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October 16

Late at night





Max closed the door to his trailer and looked himself in the face in the mirror. He hated looking too long in the mirror, afraid the facade will crack, showing what he truly was. The bravado, the devil may care attitude, the crazy stunts, and even the tattoos; they were all thin, eggshell masks over a scared and lonely boy of seventeen. This was a truth he hid away, even himself from, and though unhealthy, it was the only way he knew to stay sane and not fall apart.


Max grew up with no family, oh sure the carnival provided plenty of interesting friends, but even his adopted mother, Deedra, was more friend than mother, she never even called him son. The only person in the world who knew this, knew the real Max Compton, was Bertram. Maxie scoffed a laugh at himself in the mirror.


"What does that say about you, huh? Only man in the world knows the real you eats fire fer a livin'". Maxie tried to laugh it off, but his voice cracked in his throat and he almost found himself crying. True, Bertram was a fire-eater, but he was also a good man. What one chooses for a vocation does not define them; it merely shows you one aspect of them. Maxie had taken that concept to the extreme; he had made his stage persona his only outward persona. He was a fire eater, a carnival sideshow attraction, and to the rest of the world, that’s all he was.


More and more often, Max had found himself afraid of his own mask, the play he put on for the world. He'd been doing the show so long he'd started to forget which Max was the act. Maxie knew he needed friends, and he needed to be more than just some attraction, or he'd be consumed by his own false face. Maxie just didn' know if he had the strength to let anyone in.


Maxie realized something then, looking in the mirror, fretting over whether to be consumed by his loneliness or risk letting a person in, he realized he was a coward. All the stunts he does, every life endangering flip and hair singeing fire show may look cool, but it didn't make him brave, it made him reckless at best, or perhaps suicidal at worst. Real bravery could be seen in elderly couples, holding hands walking in Liberty Park. It could be seen in movie theaters, where couples sat together watching a love story unfold while held in each other's arms. It was on golf courses, in bars, in shopping centers, and in airport terminals. Anywhere friends met to share stories and make memories, anywhere that families met or began. Real bravery was exhibited when one had the strength to open oneself to another, fully and completely, despite the dangers of rejection and failure. Real bravery was being vulnerable, not building a stone mask and cage for your heart. Maxie hung his head as a silent sob racked his body.


Max had no qualms about risking his life to save another, or even just for a good laugh, but did he have the nerve to risk living to save his own life, or would he die alone, forever remembered for a masquerade, and not remembered for who he truly was?

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