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Life Inside a Cannonball

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Zazel cursed the Spandex suit as she snapped the unitard’s strap unto her left shoulder. The damned thing was so tight and she’d worn it so often lately, her shoulders were now tender and bruised from the straps. This was the last show.

She could do this one more time.

David, Zazel’s long–time partner and husband, came into the dressing room then. “Fifteen minutes until you’re needed in the cannon.”

“Yep.”

“You feeling alright, hun? You look beat.”

Zazel contemplated, briefly, telling him the truth. Instead, she lied. “I’m fine. I’ll see you cannon side in fifteen.”

David gave her a quick appraisal with his eyes, shrugged his sequined shoulders and exited the room.

Zazel could do this once more.

She faced the mirror on her dressing table and glared at the reflection. A small, sinewy young woman in a too tight unitard glared back. The performer. She nodded at the woman in the mirror, grabbed the helmet from the chair next to the door and walked out to the big tent.

The sleek metal cylinder was waiting. So was the crowd. Zazel positioned herself behind the curtain. David stood on the platform at the back of the cannon, microphone in hand, proclaiming to the masses about the death-defying act they would all soon witness. Zazel mouthed along silently and verbatim.

“For over one hundred years, members of the Zambito family have shocked and amazed thousands with their dangerous feats in human cannoneering. This generation’s cannoneer is the greatest and most daring member in that long dynasty. Ladies and gentleman, I give you, Zazel Zambito, the Human Projectile!”

Zazel’s movements were mechanical. She jogged from behind the curtain towards the platform.

She could do this once more.

She reached the ladder that would take her to the mouth of the cannon and began the familiar ascent. The audience cheered.

At the top, she locked her legs tightly together and raised her arms into the air. The audience roared with delight. She continued her crowd interactions long enough for the final safety check. When all was clear, Zazel swung her legs around and descended into the mouth of the beast.

She could do this once more.

Three quarters of the way down the shaft, a platform met Zazel’s tiny feet. Automatically, she shifted her body into the position for trajectory—squatting, heels planted firmly on the platform, elbows on her knees, arms covering the face and hands holding the helmet. Fetal position.

She would reach her full height again once she was expelled. She needed to stay rigid in flight, turning at the exact moment, previously calculated by engineers, in order to land on her back in the safety net. If not—there could be no “if.” Every calculation must be precise—position, angle; even her weight and height were monitored and taken into account with each new setup.

Encapsulated by the cannon, the din of the circus was muffled. It was like sticking your fingers in your ears while standing on the shoreline— the crashing tides of the sea diffused. The smells of the circus still assaulted Zazel’s nose, salty popcorn air mingled with sweet cotton candy, all sullied by the feral stench of the caged animals. Bile began to wend its way into her throat.

She could do this once more.

Breathing back the urge to wretch, Zazel readied herself for the blast of compressed air that would send her small form careening through the sky this one last time.

She shouldn’t do this.

It wasn’t right.

She shouldn’t have lied to David. She should have told him what the results on the stick had indicated.

“Ten...nine...eight...”

Zazel moved out of fetal position and began to claw at the smooth surface of the cannon. Calculations and proper form be damned. She needed to make it to the top.

She had to stop this.

Each desperate attempt to gain purchase on the cannon’s surface resulted in failure—Zazel just slid back down onto the platform. She kicked and screamed wildly. Nobody heard her cries.

“...three...two...one...

About the Author

Corinne Kelly’s writing credentials include publication in Holy Family University’s Literary Folio in 2008, and her work has been featured in public readings at both Musehouse: A Center for Literary Arts in, as well as Philadelphia’s 215 Festival in 2013.

“Life Inside a Cannon(ball)” is a flash fiction story from Corinne’s thesis collection, A Cornucopia of Hauntings. She is a 2013 MFA graduate from Arcadia University and she currently shares her passion for the written word as a high school language arts teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—a haunting profession indeed.

 

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