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Over The Pill
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A short story exploring the world of juggling competitions and the lengths one will go to to be the best. This wasn't written by me, it is a creation of my twin brother, who says he used this website as inspiration. If you like the story, please email him and tell him so.

This is the sorry story that haunts me day and night. Since it happened I have tried to keep memory locked up inside, deep down where you find things that are on the edge of recall because you have denied it for so long. This is easier to do with some memories, like the ugly girlfriend you went out with and then regretted right away. The problem with these events is that things of this magnitude don't fade away or are forgotten easily.

But I canít keep it hidden any longer. I saw on the TV last week that getting the issues that are really bothering you down on paper, you know, writing it down, it can help you sort it in your head. So here I go.

I started juggling about 15 years ago when a circus skills workshop was advertised in our local village hall. It sounded pointless to me but when you are twelve you do anything to relive yourself of the intense boredom of a rural English village. I woke up on the day feeling as sick as a parrot but went along any way. I fell off the unicycle. I fell of the low tight rope. And I fell off the shoulders of the acrobat. But when I picked up three juggling balls, threw them all in the air and caught them again I was hooked.

When I turned fifteen I entered the local village talent show and stunned the audience with my newly polished five ball trick routine. I was a star. And not just in the English rural village way but the in whole area. The press and the regional BBC Radio both did features on me, though juggling on the radio canít have been the most stimulating listening experience. I was even asked to juggle for a BBC costume drama: boy in background to liven up an otherwise boring scene.

I loved the attention.

I started practising for longer and longer each day, pushing my self to juggling greatness. I was showing off more and more complicated tricks to my family who got less and less impressed as they got desensitised to it. Within a few years when I left college, I was able to go strait onto the Butlins, Pontins and cabaret entertainersí circuit. I loved juggling, but most of all I loved winning the audiences admiration and wonder, and the money was good as well. But I had a problem with all these public shows, although these people loved me they could not appreciate my skill and talent. To my public the difference between juggling 7 balls and then 8 balls was nothing, just lots of balls that were moving a bit too fast to count anyway. And tricks that were easy and needed next to no practice, but were a bit flashy went down a storm, whereas a trick that needed days of practice, was extremely technical but not so flashy, went down like lead balloon. I needed people who could appreciate my art.

I found that the letters people sent me ("Well done, that show was great!" or "Wow! It must have taken ages to learn those tricks!") were just stating the obvious. I needed something new, something special.

Then came the letter that changed my life. "I have been following your progress in juggling," it said "for about four years now and have seen you in a number of your shows. You are good, Juggler, but you're not the best. Have you ever thought of entering an official Juggling Competition at the National Juggling Federation Conference?"

Juggling competition? I had never even heard of one before. I had thought about setting one up my self a few times but I didn't know many other jugglers. I wrote back to say if he was throwing down the gauntlet, I would be there.

As I walked amazed through the practice areas where so many jugglers were giroscoping around balls and rings and clubs, I realised that I had been living I a limbo world of the lay non-juggling public. From now on it would my only goal to startle, impress and draw my praise from these people. I decided to practice in private until the day of the competition, that way entering the real Juggling world with a flash and a bang. When the Friday came I entered the first round and pulled off a few tricks that were only just better than any one elseís in the heat. I raised a few eyebrows with my style but was I through without showing my best.

I did the same in the next round to get through to the finals, though it was a far more challenging.

My plan was working. People were commenting on the "new kid on the block" that no one had seen before. Rumours were spreading (some started by myself) that I was expecting to beat off all contenders in the final, including some of the British juggling champions like John Young and Harry Walker.

Even though I only came forth in the final I was the star of the show. People were amazed that I had come from nowhere straight to the top. Well, almost the top. I had all the attention I deserved and needed, and more.

My new, hand selected public appreciated my skill and talent with trained, critical eyes. But here in this world I was not the best and could not rely on a big arrival next time to get the attention fix I craved. People would be expecting me.

In Europe I would need to be a lot better, the best.

I cancelled all my gigs and lived off my savings until the European Juggling Federation Conference came around. I practised day and night for almost six months, honing and sharpening my skills, pushing myself harder and harder. It was torture starving myself from my new audience, waiting to surprise them once again.

I arrived at the competition in Hamburg very confident. In hindsight, too confident. I was entered into the first heat and planned to get through by the skin of my teeth like last time, but a Romanian juggler that I had underestimated did his final trick after mine. He knocked me out! (I always disagreed with the state sponsored Circuses of these Eastern Block countries, gives them an unfair advantage.)

I went into shock. The only way I could show my talent was at the closing night show. But the anonymity that was my friend in Britain was my foe in Europe. No one knew of me so I couldnít get a slot in the show.

I left the conference two days early, unable to contain my depression. I needed my attention fix so bad I juggled in the airport departure lounge and drew a huge crowd of onlookers. I was arrested for causing an obstruction leading to a public disturbance. It wasnít my fault the crowd panicked when I pulled out my foot long juggling knives.

I had a great idea while I was sitting with a drunkard and a poor, young drug smuggler that had swallowed his stash to hide it from customs. The attention of the hyperactive hippie was so sharp, and his reactions so quick I realised that there could be a safe and legal substance that would help me in my juggling ambitions.

Back home I scanned countless medical books and journals until I knew the combination of compounds I needed. I concocted and created the ultimate juggling performance enhancer. One sip of the new potion increased my hand-to-eye co-ordination. I found that I could beat some of the juggling world records on my first try, but only if I drank a few pints of the stuff. The one side effect was that I couldnít sleep. I would lay there wide-eyed, thinking about the tricks I was to perform in Vegas and the admiration they would bring me.

By the time I was on my way to the World Juggling Federation in Las Vegas I had concentrated the potion into a small, round and discreet blue pill. I practised with Smarties until I could slip one into my mouth with the slight of hand Harry Houdini would have been proud of.

The WJF competition is so prestigious that film stars and A-list Celebes are at the finals, which are then broadcast around the world. I had to win this.

I didn't make the same mistake as in Hamburg. I pulled of the amazing eight club backcrosses in the first round. It was easily a new world record that turned the eyes of the whole conference onto me.

During the next round the following day I did some flashy but average tricks until my final trick where I juggled 10 balls for three minutes, another new world record. When the pills effect wore off and I was only just able to catch them all before I realised what was happening. During that night I took one pill to test if the effects were lasting a shorter period each time I took them. Unfortunately this was so. Also after the time of heightened ability I found that my co-ordination was a lot worse. I could hardly throw 9 balls in the air and catch them again, something that I would have done easily just two weeks before. I had just four pills left with one more round and then the final to go. I promised myself to use them wisely.

The next day, riding high on their attention, I walked onto the stage in front of the judges and the huge crowd that had come to see if I would break another world record. I was definitely the talk of the town, everyone wanted a piece of me.

I was pitted against the famous Harry Walker who held the world record for highest number of objects juggled, 13 rings. I was confident that I could impress the audience without the pill for the first three of the five tricks I was allowed, but when I tried the fast paced reverse handover trick with 5 balls I dropped them all. On my next trick I dropped again, whereas Harry had done two prefect tricks and, in the judges eyes, was far superior to me.

I needed to pull off something spectacular, like a new world record or a world first. The crowd was getting restless, booing and hissing followed my third failed trick. When I dropped my forth trick as well the crowd was jeering and telling me to get off the stage. I needed a miracle to save me now. And I had just the miracle I needed in my pocket.

I asked to borrow more and more juggling rings from people in the audience until I had fifteen rings. I knew everyone there must have thought me mad trying to beat the world record. There was total silence as I discreetly slipped two pills in my mouth. Everyone drew a breath as I started throwing the rings high, one after the other. In my heightened state it all seemed to happen in slow motion. All fifteen rings were thrown perfectly and as the first one was caught again I knew I had done it. The rest fell into my hands just moments before the roar of surprise and admiration washed over me.

The afternoon passed in a whorl as I was congratulated again and again for getting through to the final that night. Everyone said what a great showman I was, dropping the first four tricks on purpose to heighten the tension and then to break the most valued record. How would I top it tonight in front of the watching world?

By the time the final had started I realised with only two pills left and no way to get any more I would have to take them both together on my last trick. I agonised over which trick to do. The pillís effects were lasting only a minute or so each time so the trick would have to be short, very complicated and definitely a new world record. Any thing else would not be good enough.

As the best of the worlds jugglers, my gods and heroes just a year earlier, fought it out on stage round after round, I would walk on to the stage and do a parody of each of their greatest tricks but with only two or three balls. This infuriated them. It was obvious, even though the audience found it extremely funny, my tricks were not good enough to win. I could see that the greatest jugglers of all time were more that a little scared of me, a nobody, from nowhere. But only I knew that I was struggling with even these simple two ball tricks.

As the time came for my last trick I asked to borrow one prop from each of my rivals. A ball, a hat, a ring, a juggling club, a spinning ball and a few other props from my own bag. I arranged them around me on the floor, in my pockets, on my head and up my sleeve. I did not have to explain my trick beforehand, as it would be replayed on the big screens behind me again and again and then throughout the years to come on countless TV screens around the world.

As I yawned in mock boredom, I dropped the last two pills into my mouth.

I picked up the last few props and stood for a few moments totally still, revelling silently in the heightened expectation and tension that crackled through the air. I was on the highest high in my entire life, not only from the pill but also from all the attention focused on me. This was the moment that I had been looking forward to for years.

I started the trick. It was the trick to end all tricks, a high number of objects, high technical skill, high flare, a world first and world record. Plus the $1,000,000 first prize to go with it.

I was perfect until halfway through the masterpiece then my world collapsed. My mind went blank, my vision blurred, every thing seemed to speed up and get out of control. My arms felt like they were made of lead. Everything came crashing down around me; my newfound reputation, respect and the attention I craved. The admiration turned to antagonism, the wonder to mockery. I can still hear the laughing, jeering resounding in my head.

Now I cannot even throw a ball in the air and catch it again. Five pills in twenty-four hours must have overloaded and burnt out some of my brainís circuitry. Now I live off the juggling community as a parasite, dealing out my Miracle Pill to unaware or unscrupulous performers.

I will be remembered in the world of juggling, not as a one of the great masters but as a one hit wonder. A super nova that flashed bright for a moment, then faded.

Nathan Rae

© 2002 Luke Burrage/Nathan Rae