a sublime union

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

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

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

Then it rested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a cinch

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

maggot eating, velvet stricken

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the last time, be silent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

big top electric

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“N-n-nothing. I didn’t say nothing.”

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

“What’d your friend say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Violet Burnout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why isn’t he here?” asked Ernt.

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

“This is a nightmare,” said Violet.

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

“Hey!” protested Samedi.

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

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

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

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

a battery of tests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I see?” Ossip asked quietly.

in chambers

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

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

Ossip spoke first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

waste of string

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few heads turned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorelei stretched a long arm and pointed to Violet Smythe.

“Her,” he said simply.

Violet felt every nerve in her body turn to ice.

a barrel and a braintrust (Trial pt1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Augromme’s second act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

the honorable Ossip P. Balichenko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

football among the lads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the many, many crimes of Goren Hargus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

the inquiry

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

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

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

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

Lorelei frowned and shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the blasted hill

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

Goren said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where does the portal go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

unwitting-like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

Violet ashed carefully and looked at Binter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Heaven forbid,” laughed Binter.

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

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

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

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

a conspiracy among friends

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

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

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

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

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

Both Ungulen and Goren fixed Violet with an expectant look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet took a moment to absorb this.

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

 

all the work still unfinished

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

flat fish bowl

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

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

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

Jozef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

inspired by moving day (originally posted 7/2013)

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

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

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

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

brine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day I at gymnasia

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

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

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

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

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

Eggs Neptune with salt on the side

“That’s the way Rick Royal eats ’em so that’s the way we serve it,” the fat, cheerless waiter explained to the tiny man. The waiter plugged his short pencil behind his ear and crossed his arms, waiting impatiently for the man to order.

Goosemander, the tiny man, was seated in the blinding vinyl yellow of the booth which was several feet too tall and also too wide to comfortably accommodate him. He quivered slightly, under the haughty gaze of the waiter and his trembling energy migrated up and through the enormous, laminated menu so that it wobbled a great deal in his hands.

“But what’s Neptune got to do with it?” Goosemander ventured. He fixed the waiter with a look, pushing up his glasses with the knuckles of his right hand. “Is Ricky Royal from Neptune or something?”

“It’s Rick Royal. Not Ricky. Come on, hurry up. I’ve got tables to charge.”

Goosemander licked his thin lips and looked out the megadex windows of the diner immediately adjacent to the parking flats. Beyond the parking flats was the horizon of the planet with an astonishing view of outer space including three attractive planets with their attractive magenta sun, a pirouetting refueling structure, and all around, the streak of travelers burrowing their ways through the unknown.

Goosemander could see his maroon vehicle still sitting in the parking flat. Space #26-J. He nervously bobbed his head around, checking the flats.

“If you’re looking for flat weevils, we don’t have that kind of problem around here.”

“What’s that?” Goosemander turned back to the waiter, knitting his brow.

“We’re a clean and family friendly establishment.”

“Such a relief.”

“So quit lookin’ out the window like that.”

Goosemander shoved his hands under his arms and scowled at the waiter. “I’ll look out the window however I want! I’ll do it backwards if I like!”

“What are you ordering?”

“I don’t care. Eggs Neptune. No salt.”

“It comes with salt on the side.”

“I don’t care!” Goosemander threw the menu down feebly on the floor. He tucked his head into his arms and began sobbing.

The waiter rolled his eyes and the enormity of his body rolled with them. With crucial force, he bent down his knees and picked up the menu.

“Eggs Neptune with salt on the side, no salt, coming up.”

Once the waiter had lumbered away, Goosemander stopped crying and looked around the restaurant.

His peevish face lit up as he examined the diners. Most were families clearly on their way to vacation spots. Ravenous fathers and pissed off wives with their space sick children. A few business people eating efficient meals of protein slips and caffeine cake were also present. In the middle of the restaurant, at the very long table, was a freight crew enjoying some R&R from some kind of dirty mining operation. They wore blue and yellow jumpsuits, ate loudly, and kept smacking each others’ heads in good humor. Their tremendous blast of a ship took up several spaces out in the parking flats.

Goosemander looked out over the top of his booth. He was on tippy toes. Like a peeping Tom with only his eyes and the top of his head showing, he scanned the restaurant. He was still licking his lips.

A touristy family got up to leave, touting their screaming brats like luggage.

“I won’t go! I won’t go!” one of their numerous children screamed. The father took the struggling child by the shoulders and began stuffing him into a child cooler. Overpowering his offspring, he pressed the child down by the head and zipped him up. Then the father put an arm around his wife. They both breathed a sigh of relief and heaved the rest of their children back out to the parking flats.

As this group passed by Goosemander’s table, he swiftly turned, slid down, and reclined back into a sitting position. Goosemander’s eyebrows bristled as he watched the family exit.

Once they were gone, Goosemander rose from his table like a breeze. With a gait that was neither fast nor slow, he made his way over to the table where the family had been eating. With glancing attention, he pulled the tip money off the table and pocketed it. He made a slow circle back to his own booth. Nobody noticed him.

Inside the booth, he furtively produced the money from his pocket and began counting it. He counted faster than a banking bot. It was two and 6-thirteenths credit.

“Bazingo!” Goosemander whispered and then he quickly pocketed the money again.

A relaxed mood came over Goosemander. He stretched out in the booth. He breathed in the scent of freshly frying oil. He gazed out the window at the three attractive planets. His ears perked up at the sound of the angry waiter returning to the front of the restaurant. Without turning around, Goosemander followed the man’s every step in his mind’s eye.

When he heard the moment he waiting for, it aroused him.

“Junk munchers!” boomed the waiter. The din in the restaurant dulled for a moment. Everyone — except Goosemander — turned to look at the angry waiter who was huffily stacking plates and emanating a series of boondock expletives that the freight team would repeat to one another for years to come.

“Oh, sir?” Goosemander held out his tiny, quavering hand so it stuck out from the booth like a little flag. “Sir?”

The waiter stormed over to Goosemander.

“What.”

Goosemander’s head swirled around on his neck. “Do you have any champagne?”

Just then, out in the parking flats, a gleaming white spacecraft touched down in an empty spot.

“We do not serve champagne here you freakish, little rimmed-out nitwit. Bug juice or get the hell out of my restaurant.”

“Bug juice,” Goosemander repeated, as if it were his favorite card game.

Two persons stepped out of the white spacecraft. They wore reflective masks and carried long, roping, lassos. The stouter of the two produced a small silver box and began to make a pictorial survey of the parking flat.

Inside the diner, Goosemander was fixated on the waiter as he lumbered to the back bar and grabbed a wide ceramic mug from a collection of mugs on a shelf. He placed the mug under a gargantuan silver tank that stretched so far up that it may have touched the ceiling of the diner. The waiter pulled the tap and a jet stream of blue burbling liquid surged into the mug.

Outside, the masks with lassos were taking special interest in Goosemander’s vehicle parked in Space #26-J. They pointed at it. They pointed at each other. They pointed at the restaurant.

The waiter was coming back with Goosemander’s drink. Goosemander bounced up and down in his seat, his fists were balled up in silent, screaming anticipation. The waiter hesitated for just a moment at the booth, holding the bug juice and really seeing Goosemander for the first time. The excited little man was close to rollicking. The waiter decided he must be a mental case, slid the bug juice before him, and left again.

The masked persons entered the restaurant.

The bug juice steamed with sugary richness. Goosemander inhaled tremendously over the steam and then stuck a furtive, swirling finger into the bug juice. He stirred it thoroughly before downing the entire thing in a single gulp. 

When he was done with the beverage, he looked up to find two masked persons towering over him.

The masks did not have faces. So when they spoke, it was from an electronic voice box located on the right shoulder. The leaner of the masks said,  “Tiberius Ralpheinnes Goosemander, you are in violation of the 749 Time Travel Law of the Citadel. You are under arrest for crimes you have knowingly yet to commit.”

It was very loud, as if through a bull horn.

“No,” Goosemander surged out of the his booth and clambered over the heads of the people in the booth next to him, making them yelp out in pain.

“Stop,” voice boxed the stouter mask. “You will stop.”

But Goosemander did not stop. He raced and tumbled through the diner. The waiter, only too happy to assist, attempted to snag the tiny man and succeeded in catching him around the waist. Goosemander, however, was more muscular and frightened than the waiter had anticipated and he wriggled out of the larger man’s grip, causing the waiter to fall forward onto his stomach.

Goosemander sprinted for the door. He pushed it. The bell jangled. But just as he was heaving the mass of his small body against the weighted door, the stouter mask struck out, precisely, with their lasso. Goosemander was ensnared.

“Never! No! Not today! I’m innocent! Innocent I tell you!” Goosemander screeched and then he began jerking and hissing, baring his little white teeth.

“Your trial has been prescribed,” said the lassoer. “Guilty.”

The lasso lit up blue electric like a nebula.

Goosemander jerked and spat but this time without intention or control.

All over the restaurant people gasped. They dropped their forks and cups. Mothers covered up their children’s eyes.

Goosemander disintegrated into a pile of grey dust on the floor.

The lassoer retracted his lasso. With menacing slowness, the two masked persons calmly left the diner. The door’s bell jangled behind them. All present watched silently as they returned to their gleaming white vehicle, stepped inside, and jammed it directly out of there. Their white craft was visible for a few short moments as an arcing streak in the airless black of space. Then they were gone.

After a few moments of silence in focus, one of the freight crew absent mindedly slurped his bug juice. A few of his team nodded and they also began slurping their bug juice in solidarity.

“Order up!” a fry cook bellowed from a subterranean kitchen, unaware of what had transpired topside. “Eggs Neptune with salt on the side, no salt,” the fry cook specified as the dish slid out onto the serving bench.

The waiter stood back up again. He drew himself to his full height. Everyone in the restaurant turned to him.

“Rick,” said the waiter, addressing himself to the slurping freight crew, “is never going to believe this one.”

The freight crew laughed and saluted the waiter as he retrieved a broom from the corner. Rolling his eyes, the waiter brushed up Goosemander into a dustpan. With the dustpan in one hand, he made an easy glide to the serving bench, scooped up the order of eggs in his other hand and headed towards the back door.

He stepped outside the back of the restaurant. Here too was an astonishing view of outer space, a moon, and a murky purple asteroid belt. He made his way to the dumpster and unceremoniously dumped out both Goosemander and the eggs into the bin.