a confident, exploring hand

It was a cool evening, green and textured as a crocodile’s tail. The big top was open and torches threw off a dancing glow that had its own musicality and strangeness. The returning groundsmuck glinted with its own fecund magic.

A second rate clown show was churning away inside the big top, much to the delight of ticket holding suckers. All around the circus grounds, children and lovers fetched in and out of lightness and shadow. The evening was perfumed with a burbling sense of mischief and anonymity.

Lorelei strolled through the night air. He had an object in mind but wanted no one to observe him. His task tonight was scientific and stealthy. He had dressed down for the occasion in a woven shirt, commoner’s suspenders and brown trousers. He attracted no special attention except for the occasional lever boy who doffed a happy cap to him. Lorelei’s coin had bought him snaking threads of appreciative staff.

Lorelei approached the big top. Instead of entering through the flaps though, he made a mild and dispassionate circumference around its loud canvas stripes, picking his way among puddles of groundsmuck. He was looking for something. He knew it would be there, close at hand, even though the object of his interest was — technically — invisible.

Invisibility — as a foundational characteristic — is of particular significance to those in possession of a scientific mind. The scientifically uninitiated can only appreciate invisibility in two ways: as power or as perversion. Usually both together in the service of soaking in ladies at their toilet or in states of dressing. But to a scientist, invisibility is not just a matter of utility (though its utility is undoubtedly powerful). Invisibility as a characteristic challenges notions of what is possible or impossible. Something invisible implies a wider and greater universe than what has already been catalogued.

Absently, Lorelei touched his fingertips to the big top’s canvas tent. He traced a line, enjoying the gentle thrill of thick, acrylic paint. He swept his eyes through the dark, focusing on nothing in particular, waiting for the invisible thing to give up its secrets. He carried on this way for a few minutes, milling around the flanks of the tent until something caught his eye and he halted.

It was already over but Lorelei knew the gist of what he had not seen. A vacant-eyed and expressionless woman was gliding towards the circus tent’s open wings. An indigo ticket was clutched in her gloved hand.

Lorelei strode past her without giving her a second look. He settled near a patch of briar, prepared to wait for as long as necessary.

So it startled him somewhat when, nearly immediately, a lank young man materialized in front of him. The young man had the same, drugged appearance. His eyes were glowing, distant, and absent of thought. With an eerie grace, the young man slipped past the doctor, also in the direction of the circus tent.

Now Lorelei could see it. The vein. It was so effervescent, so slight, it would be impossible to detect during the day time. Even here in the dark, it’s ghostly seam was masked by the interlocking branches of the briar patch.

Lorelei licked his quivering, lower lip. He felt the unmistakable prick of arousal beneath his vestments. He approached the seam and raised a confident, exploring hand.

The seam of the portal was icy to the touch. Undeterred, Lorelei pressed on. To his roaring excitement, his hand dipped through space, disappearing from sight as into a freezing, rushing river. In pain, Lorelei snatched his hand back. All his fingers were still intact, however they were burning and itchy, as though covered in stick pins. A deep and sideways smile gripped the doctor’s face, almost as if he were having a stroke. But he was not. He was consumed with desire. His eyes flashed and his breathing pulsated.

He pulled out a graphite pencil from his breast pocket and gently ran it through the freezing, ghostly sliver. The Hasse-Lieber Reverse Induction Contabulator receded from his mind like a station recedes from the barreling train. Marrionetta too was spiritually obliterated from his fantasy world.

“Darling,” he purred to the portal. “You and I have much to learn from each other.”

Augromme in the Box

Augromme thrashed and roared. He scraped around the enclosure, trying to turn around but was unable. He was sore and he was thirsty. He kicked with his back legs. He stamped with his forelegs. He trumpeted and the result was gargling and expectorant. His flanks and his legs were skinned and scabby, punished and weeping fresh sores that were discernible even in his repudiated, zombie flesh.

This tumult caused quite a stir on the other sides of his encasing walls. Small, roving eyes crowded up the darkness of several peeping holes. There were several peep holes, all drilled in at strange, titillating angles of the creature in the Box. The patrons scored in, keen to catch a glimpse of the ornery beast whose massive whole they could only extrapolate from bits and pieces.

“He’s got horns!” one child imagined aloud.

“I see spots!” Another chimed.

The crowd was a healthy melange of local peasantry and the occasional dreaming damned with their precious indigo tickets. Ungulen was taking tickets today and the line worked itself at a slow and steady pace that required the oversight of an adult. The lever boys, Ungulen had noticed, did far better under the pressurized intake of crowds on an opening night or a particularly popular sideshow. Afternoon work was no good for their bucking spirits.

Violet lingered nearby in the grass and Ungulen waved to her. She came over.

“Long faces leave traces,” Ungulen scolded her gently. She was unmoved by the sentiment. He tried again. “Something amiss?”

“It’s just that he’s upset.” Violet kicked a dirt clod and pulled a slim, homemade cigarette from the inside of her jacket.

Ungulen took a few more tickets from excited farmhands and then fixed Violet with a quizzical eyebrow. “Who’s upset?”

“Him. The elephant. Doesn’t it bother you?” Violet took a teensy drag on the cigarette and coughed delicately into her elbow.

“Since when do you smoke?” Ungulen observed.

Violet pointedly took a longer pull on the cigarette and suppressed a growing nausea.

“Alright” Ungulen shook her off, hoping the topic would turn.

“How can you listen to that? Don’t you have any feeling for him?”

“Ah.” Ungulen finally understood her complaint. “Because we’re cousins of some sort? Herds of a feather?”

“You’d think,” Violet shrugged and it was pert and irritable. Ungulen couldn’t hold back a smile and gently took the cigarette off her. He took a long drag of it himself.

“If yer going to start smoking, you could do with making ’em a bit less lumpy.” And then, after a moment, “Is this to slim down some? You’re already fit enough to do jumps. What’s this fer? Got yourself a new fella?”

Violet scoffed and took the cigarette back. She went to drag on it again but instead became entangled with retrieving a piece of grass from her tongue. Presently she continued with her accusation “So you don’t think anything of his pain? Of that poor creature stuck in a box to be mocked and looked over. Inspected like?”

Ungulen sighed deeply and turned his massive, shaggy head towards the Box. “I suppose I could. Except I know him quite well. He’s a mish mosh upstairs, love. Never knows where he is or why. Creatures that old should be expected to die. But this one can’t. Brought back from the dead for some wicked warlock’s purpose and then forgotten about once the ritual was all said and done. He’s just a remainder. Like the last speck of porridge in a pot.”

“So, hopeless.”

Ungulen shrugged. “I feed him kippers now and then. He earns his keep. Just like the rest of us.”

Violet blushed in anger. She couldn’t tell if his words stung her or if the cigarette had suddenly induced a sharp headache. She suddenly flicked her cigarette to the ground.

“Maybe one day, Drutherstone will put you in a box,” she seethed.

Ungulen turned that one over with care. “Doesn’t seem likely,” he concluded, scratching his neck scruff but Violet was already marching away.

rat trap

“Hand me that,” Lorelei gestured absently towards his tools. Ossip fetched the implement and directed it to his mentor’s long and agile fingers.

Lorelei pursed his lips as he worked. It was a looming Sunday, full to brimming with idle hours and coffee. Ossip hopped around the Emerald House in a doused state of caffeination. Even at age 19 he was a seasoned coffee drinker but Lorelei’s brew was darkly energizing. Ossip was excited, curious. He was open wide to everything.

The little project they had elected to work on together was nothing of consequence. It was an inverted rat trap. A machine that squealed at a frequency far above those detectable to human ears. It was a mechanical irritant to ward away circus vermin. Lorelei made a few final touches to the massive circuit board and then, with a magnanimous smile, slid the contraption across the work desk to his pupil.

Ossip grinned. So strong was his desire to please and to work at something new, the smile stretched his face until it nearly cracked open for a moment. His teenaged fingers set to work at the wiring, soldering the diodes together in alternating crosses like stitching up the corset of a beautiful woman.

It was careful work. Painstaking and satisfying. Hardly a word was shared between them as Ossip fulfilled his mentor’s instructions. The boy was certainly thriving with the special attentions of “mister doctor.” The newly won envy from his peers had put an imperious slant to Ossip’s jaw and a raptness to his work. Doctor Lorelei’s eyes roamed over the boy, making inventory of his talents, his weaknesses, and the manifesting bond between them.

Ossip looked up from the wiring and indicated a more complicated looping of copper wires and switches. Lorelei tapped his index finger on the work desk, very much pleased with his handiwork.

several, competing arrangements

Tasked with two buckets, a rucksack, her cleats, and a fresh bouquet of daffodils for her ailing mistress, Violet trudged back from the pasturelands towards the big top and its subterranean dressing rooms. One of which was still occupied by the flagging Marrionetta.

Things with Augromme had been steadily progressing. She had to keep up the clandestine habit of only visiting him while he was put out to graze. Ungulen still hadn’t caught on that she was rehearsing the grievous creature in her spare time. The zombified, nightmare elephant was picking up the dance routines in fits and starts. One week he would have grasped something superbly but then the next, he would forget nearly all of it. Almost purposefully, Violet felt. Essentially, he was a frustrating mess. Still, she felt certain that if she could get him into some kind of rhythm, some kind of mutual understanding, she could unleash his beastly bravado as a major coup for her showcases.

Practice with the healthy, un-brainsick elephantrinas was no less demanding. She had introduced new choreography and they had all been working on that together for several weeks. The elephantrinas were doing remarkably well with it but the constant count offs, repetitions, and management of their temperaments was draining. Still, Goren and Ungulen had agreed to extend her foray as manager of the elephant showcases. So, for better or worse, she was contractually obligated now. Violet couldn’t decide if she was pleased to be locked into the performance schedule as an official second bill for the circus or if she had gotten herself in over her head. Could she succeed the next time around? Would she soon fail to magnificent fanfare? Or was she better than all this? Perhaps the elephant show was beneath her and a waste of her time, youth and talents. It was hard for her to say which version of her predicament was the most real. So instead, each of the three blended together into an unfocused, self-feeding cycle of crushing doubt that released into giddy flights of pulsating energy that could keep her going for days.

Things with Marrionetta hadn’t been progressing at all. The star was a fixture on her chez-lounge, languid and pale. Violet continued to sleep up in the canopy cot in the dressing room with her and she was constantly at the star’s beck and call. Marrionetta could be harsh with Violet. At other times though, she was sweet, even circumspectly grateful. The otherwise fiendishly practiced puppetress was clumsy with her gratitude. Any word of thanks she gave was accompanied by avoidant eye contact or a rushed gesture. Yet, to Violet, this seemed genuine. Or at least it wasn’t an act. The unvarnished aspects of Marrionetta were like bird calls through dense, thick trees. Evidence of a life unperceived, except by those paying close, close attention.

In the mornings, Violet would breakfast with Ungulen down in the public mess. Buttering toast and chattering away on her flimsy, flighty energy of underslept resilience. It was a lie to eat with him. He didn’t know about her several, competing arrangements. As far as he knew she was handling the elephant show and that was it. Had he known that she had become Marrionetta’s full time caregiver or the de facto dance instructor to the wild and unpredictable Augromme, he almost certainly would have had words for her. As it was though, they broke bread in the curling sunshine of green mornings, discussing anything and everything that didn’t matter at all.