The Circus Act

By Ferne Merrylees

sfgenre“I’m running away.” Nero slumped against the wall, hands braced against his thighs as he shook his head, droplets of sweat flicking from his cheekbones.

“Run away from the circus? Isn’t that what they used to do back on Dirt?” Helios, who’s offstage name was Arthur — call me Art —, handed him a bottle of water. Nero took a mouthful, swirled the sour tasting swill around his teeth before spitting into a potted shrub.

“They had the right idea.” Nero poured the rest of the water over his head. It streaked his makeup, but it needed to be redone anyway.

The glitter stung his eyes.

“Any place in particular?”

Nero studied Art from the corner of his eye while he ran his hands through his short, wiry hair, water bristling off in sheets.

At Bellagio’s Galactic Interstellar Big Top of All Things Extraordinary, every thing was beautiful to someone in the audience, but Art was stunning to everyone. Ninety-six percent human, he claimed the rest was a mix, but he had to be pure. How couldn’t he be? He was too perfect.

Nero, on the other hand, was such a mix bag of genetics he was lucky he had symmetrical features at all. Compared to Art’s golden form, Nero was dark, eyes coal bright and skin a midnight blue.

“Salo is nice this time of year,” Nero said, offering the bottle back to Art.

“Sure, if you like being kept inside a sealed dome below ground. Didn’t think you aspired to be a Caver.”

“With skin like mine, I could be invisible. No one would notice me there.”

“And I’d stick out like nipples in a blizzard.”

Nero snorted. Art was pale, skin so translucent it glowed. His hair was silver and slicked back with too much gel. Imagining the stage lights reflecting off his skin, his pale grey eyes bright and fierce, made Nero swallow.

“You’d come with me?”

“On your theoretical escape attempt? Where else would I be?”

“Oi, you lazy crits. Get where you need to be!” Despite his booming voice, Mr James was a stunted creature: no neck to speak of, eyes like glassy light bulbs set in a forehead that was flat and broad like a television screen.

“We’re on our way to makeup now.” Art gripped Nero’s elbow before he could say something he’d regret. It was a poorly kept secret that Mr James wished to be the one out beneath the arena lights.

Performing was something you were born into. If your genetics tested out, you could be sold before you even left the womb, your mother earning a tidy sum and free tickets to shows. Nero didn’t know of anyone who had a mother visit. His mother was from one of Saturn’s satellite moons. He forgot which one, but it didn’t bother him. It bothered Art though.

“Come on, I’ll do you while you do me,” Art said and Nero almost choked, but turned it into a squeaky cough. Art led Nero to a narrow cubicle, mirrored walls on each side and tubs full of paint and applicators, sponges and spray.

“I wonder if I’m as dark as I think I am under all this grot.” Nero offered Art a wedged sponge and selected one for himself, focusing on his friend’s brow and straight nose until old make-up blurred with new.

They’d only been doing each other’s faces and body paint for six months, but it felt like years. Nero reached out blindly for Art to slap a brush into his hand while Art shut one eye for Nero to colour gold as he shaded Nero’s cheekbones in blue and silver. Art turned his back to allow Nero to spray swirls of bronze down his spine then they swapped places, Art using a sponge to pat constellations of metallic blue across Nero’s shoulders.

Once done, they were night and day, dark and light. Art transformed into Helios, the personification of the stars that heated the universe. He was order and progress. Nero was Erebus, the lord of dark spaces. The cold burn of entropy. Disorder and chaos. Their act was built on the tension of their striking physical differences and what pulsed between them, something unspoken yet even more alive beneath the arena lights.

“Ready?” Art murmured.

“Really reconsidering not running away.”

When Art’s fingers linked loosely with his own, the ache in Nero’s chest eased.

Mr James manifested behind them, a sour faced ghoul that gestured for them to meet their cue. Art squeezed Nero’s hand and let go.

They stepped out onto the smooth, black glass of the suspended arena and unleashed a kinetic force that sang in the heavy silence. At first their movements were slow and cautious. They circled like orbiting stars; a dance that escalated into the push and pull of something dark and threatening. Their reaching hands shifted from near misses to gentle caresses and finally to violent blows.

They were mostly silent. Soft grunts, growls and hisses between clenched teeth, but while Erebus slammed Helios into the glass floor, Nero held onto Art’s body just a second longer to brace his fall. As Helios countered with a vicious kick to Erebus’s gut, Art pulled his strike to be a gentle tap to the stomach. Their eyes never left the other’s.

The audience only saw rage and lust, frustration and hatred as the act climaxed. It always ended with Nero landing the final blow to Art’s beautiful body. Limbs all sharp painful angles pinned beneath Nero’s weight. It was just a show, yet every time another piece of Nero died too. The audience loved it.

Off stage, discarding the roles of Helios and Erebus as if shedding unwanted skins, Art and Nero collapsed against the corridor wall, pressed shoulder to shoulder and slowly matching their heaving breaths to one another’s.

“Did you mean it?” Art said into the quiet.

Nero didn’t need to ask what Art meant.

“Yeah, I did.”

“Tonight then. We go tonight.”

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About The Author

Ferne Merrylees

ferne merrylees 200Ferne Merrylees completed her PhD in Creative Writing in 2015 at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and has had short stories published in multiple online magazines. She writes a blog that reviews young adult literature and speculative fiction books <fernemerrylees.com>, and she has a growing twitter following @fernemerrylees.

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nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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Coming In Issue 240

Hit Parade
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Infiltration
by Estelle Owen

Mars Hence
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Prison
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Screams Mean Fear Or Pain
by Kyra Thomsen

Serum 66
by Laurie Bell

Star Sign
by Roger Ley

Terminating Train
by D.A. Cairns

The Outsiders
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Tinker's Curse
by Garry Dean

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AntiSF's Narration Team

timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba,

And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <wordsbydavid.com>

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SF News

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Lillicat Releases "A Betrayal and Other Stories" by Brian Biswas

Lillicat Publications has relased AntiSF contributor Brian Biswas's new story collection "A Betrayal And Other Stories", now available at Smashwords and Amazon. <Find Out More>

Meerkat To Publish Eugen M. Bacon's "A Woman's Choice"

Meerkat Press has acquired AntiSF contributor Eugen M. Bacon's literary speculative novel "A Woman's Choice" for publication in 2019. Go Eugen! <Read More>

 

Aussie Awards News

2018 Aurealis Awards Open

2018 Aurealis Awards overseers the Continuum Foundation (ConFound) announces that the 2018 Aurealis Awards are now open for entries.

The Aurealis Awards, Australia’s premier awards for speculative fiction, are for works created by an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and published for the first time between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2018.

Full guidelines and FAQ can be found on the Aurealis Awards website: <https://aurealisawards.org/rules/>

 

Upcoming Aussie Cons

Continuum XIV: Conjugation. Melbourne’s SF Convention. 8th – 11th June, 2018. More information: <http://www.continuum.org.au/>.

Conflux 14 - The Unconventional Hero — Vibe Hotel, 1 Rogan Street, Canberra Airport ACT 2609. 29/09/2018 - 01/10/2018. More Information: <https//conflux.org.au>. AntipodeanSF will be at Conflux 14!

Nullus Anxietas VII: The Australian Discworld Convention – will be held in Melbourne on April 12-14, 2019, and is themed on Going Postal. More information: <https://ausdwcon.org/>

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antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

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