Category Archives: Creative Pieces

The Price of Bread and Circuses

An internal monologue about the thoughts and feelings of a slave condemned to death in one of the circuses of Rome, paying the ultimate price for the Empire’s requirement to keep the crowds happy.

When just one minute of it remains, life becomes something precious. 60 seconds left to live. Agonisingly, they tick away, each one stretching out a lifetime, yet flitting by wildly, erratically, carelessly. Not enough time. Nowhere near enough. The air is rank with the unmistakeable stench of fear, and the frantic cacophony of animal noises. I hear my heart pound manically in my ears, as though it knows it hasn’t long left to beat. I draw jagged, tortured breaths into my lungs.

Up above me I can hear the roars of the crowd, bloodthirsty and eager. The bars of the cage are oppressively solid, pressing in, trapping me. Across from me I can see the lion, also caged. Trapped, like me, for the remainder of its life; but unlike me, its captivity wouldn’t end today.

50 seconds.

I don’t stand a chance. The lion must be 10 feet long, with eyes filled with wariness, echoing a lifetime of persecution, years spent being trained to hate, to attack, to kill…to entertain. Kept starving and desperate, provoked into fury. Rewarded for aggression and punished for contentment.

Not that this fight’ll be particularly entertaining. As if there can be any question how it’ll end.

40 seconds.

I stare down at the sword in my hands. I’ve never handled one before; I have no idea what to do with it. I’m just something to keep the crowds happy between the real acts, unimportant, forgettable. They don’t expect it to be much of a fight.

30 seconds.

The blade glints in the near-darkness. I’m nearer to the ceiling now. The sounds of the crowd are closer now, baying for my blood. They scare me more than the lion.

The beast’s been forced into cruelty, trained into blood thirst, and so perhaps has Rome; the people brought at an early age to cheer and applaud at pointless slaughter; to gossip afterwards about the fight, chatter with vulgar enthusiasm; to judge the entertainment value of the end of a man’s life, of the destruction of exotic creatures. The lion is not really my executioner. All-powerful, all-controlling…the lion is as much a player in their games as I am. And so, perhaps, are the crowd.

20 seconds.

I’m going to die.

I’m going to die.

My life flashes before my eyes. My mother’s face, forever lined by worry; my sister’s toothy grin. The sunset over the hilltops. The smell of the ocean. Laughter, tears, love, loss, hopes, dreams…they all seem so trivial, now at the end of everything, these things that make up who I am.

Tears choke my throat. I can see light above me through the cracks in the ceiling. Ceiling? The floor. The floor of the arena. My hands shake on my sword, my whole body wracked with sobs. Everything seems hyperreal, the slits of daylight from above overly bright, the floor so solid beneath my feet. I relish the weight of the sword in my hand, the coarse material of my tunic, rough and dependable against my skin. It all seems suddenly precious, now at the end of it all. Pointless, all of it pointless, but somehow valuable nonetheless.

10 seconds.

O gods have mercy! This is really happening.

I’m going to die.

I can no longer see the lion – hidden behind a beam with just a paw visible. Its claws are out, knives in the darkness.

I can’t win.

I’m going to die.

My heart beats fit to burst, feeling as if it’s trying to escape from my chest. I’m dragging in great lungfuls of air.

The lion’s leg is covered in scars. Beaten and abused from its long years in the arena.

The crowd screams.

They’re eager for a fight, waiting to see me die, as gorily and excitingly as possible. Am I human to them?

I glance down at the sword in my hand, so foreign, so far from who I am.

5 seconds.

This is happening.

This is really happening.

3 seconds.

I stretch my legs as far as they’ll go, one last time.

2 seconds.

I’m going to die.

I’m going to die.

The trapdoor opens.

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A creative piece in which a girl reflects on her emotions upon leaving secondary school at the end of sixth form.

The early evening sun plays across leaves and tarmac, and she stands alone, feeling curiously cut off from the chatter of the people around her. She glances back at the school, at the place where she’s lived out the last seven years of her life, where, she supposes, between that first day and now she has been changed a great deal. Somehow she still feels the same, though, torn between excited, fractious anticipation and a sense of both worry and loss, wanting to curl up into a ball and simply stay, here with what she knows, what she understands and can navigate.

Seven years filled with laughter and chatter and fiercely concealed tears. Friendships built brick by brick only to crumble, dreams fought for only to lose their appeal. Inspiring lessons followed by hours in which each second felt an age, where flies pelting themselves, uneducable, at panes of glass were a welcome distraction. The talk of real life beginning, of stepping out into the real world, of becoming her own person, all seems bizarre. What could have been more real than her time at this school? Emotions sharpened by hormones: euphoria, devastation, lust, despair, lethargy, hope. This has been her world, formed the greater part of the universe created in her mind.

She gives the school one final glance, trying to take it all in, craning past the hoards of bustling people. This moment should feel significant. This is the moment of change after years of the same bus, the same door that didn’t quite close itself properly, the same lunch hall, same corridors, same people.  Somehow both an ending and a beginning, but in truth all it is is a moment in time, a snapshot of her life. She can’t quite take it in. It doesn’t feel like an ending; it feels like she’ll be here on Monday once again, or at least by the end of the summer. She can’t imagine it, the so commonly discussed Future. This, now, is simply her life.

An eleven-year-old pushes past her, excited for the summer, knocking her with his book-bag and flinging a carefree “Sorry!” over his shoulder.

She smiles slightly, and then turns back from the school, glancing up at the transiently eternal blue sky.

Then, slowly, she walks away.

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