaflet as he ate his lunch.

“Anderson Amusements! The Twenty Second Century’s only living Circus.”

The leaflet illustrated a group of circus performers. Tightrope walkers, trapeze acts, jugglers, and clowns. Michell tried to remember if he had ever been to a circus. No memory came to him. She convinced him. He would go.

The show was incredible. Fire eaters, lion tamers, clowns on bicycles performing insane stunts all the while invoking laughter from the crowd. Mitchell was blown away. As the Ringmaster announced the finale, Mitchell wondered where the young woman who gave him the leaflet was. He had thought about her all afternoon. He was brought back when he heard the Ringmaster shout, “The incredible Ms. Daisy Langhart!”

Mitchell lost his breath as the young woman swung out on a trapeze. Her long hair flowed in the wind as she swung thirty feet in the air. Her red outfit clung to her as she flipped off the trapeze, spun, and caught the second trapeze that was thrown to her with grace and beauty. Mitchell was hooked. This young woman was doing what she loved, and she cared not for anyone who thought different.

When the performance was over, Mitchell joined the standing ovation and whistled. An hour later, when the audience was left, Mitchell sat in the stands and gazed at the three rings. Somewhere in his terminal heart, he felt that he had found his place.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Mitchell turned to see the old paunchy Ringmaster standing next to the stands.

“I loved your show. I am also between jobs, and I noticed that you seem to be short on staff.”

The Ringmaster smiled and nodded. “Yes, well, we are short-staffed with everyone leaving the planet.”

“Are the performers eligible to leave?” Mitchell asked.

“Most of them are, but they felt there was no life for entertainers on the new world. At least in the short term. It will take a lot of sweat, blood and tears to colonize the planet. So, there will be no time for entertainment. Besides, it will be a couple of years before those last shuttles take off so there’s lots of time to make a living and some money.”

“Give those leaving a reminder of what they will be missing?” Mitchell asked.

The Ringmaster gave a slight nod. “Something like that.” After a pause he continued, “Why, if you don’t mind me asking, are you not leaving?”

“Medical,” Mitchell answered.

The Ringmaster pursed his lips and motioned with his head to Mitchell to follow him.

Present day...

The ‘Zazel’, named after the first person to fly out of a cannon, was perched on the edge of the fairgrounds. It was positioned over a large man-made lake, measured and angled just perfectly for Mitchell to fly over it so the crowd would think he wouldn’t make it. His partner in this crime, a bald tall man named John Oliver, was prepping the explosives.

After six months of hard labour or tearing down and setting up tents and other menial tasks, Mitchell was willing to try anything for the show. The Ringmaster suggested the cannon.

“You’re young and athletic,” he said at the time. “It’s perfect, even with your dodgy heart.”

Mitchell remembered that first briefing.

“You’ll stand on a small platform inside the cannon. Underneath it is a cannister of compressed air. When it’s all set, I press the button for the explosives and the air. It’s timed so you fly out when the fireballs erupt. It gives the punters a thrill. It’s wicked!”

Mitchell nearly crapped his pants on the first attempt. He flew out of the cannon so fast he couldn’t take in the surroundings. Soon he dipped and just flipped himself over to land on the netting. The other carnies cheered while Mitchell rolled off the net, took two steps and threw up. Not a great beginning.

After the next few months, Mitchell and John sorted out the kinks in the show and Mitchell was soon one of the top acts. He was flying over parked cars, bodies of water, and in a moment of madness, agreed to fly over the spinning blades of a helicopter.

“Made of ton of cash on that stunt,” John said at the time.

Now as Mitchell finished his inspection of the scene, he heard a familiar voice.

“Torpedo Taylor! Are you not going to give me a kiss before you climb into that thing?”

Mitchell turned to see Daisy, already in costume, walking his way. She reached up and kissed him passionately.

“Good luck. Daddy says they’ve timed it perfectly to have you and the next shuttle in the air at the same time. Should be quite a picture.”

“Should be wicked, as John says,” Mitchell replied. They both laughed and she kissed him again. “Got to get ready. Good luck.”

Mitchell watched her go. He remembered their first kiss.

One year earlier...

Hugo had warned him. “She’s the Ringmaster’s daughter and you’re such a cliché.”

“Doesn’t mean I can’t love her from afar,” Mitchell said as they sat in their trailer after a performance. “Besides, I’m sure she has many admirers in this place.”

Hugo grunted and grabbed a beer from his small fridge. He threw one to Mitchell. They cracked open their beers and Hugo said, “To the great Torpedo Taylor. Long may he fly!”

They clinked beer cans and drank deeply. Mitchell raised his can. “To the great Hugo the Strongman. Long may he lift.”

“And make the girls squeal,” Hugo added and they both laughed.

A knock on the door roused Hugo from his seat and he answered it. He smiled and turned to Mitchell. “Hey Torpedo, it’s for you.”

Mitchell got up and walked to the door. He was shocked to see Daisy standing there wearing the same dress as the day she gave him the leaflet. He turned to Hugo who smiled.

“Care to join me for a walk?”

“Don’t keep the girl waiting,” Hugo said. He walked over and pushed Mitchell out of the trailer. Mitchell landed and turned in time to see Hugo and Daisy exchange winks. She took his hand and they wandered to the far side of the fairgrounds. They talked about this and that until they found an old bench and sat down.

She didn’t hesitate. She kissed him and pulled him toward her. Soon, they were naked under the constellations. Daisy had just found out about his heart. Her father had let it slip. She decided not to string him along any longer and went to him. To Mitchell it was the greatest night of his life.

Present day...

The show progressed with great success and soon it was time for Mitchell. He crawled inside the cannon and John sealed him in. As he waited for the word, his chest began to hurt. Soon the pain was unbearable. He clutched his chest and found it hard to breathe inside the cannon. Suddenly Mitchell heard the Ringmaster call his name.

John yelled at him. “Here we go!”

Mitchell heard the air compressor go off and he flew out of the cannon. As he was launched into the air, the fireballs erupted around him. He heard the cheers from the crowd; he saw the shuttle in the sky, and he stretched out his arms. As he flew over the lake, Mitchell felt at peace and knew in his heart that his parents were onboard. He silently said goodbye to them as his chest roared with pain. As he sailed toward the netting, he closed his eyes. He remembered Daisy’s kiss and hoped it wouldn’t be his last.

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