Flash Fiction: The Knifethrower

An circus apprentice begins his first official day on the job. A MOOC assignment.


“Exactly how many knives will you throw?” I asked, gesturing at the five crates on the ground.

“All of them,” came my uncle’s answer, making it three times that he had dodged the question.

He didn’t wear his clown nose or shoes during practice, but was otherwise fully decked out in suspenders, a brightly colored blouse, and two neck ruffs. I, being his new apprentice, didn’t even have one piece of traditional clown garb, only the circus’s standard uniform.

My uncle gestured for me to open the five crates. Inside each I counted ten sharp silver knives, all beautifully fashioned with gleaming gold handles. Gingerly, as if even to look at one wrong would cut me right open, I pulled them out and laid them in straight lines on the nearby table. Once all fifty knives were in their proper positions, I crossed over to the wooden prop wall. It was deeply pitted with hundreds of notches from over ten years of knife-throwing usage. I stood directly in front of it, arms down, and slid my fingers into two hidden slots. This wasn’t to keep my balance, but to prevent the wall from toppling over from the force of fifty knives being slammed into it.

“Ready?” my uncle asked, holding up a four-fingered hand. He, too, had once been a knife-thrower’s apprentice, for over ten years.

Even from fifteen feet away, I could see the shining silver knives glint in the sun. My uncle was the best performer in the country, I knew, but we had only ever practiced with twenty plastic daggers and a Styrofoam backdrop. This was as real as it would get before the actual show five hours from now.

“Ready?” he asked again, lifting up his two blindfolds to look at me properly. I nodded vigorously, not trusting myself to say even one word without squeaking. My uncle gazed at me for ten seconds, then slid back the blindfolds.

I knew I was supposed to keep my eyes open, but I flinched as three knives suddenly came shrieking at my head.

The wooden wall groaned, and my eyes flew open to stare at the knives, one on either side of my face, neither even quivering. My nervousness abruptly faded, and was replaced by a wonderful feeling of euphoria even as four more daggers came at me. I was amazingly, gloriously alive, and I stared fiercely straight ahead as my uncle tossed the remaining forty-three knives. Not one missed its mark, and when it was over, and we had taken our bows at the crew members that had gathered, my uncle gave me a big hug, and said I was the bravest eight-year-old he had ever known.


This one was actually pretty fun! The assignment was to write a scene and include in each sentence a numeral. I tried not to overuse “one”, at least keeping it as a number instead of a pronoun. I had no idea what I was going to write until I started typing, and though it was slow going at first, I still went over the word limit and had to go back to trim it down. There’s no personal tragic backstory to this one, as I’m sure you’re all relieved to hear.

I’m not sure what this exercise says about my writing style, except that I can indeed work under constraints and still manage to develop character and plot. That the apprentice is just starting out, that the uncle lost a finger, that the apprentice turned out to be only a young kid, and (hopefully) how much the uncle loves his nephew. Overall, I really enjoyed writing this piece!

“Circus Tent” by nathanking is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s