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Fantastic Flights

by Mason Binkley

“You will be fired from the cannon,” Cleo said. Then again, perhaps Clover said it.

“I am not afraid,” Dante said. “I mean, I am afraid not.”

“This is not open for discussion,” Cleo or Clover said. They stepped closer. Dante could hardly tell them apart under normal circumstances, being identical twins, but now they wore matching leotards and tutus, hats with feathers, chokers with bells.

“It’s not fair,” Dante said, looking up at them.

“Don’t lecture us about fairness,” one of the twins said. She – whoever said it – gently slid her fingernail down Dante’s cheek. “We adopted you after your parents abandoned you near the lion cages. You owe us your life.”

The door of the dressing room flung open and Marvin, the circus master, stepped inside. His gray beard was rumored to have captured the souls of dead elephants. The top hat on his egg-bald head concealed scars from animal bites. “So, who shall it be?” he asked, clutching a whip.

Cleo and Clover smiled and looked down at Dante. “Me,” he said.

***

“Without further ado,” Marvin yelled into his megaphone, “I give you Dante the Dwarf.”

Dante, a boy masquerading as a small man, ran towards the cannon dressed in a clown costume, his face painted white. The crowd erupted, clapping and whistling, screaming and laughing. The scent of booze and vomit hung in the air.

The cannon’s polished black mouth formed a perfect O. Along the barrel appeared the words, “The Widowmaker.” Cleo and Clover stood near the giant net in the distance, waving and blowing kisses.

“Behold,” Marvin yelled, “you will see this cannon fired for the first time.” The spectators roared, their mouths fixed open, eyes glowing yellow in the night.

At the top of the ladder, Dante stuffed beeswax and cotton inside of his ears. He glanced at the star-speckled sky, regretting the ladder did not extend into the heavens. He slid to the base of the barrel.

In the darkness, waiting for the blast to propel him through the air, Dante had this vision: The cannon fires and now he’s flying, watching the crowd shrink beneath him. He passes over the countryside, over cities and oceans, glides past stars and planets. Clouds of gas and dust glow in purple and blue. When he comes down, he’s somewhere similar to Earth, but everyone acts differently towards him. Children in the park smile and ask him to play games. Adults in the market wave. Some give him candy. Dante has a loving family in this other place. At night, near a gentle fire, he laughs with his parents and they read him stories. They promise to never abandon him.

Mason Binkley lives with his wife and identical twin boys in Tampa, Florida, and works as an attorney. His writing has appeared, or will have appeared, in Necessary Fiction, Jellyfish Review, Barely South Review, Pithead Chapel, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other places. You can find him online @Mason_Binkley.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Fantastic Flights”?

A writing prompt from Meg Pokrass in one of her online workshops inspired the first version of this story. The prompt involved an old photograph Meg had found of three members of a circus: a boy or small man dressed as a clown, his face painted white, and two women in matching costumes standing next to him. The first version was twice as long and had a rather macabre ending. I took the good advice of the workshop participants and pared the story down, discarding the ending and developing the aspects that had the greatest emotional significance. Then, over six months, I kept revisiting the story, trying to see it from a fresh perspective. I made minor adjustments throughout this process until I finally felt satisfied.

News

Congrats to the Best Small Fictions nominations from Matter Press for Compressed Creative Arts: Sara Backer’s “Oh, What a Night”; Dan Crawley’s “Powers”; Jill Talbot’s “Malahat Highway on Boxing Day”; Christopher Allen’s “Falling Man;” and Kathy Fish’s “Five Micros.” Congrats to Christopher Allen for being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now open. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes June 15, 2019; submit here.

Upcoming

05/23 • Nance Van Winckel (1 of 8)
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09/05 • Richard Baldasty (1 of 4)
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12/23 • Tara Campbell