The Disgraced Ringmaster (Short Story)

A few days ago, I enrolled in a four-week creative writing course on Coursera. I had been waiting for this kind of courses for a while, strangely Coursera did not have a lot of selections in this area. Most of other writing courses are more focused on professional writing.

The first writing assignment was to write a 250-word short story using the Pyramid structure (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement). Other requirement includes having a main character with three specific “wants”, three reasons behind those “wants”, and three flaws. The structure of the story needs to be as such: the first sentence has to start with introduction of the protagonist, followed by a second one with inciting incident leading up to rising actions. Now, the tricky part is that the instructor gave twelve words, each of them needs to be incorporated in every other sentence starting from the third sentence onward. The words are: trick, memory, aboard, tiger, pretend, carrot, appliance, cage, rings, crow, filthy, and explode.

I didn’t pay for the course, so I couldn’t have it submitted to be peer-graded. (Coursera isn’t what it used to be). But it was quite fun scribbling the story on my notebook, so I decided to post it here.

Needless to say, I exceeded the word count limit.

The Disgraced Ringmaster

In the middle of a drizzly night, a drunken old man with half-opened eyes and full grubby beard yelled obscenities loudly outside a bar. He had been kicked out of the bar for stumbling around disturbing other patrons, at one point spitting into someone else’s drink. After a while, the filthy old man finally stopped yelling and slowly pulled his wobbly legs up, still cursing under his alcohol-reeked breath.

Mr. P, the homeless old man, wondered around the slippery street for a while before entering another bar. Desperate for another glass of brandy – or maybe two – he feigned confidence and walked in pretending as if he still had enough money. When the bartender served him rudely, Mr. P grunted angrily, “Yer just a young lad, how the hell you think you can run a business being all rude to old men!”

The bartender shot Mr. P a disgusted look and sneered, “You ain’t just some old man, if memory serves me right you’re The Ringmaster from that damned circus.” He grinned mockingly, “I ain’t got no obligation being all nice and shit to no murderers. Besides, you always tricked the whole town with your crazy expensive tickets, thinkin’ we all stupid village people who never got no circus coming here before.”

At this point, a group of men sitting behind Mr. P had stopped their own rowdy conversation and been listening. When one of them realized who the old man in drenched, patched coat was, he laughed drunkenly, “Oh ho, wouldn’t you look at that old stinking crow getting all red and angry.” The men surrounded Mr. P now. Panicking to get out of his seat, Mr. P’s wobbly hand knocked over the bartender’s appliances. The men saw this clumsy act and, laughing even more mercilessly, dragged the scrawny old man by his coat and threw him outside the bar. “If you still got that much nerve showing up in this town,” said the most massive man in the group while clenching his knuckle-rings-decorated fist, “clearly we didn’t mess you up enough the last time.”

The first punch to his right temple wiped off the crazy, drunken smirk from Mr. P’s face. The pain and shock reminded him of how he felt witnessing helplessly as his old caravan exploded right before his eyes. Lying there in the pouring rain with strangers’ feet kicking his empty stomach, Mr. P couldn’t help but wondered if this was how his animals (and sometimes, his employees) felt when he administered his whip. “Carrots and sticks, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr.P once proudly answered when a member of his audience asked how he had trained and disciplined his troupe, “It’s all about punishment and reward.”

Among the nine people injured and the three dead on the day of explosion, there were two gymnasts, a clown, a veterinarian, and one nine-year-old boy who had sneaked into one of the tents to see his idolized funambulist.

But all Mr. P could think about when the massive man spat on his face was his favorite tiger Richie. Although Mr. P had always wanted a lion for his act, he always failed to utter any word of complaint every time he saw Richie jumping through the ring of fire, his amber stripes blending in color perfectly with the flame. Mr. P’s tears mixed with his blood and rain as he lifted himself up in a sitting position, unable to erase the image of Richie’s piercing eyes shining from the inside his blazing cage glaring at him accusingly, vengefully… savagely.

“Hey, old man,” the bartender suddenly appeared, pitifully covering Mr.P’s head with an umbrella and handing him a wad of cash, “Take this and just get aboard on a train, go, anywhere but here, okay?”

Mr. P coughed, looked up at the bartender’s face, at the wad of cash, at his dripping blood diluted by the rain. He shook his head weakly, with his last energy snatched the umbrella from the bartender’s hand, and limped away into the midnight rain.


By the way, Richie’s name was inspired by Richard Parker the Bengal tiger from Life of Pi. For Mr.P’s name… well, in my native language Pi is read as “pee” and the first time I read the novel, it was the translated version. I know Pi did not want to be called that and a big scene in the book was him writing 3.14159xxxxxxx on the chalkboard to drive exactly that point. But it’s always going to be pronounced “pee” in my head.


Jumbled and yours,




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