*This flash fiction story was originally published on Endless Press’ website in January 2018 as runner-up for their Realm Makers scholarship contest.*
Late! It seemed as though I’d never get there, every hallway longer than the last. I only needed to travel down nine floors, cross the lobby, and I would be at Realm Makers.
Around the corner, the elevator waited. It arrived a moment after I pressed the button, packed with clowns. Their costumes various combinations of shirts, dresses, and one-piece suits in black and white patterns paired with black vests, trousers, tutus, or bustiers. Some wore top hats. Others sported dark bomber caps.
There was no way I was getting in that elevator. How would I even fit?
The tallest clown stood in the middle. His brightly colored red wig poked out from around the aviator goggles on his head. He reached out and honked his horn at me. “Guess, you’ll have to get the next one.” The door started to close. “Remember, kids; reading is fun.”
After two more elevators full of clown passed, I gave up waiting and squeezed into one. I exited into the lobby. It looked like the backstage of a techno-punk circus. The smell of cotton candy and popcorn saturated the air. Clowns were everywhere.
Spotting a bellhop in a red uniform near the conference hall entrance, I pushed my way through the crowd. “Excuse me, where are the Realm Maker sessions being held?”
“Sorry. We had to move them offsite.” He pointed to a tinted glass door, trimmed in brushed chrome. “Take the side door. Outside, you will find the complimentary transportation we have arranged for you.”
“Thank you.” I exited, unprepared for what awaited me there. A half-dozen clowns surrounded a three-story tall red and yellow stripped cannon.
A female clown approached me, dressed in a black and white striped dress with cap sleeves. Several layers of tulle made the short shirk look like a tutu. Her face was painted white with a cogwheel circling her left eye. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen. “Hiya, hon. You need a boost?”
“You’re looking for a ride to the Realm Makers conference, right?”
“Great!” She handed me a pair of brown leather aviator goggles. “You’ll need these. Remember, no matter what keep your hands by your side and your body rigid until you hit the net.”
She turned around and spoke to a man dress in a black and white, polka-dotted, one-piece outfit with a vest and a bomber cap, “Moe light the cannon. Let’s get this lady locked and loaded.”
I looked over the cannon again. They must be joking. That couldn’t be the transportation to the conference center. I tapped her on the shoulder. “You don’t really intend to blast me from a cannon into the conference center, do you?” I smiled, sure it was a mistake.
“Oh, no, sug.” She laughed, and I relaxed a little. “We’re gonna blast you into a net hanging off the airship as it goes by. They’ll drop you into the conference center.”
My jaw scrapped the pavement. “You can’t be serious?”
“Don’t worry. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll be begging to do it again.” She turned around again. “Moe is everything a go?”
“Yep.” Looking past me, Moe motioned for someone to come forward. Before I could say another word two more clowns, dressed in the same one piece as Moe, picked me up and carried me up the black metal staircase next to the cannon, feet first
I could feel the blood rushing to my head. I tried to wriggle loose, but they had a tight hold on me. “Put me down! Put me down, now!”
“Sure thing.” They both laughed as they stuffed my body into the cannon. “This won’t hurt a bit. Just keep your arms tucked in and your body rigid.”
They disappeared from view. A moment later, an explosion reverberated inside the barrel. As my body passed through the opening of the cannon, launching into the humid air, the last drop of air rushed out of my lungs. For a moment, my heart stopped beating, sinking deep into my chest. I managed to hold my position, not daring to move a muscle. Faith was my only option. I had to trust that the clowns knew what they were doing.
I shot through a thick cloud that obscured my vision. On the other side, as if materializing out of thin air, the airship appeared. I panicked, breaking formation. A split second later, I dove face first into the bottom of the net, held by more clowns. Great.
There were dozens of other people like me, on the deck. All of us looking towards the helm, to the man holding up his hand. He wore a three-piece suit and top hat. The sun was glowing behind him in hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple.
When the crowd grew quiet, he lowered his hand and spoke, “Ladies and gentleman, I am Captain Grimaldi. We will be arriving at the conference center in a few minutes. I ask that everyone form a single file line behind the gangplank to my right here. Thank you.” He pointed towards a four-foot-long wooden board attached the side of the ship like a diving board.
The clowns secured a yellow tube slide to the plank, inflated it, and motioned for people to step forward. Those who didn’t line up were corralled by the clowns. One by one, we all entered the slide.
At the bottom, a woman dressed in casual business attire waited. “Please follow me, and we’ll get you checked in. I apologize for any inconvenience with the change in venue. The Clown Convention had way more attendees show up than anyone would have guessed. Fortunately, the hotel was able to secure another venue for us, and the clowns offered to transport all of our conference attendees for free.” She smiled at me. “Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.”
“You don’t say.”