Not even four feet tall the stocky, little man in patchy, homemade overalls was every bit of invisible behind the massive haunches of Tiny, the circus’s eldest, and in his opinion, smelliest, African Elephant. Muttering obscenities beneath his breath, never missing a beat, Puppet shoveled heavy scoopfuls of dung off the boxcar's floor and into an old wheelbarrow, pausing only long enough to lean the shit stick against the wall before he grabbed the handles of the wheelbarrow, his dark complexion reddening from the weight, and headed out to ditch the stink someplace where it wouldn't be noticed until the circus was just a memory.
He hated this work, hated how all the fancy pants, the trapeze artists, the animal trainers, even the side show freaks treated him as nothing more than a trained pet; existing only to clean up after them or serve them in whatever fashion they so desired. He was even forced to bed down with the tamer animals. He blamed the ringleader, Master Drachen, who since coming upon an abandoned toddler boy of color in the middle of Arkansas during the early forties had rescued him only to make him a perpetual slave and personal object of ridicule.
When Puppet was young he'd been grateful to Master Drachen, quietly obedient, but as the years wore on the insults piled up; the sound of laughter around the campfire, almost always directed at him, began echoing in his ears, their taunts making his eyes sting and his heart ache more than the frequent beatings until one day the pain was replaced with an anger that grew stronger with each passing day threatening his morals; his sanity. He tossed around the idea of suicide often, but could never bring himself to go through with it, not simply out of fear of the unknown, but also because he could see their wide eyes, lacking any sense of remorse or grief, enjoying the shock of his dead body hanging limp from a tree, happy that they had something fresh to discuss over dinner. No, he didn't want to die. He wanted to kill.
“Puppet! Puppet!” The master stood, a tall, sinewy figure, his face shadowed by the brilliance of the sun rising behind him, making it appear as though he were standing on the very brink of hell.
“Imma comin’ Mastah D,” Puppet hollered back, while whispering under his breath, “Ya mean ol’ sonna bitch.” He quickly dumped the rest of the shit out of the wheelbarrow, turned it around and hurried over to the dark figure.
“Gawddamn Puppet! If you were any slower I’d hafta treat you like a lame horse. I swear. Sometimes I get to thinkin’ an’ it seems I’da been betta off leavin’ you by the side of the road an’ never lookin’ back, but that ain’t neither here nor there,” the Master paused, wiped the sweat from his brow, and glared down at the mistake he believed nature had made. “You still wanna play clown boy?”
Puppet’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It had to be another trap, a trick to get his hopes up just to crush him and make him feel...