After losing her aunt and her best friend in New Orleans, Grizzly Rose joins a circus.
This story is the beginning of the transformation from “Little Rose” to “Grizzly Rose.”
Please enjoy with a little swing of trapeze act and a thrill of knife throwing!
Recounted by Zoe the circus elephant
The knife throwing is sometimes called an art of impalement. Actually, “impalement” is something you really want to avoid as an impalement artist. Of course it’s bound to happen sometimes, no matter how skilled you are.
My name is Zoe, and I’m a circus elephant. I suppose I’d be happier roaming about in the plains like my mother used to tell me, but I was born in a circus tent. You can’t miss what you never had, and I’m happy here as long as those silly circus folks leave me alone. I don’t mind the audience, especially children. I just don’t like most of the people in the circus, especially the ones that walk around swollen with their own importance. There are some that I like though. I like Scarlet; she’s a trapeze artist. And I don’t mind Sweet Mel either. She trains and takes care of the poodles. Those poodles are too chatty for my liking. Mel dyes their hair with beet juice so I try not to look at them too much. If I do, I just start laughing—they do look funny in beet red curly hair. But they think they look great, so who am I to contradict them? These days, I try to hold my tongue. I also like William Bell and Rose, the impalement artists.
When Rose showed up at the circus, Mr. Charlie, who runs the show, wanted her to train as a trick pony rider and a sharp shooter. I don’t know where she learned how to shoot but she was good at it. She is good at everything, though—she rides horses beautifully, walks tightrope better than most of people in the business and she’s a first-rate acrobat. On the other hand, William is not a very good impalement artist. He couldn’t impale anything, target or otherwise. William is the son of Franz Dagger, famous German knife thrower known for his rapidity. Franz assists Mr. Charlie now—he retired after losing William’s mother to an accident during their routine practice. Franz doesn’t throw knives anymore, but he trains his son. Unfortunately, William is horrible at it, but not for want of practice. As a matter of fact he practices a lot. I watch him practice late at night, throwing knives over and over again to the target board. Stray cats would come and tease him walking back and force in front of him as if to say “Strike me if you can but I know you can’t!”
God, he’s awful. He doesn’t impale things that he’s supposed to and impale things that he isn’t supposed to. Rose would join me once in a while. There were a few nights she and I sat together and watched William practice. She winced and grimaced watching him but also smiled.
One night as we were watching yet another stray cat taunting William, Rose got up and walked over to him.
“Those cats aren’t a very good target,” she shooed the cats away.
William was a little taken back at first but said,
“Well, I’m not good enough to have a target girl.”
“Sure you are,” Rose said.
“I’ll be your target. Come on.”
William didn’t say anything.
“Come on, throw the knife at me. I’m quick, I promise you won’t hit me.”
William raised his hand then lowered it, shaking his head.
“You know I’m no good. I might hit you.”
“Stop being a coward,” Rose chided. “I told you I’m quick.”
“I will probably hit you.”
“No, you won’t.”
With that last shout William let go of the knife. The knife went straight for Rose but she dodged it so nimbly that not one hair was out of place. William was speechless, staring at his knife stuck right
next to a smiling Rose’s head.
“That was fun, come throw another one and make sure it hits me this time!” she said.
It was a shock to everyone—except me—when Rose asked Mr. Charlie if she could train to be a target girl for William. There were some mean comments made in hushed voices, but Rose ignored them. I was rather surprised that Mr. Charlie said yes, but in a way, Rose probably was the only target girl for William and being a smart manager, he probably realized that. So it was that they became “William Bell and Rose” and they were a hit, much to everyone’s surprise, including William.
Of course it was Rose’s amazing escapes that kept the audience going, but William seemed very happy. I even saw Frank pat him on his shoulder once or twice. They still practice at night and when they take break, they would sit with me.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault what happened later. One night during a show, a knife thrown by William struck my back leg. Nobody saw it so I kept quiet, but it hurt pretty badly and I fell down immediately after their act. Rose and Scarlet hurried off to town to look for a doctor while William and Sweet Mel stayed with me. Sweet Mel is used to tending injuries because of her poodles. She tended my leg while William paced back and forth, repeating, “It’s all my fault. I know I’m no good at throwing knife.”
Sweet Mel is a good listener. She must be, dealing with those poodles. William told her how he never wanted to be an impalement artist but kept on trying, first to make his father proud then to make Rose happy. I was only half conscious as I listened to William’s low murmur.
By dawn, Rose and Scarlet came back with a doctor. Much to the relief of everyone, including me, my injury was nowhere near as bad as it looked. I was to be back on my feet in a few days time. However William’s guilt lingered on.
Rose was all excited hearing about “Wheel of Death”—it’s a trick invented by a legendary impalement artist in Germany, but nobody here in America has done it. The target girl is fastened to a spinning wheel while the knife thrower works blindfolded. Rose really wanted to try it, but William wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Seems so dangerous and I’m not sure I will be able to aim well blindfolded.”
“Don’t worry. I’m thinking I will do somersault instead. Besides it won’t make any difference to you if you are blindfolded or not.”
It was meant to be a joke but William didn’t laugh. Noticing his seriousness, Rose corrected herself hastily.
“It will be ok! Come on!”
“Rose, I’m thinking about quitting knife throwing,” William said.
“Don’t be ridiculous! We are doing great and we can even do better. Now stop whining and throw a knife at me!”
Do you ever get that sinking feeling like your heart is falling into your stomach and your whole body is falling through endless pit? I had that as I watched William put on a blindfold. I wanted to stop him but I’m an elephant, I don’t speak people’s tongue. William stood still for a minute or two and threw a knife at Rose as she somersaulted. I watched the knife hit the heel of Rose’s left boot and ricocheted straight back to William.
The whole thing probably took only a moment, although it felt like days. By the time Rose finished the somersault, William lay dead on the ground, a knife through his heart. Rose stood by William’s body just dazed when miss Scarlet and Mel noticed what happened. They called for help but they knew it was too late.
There’s not a thing you can do for an impaled heart!
Death keeps following Grizzly Rose. Where will she go next? To the desert is my bet. We’ll see…