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Short Story: Son of Marceau


Mime artist holding up fists.

Since I'm hoping to publish volume 2 in my Vulnerable In Front of Fiction short story collection in 2024, I thought I'd post a sneak preview and let you read the first short story, titled Son of Marceau. If you've read volume 1 you'll know you're in for a creepy little tale.




Son of Marceau


I’d become so used to seeing the street artist every week day as I commuted to and from work that he soon became just a visual white noise, so to speak. Sometimes I’d glance across to where he stood, a regular spot by the mobile phone shop where he’d be plying his trade and ignored by my fellow commuters and early risers. It was the same during lunch time where I’d pass him to get my usual meal deal from the branch of Boots opposite him. Though this time with the street being more populated, he would receive some attention, mostly from tourists who weren’t used to seeing a mime artist dressed as the late Queen Elizabeth II. He would use the cheap plastic sword to knight people or get members of his audience to shake his hand, before pausing for selfies. No one would mistake him for the real queen, even when she was alive. Not with that incongruous red moustache.


He was still there when I was waiting for the bus home that evening. With the street always bustling, it’s no wonder he stuck around for the chance of more coins and notes being thrown into his small black purse. He’d be there in all weather. Same garments - long glimmering dress, cheap jewellery, wig and crown, but he’d have a big puffy jacket on during the colder spells. This led to more selfies and interest from people. It wasn’t often you saw the Queen in that kind of coat (even if it wasn’t Her Royal Highness). He must have had a long day, standing there all day. Now and then, I’d slip some change into his purse while heading to the bus stop just a few yards away. He would curtsy and smile sweetly. He looked young. No more than thirty years of age. It wasn’t always Elizabeth II, though. He used to dress as a winged angel statue, but then stopped after they became infamous because of Doctor Who and the fans that would descend. He didn’t have a moustache then.


“I swear to God he was definitely there. Gave me the creeps, just standing there.”

I’d just arrived at my desk on Monday morning when my colleague Laurie told me about what she’d seen at the weekend.


“Are you sure you just weren’t drunk?” I said, taking my coat off and switching my computer on. “What time was this, anyway?”


“Almost three o’clock in the morning,” said Laurie. “I remember ‘cos I was waiting for a taxi and checking my phone. It was definitely him. And I’d barely drank. I spent most of the night dancing and had to drive to my mum’s the next day.”


“And he wasn’t doing anything? Just standing there? Dressed like -”


“Old Liz, yeah! Really weird. I was going to take a photo, but… I don’t know. It was weird. I asked if he was okay. Didn’t answer.”


“You went right up to him?”


“Nah. I kept my distance. It was odd.”


A phone call interrupted our conversation so work distracted me from thoughts of the mime artist.


That was until I left to get lunch at noon. What Laurie had said about the early morning appearance of the guy made me feel for him. Maybe he was having issues at home or with a relationship. Maybe his mental health wasn’t so good. As I rounded the corner on the street, I was weighing up whether I should intervene. Check he was okay.


I almost didn’t recognise him at first. Well, I was so used to seeing the Queen that I thought the guy in the black cap, striped top and black trousers with braces was someone else completely. The moustache was gone. Probably to make it easier to apply the pale face make-up. A handful of people were watching him as he waved at children before climbing a ladder and rowing a boat. His face, however, remained curiously expressionless.


I watched him closely. Something had obviously happened in his life. Gone was the late Queen cosplay. Now he’d dressed like the great mime artist, Marcel Marceau.


His small audience grew bored and drifted off when he pretended to be trapped in a box. I moved closer. Watching as he raised his hands to his sides and then in front and behind himself. His gaze was unfocused. I was preparing to speak to him, ask if he was okay. If he wanted to take a break.


It was when he raised both hands above him he showed some sort of emotion.

Confusion.


Brows dipped as he patted the air above him again. He did the same thing again, looking up. Keeping his splayed hands raised, he locked eyes with me. I mouthed, “Are you alright?”


He brought his arms down but pretended to knock his elbows against something and emitted a small “ow”. He pressed the air at his side, and then this time swore. Then he tentatively poked one solitary finger in front of him.


My mouth fell open as I watched the tip of his finger flatten on its own. He stuck out a foot, but the toes of his shoe flattened against nothing visible.


Confusion had given way to panic. The mime hit out at the invisible walls. And I saw it! Like he was actually in a glass box. His arms hit against walls unseen.


“I can’t get out!” He cried, arms flailing again but only hitting against nothing. I was unsure about what was happening and how he made it seem so authentic. Yet, I couldn’t bear to abandon him like this. I looked around. Nobody was taking much interest. Just assuming this was part of his act.


I extended my hand, urging him to move forward. Realise there was nothing there. If it was just part of his act, then at worst I’d get yelled at for ruining it.


Except I wasn’t moving. I intended to move, but it was like the motivation to help him had gone. I didn’t understand it. My body refused to get closer to him. For one terrifying moment, I thought perhaps I was trapped, too. Stepping back, I almost collided with someone passing behind me.


“Help me!” The mime shouted. His limbs swung out, meeting an invisible resistance. “It’s getting smaller. I can’t get out!”


I grabbed the nearest person - a guy in a high-viz jacket carrying a half-eaten bacon roll. “Please can you help him? I think he’s not well.”


The guy looked at the frantic mime. “He’s just pretending. That’s what they do.” He walked off. I tried again to move towards him but I couldn’t. It was like my legs had become extremely heavy.


“Stop messing around. It’s not funny anymore,” I told the mime.


“I’m not joking!” he said, his voice breaking. “I can’t move!”


I watched helplessly as his shoulders hunched, his arms pinned to his sides. His face flattened, squashing his lips and nose. His eyes widened in horror as he let out a muted whine. I don’t think he could speak anymore.


Nobody was watching. Nobody was helping. Despite people passing by, he went unnoticed. Why could I see him?


I tried with all my strength to move towards him again. I was mere feet away. I might be able to rescue him if I reached him. But my feet would not move forward.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” I gasped and staggered away.


Instead of waiting for the bus like usual I got a taxi home. The next morning I called in sick. The real reason was because I’d not slept soundly. Plagued by nightmares of the trapped mime. For the rest of the week, I took a different route to work. I couldn’t face stepping into that street again.


I told no one what had happened. They’d never believe me.


That weekend I dared to go back. It was eating me inside, not knowing if he was still there or not. If he wasn’t, then he would have got free somehow.


He was still there. Still standing in the same trapped position. Not moving at all. Nobody was paying him any attention. It was like he was invisible. But I could still see him. I approached where he stood, still unable by unseen forces to touch him.

Helplessly, his bloodshot and terrified eyes met mine. Dried tear tracts had cracked his make-up. His body was compressed, closed in on itself. Any doubts I had that this wasn’t an elaborate joke were gone. Nobody was paying him any attention.

I stood there, staring at the trapped man. Not knowing what I could do. What could I do?


After that, I started visiting every day. Just so he knew, he wasn’t alone. That he was still visible to someone. Each time I rounded the corner onto the street, I wondered if he would be there.


Two months in, our company was restructuring. I’d have to move to the other end of the country if I wanted to keep my job. On my last visit to the trapped mime, I could barely look at him. His body was weak and decaying. His face was hauntingly gaunt. But he was still alive. Those eyes darting back and forth along the busy walkway.


I moved as close as I physically could to him and told him I was moving away. That I was sorry this had happened to him, but I didn’t know what to do. Maybe he would be visible to someone else. Someone who could help somehow.


He stared at me. That’s all he could do. I felt a sense of guilt, like I was abandoning him. But I had tried to help. I’d gone onto the internet, looking for any weird stories about this kind of thing happening. I delved into multiple rabbit holes, but no one had reported anything like this.


To my shame, I never returned to the town, to the street, though the mime artist is still in my thoughts, and still in my nightmares.


© Gayle Ramage 2023


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