more treats for Netty

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than treats, dear. Personal transformation.”

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

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

“Where are you taking those?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

the gramophone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ungulen appraised the situation carefully. “Everything alright?”

“No,” said Violet.

Ungulen ducked under the fence and approached Augromme.

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

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

The sows helped Violet to her feet.

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

Violet dusted herself off and heaved a sigh of relief.

so what are they for?

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” she asked.

“Joy,” he said.

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

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

halfway through dinner

“I hate apples.” Marrionetta seated herself in the stiff upright chair that Lorelei had pulled out for her at his table. Her long, draping purple dress piled over her legs in gathering extravagance.

“I’ve prepared no apples.” Lorelei said, pushing her in.

“If I so much as see one, ” Marrionetta seethed, clanging the cutlery on the table.

“Please be quiet.” Lorelei went into the kitchen.

Marrionetta’s expression did a somersault. Be quiet? Her? She decided she would leave halfway through dinner. Just to show him.

In the kitchen, Lorelei was sharpening a carving knife. It sang a winged narrative of practiced precision. Marrionetta leaned all the way back in her chair until it was practically parallel to the floor. She peered into the kitchen.

Lorelei was standing over an enormous, bloody roast. It was dripping everywhere even onto the floor. It looked like some kind of pig. He was wearing an apron and humming something to himself. Marrionetta recognized the melody as something classical but couldn’t place it.

“There’d better not be any apples in that pig!” Marrionetta scolded. He ignored her again but she realized she might be having fun. At least he wasn’t boring. She lurched forward in the chair. Then backwards again until it was nearly tipped over. See-saw, see-saw. She looked around at her former rooms in The Emerald House and observed how changed they were now that Lorelei was their occupant.

Lorelei had ruined it, of course. He had taken down all of her chintzes, turned the furniture in odd directions, covered the north facing windows with blueprints of mechanical devices and, just to add insult to injury, there were all manner of curious stains on the walls.

From the kitchen, the sound of slicing up flesh evolved into a squeegee as a large piece of thigh slid down the countertop and splurted on the floor. Lorelei kicked it away and spat, “vlatch!” Marrionetta arched an eyebrow at nobody and took off her shoes. What a strange dinner this was turning into. Maybe she’d stay until dessert. Just to see what this doctor’s bent was.

Marrionetta on the ceiling

Lorelei climbed through the reverse traffic of carnies and performers in the basement of the big top. A few fixed him with disapproving looks or curious expressions. His unbelonging was evident to all.

At last, he reached a door marked with a yellow triangle. Instinctively, he opened it.

In the small abode, Marrionetta was influcking her hair to create a wild decree of angles. Lorelei’s entrance surprised her. Like a cat, she burst from her plush footstool and gloamed monumental on the ceiling.

“I’ll roast your guts crisp, you wandering grease pig!” She had a knife.

Lorelei smiled. He pulled out his own knife and showed it to her. Then he put his knife down on her polished mahogany vanity. She — however — remained on the ceiling, a dark cloud verving around her.

“Have dinner with me,” said Lorelei.

Marrionetta hovered for a few more moments and then sank back down into her seat. She tarnished him with a frowning once-over. Then she made a show of cleaning all her frontmost teeth with her tongue. Lorelei’s face twitched.

“Tomorrow,” he said.

Marrionetta found this approach interesting. She picked up his knife.

“This looks expensive,” she said.

“It was,” he confirmed.

cramped for starters

Violet presumed to seat herself on an overstuffed ottoman in the corner of Marrionetta’s dressing room. The room, cramped for starters, was brimming with patterned furniture. Marrionetta appeared to be very fond of reds this year. Red roses, red geometrics, red perfume bottles, a few tapestries in crimson and blue, and a spilling theme of silver accents.

In the opposite corner was a raised platform that nearly reached the ceiling. Violet concluded that Marrionetta was now living and sleeping in her dressing room since her eviction from The Emerald House.

“Prancing elephants” Marrionetta scoffed. “Why not have toothpicks dig trenches?”

“I know,” said Violet. “It’s hard to know how to balance their size within the movement. To do anything interesting with it anyway.”

Marrionetta paced a small trail through the furniture as if it were a landscaped English garden. She nodded thoughtfully.

“If it’s going to be anything, it’s either got to be tremendous or mouselike. Middling doesn’t converse in this case.” Marrionetta began to pace faster. “Odd extremities. How far do their ears stick out?”

“Oh ummm,” Violet guessed with her hands.

“Fans.” Marrionetta concluded.

“Sorry?”

Marrionetta huffed. “Fans! Their ears are like fans! Use that.” She threw a raspberry at Violet for being slow witted.

“Thank you,” Violet suppressed the instinct to throw the raspberry right back. But the fans idea was — in fact — interesting. She wondered how much intrinsic musculature the elephants had and in what parts of their ears. She could coordinate a row of fanning ears, like flags or like billowing scarves. It would be very different from anything the elephants had been tasked with before.

Marrionetta palmed a mouthful of raspberries. She was still thinking about the elephants.

“Miss Mary, I wondered…” Violet cautioned, “the elephants are a sad lot. I wanted to make them a gift.”

Marrionetta frowned at Violet and then frowned at a different part of the room. “What?”

“Do you have any jam I could take to them? I’d pay you of course.”

Marrionetta stalled. Her eyes started burning that awful orange of her passions. She invected the bowl of raspberries into the floor where it exploded.

“What mercenary, foaming maggot told you I like jam!?” She raged toward Violet like a rattling sheath of swords.

“No one,” Violet whispered. “Nobody. I swear it. I just thought you might have some and it could lift their spirits.”

“Elephants?! Jam!?” Marrionetta shook with agitated vigor. “Yes! That’s right!” she said hysterically. “Good enough for dusty elephants! Jam! PLEUGH!” She swirled over to a locked cabinet. She threw open its doors revealing a trove of secret jam. She began snatching jar upon jar and hurling them at Violet.

“Here you go! Dirty jam for dirty elephants! Take all you want! What the skindigging eel mites do I care!” She started screaming wordless things and shuddering the cabinet.

Violet palmed a few jars of jam and leapt for the door.

“Thank you, Miss Mary! You’re a true original!” Violet ran down the hall.

Marrionetta inculcated her jam cabinet with a few more punishing body slams. Then she caught herself and remained still. She looked around the room and saw that Violet had left. Then she noticed her overturned and broken bowl of raspberries.

She slid onto the floor and took a breath that was centuries deep.


a bowl of raspberries

Violet knocked on the door with the yellow triangle. She cleared her throat, nervous. Under the doorway, Violet could see and hear Marrionetta’s slender wooden feet as they cluttered and cast a multifaceted shadow.

Violet was very familiar with Marrionetta’s bodywork. As a dancer, Violet was sensitive to the physicalities of others. Naturally, she had seen Marrionetta — the star of the circus — perform many times. Like the audience members, Violet too was entranced by the otherworldly tenses of Marrionetta’s physique. However, Violet had also seen Marrionetta in her personal routines and unconscious browsings around the circus. Violet was always struck by the continuities between the star’s stage art and her private rhythms. Most of the other circus performers hated Marrionetta as she was hostile and erratic. But Violet understood something about Marrionetta. She was a performer and performers are trapped in the demanding stage play of their own lives. Perfectionists striving to make every moment something beautiful and significant.

Violet made a point to angle at chances to speak with Marrionetta privately. She wanted to round out her education with a bit of Marrionetta’s interior approaches. Rarely had Violet found sufficient reason to bother her until the elephants had provided her with just such a case.

The door opened. Marrionetta was dressed in a casually decadent robe and eating raspberries out of a bowl. Violet smiled. “Hello, Miss Mary.”

Marrionetta felt neutral towards Violet which was high honors for anybody. She had no expression on her face when she saw the inconsequential dancer in her doorway. She refrained from insulting Violet which was an invitation for Violet to continue speaking.

“Sorry to interrupt your relaxation after the show. I wanted to ask your advice on something. As a dancer.”

Marrionetta crossed her arms while still holding the bowl of raspberries aloft. It was that highly concentrated, furrowed crossing that is only capable among wooden toys. Her angled joints, fashioned purposefully to hinge and crease, were perfectly oiled and haughty.

“Drutherstone’s asked me to train the elephants and I need to come up with an interesting routine.”

Marrionetta arched a wiry eyebrow. Then, almost from nowhere, a laugh squeezed itself out of her lungs. This startled Violet who poised herself to leave immediately.

“Drutherstone” the named rolled around in the puppetress’s mouth. “Such an imbecile.” Marrionetta wafted away from the door, an implicit invitation for Violet to enter, which she did.

Augromme out standing in a field

Augromme, the undead elephant, bellowed forcefully. It was a coarse and meaty bellow and it surprised him. He hopped a few paces away to escape the sound of it.

He had been out in the pasturelands for several hours but it could have been decades given the kaleidoscopy of Augromme’s inner reality. He lingered momentarily near some shrubs, his gaze throbbing intensely on nothing. Then, he snuffled around in the grass and began a light gallup through the pasture.

Memories dawned around him. They were like the peals of a tolling morning church bell, reverberant and distant. He recalled a long ago adolescence, surly and overflowing with elephant friends. He felt the sound of gigantic barn doors creaking open, the beckon of an outside world. In the breeze he could almost feel that herbaceous humidity of the fresh hay someone used to lay down for him each and every night. He felt that itch. The one which had persisted on the underside of his foot and kept him awake at night for years. He recalled the purple greens of a bouquet of spinach, lovingly swirled in the nose of an elephantpanion. Or had it been a limp bundle from the clutch of a lever boy?

A colorful bird flew by. Augromme lost the thread of what he had been thinking about. While he had forgotten it, an afterglow of the thought still filled him with a feeling he missed. He became frustrated that he was feeling a memory that he could no longer remember. Anger boiled up in him. This felt more normal. The rage covered up his melancholy and he soon felt calm again, tuckered out from the volatility of his emotions and the middling walk in the grasslands.

Someone was waving at him. It was Ungulen — or as Augromme thought of him — the man with the food bucket. Augromme scampered back towards the fence for feeding.

Violet and the Elephants

“So all’s you do is clap three times like this,” Ungulen explained. After he clapped, the three depressed elephants obediently stood in a line.

“And now, one clap two clap three clap four,” he demonstrated the pattern and the elephants began a lackluster two step in amazing syncopation.

“Where’s the insane one?” asked Violet.

“At pasture so you can rehearse in peace. I’ll bring him back later,” said Ungulen.

Violet turned her attention back to her elephant pupils who were still rolling along in a miserable two step.

“They look sad,” she said.

“Well wouldn’t you be? Cooped up all day in a pen, dancing for treats, nothing but a bunch of strangers around ya?”

Violet, a veteran dancer of the circus, didn’t know how to answer that. Instead she clapped a new pattern which the elephants picked up right away. They began a sweet little shimmy back and forth.

“Huh,” Violet said.

“Look at you. A real natural. I’ll leave you to it then.” And with that, Ungulen took off to attend to something different.

Violet whistled for the elephants to stop. They came to a stulting halt, bumping one another in mild confusion. Violet stepped towards the pen and reached out a friendly palm towards them. One of the sows locked her arm in a nose-hug.

“Well hello. I’m Violet. What are your names?” The elephants crowded her.

“I’ll bet,” she waggled her eyebrows, “you’d all like some jam.”

Janus Tewditch, the prolific sex hound

Beautiful, pansexual Janus Tewditch was sprawled out in the seersucker sheets of his day bed. It was oppressively hot and fanged sunshine lit up the corridor where he slept. He slept in the corridor mostly in order to catch the fabled Arabian nighttime breeze but the strategy always besmirched him by nine the next morning. Janus was sweating both from the heat and from his feverish illness.

His current wife, Priva, was quietly preparing coffee in the shadowy kitchen down the hall. He heard her unstick the ice box open. Next, the thud of an ice brick on the counter. Then, the single sharding crack as she hit the brick with a hammer. It was the enamel hammer he’d bought for her a year earlier. The one with the inlaid design of parakeets.

Herod, an athletic, bronze man shuffled quietly up the hallway. He wore a roomy shirt and was barefoot. The skins of his feet softly percussed along the flooring. He looked at Janus in a friendly way and cocked his head to the side. Did Janus need anything? He seemed to say. Janus lifted a weak hand to indicate that he had no present need. Herod continued into the kitchen. Janus heard him and Priva kissing one another. He heard their low voices discussing their morning tasks, a soft murmur like a shady brook. Janus closed his eyes.

In his day — that is to say, when the days didn’t feel so numbered — Janus was a prolific sex hound. He had tried almost everything in the dominion of the flesh and had even dabbled in a few sexual excursions in the realm of the spiritual. He had authored several guidebooks about his travels across two continents and another two dense volumes of his adventures across the human body. Book sales were up and his lascivious Arabian carnival was a popular destination, bringing in princes, sheiks, and the rabble from both near and far. He was more than amply funded, a master of worldly experience, but now he was steadily waning into the final days of his mortal existence. The finale. It was an ironic blow that he was still trying to reconcile.

Janus was ill for many years before he finally succumbed to the severity of his condition. In his poor health, he married his carnival’s contortionist, Priva who herself was a holdover from the days at Drutherstone’s Circus. Priva was trustworthy and could not only bend over backwards for him but also through stair banisters, around imports officials, and sometimes even through the eyes of needles to procure him the help and comforts that he required in his accelerating state of deterioration. In turn, he planned to die and leave her everything. He had observed that she was rather capable of running the carnival operation he’d built here. And now, she wouldn’t have to do it all on her own. Herod, the bastard son of a dervish who had been brought up in the local acrobatic circuits, was good for her. The two of them, Janus hoped, might do something interesting with the property.

“Three of a kind!” he used to kid her. She never found it funny and lately he didn’t either. He found his mind turning back to the mosaic collection of memorable human encounters. What had it all amounted to in the end?

Over the years Janus had sampled numerous staccatos of flings but also the muscular undertows of a few trusted partnerships. Each phase had had its merits. Still, confronted with his fading vitality, he suddenly found himself curious over which style of living was the more satisfying? He luxuriated in mental comparisons as he ate the steaming, nourishing pilafs Priva prepared for him and continued his reveries long into the night as he suckled on rose water treats that Herod would purchase, three for a penny at the bazaar.

Perhaps it was an idle question. It’s not as if he had time to write one last book on the subject. Regardless of what conclusions he might arrive at, the pursuiting days were definitely over. Now life was all but a steady plod into whatever shrouded follows. “Whatever death consists of,” Janus would tell his young wife and business friends, “I intend to do it prodigiously.”

Priva handed him a chilly cup of coffee. He drank deeply, cooling down his overheated temple of clay. She patted his hand and smiled in a way that immediately made him suspicious.

“What?” he asked.

Priva sighed and crossed her hands in her lap.

“Priva,” Janus looked at her with a smoky expression, a bygone from their exciting days.

“I wrote a letter to Lindsey.”

Janus paused. Then he carefully put the coffee somewhere else. “And why would you do that?”

“Because you’re not well.”

“I’m not not well, String-a-ling. I’m dying. I’m next in line. I’m up. Curtains.” Janus settled down from his flare of character acting. “How many other letters did you write? I’ll not have a parade!”

“Just him. He’s the goodbying type,” said Priva.  

the fink!

Drutherstone found himself thinking about Janus at a continuous clip during his journey to Arabia. Maybe not about Janus specifically — he told himself — but about how the two of them had run the circus together. What a nice little operation they had had going. When times were fat, that is. In its leaning out season though, no circus is fun to be around. Perhaps, Drutherstone thought, the start of the troubles was his doing. Nitpicking at Janus for his beautiful and careless habits, Drutherstone’s own uncontrolled mood swings when Janus would yawn about the endless nights and days stuck in bucolic nowhere. He knew things had gone stale but couldn’t muster the courage to go away with Janus anywhere. So Janus had gone away without him.

Angrily, Drutherstone wondered what Janus had really given up on them for? The hot pursuit of another long interlude of hot pursuits? A sexcapade carnival in the crackling hot singe of Arabia? The sewer drenched fink! How was it all so easy for him? Just to sail away on a notion and a care?

The truth was Drutherstone had never met the Janus type before. And Janus Tewditch was a Janus to top all Januses. Prior to their joint business venture turning carnal, Drutherstone had only ever identified as “Clownmaster,” never having had a passionate romantic interest with anything or anyone, despite his many centuries on the mortal coil.

Drutherstone tried to reconcile his thoughts in preparation for seeing Janus — perhaps even for the last time. He smoothed his frock coat and tried to ease his cares. Things had been less spontaneous without Janus, but maybe it was better that way. He could finally get back to his former state as the consummate Clownmaster of his own circus.

a three-headed meeting

Drutherstone, Ungulen, and Goren Hargus sat around the table, sipping tea made from boiled cigarette butts.

“How dire,” Goren pouted. He washed the awful taste of the tea down with another sip of it. “So Janus is truly going to die?”

“We’re all truly going to die,” said Ungulen. He rotated his tea cup around in circles.

“You know what I mean,” Goren murmured. Then he fixed Drutherstone with a sympathetic look. “It’s good you’re going to see him?”

Drutherstone was chewing the inside of his mouth. There were many travel details to arrange. He gulped an entire cup of the noxious tea without tasting it.

“In my absence,” he began. “You should have no fewer than four shows. We’ll need at least one major, probably two showcases and if you want to do an exhibition on the side, you can put the sinister elephant in a box. Ten cents per viewing. That should keep you all in the black while I’m away. Don’t do anything ambitious while I’m not around. The budgets tend to engorge themselves.”

“When it comes to the coffers, you can count on me,” Goren offered with a smile.

Ungulen rolled his eyes. “If she had her mind on anything fancy, Marrionetta would have you eating out of her hand inside of three days.”

Goren opened his mouth to protest but then stopped to wonder what it might be like to eat something out of Marrionetta’s hand.

“And there you have it,” Ungulen noted. Drutherstone considered the problem more carefully.

“Let’s try not to let the staff know I’m gone right away. Just say I’m in town purchasing all new textiles. Anyone who needs to speak with me urgently can write me a letter care of you.” Drutherstone indicated Ungulen who nodded.

“How long do you expect to be away?” asked Goren.

“At least two months,” Drutherstone’s shoulders piled and he twisted hard in his seat. “The bastard’s all the way in bloody Arabia.” He accidentally overturned his empty tea cup.

Ungulen and Goren exchanged a glance. Ungulen smacked Drutherstone on the arm. “He’ll be happy to see you. I’m sure of it.”

Drutherstone and Ungulen in the Demucking Tower

Down below, the tanker boomed with industrial fervor. The languid suck of the lagoon filled the air with a rotten stench. But high above in the demucking tower, Ungulen and Drutherstone enjoyed the strange foggy breeze, a manmade bit of weather that soothed their tired heads. The tarp above them flapped pleasantly and a bluish sky — as opposed to a green one — was nearly discernible if you looked at it the right way.

“I have to go away for a while,” Drutherstone said.

“Don’t tell me we’re bankrupt.”

“No no. It isn’t anything to do with us. It’s Janus Tewditch. He’s in a bad way.”

Ungulen made a perfunctory show of concern. “I see.” But there was something prismatic at the mention of Janus. After some consideration, Ungulen added “Helping him, are you?”

“Yes I’ll be helping him.” There was a pause. “I’m not being sarcastic.”

Ungulen nodded and started to thoughtfully mouth at his lips. Then, he remembered something. “I brought sandwiches. Your favorite.”

From the inside of his shirt, Ungulen produced six mangy olive sandwiches. The bread was stuffed to brimming with seeds. Drutherstone’s face lapsed into a hungry smile.

“I love these.” He took one and immediately dug a delicious mouthful. It was tangy, salty, and full of oiled garlic that Ungulen never failed to add. Poppy seeds lodged themselves between Drutherstone’s teeth like little children clinging to their fathers’ legs.

Ungulen suddenly pointed a finger in the direction of the fairgrounds. Drutherstone looked and saw the body of a lever boy coming over the edge. The boy’s muck-choked screams echoed through the valley. Drutherstone produced a long weave of rope from under his top hat. They descended the Demucking Tower to rescue their small employee from becoming lagooned and entankered.

Boutique Service

Lorelei succumbed to the undignified state. He let himself be dragged via rope through the thick, flowing sludge. Occasionally it covered his face and he found himself submerged for unmeasurable amounts of time. He swallowed air when he could and privately cursed god for the rapidly depreciating quality of his morning. Eventually, his strange rescuer hauled him up on dry land.

Lorelei spat and rubbed grass in his face to remove the slime. His rescuer handed him a towel and he de-slimed more effectively with that. Finally, Lorelei got a good look at the man who had pulled him to safety.

Ernt Rauchebaum was as thin as a light post and ganglier still. His eyes had sunk so far back into his head that it gave the impression that he was hiding inside of himself, peering out from an ill-fitting skin suit.

“You must be new,” Ernt said, gesturing to the flowing muck.

“What the devil is happening?” Lorelei esophagated.

“Demucking Day.”

Lorelei nearly exploded with rage at the idiotic repetition of this phrase. Ernt Rauchebaum threw back his head and laughed. It was an awful sight, given the rakish man’s squeebly little shoulders. It seemed like his head might snap off with each guffaw.

“Nobody warned you, I see.” Ernt extended a hand and helped the sociopathic doctor to his feet.

“I’m Ernt. I work here. At least, normally I do. Actually I’m only back in town to give myself a cash advance.” Ernt’s eyes roamed over Lorelei’s suit which, while coated in a layer of revolting mucous, nevertheless denoted wealth and breeding.

“Any chance you could spare a silverback?” Ernt ventured.

By now, Lorelei had put together that Ernt was both a drug addict and bounding itinerant for the sake of his habit. With a dignified sniff, Lorelei reasserted himself as the better of the two men.

Lorelei smiled broadly at Ernt. “Have you any experience with private courier services?”

“What’s that?” Ernt asked, understanding that negotiations had begun.

“The postal service doesn’t come through nearly as often as I’d like. I’m in the market for boutique service. Something customized to my needs.”

“Boutique!” Ernt squared himself up. “I think I know a thing or two about that.”

Lorelei Learns More About Demucking Day

Lorelei arrived at the mess hall at the bottom of the hill but found it had been completely looted. “Nevermind” he thought. “A brisk constitution instead.” He breathed a sigh of relief as the grounds were curiously clear of anybody and he entertained the possibility of a peaceful walk to the valley.

He bore to the east, around the big top, and onward past the elephant pen. “That’s odd,” he noticed. “No elephants.” He concluded they must be grazing.

As he continued to walk he suddenly felt disoriented. The landscape before him seemed to contract. No, it was loose. No it was heat rays. No. What was it? He kept pace as he tried to reconcile the strange oozing principle that had rallied itself on the horizon.

The next thing he knew, he was down on the ground.

“KURST!” The doctor yelled. He tried to push himself up but found that his ankles and his wrists were being yanked back down again. He was still moving. He was sliding! He was in a muck rapid.

The muck’s swell became rapacious. Try as he might, he was being carried along. For every one jerk backwards it was two sucks forward. Up ahead, Lorelei could see the ground falling away. He remembered the cliffed tract of the valleytop and realized with a dash of total certainty that he was destined to go over the edge.

“Ahoy!” A strange voice bugled. Lorelei felt himself hit in the head with something. It was rope.

“Grab the rope, stupid!” said the voice.

Lorelei grabbed the rope.

Doctor Lorelei on Demucking Day

Lorelei was exasperated. Very early in the morning he had been roused by the belching reports of Ungulen’s motorbike, accompanied by Drutherstone screaming something about “demucking day,” whatever that was. But just as soon as that ruckus had died down and Lorelei thought he might sleep again, another disturbance visited itself upon the doctor. All of a sudden there were tents and small encampments just outside The Emerald House. It was almost as if they had cropped up like mushrooms. Carnies, lever boys, shrill musicians and jugglers strode around the hilltop having loud conversations and practicing their circus tricks. Not to mention the light odor of under-bathing bodies.

Realizing that he was exposed for all to see through the open windows, Lorelei shot up from his cot and peevishly flicked all of the curtains closed. Still outfitted in his pajamas, he stormed around the house, preparing a little coffee and toast. But the ritual brought no comfort and Lorelei remained vexed even as he sat down to his desk, trying to begin a meaningful day of blueprinting.

An hour stretched by like tar. Lorelei could not concentrate on his models. Twice he had accidentally shocked himself while repairing the circuitry of a mincing contraption and had also nearly lost his nose when he — forgetting he had ingeniously amplified the device’s horsepower — turned it on.

Profoundly irritated, Lorelei sought to stretch his legs. He dressed and stepped out the front door of The Emerald House. The rude stench and drivelrous conversation of drunk morning carnies overwhelmed him instantly. He had half a mind to chase them all away with one of his larger knives but realized that still more of them were hiking up the hill to perch on his property.

“What are you all doing here?” Lorelei demanded of a lever boy in moccasins.

“Demucking day, sir.”

“And what — in Christ’s sanctimonium — is that?”

“When they dee the muck away, sir?”

Lorelei nearly kicked the young boy in the head but instead strode down the hill in search of a more satisfying breakfast.

Marrionetta’s Refuge from Demucking Day

Marrionetta spent Demucking Day the way she always did. She traipsed off into the woods wearing a pair of brand new clogs that Ungulen had carved for her out of imported mahogany. She had her favorite parasol as well and acted every part the lady, gliding through the dappling sunlight and ancient trees.

A scattering of toads throbbed and trembled among the dead rot. They too had sought refuge in the forest from Demucking Day. Marrionetta croaked and chirped back at them, inciting a few to fight among themselves, mistaking her for a potential mate.

Eventually she grew tired of the ladylike stroll. She stashed her clogs and her parasol in a holed out tree and tied up her hair with string.

Glancing from trunk to trunk, she strung herself up from the numerous boughs. Thus suspended, she cracked her neck and arms to make them nimbly extra limber.

Floating in the carve of trees, she raised her toes one at a time. She held her fingers aloft and swayed this way and that until she had a momentum of rhythm. She began to dance. It was her private dancing. Graceful swoons checked by jittery and jolted punctuation. It was nothing like her circus work. It was melancholy trapeze for no one but herself.

The Demucking Tower

Next to the lake, the tanker loomed in a thicket of green fog. The partial visibility enlarged it in the mind’s eye as one could not decipher its precise boundaries and shape. A squawking series of sounds, all steel on steel, reverberated from its belly.

Ungulen and Drutherstone motored up to the nose of the tanker. Ungulen idled and killed the engine. Drutherstone kicked out and stripped off his outer, soaked layer of slimy overcoat. Beneath, he was relatively dry in a linen shirt.

Somewhere in the fog, a small man popped off the back of the tankard. He was bird like, skipping around with weightless energy.

“Biddim, hello!” Drutherstone waved to the speckling man fluttering around in the fog. Ungulen made no greeting as he was busy servicing the smeared up guts of the motorbike.

Biddim grinned enormously but not at anybody or anything in particular. His toothy mouth stretched beyond the ears, and his tiny black eyes glinted off of every surface. He acknowledged Drutherstone for half an instant and then disappeared around the back of the tankard.

“Never does say hullo properly,” Ungulen noted. And with that, Ungulen swung the motorbike over onto his back. He and Drutherstone made their way to a tall scaffolded structure. They climbed the built-in ladder and settled on the topmost tier, spreading a tarp over the open surface and prepared to settle in for a full day’s wait by the lagoon.

The Lagoon vs. The Lake

Perhaps the lake had always been polluted. It’s hard to know. Lakes and mountains, cliffs and islands, they’ve all been hanging around since before there was anybody and so nobody knows where any of them come from. One could say “tectonics” and feel smug but what urges those plates and so much molten conveyance to the patterns they arrive at? Is it random? Is it a dance? Is it a set of preferences set in motion by huge, time-evading entities that could miss you in the infinity of their blinking stars? Maybe that’s too much to consider all at once. And why you keep stammering ‘t-t-tecton-n-nics?’

No one really knows where the slime comes from at Drutherstone’s circus. It erupts from the ground. A patient carnie can even detect the occasional bubble in the grass as a small spurt announces itself as having arrived terrestrial.

Because it is everywhere and sometimes oozier than at other times, the muck has a tendency to drain. Despite its mysterious origins, the muck still obeys the laws of gravity and moves downhill, towards the valley and — perhaps gravitationally — towards the lake.

The lake is made of water. We know because Ungulen’s checked during his many crabbing expeditions. So when the ooze hits the lake, it unctuously floats along, never enmeshing itself with lakey molecules but instead continues on a short journey into the center where it all tends to collect in an orbiting swallow of awful, stinking goop. This is the lagoon. Festooned inside of the lake like the eye of Jupiter. A bloated coalescence of physical laws.

Demucking Day: Dawn

“Demucking Day!” Drutherstone boomed. “Ready up, you sodden drips!”

Ungulen revved the belching motorbike through thick sprays of muck and grass confetti. Drutherstone knelt on the seat behind Ungulen, gripping the man between his knees for balance. Drutherstone brought a crude bull horn to his mouth and continued to bark orders. “Sandbagging starts immediately! The laundry house is closed! Avoid the lake! By god I mean it this time! Avoid the lake! “

Lever boys and other inhabitants of the barracks foisted triages of gas masks, rubber boots, and dry towels to their cohorts. Bodies streamed in all directions, some to construct massive sandbag barriers around the foundations of the circus rides, others setting up tents on higher ground, and no small number took this opportunity to raid the mess hall of any last perishables before the entire grounds were running like a drainage tap.

As Ungulen and Drutherstone whizzed around — coated in slime from the motorbike’s feedback — a distant dirt cloud began to grow on the service road. It was the slime tanker.

Tha tanker was the size of a small ocean liner and just as graceless on land as a whale. It moaned up and over a small hill, clanged like total destruction over a speed bump, and passed the fairgrounds by on its laborious way down into the valley.

Drutherstone gave Ungulen’s shoulder a friendly smack. Ungulen sheered off the circus grounds and headed down to meet the tanker down by the lagoon.

Violet in grey silk

Drutherstone knocked four times with one knuckle.

“Fuck off!” came an expressive voice through the door.

“It’s only me, Drutherstone, your patient employer and signer of paychecks.” A shuffled murmuring was detectable on the other side of the portal. The door swung open.

A menagerie of women in various states of undress were covering up. Mingey stuck her face out directly into Drutherstone’s nose.

“What is it, Lindsey?” she sing songed.

“Do you work here?” he rhetoricized.

“What?”

“What is the name of your place of employment?”

Mingey sneered, embarrassed. “Drutherstone’s Circus” she said at last.

“Thank you. Now I want to talk to Violet.”

“Violet!” Mingey screeched, closing the door on Drutherstone. He checked his timepiece.

Violet, the girl with cigarette-stained fingers who enjoyed combing her hair, was robed in grey silk. She joined Drutherstone in the hallway. “Yes?”

“I have a task for you.”

“Alright.”

“I want you to take responsibility for the elephants.”

Violet laughed in his face. “I don’t know the first thing about elephants.”

“I know,” said Drutherstone, “but we’re short of hands. Many hands. I don’t know where all the hands keep getting to, frankly. You always seem to know what’s going on at least. Ungulen keeps them and feeds them. I want you to do the fun bit. Train them up for an interesting act for next month.”

Violet was caught in a state of objection. There were so many ways to say “no” she couldn’t connect with just one.

“No,” she said at last.

“They’re already trained. Ungulen can show you their calls and responses. They’re very docile. Well, except for the mad one. You don’t have to train him. He’s technically dead anyway.”

“Why?” Violet asked.

“I told you. We’re short of staff. Just come up with some little routine. You’re one of the dancers, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Are you one of the best ones?”

“I think so.”

“Good. And now you are a choreographer.”

“Of elephants.”

“Of elephants! Now isn’t that exciting?”

Violet thought it over. She laughed again but this time with ideas in her head.

“Alright, the elephants.”

“Thank you,” said Drutherstone and he checked his timepiece once more. Doffing his miserable top hat, he left for another appointment.

Doctor Dactyl

Dr. Lorelei was right back in the saddle. The postal service had finally sallied through the abysmal marshlands surrounding the circus. Among the numerous bills, certified letters, cash advances for sword swallowing, and nude photos, Lorelei’s coveted parcels had arrived at long last.

He tore through the brown paper packaging of his own handiwork and gingerly removed the contents of the boxes: mostly severed hands. Hands in all conditions. Old, young, deeply lined, workmanlike, and soft. He also unpacked a collection of viscera: shriveled organs, pickled glands, vials of secretions, and numerous concatenations of electrical wiring. Also lots and lots of broken glass.

“VLATCH!” he swore in a former mother tongue as he cut himself on a vertical shard. He wrapped his hand in a handkerchief and staunched the bleeding.

His voice became dulcet as he retrieved the numerous broken jars from a mishandled box. “No…”

Ears, fingertips, and countless irretrievables swam in their own juices at the bottom of the fortified box. Some had muddled together. If he hadn’t been so upset, the dynamic recombinants might have given Lorelei a few fresh ideas.

Lorelei scooped up a precious handful of the lost specimens. He cradled them, calling to mind the source of each and every one. Nostalgia like that for childhood.

“Idiots!” he roared and catapulted his lost children directly into a wall.

Letters to Management

Goren Hargus wibbered down the hallway, clutching a thick envelope. He dodged half naked clownettes and club footed machine operators who would not make way for him. A long ways away, plodding organ music reverberated throughout the big top and its basements.

Hargus arrived at the dressing room in a cloud of glitter and black licorice. “Drutherstone?” he asked one of the matted extras who was combing her hair with cigarette nails. She pointed with her chin.

Clownmaster Drutherstone was powdered and dressed in blue sequins and mesh. His chest was belted and a long row of peacock feathers stuck up and out, concealing his face like a swan in a marsh. A little lever in the belt scooted the feathers this way and that.

“Drutherstone,” Hargus repeated. Drutherstone turned around and made an attempt at the envelope but it was snatched up by Mingey, one of the unicycling twins.

“What’s this! What’s this! Checks for us! Rustia and me want to get tutus!” Mingey squealed but then her twin sister Rustia began beating her around the face.

“Give me that.” Rustia stole the envelope from Mingey, “I want the checks. Mud on your tutus! I want a great big silver tureen to eat soup from!” Hargus reached a hand in to rescue the envelope but the twin sisters were advanced scufflers and handily evaded him while still choking at each others’ throats.

“What soup!” snapped Mingey. “Tutus! Pink taffeta ones with the yellow trim like we saw in Roma!” She strained for the envelope but Rustia kept it out of reach.

Keeping both her sister and gnomish Hargus at bay, Rustia examined the envelope more closely, “Lindsey Drutherstone? Since when does Drutherstone have a wifey?”

“He’s Lindsey. Lindsey Drutherstone,” the girl combing her cigarette hair drawled from the doorway.

“Thank you, Violet,” Hargus beseeched the cigarette girl.

Rustia and Mingey began to laugh like barking seals. “Lindsey!” they squealed in ghoulish unison.

“Just give us back the envelope,” panted Hargus.

Lindsey Drutherstone plucked his envelope from Rustia’s hand, ending the foolery. “Upstairs,” he recommended to the twins.

Rustia hopped onto her unicycle and Mingey scampered up her sister’s back. Rustia peddled them up the stairs with olympic abandon while they both chanted, “Lindsey! Lindsey! Such a measly mimsy!”

“Is it checks?” Hargus hoped.

Lindsey Drutherstone opened the envelope and pulled out a long notice. He took his time reading it. Hargus felt sweat at his temples. Violet, the cigarette stained girl, cocked her head to one side, watching with interest whatever troubles were playing out at the level of management.

“I may have to go away for a while,” Lindsey said to Goren.

Marrionetta, the unhinged puppetress

Marrionetta was fashioned out of Finnish pine. It had been a frosty spring in their small village when her maker set about her final touches. The village was known regionally for making soap and growing apples but Marrionetta’s maker was a rather gifted craftsman who might have accomplished great works if things had gone differently. Then again, while Marrionetta may be our only living proof of the maker’s talents, that’s not to say there weren’t other toys this maker created that went on to do interesting things in other parts of the world. Those toys may simply be unknown to us.

It really is a shame that it was so chilly that spring when Marrionetta came to completion, as none of the villagers made it to summer. Their town was abruptly overtaken and massacred by wandering Visigoths. The Visigoths had become lost and so followed their noses up a riverway to the small, Finnish village known for its soaps and apples. The Visigoths murdered everyone, raped their way into the larders, ate every withered, leftover apple in sight and then shoved off to another town that was known for a distinctive regional cheese. The apple variant is still grown throughout Finland today but the curious cheese recipe has been lost to time.

Marrionetta was meant as a gift for a little girl named Lempi. Lempi probably gave Marrionetta a different name but, like the cheese, that too is lost to time. Marrionetta was spared by the Visigoths who did not recognize her as an equal worthy of destruction. After the raid, Marrionetta sat for many days in a sad heap, tangled in her strings, wondering why Lempi would not get up to play or at least to help her out of the netted prison of fishing line.

After an interlude of voided time, Marrionetta began to chew herself free. To do this she had to destroy every last strand holding her back. Her small, wooden teeth were hardly the tool for the job. It took a small eternity.

She chewed and chewed with all her slight might, blubbering nonsensical emotions as she did not possess any words at the time. When she finally did sever the final string, she laid out in her freedom for many hours, exhausted and afraid her jaw might fall off if she moved at all.

Nearly a month after the death of everyone around her, she tottered off into the woods. She tried a few times to return to Lempi and the village but could never retrace her steps. Soon it dawned on her that she had been swallowed up by the world. The ensuing years unfolded, meaningless and disorienting. People and places moved around her as reflections in curved glass. Impermanence itself was her foremost and constant companion. The people she encountered fell neatly into her three primitive categories: There were Makers, there were Dead Lempis and there were Visigoths. The paradigm served her well on the long road to Drutherstone’s circus.

pennies fell out

The curtain fell with a scrape. The audience members in the big top roared with satisfaction. Clownmaster Drutherstone bounded up to the stage and took a self-congratulatory bow. Somewhere in the shadows, Ungulen rolled his eyes at his boss until pennies fell out of his pockets.

Lorelei was already out of his seat. He intercepted Drutherstone as he descended the platform. With fastening eyes, Lorelei demanded, “Tell me about the puppetress.”

Drutherstone was slow to reply and couldn’t dam the fearful flush spreading through him. “Marrionetta?” He sought to confirm, “You liked her act?”

“What is she?”

Drutherstone considered the question. “Well she’s crazy for one thing. Expensive tastes to boot. Fashioned in a toy shop in Finland a long, long time ago. She’s fond of jam but would never admit it.”

Lorelei appraised Drutherstone closely. He thought he knew when he was being mocked but couldn’t tell what Drutherstone’s play was.

“Where does she live? On the grounds?”

“Funny you should ask that,” Drutherstone fidgeted with his cravat and stifled a rippling sensation in his waterlogged lungs. “She was living in The Emerald House but I asked her to leave so you could take those rooms for yourself. How is it up there, by the way? Settling in comfortably?”

Lorelei rocked back on his heels. His posture took on an exclamatory seize.

“She’s made with pegs?”

“I believe so? We’re really not that personal.”

Lorelei nodded but was already marching away. Drutherstone heaved a sigh as Ungulen approached.

“Pretty good haul tonight, sir.”

“Yes. We’ll keep the mess stocked for another month or two.”

“What’s so grievous with our new friend on the hill? I always think he’s about to rough someone up the way he strides around. You’d probably be first.”

“Evidently, he’s keen on Marrionetta.”

Ungulen squinted for a long moment and then doubled over in bellowgoats of laughter. At last he managed, “God help us all.”

Drutherstone — unamused — agreed wholeheartedly.