For those of you who are new to my blog, Inspired is a series in which I collaborate with other creative people, with the aim of inspiring them and being inspired in return. For part 6, I have collaborated with the insanely talented Sarah Wright, a freelance illustrator from High Rook Designs. Sarah lives in Northern Ireland, like myself, and has been passionate about drawing from a young age. She is a working mum of two beautiful girls, so life can get in the way sometimes, but she cherishes the moments when she gets to sit down and be creative. If you love her work as much as I do, you can check her out on Instagram or via Facebook.
On this occasion, I wrote the story and sent it to Sarah, who was inspired to create the amazing image below. I think it really brings my story to life. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you are a creative person, and would like to collaborate with me, then please get in touch! Enjoy…
The Silent Man
It was dusk now, and the warm humid air of that day was beginning to cool. Oscar loved to find new places, it was one of the only advantages of working for a circus. Every few weeks he would have new paths to take, new terrain to explore, new sights to see. Sometimes he would walk for hours, losing himself in thought. Often, as he did so, he would imagine living a different life. A life where he was not a lowly clown, but the star of the show, the headliner. He dreamt of awe and applause instead of pity and laughter. But mostly he thought about Ophelia. Ophelia was the trapeze girl. Every night, he watched her soar through the air as the audience gasped. She was so beautiful, so graceful, like a swallow on the wind.
He checked his watch, he would have to turn back soon. The evening show started at eight o’clock sharp, and Jean, the man who ran the circus, would be furious if he was late. Just as he was about to turn back, he came to a clearing in the woods, where the path he had been following, met three more. A cross roads is not in of itself an unusual sight, although one in a forest is highly irregular, but what he saw before him made him start. In the exact spot where the four paths met, stood a man. The man was unusually tall, at least six foot five estimated Oscar, and he was almost as wide again. He towered above Oscar’s five foot seven, slender frame, and was a formidable sight to behold. His neck was the same width as his square shaped head, and it stood upon two large shoulders. He had dark eyes, framed by purple bags, and his thin lips were curled into a sly smile. He wore an old fashioned grey tweed suit with a matching fedora which reminded Oscar of something his Grandfather would have worn when he was a child. All of these features were unusual enough alone, but combined with the fact that the man was staring straight at Oscar with those dark eyes of his, and that his hands were clasped in front of him, gave the overall appearance that he had been patiently waiting for Oscar to arrive. He found it all rather unnerving to say the least.
Oscar froze as he absorbed what he saw, and before his senses returned to him fully, he could think of nothing else to do apart from smile weakly at the stranger, and make an inane remark like, “Nice evening for a walk.” The man made no reply, and instead continued to stare. Oscar began to feel incredibly awkward about the whole situation. He wanted to leave, but felt it would be rude to simply walk away without further conversation, and if there was one thing Oscar loathed, it was rudeness. Again, he tried to make polite conversation.
“I’m here with the circus, you may have seen the posters around town?” Silence followed.
“I find a walk in the evening really clears ones head. Do you agree?” Again, his remark was only met with further silence. Oscar found himself beginning to feel rather irritated by the whole experience. The man was being incredibly rude, not to mention unfriendly, but given his stature, Oscar thought it best to not voice this opinion, and to simply end the conversation and hurry back to the tent. He opened his mouth to say something along the lines of, “Well, have a good evening.” when the man pulled out a letter and thrust it toward Oscar. In normal circumstances, as with the Christians handing out their doomsday leaflets on street corners, he would simply say a polite, “No thank you.” and walk away. However, these were not normal circumstances, and this was no ordinary piece of paper, for clearly marked on the envelope, in blood red writing was a name, his name in fact, Oscar Thorpe.
This was unusual for two reasons, the first being that, as we have already established, this man was a stranger to him, and therefore would have no knowledge of his name. But secondly, Thorpe was his father’s name, the name given to him at birth and the name which adorns his birth certificate. It is not, however, the name he goes by. Indeed, he had ceased to use that name at the age of sixteen years old when his Father abruptly left, and within a matter of months his poor mother had died of a broken heart. Since that year, he had used his Mother’s maiden name of Sheridan, and he knew not of a single living soul who knew of his true, legal name.
He hesitated until curiosity got the better of him, and he took the envelope from the silent man. He examined it carefully. The envelope was of thick quality paper, and had been sealed with a red wax seal depicting what appeared to be a pitchfork or trident. The writing on the front was slanted heavily to one side and appeared to have been written in haste. It had a faint odour which Oscar could not place.
“What is this?” The man made no reply, and instead gestured towards the envelope.
“Who gave you this? Why do you know my name?” Again, the man said nothing, and simply gestured towards the envelope in response to Oscar’s questions.
A dozen questions sat on the tip of his tongue, but he thought better of asking them. He hoped the answers would perhaps lie within, and besides, he could already guess the response he would receive from this tall man, and they would not be satisfactory.
He opened the envelope carefully, and removed the paper from within. Unfolding it, he attempted to guess its contents, but drew a blank. Whatever it was, he had a strange feeling it would change his life forever. Written in the same blood red ink, in the same slanted, hurried handwriting, was the following letter:
I understand that this situation may be highly irregular, but I beg of you to please read this letter with an open mind. Trust me when I say, it will be to your advantage to do so. I also have no doubt that you have many questions, and I will do my very best to answer them all for you here. First, an introduction. The gentleman who has provided this note to you is a colleague of mine, and a dear friend. He has no name of his own, but I call him Servus. He says very little, but sees all. He will take your response to the proposal put forth in this letter, should you wish to convey one. He is extremely loyal, and very trustworthy, traits which are so lacking in today’s world.
I myself have many names, some good, some bad. I prefer to simply be called Luc. I have developed a reputation of being an untrustworthy man, but all I do is offer those desperate souls what they yearn for. I ask you, is getting exactly what one wants such a terrible thing? But, I get ahead of myself.
Please know that everything contained within this letter is nothing but the truth. I offer no empty promises and I am a man of my word. And to show you that this is not some prank, I will prove to you that I know many things, not least of all, your greatest desire. How do I know your true name you ask? I know many things. I know that you were christened this name, but that you chose another in anger and grief. Perhaps this information is not so spectacular alone. After all, it would not be impossible for one to find out, should they be determined enough. Improbable, but not impossible. But I know more than any man could. I know that you are the reason your father left. That, after discovering his second life, his second family, you had presented him with an ultimatum: Them or us. I know that, after he chose them, you hid the truth from your Mother in some vain hope of sparing her feelings, but instead the lack of knowledge drove her mad with grief, and she died within the year. I know that you blamed your father for her death, and yourself more so, and I know that after too many drinks and a building up of hurt and pain, in a fit of rage, you threw a burning bottle through the window of your ex-father’s new home, and while his worthless life and that of his new wife, were spared, their unborn babe was lost. I know that out of remorse, as well as the fear of being found out, you ran and joined the circus, choosing an empty nomadic existence as penitence for your crime. This I know, along with all the other sad chapters of your life so far. How you ask? Because I see all sin, because I know all sinful men, and because I bear the weight of those sins alongside them.
It doesn’t have to be this way Oscar. You have served your time, and then some. After all these years of making people laugh, don’t you deserve some happiness of your own? Don’t you deserve to know love? The love of Ophelia. She is what your heart desires above all else is she not? I can make her see you for the first time, more than that, I can make her admire you, to see you as the strong, brave man you truly are. I can make them all see you. You have spent too long in the shadows Oscar. I can bring you into the spot light. I can make you the star of the show, but more importantly, I can make you the star of your own life after years of playing the bit part. You can be the man your Father failed to be. You can be who you were destined to be. I can do this and more Oscar, so much more.
All I ask in return, is your unwavering loyalty. Surrender yourself to me, completely, and I will give you exactly what you deserve, and everything you ask of me will be yours. I know this seems a heavy price to pay, but your payment would only be due in death, and in the mean time, you have everything you want in life. Why worry about later right now?
I understand that this is a difficult decision, and I do not wish to rush you, just know that this is a one time offer. Refuse now, and you will never have this opportunity again.
I Look forward to your response,
P.S. Simply give your answer to Servus, in writing, I will do the rest.
He read the letter several times, and pondered its contents in disbelief. The information within was known to no other man, no human man anyway. Could this really be something supernatural? Could this truly be, as he suspected, the work of the Devil? Oscar was not a God fearing man, and he had given up on religion many years before. In fact, he had not believed in the devil until this very moment, for despite racking his brains, he could find no other explanation for what was happening now. So if this was indeed a real offer, as Oscar now suspected it was, the question is should he accept? One’s soul is a heavy price to pay for anything, no matter how spectacular and yearned for that thing may be. But, as the letter stated, he had a long life ahead of him, after all he was only thirty years old, and had just recently received a clean bill of health from a Doctor. Was a lifetime of happiness and joy worth later servitude? Oscar reckoned it was. Ophelia was worth that plus so much more. He imagined how joyful his life would be with her. Perhaps they could leave the circus soon, and start a family, or perhaps their children could follow in their foot steps and travel the world, performing their feats for all to see. He had loved Ophelia from afar for so long now, desperate to hold her, to kiss her. This could be his chance. And then there was the idea of being the star for once. He had been humiliated and tread on for most of his life, and for years he had endured this embarrassment so publicly. He had accepted this fate readily at first, after all, he deserved to be punished for his crimes. But had he not suffered enough? After more than a decade of shovelling elephant waste and being the butt of every joke, maybe he had served his time. This could be his chance to finally feel the warm glow of the spot light on his face, and to be the star of the show for once in his pathetic life. Yes, he could see it now, he could feel the rumble of the applause, he could feel the soft brush of Ophelia’s lips on his.
He checked his watch again. It was almost seven thirty now, and he really had to get back. Was he really doing this? Was this really happening? Just as he seemed to make up his mind, the stranger pulled an ornate black and gold fountain pen from his inside pocket, and handed it to him. “Do I just sign the letter?” The tall man nodded, and without further thought, Oscar signed his name on the reverse of the page in the same blood red ink as it’s original author. Before the ink could dry, the stranger pulled the pen and the letter from Oscar’s hands and put them inside the same pocket. Oscar had so many questions. Would it work immediately? How would it happen? Was there some kind of magic words he needed to say or some kind of ritual he needed to perform? But he had no time left, and could no longer stand the silence of this mammoth’s responses.
He turned the way he came, and after a few steps, looked back to discover the man was no longer there, and he was once more alone in these woods.
He ran through the trees, scratching himself on several protruding branches as he did so. He cursed out loud as one particularly thorny vine drew blood. If he was indeed going to receive his dream come true, this was a lousy way to start it. He made it to the tent with only ten minutes until show time, but instead of being met by the hardened, angry face of Jean, he was embraced warmly.
“Oscar, thank God, just the man I was looking for. I was starting to worry about you.”
“Of course I was! Ten minutes until curtain up, and my leading man was nowhere to be seen. I nearly sent out a search party.”
“Your leading man?”
“Indeed, my number one, my shining light, the star of the show.”
With that, Jean gestured behind Oscar, who turned to see a huge painted, fabric poster, the size of a house, depicting him, Oscar Sheridan, as ‘The Magnificent Oscar, Ring Leader, Lion Tamer, Star.’ He had never looked that handsome in real life. His skin glowed, and the top hat and tails he wore made him look rather dashing, even if he did say so himself. In his hand he held a leather whip, and just behind him, a lion cowered in fear at his might. It was better than anything he could have imagined.
“You should go and get dressed. The clowns will be on first, then the trapeze artists, and then you.”
Oscar nodded, still staring in disbelief, and began to walk towards his tent.
“Where are you going?”
“To get changed like you said.”
“Yes, but why are you going that way? That’s where the minor players and freaks camp, your trailer is that way.”
Oscar didn’t know what to say, and simply nodded dumbly, walking in the direction of Jean’s outstretched arm. He had walked around fifty metres, when he came to a large silver trailer with ‘The Great Oscar’ painted on a yellow wooden star on the door. Slowly, he opened the door and stepped inside. As far as circus digs went, this was the crème de la crème of accommodation. He was used to sleeping bags on the ground and leaking tents. Compared to that, this was a palace. The unit was divided into three sections, a small seating area at the front, a cooking area and a double bed at the back. In the middle, there stood a dressing table strewn with makeup brushes and eye pencils. The Mirror above it was surrounded by bulbs glowing a warm yellow hew, and taped along one side of it was newspaper clippings showing Oscar smiling out under various headlines: “The Great Oscar wows Town Mayor”, “Oscar the Great is awarded the key to the City”, “Oscar Sheridan breaks world record.” A clothes rack stood to his right, and a dozen costumes hung there. The detailing on each sparkled as he swiped his hand along them all, enjoying the richness of the fabric against his shaking hands. Then he spotted it, obscured by a black satin top hat, sat a black and white framed photograph of his beautiful Ophelia. It was one of her head shots, and she stared seductively over her bare shoulder at the camera. In black ink, handwritten in the right hand corner, were the words ‘To my dearest Oscar, Forever Yours, Love Ophelia xx.’ It was all too good to be true. He pinched himself, and with the sharp pain confirming that he was in fact awake, he started to cry tears of joy. It had worked. It had really worked.
A sharp knock at the door jolted him back to reality.
“Ten minutes until show time Mr Sheridan.”
He sat in front of the mirror and applied some make up. He was used to slathering on cheap white creams, and red waxy makeup, but this enhanced his features rather than obscured them. By the time he was done, and his costume put on (He had chosen a white sequin jacket and black top hat and trousers), he truly did look like Oscar the Great.
He made his way towards the tent, and could arrived just as the trapeze artists were performing their final, and most dangerous trick. Ophelia removed her safety wire, and having swung as high as the tent would allow, she would fly through the air and somersault not once, but twice, before her brother Renee caught her. The audience would scream and gasp. On more than one occasion, someone had fainted. But Ophelia never fell. She couldn’t fall. She only flew; a swallow on the wind.
The audience burst into rapturous applause and Ophelia and Renee took their bows now they had returned safely to the ground. Jean went out into the ring and began to banter with the audience, he would always tell a few jokes before introducing the next act, and the two gravity defying stars walked towards Oscar at the side of the ring. Oscar could not take his eyes off her. She was so stunning, and the spot lights behind her, gave her an almost angelic quality. As she passed him, she grabbed him suddenly by the neck and kissed him hard. He went rigid for a moment, sheer surprise and shock overriding every other sense, before they finally returned to him, and seizing the moment, a moment he had only ever dreamt about before this night, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close to him, returning her kiss and breathing her scent in deeply. She smelled like apricots, and she tasted even sweeter. It was better than he could have ever imagined.
After what felt like an eternity, she pulled away, and smiled up at him adoringly.
“Knock them dead my love.”
She then skipped off, twice looking back at him and smiling the sweetest of smiles just for him. Before this, she had barely made eye contact with him, and in fact had only spoken to him on three occasions since joining their circus two years prior: “Bring me a drink clown”, “Move out of the way” and ‘Stop staring at me freak.” He had saved each word in his memories, believing any contact with her to be precious. Now, she kissed him fondly and called him her love. Now, after all the fantasies and imaginary scenarios played out in his mind, she was finally his. He felt as if his heart would burst. Surely, it could not get any better than this?
“And now, the moment you have all been waiting for. The star of the show, the bravest man in the western world, the man you all came here to see, the one, the only, Oscar the Great.”
The applause was deafening. People screamed until they were hoarse, several young girls fainted with excitement, and the entire audience, every man, woman and child, stood as he entered the ring. The audience barely noticed him before, now they gave him a standing ovation. This was everything he had ever wished for, and more. Jean handed him the leather whip, and walked backwards out of the ring, clapping Oscar as he went.
He stood a moment, basking in the warm glow of the spot light, and with closed eyes, absorbed every clap, every yell echoing around the tent. Then he raised his left hand and immediately the audience became silent. Even on the saw dust floor, you could have heard a pin drop. He couldn’t believe how receptive they were to him, “They’re eating out of the palm of my hand!” He bowed to them, and the applause erupted once more, before another raise of his hand brought them to silence. It was then he knew what it felt like to be a star amongst men, it was then he knew what it felt like to be truly happy. He wished it would never end.
In fact, he was so absorbed in this moment of sheer bliss, that he had failed to notice the two stage hands roll out the cage containing a rather large, and rather angry looking lion. There are places where a wild animal can be happy in captivity. A travelling circus was not one of them. By the time he heard the snarling roar behind him, it was too late. The beast sank it’s fangs into Oscar’s throat, pulling him to the ground. He could feel warm wetness spreading across his chest, and watched the shining white sequins turn red and dull. He felt pain for only a moment, before he began to feel nothing but cold. It was a coldness like none he had ever felt before, and it sent a shiver up his spine. He could hear screaming all around him, but this was not like the enraptured applause of before, no, these screams were filled with horror and fear.
He could feel himself slipping away, the images around him becoming black and fuzzy. The last thing he saw was a very tall man in a grey tweed suit and matching fedora, holding a piece of paper with something scrawled across it in blood red ink. Written in ink that now matched his jacket. It was a name. It was his name. It was his soul.