Compelled to Investigate – an ISG Writing Exercise

On 2 March 2016, these three words were chosen:

  • Dance
  • Flutter
  • Circus

And these blurbs were written within five minutes….Enjoy!



Excitement pulsed through Sam as he passed through the entrance gates of the circus. All around him were wonders that he had only read about in books. Over to the right was the bearded lady, to the left the world’s strongest man, but it was the big tent that got his attention. Striped in alternating colors of red and white, it beckoned him to come closer. Just as he was about to enter he was distracted by the fluttering of the canvas on a smaller tent nearby and he felt compelled to investigate. Cautiously he pulled back the curtain and ventured inside. Immediately Sam heard music and found a music box sitting on the table with two characters sweetly dancing to the melody. He wasn’t there long when a woman appeared from thin air. Her face obscured by heavy lace. She reached out toward him with a bony hand and gestured for Sam to sit.

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The dance was still hours away but Malie had already been in the bathroom for half an hour with her seemingly endless grooming. As a circus performer myself, I was comfortable in my skin and confident in my step. It took me all of 15 minutes to get ready even in the most glamorous of occasions and the flutters of nervousness from the past was long gone. I woke up with drool running down my chin and was annoyed to have to fix my thick make up before leaving. Malie took that moment to walk in the room.

“Gah!” she hollered when our eyes met. “Your scales are showing, Stace. Go fix it. We have to leave.”

I got up wearily and went into the bathroom. Sure enough, the drool had taken its toll. I caked on more make-up, successfully, covering my scales, made sure my tail was still strapped down and hidden and went to meet Malie at the front door.

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It was a three ring circus in Maggie’s house that afternoon. A birthday party for a seven-year-old boy, in-law’s showing up out of the blue, and a dog that had apparently thought it would be a great time to investigate under the barn and say hello to the family of skunks. The skunks had made their lack of interest in socializing known and now Maggie’s house smelled like a combination of skunk and chocolate cake.

Moving through the kitchen, carrying a tray with a pitcher of iced tea and glasses out to the porch she dodged yet another screaming kid in moves that more akin to a dance. She made it outside and gulped in the fresh, sweeter smelling air, put the tray down and then saw what the boys were up to. Her heart gave a flutter in her chest and she gulped. Where had they found so much paint? was her horrified thought.

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Mirelda watched the group of young girls move through the dance. The flutters of their hands and the kicks of their feet were awkward and uncoordinated. It appeared as though it had been choreographed by a circus clown. Mirelda tried to keep her growing unhappiness from showing. When the girls had finished, and a dozen fresh faced turned to her expectantly, waiting her approval. Mirelda didn’t know what to say.

“That was, um, delightful,” she managed to get out without choking on the words.

The girls looked uncertain.

“But will it work?” a voice in the back called out, sounding very much like the girl was on the verge of tears.

And she had every right to be. What they were doing was not to be taken lightly. With this in mind, Mirelda was blunt with her response. Perhaps cruelly blunt, but it could save lives.

“No,” she told them. “I do not think that will work.”

A cacophony of wails erupted, a Mirelda winced.

“That’s not going to work either,” she yelled over the noise.

The girls quieted to whimpers.

“We have to appease this demon with grace and aesthetics,” Mirelda said. “Not that staggering and lurching you were doing before.”

“We don’t have time to put together another routine,” a girl to the left said, her face streaked with tears.

She was perhaps fifteen years old. Mirelda knew she was right, but she could not have them give in to despair. No ceremony would be worse than a poor one, for the only alternative was the sacrifice. Mirelda lifted her chin and put on a brave face.

“We must do the best we can, girls,” she said. “After all, it is the lives of your brothers you hold in your hands.”

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Her heart fluttered hard against her rib cage with nerves, but as soon as it became time to begin, all fell into place. She knew the steps of the sacred dance and she fell into the ritual, forgetting her worry. Today, Minerva’s birthday, required a warlike dance about victory and power. Vesuvia struck her pose, and threw her arms forward, curling a leg to the side, then pulled her robes back, revealing her moonlight gown and the golden sandals, and began the dance. Halfway through a turn, out came a gilded miniature bow and feather arrows from an african beast known as an ostrich, which she’d purchased from a traveling egyptian merchant she’d come across in the circus on her way here to the arena. It was fortuitous and spoke well of success. If she could impress one of these legionnaires she might even be spared from the lions, live to buy her way out of servitude. She danced harder, keeping her gaze locked on the general. They were always married, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t pull try to his eye.


“So this is a dance hall?” Sharon asked, glancing around at the open ballroom, cool eyes taking in the worn wooden floors, the mirrored walls, the raised dais in the corner where bands used to play.

“It was, back in the 20s,” Jack told her, gesturing to one of the ornate wooden doors along the back wall. “See how this door almost blends in?”

As Sharon approached, she could see what he meant. The door was obvious now, the damage from time and disuse clearly marking the edges of the doorframe, but she could imagine how it may have blended right in back when this place was in use. It was probably so dim inside, she pictured, the air hazy with smoke, ringing with the sound of ice clinking in glasses, of raucous music, of the pounding echoes of hundreds of feet against the floor. She wondered what it sounded like from the basement below.

She heard a note of music, distant and fluttering, and the sound brought her back to the present. “What was that?” she asked, looking at Jack.

The realtor was still staring at the door, and he gave her a curious glance when she asked the question. “Huh?”

“I heard music. Is there another club nearby?”

Jack shook his head. “No. There isn’t anything nearby. When it was open, this place was such a circus that no one else wanted to live here and deal with the noise.”

Sharon nodded, liking that the place was far from other buildings. It would be nice to finally have some privacy.

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1 Comment

Filed under Creative Writing, Writers Group, Writing, Writing Exercise

One response to “Compelled to Investigate – an ISG Writing Exercise

  1. Pingback: Striped in alternating colors of red and white, it beckoned him to come closer… – Alanna Cormier

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