The Tiger Sisters

Fiction by Ashley Walshe

Photograph by Julianne Ziebell

Here’s something they don’t warn you about time travel: all the bubbles.

Big deal, you might think. You’re surrounded by floating orbs of ever-changing color and light. Yes, they can be pretty spectacular. But until you’ve lived through this kind of high magic — and a precious few have — you cannot know what a psychedelic trip these iridescent spheres are capable of inducing, especially when you’re off dipping through time and space.

And in the summer of 1892, that is precisely what The Tiger Sisters were doing. Time traveling. Or preparing for it, rather. Why? Because they’d pretty much mastered everything else.

The Tiger Sisters were perhaps the most legendary circus performers of their day. No, they weren’t slinking around in the cage with the exotic cats. They were acrobats, most famous for their high-wire and flying trapeze performances, although you should have seen them on horseback. They got their name because of their propensity for wearing matching stripes, which was part of their cutesy act. It worked. Most people had no clue that they were actually in their mid-30s — and spacetime pioneers to boot. 

So why were these three brilliant explorers living the carnie life? The money was good, for one thing. They also really loved feeding the elephants. And do you know what kind of physical shape you’ve got to be in to do a forward flip on the back of a galloping horse? The circus arts kept them spry. If they were going to time travel — yes, the culmination of their life’s work — then they were going to need to stay pretty limber.

The Tiger Sisters made a pact on the summer evening of their maiden voyage: Wherever they landed, past or future, as long as it was summer, they would be OK. Because summer, as every seasoned circus artist knows, is the most magical time of the year. And where there is magic, all is well.

What happened next is a mystery to all but three. There were bubbles, sure. So many bubbles. They could never have prepared for so many.

Some say the sisters never returned — just, poof! — vanished without a trace, erasing themselves from the very fabric of existence. Think about it. Have you ever heard of The Tiger Sisters? Ever seen their likeness on a vintage circus poster? Only the elephants seemed to notice their absence.

Others say they’re still floating around out there in the dreamy light of an endless summer. Still in their matching striped outfits. Showing up in this century and that. Still a bit woozy from the riot of bubbles.  PS

Ashley Walshe lives in Asheville and is dreaming up her next grand adventure. 

Julianne Ziebell is a mother, a military spouse, an anthropologist by training, and a photographer by passion. You can find more of her work at

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