a sublime union

Marrionetta’s brain-tongue had escaped The Emerald House. The immediate peril was over but the long night’s struggles had only just begun.

The brain-tongue had a few things going in its favor. In the first place, it had her brain. And her brain was both fiendish and forceful. It had survived Visigoths, centuries of forest wanderings, and countless rivals at the circus. Next, this determined brain was attached to a major muscle, her tongue. A tongue that had worked tirelessly all her life to get her the things that she needed. The tongue was also — potentially– still capable of speech. She would need to remember to test that later. Overall, not a bad start given that the rest of her body was locked up with a psychotic pervert who couldn’t decide if he would make her into firewood or not.

The other good news was that the next part of the journey was downhill. Some of the green muck had come back, slicking the path forward rather nicely. The brain-tongue slipped and swam down the incline and came at last to the foot of the hill in a cool patch of grass.

Then it rested.

“What should I do now?” thought her brain-tongue, writhing to expunge the splinter. “Who can help me?” Drutherstone must be absent from the circus. There was no other explanation for why he hadn’t come to check on Lorelei or perceive why she had been missing for so long. There was no way Drutherstone would have allowed Lorelei to conduct things as he had been for the past several weeks. Suddenly, she had a personal insight. Drutherstone, she realized, was a Maker. He was not a Dead Lempi as she had always considered him. Drutherstone knew how to run things smoothly and he had the power to protect others. She had never appreciated this before. While he was not impervious to the Visigoths of the world, she recognized now how necessary he was to the good operation of the circus. She tucked that idea away for a less urgent time.

In terms of others she could count on for assistance, the pickings were running slim. Poor, sweet Ungulen was dead. She had to put that out of her mind and keep thinking. She wasn’t sure she could trust any of the other carnies at this point. She had seen so many at Lorelei’ beck and call. Hargus was probably still loyal but he wasn’t going to be any help as he was too fearful and small. She needed someone useful.

A perfect solution glowed inside her mind. But there wouldn’t be much time. It was a race against the sun. Caught in its heating rays, she felt sure that she would dry out and die from exposure.

With a jet of determination, her brain-tongue sludged its way across the fairgrounds. Bugs tossed around her. A half moon lit her way. More than twice she had to stop and remain completely still as an errant lever boy or the unicyling twins swang by. They were all on their ways to secret midnight appointments. The brain-tongue came very close to being trodden upon but was able to contort herself to shelter just in time.

At long, long last she reached the elephant pen. One of the sows was awake and sucking at a salt lick. Her brain-tongue found its object though: Augromme, the undead elephant, who was fast asleep, nightmarishly quivering and stinking of the grave.

Rolling through the sawdust, her brain-tongue snooched itself up his peeling face and inside one of his enormous, whipping ears. She piled down his canal and wrapped herself around his brain.

Augromme woke with a start and began to panic. Something was in his head. But the something felt gentle. It whispered to him. It was sweet and lullablylike. He closed his eyes and fell back asleep.

a cinch


Lorelei was fast asleep, lost in dreams of dripping flesh and coiled organs he could stick his dick into for ever and ever. Sleepless Marrionetta remained ensconced on the wall, parceled out in her many fragments like a model ship or an anthropological inquiry.

But she had concocted her own plan. Perhaps not so elaborate as the sketches, files and blueprints that Lorelei treated himself to every evening. But hers was elegant in its simplicity.

“Be free,” she thought and, with concentration, she popped her head open. Her tongue wagged furiously until it came loose from the cinches of her jaw. Then, brain and tongue together, wiggled free of her skull and fell with a liberating SPLAT to the floor.

Marrionetta’s brain-tongue held still for a few moments on the floor. Anticipating. But Lorelei just snored away.

With effort, her brain-tongue lurched across the floor like a massive slug. In a few paces, the brain-tongue found a convenient undulating pattern to affect good pacing. The brain-tongue then tried to speed up, only to run afoul of a large, wooden splinter from the floor.

The tongue gurgled with pain. The brain gasped. Luckily, the tongue was the part that had been skewered. No brain damage this time. The escape had to continue.

The splintered brain-tongue slowly crawled out of The Emerald House.


maggot eating, velvet stricken

“PUT ME BACK TOGETHER THIS INSTANT!” Marrionetta’s voice pierced Lorelei’s inner eardrum. Several of his favorite flasks exploded. A shard cut his cheek in a low arc.

He brought his hands to his ears after the fact. He squidged around inside them with his fingers. “Ahh,” he whispered in pain.

“I mean this instant!” Marrionetta followed up her demand with a rasp. She was dismantled on the wall. Her legs open at contorted angles. Her hands disconnected from her wrists disconnected from her fingers (a safety precaution). He had mapped out her ribs along the wall like a museum display. Every part of her wriggled towards freedom. So much so that the walls were as alive as soil germinating with earthworms. He made a point to remount her pieces every morning and every night before he slept.

Her pelvis was sitting on his desk. He had hooked it up to several wires. Prior to the ear piercing scream, he had been sketching out an elaborate electrical blueprint with her pelvis at its center.

He menaced her with a screwdriver but it was useless. She was free to scream and rage and he was not able to restrain this one part of her. Anytime he got close to her mouth to unpeg her tongue from the incessant jaw, she would bite him with such force that he had already had to resew some fingers. He had even tried to stuff her mouth with cotton but she had worked free of it each time and he no longer valued the effort. Still, the power of her shrillness needed dealing with.

She spat at the screwdriver. “I’ll take you apart, love. I’ll take you apart in ways you never thought possible. You think I’ve got seams? I’ll show you perforation as its never been attempted!”

“For the last time, be silent.”

“Last time! Last times! He wants to talk about last times! I’ll show you end times, you maggot eating, velvet stricken, sodden splatch laden filthy evil urine drinker! I’ll feed you to hairless moles and strap your mother in a briar’s patch of dildos as big as tree trunks!”

“If I’m learning anything, dearest, it’s that I should never put you back together again. In fact, when I’m through, I think I’ll just toss you in for kindling.”

Marrionetta fell silent for the first time in weeks. Kindling. Is that what would become of her? Ash at the bottom of a fireplace? Perhaps he’d make tea with her. The idea was so undignified. So preposterous. Everyone would know it was him. Blame clearly didn’t bother him but he did not even fear being caught? So he meant to flee then. He would use her, destroy her, and then take off to some other spot, a different circus maybe, leaving behind a signatured murder of an acclaimed performer such as herself. What a colossal bastard, she realized. He really thought his actions would never catch up with him.

Her extended reflection turned the room a deadly chill. Lorelei noticed her vibrations had changed. He became agitated.

“I won’t use you for kindling,” he blurted and then immediately wondered why he would say anything to comfort her. He wasn’t even sure if he meant it. Then he felt uneasy. He hadn’t felt anything less than certain in….in…. the unease gave way to a panicky, quickend pulse. Momentarily, he felt faint.

“Unless I want to,” he asserted and took a deep breath that he hoped was inaudible. He furiously dedicated himself back to his work to put the strange atmosphere out of his mind.

But something unspoken had already passed between them and Marrionetta remained frighteningly silent for the rest of the evening.

big top electric


“The generator…!” Rustia stalked up a down a row of terrified lever boys, “is the only thing any of you should be focused on!” Mingey weaved and coiled around Rustia’s shoulders and neck, glaring at each of the lever boys to emphasize her sister’s words. Above Mingey’s head, she was opening and closing the white lace parasol they had stolen from Marrionetta. It was a rather chaotic scene, the two of them marching back and forth in the big top, the opening and closing an umbrella over their heads with no particular rhythm.

Rustia snatched a pumpernickel roll out of one of the boy’s hands. She chewed a great morsel of its end and then spat the rest of it in his face.

“There will be no eating. There will be no horseplay. There will be no talk of any kind except what’s necessary to get this generator operational! Those are instructions directly from Mister Doctor Lorelei! Is that jamming its way through your tiny skulls?”

From the back of the group of adolescent laborers, a rustle of whispering was suddenly audible.

“What’s that!” shrieked Mingey. “Whot are you tweedleheads saying about my sister’s direction?!”

Rustia shoved her sleeves up to the elbows and stalked through the lever boys to the whispering pair. In an instant, she had the boy’s slender, beautiful neck in her fist. His speaking companion tried to move away but Mingey tripped him with the parasol and stomped on his stomach, knocking the wind out of him.

Rustia shook the talking boy around a few times and then released her thumb from his larynx. “What did you say?”

“N-n-nothing. I didn’t say nothing.”

“What did you say!” Rustia boomed. The boy was too frightened then to even speak. Mingey went to work on the other boy who was still lying on the ground. She pinched his wrist against the floor with the rounded tip of the parasol.

“What’d your friend say?”

“Ouch ouch ouch that hurts…” the boy on the floor began sucking air through his teeth.

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s what he said!” Mingey puts her face very close to the boy’s and doubled down on the parasol tip.

“Ahh! He said he wished Ungulen was here, miss!”

Rustia pursed her lips and nodded. She released the boy. She scanned her eyes over the group of workers.

“Ungulen, ey? Is that who you miss? That great incompetent slope of goat? You know that electrifying the big top is the only thing standing between you and your next paycheck? This entire circus is likely to be nothing more than a picked scab on the carpeting if we don’t move ourselves right along into the next century. Who do you think was in charge of getting us there? Hmm? Was it your precious Ungulen with his chocolates and his stupid jokes in the morning? Is that the one you want back? For how long has he been saying that we need to build the generator to get the big top on electric power? Hmm?”

Many of the lever boys looked at the ground. Ungulen had been talking about getting the generator project going since before most of them had ever even heard of the circus. The oldest boys knew what it meant. Their boss and friend had betrayed them in his disorganized approach to circus business.

“Alright then,” Rustia concluded. “Back to work.”


Violet Burnout

Rustia and Mingey teetered around the big top’s inner perimeter, screeching and slapping one another. They had already been there for several hours and were becoming bored.

“Figure it out already!” Mingey menaced the others present in the tent. Violet, tired and beet red from arguing with everyone, covered her face with her hands. Ernt Rauchebaum was trying not to nod off to sleep, while a few simpering members of the braintrust were scratching their heads in unison, making perfectly incomprehensible edits to a blueprint.

“If we begin the parade near the outskirts of town,” said one of the braintrust, “we could have it march all the way along the service road. Does anyone still have the keys to Drutherstone’s motorbike? I could head up the entire processional!”

“You!” One of the other braintrustees jabbed his friend in the chest. “What about the rest of us! We all want a ride on the motorbike. Who said you would be the flag bearer anyway?”

“Since when is there a flag bearer?” another inquired.

Violet dug her thumbs into her temples to stave off her migraine. Ernt Rauchebaum suddenly awoke from his nod.

“Right,” he said sleepily. “So what’s the plan?”

“They don’t know!” squawked Mingey. “And little miss elephants doesn’t have a single good idea!”

Ernt looked at the braintrustees carefully. “Have you worked out how to link up the generator to the big top?”

“That’s Ossip’s department,” said one of the brain trust.

“Then why isn’t he here?” asked Ernt.

The brain trustees shrugged. “Because he’s assisting Mister Doctor on an important project?”

“This is a nightmare,” said Violet.

Ernt let out a huge sigh. “Alright, lads,” he addressed himself to the brain trust. He snatched the blueprint out from under their noses.

“Hey!” protested Samedi.

“Meeting adjourned. Committee is out of commission. Violet will plan the whole thing now. Here you go, love.” Ernt mashed the balled up blue print into her lap. He rubbed the circus dust from his hands and stood up.

The brain trustees attempted to take the blueprint back from Violet but, seeing an opportunity to jettison out and eat lunch early, Rustia and Mingey bore down on the boys with their unicycle. They scattered in fear.

Before Violet could lift an ironic eyebrow, Rustia had piled two of the screaming brain trustees onto her back and carted them away out of the big top. The remaining brain trust boys stood, uselessly by, mouths agape in silent protest.

“I’ll handle it,” Violet assured them, also standing to leave. “I promise.”

a battery of tests

It was dawn and it was moist. Green droplets clung to everything. Ossip spied a beautiful spider web, laced in dewy pearls. He hugged his jacket tighter about himself as he trotted behind Lorelei’s long legs.

Ossip was handling an enormous suitcase. It hobbled him as he tried to keep up. The doctor too was carrying a suitcase, even larger than Ossip’s but he carried it as if it were empty and not full of bespoke equipment that he had built just for the occasion.

They arrived a the portal. The slit Lorelei had taken to calling it. Ossip noticed that Lorelei was angrier lately. He had been snapping at everybody and occasionally mutilating Marrionetta when she said things he didn’t like. Ossip hoped that a day of running experiments would put the doctor in a better mood. Ossip himself was excited about the tests. He could put the trials and the braintrust and the whole maggoty situation he felt overwhelmed by aside. He could focus instead on logging read outs, measuring currents, notating only what was provable.

Ossip had always been aware of the portal. Everyone on the circus grounds knew that it was somewhere. He was surprised when the doctor told him that he had identified its exact location. He knew vaguely that it was somewhere near the big top. He had always assumed that’s why the big top had been erected where it was. The steady stream of Dreaming Damned was such an ordinary part of circus operations that he had never thought to locate or study the portal itself. Ossip had always been more fascinated by the people who came through, rather than the medium supplying them.

The Dreaming Damned were haunting and marvelous, in Ossip’s opinion. They were graceful. Everything they did was a smooth, uninterrupted gesture. Like the little ballerinas in a lady’s jewelry box. They never seemed perturbed by anything, although a few would come through with ghastly expressions on their faces. Still, no matter their apparent demeanor upon arrival, they always seemed to light up at the circus acts. Their vacant eyes would glow. Their gapes and horrors would turn to creasing joy and wide smiles. The strangest part was how quickly they could unclasp their hands and applaud, even as everything else about them was placid and still. Ossip loved the Dreaming Damned. They were so curious and strange. And they paid his meal ticket.

Lorelei was unloading his suitcase. He produced a number of small contraptions that were meant for scientific observation. There was a photo-scatter spectometer, a sono-echo collector, open diodes, conductive pigment,  telescopic binoculars, and a combination claw-crowbar.

Ossip opened his suitcase. Inside was a large, leather bound ledger, a pencil, and an electric generator with a hand crank. To Ossip, the generator appeared to have a face. It looked upset.

Lorelei took a palm full of the conductive pigment and gently blew it towards the portal. The pigment was silver and glittered in the air. To Ossip’s amazement, bits of pigment clung to the portal, making it more visible than ever.

Both man and boy were momentarily stayed by the enunciated appearance of the portal. It — the slit– had a jagged configuration. Its line shifted this way and that as if had been torn through the thin air. Very subtly, it seemed to billow and undulate. It was mesmerizing, shimmering in the cold cling of morning.

Lorelei smirked and selected a diode. He also had a clothespin. He attempted to clasp the diode to portal, pinching at either side of the portal, trying to make the diode stay. Ossip felt himself perk up as he watched the doctor’s hands move about the seam of the portal. It was taking a while. Every time the doctor seemed just on the verge of getting the clothespin to stay, the fold of the portal seemed to slip out of his grasp. Evidently there was a silken quality to its membrane that made it difficult to work with.

“Hmmm,” Lorelei sniffed the air and put the diode back in his tool kit. “Interesting.”

Next, he took out the photo-scatter spectometer. “Ossip,” he said. “Get the ledger. I’ll need you to write down some numbers.

Lorelei began pointing the spectometer at the portal. It pulsed flashes of light. First, white light. Then blue. Then red. Lorelei called out numbers as the colors rotated through several times.

Once that was done, Lorelei picked up the crowbar with the claw at the end.

“No,” said Ossip instinctively. Lorelei looked at him. Ossip hunched his shoulders, certain that he had irritated the doctor. He expected a tongue lashing.

Instead, the doctor looked at the crowbar for a long time. “Perhaps you’re right,” said Lorelei. “No need to get carried away so early.” Lorelei set down the crowbar and instead picked up the telescopic binoculars.

The binoculars’s shaft was as long as Lorelei’s arm. It widened towards the lenses, creating immense magnification at the other end. So when Lorelei peered through the binoculars, to focus the lenses, Lorelei’s blue eyes appeared sensationally enlarged at the other end. Ossip stifled a laugh. The doctor did not notice.

Once he was satisfied with the focus, Lorelei turned the telescopic binoculars towards the portal. With care, he nestled the end of the binoculars into the portal. It was an exciting moment. Lorelei, forgetting himself and the entire stupidity of the insolent circus, looked at Ossip with genuine feeling. Their eyes met in a passionate salute to scientific observation.

Lorelei then proceeded to push the binoculars through the seam. They entered despite a snug sense of resistance.

Lorelei’s insane face lit up with emotions that Ossip had never seen in him before. With an open mouth, Lorelei peered through the binoculars. His breathing became heavy.

Ossip felt freshly the morning dew clinging all over his face and hands. He stood at attention for a long time but the doctor just proceeded to look without speaking.

“Can I see?” Ossip asked quietly.

in chambers

In chambers, Violet confronted her accusers. They consisted of Lorelei, a trembling Ossip, and the lauded “braintrust” that had come to represent law and order on the circus grounds. Everyone except Lorelei appeared uncertain and nervous.

Chambers was in the kitchen of the mess hall. It was crowded and piled high with dirty pots and pans. Lorelei and the braintrust arranged themselves in the narrow galley, with Violet seated against the wall at the end. They had provided her with a chair.

Ossip spoke first.

“Miss Violet,” he attempted a half cocked smile but it withdrew from his face almost immediately.

Ossip knew Violet quite well. She was a few years older than him and was already a veteran member of the circus when he had first arrived five and a half years ago. She was an essential part of the dancing corps. Ossip had always known her to be kind, witful, and a fairly dedicated performer. She was perhaps given to a fit now and again but more often she was regarded as an absolute peach by everybody. Especially compared with some of the other dancing girls who could really rub the trouble in.

So it troubled Ossip now, here in Chambers, that she was sitting all alone at the end of the galley, ostensibly friendless in the face of such wild conjecture on the part of Lorelei. Ossip didn’t really think that Violet had tried to undermine the circus, even if she did appear to have some kind of special relationship with Goren. Then again, he couldn’t think of anyone else who even seemed friendly with Goren. Ossip had to trust Lorelei’s assessment. After all, the doctor seemed so far ahead of him on so many other topics.

Ossip’s guts twisted unexpectedly. In reflecting on his history with Violet at the circus, he suddenly recalled that he used to have a crush on her. It had been when he first joined.  He remembered the time when he was 14 and she had asked him if he wouldn’t run an errand for her in town? He remembered her silver blouse that day, how he had stopped breathing momentarily. Eventually, he had grown out of it and moved on to some of the other girls so this memory hadn’t been top of mind. But now, facing her down in this accusatory fashion, he again stopped breathing momentarily.

It’s just that everybody loves her, Ossip thought and the idea surprised him. Everyone here’s got a thing for Miss Violet. How had he never really reflected on this before? Practically every other lever boy and circus performer he knew had a secret smile they kept just for her. Ossip shifted uncomfortably. Why were they ganging up on her like this? How had all of this come about? Ossip wondered if, somehow, he had actually been born only yesterday and all these charming memories were nothing more than a storybook someone had read to him. Was this charming dancer girl a traitor requiring punishment or was he sitting on the wrong side of the kitchen? He wasn’t sure which version of reality was real.

Ossip coughed and started again. He was sweating. “Miss Violet. You are hereby accused of participating in anti-circus activities at the behest of Goren Hargus alongside his evil lackey and compromiser of facts, Ungulen, man of goat blood, who is still at large.”

A tense moment passed. To everyone’s surprise, Violet burst out laughing. It made Ossip’s entire nervous system cringe in confusion. He wanted to laugh with her but felt Lorelei’s taut physique close at hand. Ossip was scared for her.

“Compromiser of facts?” Violet chirped back. “Ungulen? Ossip, what are you talking about? He’s your friend, isn’t he? Mr. Ungulen? He’s all our friend’s.”

Ossip attempted to swallow the hard lump that was gathering in his throat. Ungulen had been good to him. Ungulen who had found him at the docks so many years ago when he was a lost little urchin. Ungulen who had handed him the flyer that day in the rain. Come by, laddy! See if you don’t like the crash and fancy of that old circus life! 

Ossip retreated into an impossible stagger of wits. Lorelei gracefully uncrossed his legs.

“I believe what Mr. Balichenko is trying to say, Miss Smythe, is that you owe the circus a great sacrifice and debt. To prove once and for all that you are not in collaboration with those who would seek to undermine the free operation of this institution.”

Ossip and the braintrust began nodding. This was a hopeful turn.

“Yes,” said Samdi. “Violet can prove herself. She’s not one of them.” The braintrust nodded more forcefully. This was sounding correct.

Violet was not convinced. “I live and work here. I’d call that sacrifice aplenty. And anyway, who’s brilliant idea was it to start calling what we do here ‘ an institution ?'”

“Hold your tongue,” anger flashed in Lorelei’s eyes, effectively silencing everyone “Or I will hold it for you.”

A rat stirred in the kitchen. There was a metallic sound that set everyone’s teeth further on edge.

“Here is what we need from you, Miss Smythe. We would like to create a children’s parade.”

All members of the braintrust looked at each other. A what? Violet too was utterly thrown.

“You,” Lorelei continued. He was smiling now. He leaned towards Violet in a friendly way that made her skin crawl, “You are uniquely qualified to produce such a thing. Given Drutherstone’s abandonment of his own organization, Ungulen’s being at large, Goren Hargus’s many many crimes…”

“What about Marrionetta?” Violet cut in. “She knows how to put a show together quite well. In fact, I’d say she knows this circus better than anybody.”

Violet looked at Lorelei meaningfully. The braintrust seemed abashed and Violet couldn’t understand why. She hadn’t seen the other day the way they’d mocked nasty old Marrionetta’s head on a leash. Privately, Ossip wondered if Marrionetta’s head wasn’t still hidden under one of the pots here in the kitchen. However, the next part of the conversation swept this thought from his mind.

Lorelei gritted his teeth rather loudly and continued. “Your work with the elephants has been exemplary. You will help us start fresh. You will organize the children’s parade. This will help restore the coffers, demonstrate the circus’s break from the old, dark ways, and renew morale among the staff. So we will be seeking to elicit maximum attendance. Children, that is. Dreaming damned or living, it makes no difference.”

Violet was exasperated. “I’m hardly qualified to make a parade that I don’t know the first thing about! And we can’t control who sees the shows! That’s up to…Goren somehow. Or Drutherstone.  I don’t know how the tickets work.”

“Organize the parade,” Lorelei menaced, “Or there will be no more need for elephants.”

Violet leveled a firm gaze at Lorelei. The threat towards her silly old elephants gripped her. Finally, she was seeing how deeply things had gone wrong by his hand.

“But…” Ossip started to say and Lorelei placed a soothing hand on the back of his neck.

“It’s alright, Ossip. Miss Smythe will make the right decision.”

waste of string

“What an absolute waste of string you are,” Lorelei slapped Marrionetta’s hand away from the machine. The hand, which was disconnected from the rest of her, lost its grip on the small metal file it had been holding. The hand had been using the metal file to painstakingly chisel grime from the small gearing inside of the Hasse-Liebe Reverse Induction Contabulator. 

The hand whizzed through the air in a perfect circle. It was still leashed to the stake in the desk. After several rotations, it was wrapped painfully against the stake. It writhed silently in pain. 

“No no no this is all wrong!” Lorelei screamed and began tearing into the gearing. He removed parts from the machine. Out came long strings of entrails, webbings of nerve tissue, and other human plastics that were tied among the gears and rods. Lorelei had successfully replaced many of the machine’s delicate operations with human tissue and the electrical capacities had been greatly improved in this manner. The entire machine became faster, more precise, and far more sensitive. 

Lorelei had become extremely agitated since the trials of Goren and the other circus employ had begun. He seemed strung out. Not just on coffee and amphetamines but also on his own anticipation and stress. He would spend hours, usually long into the night, pacing and talking to himself. Cursing his machine. Cursing the Baron. Cursing Marrionetta’s slow and stupid hands. He had spent so many long years working on the models for this contraption. Formerly, it had consumed him, enveloping him with a feeling of destiny. It had been a passionate love affair between creator and creation. Now the entire project seemed useless and fussy. It was in the way of his next endeavor. More than anything, he wanted to study the portal. 

The problem was money. He had to finish the Hasse-Liebe Reverse Induction Contabulator. The Baron was becoming impatient. He could only survive for so long on a final coin bucket. Lorelei cursed himself for never developing a second stream of income. He had tried to a few times in his younger years but the incessant pursuit of Berthold Fregt had prevented him from putting down roots. Reflecting on this lack of foresight, Lorelei would become enraged. He blamed his parochial medical school. He blamed the idiotic circus. He blamed the invention of sleep. He blamed the stars. He blamed everything but himself. 

Marrionetta had learned to quietly observe him for long stretches of time. She wasn’t accustomed to playing second fiddle for such an incredible length of time but she found that the part of passive observer suited her to some degree. It reminded her of her wild youth in the forests of Finland. When she had been a slight and frightened wooden doll, tottering about in the freezing woods with nothing but her own mental alacrity to rescue her from danger. She let the doctor use her. She let her hands cooperate. She saw that Lorelei was reaching a breaking point and she knew that would be her time to strike.  

I’ll fix it all in Hell (trial […] pt the last)

“Order! Order, please!” Ossip brought his gavel down over and over again against his small table. The feeble sound was lost in the screaming din of overly excited circus folk. The crowd was thirsty for blood. Goren’s blood.

“Order, please!” Tears leaked from Ossip’s eyes. Samedi attempted to yell something but his teenage lungs lacked the broad, sonorous abilities of a man.

A group of circus employ towards the front had descended upon the cage where Goren was housed. The cage rattled as it was wrenched violently from where it was chained in place. From within, Goren Hargus seethed like an animal.

“You’ll get yours!” Goren rasped inside the cage. He was so frightened he became unafraid. His bloodshot eyes darted about from person to person. He tore at the hands interlacing his bars. He lashed at them with his nails. With his teeth.

“You treacherous cretins!” Goren barked with total abandon. “I’ll fix it all in Hell! You’ll see! Every last one of you’s! Every last one of us will be on fire, alive, inside and out. Burning and smoking until our skin sloughs off and grows anew. And I’ll own every circus in the bowels of Satan’s playground! You’ll all get yours!”

From up on the dais, Ossip lost composure. He began to quietly weep into his forearm. As a sensitive and intelligent young man, he saw that he had not brought about justice or deliverance for his fellow man. He had only brought a shameful exudation of human filth.

As Ossip softly wept, he felt a familiar, silken presence envelope him. The comforting pressure of two large hands pressed down upon his shoulders. He knew it was Lorelei before he even wiped his eyes.

“May I?” Lorelei’s sweeping gesture was all Ossip needed. The power his mentor wielded over him had been established long before this moment. It was all very simple and clear for Ossip. So what happened next was the inevitable. In an intimate moment — noticed by no one — the entire fate of the circus was quietly transferred to the Interloper.

Lorelei drew himself up to his full height. “Gentlemen and ladies,” he said with a grand swivel of his mouth.

A few heads turned.

“Please,” continued Lorelei. “Mr. Hargus’s fate has already been sealed. There’s no need for violence.”

The logic of this seemed to penetrate. A wave of calm swept over the room. Even at the cage, the most embroiled members felt themselves take a step backwards, even as they continued to scream and threaten Goren.

As Goren viewed the change in atmosphere, he suddenly felt exhausted. He slumped down in his cage and — incredibly — he fell asleep.

Lorelei continued speaking. “Mr. Hargus has been found out. A true enemy to your cause. His execution will be both swift and just.”

Execution Ossip mouthed the word to Samedi. They both froze with the import of the word.

“But,” Lorelei smiled and wagged a fatherly finger around the room. “There are other enemies. Those who worked in concert with the accountant.”

Murmuring clusters broke out all over the mess. Other enemies? What could he mean? Who could he mean?

Lorelei stretched a long arm and pointed to Violet Smythe.

“Her,” he said simply.

Violet felt every nerve in her body turn to ice.

a barrel and a braintrust (Trial pt1)

The mess hall shuddered in the din of shouting, foot stomping, and clanging of pots and pans. The entire circus employ was in attendance. The clowns, the acrobats, the dancers, the jugglers, every last lever boy who cared a cent about his vocation, various speech-able creatures, and a few stray townsfolk who had heard about the trial and were curious to bear witness. Only a few of these people held Judgment Ballots in their hands.

“Get into your circles now, please” admonished a small lever boy named Samdei. He was one of Ossip’s braintrust, one of the original electors in the young man’s promotion to judge. He was marking off the groups in accordance with their pre-ordained system — heavily influenced by Doctor Lorelei — of grouping circus folks into quorums with each quorum represented by a single ballot.

Enormous horseflies bandied about the room. Attendees waved fans, newspapers, and their double jointed hands to wick away whatever heat they could. It was damp and oppressive inside the mess with so many persons. Violet and Binter found themselves trapped somewhere in the middle of the claustrophobic space but, happily, in the same quorum. Rustia and Mingey were in an adjacent quorum. Violet caught Mingey looking at her intently in the crowd. Mingey snarled and looked away. Violet wasn’t sure what to make of it.

A makeshift dais had been erected in the center of the room. On a little placard somebody had penciled in the phrase “HIS ONORABBLE, OSSIP P. BALICHENKO, JUDGE, JURY, EXECUTIONER OF LIBBERTIES FOR EQUAL CIRCUSES”

Samedi and the other members of the braintrust cried themselves hoarse, asking for the hundreds of circus people to quiet themselves. When the din had reached an acceptable nadir of muffled speaking, Samedi cocked his head towards the rafters.

A small pack of lever boys unloosed a length of rope, lowering Ossip P. Balichenko from the ceiling in a whiskey barrel that had been sawed in half and sanded down to outstanding, shell-like perfection. The craftsmanship of the barrel did not go unnoticed by all attending. Ossip was dressed in a suit he had found in a costume trunk and had brushed his cheeks with silver powder, believing it to add a sheen of authority to his young face.

Ossip alighted from the barrel and took his seat upon the dais. The circus employ cheered at Ossip’s grand entrance. Members of his brainstrust ferreted various items up and down the steps of the dais to Ossip and back out again to various tables and members of the crowd. They brought him a pen, some papers, a glass of apple juice, and a gavel in the form of a polished stone from the lake. The stone had a brilliant streak of quartz through it that had been coaxed through long hours of shaving and polishing.

Ossip gripped the gavel and brought is down twice upon his little table. A hush went over the crowd and things actually fell silent for a moment or two.  The braintrust, upon this practiced command, suddenly lined up beneath the dais like carved soldiers in a stone mason’s frieze. All except for Samedi who rushed up onto the dais and took the stance of a daily caller.

“Here ye! Here ye!” Samedi beamed. “Our trial begins! Ossip the pure, free of bias or complaint, will oversee the proceeding inquiry into the crimes, wrongdoings, malpractice, and misparlances of Goren Hargus!”

The crowd lifted into a cry of excitement. Feet stamped. Hats were thrown. Ossip cleared his throat. He became nervous. Never before had so many important people been paying attention to him. Samedi bowed and left the dais.

Ossip lifted his chin, he closed his eyes. He tried to take in this moment forever. His voice came out squeakier than he had intended, “I call the first witness to the stand!”



Augromme’s second act

At first, Augromme had liked how much attention he was receiving from his jellybird. She would come frequently to see him. Far more often than the bucket-man ever did. In the mornings, jellybird visited the elephant pen. He knew it was morning because it was always cooler. He came to associate the cool and dewy fog of morning with her clapping, playing music, and interacting with the the other elephants. They seemed to be learning things all together but he wasn’t really focused on how or what it was. Sometimes too, jellybird would take him out on special trips to the pasturelands. This was always in the afternoons. It was hot and muggy. He hated the mugginess but he liked the wide open space. Also, jellybird always brought him extra jams and treats, just for him. He didn’t have to share with the other elephants. She always brought the stupid music box with her and then spent a lot of time listening to it and stomping around.

And then one day he had an epiphany. He came to understand that he was also being trained. It happened when, out on his own, he found himself doing little steps. One! Tra-la-la! Two! Tra-la-la! Three! and ball change! It came naturally. As if he had been doing it all his life. The practice and the exercises. The clapping and the music. He realized he was being included in whatever it was the other elephants were doing with jellybird. It was all related somehow.

It had stunned him when he first put it together. Normally his thoughts were so swirled and uncontrollable that the continuity alone was startling. Once he became accustomed to that, though, he became enveloped in a warm and beautiful feeling of inclusion. It was overwhelming. He started nuzzling the other elephants more and charging them less. His nightmares settled down. The world — still a bizarre collage — began to have longer and longer stretches of clarity.

He still had incredible mood swings. He was violent with the equipment in the elephant pen. He threatened jellybird sometimes though he always felt shame afterwards and cried himself to sleep. Sometimes when he became very disoriented, he began doing the steps that jellybird had showed him. One! Tra-la-la! Two! Tra-la-la! Three! and ball change! He could do it forever, he felt and — indeed — forever was a common measure of time for Augromme as entire days could slip by without any real comprehension.

The trouble started when jellybird began to change the steps. He only wanted to do the first steps. The regular steps. The steps that made him feel good. One! Tra-la-la! He would dance for her, show her he knew what she was saying to him. But then she would clap and make a disapproving sound. One! and Two! la-la she would say, completely shattering his sense of connection with her and, by extension, the outside world. He felt he was losing his tenuous grip on a perspective that he had only just begun to reclaim. Why was she doing this to their steps? Why was she destroying them? He felt that she was severing him from everything and it frightened him.

So Augromme refused to do the steps. Whenever jellybird came with her magic blanket full of sweets, Augromme would roll back on his haunches and pointedly turn his head away from her. His crazy, small eye would drift back down to see if she noticed. From this askance posture he would watch her try and try again to coax him, to please him, to berate him, to offer jam, to withhold jam. She would become angry and curse at him. His eye roved all over her but he would not stand and he would not dance.

“Fine!” she shouted one day “You want to quit! So quit! I’m sick of this anyway!” Jellybird was marching away from him. She was a speck on the horizon. She was gone.

She had left the jam behind. He didn’t even want any though. It no longer tasted sweet to him.