Uh oh, there was something weird about the kick from the floor plate this time and now I’m pretty sure that I’m moving way faster than I should be. It’s hard for me to tell, it’s not like I popped out of my mother with a pitot tube attached to me. That would have been funny for the birth attendants- “Remove Before Flight Tag”- but awful hard on my mom!
Beneath me the ground inside the ring is moving a lot faster than I’m used to and the Doppler Effect from the watching crowd sounds all wrong too. I guess I should take the time to explain before I get much further along in my story. I’m Diego “The Bird” Garcia, Human Cannonball and, well… I’m at work. My employer is The Dingling Bros. Circus and there are a few people involved in launching me twice a day from a big tube that’s supposed to look like a cannon.
If I had the time, I’d swear at the new trigger man, boy really, who’s also the guy who charges compressed air into the cylinder beneath the launch plate. I stand on that just before the ‘big bang’. It’s the compressed air shoving the launch plate which sends me soaring inside the Big Top on my daily departures for the net. The fire and smoke from the muzzle end of the cannon is just that, pyrotechnics to thrill the crowds. One time the fireworks failed and some wise guys in the audience actually laughed when I flew out of the tube like a brief squirt from a water pistol. More conception and birth imagery; I must be in real trouble!
Despite the centrifugal forces acting on me I manage to glance back along my body in the direction I came from. Even bigger trouble, for some reason I’m also on fire! Instantly, I realize what that’s all about.
After yesterday evening’s show a small crack was found in the left side trunnion which bears the barrel of the cannon and allows the subtle elevation changes needed to compensate for my sometimes not so subtle weight fluctuations. One of the circus maintenance folk is a welder and she brought her gear over to repair the crack. Unfortunately, last night after the show there was also a farewell party for the well-liked H.R. person who was moving on to bigger, more stable things.
When I hopped on top of the cannon to perform my introductory rigmarole for the crowd, I remember being surprised to see all the welding gear still sitting around the base of the launcher. The welder must have left it all there in order to hurry to the party, but neglected to clean it up this morning. She was probably hung over like the rest of us. The welding equipment includes a tank of acetylene that was carelessly placed right beside the tanks of compressed air- so mostly nitrogen- which is used to charge the cannon launcher.
I’d been fired out of my tube, literally, on a powerful spurt of compressed acetylene which had then been ignited by the glitzy pyrotechnics at the mouth of the barrel. This fuel-air bomb had then given me a big smack on the backside and lit me on fire at the same time. Oh yeah, I am in trouble: Flying Torch Man Diego- one time only!
All this cogitation passes through my addled brain in a split-second just as I realize that my passage through the air at sixty-plus miles an hour is fanning the flames coming from my lower, not-so-better half. Did I mention that I should be concentrating on the 180 degrees corkscrew maneuver my body is supposed to complete before I hit apogee? That way I’d be facing the roof of the tent and ready to curl up so that my shoulders and upper back hit the catch net first. Instead, I’m thinking about how to put out the fireball I’m trailing.
It’s just then that a miraculous saving grace occurs. I’m hit all over by a peculiar-tasting blast of water, dousing the flames and soaking me like a firehose. By unimaginable coincidence, Beatrice, the smartest employee of the circus and the fastest reacting, just so happened to be taking her big mid-show drink in an unusual location to the side of the number two bleachers. The odd location had been dictated by the need to move the water troughs from their standard location under the number two bleachers because that space was already occupied by boulders the farmer had relocated there since last season’s performances.
Not so coincidently, Beatrice was drinking in her usual manner by first pulling the water into the eight-foot-long hose dangling from her face before squirting it at her leisure into her always grinning mouth. By luck, Beatrice is also my closest friend at Dingling Bros. and our mutual love and respect is a powerful motivator. The extra loud explosion from the cannon drew the elephant’s attention upward toward me just as I made my blazing departure from the cannon. With her usual quick wits and a trunk full of water Beatrice also demonstrated another of her particular talents. Instantly, she aimed and fired a powerful stream of nose water so precisely that she hit me square on the starboard quarter despite the fact that I was already tearing through space at faster than highway speeds!
I’m no longer in danger of being turned into “Cinderfella” and since I’m it, I’ll never be accused of being late for the ‘ball’, but my problems continue to accelerate as quickly as I’m flying. All the same, If I live through this Beatrice will get the biggest, longest human hug she’s ever experienced, and soft ice-cream treats until she can’t take them anymore.
I’m way higher than I should be, thanks to the extra kick from the exploding acetylene and I’m also moving way faster than I should be. Below, the crowd is utterly silent, staring up at me with mouths agape. If you’re wondering why I’m not seeing my life flash before my eyes right now, it’s because I don’t want to do a personal historic review at this moment. At the party last night my girl Carrie and I had a nasty argument so I’m shunning her today. Yeah, I’m that stubborn!
Anyway, my immediate problems are as pressing as I’m about to become, and a new one has arrived to provide further in-flight entertainment. Beatrice’s blessed blast was definitely a huge and welcome favour, but it also gave me a slight, unwanted course adjustment. Even though I can tell I’m going to way overshoot the net, until my ballistic shift to the left I’d been hoping to have a chance at landing on the inflatable jump cushion which is always erected beyond the net, just in case. Now I can see that, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “I’m going to miss it by that much”. For the calendar challenged among you, you have to hold your thumb and index finger maybe a millimetre apart in front of your squeezed up face to get the full effect.
It really doesn’t matter. As I start my descent for landing, I can see clearly that I’m gonna miss everything but the side of the tent. The crowd can see that too. Their fears that I might pile drive right into their midst have changed to screams at the threat of witnessing a messy man-splat all over the side of the famous Big Top.
The force of my upward acceleration had been so great and so far beyond anything with which I’m familiar, that I’d been unable to complete that corkscrew maneuver I mentioned so I’m still facing downward. The only way I can now avoid lawndarting into (and maybe right through) the tough canvas wall of the tent is to curl up into a genuine human cannonball and try to roll my shoulders and upper back into the impact. However, I still want to know where I’m going to hit the tent and what lies beneath. I hold off potato-bugging until the last possible moment.
So… as I handily clear the top row of spectators in the bleachers still facing down, I see the cause of last night’s argument tucked up to the girder supports holding up the stands, well-hidden out of view. There’s my juggler girlfriend Carrie busy juggling guys by wrapping herself around Landau, the circus strongman! I’ll spare you the gory details but any paternity questions are gonna require DNA testing. Accelerated perception in a crisis situation is downright amazing, I can tell you!
I arrive at the wall, so I roll into my tuck. To my surprise the tent wall gives a little, these things are usually drum tight. The material holds, I might just see tomorrow! I’m still about ten metres up though, so as I spring back I open from the tuck in order to see where I’m headed and hopefully do some kind of Spiderman splayed landing. That’s when I notice that I’m rebounding right at Carrie and Landau. Will they be enough to break my fall?
The rules require that this story take place entirely in flight, so that’s where I have to leave you. Wish me luck! (Or wish Carrie and Landau luck if that’s where your sympathies lie.)
**** I absolutely don't endorse live animal acts and would refuse to attend any performance where such events occur. No creature as wonderful and as full of possibility as Beatrice should ever be reduced to performing stupid tricks for people too limited in scope to try to understand her. Beatrice is in this story for narrative purposes only. ****
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