Friday, February 3

The Juggler

It's been a while since I've done a Friday Flash story, eh?

The Juggler

As he descended into the tunnels beneath the city, Peter began to understand why there were called “the Crypt.” It wasn't because any actual bodies were buried there - those who had money put their loved ones in the ground by their homes, to keep them safe, while the smallfolk left theirs for the crows beyond the city limits, hoping that at least a piece of them might be carried up to heaven by one of the carrion birds. Still, the place still smelt of death, and decay, which is why they'd been given that name. The smell was enough to make Peter hurry as he entered them. The stench was vile enough to drive away all but the most desperate of ill-hearted. He had no desire to meet anyone fitting either of those categories down there in the dark.

Peter reached into his pocket, and pulled out three small balls, tossing them into the air. He was unaccustomed to juggling one-handed, while the other hand held a torch, but he was still able to catch and re-toss each of the balls in quick succession.

After a few tosses Peter caught all three balls before setting them down on the ground and, one by one, kicking them into the darkness. Each kick felt like a blade stabbing into his side; he'd had those balls since childhood, when a circus performer who had visited the town had taught him the art.

The balls gone, Peter returned to the surface, unable to shake the feeling of unease over the loss of the juggling balls. He reassured himself that what his father had told him was true; that as he was to be a Lord now, he was to have no time for such trifles.

The next years were good to Peter. His holdings prospered, and he met a young woman who soon became his Lady. Soon after that she became mother to his children, as well.

On occasion he found himself making his way down to the kitchens, after all the servants were asleep, to toss fruit in the air and catch it. He only did this rarely, however, as it tended to make the fruit smell of the Crypt.

One afternoon, as Peter relaxed in his garden, his eldest boy, Andrew, approached him.

“Father,” the boy asked, “may I have a gold coin?”

“Whyever would you need that, child?” he asked his son.

“There's a juggler in the town square,” the boy explained. “He said he'd teach anyone to juggle if they could bring him a gold coin. Please, Father? May I?”

Peter bit down on his lip, considering his child for a moment that felt like an eternity, and considering the threads of the future that would be spun out of this moment. Finally he reached into his pocket, pulling out a coin and handing it to the boy.

If you liked this story, please consider coming back next Wednesday for the release of the flash fiction collection All Our Tomorrows. This story will be featured in it.