Real Rubies for Marrionetta

Marrionetta sullenly appraised the offerings on the table. A chef’s cherry pick of glistening glands, asymmetric little blobs, bone shards, and organelles.

“Now these are real rubies, wouldn’t you say?” Lorelei ran a hand through Marrionetta’s coarse hair. “It’s rubies you like, wasn’t it?”

She bit her lip and tried to see it his way. He took her hand and ran her fingers over the surface of the choice items. Deep magentas, purples, heightened blues. She felt a shiver up her arm. Even at the slightest touch, she could feel their unique powers carrying through the light bark of her skin and into her chlorophyllic bloodstream. She lightly pinched a cherry red globin. It wept thick yellow tears of some unknown emotion.

“Now,” said Lorelei, “Let’s see what we can arrange just for you, my pet.” He began examining her bodice, trying to find a perfect latch or trap to house some viscera inside of her.

“What will they do to me?” she asked as the mad scientist fingered her underscores.

“We’ll see!” Lorelei whinnied.

She felt a pang of uncertainty. He didn’t know?

“These”

Marrionetta peeked out from the wrought iron gate of the fireplace that separated her from the rest of the room. They were all still there, though. Three dead lever boys, a corpulent man with his circus ticket still clutched in his hand, and a goat that Lorelei had managed to rustle up from some nearby farm. Each had been decapitated, drained of blood, and butchered for their various physical effects.

Lorelei had graduated from humming little tunes to loudly baritoning around The Emerald House. Morning, noon, and night he was like a one man operatic as he skated his different knives through the bodies of his victims, choosing perfect morsels depending on their body types and what he had observed of their respective demeanors during life.

“These,” he pointed to the lever boys with a blade for Marrionetta’s benefit, though it was unclear if she could understand him through the block of her psyche, “are much better fare than what you find in cities. Fresh air. Physical exercise. Chronically underfed which creates near perfect conditioning for anything to do with the bones. Flexible. Growth hormones still swimming around in there. They could probably serve marrow like this in restaurants. But,” he laughed, “there would be a market shortage in no time.”

“Now this one,” Lorelei pivoted to the corpulent man. “Forget the bones. Forget every organ in the book. No good. All fat. But what he is good for…” Lorelei surged open a previously nonexistent pocket in the man’s torso. “The adrenals. A wonderful balance of provocation and soothe. Hungry! Full! Hungry! Full! The controlled oscillation makes them very reliable. Almost as good as a chemical battery.”

Marrionetta felt sick listening to both the butchering in process and the lecture. She lifted her eyes out of the fireplace and looked across the room at Lorelei’s office area. She noticed, maybe for the first time, that he had put something new on the wall. It was in a language she could’t read but recognized immediately. It was Visigoth language. It was German.

“The goats,” he carried on feverishly, “are mostly just for synthesizing tissue. Connectivity and all that. You can sterilize practically anything in boiling goat’s urine.”

The German schematic on the wall made an impression on Marrionetta. It overwhelmed her with fear and she looked away. Then she looked back again. She wasn’t sure she was reading it correctly. The schematic mapped out a crazy machine. She could tell it was enormous compared with the other things he had been making. But that wasn’t what disturbed her. The human figures in the middle drew her attention. There in the center were ten, childlike figures, each with a circle around where their hearts would be.

one ticket per dreamer

Violet was sweating. She coated the palms of her hands in finely ground barley meal, praying that she wouldn’t drop her conducting baton — a simple but elegant piece of glass that Ungulen had presented her with at breakfast that morning. The morning of opening night.

“A fairy’s wand, you see that? Made me think of you” he’d smiled at her. “Now go drum up some cash. I’m sick of eating nothing but gruel and Netta’s leftover sardine tins. Wherever the cock’s head she’s got to these days.”

Violet’s stomach sure was churning now. Backstage, her and her elephantarinas were all flowered and powdered up, the entr’actes ahead of them were steadily whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The Keurmite brothers juggled their heads to and fro, pulling faces in mid-air and hurling brotherly insults at one another. Mingey and Rustia torqued a furious sugar plum that you could really sink your teeth into. A strongman swallowed a sword or two, and a very ornery walrus rolled himself through the dirt, roared a stinking belch of clamshells at the crowd, after which he was muzzled again and dragged off stage in a ferocious display of his fat, wattling strength. The crowd was kiting with laughter.

At last, the introductions were being made for Violet and her elephantarinas. She took this last opportunity to gaze out at the audience.

It was a mixture this time, very typical for a showcase not featuring Marrionetta. There were some goat-herding villagers, a smattering of townspeople, and a modest pie slice of the dreaming damned.

You could always pick the dreaming damned out of the crowd by their lustrous, vacant eyes. They arrived at the circus through psychological currents, trapped in nightmares, visions, or other strange liminal experiences. As each arrived, they paid their fare — a moment they would never recall upon waking — to Ungulen or whoever the ticket taker happened to be that night. It was always a sheaf of indigo paper, hazy with linen blending, bordered in silver lief. If the circus performers did their jobs correctly, the dreaming damned would be impressed, frightened, entranced or generally ensnared. These ones tended to return and the repeat patronage was the largest potential source of revenue for the circus, especially as it was strung up on its hind legs in the financial ruin of the Empire’s recent downturn. Unfortunately, circuses were somewhat out of fashion in the modern era and the steady stream of psychologically tormented tourism had narrowed to just a trickle in this day and age. Still, the generous exchange rate for a dreamer’s ticket was the main income source that the circus counted on. One ticket per dreamer.

The french horns sounded. The curtain went up. Violet commanded herself to her full height and smiled a dancer’s smile. Confident and invitational. Welcome, she seemed to say, to my magnificent showcase.

The Physical Differences Between Mingey and Rustia

Rustia and Mingey are fraternal twins. Since birth, they have always looked and behaved quite differently from one another. As they were born into a scratch of hard life that escaped any sort of institutional attention no one in their small, brutish village could understand how two children of the same womb could be so different from one another. The villagers came to fear them or at least be wary in their presence. As a result, Rustia and Mingey themselves came to understand that they were freaks of nature. Their childhood games, which they played together by themselves, always sublimated their sisterly sense that they had a curdling effect on the world.

Mingey has always been darker than Rustia. With hair like fertile earth and a slender frame, Mingey bruises easily. By contrast, Rustia has always been fairer, hungry, and large, with thick, pasta-like hair and irises so icy blue that her eyes resemble peeled onions. Rustia was considered ugly well before the indomitable putsch of her sexual maturation. Only by contrast could Mingey be considered beautiful.

But prior to birth, when they were still just fetuses inside the tight nestle of their mother, Rustia was violent with Mingey. Rustia had a tendency to kick in the womb. Her wild activity spurred their placenta to dilate, delivering more and more sustenance, all of which Rustia would claim first by virtue of her ravenous insatiability. Mingey’s earliest life — unmarked by memory– was instead chaptered out on her skin with many porous bruises that gently leaked aminos and blood into their mutual coil. Mingey would quiver with malnutrition, growing colder inside the maternal furnace. She would be underweight and nervous all her life.

Rustia’s mouth quickened almost overnight and she frequently snapped around to exercise its meaning. She bit Mingey on more than one occasion. Rustia hungered for the world; to feel and to see, to be liberated from the confines of her mother and the choking, weakening thing that was her sister. It seems certain she would have eaten Mingey had it not been for a sudden, induced birth day.

All of this was, technically, unknowable as it occurred behind the opaque walls of flesh and predated the twins’ abilities to self-differentiate. However, the emotional reality of it strengthened their bond once they breached into the world together, as sisters. The year of gestating predation created a breed of intimacy between them that would not be possible otherwise, even if its nature was unspeakable .

In adulthood, the sisters joined Drutherstone’s Circus in search of a better material life. It paid off. Perhaps not handsomely but well enough. Rustia grinds their unicycle while Mingey curls herself around her sister’s shoulders. They have always been this way.

one more trick

“When’d all the tap dancing!? She’s gone and spoiled it now.”Mingey yammed her face at both Violet and the elephants.

“She’s a show off” Rustia assured her fretting sister. “We’ll be back to showcasing in a switch’s whip if this is all Miss Dancey has to show for herself.”

Violet continued to mind and conduct the elephants in their showsteps, carefully sounding along to the shanty on the gramophone. Mingey and Rustia sat sprawled in the dying grass on the other side of the pen, chewing on blood oranges and aiming the rinds at Violet’s hair. The twins’ unicyle slowly rode itself around them in a creaking circle. It was a family heirloom and, therefore, haunted with a mind of its own.

“Mister Doctor,” Rustia continued, “told me he’s very fond of you, sissy.”

Mingey squealed and brought a childish hand to her cheek, adding a needless flourish on her compliment.

Rustia continued, “next time he’s around, ask him for earrings and see what he does.”

The elephants were self conscious under the weight of Violet’s stricken mood. She was irritated by the sisters but also in state of disquiet over her upcoming showcase. Was the elephant act interesting? Had she over promised? She had spent too many hours training her friendly beasts to have any more perspective on it than they had.

Maybe, she thought, she would add one more trick.

the piggies come close

Marrionetta watched as Lorelei roped the struggling lever boy into the chair. His mouth was gagged with waxed cloth which muffled his screams. Lorelei pulled the boy’s hair, setting his neck backwards and dripped a sedative up his nose. Soon, the boy slipped into shallow breaths of unwanted sleep.

Marrionetta bobbed. Her head was bobbing. Her legs her bobbing. She couldn’t keep all her parts from moving around. She had become unsyncopated. Her appendages had been taken apart and put back together so many times, she was having trouble unifying. Her gaze shifted around the sleeping lever boy, seeing him and unseeing him, both together.

Lorelei offered Marrionetta one of his smaller knives. “The honors?”

Marrionetta vaguely shook her head. She believed strongly that she didn’t know what he meant even though she knew exactly what he was asking her to do.

“Joy? Mania? Which ones are your favorites again? Everybody’s different.”

Marrionetta wrinkled her brow. She didn’t exactly care about the health or wellbeing of any of the lever boys at the circus. They annoyed her, frankly. They had awkward, developing voices of boy-men, unkempt clothing, incomplete information, and they frequently broke her things and ruined her costumes. She didn’t know this one’s name, the one in the chair. He didn’t even really seem familiar.

“The high is more intense when it’s human to human. The piggies come close but this is going to be real fun.” Lorelei shimmered the knife over the young boy’s flesh, waiting for Marrionetta to state a preference.

She looked at other parts of the room. Was this really The Emerald House? How long had she been staying up here? She felt a well of uncertainty yawn open in the air around her. She felt herself pulled into it. There was a dull roar in her ears and a freezing ocean seemed to swell through her bloodstream. She felt lightheaded. Then, a moment later, she snapped back to the stinging presence of her Visigoth friend championing violence over their small kidnap.

“I don’t want anymore today?” she tried.

Lorelei shrugged, “Suit yourself.” He slit the boy’s throat. Marrionetta grabbed at her face, sniffled and crawled back into the fireplace.

her elaborate fussiness

Ungulen knocked loudly on the door with the yellow triangle.

“Ay, Netty! Sleeping out wigtails, are we? Upsies or I’m giving ninth shift your breakfast tins.” There was no answer. He knocked louder.

“Netta! Cut your diva butter bunchin’ and open the door.” He waited a few moments. Then he rolled his eyes and, in one momentous arc of his powerful leg, he popped the door cleanly off its hinges and into Marrionetta’s dressing room.

“Sorry but you’re being a real puss today.” Ungulen stepped in over the fallen door.

To his complete surprise, Marrionetta was not inside. Ungulen looked around the room carefully. Nothing seemed particularly out of place. At least, by Marrionetta’s standards nothing looked out of place. Her rooms — which were wherever she chose to take up residence on the fairgrounds at any given moment– were always a total bother to Ungulen’s sense of orderliness and proportion. How could such a small, wood cut woman live in such an unnecessary state of clutter? Her elaborate fussiness never ceased to annoy him. Then again, she was the star and he, the humble groundskeeper. What did he know?

Still, it was odd her not being there. Come to think of it, he hadn’t really seen much of her on the fairgrounds for weeks. Because their next big act was a showcase for Violet and the elephants, Marrionetta hadn’t been required at any rehearsals in some time. He thought he saw her traipsing around on the hill a few evenings ago but now he wasn’t so sure.

Something wasn’t right.

Ernt Rauchebaum’s quivering fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happened to Ernt Rauchebaum?

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

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

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

Ungulen exchanged a glance with Goren Hargus.

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

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

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

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

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

“Belfast, I think?” said Violet.

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

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

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

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

Marrionetta and Lorelei get serious

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

 

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

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

“KURST! What?!” he screamed at her.

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

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

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

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

“Yes. It’s time for more, isn’t it?”

more treats for Netty

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than treats, dear. Personal transformation.”

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

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

“Where are you taking those?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

the gramophone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ungulen appraised the situation carefully. “Everything alright?”

“No,” said Violet.

Ungulen ducked under the fence and approached Augromme.

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

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

The sows helped Violet to her feet.

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

Violet dusted herself off and heaved a sigh of relief.

so what are they for?

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” she asked.

“Joy,” he said.

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

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

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 gallop through the pasture.

Memories dawned around him. They were like the peals of a tolling morning church bell, reverberating 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.