Ernt Rauchebaum’s quivering fingers

“Six cartridges, ten batteries, three stones of solder, and this.” Ernt Rauchebaum carefully extracted a silkbound package from the inside of his jacket.

Doctor Lorelei examined each of the items. He weighed them in his hands, aware that Ernt had both the technical and economic know-how to short him on almost anything. He took his time appraising.

Ernt sat awkwardly in the stiff back chair. He couldn’t help but watch Marrionetta — the star dancer he knew quite well — rummaging around in the fireplace, covering herself in black ash. “Everything alright, Miss Mary?”

Marrionetta reacted to the sound of her name but couldn’t manage to conduct her attention outside the confines of the fireplace.

After a length of time Lorelei said, “These appear to be in order. Let’s see the beauty.” He slid the silk wrapped item towards himself. Out of the delicate fabric, he unspooled a huge and superb knife. The handle was carved stone. The blade a magnificently light alloy. The weight differential made it as agile as a dragonfly.

He sliced the air in a deft gesture, causing Ernt to wince backwards. Lorelei’s lip curled to one side, taking pleasure in Ernt’s fright. Lorelei pulled a bundle of silverbacks from his boot.

“I’m satisfied,” he said, depositing the payment into Ernt’s quivering fingers. Ernt’s track marks showed him back out the door again. Back to Belfast. Probably.

Whatever happened to Ernt Rauchebaum?

Rustia and Mingey zipped around the inner perimeter of the big top on their unicycle. Rustia’s rippling calves radiated heat and speed on the pedals as her sister coolly affected languid pose after languid pose atop her sister’s shoulders. Lever boys and jugglers milled around, setting cranks askew and liberating weighted pins from gravity.

“That’s all?” Ungulen questioned Violet. “Usually an elephant show needs far more space than what you’re squaring out.”

“No no,” Violet said. “I’ve scaled things down. It’s artful this time.”

Ungulen exchanged a glance with Goren Hargus.

“Miss,” Ungulen bowed slightly to Violet, “the showcases are meant to turn in some coin.”

“Coin, yes.” Hargus agreed. “You like eating, don’t you, Violet?”

Violet smiled at the two men. “It’s going to be the talk of the town. I’ve taught the elephants a lot of new tricks. It’s very interesting.”

Ungulen squinted at Violet. She stuck her chin out. “Drutherstone entrusted it to me and it’s not like Ernt Rauchebaum ever came back.” she said.

“Whatever happened to Ernt, anyway?” Hargus said.

“Belfast, I think?” said Violet.

Ungulen shrugged agreeably. “Alright then. But if we don’t make any money, you’re back on the chorus line.”

Violet saluted, military style. Ungulen sniffed at her. She was funny, once you got to know her.

The twins, Mingey and Rustia suddenly sliced down the diameter of the circus ring like unicycling shrapnel. The three conversationalists were cast in separate, panicked directions.

“Get a bell!” shouted Ungulen after the crazy sisters. They cackled and zoomed out of the tent.

Marrionetta and Lorelei get serious

By now, Lorelei was in the nightly habit of disassembling his puppetress paramour. She more than tolerated it as the results were always rather interesting. In addition to creating tiny ballerinas from her fingers, a fantastic kicking bicycle out of her arms and legs, he had even created a feeterfly from her darling tootsies in combination with a family of gigantic moths he’d hand raised in a small terrarium and then harvested for their wings.

“Make them dance again,” Marrionetta unpegged all her fingers on her left hand and poured them into Lorelei’s workspace. He scowled at her. Marrionetta weaved around his workspace like a drunken whirligig on a tradewind ship. Lorelei attached the fingers to the wires and flicked the switched for her amusement. Then he continued working on something different.

The fingers rose but more haltingly this time. They swayed. One fell over as if to snooze off a bad hangover. Marrionetta hit Lorelei in the head.

“KURST! What?!” he screamed at her.

“They’re lazy as daytime witches!” she whined “What’s wrong with my jewelry box dolls?”

Lorelei heaved a sigh. He examined the device. He poked the plug of tissue in the cylinder. It cracked from dryness. “Fresh out of juice,” he said and returned to screw driving a panel.

Marrionetta looked very closely at the dried out mass of tissue. “How do we get more?”

Lorelei perked up at this question and turned a grinning, frenzied expression towards her.

“Yes. It’s time for more, isn’t it?”

more treats for Netty

Marrionetta slid her back up and down the walls in the dining area of The Emerald House. The world orbited around her, prancing colorful lights glinting and spiraling.

“Zingas!” she smiled and put her arms out. She found herself cartwheeling around the room, over the table and the benches. She fell neatly up onto the ceiling. She was singing nonsense and started lolling her tongue around, “Blargarlgarglmmm.”

Lorelei was still ignoring her as he furtively arbitrated the plate work and wiring of a small device in his work space. Sparks and blue electrical shocks collected under his finger tips.

Finally he said, “Pet, come down from there,” but his eyes were lovingly tracing the contours of his newest invention. Marrionetta fluttered down from the ceiling and put her chin on his shoulder.

“More treats for Netty?” she kissed his cheek.

“Better than treats, dear. Personal transformation.”

Marrionetta’s eyes rolled around in her head as she considered that one. The Visigoth doctor was frequently saying things she failed to understand. She felt it was his fault though, going out of his way to speak in generalities and science-chatter. She waited for him to say something else.

“Give me your hands,” he purred. She put a hand of hers in his and he began to gently unpeg her fingers, kissing each with a passion he had never bestowed on her countenance.

“Where are you taking those?” she asked.

“Just here,” said Lorelei and he showed her the electrical device. It was mostly just a rectangular panel with wires coming off of it in harried directions. There was also a conductive cylinder with a deep indentation on the top.

“You’re lucky,” Lorelei continued. “You can just take these right off and put them right back on again. Most people have to become permanently separated from their parts in order to experience one of my machines.”

Marrionetta’s glow was starting to wear thin. Plus, she was only in possession of one working hand. She felt frustration rise up inside of her.

Lorelei took her disembodied fingers and hooked them each to a wire. Then he retrieved another wet little blurp of pig endocrine and thumbed it into the cylinder’s indentation. He flicked a small switch.

Marrionetta couldn’t help but coo as the heatless blue plasma of the device wove its way down each of her fingers. The pig tissue began to squelch around, used in some way by the machine.

Creeping up on their tips, Marrionetta’s five fingers stood up and apart from one another. They made little jumps and turns, skipping, pirouetting. They were dancing.

the gramophone

Violet arrived at the elephant pen very early in the morning. It was already hot and damp, and her hair was beginning to fray out of the curled lock she’d set it to. She climbed under the fence and into the pen. She had come prepared with a rucksack and a wooden box. She placed the wooden box to the side and took some jars of jam out of her rucksack.

She’d been giving the elephants jam from the hurled samples she had received from Marrionetta, along with a few other morsels she had pilfered from the mess hall. She fed the elephants without connection to their circus work. Once before practice and once after. Just to say, “you’re nice elephants.” It made the dancing lessons go smoother.

The elephants were slumbering in a heap but quickly roused once they perceived Violet’s small, crushing footsteps in the sand. They lined up for jam, occasionally slapping each other in the head with their trunks to gain advantage.

Augromme was always there during morning rehearsals but slept through them. He was usually nestled into the recessed corner of the elephant barn, tucked into the buggy, grimy hay. He labored under a shade of nightmares that Violet dared not consider. He was a thick sleeper.

Violet whistled a syncopated tune and clapped an intricate signal of beats. The elephants lined up and began to rotate their heads, adagio as you please. Their ears furled out like great sails and began to ripple. They traded a great billowing wave among themselves, bobbing their heads up and down. They were — convincingly– a grey ocean.

“Very good!” Violet cheered. One of the elephants snorted, proud. “Now we’re going to add more.” She clasped the wooden box on the ground and opened it. It was a compact gramophone with a disc inside. She revved the crank and a mildly interesting shanty piped out.

“Alright,” Violet clapped and signaled with the beat. The elephants were more accustomed to dancing over the accompanying music as opposed to working within it. It would be no small task to help them recognize the fall drops instead of focusing on her for directions. Still, a combination of dependency would probably be sufficient, at least for their upcoming performance at the end of the month. Her very own showcase!

The shanty hit a high note. Suddenly, Augromme thrashed inside the barn. Violet gasped and teetered backwards. The other elephants too bugged back from the barn.

Augromme rolled over and rose sharply. Violet tried to make her way back out of the pen but tripped over her rucksack. She became tangled in her thighs and fell over. Augromme stalked towards her and gained in an instant. He seemed just about to trample her when one of the sows stood over Violet’s body and protectively reached her trunk between them. The sow puffed at Augromme and whurtled her enormous flanks. Augromme hesitated, ambivalent.

Slyly, his nose found Violet’s foot. He yanked her ankle, dragging her a few feet forward. She cried out, afraid now. Both sows started puffing at Augromme. The shanty kept playing, alarmingly out of place.

Violet coughed in the upkicked dust and felt her heart pounding in her chest. Augromme let go of her ankle. Deftly, he removed her ballet slipper and started smelling the palm of her foot. The sows seemed to feel this was acceptable and stopped puffing.

There was a reverberative CLANG. All of the elephants and Violet looked over to see Ungulen with a feeding bucket standing at the fence.

Ungulen appraised the situation carefully. “Everything alright?”

“No,” said Violet.

Ungulen ducked under the fence and approached Augromme.

“What did we talk about, mate?” He took a commanding tone with the maladaptive giant. Augromme rasped loudly.

Ungulen picked up the food bucket and slowly backed into an adjoining pen. Augromme tossed his head with attitude, hissing at Ungulen. The elephant headed straight for the food bucket and Ungulen locked his friend inside.

The sows helped Violet to her feet.

“May’s be,” Ungulen drawled, embarrassed, “we need some better arrangement?”

Violet dusted herself off and heaved a sigh of relief.

so what are they for?

“Now these aren’t exactly for eating,” Lorelei, his apron covered in sluice, brought a silver tray to the table. It had several warbling masses arranged just so.

“So what are they for?” Marrionetta reached for a tidbit. Lorelei smacked her hand away. He was a bad man, she knew. A Visigoth. She had palled around with several Visigoths in her time. She knew you could never trust them, even though they always had the best of everything. Afterall, there was a reason they had those things and other people didn’t. She decided she wouldn’t have dinner with with the doctor anymore. Maybe she’d have Ungulen evict him while Drutherstone was away and she could re-install herself in The Emerald House permanently. She’d have to grow some kind of thorn garden to keep everyone out.

Lorelei took a gelatinous bulb off his tray and put it into his mouth. He made several sucking sounds, gulped heavily, and then spat the bulb onto the floor. His face took on a sinister glee. He stomped a foot and grinned from ear to ear. He offered her the tray, pointing to a blob that consisted of a thick wedge of pink flesh and vascular freckling. She followed his lead.

The taste was horrifying. She spat most of it back up without swallowing which prompted Lorelei to laugh. He watched her very closely, as if he were her mirror.

From the residue in her mouth though, she could feel a warm glow begin to emanate. The room went taut. The air picked up. Her marvelous dress felt like a silken ocean.

“What was that?” she asked.

“Joy,” he said.

Joy she thought. She let the wild feeling enfold her. She started giggling and couldn’t stop. How stupid. Giggling? Since when? She felt the presurgent instinct to act violently. She’d grab this interloping Visigoth by his shoulders and toss him down the hill. But the rage did not mount. Instead, the idea only made her laugh afresh. It was all just roses and raspberries.

“I want more,” she squeaked, tears leaking from her eyes. Her previous judgements melted away like fat in the pan.