FICTION: The Last Ultimo by Peter Hurtgen

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Being a tightrope walker is not as easy as it looks.

It’s not the actual tightrope walking that’s the problem. That’s easy for me. It’s in my blood. It’s everything else you have to deal with outside of the show that is an affront to my person.

Like elephant excrement. Do you know how much an elephant defecates? A lot. And we have five. They do it anywhere they want. Anytime. At all times. It’s voluminous. I’ve seen an elephant defecate on a baboon and crush it to death. I never liked that baboon or I’d’ve said something. Pachyderm poop is on everything. It’s in every breath one takes. The only place safe from the avalanche of elephant excrement is up on my wire.

In addition, I have to help strike that huge tent and put it all in the train after shows. It takes hours. Everyone has to pitch in. Even talent like me. Which is a terrible business model. What if one of these tiny Oriental acrobats breaks a metatarsal? There goes act one.

Also, the only meal the circus provides is beans. Beans beans beans. Beans with beans sauce with a three-bean salad on the side. Beans for breakfast. Beans for lunch. Beans for a midday snack. And guess what’s for dinner? Steak and potatoes!

No, just kidding it’s more of the same beans from breakfast. This leads to some noxious sleeper cars and makeup tents. Leftover beans are fed to the elephants, which does not help with the matters discussed in paragraph three.

Then there are all the hassles I have to tolerate with these crazy carnies. They are insane. Honestly, I don’t feel safe around them. I feel like at any moment they could shove me into the tiger car or impale me with a tent spike. They’re always groping me with their eyes. One of them threatened to shove my balance pole up my rectum. And I believe she’d do it if given the opportunity.

You see, I am not like these other circus people. I’m different. I’m an artist. I’m part of a family. A dynasty. Even though I’m the only Ultimo left alive.

My name is Umberto Ultimo and I am the last of the High Ultimos. A descendent of the great Hungarian highwire acts going back generations. I’m sure you’ve heard of us. The name was originally Yultinski when my grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe during the great Turnip Famine of the 1850s.

And though I have worked at this two-bit circus for nineteen years, I’ve decided to end my career with this godforsaken hellhole. I’m too good for this place. Besides, they fired me this morning. I got a form letter and a shiny dollar coin. My severance. For almost two decades of toil for these clowns. My father broke his back for this outfit. Literally. My identical twin brother fell to his death for this godforsaken hellhole. I didn’t get along my brother, though. We had nothing in common. So I’m not bitter about that. But I mourn the loss of my father every time I climb the ladder up to the line, hold onto my pole and steady myself for the walk. Papa sacrificed himself for this godforsaken hellhole. He fell to his doom in act two. The clowns were back out in act three. Baby clowns. The worst sort of clowns imaginable.

So before I embark on a journey to Russia and engage with their legendary circus culture—a culture that appreciates artists like myself—I am going to exact my sweet revenge upon this circus and the clowns who run it. Starting with those creepy baby clowns. I fucking hate them.

I have a plan to take down the whole big top in a blaze. Many will die. If I have my way.

Consider this a confession. Before the fact.

I have a diabolical, foolproof, three-day plan.


I go to the local dynamite purveyor and open a line of credit. I’ll have to claim I’m a silver minor so I’m growing out my pencil mustache into a handlebar to act the part. I’ll need at least twenty cases of dynamite if I’m going to do this right. I’ll stylishly flip the blackpowderman my dollar coin as a down payment. He should be pleased about that!

Then I ride the mule team back to camp with the wagon full of dynamite and pitch it in the woods behind the big top. I’ll cover it with leaves and branches so no one can see it.

That sounds like a day to me.


I blow up the circus.

I’ll do it during act two. That way I won’t have to perform because I’m in act three.

I am going to fashion the dynamite and copious elephant guano into a fertilizer bomb. I shall use the lead baby clown’s cheap cigar to light the fuse.

Then I escape on my unicycle. I’ll take a straight line away from that godforsaken hellhole as a fiery mushroom cloud grows behind me. Never ever to look back again.

I’ll look back only once.

Twice tops.


Then it’s onto the land of tranquility and bounty. Onto a land some call utopia, others call heaven. But most people just know it as Russia. Onto a land where everyone is warm and friendly.

And onto real appreciation for my talent of walking in a straight line in a high place.




Newspaper obituary from the Atlanta Outside Observer:


NOV 2, 1903, ATLANTA—CIRCUS tightrope walker, Eugene Yultinski (AKA Umberto Ultimo) accidentally killed himself yesterday in the woods next to the Gilbert & Bailey Circus de el Sun. He died when his cart of elephant excrement overturned and crushed him. He was apparently attempting to create an dung bomb. An anarchist manifesto detailing Mr. Yultinski’s intention to destroy the circus and kill everyone inside was found in his bunk. Police believe the acrobat also had possible communist sympathies. Yultinski had no living relatives so his estate of one dollar coin will be given to a needy family of baby clowns.


Peter Hurtgen

Pete Hurtgen

Peter currently resides in Los Angeles. Most know him as a mild-mannered English Teacher, but he is actually a secret novelist and obsessed Elephant enthusiast in disguise. His fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Number Eleven, Cahoodaloodaling, The Zodiac Review and most recently The Gathering Storm.

If you enjoyed ‘The Last Ultimo’ leave a comment and let Peter know.


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