Maurice Level, first published in 1920; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
He was not evil or cruel, but he craved the unknown. He was not a fan of the theater, yet he often went in hopes of seeing it burn down. He was not interested in the circus, either, though he went in case one of the animals mangled its trainer. Once, he even visited the bull-ring, but bloodshed in a controlled setting was too dull, and he was disgusted by pointless suffering; he wanted the thrill of a sudden catastrophe.
Then, after a ten year wait, a fire ravaged the Opera house. He escaped without injury, and it was not long before he also witnessed a famous lion-tamer being torn to pieces by his own cats. The Madman was only a few feet away from the cage when it happened, and – unable to match that thrill again – he fell into a deep depression until the morning he discovered gaudy posters littering the streets of Paris.
The background was blue, and a strange, slanted race-track ran down a ways, curled into a loop, and dropped straight down. The top of the poster showed a tiny cyclist about to dare the dangerous route, and the newspapers said a man actually intended to attempt such a course. “When I reach the loop, you’ll actually see me go upside-down!” He told reporters.
The press was invited to inspect the track and the bicycle. “I use no mechanical tricks – only precise scientific calculation— and my unshakable nerve.” The daredevil bragged.
When the Madman read the article, his good spirits returned. He purchased his ticket immediately, and – to ensure he was not distracted when the rider looped the loop – he purchased the entire box of seats across from the track and sat alone on the big night. The cyclist appeared high above the audience at the top of the track. After a tense moment of anticipation, he sped down the slope and circled the loop with his feet in the air; then, it was all over.
The Madman was thrilled by the performance, but he would only be able to enjoy the show a couple more times before becoming bored. Still… bicycles break… tracks wear out… and no man’s skills are perfect. Sooner or later, there must be an accident.
The cyclist was scheduled to perform in Paris for three months, and then, he was going to tour the provinces. The Madman decided to attend every single performance, even if he had to follow the show when it traveled. He bought the same box and sat in the same seat every night.
One evening, two months later, the Madman was leaving after a performance when he saw the cyclist standing alone in a corridor and approached him; before he could say a word, the daredevil greeted him kindly.
“I know you; you come to my show every night.”
“That’s true; your remarkable stunt is fascinating, but who told you about me?”
“No one,” the cyclist smiled. “I see you at each performance.”
“But how can you see me from so high up? Are you actually able to study the audience at such a moment?”
The cyclist laughed. “Hardly. It would be dangerous to look down at a crowd, but – just between us – there’s a little trick to what I do.”
“A trick?” The Madman was surprised and disappointed.
“No, no, I don’t mean a hoax, but there’s something the public doesn’t know.” The cyclist winked. “This will be our little secret, yes? You see, this stunt requires total concentration – which can be very intimidating since it’s nearly impossible for me to clear my mind of random thoughts. Plus, the greatest danger comes from losing my balance if I were to start looking around – but I have a wonderful strategy to avoid this. I choose one spot in the auditorium and focus all of my attention there. The first time I rode in this hall, I used you as my spot, and then, you were here again the following evening…”
At the next show, the Madman sat in his usual seat, and a hush fell over the excited fans when the cyclist made his entrance; he was only a black speck standing high above the audience. Two men held his bicycle as the daredevil gripped the handlebars, stared out over the heads of the crowd, and shouted the signal.
The men gave him a shove, and – at that instant – the Madman stood up and walked to the opposite side of his box. The audience screamed as the cyclist and his bike shot off the track and plunged into the crowd.
The Madman put on his coat, smoothed his hat against one sleeve, and left.