the honorable Ossip P. Balichenko

“Now far be it for me,” said Lorelei as he bowed graciously to the host of lever boys, “to tell you young gentlemen your business. I see myself purely as a consultant in this matter.”

“I don’t think we could do any better, as consultants go!” Ossip spoke proud and plain. He thrust his chin in the air and the others smiled. The lever boys followed Ossip’s lead and nodded, grateful that such a worldly and experienced man as Doctor Sinvarius Lorelei was there to help them plan an honest to goodness trial against their unjust employers.

“Let me just set this down somewhere,” Lorelei continued. He fetched a large metal bowl and overturned it on Marrionetta’s head. He stacked 6 cans of mackerel on top of the overturned bowl to keep her from scurrying about.  He knew the strength of her feet, even if she didn’t presently have any legs.

“Now it seems to me, what you ought to do is make sure there is a large gathering at this trial. A vote of confidence from your fellow laborers. And you’ll want to elect a judge. Someone who respected for being objective, level headed, and has a great deal of knowledge about the situation. Somebody known for not having any particular grudges or axes the grind. That way, they can rule fairly on the subject.”

“Well Ossip, no doubt,” piped in one of the youngest boys.

“Yes I say Ossip fits that bill,” said another.

“Why don’t we put it to an informal vote, right here and now. We can — or rather you all can — agree at a later time if a change is required.”

The boys all nodded and put their hands in the air. A unanimous vote made Ossip P. Balichenko the circus’s first ever elected judiciary. It was a solemn and proud moment for these 11 young men. Intuitively, they each felt that this would be an important moment in their lives. Ever the more so as Ossip was only 19. His 20th birthday was still a month away. History was unfolding before their eyes.

“Congratulations my boy,” Lorelei beamed at his protege. “Please, let me be the first to shake your hand.”

Lorelei demonstrated both to Ossip and all others present how an official handshake might look. The other boys in turn wanted to shake Ossip’s hand. After all, they too had played a meaningful role in his ascendancy to power.

“Now then,” Lorelei continued, “if I may continue to offer my services. I have some additional notes and ideas on how to arrange such a trial. But only if you feel I’m not intruding?”

From beneath the overturned bowl, Marrionetta listened intently as the meeting went on.

Visigoth extraordinaire she thought and she exhaled wrathful humidity in great blasts onto the cold steel of her prison.


football among the lads

Marrionetta gasped for air. She had been tucked away in a trunk for nearly an entire day. Coffins! For the worms! she had concluded and vowed to be burned away in a kiln before anybody confined her in such a way again.

Doctor Lorelei retrieved her head from the box and promptly muzzled it. In protest, Marrionetta let all the musculature in her carved face relax so that she looked like a foul, drooping animal. The doctor however, paid her little attention.

Marrionetta noticed that it was morning. Business hours. Lorelei had already finished a pot and a half of coffee. She could tell from the light tremor of his hand that he had probably overdone it, both on the coffee and maybe on something else more stimulating the night before. She also noticed that he had bruising about the hands. She wondered if he had murdered anyone while she had been stuffed away in the trunk. The trunk must have been soundproofed because she hadn’t heard anything through the night except the cacophony of her own manic reflections. This confused her as Lorelei had already murdered plenty of people in front of her. Why the sudden need for privacy?

Doctor Lorelei retrieved another box. From this box sprang Marrionetta’s feet. The feet excitedly kicked and flexed themselves in hopes of achieving freedom but alas, that was not their destiny. At least not today.

Lorelei affixed the feet to the bottom of Marrionetta’s head. He then attached her muzzle to a lead and began dragging her out of The Emerald House. She squatly plodded along behind him. At first she tried to keep up with his long, loping stride. It was in vain. He did not care that he was effectively dragging her. She screamed through the muzzle but found — after a time — that it was not worth her energy. By the time they got to the bottom of the hill, she was caked in grass and dirt clods. Her eyes were daggers, gleaming with hatred.

After a jeering personal parade, Marrionetta and the doctor finally arrived at their destination. The mess. In front of the building stood a stockade. It surprised Marrionetta to see it although she immediately recognized what it was. She had seen many stockades throughout the many centuries she had lived. What shocked her though, was who was in this particular stockade. It was Goren Hargus.

Goren was purple and glistening with fresh pain. She knew immediately that this was who Doctor Lorelei had treated the night before to his special and unseemly profession of torture.

All her previous peevishness towards this Goren melted away in an instant. Goren and Marrionetta’s eyes met. She noticed his expression change when he recognized her, head and feet and all, rolling along behind the doctor. Even in the state he was already in, it seemed to reduce him even more to see her on a leash.

She didn’t like the look that came into Goren’s eyes. Instinctively, she arched an undaunted eyebrow at him. Almost straightaways she was dragged further along by the doctor. Still she felt sure she had detected a smile forming in the creases of Goren’s eyes just before she was carried off. It was as if he had something to her. Like, If only Drutherstone could see us now. Or something like that.

Still, it alarmed her that Goren was imprisoned and on display. She tried think why or how things could have happened this way. She could think of no exact reason but it occurred on her very keenly that the doctor appeared to be eliminating any person who had the vaguest semblance of control or authority in the circus. This seemed to go beyond typical visigoth behavior. She felt a creeping sense of dread that the doctor apparently had depths of talent she had not previously understood.

I was scouting fare she realized. Somehow, she felt that the circus was doomed. Or at least at least as a commercial enterprise it was doomed. But why us? Why us and our second rate little circus? Couldn’t he have left well enough alone? Her mind pounded over trying to connect her circus with the machine he had been building for months. How were these two events so converged upon each other?

Lorelei had been speaking with a few of the other circus employ outside the mess but now turned his attention back to Marrionetta. He bowed down and prepared to scoop her into his arms. Before he did it though, he spoke very briefly into her ear.

“Bite me, love, and I’ll leave you out here for a game of football among the lads. You wouldn’t like that, would you?” He didn’t wait for an answer and promptly picked her up like a small dog and carried her into the mess hall.

Inside, there was a gaggle of lever boys. Many of them were acting impatiently, Marrionetta noticed. Tapping their feet, running their fingers through their hair. Impatient for what though? Presently, the lever boys recognized her and became uproarious at the spectacle of seeing bold Marrionetta reduced to a head on string. A few of them tried to put their fingers in her mouth and she promptly bit them, drawing blood. Lorelei laughed with the younger boys for a time but finally he prohibited further molestation of Marrionetta’s head in favor of better plans.

“Enough of that, boys. We have a trial to plan.”

the many, many crimes of Goren Hargus

Many people run away to join circuses. That is a matter of public record. It is unknown, however, just how many persons run away from circuses. They are an uncounted lot who are at liberty to disappear in a rather permanent way whether they want to or not.

Goren Hargus was born Goren Hargus, which is a rare continuity in the life of a circus worker. His father was an accountant. So were his uncle and his grandfather. His mother was a seamstress and once a week on Fridays, she would bake shortbread.

It was fine shortbread. Certainly the finest Goren had ever tasted or would ever taste, no matter the fame or reputation of the bakeries he would encounter later in adulthood. Goren was raised well, sent to school, and it was always expected that he would be an accountant. It was also assumed that he would find a wife who knew how to make shortbread. There was nothing terribly exciting in store for him, as far as Goren could tell. Only a good and straightforward life.

The needle, however, wavered on its third trip around the disc of Goren’s life. For bunched up reasons he couldn’t — for the life of him — tell you now, he broke with his family’s expectations, the hindrances of his office life, and left a girl whom he had been instructing in how to make shortbread.

As if waking from a dream, Goren found himself one day sitting up in his cot on the grounds of Drutherstone’s circus, smiling in the cold fog of his 5am rounds to double check the infrastructure, pleased in his new life and his new work. Never a dull moment he would joke to himself, as this was a very queer thought for an accountant to partake in.  As accountants went, Goren Hargus was something of a libertine.

Nevertheless, Goren was still a competent accountant. He knew which corners to cut, how to blur the true meaning of a thick ledger, whose secrets were precious to them, and most importantly he was skilled in the art of price fixing. Goren knew how to artificially enlarge the price of cake, pressing its seductive value against the soft backbone of desire for a long but justifiable length of time. He knew also the moment when the circus employ had become too aggrieved of his meddling and when it would be time to pull back, allowing for a season of cakes to grow on trees.

Goren felt that the barracks and living conditions at Drutherstone’s circus were satisfactory. The mess provided good food. The work was difficult but then again, all these circus folks were there of their own accord, were they not? They had run away from unbearable lives. Surely they could see the value and cunning in operating an enterprise like this one on such a modest allocation of funds?

Goren trusted both himself and the fundamentals of economic theory to successfully tinker with the volatility of circus finances. He also didn’t see the harm in turning a tidy profit for himself in the process.

He was not the most popular member of the circus employ although to say he was despised might be overheated. Goren managed well enough with a few close friends, a growing bank account back in town, and the company of custard pies from the mess. He also observed a small tradition. Every year on his birthday, Goren would place a personal order to a catalog for 3 pounds of sweet, buttery shortbread. He always ate it privately and wondered each year if he shouldn’t order any for his mother but he never got around to it.


the inquiry

“You really aren’t any fun,” Lorelei exhaled hot air onto his blade and began cleaning it.

Goren caught his breath. He was covered in long, bleeding cuts. His bones were bruised. He was tied to the same chair he had sat down in to tea, the previous day.

“I always thought that large people were more buoyant of spirit. You’ve very much disappointed me in this realm, Mr. Hargus.”

Goren spit. A piece of his tooth came out. He looked Lorelei in the face and spit again, just for spite.

Lorelei frowned and shook his head.

“Well perhaps you really don’t know anything.” Lorelei chuckled and was quickly overtaken with an unstoppable peal of laughter. “You really don’t know do you? How the portal works? Incredible. Now, if I were an accountant and worked in a wrecked, pathetic circus full of nothing but gnomish mediocrity and slime, I personally would take special interest in something apparently miraculous like a portal to a new dimension. But I suppose we are all born differently. I have my predilections and you have, well, you have your pies to focus on.”

Goren continued to focus on his painful breathing. With each breath, his ribs ached.

There was a knock on the door. Goren looked wildly at the door but Lorelei did not seem perturbed at all.

“Ah. There they are. At long last.” Lorelei spoke to Goren. “Sir, I have tired of you as a guest. You will be more useful to all of us in a slightly new capacity.”

Lorelei stuffed Goren’s mouth with rags. Then he turned to the door and opened it. It was Ernt Rauchebaum and a very large lever boy who towered in the door frame. They looked in at Goren. They both seemed a bit nervous.

“Nothing to worry about,” Lorelei patted the larger boy on the back. “He’s secured up tight. Now take him down to the mess and we’ll begin the inquiry tomorrow morning. Mr. Hargus has many, many crimes he needs to account for.”

“Ernt?” Goren tried to say, muffled through the rags.

With a knitted brow, Ernt approached Goren, his former employer. A rapid unfolding of memories exchanged between the two of them. There was nothing to say.

Ernt and the lever boy took either side of Goren and hoisted him out of  the chair. Goren moaned, in pain. They dragged him out of the house and into the solid, green night.

the blasted hill

Goren took off his hat and took several laborious breaths. He sat down in the grass. He felt he was baking in the sunshine. This blasted hill he thought to himself and looked up the last length he was going to have to climb to get to The Emerald House.

Goren knew it was a power play. Goren understood the angles. He knew he was fat and appeared ridiculous to most of the circus crews. He knew that Doctor Sinvarius Lorelei did not respect him. He also knew that, in its own way, this was often an asset. Chubby little Goren with his single minded fixation on the ledgers and ticket sales. He would play right into Lorelei’s game. Arriving late, out of breath, and ostensibly three steps behind whatever the doctor thought he was getting away with.

Goren settled his breathing. He felt certain that this meeting would shed necessary light on what was happening to the young boys disappearing from the circus. He would report back to Ungulen and they could ready from there. Goren prepared himself to play the part of the absurd little man who couldn’t see more than three feet in front of him. Once he had gathered his nerve, he trudged the rest of the way up the hill.


“Doctor Lorelei, it’s nice to see you,” said Goren stepping over the threshold as the doctor bowed deeply, inviting the accountant inside with his massive, outstretched arm. Goren noted the doctor’s posture and wondered how this insane individual could pass unnoticed through the world.

“Do you ever deal in fireworks?” Goren asked.

“What? No.” Said Lorelei, shutting the door behind them.

“That’s too bad,” Goren ventured, trying to counterstroke the man’s ego. “You strike me as someone who could have done wonders in the field of pyrotechnics.”

Lorelei’s eyes slid all over Goren’s face. Goren remained cheerfully neutral and, presently, Lorelei smiled a great cushion of a smile and bowed again. Goren felt uneasy. He decided not to pursue that approach.

“How’s Marrionetta lately? She’s staying with you these days, I hear?”

“She’s out at the moment. Please, come sit down.”

Goren and Lorelei sat together at Lorelei’s workbench. Lorelei had prepared tea. Goren noticed that the place was strikingly clean. This surprised him. By all accounts, The Emerald House had descended into absolute squalor. He was also aware that Marrionetta had not been seen out or anywhere for months. He concluded that she was, in fact, still somewhere in the house. Possibly listening in on the conversation. That little tart he thought disdainfully.

Lorelei quietly poured tea. “Lemon?” he asked.

Their eyes met over the proffered wedge of lemon. Goren gave the doctor an impatient twinge of his eyebrow. Lorelei smiled again and set the lemon aside .

“I wanted to speak with you,” began Lorelei. “About certain economic and anomalous realities of the circus. Since you are the chief of circus finances, I thought you would be just the man I needed to speak with on such a delicate, manifold subject.”


“I am a man of science. And the first rule of science, really the most paramount, is to be an open and insightful observer of natural facts.” As he spoke, Lorelei dug a spoon into a porcelain jar of sugar. He offered a great heaping mound of sugar for Goren’s tea. Goren refused it.

Lorelei continued, “Now it has been my observation that many of this institution’s patrons are, how shall I put it?” Lorelei pleased himself with a fanciful gesture. “From abroad?”

Goren said nothing.

“And so many! How is it that they travel here? There’s no nearby train station. No port. I have yet to see any particular kind highway?”

Goren’s mind raced as the doctor was speaking. Where was all this going? What did it have to do with the missing lever boys?

“It’s true,” Goren contributed in his circumspect way, “that our circus attracts a very wide audience.” He then gently replaced his teacup to its saucer. “Does that interest you for any particular reason?”

Lorelei swallowed his tea down. A bit greedily, Goren noted. “Purely for the sake of scientific observation, Mr. Hargus. How can I explain it? There is such nobility in the art of discovery. Such excitement in the power which is required to wrest secrets from nature’s tight, maternal grip.”

Goren was quiet for a moment or two. “Are you comparing scientific observation to kidnapping?”

Lorelei caught himself and rocked back gently in his chair. The two men observed each other.

“I know,” a strange tension began weaving itself into Lorelei’s voice, “that you are a patient and intelligent tally marker. Coin for entry. Coin for payroll. Coin for tit and coin for tat. Surely a man of your appetite knows that midnight pies don’t bake themselves.” Lorelei began slapping at his own belly.

The taunt was only the tip of the iceberg. Goren felt disrobed in some way but couldn’t say why. “What are we talking about?”

“Where does the portal go?”

Goren felt a chill go down his spine. He had not anticipated this avenue of inquiry.

“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully.

“But you must have some idea. I find it hard to believe that a ledgermaster is content to be dependent on an essential asset he cannot predict or understand. How does the portal work? Is it seasonal?”

“It’s not for us to know,” Goren felt both rooted in place and panicked to leave.

“Are they not dead? Or are they dreaming? Is it an in between state?”

Goren attempted to stand but Lorelei was faster. The doctor pushed the small, fat accountant back down into his chair. Lorelei stood over Goren, his huge open palm crushing Goren’s sternum. The two men breathed in each other’s stink. Goren, sweaty from his uphill climb and Lorelei perspiring in a blossoming pique. A tiny gleam caught Goren’s attention. It was only then he noticed the small knife protruding from the sleeve of Lorelei’s other hand.

“Please, Mr. Hargus. I beg your patience. After all, there’s still tea. And so much more to discuss.”



Violet sat on one of the warped wooden benches inside the empty big top. It was a warm, humid afternoon. Grounds muck had begun collecting in little pools at all the circus corners and crannies. There was a haze of dust hanging in the air, refracting all the slanted sunlight as it streamed in from the open flaps.

Violet hunched over her rucksack, digging around for an item she could not find. In frustration, she balled up her fists and began slamming them down feebly on the wooden bench. In response, the bench wobbled according to its distorted geometry.

“Ouch,” Violet drew back her hand. It smarted with a tiny splinter. She  was upset because she couldn’t find the little golden figurine she was so sure she had packed away in the rucksack. It was meant for Augromme. She had started bringing him little gifts in addition to jams and foodstuff. She felt sure that a better bond was forming. For a time, his training had been going extraordinarily well. Until it wasn’t anymore. He has ceased to pay attention and was increasingly ornery. She had been sure the little golden figurine would recapture his attention but now it was missing.

Violet rested her chin in her hands and closed her eyes. I’m exhausted she thought to herself. Once she thought it, she realized how true it was. All her limbs ached and the all the chambers of her heart felt squeezed with urgent hopes. The added pressure of Ungulen’s warning about the doctor was also growing as a storm cloud in her mind. She exhaled. It was so quiet in the big top. So still. She decided to light a cigarette.

The tiny cigarette was neatly rolled. She felt the world melt away as the tip of the paper caught with embers burning a resilient blend of orange and yellow.

“Lonely, Miss?” The question startled Violet. She turned and saw it was Binter, the youngest of the Keurmite brothers, the triplets with the removable heads. He had his own head tucked under into his elbow. He smiled at her and put his head back on. His jaunty trousers plumed pleasantly at the thigh. She always thought how charming and silly it was that all three of them went around shirtless in suspenders.

She laughed, “Hi, Binter. No I’m just thinking. Were you looking to use the rehearsal space?”

“Naye,” said Binter sidling up to her. “But I was looking to bum one of those cute little ciggies of yours.”

Violet rolled her eyes at him and handed him one of the other cigarettes from the inside of her jacket.

“So,” Binter’s face was alive with winking, dimpled suggestion. “How’re the oliphants?”

“They’re just grand,” said Violet, not making eye contact.

“I thought your last show was pretty good. All sea shanty like. It was different.”

“Well thank you, Binter. Nobody else seemed to think so.”

Binter saw that she was moody. He set down the cigarette and stood up abruptly. He put a hand in his pocket. With the index finger of his opposite hand he poked Violet directly in the center of her forehead.

“Seems awful congested up here. I think we need to do some weeding.”

Binter took his other hand out of his pocket. With a sleight and a trick, Binter began pulling a great sheaf of pink ribbon, seemingly directly out of Violet’s forehead.

“Well would you look at that,” he said.

Violet laughed.

“Wait, hang on. There’s even more over here.”

Binter cupped Violet on the ear, making her shrug away from him with a ticklish smile. Binter, however, was persistent and began to stream yellow, blue and green silk from out of her ear.

“Would you just look at that, Miss! No wonder you’re gloomy.”

Violet batted him away. “Shut up,” she giggled.

Binter sat back down next to her. He picked up his cigarette from the bench and stuck it back in his mouth. “Our mother was a painter, you know.”


“Yes. In addition to having four children, we three ugly mugs and a sister. My mother was pretty alright with it too. The painting I mean. Landscapes mostly, you know. Haystacks, cliffs, horses with a white spot on the forehead. All that sweet country living.”

Violet ashed carefully and looked at Binter.

“All I’m saying is,” Binter continued, “paint’s probably an easier medium to work in compared with the willful nature of an oliphant. Kind of a hard palette you’ve chosen.”

“Well some people are born with elephants and others have elephants thrust upon them.”

Binter burst out laughing at this. It was very loud but also very pleasant. They both ashed out their cigarettes and took little drags.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Binter said. “Have you seen Ungulen around lately? I feel like nobody’s seen him in quite a while.”

For the briefest moment, Violet went stiff. It passed through her mind that Binter Keurmite could very easily be taking money from Lorelei. He wouldn’t even need to be loyal to the chaotic doctor in order to be passing information along. Unwitting-like.

Binter, for his part, detected a change in carriage in his female companion. He, however, assumed a different reason for it.

“Not to pry into your business,” Binter said hastily.

“No no,” Violet quieted him. “It’s just…I haven’t seen him either and it’s making me a little on edge. With Drutherstone gone away you know? Who does that leave us with? Goren Hargus at the helm?”

“Heaven forbid,” laughed Binter.

Violet shrugged ironically. “Well, I should get going.”

“So soon? Me and some of the gang snagged a great barrel of ale from in town. You could come have a drink with us?”

“Maybe next time, Binter.” Violet showed herself out.

Binter sat a few moments longer, puffing on the cigarette. Absently, he took his head off and began passing it back and forth in his hands.

a conspiracy among friends

Violet rolled her eyes. Ungulen gestured emphatically on the other side of the small window. Taking direction from his flailing hooves, she picked up a bucket and filled it with water, pretending in her overall posture that she was busily preparing snacks for the elephants. With nonchalance for anyone around who might care to notice, she picked up the filled bucket and opened the door to the walrus house.

“Oof,” Violent brought her hand to her nose. The overpowering odor of the kept walrus was stunning.

“Did anyone see you?” asked Goren Hargus from a dark corner of the room. Violent shook her head no and closed the door behind her. The walrus house flooded with cool, afternoon darkness.

“Good,” proclaimed Ungulen and gestured for all of them to be seated at a little card table. The meeting began.

“Violet, I’ve asked you here because you and Goren are the two people I trust most on the grounds.” Ungulen looked over his shoulder towards the door. “Now, Goren and I believe that there may be some misfortune amiss with the doctor.”

Both Ungulen and Goren fixed Violet with an expectant look.

Violet scoffed, “Well of course there’s something wrong with him. He punched me straight in the face and kidnapped Marrionetta, which by the way neither of you really did anything about at the time or after, thank you very much. So much for a young lady’s delicacy. ”

At this, Ungulen blushed deeply through the fur at his nape.

Violet continued, “He’s paying off half the staff with coin to fetch him little machine parts and the like. He eats all the chocolate and sardines at the mess, and actually he’s been very keenly peculiar since the very first day he showed up here.”

Ungulen and Goren each began nodding deeply. There was certainly nothing untrue in Violet’s pronouncements.

“Is that all?” Violet asked, angry. “He’s a mean, strange man and you just wanted to talk in secret about it? How is this cause for a secret meeting in a smelly old walrus closet?”

The walrus moaned quietly at this and slapped his bath water. He was insulted. Violet took no mind as she had not developed the same communicative sensitivity to the walrus as she had with the elephants.

“No no this goes beyond that,” Ungulen began chewing his long, flapping goat lips. “We think he’s taken to killing some of the younger lever boys.”

Violet drew back, astonished at this claim. She was very familiar with many of the lever boys. Several had tried to bring her daffodils. She began to reflect on which of them she perhaps had not seen in a while but stopped herself. The thought was too chilling to partake of.

“Ungulen, that’s just wild thinking. Surely nobody is…is…” she searched for a word other than murdering. “Surely it’s fine? They’re just run aways? Don’t you think, Goren?”

“I’m not sure just yet,” replied Goren. “But there’s a logic to it. Too many of these so called runaways never bothered to collect their last circus cheques and several of them left behind rather essential belongings, I would say. Boots, cigarettes, little Cormac left behind the walking stick he carved last spring. Had it mounted it with a bit of pyrite too.”

Violet took a moment to absorb this.

“So,” Ungulen sank closer into the table and his two friends. Goren and Violet drew in closer as well. “We need to begin spying on our good old friend, mister doctor, and see what he really gets up to in the meantime.”


all the work still unfinished

“KURST!” yelled Lorelei, throwing down a small instrument. It clanged to the floor and rolled toward the desk where Marrionetta’s head was still floating in the chemical bath. She only blinked at the doctor as she was accustomed to his outbursts.

But then in a flash, he rose wildly out of his chair. The chair fell over. This was new. He stalked towards her head and in a single jab, plunged his arm up to the elbow into her bath and dredged her head out. The chemical bath waters got in her mouth and nose and she coughed and sputtered all the way to his work desk. He banged her down upright, so they could have a conversation.

“I’m sick of this, you know.” He was referring to the general progress he had made on the Hasse-Liebe Reverse Induction Contabulator. The progress had been slow. His myriad experiments on Marrionetta had been painstaking and exhausting for her. She was sick of it too. So, in solidarity, she spat in his face.

Lorelei bared his Viennese teeth at her. An incredible rage beamed from behind his eyes but he did nothing. He didn’t even wipe the spittle off his face.

He continued, “Sick to death of it. Of the entire thing.” Absently, he gripped another small metal instrument at the desk and pointed at her with an accusatory mien. “Do you know that I have discovered something beyond the comprehension of man? Right here in this godforsaken circus? No. Of course not. Why would you know.”

“Right again as usual mister doctor! “screeched Marrionetta. “How would a head left in pal of your little piss and gravy experiment water, wrinkling to ages like a royal prune, know what the dog hair’s breath is going on anywhere and anyhow!”

Her angry outburst seemed to soothe him. He licked his lips. Finally, he wiped her splat from his cheek. “It was beautiful. A portal. Probably into another world. Can you believe it?” He wasn’t talking to her at all. She used the opportunity to survey the items at his desk. Maybe there was something she could pick up with her teeth and stab his hand with.

“I need you to assist me with finishing up my experiment. It has to go faster. It must. But I can’t concentrate. It’s beneath me now, I can see that. The celestial forces have summoned me to a greater project. I must finish this confounded machine and move on to the next and more spiritually freeing part of my journey.” The reverie on his own destiny brought him back to his former self. He looked younger somehow in the throes of forwardism. Then he frowned, remembering all the work still unfinished. He locked eyes with Marrionetta.

“You will do the tasks I assign to you. They will be simple. A child could do them.”

Marrionetta began to hack up another expectorant missile but Lorelei grabbed her with both hands and shook her entire head rather violently until she half choked and had to swallow it back down. The spit hack leaked out the bottom of her open neck.

“All done there, I see?” Lorelei placed her head back on the desk and started patting down her hair. Marrionetta was dizzy and angry.

“I will release your hands,” continued Lorelei, taking a locked wooden chest out from a shelf. It was deep red and had a crest on top. It was the width of his torso. The chest rattled once he began handling it.

He set the chest down on the desk a little ways away from Marrionetta’s head. With a key on a ring of keys, he unlocked the padlock and opened the box. Inside were both of Marrionetta’s writhing, disembodied hands. They were separated by a thick divider of wood. Each were attempting to escape the confines of the chest but were unable to. Lorelei had fastened each hand at the wrist with a metal ring (installed painfully some months ago), and each hand was leashed with leather cord to the box.

With minimal difficulty, Lorelei quashed one hand and separated it from its cording. He fastened a leather leash to the ring. He put the chest away with her other hand still inside.

Lorelei staked the leash of Marrionetta’s hand to a mount on the desk. The hand greeted its mistress’s face lovingly. I miss you it seemed to say.

“You will direct the hand and make it obedient to my wishes. In this way, I will train them,” he explained. “They will be instruments of my artwork.”


flat fish bowl

Everything on my monitor is underwater. People and places track by, leaving a brief wake of turbulence and are, afterwards, forgotten. I could stare at it all day and I do. The meaningless drift of content: fish, fake plants, the filter burbling down into the pebbly bottom. I mean for crying out loud, it glows. What else am I supposed to look at all day?

Anyone who has spent enough time with a fish tank can attest to its ability to mesmerize. It’s a gentle hypnosis and one that seems to justify itself. Like a piece of performance art meant to signify relaxation as a platonic ideal. Or maybe the fish tank’s many occupants and their activities are an observed demonstration of the unpredictable but ultimately insignificant arc of biological life. Or maybe it’s a controlled exercise in affirming the validity of Ooooh! Shiny! In any event, from the moment you first laid eyes on a fish tank, its inherent value was obvious to you and you’ve most likely never questioned them since.

But what about the cyberdigital fish tank nestled in my hand? It glows. It contains things both fake and real. I stare at it all day. Things drift by that amuse or delight me and then are promptly forgotten within moments. The major difference between this fish tank and all fish tanks is that the fish seem to swim only vertically. Great long films of fish, unspooling upside down and reverse, cut and copied, edited all together with marketing glue as my thumb streaks by on the silky soft interface as soft as lake water. Every once in a while I bob up for air and think How long have I been here? 


He was a tall man. Thick. Dressed completely in black pinstripes. He looked like a circus freak. A dark one. A circus freak in chains. The clown perhaps. But the clown who dares you to keep on looking. To take a step closer. Entrances you with his invitation  to heavy burdens and to sorrow. The clown who laughs and makes you feel clattering inside.

He played the lute. An electric lute. How contemporary. In case you’re wondering, a lute is a rather large instrument. Larger than you’re imagining. Especially when it has about 24 strings. It looks more like a guitar than you’ve been led to believe and it is not a guitar. It is a moaning instrument. A lute suffers at its players hand. It is a strange and evil instrument. It is on fire. Rome is burning.

The name lute is an etymological derivation from an Arabic word. I didn’t have to look that one up. I remembered it from a few years ago when I first discovered the musical tradition of the oud. Yes I’m bragging but I’ll stop right now. The oud is a guitar-like instrument that predates the guitar. It has a shapely bodice like a pear or a pear shaped woman. I am not a musicologist but I gather that the oud has more strings than a modern day guitar and never had any frets. As an instrument, the oud  was open to interpretation, as any pear shaped thing should be. Half steps break what you think you know about music. Then come the fourth steps. Then eighth steps. All the sorrowful, undeclared, unresolved feelings that the string of a heart contains but never materializes in those “four-to-the-floor” beats and lurid pop songs about pussy shanking or whatever is in vogue these days for bankrupt western audiences.

So the oud. What does it sound like? It sounds like you’re by the ocean. It doesn’t have to be a pleasant day by the ocean. It is perhaps windy and rocky. Five centuries ago, a ship broke into a million pieces on that particular rock over there. Do you see it? The great black one with white crustacea foaming on its brittle back. If you listen closely you can hear the dead of the wreck singing their favorite love songs. They may be dead but they are singing if your oud player is skilled enough.

So, al-oud takes a little trip, she does. Pear shaped and all, across the abbreviated Mediterranean. Do you see where this is heading? Why Spain, of course. Al-oud to el oud to l’oud to –aha!– our lute in question. It’s a rather quick dissolve of salt in water. Could have happened over the course of a single port deal. Hands shaken, blessings said, mi casa es al-oud.

Fast forward only about 500 years. A few more ships have crashed. Planes were invented. Those crashed too, incidentally. Near the same rock. Can you believe it? A very strange chorus has erupted in that exact spot of the double ship wreck and plane crash. It’s difficult to categorize the genre exactly. Sort of a dirge meets rock opera ballad. In any event, I went to a concert in Los Angeles a few weekends ago.

There he was. The Dutchman. Sitting cross legged in his black, pinstriped clown suit. His lank hair falling in his face. Everything about him looked so greasy. His hair, his pants, his slick and beautiful red lute. You couldn’t look away. You wondered, is this guy for real? And then he started playing.

He’s playing the lute. The electric lute. A gross contradiction in terms if you’re just reading about it. And yet. Is painful feeling — when it’s truly felt — dulled in its magnification? Or is it simply louder? Louder than all the plane crashes. Louder than pop songs raging their insolent substitution for substance. Louder than Spain. Louder than al-oud. Loud. Loud. Loud as we want to feel about our own private, drowning love songs.


inspired by moving day (originally posted 7/2013)

A little thing I wrote in 2013 that seems very of The Now

All hail great nation of Cardboardistan whose number 1 export is the fabulous cardboard from their ancestral cardboard tree forests. Some of the people in this wonderful nation, known for its lustrous vistas, beautiful women, and rich culture also to farm cork for their shoes.

But let us not forget the plight of neighboring country, Kitchensinkistan with its many problems. This once mighty people is beset by so many problems that you cannot even count them all on your ten fingers. You must borrow a neighbor’s fingers to count more of the problems but even then you will fail to name all of them. Nation of Kitchensinkistan is appealing for aid to its Model United Nations in order to resolve at least a small fraction of the problems. Not proper United Nations because first task set to the many brave students of Kitchensinkistan is to determine what the name of the number should be called that describe how many problems exist in the country.

But surely no country suffers more than the regrettable nation of Insertnamehere-istan who is experiencing great national emergency when red tape factory exploded. Our hearts go out to brothers and sisters of Insertnamehere-istan who are struggling even to buy a newspaper to read and understand what has happened to them.


Sit in your house. Sweat. Come on now, sweat it out. Droplets form all over your skin in the oppressive heat of your un-aired room. The laundry gently bakes at the low grade convection of 75 degrees and the natural humidity of you and your other housemates. There may be sourdough naturally occurring in all the peripheries of your room.

Sit down harder. Sweat it out. Think out loud. Harder. Yes, that’s it. Now you’re getting it. You’re a concentrate. You’re stewing in and of yourself.  You’re in brine.

What ingredients are you adding to your brine? Everyone’s different. Me? I like a little garlic. Not too much. I know some people spoil for garlic. If given half a chance they would whip up toxically garlicky mascarpone to slather everywhere, all over their bodies, laying down scent trails to attract every other garlic nut for miles around for an indulgent orgy of pungency. Now, I wouldn’t say no to a morsel from the garlic of earthly delights but I’m not about to hand over my golden apple either. Sorry, where were we. I hope I haven’t lost you yet? At least, not on account of the garlic?

I like peppercorns in my brine. The jagged little black spheres always remind me of asteroids. Like space rocks collecting and spacing themselves out in an elegant ring around Saturn. A crackling spice loud enough to be tasted in the vacuous dark. So, a half dozen whole peppercorns into the boil.

Next, red pepper flakes. Mostly for color. They are just so darn autumnal. And how like leaves they are, drifting lazily to the bottom of the mason jar. Like a salty, spicy snow globe, enveloping an untouched little domicile.

Of course there’s other things you could put in: Bay leaf, coriander, a hot chili or two. But what are you pickling? Is it cucumbers? Is it mushrooms? Is it a vegetable that shares your name which contains multitudes? That’s interesting. A vegetable with unknown properties. Untested mettle. One that has never had to stew so long in its own juices, in such a tight and compacted space as this one? Hmmm. What will we be at the end of our brining?

Human person. Beautiful and strange. Combine with several heaping tablespoons of coarse or Kosher salt. Lightly boil and seal it all inside. We shall see in 18 months.

Day I at gymnasia

Socrates sidled into the main theater of the gymnasia. He felt awkward. He felt acutely that his unstructured teenaged body was in unfavorable contention with the polished marble walls. Their smooth white gleam seemed an imperious reproach of his red, pimply skin. His eyes couldn’t help but roam over the tawny golden hued tiling and the resplendent blue mosaics which all sparkled in brilliant harmony with the wide cooling pond at the theater’s center. Men and boys, nude and slicked with olive’s oil, were squatting, jumping, tying off the ends of their cocks with wool string, warming their muscles for the morning’s pursuit of attainable divinity.

Socrates gulped back a large swallow of mucous. His mucouses had been acting up quite a bit lately. Ever since he had noticed he was ugly. It happened one day out by the lake in the eastern part of his family’s wood plot “By Zeus,” he’d muttered, scowling into the Greek cerulean surface that could only reflect truth. He was so ugly he couldn’t believe it. His mother had always intimated that he wasn’t an attractive young man. Even as a child she had cherished his more hard-won characteristics, like an early proclivity to discern rancid almonds.

His mother had helped in delivery for hundreds of country children in her time and never hesitated to praise and celebrate when the gods deigned to summon a beautiful face for Greece. For her adult son — for indeed at 17 he was firmly a man — his mother rarely had praise of his features. She usually complimented him on his great ability to make sturdy walking sticks. “Such a clever craftsman,” she would beam and then sharply elbow his father, the stone mason, an indication that Socrates really should be getting on in his vocational training, lest he sit idle.

Socrates felt the cool marble against his bare back in the gymnasia. His already fine and feminine waistline shrunk back towards his spine, making him appear more gaunt and unmanly than ever. Could he possibly make friends among these athletic specimens? He recognized a few from the market stalls. Sons of sandal makers. Uncles of his fishing team. The patrons here were all thick with muscle, wild haired, and sexually avaricious in a way that made Socrates wonder if he had actually been born unsexed in some odd jest between Olympian scoundrels.

“No,” Socrates thought to himself, a painful expression overtaking his face and vexing his shoulders. “I will never be one of them.” His mouth swiveled into a pout and he headed back for the egress, firm in his belief that he wasn’t good for anything.