THIRTY SECONDS!” SAMSON yelled across the platform as he stepped to the rail in the center of the bridge beside Laila.
“Five. Four. Three. Two—” And at one, he motioned with his hands for the girls to jump out of their respective alcoves.
Doing so, Laila felt her stomach lurch toward the ceiling as she plummeted several feet. She kept her elbows bent and shoulders back, engaging her arms to absorb the shock of the fall. The web bounced on its riggings and she formed the first pose as the setters below began slow revolutions.
The sudden appearance of the aerialists had pleased the crowd, their deafening cheers stinging Laila’s throat in the onset of euphoric tears. The setters slowed the web and she unhooked her wrist. The blinding spotlight made it difficult to see anything at all, let alone the twenty-thousand-deep crowd as their approval flooded the arena.
Her nerves were a distant memory as she held the web in her hands tight to her chest and tipped backward, bringing her legs up and over her head. Hooking her left leg on the web, she re-grasped above her knee and slid her hip into place. In perfect unison with the other aerialists, she wrapped the web around her waist, twisting in mid air as the tail billowed beneath her. She held the last several feet of the web in her hand, having twisted herself into a knot at the peak of the tent. The music momentarily froze. With a firm arm stretched toward the ceiling, she pulled the tail of the web taught.
The cymbals clashed, signaling the chorus of violins and drums. Taking cue from the downbeat, she unhooked her left leg and went tumbling down the web. She hooked her left knee on the web again as she neared the end of the vortex, landing in a pose identical to the one from the start. She dangled there, merely six feet from the ground, unable to control the grin that spread across her face as the crowd rose to their feet, cheering so loudly that all she could hear now was one great, unified buzz.
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