Ringmaster by Samantha Kelly

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When the Company installed me, it was with a single utility function. The Circus is a place of joy. And as Ringmaster, it is up to me to facilitate that joy.

System error

Joy outside acceptable parameters

Reloading Ringmaster model

I held my top hat in one hand and fussed over my processing unit. There was a 27% chance of an audience feeling joyous at the sight of half a Ringmaster – not ideal.

Sending diagnostic report to the Company –

I cancelled the message before it could send. Some things the Company didn’t need to know about. My utility function was still being fulfilled. The Circus was still a place of joy. And my stars were the proof.

The performance that night was electric. The Valdez brothers spat streams of fire high up into the air. Both glistened in the light from the amount of oil they used. This seemed a risk to me, but Hector insisted and because there had never been an accident onstage, I allowed it. As the music began to build, the brothers moved to stand in front of each other. In amongst the jets of fire that passed between them, Cass emerged, juggling swords. Their hands moved in a rhythm even I struggled to track. It was as if they merely decided and the swords got in line. And then finally Ida flew high above their heads in the centre of the Big Top. She wore a costume of brilliant white, all lace and feathers. A perfect contrast against her dark skin. All four together provided ample joy. If the cheers as Ida landed were anything to go by, the audience agreed. Until you showed up.


I never allowed the responsibility of every performance to fall solely on my stars. But for some reason, the capacity for joy in the temporary workers I brought on was short lived. Luckily, there were always others to replace them. And the Circus carried on.

You were, by comparison, a find. Don’t blush, it’s true. Your performances were merely adequate, but fortune telling is a risky business where joy is concerned. Especially if even half the things you’ve told your patrons were true. Instead, you helped out with the day to day running of the Circus. And your efforts contributed to my utility function.

But then the extent of your correspondence with the outside world became evident. Did you know that journalists are antithetical to joy? The data supports it. Hence this performance review.

An engineer once commented on the simplicity of my utility function. I disagreed with her assessment. In the end, we came to an agreement and I have, over time, improved at human relations. I’m sure if that engineer were alive today, she’d agree. But you have threatened joy. Which means I have no choice but to terminate your employment.

After all, the Circus is a place of joy.


Samantha Kelly

Samantha Kelly is a graduate of the University of Warwick and now works (occasionally for money) as a freelance copywriter. She lives in Coventry with her family and a cat named after the Terminator.


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