The Greatest Circus
*This Short Story was written for Round 1 of the 2020 NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. It placed second in its heat. The prompt specified that the story must feature a crime caper, a daycare, and a copywriter*
May Bellamy was going to host the greatest circus ever seen at Number 7 Meadowlark Drive, Sunny Smiles Daycare. At least, that is what the flyer she taped to the wall next to the front door promised. This circus was the latest in a series of grand events May had taken to advertising to her afterschool group. She had drawn the flyer in crayon on a piece of yellow construction paper. The flyer showed a stick-animal rendition of a seal who stood on one flipper atop the trunk of an elephant who was wobbling on one leg on a big, red, round ball. Underneath the picture text, written in neat blue crayon read: World’s Greatest Circus! Elephants, Clowns, Acrobats, and more! This Friday.
May was always the last child to be picked up in the evening because, as she always bragged to the other students in her afterschool care group, “My Mommy and Daddy have such awfully important jobs. Why, if they stopped working at the same time as your Mommy and Daddy, the whole world might explode!”
This left May sitting alone at the end of each night with nothing much to entertain herself with besides some chewed Legos and shaved Barbies. One such night, while May was playing Battleship against herself (she always won), she had the most excellent idea anyone had ever had at Sunny Smiles Daycare. Or so she claimed when she eagerly told the other students about it the next day. May decided that she would spend each evening alone planning shows and plays to share with the other children. Her productions would be so grand, so incredible, such a spectacle, that it would be all anyone could talk about. They would all want to be her friends. Indeed, over the next few months, May would spend her nights drawing flyers and writing advertisements and taglines that would set the imaginations of the other children abuzz. It became the main subject of conversation as the children would speculate about what May would come up with next. They would all want to be her friends.
Last month, May had hosted the biggest Teddy Bear picnic that Number 7 Meadowlark Lane, Sunny Smiles Daycare had ever seen, or so her flyer had claimed. Her flyer had been bright green and decorated with drawings of little bears munching on all of May’s favourite snack foods: slices of bananas and strawberries, celery sticks, and oatmeal cookies. The tagline, penned in purple crayon read: Come down to Sunny Smiles Daycare this Friday in disguise for a big surprise – a Teddy Bear Picnic! The biggest picnic ever with the cuddliest teddy bears ever! That Friday, May had lugged a hefty trash bag, bulging with her favourite teddies with her to school and then raced as fast as she could to daycare to get them all set up before the other kids arrived. She had also brought with her a favourite blanket, her tea set made of the finest fake china and her collection of jewelry, including necklaces made of real fake pearls. All that afternoon, she orchestrated her classmates, instructing them on just how to sip their air-tea. Everyone had a wonderful time and could not wait to see just what grand idea May would come up with next. Everyone that is, except Billy Roster.
Billy believed himself to be the cool kid of Number 7 Meadowlark Lane, Sunny Smiles Daycare. For starters, he was one of the oldest kids, which made him the de facto wisest and general leader of playtime. Billy was also the only kid in his afterschool group who had managed to convince his parents to let him get his ears pierced. In Billy’s eyes, this alone made him cool. He could read full chapter books and could open even the toughest juice boxes without any help. He could always win at crazy eights, and he was the king of musical chairs. Above all else, Billy loved kickball. He loved to rally the kids into a game at every possible chance. It was for all these reasons that Billy had decided he was the coolest kid in the class and deserving of the gaggle of younger children who would frequently follow him about. Daycare was a hierarchy, and Billy was at the top. At least he was before May had usurped him.
It had all started a few months ago when the first bright pink flyer had appeared on the wall right next to the front door. It a crude drawing of dancing farm animals and promised in green crayon to teach the class the barnyard ballet, the greatest ballet in the whole world – or so the flyer claimed – that Friday. The children were consumed with guesses and rumours about what the flyer meant. No one had time for kickball, and no one was listening to Billy. That Friday, May lugged a hefty trash bag of her favourite animal masks and glittering tutus with her to daycare. She distributed the masks and tutus to all the other children and began to teach them the steps to the barnyard ballet. Everyone that is, except Billy Roster. Billy sulked outside on the playground, ferociously kicking his ball into the side of the daycare, glowering through the window at the other children as they sashayed and pirouetted about the playroom. From that day on, all the younger kids began to shadow after May while Billy sat all alone playing crazy eights against himself (he always won). Finally, as Billy was sullenly pushing his pudding around in the container and sneering at the other kids, he decided he had had enough. He decided that it was time to restore the natural order of the daycare and reclaim his title of the coolest kid in the group.
So it was that on Monday evening at 5:08PM, precisely three minutes after Trish McAllen had been picked up and exactly 47 minutes before her own parents would arrive to collect her, May taped the yellow circus flyer to the wall. Chatter erupted the next afternoon as the children inspected the flyer and speculated as to what marvels May had planned. It was all anyone could talk about – until the following day when the children were shocked to find a red paint smudge defacing May’s flyer. The circus was being sabotaged, and there was no end of rumours to what it meant and who was responsible. May was inconsolable, spending all that afternoon snivelling in the single stalled daycare washroom. Billy, meanwhile, locked himself away in the playhouse, his skin flushed, his eyes wild as he mapped the utter destruction of the circus and his masterplan to reinstate himself as the coolest kid in the group.
Ruining the poster had been simple. All that day, he had been hot with anger, clenching and unclenching his fists as he watched the other children fawn over the possibilities the flyer presented. He knew that so long as May had the children raptured with her ideas, the natural order of the daycare would be out of sorts. He also knew that just removing the flyer would be insufficient to quell the excitement it had evoked in the other children. To truly reclaim his title as the coolest kid in daycare, Billy would need to eliminate the source of the flyers – May’s creativity.
As Billy concentrated on setting the flyer on fire with his glare, his mind began to spin a story. It told him that May posted these flyers specifically to disrupt his social life. It told him that May was a villain, that she was trying to hurt him, and that these events were a scheme to steal his friends and ruin his life. It told him that if May was the villain, then he needed to be the hero and take her down. It is what anyone would do.
His mind resolved, Billy used the daycare phone to call home and tell them he had been invited to Marco Finks for dinner and that they would pick him up from daycare and drop him off at home after. With his parents’ blessing and one obstacle out of the way, Billy informed the daycare not that he was having dinner at Marco Finks but that he was to walk home alone. Slowly parents came and collected their children and Billy stashed himself into the single stalled bathroom and barricaded the door. Finally, at 5:53PM, Billy was alone in the daycare. He crept into the art room and stole a can of red paint. Smirking, he lifted the lid and reached in up to the top of his wrist, coating his hand red to the wrist, and slapped the flyer, smearing red paint across it. Billy gingerly returned the paint to the art room and soaked his hand in the sink removing all the paint save for a residual stain. Billy walked home that night feeling satisfied that he was taking back control of the daycare. He had covered his tracks and was sure that no one would suspect him. Phase one was complete, but Billy had much more planned to crush May’s plans.
When May arrived at daycare and saw the defaced flyer, she felt her heart drop like a stone. It was more than just the destroyed flyer, though May was proud of her advertisement, the image she had drawn, and the copy she had written. It was also more than the implied dislike of her events, though she was proud of her creative ideas and thought she had created something all the other children enjoyed. More than anything, she felt that this destruction was an attack on her personally. She wanted to have friends and she wanted to be liked. The other children began to file in, and one by one, they noticed the damage and began to console May and to whisper amongst themselves about what had transpired. All the while, May watched and tried to ferret out who was the guilty party. That’s when May caught him red-handed. Billy waltzed in, gave May a cursory, “That sucks.” Then he began his daily rounds to rustle up a kickball game. May, however, had noticed a faded red stain on Billy’s right hand. She knew instantly that he was guilty.
May’s emotions started to bubble over and her mind began to tell her a story. It told her that whoever smeared the red paint wanted to ruin her event. It told her that they hated her personally, and they wanted to bully her. It told her that the vandal was a villain, that they were trying to hurt her, and that this was a ploy to crush her spirit. It told her that if the vandal was the villain, then she needed to be the hero and take them down. It is what anyone would do.
Rage mixed with grief as May’s tears streamed down her face in full force. She needed a chance to think and to plot, so she locked herself into the bathroom. May needed a plan for revenge. She was going to take down Billy Roster.
Friday afternoon, first thing after school, Billy raced to daycare to set up his sabotage surprise before May arrived.
Friday afternoon first thing after school May raced to daycare, hefting her bag of props and costumes, so she could prep for the circus and her extra-secret, extra-embarrassing, best revenge ever that she had planned for Billy.
Billy knew that there was nothing more soul-crushing or embarrassing that could happen at a daycare event than making a huge mess that May would be forced to clean up all by herself. Billy had packed his backpack with water balloons, confetti, and mud bombs. All he would have to do is set his surprises off at the perfect moment, and the event would be ruined so none of the kids would want to play with May again. She would be crushed by her ruined event and having to spend all night cleaning the playroom. Best of all, no one would be the wiser that he was to blame. Come Monday, he would neatly swoop in as the hero with a game of kickball, and no one would remember May’s circus.
May knew that there was nothing more embarrassing or humiliating that she could do to Billy than to force him to play the role of the donkey in her circus. The trick would be convincing him to wear the costume in the first place, but she was sure that with a little peer pressure, he would cave, and she would be able to relish in her victory.
The children arrived, and the circus began. May had set hula hoops on the ground to mark her three-ring circus. In the first ring, she gave Mikey Grunkey and his friends clown costumes and showed them how to do a magic trick. In the far ring, she appropriated old swimsuits to serve as acrobat costumes for Marko Fink and his friends. May taught them how to do twirls and point their toes perfectly. In the center ring, Trish McAllen played a perfect Elephant, trumpeting and doing tricks with a big, red, round ball. May herself was the Ring Master, leading the children through their acts. Finally, it came time for her final act, her revenge on Billy. She called him forward with a flourish, “Now presenting the Grande Finale, the incredible Billy Roster!”
Billy had been watching the circus from the sidelines, waiting for the perfect moment to bring the event crashing down. When May announced his name, he started, surprised at his inclusion, and then relented. He figured it would be easier to sabotage the circus from the inside. At any rate, no one would suspect someone who was part of the event of sabotaging it.
Getting Billy into the costume had been easier than May had suspected. He sauntered into the centre of the three rings, his furry pants riding low, long ears drooping over his eyes, and tail dragging behind him. May laughed to herself. He looked even worse than she had anticipated! May was just getting started.
“Now the hilarious, stupid donkey will perform the hilarious and stupid donkey kick dance!” she announced.
Billy gaped at May. Subtly, Billy reached behind his back and pulled the trip rope. Confetti rained down on the clowns. Water Balloons pelted the acrobats. Mud Bombs splattered across Trisha in her elephant costume. Billy waited for the screams of terror as his trap made a mess of the circus. He waited for the children to blame May and storm off, leaving her alone to clean up the mess. Instead, all Billy heard was laughter.
“This is perfect, May!” cried the clowns.
“So this is why we are wearing swimsuits! What a surprise ending!” laughed the acrobats.
“I get it! Elephants wallow in mud! I don’t know how you are going to top this one, May!” proclaimed Trisha McAllen.
May was dumbfounded. This was not the ending she had planned at all. This was much better! Whoever had set this up had clearly loved her events and wanted to be a part of them. May, however, still had one thing left to do. She needed to embarrass Billy. The Donkey Dance involved great arm circles and wild, kicking motions. She showed it to him, ready to laugh and mock him. Before she had the chance to mock him, however, she realized he somehow made her dance look cool.
Billy was dumbfounded. His perfect plan for sabotage had backfired, and now the children were more invested in May’s idea than ever. To add insult to injury, his new role in the circus involved the worst dance Billy had ever seen. He wanted to get it over with and then get out of there. As he started to dance, he found that the movements felt a lot like swinging at a kick on Homeplate. Billy started to feel the dance and progressively became more enthusiastic and animated. The children cheered, enthralled by Billy’s exciting new dance and began to follow suit until every one of them was laughing and flailing their arms and legs wildly, dancing through the mud, water, and confetti.
May Bellamy and Billy Roster could not have been more convinced that their plans had backfired horribly and that everything had gone wrong. The rest of the children in the daycare were sure that this was the greatest circus they had ever seen at Number 7 Meadowlark Drive, Sunny Smiles Daycare.