by Robert Caporale

In the early morning hours before the carnival opens Panter and Bianca take their Styrofoam coffees on a sleepy Ferris wheel ride.

Tell me something I don’t know, Bianca says.

Panter lights up a cigarette and tells Bianca about a place he calls “the zone.”

Bianca settles down into the swaying gondola, sips her hot coffee and comforts herself in the warming sun.

It’s a thin slice of grey-matter that separates reality from fantasy, Panter explains. A dreamy realm of a world, he tells her, warm slow and quiet, and it comes to me only once in a great while, but always… always while I’m riding the Death Spiral.


It’s more like I’m watching myself watch myself do the stunts.


The thing is I don’t know if I’m in the future, the past or what.

Life is but a dream, Bianca sighs.

Panter raises his eyebrows, sips his coffee and catches a stream of sunlight flash across Bianca’s electric blue hair. From the top of the Ferris wheel he can see an empty cloverleaf off the Autobahn and in the distance smokestacks from an industrial complex spewing black soot up into a hazy morning mist. Panter flicks his cigarette.

Bianca is a runner on the midway. She works long hard hours. She stays caffeinated with Dr. Peppers and licorice sticks she keeps stuck in the gap between her front teeth… a gap big enough to drive a Mercedes through. Bianca runs errands, picks up supplies, makes cash deposits, cleans up vomit and consoles lost children; whatever the midway asks of Bianca, she does. The venders keep her hopping. She is constantly being paged over the loud speakers: Bianca to the shooting gallery, Bianca to the two-headed snake, Bianca to the candy apples. She loves her work. She loves the sights and sounds along the dazzling lowbrow midway with its constant chattering of the barkers, pulsing neon, and tinny calliope music coming from the carousel and mixing in with Rap from the Whip.

But it’s the Motodrome that really fascinates Bianca.

Something draws her back to the Motodrome’s “Death Spiral” time and time again.

She is not exactly sure what in that cylinder is the main attraction for her. She thinks it may have something to do with truth and the symbiosis of the glossy excesses along the midway contradicting the stark grim reality of the Motodrome. And those devils… ohh how she loves those daredevils, for Bianca they are as real as real gets.

She embraces the black and whiteness of the Motodrome and quickly finds herself mesmerized by the roaring motorcycles and the endless repetitions of thumping tires cruising around and around over the seamed hickory panels. For Bianca the “Death Spiral” is a study in sight and sound full of reoccurring minimalist rhythms and backbeats that send her into a hypnotic melancholy despair.

When Panter sidles his old bones through the narrow door and steps into “The Death Spiral” the crowd roars. He takes his place between Wolfgang and Klaus at the bottom of the cylinder. They huddle-up, say a quick prayer to the motorcycle god and get right to work.

The three daredevils wear leather jackets that fit like they were born in them. Their names are embossed on the fronts in small silver script with large BMW corporate logos splashed across their backs. The jackets are worn over white T-shirts and open in the front. Panter wears a red silk scarf.

The three daredevils look up at the crowd, wave, but they do not smile.

They never smile at the crowd. Panter insists on the serious persona to help sell tickets.

Wolfgang questions Panter’s premise reminding him that they are artists.

You can’t eat art, Panter tells him.

Enough said.

At the top of the cylinder the paying customers jockey for position along a security rail trimmed in a thin tube of flowing blue neon.

The blue neon and the splash of red from Panter’s scarf are just enough color to accentuate the otherwise seamy back alley look of “The Death Spiral.”

A smattering of applause echoes around the walls of the small circular coliseum as Wolfgang drops the last hickory panel in place over the door.

Klaus straddles his BMW and jumps on the kick starter. The gray machine roars into action. Break a leg, Wolfgang says and flashes thumbs up. Klaus takes to the walls with a squeal. The crowd hoots, hollers and whistles as they follow Klaus’ every rotation with corkscrew like head motions.

Klaus ignores the passing faces concentrating only on his ride. He is the apprentice of the troupe. Panter found Klaus on the streets of Dresden doing skateboard stunts for loose change. Klaus has talent and if he stays clean and healthy he has a bright future in the daredevil business.

Wolfgang and Panter sit on their machines at the bottom of “The Death Spiral” tracking Klaus’ every rotation.

Wolfgang leans over towards Panter and gestures up to Bianca.

I saw her, Panter says.

She’s attracted to you.

Like a father.

Wolfgang smirks. All the young girls want Panter, he says and throws his leg up and straddles his BMW. He jumps down on the kick-starter and fires up the machine. He waits for Panter to give him the “go” sign.

Wolfgang is the journeyman of the daredevils. He’s paying his dues. Wolfgang was jumping motorcycles through rings of fire and over piles of junk cars at second-rate demolition derbies when Panter found him with two singed eyebrows and a broken heart. Wolfgang is good at what he does and getting better. One day he’ll be Prince Charming of the Motodrome.

Panter nods the “go” sign to Wolfgang.

Wolfgang joins Klaus on the walls of “The Death Spiral.” They zig and zag just missing each other. They play a dangerous game of chicken, avoiding each other at the last possible moment. The spectators could not be happier… unless of course Wolfgang and Klaus crash and burn before their very eyes.

Panter watches their every move checking their timing and spacing on the stunts, making mental notes for future reference. Panter is a master tactician.

After a few more death defying stunts Panter jumps on the kick starter of his old Triumph. He leans over and puts his ear to the engine and listens intently. Bianca loves watching Panter rev up the motor and make minor adjustments to the carburetor while sweet-talking the old Triumph as if it were a reluctant street-walking lady.

Panter throttles up, pops the clutch, and joins Klaus and Wolfgang on the steep hardwood.

The crowd roars.

The three daredevils slip into a well-choreographed figure-eight routine for a few rotations before Klaus, and then Wolfgang, drop down to the floor leaving the steep Motodrome walls clear for Panter to create a new magnum opus.

And like snowflakes, no two creations of Panter’s are ever the same.

Panter is the impresario.

The romancer of circles.

The poet of motion.

Panter rides backwards upside-down sideways, and with only the good graces of gravity he stands up on the seat of the Triumph momentarily defying the physics of centrifugal force. The whole time Panter is performing these risky stunts he glares into the faces of the passing crowd as they flick past him like jumpy celluloid images.

Bianca watches Panter maneuver the Triumph up to the very top of “The Death Spiral” and run the rim just an inch from oblivion. Panter nonchalantly cruises the edge with both his arms raised high up over his head steering with his body weight.

The spectators lean over the rail and touch Panter’s passing outstretched fingers.

As Panter circles he looks into the faces of the wide-eyed spectators as they flash past… and then he feels a strange damp warmth wash over him and his world gets dead quiet and time shuts down to a crawl. Panter starts sweating profusely and his heart pounds in his chest. He thinks he may be having a coronary or a stroke or something… and then it hits him... he is in “the zone.” On the next rotation Panter acknowledges Bianca with a blank doll like stare.

Bianca senses Panter is somewhere else.

As fast as “the zone” comes… it leaves.

Panter is exhausted by the brief encounter and shoots Wolfgang a quick sideways glance that ends his routine. Wolfgang and Klaus join Panter back up on the tall hickory walls for the grand finale.

One at a time they corkscrew back down to the floor and shut off their machines. They lock arms and look at the uproarious crowd before bowing deep and long and in unison. The locals love it.

While Panter takes his extra bows Wolfgang and Klaus remove the panel and open the narrow door.

The three of them stand side by side again for a moment enjoying the adulation. Panter lights up a cigarette, takes a big pull off it, coughs and blows out yellow smoke that hangs low in the heavy oily air of the Motodrome. Panter waves one more time before sideling out the narrow door of the “Death Spiral.” Outside a few diehards gather for autographs. Panter perfunctorily scribbles his name while standing under the big blinking neon MOTODROME sign. Sweat drips down his face. His red silk scarf flutters in the cool night’s sugary breeze. He catches a chill and coughs some more. Behind him greasy-haired tattooed roustabouts start dismantling the “Death Spiral” stacking the hickory panels on a flatbed truck.

Wolfgang and Klaus roll the motorcycles out of the narrow door. Klaus backs a black lacquered trailer over and drops the ramp. They push the machines up the ramp and secure them.

The daredevils have a long night ahead of them.

Panter is still crashing from his zone-high when he spots Bianca working her way through the autograph seekers. In Panter’s state of mind Bianca is moving a little funky… herky/jerky like in stuttering motions.

Bianca has a long face.

Why so sad?

You’re leaving?

It’s the nature of the beast… you know that.

Take me with you.


I’ll work.


Come on… I’ll work my ass off for just room and board.

We have Klaus, Bianca.

Bianca report to the Funhouse, the loud speaker blasts.

Bianca dashes off covering her face with her arm like some punk-vampire.

Wolfgang starts dispersing the group of Panter fans.

What’s up with Bianca? Wolfgang asks.

Tell me and we’ll both know.

Wolfgang shakes his head. Panter can still make the young girls cry, he smirks.

I’ll be right back, Panter tells him.

Panter runs into the Funhouse. He finds Bianca in the hall of mirrors.

Bianca is ubiquitous. Her image reflecting out of every mirror at the same time… she is short and tall, skinny and small, fat and serpentine all at once. She blinks her eyes and half smiles at Panter while welcoming him with open arms.

Panter franticly searches up and down the long room for the flesh and blood of Bianca. She is nowhere to be found. Nowhere.

Panter rests his hands on his knees and tries to catch his breath.

Bianca report to the Mystic’s tent, the loudspeaker shouts out… and puff, just like that, Bianca’s image vanishes off all the mirrors in quick secession like popping soap bubbles leaving nothing more than a few wisps of wet-blue in each mirror.

Panter falls to his knees and starts hacking up this vile dark red phlegm.

Robert Caporale lives in Massachusetts. His stories have appeared in Confrontation, The Cafe Irreal, Avatar Review, Tattoo Highway, Zuzu Petals Quarterly, Hardboiled, Conversely, Alsop Review, Ink Pot, Flashquake and Zahir among others. His story, "Deluxe," appeared in Issue #5. Robert can be reached at